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Why Appear in an Atheist Book?

by Brian Dunning, Nov 15 2012

This past weekend I did a photo shoot for Chris Johnson, author and photographer of the upcoming book A Better Life: 100 Atheists Speak Out on Joy & Meaning in a World Without God. Although I certainly make no secret of the fact that I am without religious convictions of any kind, I prefer to avoid the word “atheist” like the plague. It means too many things to too many different people, most of them negative; and I’ve always hoped to have as little negativity as possible in the work that I do. So why appear in an atheist book, if I don’t want to make a negative statement? Here’s a clip from the companion video that Chris shoots with each interview:

You won’t catch me writing books with incendiary titles such as The God Delusion, God Is Not Great: How Religion Poisons Everything, or The End of Faith. That’s simply not a message I’m interested in communicating. Rather, if you listen to Skeptoid, you probably know that I prefer to communicate the excitement of discovery and learning (setting aside some of the earliest episodes, from before I had a firm handle on the show), whatever the subject matter: history, urban legends, popular mysteries, ghost stories. There is so much to learn in these subject areas, all of it marvelous. One of the challenges I face is that it’s hard to get someone to consider a neat optical effect (for example) if they’re unwilling to look beyond their insistence that what they’re seeing is a literal ghost or spirit.

Helping someone to strip away a set of beliefs that wrongly characterizes their own world can be a good thing, as long as you follow it up with the wonder of what’s really going on. Don’t just pull the curtain aside unless you’re also going to show them what’s behind it. I find it useless to simply say “Your curtain is wrong.” That, in a nutshell, is why I loathe the term atheist — too many people see it merely as a negative, thuggish belief system.

I’m always pleased that I so frequently receive emails from Chistians, Jews, Muslims, and others who tell me how much they enjoy my show, and how much they appreciate that I don’t make fun of them or insult them the way some other science and skeptical resources tend to. To me, that’s a sign that I’m doing something right. And I don’t, for a second, consider what I’m doing to be “accommodationist”, which implies that I’m tolerating a lack of skepticism and shaping my message to conform to others’ beliefs. Not at all. With every project I produce, I try to nudge everyone in the right direction, toward an appreciation of how awesome it is to learn what’s really happening. I’m nudging them with a hand on the back, not with a kick in the nuts. If their experience is good, they may just come back for more.

I also believe that all of these styles of outreach are useful. Everyone’s different, and everyone responds differently to various messaging styles. Therefore I think it’s important that a book such as Chris’ include as many different styles as possible. Therefore I’m grateful to have the opportunity to be in it, and to make my resources available to a group who might not otherwise know about them.

Am I worried about any fallout from being in a book about atheists? Nope. Anyone who actually reads my comments in the book will get just the message I want them to get, not someone else’s; and will not be able to argue that I fit whatever brutish definition of “atheist” pleases them.

A Better Life was the result of a successful Kickstarter campaign to fund its production. Do check it out.

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60 Responses to “Why Appear in an Atheist Book?”

  1. Deen says:

    too many people see it merely as a negative, thuggish belief system

    Then why not help correct that misconception, for example by pointing at the “atheism plus” crowd or any number of other examples of people who promote atheism along side science or humanism or both, rather than feed into it by implying that atheists are nudging believers “with a kick in the nuts”?

    • S. Hill says:

      Brian said atheism is not a message he is interested in promoting. There is no good reason to promote a small, ill-planned splinter group. The “atheism plus” idea has foundered badly. The BEST atheism outreach is not hiding your non-theism but coming across to the public as a knowledgable, friendly, caring human being who is without supernatural beliefs.

  2. Somite says:

    What I don’t understand is why some skeptics have to deride the efforts of atheists like Dawkins. You may choose not to have conviction and speak clearly and truthfully but why criticize when others do?

    I can assure you that the work you criticize as inflammatory will be much more impactful. It probably already is.

    • S. Hill says:

      Not everyone agrees that Dawkins approach is the best one. Or, it’s not something we feel comfortable with promoting. And, it may also be flawed. The impact may be just as powerful in the negative direction as the positive when it comes to the overall attitude about atheism. You can’t really say because that isn’t measured. Everything is open to discussion and critique. That’s what we do.

