Monday, November 09, 2009

No schism here. Nothing to see. Please move along.

In rather weird, surrealistic piece in the Guardian Ophelia Benson (site) first argues that atheism cannot be a movement--only to spend the rest of the article describing a primal disagreement between what she calls "plain atheists" and "movement atheists." There are movement atheists even though atheism can never, under any circumstances, be a movement. The term is warranted, according to Benson, because non-movement atheism can include a movement.

To Ophelia Benson if it walks like a duck and quacks like a duck it's … not a duck. It includes a duck. To Benson a distinction without a difference is a substantive distinction indeed.

PZ Myers agrees with Benson, couching his argument differently. He writes in terms of the impossibility of atheist schism.

Myers's attempt at reasoning is this: to have a schism you must have dogma. Since atheists have no central dogma, being united only by a lack of belief, they give no quarter to schism.

Oh, Myers admits, for sure they can have any number of heated disagreements. But it's not a schism, because schism refers to religious fractionation.

Sorry—the distinction is lost on this blogger.

Bear in mind in no way am I advocating that tiresome argument that atheism is a religion. It's not. It if is, then the noun religion has no meaning. What I am disputing is the claim that "All that atheism means is that we don't believe in gods" precludes a schism. After all, "All Christianity means is that we believe Jesus is the long awaited Messiah" has a certain truth to it, and yet obviously doesn't rule out schism.

Schism, according to the first definition on, means: division or disunion, esp. into mutually opposed parties. Now, is that not what Benson is describing when she discusses plain atheists and movement atheists? Is that not what PZ rails about with clock-like frequency? Is that not what Coyne whines about on a near daily basis?

Furthermore the "movement atheists" are in fact identified by dogma, at least by any other name. Among the creedal claims:
  • Science and religion are incompatible
  • Science is the only way we know things
  • Religion has a net negative impact on society
  • Atheists should be outspoken
  • Atheists are persecuted
Furthermore the movement atheists have requisite pejorative names for the apostate: Accomodationists. Appeasers. And Coyne's muddleheaded faitheists.

A set of core beliefs that distinguishes plain atheists from movement atheists. Name-calling—and even contests (such as Coyne held) to come up with a suitably derogatory term (faitheist) for atheists in the opposing camp. And a huge corpus of writings casting aspersions on those who challenge the creed.

Call it what you like--except schism. Because it's nothing like that.


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