Pretty well-reasoned, I thought. But I definitely want to challenge some of his assertions. Here is my response:
My apologies for the confusion over the water-diety. I didn't make it clear, but I was referring to something similar to a water
-- basically a spirit that is infused with one of the four elements (water is a compound, of course, but it's also one of the
), Fire, Earth, Air and Water (the Chinese add a 5th: Metal). It's probably not a very good analogy since it's completely hypothetical and imaginary, at least as far as science is concerned.
I grasp the stamp hobby analogy just fine. It's a poor analogy, though, which you seem unable to grasp. Here's why:
Collecting is an activity. Philately is a hobby. However, you could still be a philatelist and not actually collect anything. How? By knowing a heck of a lot about stamps, that's how. Philately is the study of stamps, not the act of collecting them. You could be an expert in stamp lore without actually having a collection or wanting one.
Actually, maybe the analogy is not so poor, since once you learn how faulty it is you might be able to understand how atheism could be considered a religion. Of course, this does depend on semantics to an extent.
An extremely simple definition of religion is this: "A religion is a set of common beliefs and practices generally held by a group of people." Boom. You hold beliefs in common with other atheists (you refuse to worship "known" gods) and your practices are also similar in that you refuse to attend worship services (I assume. Personally, I make exceptions for weddings and funerals, but I don't "worship"). It may be negative, but that doesn't mean you can't group it under religion.
For example, you've already admitted that atheism is a philosophy. Would you also consider it a theological perception? Just because the content of your theological perception attacks the underlying structure of most other theologies and even theism itself, that does not stop it from being classified as some form of theological outlook. Do they study atheism in theology classes? In many cases, yes (there might be some bias in many of them, of course).
As for dogma, yes I consider the lack of belief in gods to be a dogma among atheists. If someone claimed to be atheist, but continually made shrines to Buddha would you consider him a "real" atheist?
To take it even further, have you ever heard "The first rule is that there are no rules." Is that a rule? Sure seems like it to me, even though its singular act is to bar all other rules. It may be recursive, negative and contradictory... But it's still a rule.
Also, if you knew more about theology you'd know that there are several religions that are nontheist. They generally don't deny the existence of gods, they just aren't concerned with them, and don't take a stance on them either way. Confucianism and other eastern religions are a perfect example. For this reason, many people like to call them philosophies rather than faiths or religions, but this is another semantic argument, one that is caused by the overwhelming prevalence of Christianity in the weltanschauung of westerners.
If you consider ritual a necessary part of the definition of religion, consider the scientific method. It's also a dogma of sorts, and it prescribes a methodology for discovering and verifying knowledge in such a way as it will be acceptable to others in the scientific community. In much the same way that a priest prepares to consecrate bread and wine, a dutiful scientist will prepare for an experiment by controlling for variables and making predictions (hypotheses) before the experiment-ritual itself is performed.
As for proceeding from the assumption of the null hypothesis, that's your business. It's certainly a good idea in science, but in matters of faith things are not so cut and dried.
Also, please note that I am not calling you a religious person by stating atheism could be considered a religion. I'm just pointing out that atheism is quite similar to other religions, and as it grows there is a risk that it could be seized and exploited by charlatans. I believe there was a South Park episode about this. I am also sure you would see through the bullshit and hopefully refrain from any atheistic fundamentalism, but just remember that there are a lot of stupid people out there. In fact, some people are dumb as fuck!
Even as I'm drawing religion and science together, surely you'll concede there is much that separates them. The problem is that the scientific method is not known to work for the business of discovering gods. I believe Scott Adams once compared this folly to using a metal detector to check for unicorns in one's sock drawer. The fact of the matter is, we haven't discovered a "god" (definitively, based on the scientific method) so how can we say we're using the best tools for the job?
Perhaps a new method is called for. Of course, if I knew that method I'd present you with solid proof of the existence of god(s). But you could easily reject it by saying my method does not adhere to the principles of the scientific method. But what if my method was better, at least for discovering and identifying divine beings?
A question to ponder: Have your placed your faith in the scientific method?