The stamp collector analogy is wrong.

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The stamp collector analogy is wrong.

#1  Postby sepermeru » Mar 01, 2010 11:24 pm

I pointed this out in another thread, but since there were a few subsequent posts which simply re-asserted this idea without any sign of actually defending it, I thought I'd pull it out here into the light.

The analogy that not believing in gods is like not collecting stamps is a poor one, and does not accurately reflect reality. If atheism is akin to just not collecting stamps then theism is akin to just collecting stamps.

But no stamp collector has ever murdered, tortured, and abused millions of people for the sake of getting a new stamp, because there is nothing inherent to stamp collecting which requires you to either oppress other people or change your belief. No stamp collector has ever suggested that just by virture of collecting stamps, he has access to a higher moral truth that cannot be tested. If one did, then we'd call that a religion because we understand it is different in essence from just collecting stamps.

Clearly, obviously, all of that is much more than just a hobby, and it's not just because it's stronger, but because it's fundamentally different. 'Not collecting stamps' and 'not believing that someone should be murdered because they're gay and a God exists which says you must kill all gays' are so enormously NOT alike -- again, not just because one is worse, but because it's fundamentally different by its nature -- that the more I think about it, the more I really dislike this "stamp collector" bumper-sticker of an idea that so many atheists are enamored of.

No one is obligated to save the world. But if you're not interested in actually helping the problem, then perhaps it is not necessary to also blithely go around declaring that the problem doesn't even exist in the first place. In a world where saying 'I am an atheist' could never get you fired, ostracized or killed then maybe it's the same as saying 'I do not collect stamps' but for those of us who, because we are gay or otherwise directly in the crosshairs of Jesus, do not have any choice but to fight religion because it actively fights us, tries to take our children away and keeps us from being full citizens, every fucking day, it's not an option.

So at very least try not to describe our position as being somehow a need to show off a badge or be in a club or emphasize an absence. Try to understand that while you are free to just not believe in God and have that mean nothing else at all to you, many of us do not have that luxury.

I'd love to be able to say that there's nothing special or remarkable about atheism, but until that day arrives, I thoroughly reject any analogy which compares being an atheist to not being some other thing which is fundamentally unlike religion.

NOTE: I am aware this analogy was first deployed as an attempt to explain to theists that theism is not the default position, but I feel its basic flaws still render it unhelpful overall.
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Re: The stamp collector analogy is wrong.

#2  Postby Aught3 » Mar 02, 2010 12:37 am

The analogy was first employed to show how atheism is not a religion. You can always push an analogy too far but this one is still useful when you consider the original intent.
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Re: The stamp collector analogy is wrong.

#3  Postby sydneyberlin » Mar 02, 2010 1:24 am

[quote="sepermeru"]

The analogy that not believing in gods is like not collecting stamps is a poor one, and does not accurately reflect reality. If atheism is akin to just not collecting stamps then theism is akin to just collecting stamps

.


Excellent post and a very good point you are making! :clap:

I do think though that it depends a bit on who you are talking to- if you're trying to show some utter nutcase that atheism is not a religion itself, then the stamp collector example might be useful to prove your point as a quick win in this discussion. But I definitely agree, in doing so, you're running the danger of making religion sound more harmless than it actually is.
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Re: The stamp collector analogy is wrong.

#4  Postby Xeno » Mar 02, 2010 2:10 am

First, hello sydneyberlin & welcome. :cheers:

One of the members here has in their signature "Off is not another TV channel" which also tries to convey the notion of non-belief. Analogies are risky when pushed. I would try to find another analogy for the issue raised by sepermeru and keep the stamp and TV analogies for the particular argument on non-belief. I have no proposal at the moment though.
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#5  Postby T. Kari » Mar 02, 2010 5:24 pm

I agree with a lot of what you're saying, but I'd say that if you phrase it correctly, then there really should be no confusion.
I.e. "If atheism is a religion, then not collecting stamps is a hobby". It's quite clear that the hobby part is separate from the religion part and is only used as an analogy.
If you use it a la "atheism is to religion as not collecting stamps is to stamp collecting" then you're getting dangerously close to comparing religion to collecting stamps of course... And of course we could try and find a more negative comparison such as "if atheism is a religion, then not molesting children is a criminal offense" but you will notice that you can quickly put a spin on that as well.
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Re:

#6  Postby Alan B » Mar 02, 2010 9:48 pm

T. Kari wrote:I agree with a lot of what you're saying, but I'd say that if you phrase it correctly, then there really should be no confusion.
I.e. "If atheism is a religion, then not collecting stamps is a hobby". It's quite clear that the hobby part is separate from the religion part and is only used as an analogy.
If you use it a la "atheism is to religion as not collecting stamps is to stamp collecting" then you're getting dangerously close to comparing religion to collecting stamps of course... And of course we could try and find a more negative comparison such as "if atheism is a religion, then not molesting children is a criminal offense" but you will notice that you can quickly put a spin on that as well.


