Discussion and Debate

My prior post


generated some discussion.  In discussion with another sceptic, Barbara Drescher about this topic.  Barbara indicated her opinion on the matter could be found here.


When it comes to atheism, I think that Barbara’s amusing meme, “You keep using that word, but I do not think it means what you think it means.” applies as well as she feels it does to scepticism.

The super short version.  This definition and description of scepticism assumes atheism to be something more than it is.  It assumes in the label atheism, aspects of anti-theism, humanism, secularism and the like.  This is the kind of error that theists and the religious make.  While not claiming atheism is a religion.  The claim is that atheism is an ideology.  The cold hard truth is that atheism, beyond being a word that should not exist.  Atheism is simply rejection of the hypothesis of theism.

So my thoughts on Barbara’s idea of what scepticism is and isn’t.

Skepticism, secularism, humanism, and atheism (as an issue for activism, not a conclusion) are distinct ideologies with differing central values. These distinctions are important for several reasons, including organizational focus, communication, and personal objectivity.

The first step here is understanding what it is that claiming that atheism is an ideology means.  So what is an ideology?


The problem being, not the organisational focus but that the organisational focus is used as a lever to extricate the conclusion and  declare it external, or to divide the community.
By misrepresenting a result of critical thinking in an aspect of life and the world as an ideology, the action has been taken from focusing on a particular area for activism, to claiming that political or social expediency is an excuse to excise those coming to that result from the organisation.  Or to silence them.
Those are covered in more detail in the materials linked.

Many people have adopted more than one of these ideologies (I, for example, have adopted all of them to some degree), creating a “greater” community we tend to refer to as the “rationalist” community. Not all community members have adopted all ideologies.”
The claim that atheism as an ‘ideology’?  This is ….  well, not a new claim, just new to hear from a sceptic…  While I agree, there are some people who claim the label of ‘atheist’ who clearly did not think their way into it.  And while i am far from the James Randi of atheism, I haven’t met an outlandish number. every single one I have met is atheistic as a result of sceptical, critical thought  rather than ideology or band wagoning.  Of all the atheists I know of, something like 90% of them are there as a result of thought not feeling.  So, based on personal anecdote I’d be inclined to discount this hypothesis.  if only we had some data on this … we’d have perhaps the most meaningless data set in history.
From a “best practices” standpoint, skepticism reaches more people by focusing its efforts on testable claims because it can include those people who have not adopted one or more of the other ideologies I mentioned (e.g., atheism).
This represents a failure to understand the process of scientific sceptiscism.  The conclusion of atheism is a natural end result of rejecting the god hypothesis through lack of supporting evidence.
In the same way that when I claim there is an invisable, fire breathing dragon in my garage, you don’t state that the belief that such a dragon does not exist is unsceptical just because it failed to survive the begining of the sceptical process.Would the sceptical movement be declaring  unsceptical and unsuitable those who  believe that homeopathy doesn’t work on the basis that one day some evidence MAY be found that supports homeopathy?

From a philosophical standpoint, science is a method for acquiring knowledge, all of which is tentative. Because nobody knows with absolute certainty what is true, the method is much more important than personal conclusions. The method is how we can convince other people that our conclusions are accurate.

Also from a best practices standpoint, promoting methods (which includes sharing evidence and information such as alternative explanations for events) provides people with the tools to evaluate other claims more effectively.
From both a philosophical and best practices standpoint, promoting personal conclusions rather than method is a violation of basic scientific tenets and logic. “
A personal conclusion?  At no point, have I ever even heard whisper of, even a shadow of evidence supporting the deity hypothesis that is remotely valid.  While this IS anecdotal, even a whisper of such evidence would be in the hands of apologists and around the globe in hours, so I am inclined to accept that as provisionally true at this point.When facing a claim that has failed that early, critical step, the scientific method clearly states that until evidence is found, we reject the advanced hypothesis and provissionally accept the null hypothesis.  In this case, we must provisionally accept the null position that there are no gods, or we must reject the scientific method.

Now if these sceptics that claim that atheism is not an end result of scientific sceptical thought, and or critical thought, could please pony up the evidence that casts question over the acceptance of the null hypothesis that there are no gods, could they please do so.  I am sure they would be the un-dying heros of every religious apologist on earth.  But most importantly to me, they would be directing me away from a grievious error and changing my world view.  And potentially that of every other sceptical atheist around.
Alternatively, could they please explain, why, in matters of god(s), the process of scientific scepticism is not to be followed, when it so clearly is in all other topics?  I’m sure those of us left hanging would love to know where we went wrong.
Likewise, when we judge a person’s ability to use methods based solely on their beliefs (e.g., statements such as “Christians are not good skeptics”), we are judging an argument by its conclusion and not the merits of the argument itself.

The generalisation that “christians are not good sceptics” is unsupportable.  The statement that those believing the god hypothesis have either failed to apply scepticism to all their lives, or been unable or unwilling to examine the claims critically and objectively, would be far more accurate.  What’s more, it is the understanding that most sceptical atheists, those that, themselves, arrived at scepticsm through sceptical thought.
“Because objectivity is central to skepticism and values such as political ideologies should not drive the practice of skepticism or science, but should be informed by the findings of science and skeptical inquiry (e.g, science cannot tell us if gun control is good, but it can tell us if a specific regulation is likely to reduce the number of deaths by gun). In other words, economy, religion, and feminism are not “off-limits”. They should be and are subjected to the same treatment that all other topics are subjected to. They appear to receive different treatment merely because the claims made in these areas tend to be more complex and more difficult to test (if they are testable at all). Furthermore, these topics tend to be attached to strongly-held values and, because human beings are notoriously tenacious in their beliefs, more controversial.
Unlike political or values driven issues like gun control, there is only one, logical, rational and sceptical provisional position is to follow the null hypothesis.  This makes no political or value claims.  While it may inform values, even politics, the rejection of the god hypothesis is not ideological.  Rejecting that end product for ideological reasons is to compartmentalise and reject the uniform use of sceptical methodology.  This is very different from accepting but otherwise ignoring the end result for the purposes of focusing activist effort.
As I stated, I thought very carefully and clearly stated, that NOT putting energy and resources into certain aspects or results of sceptical thought, is an ideological, activism decision with social and political motivations.  And most atheists would find that completely understandable and acceptable.
To attempt to claim that the result of sceptical thought is somehow not scepticsm because that result is politically or socially uncomfortable is simply intellectually dishonest.
To sum up.  Atheism is NOT secularism, even if it can inform secularism; atheism is NOT anti-theism, even if it is a starting point and can inform anti-theism; atheism is NOT humanism, even if it constitutes the understanding of a large portion of humanists.
The rejection of the belief that there are god or gods is atheism.  This speaks very little to hard knowledge, beyond that there is not enough evidence to cast doubt over the null hypothesis.  This makes the only logical, rational and sceptical, objective examination of the situation result in atheism.  It also constitutes the key reason many atheists are, in fact, atheists.

~ by scawalrus on May 28, 2013.

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in:

WordPress.com Logo

You are commenting using your WordPress.com account. Log Out / Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out / Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out / Change )

Google+ photo

You are commenting using your Google+ account. Log Out / Change )

Connecting to %s

%d bloggers like this: