Researchers researching atheism


From Boston today (by way of Ric), I see there’s “research” on the relative health of believers and nonbelievers. I’m not going to focus on the results however, but instead discuss two lines which pissed me off.

• “the most pious Christians and the convinced atheists”

• “becoming debilitated strengthened [atheist's] convictions, and their convictions strengthened them”

Alright, I take issue with both of these statements. For the first one, why is one “pious” and the other “convinced”? Why aren’t they both convinced? Why the distinction? Now if you want to make a distinction, perhaps you could say “the most faithful Christians”, for that then would indicate the true distinction between the basis of believer/nonbeliever thinking, that of faith versus reasoning. I object to the use of “pious” for it carries an implication of good. Yes I know the word is associated with religion, but it commonly is used to denote good or worth, often synonymous with “noble”. So not only does the author mistake what the basis of distinction is between believer and nonbeliever, but also implies a value judgement.

The next mistake then is understandable since, as we’ve just seen, he doesn’t know what the difference is between how people come to belief or nonbelief. Atheism is generally arrived at by examining god claims and finding them unwarranted to believe. Something completely unrelated to that subject like the death of a loved one, having a shitty life, or becoming debilitated hasn’t a thing to do with the issue. This is the ever repeated straw man atheism which the religious love to rail against, the atheist who is an atheist because they’re sad or angry. Well Nathan, and anyone else reading this, that’s not how it works.

So take what you will from this “research”, but something which might be interesting for these researchers to do is actually take all of 2 minutes and learn what atheism is, and how there’s a damn difference between faith based and reasoned decision making. Until I see these clowns have grasped that, I see little weight in their reported research.

Oh well, what do you expect out of Boston, right? ;)

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14 Responses to “Researchers researching atheism”

  1. Well, “pious” technically does mean, “devoted to divine worship or respecting a deity”… it can also mean “hypocritical”, so it seems to me to be a correct use of the word. And I am certainly “convinced” that there is no god, so I reckon I’d give them a pass on that one, too.

    The second bit is indeed bollocks, though.

  2. It technically also means deserving commendation : worthyAgain, like the fucking “lacking” issue, it’s about general public usage. No doubt the good and noble ideas invoked by using the word is due to the misconception of religious = good, regardless, the word choice denotes a value judgement, deliberate or accidental, and so I object to it.

  3. You have to remember that most people don’t understand what the hell atheism is to begin with, most people think atheism is “FAITH that there is no god(s),” which is wholly ludicrous.

    It’s similar to the polling problem that we constantly see. You only get put into an “atheist” category if you say you disbelieve in god(s), if you simply say you don’t believe in god(s), you’re called “non-religious”. It’s the same damn thing!

  4. Then there are the “what kind of atheist are you?” polls. Does it really matter if you’re a “weak” atheist or a “strong” atheist? Then there’s “agnostic atheists” and “atheistic agnostics”, it’s all a little ridiculous.

  5. Philly, don’t confuse the research (scare quotes unnecessary) and the wording choices of the author of the Globe article. There is no indication that the researchers defined the difference in people as “pious vs committed” or that they don’t know how people come to an atheistic world-view.

    The research itself simply pointed out that the mental health of the religious and non-religious was the same and other research only that the the level of ones certainty was the deciding factor in the expected mental health (again, whether religious or non-religious).

  6. The weak/strong categories are bullshit because they work under the assumption that atheism means an assertion that there are no gods; thus, strong or weak are defined by how near or far you are to that definition, a definition I feel is incorrect.

    I consider atheism as a determination that belief is unwarranted. That’s it. There’s nothing strong or weak about that. Where you go from there, imo, doesn’t matter much.

    I think there are a lot of problems with labels and classifications since no one is clear what those things mean. Of course the worst is those “atheists” who say they believe in some kind of god. I’d put that at the top of the stupid chart.

    Evo: Since I didn’t see the research, I don’t know how it was worded. Nate could be paraphrasing or not. I don’t know.

  7. Theism means “belief in the existance of deities” and atheism means “disbelief in the existance of deities”. Agnosticism means “a reservation of belief or disbelief regarding the existance of deities”.

    However, this simple system of definition overlooks many of the finer issues involved here. Mainly, the human brain is made up of billions of brain cells which make up the conscious mind, so disbelief or belief hinges on the collective interaction of many different neurons firing and recepters recieving neurochemical impulses. I think, therefore, that there is no complete integrity in any one belief, but percentages of certainty either way. This truth also reflects upon the fact that there are so many different beliefs concerning religion and deities out there, and indeed so many differences of opinion in politics and sports as well. This is why people sometimes switch sports teams and start rooting for the Phoenix Coyotes and start voting republican. It turns out to be a probabilistic model instead of a model of absolute certainty.

  8. Being a fan of the Coyotes AND Republican? What a double whammy of suck. :) ~

    I’m not buying your definitions. Show me Christians who believe in the existence of any god but their own.

    I think it’s an amusing idea to think of belief in terms of a Kinsey scale. Maybe they should start using that for those Pew statistics. How many 0s, how many 1s, 2s, 3s, etc.

  9. I did overlook one major possibility here. Given that the number of brain cells on any given individual is finite, I do suppose it is very possible for people to not a single brain cell that believes in the existance of deities.

  10. Every Christian, as every individual, believes something slightly different. Even siamese twins christians (puke) can’t agree on everything they believe, one has to be stupider than the other, one has to hold a slightly different perspective….okay, there is the extremely improbable and unstable case whereby two individuals have the exact same brain structure, the exact same brain cells and neurochemical concentrations in the exact same places, etc. Well, chaos theory holds that their brainwaves will diverge from each other if even the slightest stimulus is different between the two, and it doesn’t matter how stable their brains are at filtering out various stimuli, their brains will register differently and therefore their conscious experiences thereafter will be different.

  11. I’m surprised you didn’t take a few jabs at the article’s final sentence:

    Probe irreligion, and you encounter not only new insights about how it works in people’s lives, but also echoes of the very religions it defines itself against.What is that supposed to mean? What are echoes of religion? It sounds like fair-to-middling rhetoric that sounds good without actually saying anything.

  12. “becoming debilitated strengthened [atheist's] convictions, and their convictions strengthened them”What a load of bollocks.

    More like the debilitated atheists don’t let fear goad them into accepting something for which they have no proof. Illness don’t make a God more or less likely.

    I may not care for the word “convinced” to describe atheists, but it at least implies there was thought involved. Perhaps some sort of proof–or at least really convincing arguments. “Pious” sounds like the spinster aunt or the elderly priest that knows everything about everything, yet hasn’t been anywhere or done anything. It makes me think of people who are good only because–due to a terminally bland life–they’ve never felt a temptation to be otherwise.

  13. There absolutely are atheists out there who have supreme faith that there are no god(s) anywhere, never have been, never could be, period. So there. They certainly fit the criteria of being an atheist, they don’t believe in god(s), but they’re every bit as fundamentalist as the biggest fundy nutball you’ve ever met. These are not rational atheists, they would be in the pews singing to not-God every Sunday if such a place existed (and are probably the people going to UU services).

  14. Well, the word pious is an interesting one. According to my classics prof in undergrad, it first appears in the Aeneid, referring to Aeneas’ attitude towards his father. (Aeneas carries his father, who is disabled, on his back on his long journey through the ancient Mediterranean world.) Hence the term, filial piety. Piety is thus, to carry the ‘faith of the fathers’ and by analogy carries over to the idea of religious faith. It’s no accident that Leviticus contains the command, “Obey thy father and mother,” because belief in, and obeisance to, the parents is inextricably linked with dogmatic, traditional religious faith.

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