General Question

cazzie's avatar

Should this be considered a 'hate crime?'?

Asked by cazzie (24516points) October 27th, 2010

An athiest is killed by a christian because of a disagreement based on faith/lack of faith.

Why doesn’t the christian suffer the same fate as someone who targets a gay person or a person of colour?

According to Wiki:
‘Hate crimes (also known as bias-motivated crimes) occur when a perpetrator targets a victim because of his or her perceived membership in a certain social group, usually defined by racial group, religion, sexual orientation, disability, class, ethnicity, nationality, age, gender, gender identity, or political affiliation.’

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71 Answers

Pied_Pfeffer's avatar

According to the Wiki definition, it would be considered a ‘hate crime’, and the criminal should receive the proper punishment according to how the crime was committed. Is there an example you are aware of when this didn’t occur?

sandalman's avatar

As Eric Holder said in 2009, there is a need for tougher hate crime laws to stop violence “masquerading as political activism”.

To answer your question, I humbly suggest “no”. In the imaginary case that you’ve raised, the Christian in this case would already be guilty of murder. It’s extremely clear-cut, and there is nothing vague here, such as the notion that the Christian was exercising his First Amendment rights, so it’s hard to see what applying hate crime laws to the Christian’s list of misdemeanors would contribute, in the pursuit of justice.

ANef_is_Enuf's avatar

I imagine it would be considered a hate crime. Do you have a reference to cite for a case in which it wasn’t considered a hate crime and you believe it was?

cazzie's avatar

@sandalman? When did killing a person become a first amendment right? Hate crimes are not, by definition, misdemeanors. Rapes and murders have been defined as hate crimes in the past. (according to statistics from the FBI in 2007, 9 murders and 2 rapes)

Pied_Pfeffer's avatar

Thanks for the link. It sounds like Arthur Shelton, the Christian who committed murder, received a sentence that would be issued to anyone else in that situation. It would be considered a ‘hate crime’ as that was the motive. Do you think it was unjust? If so, why?

sandalman's avatar

@cazzie. I’m afraid you’ve misunderstood me. I mentioned the First Amendment as a defense that could be applied in other cases that were more vague, not the hypothetical murder being discussed here. However, I do stand corrected about everything else you’ve mentioned.

Blondesjon's avatar

By definition, yes. Would it still be considered a hate crime had it been a Methodist killing a Lutheran over the subtle differences in the way they worship?

CyanoticWasp's avatar

I think @sandalman made a good point. I’ve been unhappy with the way we characterize so many crimes as “other than what they are in black-and-white”, i.e. “hate crimes”. Murder is murder. Rape is rape. Why do we need to delve into the aggressor’s psyche and determine whether or not “hate” was involved in these cases? (At trial it can be introduced by the prosecutor as an aggravating factor to determine whether a killing, for example, may be classed as “manslaughter” or “premeditated”, and then the prosecutor has to prove state of mind.)

I’m fully aware that many Civil Rights era crimes were only successfully prosecuted when the obvious criminals, who had escaped state prosecution for murder and rape because of corrupt state “justice” systems, were only successfully prosecuted at the Federal level when the same crimes were reclassified (and prosecuted) as “Civil Rights violations”, which enabled a Federal prosecution and avoidance of the state justice system. (Easier than trying all of the corrupt judges, prosecutors and police who were committing the violations in the first place by not making effective investigations, prosecutions and convictions, I suppose.) But it doesn’t mean that I like that. It somehow seems to stand judicial procedure on its head when my civil rights merit Federal protection, and my life is only valued at the State level.

I can understand prosecuting a “hate crime” in the case of, say, a cross-burning on the front lawn of a family’s home. The physical act is merely a form of vandalism, hardly important in and of itself, almost not worthy of prosecution—on the merits of the damage done to the lawn, the minor trespass, etc. But the “message” is one of extreme intimidation, and that message should be prosecuted harshly, hence “hate crimes” prosecution.

So I guess that “hate crime” legislation is something that the Feds can keep in their back pocket if a capital crimes trial goes seriously awry due to malfeasance of the prosecutor or judge. But I still don’t like it; it’s too close to a Double Jeopardy prosecution.

Ron_C's avatar

You know, I hate these “hate crime” enhancements. Murder is murder. The punishment should be harsh and long lasting regardless of the victim’s status.

We should also look into corporal punishment for minor crimes similar to the way Singapore does it. For instance if a kid defaces a public building the kid should be ‘caned” a couple times then sent to clean up the mess he and others left. Jail is not the solution to all crime.

cazzie's avatar

Spoken like people who have never been prosecuted for who and what they are…...........

cazzie's avatar

Let’s go to the other end of the spectrum and look at that. Say, you have a sister or an aunt who is lesbian, and a teacher, (a brilliant teacher). Someone spraypaints her front door with the word ‘DYKE’ (or however it is spelled in English). Take the REASON the person did it out of the equation and all you have is graffiti and a slap on the wrist… Put the reason back in, That the attack happened because of an infringement of her civil rights, and the kid or person who did it gets some mandatory counselling or ‘sensitivity’ training. Perhaps the kid then learns that it’s NOT ok and society does NOT accept that sort of attack on a person… otherwise, they learn… ‘Oh.. no big deal.’

