The Atheist Foundation of Australia defines Atheism as:


"the acceptance that there is no credible scientific or factually reliable evidence for the existence of a god, gods or the supernatural"


Sam Harris is known to "experiment" with personal meditation experiences. Here is what wikipedia has to say about Sam Harris and "spirituality":


"Harris wishes to incorporate spirituality in the domain of human reason. He draws inspiration from the practices of Eastern religion, in particular that of meditation, as described principally by Hindu and Buddhist practitioners. By paying close attention to moment-to-moment conscious experience, Harris suggests, it is possible to make our sense of "self" vanish and thereby uncover a new state of personal well-being."


He talks of mind states, of "not-self" and other terms which the AFA call on their forums "woo-woo".


The reason that the AFA would reject Sam Harris as an atheist is the last 3 words in their definition: "or the supernatural". They see atheism as rejecting not only god/gods (theo) but also the "supernatural", thereby turning atheism into atheiwoowoosm! They staunchly defend their definition beyond and rational logic. Only recently I have understood why that term is in there in the first place. The AFA are in fact, not an atheist organisation but a skeptics organisation. From their website:


" The Atheist Foundation of Australia Inc began in South Australia in 1970 when the members of the Rationalist Association of SA decided that a name change would proclaim their basic philosophy"


So it appears that all they did was change their name but not their "clothes". This deceptive behaviour has caused some confusion on their forums but they still staunchly maintain their stance.


And the great irony in this whole issue? Sam Harris' books are on their recommended reading list!!!

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Meditation and other routes to shifts in consciousness have nothing to do with woo woo. Meditation is simply a skill that can result in physio/emotional states attainable by the human animal. It is a conscious technique for altering perception. Our perceptions are unconsciously altered constantly by changing stimuli in the environment. Meditation is a tool for exercising some control over an undisciplined mind. There is nothing magic or supernatural about it.

Exactly right. We all suspend belief and enjoy fantasies such as irrationally high hopes. Some of us know what we're doing and others confuse it with reality. They can often be identified by the lower case "t" on a chain around the neck.

Just as trial and error led to many plant-derived pharmaceuticals, therapeutic techniques, developed without science, were found - and they work.

I agree with you Edward. However, these mental states are not currently scientifically verifiable so they fall into the "no credible scientific evidence" category and under the AFA's definition, they would be the "beliefs" of a theist, not an atheist.

"no credible scientific evidence"


Sure there is... PET Scans, MRIs, EEGs can categorize mental states for depression, anger, elation and meditative states. An individuals interpretation of the experience is purely subjective, but there are certainly crude measures of brain activity that correlate to specific mental states.

"but there are certainly crude measures"


Yes, there are certainly crude measures, however, they are not sophisticated enough to determine if there are thoughts "arising and passing away in consciousness" or mental states such as "the thinker of these thoughts can disappear".


Current technology can only determine where in the brain activity occurs. It is as you say, crude.

Here's information about The God Spot in the brain.

they are not sophisticated enough to determine if there are thoughts "arising and passing away in consciousness" or mental states such as "the thinker of these thoughts can disappear".


If these are your parameters, then there is no proof of ANY mental state. The evidence for a meditative state is identical to the evidence for happiness, sadness, fear... These phenomena are validated only by shared experiences and available brain scan/EEG technology. Likewise, the meditative, jealous, agitated, and every other potential mental state.

And it's certainly no "The secret"!


Top athletes have been using visualisation techniques to up their performances for a long time, I place meditation in the same ball park. Yet, scientific experiments have not really discerned what's going on in the case of visualisation, and I've never seen any double blind experiments testing the concept... But certainly not any spiritualism, or moral authority, or eastern religious thingy/philosophy. Only difference between Eastern and Western faiths is our icons live in the clouds and their icons live on earth.

"I had to chuckle when I read that the AFA is trying to hijack Atheism in Australia."

You of course can laugh at this David, and if it wasn't such a serious issue, I would be laughing along with you. The fact remains, however, that the barely competent definition of atheism leaves the AFA and Australian atheists as a whole in a defenceless position when debating theists.

"Don’t look now but the AFA is the largest by far chunk of Atheism in Australia."

Thus spake David Nichols. And it would be an impressive claim if only the AFA would publish its membership figures. So how about it Dave? Are you going to put your misguided atheist definition to the test and give us some credible evidence for your claim that the AFA is the "largest chunk of Atheism in Australia"? In the light of the AFA's secretive behaviour we can only guess what those figures are. An educated, well thought-out guess would put the figure at roughly the low hundreds. That's as accurate as I can get but I'll put some money on that if it comes down to it. And at that level, considering that the atheist population in Australia at the last census is a minimum of 18.7% (those that selected no religion) so extrapolating to today's population in Australia of, let's say roughly 22,546,535, would give us an atheist population of 4,216,202.045. I'll give you the .045 and keep the rest. So, let's say your membership is about 300, that means your little group (and I use that term deliberately) represents 0.0071% of atheists in Australia. I had to round it off - I wasn't going to list the minute proportions. So you claim to represent the over 4 million atheists in Australia with a membership of .007% of that population. I don't think so!

"We have written more letters to the media and governments, sent more submissions on social issues to our parliaments than the combination of all other secular groups in Oz, were called before the Australian Senate about religious charities (A first and only for Atheism in Australia), fought for a year to get our signs on city buses and won, had television adverts run in most states for months, are in the process of petitioning the United Nations to have the discrimination laws in Australia investigated and changed, held the largest Atheist convention on the planet, runs the most active and successful Atheist Forums in Australia, are having billboards about the Census in most capital cities in Australia, have a fourteen person Public Relations Team (A similar number of Management Committee Members with both these groups very happy with the AFA Definition) that has answered thousands of inquiries from the public, Atheists and of course, our religious friends. (The latter being the main reason for the definition)"

That's great. You have been a very vocal and active minority of the atheist population in Autralia. What amazes me is that you have managed to do all this based on an invalid definition of atheism!

"There is a small minority of Atheists not quite happy with that situation;"

Once again, David, your "small minority" I take with a large grain of salt as I am sure the numbers are not as small as you imagine them. The numbers of your membership, however, I am sure are smaller than they should be hence your reluctance to publish them.

"with them stamping their feet behind closed doors in protest.  Their attempts to create instability and infighting in Atheism are pathetic and really shows the mentality."

Hmmm... again it appears that anyone that disagrees with the AFA is subjected to more of your ad-hominem which I have made clear to you on a number of occasions, does not help your cause. But, if you insist on continuing to do so, that is a reflection on yourself, not myself and other atheists.

"This stuff I have listed is not a boast, it is how it is."

If it was "how it is", David the AFA would not be so secretive about its membership figures. Come clean and we shall see how it is.

"The AFA is carrying the load in Australia and would love nothing better than for other secular orgs to take some of it off of us."

Only that which you are willing to relinquish, no doubt.

"I have actual things to do to keep the Atheist Foundation of Australia as an effective force against irrationality, superstition, and yes, the supernatural."

And with theists conspicuously missing from that last sentence, I'm assuming that you use all the resources at your disposal on scepticism of the supernatural as is befitting of an organisation once called Rationalist Association of SA rather than atheism as the Atheist Foundation of Australia should!


It never ends does it?



Your continued ad-hominem attacks I have to state yet again and again really serve no purpose in your irrational defence of an incomprehensible definition. It is quite clear that you consider yourself to be far superior to those around you so you don't have to go out of your way to clearly state it.


I could compare the two of us on many levels, educational, intellectual, financial, eloquence, ego, many, many levels that I might surprise you on. However, that would not be a rational, logical, sensible discussion on a mis-definition of a commonly used and understood word.


However, there is a comparison that must be made. That comparison is not between personalities but organisations. The AFA as an organisation has seen it fit to redefine a word that is in common usage thereby causing confusion and misguidance in the Australian community. What right does the AFA have to define the English language? Does it spend millions of dollars on the study of language? Does it spend a paltry $35,000 to study the English language? I would say that it has not spent $35 to study the English language. In comparison, the Oxford English Dictionary draws on a 35 million pound research programme leading to the resulting definitions in its dictionaries. It pays for the right to define the language. It pays for the right to be the arbiter for the English language. And it pays many millions of pounds and employs a slew of professionals in their fields to define the English language. You do not have that right. The AFA does not have that right. You will never have the power of the Oxford English Dictionary and the Oxford University Press to determine our language. And this is just one organisation that has taken upon it to research, fund and define the English language. The AFA is way out of its league when it comes to understanding language, its history and its evolution.


David, despite all your vitriol against me, I believe that I have kept my conversations with you civil and rational. To that end, I am going to make a recommendation to you in good faith to constructively help you and the AFA make the changes that you so desperately seek. You have detailed all the letters, submissions, political representation etc that the AFA has been responsible for. You have gone the right way about promoting atheism and communicated and lobbied the right organisations. With respect to language, however, the AFA has taken it upon itself to be its arbiter. This is clearly not the correct course of action. The AFA needs to lobby and discuss the issues with the organisations responsible for and investing in the study of language and its definition. That is the dictionaries, the encyclopaedias and the university language departments that have invested a great deal of time, money and intellectual effort into defining the language.


I hope that you choose to take careful, measured and thoughtful action to change the definition for atheism in the English language by engaging with the relevant organisations rather than forcing a definition which just ends up confusing everyone.


My sincere regards,






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