Fundie Atheists

Atheist Riots

(Image from Atheism is Rational.)

“Fundamentalist atheist” is a term I hear thrown around every so often. It’s almost always flung by a Christian fundie who is upset about something, probably yet another perceived persecution.

When the term crops up, usually a few atheists try to figure out whether such a beast is even possible. Let’s look at the concept and see if there’s anything to it.

The first thing to do is to try to come up with a generic definition of a fundamentalist. These are the characteristics I’ve identified. Feel free to add your own. I’d like to try to keep this list focussed on the core characteristics that they all seem to share, not peripheral characteristics that aren’t so defining or not all of them have. Here’s my first attempt…

A fundamentalist has these core characteristics:

  1. Rabid adherence to and faith in a rigid dogma
  2. Inflexibility
  3. Intolerance
  4. Illogic
  5. Anti-intellectualism

Now let’s take these characteristics and see if they might be applied to some of the more enthusiastic atheists.

1. Rabid adherence to and faith in a rigid dogma

There is no dogma of atheism. It is simply a lack of belief. There is no evidence for a god, so atheists live their lives as if a god doesn’t exist. This is different from making the affirmative statement “God does not exist”.

For all practical purposes, God does not exist. If there is not now nor has there ever been any evidence for a god, then in practical, real-world terms, it is identical to making the statement that a god does not exist. But actually making the statement that “God absolutely does not exist” seems (to me at least) to be making as much of an unsupportable claim as saying that a god does exist.

This is where the Invisible Pink Unicorn is useful. We don’t know that it doesn’t exist somewhere. All we know is that there is no evidence that it does, and we can go about our business as if it doesn’t.

For this category, then, I suppose anybody who makes the affirmative statement “I know God does not exist” could qualify as having faith in a dogma. Note that this category requires not just faith in a dogma, but rabid adherence to that dogma. You need both to qualify for this requirement.

2. Inflexibility

Every atheist I have met has at least expressed a willingness to change his opinion on various freethought topics if given sufficient evidence. I haven’t tested them, so I’ll just have to take their word for it.

There could easily be atheists who are inflexible here. I just haven’t seen inflexibility in action.

3. Intolerance

This would be an intolerance for other people and other beliefs.

Don’t confuse impatience and frustration (two of my traits) with intolerance. I don’t give a hoot what another person believes or does (except where that person’s actions interfere with society).

Some fundamentalist Christians, on the other hand, can’t stand the mere idea that homosexuals exist.

This category, then, requires an actual hatred for the existence or thoughts of another group of people. I haven’t seen this trait in atheists, but there could always be a few out there.

4. Illogic

This is an inability to use logic, which results in irrational beliefs. Christian fundies have this in spades.

You’d be hard pressed to find this trait in atheists. Most atheists arrive at their rejection of theism through a logical thought process.

One place you might see this trait is if they have an over-attachment to a philosophy, which causes blind spots in their logic. I have seen people who think that libertarianism or objectivism can do no wrong. I don’t think this leads to the whoppers of illogic that you get with Christians, but it is a possible vulnerability.

5. Anti-intellectualism

This is a celebration of under-education. It’s one of the defining characteristics of most fundies. Even the ones with PhDs have to get their degrees at Bible colleges in order to protect their deluded worldview from being challenged.

I do not see this in atheists. Period. There’s bound to be one or two out there. There’s always somebody living at the extreme end of the bell-shaped curve. I sure haven’t seen them.

Other Opinions

I wanted to see what other people thought, so I took a quick look at the Wikipedia Fundamentalism page. They have a section on that page called Non-Theistic Fundamentalism. It has some interesting paragraphs:

Some refer to any literal-minded philosophy with pretense of being the sole source of objective truth, as fundamentalist, regardless of whether it is usually called a religion

“[T]he sole source of objective truth” is an interesting statement. I can’t think of anything other than science as being capable of giving us an objective truth. However, there are two important distinctions:

a. Science is a process. Therefore it isn’t dogma, because the answers can change.
b. Science can never give us “Truth” with a capital T. We lack divine knowledge. We are at the mercy of our senses and our instruments. The best we can do is get at something approaching the truth. Hopefully very close, but we’ll never achieve total knowledge (“The Truth”).

Therefore, if I say “all we can know must come from science”, that is not a fundamentalist statement.

Wikipedia also says:

Others, including the blogger Austin Cline of atheism.about.com, argue that fundamentalist atheism does not exist, because it cannot exist on the grounds that atheism has no fundamental doctrines, and that fundamentalism is not a personality type.

True, but aren’t certain personality types drawn to fundamentalism? Couldn’t somebody with a fundie personality latch on to atheism? I did meet a new atheist who had recently thrown off the shackles of religion. He was angry that he had been deluded by it all of those years. I wonder if he will take that anger and use atheism as a weapon to swing back at the people who he feels oppressed him all of those years. Would he count as a fundamentalist atheist?

The high-profile atheists are the ones who are most often labeled as fundamentalists. Wikipedia says this about Richard Dawkins:

Some atheists and those called “evolutionists” by creationists, for example, have been called fundamentalists due to their outspokenness and high level of certainty. On the Canadian talk show The Bigger Picture, the biologist Richard Dawkins said that his critics mistook passion for fundamentalism. He has also stated that, unlike religious fundamentalists, he would willingly change his mind if new evidence challenged his current position.

Clearly in this case, the charge of fundie atheism is unfounded. This illustrates, in fact, that the vast majority of times that label is thrown that it is done so unjustifiably by people who feel threatened by our outspokenness.

Conclusion

It seems to me that the requirements that must be met to make oneself a fundamentalist atheist are quite hard to achieve. I suspect that maybe a few people, out of the millions of atheists in the U.S., could qualify. I don’t know for a fact that they exist, but I think they could. Maybe they’re riding the Invisible Pink Unicorn.

36 Responses to “Fundie Atheists”

  1. Parrotlover77 Says:

    I have met atheists meeting at least one of each category, a few meeting several, but none ever meeting all. I certainly haven’t met one that I would call “fundamentalist.” One of the tenets of fundamentalism, in my opinion, is after completing the requirements you outlined, they then work actively and passionately to push their fundamental beliefs on all others. Even the most passionate outspoken atheists do not ever suggest making religion illegal (for example). Yet, many theistic fundies pursue any means they can to enshrine their deity into law. Take Huckabee, for example.

