Monday, September 17, 2007

Atheism's Friendly Enemies

I just had to turn down a MySpace friend request from an atheist because he had a bunch of conspiracy theory foolishness on his page. Sorry, I don't link to embarrassing nonsense if I can avoid it.

This reminds me of the promo for the apalling video "Zeitgeist", which also mixes atheism with irrational conspiracy theories.

Another bunch of irrational nut jobs who want to bring their lunacy into the atheist camp are the Raelians. Have you heard of these people? They believe that human beings were created by space aliens. But because they also don't believe in any gods, they want a place in the atheism bandwagon.

Atheism is nothing more than the lack of belief in a god. So, technically speaking, the Raelians are atheists. And so are any godless conspiracy theorists.

But while it's possible to reject god belief without being rational, rational arguments provide atheism's best justification. That makes it deeply problematic to welcome these kinds of people into the atheist movement.

If you want to be recognized as a supporter of the atheist movement, it's not enough to merely disbelieve in gods. One also has to embrace certain principles of rational thinking - principles which deny Raelianism and conspiracy theories every bit as much as they deny invisible creator-beings in the sky.



At 12:04 PM, Blogger Aerik said...

I know what you mean. I hate conspiracy theories and woo-woo. Every once in a while somebody rants about Bill Maher, but I end up having to point out how he's an anti-vaccination nutjob, not to mention his sexism. I just don't want to be friends with that kind of person.

At 10:30 AM, Blogger SkeleTony said...

I end up having to warn, delete or reject people(as MySpace 'friends') on my MySpace page with alarming regularity for this very reason. It seems that it is not enough that I have written various blogs, message forum posts, etc. explaining the foolishness of the "911 Trooth" movement and such.

BTW I will be looking to try and add you Mr. Dee ;) So if you get a request from "SkeleTony"(, that is me.

At 7:57 PM, Blogger hq said...

Maybe I'm missing out on something, but isn't MySpace itself a load of embarrassing nonsense? Sure, Raelianism seems about as plausible as claiming Mothra to be a documentary about the perils of living with radioactive creatures in post-war Japan, but claiming to have a million and a half friends because one is willing to answer the email of strangers? That's truly stretching the term Friend now isn't it.

The Atheism Bandwagon. 911 Trooth. Irrational Conspiracy Theories. Is it me or is life becoming increasingly more and more like the SJ Game's Illuminati?

I don't know. Personally, I will believe anything just so long as the argument presented rings truer than the argument I possess. And maybe that is why I do actually have a bit of a beef with your post. I mean, which matters more truth or politics? I agree with what you're saying about Raelianism, yet it also seems as if you're edging towards the political world, polishing up the Athiesm Bandwagon for public approval by trimming from it anyone who might be seen as an embarrassment to normal society (no offense but, this overlooks the fact that normal society, aka good God-fearing Christian society, considers you to be an embarrassment).

I don't blame you though. Everything is appearance these days, with what a person believes and what social grouping that wrangles one in with being far more important than what is actually true. Yet it still seems like a dangerous practice. This past summer I vacationed with some relatives from the far right on the Alabama coast (you'll know it by the line of oil derricks which stops at the Florida state line). They don't recycle anymore because they believe it to be a bunch of liberal nonsense. They also weren't in the least bit interested in hearing about the book I've been writing which takes place in 10,000 BC. Sorry, that's 6,000 years too old by way of the Bible. And - believe me - that was the tip of the iceberg for the week.

Ultimately, I really just have to wonder how a society so derisively split over matters as ethereal as belief and supposition is supposed to continue to stand in the face of the problems we have today?

I'll take my answer off the air

At 9:13 AM, Blogger Jeff Dee said...

You're not getting your answer off the air. You've misconstrued my motives in public, and so I'm making a public reply.

Yes, the general public considers atheism an embarrasment - and I don't care. The reason why this puzzles you is that you were mistaken when you concluded that I'm motivated by political correctness. I'm not.

My objection to Raelianism is *not* that it's "embarassing". My objection is that it's *irrational* - in exactly the same way that theism is irrational. Accepting Raelians on board the "atheism bandwagon" undermines the rational justification for atheism itself. And *that* is what I consider important.

At 5:16 PM, Blogger Donald said...

This comment has been removed by the author.

At 5:18 PM, Blogger Donald said...

The problem is, the same sort of irrational thinking that causes religion also causes lots of other things, like 911 conspiracy theories, the witchcraft/New Age movement, people who believe in ufo's, etc.

There was a big tornado here where I live about a year ago. I lived in an apartment on the second floor at the time, so my family and I had to go hide in our downstairs neighbor's apartment while it blew over. The entire time we were cowering in her closet, another neighbor of ours was running around here apartment yelling, "We've got to open all these windows, or this whole place will explode!" I tried to convince him that that was a myth, that houses don't explode during tornados if the windows are closed because houses aren't airtight, but they just flat out told me I was wrong.

My point is, if religion disappeared tomorrow, there would still be about 1 million crazy, irrational things that people believe. I'm willing to be that the same conditions that have caused religion to appear in every culture also cause all these other cultural phenomenons. I can't speak for Jeff, but I have a feeling that's why he's against the conspiracy theories. In effect, there is no difference between religion and conspiracy theories.

