Many Atheists are Hypocrites about Morality

by Luke Muehlhauser on May 9, 2010 in Criticism of Atheists,Ethics

people walking

During the Q&A following my talk at UCSD, a young Christian woman asked, “Without God, how can you have any morality?”

The mostly skeptical audience laughed, as if it was a stupid question. Geez, not that again.

Well, it’s not a stupid question. Is a very good, important, difficult question.

I reminded the audience that many atheistic philosophers agree with the assumption of her question. They agree that without God there are no objective moral facts. In fact, one-third of philosophers think there are no objective moral facts. That’s no laughing matter.

I went on to say that most philosophers, of course, don’t think that adding a cosmic dictator to reality gets you objective moral facts. Divine command theory, because it grounds moral facts in the attitudes of a person, is by definition a subjective moral theory, not an objective one.

But let’s get back to this question of how the atheist can justify his belief in objective moral facts.

Many atheists seem to think moral realism is obvious, and easy to prove. I disagree.

Consider the claim we moral realists are making. We generally claim there are invisible properties in the world not detectable by our usual tools of science, properties of an entirely different sort than the usual “is” facts of science. These are mysterious “ought” facts, and there is great disagreement about what they are or how we know them.

Now that is a strong claim. An extraordinary claim, we might say. And extraordinary claims require extraordinary evidence, right?

So what is the atheist’s extraordinary evidence for this claim? Usually, it’s something like this:

  • “I experience a world of moral facts. I feel very strongly that rape is objectively wrong, and charity is objectively right.”
  • “Almost everybody believes in moral facts. It’s just obvious. Until you can prove there aren’t any, I’m justified in believing what people have always believed: that some things are really right or wrong.”

Do those arguments look familiar? They should. They are the exact same arguments atheists reject when they are given for the existence of God. Consider:

  • “I experience God. I feel very strongly that he exists. I feel is presence, and I know that I know that I know that he exists.”
  • “Almost everybody believes in some kind of God. It’s just obvious. Until you can prove God doesn’t exist, I’m justified in believing what people have always believed: that there is some kind of higher power.”

Atheists are skeptical of these arguments when given for the existence of God, but they are credulous and gullible toward these arguments when you replace the word ‘God’ with another mysterious thing called ‘moral facts.’

Like I said, many atheists do not believe in objective moral facts. But to those who do believe in objective moral facts, I must say: “That’s a pretty extraordinary claim. Please show me your extraordinary evidence.

But of course I am an atheist and a moral realist, so I must think there is good argument and evidence in favor of objective moral facts. But I do not defend moral realism by appealing to my moral experience or popular consensus. It would be hypocritical of me to reject subjective experience and popular consensus as evidence for God while at the same time accepting subjective experience and popular consensus as evidence for moral realism.

Previous post:

Next post:

{ 377 comments… read them below or add one }

cl May 9, 2010 at 6:52 am

Excellent post, Luke. One thing:

Divine command theory, because it grounds moral facts in the attitudes of a person, is by definition a subjective moral theory, not an objective one.

I would agree that any theory grounded in the attitudes of a conscious entity constitutes a subjective moral theory.

However, a theory grounded in factual, empirical knowledge seems to escape this problem, and this idea dovetails nicely with common conceptions of God as all-knowing, all-good and all-powerful. The moral proclamations of such a God would be based on factual, empirical knowledge as opposed to seemingly-arbitrary preferences (attitudes).

Also, a “moral field” (or similar concept) would constitute an objective source of morality. I know you offered it as tongue-in-cheek but I think you should take a second look at your own “goodons” and “badons” idea.

  (Quote)

lukeprog May 9, 2010 at 7:02 am

cl,

But a moral theory that refers to God’s perfect knowledge of morality that is NOT grounded in God is simply not divine command theory. According to such a theory, God would merely be a messenger of moral facts because of his omniscience, not the ground of morality itself.

  (Quote)

NFQ May 9, 2010 at 7:03 am

Very well-written and insightful post!

I don’t think that there exists some objective morality, but I think that if I was put on the spot before now I would have sputtered something about how a lot of basic moral precepts seem to be part of human instinct, given that they crop up in many cultures, throughout history, etc. and so we may as well in many cases act as though those things are objective moral truths. In the same line as your post, though, I see that that too sounds reminiscent of arguments I have sometimes heard for the existence of God. (Something like – How could so many people, in different cultures, throughout human history, have imagined gods if at least one did not exist?)

So I’m pondering how to revise that answer. Maybe the best thing is to leave that line of discussion altogether and just admit that my morality is based on my personal intuition about what’s “nice” and what’s “mean,” and on what I consider to be logical arguments about what’s best for social order. But I’m curious if you have any thoughts on this.

  (Quote)

cl May 9, 2010 at 7:15 am

Luke,

But a moral theory that refers to God’s perfect knowledge of morality that is NOT grounded in God is simply not divine command theory. According to such a theory, God would merely be a messenger of moral facts because of his omniscience, not the ground of morality itself.

This objection appears to be definitional. What would you call such a theory, so that I might draw a distinction?

Also:

Divine command theory, because it grounds moral facts in the attitudes of a person, is by definition a subjective moral theory, not an objective one.

I can’t help but notice that you’ve seemingly undermined the basis for your argument that desirism is an objective moral theory. Remember, a desire is simply an attitude about some proposition. So – without incurring a charge of special pleading – how can we call a theory grounded in the attitudes of people objective, yet, then turn around and call a theory grounded in the attitude(s) of God or gods subjective?

  (Quote)

Lorkas May 9, 2010 at 7:17 am

You make a mistake if you think “Without God, how can you have any morality?” is the same question as “Without God, how can objective moral facts exist?”

I can answer the first question with reference to the evolution of social species, for example, but since I don’t believe objective moral facts do exist, the second question sounds to me like “Without fairies, how can invisible unicorns exist?”

And in any case, what many people seem to mean when they ask the first question is “What makes you behave morally if there isn’t a Big Boss watching you to make sure you’re good?”, not “How can you account for the existence of morality without God.” If they mean the former, then it really is a stupid question, because there is abundant and easily available evidence that shows that atheists are moral without believing in God.

I think your title should be changed to “Atheists who believe in objective moral facts are hypocrites about morality.” There’s nothing hypocritical about rejecting both the arguments for objective moral facts and the arguments for God, when they’re poor arguments.

  (Quote)

NAL May 9, 2010 at 7:19 am

How does one know that God is moral? If God is moral by definition, then the value of being moral cannot be applied to God. Therefore, God’s morality is valueless.

  (Quote)

John D May 9, 2010 at 7:29 am

This objection appears to be definitional. What would you call such a theory, so that I might draw a distinction?

I would call it a pretty straightforward version of the moral realism Luke is objecting to in this post. It is the claim that there are Platonic mind-independent moral values that are not determined by anybody’s subjective will but that God, thanks to his omniscience, has the best epistemic access to.

  (Quote)

Joshua Allen May 9, 2010 at 7:36 am

The claim that people wouldn’t know right from wrong without believing in God, is a throughly non-Biblical idea, and I wish Christians would stop using it.

After eating of the fruit, humankind knew right from wrong. And, as Ken Pulliam is fond of pointing out on this site, Paul clearly says that all humans are endowed with a particular knowledge concerning right and wrong (Romans 2:14-15).

When a Christian makes that argument, they need to back it up scripture. What scriptures say is that A) all humans are endowed with a particular knowledge about right and wrong, and B) all humans have deceitful hearts and are prone to twist the truth.

Secondly, it is absurd for an atheist to argue that morality is unanchored. For starters, we have reams of empirical evidence showing a universal propensity toward altruism and even altruistic punishment (for example, if you observe person A, who is observing person B, and person B behaves unjustly toward person C — you will feel compelled to punish person A, if person A does not punish person B). We have made a great deal of scientific progress on this topic lately, and a model of evolutionary biology where altruism (and altruistic punishment) are forms of costly signalling for sexual selection seems pretty reasonable. You can read “Comeuppance” by Fleisch for one formulation of the basic storyline. Here is a recent paper talking about the evolution of cooperation based on altruistic punishment http://dienekes.blogspot.com/2010/05/co-ordinated-punishment-and-evolution.html.

Of course, Dunbar argued that altruistic cooperation and altruistic punishment in community settings is the very thing that required us to evolve our large cerebral cortex. There have been other theories about cortex size, but I’m not aware of any that are as widely accepted. The bottom line is that humans are endowed with very strong moral sensibilities, which must have evolved very far back time. Neither Christians nor atheists have a right to challenge this, since it is self-evident and easy to test.

Finally, we’re beginning to build up reams of evidence showing the various ways that humans are prone to twist things and deceive themselves and others when interpreting moral intuitions. These, too, are very repeatable empirical tests. So this fact, too, should be considered self-evident.

  (Quote)

Steve Maitzen May 9, 2010 at 7:37 am

Luke,

You already know my first reply to the challenge “How can there be moral facts without God?” It’s not just that God isn’t enough to ground moral facts, although that’s true. It’s also that God is incompatible with something that goes at or near the top of any list of moral facts: our obligation to prevent terrible suffering by children at least on some occasions. (It would be incomprehensible to me if there were moral facts but they didn’t include that one, and I wouldn’t care about morality if its facts lacked that one.) I won’t retread that ground here.

My second reply just rehearses what I was trying to say over at the Taner Edis thread: Do those, like Edis, who worry about objective moral facts also worry about all objective oughts, including rational (or logical or inferential) oughts? Josh, on the other thread, said he does. Others seemed to think there’s something worrisome about objective moral oughts in particular. Where do you come down on this question?

  (Quote)

Steven Carr May 9, 2010 at 7:42 am

What makes a moral fact ‘objective’?

Is it an objective fact that it is bad football play to fumble the ball on every play, regardless of your personal opinion about the best way to play football?

Is such a view about playing fooball by fumbling every play being bad play , ‘mind-independent’ – to quote a previous poster?

  (Quote)

Brian Westley May 9, 2010 at 7:54 am

I usually just point out that gods do absolutely nothing to help decide morality; the easiest way is to ask if polygamy is moral. The answer depends entirely on what god(s) you follow. If you decide a different god exists, the answer may change.

It’s kind of like this: you have some numbered boxes, each of which has a set of rules to live by inside. Let’s even say that each set of rules is self-consistent and non-contradictory, but each set of rules is incompatible with every other set in that they contradict each other (e.g. polygamy). Each set of rules is an instance of “absolute morality.”

And then you pick a set of rules by rolling a die and selecting that numbered box.

Absolute morality? Ha!

  (Quote)

Josh May 9, 2010 at 8:06 am

Joshua (oh god, this could get confusing if we start a back-and-forth…),

I don’t see how any of the things you said provide an anchor for morality. Suppose that the only way to evolve a large brain require the evolution of various forms of altruism along the way. What does that say about objective facts about morality? It doesn’t seem to mean anything at all for absolute moral facts (though it does lead quite nicely to the DESCRIPTIVE theory of morality that I espouse).

If that’s not enough, suppose that it’s also possible that you can evolve large brains and the propensity to eat little children because they taste good. Does that mean that eating little children because they taste good is suddenly moral?

  (Quote)

Les amis de Robespierre May 9, 2010 at 8:25 am

Religion’s Effects On crime rate

The more “Christian” a place is, the greater the social ills and crime of the area. That’s the primary conclusion of an exhaustive scientific study done by Gregory S. Paul and published in the scholarly onling journal, Journal of Religion and Science of the Creighton university of Omaha, Nebraska, a Jesuit school.
The study showed that the most “Christian’ parts of the United States, the South and Midwest, have the highest rates of social ills and crime including murder, sexually transmitted diseases, mortality and so forth. The study also showed that the United States as a whole has far higher rates of crime and social ills than the rest of the developed world including all of Europe. The US is much more “Christian” than civilized nations.

There is no escaping the reality that Christian dogma goes hand-in-glove with a sick society. Religious fanatics and extremist are worse social dangers than drugs.

Most rational persons recognize that Christian mythology is farcicaly pathetic and that the Christians, especially the “evangelicals” or fundamentalists, are hypocrites who use religion as a weapon to demean others. Doctor Paul’s study is one of the first to quantify the real social effects of Christian doctrine. It may be that religious zealots of all cults, not just Christian, produce a similar effect of social evil. Certainly the Catholic church spent centuries oppressing its subjects into poverty and misery. The muslim dogma has the same appeal: violence, revenge, exclusion and oppression. One is constrained to wonder why sane persons would invent such mythologies. Religion is plague upon Humanity.

  (Quote)

Les amis de Robespierre May 9, 2010 at 8:32 am

Norway, Iceland, Australia, Canada, Sweden, Switzerland, Belgium, Japan, the Netherlands, Denmark, and the United Kingdom are among the least religious societies on earth. According to the United Nations’ Human Development Report (2005) they are also the healthiest, as indicated by life expectancy, adult literacy, per capita income, educational attainment, gender equality, homicide rate, and infant mortality.
Faith do not bring morality, there is no value in christianity and you have to be a monster to believe in a monstruous god.

  (Quote)

Les amis de Robespierre May 9, 2010 at 8:34 am

For far too long priests and preachers have completely ignored the vicious criminal acts that the Bible promotes.  The so called “God” of the Bible makes Osama Bin Laden look like a Boy Scout.  This God, according to the Bible, is directly responsible for many mass-murders, rapes, pillage, plunder, slavery, child abuse and killing, not to mention the killing of unborn children. 
Religion is a plague and a crime. I despise preachers and believers, they are criminals and an insult to human intelligence. 

  (Quote)

Les amis de Robespierre May 9, 2010 at 8:36 am

Adolph Hitler said :”Hence today I believe I am acting in accordance with the will of the Almighty Creator: by defending myself against the Jew, I am fighting for the work of the Lord”

  (Quote)

Les amis de Robespierre May 9, 2010 at 8:39 am

 The cost to humanity of fifteen centuries of Christian savagery – of hundreds of millions of lives brutalised and truncated, sacrificed to war, torture, pogrom, burning, pestilence and plague – is incalculable.
Christianity is the worst disaster in human history – the worst plague of them all.

  (Quote)

Cara May 9, 2010 at 9:02 am

You’re assuming all atheists reason the same way; way to generalize and stereotype! I’ve found that a great number of atheists believe morality is nothing more than a human-made standard of how to best co-exist. Morality is sort of a cooperation between people, and can be extended to animals (although they may not be able to extend it back in the same way).

We cannot say anything is inherently right or wrong; we can, however, disagree with what people do. Do I feel, in the grand scheme of the cosmos, it is WRONG to rape someone? Not exactly. I still think it’s wrong in our society, where we’ve agreed to behave a certain way towards each other. For one, we know if we behave badly, we’ll be treated badly. Also, we’ve developed empathy.

So, maybe you shouldn’t make broad, sweeping statements about any people group (especially one as diverse as atheists).

  (Quote)

JE May 9, 2010 at 9:26 am

I realize that Sam Harris isn’t presenting his thoughts rigorously or completely, but I’m curious what you think about his lecture from TED on the subect (“Science can answer moral questions”).

I’d like to believe in objective morality, but I haven’t been able to logically convince myself of any objective morality. I realize these are probably fairly ignorant in the face of current philosophy, and I have to confess that I haven’t read your e-book on morality yet, but I have a question:

If there is no objective morality, what is the smallest axiom we can take as the basis for a moral system that is object aside from it?

  (Quote)

Yair May 9, 2010 at 9:31 am

I think both the question and Luke’s response are confused and vague about what they mean by “morality”, and that clarification os these concepts reveals that there are really lots of questions boiled into one phrasing here, and therefore lots of answers. That’s why the more I talk about morality, the more I’m inclined to agree with the error theorist abolitionists who maintain that moral language need to be abolished; not necessarily because error theory is right (that depends on what you mean by morality), but rather because to use moral language is to saw confusion at best.

But then again, moral language is certainly useful, in many ways…

  (Quote)

Steve Maitzen May 9, 2010 at 9:32 am

So, maybe you shouldn’t make broad, sweeping statements about any people group (especially one as diverse as atheists).

@Cara: “Shouldn’t” according to which group? Many groups think it’s perfectly OK to make sweeping generalizations about people (even, especially, about atheists). How does your relativism give us good grounds for ignoring those groups?

  (Quote)

Joshua Allen May 9, 2010 at 9:32 am

@Josh – The descriptive approach is the only approach that makes sense. Everyone tries to get at it in a more complex way and just ends up looking like clowns.

FWIW, I would be careful with statements like:

Suppose that the only way to evolve a large brain require the evolution of various forms of altruism along the way. What does that say about objective facts about morality?

It comes dangerously close to making the utilitarian argument; “we needed altruism as a crutch to evolve intellect”. As if intellect is the highest good, debatable at best.

Utilitarianism is also what’s so smelly when Christians falsely say, “we need Christianity to teach people what is right and wrong”. That’s utterly non-scriptural. And by pretending that Christianity is merely some self-help tool, they undermine it’s very essence and discredit it when empirical evidence shows that people are endowed with an innate morality.

As far as objective facts about morality go, what could be more objective than empirical evidence gained form repeated experimentation? How is it not objective to say that, “People, when faced with a starving and crying baby, will feed the baby”? How is that not objective? Or, “Men who catch their wives cheating with another man, will want to crush that man’s skull”? Or, “When people see another person stealing, they will strive to punish that person”. I mean, most of these things apply equally to monkeys as to people, so it’s just absurd to claim that they are not objective facts.

  (Quote)

Hermes May 9, 2010 at 10:51 am

The reason I’d laugh is the presumption that the Christian deity Yahweh is moral or that following it is moral. So, the question “Without God, how can you have any morality?”assumes too much and attempts to grant the Christian a gimme on morals that they clearly do not deserve just by association. Scoffing at the Christian is not a claim of having solved that problem, only that it’s staggeringly insulting and unjustifiably arrogant for the Christian to take a jab at atheists just because the Christian assumes the connection has merit.

As an analogy, an atheist is not granted a gimme for being more rational through their lack of deity belief.

An individual Christian may be moral. An individual atheist may be rational. There is nothing in the secret sauce of Christianity (or theism) or atheism (or non-theistic Buddhism or Raelianism) that gives the follower any special merits merely by association.

  (Quote)

Reginald Selkirk May 9, 2010 at 11:23 am

During the Q&A following my talk at UCSD, a young Christian woman asked, “Without God, how can you have any morality?”

But let’s get back to this question of how the atheist can justify his belief in objective moral facts.

I notice that you are not answering the question she asked, but instead changed the subject. Apparently you wanted to discuss belief in objective moral facts, not having a moral code.

  (Quote)

bh May 9, 2010 at 12:28 pm

You’re just as hypocritical. Why are subjective morals any better than objective morals? The idea of morals as a whole is an unintelligent one.

One should not have morals, just as one should not believe in God.

(This is the reason I find your desirism theory so flawed… What makes happiness so intrinsically “good”? Anyway, that is just a side point.)

  (Quote)

jfatz May 9, 2010 at 12:32 pm

I think, when it comes right down to it, you’re butting into the same borders that people accuse science of being “faith”–when they try to apply a “100% philosophical standard of proof/disproof” to science, which runs on probabilistic standards of proof/disproof. No, science does NOT comply to that “100%” detractors accuse it of, but it neither needs it or could function by it. There is some foundational “faith,” but it’s at such a low level that anyone attempting to equate it to religious faith is committing a fallacy. We do not have a process or a formula or evidence that could lead us to accept that “reality is relatable to evidence,” for instance… or that our system of logic itself is sound, because we would have to GET THERE through a system of logic. But we CAN take a few foundational measures on faith (those that without which we could not function rationally in the slightest), and build everything else upon them through evidence and inference.

So while we are right to consider science objective, even IT is not _purely_ objective. But it is “objective enough as makes no nevermind.” And it’s the best we’ve got right now.

Similarly, even as low-level as desirism gets, it is not PURELY objective. You are still giving one direction of the process the label “good/moral” in subjective fashion, and building upon that. But you could make much the same argument as makes science itself “objective” in its fashion, and many additional arguments to say that anything less would make a concept like “morality” untenable. (And I think it would be interesting to investigate that matter.)

So in this case, what you lament that is being said by many atheists is TECHNICALLY true. But it is bereft of context and scope, and so far I have not seen your counter-comments giving the appropriate analogies for the general populace to grasp and build off, since you are by-and-large not talking to professional or even armchair philosophers. But they almost all ARE familiar with the way science is attacked, and the kinds of things creationists say about evolution.

Draw the right connections.

  (Quote)

Steve Maitzen May 9, 2010 at 12:54 pm

One should not have morals, just as one should not believe in God.

@bh: OK, I’ll ask the obvious question (again): what kind of “should” are the two “shoulds” in your sentence? Moral shoulds? If not moral, then what makes moral “shoulds” less respectable than the “shoulds” in your sentence?

  (Quote)

Shane Steinhauser May 9, 2010 at 1:27 pm

If God exists then objective morality exists. Obviously objective morality does not exist. Therefore God does not exist. Bwhahahaha!!!

But seriously morality is not objective but rather subjective. This is because what we think is moral extends from our goals which are themselves subjective. When we act “moral” we are co-operating with others in order to reach similar goals or prevent unwanted consequences.

For example: I do not want to be killed. If I kill then someone is likely to kill me in return. Therefore I should not kill.

I wish to live in a society with reasonable leaders. If nobody votes we will not have reasonable leaders. Therefore I should vote.

I do not wish to starve. If I give food to the starving then one day if I am starving they might return the favor. Therefore I should give to the starving.

See how easy that is? Morality is just co-operation that evolved over time as a survival mechanism. And we should all follow that mechanism because obviously we all want to survive.

And please people don’t cry genetic fallacy. I don’t even want to get into why appealing to evolution commits no such fallacy.

  (Quote)

ichthyscredo May 9, 2010 at 2:13 pm

I could use some advice on my blog posting of a Bibliography of Secular Morality http://wp.me/pUHmd-1v Any good recomendations?

  (Quote)

bh May 9, 2010 at 2:24 pm

[W]hat kind of “should” are the two “shoulds” in your sentence? Moral shoulds? If not moral, then what makes moral “shoulds” less respectable than the “shoulds” in your sentence? Steve Maitzen

I apologize, I deserve that question. I was questioning my wording when I wrote that comment.

Here is a better worded statement: Having morals is just as unscientific as believing in a supreme being.

The essential point I’m trying to get at is that having morals is futile, as there is no higher purpose.

  (Quote)

Chris May 9, 2010 at 2:28 pm

I think it’s interesting that moral realism is more often associated with scientific realism (most analytical philosophers are scientific and moral realists, most continental philosophers/postmodern types are scientic and moral anti-realists, I think), even though one does not at all entail the other. Or is there a connection that I’m missing?

  (Quote)

Eric VDG May 9, 2010 at 2:30 pm

I concur with the author’s point; namely that without evidence for ‘objective morality,’ it doesn’t exist. As an atheist (anti-theist, actually), I have long denied it existed. In my view, it is all relative (as unsavory as it is to consider). Now, that being said, there is ample scientific evidence to deem certain ‘relative moralities’ as approaching the caliber of ‘objective morality.’

What do I mean? Well, if certain acts are sufficiently harmful to individuals, genes, or species as to affect evolutionary outcome, then these acts of relative immorality begin to approach the status of being ‘objectively immoral.’ That is, societies which behave in ways we would consider ‘immoral’ would fare less successfully than those that would behave in ways we would consider ‘moral.’ There are mounds of biological, sociological, psychological, physiological, and evolutionary evidence to demonstrate the harm induced by rape, murder, theft (of certain kinds), and other such acts impact success of genes, individuals, and societies.

Unfortunately, this does little to help us address the issue of morality as it relates to the decision to ‘unplug’ a person dependent on artificial life-support systems, but I doubt that it is intended to.

We appear to have placed a degree of ‘magic’ and a high level of expectation on morality when, in actuality, it probably functions at a level that is more coarse than we’d prefer. It is that very preference, however, that helps to define morality at all.

In this view, morality might be defined as the sociological rules by which societies persist (and even flourish). I personally find this definition unsatisfying, but science isn’t about satisfying emotional states, but defining a reliable, testable model of reality.

  (Quote)

al friedlander May 9, 2010 at 2:48 pm

“Do those arguments look familiar? They should. They are the exact same arguments atheists reject when they are given for the existence of God. ”

Good point Luke; never thought of it this way. I suppose my response would be something stolen from Hermes:

““Without God, how can you have any morality?”assumes too much and attempts to grant the Christian a gimme on morals that they clearly do not deserve just by association”

  (Quote)

Beelzebub May 9, 2010 at 3:27 pm

I’m with Eric VDG and others who don’t believe objective (or I might prefer “absolute”) morality exists. The only conceivable way an “objective” morality might have some defensible support would be if it was grounded in some kind of yet undiscovered theoretical principle. Suppose for instance you could formulate something akin to a thermodynamic or entropic property that every form of cruelty, murder or destruction of happiness violated. Then you might be able to claim that that is the universal moral “law.” But I just can’t bring myself to the level of anthropocentrism to believe that the universe has some kind of built-in Platonic accommodation to human ethics.

We’re left with the unfortunately radical proposition that there is no absolute universal “wrongness” in things like rape, torture and murder. This seems repellent to us (as it should if we are healthy human beings). I propose, however, that this is the case. Here a little thought experiment to perhaps make this seem more plausible:

Around the star Alpha Centari there is a planet with slug-like beings that have engaged for centuries in wars and pillage amongst themselves. On many occasions one variety of slug impedes another in a sticky waxy substance and then sends out a pillus to copy some of the genetic information from the other one. It is said that this is the most egregious, depraved act of this civilization.

The question is, of course, do we care? Do we even care if they exterminate each other? And of course, whatever conclusion you reach, you must apply the reverse to their consideration of us.

Finally, we should analyze this dispassionately. What should we observe if morals really are “all in our heads”? Well, for one thing, we should observe a range of moral conscience, and in particular, we should observe that if people do kill, rape, maim and murder, nothing actually happens unless we as a society do something about it. It should not escape our attention that bad thing really do happen, and very often the people who do them don’t feel any guilt, and are not punished. This is all as we should expect if there really is no objective morality.

  (Quote)

numeral May 9, 2010 at 4:38 pm

Why would there be subjective (moral) facts? That’s an oxymoron.

  (Quote)

Jacopo May 9, 2010 at 4:41 pm

I think these comments show my main point of disagreement with Luke, who has generalized beyond what ‘those atheists who laughed at his talk’ shows (and if he means atheists in general, we simply have very different impressions from our experiences with them). Incidentally, some of them could have been laughing because they think the idea of objective morality is absurd.

A great many atheists, possibly the majority (at least in online communities), don’t believe in any objective morality. At least in my experience. You then have a fairly polarized division in the ‘non-objective’ camp between those who still feel bound to make the world a better place for non-objective moral reasons, and those who adopt various kinds of ‘might is right’ or ‘everything is ultimately determined and meaningless so why should we care’ approaches. Then you get a few people like Steve who have far more nuanced and subtle views. That’s my impression. A quick look at the hammering Sam Harris received in comments from both academic and non-academic readers shows just how much vehemently very large numbers of atheists will attack anything that claims to be objective morality. You see a similar thing whenever someone like Peter Singer gets a video on RichardDawkins.net. But a more thorough survey of different atheist communities would really be needed to get a better idea of where the truth lies.

It’d be like saying ‘Christians are hypocrites about evolution’ as there’s better evidence for accepting evolution than there is for accepting miracles in the Bible, yet many don’t accept the first but do accept the second. That’s clearly just too simplistic without qualification, even if it’d make a snappier title.

  (Quote)

numeral May 9, 2010 at 4:50 pm

Given that we are social animals, there are certain moral implications that follow. That’s objective. Period. Philosophy solved.

  (Quote)

lukeprog May 9, 2010 at 4:58 pm

cl,

A theory that is not grounded in God. Perhaps the utilitarians are right, and God is merely the one who happens to know how the utilitarian moral calculus works out. Or perhaps Kantianism is right and God, because he is omniscient, knows all categorical imperatives, and passes them along to us.

Desirism does not ground moral value in the propositional attitudes of persons alone. It grounds moral value in an analysis of all desires that exist, including the desires of non-persons. Also, I’m not sure I agree with Alonzo that desires are best thought of as propositional attitudes. Animals have desires but I’m not sure what it means to say they have attitudes toward propositions. I need to study that more.

  (Quote)

lukeprog May 9, 2010 at 5:01 pm

Lorkas,

Okay, I changed it to ‘Many Atheists are Hypocrites About Morality.’ In any case, I did clarify this in the post itself.

  (Quote)

lukeprog May 9, 2010 at 5:04 pm

Steve,

I think your parity argument has value, but we need to flesh things out and not just depend on an apparent analogy to objective rationality. Hopefully I’ll one day have the chance to publish on the subject. In any case, I am only applying the term ‘hypocrite’ to those who believe in objective moral facts because of the same arguments they reject in favor of theism. I’ve now clarified this in a new final paragraph to this post.

  (Quote)

lukeprog May 9, 2010 at 5:07 pm

  (Quote)

lukeprog May 9, 2010 at 5:13 pm

Reginald,

In the Q&A, we clarified that we were talking about the moral argument for God’s existence. So I was indeed responding to the question as she intended it.

  (Quote)

The Pastor May 9, 2010 at 5:15 pm

Given the conundrum that the origin of morality brings to many it has always amused me that many fail to realize that it is the simple product of self awareness. Morality was not a gift granted to us by God. It is the byproduct of recognizing ourselves in others. An empathic response in our growth as creatures. The golden rule “do unto other…” actually speaks to this although maybe not quite in the way meant by its author. You can even see this in others we share this planet with. Dolphins for example, and to a lesser extent others in the animal kingdom. There is a great book that touches on this by Marc Bekoff and Jessica Pierce called “Wild Justice”. While it is not definitive it is an example that supports the premise that as creatures evolve a sense of moral structure may eventually follow (depending , of course, on the way natural selection works on a particular species).

  (Quote)

caseywollberg May 9, 2010 at 5:15 pm

Luke, you seem to have a superiority complex. In the first post I read from you, you made the claim that, to paraphrase, “Most atheists didn’t come to their atheism like I did, through thinking hard about it.” That was bullshit, and so is this.

I would wager that most of the atheists who laugh at that question do so because they understand what you do: there is no “objective morality,” but we share a lot of common moral feelings because we are of the same species, evolved in similar environments, and are social creatures. Where our moral feelings differ, it can no doubt be attributed to environmental (cultural) diversity.

It is a stupid question to the extent that it ignores these plain facts–i.e., it isn’t even wrong. That’s why it’s ridiculous to so many in the audience–not because they are ignorant fools who need your philosophical guidance in order to avoid hypocrisy, but just the opposite.

Are all the atheists you know as young and inexperienced as you are, or what? All the atheists I know are grown-ups, who are quite capable of reasoning through these “difficult” questions without the aid of a precocious philosophy student.

  (Quote)

lukeprog May 9, 2010 at 5:35 pm

caseywollberg,

That most atheists don’t come to atheism the way I did is a simple sociological fact. To state this fact does not mean I have a superiority complex.

It is also rather odd to say I have a superiority complex given that I frequently admit publicly on this blog that a reader has corrected me and I was wrong and I’ve changed my mind. Your theory doesn’t fit with my frequent claim that “I don’t know” about my subjects, and my recommendations to read somebody who knows more about those subjects.

Also, for the record, I actually defend objective moral realism.

  (Quote)

lukeprog May 9, 2010 at 5:36 pm

The Pastor,

I actually interviewed Jessica Pierce about that book for my podcast a while back!

  (Quote)

lukeprog May 9, 2010 at 5:39 pm

Steve,

Forgive me if you answered this earlier: Is there published work that defends something like what I’ve called your ‘parity argument’ concerning objective rationality and objective morality?

  (Quote)

Chris Hallquist May 9, 2010 at 10:26 pm

“I reminded the audience that many atheistic philosophers agree with the assumption of her question. They agree that without God there are no objective moral facts. In fact, one-third of philosophers think there are no objective moral facts. That’s no laughing matter.

“I went on to say that most philosophers, of course, don’t think that adding a cosmic dictator to reality gets you objective moral facts. Divine command theory, because it grounds moral facts in the attitudes of a person, is by definition a subjective moral theory, not an objective one.”

If you believe what you say in the second paragraph, the first is extremely misleading. William Lane Craig loves to say that “many atheistic philosophers agree… that without God there are no objective moral facts,” and even without the fallacious appeal to authority, Craig is being dishonest because he’s trying to get people to think that there’s a widespread consensus that morality has to depend on God. But it’s only true insofar as it’s true that if there are no objective moral facts, then a fortiori without leprechauns, there are no objective moral facts. Atheists should stop saying things like this, because it encourages dishonest rhetoric like Craig’s.

The reason people laugh at questions like that is not because “how could there be objective morality?” is a stupid question. The reason is the question assumed that there’s some connection between God and morality, but if you think about it for ten seconds you realize there’s no reason to think there is. Even professional philosophers like Craig have a very hard time giving halfway decent reasons to think there is. Laughter is a good cure for careless thinking like that.

  (Quote)

Steve Maitzen May 10, 2010 at 1:51 am

Steve, Forgive me if you answered this earlier: Is there published work that defends something like what I’ve called your ‘parity argument’ concerning objective rationality and objective morality?

Luke: I don’t know of anything published that makes quite that argument, but I wouldn’t be surprised if there were something. I’ll look into it. So far, I’ve just been trying to see whether anti-realists object to oughts in general or moral oughts in particular.

  (Quote)

caseywollberg May 10, 2010 at 3:04 am

“That most atheists don’t come to atheism the way I did is a simple sociological fact.”

You have data that shows that most atheists’ non-belief is *not* founded on a critical examination of the relevant questions? Wow. That would be an interesting study if it ever happened. Why don’t you point me to a reference?

“It is also rather odd to say I have a superiority complex given that I frequently admit publicly on this blog that a reader has corrected me and I was wrong and I’ve changed my mind.”

Luke, I didn’t say you have a superiority complex, I said you “seem” to, based on the two outrageously self-aggrandizing claims you made. I’m no psychiatrist; I can’t actually diagnose a superiority complex. But when you go around saying, “I’m a better atheist than all you jokers,” you should expect to be called something in response, especially when you use such sloppy reasoning in your rush to promote yourself and your ideas.