    Of course, the term fundamentalist comes from getting back to the “fundamentals” of a religion. Those adhering to it do so because they think modern religious movements have strayed too far from their roots. That, in and of itself, invalidates the possibility of “fundamentalist atheists” because there is no original dogma to go back to (as Ron pointed out). Now, you could, theoretically, have a Darwinian Fundamentalist (so to speak) whereby rejecting all modern evolutionary theory and only accepting Charles Darwin’s theories. However, that’s far from fundamentalist atheism, since evolution does not require atheism, nor does atheism require the belief in evolution.

  2. commander other Says:

    excellent post.

    while i have met some atheists who are rather (for lack of a better word) dogmatic about their beliefs, indeed, the moniker “fundamentalist” cannot and should not apply. i think when applied, it is more a product of self-identification and superimposition by the name-caller than it is necessarily indicative of the atheist’s mindset. fundamentalists, being inherently intolerable, cannot seem to abide certainty in opposition, as you note.

  3. Arkonbey Says:

    First: nicely thought-out and written post.

    [Mr. Dawkins] has also stated that, unlike religious fundamentalists, he would willingly change his mind if new evidence challenged his current position.

    I think this is the crux of the matter. I won’t beat a dead horse by reiterating why.

  4. Sushi Douche Says:

    Christians fundies call ANY atheist who dares to criticize their precious book of fairytales a “fundementalist atheist”.

  5. Brian Says:

    Having been told on more than one occasion that I was a “fundamentalist atheist”, I chose to respond by telling my dim interrogators that I can easily conceive of a condition under which I would be perfectly willing to reexamine, and possibly renounce my atheism. A miracle would literally be required for this to happen, but since God is supposed to be omnipotent, omniscient and benevolent, I don’t believe I’m asking for too much. Certainly God ought to be capable of showing me the error of my ways, and if he’s willing, I’d meet him halfway.

    In contrast, I would point out that Christian fundamentalists are never willing, under any circumstances, to describe a scenario in which they would be willing to consider the possibility that their beliefs are incorrect. Asked what it would take to change their minds, they arrogantly claim that they’ll never have to. It should come as a surprise to no one that the irony of what they are saying is completely lost on them, but then, there really isn’t much these people are capable of grasping. To them, I’m the one blindly following a dogma.

    I agree that a real atheist would never advocate the banning of any religion, and would only stand in its way when it threatened harm to others. We all came to our atheism by figuring it out for ourselves and not by having it pounded into our heads since we were babies. I could not, in good conscience, “brow beat” someone into accepting my way of thinking, but I have no problem making every argument I know of that is critical of religion to pursue that same goal. Atheism is an intelligent position, and if someone is to adopt it themselves, it is to that intelligence we must appeal.

  6. Parrotlover77 Says:

    Just to play Devil’s Advocate here for a second.

    I feel I must point out that there are, indeed, atheists out there that did not come by the decision due to an intelligent examination of the world around them. There are atheists that do not believe in god because they are, for example, pissed off at god. These atheists tend to use the “if god really existed, then [some bad thing] wouldn’t happen” argument, where their entire belief system rests upon that argument. They may or may not care about the scientific arguments which it seems a great deal of those on this board are far more interested in. These atheists may be the ones easily being converted back to religiousness later on (speculation).

    I wanted to point this out because we shouldn’t be too cocky and say “all atheists/agnostics this, all atheists/agnostics that” because otherwise we open ourselves to the “not a real scotsman” logical fallacy when dealing with fundies.

    Certainly they are probably not numerous (having met only one in my lifetime), but they do exist.

  7. Sue Blue Says:

    Maybe I’m splitting hairs here, but another difference I’ve noticed between (most) atheists and fundamentalists is that fundies invariably conflate the “sinner” with the “sin”, despite their own doctrines which warn against this. They not only hate the deed or belief or lifestyle that differs from their own, they hate the person that practices it. This is how they justify killing “heretics” – the only way to get rid of the heresy is to destroy the heretic. This might be considered part of the “black and white” thinking. The atheists I’ve met might despise religious beliefs because of the harm they do, and I have heard of atheists that actively want to destroy religious belief, but I have yet to hear of one that calls for the destruction of the believers themselves. Rather, even the most ardently anti-religion among us would rather see a peaceful dawning of reason – not an all-out war between the religious and non-religious.

  8. bipolar2 Says:

    C’mon ain’t nothing wrong with a good slap of polemic — take that, xian scum!! Batman is more real than Jesus ever was . . .

    ** an atheist’s unapologetic apology **

    “Theology is a subject without an object.”

    Don’t forget belief is not only optional, it’s really unfit for human consumption.

    There is no supernatural realm — from which it follows that there are not two worlds (the “spiritual” one superordinate to nature), eternity is a fiction, no god whatsoever exists.

    Xianity, like its murderous near-eastern brother islam, its idiot father judaism, and its hate-based grandfather zoroastrianism, arose in time and it has been dying in time since 1600.

    Enough of this heresy born of Paul’s perverse twist on hellenistic judaism and overlaid with rites and symbols gleaned from the back alleys of slums in the eastern roman empire.

    Enough xian intellectual nihilism and perversion of sexuality and hatred of woman and self-righteous revenge seeking. (1Cor1 1:end)

    “God’s only excuse is that he does not exist.” — Stendahl

    What a relief!

    celsus2
    © 2008

  9. Vi Says:

    When people say “atheist fundamentalist”, they often don’t mean it literally, but rather pointing out similarities in behavior- certainly numbers two and three are characteristic of a lot of atheists I’ve met. These are the real key points of Christian Fundamentalists, or at least the most noticable, and the way an atheist will not consider other view points is identical to the way a Christian won’t. Not to mention the big deal some of them make of it- a Christian at least has an excuse for basing his/her life and identity on the possibility of god, while for an atheist? It’s pathetic. The term may not be correct, but it’s often accurate.

