I’m not normally a fan of P.Z. Myers, since, although I appreciate his pro-education, pro-science activism, his agent provocateur shtick tends to be grossly offensive for the sake of being offensive. His deliberate sacrileges make it impossible for him to have any positive impact on religious people, and, if his demonstrations are intended to stir up atheists, he’s catering to the lowest denominators of distrust and anger. It’s poisonous for everyone involved.
So with those rather large caveats, and keeping in mind that I haven’t changed my general opinion of him, I want to give Myers credit where it’s due. While speaking in Montreal, Myers drew the ire of some atheists when he started ragging on ‘dictionary atheists.’ In response to complaints, he expanded his critique:
“Dictionary Atheists. Boy, I really do hate these guys. You’ve got a discussion going, talking about why you’re an atheist, or what atheism should mean to the community, or some such topic that is dealing with our ideas and society, and some smug wanker comes along and announces that “Atheism means you lack a belief in gods. Nothing more. Quit trying to add meaning to the term.” As if atheism can only be some platonic ideal floating in virtual space with no connections to anything else; as if atheists are people who have attained a zen-like ideal, their minds a void, containing nothing but atheism, which itself is nothing. Dumbasses…
In that Montreal talk, I explained that there is more to my atheism than simple denial of one claim; it’s actually based on a scientific attitude that values evidence and reason, that rejects claims resting solely on authority, and that encourages deeper exploration of the world. My atheism is not solely a negative claim about gods, but is based on a whole set of positive values that I will emphasize when talking about atheism. That denial of god thing? It’s a consequence, not a cause.”
Hurrah! As you may remember, I feel really strongly that atheists need to put up or shut up when it comes to their own moral beliefs. (I’ve talked about it here more than once). Defending ‘dictionary atheism’ is a waste of time. Unless dictionary atheists are only troubled by religion inasmuch as they think it is inaccurate (as homeopathy is false), they have plenty of moral critiques of the consequences of religion, not just its foundations. It’s worth talking about them, especially since some branches of the a/theism debate (historical Jesus particularly) are hard to judge as a layperson. Moral questions are universally accessible. As many other problems as I have with P.Z. Myers, I’m glad a big-name atheist is calling out dictionary atheists and others.
I’ve only been following P.Z. Myer for about half a year, so if anyone knows his writing better, can you do me a mitzvah? Does he talk about his values in detail or with a philosophical bent anywhere? I know he hates dualism (sigh) but I’m not sure if his commitment to empiricism represents the whole of his set of positive values. Anyone have a link for me?