Generalizations and put downs directed at whole diverse categories of people is a bad way to make a name for yourself. It’s one thing to paint people you disagree with in broad strokes; it’s quite another to fantasize about the relative stupidity of those who have reached similar conclusions to yours. Why in the world would you assume that an entire audience of people you (presumably) have no intimate awareness of laugh at that question because they don’t understand it?

Several people here have challenged you on this point and you haven’t addressed it. (See Lorkas or Jacopo, for two good examples.) Now, don’t you admit when you are wrong? Then you need to fess up. Atheists are patently *not* hypocrites when it comes to morality.

“Also, for the record, I actually defend objective moral realism.”

Right. But what you mean by that is not, “There is a list of commands that is handed down to us from above, which are binding on all equally, and we are enjoined to obey them,” or, “Morality is a system of ‘oughts’ that exist as a set of platonic ideals.” You mean some version of what is common among atheists: morality is objective and real only in the sense that it evolved to be what it is today. By objective we don’t mean absolute, and by real we don’t mean divinely mandated. “How can you be moral without my imaginary friend,” is a stupid question and we laugh at it because it is so hopelessly arrogant and foolish in its assumptions. It is exactly the opposite of what you’ve dreamed up to make yourself look better than those around you.

  (Quote)

Hermes May 10, 2010 at 4:16 am

But when you go around saying, “I’m a better atheist than all you jokers,” you should expect to be called something in response, especially when you use such sloppy reasoning in your rush to promote yourself and your ideas.

I understand the reason for being annoyed.

Personally, I see those types of comments by people who are newly atheists as roughly analogous to the behaviors of someone being nouveau riche (or in this economy, the nouveau pauvre); they have yet to settle into their own acceptance of what they have now. They are both proud and ashamed of the company they keep, and feel compelled to offer a justification of how they are different.

Yet, being half way between those who had deities till recently and those who have never had any, I consider my own point of view to have merit as well. There is something to say about having the innate ability or the right environment that allows you to simply accept what reality is even if you don’t pick up the skills to analyze it till later in life. Consider the difference between knowing about gravity or love personally, knowing about physics and pop psychology, and knowing that we haven’t figured out what the details of either satisfactorily yet.

We don’t scoff at someone who can throw a ball in a professional game because they don’t know about the latest speculations on particle physics or dark matter. The ones that deserve that mockery are the ones that insist the ball was carried on the wings of angels or fairies to just the right spot. Yet, even with those strange statements, there is room to have a deeper understanding of how people actually think and how to operate the machine better.

  (Quote)

lukeprog May 10, 2010 at 5:40 am

Steve,

Ah, okay. Yeah, I’m not sure if anti-realists generally object to oughts in general.

  (Quote)

noen May 10, 2010 at 8:45 am

Lukeprog
“It is also rather odd to say I have a superiority complex given that I frequently admit publicly on this blog that a reader has corrected me and I was wrong and I’ve changed my mind. “

Yeah, I’d have to agree that Luke is probably the least arrogant atheist I’ve encountered.

—–

More generally, you (3rd person plural) are never going to be able to cross that fact/value divide because that means coming up with analytic propositions that contain synthetic facts. Quine notwithstanding, ain’t gonna happen.

—–

numeral
“Given that we are social animals, there are certain moral implications that follow. That’s objective. Period. Philosophy solved.”

No hunny, you didn’t solve anything. You waved your arms around and then proclaimed victory.

bh
“One should not have morals, just as one should not believe in God.”

I’ll remember that the next time I swing by your house with a pipe bomb. How could you possibly object?

caseywollberg el al

Looks like the infighting of the supremely moral atheist he-man club for wayward boys has begun. I’m sure they’ll turn this blog into an open cesspit just like they did to dawkins dot net. Congratulations!

  (Quote)

noen May 10, 2010 at 9:09 am

Les amis de Robespierre
“Religion’s Effects On crime rate”

“The study showed that the most “Christian’ parts of the United States, the South and Midwest, have the highest rates of social ills and crime including murder, sexually transmitted diseases, mortality and so forth.”

The form of Christianity most prevalent in those areas is a very odd sort of Christianity indeed. They preach a very perverted doctrine that more or less claims that once you are saved you can do no wrong, including murder, as long as you are “right” with God. So it hardly seems surprising that criminal behavior would be prevalent among people who believe that they are above the law.

It is equally unremarkable to note this is a significant break with traditional Christian morality.

“Norway, Iceland, Australia, Canada, Sweden, Switzerland, Belgium, Japan, the Netherlands, Denmark, and the United Kingdom are among the least religious societies on earth.”

Odd, since almost all of those countries have an official state church. If anything, all you’ve made the case for is that liberal Lutheran State Churches are to be preferred over authoritarian Dominionism.

The reason that most people in Europe are secular (not atheist) is precisely because of the existence of an official state religion. If you want America to become as secular as the EU just declare a state church. People are like that.

  (Quote)

Hermes May 10, 2010 at 11:21 am

Noen: The reason that most people in Europe are secular (not atheist) is precisely because of the existence of an official state religion. If you want America to become as secular as the EU just declare a state church. People are like that.

Beyond speculation, do you have evidence for that claim?

  (Quote)

bh May 10, 2010 at 4:07 pm

I’ll remember that the next time I swing by your house with a pipe bomb. How could you possibly object?

@noen

I can’t object. There is no reason I should not just fall over right now and cease to continue functioning. I only continue in the hope that there IS something more. I do not have much hope of success.

  (Quote)

noen May 10, 2010 at 5:51 pm

Hermes
“Beyond speculation, do you have evidence for that claim?”

It fits in with my general understanding of human psychology. People have a tendency to adopt a stance of oppositional defiance against those in power. Kinda like how all of a sudden lots of people are intensely aware of their whiteness now that a black man is a da white house.

bh — Your reply was incoherent. Maybe you should work on that.

  (Quote)

nate May 10, 2010 at 6:21 pm

Hermes“Beyond speculation, do you have evidence for that claim?”It fits in with my general understanding of human psychology. People have a tendency to adopt a stance of oppositional defiance against those in power. Kinda like how all of a sudden lots of people are intensely aware of their whiteness now that a black man is a da white house.

This isn’t a good explanation. Why would the people not just join a non-state sponsored church?

Luke,

How do you go from an “is” to an “ought” statement?

  (Quote)

noen May 10, 2010 at 10:07 pm

nate
“Why would the people not just join a non-state sponsored church?”

They do, but there are significant obstacles. The big one being preferential tax status. Besides, most atheists I’ve met believe in a naturalistic universe and that things just can’t “happen”. Therefore atheism itself must have a casual explanation. There’s no way it just popped into being uncaused. The most likely reason would be that it is an expression of adolescent oppositional defiance.

Atheism can’t possibly be an expression of free will. Again, by far most atheists just lurves them some Danniel Dennett and he is pretty clear, consciousness (including free will) is an illusion and determinism reigns supreme.

There is simply no room in this naturalist universe of mindless meaningless particles moving in lines of force for the free rational choice of what you believe or “lack belief” about.

If physics is right, if the usual interpretation is really right and the world is here in this space-time zone, there aren’t other people, there aren’t tables and chairs, there aren’t colors and smells. There are just configurations of particles and these sensations you are having. Nothing to care about.

Atheism, on it’s own terms, does not even exist.

  (Quote)

Hermes May 11, 2010 at 2:39 am

Noen, you made a claim. I asked a question. You gave a response to me.

Would you agree that your response is that you have no evidence to support your claim beyond your own speculation?

Additionally, if someone did research showing that your claim is without merit, would you accept it?

  (Quote)

ayer May 11, 2010 at 6:07 am

Noen, you made a claim.I asked a question.You gave a response to me.Would you agree that your response is that you have no evidence to support your claim beyond your own speculation?Additionally, if someone did research showing that your claim is without merit, would you accept it?  

Actually there is quite a bit of sociological research backing up Noen’s claim, particularly in the work of Peter Berger. See:

http://www.ovimagazine.com/art/4992:
“In order to analyze this, and other differences, Religious America, Secular Europe? traces the different histories of religion in Europe and the United States, paying particular attention to the relationship between context and theory. In less theological and more economic terms, religion in Europe is characterized by a declining if not decaying monopoly of state subsidized Churches, while in America by “a flourishing market” (p.35). Europeans regard their Churches as a sort of public utility rather than competing firms; useful social institutions to be benevolently tolerated, available to some portion of their population at one time or another of their lives. It is a sort of utilitarian God as a crutch or an aspirin of sort, to be utilized when needed. Most of the times, when times are good, the crutches are not needed and soccer stadiums are much preferred to churches on Sunday.”

  (Quote)

ayer May 11, 2010 at 6:39 am

Further support for Noen’s claim:

http://www.jubilee-centre.org/document.php?id=31:
“The presence of a state church and a parish system which inhibited vigorous evangelism by minority groups may partly explain the low participation in churches compared to America. In much of Europe, the identification of Christianity with political conservatism also encouraged the growth of anti-clerical hostility to organised religion. Alternatively, we could explore the devastating impact of the First World War, or the debilitating influence of theological liberalism which was more prevalent in Europe than in America. Within the American context, by contrast, the absence of a state church and the existence of a relatively deregulated religious economy permitted the dramatic expansion of populist denominations like the Baptists and Methodists who succeeded in making church-going popular among both blacks and whites. [29]”

  (Quote)

Hermes May 11, 2010 at 7:41 am

Ayer, did either of those references include actual survey data or other verifiable sources?

The quotes you provided seem to state opinions, not evidence.

Noen, what data do you have (if any)?

  (Quote)

Hermes May 11, 2010 at 9:25 am

Note, I am commenting on the following;

Noen: The reason that most people in Europe are secular (not atheist) is precisely because of the existence of an official state religion. If you want America to become as secular as the EU just declare a state church. People are like that.

To be clear, here’s how I read the claims Noen is making;

1. Most Europeans are secular, not atheist.
2. Europeans are more secular than citizens of the USA.
3. The existence of official state support of religion(s) [including sects or denominations] and/or official state religions [including sects or denominations] in Europe has lead to #1 and #2, while the lack of state support has lead to #2.
4. This (#1, #2, and #3) is an example of human nature.

(If I am mistaken on any of these, please feel free to offer clarifications on each numbered item that is incorrect or incomplete. As needed, feel free to split individual claims or add any missing claims if they are important.)

The question I have is are these the claims you are making? (If not, … .) Do you stand by the claims you are making or are they just idle speculation and should be treated as such?

  (Quote)

ayer May 11, 2010 at 10:56 am

Ayer, did either of those references include actual survey data or other verifiable sources?The quotes you provided seem to state opinions, not evidence.Noen, what data do you have (if any)?  

Well, Berger’s book has a 10 page bibliography and he is a practicing empirical sociologist at Boston University, not an opinion writer. So there is evidence-based research to support Noen’s claim. Now, whether that research meets your personal standard, I don’t know.

  (Quote)

James Onen May 11, 2010 at 11:21 am

Noen said:

If physics is right, if the usual interpretation is really right and the world is here in this space-time zone, there aren’t other people, there aren’t tables and chairs, there aren’t colors and smells. There are just configurations of particles and these sensations you are having. Nothing to care about.

You sound so much like Dinesh D’Souza here.

I don’t think it follows that just because people are made of particles, I (who is also comprised of particles) am not supposed to care about them.

This particular configuration of particles called ‘me’ has certain properties that make ‘me’care about other configurations of particles called ‘people’- even if each individual particle that comprises me, and ‘people’ may not.

You are committing a fallacy of composition.

http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Fallacy_of_composition

  (Quote)

Hermes May 11, 2010 at 11:21 am

Ayer, after (if?) Noen replies and offers commentary, then I might ask you to dig up the appropriate references if you also agree with Noen’s reply. On the other hand, it might be that I agree with every bit of Noen’s refined take on this, or that Noen provides appropriate references. At this point, though, I’ll hold off as I want to make absolutely certain that Noen is able to properly state their claims.

  (Quote)

bh May 11, 2010 at 2:53 pm

noen, I hate to attack you personally, but it appears your reading comprehension skills are nonexistent….

  (Quote)

noen May 11, 2010 at 4:03 pm

Hermes
“(If I am mistaken on any of these, please feel free to offer clarifications on each numbered item that is incorrect or incomplete. As needed, feel free to split individual claims or add any missing claims if they are important.)”

I’m not really making claims, I am talking, the way that humans talk and I am giving an opinion based general knowledge. However as Ayer has shown my opinion is not without some real support. I never looked anything up, I did no research, consulted no texts or prof. journals.

—-

James Onen
“You sound so much like Dinesh D’Souza here.”

I’ve never read him but from all accounts he is a tower of st00pid.

Actually it’s a quote from John Joseph Campbell’s (at Berkeley) concluding lecture in the Theory of Meaning after he spent the semester destroying Frege, Wittgenstein, Kripke, the reference theory (and several others). He has a reply to that but telling you wouldn’t be fair, you are required to come to your own conclusion. I think I disagree with him but I’m not really sure yet.

bh
“noen, I hate to attack you personally, but it appears your reading comprehension skills are nonexistent….”

I honestly did not understand what you meant. It did not scan.

Hermes
“At this point, though, I’ll hold off as I want to make absolutely certain that Noen is able to properly state their claims.”

We are legion huh? ;) Well, I am not an “it” nor am I a collective. It would probably help you in getting the kind of responses you would like if you would drop the ad homs.

People are…. complicated. There are the outward superficial behaviors and then there are deeper layers. Beneath the surface hidden forces run the show and operate in surprising even contradictory ways. We are not machines, we cannot be reduced to truth tables and formulas.

We’re organic Sebastian.

Belief is not about the propositional content of sentences.
Faith is not about blind obedience.
God is not a hypothesis.

Still, I consider myself agnostic, I just don’t think I know. Atheists claim that they do know. That is why I often feel I need to oppose them.

You do not know what you claim to know.

  (Quote)

caseywollberg May 11, 2010 at 4:32 pm

“Atheists claim that they do know.”

Ugh. No. Look up the definition of “agnostic,” and then consider that most atheists are also agnostic, and that there are agnostic theists, etc. Also realize that “agnostic” technically refers exclusively to supernatural claims. If a god concept stands with both feet firmly planted in the realm of falsifiable claims, it is no longer suitable to treat it with the gloves of agnosticism (see Victor Stenger’s, “God: the Failed Hypothesis,” for an example of this kind of reasoning). And, as you may not be aware of it, not all gods are created equal, and to some people, there is not enough information in any known concept of god for them to make any sense of any of these imaginary critters (see “ignosticism”). You need to understand the terms to avoid misrepresenting the views of thousands of people.

  (Quote)

KoreyWL May 11, 2010 at 5:53 pm

I like to think of objective morality this way;
Think of whatever ‘moral decision’ you are about to take:
If everyone made that same ‘moral decision’; would humanity be a good or bad experience overall.

So in the cases of theft, murder, rape, or just generally being an asshole; They are objectively wrong because they negatively impact humanity as a whole. You can clearly see that the world would suck if everyone raped someone…

And things like good will, charity, and general kindness are positive factors in life… Objectively right because they have a positive influence.

That is why the question of morality without a god is laughable.
Why does god need to be involved?

In my opinion; that would be like wondering how earthquakes happen without a god.

  (Quote)

Hermes May 11, 2010 at 6:28 pm

I never looked anything up, I did no research, consulted no texts or prof. journals.

OK. As your opinions are undefined, I have nothing to comment on. If you decide to flesh them out, as I find them almost coherent, feel free to address my previous note to you in more detail.

We are legion huh?

No, just neuter. As such, it would be an equal insult to mis-attribute you as a he or a she if you were the other. Yet, you still found that courtesy an insult. Surely, I’ve been to patient and too kind.

  (Quote)

Hermes May 11, 2010 at 6:35 pm

Still, I consider myself agnostic, I just don’t think I know. Atheists claim that they do know. That is why I often feel I need to oppose them.

The phantom you oppose is one of your own making. It says more about you than those you address.

  (Quote)

Hermes May 11, 2010 at 6:47 pm

Caseywollberg: You need to understand the terms to avoid misrepresenting the views of thousands of people.

I think you will agree that it is many millions, actually, but unfortunately I don’t think that he’s going to get it.

I had a multi-month talk with someone with a similar temperament, though their arrogance was occasionally warranted, and that didn’t stop them from telling me what I thought and why that fiction was my greatest mistake. Only after they went away and came back a few months even later did they start to agree that maybe people were properly describing their own thoughts and that he got it wrong. The other person had more innate curiosity, appropriate humility, and available ability so I don’t expect much with this one.

  (Quote)

noen May 11, 2010 at 11:24 pm

Caseywollberg
“You need to understand the terms to avoid misrepresenting the views of thousands of people.”

I don’t “need” to do jack squat. I am aware that you would like to have your cake and eat it too. That is not allowed. What you would like is to define atheism in such a way as to assert your hegemony over the entire debate. So that new born babies and agnostics are simply converted by definition. That way you get to take pot shots at your opponents and then retreat into a semantic fog when they return fire.

Atheism is and always has been a positive claim that religion is bunk.

Agnosticism is and always has been the positive claim that we just don’t know.

The New Atheism wishes to combine the two. They wish to speak with a forked tongue and from one side of their mouths they engage in vicious attacks and from the other they cry out “It wasn’t me! I don’t even exist!”

Your claim that I have “misrepresented” you is false. You are as I chose to represent you.

“Also realize that “agnostic” technically refers exclusively to supernatural claims.”

Again, this is false. The word agnostic simply means a person unwilling to commit to an opinion about something.

“If a god concept stands with both feet firmly planted in the realm of falsifiable claims, it is no longer suitable to treat it with the gloves of agnosticism”

I suppose that if one is trying to say that god lives in a condo on East 43rd Street you might have a point, but no one makes that claim.

This is the fallacy of scientism. Is falsifiablity falsifiable? Logical Positivism is dead and buried with a wooden stake driven through it’s black heart.

Scientism, the elevation of science to a privileged status, is very typical of the New Atheist who has had a very narrow education. Just like geeks fetishize technology the New Atheists fetishize science. They rarely know as much as they imagine they do.

  (Quote)

James Onen May 12, 2010 at 1:46 am

Luke,

I think we’ve all tolerated noen enough. Please do something.

  (Quote)

James Onen May 12, 2010 at 1:48 am

Luke,

Seriously.

  (Quote)

Hermes May 12, 2010 at 4:26 am

Luke,I think we’ve all tolerated noen enough. Please do something.

Seconded.

Ignorance is OK. Willfulness is OK. Willfully ignorant and pushy is just not acceptable behavior.

  (Quote)

Zeb May 12, 2010 at 7:47 am

I appreciate noen’s contribution despite his boorish behavior. His perspective, while often poorly stated, represents a missing thread in these discussions – a more continental or po-mo sort of view. The fact that he chooses to demonstrate it through action rather than articulate it through argument is I think also a valuable contribution. Shakes the place up and injects some humor when he goes overboard.

  (Quote)

Hermes May 12, 2010 at 10:09 am

Zeb, what merits do you see in Noen’s last comments in this thread? Additionally, what intelligent additions does Noen provide? Do you think his comments in the Lars Vilks thread to Luke are adding to the conversation?

My concern is that Noen already has decided that this is a war, not a conversation, and the war is against a phantom of his(?) own making and not an actual foe or threat. In the process of attacking that phantom, he(?) has decided that abusive behavior is acceptable. If he could support his claims, then I would not care about that attitude, but even in my calm request to him he decided not to do so. For these and other reasons, I see no benefit in engaging this person; I’ve tried, and gotten a very poor response.

To me, bottom line, he’s outflanked, doesn’t realize it, and is not at all curious about how stunningly bad he’s performing. One reason for that might be that he suffers from some kind of mental instability, or maybe he’s just a type-A without much experience?

  (Quote)

al friedlander May 12, 2010 at 11:05 am

“Luke,

I think we’ve all tolerated noen enough. Please do something.

Luke, Seriously. ”

I lol-ed

  (Quote)

Zeb May 13, 2010 at 4:13 am

Zeb, what merits do you see in Noen’s last comments in this thread?Additionally, what intelligent additions does Noen provide?Do you think his comments in the Lars Vilks thread to Luke are adding to the conversation?  

I thought his points about state churches in Europe and the New Atheist conflation of atheists and agnostic were worthwhile, and he had a valid objection to Luke’s wording on the Muslim post. He’s a provacateur whose rants have to be thoughtfully parsed to find worthwhile content. But even his style is a kind of commentary that I find worth considering. I would like him to stop identifying all the atheists here with the New Atheists though.

  (Quote)

caseywollberg May 13, 2010 at 4:25 am

“New Atheist conflation of atheists and agnostic”

There’s no conflation here, you just don’t understand the distinction.

  (Quote)

Hermes May 13, 2010 at 5:11 am

I thought his points about state churches in Europe and the New Atheist conflation of atheists and agnostic were worthwhile

In both cases, though, he’s too incoherent about his actual claims to give a proper response to. In the first case, I asked for a clarification backed by evidence, and got nothing but more opinion and yet more claims. If I were to judge what I think he meant in both cases, I would say that not only is he wrong in each instance, but demonstratively so.

Yet, he does the Gish gallop, and often throws in more claims as he runs away from clarifying and then demonstrating the initial claim has merit.

This to me, shows that he’s a fake, and not capable of either normal insightful conversation — involving give and take — let alone any intellectual rigor.

  (Quote)

cl May 13, 2010 at 8:55 am

The irony overwhelms: I’ve been on the receiving end of MUCH worse from some of those same people whining about noen. To me it’s funny, because noen is not accusing others of being “racists” or swearing profusely at them, like some of his accusers and some other atheists who comment here. Instead, noen states strong points strongly, and for that, some [thin-skinned] commenters want to crucify. I mean come on; noen actually complimented Luke on being among the “less arrogant” atheists seen, and there are still some people whining for big brother Luke to step in and “do something.”

What should Luke do? If censorship is what’s implied by “do something,” the problem is that censorship is the same strategy religionists and tyrants often take to protect their own sacred cows.

Luke,

Earlier, you said,

Divine command theory, because it grounds moral facts in the attitudes of a person, is by definition a subjective moral theory, not an objective one.

..to which I replied,

I can’t help but notice that you’ve seemingly undermined the basis for your argument that desirism is an objective moral theory. Remember, a desire is simply an attitude about some proposition. So – without incurring a charge of special pleading – how can we call a theory grounded in the attitudes of people objective, yet, then turn around and call a theory grounded in the attitude(s) of God or gods subjective?

..to which you replied,

..I’m not sure I agree with Alonzo that desires are best thought of as propositional attitudes.

Well, you can’t, at least not if you want to be consistent. The minute you agree that desires are a subset of attitudes, you concede that desirism is a subjective theory as defined by yourself in the aforementioned statement. So, it seems something needs to change to preserve the consistency of your argument: e.g., either desires are not attitudes, or moral theories grounded in attitudes can be objective – regardless of whose attitudes they are.

  (Quote)

lukeprog May 13, 2010 at 9:27 am

cl,

As I said already, even if desires are propositional attitudes, desirism does not ground moral value in the attitudes of persons alone. But yeah, there’s a lot to discuss here.

  (Quote)

Hermes May 13, 2010 at 9:35 am

To everyone: I stand by everything I write and will retract or correct anything I’m shown to be in error about.

If anyone disagrees with the content of what I wrote here and considers my comments now to be hypocritical, they need only specify what they have a question about, and together we can go over it in detail. All I ask is that specific references are provided and a statement on how specifically the content provided is not correct.

While I will be glad to provide a summary on an already substantiated point, I will not go on a wild goose chase for yet another answer if I have already provided one that is consistent with the available facts.

Consider the ball to be returned.

  (Quote)

James Onen May 13, 2010 at 11:56 am

cl said:

I mean come on; noen actually complimented Luke on being among the “less arrogant” atheists seen, and there are still some people whining for big brother Luke to step in and “do something.”

Selective flattery, maybe? Its actually a tactic.

http://meatballwiki.org/wiki/SelectiveFlattery

.

  (Quote)

Zeb May 13, 2010 at 1:11 pm

“New Atheist conflation of atheists and agnostic”There’s no conflation here, you just don’t understand the distinction.  

Casey, you have all of noen’s charm but none of his novelty.

Time and again I have seen the New Atheists and their acolytes insist that self describes agnostics are really atheists too cowardly to admit it. I have found the atheists around here tend to have a more nuanced view and do a good job explaining the nuances.

  (Quote)

Hermes May 13, 2010 at 1:44 pm

Zeb, for your consideration; What is your religious position? [notes 1] [notes 2]

More details provided on request.

  (Quote)

cl May 13, 2010 at 2:16 pm

Luke,

As I said already, even if desires are propositional attitudes, desirism does not ground moral value in the attitudes of persons alone.

That doesn’t get you off the hook, though. If desires are propositional attitudes, then desirism grounds moral value in the attitudes of whoever or whatever has those attitudes. As such, any degree of concession that desires are propositional attitudes will undermine your objection to divine command theory as stated in the OP.

So yeah, I agree: there is a lot to discuss here.

James Onen,

Forgive me, but I see this as hilarious. Specifically, what did noen do that you feel deserves action on Luke’s behalf, and specifically, what action are you suggesting Luke should take? Isn’t it easier to just ignore noen if you can’t or won’t tolerate noen? I don’t see that noen’s done anything worthy of condemnation, perhaps aside from challenging some imagined decorum – but that’s a virtue in my book.

I just can’t shake the observation that the reaction to noen strongly parallels some typical Fundamentalist reactions to atheist dissent.

  (Quote)

Hermes May 19, 2010 at 12:28 pm

[ quotes from previous notes prior to site going down ]

Caseywollberg: but I have a problem with that phrasing, too, because it vaguely mangles the meaning of “gnostic”

Agreed. Language can get messy, and the word gnostic is not ideal by any means. Just look up common cuss words in a dictionary like the OED that is organized , for example.

I use gnostic mainly because it is the right root word and is only used in very rare situations to refer to gnostic mysticism. As gnostic mysticism twists the meaning of the original itself, I see no problem in ignoring the Gnostics and taking it back (re: arse vs. ass).

That does not call for a new term, it calls for an attitude adjustment.

Well said.

You really would do well to take advantage of the resources Hermes has provided.

Personally, I don’t trust encyclopedias or dictionaries, with a few exceptions. The Oxford English Dictionary does a very good job of cleanly reporting on language usage, and backs that up with source examples, not undated proclamations of what words mean without sources. From an American release of the OED [ The Oxford Universal Dictionary on Historical Principles, 3rd edition ], we get this succinct description of theism;

Theism(1) a. gen. Belief in a deity or deities, as opp. to atheism.

This is the first definition of theism, cited as the general meaning, and it even cites atheism (atheism is not theism). It talks of belief, and not knowledge. Every other definition that follows is less common, so adding on encyclopedic monologues dips us into the extra meanings not the primary one.

  (Quote)

Hermes May 19, 2010 at 12:28 pm

Zeb, before we get on to other things, can we narrowly focus on a specific example you brought up? I think discussing it may clarify a few things. You wrote;

Zeb: If a person considers god to be likely, but does not find enough evidence to muster belief, should we really call her an atheist?

Do you think your example is one that clearly highlights the issues we are discussing?

If not, what do you offer as a replacement or an improvement?

If yes, could you address my earlier comments and let me know if my summary is an accurate representation of what you intended to convey?

Let’s break that question down and see if it answers itself.

1. ‘a person considers a god to be likely’

2. ‘a person does not find enough evidence to believe’

Can you tell me more about the consideration in #1?

  (Quote)

Zeb May 19, 2010 at 2:21 pm

Were my examples of my own attitudes toward global warming and evolution not clear enough? For each of those there was a long period during which I would have said, “It seems pretty likely to me that the theory is true, but I’m not convinced yet.” I did not believe until I was convinced.

  (Quote)

Hermes May 19, 2010 at 4:36 pm

Zeb, I think we are dangerously close to talking past each other if we haven’t already. Can we go over your example, step by step?

  (Quote)

Zeb May 19, 2010 at 4:57 pm

In the case of global warming, I started from a position of knowing very little about the topic and having no opinion on whether it was a true phenomenon. Once I became convinced that it was a topic worth learning about and gaining an opinion on, I started to gather evidence and arguments for both the believers and the deniers. For a while both sides seemed equally believable/flawed, but I knew that I didn’t know enough to decide either way or to consider the question unanswerable. Gradually the evidence and arguments I was aware of leaned toward the pro-global warming side, but I still felt that I had not learned and thought enough about the topic to commit to the stance that global warming was true. In other words I was not convinced. The case in my own mind became stronger and the counter-arguments were undermined, until eventually I decided that I should believe in global warming.

  (Quote)

Hermes May 19, 2010 at 5:37 pm

I apologize. I should have been more explicit. I meant very narrowly, just this;

Zeb: If a person considers god to be likely, but does not find enough evidence to muster belief, should we really call her an atheist?

Nothing more. That’s why I asked;

Do you think your example is one that clearly highlights the issues we are discussing?

If not, what do you offer as a replacement or an improvement?

If yes, could you address my earlier comments and let me know if my summary is an accurate representation of what you intended to convey?

Those questions were intended to clarify just the general comments, not to ask for another layer of examples that I’d have to untie.

That’s why I rephrased your comment, then asked a very narrow question about only one part;

Let’s break that question down and see if it answers itself.

1. ‘a person considers a god to be likely’

2. ‘a person does not find enough evidence to believe’

Can you tell me more about the consideration in #1?

If I understand what you intended there, reading other comments may (hopefully) make more sense.

At this point, I could tell you what I think you mean. Yet, there’s a serious problem. At this point, my current guess ends with a contorted ball of statements that don’t make much sense except very superficially; the less I look at it, the more sense it makes. The more I attempt to actually understand, the less sense it makes. As such, I take it as a misunderstanding on my part.

  (Quote)

Zeb May 20, 2010 at 4:22 am

Yes I think it clearly highlights the issues we are discussing and yes your summary is accurate. “A person considers God to be likely” means that the person is aware of stronger evidence and arguments for a god than against, and that if she had to choose right now, she would wager that some god does exist.

  (Quote)

Hermes May 20, 2010 at 5:11 am

Thank you.

For #2, why mention evidence if #1 already covers evidence?

  (Quote)

Zeb May 20, 2010 at 5:26 am

The evidence known by the person in question meets two different criteria. 1. More evidence for god than against. 2. Insufficient evidence to convince the person. In other words, the person considers the evidence insufficient to warrant belief.

  (Quote)

Hermes May 20, 2010 at 5:56 am

That still seems jumbled to me. With what you have written so far in mind, could you concisely rewrite or replace your original comment?

Zeb: If a person considers god to be likely, but does not find enough evidence to muster belief, should we really call her an atheist?

Note: I am not calling the person in your example anything because it is not at all clear to me what you are describing.

  (Quote)

Zeb May 20, 2010 at 6:33 am

Sorry, I don’t know how to make it any more concise or clear. What bit of it is confusing to you?

  (Quote)

Hermes May 20, 2010 at 6:33 am

Another thing I’ll note: The part “[not] enough evidence” from #2 stands out as contrary to “considers [evidence sufficient]“(?) from #1.

These seem to be resolved neatly by a division of knowledge claims from statements of belief, as demonstrated in the What is your religious position? reference examples. Excerpts from that link are listed below;

gnostic atheist – I know for certain that there are no gods.
gnostic monotheist – I know for certain that only one specific god exists.
gnostic polytheist – I know for certain that there is more than one god.

agnostic atheist – I do not know for certain, but I think there are no gods.
agnostic monotheist – I do not know for certain, but I think only one specific god exists.

agnostic pantheist – I do not know for certain, but I think that everything is god.
agnostic deist – I do not know for certain, but I think there is a god that started the universe but does not actively meddle with it or us.

ignostic monotheist – While the concepts of god(s) are meaningless, it is likely that only one specific god exists.

apnostic atheist – I don’t care if there are any gods, but I guess there are no gods.

  (Quote)

Hermes May 20, 2010 at 6:42 am

Sorry, I don’t know how to make it any more concise or clear. What bit of it is confusing to you?

Zeb, does the message I posted above help?

  (Quote)

Zeb May 20, 2010 at 7:06 am

Please tell me how you define “believe.”

And if you were to translate my global warming example into something equivalent to the religious positions above, where would you put me when I was aware of more evidence for global warming than against and so considered global warming to be likely true, but I did not think that I was sufficiently educated on the subject to make a choice and the evidence I was aware of was not sufficient to justify belief considering the practical implications of such a position?

  (Quote)

Hermes May 20, 2010 at 2:05 pm

Please tell me how you define “believe.”

In the normal way. [example 1][example 2]

Here is a tedious discussion on it so you know I know, and I’m not just sending you off to figure it out by yourself.

Note;

Please see my willingness to address your comments before I get a fleshed out reply to my question from you as an down payment in the form of good will on eventually getting a complete answer from you.

My expectation is that you are not giving me the run around and that you either are reconsidering your own thoughts in light of our discussion or that you might be in the middle of formulating your own thoughts more precisely.

Back on topic…

Some beliefs are conclusions based on evidence, while others are not based on anything definitive. The strength of a belief is not necessarily correlated to available evidence, but it can be. I can state that I believe something, and few people will feel compelled to tell me I don’t believe it unless they think I’m lying. Beliefs are usually sweeping and general, and not narrow or definitive.

Knowledge, though, is based on evidence. The evidence may be sharable, or it may be private. Like evidence and facts, though, knowledge is specific, narrow, and focused.

At this point, you may have an objection and say that knowledge claims and statements of belief are really the same thing. Let’s address that now.

Just as microwaves and the color red are both rough categories for types of radiation, the two categories of words being discussed here — statements of belief and knowledge claims — are different enough that conflating the two leads to unnecessary incoherence. It is inappropriate outside of very specific and technical discussions to meld the two — microwaves and the color red or belief statements and knowledge claims — into one big blob. This is the case even if they share many fundamental characteristics. The same could be said about Japanese and French or even Italian and Spanish, but not one is a drop in replacements for the others.

When knowledge is discussed you are more likely to make neutral claims involving distinct bits of data. Meanwhile, statements of belief almost always are treated as having a source that is private and often emotive. When asked if you have any change for a parking meter, you don’t rest assured in a belief. When asked if you want to eat Chinese tofu with vegetables or Angus steak,

And if you were to translate my global warming example into something equivalent to the religious positions above, where would you put me when I was aware of more evidence for global warming than against and so considered global warming to be likely true, but I did not think that I was sufficiently educated on the subject to make a choice and the evidence I was aware of was not sufficient to justify belief considering the practical implications of such a position?