At 9:33 PM, Blogger Jeff Dee said...

Yes, Donald. Irrationality breeds both religion and conspiracy theories. And yes, the irrational basis of those things is why I object to them. There's no need to speculate about what I think - just ask, and I'll happily tell you.

But back to the subject of my post... do you have anything to say about my assertion that atheists need to shield the atheist movement from varieties of *atheism* (such as Raelianism) that are tainted by irrationality?

At 9:55 AM, Blogger Donald said...

I'd tend to agree, but I guess I'm not sure what the atheist movement consists of, and how you would 'eject' people from it.

But I do feel it's important to address the root cause of issues. The other things you mentioned are caused by the same thinking as religion, can be refuted by nearly the same arguments, and cause the same kind of damage to society. So what's to gain by supporting them? It's nearly contradictory.

At 10:40 AM, Blogger Jeff Dee said...

Donald asks me, "What's to be gained by supporting ("the other things you mentioned"). The question implies that I support those things.

Well, I don't support those things. So what's your point, Donald?

At 10:51 AM, Blogger Donald said...

I didn't mean to imply that. I'm just agreeing with you.

At 8:01 AM, Blogger Jeff Dee said...

Okay. Glad we got that straightened out ;-)

At 4:23 PM, Blogger Kel Dowhower said...

i agree!!!

At 7:04 AM, Blogger Eurylochus said...

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At 7:06 AM, Blogger Eurylochus said...

Nice post Jeff. Warning: this is a bit lengthy.

I'm wondering what your take on objectivism is.

I'm non-religious, and endeavor to have a rational basis for my world-view. I'm comfortable calling myself a naturalist, but not necessarily an atheist.

I say this because many atheists I've met (those who assert themselves as such) often seem to consider atheism and objectivism to be two sides of the same coin.

This makes me uncomfortable, as I believe objectivism relies on 'truths' rooted in human perception (in other words, a trust in our ability to perceive things objectively).

As a trained physicist, I'm well aware of laws of nature and consistency of physical interactions.

However, if we are being honest about what we know, the perception of any individual is deeply rooted in relativity. That is, an individual's perspective is defined by his relation to all things. In short: to be an individual is to be a subjective entity.

I believe truth (or objectivity) can be only glimpsed in the nature of interactions. Like with Natural Selection, we can see an emergent pattern that clues us in to: how things 'really' work. However, if we are being rational, we must understand we will only ever have a glimpse of 'the universe outside the human experience', always polluted by our human perspective.

To me, theism is a world utterly polluted by the human perspective. In this sense, I feel the religious world-view is not unlike that of a toddler's. -The world exists primarily in relation to the religious individual.

To me, at its best, atheism can represent an awareness of the polluting human perspective. -Or a rejection of human-centric egoism when considering the nature of things non-human.

However, at it's worst, I've seen atheists supplant one human-based world-view (theism), with what I consider to be another (objectivism).

Reading WWJD, you seem to be a very thoughtful self-described atheist. As such, I wonder what your take on objectivism is, and how it relates to the atheistic world-view. Do you think objectivism is too human-centric? Or is human-centricity(?) even problematic in your view?

At 10:32 PM, Blogger RilianSharp said...

I wonder what would become of atheism if some kind of god were proven to exist.
I mean, the philosophy behind the /type/ of atheism you promote would still exist.
What about people who grow up in atheistic families? I did, and I didn't have any justification for my atheism till I was 14. I'd sure have been pissed if someone had told me that I was somehow a less ligitimate atheist.

At 4:52 AM, Blogger Jeff Dee said...

Great question, Eurylochus. I have exactly the same problem with Objectivism that you do; namely, that the "objective truths" it is founded on don't look all that objective to me.

My own philosophical views are sort of a blend of Mills' utilitarianism and Kant's categorical imperative.

At 5:17 AM, Blogger Jeff Dee said...

RilianSharp asks, "what would become of atheism if some kind of god were proven to exist."

Interesting question. My initial post on this thread concerns the difference between rational and irrational atheism. If a god were proven to exist, that distinction might become crystal clear; the only atheists left would be the irrational ones.

"I mean, the philosophy behind the /type/ of atheism you promote would still exist."

I don't promote a type of atheism that demands disbelief even if gods were proven to exist! The philosophy behind the type of atheims *I* promote is rational. Rationality doesn't just warn against belief in wildly speculative nonsense. It also requires the acceptance of proven truths. The moment I'm shown proof that a god exists, I'll become a theist.

"What about people who grow up in atheistic families? I did, and I didn't have any justification for my atheism till I was 14. I'd sure have been pissed if someone had told me that I was somehow a less ligitimate atheist."

A caller brought up this issue during a radio interview with Richard Dawkins. "Isn't it equally child abuse to label the child of atheist parents an 'atheist child'?" Dawkins tentatively agreed. I sort of do, too, because I agree that the important thing is for the individual to decide for themselves. Still, I'd hasten to reiterate one of the points from my original post on this thread, which is that *technically speaking* atheism is nothing more than lack of belief in gods. If a child lacks belief in gods then it is technically an atheist.

