Dear Dick

Comment left here

Hello Richard,

Let me premise this by saying that I’ve been a huge fan of yours since I watched (and watched, and watched) that debate (the second, less formal one) with Mike Licona on the resurrection. You were absolutely brilliant, and I’ve also read some of your blog posts in the past which I agreed with. One in particular was your discussion of atheism and agnosticism in February of 2007. That post is particularly apropos, as it was one of the many in which the term “atheist” was distilled to it’s literal meaning, and nothing else. While you didn’t directly respond to the claim that atheism doesn’t entail eg nazism, you responded implicitly:

I prefer “atheism” to be used in its equally literal sense: a-theismos, without theism, i.e. without a belief in god. For in actual practice, this is how it is almost always used. And, as far as I see it, any other usage rhetorically violates the Law of the Excluded Middle.

[…]

Ergo, the only thing that can ever logically matter in distinguishing theists from “atheists” is whether we believe any god exists. Hence all that matters in defining an atheist is that an atheist does not believe in any god.

This has always been important to me as a principle, and only partly for it’s usefulness as a cogent response to the “atheism entails X [im]moral position” that is often bandied about by the religious as a practical response to acceptance of atheism, or rejection of deism/theism. Time and again this has been pointed out to W.L. Craig, et al, unfortunately to little effect.

However, since this A+ thing has surfaced, and you jumped on board, suddenly “atheist” is not just “without theism”, but an identity (here I am responding to roughly the 2 minute mark in your video), replete with “some basic moral principles” that we should all endorse, or that should be ‘linked’ to atheism in some logical sense.

This, to me, is troublesome, and is why I down-voted your video. Now to be clear, I agree in principle that these basic moral principles should be endorse by everyone, but that has nothing to do with atheism, and that is a point of paramount importance. I applaud yours and others endorsement of things like integrity, compassion, and all the rest, but those positions stand as value judgments that are entailed by certain other values assumed. Where I disagree is not in your endorsement of those assumptions and attendant moral principles, but in your position that, say, a pragmatist or nihilistic approach to ethics and the “good life” has no place in an “atheist” movement.

I think alternate views on morality, alternative values at the core of our moral judgments, different perspectives on political and social issues, are what characterize a diverse and vibrant movement (not just the color of your skin or the shape of your genitalia). It seems to me that the only glue binding this community together should be the rejection of theistic authority, on the basis of the failure of theistic arguments, leaving all else open for discussion. The only disqualifying characteristic for denial of membership should be faith.

All of the other concerns, social justice, feminism, progressive vs traditional social mores, conservatism, have their own attendant movements, their own voice. They are composed of theists and atheists alike, as the two can come to the same conclusion even if they start from different assumptions, or have the same values for different reasons. If a subset of one of these movements came out and said, “We’re rather tired of making the same political arguments about taxes and immigration, and we’d prefer to start talking about atheism,” the backlash would be as predictable as rain in April. Not only that, but at least in America they would be on firm legal ground if the dissenting members exorcised that subset from their midst.

Respectfully,

Lee.

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