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24-04-2012, 13:32   #1
MisterEpicurus
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Is there a need for the word 'atheist'?

Imagine the following conversation;

Person A: I believe in ghosts, there must be something beyond the natural realm.
Person B: Personally, I don't believe in the existence of ghosts, there's no evidence whatsoever.
Person A: Oh, so you're an aghostist?
Person B: Yes

This is self-evidently stupid.

Shouldn't you only need terms for individuals who believe something, rather than a negated form for people who do not accept it? Placing the word in the negative ('a-theist') seems to imply a loss for not believing, or that it's a norm to believe. If it's needless for the supernatural ghost, then why not for the supernatural god?

Wouldn't it just be suitable to say you do not believe in X rather than attaching a label? A label also implies a certain group of values, but given that people who don't believe in god don't have this, then surely having a label is superfluous.

Any thoughts?
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24-04-2012, 13:40   #2
lazygal
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I've found its easier in social situations to say 'I'm atheist' than get into a long winded explanation of why I don't follow any faith. Example: Will you be having a church wedding? No, I'm atheist. Will you be at mass? No, I'm atheist. I find it a clumsy handle, but one that I need to clutch at. It's easier for people to accept you're in SOME box (Catholic, Jewish, Atheist) than none.
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24-04-2012, 13:42   #3
zuzuzu
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This reminds me of a story that happened last week. My friend and I were walking through town and she met a friend she hadn't seen in a while and he dropped into the conversation that he was over attending an atheist convention?

Do these things exist or was he taking the Michael?
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24-04-2012, 13:45   #4
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Quote:
Originally Posted by zuzuzu View Post
This reminds me of a story that happened last week. My friend and I were walking through town and she met a friend she hadn't seen in a while and he dropped into the conversation that he was over attending an atheist convention?

Do these things exist or was he taking the Michael?
The Michael Nugent perhaps!
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24-04-2012, 13:58   #5
sbsquarepants
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Originally Posted by zuzuzu View Post
This reminds me of a story that happened last week. My friend and I were walking through town and she met a friend she hadn't seen in a while and he dropped into the conversation that he was over attending an atheist convention?

Do these things exist or was he taking the Michael?
I always find it a bit odd that people are willing to pay to go to a lecture or conference or similar to hear someone talk about what they don't believe in.
But apparently, they are out there!
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24-04-2012, 14:04   #6
phutyle
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If 90% of society believed in ghosts, organisations promoting ghost belief were prevent, the purported existence of ghosts was given mention in our Constitution, and ghost-related ceremonies were regarded my the vast majority as the standard for life events such as birth, marriage and death, then a term like "aghostist" wouldn't seem so ridiculous.

Language has a habit of filling holes in itself when required. "Atheist" wouldn't be a word if it wasn't needed.

The word "atheist" is just shorthand for "I don't believe in god". You're saying the same thing either way.

Any misunderstanding of the label is a different issue. Do you think that people wouldn't make the same unfounded assumptions about people if they just said "I don't believe in god" instead of "atheist"?

Last edited by phutyle; 24-04-2012 at 14:14.
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24-04-2012, 14:08   #7
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I always find it a bit odd that people are willing to pay to go to a lecture or conference or similar to hear someone talk about what they don't believe in.
But apparently, they are out there!
I haven't been to one, but I assume an "atheist conference" would involve a bit more than a guy standing up, saying "I don't believe in God", a quick round of applause, and everyone goes home.

This forum alone is testament to the diverse range of topics - philosophical, social and political - that could be discussed at such a conference.
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24-04-2012, 14:41   #8
Michael Nugent
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In an ideal world there wouldn’t be a need for the word atheist, but in the real world there is a need for it. In practice, it describes a person who has a significantly different world view about the sources of reality and morality than has a person who believes in a god. The etymology of the word is less important than its use as a tool of communication.

With regard to atheist conferences, the next European one is in Cologne on May 25-27.

You can get further details at

http://www.ibka.org/en/convention2012
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24-04-2012, 15:06   #9
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Originally Posted by phutyle View Post
I haven't been to one, but I assume an "atheist conference" would involve a bit more than a guy standing up, saying "I don't believe in God", a quick round of applause, and everyone goes home.

This forum alone is testament to the diverse range of topics - philosophical, social and political - that could be discussed at such a conference.
Ah i know, it's just the term atheist conference is a bit stupid, that's what i was getting at!
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24-04-2012, 15:18   #10
Michael Nugent
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Ah i know, it's just the term atheist conference is a bit stupid, that's what i was getting at!
In what way is the term atheist conference a bit stupid?
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24-04-2012, 15:44   #11
joseph brand
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Quote:
Originally Posted by MisterEpicurus View Post
Imagine the following conversation;

Person A: I believe in ghosts, there must be something beyond the natural realm.
Person B: Personally, I don't believe in the existence of ghosts, there's no evidence whatsoever.
Person A: Oh, so you're an aghostist?
Person B: Yes

This is self-evidently stupid.

