Talking About Atheism… On The Edge

Atheism is not my only interest in life but I find that it is one of those topics that is not like others. When people draw venn diagrams they put circles around the objects being discussed. I think that my interest in atheism is not so much about what is in the atheism circle but about the circle around it itself and where that circle overlaps on and moves inside other circles. The part on the cutting edge. the blurry bits where it might be difficult to contrast the difference or even detect it… the very fine edges of the overlap.

It is on that fine blurry edge where reality happens; where conversation happens; where understanding begins. Of course, life does not give us those lines to work with very often unless you’re talking to folk like a Ken Ham or a William Lane Craig who are very crisp in defining where their own edges are.

I noticed this distinction demonstrated today … heh, so I don’t have to explain it in depth. Let’s let Ryan Bell do the talking for a bit: (bold font added by me)

This morning I woke up and was suddenly aware of how my foray into the world of skepticism/agnosticism/atheism is precisely walking into a conversation already well underway. Those of you who were here before me have a language, definitions, metaphors and expressions that are useful in helping you explain how and what you think. There is a lot to learn just about the basic semantics and dynamics of the conversation, let alone the subject matter being discussed. I’m not sure why I didn’t think about this because the same is true—and probably more true—in the world of theology. Talk about code language! You almost need to be a member of the guild just to have the conversation. The uninitiated use a particular word and those of us who have been in thinking about these things for couple of decades just look at each other like, “Gimme a break!”

That is to say that most of us stick strictly inside the circle in our part of the venn diagram, we don’t venture out to the edges where there is a defining line and things are not so safe. I think that you can tell if someone is trying to stand out there on that fine but fuzzy line and perhaps dip a toe in the water on the other side when they acknowledge the difficulty of standing there. Bell says this:

Thank you for humoring me where I’m getting into something I’m not entirely prepared for, and thank you for taking my questions and inquiries seriously (or at least trying to). Judging from the response, it’s more than just me out there who is somewhere along the continuum of faith and certainty, theism and atheism, knowing and not knowing and needs to be a part of this conversation. Thanks for making room for us.

He even recognizes that there are many others sticking a toe in the water on the other side. I believe this to be quite important for all of us to recognize. That is not to say that I find compatibility between atheism and theism or science and creationism, but that there is a continuum between one end and the other and we arbitrarily draw the line around what we subjectively feel is the stuff that should be inside the circle we stand in.

There have been attempts by several groups to define humanity by gender or privilege but all they are really doing is defining some subset of human thought and then getting grumpy that not everyone else is inside their subjective circle.

What? Where are you going with this?

Our prejudices stop the conversation or keep it away from the topics that we should be talking about in the first place.

  • Theism is not true – should be why do you think there is a god?
  • Atheism is a sin – should be why don’t you think you are sinning?

Rather than make declarations we should be questioning the motives behind the beliefs of others. It is when we do this that we can begin to understand how they think about life and the world around us. A discussion about Noah’s ark should include all the evidence – you know, teach the controversy because until we all actually think about what we believe and why we believe it, we won’t be crossing any lines soon. When enough people trample on the lines, all the barriers will come down and one or more of those circles will shrink allowing for the correct circle to get bigger. This is, after all, how science works. What I’m talking about here is peer review on a daily and opportunistic basis.

No, I’m not trying to tell you to ‘be nice’ but I am hopeful that we will all work harder to bring the conversation to what we believe and why rather than what school of thought is wrong and which is right. The one with evidence and support will show itself to be right – which ever that turns out to be.

No, I don’t think this contradicts what I’ve written in my blog. I claim a lot of labels yet don’t find them sufficient so I’ve written a few posts whose title starts with ‘My Word View’ and will continue to do so… what I understand to be true and why I understand it that way. I often have trouble finding believers that want to do the same thing. I’m hopeful that Bell’s experiment will encourage this method of discourse in many of us – what do you believe and why? Finding a common language is just the first step but if we manage to carry through with it we should all end up better educated and education is the answer to many problems in human life.



  1. Very good post.

    • Thank you, wait for the follow up later today… it’s a doozy

      • Will do.

  2. In face to face discussions regarding religion the questioning approach is undoubtedly the best, and its good to be reminded of this. Many times, however, that’s just not possible online. You know the general hues of apologists we encounter in blogland.

    • Indeed I do, several come to mind.. and they’ve demonstrated themselves to be close-minded idiots but they are few compared to the rest. Ignoring the idiots and progressing with the rest will leave them as blathering idiots to all the world soon enough

  3. Rather than make declarations we should be questioning the motives behind the beliefs of others

    Seems familiar, somehow…

    A timely reminder, MAL.

    • tildeb,
      Thanks for commenting, always… and for your vote of confidence

  4. Far too many great points in this post for me to be able to quote, and respond. So I think I’ll just share my reflections/thoughts that have erupted from reading this.

    It is so unfortunate that much conversation is blocked off between peoples when it comes to theological understanding. The divide between the religious, and the Atheist (Theist and Atheist) tends to be too wide for any to venture and breech contact. The Theist often seeing the Atheist as evil, hell-bound, and rebellious. The Atheist seeing the Theist as uneducated, close-minded, and lacking reason. Before a conversation is even started, it tends too often to be started with those unspoken assumptions.

    It is, indeed, so sad how few of us engage each other because of these presuppositions. We could become so much more enriched as a race if we just stopped to listen to each other.

    • Try to engage a theistic apologist on the terms I’ve set here and often I get a thank you for simply not being a dick…. it’s enough to make you rethink a lot of things.

