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How to tell if you’re an atheist - Comments

mordacious1's Avatar Comment 1 by mordacious1

Anton’s Syndrome, a well-studied phenomenon in which patients have been struck blind by a cerebral accident, but don’t realize it.

...until they get behind the wheel of a car and reality smacks them in the face.

Wed, 30 May 2012 22:59:13 UTC | #944653

Zeuglodon's Avatar Comment 2 by Zeuglodon

I can't remember where it was now - somewhere on this forum, I think - but a poster once commented that Neil DeGrasse Tyson, despite having all the qualifications of an atheist, did not identify as one. The comment went on that this might be because of the pejorative connotations of the word "atheist".

I think this might be the case for people who otherwise fit the bill.

That said, the idea behind Anton’s Syndrome - that people can be "blind" to things that are staring them in the face - has me worried. There might be something I'm not noticing that I really should be. I don't want to get paranoid, but I can't ignore the suggestion now that I've brought it up.

Wed, 30 May 2012 23:14:15 UTC | #944657

Schrodinger's Cat's Avatar Comment 3 by Schrodinger's Cat

I think a lot depends on what emphasis and meaning one places on words like 'believe'.....especially in the context of something as ill-defined as God.

If you ask do I 'believe' in black holes.....I'll probably answer yes. I've never seen one, but the evidence for them is rather good. But what does believe actually mean in this context ? It seems to me no more than a statement that the probability of correctness is high, though clearly it would not be belief if it was certainty.

But when it comes to God.....I have no idea what 'belief' is supposed to mean. On the one hand it's not like asking do I believe in 1 light year wide marshmallow beings from the Zargonian nebula, for which I can categorically say no. But on the other hand, there simply isn't any concise definition or evidence for God sufficient to be on par with black holes.

Thus I find either an expression of belief or disbelief meaningless. You might as well ask do I believe the univere has 57 dimensions. The only conceivable response is......I haven't the faintest idea.

That is why I identify as an agnostic....though would probably come out as an atheist in any test such as in the OP.

Wed, 30 May 2012 23:43:11 UTC | #944665

Zeuglodon's Avatar Comment 4 by Zeuglodon

But on the other hand, there simply isn't any concise definition or evidence for God sufficient to be on par with black holes.

Thus I find either an expression of belief or disbelief meaningless. You might as well ask do I believe the univere has 57 dimensions. The only conceivable response is......I haven't the faintest idea.

That is why I identify as an agnostic....though would probably come out as an atheist in any test such as in the OP.

This would make you a good candidate for an ignostic. Myself, I suspect the problem is that the word "god" has acquired too many distinct meanings, but this extreme ambiguity (multiguity? polyguity? polysemy is a good term) makes it vulnerable to equivocation, whether by mistake or by deliberate design. God as "the character Yahweh from the Old Testament" or as "any humanlike being with superpowers, meant to act as a representative over certain aspects of nature" are distinct definitions.

As for belief, in logic this is generally considered a matter of how much confidence one would put into the claim. It might suffer from a similar though less gratuitous polysemy problem as the word "god".

Thu, 31 May 2012 01:29:33 UTC | #944681

dilated_in_disbelief's Avatar Comment 5 by dilated_in_disbelief

Comment 3 by Schrodinger's Cat :

Thus I find either an expression of belief or disbelief meaningless. You might as well ask do I believe the univere has 57 dimensions. The only conceivable response is......I haven't the faintest idea.

That is a very interesting point. In this sense, to claim atheism requires biting on more than there is to chew. I know some people say that being an atheist is too certain (what Michael Shermer calls hard or strong atheism) to be intellectually honest, but I think the atheism in your sense can entail refusing "concepts regarded or labeled as theistic/deistic because they are incoherent." Hmm, would that require knowing more about what you're against to be able to say that? Could you reject the possibility of the concept given that it doesn't have enough to be plausibly conceived?

Thu, 31 May 2012 01:41:33 UTC | #944684

Absinthius's Avatar Comment 6 by Absinthius

Comment 2 by Zeuglodon :

That said, the idea behind Anton’s Syndrome - that people can be "blind" to things that are staring them in the face - has me worried. There might be something I'm not noticing that I really should be. I don't want to get paranoid, but I can't ignore the suggestion now that I've brought it up.

We probably all have our blind spots in that way. But it is how you deal with conflicting information that I think matters. You either blatantly deny anything you hear that conflicts with what you know, or you are open to 'better suggestions'.

