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Really really irritating Guardian article about atheism. And a follow up.


But there's a pretty good explanation of atheism written by Jonathan West as a response.

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And agreeing with Sam Harris on religion DOES NOT mean that anyone has to agree with him on torture. ARGH.

Yes, that's interesting, thanks!

Do you need to be a leprechaunologist to discuss the existence of leprechauns? - I think is the way Dawkins has already covered the old "Not a philosopher" criticism.

At least he gives references for most the arguments he criticises - but I don't see anything controversial about the propositions he lists. Except the last one, which is unreferenced and does seem to be a straw man (where does the "especially against Islam" come from? Only three paragraphs up does he quote Dawkins emphasising that he is attacking all gods!)

Ouch. That's something I had a bunch of posts about a little while ago. I think what he calls "new atheists" I called "fundamentalist[1] atheists" or "Dawkins Atheists". "Fundamentalist" of course hiding an implicit assumption that even if they didn't represent average atheist, they were in some sense taking it to a logical conclusion, which may or may not be true.

May or may not be true, because I agree with all of his propositions 1-6 a little bit, and agree they in some sense characterise a certain sort of atheist, but not everyone is like that.

My other observation was that because atheist traditionally refers to an absence of belief, there is no core belief system for "atheists", which means people are likely to crystallize into some defined philosophic/religious group with specific beliefs and be labelled by themselves and others "atheists". Even if that leaves out people who believe something else. After all, though I don't fit his category, I do have a social group of sorts, of liberal skeptic atheists, with whom I feel kinship.

Sorry, I don't quite understand why you're calling Dawkins etc fundamentalist atheists.

Would 'militant atheist' be a better definition (this is how Dawkins referred to himself at TED)?

Oh, I see I didn't fill in the footnote. It apologised for using the misleading term, but said most people had an intuitive understanding of what it meant, even if they disagreed.

I had a post explaining why I thought people intuitively assigned the meaning they do ( but wouldn't still agree with it.

I think by analogy with "fundamentalist christian" people use "fundamentalist X" (incorrectly but explicably) to describe someone who thinks X is important, adheres rigidly to a code of values about X, or is "very X". "Very X" is of course itself incorrect, but people understand it to mean someone who places a lot of importance on X.

Similarly people use the term fundamentalist christian incorrectly as well. It has a well defined meaning that Christians came up with, and in fact there are hardly any fundamentalist Christians at all.

Doesn't stop people wildly misusing the term of course.

*nods* The in-practice meaning of "fundamentalist" gradually shifts so that it refers to whatever observable characteristics seem in practice to be most strongly correlated with people who are described (by themselves or others) as fundamentalists. Natural process of language change. If fundamentalists didn't want the word to start being associated with characteristics like "behaving like an arse", perhaps they should have taken care not to behave like arses so much.

(My own favourite definition of this type is as follows. It is normal to preferentially ignore the parts of your scripture which are inconvenient to you, to at least some extent. Fundamentalists are characterised by preferentially not ignoring those parts which are inconvenient to other people.)

Another common definition seems to be "Someone is a fundamentalist if they believe something I don't like".

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