Ron_C's avatar

@cazzie You are correct that the circumstances of the crime should be considered but, in my reply, I described actions that should taken, without regard to the “hate crime” provisions. If a person is targeting gay people, or black, or any particular type, the punishment should fit the crime. The graffiti “artist” should first clean up the doors he defaced then be committed to community service to serve whatever group he offended. It is hard to hate people that you know and is easy to attack strangers.

cazzie's avatar

@CyanoticWasp I didn’t know ‘civil rights’ had an era. I thought it was an awakening and still exists.

CyanoticWasp's avatar

@cazzie the 1960s (and maybe for a smaller group of people the 1950s) were when that awakening started. Yes, it’s a process, and not “an event”. Some of us still call the 60s the “Civil Rights era” because it’s when the Civil Rights movement really got moving. (Just like the “Antiwar Movement” started then; it’s not that people in the 60s were the first to be against war, of course. But they were the first in this country to oppose it as strongly as they did.)

And I explained my rationale behind criminal charges, I thought. If a “message” is sent that’s intimidating in its nature, like maybe “DYKE” painted on the door with a mutilated doll or something, then that’s representative of “hate”, and may be more severely prosecuted than the simple vandalism. But few jurisdictions I’m aware of consider graffiti on a person’s home to be “no big deal”. That’s a very personal kind of vandalism that—in a civilized community—will be investigated as much as it can be, and punished with more than a wink and a nod.

cazzie's avatar

@CyanoticWasp so you agree that intent in a crime DOES matter? and ‘getting into the head’ of the criminal is important…...

CyanoticWasp's avatar

I agree that it can matter. It doesn’t really matter for some crimes, such as murder and rape; they’re bad enough in their own right that adding “hate crime” indicates that we don’t consider the physical assault to be much of anything to worry about.

I think what’s more important is the effect on a victim. If in the example you gave the lesbian teacher (if she really is a lesbian) feels “intimidated” by someone painting DYKE on her door, then the thing should be investigated more thoroughly and prosecuted differently than if she knew it came from a jilted suitor, for example, who only painted that because she had rejected him in favor of another guy, for example (or a woman), and she didn’t feel particularly threatened by him.

So I’d let the victim assist the prosecution in deciding how to address the crime. If she feels threatened and ‘hated’, then it’s a hate crime. It’s still hard to get into the head of the offender, though, and he doesn’t have to tell anyone in the prosecution how he really feels, so it’s a tough charge to make and prove.

cazzie's avatar

@CyanoticWasp Say a Jewish girl/woman gets raped and the entire time, the rapist is using racial slurs and she knows the guy and he’s tried to intimidate her with name calling and threats before.. Yes… rape is bad enough, but the ‘hate’ behind the racially motivated attack NEEDS to be addressed as well, don’t you agree?

CMaz's avatar

How can it be a hate crime? I see it as a crime only.
There being two sides to it.

You can only see it as “hate” if you are on that side of the fence.

The other side is, you are with God or against God.

cazzie's avatar

@ChazMaz What? I’m not a bigot, but I know bigotry when I see it.

CMaz's avatar

Awww @cazzie not what I said. ;-)

cazzie's avatar

@ChazMaz well, then, can you explain what you meant? Because I think people who are on ‘that other side’ should know that it is NOT an acceptable way to treat people or any type of motivation for crime.

nicobanks's avatar

According to the definition you provided, yes it would be a hate crime.

I think people who commit hate crimes should be, well, the “hate” aspect should be taken into consideration. A “hate” murder is worse than just a regular murder.

BUT I don’t think the scenario you proposed should really count as a hate crime. Yes, it was based on a person’s “perceived membership in a social group,” but I think there should be another aspect to the definition of hate crime not mentioned in that definition, namely when that “hate” is a social trend. I mean, racism against black people is widespread, you could say a trend, it has a long history of being institutionalized, etc. Same with racism against Jews. People who commit illegal acts that are based on these racisms aren’t just committing an illegal act, but contributing to a social evil that seems to have a life of its own, above and beyond the individuals involved – a kind of group-think that hasn’t died yet.

The murder of an atheist, however, seems to me like an isolated incident. Isolated incidents may be based on the discriminatory hate of the individual involved, but that isn’t enough to make it a “hate crime”: that’s just a murder.

CMaz's avatar

I was sighting an observation of behavior.If you see that behavior in your behavior. Call it what you wish.

A crime is a crime. You kill you go to jail. That “law of the land” thing.
If you and the people around you believe and feel they have a SOLID REASON to believe that way.
You have to give them that right. It will not stop the “law of the land”.

In the example. That Christian might/will go to jail. But, will shortly live eternally with great reward and appreciation from God. Their view backed up by millions of people from around the world.
Also, they would see your bigotry. Not seeing their side of it.