    As a disclaimer, the majority of atheists/agnostics I know are perfectly normal, and I don’t believe in a higher power/first cause myself, although that’s tempered with a large degree of apathy.

  10. BW Says:

    All this is the same old crap. Nobody (including fundamentalists Christians or Jews or Muslims or whatever) really gives a crap about god. What matters is the afterlife. So lets say we are afterlife atheists. Its pretty easy to prove there is no afterlife. God is now a moot point. Historically speaking, all supernatural belief has always been proven false. Get over it. Don’t be stupid.

  11. Ben Says:

    A fundamentalist, etymologically and by definition, is someone who believes in a concept with no adornment and with no ancillary principles; in other words, only the fundamentals of the concept.

    Christian Fundamentalists, for example, believe in the bible and nothing else. For them, all other knowledge must first be filtered through the fundamental tenets laid forth in the bible.

    How does this translate to Atheism? Well, there are two answers, maybe three.

    1. Every real atheist (in the sense of non-belief in God) is a fundamentalist atheist, as the only fundamental tenet is a non-belief in God.

    2. No atheist is a fundamentalist because while the term Atheism literally means, “A non-belief in God,” or “Without God,” many people have differing definitions or levels of atheism and as such, with no empirical fundamental tenets, no one can be a fundamentalist.

    3. A fundamentalist atheist is one who believes in the strictest definition of atheism and adheres to it rigidly. By this, it is meant that a person is POSITIVE that there is no God and furthermore filters all their decisions through that certainty.

    In any case, the point is open for debate. I would argue that you were tearing down straw men in your post. Additionally, and this is not a criticism, as such, you had a preemptive notion or purpose in mind when you wrote the piece; that is to say, you didn’t really write it as an exploration so much as you wrote it as a vehicle for criticism.

  12. smokey demon Says:

    Re: Fundamentalist Atheists
    Madeline Ohare comes to mind. What about all those who want to abolish all holidays and religious observances? To my mind, they are just as bad as the Christian fundamentalists who want to cram their religion down everyone’s throats. A person’s religion or lack thereof should be their own business.

  13. Ron Britton Says:

    Ben:

    You are incorrect. I was neither tearing down straw men nor was my motivation to create a vehicle for criticism. If by straw men, you are referring to the five characteristics, I was not setting those up so I could tear them down. I was exploring those characteristics and trying to determine how many atheists fit into each category. As to your second point, I freely admit that many of my other articles are vehicles for criticism. This article was merely an exploration of an idea.

    Your definition of a fundamentalist is technically correct, but the derogatory term “fundie” actually refers to fundamentalists who have an array of negative behaviors and social skills (see points 1-5 for a list).

    That is actually how you could conceivably have a fundie atheist, even without having a much in the way of fundamental tenets. It’s the behavior more than the belief.

    I like your three possibilities. (I think I mentioned all of them in the article) They’re a valuable part of the discussion, but I would argue that you need to add in the behaviors I listed in order to make the label stick.

  14. Ron Britton Says:

    Vi:

    I agree that behavior is the primary thing that might cause one person to view another as a fundamentalist.

    You said that traits 2 & 3 are characteristic of many atheists you’ve met. I cannot say the same. As I mentioned in the article, every atheist I have met has at least stated a willingness to change his opinion. Certainly how you perceive things can be different from how I perceive them. Your threshold for what you would call inflexible is probably lower than mine. I also suspect that you are confusing confidence with inflexibility.

    I have met Christians who were highly confident in their beliefs, yet they were always willing to listen to objections I had. That signals flexibility to me. They know they don’t have all the answers and they’re willing to entertain new ideas, but they’re confident in the knowledge they do have. Many atheists are the same.

    On trait 3, intolerance, I have to strenuously disagree. I have never met an intolerant atheist. I’m sure some exist, but their numbers are low. Perhaps you can give us a few examples of this behavior?

  15. Ron Britton Says:

    Smokey Demon:

    I would agree that Madalyn Murray O’Hair could probably be classified as a fundie atheist. She had a confrontational style that intentionally rubbed a lot of people the wrong way. Although I’m grateful for what she accomplished in the realm of church/state separation, I think she did more harm than good to the cause of atheism.

  16. Ben Says:

    Ron,

    The reason that I suggested you were tearing down straw men or writing to BE critical (not to incite, as that requires a particular type of ill-will that I don’t see in your postings) is because you CREATED a definition of a fundie (albeit from experience, but still, it’s a generalization) and then pointed out that MOST atheists do not fit those criteria.

    Let me preface the next bit by saying that I am every bit as frustrated with the mind-numbing, slam-your-head-against-a-wall type of debate it’s so very easy to get into with a fundie. I don’t disagree with you, to be clear.

    But saying MOST atheists don’t fit the criteria is irrelevant. Most Christians aren’t fundamentalist. Less than 20% of Christians are “Fundamentalist Christian” according to recent polls. I’ve seen some numbers as high as 24%, but it’s low.

    Of those fundamentalists, (and this is speculative) I think you would be hard-pressed to argue that all of them, or even most of them, fulfill your criteria of what a fundie is. Many people, regardless of their beliefs, do not proselytize. Nor do they censure others.

    My point is simply this:

    The percentage of rabid fundamentalism in any major group of people tends to be low. The point to argue isn’t whether MOST atheists don’t fit the criteria. The point is to try to find ONE that does. If you can find one that does, you can go by it, otherwise, it’s further irrelevant because you can’t DISPROVE anything.

    Do you know any truly rabid, fundamentalist atheists?

  17. Ron Britton Says:

    Ben:

    OK, I see what you meant by straw man. I don’t think that my 5-trait fundie is a straw man. I admitted that I wasn’t sure what a full definition would be, and I suggested these characteristics. It seems to me that most or all of the maddening types of fundies have all of those characteristics. You’re right that it doesn’t mean that most Christians (or even most fundamentalists) are like that.

    Isn’t the whole idea of a straw man to mischaracterize your opponent, and then defeat the straw man instead of the real opponent? I don’t see that as what I’m doing here. I’m trying to find out what the actual characteristics of the opponent are.

