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What kind of atheist are you?

News reaches me from the University of Tennessee at Chattanooga that a study of non-belief has identified six common categories within the unhelpfully broad category of “religious nones”. I doubt it’s the last word on the subject – the categories were formed based on interviews with just 59 people – but I rather like the idea behind it, although I think there’s a lot of overlap and I identify with at least three or four of their descriptions.

GaneshaYou can read the full details at their website, but here’s my attempt at a brief summary of the different sorts of atheist they’ve identified: Read More…

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If you want to understand young atheists, don’t ask Larry Taunton

Larry Taunton, director of the Fixed Point Foundation, recently wrote an article for The Atlantic about what young atheists think. It’s been doing the rounds of forums and social media since it was published a couple of weeks ago, and it’s still prompting a lot of discussion about what it means, with Christians poring over it and fretting about whether their own children might catch the dreadful disease of atheism. I read it with interest when I heard about it, but despite a superficial appearance of objectivity and insight, I was very disappointed.

ChapelTaunton’s “surprising” findings really aren’t that surprising – in fact, they’re astonishingly self-evident, mainly products of selection bias that he either hasn’t noticed or chooses not to acknowledge. Any degree of thoughtful reflection reduces them to laughable statements of the bleedin’ obvious.

He finds that most of the atheists surveyed were brought up within Christianity. (What’s that? Brought up Christian? In America? Hold the front page!) Read More…

Richard Dawkins, winged horses, Islamophobia and a hierarchy of nonsense

I’m going to assume that anyone who’s interested in Richard Dawkins’ latest spat on Twitter already knows all about it, but in summary, he mocked Mehdi Hasan as a journalist (and the New Statesman for publishing him) over Hasan’s belief (common among Muslims) that Mohammed was carried up to heaven on a winged horse.

This caused a lot of fuss, with reactions to it ranging from the sublime to the ridiculous, before Dawkins posted a more thorough explanation of what he meant by his tweet, without the constraint of a 140-character limit.

PegasusI don’t see any benefit in revisiting this in detail, but the question that’s been on my mind, given that there have been various accusations of atheist Islamophobia recently, is how atheists, particularly Western atheists in broadly Christian societies, should handle Islam and the beliefs of Muslims, and when rational criticism becomes prejudice and bigotry. Read More…

In defence of strong atheism

I’ve long been of the opinion that weak or negative atheism (a lack of belief in any gods) was a rational, defensible belief, but that strong atheism, also known as positive atheism (a positive belief that there is no god) was an insupportable claim that not only overreached, but betrayed a certain degree of arrogance. (Yes, the arrogant atheist thing – it takes time to shake off all those old ideas.)

TeapotLooking at the question again, I see my error. Obviously, from a logical and philosophical point of view, it would be making a big mistake to claim that a lack of satisfactory evidence of a being means that it definitely doesn’t exist. At this point, theists usually mention black swans as something that was wrongly supposed not to exist, but for every black swan there’s a Russell’s Teapot. Beliefs don’t become any more sensible just because they can’t be conclusively falsified. Read More…

A continuing problem of labels

After all this time, I keep coming back to the question of how to describe myself at the moment. I know who I am and what I believe, but it’s hard to put a name to it that I feel comfortable with.

I am a Christian because that’s both my upbringing and the entire background to where I am.
I’m not a Christian because there’s next to none of it that I still believe in.

Sun RaysI am an atheist because I don’t believe in any form of deity.
I’m not an atheist because it implies a degree of confidence I’m not totally ready for. Read More…

Why should I be scared of being proved wrong?

FlashI was following a discussion earlier where the claim was made that science is increasingly getting stuck at certain points, various scientific theories are evidence-free, and that the discoveries of the next century will consign atheism to an insignificant rump, if not oblivion. That was meant to be a taunt, but it missed the mark in a big way.

The arguments entirely failed to convince me, but while I must confess that I’m not particularly keen on the idea that my search for answers might be taking me on a trajectory away from truth and towards some sort of epistemological dead end, I was surprised and slightly amused that atheists were expected to react badly to the idea that evidence might eventually prove them wrong. Read More…

Is there a Christian Majority or not? It doesn’t matter

When the results of last year’s UK census came out yesterday, there was predictable interest in the responses on religion. The proportion self-identifying as Christian was down to 59% from nearly 72% a decade earlier, with “No religion” up by a similar amount to 25%. The British Humanist Association (BHA) welcomed this as a sign of a cultural shift, while some Christians continued to cling to the fact that according to these figures, they still had a majority.

The BHA are right to point out that as a way of finding out what people really believe, it would be hard to come up with a worse approach than the census question, but I feel that there’s a bigger question that isn’t being addressed: Why does it matter? Read More…

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