Next to that, Anton's syndrome doesn't necessarily have to pan out in a negative way. As in my case I am still hoping that my opinion of myself as being a rather unpleasantly looking gumpypants is wrong and my blind spot is that I am actually quite handsome and charming.

Thu, 31 May 2012 11:35:48 UTC | #944737

Hume's Razor's Avatar Comment 7 by Hume's Razor

One of the patterns we have observed, not surprisingly, is that many clergy don’t identify with the label “atheist” even though, from some perspectives, they share many of the same characteristics as atheists, including not believing in the supernatural.

And yet belief in the magic power of words lives on. I understand that words have "baggage" (negative connotations of the word "atheist" etc.), but it seems to go deeper than that. People really seem to think that calling something by one name rather than another ("atheism" etc.) makes a real difference even if the "something" being referred to is held constant. People also seem to think there are important real world consequences of applying certain names ("God", "free will" etc.) to something even if the "something" being referred to is free to vary endlessly. The following quote from one of the interviewees in the original pilot study gives a perfect example (emphasis added):

“The difference between me and an atheist is basically this: It’s not about the existence of God. It’s: do we believe that there is room for the use of the word ‘God’ in some context? And a thoroughly consistent atheist would say, ‘No. We just need to get over that word just like we need to get over concepts of race. We quit using that word, we’d be better off.’ Whereas I would say I agree with that in a great many cases, but I still think the word has some value in some contexts. So I think the word God can be used very expressively in some of my more meditative modes. I’ve thought of God as a kind of poetry that’s written by human beings. As a way of dealing with the fact that we’re finite; we’re vulnerable.”

As I wrote in another comment: Why "God"? Why not "Ogd" or "Dog"?

Thu, 31 May 2012 13:57:21 UTC | #944748

kantastisk's Avatar Comment 8 by kantastisk

Despite their negative reputations among many Americans, atheists tend to be very ethical and high-achieving

besides humble and modest, of course.

Thu, 31 May 2012 14:56:36 UTC | #944757

merlinaeus's Avatar Comment 9 by merlinaeus

One of the patterns we have observed, not surprisingly, is that many clergy don’t identify with the label “atheist” even though, from some perspectives, they share many of the same characteristics as atheists, including not believing in the supernatural.

Reminds me of a tweeted comment by Rev Giles Fraser (24/1/12)

"Dawkins says he is 6.9/7 sure there is no God. I am 7/7 sure that there is no God as Dawkins imagines him."

But he didn't go on to elaborate.

Thu, 31 May 2012 16:39:13 UTC | #944773

Alan4discussion's Avatar Comment 10 by Alan4discussion

Comment 7 by Hume's Razor

People really seem to think that calling something by one name rather than another ("atheism" etc.) makes a real difference even if the "something" being referred to is held constant. People also seem to think there are important real world consequences of applying certain names ("God", "free will" etc.) to something even if the "something" being referred to is free to vary endlessly.

The following quote from one of the interviewees in the original pilot study gives a perfect example (emphasis added):

“The difference between me and an atheist is basically this: It’s not about the existence of God. It’s: do we believe that there is room for the use of the word ‘God’ in some context? And a thoroughly consistent atheist would say, ‘No. We just need to get over that word just like we need to get over concepts of race. We quit using that word, we’d be better off.’ Whereas I would say I agree with that in a great many cases, but I still think the word has some value in some contexts.

This really is the theist nonsense being vague and "mysterious" in wrapping up pseudo-philosophy, double-talk and misrepresentation! - Playing with words and hoping "the word having some value", will carry over and rub off as "the god having some value" by association with the word!

It’s: do we believe that there is room for the use of the word ‘God’ in some context? And a thoroughly consistent atheist would say, ‘No.

Typical strawman nonsense! Atheists would have no problem of context stating that, "Thor was the god of thunder or Zeus was a Greek god"!

We could call this, "The god in my head is special" theism, which is wrapped in shifting obscurity, in order to pretend some profound statement is being made!

Thu, 31 May 2012 16:49:59 UTC | #944775

Alan4discussion's Avatar Comment 11 by Alan4discussion

Comment 9 by merlinaeus

Reminds me of a tweeted comment by Rev Giles Fraser (24/1/12)

"Dawkins says he is 6.9/7 sure there is no God. I am 7/7 sure that there is no God as Dawkins imagines him."

But he didn't go on to elaborate.

I find theist pseudo-profundity comical. Perhaps he should be asked to draw or describe the image of a blank and explain why it does not exist!