Here’s where you lose me. Even if I were to chop off the first part and inject periods and other punctuation into the rest of that single-sentence paragraph, it’s still a whopper. To untangle it would take about as many words as I’ve already expended, and I still would not know the answer to my questions about your original statement.

Can we get back to that, and discuss it piece by piece?

  (Quote)

Hermes May 20, 2010 at 2:19 pm

Blah… fudged the end of one paragraph. Because I think you can probably extrapolate a relevant example to fill the gap, I’ll leave it as-is.

  (Quote)

Zeb May 20, 2010 at 3:35 pm

The part “[not] enough evidence” from #2 stands out as contrary to “considers [evidence sufficient]“(?) from #1.

Do you not recognize a mental state in which a person believes that a proposition is more likely true than false, but does not yet believe that the proposition is true?

I appreciate your good will, but I really don’t understand what you are questioning at this point. Feel free to disregard any questions or side points I bring up until your questions are satisfied, if you can only help me understand what you are asking for.

  (Quote)

Hermes May 20, 2010 at 3:48 pm

Do you not recognize a mental state in which a person believes that a proposition is more likely true than false, but does not yet believe that the proposition is true?

Yes. I never denied it. We’re stuck back there, though. What you write is muddy. I don’t think you’ve thought it through.

If you apply what I said about knowledge claims vs. statements of belief, the whole thing drops into order and makes sense.

Yet, you seem to reject that. I’m attempting to get you to say *how* what you are saying works and isn’t as I’ve described it here and elsewhere. How isn’t what you are saying just a longer version of a belief + a knowledge claim?

  (Quote)

Zeb May 20, 2010 at 4:06 pm

How isn’t what you are saying just a longer version of a belief + a knowledge claim?

Because if you ask that person, “Do you believe a god exists?” she will say, “No.” If you press her further she might say, “God’s existence seems likely based on what I know, but god might not be and I am not prepared yet to commit either way.

So, she believes it is likely that a god exists, but does not believe that a god exists. Of course she also does not believe that god does not exist. She is equally open to either possibility, and has no emotive leaning toward either.

  (Quote)

Hermes May 20, 2010 at 4:12 pm

Because if you ask that person, “Do you believe a god exists?” she will say, “No.”

An atheist of some sort.

If you press her further she might say, “God’s existence seems likely based on what I know, but god might not be

An agnostic of some sort.

and I am not prepared yet to commit either way.

Why mention commitment?

  (Quote)

Zeb May 20, 2010 at 5:05 pm

Why mention commitment?

Because my (and I think most people’s) use of the word “believe” entails a commitment to act as if the proposition is true, at least insofar as proclaiming its truth within one’s own mind.

My concern with your usages is that you define atheist so broadly and agnostic so narrowly as to make the terms practically useless, and they are so divergent from the common and more practical useages that I don’t see why we should adopt yours.

  (Quote)

Hermes May 20, 2010 at 6:18 pm

Because my (and I think most people’s) use of the word “believe” entails a commitment to act as if the proposition is true, at least insofar as proclaiming its truth within one’s own mind.

It’s not a necessary addition, then?

My concern with your usages is that you define atheist so broadly and agnostic so narrowly as to make the terms practically useless, and they are so divergent from the common and more practical useages that I don’t see why we should adopt yours.

Au contraire. First off, one of the most difficult issues I had when constructing the poll that listed off the different categories was in cutting them down to a manageable size that fit the forum software. If the forum software allowed more options, I would have listed about 100 if not more different options. That was a big deal when narrowing things down, and I discussed this as a big problem in each instance of the poll. Currently, there are 20 different choices options not counting the goofy ones or the valid one for henotheism. In the case of henotheism even that is a wild card that can pair up with a few of the other theisms.

Agnostic is very broad. It covers Huxley’s version as well as the issue of general knowledge claims.

Atheist is also very broad, but note that it is only one of SIX categories, and even that list is paired down from what it could be;

atheist
monotheist
polytheist
pantheist
deist
henotheist

Yet, scope should not matter. Is it accurate? As shown in the OED quote, the answer is yes. Atheism is a response to theism. As stated in the OED;

Theism(1) a. gen. Belief in a deity or deities, as opp. to atheism.

I covered this earlier in the thread. Summary; it’s the most common use of the word theism. Atheism is explicitly mentioned in the definition of theism, and atheism is said to be opposite of theism; ‘not theism’. So, it’s already adopted.

Note that theism is defined as a statement of belief. It is not a knowledge claim.

As for being practical, I’m not too clear on where you’re actually disagreeing on the substance of what we’re talking about. It seems as if you’re just being a contraian even when I’ve calmly laid out the details and asked a few times for very simple details that might explain what you’re talking about.

Give me a little credit here, will you? I’m trying hard but you’re not working with me.

Back on topic…

Do you disagree with the basic characterizations I gave for the first two parts of your previous comment?

If so, can we take _1_ and actually discuss that directly, or am I going to have to keep bending over backwards to accommodate other issues? Don’t jump ahead. Just take a little step. Let’s make some progress and stop talking past each other. I’ve thought about this for many years, and have many references to back up what I’ve actually said.

  (Quote)

caseywollberg May 20, 2010 at 6:22 pm

“you define atheist so broadly and agnostic so narrowly as to make the terms practically useless”

As has already been established, you are an idiot.

Atheist means, always shall mean, non-theist. Agnostic means, always shall mean, non-gnostic. These definitions are clear from the structure of the words themselves. It is fucking self-evident. They aren’t too broad or too narrow, except to someone who has a desperate need to see them as such. They are also far more practical than the common misapplication of the terms, since the proper use covers all distinctions (notwithstanding your attempt at weaseling around them with elaborately adorned examples that provide no escape for you, which has been sufficiently pointed out by Hermes). The only thing they don’t cover is the distinction between those who are not persuaded by the pejorative of “atheist” and those who are–like you.

“Because my (and I think most people’s) use of the word “believe” entails a commitment to act as if the proposition is true…”

You have no clue what you’re talking about. No one makes a conscious “commitment” to act according to their beliefs, how would they? Do they sign a contract, or what? Besides, you are waffling, you said the commitment was to *believe* not to *act*, and, as such, you have not addressed Hermes’ challenge. Typical behavior on your part.

You’re getting desperate, aren’t you?

Agnostic atheist: I don’t think anyone can know gods exist, and although I could be persuaded with actual evidence, I do not currently believe.

“Agnostic”: I don’t think anyone can know gods exist, and although I could be persuaded with actual evidence, I do not currently believe (but don’t you dare call me an atheist).

It’s so simple even a moron like you could understand it–if he wanted to.

Let me just point out the other thing, that I’ve pointed out before and you ignored–so that you can ignore it again.

What of the distinction between a provisional lack of belief in gods and the positive belief they don’t exist? One is a positive claim (an absurd one) and the other is the rejection of a positive claim. How does your proposed terminology distinguish between these two positions? It doesn’t. Instead it flattens out the distinctions so “atheist” can be used in the pejorative like it was when it was coined by people who didn’t think it was possible for their particular imaginary friend not to exist.

So, now it is popular for anyone who claims atheism (and understands what “agnostic” really means) to be riddled with ignorant remarks like, “Oh yeah? Prove God doesn’t exist, dur hur.” Thanks to thick skulls like yours, we still have to deal with this ancient stupidity. And we deal with it by utilizing the correct understanding of agnosticism, realizing as we do that it is not mutually exclusive of theism or atheism. So we distinguish between “agnostic atheists” and “gnostic (positive) atheists,” among those other distinctions you didn’t bother to read about.

While the uneducated masses may cower in their ignorant, superstitious fear of a word (which is highly convenient to those who need to shift the burden of proof, warping the frame of the debate significantly–if illogically–in their favor), it is not necessary in this oh-so-enlightened age.

  (Quote)

caseywollberg May 20, 2010 at 6:30 pm

“Note that theism is defined as a statement of belief. It is not a knowledge claim.”

Zeb doesn’t recognize that distinction.

  (Quote)

caseywollberg May 20, 2010 at 6:42 pm

“Let’s make some progress and stop talking past each other. I’ve thought about this for many years, and have many references to back up what I’ve actually said.”

Pearls before swine, Hermes.

  (Quote)

Zeb May 20, 2010 at 8:08 pm

Let me try to restate you position, just to see if I understand it.

1. To believe is to affirm the truth of a proposition.

2. To know is to have direct, discreet correspondence between a proposition and an observation.

3. A belief statement is an affirmation of the truth of a proposition.

4. A knowledge claim is an affirmation of the truth of the proposition-1 that one has a direct, discreet correspondence between a proposition-2 and an observation; in other words, a knowledge claim is the belief that one has knowledge regarding a proposition’s truth value.

5. A theist is one who affirms the truth of the proposition “A god exists.”

6. A gnostic theist claims he has direct observation(s) that correspond to the truth of the proposition “A god exists.”

7. An agnostic theist makes no such claim.

8. An atheist does not affirm the truth of the proposition “A god exists.”

9. A gnostic atheist claims she has direct observation(s) that correspond to the truth of the proposition “No god exists.”

10. An agnostic atheist makes no such claim.

If that is correct, I am prepared to respond to your questions about my position as best I understand them.

  (Quote)

Zeb May 20, 2010 at 8:48 pm

And here is my best response to your questions.

Do you disagree with the basic characterizations I gave for the first two parts of your previous comment?

First, I agree that this is an accurate paraphrase:

1. ‘a person considers a god to be likely’

2. ‘a person does not find enough evidence to believe’

I disagree with your characterization here:

The part “[not] enough evidence” from #2 stands out as contrary to “considers [evidence sufficient]“(?) from #1.

In #1 there is not “evidence sufficient,” there is evidence [greater than], such that based on available evidence, god’s existence seems more likely than not. That evidence may not be sufficient to attract or compel belief though.

And then

How isn’t what you are saying just a longer version of a belief + a knowledge claim?

I may have misinterpreted how you meant that. I agree to this: The knowledge claim would be, “I know that I am aware of more evidence for the existence of God than against.” The statement of belief would be either, “I believe the field of evidence of which I am not aware aware is too great for me to choose a belief based on the evidence of which I am aware,” or “I believe the evidence of which I am aware favors the existence of God, but is insufficient to justify my believing in God.”

I know you kept asking me, “Can you tell me more about the consideration in #1?” and I kept trying to do that but could not figure out what you were looking for there.

  (Quote)

Zeb May 21, 2010 at 6:36 am

Hermies, did you see this recent comment that provides a real world case of my example?

  (Quote)

Martin May 21, 2010 at 7:32 am

I think the so-called “weak atheists” are fundamentally dishonest in their definition. I like to remove all terminology to clearly show the difference:

Does X exist?

1. Yes
2. No
3. It’s not possible to know
4. I don’t know
5. I don’t care

Weak atheists define themselves as “lacking 1,” but they never say what they actually are. They could be a 2, 3, 4, 5, or something else I hadn’t thought of.

Positions 1 through 3 all carry a burden of proof, as they are making assertions about the existence or the knowledge of the existence of X. Positions 4 through 5 do not, as they make no actual claims.

What weak atheists do is show themselves to be clear 2s, which carries a burden of proof, but when pressed they retreat to “just lacking 1″ so they can shirk their burden.

Or they retreat to “can’t prove a negative,” which is just incorrect. You can prove a negative: there are no square circles. And in fact this is just what professional atheists do: they try to show a logical inconsistency in the attributes of God.

Weak atheism is a way of having cake and eating it too, and all it does is give Christians ammunition, justifiably, to say that atheists don’t have a case.

  (Quote)

cl May 21, 2010 at 9:11 am

Man, why are so many atheists so damn condescending, yet so quick to whine about trolling?

Zeb,

My concern with your usages is that you define atheist so broadly and agnostic so narrowly as to make the terms practically useless… (to Hermes)

I said the same thing to caseywollberg, whose intelligent reply was that I’m “an idiot.” Whatever floats a child’s boat I guess, but I still don’t think it’s meaningful to refer to babies or people who’ve never even heard of (a)theist arguments as atheists.

caseywollberg,

Because my (and I think most people’s) use of the word “believe” entails a commitment to act as if the proposition is true… (Zeb)

You have no clue what you’re talking about.

I see that Zeb is actually spot-on. Regardless of what they say, people act as if their beliefs are true. There is a real difference between the person who believes some type of God is likely and the person who believes some type of God exists. I don’t think it’s meaningful to call both theists.

Martin,

Weak atheists define themselves as “lacking 1,” but they never say what they actually are. They could be a 2, 3, 4, 5, or something else I hadn’t thought of.

Positions 1 through 3 all carry a burden of proof, as they are making assertions about the existence or the knowledge of the existence of X. Positions 4 through 5 do not, as they make no actual claims.

What weak atheists do is show themselves to be clear 2s, which carries a burden of proof, but when pressed they retreat to “just lacking 1″ so they can shirk their burden.

Or they retreat to “can’t prove a negative,” which is just incorrect…

YES, YES, and more YES. I describe this by saying that most atheists protect their “lack of beliefs” in a glass box.

Weak atheism is a way of having cake and eating it too, and all it does is give Christians ammunition, justifiably, to say that atheists don’t have a case.

Again, the same: YES, YES, and more YES. I’ve seen this play out countless times: some smarty-pants atheist challenges a Christian to prove their beliefs. Some degree of frustration ensues. The Christian then challenges the atheist to prove their beliefs, but instead of rising to their own challenge, the smarty-pants atheist hides behind some variant of, “I don’t have to prove anything. I’m an atheist; I lack belief.” They call it “respecting the burden of proof.” I call it hypocritical cowardice.

Either way, Martin, yours was among the most refreshing, encouraging comments I’ve seen here. IMO, we need more like that.

  (Quote)

rvkevin May 21, 2010 at 9:42 am

“What weak atheists do is show themselves to be clear 2s, which carries a burden of proof, but when pressed they retreat to “just lacking 1″ so they can shirk their burden.”

No, weak atheism is not (2). The problem here is that atheists can shift from weak atheism to strong atheism and vice avers depending on the claim given: X. When presented with a deists claim that is more or less untestable, most atheists would be weak. If presented with the claims of more specific claim that is contrary to the evidence, then most would be strong, and hold (2). A weak atheist regarding the deists claim can easily be a strong atheist in regards to the god of the Bible. This shift in position is not an attempt to shirk the burden of proof; it just illustrates that some claims are not possible to disprove and evidence for their existence must be brought forward to justify belief, as is similar to claims about the FSM, pink unicorns, etc.

Also, in order for a theist to persuade an atheist to accept theism, they must demonstrate that it is justified to believe that X does exist, rather than demonstrate that they are not justified in believing that X does not exist. In order for an atheist to persuade a theist to give up theism, to become an atheist, all they need to do is to demonstrate that they are not justified to believe that X exists. In this perspective, when arguing between atheism and theism, it is irrelevant whether the atheist is strong or weak. Unless you want to persuade a strong atheist to become a weak atheist, you still need to penetrate the burden of proof. If you feel this is a sly maneuver, then you are missing the purpose of the discourse.

  (Quote)

Hermes May 21, 2010 at 10:19 am

Zeb, I’ve written up an initial reply to your numbered list, but I want to make sure that we’re addressing the same thing before I post it and potentially waste your time.

I do want to talk about one thing first, though;

Hermes: Do you disagree with the basic characterizations I gave for the first two parts of your previous comment?

Zeb: First, I agree that this is an accurate paraphrase:

I should have been explicit. I was asking about this part;

Zeb: Because if you ask that person, “Do you believe a god exists?” she will say, “No.”

Hermes:An atheist of some sort.

Zeb: If you press her further she might say, “God’s existence seems likely based on what I know, but god might not be

Hermes:An agnostic of some sort.

  (Quote)

Martin May 21, 2010 at 10:51 am

No, weak atheism is not (2). The problem here is that atheists can shift from weak atheism to strong atheism and vice avers depending on the claim given: X.

This whole “strong” vs “weak” thing isn’t a difference in position, though, but just a level of justification for 1 or 2. You could be a 2 with strong justification, or a 2 with weak justification, but either way you take the position that X does not exist, which is a knowledge claim, which bears a burden of proof. “Weak” doesn’t get you out of that.

…evidence for their existence must be brought forward to justify belief, as is similar to claims about the FSM, pink unicorns, etc.

True, but evidence against the existence of FSM or IPU must be brought forth before we become 2s, otherwise the only rational thing to be is a 4. As it happens, we do have a good case against these things and so we are now rational to be 2s. Spaghetti can’t fly, it’s a contingent object, it’s physical but yet also somehow invisible, etc. Same goes for the IPU. Unicorns are contingent, they aren’t invisible, they aren’t pink, etc. In other words, 2 is not the default position for things until proven otherwise.

Also, in order for a theist to persuade an atheist to accept theism, they must demonstrate that it is justified to believe that X does exist, rather than demonstrate that they are not justified in believing that X does not exist.

I don’t know how you’re defining “atheism.” 2? Or “lacking 1?” If you can persuade a 1 that he is not justified in being a 1, then he becomes a “lacking 1,” true. But what position does he become, then? Not 2, but 4. He would require justification before becoming a 2.

  (Quote)

Zeb May 21, 2010 at 10:55 am

Hermes, I agree that your characterization matches the definitions you have given on this thread, but it contradicts the definition of agnostic atheist given on the What is your religious position page:

agnostic atheist – I do not know for certain, but I think there are no gods.

She does not “think there are no gods.”

Do I personally agree the person I described should be called an agnostic atheist? Well I don’t believe that words have ‘correct’ or ‘actual’ meanings; it all depends on the conventions appropriate to the context. Under the convention of common usage she is an agnostic. The value I see in that usage is that it distinguishes between one who believes god does not exist, and one who does not have a belief either way. It also has the benefit that most people already understand what the terms mean under that convention. If I become convinced that your usage is equally adequate where it is the conventional one (perhaps on this blog, or in technical discussion generally) I will adopt and promote it within the appropriate context. If I become convinced that your usage is superior to the common one in clarity and usefulness, I will adopt and promote it in common parlance. And then I think I would fully agree that the person should be categorized as an agnostic atheist.

  (Quote)

caseywollberg May 21, 2010 at 11:52 am

@cl

“Again, the same: YES, YES, and more YES.”

Oh, joy! An unsupportable weak argument that sounds like it gives weight to my nonsensical view! Praise Jeezis!

“The Christian then challenges the atheist to prove their beliefs, but instead of rising to their own challenge, the smarty-pants atheist hides…”

Okay, smarty-pants know-nothing, what *belief* would you like the atheist to “prove?” Just name one. You really don’t understand this subject and all you are doing is exposing your ignorance in a very arrogant way.

Christian: Yahweh exists! He has x and y characteristics!

Atheist: Got any evidence?

Christian: *You* got any evidence?

This is exactly how you said it goes down, and yet you don’t notice the problem–and you proceed to label the atheist as a hypocrite. Absurd. You truly have no conception of your own incompetence, do you?

“I said the same thing to caseywollberg, whose intelligent reply was that I’m “an idiot.””

No. You ignored my argument (which directly addressed your statement) and continued on your series of evasions. You are not only stupid, but dishonest as well. That’s why I call you an idiot. It certainly isn’t because I can’t defeat your “arguments,” as I already did. Now you’re here cheerleading for those same arguments as though they haven’t been addressed (and clumsily evaded) already. Sophist.

This isn’t my first rodeo; I’ve grown callous to “debaters” like you, which is why I flat out resist chasing after red herrings and am quick to call out an idiot when I expose one.

Thank Zeus for rvkevin and Hermes, who are doing a fine job defending the rational view and with more patience than I can muster. Martin is another idiot, by the way, as shall be shown by his refusal to concede clearly superior arguments, and his gradual progression into all-out evasion. Yeah, I can already tell.

(Hint: stop letting Martin get away with “strong” and “weak” and press the proper definition of agnostic. This is what Martin is ignoring, or is ignorant of. He also doesn’t understand the burden of proof problem for those making a positive claim. He also thinks that it is not correct to be skeptical where evidence is lacking–Martin, in that case, how do you feel about the claim that my IQ is greater than yours–I have no evidence of this claim, but you shouldn’t be skeptical until you can prove that the claim is not true. Right? When is it okay to be skeptical, then? Never. Because once you have your proof against a claim, there is no need to be skeptical of it. That is the nature of skepticism, which, according to you should not exist. I don’t expect you to see the absurdity in your own claim, though, since I know you have a cognitive bias against it.)

  (Quote)

Hermes May 21, 2010 at 12:12 pm

Zeb, the phrases in that poll are conversational — what one person would say to another — and not intended to be philosophically rigorous. The intent is the same as what we are discussing here.

Secondly, in actual day to day usage, a person believes or does not believe in a proposition. This is not an issue of language or philosophy, but of use. Any knowledge claims are separate from that.

A self-described agnostic has in fact a set of beliefs on the issue being discussed. That is unavoidable, and I provide support for that and discuss why it is in great detail in the poll comments. Along those lines, but on the topic of naturalism, is this;

http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=08eBv0lfT5E
http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=Z-Sfs65CTzA

  (Quote)

Hermes May 21, 2010 at 12:17 pm

Let me try to restate you position, just to see if I understand it.

OK. I’ll look the list over point-by-point.

1. To believe is to affirm the truth of a proposition.

The OED I have here uses this primary definition (among other secondary meanings);

Believe … 1. To have confidence or faith in, and consequently rely upon.

One more comment before I continue. Note that your current track is to get away from the base meanings of the words and to construct an abstract philosophical structure to place the words into. Language does not work like that. Language is messy and all too human.

2. To know is to have direct, discreet correspondence between a proposition and an observation.

OK. An observation — a perception — does not require a proposition, or in general, a preconception. That said, if you want to whittle this down to philosophical axioms and ignore the words then we’re not going to be communicating.

In philosophical terms, beliefs and knowledge can be used like one big gray blob. To return to an example, this is just like lumping all forms of radiation into one type of thing — and ignoring any difference between visible colors, gamma rays, radio, or microwaves.

3. A belief statement is an affirmation of the truth of a proposition.

See #1.

4. A knowledge claim is an affirmation of the truth of the proposition-1 that one has a direct, discreet correspondence between a proposition-2 and an observation; in other words, a knowledge claim is the belief that one has knowledge regarding a proposition’s truth value.

As noted, this is philosophical gray goo.

In CS/IT/… terms, this is known as being “Technically correct, but practically useless.”.

5. A theist is one who affirms the truth of the proposition “A god exists.”

The above is not clear at all. If I would have to guess, I think you are saying that the affirmation comes from a belief. Is there an element of a knowledge claim here as well?

6. A gnostic theist claims he has direct observation(s) that correspond to the truth of the proposition “A god exists.”

This is roughly correct. A theist, though, is not restricted to being a monotheist and could be any type of theist including polytheists and henotheists. Note my earlier comments as well.

7. An agnostic theist makes no such claim.

Roughly correct. They are not making a knowledge claim, they are stating a belief. Note that knowledge claims can be made to other people or can be kept private. For example, in the case of a priest that has become a gnostic atheist.

8. An atheist does not affirm the truth of the proposition “A god exists.”

Close. An atheist does not believe the statement ‘a god or gods exist’.

9. A gnostic atheist claims she has direct observation(s) that correspond to the truth of the proposition “No god exists.”

That’s about right. As noted by Caseywollberg and myself, the gnostic positions like this are silly. There could be fairies, for example, but there’s no reason to claim knowledge that there are none.

10. An agnostic atheist makes no such claim.

Roughly, yes.

If that is correct, I am prepared to respond to your questions about my position as best I understand them.

The setup is not necessary and actually diverges from usage and how people think (including beliefs and knowledge).

Keep in mind, though, that the burden of proof is on the one making a positive claim, and that that burden is because there is a claim of knowledge. A gnostic is making a positive claim to knowledge, while an agnostic is not. How they believe is distinctly different from the knowledge claims (or lack of them).

  (Quote)

Martin May 21, 2010 at 1:02 pm

caseywollberg,

Martin is another idiot, by the way

Thank you.

Okay, smarty-pants know-nothing, what *belief* would you like the atheist to “prove?” Just name one.

“Burden of Proof” does not mean “prove absolutely mathematically.” It means “support your position.” Someone who takes the #2 position (“does not exist”) is taking the position that the Christian God most likely does not exist. That’s fine, but you need to support that position. If you take the #2 position because #1 has failed to make a case, then that would be argument from ignorance: the fallacy that a proposition is false just because it hasn’t been proven true. The point is, a 2 has to support his position just like a 1 does.

Martin, in that case, how do you feel about the claim that my IQ is greater than yours

Until I have evidence one way or another, I would take the #4 (“I don’t know”) position on whether your IQ is higher than mine or not.

#4 is the default unless #1 or #2 can be supported by evidence.

What modern “weak atheists” do is expose themselves as 2s through their words and actions: “invisible sky daddy” and “your imaginary sky wizard LOL!!11!!eleven!!” but when asked to support their position, they run away chickenshit to the non-position of not-1 so they don’t have to do any work.

I don’t see what the problem is. If you’re a 2, then grab that position by the balls and offer up supporting argumentation. That’s what professional atheologians do.

  (Quote)

Zeb May 21, 2010 at 1:11 pm

Note that your current track is to get away from the base meanings of the words and to construct an abstract philosophical structure to place the words into.

I assure you, I am only trying to understand what you mean by these words, and why you insist on a particular strong separation between them.

It sounds to me like you don’t consider truth claims or propositions to be relevant to belief and knowledge. A person ‘believes in God’ in the same sense as a person ‘believes in honesty’ or ‘believes in family.’ A person ‘knows God’ in the same sense as a person ‘knows these pretzels are making me thirsty’ or ‘knows the sun is bright.’ Knowledge and belief are ways of directly relating to a thing itself, with and don’t address propositions about the thing or their truth values.

  (Quote)

Hermes May 21, 2010 at 1:24 pm

Martin: Someone who takes the #2 position (“does not exist”) is taking the position that the Christian God most likely does not exist. That’s fine, but you need to support that position.

Why? What #2 position? Caseywollberg stated the following;

Christian: Yahweh exists! He has x and y characteristics!

Atheist: Got any evidence?

Christian: *You* got any evidence?

Where’s the responsibility of the atheist to provide evidence or support that case? The Christian makes the claims. They bear the burden of proof.

  (Quote)

Martin May 21, 2010 at 1:36 pm

Hermes,

Why? What #2 position? Caseywollberg stated the following;

Christian: Yahweh exists! He has x and y characteristics!

Atheist: Got any evidence?

Christian: *You* got any evidence?

Where’s the responsibility of the atheist to provide evidence or support that case? The Christian makes the claims. They bear the burden of proof.

I’m using numbers instead of terminology to keep the discussion from degenerating into arguments about semantics. Does X exist? #1 Yes, #2 No, #3 It’s not possible to know, #4 I don’t know, #5 I don’t care.

Anyone who takes positions 1-3 bears a burden of proof for their position. 4-5 do not. 4 is the default.

As to caseywollberg’s example, the Christian is shirking his burden. He needs to provide evidence.

  (Quote)

rvkevin May 21, 2010 at 1:41 pm

I’ll ignore the first point since I tend to use weak and strong atheism in a different way, and this distinction is not necessary when discussing atheism and theism.

True, but evidence against the existence of FSM or IPU must be brought forth before we become 2s, otherwise the only rational thing to be is a 4. As it happens, we do have a good case against these things and so we are now rational to be 2s. Same goes for the IPU. Unicorns are contingent, they aren’t invisible, they aren’t pink, etc.

Can you be more specific about the evidence against the IPU? How does something being contingent make it not invisible nor pink? How do you know that there is not a creature that has the unique ability to bend light around its body to make itself invisible to outside observers, but if it chooses to make itself known, its color is pink, and also has the appearance of a horse like creature with a single horn? Until you can bring forth evidence against this claim, then we must be a 2 in regards to the IPU. If it’s reasonable to be a 2 in regards to this undetectable, untestable being, I don’t understand why we should be a 4 about a similarly undetectable, untestable being that is also omnipotent, omniscient, and more improbable than the IPU in every conceivable way.

I don’t know how you’re defining “atheism.” 2? Or “lacking 1?” If you can persuade a 1 that he is not justified in being a 1, then he becomes a “lacking 1,” true. But what position does he become, then? Not 2, but 4. He would require justification before becoming a 2.

Atheism is without theism, so that would be “lacking 1.” So, if you can persuade a 1 that he is not justified in being a 1, then he becomes a “lacking 1,” which would be a theist becoming an atheist. And if you can convince a “lacking 1″ to be a 1, then he becomes a 1, which would be an atheist becoming a theist. This is why the distinctions within atheism are largely irrelevant when discussing atheism v. theism and why the burden of proof is always on the theist.

What modern “weak atheists” do is expose themselves as 2s through their words and actions: “invisible sky daddy” and “your imaginary sky wizard LOL!!11!!eleven!!” but when asked to support their position, they run away chickenshit to the non-position of not-1 so they don’t have to do any work.

Having a belief that is not justified is worthy of ridicule. In this way, a 4 could just as easily ridicule a 1 for holding a belief that is not justified. By saying that they are 2s, you are essentially attributing a view that they don’t hold onto a group of people, commonly known as the straw man fallacy.

@Zeb: I recommend the use of the phrase agnostic atheist.

  (Quote)

Martin May 21, 2010 at 2:10 pm

I don’t understand why we should be a 4 about a similarly undetectable, untestable being that is also omnipotent, omniscient, and more improbable than the IPU in every conceivable way.

But see, now you’re supporting the 2 position (at least, weakly). Good! That’s my point. What “weak atheists” do is act like a 2, but when asked to support their position they retreat to not-1 and claim they don’t have to prove anything, the burden is on the 1, you can’t prove a negative, etc.

But as you can see, they do. And you just did. And that’s what “weak atheists” need to do. They need to answer “X is unlikely to exist because it’s undetectable, invisible, omniscient, etc etc.” Or preferably, they need to provide logical argumentation as to why those attributes mean the thing does not or cannot exist, or what have-you.

then he becomes a “lacking 1,” which would be a theist becoming an atheist.

But then what is he? We know he is a not-1, but he could still be a 2, or 3, or 4, or 5. The position of not-1 isn’t a position at all. Which is my point.

By saying that they are 2s, you are essentially attributing a view that they don’t hold onto a group of people, commonly known as the straw man fallacy.

I’m not calling them 2s. I’ll continue to call them not-1s if that’s what they insist they are, despite the fact that that’s not even a position at all. But what I’m saying is that they act as if they really, really don’t think that X exists. Do you disagree that they act like this?

  (Quote)

Hermes May 21, 2010 at 2:47 pm

Martin, that doesn’t help address the issue under discussion though. It just invents a philosophical mass of nonsense.

  (Quote)

Hermes May 21, 2010 at 2:51 pm

FWIW, the whole ‘weak atheist’/'strong atheist’/… metric invites confusion. That’s why I don’t use those terms or derivatives of them.

  (Quote)

Martin May 21, 2010 at 2:55 pm

In what way is basic logic “nonsense?” I mean, a proposition is true or false, not “strongly true” vs “weakly true.” It’s binary.

  (Quote)

caseywollberg May 21, 2010 at 2:58 pm

“As to caseywollberg’s example, the Christian is shirking his burden. He needs to provide evidence.”

Right. And their consistent inability to do so supports my skepticism of their claims. I.e., I am an agnostic atheist, and have no burden to prove anything. Just exactly what do you think I have to prove? Come on. Tell me. I predicted you would evade, and that’s exactly what you’re doing. Who’s surprised? Anyone?

““Burden of Proof” does not mean “prove absolutely mathematically.” It means “support your position.””

No kidding? I didn’t know that, thanks for the lesson. It’s funny you know what it means but you don’t know how to do it.

“Someone who takes the #2 position (“does not exist”) is taking the position that the Christian God most likely does not exist. That’s fine, but you need to support that position.”

Sure, okay. That’s a positive atheist position regarding a specific god claim; I happen to hold it myself. I support it by saying, “No evidence; zero, nada, none.” Does that count as support? If not, why not, and what would? Further, why should I not be skeptical of an unsupported claim, and why does the lack of support for a claim burden me with the responsibility of supporting an opposite claim? Also, you wiggled there from “does not exist,” to “most likely does not exist.” Why are you conflating these two distinct positions into one straw man?

“If you take the #2 position because #1 has failed to make a case, then that would be argument from ignorance: the fallacy that a proposition is false just because it hasn’t been proven true.”

Oh, plausibility is not a factor in your world. Fine, why do you not believe in fairies? Santa Claus? Orbital teacups? No, seriously! Is it because these claims are patently ridiculous? Or have you dug up some evidence for the non-existence of these entities? If not the latter, then, by your logic, you must not claim they do not exist–you must admit, however implausible, that they might exist! But then you have placed yourself in the position you disclaim as hypocritical in agnostic atheists, namely, “I don’t know, have no way of knowing, but I don’t believe, because I have no reason to.”

Why are you such a hypocrite, such a coward? Why can’t you just admit that you firmly believe in the non-existence of fairies, and just set aside this silly agnosticism? It just makes you look all wet in the great fairy debate. Every time a fairy-ist challenges you to support your position, you run off to the warm, comforting arms of agnosticism, so you don’t have to do the hard work of defending your inherent belief in the non-existence of fairies!

Incidentally, unfalsifiable god claims are different from falsifiable ones, and agnostic atheists are typically well aware of this. We will always point out the evidence against falsifiable god claims (the age of the universe, for example, or special creation vs. evolution). The problem is, with regard to non-falsifiable claims, no “work” can be done, so we reject them as meaningless (like good agnostics), whereas with falsifiable claims, we excoriate them with relish (like good “strong” atheists). So, I don’t know where you’re getting your charge of “running away” to a “non-position” so we don’t have to do any “work.”

“Until I have evidence one way or another, I would take the #4 (“I don’t know”) position on whether your IQ is higher than mine or not.”

I didn’t ask what you know. You obviously don’t know my IQ is higher than yours because I haven’t shown you any evidence. I asked how you “feel,” because we were discussing belief, and beliefs are feelings–not knowledge. You are having trouble, as I said, because you do not admit into your scheme the proper understanding of agnosticism.

“but when asked to support their position, they run away chickenshit to the non-position of not-1 so they don’t have to do any work.”