I thought the OP quote didn't look right so I Googled and got this as the original saying:

"If atheism is a religion, then not collecting stamps is a hobby"

where 'hobby' is used analogously for religion. I don't see a problem.
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#7  Postby hackenslash » Mar 03, 2010 1:19 am

Indeed. The analogy is completely valid. It isn't atheism and stamp collecting that's being compared, and nor is it religion and hobbies. The comparison is being made between the descriptions, and it works perfectly.

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Re:

#8  Postby sepermeru » Mar 03, 2010 3:19 pm

hackenslash wrote:Indeed. The analogy is completely valid. It isn't atheism and stamp collecting that's being compared, and nor is it religion and hobbies. The comparison is being made between the descriptions, and it works perfectly.

It's like a finger, pointing to the sky. Don't watch the finger, or you will miss all that heavenly glory - Bruce Lee


I completely disagree, because an analogy is supposed to compare two things which are qualitatively alike. My whole point is that the description proposed for atheism is wrong as a general truth. It is NOT true for everyone that being an atheist is nothing more than not believing in God, because in a culture where everyone believes in God, to take that position is, in fact, a significant and meaningful thing in a way that a mere absence of belief in something that has no other implications is not. The implications of atheism are so vast that to say you can describe being an atheist in general as just not being something else is to mis-identify what atheism really is, all the way down. Now, I know that for some people, "nothing more than not believing in God" feels like an accurate description of their atheism. But to present that as the whole story, as the only possible inherent description, is false.

IN another thread just now I noticed someone saying "Being an atheist is a religion like not being kicked in the bollocks is a religion" and that's an analogy I can really get behind.

There is a difference between saying "I do not collect stamps" and saying "I do not believe the reason people use to kill and hurt each other all the time is valid". One is a personal preference with no ethical implications possible, and the other is so deeply connected with ethical issues it can only be separated by personal decree, by an individual declaring that they choose to disengage from the ethical implications. Any description which claims that atheism can be described merely as saying "I do not collect stamps" is wrong because it is assuming that atheism exists in a vacuum where any one position a person takes is ethically equal to any other. If collecting stamps led to the deaths of millions of people, then not collecting stamps wouldn't be just not collecting stamps either. The analogy is meant to suggest that people who claim there is more to atheism inherently than just not believing in God are incorrect, but clearly there is, because the world exists and has qualities which can't be ignored.

In a way, my point is partly that without intending to, this analogy actually gives the impression that belief in God is perfectly valid and it's all just a matter of whether you do or not. Some people might feel that way, but not this atheist, and not, I think, a significant enough number of atheists that to deploy this analogy as a general truth is misleading. And really, if your atheism is based on rationality, then it's impossible to claim that it really is valid to believe in God; the most you can do is say that you don't choose to engage the question.
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Re: Re:

#9  Postby hackenslash » Mar 03, 2010 3:40 pm

sepermeru wrote:
hackenslash wrote:Indeed. The analogy is completely valid. It isn't atheism and stamp collecting that's being compared, and nor is it religion and hobbies. The comparison is being made between the descriptions, and it works perfectly.

It's like a finger, pointing to the sky. Don't watch the finger, or you will miss all that heavenly glory - Bruce Lee


I completely disagree, because an analogy is supposed to compare two things which are qualitatively alike. My whole point is that the description proposed for atheism is wrong as a general truth. It is NOT true for everyone that being an atheist is nothing more than not believing in God, because in a culture where everyone believes in God, to take that position is, in fact, a significant and meaningful thing in a way that a mere absence of belief in something that has no other implications is not. The implications of atheism are so vast that to say you can describe being an atheist in general as just not being something else is to mis-identify what atheism really is, all the way down. Now, I know that for some people, "nothing more than not believing in God" feels like an accurate description of their atheism. But to present that as the whole story, as the only possible inherent description, is false.


This is drivel. The reason that the definition of atheism as absence of belief in a deity is rigorous is because it's the only definition that applies to the full set. Nobody says it's the only possible definition, just that it's the only rigorous one. Anything else is extraneous to the definition.

