2010-08-27

Atheism is a religion

The other day a friend on Facebook posted an article from the Ottawa Citizen titled "Atheists have a place in discussions on faith". The article basically says that atheists are unfairly being excluded from discussions of faith despite the fact that they would have unique perspectives on the issues at hand.

The author contradicts himself. In one paragraph he encourages "a messy process that may at times appear to engender disrespect" and then in the next paragraph says that "The idea that atheists are arrogant or shrill needs to be put into some perspective", implying that atheists are unfairly portrayed as screaming idiots. Which is it? Do you want be invited to a panel only to say everyone else on the panel is wrong? Or do you want to engage in discussion with other faiths by offering your own unique perspective?

Personally I would welcome an honest and professional discussion on faith by inviting atheists along because, whether atheists like it or not, Atheism is a religion. But what is religion? Simply put, religion is a set of beliefs (world-view) origin, nature, and purpose of the universe. Isn't that what Atheism is? It's a belief that the universe began with a big bang from which all things evolved, the universe changes over time through undirected processes like natural selection and survival of the fittest, and since the universe is just a gigantic accident then there is no purpose.

As such, atheism should be subject to the same rules as other religions. If they want to teach their religious views then they are free to do it in a school not subsidized by tax dollars. Teachers in public schools will be forbidden to teach atheistic material in the science, math, or other classrooms other than a religion class. They can form atheist organizations and get tax deductions for making donations just like any other church organization.

Perhaps then, they will think twice before claiming that Intelligent Design isn't real science just because the objective, observable, and repeatable experiments have metaphysical implications. At least I hope it would. Because let's face it, a belief in a lack of a metaphysical existence still has metaphysical implications.

21 comments:

Jolly said...

Really? You get to change the definitions of words? Well, that makes it easy. Atheism is the LACK of belief in supernatural beings controlling our existence.
Could you give an example of atheism being taught in a public school?

Rye Guy said...

I'm not changing the definition of Atheism or religion.

As you said, Atheism is the LACK of belief in supernatural (metaphysical) beings.

Religion (as defined by dictionary.com) is a set of beliefs concerning the cause, nature, and purpose of the universe.

Just because atheists don't believe in a metaphysical reality, cause, and/or beings doesn't mean that their view doesn't have metaphysical (or religious) implications.

So whether a person is either for or against religion is, by definition, their belief is religous.

As for atheism being taught in public schools, I didn't have any specifics in mind. I was giving an example of the many rules enforced upon other religous ideologies.

Jerry said...

Rye guy: "I'm not changing the definition of Atheism or religion."

Well, you are overstepping a bit with your definition of atheism. Stated simply, atheism is the belief that gods do not exist. Nothing more. Although it's probably true that the majority of atheists also believe that ghosts do not exist, for example, there's nothing about atheism per se that rules out belief in ghosts, or even in the supernatural. The word refers specifically to gods and only gods.

But the more important problem here is that you are making an error when you connect one concept to the other. Atheism is a single belief that entails no other beliefs. Two people can disagree on everything else imaginable, but if they agree that gods do not exist, then they are both atheists because they share that one single belief.

You define religion as a SET of beliefs. Since atheism is a single belief (even extending it to your definition), it is by logical extension of your own comments not a religion.

I'll flip this around in order to (hopefully) clarify. The opposite of atheism is theism. Theism is a belief that one or more gods exist. Like atheism, it is a single belief. Therefore, like atheism, theism is not a religion. Theism is further subdivided into monotheism (the belief that one and only one god exists) and polytheism (the belief that multiple gods exist). These too are single beliefs.

There are religions – SETS of beliefs – based on monotheism, polytheism, and even atheism. But atheism is no more a religion than monotheism, which is a foundational single belief shared by Christianity, Judaism, and Islam, and these are clearly not the same religion as they hold different sets of beliefs.

No matter how many words are layered on top of them, and no matter how many people claim otherwise either purposely or inadvertently, these terms still refer to single beliefs and therefore cannot honestly be called religions, any more than a spring can be honestly called a watch or a spark plug can be honestly called an engine.

Jolly said...