Lol right. We atheists are notorious for saying, “evidence please.” How is that running away? How is that not supporting the position of skepticism (that is, non-belief)? I’ll say it again, any work is the responsibility of the claimant. And when theists fail to do this work (that is, providing evidence) they are the ones who run away, moving the goalposts by appealing to faith. Like I said, you are an idiot.

Theist: “God exists!”

Atheist: “Evidence please.”

Theist: “Non-evidential claims a through z”

Atheist: “Refutations of non-evidential claims a through z”

Theist: “I’m exasperated! Huff. I’m offended! Huff. Well, it’s all a matter of faith, and you obviously don’t understand that!”

No, indeed.

“That’s what professional atheologians do.”

Ooooo! Appeal to authority; I’m so impressed! Regardless, that’s what agnostic atheists do too, when it comes to *falsifiable* claims. Address this argument, I dare you.

Oh, and answer that question up there: what would count as evidence to “support” the non-claim of skepticism toward *non-falsifiable* god-claims, since you demand it?

And don’t forget to address rvkevin’s arguments; they’re really clearly laid out (and free of the irreverent adornments I’m so fond of using), so you should have no problem understanding them. Please don’t evade them, since I’m getting so much enjoyment out of watching you sophists squirm.

  (Quote)

caseywollberg May 21, 2010 at 3:10 pm

In case you take the stance of “didn’t read, too long,” here’s me cutting to the quick:

Agnosticism is not running away, it is a reasonable epistemological position.

The claimant always has the burden of proof (i.e., providing evidence).

falsifiable claims vs. non-falsifiable claims:

Falsifiable claims made by theists are consistently refuted by agnostic atheists (not “running away,” as you claim), while non-falsifiable claims made by theists are covered by agnosticism: they are unsupportable because they are not demonstrable (also not “running away,” as you claim).

Now I suggest going back and reading the longer post for details and more good refutations of your line of reasoning, as well as for the juicy rhetorical violence.

  (Quote)

caseywollberg May 21, 2010 at 3:15 pm

“I’ll continue to call them not-1s if that’s what they insist they are, despite the fact that that’s not even a position at all.”

No. It’s a position; it’s just not a *claim*. You apparently don’t understand the difference.

  (Quote)

Hermes May 21, 2010 at 3:20 pm

In what way is basic logic “nonsense?” I mean, a proposition is true or false, not “strongly true” vs “weakly true.” It’s binary.

A quick answer, probably flawed or incomplete, as I am busy at the moment….

Plug in other examples — real world undisputed, dogmatic from various times and places, and entirely fictitious — using your 5 and see if they come up with any coherence. They are nonsense since we can learn nothing from them except that certainty is difficult and people disagree. Well … that’s not very enlightening, and it doesn’t tell us anything about what people actually think in any meaningful way. Anyone who hasn’t figured that out has other problems.

  (Quote)

rvkevin May 21, 2010 at 3:37 pm

But see, now you’re supporting the 2 position (at least, weakly). Good! That’s my point. What “weak atheists” do is act like a 2, but when asked to support their position they retreat to not-1 and claim they don’t have to prove anything, the burden is on the 1, you can’t prove a negative, etc.

Being a 2 is directly related to the claim in question. Usually an atheist will switch from 2 to 4 if the claim is either too vague, untestable, or meaningless. Not that they were a 2 to begin with such a claim, but that the claim presented is sufficiently different than the typical claims associated with whatever label the theist associates themselves with. For example, an atheist may say they are a 2 in regards to the Christian god, and when a particular Christian presents what they believe to be god, it may be completely different than what is described either by the majority of Christians or the Bible, and the atheist is actually a 4 in regards to the claim presented, so they rightfully ask why do you believe such a claim and the theist has the burden of proof to provide evidence. So, what do you believe and why?

But then what is he? We know he is a not-1, but he could still be a 2, or 3, or 4, or 5. The position of not-1 isn’t a position at all. Which is my point.

They would be an atheist. Hence why atheism and agnosticism are not mutually exclusive. And why we generally don’t label people based on what they don’t believe. The atheistic position is that we don’t believe the claims of theism, nothing more.

But what I’m saying is that they act as if they really, really don’t think that X exists. Do you disagree that they act like this?

Yes, I disagree. They think that it is not justified to believe in X, not that X does not exist. Lets say X is “life exists on Europa.” Someone believes X, and they put forth no evidence, meaning the claim is not justified. Someone who is a 4 would ridicule him for holding an unjustified belief. This does not mean that the person believes X is false, only that it is unjustified or unreasonable to believe X is true.

  (Quote)

Martin May 21, 2010 at 3:40 pm

caseywollberg,

Just so you know, I’m reading your posts in the voice of Lewis Black. Nice and spittle-flecked.

I am an agnostic atheist, and have no burden to prove anything. Just exactly what do you think I have to prove? Come on. Tell me. I predicted you would evade, and that’s exactly what you’re doing. Who’s surprised? Anyone?

Hermes was just talking about “philosophical mess” and I agree. All this talk of “gnostic this” and “agnostic that” and “knowledge vs belief” and so on is a mess. Strip it down to basic logic:

x exists

This is either true, or false. It can’t be somewhat true or somewhat false. There is no such thing as strongly true or weakly true. It’s binary. It’s either true, or it’s false. Before hearing supporting evidence for either side, you would approach it with “I don’t know.” You would hear supporting evidence and then take a side.

In answer to your question, you have to prove, or more accurately support, the proposition that the Christian God does not exist. Maybe his attributes are logically incompatible. Maybe being non-physical, spaceless, timeless, etc is equivalent to non-existence. Maybe something else. Either way, you have to build a case. You don’t win by default because the theist fails. That’s argument from ignorance. You win by building a case.

Or have you dug up some evidence for the non-existence of these entities?

Yes, actually, and so have you. Take Santa Claus as an example. You should be a 4 (“I don’t know”) on this until you hear arguments for and against it. As it happens, we have evidence against it: there is no solid land mass at the North Pole, there is no large factory at the North Pole, reindeer don’t fly, there isn’t enough time in one night to deliver millions of presents.

That is why you are a 2 with respect to Santa Claus. Not by default, but because you have evidence that supports the “false” answer to the proposition.

  (Quote)

Hermes May 21, 2010 at 4:04 pm

A bit of clarification…

I am an agnostic atheist, in general. Yet, depending on specific claims, I am …

* a gnostic atheist …
* an ignostic atheist …
* an apnostic atheist …

and even — wait for it folks — I am …

* a gnostic theist.

I await your whiplashed heads to babble a response.

  (Quote)

rvkevin May 21, 2010 at 4:53 pm

In answer to your question, you have to prove, or more accurately support, the proposition that the Christian God does not exist. Either way, you have to build a case. You don’t win by default because the theist fails. That’s argument from ignorance. You win by building a case.

Incorrect. Atheism and theism are matters about belief. Atheism is not that theism is false, that there are no gods. Atheism is not the belief that there are no gods. The atheistic position is that we don’t believe the claims of theism, nothing more. If the theist fails to provide evidence for their claim, you are not justified in believing it, which is the atheistic position.

If X is untestable, kind of like a substantial amount of theistic claims, and it is impossible to determine either way, then you are not justified in believing the claim, which is the atheistic position.

The only time to believe a claim is when evidence supports it. If the theist is unable to provide evidence, then you are not justified in believing the claim, which is the atheistic position.

Do you believe that there is life on Europa, Titan, any planet in the Andromeda galaxy, etc.? How about Nessy, Bigfoot, Yeti, etc.? How about a teapot orbiting VY Canis Majoris, a teapot buried directly under the summit of Mount Sagarmathar at sea level, a teapot that was eaten by a Great White Shark at their breeding grounds, etc.? The correct answer to each of these is “no, I would need positive evidence for me to believe that claim.” Similar to those claims, when asked “Do you believe in god?”, the atheist responds “no, I would need positive evidence for me to believe that claim.” It is not the responsibility of anyone to try and provide a case against each and every claim, the burden is on the person trying to demonstrate the claim is true.

I would note that saying “I don’t know” to “Do you believe X” is almost a non-answer. Its an admission that they don’t know what beliefs they hold, not a position about the claim.

and even — wait for it folks — I am …
* a gnostic theist.

Is it your response to the “God is love” argument? If so, you shouldn’t be so lenient with people getting away with the equivocation fallacy. On second thought, some gods are easily verifiable. The Sherpa’s deity physically manifests, and can be shown to bring riches into their community, which is more than I can say for the Christian god.

  (Quote)

Hermes May 21, 2010 at 4:58 pm

Is it your response to the “God is love” argument? …

No. Not that, though if you have some notes or a link on the Sherpa’s deity I’ll take a look. What I’m thinking of is quite tangible. Hopefully it will make you grin.

  (Quote)

caseywollberg May 21, 2010 at 5:09 pm

“Just so you know, I’m reading your posts in the voice of Lewis Black. Nice and spittle-flecked.”

Oh, good. That’s about what I had in mind. Lewis Black is just all right with me.

“This is either true, or false. It can’t be somewhat true or somewhat false. There is no such thing as strongly true or weakly true.”

No one’s talking about this but you. And you are very confused.

“All this talk of “gnostic this” and “agnostic that” and “knowledge vs belief” and so on is a mess. Strip it down to basic logic…”

No it isn’t a mess and you are evading. Just as predicted. Am I good or what?

“x exists

This is either true, or false.”

No. Falsifiable or non-falsifiable? Address this distinction, sophist. If something is non-falsifiable we can say it isn’t *even* false, but we can’t say it is false. It is nonsense. A claim of this variety is, for example: fairies (an entity that is undetectable, invisible under “normal” circumstances, and implicated–though not by evidence–in all kinds of mischief that can reasonably be explained naturally, etc.) exist. How do I prove they don’t exist? Or, more to the point, how do you? And if you can’t, then you can’t blame agnostic atheists for taking the same position you do (agnosticism yet non-belief) with regard to non-falsifiable claims. Again, this is the central problem with your line of reasoning, but there are others, all of which, including this one, you continue to evade.

“In answer to your question, you have to prove, or more accurately support, the proposition that the Christian God does not exist. Maybe his attributes are logically incompatible. Maybe being non-physical, spaceless, timeless, etc is equivalent to non-existence. Maybe something else. Either way, you have to build a case.”

All of this and more agnostic atheists already do. What is your argument? It reduces to a mistaken (dishonest?) view of reality, parading in a mist of ignorance with regard to the burden of proof question, agnosticism, and the problem of plausibility, among other such things that I and others have brought up.

You have been given specific challenges to your line of reasoning and you have failed to address all of them.

“Take Santa Claus as an example. You should be a 4 (“I don’t know”) on this until you hear arguments for and against it. As it happens, we have evidence against it: there is no solid land mass at the North Pole, there is no large factory at the North Pole, reindeer don’t fly, there isn’t enough time in one night to deliver millions of presents.”

Good, you have done a good job of skewering falsifiable claims. Well done. Agnostic atheists do this with falsifiable god-claims rather handily, as I pointed out and you ignored, and which is devastating to your position.

Now, how do you do against non-falsifiable claims? Pixie dust, invisible but highly reactive in situations that already have natural explanations. Or the infamous invisible pink unicorn (another challenge from rvkevin you tastefully ignored). Or the deist god. Or the hiddenness of God theory. On and on with the claims that cannot be demonstrated, but which suffer from various levels of implausibility.

Is it “running away” to point out that these claims strictly cannot be disproved any more than they can be supported? No, to think so would be absurd–*is* absurd in your case. Is the skeptic burdened with the responsibility of supporting a negative claim with regard to positive claims that cannot themselves be demonstrated? No, to think so would be absurd–*is* absurd in your case.

Your argument is absurd. QED, again and again, QED–but will you concede? No. You will evade.

  (Quote)

caseywollberg May 21, 2010 at 5:17 pm

@ Hermes:

All hail Sol Invictus!

  (Quote)

Martin May 21, 2010 at 5:22 pm

rvkevin,

I would not say belief in “life on Europa” is not ridicule-worthy at all; it is, as it happens, entirely possible. If someone said they believed that about all I could say is that they have no way of knowing that yet and that “i don’t know” is a better position to take until the evidence comes in.

What makes an unjustified belief ridicule-worthy is when it flies in the face of evidence to the contrary. Belief that the world is flat, for instance.

So when “weak” atheists ridicule the beliefs of theists, they are implicitly claiming that there is evidence against the existence of God. Great! Let’s hear it!

“Oh, well, we just lack belief. We don’t have to support our position. You can’t prove a negative. You’re the one making the claim. etc.”

This just isn’t logically tenable.

  (Quote)

caseywollberg May 21, 2010 at 5:45 pm

“What makes an unjustified belief ridicule-worthy is when it flies in the face of evidence to the contrary.”

Like creationism? A 6,000-year old earth? A global flood?

Your point about supporting an opposing claim only makes sense in light of falsifiable claims such as these. And the internet is bursting at the seams with examples of agnostic atheists eviscerating them with gusto.

As I’ve said repeatedly, and you’ve ignored, it doesn’t make sense to apply that argument to non-falsifiable claims like, “God is all-knowing and undetectable. You just have to have faith.” What would you count as evidence against that claim? I’ve asked this several times now. Crickets, like always. Evasion, like always. It’s okay; I know it obliterates your position, and that makes you nervous. You don’t have to respond. Just keep pretending.

“So when “weak” atheists ridicule the beliefs of theists, they are implicitly claiming that there is evidence against the existence of God. Great! Let’s hear it!”

Which “God,” moron? What are his attributes? Give me a claim that actually says something. “God exists,” is not a claim, it is a phrase.

If you say, “Yahweh created the earth and the universe along with it 6,000 years ago,” then I can respond with evidence that shows this “Yahweh” you speak of does not exist. If you say, “Elflop the Mighty is completely undetectable and it is he who makes the laws of the universe work the way they do, including evolution!” then what is there for me to falsify in that claim? How would I go about doing so? No, you tell me, smart guy.

If you’re having trouble coming up with an answer, maybe you should check out agnosticism. And then if you’re still feeling your oats you can come back and try mucking up your ridiculous argument some more.

  (Quote)

rvkevin May 21, 2010 at 5:53 pm

No. Not that, though if you have some notes or a link on the Sherpa’s deity I’ll take a look. What I’m thinking of is quite tangible. Hopefully it will make you grin.

Mount Everest. Quite tangible indeed. The expeditions to climb Everest give employment to Sherpa guides, cooks, porters, etc., which benefits their economy (brings them riches!). There is some superstition involved, such as saying a prayer with a monk before climbing (but if you the monk doesn’t show, all you need is good intentions to do the ceremony before climbing), wearing prayer beads, etc.

On one occasion, the victim of a natural accident was said to be caused by their unrelated actions that were considered disrespectful (bad omen). I suppose you could say they take the phrase “respect the mountain or it will kill you” quite literally, and its certainly true.

I would not say belief in “life on Europa” is not ridicule-worthy at all; it is, as it happens, entirely possible. If someone said they believed that about all I could say is that they have no way of knowing that yet and that “i don’t know” is a better position to take until the evidence comes in.

What if I said, “I believe the coin flip will be heads.” Is that reasonable? It is entirely possible, yet it is not reasonable to claim belief that a certain outcome is true or going to happen. The chance that the coin will be heads is relatively probable, yet it is unreasonable to believe it will be heads. Similarly, it is unreasonable to believe that there is life on Europa without such evidence even if it is possible or even likely (In such a case, the person would say “I believe that life on Europa is possible” or “I believe life on Europa is likely,” not “I believe there is life on Europa”). Unjustified belief is unreasonable, and for that reason, is worthy of ridicule.

  (Quote)

Zeb May 21, 2010 at 6:15 pm

Martin, great job. In comments that were lost in the virus recovery, I objected that casey’s use of terminology was intentionally loaded with claims about burden of proof, knowability, and truth values. So I’ve avoided getting into those debates because I think the terminology should be neutral, clear, fully descriptive, and usable by all parties. But I you showed exactly when and why atheists and theists take on a burden of proof.

rvkevin, can you explain why we should be a presumptive 2 regarding unobservable, untestable entities? I’ve only ever heard an appeal to intuition in the teapot/FSM/IPU analogies, and it is an intuition I do not share and for which I don’t see rational justification.

I see you have a point about the irrelevance of strong vs weak atheism when the term of the theism v atheism debate is “You and I should/not be theists.” But often the debate is over other terms, such as “you an I should not consider theism impossible/improbable/meaningless/unreasonable/not worth exploring etc.” Personally my only interest in these debates, other than learning and helping clarify things, is to get strong atheists to become “agnostics” in the common sense.

Are you saying you recommend “agnostic atheist” for someone who thinks God’s existence is likely but does not believe that God exists? How would you differentiate that person from someone like Hermes, who believes no gods exist but does not claim knowledge?

And why we generally don’t label people based on what they don’t believe.

That’s part of why I think ‘atheist’ would be better reserved for people who believe no gods exist, whether they claim knowledge or not.

  (Quote)

caseywollberg May 21, 2010 at 6:27 pm

“In comments that were lost in the virus recovery, I objected that casey’s use of terminology was intentionally loaded with claims about burden of proof, knowability, and truth values.”

Also lost was the spanking you received.

Zeb=hopeless.

  (Quote)

Zeb May 21, 2010 at 6:27 pm

Hermes, I just noticed that you do associate beliefs with propositions. So obviously I am very confused about what you do and don’t mean by “to believe” and “to know.” If you are still interested in helping me understand you position, perhaps you could fill in the predicates for my 10 statement summary of your position in a way that you feel is more accurate and adequate than mine. I was using the given definitions of “to believe” and “to know” in place of those words in numbers 3-10, and it would be very helpful if you did the same. It would also be understandable if you don’t feel like doing any of this.

  (Quote)

caseywollberg May 21, 2010 at 6:42 pm

“Martin, great job.”

Really? What, you can’t read? You and cl are funny little sophists. You can’t support your own arguments, so you pat each others’ backs to make yourselves feel better. You just can’t take “losing” a debate, can you? Stop congratulating yourselves while you’re so deep in the shit, and start addressing your opponents’ arguments. You have not made any points that have not been refuted, and you have not refuted any points your opponents have made; you just keep going merrily along, ignoring everything of value, and repeating the same nonsense. Ah, so boring.

  (Quote)

Hermes May 21, 2010 at 7:18 pm

Martin, your youth makes me happy. That is, I hope you are very very young, because, I would not want to be sad for you if it is not so yet all the other details remain the same.

  (Quote)

Hermes May 21, 2010 at 7:24 pm

Zeb, note the radiation analogy. Why wouldn’t I associate beliefs and knowledge? The problem is caused by treating red as if it were just another radio wave.

I’ve spelled out the subtle differences between beliefs and knowledge. I’ve given references. The next step is very simple, and flows from the actual meanings of the words as they are used as well as the meanings people place on their own experiences. At this point, I feel satisfied that I’ve more than done my job here. We’re at the horse to water stage.

  (Quote)

Hermes May 21, 2010 at 7:35 pm

Rvkevin, we’re clones. I’ve enjoyed reading your comments. As nobody seems to be taking the bait, I was referring to wood totems not a stone teton, but the concept in either case tracks the exact same way.

To make it explicit, if someone points to a tangible thing and says …

“I have a god, and it’s right there.”

… I may disagree with their characterization, but I can’t deny that they have delivered the goods in some form. This is not the case with most theists, so I’ll give them the nod even if it’s not a god I’d personally acknowledge. I can’t deny, though, that they are correct on some level.

  (Quote)

Hermes May 21, 2010 at 7:58 pm

Zeb: …someone who thinks God’s existence is likely but does not believe that God exists?

Is this a real person? If you check the results of the poll I’ve referenced before, you’ll see quite a bit of variety. Yet, I’ve never heard anyone ask for a slot for such a position. This is the case even though I leave room for some polytheist positions that nobody has claimed yet, yet make sense. For example;

I don’t care if there are any gods, but I guess there is more than one god.

This is a position that I’m surprised hasn’t gained a single vote for yet. It was probably the point of view of a substantial number of people in many societies for thousands of years. Yet, not one vote so far.

I’ve run the poll 3x, and while it’s not statistically rigorous, the results are similar each time. Nobody asks for what you propose. Let’s talk brass tacks: is it *your* position? Can you name a single person yourself that takes that position and can you get them to join the conversation? I’m asking for a serious and honest bit of input about actual people, not discussions of theoretical philosophical holes.

  (Quote)

Hermes May 21, 2010 at 8:08 pm

Caseywollberg, I’m a Lewis Black fan as well. Who wouldn’t be?

I’m watching him right now!

http://fora.tv/2009/07/02/Lewis_Black_Me_Of_Little_Faith

  (Quote)

Zeb May 21, 2010 at 8:18 pm

Is this a real person?

Yeah, I tried to link to the thread where Martin identified himself that way, but it looks now like the link did not work.

I hope you don’t mind me using you as an example Martin, and I hope I characterized your position correctly.

I suggested that example (the generic one, not Martin) only because it’s the weirdest version an atheist in your usage. My point was to show that you need a term for a person who has no belief, separate from a person who believes some god exists and one who believes no god exists.

  (Quote)

Hermes May 21, 2010 at 8:29 pm

I suggested that example (the generic one, not Martin) only because it’s the weirdest version an atheist in your usage.

Wait there! Not my usage.

My point was to show that you need a term for a person who has no belief,

Why? Where are these people? What would they say?

separate from a person who believes some god exists

A theist.

and one who believes no god exists.

An atheist. (Mostly in the way that if many people believed in bigfoot on some level, that there would be a need for a term like a-bigfootist.)

  (Quote)

Zeb May 22, 2010 at 4:02 am

,blockquote>Why?
To provide clarity, completeness, and to respect the people who claim to be neither atheist nor theist.

Where are these people?
Here: http://commonsenseatheism.com/?p=8849 look for Martin’s comments. Sorry did not provide that link earlier, I thought I had done so twice. Such people are quite common in my experience.

What would they say?

I know there are good reasons to believe in God, but also good reasons not to, and I’m not swayed either way. Or, I know there are good reason to believe in God, but not enough to convince me yet. Or, I think there might be good reasons to believe in God, and I am still looking for them.

  (Quote)

Hermes May 22, 2010 at 4:12 am

Zeb, your last paragraph talks about reasons … but not belief. That’s what’s missing. That’s where you’re making the mistake.

As for Martin’s reference, did you mean this from yesterday?

Atheist.pig,

As I said, two forces pull me in two directions: decent Christian arguments with weak atheist responses on one side, vs lack of any religious experience on the other.

I side with science, evolution, methodological naturalism, pragmatic atheism, etc on the one hand, but when sitting down and considering the actual arguments for and against, it just doesn’t look like the “against” side has as strong of a case as the “for” side. This isn’t from Craig; this is from reading various philosophy articles in general.

Which is why I’m the closest you’ll ever find to a perfectly 50/50 agnostic. :)

  (Quote)

Martin May 22, 2010 at 4:32 am

caseywollberg,

I don’t have much time today, but re: unfalsifiable claims.

You and I are both rational to accept all kinds of unfalsifiable claims as true:

* We are not living in the Matrix.
* The world was not created last Thursday with the appearance of age and fake memories intact.
* Other people are not mindless automatons.

These are unfalsifiable, and yet we are rational to accept them as true. Unfalsifiable does not mean “not even false,” clearly.

  (Quote)

rvkevin May 22, 2010 at 4:46 am

rvkevin, can you explain why we should be a presumptive 2 regarding unobservable, untestable entities? I’ve only ever heard an appeal to intuition in the teapot/FSM/IPU analogies, and it is an intuition I do not share and for which I don’t see rational justification.

You should not believe that X does not exist, but you should not believe that X exists. You should not believe the claim until it is shown to be true. That is what atheism is, not believing the claims of theism until they are shown to be true. To say that you don’t believe X, does not mean that you believe not X.

Are you saying you recommend “agnostic atheist” for someone who thinks God’s existence is likely but does not believe that God exists? How would you differentiate that person from someone like Hermes, who believes no gods exist but does not claim knowledge?

I personally wouldn’t distinguish the difference with labels. You would need to ask them personally about what they believe. We could make a distinction between people who claim “I believe the existence of X is less than 1%,” “I believe the existence of X is between 1 and 5%,” and “I believe the existence of X is between 5 and 10%,” and so on until we cover every probability. But alas, we can make more distinctions between someone that states “I believe the existence of X is between 5% and 7%” and the person who states “I believe the existence of X is between 8% and 10%.” We could assign a separate label to each position, but the effort would be fruitless. I’ll leave it to the individual to state whether they believe X exists is likely or unlikely.

That’s part of why I think ‘atheist’ would be better reserved for people who believe no gods exist, whether they claim knowledge or not.

Atheism is a response to the question “Do you believe in a god or gods?” To say yes, is to be a theist. To say I don’t know, would be a confession of being confused of ones beliefs, which is why agnosticism is not a relevant position to this question. To say no, is to be an atheist.

  (Quote)

Hermes May 22, 2010 at 7:59 am

Rvkevin: Atheism is a response to the question “Do you believe in a god or gods?” To say yes, is to be a theist. To say I don’t know, would be a confession of being confused of ones beliefs, which is why agnosticism is not a relevant position to this question. To say no, is to be an atheist.

Elegantly stated.

  (Quote)

Mark May 22, 2010 at 1:55 pm

Wow, casey. Where did you learn to argue like this? It’s pretty painful.

  (Quote)

caseywollberg May 22, 2010 at 3:08 pm

“You and I are both rational to accept all kinds of unfalsifiable claims as true:”

This is more evasion. We weren’t discussing what is rational but who has the burden of proof.

“* We are not living in the Matrix.
* The world was not created last Thursday with the appearance of age and fake memories intact.
* Other people are not mindless automatons.”

Exactly. You didn’t even notice it, did you? These are all rejections of positive claims, *just like atheism*. The burden of proof is on the claimant, which is why you and I are “rational” to reject these unfalsifiable claims, and it is why we don’t take on some absurd invention called “the burden of disproof” in doing so. Do you still not get it?

“Unfalsifiable does not mean “not even false,” clearly.”

Yes, that’s exactly what it means. How do we determine whether an unfalsifiable claim is true or false when it is, by definition, unfalsifiable? Strictly speaking, we can’t. Instead, we call it meaningless, or, “not even false.” Interesting, maybe, implausible, probably, but strictly not assignable to the conditions “true” or “false.”

Incidentally, what is your evidence to support your “claim” that we are *not* living in the Matrix? Why the double standard? Remember, you said this:

““Oh, well, we just lack belief. We don’t have to support our position. You can’t prove a negative. You’re the one making the claim. etc.”

This just isn’t logically tenable.”

Not logically tenable, huh? Sure, Martin. You’re argument is absurd, and you’ve shot yourself in the foot so many times I can’t believe you still think you’re standing.

  (Quote)

caseywollberg May 22, 2010 at 3:22 pm

@Mark:

Wow, Mark. Where did you learn to tone troll like that? It’s pretty boring.

You’ll notice, I’m sure, that the quality of my actual arguments is unassailable despite the brutality with which they are delivered. I reserve civility for those I deem worthy of it. Sophists and tone trolls get the shaft, I’m afraid. Sorry if that makes the baby Jesus cry.

  (Quote)

Mark May 22, 2010 at 3:37 pm

If you ever manage to liberate yourself from the chest-thumping of whatever internet community it was that taught you to react this way, you might stand to learn something here. As it stands, though, it’s utterly pointless for anyone here to intellectually engage you. And that does indeed make the baby Jesus cry.

  (Quote)

Hermes May 22, 2010 at 3:53 pm

When people bow out of the conversation, it is a shame. Often, that act can be taken as a concession — though it takes a reasonable amount of introspection, general awareness, and humility to know that it is an actual concession. On these points, the one who leaves as well as the one that stays may claim victory for themselves, though I tend to side with the one who has more stamina and a thicker hide.

  (Quote)

Mark May 22, 2010 at 4:09 pm

Hermes, normal people rarely enjoy debate with severely abusive internet strangers. I would be happy to discuss weak/strong atheism with you, but casey is frankly incorrigible.

  (Quote)

Hermes May 22, 2010 at 4:36 pm

Do you understand my current take on the issues? I’ve written quite a bit here alone on that topic, and have linked to a few thousand words I’ve written elsewhere plus comments from other people and other references. If I have to start from scratch each time, it’s really not worth it. To start off, I wrote the following a few days ago in this thread;

FWIW, the whole ‘weak atheist’/’strong atheist’/… metric invites confusion. That’s why I don’t use those terms or derivatives of them.

  (Quote)

Hermes May 22, 2010 at 5:05 pm

Another point not focused on: Religion is not theism. The two should be handled as separate.

Yes, many theists are religious … and many religious people are theists. Yet, neither set contains the other.

Worse than combining the two is to tacitly assume that a theism and a religion are synonymous with all religions. Christian or Muslim monotheisms are two combinations of religion and theism that often discussed with the implication that only they have a claim that is plausible. On the last point, wild derision from the pantheists and deists would be justified.

  (Quote)

Mark May 22, 2010 at 5:09 pm

No, I’m not familiar with your take. I’ve skimmed some of your comments, but don’t really know your overall thoughts. I do agree about the weak/strong distinction invites mainly just confusion.

Here’s one point on which I disagree: atheism is not a response to the question “Do you believe in God?” It’s a response to the question “Does God exist?” These are different. As Martin pointed out, someone could answer “no” to the first without answering “no” to the second. Maybe those people don’t bear a “burden of proof.” But people who answer “no” to the question of whether God exists – the people I consider to be proper atheists – do have that burden. Probably you’ll differ with me here, for all the common reasons.

  (Quote)

Hermes May 22, 2010 at 5:13 pm

Mark, I provided a reference from the OED. How does your take on this jive with common usage for the word theist?

  (Quote)

Mark May 22, 2010 at 5:24 pm

I think it’s fine, I guess. I’d tweak it to “the theory that God exists,” or something like that. (Surely -isms are theories or propositions, not beliefs, right?) But it’s close enough.

  (Quote)

Zeb May 22, 2010 at 5:48 pm

When people bow out of the conversation, it is a shame.

Hermes, you are an internet hero for rekindling this thread and sticking with it so long. But I thought you were in favor of ignoring abusive and incoherent commenters – for example noen? I’ve changed my mind about caseywollberg though – like noen I do see meaningful value in his rants, in addition to humor. However I am not going to engage with him and I don’t blame anyone else for declining.

I was referring to Martins’s comment that you reposted, as well as this:

To quote Craig: “I’ve never said that Christian theism is a slam dunk — just more plausibly true than false.”

Personally I think they make a decent case (say, 55% in favor, maybe?), but ultimately I appeal to personal lack-of-experience. Properly basically, it just doesn’t seem like anybody is out there to me. The universe just feels indifferent.

But…

I’ve been wrong before…

Hermes

Zeb, your last paragraph talks about reasons … but not belief. That’s what’s missing.

Here is that last paragraph with belief statements:

“I know there are good reasons to believe in God, but also good reasons not to, and I’m not swayed either way. So I neither believe that God exists, nor that God does not exist.” Or, “I know there are good reason to believe in God, but not enough to convince me yet. So I neither…” Or, “I think there might be good reasons to believe in God, and I am still looking for them. So I neither…”

  (Quote)

Hermes May 22, 2010 at 5:52 pm

I think it’s fine, I guess. I’d tweak it to “the theory that God exists,” or something like that. (Surely -isms are theories or propositions, not beliefs, right?) But it’s close enough.

I’m not sure if I understand. Tweak what? Your comment, or the OED’s reference to theism?

  (Quote)

Mark May 22, 2010 at 5:55 pm

The OED’s definition. Granted, “belief” can be used as a very near semantic equivalent of “theory.”

  (Quote)

Hermes May 22, 2010 at 6:09 pm

Are you aware what the OED is?

  (Quote)

Mark May 22, 2010 at 6:16 pm

Yes. (This comment may be a duplicate; something weird happened when I tried to submit.)

  (Quote)

Zeb May 22, 2010 at 6:32 pm

rvkevin, I am nearly convinced by your argument. Just a few concerns or clarifications, if you please.

You should not believe that X does not exist, but you should not believe that X exists.

I thought you were implying that it is reasonable to “be a 2″ in regards to IPU and FSM, and so it is reasonable to “be a 2″ in regards to God. If what you meant as “if-then,” not “since-then,” I agree.

I agree with what you say about the scale of confidence (or claimed likelihood) of a belief. But that scale seems to me to eliminate the value of the gnostic/agnostic terms. If I understand your and Hermes use of those terms (and I am right that you each use them the same way), the difference between gnostic and agnostic is just the one scintilla of confidence between ‘extremely confident’ an ‘totally certain.’ In that case, true gnostics (not people who mistakenly claim to be) would be extremely rare for any topic. I’m a strong theist and I believe I have directly experienced the undeniable presence of God, but acknowledging the concern of global skepticism, I am lacking that one scintilla of confidence about every single fact of what I consider reality, except that I exist!

Why do you think the question a/theism answers is “Do you believe in God?” and not, as Mark, Martin, and I have put it, “Does God exist?” And why are people who state that they don’t know what they believe not relevant to the question? I encounter those people frequently, and they are among the people for whom I would like to reserve a place that is not lumped in with god believers or god deniers – whatever the term we use for them.

Thanks for your consideration.

  (Quote)

Hermes May 22, 2010 at 6:58 pm

Mark, on what grounds do you think that your take on this is superior to the OED?

For those who are not aware of what the OED is, I quote from Oxford’s web page on the subject;

The Oxford English Dictionary is the accepted authority on the evolution of the English language over the last millennium. It is an unsurpassed guide to the meaning, history, and pronunciation of over half a million words, both present and past. It traces the usage of words through 2.5 million quotations from a wide range of international English language sources, from classic literature and specialist periodicals to film scripts and cookery books.

The OED covers words from across the English-speaking world, from North America to South Africa, from Australia and New Zealand to the Caribbean. It also offers the best in etymological analysis and in listing of variant spellings, and it shows pronunciation using the International Phonetic Alphabet.

As someone who collects dictionaries of many types, I say they are being humble. There is demonstratively no language reference in any language on Earth that comes anywhere near the OED. They are professionals and do not inject their personal biases into the subjects that they cover. They deserve their reputation and my deepest respect.

  (Quote)

Mark May 22, 2010 at 7:08 pm

LOL, why are we arguing about this? I conceded that it was a minor difference from the outset.

The OED defines most -isms as “theories” or “doctrines” or “systems of thought” rather than “beliefs.” I guess “a belief” can by used to mean “a doctrine,” but I reflexively tend to read “a belief” as “a token instance of propositional assent.” Hence the tweak.

