It is so annoying having to repeat the same explanation over and over again -especially when you have to chop such complex explanations into 140 characters for Twitter, just to have all your work lost in cyberspace by tomorrow. So I’ll post it all here, where it can be archived in context for future reference. I hope that this will suffice the next few hundred times I have to explain this.
Most atheists don’t even know they are atheist. They’ve been lied to about what the word ‘atheist’ means, as if it means a conclusion of certain knowledge of the non-existence of God. Sorry no, that is not what ‘atheist’ means. But this lie so often repeated, it has caused even the best atheists to reject that label. Carl Sagan and Neil deGrasse Tyson are two of best models of atheism anyone could point to, but neither of them would use that word to describe themselves.
Sagan said that he is not an atheist, because [he thought] “An atheist knows there is no god. An atheist knows a lot more than I do. By some definitions, atheism is stupid”. He’s right; by that WRONG definition -a deliberate misrepresentation constantly repeated- atheism would be stupid. But that is not what atheism means.
A-theism means ‘without theism’. It is not necessarily a claim of knowledge or even a conclusion. It is simply any perspective that does not include or accept the beliefs held in theism. It is the default position regarding the failure of theists to make an adequate or compelling case for their unsupported and evidently false assertions. Theists know they can’t bear the burden of proof, so they try to reverse it, to shift it onto us, by saying that atheism is a belief that there is no God. No, atheism is a lack of belief in the existence of a god; not the existence of belief in the lack of a god.
Neil deGrasse Tyson knows what the true definition is, and he knows that it accurately applies to him, but he hates the label so much that he says the word should not even exist. I understand.
We should be defined by what we are .
We should not be defined by what we are not.
At the same time, when we’re living in a global population where those who have that belief grossly outnumber those who don’t, we kinda have to distinguish ourselves as the tiny minority of folks who do NOT believe in magic invisible fiends -for no reason, since there is no evidence to support that sort of nonsense.
I should add that if you have no reason to believe something, then you have no reason to believe it, and it’s important to bear that in mind. Having no reason to believe something is a pretty good reason not to believe it. Otherwise you’d believe everything imaginable no matter how inconsistent, contradictory, unsupported, improbable, or impossible it may be. That’s why science doesn’t have to disprove every absurdity any drug-induced idiot can dream up, and most (if not all) of the claims of religion really do fall into that category. In science, there is only what is supported by evidence, and what is not supported by evidence, and whatever is not supported simply doesn’t yet warrant serious consideration. Any claim requiring faith should be rejected for that reason.
“Positive claims require positive evidence;
extraordinary claims require extraordinary evidence.”
“What can be asserted without evidence
can be dismissed without evidence.”
These atheists who don’t know they’re atheist often call themselves ‘agnostic’ instead -because they don’t know what the word, ‘agnostic’ means either. They think you either believe in God or you believe in no-gods, or you can play the agnostic card if you just want to avoid the question altogether, because that’s what that amounts to.
One of my oldest and dearest friends is this way. He is an atheist in denial. He says he is not convinced there is a god, but he can’t be atheist because he’s not convinced there is NOT a god either. He seriously thought that was a valid argument!
For my friend, and for the millions of other unaware atheists out there, let me clarify this for you:
You are either convinced that a god exists, (Theist) or
you are not convinced that any god exists (a-Theist).
There is no undecided ‘maybe’ middle ground to escape to: You will remain unconvinced until you are convinced, and the whole time you’re not convinced, that’s when you should be saying “maybe, but I reserve judgement until you prove your case”, which of course theists will never do.
I should also add that it doesn’t matter how convinced you are, because conviction does not equal knowledge. Knowledge differs from mere belief in that knowledge is always demonstrable with measurable accuracy. If you can’t show it, you don’t know it. If we can’t test or otherwise verify your claims to any degree at all by any means whatsoever, then it is a fact that you cannot honestly claim to know what you might think you know.
Gnosis refers to knowledge of God rather than belief in God. Most theists are gnostic in that they pretend to know what no one even can know. There are also many theists who are agnostic, saying that they believe in some vague concept of god, but “who can say for sure who that god is or what prophets he really spoke to?” Most atheists are agnostic, saying that since it is impossible to test any knowledge claim relating to anything supernatural then no one really knows anything about gods, devils, ghosts, psionics or any other purportedly paranormal thing, and that is certainly reason enough to reject such beliefs.
I used to define myself as an agnostic atheist, but I don’t think that’s quite true anymore. An argument from my friend, Cristina Rad (regarding undetectable elves living in her butt) finally convinced me that I am a gnostic atheist. While I do still say it is impossible to ‘know’ anything that can never be indicated nor vindicated, verified nor falsified, I think I can adhere to the rules of scientific logic and still honestly say that I know there is no god.
