About a month ago, I was reading an article in Pharyngula entitled “Why are you an atheist?“. I was convinced that PZ Meyers must have read my freshly minted post (before I moved to WordPress) entitled FAQs, but no such luck. The let-down came when I realized that he hadn’t mentioned type 4 atheism.
Even if he missed my sterling intellect, the article struck home, because he disparaged “dictionary atheists“, who take atheism to simply be a lack of belief in a god. If you call yourself an atheist but can’t explain why without falling back on social convenience or blind acceptance, then just maybe, you’re not an atheist (although you may still qualify as a redneck). What you think should be based on evidence — either having found it or having looked and not found it. Faith-based belief or lack of belief should not be acceptable. …I think that’s what we’re both saying.
Next is “I’m an atheist by default, because I was raised without religion.” Now we hit the same problem as before. If you haven’t investigated why you think what you do, then why think it? If I were a California lawyer, my sound bite would be “If evidence is lacking, send atheism packing.”
What’s with the “I believe in no gods/I lack belief in gods” debate? For me, belief connotes faith, as mentioned in the FAQs. Belief carries this baggage wherever I run into it, and although it’s not easy to replace with another word that allows me to insinuate evidence, I managed. This “debate” shows the difference between my type 1 and type 2 atheists, marking me as an anal retentive freak (I think that’s supposed to be redundant for anyone who likes mathematics). PZ, I’m afraid I have to disagree with you. The first describes having faith, and the second expresses not having faith, and there is a difference, although you may not accept that. I think that your real point should be that we need to limit whom we identify as an atheist by talking only about what I am calling a type 3 or type 4 atheist. If it is, then I agree. Otherwise, please admonish me and lead me in the paths of righteousness for my name’s sake.
“Science flies you to the moon. Religion flies you into buildings.” That’s a nice one. I’ll have to remember it the next time I need a non sequitor when I’m overmatched by someone who won’t shut up. PZ comments that religion doesn’t turn you into a terrorist. I’ll agree with that as a generalization, but this doesn’t absolve religion/church-sponsored terrorism. History is strewn with examples, e.g. Cathars, Spanish Jews, Hugenots, Knights Templar, Danites, Salman Rushdie, Baha’is, Darfur, and Church of Scientology victims. These aren’t individuals within a religion expressing their religious zeal. It’s the top hierarchy of a religion bringing the full force of its membership to bear against a target, whether through coercion or religious belief of its members. I certainly have to agree with Myers about religion providing susceptibility to bad ideas.
Then there is the venerable “I just believe in one less god than you“. Again, I’ll quibble with Myers that this doesn’t literally express disbelief, but his point is understood. Again, we’re stuck with a type1 or type2 atheist, depending on your interpretation, and if we are to refine the definition of atheism, that isn’t sufficient. I do have to ask, however, which god is being eliminated: Zeus, Hera, or Asherah (YHVH’s consort)?
PZ sure stirred up a hornet’s nest, but out here no one even notices that I tried stirring the mud a little bit. I could do with a little hate mail; just don’t send any of the big-time loonies my way.
I think Myers and I are in near agreement, but there is still a subtle difference. He is an atheist because he’s found no evidence for any god he’s encountered. This is a type 3 atheist. I’ve stuck my neck out further by stating that it is now and always will be impossible to find evidence for any god, whether I’ve encountered it or not! The difference is that I’ve stipulated that to be a god, whatever your higher power is, it has to be supernatural. This is specifically to eliminate evasions like “Well, my god is Nature” or “My god is the universe“. Whatever the case, “My god’s better than your god”. (Just be thankful that my blog isn’t singing that.)