      • Ryan says:

        I think the larger problem with Dawkins and that whole wing of atheist thought is that it isn’t atheism per se. Its more garden variety anti-religiousness. And the method there is to frame atheism as a form of active resistance to Judeo-Christian religions. Even arguing over whether his approach is the best one feeds in to that. It assumes that atheism has a set goal or a consistent belief system behind it (particularly the active defeat of Western religions). But the fact is it doesn’t.

        You’ve got two separate things: Atheism; the lack of belief in god. An absence. A negative which tells you about as much about a persons philosophy as “not blonde” does about their looks. Then you’ve got the anti-religion thing, which certainly doesn’t require atheism of its adherents. Which takes as its central idea that all religion is and always has been bad and should be done away with. Conflating the two and then holding them up as the driving central form of all atheism is unfortunate. It drives a great many people who are technically atheist away from describing themselves as such (like myself for a long time) and fosters negative ideas about and treatment of atheists.

    • Daniel says:

      The problem with Dawkins is that he takes a belief (probably right in my mind) that there isn’t a supernatural deity that’s looking over everything we do, and then takes the quite illogical leap that the world would be a better and more peaceful place if people all believed that there wasn’t a supernatural entity (officially atheistic nations such as the USSR, North Korea, Mao’s China have a very poor history when it comes to prosperity and the whole state not murdering tens of millions of its own citizens). Succinctly put, Dawkins might be right in his basic premise, but he’s just an asshole.

      I find Shermer a lot more interesting than Dawkins.

      • tmac57 says:

        Daniel,are you asserting that atheism was the cause of that brutality,and failure to prosper? Can you think of counter examples in history as well as the present? Have all religious dominated cultures been prosperous and benign,without totalitarian tendencies? Have all secular cultures ruled with a despotic and murderous hand,and failed financially?

      • Daniel says:

        One at a time:

        Yes, I think atheism, or at least the atheism of certain people, has contributed to the human misery in the nations I mentioned. Stalin was an atheist, and used his atheism to justify his amoralism. Atheism wasn’t THE cause of his (or Mao’s) brutality, but it had a lot to do with it, at least in my opinion. This, of course, is not to say that atheists are inherently or always immoral or that misery necessarily follows when they have political control. France and Germany are irreligious, if not officially atheistic, nations, but they work just fine.

        And by the same token, some societies that are religious and have leaders that are religious have similar problems, and sometimes lead to totalitarian theocracies (think Iran, Cromwell’s England, colonial Salem). By contrast, I’m constantly told by atheists, that the US is a nation that’s full of and run by superstitious bible thumpers. Yet the US is the most prosperous nation (small anomolous countries like Qatar, Luxembourg excepted) that the world has ever known. And all of the atheists who constantly belly-ache about the theocracy that’s apparently here or right around the corner (Prothero anyone?) seem to have no problem when it comes to actually living here.

        Basically, my beef with people like Dawkins is that they’re very quick to talk about the human misery that follows religion, while conveniently ignoring the misery that history has shown can often follows when there is no religion. It’s simplistic and not very thoughtful.

        And again, they come off sounding like assholes.

      • Somite says:

        Does it matter to you that atheism is the only logically correct answer and religion is just factually wrong?

      • Ryan says:

        I think it goes a bit deeper than that. The entire argument completely ignores are the immense misery and benefits created by every other category of human thought. You might as well peg literature, or politics. You’ll end up in the same circular argument. People do terrible things to one another, obsessing over religion’s role in it just plays into its claimed primacy over human lives.

      • Max says:

        Religions and atheist ideologies and individuals can be good and bad.

      • Daniel says:

        That ought to be an uncontroversial statement. To some atheists, somehow, it is, or it certainly seems to be. That’s what makes them unpersuasive and tedious.

      • Daniel says:

        Somite:

        Atheism is not the only “logical” answer. The same way I have yet to see proof of a supernatural deity, there is no proof (nor really can there be) that it does not exist. It isn’t a scientific endeavor one way or the other. One is not some ignorant rube for living their life as if science isn’t the end all be all of things.

