Friday, August 24, 2012

AtheismFree (TM)

Stop the Experiments!

Imagine if someone walked into a laboratory and told the scientists to revise their test results because it didn't fit with cherished notions of the day. Imagine if that someone said that no experiments that might reach that unfavorable result could be conducted, or even talked about being conducted. Imagine if ideology-based "facts" were introduced as lab results. Imagine if orthodoxy requirements replaced error-correction.

What do you think would become of science?

Atheism, and even skepticism, are in crisis right now, looking at restipulations based on ideological demagoguery rather than on any honest effort to get at the facts of the inquiry. Atheism+ is really atheism minus even the attempt at talking about descriptive reality.

Are we now going to say that any scientific result that doesn't agree with some feminist assertion must be revised so that it does? When Bush tried to introduce "faith-based" evidence into science, the effort was resisted, because it would undermine the error-correction methodology of the scientific enterprise. When Shermer tried to equate skepticism with his radical political and economic ideology, libertarianism, he was left, quite properly, licking his wounds.

Think I am overstating the case? Now we see FtB seeking to impose ideological orthodoxy requirements on its bloggers. This undermines the unlimited scope necessary for open inquiry. Whatever else the FtB may be, it is not about free thought. If we are going to revert back into only inquiring about what we are permitted to inquire about, then we might as well go back to the Church-led dark ages.

I have met atheists who are not epistemologically rigorous - the ones who think they "know with certainty" that god(s) do not exist. I have met atheists who have radically different opinions on social policy than I do. I have met atheists who do not share my skeptical perspective on conspiracy theories and woo. I have met atheists who believe in UFOs and/or ESP. They are still atheists. Agreeing or not with me on these matters does not make them not atheists.

So, when are freethinkers going to get around to defending free thought? When are skeptics going to get around to defending skepticism? When are atheists going to get around to defending atheism? When are the rational going to get around to defending reason?

When are inquirers going to get around to defending free inquiry?

This Humanist

I am a philosophical skeptic, an atheist and a humanist - in that order. I do not claim that humanism is true; I am a skeptic after all. Nor do I claims that humanism is essential to atheism. In my view, atheism is skepticism with regard to a particular claim. I understand that however much I love humanism, it is not a necessary component of atheism - a separate subject matter. *That* recognition is what not letting ideologies dictate your inquires is. Just because I like it doesn't mean it is objective fact. Realizing that is intellectual integrity. Well, just because you like it (whatever "it" is) doesn't mean it is objective fact either. Normative values are not empirical facts. That I, or you, like it or dislike it does not make it any less or any more of a fact. It's easy to see how the other person's ideological stances are not a consequence of atheism. It is not so easy to do so with one's own. That blindered thinking is what we are seeing in so called Atheism+.

People may feel it is a matter of opinion whether there are god(s) or not, but whether there are god(s) or not is not a matter of opinion. Understanding the difference between these is critical to empirical study, indeed any study that strives to be objective (like skepticism, which is not just about empirical matters). It is a clear and precise understanding of the descriptive/prescriptive distinction that I champion - that and the unlimited scope of inquiry necessary for progressing any subject matter. Somebody has to, or we will slip back into the darkness of dogmatic orthodoxy again.

The Pernicious

So what can be more disgraceful than a scientist, a skeptic, an atheist who cannot comprehend the difference between description and prescription?

When Myers squeaks derisively of the "textbook definition" of atheism, I wonder what he is talking about. I mean, what exactly is the non-textbook definition of atheism that allows ideologies to annex atheism in their name? If only you believe what I believe? That would be very Church-orthodoxy of one, would it not? Which "atheism" with which ideological content is the right one and how are we supposed to tell? Science works, in part, because it is very precise in its terms, its jargon, its concepts. Precision in language offers precision in thought. How often do you see scientists say, "We have decided to abandon our jargon, the language that leads to clarity and precise inquiry, careful calculation and rigorous discussion. Now we are going to refer to all sciencey content as 'stuff.'"

Because, you see, that is what Atheism+ is in the vision of the ideological demagogues. Atheism is now "stuff" that includes all their stuff while excommunicating anyone who dares critique the cherished stuff. And guess who gets to decide what is the proper stuff?

Once upon a time, atheism was about whether there are or are not god(s). More recently, in response to theistic epistemological traps, atheism started talking about belief states with respect to the existence of god(s). Now it is about being nice? Well, theists have been saying forever that atheism is not nice but we persevered, focused on the real subject matter - not about how palatable the ideological sheep thought the subject matter was. Atheism+ is another variant of the "militant atheist" meme. "If you don't agree with my ideology, STFU!" I don't think so.

In the meantime, the theists are laughing their heads off at us for getting bogged down in the quagmire of ideological stuff, all reinforcing their mistaken claim that atheism is just another ideology. A claim we have, until recently, at least tried to mitigate with some attempts at objectivity, back when we thought is such terms. Once upon a time we went to great lengths to talk about the facts, or lack thereof. Now ideological elements within atheism are fueling theistic claims, not just by following their own ideology, but by tring to impose it on everyone else - on pain of being excommunicated from the conversation. This is a rot from within. This is apologism for a non-God ideology.

You know, sooner or later some clever feminist is going to hit upon the idea that feminist orthodoxy could be more easily imposed on others if it were painted as God's will. What do think atheism will become then?

If "Atheism+" takes hold, we will have to begin our struggle for objectivity all over again. Atheism permits inquiries that God-content formerly prohibited. Atheism does not require ideological orthodoxy. We do not do honest inquiry any favours by replacing one ideological orthodoxy with another.

AtheismFree (TM)*

*TM = Trade Mark.

I think I shall stick to my "AtheismFree." Atheism free of orthodoxy requirements and ideological demagoguery. Atheism that can focus on the actual subject matter, free of fallacies of relevance. Atheism for anyone and everyone. Or in other words, atheism.

I think I shall also stick with a definition of free thought that actually leaves people free to think. Imagine that!