PZMyers and the definition of atheism.
I first saw this post by PZ Myers back when he first wrote it, and I disagreed with him whole heartedly at the time. I still do, the only difference is at the time I couldn’t form my thoughts into a format that was appropriate for blogging about it. Full disclosure, I actually do like PZ Myers and most of what he writes. He earned my respect through his thoughts, words, and actions. Although I don’t read his blog as much as I used to, that respect is still definitely there. That doesn’t mean I have to agree with every single thing he says though. If I had to agree, then that would be hero worship – something which amusingly there’s a surprisingly large amount of in skeptic and atheist communities. This is just one such situation of divergent opinions, nothing more.
A layman’s very brief summary of the post in question, PZ Myers decided to get a few things off his chest that have been annoying him for a while. One of those is what he refers to as “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.””
He then attempts to explain why, in his opinion, this is not what atheism is about. Why to him, there is more to atheism than just a lack of belief in a god or gods. After calling people names (dumbass, dogmatic, blind) he gives us a brief summary of what brought him to his atheism. The events in his life that lead him to it, the positive values that lead him to it. However, after giving us this story, he then tells us this isn’t his definition of atheism. He then goes on to give us half a dozen other reasons and values that brought other people to atheism too.
So does that mean any / all of these events and values combined are what atheism is, what it stands for? Apparently not that either, because if you keep reading down to his “Science flies you to the moon. Religion flies you into buildings” section, he points out that these events, this values, are also shared by theists.
The second sentence is false. Religion does not turn you into a terrorist. The overwhelming majority of religious people have similar values to yours; my church-going grandmother would have been just as horrified at people using their faith to justify murdering people as the most hardened atheist, and there have been atheist individuals who also think they are justified in killing people for the cause. So stop saying this!
So in other words, every single thing he claims to be that which adds more to atheism than just the dictionary definition does, is also shared by that which is the opposite to atheism. If they lead to both, they cannot inherently be part of both, but rather they are part of being human. Trying to claim they are part of theism or atheism is nothing more than falsely attributing them. Take all these shared and falsely attributed things away, and what are you left with?
The dictionary definition.
Some *ism’s are defined by the journey (humanism, skepticism), some are defined by the destination (feminism, atheism, theism). PZ Myers is trying to move atheism from being one of a destination, to a journey. I don’t see why what atheism is has to be that which leads you to a destination. Surely due to the large number and widely contradicting variety of ways to get to that destination (historical accuracy & skepticism vs conspiracy theories of Acharaya S as just one example of contradictory methods), atheism’s definition should be the destination. A lack of positive belief in a god or gods.