  5. you mentioned teaching the controversy and it crossed my mind how it would go with a discussion on Noah’s ark. I think I would love to be in such a class

    • LOL, there are lots of classes which would be fun…. talking snakes, talking donkeys, demon possessed pigs, 2 she bears and on and on. When you get to revelation… this should be taught on the same day that the controversy over the social good of hallucinogenics should be taught

      • I would volunteer to teach some of these classes for free!

        • No doubt! Wow, this is a great idea for a couple of posts… what do you think?

          • It is, I only wish the theists who follow our blogs would take this opportunity to help with the controversy. It would be a great sharing opportunity and maybe we all may just learn something new

            • Indeed… I wonder if any will join in at all…

              • I kinda gave up on them

              • I’d join in, but my opinions would probably be useless to you…

                1. I’m Wiccan, not Christian.

                2. I’m an agnostic theist. While I believe in the Goddess and God, I know that there is absolutely no way to prove/disprove their existence.

                3. Wiccans do have various creation stories and the like, but the vast majority of us realize that these aren’t in any way “real”. Thor didn’t actually kill all the frost giants, Brother Jackal isn’t really a shapeshifting trickster, and Vulcan doesn’t live in volcanoes. When a religion consciously recognizes that their myths are just that…mythology used to explain previously unknown natural occurrences…atheists don’t tend to mind.

                But if you *do* decide to create some posts like this, I’ll definitely read and comment!

                • Consider that done. My world view on non-monotheistic religions…. I’ll probably get the time to put that up some time this week LOL, I have no time lately… so it seems.

                  • Hmm. Perhaps I should do my own post about atheism…Though it’d be pretty boring, as I agree with the majority of what you say.

                    Maybe one about how atheists and Pagans are treated by Christians in America? I’ll have to think on this a while, but I may have the beginnings of a good post that can give you some linkage.

                    • Awesome! and thank you.

                • When a religion consciously recognizes that their myths are just that…mythology used to explain previously unknown natural occurrences…atheists don’t tend to mind.

                  The question still remains, however: how do you know which bits are ‘myth’ (these aren’t myths in the academic sense, btw, and produce no insight when their supernatural symbols of human themes are misread) and which bits are accurate claims?

                  Beliefs of the religious kind cause no harm when not acted upon, and this is where atheists have no problem what people believe… privately and to no effect. But when that belief becomes a justification for action (that does real harm to real people in real life) then NEW atheists do feel that public criticism of why faith-based beliefs are not justifiable is in order.

                  Whereas you seem to think that ‘proof’ or lack of it underlies atheism, it’s important to remember that non belief is based on justifications or lack of them regardless of what title they appear under. You do this yourself all the time but make an exception for wiccan beliefs. This is no different in methodology than what is used to support belief in scientology or islam or jainism. And it is the method that is what’s being criticized based on a demonstrable failure to produce knowledge – defined as justified true belief.

                  • Well, I’m pretty confident that the goddess Freya doesn’t exist, nor does she have a chariot pulled by cats. Likewise, Zeus never impregnated anyone in the form of a swan, and there was no global flood that killed everyone save a single family. I don’t believe in these myths as being historically accurate for the same reason I don’t believe in a magical garden with a knowledgeable fruit and talking serpent…because they are so far out there that it’s quite obvious that they are parables and fables. They are meant to teach us, or provide entertainment…they shouldn’t be taken literally, and certainly shouldn’t be used to make decisions in one’s daily life!

                    I also believe that faith should be private, or shared with people in your organization at the most. It has no place in our laws, our hospitals, our schools, or our courts. Of course, even keeping it private can result in harm for the reasons you stated. Think of the parents who deny their children medical treatment, vaccines, or even food due to the idiotic belief/pressure from their ministers that “god will take care of everything, and if he doesn’t then you/your child deserve it”.

                    Non belief is certainly fine for someone to have if they have no proof. I make an exception for my personal beliefs because I think I have proof due to my own experiences. However, I have no ability to share this with anyone else. I cannot replicate it, I can’t travel back in time and relive it, I have no physical evidence of it…thus, I think it would be incredibly foolish and arrogant of me to say “Hey, I had this experience, so YOU should be Wiccan too!”

                    Nope. Doesn’t work like that. Just because I feel I have a justified true belief does not, under any circumstances, mean that someone else should change what they believe. They need to have their own experiences, think them over, and not just adopt a religion or lack thereof because “it feels good”.

  6. I miss the circle that say: “Proof is irrelevant” to put me in there.Like this I’d have to put me in the agnostic theist part which don’t properly describe what I think, because the world does not only consist of things that can be proven or disproven…

    • De Benny, thanks for commenting.
      Interesting. what other things do you think the world consists of?

      • This cannot objectively be said as it cannot be proven. There are people who believe in the FSM or fairies. And the world still “works” for them.
        I believe in the triune God of christianity, whom I cannot even fully describe, as the picture is incomplete and can have flaws to it. But that’s okay for me and irrelevant to every one else.
        Of course I will tell people about what I believe if asked, or if there is a misrepresentation (which oftentimes happen, say you are a christians and people have certain clichees in their mind).
        My point in the whole thing is to give room for what you have not yet thought about. You might not need that room ever, but it gives you the opportunity to place people in your system that don’t fit in yet, and it gives the system the opportunity to develop further…

        • Again, very interesting. I’m going to have to think about this. I might come back to ask you some questions if you don’t mind.

  1. No trackbacks yet.

Leave a Reply

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

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

Google+ photo

You are commenting using your Google+ 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 )


Connecting to %s

%d bloggers like this: