State of the Union Address

Wow. All I can say…wow. When did we completely forget that whole “Church/State” thing, George? As if his stance on same-sex marriage wasn’t Paleolithic in nature, his attempt to get “faith based initiatives” is just insane.

I cannot express how frightening it is to me to have a President that panders to religion to the degree that W has. Then again, I’m an atheistic zealot, so of course I’d feel that way.

But I can’t wait until we outgrow this whole “religious” thing in our thinking as humans.

By griffey

Jason Griffey is the Director of Strategic Initiatives at NISO, where he works to identify new areas of the information ecosystem where standards expertise is useful and needed. Prior to joining NISO in 2019, Jason ran his own technology consulting company for libraries, has been both an Affiliate at metaLAB and a Fellow and Affiliate at the Berkman Klein Center for Internet & Society at Harvard University, and was an academic librarian in roles ranging from reference and instruction to Head of IT at the University of TN at Chattanooga.

Jason has written extensively on technology and libraries, including multiple books and a series of full-periodical issues on technology topics, most recently AI & Machine Learning in Libraries and Library Spaces and Smart Buildings: Technology, Metrics, and Iterative Design from 2018. His newest book, co-authored with Jeffery Pomerantz, will be published by MIT Press in 2024.

He has spoken internationally on topics such as artificial intelligence & machine learning, the future of technology and libraries, decentralization and the Blockchain, privacy, copyright, and intellectual property. A full list of his publications and presentations can be found on his CV.
He is one of eight winners of the Knight Foundation News Challenge for Libraries for the Measure the Future project (, an open hardware project designed to provide actionable use metrics for library spaces. He is also the creator and director of The LibraryBox Project (, an open source portable digital file distribution system.

Jason can be stalked obsessively online, and spends his free time with his daughter Eliza, reading, obsessing over gadgets, and preparing for the inevitable zombie uprising.

21 replies on “State of the Union Address”

Well…Atheism, by definition, isn’t a religion.

Technically, I’m a humanist or “bright.” But Atheist is the label that people recognize.

Oooooo…great! An argument! I love arguments!

So…why do you disagree? What makes Atheism a religion? Google says:

“religion – a strong belief in a supernatural power or powers that control human destiny” Like I said…technically, a humanist, but still…atheism is NOT a religion. It is a philosophy of being, an ontological position, even perhaps a moral grounding. But it is not in any way, a religion (unless you are somehow using the term to mean “a belief system”, which is just wrong).

I use the term to mean what it means to me, and yes, “belief system” is a decent gloss. I don’t see the point in making it overly academic. I couldn’t care less what Google, Merriam Webster or any such define it as.

Behaviorally, rabid Xian or rabid Atheist… doesn’t make much of a difference to me. Both preachy. Both like to ridicule others’… well I won’t say “belief systems,” each smugly sure that their way is better.

You’re not going to change my mind. I’m not going to change yours. No point in arguing.

/doesn’t love arguments

Ooooh! An argument! That doesn’t involve me (for once)! Until now…

First, Jason, Google is a search engine. When looking for definitions of words, I would recommend a dictionary. The might have them in something called a library. *ducks*

Kidding, aside, Merriam-Webster, the place to go for all your English definitions, defines religion as “a cause, principle, or system of beliefs held to with ardor and faith” (definition 4). I would hold that Atheism as a “system of belief” held in “ardor and faith”.

I mean, you’ve got to have faith to believe that God doesn’t exist, because you sure don’t have proof.

Your friendly, neighborhood, professional computer scientist gone amatuer lawyer,

Funny, Bill…real funny. Google has MANY features that push it beyond the “search engine” label you so quickly slapped on it. It’s also a calculator, a Fed Ex tracking engine, a spell-checker, and a dictionary. It returns defintions from Wordnet at Princeton. So there.

As far as religion…here’s a tip: never argue relgion with a philosopher. There are about a dozen places that I could point out definitional errors in your stab at this, but I’ll just stick to a couple.

“Faith” has three definitions in Merriam-Webster, the THIRD of which might be applicable. The first has to do with “allegiance or duty,” the second is “2 a (1) : belief and trust in and loyalty to God” and the third is “something that is believed especially with strong conviction.”

The Merriam-Webster definition is so vague and weak as to be useless. If, again, by “relgion” you just mean exactly what Merriam says, then ANY system of beliefs is a religion. And that’s just reducing the word to meaninglessness. Is biology a religion? How about computer science? Music theory? How about economics? Each of those is a “system of beliefs held to with especially strong conviction.”

Come on. Religion, by its very nature, has to do with the supernatural in some way. That’s the POINT of a religion…to attempt to explain that which our primitive egos can’t accept as natural yet, and to give us some comfort that death doesn’t exist. That’s it.

And here’s another tip: don’t try to pull the “science is just a religion” thing with me either, unless you want a real can ‘o whoopass opened up. That was my specialty as a philosophy grad student…the philosophy of science. 🙂

First, Google:

In the seventh grade, I had a watch that doubled as a calculator. You know what I used it for: telling time.

As far as Google being a multipurpose tool, that’s great. It however, does not make it the end-all-be-all of tools to discover and disseminate information.

Next, philo:

First, a tip for your tip: Never assume that I’m just a computer science graduate. I’m slightly offended that you would assume that I only have experience in a single field, and to be categorized this something that I don’t care for.

Second, in your next two paragraphs, you have done a wonderful job proving to me that English is an ambiguous language. It doesn’t have the required constructs to describe religion or probably any higher abstract concept as well. See: art, music.

Now, I will say this about the examples you have given: Computer science, biology, and economics are not religions. Neither are physics, chemistry, astronomy, or any other science. Why? Proof and rationale. While some scientists may be working off of faith for a time (the “I Believe It Works This Way” syndrome), eventually to be accepted as 100% fact, a scientific hypothesis has to be proven.

Note that some theories (i.e. Einstein’s Theory of Relativity) are accepted as fact before proven, simply because they are too hard to prove otherwise. I find this to be slightly short-sighted and narrow-minded.

However, in the case of religion, the Pope can come out of the Vatican this evening and declare that God has spoken to him and declare the the Time of John is upon us, and Catholics will completely freak out. On faith, with no proof and rationale.

As far as music theory goes, there is smoe definite science there, but the creation of music is linked for to creativity and musical taste. Musical taste is definitely linked to faith. See American Idol, which has inspired more religious fanaticism than both the Crusades and Islamic Fundamentalism combined.

Anyways, let me get to the core argument: Atheism.

Atheism operates on the premise that God (or another higher power) doesn’t exist or is a figment of our primitive brains. However, since there is no proof that God does not exist, this position is taken 99.9% on faith. It takes faith to make a religion. Ergo, Atheism is a religion.

To say that “English is an ambiguous language” is just a cop-out for people who don’t use language as precisely as they should. English is perfectly suitable for discussions of this sort, provided that you know how to use it.

The fact that you talk of scientific theories such as the Theory of Relativity as being capable of being proven shows your lack of finess with the field. Science is NEVER proven. That’s not what science does. Karl Popper showed us that the real trick to understanding science is to see that science never proves, it only disproves. All theories are valid until shown false…and proving them false is what science is good at. That’s what the scientific process is designed to do. That’s what repeatability is about. Not proving, disproving. See the wikipedia on falsifiablity.

The DIFFERENCE between science and religion is that religion is not falsifiable. You’re right…you CAN’T prove that God exists. However, as Carl Sagan said, “Extraordinary claims require extraordinary evidence.” The burden of proof is NOT on the people who claim the negative…the burden is on those who claim the positive. There appears to be no good evidence for God, or fairies, or ghosts, or other supernatural claptrap. No repeatable evidence. No measurable properties. Nothing.

So…my claims, when stretched out to a proper philosophical position, would be something like this:

“The best apparent constructive method of knowledge building as we humans know it is the scientific method. Science as an explanatory tool has outstripped every other attempt at explaining the world, galazy, and universe. This seems to show that other methods are at a loss when it comes to compare them to science. This, to me, shows that beliefs other than scientific explanations of the world seem less than rational. Belief in the supernatural is one such belief. Thus, belief in the supernatural (including god) is less than rational.”

Yes, I’m assuming here that rationality is a positive thing. If I don’t assume that, we might as well be arguing in different languages.

Thinly veiled slight to my English-using ability aside…

According your provided definiton of scientific theory (“…science never proves, it only disproves…”), a Theory of Creationism is true until it is disproved by proof? Am I understanding this correctly?

How about this: let’s take a Theory of God. Disprove to me that a supreme entity exists. Until you do so, he must therefore exist, correct?

I’m interested in how you have come about know that a supreme being does not exist. More accurately, I’m interested on how it is not based on faith, but is instead based on proof.

Ok…let’s try that again:

I had a response to your criticism in my prior post that got eaten. I’ll have to see if I can reconstruct the basics:

What I meant to say about the wikipedia above was to check the wiki’s entry on “falsifiability.” I tried to link to it, and the commentign function evidently can’t parse html.

Carl Sagan was fond of saying “Extraordinary claims demand extraordinary evidence.” That is to say, the burden of proof lies on those making the positive claim for something. This is not to say that everything is true until disproven, the conclusion that you so eagerly jumped to above. It is just a logical fallacy to make that leap…I mis-spoke when I used the word “valid” in my prior comment. I should have said “considered.” Even so, valid does not equal true. You can have many valid arguments that aren’t true (just basic Aristotelean logic there, Bill).

To put the entire stance in a somewhat more philosophically phrased way:

“Scientific process has, through practice and result, shown to be an effective way of learning about, describing, and predicting the world. The scientific process has been shown to be clearly better at this than any other attempt by humans to explain the ontological world. No system of supernatural beliefs of any sort (religion included) have approached science and scientific method in this way. Thus, science is the best method we have of explaining the world. As Popper showed us, the very definition of science is rooted in the fact that a scientific statement, theorum, or belief is scientific precisely because it can be disproven…there is some set of facts that would result in the community deciding that they were wrong (see: Copernicus and Einstein). Religion is NOT disprovable…I cannot prove there is a god, nor can I prove there is no god. This means that religion is, by its nature, unscientific. Since science is the most true method we have of understanding the world, religion can therefor be dismissed as a system of explanation.”


