Lack of belief in gods

by Luke Muehlhauser on October 17, 2010 in Video

Well said.

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{ 31 comments… read them below or add one }

Hermes October 17, 2010 at 7:34 pm

Good as usual.

While I have a few criticisms, I’m not too motivated to voice them.

Unlike some of his other videos, this one was clearly rushed to fit the 10 minute limit. It would probably be better if he either broke it into two videos on different topics, or one video split into two parts totaling about 13-16 minutes.

That said, people don’t have endless amounts of time for these projects, and QualiaSoup does produce high quality videos otherwise. Maybe in a month or two a new video will be posted that addresses specific issues raised by this one in sufficient detail?

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Brian_G October 17, 2010 at 7:35 pm

1) I understand that many atheists will define atheism as “lack of belief in any god” instead of “belief that no gods exist.” Some theists want to dispute this, but I think it’s silly. It seems the prerogative of atheists to decide what “atheism” means. That said, I wonder if this definition is how atheism has been defined historically. Is this a recent use of the term or has “atheism” always been used this way?

2) Some seem to want to define atheism in this way in order to avoid having the burden of proof. This only goes so far. For example, if someone thinks that God is a human invention, that is a positive assertion that I’d expect him to have evidence for if he is a reasonable person.

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Hermes October 17, 2010 at 7:55 pm

Brian, I take atheism as a very basic ‘not theism’. So, the issue is “What is theism?” not “What is atheism?”.

Even that question — what is theism? — is fairly uncontroversial.

Theism has a fairly consistent usage — a belief in a god or gods — though some monotheists like to use theism as equal to monotheism. As the video points out, that definition of theism would negate other beliefs in god(s) such as polytheism that aren’t monotheism. (video: ~2:20-2:40) Well, we have a word for theism that allows for one deity — monotheism.

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Hermes October 17, 2010 at 7:57 pm

After watching the video a couple times, I no longer have any criticisms except that because it’s crammed into 10 minutes it is too packed with details and requires very close attention and possibly a few viewings.

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Hermes October 17, 2010 at 8:00 pm

Brian, if someone wants to make positive claims about specific deities they are welcome to do so and then I will be glad to give my honest opinion on those claims. The problem is that even within specific theistic-religious traditions, those claims tend to be quite variable. As such, I can’t comment on what isn’t explicitly claimed.

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Steven October 17, 2010 at 8:41 pm

One thing I’d like to bring up here is that faith, as typically defined by most Christians, cannot apply to Atheism even if we define it as “no belief in gods” or “disbelief of gods”.

This is because most Christians (or Theists influenced by western conceptions of what god/God is) define faith as “belief without evidence”. This cannot apply to atheism because it is NO BELIEF or DISbeleif, and this is done all of the time and has sound logical basis to it (ex: innocent until proven guilty).

The second definition (exclusive to Christianity and Islam) is that faith is a relationship with Jesus. Obviously an atheist rejects this sort of “relationship”, so it cannot apply to atheism.

On an interesting side-note, neither definition of faith rationally justifies belief in God.

For those interested, I present the following argument, first found in the Hitchhiker’s Guide to the Galaxy for humorous purposes, but which reflects on how nonsensical it is to believe in God without any evidence:

“Now it is such a bizarrely improbable coincidence that anything so mind bogglingly useful could evolve purely by chance that many thinkers have chosen to see it as a final and clinching proof of the non-existence of god. The argument runs something like this. “I refuse to prove that I exist”. Says god “For proof denies faith, and without faith I am nothing”. “But” says man, “The Babel fish is a dead giveaway, isn’t it? It proves you exist and so therefore you don’t. QED”. “Oh dear”, says god, “I hadn’t thought of that”, and promptly vanishes in a puff of logic. ”

Basically, if faith is defined as “belief without evidence”, then any logical proof that can be presented for the existence of God undermines faith. Voltaire commented on this very thing, but I have lost the quote. It goes something like this, though: “If I know that God exists because of reason, then it is logic, not faith, that leads to my belief”. If faith is seen as the only way to know God exists, then a logical proof of God would, paradoxically, lead to the non-existence of God. It’s pure nonsense to say that belief in God is based on the lack of evidence.

