Words are not interchangeable

Sholto Byrnes says aha – but his aha depends on a confusion of terms, a lumping together of different words with different meanings as if they all meant the same thing. That kind of aha is not a good kind, because people can just say, sharply or compassionately depending on temperament, ‘oh dear, you’ve made a muddle there.’

Let’s be clear: they could now be afforded rights under law specifically formulated to protect religion and belief. And those are two words that many scientists, rationalists and atheists don’t like to be associated with at all.

Nonsense. We have no problem ‘being associated with’ belief; we don’t claim to have no beliefs or to want no beliefs or to object to beliefs as such. Of course we don’t! Religion and belief are different things.

Atheists in particular hate it when they are referred to as “fundamentalist” or if they are accused of making a religion out of science. I’ve done both in the past, acts that have swiftly been followed by much foot-stamping and name-calling in the blogosphere.

But that’s a different thing. We do object to the first one because it’s just a silly distortion of the word, and we object to the second when, for instance, it’s just a wild assertion about atheists in general, as it so often is. We don’t say that no atheists ever ‘make a religion out of science’; we do say it’s just rhetorical abuse to claim that we all do.

[I]t seems to me that most militant atheists are characterised not just by an absence of belief in a god, but by a trust in science so certain and ardent that it is entirely akin to religious belief — and a highly devoted, if not fanatical, one at that. No, they say, these are not matters of belief. These are facts. Science says so.

No we don’t. We don’t say that. Sholto Byrnes is remarkably bad at accurately characterizing people he disagrees with. He skids into gross exaggeration and over-generalization the minute he puts fingers to keys. He should work on that.

15 Responses to “Words are not interchangeable”