This doesn't mean that the atheist movement would be well served by embracing the "I got it from my parents, I haven't got any justification of my own" argument.

At 12:52 PM, Blogger RilianSharp said...

Do I need a rational justification for being an atheist? It's the default!

At 3:48 PM, Blogger Jeff Dee said...

RilianSharp asks, "Do I need a rational justification for being an atheist? It's the default!"

At the very least, you need a rational justification for your claim that atheism is the default. *I* agree with that claim, but that's because I already know the rational justification for it. Most people don't. As a result, most people feel justified in opposing the atheist movement's modest goal of equal respect under the law for nonbelievers.

Of course *personally* don't even need that. You have every right to believe or disbelieve whatever you want, for whatever reason (or lack of reason) you want. You only need to be able to rationally justify atheism if you intend to help the atheist movement.

If you don't, that's cool - you're not under any obligation. But in the culture war (which we didn't start), atheism needs ammunition. If you haven't got any, then you simply *can't* help.

Of course I started this thread talking about conspiracy theorists, Raelians and so on - people who not only don't understand atheism's rational basis, but actively hold other beliefs that are directly antithetical to it. They're not simly unarmed - they're an actual *liability*. Every time one of them opens their mouth, they perpetuate the majority's bias that atheists are just as irrational and "faith driven" as theists. And that's why I'm saying that they shouldn't be welcomed into the movement, even if they are, indeed, technically atheists.

At 12:00 AM, Blogger RilianSharp said...

Ooh, right. OK, I get it.
I tell people that there is nothing unifying about atheism except the lack of belief in deities. To preserve that, shouldn't we come up with a different name for the rationality-based atheism?

At 5:00 AM, Blogger Jeff Dee said...

RilianSharp asks, "shouldn't we come up with a different name for the rationality-based atheism?"

Based on past experience, it's clear that atheists happily divide themselves into different sub-groups at the drop of a hat. I wouldn't worry so much about whether we "should" create another sub-group, since it'll probably happen anyway no matter what we think.

*My* motivation for drawing a distinction between rational and non-rational atheists has to do with focusing on effective strategies for the atheist movement. I don't deny that non-rational atheists are atheists, nor would I deny them the equal respect under the law that's the atheist movement's goal. My point, is only that actively involving them in the movement is counterproductive. The movement's spokespeople, and the kind of atheists that the movement needs profiled in the media, need to be people who can clearly articulate a rational justification for their atheism.

At 11:00 AM, Blogger Ant said...

Jeff Dee said, in reply to Donald, "The question implies that I support those things."

LOL! How on earth did you get that?!? Anywho...

Something I'd like to say about Zeitgeist, apart from everything you've already said, is that most conspiracy theories are grounded in about 1% truth. Now, if the first part of Zeigeist (ie: on the topic of religion and Christianity) has 1% of truth to it, it really ought to make a Christian think twice about their religion's beginnings; namely that Christianity isn't as unique as a Christian believes it is.

At 11:53 PM, Blogger Paul said...

There is a very simple question I've asked many people who believe in god/gods... Why would any god, which is by definition a superior being, need worship? That sounds more like human ego and pride seeking external support of it's own self perceieved superiority, and hence not superior at all, but dependant on the worshipers.

To sum it up, any god that demands worship isn't much of a god anyway.

At 11:57 PM, Blogger Paul said...

PS: And it seems that belief in any origin of humanity as rooted in the interference of "superior beings" be they white robed winged people fluttering about playing harps or scaly alien overlords is essentially a desperate need to put the whole of humanity into a tiny construct that makes the believer more comfortable in that they are part of something special.

I'm far more comfortable in knowing that there is so much that I do not know and that with careful study and challenging of my limited knowledge I can see a hint of the bigger picture.

If people could put aside their fear of seeing themselves as tiny, they'd see how great humanity COULD be.

At 12:56 PM, Blogger Sweet One said...

I agree with this, but would this also mean athiesm has at least one tennant--one must be rational in all areas? Your co-host has expressed the opinion that disbeleif in gods is the only tennant for atheism.

At 2:55 PM, Blogger Jeff Dee said...

I think I already addressed this in my original post. YES, if you don't believe in any gods then you're an atheist. But atheists who embrace other brands of irrational nonsense are not helpful to the 'cause'.

At 10:09 PM, Blogger SkeleTony said...

"shouldn't we come up with a different name for the rationality-based atheism?"

It is called 'Critical atheism' or sometimes 'Skeptic(al) atheism' (or rather we are called 'skeptic atheists').

At 10:15 PM, Blogger SkeleTony said...

Also, forgot to add that , while I am the guiltiest of all when it comes to poiinting out that "atheism" is much larger, numbers-wise, than most know since it technically includes newborn babies, and believers in all manner of other nonsense (aside from transcendent gods believed to exist).

I see Jeff's point pretty clearly now, however I still see the need to distinguish what types of atheists we are(who do not include Raelians, conspiracy theorists etc.) and WHY we do not allow these irrational folk into our club.


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