Wednesday, January 20, 2016

Contrast these two statements

If atheism is a religion, then not collecting stamps is a hobby.

If atheism is a religion, then not eating meat is a diet.

27 comments:

John Moore said...

Is a religion something you do, or is it something you refrain from doing?

Edgestow said...

Both. ("Thou shalt not...")

Ilíon said...

"Is a religion something you do, or is it something you refrain from doing?"

Religion is how you live out your metaphysics.

Ilíon said...

Probably not too many people know this, but I am a not-stamp-collector, and we ...

Oh, that's right, there is no "we" amongst not-stamp-collectors --
* there are no not-stamp-collectors running around asserting that stamps are eeeevil, or that raising one's children to be lovers of stamp collecting is "child abuse";
* there are no not-stamp-collectors looking to make a quick buck off their gullible followers;
* there *are* no followers;
* there are no organizations of not-stamp-collectors, much less organizations hypocritically trying to use government violence to stamp out stamp collecting;
* there are no not-stamp-collectors trolling the stamp collectors online;
* there is no not-stamp-collecting orthodoxy;
* there are no not-stamp-collecting "arguments", the fallacy of which is very old news, habitually deployed by not-stamp-collectors;

On the other hand, amongst both God-deniers and meat-haters, much, if not all, the above does exist. Not-stamp-collecting in not integral to the identities of not-stamp-collectors, it's not even something "we" ever think about. But God-denial is obsessively integral to the identities of God-deniers; and hating meat is obsessively integral to the identities of meat-haters.

Cal Metzger said...

What seems integral is that apologists can't get their head around a) atheism not being a religion, and b) how it's possible to determine that there's no good reason to believe in a god who created and is involved in reality.

I think it's a sad reflection on humans that these two modest claims create so much ire among believers.



Jim S. said...

I ask my students every term whether atheism is a religion, and always get a mixed response. Last term, in one class, all the students who said yes atheism is a religion were atheists. They were pretty insistent in fact.

Victor Reppert said...

No one seems to have picked up on the diet statement. In the case of stamp collecting, nothing needs to stamp collecting in the life of a non-stamp collector. In the case of the diet, you know if you don't eat meat, something has to take its place. I think religion is more like the diet case than like the stamp case.

Ilíon said...

No one? No one at all?

Victor Reppert said...

Well, not explicitly.

Andrew W said...

I think Victor just called you a 'nobody'. ;)

In one sense, the atheists are correct. Religion and atheism are both metaphysical world-views. However, religion claims that metaphysics involves sentient beings. Atheists claim is no metaphysical sentience, which places a clear divide between them and the myriad of historical metaphysics.

Similarly, a vegetarian places a clear divide between himself and people who argue for the benefits of one variety of meat over another. However, being vegetarian doesn't make the need for protein go away. If anything, it creates additional work as it has denied the most obvious source of what seems to be a fundamental need.

(Note: I realise I'm somewhat conflating atheism and materialist atheism here, and also not really covering some forms of Buddhism and the like which posit the existence of the supernatural without any form of sentience. However, most religions base questions of purpose and morality in some form of story involving supernatural sentience, and if your "story" doesn't allow you to hand such questions to something bigger than yourself then you need to do some very heavy to replace it.)

Slightly off-topic, but it's worth noting that "supernatural" can have two different applications: it can mean "beyond our experience" or "outside the system". For example, some "deities" are functionally no different to aliens - they are beings beyond our ability to interact with normally that are nevertheless "within the system" in a comparable way to any other actor. In contrast, the Christian idea of God entails transcendence - the system is within him, and he can cause it to follow or not follow existing patterns of behaviour as he chooses.

Cal Metzger said...

VR: "No one seems to have picked up on the diet statement."

It's messy, because you risk being called out for equivocation. A "diet" can be both prescriptive (eat only grapefruit in the morning), and proscriptive (don't eat gluten). So I could have pointed out that your slipping in an equivocation, but I'm too polite to do that. :)

VR: "In the case of the diet, you know if you don't eat meat, something has to take its place. I think religion is more like the diet case than like the stamp case."

But atheism isn't a replacement for religion; it's a denial of religious claims altogether (unlike another, competing religion). Do you really think that atheism is the same as Islam, Mormonism, or Buddhism?

I agree entirely that saying religious claims aren't true (this should be obvious) isn't enough; I agree that most religious adults find that declaration to be too jarring to accept. But just because these people need other ways to fulfill what their religion fulfills doesn't mean that atheism (a lack of belief in gods) offers the solution to those people's needs after they conclude there are, in fact, no gods; those needs have to be satisfied in other ways, and just because atheism is the conclusion that demolished the glue holding the other supports together doesn't mean that atheism per se can offer neat and tidy and satisfying answers to these complex human needs.

I feel like demanding more from atheism as you imply in this post is like telling a jury that if they acquit the defendant, they therefore must know who committed the crime; but they don't -- they just know who didn't.