Statement above expounded: you still haven’t proven that faith in the disbelief in God is different from faith in the belief of God.

I am trying to understand you and your beliefs. More importantly, from what I understand, you define faith as requiring a diety to be faith itself. This would definitely constitute an inconsistency with my definition: “a belief without rational proof”.

Hmm…ok, from the top.

You say “you still haven’t proven that faith in the disbelief in God is different from faith in the belief of God.”

I gave a fully rationed explanation for this stance, the very end of which is: “Religion is NOT disprovable…I cannot prove there is a god, nor can I prove there is no god. This means that religion is, by its nature, unscientific. Since science is the most true method we have of understanding the world, religion can therefor be dismissed as a system of explanation.”

The entire argument can be summarized like this: Science is the best way we have of understanding the world. Religion < Science. Thus, religion is a sub-par way of interpreting the world. Thus, it is not rational.

More clear?

Religion is a poorer ‘language’ to describe and explain the world around us than science, yes. I understand and accept that. Hell, if I were to explain my religious views to you, I’m sure your head would explode, but I don’t try to use them to disbelieve physics or chemistry. That’s just silly.

What I was getting at, however, was to disprove a ‘mathematical’ quality of faith. A true scientific proof would have us believe that if someone who believes in God must have faith, then someone who does not believe in God must have no faith. It’s simple negation, and 100% totally false. I’ve met plenty of people who believe in God, yet have no faith.

This, I’m still stuck on the basic, original core of this argument: Atheism is not a religion. This is the reason I’ve been asking your definition of faith, as it is the basis for religion and the argument itself. I believe this is where the miscommunication is happening, as when we use an abstract word such as ‘faith’ then we are communicating an incomplete thought, and are assuming the reciever shares our definition.

Hmm…digressions on top of digressions, on both sides, I suppose.

My stance that Atheism is not a religion is grounded in the argumentation above. Atheists, largely, are such based on a belief system grounded in science. We’ve already covered the science > religion.

Your assertion above about God and Faith is just more playing with words. If by “faith” you mean simply “belief in God” then perhaps your syllogism would be logically valid. But you are committing yet another fallacy…the fallacy of the four terms (google it if you are curious). What’s happening is that in the two statements “someone who believes in God must have faith” and “someone who does not believe in God must have no faith” is using “faith” in two different ways (at least, it is if you are insisting on your conclusion, that “people who believe in God, yet have no faith.” Try writing it out and spelling out or subsituting the definitions for “faith” in all the cases. You’ll see what I mean by four terms.

After looking back over things, it occurs to me that I was actually guilty of conflating two concepts without explanation. Science Atheism, and Religion Theism…I did draw a connection between Science and Atheism since the two are generally linked in some way (atheists are likely to have a scientific, naturalistic view of the world).

The other thing to note is that I’m using Atheism to mean, effectively, areligious. The two do draw themselves out slightly differently.

Jason, did you just contradict yourself?

From comment 10:
To say that “English is an ambiguous language” is just a cop-out for people who don’t use language as precisely as they should. English is perfectly suitable for discussions of this sort, provided that you know how to use it.

From comment 18:
Your assertion above about God and Faith is just more playing with words. […] But you are committing yet another fallacy…the fallacy of the four terms (google it if you are curious). […]

The quaternio terminorum directly relates to my point in comment 9. By using words such as “faith” and “religion”, one cannot exactly prove, from one individual to another, the concept we are discussing (Atheism is a religion, for anyone keeping score) without a consensus definition. This is because when I see the word “faith”, I attach a definition to it which may or may not be different from another person’s definition. In a debate such as this, differing definitions are near-fatal to the discussion.

As far as Scientific Atheism goes, I don’t see science as nearly linked to atheism as you do. I guess this is because (a) I am fairly religious (although only in private), and (b) I have known some very religious scientists. I’ve met a few atheists that don’t believe in God because “the world is a horrible place”, but I mostly blame their views on teenage angst they haven’t purged or the death of their over-the-top liberal ideas.

Latin? You wanna use the latin names for fallacies?


Anyway, indeed, you are correct. Talking past each other with differing definitions is less than enlightening. I associate religion necessarily with the supernatural because of the western bias (there are examples of things that are labeled “religions” that for this reason I would probably instead call “philosophies”, like Taoism). I also associate atheism with scientific thought, although you are correct…there are many scientists who are religious (although I’m willing to bet the majority are incredibly liberally religious, or “socially” religious, and not a believer in the full sense). There are also many atheists who are, as you note, not particularly thoughtful in their reasoning (“how can there be a god with this much pain in the world?”)

That having been said, I’m pretty confident that the numbers are in my favor. 🙂

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