But, if there is no “logic” or “reason”, you will get a unanimous vote as to the “bigoted” actions of that individual.

cazzie's avatar

@nicobanks Uhhh…. you don’t think there is continual and growing racism against atheists? Why can’t the US elect an atheist president? Why does there need to be groups like The National Center for Science Education?

cazzie's avatar

@ChazMaz what are you accusing me of? And you think that the Christian, even though he committed a ‘mortal sin’ will spend his ‘after life’ with his god? wow.

CMaz's avatar

“even though he committed a ‘mortal sin’ will spend his ‘after life’ with his god? wow.”
First of all. You are assuming the position of punisher. That is Gods call. Since we are not capable of truly giving and understanding forgiveness.
Christians (for this example) are allowed to defend their God. The bible says not to murder. Kill being the wrong word. Killing being a “mortal sin”, not necessary a heavenly sin..
Noting more noble then a Christian dieing for the faith.

It might piss you off. It being your side of the fence way of thinking.

And Christians can be and are more often then not, forgiven. That not stopping them from being earthly punished.

cazzie's avatar

@ChazMaz I’m simply referencing the 10 commandments and what I know of the mortal sins. I think it would take a very lost soul to commit murder and not understand it’s consequences. (Quite frankly, I’m not concerned at all about the forgiveness factor of their ‘heavenly father’ but the consequences that are seen here on earth. Delude themselves all they want, justify themselves all they want, it simply proves MY point.)

Christians are allowed to defend their beliefs. As I understand it… their god is big and needs no defending, as such. He seems perfectly capable of defending himself with all that smiting and such.

You’ve lost me on the mortal vs heavenly sin and are sounding like you are defending crimes, even murder, committed in defence of religious beliefs.

The only ‘side of the fence’ I’m on is trying to see crimes under the auspices with which they are committed and punishment dealt out accordingly.

What ‘side of the fence’ are you on?

CyanoticWasp's avatar

@cazzie I think you’re trying to hard (and with too little effect) to get into the head of various offenders. Take rape. It’s a “hate crime” by its very nature; men hate the women they rape, period. Does race and religion make it somehow worse?

I agree that the effects on the victim have to be considered, and maybe that’s been too much overlooked in the past. That is, as I saw on an episode of Law and Order once, the perpetrator takes his victim as he finds him, and is responsible for the consequences. The example given was a man in a fight punching his victim. That’s all, “just a punch”. But it stopped the man’s heart and killed him, so that makes the crime a murder, even though that wasn’t the intent of the aggressor. If you steal someone’s car keys and he’s left in the cold to die (having nowhere else to go to get warm), then you have committed a murder, even if your intent was nothing more than to inconvenience or “prank” the victim.

By the same token, if the victim of the front door “DYKE” graffiti feels too threatened to come outside any more after that, then the crime is elevated because of the effect on the victim. Victims will tell prosecutors how they feel—and will make sympathetic witnesses—more easily than we can ever know what’s in the minds of some perpetrators.

The crime should be related to the effect on the victim, more than what the criminal had in mind.

cazzie's avatar

No… Rape is a violation against woman.. yes.. but then take her sexual or religious affiliation and you have a new motivation. It’s the MOTIVATION of the crime that makes it a step above the standard, regular, rape or murder or graffiti attack.

(too little effect on the US members, perhaps, when the rest of the world recognises this as true and real.)

@MattBrowne…. why are you leaving me hanging here????

cazzie's avatar

(I’d love to know who gave me ‘Great Answer’ there!)

AdamF's avatar

@cazzie I did

You don’t appear to be hanging and you don’t seem to need help to be honest (I thought you were doing fine) . BUt for what it’s worth I too think that the context of a crime is important when determining sentencing. I also agree that both the effect on the victim and where possible the motivation of the perpetrator should be taken into account when sentencing. Information will always be imperfect. In some cases it will mean that motivation cannot be taken into account, and in others it will (ie membership of a white supremicist organization, and a series of crimes against Somali immigrants would probably be rather damning). Furthermore, we do take motivation into account regardless…think premeditated murder versus the example of the punch given above. I have a hard time believing that the intentions of the perpetrator should be ignored in such a case….I for one would not feel the same desire for sentencing if a loved one was killed in a bar room fight by a irresponsible 18 year old who threw an unintentionally fateful punch, versus a violent religious fruitcake who killed my loved one out of a desire to rid the world of the reality unchallenged. Context and intent matter…or at least I believe they should.

Which brings me to…


” That Christian might/will go to jail. But, will shortly live eternally with great reward and appreciation from God. ”

“First of all. You are assuming the position of punisher. That is Gods call.”

Perhaps you’re not reading what you’re writing, but I think the only person claiming to know what God’s call is, is the person claiming that someone killing another human being, apparently for merely being an non-believer, will “live eternally with great reward and appreciation from God.”

Then you write this beautiful ode to the teachings of Jesus.

“Christians (for this example) are allowed to defend their God. The bible says not to murder. Kill being the wrong word. Killing being a “mortal sin”, not necessary a heavenly sin..Noting more noble then a Christian dieing for the faith.”