Just because atheists don't believe in a metaphysical reality, cause, and/or beings doesn't mean that their view doesn't have metaphysical (or religious) implications.
Actually is does mean that. It has no meaning to anyone but me. If I don't believe in 'little green men' living on Mars does that affect the meaning of Mars? Atheism is again, a LACK of belief, it is NOT a belief. If someone showed me good evidence of a god or gods then I would change my opinion. See how that works? Atheism is very simple and quite limited in definition.
I would still like an example of the many rules enforced upon religious ideologies in public schools by atheists.

les said...

Great! How do I apply for tax free status on my income?

Don't you realise the trouble the religion you believe in would make for itself if this were actually the case?

Assume that atheists got together in every country that has blasphemy laws or hate speech laws and set up religions founded on the principals of science. Religions that deifiy rational thought and the scientific method as sacred. Religions that consider unsupported blind assertions and apologetic hand waving as heresy. Religions unlike any other that demands its 'truths' be constantly examined and, if the evidence demands, be discarded.

Weemaryanne said...

There's no such thing as a god.

You're welcome.

Rye Guy said...

@Jerry I see your point and will concede that Atheism, Theism, Animism, Polytheism and Monotheism (in their most purest definitions) aren't religions in and of themselves.

Perhaps a more apt term to use would be 'faith'. Heck, call it a 'religious conclusion'. Whatever you call it has religious implications.

Think of it this way: Suppose I want to run for mayor of my town. I present my political platform to the people in hopes that they agree and elect me as mayor.

Let's say you disagree with me but you don't offer an alternate platform. You just disagree with mine. You are still voicing your political opinion.

I say the same with atheism. Saying there is no God(s) is still a theistic opinion and has religious implications.

@Jolly Again you are putting words into my mouth. I didn't say atheism was being taught in schools. I didn't say atheists were the ones enforcing the rules. I will say that we have these rules, for the most part, because of atheists. ie: being able to pray in school.

@Les Like any other 'church' that applies for tax-free status there are rules. And you can't just claim your income from a normal job as 'tax free'. Rather, any income earned by the 'church' and paid to it's employees. Just like any other corporation, the church must file taxes and can be audited.

I would think that scientists would LOVE the idea. They could form grant corporations. And all the grant money they draw as their income would be tax free. If anything it would encourage more scientific discoveries. How would that be a bad thing?

Weemaryanne said...

What exactly do atheists pray in school (per your comment at 2010-08-28 9:14:00 AM)?

Jolly said...

You can pray in schools. I am still waiting for an example of (to quote you again) 'the many rules enforced upon other religious ideologies'. I don't understand how I am putting words in your mouth as you accused me when I am quoting you. Please explain.

Rye Guy said...

In my original post I said:

As such, atheism should be subject to the same rules as other religions. If they want to teach their religious views then they are free to do it in a school not subsidized by tax dollars. Teachers in public schools will be forbidden to teach atheistic material in the science, math, or other classrooms other than a religion class. They can form atheist organizations and get tax deductions for making donations just like any other church organization.

At the end of your 1st post you asked:

Could you give an example of atheism being taught in a public school?

I never said atheism is or was being taught in public schools. I said IF they do then they WILL BE forced to follow certain rules. Your question put words in my mouth by implying that I said they have or are currently teaching it.

I responded to this question in my reply post at the end when I said:

As for atheism being taught in public schools, I didn't have any specifics in mind. I was giving an example of the many rules enforced upon other religious ideologies.

You responded with the question:

I would still like an example of the many rules enforced upon religious ideologies in public schools by atheists.

By saying you are still asking for an example implies both that I did say that AND that you had previously asked for such an example. I did NOT say that atheists were enforcing rules upon religious ideologies in public schools. I said that in public schools many rules are enforced upon religious ideologies. You asked for an example of atheism being taught in school and are now waiting for an example of atheists enforcing rules upon other religious ideologies? Neither one relates to what originally said.

THAT is how you are putting words in my mouth.

As for examples of the rules that all religious ideologies (other than atheism) are expected to abide by in the public school system (which I did mention) I don't have any specifics other than the teaching of such ideologies is permitted only in the context of a religious studies class.

