National Day of Prayer challenge tossed

In an incorrect decision, an appeals court has tossed out a previous ruling on the constitutionality of the National Day of Prayer.

A three-judge panel of the 7th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals ruled the Madison, Wis.-based Freedom From Religion Foundation did not have standing to sue because while they disagree with the president’s proclamation, it has not caused them any harm.

When I read the headlines about an overturned ruling, I expected some BS premise about the day being private and/or not government endorsed. But no, instead there’s this flimsy reason about standing. Apparently the government can actually endorse any religion now because no American citizen has any sort of standing to make a legal challenge.

Bizarrely, though, despite the piss-poor reason given, the justices decided to go ahead and attempt to make an argument for the constitutionality of the law. This makes no legal sense. By ruling on standing, it is only personal – not legal – interest that is motivating a continued response:

The appeals court said in an opinion written by Chief Judge Frank Easterbrook that while the National Day of Prayer proclamation speaks to all citizens, no one is obliged to pray “any more than a person would be obliged to hand over his money if the President asked all citizens to support the Red Cross or other charities.”

Except the First Amendment doesn’t establish a wall of separation between charity and state. Analogy fail, jackass.

Atheism is not normative

I don’t know how many times I need to say this: Atheism is not normative. Atheism is not normative. Atheism is not normative. Am I to the center of the Tootsie Pop yet?

PZ has a post about so-called dictionary atheists that is just inane. He uses an analogy with humans, pointing out that when we talk about humans we don’t define them merely biologically:

He also noticed that every single human being he ever met, without exception, was more than a perambulating set of chromosomes. Some were good at math and others liked to dance and others were kind and yet others liked to argue, and these were the virtues that made them good and interesting, and made them…human, in this best sense of the word. So when he praised being human, it wasn’t for the accident of their birth, it was for the qualities that made being human meaningful.

PZ is confused. There is a fundamental difference between the concept of “human” and the concept he is describing – personhood. We do define the former merely biologically. The latter, however, is far more complex. We need to all get on the same page if discussions of atheism and atheists are to ever bear any fruit.

But I can agree with some of the sentiment behind PZ’s post. He’s saying that atheists are more than people who simply lack belief in gods; atheists have come to their beliefs for a whole slew of reasons and they are composed of a wide set of values. Or at least PZ ought to be specifying “wide set”. What it seems like he’s actually doing is imposing his specific values onto what “atheism” means:

I think we sell ourselves short when we pretend atheism is an absence of values rather than a positive and powerful collection of strong modern beliefs, but also because there are distinct differences in the way atheists should think, relative to theists.

Wrong. Atheism is not a philosophy and thus does not lead a person into any one way or general way of thinking. That’s why Jerry Coyne has to always go on about accomodationists. It’s why no one is conflating Raelians with anyone who has been a part of any atheist movement. Atheist beliefs are defined by the individual atheist, not by atheism. One Pharyngula commenter makes this whole point succinctly:

“I’m an Atheist, therefore I believe…” Knowing nothing else about me, finish that sentence.

I bet I can finish that sentence for a humanist. Or a nihilist. Or a Raelian. And for myself. But I can’t finish it for any atheist I do not know.

I’ve taken the time to define atheist-related terms in the past. My post certainly was not exhaustive, only providing for broad categories, but it provides for a good starting point. Importantly, it distinguishes between what “atheism” simply is versus what something like “new atheism” is: The former is descriptive while the latter is normative. I can understand when theists confuse these categories, but PZ ought to know better.

Or maybe someone wants to tell me what Joe Blow the Atheist from Northeast Bumfuck believes. PZ thinks he can.