So you’re suggesting that if a Christian feels that their God is being offended or threatened, then it is reasonable for a Christian to “kill” in defense of the faith, even if (as in this example) the only offense…was being an atheist who might have expressed their opinion with clarity?

Why that’s mighty Talibanesque of you.

So much for gentle Jesus meek and mild….too boring…let’s project our own violent biogtry onto god and have ourselves a good oldfashioned witch burning! YEEEE HAA!

nicobanks's avatar

@cazzie As atheism isn’t a race, no, I don’t think there is racism against atheists.

Nor do I think there’s any widespread trend of violence against atheists. For instance, there hasn’t been any large, powerful organizations supporting or enacting (officially or otherwise) such violence, and there hasn’t been enough isolated incidents to reach the tipping point into “cultural trend.”

Nor do I think there’s the type of non-violent systematic discrimination against atheists that might rationalize calling the murder of an atheist a “hate crime.” There’s no rule against the eligibility of an atheist president, is there? The reason there hasn’t been an atheist president is that one hasn’t been elected, because that’s not what the majority of U.S. voters want.

I’m not saying there’s no systematic discrimination against atheists. I think the American Atheists organization, for instance, has valid things to say. But that’s not enough to make the murder of an atheist a hate crime. A hate crime is more than a crime incited by hate or even by hateful prejudice, like I said.

cazzie's avatar

Atheism is most definitely a belief.

AdamF's avatar

I’d say that atheism is a lack of belief.

iamthemob's avatar

@nicobanks – there has definitely been a history of widespread violence and oppression aimed at atheists, if we consider them grouped together with any other “heretical” organization. Whether there’s a current surge in violence I don’t know.

@cazzie – I’d be careful there – many atheists would strongly disagree that atheism is most definitely a belief.

However, I don’t think either (1) the general description in the OP or (2) the linked crime should really be considered hate crimes. I think hate crimes are best left when the target is selected solely or primarily because of the particular belief or race, etc., in question. (2) comes close, and I wouldn’t argue hard against it…but it seems as if there was a much more personal relationship between the two. The person also seems fully crazed (though not legally insane) so that causes a problem. Although the discriminatory element should be used as part of the proof of the intent element of the crime, whether or not it makes it a hate crime should be different.

@CyanoticWasp – “The crime should be related to the effect on the victim, more than what the criminal had in mind.”

This is actually pretty much the opposite of how the criminal system works when we discuss individual categories of crimes. Of course, the worse the effect (e.g., battery vs. murder) the greater the possible sentence. However, within the category of murder it is less the effect on the victim and more the intent of the criminal. So, first degree premeditated murder is more severe than second degree murder or involuntary manslaughter, where there wasn’t an intent to kill. We have historically factored what the “criminal had in mind” in these cases. Additionally, without taking into account the state of mind of the perpetrator, we would now be able to have an insanity defense, the self-defense defense, or attempt crimes or prosecute co-conspirators.

Therefore, hate crime enhancements are perfectly in keeping with our system. It is an enhancement, though, that is not solely based on the intent of the criminal but the effect the crime has on society. In essence, the victim is not only the direct victim, but the entire minority community is targeted. They are made to fear in their daily lives, wondering whether they’d be next. So, carefully targeted hate crime legislation isn’t an assault on free speech, or a PC response in the legal system, it is simply recognizing an additional intent element in the crime as well as the compounded victimization such crimes produce.

cazzie's avatar

@AdamF….@iamthemob no…. you are confusing belief with faith.

cazzie's avatar

and I can’t believe you’re using a fluther discussion as a meta proof.

iamthemob's avatar

@cazzie – for the assertion that “many atheists would strongly disagree”? I think it demonstrates it quite well. (I also wonder if you’re saying that both @AdamF and I are confusing belief with faith).

cazzie's avatar

@iamthemob uh… yeah. really confused at your qualification.

Atheism is a belief and Please!!! put a question to the point so we can refute it…. it’s a belief and how we define ourselves as a group. Fuck with us at your peril…....

AdamF's avatar

@iamthemob nice answer (the long one)!

Belief is the psychological state in which an individual holds a proposition or premise to be true.

By definition, a-theist….someone who does not hold the belief in deities to be true. Atheism is by definition a lack of belief in deities….hence it is more accurately described as a lack of belief, rather than a belief. You can certainly turn it around and call it the belief in the non-existence of deities….but some atheists might not agree with that phrasing…whereas they would agree that they don’t believe (an active state) in any deity.

Perhaps we shouldn’t allow this to derail your interesting thread….

cazzie's avatar

It’s a belief that that deities do not exist. It’s a simple reversal of sant.

cazzie's avatar

Why the heck do I pose such fright and risk to what and who you are?.....

cazzie's avatar

I posed this question hoping for some practical and simple common sense and was struck by the lack of both.

iamthemob's avatar

@cazzie – It’s interesting that you ask me to put a question to the point – I already did in that thread and your statement about it as a belief came under constant criticism from atheists. ;-)

BUT, I think this does bring up an interesting point in that atheists don’t have to have a common goal, belief, etc., in order to be perceived as having one, and therefore be targeted as the victim of a hate crime. From a hate crime perspective, it really matters what’s in the mind of the perpetrator.