Jolly said...

So all this talk was about a problem that doesn't exist. OK

Jerry said...

@Rye guy

Part 2

At the risk of putting words in your mouth, I'm going to paraphrase an excerpt from your original post by adding "religious conclusions" to the first sentence, in the interest of greater accuracy (my addition is in caps):
"As such, atheism should be subject to the same rules as other religions AND RELIGIOUS CONCLUSIONS. If they want to teach their religious views then they are free to do it in a school not subsidized by tax dollars. Teachers in public schools will be forbidden to teach atheistic material in the science, math, or other classrooms other than a religion class. They can form atheist organizations and get tax deductions for making donations just like any other church organization."

With the change in language, I agree with you 100% on all but the last sentence. I am firmly against tax deductions based on beliefs. Churches should be subject to taxation like any other organization and should not receive automatic 501(3)c status by virtue of being churches.

The reason I didn't substitute "religious conclusions" for "religions" and that I added it instead is because a religion is more than just a religious conclusion; perhaps it can be considered a set of religious conclusions, but I religions probably incorporate beliefs that are more than religious conclusions. But whatever the details, I'm going to move to the next point assuming that you agree that both full blown religions and single belief religious conclusions should be treated the same in the eyes of the law and with respect to public education.

The reason for the distinction is that, since atheism is a single belief, it is only that single belief that cannot be taught in science, history, or any other classes. It is just as inappropriate for a teacher to say "there is no god" as it would be for that teacher to say "there is a god" or "Jesus dies for our sins" or anything else from the sets of beliefs that make up religions. It should ALL be off the table when teaching facts to young minds.

Are we on the same page so far?

Jerry said...

@Rye guy

Part 3.

Science and history and other subjects should be taught factually, and taken wherever the facts lead. I'm not sure where you stand on creation, but the evidence overwhelmingly shows that it didn't happen that way. Clear, consistent, and abundant evidence for evolution has been found all over the world. Evolution is as certain as gravity. So it should be taught.

Evolution is not atheism. It doesn't prove there's no god. It strongly implies it, to me, but that's just my opinion. You have a different opinion. Neither of our opinions has a place in science class.

As far as intelligent design goes, most of the scientists who've commented on it, as far as I'm aware, say that it isn't science. But rather than try to settle that debate between us two (presumably) non-scientists, let's just set the ground rules instead. You used the phrase "objective, observable, and repeatable experiments." I have no problem with that. If intelligent design can pass muster with the scientific community, then it's science and should be taught in science class. If it doesn't, then it isn't science and should not be taught in science class.

Science is the objective study of the world we live in, and it should be taught in an objective and factual manner regardless of its metaphysical conclusions or lack thereof.

Do we have an agreement on religious tolerance?

Jerry said...

@Rye guy

Part 1

You said:
"I see your point and will concede that Atheism, Theism, Animism, Polytheism and Monotheism (in their most purest definitions) aren't religions in and of themselves.

Perhaps a more apt term to use would be 'faith'. Heck, call it a 'religious conclusion'. Whatever you call it has religious implications."

Thanks for conceding that point. It's impossible to have a discussion when people stubbornly stick to their guns once their proven to be unloaded, and it's refreshing when someone acknowledges an error, especially publicly. So kudos to you for that.

That said, though, I don't understand what your qualifications ("in their most purest definitions" and "in and of themselves") add to the discussion, except to muddy it up. Your statement woudl be truer (or at least no less true) without them.

"Faith" is an absolutely incorrect word to describe atheism. (And to head it off at the pass, the argument that "it takes more faith to be an atheist" is circular, because it presumes faith to begin with. Atheists don't have 'faith' in our non-belief, we just don't see enough evidence to convince us that gods exist. Absent that evidence, we are not 'taking a leap of faith' by not believing, because one can only consider it a leap of faith if one pre-supposes the existence of a god who will punish us for not believing in him. It's no more a leap of faith than your belief in Christianity as opposed to Judaism or Islam.)

I do agree with the term "religious conclusion" to describe atheism, and I agree that it does have religious implications. So we can certainly move on from there.

