Monday, October 20, 2008

To Semantics Hell and Back Again

I'm sure you've heard this interesting little sleight of hand before. It is inocuous enough, and amounts to nothing, but serves as a good enough of a dig to begin a nice little series of attempts to pivot beyond original definitions and equivocate into favorable territory. It is the "Atheism is a religion" argument. And I chose a particular rendition of it that has all my legwork done for me. But first, for the warm-up.

So from my perspective, Atheism would be better thought of as "Anti-Theism"
since most Atheists proclaim heavily against there being a god.

This is what we in the business would call a "sampling error". The only people who would be willing to admit that they were "atheists" would most likely have a more strong position on the matter, and a stronger position against theism, than others due to the stigma of the word "atheist", which most weak atheists try to avoid. Some people who are atheists could give a damn about religion. The ones who actually care are the ones that you will run into.

It is impossible for us limited human beings to know for a fact that a god does not exist. To know absolutely that a god does not exist one would have to be omniscient. Since no one is omniscient then it stands to reason that there is a chance that a god exists. This then becomes Agnosticism instead of Atheism.
Le sigh. Yes, it is "impossible to know," but that hardly matters because it is "impossible to know" whether any other unverifiable supernatural entity or other conception of a deity exists either. Of course, your God can actually be dismissed if you are willing to do so on the fact that your conception of a god is often self-contradicting as well as contradicted by experience of objective reality (specifically, in regards to seeing God actively influencing reality through violations of natural law and direct communication, as well as the "problem of evil" not being satisfactorily reconciled...). But even that much is irrelevant when you realize just how pathetically trivial providing the "possibility" of an unknown with a specific quality really is (e.g. Russell's Teapot). Also, agnosticism and atheism are not mutually exclusive.

Well, listen carefully now it's kinda tricky, they MUST take it on FAITH - **GASP** dirty word - that no god exists. Atheism is just a word, but those who promote the idea that there is no god have turned it into the "religion" of Atheism.
Yeah. Faith. Whatever you say.

The term atheism comes from the Greek word atheos, meaning godless. Atheos is
derived from 'a', meaning "without," and 'theos', meaning "deity". Simply put, Atheism literally means "no god".
Actually, he is right. Preparing for gigantic leap...
They promote the idea and come up with a belief system to try and prove that there is no god. In fact Atheists by their own admission adhere to a set of doctrinal beliefs!
Wooo...barely made it! So atheism means "without god", and you go through all of that etymology just to insert your own baseless opinion on the matter? Bravo. In fairness, he is right that many atheists (not all) try to "prove that there is no god", in the sense that in order to not have any beliefs at all they need to know why, so they should figure out why they feel justified in not taking up any given form of god-belief. Proof isn't necessary for this (since the people who take it upon themselves to describe the intricate colors and patterns on a set of encyclopedias beyond time and space bear that burden). Just a good amount of rational doubts, and a realization that it is dishonest to lend one evidence-less fairy tale more credence than another.

According to the Random House Unabridged Dictionary, © Random House, Inc. 2006, Religion is:
1. a set of beliefs concerning the cause, nature, and purpose of the universe...
2. a specific fundamental set of beliefs and practices generally agreed upon by a number of persons or sects...
3. the body of persons adhering to a particular set of beliefs and practices: a world
council of religions.
4. the practice of religious beliefs; ritual observance of faith.
5. thing one believes in and follows devotedly; a point or matter of ethics or conscience: to make a religion of fighting prejudice
And atheism doesn't qualify for definition one, since the sets of beliefs regarding cause, nature, and purpose come from the individual...atheism just rules one possible (non)answer. Same for two. Same for three. Number four couldn't be true without presupposing that lack of belief in god is a religious belief. And five could be true on an individual basis. Once again, apathetic atheists are your undoing.

I'm not sure how Atheists can read those definitions and say that they aren't
religious about their beliefs.
And that's the issue. You want us to say that we are "religious" in the sense of being zealous and confident (as per definition 5) in order to turn around and say that we are "religious" by every other definition. Many atheists might admit that they are "religious" about their beliefs (not necessarily their atheism, though, but sometimes even that) but only in the sense where "religion" is used as a thoroughly entrenched metonymy for firm and confident belief in something, as a reference to more traditional usages of the word which predate it.

