David M. Brown's Blog

September 25, 2011

Theism, atheism, and varieties of unclear conceptual distinctions

Filed under: Bible stories,Philosophy,Society and culture — davidmbrowndotcom @ 7:40 pm

At NewHumanist.org, Jonathan Ree writes:

“The dividing lines between religiosity and secularism, or between belief and disenchantment, are not getting any clearer as time goes by, and if there has been a lot of traffic travelling from the camp of religion to the camp of disbelief in the past couple of centuries, it has followed many different paths, and is bound for many different destinations.”

If you don’t believe in gods and the supernatural, you’re an atheist. If you believe in gods and the supernatural, you’re not an atheist. Yes, one can be entirely secular in approach to ethics and other philosophical questions and still be described as “religious” by those abstaining from making clear distinctions, perhaps to avoid or mute controversy. And, as Jonathan Ree also points out in his interesting article, one can be charged with the crime of “atheism” merely for deviating from some religious party line.

But by claiming that distinctions between religiosity and secularism, and belief and disenchantment, are becoming less clear as if cultural entanglements, personal confusions, and epistemological fuzziness are equivalent sorts of phenomenona, Ree confuses the complexities of culture, history and psychology with the requirements of clearly defining fundamental concepts. It is possible to define many rudimentary and familiar concepts clearly on the basis of discernible essential distinctions no matter how complicated things get culturally. The job would require more work than I’m accomplishing in a brief blog comment, but Ree had a lengthy article there.


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