Rye Guy said...

@Jerry

Part 1

I would CERTAINLY argue that it does take more faith to be an atheist than a theist, though not as proof for my argument that atheism is a faith.

Atheists don't have faith in a non-belief. You have faith in a belief that there is no God. A belief in nothing is still a belief. And faith is a strong belief in something (God doesn't exist).

I think the centre of our lack of agreement is that you say a lack of belief isn't a belief IN something. I say that a belief IN nothing is still a SOMETHING.

Gladly, we can at least agree that atheism is a religious conclusion.

Part 2

The language for taxes and churches is 'deduction' but the idea is really exemption. The reason for this is for freedom of religion and the concept of seperation of church and state. If goverment were to tax religion then there is no longer seperation.

Regardless, I agree that religions and single belief religious conclusions should be treated the same with respect to the application of the law and public education. Sadly, that is often not the case. There are teachers and professors who basically stand up and say "there is no god" in class (and I'm not talking religion or philosophy class).

Part 3

Evolution. A very tricky word. Do you mean Darwinian-evolution? Do you mean Neodarwinian-evolution? If you just mean changes within animals over time, then yes, evolution is very true. If you mean animals changing into other animals or living matter forming out of non-living matter then there is very little evidence. But that's a different discussion all together.

You said "Science is the objective study of the world we live in, and it should be taught in an objective and factual manner regardless of its metaphysical conclusions or lack thereof." and I wholeheartedly agree and it would be VERY nice if that was reality.

Jerry said...

@Rye guy

Part 2

You wrote:"If goverment were to tax religion then there is no longer seperation."

The taxation issue is a side point, not really relevant to the main discussion, but it's just an example of how the line has been drawn so far from the center for so long that it's difficult for many people to see what fairness would look like. I couldn't disagree with you more on this, so I'll say a few words about it.

Government not taxing religion while taxing everything else is part of what prevents separation. Religion is getting special treatment, and special treatment means government and religion are intertwined. The majority of the population are theists, mostly Christians. So you guys ought to be able to pay for your own churches without stealing from the minority who disagree with you. If the majority were atheists, organized into various factions, and demanded to pay less tax because of it – and for no other reason – how would that be fair to you?

Maybe we'll have to agree to disagree on this, but I hope I've planted the seed in your mind that you have no right to take money out of my pocket just because you have a majority belief set.

I agree that it's inappropriate for teachers to 'teach' that there's no god – or to 'teach' that there is one. There is potentially a very thin line, though. For example, what if a child raises their hand during the teaching of evolution (I'll get to it in part 3) and says "but Mommy told me that God made the world in six days, and that Noah took all the animals on the ark"? What should the teacher say in response? I don't pretend to have the right answer. Would it be wrong to simply say "well, the bible is not meant to be taken literally" or is that crossing the line? And if that's okay, how should follow-up questions be handled?

I don't know. But where the line gets thick is if the teacher says either "that's right, everything I'm telling you is blasphemy" or "your mommy is wrong, there is no god". Both of those should be off limits. Maybe the simplest response is to always simply say "we can't talk about religion here" and let it go at that.

Problem is, there are many believers who would consider "we can't talk about religion here" to be "atheism being taught in our schools". And they are absolutely wrong. It's not atheist, it's secular. (I'm not trying to put you into a group you don't belong in, but so many of the vocal religious won't be fair about where the line of separation really belongs. That's another effect of the line being drawn too far from the center. They've got the mile, and they're not giving back an inch. Take for example In God We Trust on our money. It should never have been put there in the first place – and the founders didn't put it there, that came during the civil war. Removing it wouldn't be atheist, it would be secular. Putting "There is No God" on our money, now THAT would be atheist. And it would be just as wrong as (but no more wrong than) "In God We Trust." At the very least, freedom of speech ought to include not having words put in my mouth.)

All that said, you made a factual claim that "There are teachers and professors who basically stand up and say "there is no god" in class". Can you cite some examples of this in public schools?

Jerry said...