Shouldn't you only need terms for individuals who believe something, rather than a negated form for people who do not accept it? Placing the word in the negative ('a-theist') seems to imply a loss for not believing, or that it's a norm to believe. If it's needless for the supernatural ghost, then why not for the supernatural god?

Wouldn't it just be suitable to say you do not believe in X rather than attaching a label? A label also implies a certain group of values, but given that people who don't believe in god don't have this, then surely having a label is superfluous.

Any thoughts?
If there was a large 'ghost' following in Ireland, and schools, hospitals and laws were influenced by 'ghost doctrine', then yes, the word aghostist would be necessary.

There are some who believe in aliens, but because they are in the minority and don't influence, lobby or bother the rest of us, we don't call ourselves alien non-believers.

Also, the word Atheist is shorter than explaining that you 'don't believe in this god, that god and any other gods'.
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24-04-2012, 15:49   #12
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Originally Posted by MisterEpicurus View Post
Any thoughts?
Probably going to be mentioned eventually so I thought I would get it in first. Sam Harris discussed this very point in 2007, making not just the same argument you just did but quite a number of others ones too.

In his case he did it half because he thought it was interesting and half because he thought it would be better to drum up debate and discussion rather than just trotting out another "meat to the lions of atheism" speech that everyone would automatically agree with.

At the time it certainly appears to have generated quite a lot of debate with quite a few people lining up to disagree with him. One can listen and make ones own mind up about his points at the link above.
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24-04-2012, 15:49   #13
MisterEpicurus
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Originally Posted by phutyle View Post
If 90% of society believed in ghosts, organisations promoting ghost belief were prevent, the purported existence of ghosts was given mention in our Constitution, and ghost-related ceremonies were regarded my the vast majority as the standard for life events such as birth, marriage and death, then a term like "aghostist" wouldn't seem so ridiculous.

Language has a habit of filling holes in itself when required. "Atheist" wouldn't be a word if it wasn't needed.

The word "atheist" is just shorthand for "I don't believe in god". You're saying the same thing either way.

Any misunderstanding of the label is a different issue. Do you think that people wouldn't make the same unfounded assumptions about people if they just said "I don't believe in god" instead of "atheist"?
I think even saying "I don't believe in god" is too suggestive. I would prefer to say "I'm a naturalist/humanist"; if you say you're a naturalist then it doesn't carry negative connotations, while also implying that nothing 'supernatural' exists, rather than being specific to a god which is what the word 'atheist' does. In addition, even if I were to reject the terms 'naturalist/humanist', I would prefer to say "I don't believe in gods", which is an umbrella term for any belief system. If you only mention god, then it seems petty to just focus on the monotheistic faiths, even if they are as predominant as they are.
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24-04-2012, 15:57   #14
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In what way is the term atheist conference a bit stupid?
I think the standard points drummed out are;

* Religious people meet in groups as they have shared common beliefs, if atheists do it, then what different are they to religious people?

* What exactly do atheists talk about given they have decided individually for their own reasons that a god doesn't exist?

* It might be seen as hypocritical to condemn the likes of the evangelicals in the USA and elsewhere who are preaching to the converted and charging hefty fees, while atheist conferences also have 'idols' (Dawkins etc.) and usually have to pay a substantial entrance fee for some conferences [100 euro in the case of the Atheist conference in Dublin last year for example]

* It appears arrogant for non-believers to meet and ridicule other people's beliefs while also formulating plans to dismantle their beliefs on a large scale. (Who are they to do this etc.)

These aren't my points of view, just some of the views I've heard from people who can't understand why atheists have to meet at a conference.
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24-04-2012, 15:58   #15
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To be fair, although Ireland is fairly religious, we don't have the same problems from the religious (or, at least, to the same degree) that many people in other countries do (such as creationists trying their best to destroy science in school) or legislation making it more and more difficult to get contraceptives and the like nearly passing in government halls. In Ireland, "religious" is calling yourself catholic and then mainly ignoring it. Those who go out and protest in the name of religion in streets are often characatured as nutjobs. Look at Rick Perry's recent ad campaign, or his history in charge in Texas, nearly running the state to the ground and then throwing his hands up publicly and asking people to pray to god for a solution instead of, you know, doing his job.

So, for example, in Texas, I don't find the idea of a conference of people who need to organise to fight these things that unusual at all.
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