Capricious Pedantry

I know I should have learned my lesson long ago and I promise to stop responding to Parabiodox’s baiting after this post… (At least I will try).

Previously, I made a post about Christian humour in which I commented that the expected answer to a ranting comment would be “Atheists (agnostics etc)” rather than the Abrahamic religions I previously claimed. Now, I never meant this to imply Atheists were the same as agnostics, and if anyone did take away that impression from my (lengthy) post than I apologise wholeheartedly.

I am fully aware Atheism is not Agnosticism, and personally I do not find “agnosticism” a reasonable viewpoint which can be counted as an opinion. Agnosticism is (remember this is my personal viewpoint!) a good point of view for something about which you have no opinion. I am agnostic as to the existence of life on a planet orbiting Beta Canis Major for example. I am not agnostic about the existence of Santa Claus, the Tooth Fairy, Leprechauns, Pixies, Elves, Orcs, Gobilins, Demons, pink Unicorns or all manner of imaginary nonsense. What on Earth gives a particular religion special privileges about it’s claims to the existence of one (or more) deities? I will return to this.

Over on Parabiodox, the response to my response (anyone remember a poem about fleas?) reads:

“It was fairly obvious this was a poor attempt to attack Atheism (agnosticism etc) and that is the answer the Theist wants to get.”

Almost tempted to do another 10 ‘Facts’ about Atheism with ‘Atheists are not Agnostics’ but this one is so obvious I do not need to quote anyone to back it up, this is another example of Atheists desperate for people to quote.

I am a bit confused about this. The first bit is a quote from my post, but the response confuses me a touch. It is a fair comment that Atheists are not Agnostics, and you will see from my post I did not mention agnostics (or etc.) again. As the original post was talking about some of Ayn Rand’s posts, I assumed it was a fair guess she is not sane restrained enough to limit her diatribes against only atheism. I am certainly guilty of assuming that Parabiodox meant to lump them into the same category and I do apologise for that.

What confuses me though, is the desperate for people to quote bit. Why in the name of Toutatis are Atheists “desparate” for people to quote. Despite what some Christians (and other theists) may think, Atheists are not limited to quoting other atheists. Atheism is not a religion with a central dogma to which all atheists must look for guidance. If I was looking for a quote (and I wasn’t in my previous post) and something Cato the Elder had written was suitable, I would happily use it. I don’t care that he believed in all manner of imaginary beings. If what he said was logical and sensible, then I am happy to repeat it, if it isn’t I am not. Parabiodox continues:

The question I posed in Who could she be talking about ? was “What faith/belief system spends most of it’s time attacking other faiths and beliefs in an effort to mask the fact that it has nothing of substance to offer itself ?”

And the answer was, of course, Atheism.

Not agnoticism, free-thinkers, deists, non-conformists, heretics, blasphemers, etc. etc.

Well, this is odd. While I agree that Agnostics and Deists could hardly be described as Atheists, there is nothing I can see which is mutually exclusive between being a “free-thinker” and being an Atheist. Heretics and Blasphemers are a different category entirely, as surely they are labels placed on others by theists, not self selected terms like Atheist, agnostic, deist etc.

This is where I think Parabiodox’s pedantry seems to have been cast to the winds. First he chastises (the whole post seems to be making the point that Atheists are not agnostics) about a slip, then uses a similar one himself. In his urge to rant against atheism he lists the terms which he thinks are “not” atheists, but in reality they are not all mutually exclusive with atheist ideology.

I suspect the issue revolves around the idea that Atheists deny the existence of Parabiodox’s chosen deity. I suspect most people who consider themselves Agnostic towards Christianity are not Agnostic towards the Flying Spaghetti Monster or Zeus. I get the feeling that when Parabiodox rants against “Atheists” what he is really ranting against is those who choose not to believe the same as he does. I might be wrong. I am not fundamentalist enough to think I am never wrong and if God showed up tomorrow I would stop being an atheist. Is there some piece of evidence which would convince Parabiodox he was wrong?

Anyway, his post gets weirder (if such a thing be possible):

These are the groups, and those like them, that Atheists like to hide amongst when they feel threatened.
‘Look I’m really an ok guy, look I’m quoting Thomas Paine’.
Charles Darwin was not an Atheist, Thomas Paine was not an Atheist, etc.