One way I can know there is no god is that the most common concept of God is defined by its being miraculous, meaning that defies the laws of physics and is thus physically impossible -by definition. Also that it exists beyond our reality, meaning that it is not a part of this reality, meaning that it is not real -again, by definition. Otherwise if the god in question is inextricably tied to the supposedly infallible doctrines which we can prove are not factually accurate -about anything- then that disproves the deity along with the dogma. Otherwise, I know there’s no god the same way I know there is no celestial tea pot, and no invisible pink unicorn; the same way I know, there was never a Paul Bunyon (at least not THAT one) and no Pecos Bill either. I know there is no god the same way that I know there is no herd of wildebeest stampeding through my sock drawer, and that monkeys will never fly out of my ass. Not only is there no evidence of any of these preposterous things, but everything ever claimed about any of them are at least the empty assertions of incredulous people, or they’re fraudulent fibs conjured by imaginative but obviously not entirely honest people.
However gnostics are a minority among atheists, and do not change the overall definition of that term. Atheism does not require any knowledgeable conclusion that there is no god, only that there is insufficient confidence that there is one.
That also depends on what a god is, because a lot of people will deny they’re atheists on the grounds that they believe there’s “something”, but they don’t say what that something is. I think we all believe that; even me, although I suspect that ‘something’ will turn out to be completely natural emergent patterns of next-level physics or some such, which we cannot yet comprehend, and haven’t indicated either. Mine is not a faith-based belief, but recognition of the probability that we will keep discovering new things that turn out to be fundamental somehow. In any case, it doesn’t relate to the question of atheism unless the ‘something’ you believe in happens to be a god.
Atheist doesn’t mean the same thing as ‘apistevist’, (empirical rationalists who believe nothing on faith). Just because you don’t believe in any gods doesn’t mean you don’t believe in alternative medicine, psionic powers, or alien invaders. There are even atheist religions out there, Shaman, animism, Chinese ancestor worship, Taoism*, and so on, that do not typically or necessarily include gods, and pantheistic beliefs do not qualify Gaia as a god.
*Taoism is not technically a religion, but that combined with Confusionism is the template for the Jedi/Sith religion, which has no other name, so we’ll call it that within this context.
My area of special interest is in the systematic classification of life-forms. In order to categorize any collective, one must first define the grouping by the total tally of traits held in common by every member already universally accepted within that set, without making special exceptions for certain ones -before we can determine whether some new addition truly belongs there. We cannot redefine divinity so as to exclude most of the ancient gods traditionally worshiped by millions of people for thousands of years. I’m not going to explain the full analysis now, but if we categorize the whole pantheon correctly and collectively, then deities can all be summarily defined as magical anthropomorphic immortals, and this includes YHWH.
So if you believe there’s ‘something’. Fine. Do you believe that something is a magical anthropomorphic immortal? If not, then you’re still an atheist. You can be a Sith or a Jedi and still not believe in a god. The Force is neither anthropomorphic nor immortal, since it acts as a pattern of emergence from the component level, just like natural things do. However, by some reckoning, the Force would be a higher power, certainly, and logically would be a higher power even than a deity could be.
In 2009, there was a poll of scientists who are members of the American Association for the Advancement of Science, regarding how many of them believed in a god “or higher power”. The majority (41%) said they didn’t believe in either one. 33% said they believe in a god, and 18% said they do not believe in a god, but do believe in a universal spirit or higher power. The context of the question implies that the ‘power’ might be higher than that of a god. Indeed most of us who “believe there’s something” seem to have higher expectations of what that ‘something’ is than theists ever express for their god. What theists worship generally fits the essential description of djinni, and that puts the bar pretty low for everyone trying to view the whole uber-galactic cosmological scope.
Finally, all this reminds me of another poll regarding the ‘nones’, the demographic identified as those who chose ‘none’ when asked to specify their religion. Atheists often claim that is their group, but I know of many Christians here in Texas who don’t know what the word ‘religion’ means. They say, “Christianity isn’t a religion; it’s a philosophy”. In the next breath, they might brag that Christianity is still the most popular religion on Earth right now. They don’t know that a religion is a faith-based belief system which includes the notion that some essence of self continues after the death of the physical body. They think they have to choose ‘none’ to identify their religion as ‘non-denominational’ Christian. So the majority of that set may be most ignorant of all religious believers, people who definitely do have a religion, but who don’t know enough about what their religion is, or what a denomination is, or what any of that even means.
Likewise, -as was just explained- most of the people who do not believe in anything like an actual deity do not or will not identify as atheist, for various reasons of ignorance, apathy, deception, or denial. So I would like to see another poll done to determine how many people in America are actually atheist, regardless whether they would rather call themselves agnostic, whether they believe in vague ambiguous things other than gods, or whether they’re ‘apatheist’, meaning they don’t even care about any of this in their day-to-day lives.
To account for -and eliminate- all these errors in reporting, I want to see a national poll ask the following question:
Are you convinced that an actual deity really exists?
Those who answer ‘no’ will be correctly classified as atheist.
It really is that simple.