Some would argue that those are broad definitions of the word religion. Well,
it's a definition none the less. Just because it's broad doesn't mean it isn't a
relevant definition.
This is truf. Completely irrelevant. The fact that it is a definition is nice, but it doesn't mean that you can make it qualify as every definition just because it fits one. It could only be considered a religion in a trivially significant fashion (given, by your own admittance, that it is a broad one). Since you can make virtually any position held with confidence into a "religion" this way, you have made gaming strategies, political opinions, and disdain for specific forms of criminal activity into "religions" as well.
The same dictionary goes on to define Atheism as:Atheism (A'thE-iz"um),-n,:
1. The doctrine or belief that there is no God.
2. Disbelief in the existence of a supreme being or beings
Issue here: very few people are atheists per definition one. You can decide to attack atheism on that front, but it is once again an issue of taking a definition that doesn't apply to your current context, and using it anyway under the cover of another, more applicable definition which just happens to be irrelevant to your argument. It is patently dishonest, and as such, very effective.
Of course Atheism isn't like other complex Religious systems... It's just a religion with less complex and less organized structure.
Unless internet usage is our sacrament, and college classrooms our congregation, I don't think that you could even say that it is a "system" at all. We have nothing uniting us, physically or ideologically, and many of us like it that way.
An Atheist's belief system is founded upon one factor: the non-existence of a deity. Everything that an Atheist does believe then is colored by that one belief – thus a system of beliefs. For example: Belief that there is no god must lead to the belief in evolution since it would be impossible to believe in creation if no supreme creator existed. So evolution is part of the Atheism belief system.

Wow. That is wonderful. So, we have a "system of beliefs" because we are unable to believe in creationism due to our lack of belief in deities? You are arguing that we have a system of beliefs because we do not believe in something that is essentially an extension of your own belief systems into realms where it doesn't belong? Thumbs up.
Just like a religion that does believe in a god and everything that they believe
is colored by that one belief.

Not equivalent. Belief in god, in of itself, does not influence you. It is the details that the religions provide of that god, its desires, history, influence, power, nature, and plan for your lives that "color" believers. In other words, their "system of beliefs".
To put it more simply, a person's religion is simply the sum total of his/her
beliefs about God and the supernatural.

Where in the name of f#@$ did you get THAT definition? (Though it isn't half bad...)

Atheists DO have regular meetings, by the way. They just held their 34th
Annual Convention in Minneapolis, MN this past March 21–23 2008. They had
special speakers, teachers, and collaborators who teach the intricacies and
doctrines of the FAITH of Atheism

Then don't I feel left out. Also: furries, anime fans, and Trekkies have now been hoisted to religion status too. Please...stop while you're ahead...
Why do Atheists deny that Atheism is a religion? For many reasons, but probably
the most significant is that some Atheists, for their own political reasons, assert that Atheism is not a religion but instead is the total absence of religion.

Mostly, of course, I deny it because the idea is frickin' retarded. That's just me, though.
But this is like saying that "black", which physicists define as the total absence of color, is not a color. I have a black cat. When people ask me what color my cat is I answer "my cat is black". In other words, the color of my cat is black. In common practice throughout the world, "black" is understood to be a color, despite the technical definition of the physicists. Likewise, "Atheism" is a religion, despite any technical definitions to the contrary.
You should have just stopped talking. It doesn't matter what the layman's view on the subject is when it comes to determining truth. It is good to keep their view in mind when talking informally (as in, you are not delving into philosophical, scientific, or legal issues). But, on the issue that you mentioned (separation of church and state), the technical definitions trump your insistence that black qualifies as a color rather than the lack of color (or presence of all colors, depending on your perspective).
If black is a color, then Atheism is a religion.
Well then, we agree. I'm glad that you have conceded. I claim victory in the name of me. Commence the celebration.

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