    There are two parts to my exploration of fundie atheists. Do any atheists meet all five criteria? If any do, we have proven that at least in theory fundie atheists can exist. The second question is how many atheists are fundies?

    I do think it’s possible that fundie atheists exist. I have no hard numbers to put onto the second question. They appear to be rare. One reason for writing the article was to see if we could identify a few. As I said above, Madalyn Murray O’Hair would probably qualify.

    In the article, I also mentioned the new atheist I met who was angry at the religious people who fed him lies all his life. Is he a true atheist, or just somebody who is temporarily using the label until he sorts out his conflicting emotions? He calls himself an atheist, so I’m not going to claim he isn’t (that would be the No True Scotsman fallacy). His atheism may not stick, but for now, he’s one of us. Some percentage of atheists are probably like him. He is angry. He may come across as a fundie atheist to the theists he encounters.

    Another reason for writing the article was to have something to compare against, the next time a Christian fundie lobs that label back at us. We can go compare our behavior against the checklist and see if we qualify. I always like having objective criteria.

  18. Lamont B Dumont Says:

    Sir (or Madam as the case may be), you do the English language a disservice with your careless definition of fundamentalist. A fundamentalist is someone who believes in something fundamentally, in that it informs every aspect of their being. In that way a physicist, an artist or any number of “-ists”, including atheists, can be fundamentalist.

    However, it is more likely that an agnostic would be fundamentalist. When your answer to the most fundamental question regarding the nature of the universe is “I don’t know”, the next thought in you mind is likely to be “But I wonder what I can find out about it”, assuming you possess a modicum of intellectual curiousity.

    The difference being that a fundamentalist agnostic doesn’t scare me. In fact, I rather like the idea of a little company. People with the intellectual courage to admit what they don’t know are rare treasures. Most people waste too much emotional energy trying to hide those places where they lack certain knowledge.

    Your usage of the term implies that all fundamentalists are Evangelical Christians. They are not. There are fundamentalists in many religions, and they all seem to be dangerous. (Even the Hassidim worry me. The whole Promised Land thing has a lot to do with our current foreign policy foolishness. Can someone explain to me why the State of Isreal wasn’t established in Germany somewhere? Why did the Palestinians get screwed for the Nazis bad behavior?)

    You can accuse me of obsessing over semantics. I’ll respond that sloppy usage of language reflects sloppy thinking.

  19. Ron Britton Says:

    Lamont:

    I do the language no disservice. My definition of a fundamentalist is hardly careless. I listed five characteristics that must be met in order for the definition to hold. That is not careless. If anything, it is overly rigid.

    One thing you need to learn about the English language is the definitions of denotation and connotation. It is clear from this entire web site and this article in particular that we are concerned with the connotation of fundamentalist. Furthermore, we are specifically talking about fundies. There is no other meaning to that word than a fundamentalist who engages in the above-listed behaviors.

    I do not see how a physicist or an artist can be a fundamentalist as you describe the term in your first paragraph. That seems like an extremely loose definition. If anything, that represents sloppy thinking.

    I do not know what a fundamentalist agnostic is. I have never seen one, nor would I know how to define or characterize one. If anything in the world lacks a central dogma, it’s agnosticism. Furthermore, I have never seen an agnostic say “But I wonder what I can find out about it” and remain an agnostic. Usually that leads to one conclusion or the other. If the investigation leads to more uncertainty, as it might, how is that person a fundamentalist agnostic?

    You infer that I claim that all fundamentalists are Evangelical Christians. It is you who are sloppy in your thinking. As I make abundantly clear elsewhere, this site is devoted to watching and analyzing the threat posed by fundamentalist Christians. I am not going to water down everything I write with weasel words hemming and hawing over just what falls into the category of “fundie”.

    Finally, the cartoon at the top of this article is clearly referring to fundamentalist Islam. So how is it possible for me to be saying that only Christians can be fundamentalists? Your sloppy reading of this article is yet one more example of your sloppy thinking.

    You can obsess over semantics all you want. You just need to understand what you are obsessing over. Clearly, you do not.

  20. Ben Says:

    Ron,

    Okay, so I’ve done a bit of thinking and some research, and I’ve come to the realization that a term for an equivalent atheist “fundie” group already exists.

    I give you: Anti-theism aka Militant Atheism.

    A group characterized by the belief that not only does god not exist, but that a theistic belief is virulent and damaging. Therefore, militant atheists tend towards reverse proselytizing and refusal to even consider theistic arguments; indeed, using the arguments as fodder for further antagonism.

    Radical Fundamentalism? Militant Atheism.

    What do you think?

  21. Ron Britton Says:

    Ben:

    There are similarities between the two groups, but I don’t know how equivalent they are. Maybe if they met all of the characteristics you describe. My concern is that I hear “militant atheist” thrown around a lot, and most of the people hit by it don’t qualify. Richard Dawkins has frequently been hit with that label. He certainly has strong opinions on the matter, but he isn’t militant.

    I suppose you can’t say that a term is invalid simply because it’s misapplied. “Militant” atheist may be more accurate than “fundie” atheist, because of the almost total lack of a central dogma.

    The truly militant atheists probably would qualify as the equivalent to Christian fundies, but I don’t think most militant atheists get anywhere as extreme as Christian fundies. Even if you throw away Fred Phelps as a statistical aberration, you’re still left with people like John Hagee, James Dobson, etc. Does atheism have anybody like that?

    I guess I come back to the point I made recently. I think that this beast, whatever you want to call it, does exist. I think they are very rare.

  22. Ben Says:

    Ron,

    There are a couple problems here.

    First, there are far more Christians than atheists (and a proportionate number in public views) which means that as far as famous or semi-famous examples go, there are plenty more “fundies” to be seen.

    Second, Richard Dawkins is certainly not a militant atheist as he himself would tell you. He uses the logical claim that whether or not God exists, there is no evidence (specific) for it and if there is no evidence whatsoever of God, then for all intents and purposes God does not exist. Since we live in a physical world in which God can be said not to exist (as per the previous point), God does not exist.

    But for all that, he is not illogical about it. He is not dismissive in the sense we were speaking of.