        Sure, a logical or scientific inquiry into the existence of the supernatural matters to me for purposes of formulating my own beliefs. (As I’ve said before, I’m not a religious person, and don’t pray to a “God”, except when I buy a lottery ticket, although I don’t completely rule out the possibility). It does not follow, however, that religious people should be the object of scorn (as they are to people like Dawkins). And I object to the corollary that the world would be a better place if we took religion out of the equation, when there is a mountain of evidence that suggests that assertion just isn’t true.

      • Somite says:

        1. There is no need to produce proof that something doesn’t exist. For the existence of things you only need positive proof.

        2. I have never heard Dawkins insult religious people. He often insults the bad ideas of religious people specially when they try to impose their ideas on everyone else and science,

      • Daniel says:

        1. If we never discover proof that intelligent extraterrestrial life exists, it does not follow that it does not exist.

        2. I’m not familiar with all of Dawkins’ work, but it is insulting when he makes the (disproven) claim that the world would be a better place if only they abandoned their silly beliefs or saying they might as well believe in the flying spaghetti monster.

      • Somite says:

        But you know life exists and is within the realm of the possible.

        There is no evidence anything supernatural exists, including God.

      • Daniel says:

        Somite:

        1. Touche

    • Max says:

      Not all atheists agree with Dawkins that teaching children religion is child abuse.
      If studies show that religious people are happier and healthier than atheists, then would depriving children of religion be child abuse?

      • tmac57 says:

        You really can’t use the broad idea of “teaching children religion” as a discreet factor.You can teach a dog to be house trained,and come when called by positive and loving reinforcement,or you can get the same behavior by beating it and using choke chains and negative reinforcement.Those are both ‘teaching dogs to behave’,but one can easily be seen as Ok,while the other is clearly abuse.

      • Max says:

        Does Dawkins make a distinction?

      • tmac57 says:

        That’s a good question.I have never read his works on religion.
        I have seen video of his debates,and heard various interviews,and my impression is that he dislikes the presumption of theists that they hold the only moral high ground,and that it is the only way for a person to lead a moral life,which leads to them wanting to run our world.

      • Student says:

        Nope.

        You’d still be lying to them and misleading them, and most religions aren’t without terrible consequences for the few who fall outside of their requisite behaviours. Teaching gay people that they’re evil, or that sexual urges are wrong don’t make people happier, and have caused tragedies in the past.

        If you could find a belief which avoided the pitfalls of most religion, then perhaps, but otherwise it’d still be problematic.

        I don’t know what that might be. Jainism maybe?

      • Elenath says:

        Should something be so easily considered lying?

        They genuinely believe they are telling their children the truth, most people would do the same for their children.

        If we, for example, taught a science that many years later turned out to be a misinterpretation of fact . . . would we have lied?

        I don’t know, I guess the technical definition of lying is somewhat open but I always figured that to lie you must be dishonest with knowledge you are being so.

    • Somite – Was your takeaway from my post honestly that “I’ve chosen not to have conviction and speak clearly and truthfully?”

      • Somite says:

        “I loathe the term atheist”

        Why beat around the bush regarding atheism. If you are a skeptic and apply your skepticism to religion you should be absolutely comfortable with the atheist label. You should also be appreciative of others that speak clearly on the matter instead of criticizing their efforts.

        The god question doesn’t need any nuance. There is no evidence for any god or supernatural phenomena and skeptics should have no problem pointing this out.

      • Max says:

        Dawkins publicized the “Brights” movement.

      • Somite – Was your takeaway from my statement “I also believe that all of these styles of outreach are useful” honestly that I am critical and unappreciative of their efforts? Methinks you read this post with some angry-colored glasses, looking only for things to twist into something to disagree with.

  3. Peter Robinson says:

    While admiring your efforts to spread skepticism in your positive way, you seem to be caught in a dilemma. On one hand you explicitly criticise the likes of Dawkins, Harris etc with your phrase ‘incendiary titles’, yet later appear to accept that different approaches are required.

    Surely a far more positive approach would be kick off by saying that you respect and admire the work of those people, but that you feel skepticism needs a balance between attack and gentle cajoling. Without Dawkins and others, the debate would remain un-framed and it has to be necessary to establish with clarity where the division is, before you can even start to take the softly softly approach.

    Religion is so pervasive and so often adherents are so immune to reason that any amount of cuddling up to them is a waste of time. In your use of terms like ‘incendiary’ you offer some succour to those who use terms like ‘militant atheism’ to try to detract from the debate that Dawkins et al have so valuably contributed to.

    • Student says:

      Except they are incendiary titles. They’re deliberately provoking. Dawkins even outlines in “The God Delusion” that the title is provoking.

      It’s not a negative critique or a denigration to point out that they’re deliberately incendiary. Indeed, that’s what they seem to be trying to do. To ignore that, is baffling, and to accuse someone who notices what is blindingly obvious of coddling believers by noticing that is truly absurd.

      You’re reading into the statement a condemnation which seems to be absent, there is no dissonance between saying that those titles are incendiary, and that multiple approaches may be required.

      You’re reading a lot into what isn’t there. He isn’t coddling anyone by calling the titles incendiary, and as he lays out, he’s describing his preferred method of discourse on the subject. If you take a disagreement on a topic as a personal insult, then skepticism is not for you, and maybe it is you who needs coddling.

      Dunning doesn’t want to use that approach, and since his main aim is skeptical education, as opposed to prosletyzing for atheism, annoying a great deal of his audience would be counterproductive.

  4. Trimegistus says:

    I can see where Brian is coming from: there are far too many atheists who are just as immune to reason as the most devout believer. Especially since a person who believes his irrational prejudices are rational and scientific is far harder to reason with.

    There are also a lot of atheists who are, frankly, bigoted against religion. I call this the Unicorn Issue. I don’t believe in unicorns. But I don’t find it offensive that other people buy unicorn posters. I don’t demand the removal of the unicorn from the UK coat of arms, I don’t campaign against performances of “The Glass Menagerie” and I don’t spend my time trolling the comments on unicorn blogs. I find that some atheists seem to devote a lot of time and energy to not believing in God — which makes me wonder if they have doubts about their doubts.

    • Somite says:

      Of that were the extent of religion it wouldn’t be a problem.

      • Willy says:

        Indeed. It is mostly not religion itself that angers aggressive atheists but the behavior that it often incites. I would have thought that obvious. In fact the Unicorn example, if anything, serves to illustrate that.

    • shawmutt says:

      People who believe in unicorns don’t invade private lives through legislation, brainwash young minds with promises and threats, and rigorously battle intellectualism because it’s a perceived danger to their faith.

      I don’t devote any time and energy to not believing in a god. I do however, spend a lot of time and energy doing my part to protect the separation of church and state in my county.

    • Student says:

      The unicorn doesn’t express a division to people though.

      Using “In God We Trust” as a motto discriminates against those who have multiple or no gods. Including it in the pledge allegiance makes them liars for saying it, or pariahs for remaining silent.

      Using a Lion, or a unicorn, or any number of symbols on a flag, doesn’t express a position. Writing a statement on money does.

      • Personally I’ve always been a fan of creepy eyeballs on top of pyramids. To me, that says “America”.

      • Student says:

        Hahahaha.

        I think we can go further and give those pyramids arms and legs. A walking pyramid with a giant eye is a symbol no-one could do anything but respect.

      • spectator says:

        Kinda like your eye in the Skeptoid logo ;)
        The stupid SGU cast didn’t get it until you explained to them that you’ve coined the phrase “let’s point our skeptical eye towards____”. But someone asked if that was indeed your eye and you said that it was.

  5. S. Hill says:

    I share Brian’s philososphy of not wanting to participate much in the atheism community and, as such, I hesitated to appear as an invited speaker at a local atheism conference. I did go and talked about applying scientific skepticism to broad issues, WAY beyond religion. And you know what? Much of the audience was hearing that information for the FIRST time. It was actually very well received and appreciated. It is a major flaw to think that the atheism and skepticism communities overlap TOO much. Some but not as much as many would think. If the goal is to help people think about weird things a little more clearly and rationally, there is no excuse for limiting the audience by insulting their personal spiritual beliefs (which have nothing to do with the alt med, anti-vax, UFO, Bigfoot or conspiracy beliefs they may consider adopting).
     

    • spectator says:

      Especially when that less-than-skeptical atheist community member tells you who you’re allowed to follow on Twitter :P
      (assuming that you’re S. Hill I think you are)
      If you’re who I think you are, I’d like to let you know that you’re among my skeptical female role-models. Barbara Drescher is the another. (She reads this blog…Hi Barb!)