Why isn't that enough? Why should we prefer imprisoning someone over admitting that we know someone didn't commit a crime, or even admitting that we're not even sure if a crime was committed? What's so terrible and disconcerting about admitting how much we just don't know?

Jim S. said...

Atheism answers some of the same questions that religion tries to answer, so on some level it functions as a religion. I don't think that's enough to call it a religion though. Plantinga calls it a quasi-religion, but I think that's as far as one could go, if that's not already too far.

Having said that, Victor's diet analogy is interesting. However, I don't think it's true that "In the case of the diet, you know if you don't eat meat, something has to take its place." You could just eat less by cutting out a certain type of food and not replacing it in order to lose weight: "No more pizza!" That strikes me as closer to atheism. On the other hand, that would still be a diet.

Cal Metzger said...

Jim S." "Atheism answers some of the same questions that religion tries to answer, so on some level it functions as a religion."

Can you give me an example of atheism answering a question that religion tries to answer?

Victor Reppert said...

But I think that when you read defenses of atheism, they seem to care quite a bit what people do once they stop looking to God. For example, there are people for whom astrology does the work in their lives that Christianity does in other lives.

A lot of time and energy is expended by at least some atheists to get people to stop accepting what they take to be a wrong answer (Steve Zara called it the ultimate wrong answer). Are you seriously telling me you don't care what answer people do accept if they reject answers in terms of God?

brownmamba said...

Atheism is a metaphysical position, but not a religion. The two are not equivalent.

Jim S. said...

Blogger Cal Metzger said...

Can you give me an example of atheism answering a question that religion tries to answer?


How about: Does God exist?

B. Prokop said...

Here's another:

"Does life have a meaning and/or purpose? And if so, what is it?"

Jezu ufam tobie!

Cal Metzger said...

Me: "Can you give me an example of atheism answering a question that religion tries to answer?"
Jim S: "How about: Does God exist?"

That's just a definition of atheism. Besides the approximate meaning of the word atheism, what are the answers that atheism gives that religion tries to answer?

Victor Reppert said...

Atheism is a metaphysical position, but not a religion. The two are not equivalent.

Ditto for theism.

Jim S. said...

That's just a definition of atheism. Besides the approximate meaning of the word atheism, what are the answers that atheism gives that religion tries to answer?

The definition of atheism addresses the religious (and metaphysical) question of whether God exists. The answer atheism gives is no. The answer most religions (not all) give is yes. They are answering the same question.

jdhuey said...

It seems to me that there are several different metaphysical 'systems'/'worldveiws' that lead to an atheistic conclusion but are still basicaly antagonistic to each other. Dialectic Materialism, Objectivism, and various forms of Naturalism, for example, all maintain the non-existence of deities but are not consistent with each other. So it is hard for me to accept the concept that 'atheism' is a metaphysical position, versus that 'atheism' is an aspect of a metaphysical position.

Perhaps we should be referring to these concepts in the plural: 'theisms' vs. 'atheisms'?

Cal Metzger said...

Jim S.: "The definition of atheism addresses the religious (and metaphysical) question of whether God exists. The answer atheism gives is no. The answer most religions (not all) give is yes. They are answering the same question."

You said, that "Atheism answers some of the same questions that religion tries to answer, so on some level it functions as a religion."

I asked you to give some examples of atheism answering some of the same questions that religion tries to answer.

You still haven't given me any examples of how atheism answers that same questions that religion answers.

I think the reason you struggle with that is because atheism is a conclusion reached at the end of a process. But religions are about how we should behave given the belief that supernatural begins exist and interact with our world. Which makes them very different things, I think.

Victor Reppert said...

But theism answers no question other than whether there is a God. As does atheism. However, most atheistic apologists don't just want you to reject God, they have some pretty clear ideas about what view of the world one should accept instead of a religious one.

Cal Metzger said...

VR: "But theism answers no question other than whether there is a God."

Correct. But Jim S. compared RELIGION and atheism. Unless you think that theism and religion are synonymous (which I'm pretty sure you do not). I thought it was an odd statement by Jim S., and that's why I asked for examples -- to see what he meant, and because when he considers his statement he might come to understand better what atheism is.

VR: "However, most atheistic apologists don't just want you to reject God, they have some pretty clear ideas about what view of the world one should accept instead of a religious one."

Assuming that by "atheistic apologists" you mean those who have concluded that no gods exist, I completely disagree. I think once one has concluded that no gods exist, what one does with oneself, and what should be done in human societies that have traditionally used religion, is a completely open and live issue. Many atheists (most, I strongly suspect) choose to keep their atheistic conclusion to themselves and get on with their lives as best they can. (Just like most of those who grow up affiliated with some religion.)

Jim S. said...

You said, that "Atheism answers some of the same questions that religion tries to answer, so on some level it functions as a religion." I asked you to give some examples of atheism answering some of the same questions that religion tries to answer.

Right. "Does God exist?" is one such question. Plantinga mentions "Is there an afterlife?" and "Do human beings have significant freedom?" as two more. We could of course add others: "Are there objective moral truths?" for example. I just thought "Does God exist?" was blatant and obvious.

You still haven't given me any examples of how atheism answers that same questions that religion answers.

"Does God exist?"

I think the reason you struggle with that is because atheism is a conclusion reached at the end of a process. But religions are about how we should behave given the belief that supernatural begins exist and interact with our world. Which makes them very different things, I think.

There are plenty of atheists whose atheism is not a rational conclusion but a knee-jerk reaction. There are also plenty of theists who became theists via a long process of reasoning and analysis. I'm one. I argued myself into Christianity after spending a couple of years trying to refute it. Any irrationality you want to ascribe to the theist camp finds just as much expression in the atheist camp and any rationality you want to ascribe to the atheist camp finds just as much expression in the theist camp.

Cal Metzger said...

Jim S: "Right. "Does God exist?" is one such question. Plantinga mentions "Is there an afterlife?" and "Do human beings have significant freedom?" as two more. We could of course add others: "Are there objective moral truths?" for example. I just thought "Does God exist?" was blatant and obvious."

I think I understand what you mean now -- that once one concludes that there aren't any gods, one probably concludes that there isn't an afterlife. There is definitely a lot of overlap here, but I say it's more a matter of overlap that results from the process that leads to concluding that there aren't any gods. Once you start applying that process to, well, everything, you're going to have a lot of stuff for which there is no good evidence, or for which there is a lot of countervailing evidence, and it's likely you'll come to similar conclusions about those things.

Jim S.: "Any irrationality you want to ascribe to the theist camp finds just as much expression in the atheist camp and any rationality you want to ascribe to the atheist camp finds just as much expression in the theist camp."

It looks to me like you're using the terms "theist" and "religious" interchangeably. Is that what you meant originally?

But even if you want to compare the two camps (theism v. atheism) based on their conclusions alone I'd still disagree. That's because one position -- theism -- espouses a position for which there are no compelling arguments, and for which the evidence is steadily diminishing. I realize that the apologists who comment here all disagree, but those are the facts, and those facts are reflected in the falling religiosity in societies where these facts can be openly discussed without fear of violence, penalty, or social disapprobation.

That being said, I think it's an open question that this disparity remains in societies where few if any grow up indoctrinated into religious traditions. At that point, atheism will likely no longer be a signal for an approach to knowledge, and I'd put less stock in someone's declaring themselves an atheist and how that might correlate to their rationality. On the other hand, I have to say that unless the state of the evidence were to somehow change, I do think that declaring a religious affiliation in the future will more and more correlate to a flawed and mistaken approach to knowledge, or at least a (very human) tendency to be blind about one particular set of our own biases.

Cheers.




Jim S. said...

There is definitely a lot of overlap here, but I say it's more a matter of overlap that results from the process that leads to concluding that there aren't any gods.

Well, I was just addressing the overlap, not whether the overlapped elements were arrived at in the same way. Having said that, I reiterate that the percentage of atheists for whom atheism is a knee-jerk reaction is just as high as the percentage of theists who accept theism for similar reasons. I don't have any studies to back this up though, and I know that many atheists think they're super serial, but I just don't see much evidence for that in their arguments.

It looks to me like you're using the terms "theist" and "religious" interchangeably. Is that what you meant originally?

No, I'm not trying to give a definition of religion at all, partially since no one has ever successfully done so. There's no universal definition of "religion" (or "philosophy" for that matter). The most you could say is that I'm giving a general definition, one that applies to most cases but not all. It would apply to monotheists, deists, duotheists, polytheists, pantheists, panentheists. "God" here would refer to an ultimate reality that is more than just the physical world. It would not apply to agnostics or atheists. However there are agnostic religions for which the existence of God is irrelevant or unmentioned (Jainism and some forms of Buddhism). But like I say, I'm just giving a criterion that the vast majority of religions address and consider fundamental, and then arguing that atheism addresses that same criterion.

That's because one position -- theism -- espouses a position for which there are no compelling arguments, and for which the evidence is steadily diminishing. I realize that the apologists who comment here all disagree, but those are the facts,

Generally, when someone feels the need to defend their position via bluster like this it indicates a lack of confidence. You know who else defends their position this way? Young earth creationists. Flat earth creationists. They claim there are no compelling arguments or evidences for evolution (or a spherical earth) and the reasons for accepting evolution or a spherical earth are steadily diminishing.

Now I know that there are strong, solid arguments for theism, even though they may not compel someone who was dead set on rejecting them. And I know that the evidence (depending on what you mean by that term) is steadily increasing, not decreasing. I know this because I started off as a non-Christian believing both propositions, that there were no good arguments, and whatever reasons people may have had in the past are steadily being removed. I then investigated these two claims with the expectation of seeing them affirmed, and they both blow up in my face. The particular claim that the reasons for believing in God are diminishing because of science is just an urban myth, and is demonstrably false. That means it can be demonstrated to be incorrect. I'm at the beginning stages of writing a book doing just that right now.