    HOWEVER, to your question:

    I know at least one person who I would describe as an atheist so militant as to be the equivalent of a fundie. But there’s another problem which precludes atheism from having a large subgroup of fundies, and that is that we, as a country, have laws put in place protecting religion from persecution (which is a term that is far too broad). Atheism, as you know, is not a religion, but a philosophical idea. This tips the scales a bit, no?

  23. Ron Britton Says:

    Ben:

    I was thinking about the numbers myself. There are way more Christians than atheists, so by numbers alone you would expect a bunch of fundie theists. As for your last paragraph, I think you lost me.

  24. Ben Says:

    Ron,

    The last paragraph was saying simply that in North America (especially Canada) it is FAR more socially acceptable to be a fundie than to be a militant atheist.

  25. Ben Says:

    Also, to Lamont,

    The state of Israel was established in the Middle East for two reasons. First, it was the historical “birthplace” of Judaism and the Jewish people; and second, because it was isolated, unwanted desert with low population and people didn’t care about it.

    “Palestinian” is a Roman pejorative for a place that doesn’t exist and was created as such to replace the real name of the territory while the Romans were in power. First, the Zoroastrians (precursors of Jews), then Hebraists (which was proto-Judaism) were in power there. Then Jesu ben Joseph came along and some people thought he was the messiah. Hence Christianity. The pagan Romans had minimalized the Jewish power in the area by this point, but the population was still predominantly Jewish.

    Eight hundred years later, after Romans had left a vacuum in power and the region was controlled by a loose crux of semi-nomadic pagans, something similar to the beginnings of Christianity occurred with the belief in Mohamed as a conduit for God’s word. This was the advent of the third major power in the region. Moslems, such as they were, ruled for a few hundred years in a peaceable sort of way before they were overthrown by a loose conglomerate of racists.

    Then the Persian sweep. Then overthrown again.

    The intervening years hold very little in the way of ownership or claims of importance as it was a desert and remote.

    This is why this is the land given to Jews. It was remote. It was a desert that no one cared about. And the Jews themselves had an ancestral claim to the land.

  26. Parrotlover77 Says:

    Ben – not to derail this thread much, but I had an Israeli friend a few years back who was from Israel. She was an atheist (so she had no personal significan ties to the land other than ancestral, ie it wasn’t a “chosen land” for her). Anyway, I’m no expert on Israeli or middle eastern politics, but she did a pretty good job convincing me that the Palestinians are pretty much completely screwed by Israel every day. She was in the Israeli army (mandatory service) and had some stories…. Man. It’s crazy over there. She even went on a few unauthorized humanitarian missions led by other Palestinian sympathetic Israelis where she almost got killed by the Israeli army itself. Whew. Now, I’m not an expert, but I just wanted to say that things there are more complicated than they seem to westerners who get the news filterd by a very, very pro-Israeli administration. I don’t know the answer, but I do know that it was NOT an uninhabited desert that nobody wanted!

    As for thread-relevant content, I liked the comparison of fundie christian to militant atheist. I would submit that both labels are used inappropriately from time to time, but that they really do show the same level of craziness on both sides of the spectrum. I don’t think we really have any good statistics out there to compare whether each group has proportionally more crazy people or not because I don’t think there has been any study of the sort – or at least I’ve never seen one. But that would be a very, very intersting thing to read. Certainly, fundies get a lot more air time on the teevee!

  27. Parrotlover77 Says:

    I had an Israeli friend a few years back who was from Israel.

    Yea, that sounds stupid. What I meant was she was born in Israel and lived there her whole life before going to grad school in the states, as opposed to Israelie by ancestry, but not necessarily living there much. I need to proof-read before posting.

  28. Ben Says:

    Parrotlover77,

    I don’t want to derail the thread either, but having lived and studied in Israel, I’m not citing some filtered, agenda-pushing news network. The fact is that Israel wasn’t established as a country of firm, defensible borders, but rather, a place where displaced Jews could go when there was no other place for them. The reason it was chosen as such was due to ancestral claim and because there was no firm authority NOR any solid claim to the little sliver of land that comprised it.

    Whether Palestinians are screwed on a daily basis is another story that’s neither here nor there. The last sixty years of near-constant threat of war has led Israel to be (justifiably) paranoid which leads to certain interesting decisions (e.g. ethnocentrism, assumed guilt et cetera).

    There is a long counterargument to that, as well, but I’d rather not get into it here. Suffice it to say, Palestinians get screwed and Israelis get killed. This leads to a rather vicious cycle. It’s not just kids with stones over there, no matter what you’ve heard.

  29. Parrotlover77 Says:

    Ben, I’m not going to argue the finer points. I don’t care who’s fault it is. I don’t care who bombed who. I don’t care who displaced who. I just want there to be peace. It’s retarded that people of two different religions cannot live side by side.

    Yet again, the thought of a promised land, a holy land, or a special ancetral land causes death and destruction. Thanks, organized religion, for your wonderful peacefulness. All talk. No action.

    (Better hope Native Americans don’t start claiming more of the USA’s land!)

  30. Buffy Says:

    I’ve most often seen the term “fundamentalist atheist” thrown out by those who don’t like any atheist who refuses to be silent about their lack of belief and/or who takes believers to task in any significant way.

    Kudos for the best dismantling of the “fundamentalist atheist” meme I’ve seen thus far.

  31. Aidan Says:

    All of the objections and dismissals of “fundamentlist atheist” I’ve seen fail to address what to me is the real issue at hand. Fundamentalism, of whatever variety, has at its core the idea that the “Truth” is known. For Christians, the Truth is written in the Bible, for Pagan Fundamentalists it’s personal experience or folklore. For the fundamentalist atheists, it exists in assuming that the current state of science is the only state of science.

    I’ve seen numerous arguments by FA who ignore the very hypothetical nature of the topic, and that fact that science could, at some point, discover something countering the current state of knowledge. These are fundamentalist atheists, and they tend to be fairly common, in my experience. I have no problems with healthy skepticism, but to categorically deny some “supernatural” things is just as fundamentalist as denying evolution.