Further, you seem to be completely missing the point of the analogy. It doesn't matter that stamp collecting is nothing like religion, or that belief is nothing like a hobby. The analogy is valid because the comparison being drawn is valid. In other words, it is saying what these things are not. Not collecting stamps is not a hobby. Atheism is not a belief.

There is a difference between saying "I do not collect stamps" and saying "I do not believe the reason people use to kill and hurt each other all the time is valid". One is a personal preference with no ethical implications possible, and the other is so deeply connected with ethical issues it can only be separated by personal decree, by an individual declaring that they choose to disengage from the ethical implications. Any description which claims that atheism can be described merely as saying "I do not collect stamps" is wrong because it is assuming that atheism exists in a vacuum where any one position a person takes is ethically equal to any other. If collecting stamps led to the deaths of millions of people, then not collecting stamps wouldn't be just not collecting stamps either. The analogy is meant to suggest that people who claim there is more to atheism inherently than just not believing in God are incorrect, but clearly there is, because the world exists and has qualities which can't be ignored.


Again, you're reading far too much into it. Nobody is claiming that religion is a hobby. Which part of this are you struggling with here/

In a way, my point is partly that without intending to, this analogy actually gives the impression that belief in God is perfectly valid and it's all just a matter of whether you do or not. Some people might feel that way, but not this atheist, and not, I think, a significant enough number of atheists that to deploy this analogy as a general truth is misleading. And really, if your atheism is based on rationality, then it's impossible to claim that it really is valid to believe in God; the most you can do is say that you don't choose to engage the question.


Absolute hogwash. Tha analogy says nothing whatsoever on that point. The analogy is only saying what atheism is NOT. If you read anything more than that into the analogy, that is not a failing of the analogy, but of your understanding of what is being analogised.

I really think you need to think hard about what is, and what is not, being illustrated by this analogy. The analogy is valid, and your objections amount to no more than a non-sequitur.
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Re: Re:

#10  Postby sepermeru » Mar 03, 2010 3:51 pm

hackenslash wrote:

This is drivel. The reason that the definition of atheism as absence of belief in a deity is rigorous is because it's the only definition that applies to the full set. Nobody says it's the only possible definition, just that it's the only rigorous one. Anything else is extraneous to the definition.


You have every right to call my opinion "drivel", but I wish you would not. I feel it's a very hostile word that doesn't further this discussion, because it's very dismissive of what is clearly a position I have thought about a lot and attempted to defend. You may think I am wrong, and you may be correct, but I don't believe "drivel" is a fair or accurate description of what I've said. Again, I know you have every right to say it if you like, but I do object, and I would not characterize your position, even though I don't agree with it at all, as drivel.

Further, you seem to be completely missing the point of the analogy. It doesn't matter that stamp collecting is nothing like religion, or that belief is nothing like a hobby. The analogy is valid because the comparison being drawn is valid. In other words, it is saying what these things are not. Not collecting stamps is not a hobby. Atheism is not a belief.


Yes it is. It is a belief that one of the major reasons people use to kill and torture others is invalid or cannot be proved. Again, an atheist may choose to disregard that inevitable implication of atheism, but that doesn't mean the implication doesn't exist. In a world where believing in God has no implications you are right, but my position is that approaching the question from that direction is ignoring the reality of the situation. If believing in God has practical implications, then so does not believing in God.


Again, you're reading far too much into it. Nobody is claiming that religion is a hobby. Which part of this are you struggling with here/


Once again, I would like to ask you to refrain from personalizing my position. I'm not "struggling" with any part of it. Do any of my comments come across as someone who is "struggling" to understand, really? Or are you just trying to discredit my argument by implying I'm just too dim to understand yours? I do understand your argument, I just disagree. Surely you agree that is possible?

Anyway, as I clearly acknowledged in my post, I'm aware that people do not INTEND to claim religion is a hobby. As I said, my problem is that it does so inadvertently by implication. An analogy is not just any old words strung together in a way that sounds right, where what the speaker meant is more important than the words. An analogy should be accurate or else it is flawed.

Absolute hogwash. Tha analogy says nothing whatsoever on that point. The analogy is only saying what atheism is NOT. If you read anything more than that into the analogy, that is not a failing of the analogy, but of your understanding of what is being analogised.

I really think you need to think hard about what is, and what is not, being illustrated by this analogy. The analogy is valid, and your objections amount to no more than a non-sequitur.


I would say that I really think you need to think hard about whether your approach to this discussion is excessively personalized and condescending, but I don't believe in giving people personal advice when I don't actually know them at all.