I don’t see how there aren’t practical and common sense answers in the above.

CMaz's avatar

“So you’re suggesting”
Not suggesting anything. The Christian Bible has documented plenty of occasions where people have been killed for God. There is only one way. That is Gods way and believing/following his word. Otherwise you serve no purpose, in the big picture of things.

“then it is reasonable for a Christian to “kill” in defense of the faith,”
If that is how they feel God has communicated to them. Them not having their own agenda but the agenda of a LARGE following.

“Why that’s mighty Talibanesque of you.”
Glad you are finally seeing it. The Taliban being a religious group that also believes that their God is the only God and the only way to follow their God is to stand strong in the faith.
Not wanting to have anything to do with non-believers and seeing the damage that no-believers will bring to the faith and the community.

Don’t stress out, it is what it is.

“let’s project our own violent bigotry onto god ”
Now you are just bringing you own anger(Bigotry) into this.

Understanding how a religion works and where to draw a line in the sand is not rocket science. It really is practical and simple common sense.

No need to add guilt or anger to it. It has too much already built into it.

The act of killing another person is wrong, for any reason. The grounds for it are/can be a bit hazy.
Just depends on which side of the fence you are on.

AdamF's avatar

No anger here, and certainly no violent tendencies against those who disagree with me…But bigoted, yes thankfully,. against people who use any excuse (religion included) to defend violent bigotry.

“The act of killing another person is wrong, for any reason.”

I’ll just hope that’s what you meant the whole time.

@cassie “Why the heck do I pose such fright and risk to what and who you are?.....”

Who was that pointed at?

CMaz's avatar

“I’ll just hope that’s what you meant the whole time.”
If you read what I posted you would have seen that.

“against people who use any excuse (religion included) to defend violent bigotry.”
Well then war is wrong, and we need to bring our solders home.

This is a, depends on whose side of the fence you are on, discussion.
Religion, only operated on absolutes.

True bigotry is based on no other reason then, because I say so.

iamthemob's avatar

Bringing this back to the discussion of a hate crime, it is appropriate to say that hate is objectively wrong. Hate is something that is inherently destructive, provides no benefit in and of itself – but may be a necessary motivating factor to produce good beyond its destructive tendencies.

This doesn’t make it right to hate, but may make it necessary at times. When hate motivates in a manner that it produces violent crime against a particular member of a group because or mainly because that person is a member of that particular group, it is properly a hate crime, and should be objectively viewed as such, regardless of what side of the fence you’re on. If the side you’re on makes it reasonable to take such actions, then there is something objectively wrong with that side of the fence.

YARNLADY's avatar

How a crime gets charged and tried in court is more about what the DA thinks will be a prosecutable case than about what actually happened.

Joybird's avatar

You’d have to show that the person was targeted for violence as a result of their aethism. If the killing was just the result of an arguement on faith than it could not be proven that is was a hate crime.

cazzie's avatar

Sorry, people. Lack of sleep yesterday (and a funeral) caused me to be very very terse. Thanks for all the answers.

@ChazMaz ‘s answers still begger belief, though.

nicobanks's avatar

@iamthemob Yes, good point, but I was talking about modern times in North America – I should have specified, sorry. I don’t think the history you’re talking about would justify our calling the murder of an atheist today a hate crime – I don’t think it has enough to do with our culture for that.

@cazzie You’re generalizing with what you’re talking about “atheism.” Not every atheist would say “God does not exist” or “I believe there is no God.” And not every atheist would consider themselves part of a “group.” Lots would say “I don’t believe in God” or “I don’t believe there’s a God” – that’s not a belief, that’s a kind of agnosticism. They still might consider themselves “atheists,” though. Technically, they’d be agnostic atheists, or “soft” atheists, or atheistic agnostics, whatever – all “atheists.” It’s like how someone can consider themselves religious, but admit they don’t know there is a God – admit some agnosticism into their faith.

How do you distinguish between faith and belief? The words can be used interchangeably (“I have faith in God,” “I believe in God”) – so how are you using the terms; how do you think people are confusing them?

cazzie's avatar

@nicobanks I believe there is gravity…. it can be proven. Someone might have ‘faith’ in something that is not able to be proven, like a god. I realise people use these two words interchangeably, but they are not in all context.

cazzie's avatar

@nicobanks If someone calls themselves an atheist and still thinks there is a god, they’re not an atheist. Anyway… there are loads of Christians that don’t all have coinciding beliefs either, yet they are still considered a group. If Christians and Jews can be groups, so can atheists. I just don’t think atheists are that visible as a group. We don’t go around wearing symbols or meeting up to repeat our beliefs at each other. I kind of like his campaign to wear a scarlet A, but it’s odd.

AdamF's avatar

@cazzie Bear with me here.

You wrote “Atheism is most definitely a belief.”

I wrote “I’d say that atheism is a lack of belief.”

which you followed by

“It’s a belief that that deities do not exist. It’s a simple reversal of sant.”

The core issue then is whether there is any difference between the two definitions. There is.