    The fact is we don’t know. Evidence so far for precognitive dreams, for example, is pretty sparse except anecdotally, but we have yet to prove why it can’t exist or to prove it does. From a metaphysical point of view, some aspects of quantum physics could provide the evidence. There’s a lot more that we DON’T know than we do. If science was currently the answer the FAs think it is, we could replicate dreams chemically, induce love or hate at the drop of a hat, clone people, etc. We can’t – there’s still more to learn.

    The funny thing is, before Newton, that apples fell from trees was anecdotal too. I see a LOT of atheists (especially online) acting a lot like the churchmen who killed Galileo – they know what is and isn’t possible, and will demonize anyone who disagrees. Those are (very often) the fundie atheists.

    There are some things that science can’t touch yet, and recognizing them as unknowns is the mark of an honest, and non-fundamentalist, atheist.

  32. Ron Britton Says:

    Aidan:

    You make a few good points, but some other points are off the mark.

    Fundamentalism, of whatever variety, has at its core the idea that the “Truth” is known.

    I discussed this in the article under “Other Opinions”. I agree that believing that you have absolute truth definitely seems to be a characteristic of fundamentalism. I should add that to my list of five characteristics earlier in the article.

    If somebody believes that science has given us the absolute Truth and the matter is closed, they have completely misunderstood science. Science is the process, not the conclusion.

    I’ve seen numerous arguments by FA who ignore the very hypothetical nature of the topic, and that fact that science could, at some point, discover something countering the current state of knowledge. These are fundamentalist atheists, and they tend to be fairly common, in my experience.

    I disagree. I have seen very few, if any, atheists act this way. Could you could cite some specific examples?

    I also have to call you on the claim that “science could, at some point, discover something countering the current state of knowledge.” Science is a process of successive approximations. The closer we get to figuring something out, the less likely that the bulk of what we know on that topic will be completely thrown away. Some scientific knowledge is very solid.

    When creationists claim that the Earth is only 6000 years old, we can categorically dismiss that claim. We know for a fact (as much as anything can truly be called a fact in science) that the Earth is much older. Sure, a hundred years ago we thought the Earth was a billion years old. Now we think it’s 4.5 billion. Maybe next year that will get refined downward to 4.2. But we know with the highest degree of certainty that it is somewhere in that ballpark. It absolutely is not 6000 years old.

    I don’t know if this is the sort of claim that upsets you. I don’t know if that makes you think I’m a fundie atheist. If so, you have seriously misunderstood science and fundamentalism.

    I have no problems with healthy skepticism, but to categorically deny some “supernatural” things is just as fundamentalist as denying evolution.

    You can’t categorically deny the supernatural that stays within the supernatural realm and never enters our universe. I don’t know of any atheists who do that, but that’s not something I’ve been on the lookout for. Maybe a lot do that, and I merely haven’t noticed.

    Here’s what you can categorically deny: Any interaction of a supernatural entity with our natural world. There is scant credible evidence that any such thing has ever occurred. Any such interaction is measurable. Non-existence is the default position. The person making the claim that something exists has the burden of proof. Until such time as that burden is met, we can assume, for all practical purposes, that no supernatural intervention or interaction occurs.

    The fact is we don’t know. Evidence so far for precognitive dreams, for example, is pretty sparse except anecdotally, but we have yet to prove why it can’t exist or to prove it does.

    Proving why it can’t exist is irrelevant. The burden of proof is on the claimant.

    From a metaphysical point of view, some aspects of quantum physics could provide the evidence.

    That gives you an avenue to pursue. Come back when you have something.

    If science was currently the answer the FAs think it is, we could replicate dreams chemically, induce love or hate at the drop of a hat, clone people, etc. We can’t – there’s still more to learn.

    First of all, just because we can’t do something currently doesn’t invalidate the science. We can’t create planets, either, but that doesn’t invalidate cosmology. Second, you are fundamentally mischaracterizing science. The dream argument is an example of a common straw man put forth by creationists against “materialist science”. The creationists claim that science says that everything is just a random collection of chemicals interacting; therefore, we should be able to replicate anything in nature by dumping some chemicals together and watching them interact.

    I see a LOT of atheists (especially online) acting a lot like the churchmen who killed Galileo – they know what is and isn’t possible, and will demonize anyone who disagrees.

    Galileo wasn’t killed, but that’s beside the point. Don’t misinterpret defense of the scientific method with “demoniz[ing] anyone who disagrees”. What I see frequently online is creationists and other simpletons making unfounded, non-scientific claims. These people are frequently shredded, because their claims are wholly without merit and unable to withstand even a cursory scientific glance. I suspect that is what you are referring to. If I am mistaken, you will need to provide specific examples to clarify your point.

    There are some things that science can’t touch yet, and recognizing them as unknowns is the mark of an honest, and non-fundamentalist, atheist.

    This is a good point. I know some people fall into this trap.

  33. Aidan Says:

    Hi Ron,

    I think we’re mostly in agreement. I studied religion extensively in college (BA in Religious Studies, which is sociological not theological) so my experience of religious types is pretty wide. Personally, I think the middle path might be the best way – science discovers facts, and religion describes how to respond to them. A more detailed explanation would probably take a blog or three itself, so I’ll skip that here.

    Because I don’t have the geek-fu to quote simply like you did:

    You wrote:
    I disagree. I have seen very few, if any, atheists act this way. Could you could cite some specific examples?
    I say:
    I wish I could, but I don’t remember everywhere I’ve seen these sorts of behaviors. The Amazing Randy stands out as someone who misses the point of being a skeptic (skeptical does not mean you categorically deny anything, but rather that you doubt – the difference between atheism and agnosticism). I’ve seen a number of blogs on this topic where they miss the point too, IMHO. In almost all of them, they deny the existence of a number of phenomenon that do have precedent, even if we don’t understand how it works – primarily, these are in various “psychic” areas.

    You said:
    I also have to call you on the claim that “science could, at some point, discover something countering the current state of knowledge.” Science is a process of successive approximations. The closer we get to figuring something out, the less likely that the bulk of what we know on that topic will be completely thrown away. Some scientific knowledge is very solid.

