Sunday, April 30, 2006

Visiting the Dictionaries

There was some concern about my use of certain definitions for particular words. Some even claimed that I made them up with some ill intent in mind. So, here we'll visit a few dictionaries to see how I 'made up' the working definitions I used and what specifically I meant by others that have been misconstrued.

First, secular. Yes, I admit that my introduction of this word muddied the waters quite a bit and made it easy for some to assume that I was referring to all or most atheists. I introduced the word b/c I was hoping not to have to use the same word "atheist" over and over again like a battering ram. My desire for "interesting" rather than repetitive language led to some misunderstandings and for that I have apologized. But where did I get the idea that secular meant THAT.

Secular: Relating to or advocating secularism
(Source: The American Heritage Dictionary of the English Language)

Secularism: 1) worldly views esp., a system of belief and practices that rejects any form of religious faith.
2) the belief that religion should be strictly separated from the state or government esp., from education." (Source: Webster's Dictionary of the New Age)

Now, some have interpreted the word "extremist" to refer only to action, however both action and thought can be extremist.

Extremist: (used of opinions and actions) far beyond the norm; "extremist political views"; "radical opinions on education"; "an ultra conservative" OR a person who holds extreme views (Source: Princeton's WordNet Search)

We also had some confusion about the words atheist and agnostic.

Atheism: the doctrine or belief that there is no God OR a lack of belief in the existence of God or gods (Source: Princeton's WordNet Search)

It is my understanding that these two definitions represent two different types of atheism. I may be incorrect.

Agnosticism: a religious orientation of doubt; a denial of ultimate knowledge of the existence of God; "agnosticism holds that you can neither prove nor disprove God's existence" OR the disbelief in any claims of ultimate knowledge (Source: Princeton's WordNet Search)


Agnosticism is the philosophical view that the truth values of certain claims—particularly theological claims regarding the existence of God, gods, or deities—are unknown, inherently unknowable, or incoherent, and therefore, (some agnostics may go as far to say) irrelevant to life. (Source: Wikipedia)

There also seemed to be a problem with my reference to metaphysical naturalism, which many took to mean that I was attacking the scientific method, which is methodological naturalism. Here's a brief insight into the difference.

Naturalism is, at its heart, the idea that all phenomena can be explained in terms of natural causes and laws. It can be divided into two forms, methodological and metaphysical naturalism. It is not uncommon, however, for some to argue that this division is artificial and that there is no genuine separation between the two.
Methodological naturalism is the basis of scientific work and is the process of assuming that natural explanations can be found for natural events. When operating under methodological naturalism, we act as if metaphysical naturalism is true without also asserting that it definitely is.
Metaphysical naturalism is a stronger view which argues that nature is reality and that there is no reality beyond the physical, natural world - no supernatural beings, no supernatural powers and no supernatural events. Metaphysical naturalism is the position atypically adopted by atheists and, as such, is often a label used in a pejorative manner by people who want to accuse others of atheism.
(Source: The Glossary at

Then, there's the word that brought accusations of "Nazism" on my part.

Disavow: refuse to acknowledge; disclaim knowledge of; responsibility for, or association with (Source: Princeton's WordNet Search)

For me, this is just a public statement: "Most of us find these views to be indefensible, therefore those who ascribe to these views do not represent the majority of liberals or progressives or our movements." Yes, the vocal minority who ascribe to extremist views on the left have been used by the right to smear us all. Although the accusations are false, I feel we need to respond by clarifying for ourselves and the American people what precisely it is we stand for and against. Just saying "Liberals good. Conservatives bad." isn't going to cut it.

I do not believe we should have a putsch, purge, witchhunt or "tag and release" program for anybody. Nor should anyone be deprived of their rights of freedom of speech, freedom of conscience, freedom of religion or freedom from religion.

Next time, I'll deconstruct my own column to make clear its weaknesses and the origins of those problems. Hopefully, I'll also be able to clarify a few of my (I believe) valid arguments. Again, please be patient as my time to write is very limited.


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