Did anyone say they were? Was this just an excuse for Parabiodox to link to older articles he has written? At this point I got the feeling that while the post was written as a response to one on this site, he was actually arguing with some other commentator. If this were a USENET flame war I would obviously allude to the other commentator being in his head, but it isn’t, so I wont. In reality, I assume that Parabiodox is responding to what he assumes is the default Atheist position on a subject.

The fact of the matter is, (I speak for no other Atheists remember) I have never felt threatened by “religion” nor have I felt the need to hide amongst other groups. I have never claimed to be Agnostic (other than in a strict sense of the term), nor have I claimed to be a Deist, Non-Conformist, Heretic or Blasphemer. I have never claimed to be a “free-thinker” in anything other than the sense every one is.

What world is there, where people are judged not on what they think but on who they quote? If I quote Tacitus does it mean I believe that Romulus and Remus were suckled by a she-wolf then went on to found the city of Rome? If I quote Stalin does it make me a Communist? I really struggle to follow this line of thinking.

Parabiodox brings his post to a close with:

From Concise Oxford Dictionary

Agnostic – A person who believes that nothing is known, or can be known, of the existence or nature of God, or of anything beyond material phenomena.

Atheism – The theory or belief that God does not exist.

Now I know a lot of Atheists can get confused about these two positions, and bearing in mind that Why Dont You Blog? thinks I’m full of self-importance, the important differance between these two positions is that I think Agnosticism is a valid philosophical position, whereas I don’t think Atheism is.

I am sure lots of Atheists are confused over these two positions, but they are not alone. Different dictionary sources imply different meanings, but I am reasonably happy with the Concise OED one used here. It closely matches the way I think of the terms. This could spin out into a whole new debate as to the validity and authority of dictionaries, given they modify meanings as cultures change and they are largely based on opinionated sources, but I will leave that for now.

Of related interest, Princeton WordNet has it as “someone who denies the existence of god” (while technically accurate it presupposes the existence of God as a given) and Chambers matches OED, I found Websters seems less “Christian” biased in its definition: “one who believes that there is no deity.”

The first point I am trying to make is that different dictionaries define Atheist in a different manner. It is, as previously mentioned, a normally self selected title with no central doctrine to be obeyed. If person X thinks Atheism means ABC but person Y thinks it means DEF, who is correct? I find it ironic that a Theist feels they can dictate to others what they should call their differing beliefs. Using the OED definition, Hindus, Pagans and the like are Atheists.

Secondly, and again on an issue of pedantry, for Agnosticism to be a valid philosophical position as Parabiodox asserts, this must be considered valid: “A person who believes that nothing is known, or can be known, of the existence or nature of anything beyond material phenomena.”

It is valid to say tooth fairies may exist. It is valid to say that Santa may exist and so on. The problem with Agnosticism is the set of things about which you would become “agnostic” about is infinite. I know of no person who is truly “Agnostic” in the OED sense. People are agnostic about some subject areas either due to no interest or no study, but everyone has a point at which they either believe or don’t believe in some line of nonsense. I have yet to meet an adult who, when asked if they believe in Santa, will honestly say they can not be sure if he does or doesn’t exist.

Often, Theists (and I dont know if this applies to Parabiodox) view Agnosticism as a “friendly” form of belief as it has the option to accept the existence of God. Most Atheists I know of would accept the existence of God if He appeared, does that make them Agnostic?

As I see it, Atheists (in as much as they can be generalised) try not to “believe” in things which are imaginary. You can call that anything you want, you can even call it cheese for all I care. My not believing in any deities (not just the Abrahamic one) is not a theory, nor is it a belief or religion of itself. I believe in God in the same way I believe in Pink Unicorns hiding in the clouds.

[tags]anti-atheist, argument, atheism, ayn-rand, belief, beliefs, bigotry, christianity, philosophy, society, culture, charlatan, crazy, Christians, logic, logical-fallacy, religion, religious-nutter, theist, toutatis[/tags]

1 thought on “Capricious Pedantry

  1. I have just seen that our posts crossed in the ether and there is a new comment on Parabiodox (read it here) which explains some of his previous posture. To a very small extent it renders what I have written above a bit out of date so I may consider doing a follow up in the near future.

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