The oxford dictionary of philosophy lists atheism as either the lack of belief in a god, or the belief that there is none. They are simply not the same thing, because disbelief (refusal to believe) and unbelief (lack of belief) are not the same thing. This is not pedantic semantics, there is a real philosophical difference here which is indicatedby the difference in the terminology used.

You are more than welcome to put yourself in one camp, but to claim that atheism is most definitely a belief, is simply incorrect, because it excludes a whole bunch of people who are entirely justified in defining themselves as atheists.

@nicobanks You wrote: “I don’t believe there’s a God” – that’s not a belief, that’s a kind of agnosticism. They still might consider themselves “atheists,” though. Technically, they’d be agnostic atheists”

I’m not disagreeing, just clarifying, at least for me.
I think agnosticism and atheism address two fundamentally different questions which seem repeatedly confused, even by the people who define themselves as such. “I’m an atheist” is my answer (ie I don’t believe in god), if asked whether I believe in god (unless Im surrounded by bible thumpers with sidearms, or islamic fundamentalists with bulky clothing), in which case I’d most likely say whatever was most suited to getting out of there in one piece.

But if asked whether I know if god exists or not, (after getting the person to define “god”), I would answer I am agnostic in relation to the existence of any god, but I’d put the odds at so incredibly low that I am entirely comfortable dismissing the idea as entirely irrelevant in day to day life.

The only reason I clarify is because I think some people see the these terms as addressing the same question, and associate agnosticism as a kind of more “open minded” atheism. In effect they are drawing a continuum from theism -agnosticism – atheism, as if there was a straight line between them in terms of the extent of belief in god. My point here is only that agnositicsm doesn’t belong on that scale, because (a)theism and agnositicsm are actually addressing two separate issues (belief, and what is knowable). As you rightfully point out, it is for this reason that the terms can be coupled in the same person – ie agnostic atheist or agnostic theist. Both would acknowledge that they do not know if god exists or not (agnostic), one does not believe in god, one does.

cazzie's avatar

@AdamF ... I just had that discussion with my husband. He proudly calls himself a ‘non-believer’, but he looked at religion and read the books and made a decision. So, is he one who ‘refuses to believe’ because he’s made an informed decision? rather than someone who just lacks belief, like say.. someone living in the Amazon and has never heard of such things? Either way, Atheists who have made the informed judgement to disbelieve in a god are a group and we face discrimination and persecution too. Richard Dawkins, as smart as he is, is having a hard time coming up with some way to counter the ‘god lobby’ in the US that pushes it’s agenda in regions of science and social structure. We’ve been called non-citizens by Presidents.

So, agnosticism seems like just ostriching to me. You would like to dismiss the idea of the existence of a god as entirely irrelevant in day to day life, but the theists make this increasingly difficult by pushing their agenda into day to day life. God or no god, the believers certainly do exist and want to control our science and our schools.

AdamF's avatar

I don’t know how your husband classifies his atheism. All I can say is that atheism isn’t a “belief” to many atheists.

Let me clarify with regards to my “practically irrelevant” comment. My acknowlegement that a god could exist has to be coupled with an important caveat (“could” or “possible” can imply anything from “likely” to “you’ve got to be fucking joking”). For that reason I wanted to point out that gods existence (at least anything even remotely resembling what most people define as a god), is practically irrelevant with regards to my personal worldview – not in any way do I mean this in regards to the influence believers have on society (espeically in the U.S. it seems…among developed countries).

With regards to agnosticism, all I am doing is pointing out that some things cannot be known. As I use the term, it is not ostriching, merely stating the limits of what can be known with certainty. I’m a scientist, there’s always caveats of probability.

With regards to the broader issues, I sincerely like to hope that things will improve for atheists in the U.S., at least in the long run. Frankly improvement for atheists, is improvement for all. When people entirely disassociate public policy and the concept of “morality” from the misguided attempt to please an unknown god and all his followers variety of contradictory, misguided, and maladjusted attempts to claim to know what he/she/it wants, and anchor it firmly to alleviating human suffering and promoting wellbeing, then we call work effectively towards the common good. Amazing how many suppsoed “issues” (homosexuality, condom use, sex education, stem cell research, etc.) would shift in perspective with this adjustment.

nicobanks's avatar

@cazzie “If someone calls themselves an atheist and still thinks there is a god, they’re not an atheist.” Yes, I would agree with that. I’m not sure what you’re getting at here.

Christians are only a group in the loosest sense, but in so much as they are a group, they are united by a shared tradition and belief in the God of the Bible. What are atheists united by? What does one atheist necessarily share with another atheist? What defines them as a group? I’m not saying two or more atheists can’t be united by shared traditions/activities/worldviews – I’m saying they aren’t necessarily united merely by virtue of being atheists.

Yeah, I am not a Richard Dawkins fan, not when it comes to his religious (or anti-religious, I guess you could say) writings. He is populist in the worst way. He relies on his readers’ ignorance in order to make weak arguments. He’s like one who describes an elephant as snake-like because he’s only looking at the trunk.

