Tuesday, October 07, 2008

Why I won't call myself an atheist.

Yesterday, a blog post about two possible definitions of atheism became quite popular on Digg. I didn't like the tone of the post because it seemed to attack agnosticism a bit. However, I was intrigued by the two definitions of atheism:
  1. An atheist believes that God does not exist.
  2. An atheist does not believe that God exists.
I always thought atheism meant the first thing. That seemed to me how people portrayed it. To me the stereotypical atheist view is that science explains everything and so there's no need for religion. I cannot agree with that because science has a big gaping hole in understanding of consciousness. (Yes, some claim to explain it scientifically, but they only gloss over it, at best only hypothesizing about related physical phenomena while claiming they have an answer about consciousness.) That hole in scientific understanding is sufficiently large and of such a nature that it doesn't seem that current science can even approach it and one cannot rule out some sort of religion-like explanation. At the same time, religion often seems ridiculous, so I can't say I believe that either. So, I say I don't know and I call myself agnostic.

I can't say I object very much to applying the second definition to myself. My main objection is that it seems to be biased toward the belief that God doesn't exist while I'm saying I simply don't know. Actually, I'm pretty sure God doesn't exist as portrayed by religions I know about. There, "does not believe" is entirely appropriate. It just does not seem to be appropriate considering the idea of God in general. (Note that my idea of what the possible nature of God might be is quite broad. God might even be something I cannot imagine.)

Then there's the issue of a term having multiple meanings. I wouldn't want to say I am an atheist using meaning two and then have it misinterpreted as meaning one.

EDIT: Oh, and what about religion which doesn't involve God or deities? Neither definition addresses belief in such religions, and such religions do exist. The core of Buddhism doesn't seem to include deities.

2 comments:

The Barefoot Bum said...

To me the stereotypical atheist view is that science explains everything and so there's no need for religion.

This is simply false. Nobody thinks that science actually explains everything.

The naturalistic philosophical position is slightly different: Science is the only way to explain anything... because of what it means to explain something and because religion doesn't explain anything: "goddidit" is not an explanation.

I simply don't know. Actually, I'm pretty sure God doesn't exist as portrayed by religions I know about. There, "does not believe" is entirely appropriate.

What other kinds of God are there?

God might even be something I cannot imagine.

If you cannot even understand a concept, you cannot say you believe or disbelieve it. A concept that you don't understand is meaningless to you.

Then there's the issue of a term having multiple meanings. I wouldn't want to say I am an atheist using meaning two and then have it misinterpreted as meaning one.

Almost all words in all natural languages have multiple meanings. If you absolutely do not want to be misunderstood, don't speak.

Oh, and what about religion which doesn't involve God or deities?

First, there are atheistic religions such as Buddhism. Dig one step deeper and disbelieve (or call meaningless) mystical mumbo-jumbo and bullshit.

Boris Gjenero said...

This is simply false. Nobody thinks that science actually explains everything.

People believe all sorts of things, including illogical things.

The naturalistic philosophical position is slightly different: Science is the only way to explain anything... because of what it means to explain something and because religion doesn't explain anything: "goddidit" is not an explanation.

That's a very good point! Because of that and related arguments, I probably shouldn't think that religion could offer answers about consciousness.

What other kinds of God are there?

For example, there are ideas about God being related to some form of collective consciousness.

If you cannot even understand a concept, you cannot say you believe or disbelieve it. A concept that you don't understand is meaningless to you.

If you don't understand the nature of something but you see its effects, then it's not entirely meaningless. However, I do see that it's more reasonable to label the inexplicable effects rather than the supposed source.

Almost all words in all natural languages have multiple meanings. If you absolutely do not want to be misunderstood, don't speak.

Some terms have more consistent meanings than others.

First, there are atheistic religions such as Buddhism. Dig one step deeper and disbelieve (or call meaningless) mystical mumbo-jumbo and bullshit.

I've read about Buddhism. It seems that when I strip away the mysticism it's just talking about psychology.