On the other hand, if faith is a relationship with Jesus/God, then, by definition, relies on the existence of God, and to use it to justify belief is to employ circular logic.

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lukeprog October 17, 2010 at 8:51 pm

Steven,

Yup.

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Rob October 17, 2010 at 8:55 pm

That bit about asking who is not married, and then the guy responding “the coffee table, Maureen, the pit bull, the home-made macaroons” is hilarious.

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Hermes October 17, 2010 at 9:01 pm

Memes, defensive memes, Steven. Not that such things are real.

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Rob October 17, 2010 at 9:05 pm

William Lane Craig’s confused response to “lack of belief”.

http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=Cb4cM-yN5mE

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Charles October 17, 2010 at 9:06 pm

Now faith is the substance of things hoped for, the evidence of things not seen. (Hebrews 11:1)

If believers would apply this to all the other parts of their lives, they would see just how bad this advice is.

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lukeprog October 17, 2010 at 9:11 pm

Charles,

Yeah. Try the faith principle on your finances or your career. See how that works out.

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Hermes October 17, 2010 at 9:30 pm

Rob, thanks.

I can always tell how open someone is by how they allow or disallow comments.

I’ve run commercial discussion boards; there’s no reason to disable comments unless you are just advertising or pushing propaganda. The problem with propaganda or advertising is that people know what you’re doing. There is no trust. It’s all about dictating to someone who you do not consider a peer or smart enough to figure things out but a mindless user that needs to be told.

No doubt — some people are that dumb and do need a strong hand to guide them. Most people don’t. They get it. They realize when a scam is underway.

As for his video, it’s classic burden shifting. I’m right here. I’m glad to comment on a specific explanation of someone else’s claims. But, first, they have to say what they believe in a coherent manner. Without the dogma. Without having me to dig through their religious preconceptions. It’s their claim, so they should know what they think and believe. They can show me. They can’t legitimately blame me for not getting what they won’t stand behind.

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Rick B October 17, 2010 at 9:39 pm

Rob,

That video is hilarious. Craig asserts that it’s intellectually lazy, and not a worldview, to refuse to disprove his worldview.

One wonders, if one were to replace atheism with a-faerie-ism, a position Craig would agree with, if Craig would find his own arguments against such a position compelling. I suspect not; I bet he’d ridicule it as being absurd. Which is exactly where I and many other atheists stand with respect to another human fiction, the g.o.d. idea.

rofl

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bossmanham October 17, 2010 at 9:39 pm

This video was pretty entertaining, I must say. I saw several straw men, like that the Biblical God needs worship (really, that’s the argument he throws in there?), and I noticed that he refutes himself by claiming that it’s impossible to know things about certain gods, since that would be one thing you’d know about them.

I recently pointed out elsewhere that this position pretty much strips the word of any sort of force at all. Simply filling people in on your current mental state isn’t very interesting at all. Heck, my 3 month old daughter would pretty much be an a-everything, since she lacks all sorts of beliefs.

Not only that, but it makes the atheist position basically no threat to theism at all. Theists argue that there is a God, that God actually exists. If atheists are simply people that lack this belief, then their position suddenly becomes of almost no consequence to the theist. Okay, you lack that belief, so what? There’s nothing to argue with there. They haven’t really taken a position, they’ve just told us what their mental state happens to be.

So, if this is what atheism actually is, then more power to you. Atheists just lack belief in God. Great. Whoopie.

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Garren October 17, 2010 at 9:46 pm

I wonder why he’s so insistent that Agnosticism only comes in the “strong” variety.

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Garren October 17, 2010 at 9:48 pm

@bossmanham

If atheists are simply people that lack this belief, then their position suddenly becomes of almost no consequence to the theist. Okay, you lack that belief, so what? There’s nothing to argue with there.

Yet many Theists do get in a tizzy over nothing more than that.

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bossmanham October 17, 2010 at 10:03 pm

Yet many Theists do get in a tizzy over nothing more than that.

So? Many theists think this has everlasting repercussion on the eternal soul, and since they care for people, don’t you think they’d be silly if they didn’t go into a tizzy about it?

Garren, good question. The video is clearly made by a half-way intelligent and thoughtful person, but also one that seems to want to redefine several words.

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Hermes October 17, 2010 at 10:05 pm

Garren…

Tizzy — spot on.

On agnosticism, do you mean comments from QualiaSoup or Craig? If QS, take another look. It’s fairly dense. He also leaves out some details that are fairly important for specific issues. That said, in 10 minutes he covers quite a bit of ground.

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bossmanham October 17, 2010 at 10:10 pm

BTW to avoid confusion, the last paragraph in my previous post was addressing Garren’s comment on why the author of the video says strong agnosticism is the only one.

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Hermes October 17, 2010 at 10:22 pm

Bossmanham, re “eternal soul”; depending on how you read your own religious text, there is such a thing or there is no such thing.

For my own non-religious point of view, look here;

http://whywontgodhealamputees.com/forums/index.php?topic=6546

If I’m right, then this has implications for everyone — regardless of theistic beliefs.

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Garren October 17, 2010 at 10:31 pm

@Hermes

I was talking about QualiaSoup on Agnosticism.

“An Agnostic is someone who holds the view that nothing is known nor can be known of the existence or nature of a proposed phenomenon, in this case a God.” – from just before the 2 min mark.

But I would argue that just as there is more than one way not to believe in a God, there is more than one way not to know about a God. It’s also easier to beat up on a strong Agnostic position that knowledge about God is impossible, like it’s easier to beat up on a strong Atheistic position that God’s existence is impossible.

What else are we supposed to call the position that we don’t know anything about God, while rejecting the notion that we couldn’t possibly know anything about God?

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Hermes October 17, 2010 at 10:54 pm

Garren, QS is a bit conservative. I don’t personally agree with the Huxley version of it.

That said, I don’t think QS is beating up on the agnostic position. I took it — because of time limits — QS could not flesh out the issues involving knowledge claims and statements of belief. The ‘strong’ nature actually is irrelevant for the general case, so I (wrongly or rightly) ignored it.

I leave it to those making a positive claim. If they support that claim, and they make it credible, I’ll be glad to agree with them and become a theist. Really. Yet, I’ve been talking to theists for decades and have heard just about every argument possible plus a stunning number of variations.

As for the general unsupported idea of gods, there are some that I can comment positively on. Deistic or pantheistic deities are logically possible, and are not in direct conflict with reality. That said, they aren’t positively supported — so neither are credible to me. The popular less generic deities are of course not credible in the cases that have been promoted to me.

What else are we supposed to call the position that we don’t know anything about God, while rejecting the notion that we couldn’t possibly know anything about God?

An agnostic claims no knowledge.

Someone who does not believe there are any gods is an atheist.

In sum: There is a difference between claims of knowledge and statements of belief.

Note that QS doesn’t contradict the above. He might not have had enough time to flesh out these details, or may have ignored them because he was aiming at a different audience where there isn’t a distinction between beliefs and knowledge claims. It concerned me at first too — but I changed my mind.

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bossmanham October 17, 2010 at 11:21 pm

Hermes,

Bossmanham, re “eternal soul”; depending on how you read your own religious text, there is such a thing or there is no such thing.

Not really relevant. If people’s worldview contains the belief that your soul’s eternal destiny will be tragic if you maintain this mental state that we’re now calling atheism, and that they should care for you in light of your intrinsic worth, then it would be inconsistent of them to not be disturbed at what you believe.

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Justfinethanks October 17, 2010 at 11:57 pm

bossmanham:

If atheists are simply people that lack this belief, then their position suddenly becomes of almost no consequence to the theist. Okay, you lack that belief, so what? There’s nothing to argue with there.

Well, there is certainly something to argue with if you ask “why do you lack belief?” The response will probably be something along the lines of “there are no compelling reasons to believe in the existence of God.”

If you could then offer a compelling reason to which the atheist had no good response, then the atheist’s withholding of belief when then be unjustified. If you could not, then he would find himself quite comfortable in his unbelief, and furthermore holding those who believed in spite of this fact to be on very shaky epistemological ground.

“Lack of belief in God” is certainly a “description of a mental state.” But so is “belief in God.” Do you really think that since the sentence “I believe that God exists” merely describes what is going on your head and not what actually exists out in metaphysical reality, there is nothing to debate there? The debate, obviously, comes down to reasons for belief or non-belief.

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Hermes October 18, 2010 at 6:32 am

Bossmanham, regardless, there is no such thing as an eternal soul in reality. The link I provided details that.

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drj October 19, 2010 at 1:21 pm

I really don’t understand why this little issue is such the sticking point that it is. What you say above seems like it should be obvious to any reasonably smart person. Perhaps there is a desire to goad an atheist into making stronger claims which are easier to refute? That certainly seems to be Craig’s attitude, but I don’t know.

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John W. Loftus October 19, 2010 at 4:07 pm

Bertrand Russell answered the following question: Are agnostics atheists?

No. An atheist, like a Christian, holds that we can know whether or not there is a God. The Christian holds that we can know there is a God; the atheist, that we can know there is not. The Agnostic suspends judgment, saying that there are not sufficient grounds either for affirmation or for denial. At the same time, an Agnostic may hold that the existence of God, though not impossible, is very improbable; he may even hold it so improbable that it is not worth considering in practice. In that case, he is not far removed from atheism. His attitude may be that which a careful philosopher would have towards the gods of ancient Greece. If I were asked to prove that Zeus and Poseidon and Hera and the rest of the Olympians do not exist, I should be at a loss to find conclusive arguments. An Agnostic may think the Christian God as improbable as the Olympians; in that case, he is, for practical purposes, at one with the atheists.

What word would you propose to describe Russellian agnostics? There surely are some.

http://www.atheistempire.com/mm_dl/text/Russell,%20Bertrand%20-%20What%20is%20an%20Agnostic.pdf

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Hermes October 19, 2010 at 4:54 pm

John, I’ll respond as if you haven’t heard what I’m about to say before in some way or another.

Leaving aside for the moment the issue of theism/atheism, I’m exactly the agnostic that Russel describes.

Looking at what I know, and what I can’t know, I make a statement on that knowledge as honestly as I can; Some set of deities may exist, and some are more probable based on evidence and logic than others (tip of the hat towards deist and pantheist style deities). That admission of what I can know and do claim to know makes me an agnostic.

Yet, I lack belief that there are any gods. That belief is informed by what I know yet is not determined by what I know. As a counter example, a theist may say (as WLC does) that regardless of what may be discovered (knowledge) his ‘self-authenticating’ experiences push him to belief in a deity despite the evidence.

Unlike WLC, I would hope that I would only follow the evidence, and if enough evidence were available I would believe as I know not in spite of what I know. Some theists may argue that I already have the knowledge to believe in some set of deities. They may even argue that I need to open up and accept what WLC notes as a ‘self-authenticating’ experience.

* * *

Theist and atheist and agnostic are used in the most broad senses in the above explanation. Theist is ‘belief in a god or gods’, an atheist is not a theist; ‘no belief in a god or gods’, and agnostic is ‘knowledge of a god or gods or generally some other category of knowledge’.

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cl October 22, 2010 at 5:14 pm

At the same time, an Agnostic may hold that the existence of God, though not impossible, is very improbable; he may even hold it so improbable that it is not worth considering in practice. In that case, he is not far removed from atheism. [Loftus]

And, an agnostic may also hold that, although not provable, the existence of God is very probable. He may even hold it so probable that it is worth considering in practice. In that case, he is not far removed from theism. IOW, there’s nothing in the definition of agnostic that forces one to lean towards atheism. In fact, when asked, I respond that the term agnostic theist best describes myself. I believe God exists; I have faith that God exists; I believe that several lines of evidence corroborate that faith; and, at the same time, I do not believe the matter can be “proven” one way or the other, at least not this side of the grave. Although, the matter can be tested, and in fact, we will all test it. At the end of the day, I’m glad to believe. I see it as the best of two options.

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Hermes October 26, 2010 at 10:56 pm

Agnosticism only covers knowledge claims (or some level of a lack there of).

Knowledge may impact belief, and in the best of circumstances it should, but it is not by necessity determinant of belief since belief isn’t knowledge. The two — a belief and a knowledge claim — are in two different categories and are not necessarily overlapping.

Thus, this poll and the examples used in it.

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