I hope we can discuss something more interesting than this.

  (Quote)

Hermes May 22, 2010 at 8:08 pm

Mark, come now. Perhaps you laugh because you are kidding me? I promise not to bring it up again if this is the case. Let us move on. Let us agree on simple facts.

If you are happy with the OED reference showing that this specific -ism is a belief, then we are — we should be in a rational world — on the same page. You do agree that the OED is explicit on this and is not in error, correct?

Note that normally I do not defer to dictionaries for what a word means. Some are notoriously biased. They at best report actual usage.

My respect for the OED is because it is both based on good principles — such as providing actual in-context references, and a historic organization — as well as those principles being studiously followed. As such, any suspected bias in the OED can be checked against actual usage and the cited references — for current or past usage. Without going to the source materials for a specific period, it’s hard to beat the OED on even minor meanings, let alone primary ones.

  (Quote)

Hermes May 22, 2010 at 8:15 pm

If anyone reading this is also a dictionary geek, you should check out Erin KcKean’s twitter feed;

http://twitter.com/emckean

It should be no surprise that she has presented at TED;

http://www.ted.com/talks/lang/eng/erin_mckean_redefines_the_dictionary.html

I’d marry her just to spend hours looking into her lovely brain.

  (Quote)

rvkevin May 22, 2010 at 9:58 pm

But people who answer “no” to the question of whether God exists – the people I consider to be proper atheists – do have that burden.

I would like to note that this definition of atheism, as the belief that god does not exist, makes the word atheism useless as a label. It ignores the varying definitions of gods. Under this definition, I could be an atheist in regards to one claim, and at the same time not an atheist in regards to a different claim. So under this definition, I could be both an atheist and not an atheist, so it patently fails as a label.

And I don’t think it would “jive” with everyday use. I doubt any atheist would say, “well, I’ve investigated the claims of and found evidence against Odin, Woden, Thor, Zeus, Yahweh, Eywa, +10,000 different god claims…so I believe they don’t exist, and also every other concept of god that someone comes up with also doesn’t exist, so I believe no gods exist”…No, it is mostly, I’m not going to believe claims until good evidence is brought forward, evidence has not been provided for these claims, so I don’t believe them.

And why are people who state that they don’t know what they believe not relevant to the question? I encounter those people frequently, and they are among the people for whom I would like to reserve a place that is not lumped in with god believers or god deniers – whatever the term we use for them.

Lets say that the question is “do you believe that a god exists” and someone answers with “I don’t know.” They are saying that they are unsure of whether “I believe a god exists” is apart of their set of beliefs, so they don’t know what they believe. Under the modern definition of atheism, atheism and theist form a dichotomy, so they are either a theist or an atheist, they just haven’t voiced their stance, which is done for a myriad of reasons.

And about the “middlemen”: http://friendlyatheist.com/2010/05/21/why-are-you-agnostic/

Gnostic and agnostic refers to knowledge claims, whatever you use to differentiate between saying you believe and know something. That distinction is debatable, but one way I’ve heard it differentiated is that knowledge is a belief that if false, it would bewilder your mind (2+2=4, gravity, etc.).

  (Quote)

Hermes May 23, 2010 at 2:14 am

For reference, the OED provides these primary reports on the words belief and theism;

Believe … 1. To have confidence or faith in, and consequently rely upon.

Theism(1) a. gen. Belief in a deity or deities, as opp. to atheism.

Note that the less general, not primary, reports for theism all begin with the words “Belief in …”.

The association can’t be made any clearer, and is not an issue of semantics but one of simple use.

Why? Talk to people. Ask them. Try asking someone “Do you have a doctrine about any gods?” and they may answer, but they will probably look at you funny, and give you the answer in the form of “I believe …”.

  (Quote)

Mark May 23, 2010 at 5:07 am

Dude, I’m happy with the definition. It’s fine. Let’s move on.

rvkevin:

I would like to note that this definition of atheism, as the belief that god does not exist, makes the word atheism useless as a label. It ignores the varying definitions of gods. Under this definition, I could be an atheist in regards to one claim, and at the same time not an atheist in regards to a different claim. So under this definition, I could be both an atheist and not an atheist, so it patently fails as a label.

Change the question to “Do you believe in God or gods?” then. I didn’t mean to be referring specifically to one deity.

No, it is mostly, I’m not going to believe claims until good evidence is brought forward, evidence has not been provided for these claims, so I don’t believe them.

I’m sure many atheists will report lack of belief instead of belief in non-existence. But I think those people are either confused about what they believe or better described as something besides “atheist.”

  (Quote)

Hermes May 23, 2010 at 6:31 am

I’m sure many atheists will report lack of belief instead of belief in non-existence. But I think those people are either confused about what they believe or better described as something besides “atheist.”

Why? A theist believes in a deity or deities. An atheist, not being a theist, does not have a belief in a deity or deities.

If you accept the references from the OED, then this conclusion is unavoidable.

  (Quote)

Mark May 23, 2010 at 7:46 am

Why? A theist believes in a deity or deities. An atheist, not being a theist, does not have a belief in a deity or deities.

If you accept the references from the OED, then this conclusion is unavoidable.

Your appeal to the OED to settle this is really weird. For one, you can’t conclude that “atheist” means “anything/anyone that’s not a theist” just because it has the “a-” prefix attached. But maybe OED does list atheism as “lack of belief in God.” So two, I doubt the author of the entry has carefully thought through possibility space; he could just be relying on instances of popular usage which are, as I am arguing, highly confused. (E.g., people report that they simply “lack belief” when really they actively disbelieve.) Three, other dictionaries like Merriam-Webster define atheism as the outright denial of God’s existence. This doesn’t prove that I’m right; rather, it proves that there’s important disagreement about the meaning of the term that can’t be solved by asking the lexicographers rather than the philosophers.

  (Quote)

rvkevin May 23, 2010 at 8:05 am

Change the question to “Do you believe in God or gods?” then. I didn’t mean to be referring specifically to one deity.

I hope you realize that saying no to that question does not make someone an atheist under your definition. And someone who does answer no to that question has no burden of proof. All it shows is that they don’t believe a god or gods exists, not that they believe a god or gods don’t exist.

I’m sure many atheists will report lack of belief instead of belief in non-existence. But I think those people are either confused about what they believe or better described as something besides “atheist.”

How are they confused about what they believe?

It would be like if I came upon a box in the park, a cube 5 feet high, bolted to the ground, and there is no way to peek inside it. A passerby asks me if I believe a blank piece of paper is inside the cube? I reply no. They then ask me if that means that I believe that there is no piece of paper inside the box, again I reply no. I lack a belief about whether there is a piece of paper inside the cube.

And about atheists being better described as something else. What do you want it to mean when someone says they are an atheist? But lets put forth a hypothetical:
Person A: Are you an atheist?
Person B: Yes.
Person A: That means you have the burden of proof, lets hear your argument.
Person B: 1. God is omnipotent 2. God can create a rock so heavy that he cannot lift it 3. God cannot lift said rock 4. God is not omnipotent 5. God does not exist QED.
Person A: That’s not MY definition of what god and omnipotence means! God is a mysterious force in the universe! Please provide evidence against this version of god.
Person B: Well, I don’t believe that god exists, is there any evidence?
Person A: You’re shirking your burden of proof! You’re either not an atheist or an intellectually dishonest atheist!
Person B: Well, by your definition of atheism, I guess I’m not an atheist…let me go tell the other atheists that we should change our name.

Tough luck, we’ve chosen the label atheist, with whatever word you feel like we are better described as, replace it with atheist.

What do you want it to mean when someone says they are an atheist? That they explicitly believe that for every common use definition of god that god doesn’t exist? If so, I don’t think anyone is an atheist by your standard since it is absurd form a belief about a claim before you have heard it. Not to mention the people that theists call atheists would not be considered atheists under this definition.

(E.g., people report that they simply “lack belief” when really they actively disbelieve.)

People generally believe god does not exist only when they are presented with a clear conception of the god in question. If a theist says that the Bible accurately describes god, then someone who generally lacks belief in any supernatural claims can say that they actively disbelieve this particular claim. However, that does not mean that they actively believe every god claim is false.

  (Quote)

caseywollberg May 23, 2010 at 8:13 am

Hey, Mark, you got anything but ad hominem? Didn’t think so. So, as they say in that chest-thumping internet community you’re probably fantasizing about, STFU.

“you might stand to learn something here.”

Lol, right. I’m from the “show me” state, buddy.

It’s funny you know all about my willingness and ability to learn new things from such a tiny sample of my online exchanges (as if the totality of them would say anything about it anyway). You might stand to learn something by not being so goddamn credulous with regard to your own wild assumptions.

Anyway, back to the debate. Got anything useful to add, or are you just bitter because you don’t understand the arguments? Seriously, I’m ready to be schooled. Shock me by showing me you know some tricks that are at least semi-relevant to the discussion.

  (Quote)

caseywollberg May 23, 2010 at 8:27 am

Mark is just re-hashing the same tired garbage that has already been refuted here. Like I said, nothing to add, ignoring the superior arguments of his opponents, and carrying on asserting what has been rebuffed without response from its proponents. Boring.

“I’ve changed my mind about caseywollberg though – like noen I do see meaningful value in his rants, in addition to humor. However I am not going to engage with him and I don’t blame anyone else for declining.”

You can’t address my arguments honestly without conceding, that’s why. You’re the kind of intellectual coward I have no patience for, which is why I condescend. But regardless of my condescension, as you admit, my arguments have merit, and they stand unchallenged. What are you going to do about that? Run away, of course. Sophist.

  (Quote)

Mark May 23, 2010 at 8:33 am

I hope you realize that saying no to that question does not make someone an atheist under your definition. And someone who does answer no to that question has no burden of proof. All it shows is that they don’t believe a god or gods exists, not that they believe a god or gods don’t exist.

Haha, whoops. I had merely re-typed your question there rather than the one I meant: “Does any god exist?” rather than “Does God exist?”

How are they confused about what they believe?

People are often confused about what they believe. We lack belief in the Hodge Conjecture (because who knows if it’s true?), but actively deny the existence of unicorns, declaring them outright fiction. When pressed, most atheists will report that their attitude toward God’s existence is closer to their attitude toward unicorns than toward the Hodge Conjecture. But they’re misled by the ubiquitous slogans to the effect that atheism is not a belief.

What do you want it to mean when someone says they are an atheist? That they explicitly believe that for every common use definition of god that god doesn’t exist? If

That they think any sufficiently “godlike” entity doesn’t exist, where “godlike” picks out a certain but somewhat vague cluster of properties. I obviously wouldn’t refrain from calling someone an atheist just because he accepts the existence of “God,” where “God” is used here to refer to oranges.

  (Quote)

caseywollberg May 23, 2010 at 8:45 am

“What do you *want* it to mean when someone says they are an atheist?”

This is exactly the right way to put it. Theists strain under their rightful burden of proof, “agnostics” are afraid of a pejorative label, and so both groups embrace a cognitive bias that leads them to make rather absurd assertions about what is going on in other people’s heads, and to ignore all evidence that contradicts their comforting but mistaken rationalizations. And since “atheist” has been used popularly as a pejorative for so long, the correct understanding of agnosticism must be offered up on the altar of popular confusion so the majority can rest easy. Cowardice is the harbinger of ignorance.

  (Quote)

Zeb May 23, 2010 at 8:53 am

I’m persuaded now to accept Hermes’ and rvkevin’s usage of atheist as “one who lacks belief in a god or gods.” Though most of the self proclaimed atheists I meet in everyday life do believe all gods don’t exist (even the gods they’ve never heard of), I accept that a high enough portion merely lack belief but acknowledge the possibility that some god/s exist. I would like a term though for people who believe there are no gods; perhaps anti-theist? I’ve long thought this whole issue would go away if the words were antitheist and nontheist. The “a” in atheist can legitimately be interpreted either way out of context.

I still don’t buy the agnostic usage. I claim to know God is real, but by knowledge I mean justified true belief, and I would not believe God is real if I did not believe that my belief is true and justified. I agree that using “agnostic” for people who don’t know what they believe or who don’t believe one way or the other about gods is problematic because of the roots of the word and the particular original meaning it was invented for. But I do think we need a word to replace it. I disagree with rvkevin that people who don’t know what they believe are really either atheists or theists. Ones I’ve known vacillate moment to moment in both word and deed between atheism and theism, and when they are pinned down they seem to weakly hold conflicting beliefs. And I still think there is an important distinction between people who lack belief. Some are settled in that position – they don’t find compelling reasons to believe in gods, they are not looking for reasons, and they don’t particularly expect to ever find any, but they acknowledge there may be gods along with compelling reasons to believe that they might someday encounter. Others are not settled – they do find compelling reasons to believe in gods, but also compelling reasons not to believe; or they expect there may be reasons out there that will convince them one way or the other. The first group I’m happy to call simple atheists because as rvkevin pointed out they would be nearly indistinguishable from my “antitheists” in most cases. The second group we can all atheists, but I think we are doing them and the discourse a disservice be refusing to acknowledge their particular stance. If I could choose, I might go with these terms: antitheist, settled nontheist, seeking nontheist, and theist.

To get back to the original comment that spawned all this, I still think the New Atheists have done wrong by claiming that all “agnostics” are really on the atheist side but are too cowardly to admit it, and then portraying the atheist side as “all religious beliefs are false, stupid, and evil.” These dialogues would be a lot more fruitful if everyone, atheists and theists, would be as careful with their language all the time as Hermes and rvkevin have been here.

  (Quote)

caseywollberg May 23, 2010 at 9:05 am

“When pressed, most atheists will report that their attitude toward God’s existence is closer to their attitude toward unicorns…”

Right. Awaiting evidence.

“But they’re misled by the ubiquitous slogans to the effect that atheism is not a belief.”

Slogans? You’re an idiot. Beliefs are personal entities, deriving from subjective emotional impulses that cause one to be attracted to some proposition (usually in the context of rational considerations). Atheism is a simple intellectual position: contra theism. People properly describe themselves as “atheists” who hold all kinds of beliefs, from a strong belief that no gods exist, through strict agnosticism, to the belief in some gods and not others. If you want to make the unsupported and (in this forum) exhaustively discredited claim that atheism is a belief then you are barking up a tree that has already been chopped down, cut into logs, and burned up in the fiery arguments of the likes of rvkevin, Hermes, and myself.

Really, you need to read the whole thread if you think you’ve got something to contribute. Otherwise you’re just plain trolling after jumping on here to tone troll.

  (Quote)

Mark May 23, 2010 at 9:08 am

Casey, I know it’s stupid of me to try explaining this to you, but here’s an example of why I dismiss you as terribly confused. Martin said that claims such as “x exists” are either true or false. You responded that actually, they “cannot be said” to be true or false when x’s existence is unfalsifiable. Aside from the difficulty of knowing what it could possibly mean to “falsify” something’s existence, you seem to be using “cannot be said” to mean “cannot currently be known that.” That is, you’re mistaking the absence of epistemic access (in particular, via empirical demonstration) to P for absence of fact as to whether or not P. Martin gave you a good example illustrating this mistake: the Matrix. We typically take the Matrix hypothesis to be false, even though I can’t empirically demonstrate its falsehood. At any rate, the Matrix hypothesis obviously might be false, just as it obviously might be true. This entails that propositions have, or are capable of having, truth-values even when they have no falsifiable content. Your response to the example misunderstood it entirely and went off in an irrelevant direction.

Getting you caught up to speed on the most basic philosophy 101 topics – like the distinction here between truth and provability – would be a hefty task in itself. You would make it a lot easier if you were willing to drop the psychological warfare and the outrageously unjustified self-certitude.

  (Quote)

Zeb May 23, 2010 at 9:19 am

It would be worth defining what is and is not a “god,” too. Is a Buddhist who prays to and venerates a boddhisatva, and believes the boddhisatva brings them temporal miracles and eternal salvation an atheist? Is an animist who casts out evil spirits, prays for rain, and sacrifices to the sun an atheist? How about a taoist, who believes in something like an invisible, immaterial, inconceivable, omnipotent, omnipresent, eternal, and sort-of omnibenevolent but nonpersonal force? I tend to thing theism/atheism only makes sense in the context of the aryan/semetic-originating religions where the terms arose.

  (Quote)

caseywollberg May 23, 2010 at 9:32 am

“I would like a term though for people who believe there are no gods; perhaps anti-theist?”

Anti-theist is already taken: it refers to someone who is politically (rather then merely philosophically) opposed to theism.

The term you’re looking for, which has already been provided to you, is “strong atheist” or “gnostic atheist.”

“I claim to know God is real, but by knowledge I mean justified true belief, and I would not believe God is real if I did not believe that my belief is true and justified.”

That makes you a gnostic theist, by definition. You claim to have knowledge of supernatural entities; that’s gnosticism. You believe in a particular god concept; that’s theism (your particular brand of theism). Gnostic theism. It’s so simple. You’re chafing at this use, I suspect, because it doesn’t give your belief the same kind of justification as demonstrable claims. This pain you feel about the logical reality of your condition leads you on a hunt for some semantic balm, but as you’ve found, it will never be sufficient to treat the cause.

“but I think we are doing them and the discourse a disservice be refusing to acknowledge their particular stance.”

What particular stance?

“Ones I’ve known vacillate moment to moment in both word and deed between atheism and theism, and when they are pinned down they seem to weakly hold conflicting beliefs.”

Oh, that one? Look, people who are confused about what they think are just that. Why do we need a label for a “particular stance” that isn’t one? They are merely still processing the information, or they don’t care. Now, that latter designation *is* a stance; it’s called apatheism. But if they are still processing the information (or avoiding it, putting it off, confused, not smart enough to understand it, whatever), then what they “think” is as yet irrelevant to the debate. We can safely say, though, that if they are confused about the information, during those dark days their otherwise weak belief sputters out completely, they fit the definition of ignostic rather handily. It certainly doesn’t make them “agnostic” since they most likely don’t even know what that means…yet.

“I still think the New Atheists have done wrong by claiming that all “agnostics” are really on the atheist side but are too cowardly to admit it, and then portraying the atheist side as “all religious beliefs are false, stupid, and evil.””

Well, you are making a caricature of the “New Atheists;” it’s an unfair misrepresentation, derived I’m sure from a gross inexperience with their various presentations, or worse, from a blithe acceptance of some disapproving authority’s impression of them.

  (Quote)

caseywollberg May 23, 2010 at 9:51 am

“Your response to the example misunderstood it entirely and went off in an irrelevant direction.”

No, Mark, you’re missing the context of the discussion. This is the problem with coming in to the middle of a fray and casting dispersions about.

“Getting you caught up to speed on the most basic philosophy 101 topics – like the distinction here between truth and provability – would be a hefty task in itself.”

No thanks. I don’t need any assistance from the ivory tower of sophistry.

“Aside from the difficulty of knowing what it could possibly mean to “falsify” something’s existence…”

Then I’ll enlighten you. If you claim there exists a god who created the universe along with the earth 6,000 years ago, I wouldn’t have to do any work to falsify the existence of that god; it’s already been done by multiple scientific disciplines.

And you respond, “Well, you didn’t falsify that god’s existence, only the characteristics he is said to have.” So, what is this god besides a set of characteristics? The existence of that god has been falsified; if it has a different set of characteristics it is a different god. If it has a set of characteristics that are non-falsifiable, then it is a non-falsifiable god, in which case Martin’s argument shoots itself in the foot because it is of the same variety of claim as the examples he gave.

It really was a complex discussion, and you need the context in order to comment on it honestly. (Hint: try to find out what Martin’s original argument was.) What you don’t need the context for is the kind of ad hominem campaign you are waging.

Weak, Professor Sophist, very weak.

  (Quote)

Hermes May 23, 2010 at 10:05 am

Mark, I recommend going away from this discussion for a day or so and returning after reviewing what has transpired up to this point. After that review I’d like to continue.

What you’ve done in your message today is called a take-back. We agreed on something, you even used the same resource to support one of your claims, and instead of moving to the next step supported by the available evidence, you decided it was OK to reboot the conversation so you can cling to ideas that are not supported by what we have both already agreed on.

Something to consider: When someone shows that I’ve made a mistake, it’s an immediate win for me. Why? Because in that instant I can stop having an invalid idea and start having a valid one. No matter how this conversation goes, I hope that you have the same attitude though this latest take-back is not the right path to take.

  (Quote)

Hermes May 23, 2010 at 10:07 am

I’m drained and disappointed. I’ll be back either later today or sometime tomorrow.

  (Quote)

caseywollberg May 23, 2010 at 10:09 am

“Is a Buddhist who prays to and venerates a boddhisatva, and believes the boddhisatva brings them temporal miracles and eternal salvation an atheist?”

Yes (typically). Theism posits a personal, creator god. The boddhisatva is personal, but not a creator. He is a reincarnated, enlightened soul who has attained Nirvana but has returned to Samsara for altruistic purposes (but because he thought that would be great fun–Buddhism is cool like that). So, not theism. Most forms of Buddhism deny the existence of a personal, creator god, and are, therefore, by definition, atheistic.

“Is an animist who casts out evil spirits, prays for rain, and sacrifices to the sun an atheist?”

Well, no, not really. Atheism is a response to theism. In this situation, theism doesn’t play a role, so atheism doesn’t either. If the cult of the sun begins to take on the attributes of theism, though, the existence of atheists in this culture is probably inevitable. And those atheists might also be animists. I know atheists who believe in ghosts.

“How about a taoist, who believes in something like an invisible, immaterial, inconceivable, omnipotent, omnipresent, eternal, and sort-of omnibenevolent but nonpersonal force?”

I believe Taoism is pantheistic, and, therefore, again, not atheism. It’s not a response to theism; it’s older than theism. This is all hammered out in those definitions Hermes provided. Why don’t you refer to it? Or, just look this up somewhere?

“I tend to thing theism/atheism only makes sense in the context of the aryan/semetic-originating religions where the terms arose.”

Not exactly right. It only makes sense in the context of theism, since atheism is a response to theism.

  (Quote)

Mark May 23, 2010 at 10:18 am

Hermes, I don’t really know what to say to you. I explained my reasons for thinking that your argument from the OED definition of “theism” could settle anything, much less settle things in your favor. I didn’t perform any illegitimate take-backs or reboots, even if you think I did. I agree that we should probably call this quits, since it’s clearly not a very profitable discussion.

  (Quote)

Mark May 23, 2010 at 10:29 am

Casey, I know the context. Your response was bizarre and illustrated your embarrassingly poor command over the dialectic. Sorry.

I take it from the fact that you focused in on a minor aside that you agree with my main point, viz., there is a distinction between truth and provability that you missed; and that non-falsifiable claims have truth-value; and the slogan that non-falsifiable claims are “not even wrong” is not to be taken literally. Excellent.

  (Quote)

rvkevin May 23, 2010 at 10:31 am

That they think any sufficiently “godlike” entity doesn’t exist, where “godlike” picks out a certain but somewhat vague cluster of properties.

How many of these properties must pertain to this entity? One? If someone shows that Buddha was benevolent, is he then considered a god? But that’s besides the point.

The number or type of properties something has is irrelevant to its existence. To say something exists is to say that it manifests in reality, to have being in a specified place or with respect to understood limitations or conditions. If you say that god does not intervene, that he does not manifest in reality, regardless of what characteristics you ascribe to him, he fits the definition of non-existence. In this sense, god and the Matrix don’t exist. So, I suppose the atheist could say, well, you have described a being that by its own nature doesn’t meet the definition of existence, and therefore doesn’t exist, but there really isn’t any burden to overcome.

We lack belief in the Hodge Conjecture (because who knows if it’s true?), but actively deny the existence of unicorns, declaring them outright fiction.

Unicorns do not exist. The Hodge Conjecture does exist, as a problem. However, the answer to the Hodge Conjecture does not exist. Perhaps one day we will find unicorns in another galaxy or an answer to the Hodge Conjecture, but at the moment, they do not exist. Otherwise, it would be impossible to distinguish between things that do and don’t exist.

http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=Kvftq2ystmY&feature=related

I tend to save anti-theism for someone who is against theism, someone who believes that in general, theism is irrational to hold, and is harmful to society. Therefore, to say that the “new” atheists are acting on their atheism would be false, they are acting on their anti-theism.

  (Quote)

caseywollberg May 23, 2010 at 10:45 am

“I take it from the fact that you focused in on a minor aside that you agree with my main point…”

Uh, no, sophist. I ignored it because it was irrelevant in the original context. And that is not a minor aside I focused on, it was the whole point. You would know that if you knew the context as you claim to. I won’t be distracted by red herrings, and I won’t be fooled by your continued strategy of ad hominem into thinking you’ve actually added anything to the debate.

“Your response was bizarre and illustrated your embarrassingly poor command over the dialectic.”

So’s your old man. Isn’t this fun?

  (Quote)

Zeb May 23, 2010 at 10:54 am

Rvkevin, are you saying the process or event of discovery brings things into existence that did not previously exist? Do you think that is just an unusual meaning for the word existence, or am unusual concept of existence? I might go along with a similar understanding myself, but I am surprised to hear it in this conversation.

  (Quote)

Mark May 23, 2010 at 11:14 am

Uh, no, sophist. I ignored it because it was irrelevant in the original context.

Haha, right. When you said, “No” in response to the claim that “x exists” is either true or false, you weren’t denying that it was either true or false. And when you asserted contra Martin that “unfalsifiable” means exactly “not even false” – in the context of Martin trying to provide unfalsifiable yet uncontroversially false propositions – you were not asserting that unfalsifiable claims can’t be false. Got it.

So’s your old man. Isn’t this fun?

You’re really not in a position to critique mind-numbingly tedious personal attacks.

Rvkevin:

How many of these properties must pertain to this entity?

I don’t know. That’s why “godlike,” like most adjectives, are vague.

Unicorns do not exist. The Hodge Conjecture does exist, as a problem. However, the answer to the Hodge Conjecture does not exist. Perhaps one day we will find unicorns in another galaxy or an answer to the Hodge Conjecture, but at the moment, they do not exist. Otherwise, it would be impossible to distinguish between things that do and don’t exist.

Talk of the problems or answers “existing” is figurative. Obviously we agree that the Hodge Conjecture “exists” as an open problem, and that no proof or disproof of the Conjecture “exists,” i.e., is known and accepted by mathematicians. The point is that we lack belief in the Hodge Conjecture’s truth in a way that importantly differs from the way in which we lack belief in “unicornism’s” truth.

  (Quote)

Mark May 23, 2010 at 11:17 am

Oh, and then there’s this choice quote: “The problem is, with regard to non-falsifiable claims, no ‘work’ can be done, so we reject them as meaningless.” Clearly casey isn’t asserting that non-falsifiable claims are meaningless!

  (Quote)

caseywollberg May 23, 2010 at 11:21 am

“At any rate, the Matrix hypothesis obviously might be false, just as it obviously might be true. This entails that propositions have, or are capable of having, truth-values even when they have no falsifiable content.”

No. Non-falsifiable claims are not even potentially false, because there would be no way to determine if they were *really* false, on a correspondence theory of truth. Thus, “not even false.” Last Thursday-ism might be true, and it might be true every Thursday, how would we know? But that is the same thing as saying it might be false, how would we know? In other words, the truth-value is zero for non-falsifiable claims.

“That is, you’re mistaking the absence of epistemic access (in particular, via empirical demonstration) to P for absence of fact as to whether or not P.”

No, I’m not. I’m arguing that non-falsifiable claims are non-falsifiable. We can’t rightly say things are “true” or “false” if it isn’t even possible to *know* them to be true or false. As such, non-falsifiable claims are “not even false.” Epistemic access is required for knowledge, and knowledge is required for making claims as to the truth or falsity of a proposition, unless you are delusional (e.g., taking a belief to be knowledge).

There. I addressed what you consider to be your main point (which doesn’t help Martin’s original argument). Now, how about addressing mine? Oh, right. You aren’t in the business of honestly engaging arguments, but in taking them out of context and using them to bludgeon personalities you don’t like. Sophist.

  (Quote)

caseywollberg May 23, 2010 at 11:29 am

“Oh, and then there’s this choice quote: “The problem is, with regard to non-falsifiable claims, no ‘work’ can be done, so we reject them as meaningless.” Clearly casey isn’t asserting that non-falsifiable claims are meaningless!”

No, I very much *am* asserting that, but that’s not the point. Seriously, moron, you have completely missed the context of my statements and, as such, you’ve got Martin all wrong too. I challenge you to reproduce Martin’s original argument. If you can’t do that, then shut the fuck up. All you’re doing is making a fool of yourself. (Oh, wait, there’s the sophistry thing, too–I guess you may be doing this on purpose.) So boring.

  (Quote)

caseywollberg May 23, 2010 at 11:36 am

“You’re really not in a position to critique mind-numbingly tedious personal attacks.”

Far be it from me! Except, of course, with regard to self-righteous tone trolls who follow up their critique of “personal attacks” with a series of personal attacks, and no *actual arguments*. You’re too stupid to have picked up on the irony, I guess.

  (Quote)

Mark May 23, 2010 at 11:37 am

No. Non-falsifiable claims are not even potentially false, because there would be no way to determine if they were *really* false, on a correspondence theory of truth. Thus, “not even false.” Last Thursday-ism might be true, and it might be true every Thursday, how would we know? But that is the same thing as saying it might be false, how would we know? In other words, the truth-value is zero for non-falsifiable claims.

Yesssssss! Ladies and gentlemen of the jury, exhibit A: casey does not grasp the difference between truth and provability! (And does not understand the correspondence theory of truth or the meaning of “truth-value!”) I feel so vindicated.

  (Quote)

caseywollberg May 23, 2010 at 11:39 am

And they aren’t tedious. I think they’re awfully poetic, in fact.

  (Quote)

caseywollberg May 23, 2010 at 11:44 am

“Yesssssss! Ladies and gentlemen of the jury, exhibit A: casey does not grasp the difference between truth and provability! (And does not understand the correspondence theory of truth or the meaning of “truth-value!”) I feel so vindicated.”

Bingo. That’s a sophist for you. I notice you didn’t elaborate on the validity of your evidence.

  (Quote)

rvkevin May 23, 2010 at 11:48 am

Rvkevin, are you saying the process or event of discovery brings things into existence that did not previously exist? Do you think that is just an unusual meaning for the word existence, or am unusual concept of existence? I might go along with a similar understanding myself, but I am surprised to hear it in this conversation.

Otherwise, the only things you can say don’t exist are things that are logically impossible. In regards to the matrix example, you wouldn’t be able say it doesn’t exist because in the future Morpheus could contact you, free you from the matrix, and show you how to interact with it. It you previously said the matrix did not exist, this discovery would show you that it does exist. This does not mean that the matrix was not there when we thought it did not exist, its just that it didn’t meet the definition of existence; to have being in a specified place or with respect to understood limitations or conditions.

I think it is a practical usage of the term existence. The sciences caveat their findings that it is based on the available evidence at the time, and in a similar way, determining whether something exists comes with a similar caveat.

The point is that we lack belief in the Hodge Conjecture’s truth in a way that importantly differs from the way in which we lack belief in “unicornism’s” truth.

I don’t find this to be the case. The only difference I find between them is that unicorns were originally made up with no physical representation in reality, but to use that against its “truth” would be to commit the genetic fallacy.

  (Quote)

Atheist.pig May 23, 2010 at 2:05 pm

caseywollberg said:

People properly describe themselves as “atheists” who hold all kinds of beliefs, from a strong belief that no gods exist, through strict agnosticism, to the belief in some gods and not others.

Was that last part a mistake casey? Am I reading that last part to mean someone can call them self an atheist and believe in gods?

  (Quote)

caseywollberg May 23, 2010 at 2:26 pm

@atheist.pig:

Sure. A devotee of Yahweh may be an atheist with regard to all other theistic gods besides his own.

  (Quote)

Atheist.pig May 23, 2010 at 3:12 pm

Sure. A devotee of Yahweh may be an atheist with regard to all other theistic gods besides his own.

I see.

  (Quote)

Hermes May 23, 2010 at 4:42 pm

Rvkevin, that was a classic. I’ve referred to it quite a few times myself. Tracie Harris is top notch.

  (Quote)

Hermes May 23, 2010 at 5:07 pm

Zeb, agnosticism or gnosticism is very simple. If you claim to know — as in know for a fact — that something is true, you are a gnostic in regards to that claimed knowledge. If you do not claim to know for a fact, you are an agnostic. None of this requires verification of the claim by anyone else since you are the one who is either making the claim or not making the claim to knowledge.

From those two situations, there are a multitude of possible variations that do not limit possible additional traits related to that but not contingent on that claim (or no claim) of knowledge.

  (Quote)

Hermes May 23, 2010 at 5:09 pm

Zeb: Ones I’ve known vacillate moment to moment in both word and deed between atheism and theism, and when they are pinned down they seem to weakly hold conflicting beliefs.

I’ve never encountered someone like that. Seriously.

  (Quote)

Hermes May 23, 2010 at 5:21 pm

Zeb: I still think the New Atheists have done wrong by claiming that all “agnostics” are really on the atheist side but are too cowardly to admit it

Do you have a reference?

I’ve heard similar statements, but not one as strongly put as you state it here.

  (Quote)

Hermes May 23, 2010 at 5:29 pm

Mark, I’m really disappointed in your response. I thought you were taking this seriously.

  (Quote)

rvkevin May 23, 2010 at 5:40 pm

Do you have a reference?

I’ve heard similar statements, but not one as strongly put as you state it here.

Not a “new” atheist, but some guy said this:

If you say, “we cannot know whether or not a god exists,” then a scientist will say, “you just said no gods exist.” (The cosmologist Sean Carroll, for example, has raised this point many times.) If there is absolutely no way, even in theory, to distinguish a universe with a god from a universe without one, then by definition such a “god” has no consequences, no influence, no importance, and really, no existence, in any useful ontology.

All agnostics are atheists?

  (Quote)

Mark May 23, 2010 at 6:11 pm

Hermes, I like you, but sometimes I find your reactions incredibly strange.

  (Quote)

Hermes May 23, 2010 at 6:23 pm

Your behavior is not acceptable.

  (Quote)

Hermes May 23, 2010 at 6:36 pm

Rvkevin, as usual — good stuff.

  (Quote)

Hermes May 23, 2010 at 8:32 pm

Mark, the first 4 posts from the 23rd are what I’m talking about.