    I say:
    I agree. However, less likely doesn’t mean impossible. There definitely are some things that are pretty dang solid – but new discoveries can change the meaning of those solid facts considerably. Remember when black holes were still ïmpossible and theoretical”? Or the implications of quarks, or relativity, or… all of those drastically (though sometimes very subtly) changed the way we understood our solid facts. Still – that’s kind of a different logical level from what you’re discussing, and while relevant to my points, I think they’re mostly irrelevant to yours.

    You said:
    I don’t know if this is the sort of claim that upsets you. I don’t know if that makes you think I’m a fundie atheist. If so, you have seriously misunderstood science and fundamentalism.

    I say:
    No, that doesn’t upset me. As you pointed out, some things are solid facts. Willful ignorance of all science on the part of Radical Creationists (there are plenty of Creationists who feel that God did it via evolution, you know – 1 day of God’s is a billion years for us…) doesn’t mean they’re right. The reverse side – denial of any phenomenon that doesn’t fit a purely scientific mechanistic world view doesn’t make it right either. I’m not saying you act like this, but I have seen many things that are written in absolute denial when science doesn’t have answers yet.

    In other words, I have no issues with scientists and atheists giggling at the people who are sure about anti-gravity or perpetual motion machines. I do have issues when they start giggling about less quantifiable processes like precognition…

    You said:
    You can’t categorically deny the supernatural that stays within the supernatural realm and never enters our universe. I don’t know of any atheists who do that, but that’s not something I’ve been on the lookout for. Maybe a lot do that, and I merely haven’t noticed.

    I say:
    I used quotes because I wasn’t sure how else to get across the idea of the “supernatural”. By definition, of course, supernatural would be outside of nature. I was referring more to things like remote viewing, out of body experiences, etc. – phenomenon that appear to violate rules about how the universe works, when they’re actually on a different logical level that physical laws, or seem to be, at any rate. I’m skeptical – there’s something going on there, though science hasn’t been able to explain what just yet.

    You said:
    Here’s what you can categorically deny: Any interaction of a supernatural entity with our natural world. There is scant credible evidence that any such thing has ever occurred. Any such interaction is measurable. Non-existence is the default position. The person making the claim that something exists has the burden of proof. Until such time as that burden is met, we can assume, for all practical purposes, that no supernatural intervention or interaction occurs.

    I say:
    This is where we disagree. I understand that the approach you describe is standard science. I’m not convinced that it is an accurate and useful way to do things in all matters. At some point, science will need to account for the experiences, anecdotal or not, that do suggest supernatural entities, if nothing else to explain why experiences of the Divine (to be utterly generic about it) have the commonalities they do. I’m not arguing that there is a Divine – I’m arguing that science will, some day, be able to explain what that is, one way or another, be it actual entity or simply a consequence of how hypothalamuses (is that the right plural? :) ) are wired. At the moment, it’s ignored and declared a non-issue – clearly, given the nature of the debate, it is NOT a non-issue; it’s quite a big issue, actually, though who knows when Science actually be able to address it.

    You said:
    Proving why it can’t exist is irrelevant. The burden of proof is on the claimant.

    I say:
    This is our (specifically, Science vs. anything Woowoo) quandary. If science doesn’t have the technology now to thoroughly plumb the depths of the mind (or even to define what consciousness is), how can anyone, Scientist or not, currently prove the existence of mental powers? My argument is that the Fundamentalist Atheists have decided that these sorts of things can’t exist at all, when the _plain fact_ is that we don’t know. We don’t even have good methods for testing these things now (Zener cards and most paranormal investigation tools are very poorly thought out). Better to say “Evidence so far says unlikely, but who knows”.

    My issue, and how I define Fundamentalist Atheists, is entirely based on that standard of scientific method, and on recognizing the shortcoming of current knowledge.

    You said:
    First of all, just because we can’t do something currently doesn’t invalidate the science. We can’t create planets, either, but that doesn’t invalidate cosmology.

    I say:
    I wasn’t arguing that. I’m not even touching Creationism here – I’m addressing much more complicated, currently difficult to impossible to quantify, phenomenon. When it comes to topics where the subject matter falls within that realm – science can’t say anything about it, yet, but the FA makes categorical statements about whether is does or does not exist – this is where I’m arguing from.

    You said:
    Second, you are fundamentally mischaracterizing science. The dream argument is an example of a common straw man put forth by creationists against “materialist science”.

    I say:
    Umm… no. It’s not a straw man here, since the extent of scientific knowledge is _exactly_ what I’m discussing. There’s a huge qualitative difference between “Build me a monkey! Oh, you can’t – Hah! There is a God!” and “Science can’t explain what consciousness is yet, so how can you make absolute statements about the existence of (theoretically) mental processes? You can’t – you’re an FA.” I’m not making any sort of claim that Science doesn’t know, it is true; I’m NOT saying that since Science can’t explain consciousness or dreams, then all dreams must be precognitive. I’m simply saying that since Science can’t answer that question, we _don’t and can’t currently know_, and that to say we know positively, one way (denial of existence) or another (acceptance), is a sign of fundamentalist behaviors.

    You said:
    Galileo wasn’t killed, but that’s beside the point. Don’t misinterpret defense of the scientific method with “demoniz[ing] anyone who disagrees”. What I see frequently online is creationists and other simpletons making unfounded, non-scientific claims. These people are frequently shredded, because their claims are wholly without merit and unable to withstand even a cursory scientific glance. I suspect that is what you are referring to. If I am mistaken, you will need to provide specific examples to clarify your point.

    I say:
    Oy, I always get Galileo mixed up – with pretty much everyone else in early science. Oops – sorry.

    I’m not disagreeing with you about responding to the “Satan planted dinosaur bones to test us” types. I still can’t provide specific examples or links to what I mean, but maybe now it’s a bit clearer? I know that I see atheists respond equally absolutely and vociferously to some of those simpletons you mention. In heated arguments, that is understandable, but in my experience, that’s where the “fundie atheist” epithet gets applied.