As far as I can tell, your argument is "The analogy is valid because nobody meant it that way, so any other interpretation is drivel, hogwash, ignorant, underthought and non-sequitur". But you're not actually refuting my points. I acknowledge that it was intended to illustrate a single aspect of atheism with no reference to any other. I state that doing that is over simplistic and ignores the full reality of the situation. Basically, if you say it is valid to focus in on only one small aspect of atheism for the purposes of an analogy which, if you can't read minds, literally reads as a definition of atheism full stop even when not intended to, I disagree.
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Re: The stamp collector analogy is wrong.

#11  Postby dOG » Mar 03, 2010 3:56 pm

I support the above appeal for discussion to be free of unnecessary invective.
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Re: Re:

#12  Postby hackenslash » Mar 03, 2010 4:02 pm

sepermeru wrote:You have every right to call my opinion "drivel", but I wish you would not. I feel it's a very hostile word that doesn't further this discussion, because it's very dismissive of what is clearly a position I have thought about a lot and attempted to defend. You may think I am wrong, and you may be correct, but I don't believe "drivel" is a fair or accurate description of what I've said. Again, I know you have every right to say it if you like, but I do object, and I would not characterize your position, even though I don't agree with it at all, as drivel.


I couldn't give a flying fuck about what you wish. Characterise my position any bloody way you like, as long as you can support it, as I have done.

Yes it is. It is a belief that one of the major reasons people use to kill and torture others is invalid or cannot be proved. Again, an atheist may choose to disregard that inevitable implication of atheism, but that doesn't mean the implication doesn't exist. Logically speaking, you are right, but my position is that approaching the question from that direction is ignoring the reality of the situation.


Bollocks. Your characterisation of atheism as 'a belief that one of the major reasons people use to kill and torture others is invalid or cannot be proved' does not stand up to scrutiny. I already explained why, in giving the reason that the definition I gave is the ONLY rigorous definition. What you seem to be suggesting here is that an analogy that deals with only a single argument put forward by the credulous should somehow address every aspect of the struggle against irrationality. That expectation is itself irrational and misguided. The analogy is onlny erected to deal with what atheism is NOT. Deal with it.

Once again, I would like to ask you to refrain from personalizing my position. I'm not "struggling" with any part of it. Do any of my comments come across as someone who is "struggling" to understand, really? Or are you just trying to discredit my argument by implying I'm just too dim to understand yours? I do understand your argument, I just disagree. Surely you agree that is possible?


Yes, your comments do come across as somebody who is struggling to understand, and this is not personalising the argument, it is dealing with what you write, when what you write is patently wide of the mark, and demonstrates that you don't understand what the analogy is dealing with. I'm not implying for a second that you're dim, but I am categorically stating that your argument is dim.

Anyway, as I clearly acknowledged in my post, I'm aware that people do not INTEND to claim religion is a hobby. As I said, my problem is that it does so inadvertently by implication.


The analogy does no such thing, and could only be read as such by somebody who has no fucking idea of what is being analogised.

An analogy is not just any old words strung together in a way that sounds right, where what the speaker meant is more important than the words. An analogy should be accurate or else it is flawed.


Thank you for the lesson in what an analogy is, oh wise one. I'd never have figured that out without your help.

The analogy is valid, for the reasons I have given, and none of which you have addressed. There is no flaw in the analogy, only in your interpretation of what is being analogised.

I would say that I really think you need to think hard about whether your approach to this discussion is excessively personalized and condescending, but I don't believe in giving people personal advice when I don't actually know them at all.


I think you should refrain from playing the martyr card and address the arguments. I am not remotely personalising the discussion, as I am saying nothing whatsoever about you, but about the utter vacuity of your argument.

As far as I can tell, your argument is "The analogy is valid because nobody meant it that way, so any other interpretation is drivel, hogwash, ignorant, underthought and non-sequitur". But you're not actually refuting my points. I acknowledge that it was intended to illustrate a single aspect of atheism with no reference to any other. I state that doing that is over simplistic and ignores the full reality of the situation. Basically, if you say it is valid to focus in on only one small aspect of atheism for the purposes of an analogy which, if you can't read minds, literally reads as a definition of atheism full stop even when not intended to, I disagree.


I have refuted your points wholesale, by demonstrating that you're focusing on the wrong thing. Nobody has said that the analogy is a definition of atheism. It is saying what atheism is NOT. How many times does this have to be repeated before you get it?
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#13  Postby sepermeru » Mar 03, 2010 4:10 pm

How many times do I have to acknowledge that I know it's not what the analogy intends? In my first post, my second post, every single post I've made on this thread is apparently not enough times for you to continue insisting that I don't know something I acknowledged before you even got here, so I don't know how many more times or ways I can say it. Yes, I know it's not what the analogy intends. I'm saying that despite its intentions, it has other implications. Do you have any response to the suggestion that perhaps sometimes words have meanings and implications beyond what was intended?