Thu, 31 May 2012 16:53:55 UTC | #944778

Mr DArcy's Avatar Comment 12 by Mr DArcy

I'm afraid I can't share S. Cat's not knowing what "God" is. In the western context it's Jesus, - yes Him of Yaweh and world flooding abilities. Poor old Zeus had to retire, and who better to replace him than the Special One, a humble carpenter. He who could construct a universe in 6 days. He who watches over you as you die of cancer or starvation, and then fries you for your ever so naughty sex life - for ever! Now this here Jesus is facing a young pretender in the form of the mysterious Allah, whose powers are remarkably similar.

If the two "gods" were to fight it out as to which one is the "true" god, then I suspect that Allah will win, but only because he can't be seen!

Thu, 31 May 2012 19:45:08 UTC | #944821

The Jersey Devil's Avatar Comment 13 by The Jersey Devil

Myself, I suspect the problem is that the word "god" has acquired too many distinct meanings, but this extreme ambiguity (multiguity? polyguity? polysemy is a good term) makes it vulnerable to equivocation, whether by mistake or by deliberate design.

This is probably true. But I think this misses Dennett's point.

Anecdotely - and I understand that isn't the best kind of evidence - I'm sure one can be disillusioned with whatever it is that they previously believed and can have all the hallmarks of an atheist yet they are unable to accept this fact.

Personally, I can best describe it as a state of confusion. I knew that what I once believed didn't have a basis in reality and I couldn't will myself to believe it again, as much as I wished it. I denied all descriptions of a 'higher power' but was unable to identify as an atheist. Mostly, I identified as an agnostic or pantheist or tried to avoid the question all together. This went on for about seven years.

When I finally accepted, indeed embraced, that there was no god it was just like Dennett said, a breath of fresh air.

Thu, 31 May 2012 21:58:48 UTC | #944855

Metamag's Avatar Comment 14 by Metamag

Comment 2 by Zeuglodon :

I can't remember where it was now - somewhere on this forum, I think - but a poster once commented that Neil DeGrasse Tyson, despite having all the qualifications of an atheist, did not identify as one. The comment went on that this might be because of the pejorative connotations of the word "atheist".

Exactly, it's like that video was made for him. I lost a lot of respect for Tyson after he spewed such spineless incoherent disrespectful garbage in that BigThink video..

Fri, 01 Jun 2012 03:12:54 UTC | #944891

Premiseless's Avatar Comment 15 by Premiseless

We seem to have two threads of responses to this OP?

Anyhow, I think telling if one is atheist is less the big issue than telling how ALL major faiths, and likely anyone elses faith besides your own ideas, can only ever be snake-oil mind tricksters seducing people with tradition - as if tradition somehow is a truth worth absolute power.

Once you get to, and over, the hurdle that everyone else cannot possibly believe as you might believe, ones own belief becomes atheism as much as it possibly is capable of becoming. Ones realisation that ones own mind and emotions has been tricked, time and again, due life, through life, is possibly the biggest education one can get about how faith is corrupt and not to be taken as anything too serious to be considered knowledge.

Fri, 01 Jun 2012 03:48:09 UTC | #944894

Quine's Avatar Comment 16 by Quine

The comment went on that this might be because of the pejorative connotations of the word "atheist".

The man has a publicly funded job in a country where admitting being an atheist is risking losing your job. He has said that he is not religious. If that is as far as he feels he can go in his position, give the guy a break before you pretend you know what it is like to be in his shoes.

Fri, 01 Jun 2012 04:26:05 UTC | #944898

All About Meme's Avatar Comment 17 by All About Meme

Comment 16 by Quine

Indeed.

Fri, 01 Jun 2012 04:35:57 UTC | #944899

susanlatimer's Avatar Comment 18 by susanlatimer

Comment 12 by Mr DArcy

I'm afraid I can't share S. Cat's not knowing what "God" is.

Nor can I. "God" is all kinds of things, some of which are demonstrably false and some of which are so slippery there is no way to falsify them.

"God" is a human claim. No matter what form it takes.

Even if there were a fifty-seventh dimensional entity, why would we call it a god?

Unless the word "god"makes a specific account for itself, it tells us nothing about the world outside of human minds .

And what falsifiable claims can be made on its behalf, even it survives the process, that justify calling it a "god"?

What is a god?

It's a word that gets us nowhere.

Fri, 01 Jun 2012 06:04:21 UTC | #944904

All About Meme's Avatar Comment 19 by All About Meme

Comment 18 by susanlatimer

God" is a human claim. No matter what form it takes.