@Rye guy

Part 3

You wrote: "Evolution. A very tricky word. Do you mean Darwinian-evolution? Do you mean Neodarwinian-evolution? If you just mean changes within animals over time, then yes, evolution is very true. If you mean animals changing into other animals or living matter forming out of non-living matter then there is very little evidence. But that's a different discussion all together."

Science is about validating truths and correcting errors. In the 150 years since Darwin, much has been discovered that confirms that he was on the right track and fills in many of the gaps in the theory. Anything Darwin may have gotten wrong should be corrected and taught the correct way. If Darwin was completely wrong, then 150 years of empirical study would have shown that to be the case.

The latest and greatest science is always what should be taught. And it should be taught without regard to religious conclusions or the religions that derive from them.

Evolution makes no claims about the origin of life itself. There is evidence, and plenty of it, for not only changes over time within the same animals, but changes that over the long course of time changed one type of animal into another. For some examples, watch http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=w1m4mATYoig&feature=channel. This is about an hour long, and unfortunately he makes a few disparaging remarks about religion. He's at a convention of atheists, so perhaps he can be excused. Nevertheless, I apologize on behalf of atheists in general and hope you can look past that.

You're right though that it's a different discussion altogether. And it seems we're in general agreement that facts should rule – even (perhaps especially) if they lead to evidence that there is, or isn't, a god.

Jerry said...

@Rye guy

The reason these posts are out of order is because Blogspot has bugs. Last time I wrote that Blogspot had bugs, they removed that comment. They'll probably erase this one too. We'll see.

Jerry said...
This comment has been removed by the author.
Jerry said...

@Rye guy

Part 1 (1 of 2)

You wrote: " I think the centre of our lack of agreement is that you say a lack of belief isn't a belief IN something. I say that a belief IN nothing is still a SOMETHING."

If you re-read my definitions, you'll see that I am perfectly willing to state it as a belief in something. I said "Stated simply, atheism is the belief that gods do not exist." That is not where we disagree. (Many atheists, though, are reluctant to state it as a 'positive' belief like that gods do not exist, because many theists then like to turn it around and say "so prove your positive claim". The logical default position is that X doesn't exist until it's proven to exist, or at least that a case is made for X's existence. The burden of proof, or at the very least the starting point for the discussion, lies with the person making a claim, and in this case it's the theist.)

I agree that if you believe in a god that will punish you eternally for disbelief, it appears to take a great deal of faith for someone else to not believe in such a god. But I think maybe you aren't trying hard enough to see it from a perspective of non-belief. I don't mean to be insulting to your beliefs, but with regard to religion I find the package as a whole way too ridiculous to be afraid of. So it doesn't feel to me like a risk to be an atheist. In order for it to feel like a risk, I'd already have to believe, at some level, that there's a god who will punish me for disbelief. See what I mean?

Jerry said...

@Rye guy

Part 1 (1 of 2)

I wouldn't say that I have faith in my belief that there are no gods; I'd say that I have no faith in the claim that there is/are god(s). I have no faith in any claim without evidence, or at least solid enough arguments to make it seem more plausible than not; and I don't find any credible evidence for the existence of gods. If anything, perhaps, you could say I have faith that this is the right way to approach things. At most, maybe it's a sort of faith in skepticism. But that's kind of a strange concept, having faith in not believing unproven assertions.

Depending on how you define it, though, I can agree that I experience a kind of faith. (Google "define faith" and read the first half-dozen entries, not the whole pages even just what Google shows, and you'll see a great deal of variation.) If it's used in the everyday sense of having faith in a person (i.e. I have faith that John will do what he said he would do), or an idea (i.e. I have faith that honesty is the best policy), or a thing (i.e. I have faith that this bridge will not collapse as I drive over it) then a) there's nothing about it that differentiates atheists and theists; and b) in each case these 'faiths' are supported by evidence (John has always been reliable, I respect myself and am respected by others for my honesty, and thousands of cars have already driven over that bridge safely). So that type of faith can't be what we're talking about.

One of the definitions says that "[f]aith is belief in things not seen". In other words, no b. That kind of faith does differentiate atheists and theists. Generally speaking, it seems to me that theists have that kind of faith and atheists do not.