But nevermind. I'm not going to engage with you further, because I want to have an impartial discussion, and you want to be as hostile and unpleasant as you can, and have made it clear you do not give a fuck if anybody objects. I don't know whether you're doing that because you know that if you're extremely unpleasant to talk to, people won't want to, so you can sort of pretend to have won by default. But it doesn't matter if you are, because our arguments are here for others to evaluate on their own merits, as it should be. If someone wants to take up your position without going out of their way to be openly hostile and personal about it at the same time, I'd be happy to continue.
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#14  Postby hackenslash » Mar 03, 2010 4:16 pm

And I'm saying that it doesn't have those implications you assert. Where do we go from there?

Oh, and now who's personalising?
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#15  Postby Hey Zeus! » Mar 03, 2010 4:17 pm

I agree that it's a bad analogy and it's always bothered me when people take that analogy too far. If the majority of the world were stamp collectors, you can bet your sweet ass we would have a word for a non-stamp collector. I prefer Matt Dillahunty's: "Is bald a hair colour?"

EDIT: It looks like I just walked into something nasty. That'll teach me to read the whole thread first!
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#16  Postby Tbickle » Mar 03, 2010 4:32 pm

Oh dear. Sepermeru, perhaps you should take a step back and read Hack's posts again. It makes no difference if stamp collecting is used in the analogy or hunting. It is only to illustrate to those who would assert that atheism is a religion, why it isn't in a clear analogy. It has nothing to say about dogma or how many tragedies have been done in it's name, and it doesn't need to for it to be accurate and effective.
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#17  Postby Chad Zichterman » Mar 03, 2010 4:42 pm

Perhaps it would help to insert a conspicuous phrase, i.e.:

Over Here: Non-Collection-Of Stamps as a Hobby

**BIG GIANT FLAMING FIREWALL OF DEATH, HELLFIRE, TAXES, AND COCKROACHES**

Over There: Atheism as a Religion

The parallel is not between any of the four conceptual objects, but between the type of relationship in the pairs of objects on either side of the

**BIG GIANT FLAMING FIREWALL OF DEATH, HELLFIRE, TAXES, AND COCKROACHES**.

Within the context of each side, and sticking only to what is suggested WITHIN each side of that analogy, we get this:

Collecting or not collecting stamps is not typically regarded as a choice which reliably indicates larger ethical principles of the person in question (i.e. a serial murderer or a full-time peace volunteer may each collect or not collect stamps, and their choice in the latter endeavor wouldn't predict their general character). Their collection or non-collection of stamps says nothing about their OTHER choices of what to do with discretionary time.

next, on the other side of **BIG GIANT FLAMING FIREWALL OF DEATH, HELLFIRE, TAXES, AND COCKROACHES**...

Atheism vs. theism is not a reliable indicator of participation in a religion. Contrary to popular prejudice, it does not reliably correlate with prediction of one's general character, and doesn't reliably indicate (for or against) what other stances someone may take about what they hold to be true.

That's it. That's all. No other claims about the four objects involved in this analogy are being offered up, and no parallels are being drawn directly between any two objects on opposite sides of the

**BIG GIANT FLAMING FIREWALL OF DEATH, HELLFIRE, TAXES, AND COCKROACHES**
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Re: The stamp collector analogy is wrong.

#18  Postby Xeno » Mar 03, 2010 11:39 pm

:thumbup:
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Re:

#19  Postby Sityl » Mar 03, 2010 11:46 pm

anthroban wrote:Atheism is to religion as not stamp collecting is to hobbies.


That's well worded. Clearly religion has caused more harm than hobbies, but that's not the point of the analogy.

Hand is to glove as foot is to shoe. You wouldn't argue that the analogy is invalid because you don't use your hands when playing soccer, because it isn't relative to the point.

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Re:

#20  Postby Jef » Mar 04, 2010 12:12 am

anthroban wrote:Remember kids - analogies compare relations between things, NOT THE THINGS THEMSELVES. :dopey:


^ This.

Nothing more to add.

Edit..

Changed my mind in order to add: The OP is complaining that within the analogy the objects of the two sides of the analogy are not identical in nature. Well, sure.. that's why it's an analogy.

The logical extension of the OPs argument would lead to a situation where one would have to say 'x is to y as object identical to x is to object identical to y' in order to satisfy his scrutiny. This, clearly, is not an analogy; it's a tautology.
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