    Admittedly, there are very few arguments where it’s the atheist alone behaving “fundamentalistically” (it’s a word, I swear…), and once either side’s gone there, jumping in to with my point of view is a futile exercise. This is how I recognize an FA – if I want to say something to the guy arguing from science, chances are…

    I think probably the best example I can think of is from Mythbusters (not always the best science, since explosions are much more fun…). Do you know the “sensitive plant” experiment? After getting a result that agreed with the original test and/or legend, they then went on to test the results in 47 (or so :) ) different ways, which failed. Scientifically, they presumably did well in monitoring control groups, etc.

    The thing is – essentially, they’re testing the existence of consciousness in plants. That’s how it was approached, anyway. But there are millions of other ways to perform the test. And if they ARE going after consciousness, then there are a million other factors involved (as with precognition exercises): what kind of mood is the subject in? How about the scientists? Is the environment neutral? Supportive? Agressive? What’s the weather like? What things have happened recently to the testers/subjects? Do the testers believe in the subject’s powers or not? Consciousness at the moment covers a LOT of territory – how do you determine what REALLY is an important data point, and not accidentally ignore it?

    That’s WAY complicated – until some things get answered by science, all we can do is say “dunno – seems unlikely”. Yet there are some out there who say exactly the opposite (“Nope, it doesn’t!”) – those are the people that can honestly be called Fundamentalist Atheists (or Scientists – sometimes there isn’t a difference, and sometimes there is).

    There are some things that science can’t touch yet, and recognizing them as unknowns is the mark of an honest, and non-fundamentalist, atheist.

    This is a good point. I know some people fall into this trap.

  34. Alexander Fürstenberg Says:

    Your list is good, but it can be reduced to one essential: the rejection of the principle of identity, the one and only “dogma” that is needed for scientific thinking.

  35. Ron Britton Says:

    Alexander:

    Thanks for the input. I’m not familiar with the principle of identity. The Wikipedia entry is a little sparse.

  36. Rosemary Says:

    @Aiden:

    It is good to see that you are giving the topic some serious attention.

    My main objections to your thinking are that you

    1. Fail to acknowledge the huge leap in the understanding of “consciousness” that has happened since the 1980s,

    and

    2. Dismiss and reject scientific explanations, methodology and statistical analyses that you do not like, without any valid arguments for doing so.

    I am going to leave expanding the first assertion here, as you can explore this on your own, provided that you can follow the neuro-biology, mathematics and sophisticated philosophy.

    I will restrict myself to discussing my second assertion.

    For example, you discuss the Mythbusters examination of “plant consciousness”. You dismiss the scientific approach because it does not give you the answer you want to believe. You question the type of tests use and claim that the Mythbusters staff just did the “wrong” ones.

    You complained: “But there are millions of other ways to perform the test.” Such as? Are such tests valid, objective, repeatable and unambiguous? If not, then you are using inferior methodology just because it gives you an answer that you prefer, not because it is more accurate. To be blunt: This is bad logic, poor critical thinking and rotten scientific method. To be positive: You seem to have a good brain. With a little more knowledge you could use it a lot better. :-) Somehow, I think you might.

    You state: “And if they ARE going after consciousness, then there are a million other factors involved (as with precognition exercises): what kind of mood is the subject in? How about the scientists? Is the environment neutral? Supportive? Agressive? What’s the weather like? What things have happened recently to the testers/subjects? Do the testers believe in the subject’s powers or not?”

    The reason that these factors are not tested and controlled for is that there is no known valid reason why they would or should have any effect on the outcome or, even worse, that the effect that they could have on the experiment introduces human biases and cognitive distortions – exactly what the scientific method is aimed at excluding.

    There is an overwhelming amount of evidence that the human brain is an imperfect instrument that is easily fooled. Mentalists and magicians use this to their advantage. Some scientists study the nature of these mental processing failures and others seek to cancel out their effects when investigating anything that could be distorted or impaired by them.

    Watch some of the entertaining videos of Derren Brown. (Google will find YouTube examples for you.) Time and time again he shows how people can be manipulated beneath their level of consciousness to do and say all kinds of things that they then rationalize away. This includes things like insisting that their car, which is actually white, is red.

    Mood, emotions and prior mindset have devastating effects on evidence. Unaided, the human mind sees what is comfortable and familiar and screens out what is uncomfortable and unfamiliar. This leads to such logical fallacies as Confirmation Bias – only looking for, or registering, material that supports an emotionally held belief.

    Psychologists and other scientists have known for a long time that the investigator’s belief in the truth or falsity of what is being tested can hugely influence the outcome. This is why methodologically sound studies use double blind paradigms (where neither the subject nor the experimenter are aware of the dependent variable).

    In just about any study of matter, but particularly in studies of biological systems, there is an element of random chance. Appropriately chosen and applied statistical analyses can provide the odds of something happening purely by chance, including the certainty level and the range of error of the calculation. When the range of error is narrow and the confidence level is high that a phenomena occurs simply by chance then the phenomena is considered to be unsupported (that is BUSTED, to use a Mythbuster’s term).

    The phenomena that you mention have been solidly debunked, time and time again. The unbiased observer would consider that reasonably definitive evidence that the phenomena are due to illusions, defects of perception and cognitive bias. End of story.

    Those who have an emotionally vested interest in a positive outcome come up with a range of “explanations”, like the ones you mention, to explain to themselves (self-delusion) why the scientific method failed to confirm their beliefs. It is ironic (at least to a scientist) that the factors that they mention are exactly the things that a good researcher aims to exclude from the experiment BECAUSE THEY ARE KNOWN CONTAMINANTS THAT LEAD TO INACCURATE CONCLUSIONS (mood and prior beliefs and prejudices of the subjects or the experimenter) or THEORETICALLY BASELESS OR IRRELEVANT (weather, things that have happened to the subject or examiner). Anyone who includes these factors in their experiment is not doing good science; they are conducting a biased experiment with an outcome agenda.

    Biased experiments may help The Faithful to rationalize the legitimacy of their beliefs, but they will not convince those who are not committed to one outcome or another. Any belief system that needs to use invalid methods and analysis to “prove” the accuracy of their claims is very suspect. This is the opposite of open minded exploration of ideas: this is dogmatism. Are you really this desperate? What are you afraid will happen if you can no longer believe in the existence of so-called para-normal phenomena?