Friday, October 12, 2007

More Criticism

I'm feeling grumpy today so I think I will follow along with the theme from Sam's infamous speech to do some atheist "bashing" of my own. I saw Ellen Johnson, the president of American Atheists, wrote a response to his speech. From there I clicked on the American Atheists web site. I also found out that if you search for "atheist" on Google the American Atheist web site is the second link that comes up. Now I warned you I was grumpy, so here comes a lot of negativity. I feel the need to say it though:

1. What an ugly web site. The most annoying thing is the list of topics on the left in all caps. Yech.

2. I hate the fricken symbol. It looks like something you'd see stitched on Flash Gordon's chest. I guess the middle orbital is cut off to make an arch for some reason, but it looks funny to me. If I have to have an atom I want my orbitals whole! (The issue of a symbol for atheism has been endlessly debated. Check out this massive discussion thread or this image of some ideas.)

3. I don't like their definition of atheism. "Atheism is a doctrine that states that nothing exists but natural phenomena (matter), that thought is a property or function of matter, and that death irreversibly and totally terminates individual organic units." Atheism is a doctrine? A doctrine? Wikipedia says, "Doctrine (Latin: doctrina) is a code of beliefs or "a body of teachings" or "instructions", taught principles or positions, as the body of teachings in a branch of knowledge or belief system." I don't see how atheism is a doctrine. It doesn't even make sense to call "theism" a doctrine. Theism and atheism are about the belief or disbelief in a god or gods. I don't see any doctrines there.

I know they are trying to say the supernatural does not exist, but it seems like they are just saying "nothing exists except that which exists." They go on to write, "This definition means that there are no forces, phenomena, or entities which exist outside of or apart from physical nature, or which transcend nature, or are “super” natural, nor can there be. Humankind is on its own." That doesn't seem very scientific for a bunch of atheists. I can't say for sure that there is a higher dimensional alien being out there. Who knows? But if there is, it would be natural anyway so who cares. It sounds like they are claiming the universe as we observe it today is all there is and is the TRUTH.

Again saying there is nothing beyond physical nature is silly. If we could observe and measure something "beyond" our universe it would by definition have to be part of the universe. Some people talk about other "bubble" universes with different physical laws. Sure they could exist. I guess they are beyond our local universe in one sense, but they are still part of the larger cosmos.

Yeah, humankind is on it's own for now. But it might not always be that way. Watch out when Google wakes up or some aliens decide to visit. Things like that might never happen, but its absurd to rule them out based on some "Atheist™ Doctrine".

4. Finally stop capitalizing atheism! It's not a religion for crying out loud. Does anyone capitalize "theism"?

The rest of the page isn't so bad with some various humanistic principles. However by strict definition being an atheist doesn't mean you are a humanist. A serial killer could be an atheist. But if you are making a demographic bet I would say most atheists are humanists. From my anecdotal experience I would say the Venn diagram for both groups almost perfectly overlaps.

So can you tell I'm not a member of American Atheists? I am a member of The Freedom From Religion Foundation. The co-leaders Dan Barker and Annie Laurie Gaylor are kind and intelligent people. (Check out their delightful radio show/podcast.) They also do a lot of valuable legal work protecting church-state separation. I'm also a member of The Center For Inquiry.


Yenald Looshi said...

I feel your pain, brother! I, too, find their website atrocious and generally dislike their podcast productions. I wrote some critical remarks about their "review" of Hitchens' book on Atheist Revolution last week.

Ellen Johnson gets under my skin... they don't seem to be very in-tune to the more intelligent discourse that occurs in the atheist community. I think they appeal to adolescents and those that are just identifying themselves as "atheist," but for the long-time atheist who has experience debating atheist issues, they come across as sophomoric.

And I also disagree with their definition of "atheism." I think it is precisely this attitude of "doctrine" (a step away from dogma) that Sam Harris made his comments about. I actually agree with Harris in general -there really shouldn't be a category called "atheist"- but I will still identify myself as atheist freely and without guilt since it defines not so much what I *am* about as what I'm not.

In that regard, the term "atheist" is useful.

that atheist guy said...

Thanks for the comments. I agree with you. I couldn't find your remarks on Atheist Revolution. Could you post a link or send it to me? Just curious.