As for gravity, it can’t really be “proven.” Newton’s theory of gravity is a theory. There’s plenty of evidence to support it, but that doesn’t prove it as a fact. Of course, there’s so much evidence that anyone (except, maybe, a master physicist with a theory of his own) would be a fool not to believe in it. But that’s the key word, and you said it yourself: you believe in it. If it was fact, you wouldn’t believe it: you’d know it. I know I just ate half a grapefruit. There is nothing to suggest I didn’t, and everything to suggest I did. This fact will not be re-evaluated in the future: new discoveries about the world won’t deny it or even modify it. Nothing except the end-all “we don’t know anything, who’s to say a grapefruit is a grapefruit?” can challenge it.

But anyway, I see where you’re going: faith functions outside of science, whereas belief can function within it – is that kind of what you mean? You should be careful about coming up with your own definitions for words. When you’re writing an essay or book, or developing your own understandings of the world, you can do that, but in casual conversation, you’re bound to confound the communication. AdamF and iamthemob weren’t confusing belief with faith – they just weren’t using the words the way you’d like them to.

nicobanks's avatar

@AdamF Oh, I agree with you. I agree that people often fallaciously conceive of a theism-agnosticism-atheism continuum. This is the continuum of “belief” that I was taught in High School and – like you – I have come to re-evaluate it. I agree with you that atheism/theism and agnosticism address two different questions. I think they’re extremely related, though, and often discussed/considered simultaneously, which I think is fine. But yes, that’s how you can have overlap in a single person. In fact, there’s always overlap in a single person, because, again, the two concepts address different questions. The terms “hard” and “soft” are often used, so I use them, but I don’t really like them… there are theists who admit agnosticism, and theists who don’t; atheists who admit agnosticism, and atheists who don’t. Of atheists, only those who admit no agnosticism could be said to hold a “faith” or “belief” about God – otherwise it’s merely a lack thereof.

AdamF's avatar

Nice to agree. :)

With regards to your previous post, I would suggest that it is more accurate to state that gravity is a fact and a theory. It is a fact that objects with mass influence each other in predictable ways – usually…yeah i know things get strange at certain scales or speeds (hence Newton’s approximations have been replaced, if not on the day to day calculation level, by general relativity). Theories on the other hand are structures of ideas that explain and interpret facts, as does gravitational theory (general relativity) with respect to the fact of gravity. So just like evolution, gravity is both a fact and a theory.

Sorry if I’m derailing things. People often either criticise or praise Dawkins. No worries if you couldn’t be bothered following this up (this is admitedly off topic), but if you happen to know of a quote or an example of a weak argument of Dawkins that comes to mind, I’d like to see it.

cazzie's avatar

*snickers at @nicobanks * Sorry, buddy, you’ve lost me.

iamthemob's avatar

Back to the hate crime aspects of it – it really only matters if the perpetrator thought that a person was (1) an atheist, and (2) that was a major or the only contributing factor in the crime.

So it doesn’t matter if someone is a proper atheist. Consider the gay angle – if someone is beaten up because they’re coming out of a gay club by a bunch of homophobes, is it less of a hate crime if the victim happened to be straight? I don’t think so.

And back to the examples – although I agree violence against an atheist because they were perceived to be an atheist should be a hate crime, I still think this is a little far off, as it still seems that there was a more intimate personal nature to the crime.

nicobanks's avatar

@cazzie Okay… and you’re proud of this or something? If you have a question, I’ll be happy to try to explain myself.

@AdamF Interesting way to put it (re. gravity), I’ve never heard it quite like that. I mean it’s perfectly logical… just never occurred to me in quite that way. How would you say evolution is a fact? What part of it is fact – that it happens, whereas how it happens is the theory? Is it really that clear-cut? Don’t get me wrong, I believe in evolution, I’m just interested in what you have to say.

As for Dawkins, I think he’s brilliant in some ways. I’ve read some of his writings on memes and really got behind that. But then I read “The God Delusion” (which turned me off from the start – such an unnecessarily offensive title). This was a few years ago and I read it for my own interest (not school), so I don’t have any quotations or page citations, also I don’t own the book so couldn’t generate any for you now, but here’s some notes I made about it at the time:

First, I admit he crafts an excellent argument for how religion, the Judeo-Christian tradition in particular, is privileged in both public policy and dialogue in the U.S. and why that’s a destructive thing. Otherwise, I’m sure he also (although I haven’t read this chapter) very convincingly disproves the so-called proofs for God… but c’mon, that’s elementary shit, who’s impressed? Only people who don’t know and don’t realize it was all said before, 80 years ago or more, and that intelligent theists have already considered it, and that their faith/religion has changed because of it. Throughout the book he repeatedly makes generous assumptions about people he respects who behave in ways, or purport to hold opinions, which he, himself, would/does not (i.e. they must be lying! or they mustn’t mean what they say! or they don’t even exist, those people!). And he seems to operate under the assumption, the prejudice, that theists are uneducated simpletons (he discounts a theological education as anything of value) and atheists are educated intellectuals. Yes, he does admit to some educated theists, but it seems he does so grudgingly, and it is these kinds of people he is prone to suggest are only claiming to be theists and likely, deep-down, are holding the same beliefs as himself. He writes that in the human scale of belief/behaviour, the category of atheist who claims to KNOW there is no God is a purely theoretical balance to the widespread category of theists who claim to KNOW there is a God. Well, clearly he doesn’t visit internet message boards, because atheists who claim to know there is no God certainly do exist. Also, he appears to have no grasp of poetry. I’m talking truth and meaning in poetic expression – not expression through poetic form, but poetic expression within regular dialogue or argument: how he determines the Judeo-Christianesque use of the word “God”: it’s either meant literally (and within a strict literal biblical context) or purely symbolically (and sentimentally). What about metaphor? What about heresy? He puts all this effort into categorizing theism by looking at how we speak of God and what it means to us, so he can isolate the kind of theist he is talking about from the kind he isn’t, but in my opinion he totally misses the mark. He focuses on the difference between East and West – again, this was standard by the 60s, starting in the 50s, in any criticism of religion. What he doesn’t do is focus on the differences within Western religion. Any criticism of religion’s effects on modern society that doesn’t consider, say, Liberation Theology (linked to South-American Catholicism but more than that now) or the Mennonite Peace Mission (I think it’s Mennonites) is shameful.

cazzie's avatar

@nicobanks I think we can agree that Dawkins sounds like a snob when he talks about being anti-god and pro-atheist. Why write your comment in small font you afraid someone big is watching and the small print will trick them?

nicobanks's avatar

@cazzie Yes, we can agree on that. As for the small font, it’s because I was going off-topic and people might be annoyed at my taking up so much space. As for my last comment to you, I’ve realized I may have misinterpreted your snicker. I thought you were making fun of me, hence my rude tone. I’m sorry, if I misunderstood.

cazzie's avatar

No, @nicobanks not making fun. But there was no sense in your comment about gravity.

AdamF's avatar

@cazzie tell me to bugger off if this derail is unwelcome.

@nicobanks “How would you say evolution is a fact? What part of it is fact – that it happens, whereas how it happens is the theory?”

First off, just to clarify something that is easily mistaken. Theory in common language is completely different its usage in science…ie a a scientific theory. Theory in common usage (as in, “Its just a theory”) is more akin to a hypothesis. Whereas a scientific theory is defined as I provided above.

So just like the atheism – agnosticism – theism mistake, similarly a scientific theory is not lower in a hierarchy of evidence from a fact. In fact, a scientific theory requires a factual basis from which to build itself.

Anyways, evolution is fact in that species change through time over generations. In other words, they are not immutable, nor do they represent “kinds” as used to be believed. Similarly, species alive today share common ancestry…ie chimpanzees and humans and dogs and birds and bacteria, share ancestry, if you go back far enough.Those are the facts of evolution.

The theory, just like with gravitation, is the mechanism by which evolution occurs. Just like species, theories evolve. For instance, the theory of evolution is not the same today as it was 10 years ago. For isntance there may be contention regardin the relative importance of enivornmental factors shifting genes on or off, or the role that the pool of usually neutral genes that can enable a population to rapidly evolve in a new direction given apporopriate conditions and sufficient selection pressure, et..etc..

Anyways, I hope that made sense. I would say that your “what” (facts) versus “how” (mechanism) is a good way of putting it.

“Is it really that clear-cut?

If you mean in terms of the fact of evolution. Yes. The evidence is so mindbogglingly overwhelming that we have had 150 years of concilliance…in other words, multiple independent lines of scientific inquiry all mutually confirming each other with regards to species evolving through time.

But I will qualify the word fact…which actually helps to demonstrate the extent of supportive evidence we have for the fact of evolution. All facts in science are provisional truths…in other words science is always always always open to new information, and will revise any theory or perceived fact if evidence arises which contradicts previous understanding. It hasn’t happened with respect to evolution. There is zero scientific evidence to suggest species don’t evolve. ZERO.

If you meant, is it that clear cut with respect to facts and theories. Yes…although Im sure there is always room for argument…but I honestly think it is that clear cut, or at least close to it.

I think the Dawkins discussion is too big for here. Thanks for sharing your views though. I read them and Im sure we could debate and discuss all night on that…but it is more pleasant to just have this discussion.

cazzie's avatar

@AdamF No worries…. rail-on. Glad you can be bothered trying to convince someone of something that they should have learned in junior high science. I usually don’t bother, just give a ‘snigger’.

AdamF's avatar

Thanks, I guess I just thought that they came across as such honest ‘seeking the answer’ questions (ie not mere posturing), that I owed it to him to take the time to answer them as best I could.

nicobanks's avatar

@AdamF This looks interesting but it also looks like a time commitment – I hope to come back to it, but if I don’t, please don’t take it as an insult. Thanks for the convo.

iamthemob's avatar

@AdamF – this discussion illuminates many of the reason why I wince whenever scientists use the word “fact” in reference to parts of a theory – I firmly believe there is a huge gap between the common-sense or general connotative implications of the word “fact” that seems to run contrary to a scientific understanding of the word “fact.”

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