I could paste them here, but I’ll provide a summary instead so as not to waste room. Besides, anyone who wants to can search on ‘may 23′ and get them without any commentary from me and can judge for themselves.

A summary;

The first post I reference specific entries in the OED and give reasons why they are appropriate.

The second post, you write “Dude, I’m happy with the definition. It’s fine. Let’s move on.”. Yet, at the tail end of the same post you contradict what you said you accepted.

The third post, I point that out.

The fourth post, you retract support for the first post that you accepted casually in the second post.

That is unacceptable behavior.

Looking at the forth post, I’ve lost confidence that you understand the merits of what you are referring to. It is clear that you are not searching for knowledge but instead are thrashing about for an out because of what I wrote in the third post.

Stop that. If you don’t know, or have reached a limit where you should stop and think before responding, don’t make a quick reply that abuses the time of other people. They can see you aren’t up to speed and you only poison the well. If you do not know why I’m wrong — and I fully admit I am at times — there are a variety of ways you could have handled this. For example, you could have admitted your flub and said you need to think about it. You could have also kept with your second post, and when you noticed the implications of that agreement showing up in post three, you could have immediately accepted what is obvious and (as you stated yourself) ‘moved on’.

What’s wrong with seeing the answer to a question and simply accepting it? Why is it better to retract your previous agreements?

* * *

Additional comments…

Note that I have already explicitly dealt with why I chose the OED and what I think of dictionaries. This included statements from me on the 22nd;

Note that normally I do not defer to dictionaries for what a word means. Some are notoriously biased. They at best report actual usage.

My respect for the OED is because it is both based on good principles — such as providing actual in-context references, and a historic organization — as well as those principles being studiously followed. As such, any suspected bias in the OED can be checked against actual usage and the cited references — for current or past usage. Without going to the source materials for a specific period, it’s hard to beat the OED on even minor meanings, let alone primary ones.

So, ‘any suspected bias in the OED can be checked against actual usage and the cited references’. Do you want to go through a detailed document search, or can we just use the OED? Remember that we’d have to address the OED’s primary references, not just find a couple secondary references, to determine if some other usage is actually more prevalent. I expect that my small group of documents will not be sufficient, and a proper search could take a couple weeks if not months in small messages to each other to do that research honestly. Do you have that stamina and available time? Can I trust you not to do what you did in the fourth post again?

* * *

For what it’s worth, Webster’s is the primary dictionary I was thinking of when I wrote “Some are notoriously biased.”. If you don’t want to be limited by something that isn’t American, the American Heritage College Dictionary is good for a small form factor reference. That said, the OED variant I have here [ The Oxford Universal Dictionary on Historical Principles, 3rd edition ie. 'the last American version of the shorter OED'] is about as reduced as I’d normally feel comfortable with. Besides, the OUD doesn’t require a magnifying glass like most editions of the shorter OED.

  (Quote)

caseywollberg May 24, 2010 at 3:35 am

Hermes’ laborious but correct essay on Mark’s sophistry (which I prophesied as soon as he came on here) is exactly the kind of time-wasting I wish to avoid by being uncivil to sophists. They love to hide behind the civility of others, as they toss up red herrings for people to chase around…civilly. As is demonstrated time and again, and as Hermes has exposed in Mark, sophists are only looking for a pretense to say, “Gotcha!” As Hermes says, they are “not searching for knowledge.” Let’s show them the disrespect they deserve, huh?

  (Quote)

Mark May 24, 2010 at 4:06 am

Hermes, could you kindly tell me where I contradicted myself? I quite earnestly have no clue what you’re talking about. It’s difficult for me to process your moralizing opprobrium when I don’t even understand my supposed transgression.

- I accepted that “the belief in God or gods” is an adequate definition of theism
- I did not accept that “the lack of belief in God or gods” is an adequate definition of atheism.

I don’t see the contradiction here.

  (Quote)

Zeb May 24, 2010 at 4:24 am

Casey-

“I would like a term though for people who believe there are no gods; perhaps anti-theist?”

The term you’re looking for, which has already been provided to you, is “strong atheist” or “gnostic atheist.”

It’s been established here that “gnostic atheist” is supposed to mean one who claims to know there are no gods. I thought “strong atheist” was supposed to be a synonym for gnostic atheist.

“I claim to know God is real, but by knowledge I mean justified true belief, and I would not believe God is real if I did not believe that my belief is true and justified.”

That makes you a gnostic theist, by definition.

Not by your definition, or Hermes’, or as far as I can tell rvkevin’s definition of knowledge. I don’t claim total certainty, I don’t claim direct observation of God’s existence as such, and I don’t claim reproducible or demonstrable evidence or whatever your definition was (lost in the virus).

“but I think we are doing them and the discourse a disservice be refusing to acknowledge their particular stance.”

What particular stance?

The ones who are not settled in their lack of belief, the ones I called “seeking nontheists.”

“Ones I’ve known vacillate moment to moment in both word and deed between atheism and theism, and when they are pinned down they seem to weakly hold conflicting beliefs.”

…what they “think” is as yet irrelevant to the debate.

To which debate, the one on word usage, or the one on god/s existence? Anyway we’re not talking about what they think, we’re talking about what they are based on what they think. They lack belief in god/s, but it sure seems odd to call them atheists.

Well, you are making a caricature of the “New Atheists;” it’s an unfair misrepresentation, derived I’m sure from a gross inexperience with their various presentations

That may be, and I’ll stand corrected as having an exaggerated impression of the positions of the so called Four Horsemen on the subject of “cowardly agnostics.” But I’ve certainly seen many defenders and promoters of the Four Horsemen take such a strong stance on “cowardly agnostics,” including casey in this very thread.

  (Quote)

rvkevin May 24, 2010 at 6:51 am
Hermes May 24, 2010 at 12:53 pm

Mark, for the last time, atheism is ‘not theism’; Theism(1) a. gen. Belief in a deity or deities, as opp. to atheism..

Let’s repeat the pivotal part; …as opp. to atheism.

You agreed with the first part and the second part. Then you took it back unilaterally once you realized it conflicted with your preconceptions even though both parts are consistent with the facts available.

Important: The primary definition of theism does not overreach or specify a narrow subset of belief in a god or gods. It applies to all theists and variations. Once that set is noted, everyone who is not in that set is … not a theist. They are not theist — they are atheists; …as opp. to atheism.

* * *

Are there atheists that add additional parts to that? Of course. Many are naturalists — though many also are not naturalists. Many are religious — while many are not religious. Many speak English, while many do not.

This is because atheism, like theism, is not a world view. They are consistently referred to as beliefs as the primary definition, and historically they consistently refer to a god or gods and (again!) belief in them. The layering of the claim that they are theories or doctrines are at best secondary meanings but even then those secondary definitions tend to include belief as part of the definition.

So, why do some theists say theism is a world view? Because they layer on those extra parts, excise theists who are not followers of a specific sect or lineage of sects, and add on sectarian ideas about what “god or gods” means. This can be seen in the secondary definitions of theism where theism becomes specifically Abrahamic monotheism that includes a single creator deity as described in either one or more of the derivative sects that trace a lineage through Abraham.

Now, the things added to those beliefs (or lack of belief) are potentially and validly described as a world view. This is true regardless of how heavily if at all the theist or atheist leans on theistic belief or lack of theistic belief to support those additional parts.

* * *

None of the above requires your agreement or disagreement. None of it prevents you from adding extras on some subset of any theism or any atheism and discussing that extra part. All of it — including the addition of people who assert knowledge that their beliefs are true and those who do not assert knowledge that their beliefs are true — has been demonstrated to be the case in actual usage.

* * *

My question to you is this: Should I treat Caseywollberg’s assessment …

Caseywollberg: Hermes’ laborious but correct essay on Mark’s sophistry (which I prophesied as soon as he came on here) is exactly the kind of time-wasting I wish to avoid by being uncivil to sophists. They love to hide behind the civility of others, as they toss up red herrings for people to chase around…civilly. As is demonstrated time and again, and as Hermes has exposed in Mark, sophists are only looking for a pretense to say, “Gotcha!” As Hermes says, they are “not searching for knowledge.” Let’s show them the disrespect they deserve, huh?

… as accurate, regardless of how I choose to act on that assessment? If not, what do you offer to disuade me from leaning towards agreement with his comments?

  (Quote)

Hermes May 24, 2010 at 1:19 pm

Rvkevin: This should help:

http://video.google.com/videoplay?docid=-5571717166932650846#

Only if it’s watched! :-/

  (Quote)

caseywollberg May 24, 2010 at 3:10 pm

@Zeb:

Okay, Ima try n ‘splain dis.

When you theists talk about belief you mean something different from everyday belief. You mean some deep, “spiritual” faith belief. I would venture to say that strong atheists who claim outright to “believe” there are no gods, in a positive sense, don’t mean that kind of deeply felt, emotional belief (certainly it is arrived at by means of a trivially emotional response, but it is maintained differently from beliefs that are clung to for the emotional support they provide). It is a provisional kind of belief, a practical, operational supposition, like your “belief” that there are no leprechauns. You might do well to check out William James’ “Pragmatism,” in which he discusses different ways of believing things (rationalism, empiricism, and pragmatism), as it may be relevant here.

So, those who believe no gods exist are strong atheists or “gnostic” atheists (although, as I’ve said before, I have reservations about the term “gnostic” in this context, basically for the very reason you brought up).

Usually “gnostic” atheists are actually, in point of fact, strict *agnostics*; it’s just that they are willing to claim a positive belief (not *knowledge*, certainly–except with regard to falsifiable god-claims–see Stenger, for example) in the non-existence of gods. So, yes, “gnostic” is kind of a misnomer, which is why I prefer “strong atheists.”

“but by knowledge I mean justified true belief…”

And your definition is flawed, as I’ve already explained. You claim a kind of “knowledge” that only a gnostic would claim, i.e., knowledge of the supernatural. Therefore you are a gnostic theist.

An agnostic theist would never say, “I know my god exists.” He would admit there is no way that his belief could be counted as knowledge, but it is “true” in a different way, which is his “justified true belief.” These are the kind of folks who complain about, for example, intelligent design advocates who try to prove the existence of some god, because it has the effect of diminishing faith. The agnostic theists “believe because it is absurd,” so to speak. They are the ones who favor that Non-Overlapping Majesteria nonsense, for example.

The gnostic theist, in contrast, *believes* she has knowledge of the supernatural (maybe hears voices, or subscribes to some metaphysical theory, whatever). She balks at the word “belief,” and says, “Oh, no, I *know* it.” Her problem is she conflates knowledge with belief–same as you.

That makes you a gnostic theist. You don’t have to have “certainty,” whatever that means to you (but I have to wonder how you can *know* something *uncertainly*). If you claim your belief is knowledge (“justified” how, I don’t know), and it is a supernatural belief, then that is, by definition, gnosticism. And it’s crazy if you ask me.

“Anyway we’re not talking about what they think, we’re talking about what they are based on what they think. They lack belief in god/s, but it sure seems odd to call them atheists.”

Why call them anything, if they aren’t settled into a position? Atheism is a position; theism is a position. Pantheism, apatheism, ignosticism, henotheism are all positions, and…as we’ve been hammering home to you…so is *agnosticism*. It isn’t a sitting on the fence; it’s a position on what can be known and what can’t be known.

The problem is when people like what you’re describing start taking on the label of agnosticism when they haven’t the slightest idea what agnosticism is. Then they get confused about their confusion. Some of them think their “I don’t know” can be made into a position on the question about the existence of god. Obviously, you don’t know. Who does? That’s agnosticism, sure. But an agnostic who lacks belief in gods is, also by definition, an atheist (notwithstanding the straw man pejorative many, including Huxley himself, would understandably like to reject).

So then these self-proclaimed “agnostics” go around pushing their vaunted “objectivity” as though it means anything–as though they are out-agnosticking the agnostic atheists (ridiculous). They simply refuse to understand the concepts behind the terms they are throwing around in their fit of self-defensive, willfully ignorant snobbery. These are the ones we complain about, whom we call “cowardly atheists.” They are muddying the waters of debate, and they’ve earned the label in spades.

By the way, Zeb, I notice you aren’t acting like a sophist (which is something I despise deep in my bones), so, for whatever it’s worth, I’m trying not to be condescending to you.

  (Quote)

Zeb May 25, 2010 at 2:34 pm

Why call them anything, if they aren’t settled into a position?

They don’t have a position to argue for, but they find themselves in a position with respect to the god question. We should have a way to refer to people who are confused about their beliefs on that question, and to people who are seeking a position on that question. I don’t think the way the terms bear on the theism vs atheism debate should be the first consideration in how we choose and define the terms. The first consideration should be allowing clear understanding and discussion of what is in the world, including those nonbelievers who are not settled in nonbelief. The second consideration should be to respect those people who hear the definitions (or see the demonstrations) of what it means to be an atheist and a theist, and say, “I am not either of those.” A distant third consideration in my mind is to choose terms that are fair with regards to the debate. I see the problem with using “agnostic” to refer to such people, but refusing to acknowledge them or demanding they call themselves atheists is not an adequate response to the first two considerations I mentioned.

  (Quote)

Hermes May 25, 2010 at 3:09 pm

Zeb, the position you’re describing is incoherent. Rvkevin posted a link to a video that goes into detail on that. If you will watch a *small* part of it — say, 8 minutes max not 78 minutes — I will be glad to look through the video for you and cite specific parts and you can ignore the rest. Is that acceptable? Will you take a look?

  (Quote)

Zeb May 25, 2010 at 3:11 pm

Hermes, I understand now what you mean by gnostic and agnostic. I was just reading too much into it before. I guess it is useful to have a term for people who would say, “I know for a fact that God exists.” That’s such a strange and uninteresting point of view to me that I wasn’t counting it. Agnostic though – I would not say “I know for a fact that God exists,” but I would not call myself an agnostic because it says so little and would be more likely to confuse.

Do you agree with casey’s characterization of “gnostic theist”?

If you are in the mood to share more, I think those of us who do not have access to the OED would benefit from seeing its definitions of atheist, agnostic, and ‘know’. I can understand Mark’s hesitation to accept that “as opposed to atheism” means “not theism” rather than “the opposite of theism.”

  (Quote)

caseywollberg May 25, 2010 at 3:58 pm

“They don’t have a position to argue for, but they find themselves in a position with respect to the god question.”

Look up “equivocation fallacy.” Confusion is not a position; just the opposite. You don’t “find yourself” in a position, you *think* yourself into one. The people you’re talking about may find themselves in a *dilemma* but that is not a position.

“people who hear the definitions (or see the demonstrations) of what it means to be an atheist and a theist, and say, “I am not either of those.””

The problem is that a lot of people (self-styled “agnostics”) say “I’m not an atheist” for reasons that have nothing to do with what the word means. They are afraid of the irrational negative associations bred into the word through centuries of misuse, demonizing, and propaganda. They are, by their refusal to be called what they are, enabling those who wish to paint atheists as immoral, degenerate fools (a laughable irony in itself).

“We should have a way to refer to people who are confused about their beliefs on that question”

We do. It’s the word “confused.” What do you want, Confusists? A position, as Hermes has implied, has to be coherent. And, contrary to your earlier equivocation, a position *is* something you argue for–at least it is something that is *possible* to be argued for. How can you possibly argue for confusion? How can confusion be considered coherent?

“refusing to acknowledge them or demanding they call themselves atheists is not an adequate response to the first two considerations I mentioned.”

I acknowledge that some people are in an intermediate stage, still thinking things through, or have never started. They may have settled into a position of apatheism without even knowing it (but that is an actual position, because it is something they can state coherently and support with arguments). Or they may be weak theists, with an ambivalent faith that wavers constantly (but that is a position, too, it is just a wavering one). I would never call them atheists, because it’s not clear how the chips are going to fall once they finally get around to an actual position.

The ignorant, obstreperous proclamations of “agnostics” only add to their confusion. And the ball keeps rolling, picking up more and more confused people under the confused banner of “agnosticism.” It’s a big problem. And now that you are less confused about it, perhaps you can become a part of the solution.

  (Quote)

rvkevin May 25, 2010 at 4:20 pm

I can understand Mark’s hesitation to accept that “as opposed to atheism” means “not theism” rather than “the opposite of theism.”

Well, if you have a group of people and some people believe that a god or gods exist, lets call them theists, whats the opposite of that? Wouldn’t the opposite of theism be the label that describes the rest of the group? If so, then that would be not believing in a god, the standard definition that most, if not all, atheists accept. If not, then I question what you mean when you say the opposite of theism.

To say otherwise is to introduce a different claim; it no longer becomes an issue of the claim A and not A, it becomes an issue of claims A and B. Theism is A: someone who believes that a god or gods exist. Atheism is not A: someone who does not believe that a god or gods exist. Atheism is not equivalent to B: someone who believes that a god or gods do not exist. Anyone who tries to say that the opposite of A is B is mistaken to say the least.

  (Quote)

Hermes May 25, 2010 at 4:46 pm

Zeb, note that I did not mean to say that dictionaries define words — though if I did slip at any point and give that impression, mea culpa, mea culpa, mea maxima culpa.

A good dictionary *at best* accurately reflects usage for the time and place and language or language subset that it covers. It can be the first place to go for an initial understanding of a new word, the context and other details — idioms, prefixes, suffixes, … — assist with that understanding.

Ideally, in a public discussion, the language should lean towards a greater use of primary meanings as opposed to those of specific groups.

Someone who only relies on a dictionary will be poorly served. Dictionaries that do not provide adequate context based on usage (with actual quotes), region, and time frame will compound the problem and prevent someone from understanding the natural flow of the language. The OED while the best dictionary available does provide quite a bit of context such as can be found from any good journalist that reports on a scene.

To put this in perspective, there are probably many times the number of idioms and secondary meanings as there are primary described usages. For example — oh, let’s see something simple oh, yeah. The phrase “I am broke.” could mean many different things;

* I have no money or resources (at all / at the moment / … ).
* I have money (or other requested resources) but I do not feel comfortable enough with the amount for my use or the person requesting those resources from me.
* I am physically exhausted and can’t move as well as I could normally.
* I am damaged (from over exercise or an injury).
* I am mentally exhausted and can’t think as well as I could normally.
* I am emotionally stressed and can not deal with emotion related issues as I could normally.
* I am one or more of the above.
* I am defeated on multiple levels and give up.

Yet, the word ‘broke’ primarily means bankrupt. A slight change from the word ‘broke’ to ‘broken’ yields other primary uses and yet more secondary and idiomatic meanings. It’s an elegant word, though, because it expresses being shattered and or fragmented. That is how it feels to be ‘broken up’ over someone or something or some event. Though, when people say “I broke up with” (slang idiomatic) they don’t (usually) mean that they lost all their financial resources though that does occur.

  (Quote)

Hermes May 25, 2010 at 5:05 pm

Zeb, I’ll post some entries sometime in the next day or so. Right now, I’m off to other things.

  (Quote)

Zeb May 25, 2010 at 5:53 pm

Wouldn’t the opposite of theism be the label that describes the rest of the group?

No, I don’t think so. What’s the opposite of positive? Not-positive, ie. negative and neutral? What’s the opposite of conservative (in the American political sense)? Non-conservative, ie. liberal and moderate(&radical&anarchist&fascist…)?

But I was not asking what is the opposite of theism, I was asking what the OED means by “as opp. to atheism.” Which seems odd, that theism would be defined as not not theism.

I forgot to also very humbly ask for the OED definition of god and/or deity, so that I can better understand how to separate theism from nontheistic supernaturalism. Great appreciation to anyone who provides this. (I have used the available free online dictionaries to see what they say about these terms.)

  (Quote)

Hermes May 25, 2010 at 6:28 pm

Working on it. As noted before, dictionaries don’t dictate usage; they don’t say what a word should mean; they don’t list definitions.

  (Quote)

rvkevin May 25, 2010 at 8:46 pm

Which seems odd, that theism would be defined as not not theism.

That’s not odd at all. In logic, for any proposition A, it equals not not A (A=- -A).

No, I don’t think so.

What is the opposite of moral? Immoral or amoral?

A good action is moral. A bad action is immoral. An indifferent action is amoral.

So much for showing that the prefix “a” means the opposite of. And even if it did, we can modify the meaning of words.

In any binary system, such as (A U B), the negation of one (-A) leads to the confirmation of the other (B). Either a Democrat or a Republican will win the election (D U R), if the Democrat loses (-D), then the opposite is confirmed, the Republican won ( R ). In this sense, Democrat and Republican are opposites. However, to make atheism and theism a binary system, you need to make atheism be defined as not theism. In this sense, atheism is the opposite of theism, and in this sense, it is impossible for somebody to be neither an atheist nor a theist.

  (Quote)

Hermes May 27, 2010 at 3:29 am

Zeb, I haven’t forgotten, but I am under time deadlines and will be gone on a trip for a few days. I’ll complete my message and post the results soon.

  (Quote)

Hermes May 31, 2010 at 8:36 am

Zeb, I’m back … if you’re still monitoring this and want the list, let me know.

  (Quote)

Zeb May 31, 2010 at 11:51 am

I tried posting replies to rvkevin and to the Matt Dillahunty video (watched all but the q&a), but my posts wouldn’t load for some reason. I am still interested in the lists, but this subject has a way of coming up over and over, and if you want to wait until the next time there is a bigger audience paying attention that’s fine with me. I was surprised that Matt Dillahunty said atheists do have a burden of proof (that theists’ reasons for believing are unjustified) and that he too prefers “nontheist” and “antitheist.” The only thing I disagreed with was the bit of set theory that everything is necessarily either “A” or “not A.” But he didn’t try to argue it, he just asserted it, so all I can say is I don’t see the value or validity of creating binaries and forcing all or reality into them. What was I supposed to get out of that video other than confirmation of my own position?

  (Quote)

cl June 5, 2010 at 10:17 am

I’m probably wasting my time on this one, but why not:

You truly have no conception of your own incompetence, do you?

No, caseywollberg, I don’t. I need a super-smart rational atheist like yourself to point it out ‘cuz I’m just another God-dummy (yuck, yuck).

No. You ignored my argument (which directly addressed your statement) and continued on your series of evasions. You are not only stupid, but dishonest as well. That’s why I call you an idiot. It certainly isn’t because I can’t defeat your “arguments,” as I already did.

Please. You defined “atheist” such that babies are atheist, but somehow feel immune from your own insults regarding intelligence. I simply pointed out that I feel such “strategy” is meaningless.

I’ve grown callous to “debaters” like you, which is why I flat out resist chasing after red herrings and am quick to call out an idiot when I expose one.

Right, the good ‘ole “if you disagree with me you’re an idiot” argument. Good for you, caseywollberg! Now go on chastising Luke for his superiority complex.

  (Quote)

caseywollberg June 5, 2010 at 12:07 pm

“I’m probably wasting my time on this one…”

Yes, you are, sophist. You still don’t get it, do you? Until you learn how to engage arguments honestly, you will remain in this state of rhetorical irrelevance and you will continue to spout idiocy instead of adding valuable content to the discussion. Why you came back onto this old thread just to reconfirm your status as an idiot (and not because you disagree with me–that’s just more red herring from you, of course) is a mystery to me. If it’s the last word you want, maybe you ought to make it count. I mean, for a sophist, you sure aren’t very eloquent.

  (Quote)

rvkevin June 5, 2010 at 12:49 pm

The only thing I disagreed with was the bit of set theory that everything is necessarily either “A” or “not A.”

This isn’t something something you should disagree with. It is the foundation of logic: the law of non-contradiction.

“Anyone who denies the law of non-contradiction should be beaten and burned until he admits that to be beaten is not the same as not to be beaten, and to be burned is not the same as not to be burned.”-Avicenna

As trivial as demonstrating 2+2=4, this would be even more trivial. Instead of putting 2 rocks in a pile and then adding 2 more rocks and saying “see,there’s four rocks there;” all one need to do is look at a rock and say “see, its a rock, and if it wasn’t a rock, then it wouldn’t be a rock” If someone disagrees, Avicenna’s approach looks tempting.

I was surprised that Matt Dillahunty said atheists do have a burden of proof (that theists’ reasons for believing are unjustified)

Yes, but this is a very different kind of burden than what theists propose when they say “what is the evidence for atheism” or “can you disprove god.” This is where the theist builds up his case, and if the atheist wants to convince the theist that they are not justified to believe in that claim, all they need to do is poke enough holes into the case until it is no longer justified to believe it to be true. This is because atheism is not a positive claim, but a rejection of positive claims.

that he too prefers “nontheist” and “antitheist.”

He also said that atheism is synonymous with non-theism, that what he called non-theism he would call atheism. He also notes that word’s meaning changes with time, that atheism means whatever its usage is. Currently, its usage denotes “atheist” to be defined as someone not believing in a god or gods, rather than believing that there are no gods.

  (Quote)

cl June 6, 2010 at 6:08 am

caseywollberg,

Do you have anything intelligent to say? Or at least something pertinent to the arguments being made? Can you actually step up to the criticism I gave you? Or will you just continue to puff your chest and run your mouth oh-so-bravely from the sanctuary of your keyboard?

Either way, it’s interesting.

  (Quote)

Zeb June 6, 2010 at 6:15 am

This isn’t something something you should disagree with. It is the foundation of logic: the law of non-contradiction.

I know a little something something about logic, and you’re talking about the law of the excluded middle. The laws of logic may apply perfectly well to thinking, but I am questioning how perfectly thinking applies to reality.

Your definition of atheist, [not a theist [person who believes in a god or gods]], includes babies, rocks, all the constituent parts of a theist’s body, and abstract concepts such as the belief in god. God himself is an atheist, since in your view god is an imaginary character incapable of actually holding beliefs, and in my view God is beyond human thinking in a such a way that it cannot be said that God has beliefs.

  (Quote)

cl June 6, 2010 at 6:45 am

Regarding the sentiments lingering from my support of Martin’s excellent comment, I can envision a trial in a court of law in which a “Mr. Smith” is being accused of murder. How high do you think the judge’s eyebrows would raise if, when asked to support their case, Mr. Smith’s attorney said something like, “Oh, I don’t have to justify my belief that my client didn’t commit murder. I’m simply denying the claims of the prosecution..” ?

Atheists – especially these ‘New Atheists’ – are often quick to spout off about the burden of proof, but the burden of production, not as much so.

Your definition of atheist, [not a theist [person who believes in a god or gods]], includes babies, rocks, all the constituent parts of a theist’s body, and abstract concepts such as the belief in god. (Zeb)

That’s right. Their definition of atheist may be technically correct – in the sense that the letter ‘a’ prefixed to any word denotes lack or absence – but it is still meaningless.

Anyone can simply prefix an ‘a’ to some word and draw a line in the sand. There’s nothing intellectual about it.

  (Quote)

caseywollberg June 6, 2010 at 7:48 am

cl

Your trick of coming back to a thread months after all your arguments have been defeated and rehashing them fails to impress. It is, in fact, a common strategy among sophists like you. The fact is you’re still pretending these weak challenges of yours have not been answered exhaustively by your erstwhile opponents.

“Do you have anything intelligent to say? Or at least something pertinent to the arguments being made? Can you actually step up to the criticism I gave you? Or will you just continue to puff your chest and run your mouth oh-so-bravely from the sanctuary of your keyboard?”

That’s rich, sophist. Coming from you, this critique is about as pertinent as a theist moralizing–and just as hypocritical. It is also a demonstrably false charge. To see what I mean, scroll up and read. Again. And then go on ignoring the inadequacy of your arguments. You’re only fooling yourself, if anyone, with this steaming ripe load of bullshit.

Oh, and the reason all I’m doing now is “puffing out my chest” at you is that I have earned the right to do so–by already soundly spanking you. (And that hurts, doesn’t it, sophist?) I am not under any obligation to repeat myself just because you do. I find that boring and, ironically enough, redundant. In point of fact, I find *you* boring and redundant, as there is already a surplus of moronic imbeciles in the theist/faitheist/apologetics camp, ready and willing to lie for the cause.

  (Quote)

caseywollberg June 6, 2010 at 8:09 am

“God himself is an atheist, since in your view god is an imaginary character incapable of actually holding beliefs…”

Sure, but atheism is a philosophical position (as opposed to theism), and imaginary characters are incapable of holding those too. So are rocks and babies, by the way. Like I said before, I don’t call rocks and babies atheists, I call them irrelevant to the discussion.

Oh, and if no one ever made unsupportable claims about deities, there would not exist a philosophical position of skepticism with regard to those claims. In other words, atheism only exists as a response to theism, *because* of theism–it is a *provisional* denial of a positive claim, due to a lack of support for that claim. I don’t know how many ways this can be said, but I’m pretty sure we’re going to hit all of them, if we haven’t already. I know it will never be enough for some. For them, this is like the world’s biggest baby step, an impenetrable barrier to be sure.

  (Quote)

caseywollberg June 6, 2010 at 8:21 am

“Oh, I don’t have to justify my belief that my client didn’t commit murder. I’m simply denying the claims of the prosecution..” ?

Guilty until proven innocent? The burden of proof is on the prosecution (that is, the *claimant*). You still don’t get it. You have your head so far up your own ass that you’re arguing against your position without even knowing it.

That’s what I meant by “incompetent.” Look up Dunning-Kruger, and read slowly. Then question your understanding of what you just read–and then read it again. Then explain it to someone who is smarter than you (they shouldn’t be hard to find–but I’m sure you could screw it up–after all, who’s smarter than you, right?), and if they look at you funny, go back and read it again. Repeat this process until your smart friend is sufficiently convinced that you get it, and tells you so in no uncertain terms.

  (Quote)

caseywollberg June 6, 2010 at 8:30 am

“Atheists – especially these ‘New Atheists’ – are often quick to spout off about the burden of proof, but the burden of production, not as much so.”

I don’t know what this means and neither do you.

  (Quote)

Hermes June 6, 2010 at 9:04 am

Zeb, rocks aren’t atheists because they aren’t capable of being a member of the set theists; rocks aren’t people. The set is “people that are theists” with “people that are not theists” being the remainder after “people that are theists” has been identified.

It should be easy to formulate dozens of similar categories where the comparisons are valid.

If you want to argue if babies are atheists or not, I’d be glad to grant you that they aren’t but only because they share one trait with a rock; they aren’t capable of being a member of the set of theists. Yet, people do refer to babies as “Muslim children” or “Catholic babies” or other sectarian designations. Those designations, in a strict sense, are invalid since they aren’t capable. Yet, if someone feels that they are justified in categorizing babies as members of a sect, then it is equally justified to categorize them as atheists.

  (Quote)

Zeb June 6, 2010 at 9:35 am

In other words, atheism only exists as a response to theism, *because* of theism–it is a *provisional* denial of a positive claim, due to a lack of support for that claim.

I agree with what you’ve said in this comment, but that’s not what Rvkevin and Hermes were saying.

The proposition “X is a theist,” where theist means “person believing God exists”, is really several nested propositions. Working from the inside out:

1 God exists. Abbreviated [G E], the alternatives are [G ~E] and ~[G E].
2 Believes God exists. Abbreviated [B [G E]], alternative ~[B[G E]].
3 Person believing God exists. Abbreviated [P[B[G E]]], alternative ~[P[B[G E]]].

So “X is a theist” can be abbreviated “X = [P[B[G E]]].”

Different people might abbreviated “X is an atheist”
1 X = [P[B ~[G E]]]. The original position of me, Martin, and Mark, and the historical and contemporary popular definition.
2 X = [P ~[B[G E]]]. The definition argued for by most of the outspoken contemporary self proclaimed atheists I have encountered.
3 X = ~[P[B[G E]]]. The definition Hermes and Rvkevin are arguing for.

You offer yet another definition, which is the one I took from Dillahunty’s video and which I am now most inclined use, even though I will not grant that it is the “right” one: “X is an atheist” means “X believes X is aware of no justifying reasons to believe God exists.” That is a postive claim that carries a burden of proof, though it is a different burden from one who believes no God exists, or no justifying reasons exist to believe God exists, or that person Y is aware of no justifying reasons.

Now if you’ll excuse me, I have to go to the atheist and deposit an atheist in the atheist. (Please excuse the crude and unnecessary reference to a bodily function.)

*of course at each place I refer to God I mean a god or gods.

  (Quote)

Hermes June 6, 2010 at 9:40 am

Want to reconsider the previous post?

  (Quote)

Hermes June 6, 2010 at 9:46 am

1 through 3 are not necessary as there is no nesting.

A deity or deities existing is not required for belief, just as a deity or deities not existing is not required for a lack of belief.

In other words, the belief itself is divorced from the actual state of reality. This is similar to the reason why I stressed knowledge being one issue and belief being a separate issue.

  (Quote)

rvkevin June 6, 2010 at 12:12 pm

“X is an atheist” means “X believes X is aware of no justifying reasons to believe God exists.” That is a postive claim that carries a burden of proof

“X believes X” An atheist believes they are an atheist? Please explain. What are they claiming? If all it is, is that the person believes that they are not aware of any reason to believe in god, then to reach that burden, all they need to do is say, “I’m not aware of any reason to believe in god.” Case closed, their burden has been met, then let the theist make them aware of the evidence for god, which is totally consistent when the atheist says, “show me the evidence”.

2 X = [P ~[B[G E]]]. The definition argued for by most of the outspoken contemporary self proclaimed atheists I have encountered.
3 X = ~[P[B[G E]]]. The definition Hermes and Rvkevin are arguing for.

Actually no, using 3 to imply rocks, stories, etc. as atheist would be a category error. But, as far as a label goes, 2&3 would convey the same information when a person declares themselves to be an atheist since they are already part of set P. If they are in set P, but they are ~[P[B[G E]]] then it follows that they are an atheist. So by saying I am ~[P[B[G E]]], I’m also saying that I am [P ~[B[G E]]]. Within the category of entities that are able to be theists, I think that ~T or ~[B[G E]] is the best descriptor for the label atheist.

However, I wouldn’t necessarily narrow it to set P. I wouldn’t be surprised if other species are able to form beliefs, maybe some concerning the nature of god, but I wouldn’t exclude them on the basis of being not being human. But that’s besides the point.

  (Quote)

Hermes June 6, 2010 at 12:46 pm

rvkevin: However, I wouldn’t necessarily narrow it to set P. I wouldn’t be surprised if other species are able to form beliefs, maybe some concerning the nature of god, but I wouldn’t exclude them on the basis of being not being human. But that’s besides the point.

FWIW, I agree with rvkevin and was previously only addressing three of the examples Zeb raised.

