How do believers still not get what atheism is?

Some schmo of whom I’ve never heard, Be Scofield, has an article about 5 Myths Atheists Believe About Religion. He actually just lists points of disagreement, semantics, and his own inaccurate characterizations. Greta Christina takes him apart rather systematically on all that, but I want to focus on one thing he said in his assertion that atheists believe atheism is synonymous with being anti-religious:

This false belief stems from a fundamental misunderstanding of what atheism and religion are. Atheism is not in any way shape or form related to an opinion about religion. It is simply the assertion that god does not exist, nothing more and nothing less. Religion is a broad category that encompasses traditions which include supernatural belief and those that do not.

He starts out okay: atheism is not related to opinions about religion. Unfortunately, he veers off the road in his very next sentence when he purports that atheism bears a relation to positive claims. It doesn’t. For the nth time, atheism is descriptive. I’m so tired of people saying otherwise that at this point I have to conclude that people like Scofield are either extremely ignorant, extremely stupid, or extremely dishonest.

Just consider this simple thought experiment: If I ask you to finish this sentence, can you? “I am an atheist, therefore I believe…” What would you say? You can tell me what I don’t believe, sure. You can say I don’t believe there are any gods and you would be correct. But if you switch the sentence around and say I believe there are no gods, you have profoundly changed the sentence. Here’s why.

I don’t believe there are any gods” tells you about an absence of belief I have. One can play semantics and claim this is itself a belief, but such a claim would be trivial. All I have told you is that I do not hold a certain belief. That does not mean I think the belief is itself false – though I may for reasons unrelated to atheism.

“I believe there are no gods” implies certainty and is a positive claim. But very few atheists ever make such a claim, and when they do, they aren’t doing so out of atheism. After all, is there evidence against gods? Perhaps we can trace the origins of particular gods back to mistaken and sometimes dishonest scribes, and that will give us strong suspicion, but that is only good circumstantial evidence. It isn’t proof. And if we’re talking about more nebulous, general concepts of gods, then we’re simply stuck trying to prove a negative. It isn’t going to happen and this is why atheists tend to not make these sort of positive claims.

That said, it may well be the case that atheists make claims in practical language. “There is no god” is a common statement made with such practicality. While it is ultimately backed with skepticism and a demand for evidence, that doesn’t make for such a good slogan. Furthermore, it wouldn’t be very pragmatic to begin every discussion about gods with an explanation such as this one. Atheists such as Dawkins, Coyne, Hitchens, the blogging community, myself and others recognize this and turn to simplified rhetoric in order to get broader – and certainly more important – points across. But that does not excuse Scofield for inaccurately defining atheism when his entire premise rested on that definition itself.

I get angry when…

Via another blog, I have come across an old post by Greta Christina that explains so-called atheist anger. You should read the whole post.

I get angry when believers accuse atheists of being intolerant for saying things like, “I don’t agree with you,” “I think you’re mistaken about that,” “That doesn’t make any sense,” “I think that position is morally indefensible,” and “What evidence do you have to support that?”

Except instead of being called intolerant, the charge is usually “closed-minded” or even “bigoted”, the latter of which is a massive misunderstanding of what bigotry is.

Atheist meme of the day

I’m just stealing everyone’s blog posts today.

Today’s Atheist Meme of the Day. Pass this on; or don’t; or edit it as you see fit; or make up your own. Enjoy!

Atheists are open-minded, and we are willing to consider the possibility that we might be mistaken. In fact, most atheists used to be believers — it’s the fact that we are open-minded and willing to change our minds that made us become atheists. Pass it on: if we say it enough times to enough people, it may get across.

Via Greta Christina

We appreciate your concern

But no thanks.

It is difficult to avoid the observation that, whenever believers give advice to atheists on how to run our movement, it is always in the direction of telling us to be more quiet, to tone it down, to be less confrontational and less visible. I have yet to see a believer advise the atheist movement to speak up more loudly and more passionately; to make our arguments more compelling and more unanswerable; to get in people’s faces more about delicate and thorny issues that they don’t want to think about; to not be afraid of offending people if we think we’re right. I have received a great deal of advice from believers on how atheists should run our movement… and it is always, always, always in the direction of politely suggesting that we shut up.

You’ll have to forgive me if I question the motivation behind this advice, and take it with a grain of salt.