It's a word that gets us nowhere.

Although it's really pretty impossible to imagine oneself sans any language capability -- with language being so intimately entwined with consciousness, one has to wonder whether the idea of "god" would exist in a world where that was the case.

(Talented singers like you might have particular difficulty envisioning such a world... can you imagine the boredom of playing one instrumental tune after another to an audience full of silent, dancing apes?)

God must have arrived soon after language-enabled consciousness evolved. I hypothesize that dogs, for instance, a species that lacks sophisticated language, don't have a concept of God. Would you snap at God if he backed you into a corner, or tried to steal a bone from you? That's what dogs will do to their human masters, and I can't think of a better analogy for the human/God relationship than dog/Master.

Woof.

Fri, 01 Jun 2012 06:45:26 UTC | #944908

susanlatimer's Avatar Comment 20 by susanlatimer

can you imagine the boredom of playing one instrumental tune after another to an audience full of silent, dancing apes?)

Been there too many times. :-)

I hypothesize that dogs, for instance, a species that lacks sophisticated language, don't have a concept of God.

I'm not trying to be difficult. But what is the concept of a god? It can mean almost anything, it seems. What is a concept? How would I recognize if dogs could have one, let alone have a concept of a god?

Now, I really AM being difficult.

And I don't mean to be. Those are sincere questions.

I'm easily confused.

Fri, 01 Jun 2012 07:07:33 UTC | #944909

All About Meme's Avatar Comment 21 by All About Meme

Been there too many times. :-)

See? I could be your set-up/straight man for the in-between song jokes.

I'm not trying to be difficult. But what is the concept of a god? It can mean almost anything, it seems. What is a concept? How would I recognize if dogs could have one, let alone have a concept of a god?

Damn. I knew you would ask me to falsify that hypothesis.

Well, for instance I think the woman's dog next door has a concept of her, because it keeps whining when she's gone. So (stay with me here), it's essentially whining for a being which is, at that moment at least, immaterial, and beyond space and time (out shopping at Walmart, for instance).

Q.E.D. ???

Fri, 01 Jun 2012 07:24:19 UTC | #944912

susanlatimer's Avatar Comment 22 by susanlatimer

Damn. I knew you would ask me to falsify that hypothesis.

Is that what I was doing? I thought I was just easily confused. :-)

Q.E.D. ???

You tell me.

Fri, 01 Jun 2012 07:32:27 UTC | #944914

Sample's Avatar Comment 23 by Sample

How would I recognize if dogs could have one, let alone have a concept of a god? susanlatimer

By very happy circumstances, answers to similar questions such as yours may not be out of the realm of possibility in the near future. Unanesthetized dogs, wonderful dogs, are being successfully trained to lie motionless long enough for potentially useful fMRI scans. Granted, before a "god spot" or celestial ossuary, I suppose, is found in their brains, food-reward and other more practical visual-cognitive associations are going to be ferreted out first.

I wonder, for instance, if a dog is shown a picture from a former owner, will a fear or contentment area of the brain illuminate on the scan? This is a wide open field just getting started and I'm extremely excited.

http://fulltextreports.com/2012/05/11/functional-mri-in-awake-unrestrained-dogs/

Mike

P.S. Though I would accept what the evidence suggests, I'd be dismayed if my dogs looked at me not as a respectable companion, but rather a walking, talking lamb chop. :-j

Fri, 01 Jun 2012 08:23:46 UTC | #944920

Premiseless's Avatar Comment 24 by Premiseless

Comment 22 by susanlatimer :

Damn. I knew you would ask me to falsify that hypothesis.

Is that what I was doing? I thought I was just easily confused. :-)

Good point unintended. The confusion, that "enjoying life" tricks your mind into thinking itself worthwhile, whilst the rest of the world largely absorbs sufferings. But who cares, which way or another? Ego wars - as if valid and worthwhile - simply due their promoting someones ego over that of another ( mine for example = might cause someone to think I'm gathering positives if my memes are received with applause) . Inequality ad infinitum. Ahem, isn't that where we started? Keep whipping that poison and maybe we'll get an alternative poison? Do we have an alternative or do we just go away and "life's too short" our egos? Must we get our priorities "so right" or is this the poisoned chalice we were each given? Sweetened et al, for some, but embittered for others.

Fri, 01 Jun 2012 08:37:11 UTC | #944921

Premiseless's Avatar Comment 25 by Premiseless

Comment 23 by Sample :

P.S. Though I would accept what the evidence suggests, I'd be dismayed if my dogs looked at me not as a respectable companion, but rather a walking, talking lamb chop. :-j

Dog ego figures large, no? Certain brain function has been selected, by humans, down the millennia, for mutual value. Usually the lamb chop owner scenario has been bred out, but unborn dogs are as yet unaware of this, no? Probably always will be. Genetically they had no idea who they were going to think like. This raises some questions about the humans we all are don't you think? A number of those lamb chop licking neighbors have patrolled every neighborhood I ever knew. I must say it's only now I wonder at whether they ought to share the same human rights as the rest ( amidst their grabbing and taking most of them) , and whether it's possible to tell who is covert and overt on this issue. I think Hitler tried finding out for example, but probably lost all sense of which dog he was?

Fri, 01 Jun 2012 09:05:50 UTC | #944924

Metamag's Avatar Comment 26 by Metamag

Comment 16 by Quine :

The comment went on that this might be because of the pejorative connotations of the word "atheist".

The man has a publicly funded job in a country where admitting being an atheist is risking losing your job. He has said that he is not religious. If that is as far as he feels he can go in his position, give the guy a break before you pretend you know what it is like to be in his shoes.

But Tyson went out of his way to lie, make strawman, denigrate and speak general nonsense. He should have just stayed quiet instead.

Fri, 01 Jun 2012 16:35:20 UTC | #945008

Zeuglodon's Avatar Comment 27 by Zeuglodon

Comment 6 by Absinthius

LOL, that's true! I won't unduly worry about it. How could I? I can't see what I can't see. ;-D

Open-mindedness is a good thing, definitely.

Comment 16 by Quine

If it keeps him from losing his job, I'm not complaining. But we should at least recognize that this is a pragmatic consideration. An atheist is an atheist even if he has to pretend otherwise to keep his job.

It's the fact that a person can lose their job on account of a lack of belief that should draw the outrage, not my pointing out that he denies being an atheist despite looking very much like one.

Fri, 01 Jun 2012 16:59:11 UTC | #945013

Schrodinger's Cat's Avatar Comment 28 by Schrodinger's Cat

Comment 12 by Mr DArcy

I'm afraid I can't share S. Cat's not knowing what "God" is. In the western context it's Jesus, - yes Him of Yaweh and world flooding abilities. Poor old Zeus had to retire, and who better to replace him than the Special One, a humble carpenter.....

But that is purely the loony theist version of God.......and an a-theist is thus surely just a nonbeliever in that God.

Or are you extending a-theist to include a-deist, a-pantheist, a-universalmatrixgodist...etc etc etc ?

Fri, 01 Jun 2012 18:38:42 UTC | #945036

ginberryblue's Avatar Comment 29 by ginberryblue

Give Neil DeGrasse Tyson a break! His job involves convincing people to fund and encourage science education -- in America, where atheists are thought about as trustworthy as thieves. Yes, it's important for American atheists to "come out". That is the job for YOU and ME. We need all approaches. Don't fall into the trap of tearing someone down just because he doesn't live up to your idea of "purity". That kind of infighting was how the 60's left tore itself apart.

Tyson is a great science communicator. He gives so much time and heart to the cause of encouraging science literacy. And there are few scientists who are making as much of a difference as he is. (For one example, just recently he made a stir in Washington by eloquently testifying before Congress about how the societal and monetary benefits of space funding far outweigh the costs.)

Peace

Fri, 01 Jun 2012 20:08:21 UTC | #945065

Zeuglodon's Avatar Comment 30 by Zeuglodon

Comment 29 by ginberryblue

Give Neil DeGrasse Tyson a break!

I am: I'm admitting he has extenuating circumstances.

His job involves convincing people to fund and encourage science education

And more power to him.

-- in America, where atheists are thought about as trustworthy as thieves.

I've gathered what it's like across the pond. They are the extenuating circumstances.

Yes, it's important for American atheists to "come out". That is the job for YOU and ME. We need all approaches. Don't fall into the trap of tearing someone down just because he doesn't live up to your idea of "purity"

I'm not tearing him down, and I have made no mention of purity. Tyson making the mistake of not saying he's an atheist is not a good thing, but I acknowledge that it pales in comparison to the terrible situation he's in, hence I think he has extenuating circumstances. I wish he wasn't in that situation.

Fri, 01 Jun 2012 20:18:03 UTC | #945068