To complete addressing what Zeb wrote, I think it is reasonable to tentatively assume that most parts of people are not able to believe — livers, ribs, or toenails for example. My left ear is more capable than a rock in most situations, yet it is much less capable than a baby on the subject of ability to believe theistic constructs.

Casting a wide net: Any structure — living or not — that is not capable of theistic beleifs is not part of the conversation about what is a theist or an atheist.

  (Quote)

Zeb June 6, 2010 at 12:57 pm

But Rvkevin, this whole discussion is not about the validity self proclaimed atheists’ self designations, it’s about the validity of self proclaimed non atheists’ self deisgnations (such as Martin the “agnostic”). You say Martin is an atheist because, in my words, “Martin believes Martin is not aware of justifying reasons to believe God exists.” (“X believes X…” was to avoid a gendered pronoun, admittedly confusing.) Such an atheist has the burden of proving that the reasons to believe God exists that he is aware of are not justifying.

  (Quote)

Zeb June 6, 2010 at 1:19 pm

What I’m hearing is atheist means not a theist is not an adequate definition. What I’m hearing now is atheist means anything capable of having belief that god/s exist but which does not have such belief. Is that what you guys are going with now?

Hermes, you are approaching an interesting question: which parts of the body are capable of being theists? If it is only the brain, then which parts of the brain? And if it is multiple parts, then there could be multiple theist and atheists in the sale brain. In which case, how could we call the human whose brain contains both atheists and theists one or the other?

  (Quote)

caseywollberg June 6, 2010 at 1:24 pm

“In other words, the belief itself is divorced from the actual state of reality. This is similar to the reason why I stressed knowledge being one issue and belief being a separate issue.”

Oh, but Zeb was hoping to (continue to) ignore this obvious distinction. Why do you keep bringing it up?

“X believes X is aware of no justifying reasons to believe God exists.”

“Justifying” reasons to believe do not necessarily qualify as evidence satisfying the burden of proof. Extraordinary claims and so forth. Again, what “justifies” belief for you, and in what claim, specifically? This “*of course at each place I refer to God I mean a god or gods,” isn’t going to cut it because some specific claims are more extraordinary than others. People “justify” their beliefs in all sorts of ways that have nothing to do with evidence.

And if you claim there is actual evidence to support some god claim, then that makes you the claimant and saddles you with the burden of proof. Any lack of awareness on my part of evidence you claim exists does not count as a burden on me to prove the evidence doesn’t exist. You are the claimant. Produce your evidence.

So, you still have the definition wrong. It should be more like this, “X does not believe a given theistic god exists,” or, if you must, “X rejects the specific theistic claims of theism Y.” You are, of course, wrangling with semantics in order to find some room on that precipice you’re backing off of. I won’t ask you to prove that you really believe that you believe what you believe, because I don’t go in for that kind of nonsense, and, as such, I won’t be letting you get away with it, either.

All that is required to satisfy the definition of atheism is a lack of belief in theistic claims, which requires one to be exposed to theistic claims and to possess the cognitive capacity for considering such claims on at least a basic level (no rocks, no praying mantises, no babies–but some very young children can see the inanity of theism, and describe themselves as atheists). There is no positive claim here (and thus no burden of proof), just a consideration of a positive claim at some given level of sophistication, and a subsequent provisional rejection of said claim. Regardless of what I am or am not aware of, the burden of proof always rests with the claimant.

  (Quote)

Zeb June 6, 2010 at 1:36 pm

I don’t have the OED, but I’m going to speculate that that “as opposed to atheist” bit is due to the fact that “atheist” predated “theist” by about two thousand years, during which time it meant “one who isimpious”, and later “one who denies god/s’ existence.” “Theist” was coined in opposition to those meanings. That would be pretty ironic considering the course.of this discussion, but again, just speculation.

  (Quote)

rvkevin June 6, 2010 at 1:41 pm

Such an atheist has the burden of proving that the reasons to believe God exists that he is aware of are not justifying.

Not exactly. They would only have that burden if they want to demonstrate that they are justified for being an atheist, but thats not the burden for if they want to convince a theist to become an atheist. Lets say that from talking to theists, an atheist has learned of arguments A, B, and C and found clear logical fallacies in them. He is justified in being an atheist because every argument presented to him was not successful. However, if he meets a theist who is a theist for reasons D, E, and F, his burden (if he wants to persuade the theist that he is unjustified to believe for reasons D, E, and F) is not to demonstrate that arguments A, B, and C, are not successful, but to demonstrate that arguments D, E, and F are not successful. So, if you have an argument that you think is successful, present it, rather than asking the atheist to rehash every failed argument (in which both parties may agree that the arguments have failed, which is an extremely inefficient way to discuss things) that they have heard for the existence of god.

  (Quote)

Hermes June 6, 2010 at 1:42 pm

What I’m hearing is atheist means not a theist is not an adequate definition.

Hmmm…nope. Why would you say that?

What I’m hearing now is atheist means anything capable of having belief that god/s exist but which does not have such belief. Is that what you guys are going with now?

It’s no different from before. Is a rock capable of believing in Santa Clause? No different here. That I have to even mention such nonsense is only that we’ve gone down the same path with deities or deity.

Hermes, you are approaching an interesting question: which parts of the body are capable of being theists?

It’s actually not an interesting question. My comments are only a place filler put in there for completeness to cover specifically what you brought up earlier. I did that because I was not complete in my practical statement I made earlier.

Substitute Santa Clause for ‘god or gods’ and it solves itself or becomes irrelevant.

If it is only the brain, then which parts of the brain? And if it is multiple parts, then there could be multiple theist and atheists in the sale brain. In which case, how could we call the human whose brain contains both atheists and theists one or the other?

Didn’t someone discuss the person who has a severed corpus callosum with one part having a belief in a god and the other not having a belief in a god?

  (Quote)

caseywollberg June 6, 2010 at 1:45 pm

“Hermes, you are approaching an interesting question: which parts of the body are capable of being theists? If it is only the brain, then which parts of the brain? And if it is multiple parts, then there could be multiple theist and atheists in the sale brain. In which case, how could we call the human whose brain contains both atheists and theists one or the other?”

Wow. I’m no cognitive scientist, but I’m pretty sure you just went off the rails here. Can we just agree that an atheist has to be a person? Although that may also seem like an assumption fraught with peril (define personhood; is a robot a person? How about a fetus?) for someone desperate to prop up his arguments with quasi-philosophical mumbo jumbo, I think it’s just fine. I mean, really, what next, are we going to ask which part of the brain watches Jersey Shore and which part is intelligent? I don’t think it works that way, Zeb. Either way, it’s irrelevant. An atheist is a person, okay? Continue from there.

  (Quote)

caseywollberg June 6, 2010 at 2:06 pm

“Theist” was coined in opposition to those meanings. That would be pretty ironic considering the course.of this discussion, but again, just speculation.”

Ironic, okay. But surely you aren’t suggesting that this speculation supports your position that atheism is a positive claim and that theism is somehow a rejection of atheism. Imagine it: for thousands of years, humans had no conception of theistic gods, and then the theists arose to challenge the atheists’ claims…wait a minute. No, something’s wrong with that.

  (Quote)

Zeb June 6, 2010 at 2:32 pm

Didn’t someone discuss the person who has a severed corpus callosum with one part having a belief in a god and the other not having a belief in a god? 

Yeah exactly, so is that person a theist or atheist?

  (Quote)

Zeb June 6, 2010 at 2:44 pm

But surely you aren’t suggesting that this speculation supports your position that atheism is a positive claim and that theism is somehow a rejection of atheism

You are correct, but I am suggesting it supports my position that “not a theist” is an inadequate definition of atheist.

  (Quote)

Hermes June 6, 2010 at 2:50 pm

Yeah exactly, so is that person a theist or atheist?

Yes and yes.

  (Quote)

Zeb June 6, 2010 at 3:20 pm

They would only have that burden if they want to demonstrate that they are justified for being an atheist,

The same is true of a theist. No one is required to justify their beliefs to anyone else. But I take it we’re all asserting that anyone who makes a positive claim (or holds a belief) has an obligation to validly justify it to herself at least. “Arguments A, B, and C are insufficient to justify my believing in god/s” is a positive claim. The existence of logical fallacies in an argument, or “the insanity of theism,” is a positive claim.

  (Quote)

rvkevin June 6, 2010 at 3:34 pm

You are correct, but I am suggesting it supports my position that “not a theist” is an inadequate definition of atheist.

If I want to describe a color that is not red (red being very narrowly defined as to not include magenta, maroon, colors that have tints of red but are not red, etc.), lets call it ared, is that not an adequate definition of ared? Magenta is not red, so it would be called ared. Yellow and blue are not red, so they would be called ared. You are implying that this implies that things like the number 7 is ared since it is not red, however this is a category error, the number 7 is not capable of having color. Within the category of color, not red is an adequate definition of ared. What is the problem?

Stay within the scope of discussion and there is no problem. The people that believe are theists, the rest of the people are atheists. If you want to remind everyone that we are talking about entities capable of forming beliefs, OK, but I fail to see how doing so increases any meaningful understanding of the topic at hand. Under the category of persons or entities that are capable of forming beliefs, not theism is an adequate definition of atheism.

But I take it we’re all asserting that anyone who makes a positive claim (or holds a belief) has an obligation to validly justify it to herself at least. “Arguments A, B, and C are insufficient to justify my believing in god/s” is a positive claim.

Sure, I’ll buy that, but it has no bearing on the dispute between theism and atheism.

  (Quote)

Zeb June 6, 2010 at 4:13 pm
Yeah exactly, so is that person a theist or atheist?

Yes and yes.  

I assume we all agree that all beliefs must be physically instantiated in the brain somehow. If contradicting beliefs can be instantiated in a brain with a severed corpus collossum, why not in a brain with an intact corpus collossum?

Let me reiterate that all I am arguing for is the ambiguity of reality in contrast to the starkness of binary terminology, and therefor the inadequacy of binary terminolgy.

  (Quote)

rvkevin June 6, 2010 at 4:32 pm

Let me reiterate that all I am arguing for is the ambiguity of reality in contrast to the starkness of binary terminology, and therefor the inadequacy of binary terminology.

Binary terminology is not the problem here, it is the ambiguity of the definitions. The definition of theism is the problem here. If the definition of theism is, a person who believes in a deity, then applying it to a part of a person would be a category error. The answer would be not applicable and not applicable.

If the definition of theism is an entity that has a belief in a deity, then you can apply that to a subset of the mind, and half the brain would be theistic and the other half would be atheistic. By this definition, the whole person would be considered a theist since since it has a belief that a deity exists. Sticking with this definition of theism, if we choose to define atheism as an entity that has belief that there is no god, then atheism and theism are no longer mutually exclusive, which is a bizarre conclusion. However, if we define atheism as not theism, then atheism and theism remain to be mutually exclusive.

  (Quote)

Hermes June 6, 2010 at 5:16 pm

But I take it we’re all asserting that anyone who makes a positive claim (or holds a belief) has an obligation to validly justify it to herself at least.

If someone is asserting a claim, they are saying they know (not believe). If that is the case, then they are responsible for justifying that.

People may never be asked to step up and act on those responsibilities, and that includes them not doing that for themselves.

In the case of the body the split brain patient, we’re talking about 1 body but 2 people. This is not the same as a conjoined twin (with separate brain stems), but it is damn close and may be roughly equal to dissociative identity disorder but without the partial communication between identities or the lack of possibility of integrating the identities.

  (Quote)

Zeb June 6, 2010 at 5:33 pm

The definition of theism is the problem here.

I agree! Even if we agree on the definition (and there appear to be some uncertainty about including person in the definition), every term within it is extremely tricky – “person”, “believe”, “deity”, “exist” – WTF?! And then where to put the “not” in the definition of atheist! It’s not nearly as obvious and simple as ya’ll are making out to be.

Thanks guys, it has been fun and informative for me, but it’s neither anymore. Here’s where I’m at- Agnostic is a pretty much useless term that I will renounce, but I will not begrudge its use by anyone who feels their belief state is in between theism and atheism or a mix of the two. “Atheist” I will take to mean a person who has encountered theism and who believes all the reasons she is aware of for belief in deity are insufficient to justify such belief. If she expects me to agree that she is justified in her belief about known reasons for theism, I will expect her to provide her justification (it’s not that I disagree that self proclaimed atheists really are atheists, but I think many are wrong in their evaluations of the reasons for theist belief of which they are aware). For my part I will choose to use “antitheist” for a person who believes no deity exists, “nontheist” for a person who simply lacks belief in deity (with “seeking” and “settled” as modifiers, perhaps adding “ignorant” or “naive” for nontheists who have not encountered theism, though hopefully I can find something without the pejorative connotation), and “theist” in the traditional way. And I will probably avoid terminology debates with people who want to “correct” common usage, and revert to common usage if anyone denies the complexity of the definitions and insists he is just using terms in the everyday, common sense way.

Thanks all! (Even Casey. I wish I had the transcript of when you “spanked” me; between that and coming in fourth in a chess tourney I felt pretty triumphant that day! Your insults have been a meaningless waste of time that reflected poorly on your own intelligence, but you have made good points nevertheless and I would enjoy conversing with a calmer presentation of yourself.)

  (Quote)

Zeb June 6, 2010 at 6:06 pm

Damn, this bit is too interesting to walk away from.

In the case of the body the split brain patient, we’re talking about 1 body but 2 people.

Why do you say that? Is purely by virtue of the fact that the two sides have independent behaviors, including making different belief statements? I don’t have a position here, I am just curious about yours.

This is not the same as a conjoined twin (with separate brain stems), but it is damn close and may be roughly equal to dissociative identity disorder but without the partial communication between identities or the lack of possibility of integrating the identities.  

I don’t know but I would bet a person with dissociative identity disorder can have theist personalities and atheist personalities. Would you also say in that case that there were multiple persons in one body, and that each must be either an atheist or a theist? And why not in an integrated brain? It seems perfectly plausible that the right hemisphere atheist was always present, but not often allowed to express itself, at least not verbally, which is our only test for theism right now.

I forgot to add in my sign off, as an alternative to my terminolgy choices, that I won’t be surprised if advances in neurology end up making statements about “persons” having “beliefs” essentially meaningless afterall.

  (Quote)

Hermes June 6, 2010 at 7:06 pm

Why do you say that? Is purely by virtue of the fact that the two sides have independent behaviors, including making different belief statements? I don’t have a position here, I am just curious about yours.

That’s roughly what the neurologists say, and the evidence does not contradict that.

I don’t know but I would bet a person with dissociative identity disorder can have theist personalities and atheist personalities.

The multiple personality title has been dropped by psychologists, and for good reason. Identity is emphasized instead of personality.

With that in mind, yes, they can have different identities but can be reintegrated, in the words of one patient she did not want to ‘kill the others’;

Dissociative Identity Disorder (DID, MPD) (1 of 2)
Dissociative Identity Disorder (DID, MPD) (2 of 2)

[ back to split brain patients ]

It seems perfectly plausible that the right hemisphere atheist was always present, but not often allowed to express itself, at least not verbally, which is our only test for theism right now.

The brain is unified when making decisions based on facts or knowledge or beliefs. There is frequently a struggle before a unified result appears. As pointed out before on the blog, there is no homunculus. Maybe the vagueness that you argue for comes from this disconnection?

In any case, without different persons — divided by damage to flesh or divided by psychological trauma — talking about the ‘atheist always existing’ and ‘the theist always existing’ doesn’t make much sense. If there’s one person … there’s one person.

The odd cases inform us about the normal cases, but they don’t define the normal cases. If they did, we’d have no clear method of comprehending the normal case as anything different from the abnormal ones. The abnormal cases are interesting because they aren’t normal.

  (Quote)

Hermes June 6, 2010 at 7:24 pm

Somewhat related;

Radiolab – Morality

Note the part about morality coming from ‘our inner chimp’.

  (Quote)

lukeprog June 6, 2010 at 7:37 pm

Hermes,

Yeah, I love that episode! And of course the work by Josh Greene.

  (Quote)

Hermes June 6, 2010 at 7:57 pm

I keep coming back to it.

  (Quote)

caseywollberg June 6, 2010 at 8:29 pm

” But surely you aren’t suggesting that this speculation supports your position that atheism is a positive claim and that theism is somehow a rejection of atheism

You are correct, but I am suggesting it supports my position that “not a theist” is an inadequate definition of atheist.”

No. No, it doesn’t. Wow, you’re confused. A theist is a theist even if we call theism something else or if we have no word for theism. The ancient Greeks, among whom the word “atheist” was invented, were theists, even if (as according to your speculation) they had no word for their theism. Theism was ubiquitous (much like today), and so they needed a word for the people who were different (i.e., not theists). It was intended to be pejorative, so perhaps their word for theism was “normal.”

Now, all that said, it is true that “not a theist” is not the definition of atheism: as I have pointed out already, there are people who have not considered theism because the prominent belief system in their culture is something like animism, or Taoism, which are not theistic. it’s not that they reject the claims of theism, because the claims of theism, for all extents and purposes, do not exist in their world–and that there, the rejection of theistic claims? That’s what it takes to be an atheist–and that’s exactly what so-called “agnostics” do. And that was the original subject of this discussion. And that is what you eventually, begrudgingly conceded–and I love you for it, because it means you aren’t a sophist. (I really hate sophists, did I mention that?) So, QED and all that.

“Even Casey. I wish I had the transcript of when you “spanked” me”

Pay attention, son! That comment was directed at cl, the sophist, who deserved every smack.

“Your insults have been a meaningless waste of time that reflected poorly on your own intelligence, but you have made good points nevertheless and I would enjoy conversing with a calmer presentation of yourself.”

Your mistake is in assuming that insults are intended to mean anything (rhetorically–that would be ad hominem), or that they indicate the presence of frenetic excitement in the user. They are merely poetry. I am totally calm, like a fucking Buddhist monk. If I wasn’t, I would have used ALL CAPS! Seriously though, you can’t get reliable emotional information about the typist out of the keystrokes he uses.

What you meant is that I’m just not being vewy powite, boo hoo. Meh. So what? If we were at the pub, discussing this over drinks, it would be different. But this is the internets, fool! You don your armor at the door. Didn’t you see the sign?

I’m being flippant, I know. The truth is I’ve been doing this a long time and I have very little patience for the kinds of “arguments” that I respond to with deliberate vitriol, including (and especially) sophistry. Sure, I’ll rebut them, but I always throw in an insult or two for good measure, just as a way of expressing my distaste for lazy thinking and dishonesty.

It’s what I would expect and hope to receive for the same, as, in fact, was once the case–and I am happy to have received such strenuous correction. It has put me on the right side of the debate.

The New Atheists are often accosted with this charge that their tone will only drive people away from atheism. Demonstrably false. It’s the tone that won me over. It shook me out of my intellectual stupor and made me pay attention to the arguments. Only then could I appreciate that the arguments were actually superior.

The people complaining about tone most often are those who are comfortable in an intellectual stupor of their own. A strong tone offends them because, deep down, they’re nursing a suspicion that they’re fooling themselves–and it hurts when someone pokes directly at that suspicion, prods it, and stirs it up a little.

The pain is exactly what they need, and some of them are like me–easily provoked. So, they’ll gird up their loins like a man (women can do that too, okay? It’s just a loony biblical reference) and wade out into the fray, ready to do battle. Because they’re essentially honest. And when they’re fully awake, that’s when they’ll get it: they’re fighting on the wrong side; it’s the other guys who are right! (Sorry, that’s where the analogy reaches the limits of its utility).

So, yeah, depending on what kind of person you are, a little pain can bring you around. Sleepers will respond with vague, moaning protests when their sleep is disturbed; but we who are awake should not be concerned over tone. I, for one, prefer the ego-deflating (and thus, useful) pain of insults to the long-term rot of being wrong.

  (Quote)

caseywollberg June 6, 2010 at 8:40 pm

@ Hermes and Luke

Radiolab is better than sex.

(…like I would know…)

  (Quote)

Zeb June 6, 2010 at 9:14 pm

Casey, just to refresh your memory:

Also lost was the spanking you received.
Zeb=hopeless.  

That was one of the great radiolab episodes. I can barely stand to listen to that show anymore though, the banter is so cutesy and the editing so gimmicky. I wish they’d podcast the raw interviews. Any other science podcasts to recommend?

  (Quote)

caseywollberg June 6, 2010 at 10:37 pm

“Casey, just to refresh your memory:”

Oh, hey, that’s right. Maybe I was referring to the argument over the definition of agnosticism.

“the banter is so cutesy and the editing so gimmicky.”

You say gimmicky editing like it’s a bad thing. I call it entertainment, which is allowed in an in-depth discussion, unless you are a stick-in-the-mud killjoy. They do it well, in any case. It’s a high-quality podcast, with good music, smart people, interesting stories, and gimmicky editing.

  (Quote)

Hermes June 7, 2010 at 4:57 am

I’m listening to the new one on Deception right now. Good stuff.

  (Quote)

Hermes June 7, 2010 at 3:21 pm

Zeb, while needlessly tedious and something I’m not in complete agreement with, the following fleshes out some of the points we have not directly discussed on the whole ‘theist/atheist’ and ‘agnostic/gnostic’ divisions;

Disambiguating Faith: How A Lack Of Belief In God May Differ From Various Kinds Of Beliefs That Gods Do Not Exist

Blog: Camels with Hammers

  (Quote)

cl June 7, 2010 at 4:40 pm

I don’t know what this means and neither do you.
[re: burden of production]

Ha! Yet you yammer on about “spanking” me. No, I am not saying “guilty until proven innocent.” You should take your own “re and re-read..” advice with 10% of the gusto you deliver it with!

As far as the “arguments” here, I’ve made two points:

1) Your definition of atheist – though technically correct – is so broad as to be near-meaningless;

2) Many atheists hide behind so-called “weak-atheism”.

You haven’t contested 1 worth a piss, and 2 is a personal observation so I don’t really know what it is you think you’ve “defeated” here, although, I must say your approach to philosophy is rather amusing. You seem far more concerned with asserting your own superiority and lambasting others than anything else. You know, kind of like you’re making up for some sort of lack or something.

I really don’t know what else to say; you are bent on using a definition of atheist that includes babies. I think that’s silly, and I’m sure you’ll spout off another mildly-entertaining batch of vitriol…

  (Quote)

Hermes June 7, 2010 at 4:44 pm

1) Your definition of atheist – though technically correct – is so broad as to be near-meaningless;

Is the word theist also meaningless?

  (Quote)

caseywollberg June 7, 2010 at 6:07 pm

@ Dunning-Kruger

“I’m sure you’ll spout off another mildly-entertaining batch of vitriol…”

Damn right. You keep asking for it.

Your points, to reiterate…

1) Bullshit. Hermes makes the point well enough the Socratic way, but let me drive it home with a hammer. Through your thick skull. Again. It *is* technically correct, and, as such, is not “broad” at all (and obviously not “meaningless”). Your problem with the technically correct definition is that it is inconvenient to your agenda of shifting the burden of proof onto atheists. It’s a pathetic ruse, and we aren’t going to let you get away with it.

2) No. Most atheists understand the definition of agnosticism and identify with it readily. As with the rebuttal of your first argument, this has been explained to you over and over again. But you are an imbecile who can’t understand. Raise your IQ a few points before trying to argue with a position that is beyond your capacity to grasp.

Also, I explicitly stated, at least twice, that I do not consider babies atheists–I have explained how the technically correct definition of atheism cannot apply to babies, rocks, or the cement block that serves as your cranium. At the very least, get your facts straight or shut the fuck up.

“No, I am not saying “guilty until proven innocent.””

Yes, that is what you were trying to say, to argue that the burden of proof is not on the claimant by invoking the court of law analogy. You have it exactly backwards, of course. You shot yourself in the foot and now you’re trying to pretend it didn’t happen. Par for the fucking course.

“I must say your approach to philosophy is rather amusing.”

And what would a sophist know about philosophy?

Why don’t you just give up trying to argue with me and play with the nicer boys and girls here instead. I don’t like you, and it isn’t just because you’re incredibly stupid. It’s also because you don’t have the moral fiber required for the task of honestly presenting the statements of others and engaging them in a forthright manner.

I read all the slop you posted, very carefully, and addressed your every point directly (despite your lying claims to the contrary). You, a dirty, filthy sophist, are only looking for a way to make it seem like you’ve won an argument. That’s why you came back on here reiterating arguments that have already been dealt with exhaustively and claiming they haven’t been. Your sophistry is just barely more appalling than the jarring stupidity with which you pursue it. I have nothing more to say to you, knucklehead.

That’s right. Go on. You can have the last word, so, make it count. (I trust the others to address any ridiculous shit-stains that pass as arguments in your addled “brain,” should you decide to post them–as for your inevitable attempts at insulting me back, I’ve seen your work, and, well, I don’t have to tell you that I’m way out of your league. Rookie.)

  (Quote)

Zeb June 7, 2010 at 7:13 pm

Interesting Hermes, thanks.

I listened to the Radiolab Deception episode tonight.
Pertinent quote: “What self deception really is, is that you have two contradictory beliefs, and you hold them at the same time, and you allow one of them into consciousness, and that you have a motivation for allowing one of them into consciousness.” -Joanna Starks, psychologist.

  (Quote)

Hermes June 7, 2010 at 7:47 pm

Good quote, though I liked the section talking about how to detect lies and that it’s a skill with severe limits.

The key point(?) (from memory) was that even the pros only know that the other person is potentially hiding something — not that they are lying about the specific issue being brought up at the moment.

So, extrapolating on that, if a detective interviews a husband suspected of murdering his wife, the husband may make a momentary micro-expression showing that they are thinking of something else (say, anger) but not necessarily that they are — in that moment — showing that they are the murderer. The husband may be expressing anger in that moment — but not because they killed the wife but because he’s angry at her for more mundane reasons along with his real grief. He may blame her for not talking with him about a verbal fight they had, and he now realizes he has no outlet to resolve that fight.

Still, it looks like most people can be trained to pick up on those micro-expressions and become more adept at ‘reading’ other people. That it’s a skill and not a fixed trait. I’d pay $100usd for that basic skill, even knowing the substantial limitations.

  (Quote)

cl June 8, 2010 at 3:22 pm

caseywollberg,

…as for your inevitable attempts at insulting me back,

What attempts? You might be confusing my mockery of your insults with insults of my own.

Your problem with the technically correct definition is that it is inconvenient to your agenda of shifting the burden of proof onto atheists.

Nah, that’s actually the strawman you keep casting as my problem. I stated my problem: your definition of atheist, thought technically correct, is near-meaningless, because it is too broad and includes babies as well as those who have never heard a single (a)theist argument. I have absolutely no need to “shift the burden of proof” on anyone. It has traditionally fallen to the positive claimant, and I see no need to abandon that which seems to work.

When you say “no” to my 2, you are denying what I claim to have observed. On what grounds can you support this claim?

But you are an imbecile who can’t understand. Raise your IQ a few points before trying to argue with a position that is beyond your capacity to grasp.

Ah, that’s the problem: I’m just not as smart as smarty-pants, oh-so-rational caseywollberg! Rats! I just knew something was wrong! What’s funny to me is the presumptuousness with which you march full steam ahead, and that under some pretense of rational inquiry.

I have explained how the technically correct definition of atheism cannot apply to babies,

I’ve not seen this explanation anywhere, or, perhaps I have seen it and just found it wanting. So, after you think up your next round of insults, perhaps you could refresh my memory? How does “lacking belief in gods” not apply to babies?

…that is what you were trying to say, to argue that the burden of proof is not on the claimant by invoking the court of law analogy.

Again, your strawman recast as my argument. It’s absurd, really, as not once will you find a statement of mine that argues that the burden of proof is not on the [positive] claimant. Maybe you should tackle that “burden of production” comment a bit more in-depth? Agree or disagree, at least then you’d understand.

You shot yourself in the foot and now you’re trying to pretend it didn’t happen.

Of course, because that you might be misunderstanding what you’ve already admitted to not understanding [burden of production analogy] just can’t be the case!

And what would a sophist know about philosophy?

Well, that would depend on the depth and breadth of their reading, I suppose, but probably at least as much as you know about catching flies with vinegar.

I’ve seen your work, and, well, I don’t have to tell you that I’m way out of your league.

Woo-hoo! Everybody step aside, we’ve got a pro amongst us! So where’s your work?

  (Quote)

Hermes June 8, 2010 at 3:59 pm

Cl, both Caseywollberg and myself have addressed the whole baby and rock issue a few times and in multiple ways. For reference, here’s what I wrote on the 6th;

Zeb, rocks aren’t atheists because they aren’t capable of being a member of the set theists; rocks aren’t people. The set is “people that are theists” with “people that are not theists” being the remainder after “people that are theists” has been identified.

It should be easy to formulate dozens of similar categories where the comparisons are valid.

If you want to argue if babies are atheists or not, I’d be glad to grant you that they aren’t but only because they share one trait with a rock; they aren’t capable of being a member of the set of theists. Yet, people do refer to babies as “Muslim children” or “Catholic babies” or other sectarian designations. Those designations, in a strict sense, are invalid since they aren’t capable. Yet, if someone feels that they are justified in categorizing babies as members of a sect, then it is equally justified to categorize them as atheists.

  (Quote)

Hermes June 8, 2010 at 4:02 pm

Cl, now that I’ve addressed one of your comments, please address mine;

1) Your definition of atheist – though technically correct – is so broad as to be near-meaningless;

Is the word theist also meaningless?

  (Quote)

Hermes June 8, 2010 at 4:07 pm

My expectation is that if Cl gives an answer it will be one that treats atheism as a type of religious sect. That is, analogous to Baptists (Christianity) or Vaishnavites (Hinduism), or Sunni (Islam), or Mahayana (Buddhism).

  (Quote)

cl June 8, 2010 at 4:18 pm

Although he didn’t accuse me of being a “racist” like faithlessgod, Hermes has already admitted to “not choosing patience” [1-23-2010], “having a bad attitude” [1-22-2010] and “being overbearingly terse, arrogant, and unjustifiably snippy” [1-22-2010] while debating with me. Perhaps somewhat ironically, I lack patience for rhetorical jabs and condescension. For example,

Reality is a toolkit, not a wishing well.

If you grow bored with this, then I suggest you give up. I’ll nether [sic] teach you nor have any interest in you thinking that dodging teaches anything except that I end up learning that you don’t actually know what you say is so.

I hope that you are being paid for other skills, and not your grasp of logic.

If you want to be treated better, then step up.

You deserve to feel shame for such nonsense. Maybe, one day, you will have the right to make arrogant claims.

This habitual abuse of the good will of others, not just myself, is what turned me against Cl’s nonsense and has earned Cl both mockery and contempt. [source 1, source 2]

Keen readers might note that precisely zero of those comments relate to philosophical issues, whereas precisely all of those comments relate to Hermes’ personal issues. I see no use in debating with somebody who drags their own personal issues into philosophical issues, and I happen to believe that patience and a good attitude are prerequisites to understanding. So, I decided – and have previously expressed – that I will not debate with Hermes on this blog. As far as why Hermes continues to badger me despite this, anyone’s guess is as good as mine.

However, lest anyone mistakenly think I’m simply dredging up my own personal issues, or cowering from the weight of Hermes’ inquiries in this thread, not so: I will gladly provide a thorough answer to any of Hermes’ questions, if asked by another.

  (Quote)

caseywollberg June 8, 2010 at 4:40 pm

“Maybe you should tackle that “burden of production” comment a bit more in-depth? Agree or disagree, at least then you’d understand.”

Okay, gladly, but the rest I’ll let stand, since it’s lame anyway (of course) and I promised to give you the last word.

The burden of proof, in the legal sense you were referring to, is comprised of two parts, the burden of persuasion and the burden of production. Whomever has the burden of proof (the claimant, as you have conceded) also has the burden of production, since it is a part of the burden of proof–the part where you produce evidence–you know, the evidence theists don’t have.

To continue your courtroom analogy, the burden of proof (as you have conceded) is on the theist, the claimant, and non-existence is presumed (provisionally) until proven otherwise (that’s atheism). And one of the demands of the burden of proof is the production of evidence. You had it exactly backwards in that you framed it as the accused having to produce evidence of his innocence, under a burden of proof you now agree he doesn’t have. It is you, not I, who didn’t understand the implications of your own remark.

So, I said I didn’t know what you meant by “burden of production” because I had never heard the term before and assumed you were just making it up, or that it meant the same thing as burden of proof (which, essentially, it does).

But I still understood that your comment was foolish nonsense. And now that I’ve educated myself on the legalese, I see that your incompetence is even worse than I feared. You actually have encountered the term “burden of production”, but (as I foretold with my assertion, “and neither do you”) you have failed altogether to grasp the concept it describes, and you have applied it in a way that reveals just how incompetent you are.

Incidentally, when atheists demand evidence for theist’s claims, they are invoking the theist’s burden of production, so your charge, of course, is ludicrous. It’s about the most common thing they say: “Where’s your evidence for that?”

  (Quote)

caseywollberg June 8, 2010 at 4:56 pm

@Hermes

“My expectation is that if Cl gives an answer…”

My expectation is that cl doesn’t have a clue as to what you are getting at. Either way, if he does answer, he’ll be walking right into a rhetorical trap of his own devising. I guess no one ever told him that it takes brains to do sophistry right.

  (Quote)

caseywollberg June 8, 2010 at 5:24 pm

“How high do you think the judge’s eyebrows would raise if, when asked to support their case, Mr. Smith’s attorney said something like, “Oh, I don’t have to justify my belief that my client didn’t commit murder. I’m simply denying the claims of the prosecution..””

In case you still don’t get it…

The judge’s eyebrows wouldn’t raise a millimeter. In the case of theism, the “prosecution” hasn’t presented any evidence. The judge himself would have dismissed the case. Again, the burden of proof is on the claimant, and this includes the burden of production of evidence. If there is no evidence to consider, then the claimant has no case. Are you starting to understand? You really screwed the pooch on this one, Dunning-Kruger.

  (Quote)

rvkevin June 8, 2010 at 5:47 pm

I stated my problem: your definition of atheist, though technically correct, is near-meaningless, because it is too broad and includes…those who have never heard a single (a)theist argument.

So if these people are not atheists or theists, what would you call them? Non-theist? If so, once they hear one argument and find a flaw, do they stop being a non-theist and become an atheist? Why?

Its seems silly using “hearing an argument” as criteria for describing someone’s position. “Have you ever heard an argument for theism?” Yea, some guy said trees are proof of god and that’s not a valid argument. “OK, you’re not a non-theist, you’re an atheist then.” The flaw of one argument does not give merit to the other position, so hearing one flawed argument is is irrelevant between differentiating between the positions of a non-theist and an atheist.