  6. Ab Norm Al says:

    “What I don’t understand is why some skeptics have to deride the efforts of atheists like Dawkins.”

    “On one hand you explicitly criticize the likes of Dawkins, Harris etc.”

    Read the story again. Brian does not criticize these authors; he states “You won’t catch me writing books with incendiary titles such as . . .” That is not criticizing. He is discussing his style.

  7. Aaron says:

    I seem to have basically the same attitude towards “incendiary atheism” as you, but I still label myself as an atheist matter-of-factly, and am not ashamed for doing so; it’s simply the label that most accurately describes my beliefs. The fact that the word “atheist” carries negative connotations among many people due to the confrontational and incendiary nature of “Reddit atheists” and Richard Dawkins is unfortunate, but the definition of atheism is still what it is, and that remains unchanged by any negative coloration that the word may have received.

    While many atheists seem to prefer similar labels such as “secular humanism” (technical differences aside) to avoid using the “A-word” altogether, I feel like we do ourselves no favors by tiptoeing around it, despite the disagreements we may have with others who share the label.

    I believe that the best any atheist can do is to try to set a good example and not to be an arrogant jerk towards religious folks (while still opposing state-sponsored religious endorsement, promotion of a specific religion in public schools, etc). You’re entitled to your beliefs, and I’m entitled to mine; there’s no reason we can’t co-exist, and there’s no reason to hate or demonize each other because of it.

  8. Explicit Atheist says:

    Brian Dunning: Accommodationist refers to atheists who insist that theistic creationism is compatible with scientific evolution, or who insist that methodological naturalism is intrinsically a prerequisite for science instead of a pragmatic result of the fact that methodological supernaturalism is a failure, or who say that both atheism and theism are true, or who claim that religious faith is a valid alternative way of acquiring knowledge, and the like. Accommodationists are not atheists who merely actively try to reach out and interact politely and constructively with theists, or who avoid calling themselves atheists. So if you are someone who only fits the latter category, you are not an accommodationist and will not be labeled as such by anyone other than ignorant and goofy people.

    As for atheists being thuggish, read the comments on blogs authored by religious people who criticize atheists, that is where you will see thuggish attitudes, more so than on similar new atheist blogs. The theistic crowd that likes to criticize atheists are simply unwilling to have a reasonable conversation on the topic, they are proudly intolerant, closed minded intolerance of atheism for many of them is a highly ranked value, it is not a vice at all.

    • tmac57 says:

      Does Chris Mooney fit your description of accommodationist? I don’t think so,but he has been widely criticized as one by the atheist community.
      I really liked, and agreed with your last paragraph by the way.

    • spectator says:

      Your description of accomodationists doesn’t describe any of the individuals derided as such. At the most extreme, an accommodationist will participate in inter-faith endeavors, where people from all belief systems make an effort to get past their differences. Rather than demand the world must believe as they do, they acknowledge the differences, and strive to move past them for the greater good of humanity.
      The New Atheist mindset is no different from the proselytizing Christian, the Muslim extremist who abhors infidels, or the Jehovah’s Witness knocking doors. There is only one correct worldview. For the world to be a decent place, all must ascribe to that world view. Non-believers who contribute to these ecumenical collaborations, are akin to heretics worthy of disdain. If fact, new atheists make straw man arguments like they are okie dokie with YEC being taught in science class, something even the Catholic Church doesn’t advocate.
      All this criticism for Brian’s decision not to identify as an atheist (despite that this whole article was about an instance when he basically did)is typical of hard line religious fundamentalists. Brian is remiss in his promotion of scientific skepticism for failing to declare that atheism is the way and the truth and the light. No one comes to The Truth except through enthusiastic rejection of deities. While the audience can agree there is no good evidence for ghosts, then he must urge them to reject the Holy Ghost (even though the Holy Spirit is not actually a “ghost”, the rhetoric is sure exhilarating to interject).
      I am Catholic. After extreme disappointment listening to several skeptical podcasts, I gave Skeptoid a shot since an iTunes review emphasized how it is much better and different from other skeptical podcasts. Guess what! I have been not only an avid listener every Tuesday morning, I became a financial supporter almost 2 years ago. How many new atheist listeners can be bothered? It would be interesting to see the relative demographic data of Skeptoid supporters. Although, I don’t for a minute believe that Brian is intentionally avoiding the baggage atheism has collected factors into how he self-identifies. Skeptoid is totally worth it.
      Skeptoid is completely the opposite of say, SGU. I have to suffer through so much crap just to listen to a particular guest appearance of someone I like (Brian, Dr. Dean Edell, Captain Disillusion, Brian Brushwood). 5 minutes of Rebecca Watson is torture. Even if I agree with her, I feel like changing my mind the way she “articulates” it. No, Jenny McCarthy’s body count, deriding AGW “deniers, or some kook hounding a small town school board to teach the controversy, are enlightening or entertaining to me. Same with the Skepticality cast gloating that they now refer to themselves as “brights.” Even Skeptically Speaking sounds grates on me. Except for The Conspiracy Skeptic, I get a hell of a lot more entertainment out of Coast to Coast(even though it taught me I am a skeptic.)than most skeptical podcasts.
      The reason the mainstream can’t embrace skepticism is the insistence and persistence from the associated “movement” that you’re still an idiot wooster if you believe in God. The same crowd that brought A+ to fruition initially began agitating over how bored they were with Bigfoot and UFO’s. The initial ideological purge was theists, because they weren’t doing skepticism right. They whacked down the straw man idea that religion “gets a pass on skeptical inquiry.” That lead to the obvious next target, accomodationists. I see the same rhetorical straw man used by PZ Myers alive and well in this comment. If the video of Phil Plait’s DBAD speech wasn’t available online, the butthurts would have effectively rewritten it. But luckily, theists were already drummed out of the movement. The few atheists like Brian, who maintain how conflating atheism and skepticism demonstrates a fundamental misconception of what skepticism actually is, just give up. But, oh well! Let’s just pretend it’s a different “approach” cause the ultimate goal is to reject religion.
      After atheism got an ideological foothold in the skeptical movement, then why stop there? Apply skepticism properly to politics, social justice, animal rights, gender issues, and there you go. That condescendingly dismissive attitude that was so endearing initially turns very ugly.
      Skepticism, like so many other movements embraced all these side issues. Look at the Tea Party. When they were focused on governmental fiscal responsibility, a power grass roots movement got underway. But as they morphed into more derisive religious and cultural ideologies, they’ve basically fell apart.
      Now the skeptical movement is picking up the pieces. If they stick to skepticism, they can survive.

    • I retract my misuse of the term. Thanks for the correction.

  9. Janet Camp says:

    I used to avoid the term “atheist”, but now embrace it. It’s a simple one-word label that best fits a non-belief in a supernatural being. I don’t see any negative connotation to it anymore and I credit a lot of that to Dawkins, whose views of the subject I embrace almost entirely. I can’t for the life of me grasp all this anti-Dawkins rubbish. Fine by me if you don’t like his work, but I for one was very gratified when he exposed the attempted brainwashing of little children when they are most impressionable as child abuse.

    Frankly, I do not see the point of this post at all. Brian appears in a book and then explains why when no one has asked. Okay. I quit reading his blog some time ago as most of it is a rehash of silly ghost and alien stuff.

    By the way, what is wrong with “negative”? Brian sounds a lot like my very New Age-y acquaintances who just hate “the negataivity”. I’m given up “winning” these “lost souls” over to any kind of rational thinking, but please, carry on.

  10. shawmutt says:

    I don’t understand the aversion to the word atheist. Mr. Dunning sounds exactly like Neil Degrasse Tyson with all the talk about baggage on the term. Newsflash, to religious folks, you’re an atheist, whether you want the label or not.

    • Student says:

      The problem with the word is:

      1) It doesn’t tell you what I believe.

      I’m atheistic, but I also don’t believe in literally an infinite number of things. Telling you what I don’t believe doesn’t tell you what matters.

      2) It has negative connotations to some people who assume it means you’re going to spout anti-theistic claptrap like “Religion poisons everything.” You end up being grouped with those people in the minds of those you communicate with, because some anti-theists don’t distinguish between atheism, and anti-theism. So it’s not a case of avoiding saying your an atheist, but assuring people that by atheist, you don’t mean you’ve an interest in criticising them or their faith, and that you don’t necessarily object to religion.

      The point is not to avoid using the word, but to use words which are better for the task, and to avoid making people angry at you without even listening (Which is their problem, but one you’ll have to deal with the repercussions of).

      • Janet Camp says:

        The more people use the word, the broader and more acceptable the understanding of that word will become. Actually, I couldn’t care less how some believer interprets my declaration of atheism, but I haven’t had anything particularly negative some of it. I have found it more like a gay person finally coming out. The relief far outweighs effect of the (sometimes) imagined results.

        Are you suggesting we all come up with some specialized word or phrase that precisely describes our world view?

      • Daniel says:

        The words one chooses to use don’t matter so much. A devoutly religious person does not care whether you call yourself an atheist or an antitheist. It’s just a matter of using common sense if your goal is to persuade people or otherwise engage in some kind of interesting or constructive dialogue.

        Making arguments that just aren’t supported by the facts (such as saying the world will be a more peaceful place if we took religion out of the equation) insulting religious people, or setting up a rapid reaction anti-nativity scene task force, probably don’t accomplish those goals.

        It also helps to keep in mind that the belief or non-belief in the existence of a creator is largely academic. One can be a competent lawyer, investment banker, doctor, engineer, etc., while not believing something as fundamental as the earth revolving around the sun. (Civilization managed to steadily advance up until the time Copernicus came around). Sure, it’ll make you a crappy astronomer, and you probably shouldn’t be working for NASA if you believed that, but 99.9 percent of people are not astronomers and don’t work for NASA.

    • I’ve had worse feedback than “I sound exactly like Neil Degrasse Tyson”. :-)

  11. RoboSapien says:

    To me, the term atheist describes precisely what I believe: nothing.

    I either know things, or I don’t. Believing doesn’t enter the equation, and that is what divides us from the religious. Religion IS poison, and I have no qualms about arguing that with any believer. Brian may be content to tread lightly, maintain a positive image and take the back door to peoples’ thinking, and it seems to be working great for him, but there’s nothing wrong with dishing out the cold hard truth a la Dawkins.

    • tmac57 says:

      It’s highly unlikely that everything that you “know” is actually factual.
      What about those things that you “know” that aren’t really true?.In retrospect wouldn’t you have to concede that you ‘believed’ that thing to be be true (aka you ‘knew it’),but it turned out to be false (aka you didn’t really “know it”).
      I guess you could say that you didn’t ‘belive it’,you just ‘thought it’,but that would just be a semantic argument in my opinion.

      • Max says:

        I recently got a flu shot, and thinking back I don’t remember the nurse swabbing the skin with alcohol. Turns out there’s a debate whether the typical 5-second swabbing is effective, and the WHO doesn’t recommend it for vaccinations. Seems counterintuitive, but that’s evidence-based medicine for ya.

      • RoboSapien says:

        I’m familiar with this concept, it was the enlightenment of skepticism that led me to the position I stated above. When I learned that most of what I thought I knew was completely false, it forced me to make a distinction between what I know and what I have learned.

      • tmac57 says:

        That’s pretty much how I came to skepticism too (about 40 years ago now),but what I am finding,is that knowing something is a moving target,not a stationary one…at least that’s what I ‘believe’… ;)

      • spectator says:

        That sounds like healthy skepticism, tmac!

  12. Chris says:

    I use the term agnostic rather than atheist as well. I don’t know what else is out there, but I really don’t believe any of the religious texts either. I strongly believe that Christianity is just the creation of a group of men. That label also has problems, but it doesn’t come with the loaded emotions that ‘atheist’ engenders. Perhaps I should just change to skeptic.

    Religion may well be poison for some people, but it definitely is not for others. A best friend relies partly on his faith for his positive outlook as he battles a deadly cancer. Why would I try to strip that from them?

    Can’t we as skeptics allow that there is something good there? It may be the community, and the similarity between prayer and meditation. It may be that stress itself is very bad for us, and that their religious beliefs help them ameliorate stress. He and his family have always represented the bright side of religion to me. I would have to be a fool not to see that it helps them in their pain.