If someone goes through every theistic argument and finds none of them are sound and valid, do they become an atheist? According to the definition as someone who believes there are no deities, they don’t, which I find to be a little silly because I would suspect that most, if not all, people who has done that, would call themselves an atheist.

You’re basically trying to argue against its usage, which, to be honest, seems to be completely useless. Once you convince everyone that atheism “properly” means the belief that there is no deities, congratulations, you just renamed the atheist position to the agnostic position, or the non-theist position, or whatever label you come up with. What we’re called makes no difference, but to change the definition of a label to misattribute characteristics on a group is dishonest.

*using non-theist to describe someone who has never heard an argument for theism/atheism (and does not believe in a deity) and atheist to describe someone who has heard the arguments and does not believe in a deity.

If you really really want to differentiate between the people who don’t believe because they have never heard of any argument for or against and the people who have researched in depth on the subject, just add qualifiers onto the word atheist. For example, people who are ignorant of theism could be considered ignorant atheists and the people who are knowledgeable about theism but don’t believe could be considered intellectual atheists. See, you don’t need to butcher the word atheist in order to differentiate different schools of thought inside atheism. If you want to categorize people’s positions in a more specified group,there are labels such as humanist, Pearlist, etc., you don’t need to change the definition of atheist to do so.

  (Quote)

Hermes June 9, 2010 at 5:34 am

Let’s try going about this in another way.

Does anyone here remember those standardized tests, where you have to complete an analogy?

I’m talking about the ones that look something like this;

A doctor is to a hospital as …
a. ….a sports fan is to a stadium
b. … a cow is to a farm
c. … a professor is to a college
d. … a criminal is to a jail
e. … food is to a grocery store

[check your answer here]

I’m guessing most people remember those, fondly or with horror.

If you remember one catch with the analogy completions were that while any answer could be correct, there is one that is demonstratively the best answer (ignoring nonsense from the postmodernists, solipsists, and strident relativists).

So, for those who find this kind of thing fun, what potential answers do people offer to this stub of an analogy;

A theist is to an agnostic as …
a. … a painter is to a chemist.
b. …
c. …
d. …
e. …

Answer a. is provided as an example, and is probably not close to the best analogy.

What do you offer as potential answers for slots b. through e.?

  (Quote)

Zeb June 9, 2010 at 11:56 am

b. a theist is to a chemist
c. a Democrat is to an independent
d. a Steelers fan is to a Lions fan
e. a ____ is to a ____

I’ll go with e, because I don’t use the word agnostic anymore, so I’d have ask the person asking the question which meaning they are using.

  (Quote)

Hermes June 9, 2010 at 2:00 pm

F

:-)

  (Quote)

cl June 9, 2010 at 2:37 pm

Luke,

When you get another second, could you please check the queue for a comment trapped in this thread as well? It contained multiple links, so I’m suspecting it may have been cut off at the pass.

BTW, what happened to the “edit” function you used to have?

caseywollberg,

…the rest I’ll let stand, since it’s lame anyway (of course) and I promised to give you the last word.

Ah, it’s lame. What an incredibly well-founded argument! Indeed, you really are beyond my level! Okay, okay… enough with the mockery of your insults. Seriously though, since you already broke that promise, why not shoot for the stars?

To continue your courtroom analogy…

You proceed in the context of vacuous prosecution.

You had it exactly backwards in that you framed it as the accused having to produce evidence of his innocence, under a burden of proof you now agree he doesn’t have. It is you, not I, who didn’t understand the implications of your own remark.

Incorrect. Again, you proceed in the context of a vacuous prosecution. I don’t.

…the burden of proof is on the claimant,

You keep repeating this – as if it was ever a point of contention — while ironically going on about sophistry and lack of brains! I mean, come on!

…this includes the burden of production of evidence.

Third time: you proceed in the context of a vacuous prosecution. I. Do. Not.

I said I didn’t know what you meant by “burden of production” because I had never heard the term before and assumed you were just making it up, or that it meant the same thing as burden of proof (which, essentially, it does).

Now that’s interesting. You come with fire and sword, yet you were a total newbie regarding the term. That you didn’t know what the term meant has been apparent to me since I used it. Further, I opine that the fact you simply assumed I made it up reveals more about your own presumptuousness than any legitimate shortcoming on my behalf.

Are you starting to understand?

Oh, I understand. I’m just waiting for you to cool down and catch up, lest this entire exchange be written off as an exercise in entertainment. Would you like to cool down and catch up? If so, feel free to make another attempt, and feel free to ask me any of Hermes’ questions while you’re at it. For reasons explained in the hitherto unpublished comment I referenced to Luke, I don’t oblige Hermes on this blog – yet for reasons unknown, he continues in his quest for my attention.

rkevin,

So if these people are not atheists or theists, what would you call them?

Technically, it is impossible for a person to be neither atheist nor theist. One either has belief in God or gods, or one does not. This is precisely the reason for my claim that it’s near-meaningless to use the term atheist.

Its seems silly using “hearing an argument” as criteria for describing someone’s position.

I agree. I’m not using “hearing an argument” as a criterion for describing anybody’s position. Image a person that – for whatever reason – has never been introduced to the concept of God, or never heard an (a)theist argument of any sort. Now stand this person next to Richard Dawkins. Sure, they’re both atheists – but in the same sense that myself and my non-stamp-collecting friends are astamp-collectors. The strategy strikes me as crude, imprecise and near-meaningless.

The flaw of one argument does not give merit to the other position,

I absolutely agree. That’s why I opine that many atheists need to stop being so cowardly and take a stand for something.

If someone goes through every theistic argument and finds none of them are sound and valid, do they become an atheist?

No. Unless they held a pre-existing belief in God or gods, this person was technically an atheist all along.

According to the definition as someone who believes there are no deities, they don’t,

This is why I think we need to differentiate between people who simply, for some reason or another, lack belief in God or gods – with people who have left the null position in favor of non-existence. Some people use the terms weak and strong atheist, respectively, to emphasize this distinction. I don’t have a problem with that. My problem is with strong atheists who front as weak atheists to escape the burden of production.

Once you convince everyone that atheism “properly” means the belief that there is no deities,

I have no interest in redefining atheism to mean “the belief that there is no Gods.” I think we should leave the word atheism on its own, in a little corner somewhere, so it can deprecate. At least tell me you’re a metaphysical naturalist so I can hoist you by your own petard [not you per se; I'm speaking hypothetically there].

…to change the definition of a label to misattribute characteristics on a group is dishonest.

I’m hesitant to make accusations of dishonesty because to do so responsibly requires knowledge of the claimant’s intent to deceive. I would estimate that people talking on internet forums are justified to do this in about .00000001% of cases. Point is, I’m not saying, “let’s change the definition of atheist to mean this or that.”

If you want to categorize people’s positions in a more specified group,there are labels such as humanist, Pearlist, etc., you don’t need to change the definition of atheist to do so.

Again, I’m not advocating that we change the definition of atheist.

  (Quote)

Hermes June 9, 2010 at 2:55 pm

Cl, anytime…

Cl: 1) Your definition of atheist – though technically correct – is so broad as to be near-meaningless;

Hermes: Is the word theist also meaningless?

  (Quote)

cl June 9, 2010 at 3:02 pm

Hmmm… some people apparently just don’t get it. In case anyone else is lurking, note my previous,

For reasons explained in the hitherto unpublished comment I referenced to Luke, I don’t oblige Hermes on this blog – yet for reasons unknown, he continues in his quest for my attention.

Lest anyone think I’m cowering from tough questions, I assure such is not the case. If anyone is interested in hearing me answer any of Hermes’ questions, feel free to ask them for him.

  (Quote)

rvkevin June 9, 2010 at 3:45 pm

I absolutely agree. That’s why I opine that many atheists need to stop being so cowardly and take a stand for something.

They do. But they all don’t stand for the same things. It would be like an atheist saying that theists should take a stand for something and then attributing that to the whole group, whether that stand is Christianity, Islam, Deism, etc. Individual atheists can be Pearlists, Naturalists, Scientific Naturalists, etc. Just ask them individually, but as a group, there is no one stance other than not accepting theism one need to have in order to join the club. However, this has no bearing on the divide between atheism and theism, so I hardly see the relevance.

My problem is with strong atheists who front as weak atheists to escape the burden of production.

I suspect that the instances of this happening are so low as to be not worth mentioning. I have never seen it happen so some citation is required.

  (Quote)

Hermes June 9, 2010 at 4:11 pm

Cl, got it. I’ll take that as a concession that you’re unable to deal with a real argument. Either that, or your feelings bruise easily.

  (Quote)

caseywollberg June 9, 2010 at 4:39 pm

“You proceed in the context of vacuous prosecution.”

That’s the only context that fits the reality…unless you want to abandon your analogy as flawed. Theists have no evidence. They have no case. Do you disagree?

You apparently still don’t understand the terminology you yourself introduced me to. Burden of production is a part of the burden of proof. If someone has the burden of proof, they have the burden of production. If a claimant brings no evidence to court, they have no case, and thus, the context *is* a “vacuous prosecution” (this one you did, apparently, make up–so I’m assuming from the context it means a prosecution who has no case). This is directly analogous to the case of theists making the claim “god exists,” and then failing to meet their burden of production (burden of proof).

Atheists are reasonable to reject their claims as a “vacuous prosecution” so to speak. And they are correct in their assertion that it is the claimant who bears the burden of proof (and the burden of production). In the case of strong atheism vs. specific god claims, yes, the strong atheist then bears the burden of proof (including the burden of production), as she is then the claimant.

But your charge of strong atheism parading as “weak” atheism is ridiculous. You want to say that agnostic atheists must deny the principle of agnosticism if they dare to speak out strongly against theists’ claims. (Where do you draw the line, I wonder? When is it okay to maintain agnosticism?)

What you fail to grasp (besides everything) is that one may be a strong atheist with regard to some specific claims and agnostic with regard to others. In the case of strong atheism regarding specific claims, I can easily bear the burden of production. Wish to challenge me? How about the theist claim regarding a creator god who magicked the world into existence 6,000 years ago? You can claim that thing exists (which would make you the claimant) and you wouldn’t have a case. But then I could make the counter-claim, and pile upon you such a mountain of evidence that it would make your feeble protest about atheists’ burden of production look just as foolish as it is.

The fact is, any theist claim that is falsifiable *can be*, and has been, demonstrably, again and again. It is only the unfalsifiable claims, for which no evidence *can* be brought to bear–i.e., for which neither claimant *can* have a case–that so-called “weak” atheists are agnostic about. Far from your charge of cowardice, this is the only reasonable position to take.

Another problem with your complaint is the question of plausibility. Given present knowledge, some claims are relatively plausible and some are, to be vulgar, fucking retarded. This principle is applied to non-falsifiable claims specifically. If you told me some ancient Jew named Jesus was raised from the dead (by Yahweh, no less) and that this supposed event can, by some unknown and unknowable mechanism, forgive my “sins” (whatever that entity is) and magically imbue me with immortality in the form of some kind of phantom being in a fantastic place (?) called “Heaven” where everything is wonderful all the time, I would be well within the bounds of reason to reject it as some of the most implausible silliness known to man. Although it is non-falsifiable and I can’t make a case against it (and again, I’m not the claimant, so I don’t have to in order to reject it–and you can’t make your own case, in any event), I can point out that it lacks evidence, multiplies entities to the extreme, and contradicts almost everything we know. It is far less plausible than, say, the existence of an invisible teapot in orbit around Jupiter, which in turn is far less plausible than, say, the existence of multiple universes, which itself is moderately less plausible than, say, the existence of unicorns. So, you can see that such a scale of plausibility means very little to theists, but to atheists, plausibility is awfully important. It isn’t proof of anything, but it’s a reasonable guide, and it’s far from grounds for whining by the likes of you.

So, to sum up, I have demonstrated that your complaints about agnostic atheists actually being strong atheists but cowards about it are completely and utterly without merit. Again. And, of course, I don’t expect you to understand my arguments, or if you do, to address them honestly. Moronic sophist that you are.

  (Quote)

cl June 9, 2010 at 4:44 pm

Apparently some people still don’t get it. My feelings do not bruise easily, and I’m more than able to deal with Hermes’ “real” argument(s). Even better, my claim is falsifiable: all it takes is one person who is not Hermes to ask his questions.

rkevin,

They do.

Some do take a stand for something, many do not. In my experience, the latter allow themselves to do so by hiding behind the fact that the burden of proof typically falls to the theist.

Let’s try it another way.

Say three of us are walking down the road and we discover a photograph of James Dean that appears to be autographed. Say I believe the autograph is authentic and you believe the autographic is a forgery, whereas the third person doesn’t know one way or the other and simply remains open to arguments. In this case, I’m the theist, you’re the strong atheist, and the third person is the agnostic.

I’ll say something like, “I believe the autograph is authentic because of X, Y and Z,” where X, Y and Z are my arguments, evidence, etc.

The third person will acknowledge my arguments and then ask you something like, “What do you have to say?”

I believe it would be consistent with cowardice if you were to reply with something like, “Oh, I don’t have to say anything. I’m simply denying the claim that the autograph is authentic.”

In fact, what appears to be a decent analogy just came to mind: winning a game of straight pool by scratching on the eight ball.

I suspect that the instances of this happening are so low as to be not worth mentioning. I have never seen it happen so some citation is required.

Perhaps I will, but before I do, let’s cement the goalpost: if what I described were to happen as I described it, would you agree or disagree that such a reply would be consistent with cowardice?

Why or why not?

  (Quote)

caseywollberg June 9, 2010 at 4:48 pm

@ Dunning-Kruger:

“Lest anyone think I’m cowering from tough questions, I assure such is not the case. If anyone is interested in hearing me answer any of Hermes’ questions, feel free to ask them for him.”

Not that I really care to witness you bungle another argument…I’m sure you’ve been thinking about this very hard for the past couple days, and I wouldn’t want Hermes to miss his opportunity to flush the turd you’ve produced:

Is the word theist also meaningless?

  (Quote)

cl June 9, 2010 at 5:15 pm

Is the word theist also meaningless? (caseywollberg)

In a move that’s completely unsurprising to me, note that Hermes has ever-so-slighty distorted my original claim. I claimed that the word atheist is near-meaningless, but that’s just a minor detail included to demonstrate the precision – or more precisely, the lack of precision – with which Hermes typically argues.

Do I believe that the word theist is near-meaningless? Not at all. The acceptance of a claim is implicit in the definition of theist. Similarly, metaphysical naturalist is not near-meaningless.

  (Quote)

caseywollberg June 9, 2010 at 5:19 pm

“Perhaps I will, but before I do, let’s cement the goalpost: if what I described were to happen as I described it, would you agree or disagree that such a reply would be consistent with cowardice?

Why or why not?”

No, because you are using a definition of cowardice I do not recognize. What is the agnostic afraid will happen if he abandons his agnosticism to chase after unfalsifiable claims as though they were falsifiable? What life-shattering consequences does he face for “stepping up” and abandoning agnosticism for madness? He is not hiding behind the theist’s burden of proof, he is refusing to allow the theist to *shift* the burden of proof. You are hopelessly idiotic and dishonest. And your James Dean autograph analogy is laughably false. It should go something like this, in order to fit the reality…

Authentist: “I say this is authentic, for A, B, and C.

Strong Non-Authentist: “Bullshit. Bad arguments. You haven’t proved anything; all your work is yet ahead of you.”

Agnostic Non-Authentist: “Yeah, he’s right. Where’s your evidence? Those arguments are full of holes X, Y, and Z.”

So-Called Agnostic: “Guys, come on, let’s just go have some warm milk, huh? My mommy makes the best warm milk!”

Strong Non-Authentist: “Beat it, Nancy, the big boys are having a discussion…now, where were we–oh, yeah, I can *prove* that this autograph is not authentic, by showing you exhibits 1, 2, and 3.”

Authentist: “Well…uh…well, I like James Dean and my grandfather gave me this before he died and he was a veteran and he told me it was authentic and…and you’re just a big meanie!”

Strong Non-Authentist and Agnostic Non-Authentist in unison: “LOL, moron!”

(Nancy and Authentist go off together to make love, clumsily and without protection because Authentist’s daddy is theologically opposed to the works of the devil).

Agnostic Non-Authentist: “Hey, Strong, I didn’t realize there was so much evidence against authenticity–I guess I can’t really say I’m agnostic about this anymore.”

Strong Non-Authentist: “Wanna go punch little kids in the face?”

  (Quote)

caseywollberg June 9, 2010 at 5:23 pm

“Do I believe that the word theist is near-meaningless? Not at all. The acceptance of a claim is implicit in the definition of theist. Similarly, metaphysical naturalist is not near-meaningless.”

Hermes, you got this? It’s starting to smell.

  (Quote)

caseywollberg June 9, 2010 at 5:37 pm

@ Hermes:

This gastric offense is fouling up my monitor too; please do something about it as well…

“I claimed that the word atheist is *near*-meaningless…”

  (Quote)

caseywollberg June 9, 2010 at 5:47 pm

@ Dunning-Kruger:

By the way, when I say you used a false analogy, I was referring specifically to the non-correspondence between the plausibility of a person possessing an authentic autograph and that of (for example) a personal deity wiggling his nose and popping the universe into existence. The former we know happens and the latter we have no information about, except that it has a plausibility factor many degrees lower by any reasonable measure. The cases couldn’t be more different. And it makes a difference to your (already demolished) argument, in case you weren’t sure.

  (Quote)

cl June 9, 2010 at 5:52 pm

caseywollberg,

Puff your chest all you want, tough guy. I noticed that you did not respond to my answer to Hermes’ question, other than your astoundingly-not-cogent remark that it’s starting to smell. I believe that if you had a valid rebuttal, we’d have heard it.

Yeah, he’s right. Where’s your evidence? Those arguments are full of holes X, Y, and Z.

Fourth time: you assume a vacuous prosecution. I don’t.

You are hopelessly idiotic and dishonest.

And your James Dean autograph analogy is laughably false.

It’s starting to smell.

I acknowledge that you can talk over others, make insults and generally carry on without providing support for your assertions, but do you have any valid arguments? I mean, unless you actually get off on this, why not try to reach some kind of common ground? Seriously. You essentially claim that I’m not worth debating with, yet, you continue… and continue, and continue. Personally, if I don’t think someone is worth debating, I don’t continue… and continue, and continue. That’s why I don’t oblige Hermes, and unless you’ve got some valid arguments, that’s why I won’t oblige you anymore, either. So, pony up an attempt at a valid argument, or I’m over it and I’ll promise I won’t oblige you on this blog ever again – and unlike you, I’m a man of my word: I won’t break my promise.

Anticipating another denigrating reply that I can’t handle your arguments, that, too, is a falsifiable claim: simply give me an argument to handle.

  (Quote)

Hermes June 9, 2010 at 6:07 pm

Cl: Apparently some people still don’t get it. My feelings do not bruise easily, and I’m more than able to deal with Hermes’ “real” argument(s). Even better, my claim is falsifiable: all it takes is one person who is not Hermes to ask his questions.

Wow. Will you address me civilly, and directly, or are you telling me you actually want me to mock you?

Note that I have not been snide or blunt to you for weeks — and yet, your attitude says to me that you want me to do so. Almost goading me to speak aggressively and bluntly.

What’s your choice? Shall we continue civilly but with honest words, or do you want to discuss your bruised ego? To focus on it to the exclusion of actual evidence?

The ball is in motion, and it’s not yours to go home with just because of your sore feelings.

  (Quote)

caseywollberg June 9, 2010 at 6:09 pm

“I believe that if you had a valid rebuttal, we’d have heard it.”

Oh, you don’t want me to, believe me. You’re sweating already. I’m letting Hermes do it, because he asked the question, and I think your little game of making me ask it is the pettiest thing I’ve ever seen.

“Fourth time: you assume a vacuous prosecution. I don’t.”

Second time: a vacuous prosecution is all you’ve got. You can’t pretend a suite of evidence into existence by making a false analogy. Retard.

“do you have any valid arguments?”

Really? Do we have to go through this again. You are a sophist. You ignore valid arguments you can’t handle. I could repost all of my arguments, but what’s the point? You’ll just ignore them again, and let the debate go back and forth until you feel you have inspired enough insults for you to launch another one of your, “don’t you have any arguments?” accusations. You’re hoping no one will notice, but what I think is that the only people who are reading this, or who ever will read it, are the people who have been paying attention and already know you are a full of shit liar.

“why not try to reach some kind of common ground?”

What you are asking is, “Why don’t you just let me win, just a little bit–it’s what I want so very much.” Put it on your Christmas list, sophist. I ain’t Santa.

“I mean, unless you actually get off on this…”

Ding ding ding!

“I won’t [pester you with sophistry] on this blog ever again…”

Good. Fuck off sophist!

“simply give me an argument to handle.”

Here’s just one (very recent) that you ignored: Copy and pasting…

“You proceed in the context of vacuous prosecution.”

That’s the only context that fits the reality…unless you want to abandon your analogy as flawed. Theists have no evidence. They have no case. Do you disagree?

You apparently still don’t understand the terminology you yourself introduced me to. Burden of production is a part of the burden of proof. If someone has the burden of proof, they have the burden of production. If a claimant brings no evidence to court, they have no case, and thus, the context *is* a “vacuous prosecution” (this one you did, apparently, make up–so I’m assuming from the context it means a prosecution who has no case). This is directly analogous to the case of theists making the claim “god exists,” and then failing to meet their burden of production (burden of proof).

Atheists are reasonable to reject theist claims as a “vacuous prosecution” so to speak. And they are correct in their assertion that it is the claimant who bears the burden of proof (and the burden of production). In the case of strong atheism vs. specific god claims, yes, the strong atheist then bears the burden of proof (including the burden of production), as she is then the claimant.

But your charge of strong atheism parading as “weak” atheism is ridiculous. You want to say that agnostic atheists must deny the principle of agnosticism if they dare to speak out strongly against theists’ claims. (Where do you draw the line, I wonder? When is it okay to maintain agnosticism?)

What you fail to grasp (besides everything) is that one may be a strong atheist with regard to some specific claims and agnostic with regard to others. In the case of strong atheism regarding specific claims, I can easily bear the burden of production. Wish to challenge me? How about the theist claim regarding a creator god who magicked the world into existence 6,000 years ago? You can claim that thing exists (which would make you the claimant) and you wouldn’t have a case. But then I could make the counter-claim, and pile upon you such a mountain of evidence that it would make your feeble protest about atheists’ burden of production look just as foolish as it is.

The fact is, any theist claim that is falsifiable *can be*, and has been, demonstrably, again and again. It is only the unfalsifiable claims, for which no evidence *can* be brought to bear–i.e., for which neither claimant *can* have a case–that so-called “weak” atheists are agnostic about. Far from your charge of cowardice, this is the only reasonable position to take.

Another problem with your complaint is the question of plausibility. Given present knowledge, some claims are relatively plausible and some are, to be vulgar, fucking retarded. This principle is applied to non-falsifiable claims specifically. If you told me some ancient Jew named Jesus was raised from the dead (by Yahweh, no less) and that this supposed event can, by some unknown and unknowable mechanism, forgive my “sins” (whatever that entity is) and magically imbue me with immortality in the form of some kind of phantom being in a fantastic place (?) called “Heaven” where everything is wonderful all the time, I would be well within the bounds of reason to reject it as some of the most implausible silliness known to man. Although it is non-falsifiable and I can’t make a case against it (and again, I’m not the claimant, so I don’t have to in order to reject it–and you can’t make your own case, in any event), I can point out that it lacks evidence, multiplies entities to the extreme, and contradicts almost everything we know. It is far less plausible than, say, the existence of an invisible teapot in orbit around Jupiter, which in turn is far less plausible than, say, the existence of multiple universes, which itself is moderately less plausible than, say, the existence of unicorns. So, you can see that such a scale of plausibility means very little to theists, but to atheists, plausibility is awfully important. It isn’t proof of anything, but it’s a reasonable guide, and it’s far from grounds for whining by the likes of you.

So, to sum up, I have demonstrated that your complaints about agnostic atheists actually being strong atheists but cowards about it are completely and utterly without merit. Again. And, of course, I don’t expect you to understand my arguments, or if you do, to address them honestly. Moronic sophist that you are.

QED.

  (Quote)

Hermes June 9, 2010 at 6:19 pm

Caseywollberg, yep. I must have really had an impact on Cl the last time since he’s (?) so jumpy and accusatory. A normal response would be to restate the question, giving a brief reason why restating it is more accurate or provides more illumination when fleshed out.

Note that even restated, though, I’m still left wondering what Cl’s point was with responses like this;

Do I believe that the word theist is near-meaningless? Not at all. The acceptance of a claim is implicit in the definition of theist. Similarly, metaphysical naturalist is not near-meaningless.

It doesn’t really say much. I think that Cl has a strong understanding of the issues and could give a stronger reply.

  (Quote)

caseywollberg June 9, 2010 at 6:22 pm

“Anticipating another denigrating reply that I can’t handle your arguments, that, too, is a falsifiable claim: simply give me an argument to handle.”

Done and done. And done and done and done and…

  (Quote)

rvkevin June 9, 2010 at 6:30 pm

Perhaps I will, but before I do, let’s cement the goalpost: if what I described were to happen as I described it, would you agree or disagree that such a reply would be consistent with cowardice?

Why or why not?

No, if my intention is to convince you that believing the claim “the autograph is real” is not justified, then all I need to do is convince you that the reasons for believing it to be real are not good. My belief that the autograph is fake is irrelevant in deciding whether it is justified to believe that the claim is true. Its also irrelevant if you want to persuade me that it is real.

However, if you want to convince me that it is unjustified in believing its fake, but not that its justified to believe its real, and I’m aware of this distinction and have still continued the conversation, then saying “Oh, I don’t have to say anything. I’m simply denying the claim that the autograph is authentic” would be insufficient and I suppose you could consider it dishonest if they actually claim that the autograph is fake. Again, I doubt this form of conversation takes place often.

In fact, what appears to be a decent analogy just came to mind: winning a game of straight pool by scratching on the eight ball.

I don’t follow.

  (Quote)

Hermes June 9, 2010 at 6:36 pm

As I’ve said before, I am in general an agnostic atheist but I will state gnostic atheism in regards to specific deity claims. For example, any omnimax deity simply can not exist as it is self-contradictory. There are, of course, arguments that attempt to eliminate those contradictions though I think it is easy to demonstrate why they fail.

  (Quote)

caseywollberg June 9, 2010 at 6:48 pm

@ Hermes:

“I think that Cl has a strong understanding of the issues…”

So he’s wholly duplicitous in his sophistry? I don’t know. He seems pretty stupid to me, at least for someone who talks smart. But maybe you’re trying to lure him back with civility. That’s a good plan…

“Do I believe that the word theist is near-meaningless? Not at all. The acceptance of a claim is implicit in the definition of theist. Similarly, metaphysical naturalist is not near-meaningless.”

If the acceptance of a claim is implicit in the definition of theist, why isn’t the rejection of a claim implicit in the definition of atheist? And if it is only “near”-meaningless, what does it mean? And if the rejection of a claim is implicit in the definition of atheism, why does it have to mean anything more than that in order for it to be far from (?) meaningless (whatever that means)? For someone who complained about precision, this sophist sure ain’t very precise.

He also wants to accuse atheists of being metaphysical naturalists, fishing for another “gotcha!” moment. What he doesn’t realize, in his idiot sophistical rush, is that metaphysical naturalism is not required for methodological naturalism–and then there is falsifiability for an alternative. Boy, that pesky agnosticism! It’s no wonder these fuckers are so bent on keeping the original concept buried under a slag heap of folk usage.

  (Quote)

Hermes June 9, 2010 at 6:49 pm

The issue with most theists is that they either don’t know enough details about the deities they think exist or they don’t realize where those details are nonsense. Why do I say that? It’s hard to escape that conclusion when you ask them simple questions and get back a vacuum.

Most theists have a vague idea about what their deities are and make up excuses (not granted to anything else) for the parts that are clearly contradictory.

Because of that, it is hard to discuss anything about their deities, and out of frustration the theists attempt to shift the burden to the atheists. Atheists that don’t have a clear idea to go on since the theists can’t say what they mean.

Who wouldn’t feel defensive if they were stuck with a subject that they could not talk definitively about, yet at the same time feel that the subject is so important?

  (Quote)

cl June 9, 2010 at 6:56 pm

caseywollberg,

Ding ding ding!

If you’re just doing this for fun, I don’t know what to say. I do know that when asked for valid arguments, you responded with,

You are a sophist. You ignore valid arguments you can’t handle. I could repost all of my arguments, but what’s the point? You’ll just ignore them again, and let the debate go back and forth until you feel you have inspired enough insults for you to launch another one of your, “don’t you have any arguments?” accusations. You’re hoping no one will notice, but what I think is that the only people who are reading this, or who ever will read it, are the people who have been paying attention and already know you are a full of shit liar.

Opinions acknowledged, but did you have any valid arguments that actually refute a point I’ve made? If so, can you,

1) State any or all points that you think I’ve made; then,

2) Explain how your rebuttal refutes said point(s)?

Theists have no evidence. They have no case. Do you disagree?

Hey, you actually tried! Yes, I disagree. Feel free to provide your definition of evidence at any time.

But your charge of strong atheism parading as “weak” atheism is ridiculous.

Who cares about your opinion, though? I don’t. I mean, look how bad you mangle my claims! There’s such a thing as blockquote, you know. I didn’t make a charge of “strong atheism parading as weak atheism.” I claimed that in my experience, many claim to be weak atheists, yet proceed as if they are strong atheists. You seem to be denying that I’ve ever encountered a strong atheist who parades as weak, as if you somehow have knowledge of what I’ve encountered in my life. You don’t. So give me something real.

What you fail to grasp (besides everything) is that one may be a strong atheist with regard to some specific claims and agnostic with regard to others.

Uh, okay… what statement of mine led you to believe that I failed to grasp this?

Another problem with your complaint is the question of plausibility. Given present knowledge, some claims are relatively plausible and some are, to be vulgar, fucking retarded.

I agree. Your point?

It is far less plausible than, say, the existence of an invisible teapot in orbit around Jupiter, which in turn is far less plausible than, say, the existence of multiple universes, which itself is moderately less plausible than, say, the existence of unicorns.

Don’t you get it? I don’t care about your opinions. You simply assert that such-and-such is more plausible than such-and-such. You’re not doing anything but littering the universe with more unfounded opinions. Quantify “more plausible” and make some kind of case. Don’t just preach your beliefs.

So, you can see that such a scale of plausibility means very little to theists, but to atheists, plausibility is awfully important.

Look how badly you lean on generalizations in your arguments. Plausibility means quite a bit to me, and I’m no atheist.

…I have demonstrated that your complaints about agnostic atheists actually being strong atheists but cowards about it are completely and utterly without merit.

No, you haven’t. You’ve simply sprinkled a few truths that were never being contested into a mountain of vitriol and called it a day. I don’t need merit for what I’ve seen with my own two eyes. I’ve seen atheists who claim to be weak atheists produce mountains of comments that suggest they are actually strong atheists.

I don’t expect you to understand my arguments, or if you do, to address them honestly.

If you can give me an argument, I will address it honestly. Always have, always will. I’ve got no problem saying I’m wrong, but if you think I’m just going to fold for some big-mouth with a chip on his shoulder, you’re mistaken.

So, again: do you have any valid arguments that actually refute a point I’ve made? If so, can you,

1) State the point(s) that you think I’ve made; then,

2) Explain how your rebuttal refutes said point(s)?

  (Quote)

Hermes June 9, 2010 at 6:56 pm

He also wants to accuse atheists of being metaphysical naturalists, fishing for another “gotcha!” moment.

That one never made much sense to me either. I mean, how many people who believe in that nebulous category of “supernatural” things totally discards or even has a big problem with natural things?

I mean, even if “supernatural” things exist, that doesn’t make natural things vanish. It’s crazy talk.

Yet, there are some people who insist on an unnatural world, like the solipsists, but there’s not much of a point to talking with someone who has rejected such a large part of reality.

  (Quote)

caseywollberg June 9, 2010 at 7:08 pm

You know what sucks about engaging with sophists? It’s like making love to your pillow: no response. You go through all the preparation, the shaping of the pillow into a rough facsimile of a human form, the hollowing out of a very small hole, the acquisition of some form of artificial vagina (probably Japanese in origin), the lube, even (if you’re really “good” at this) a pretense for the love-making session (look what I brought home, baby, a silk pillowcase–oooo, silk, I love silk, you’re getting a reward tonight!). So, you go through all that work and start banging away, and nothing. No moans of vague protest, no requests for spankings, no “Is that it?” Nothing. It’s total bullshit.

(Mom, if you’re reading this, I was only speaking hypothetically. Your pillows are safe.)

  (Quote)

cl June 9, 2010 at 7:12 pm

Hmmm… I can’t stop wondering if caseywollberg is Hermes.

caseywollberg,

If the acceptance of a claim is implicit in the definition of theist, why isn’t the rejection of a claim implicit in the definition of atheist?

Who ever said it isn’t? Not I. See what I mean yet? You blunder ahead, responding to things I’ve neither said nor implied. The rejection of a claim is implicit in the term atheist. I’ve never argued otherwise.

And if it is only “near”-meaningless, what does it mean?

It means exactly what you said it means: that the person lacks belief in God or gods.

And if the rejection of a claim is implicit in the definition of atheism, why does it have to mean anything more than that in order for it to be far from (?) meaningless (whatever that means)?

The rejection of a claim is implicit in the definition of atheism. The term atheist is insufficient on its own because atheist says nothing about what you actually do believe.

Okay, this little progression is just too precious to ignore:

For someone who complained about precision, this sophist sure ain’t very precise.

…then,

He also wants to accuse atheists of being metaphysical naturalists, fishing for another “gotcha!” moment.

You chastise me for an alleged lack of precision, then make a false and imprecise claim like that? It’s like you suffer from some odd form of intellectual Daltonism that impairs your ability to see between #000 and #FFF. I don’t want to accuse atheists of anything. I accuse some atheists of being weak on the record but strong in what they write. You have no response to that, of course, other than to call it names. Whatever floats your boat, I guess.

What he doesn’t realize, in his idiot sophistical rush, is that metaphysical naturalism is not required for methodological naturalism…

Where did I say or imply otherwise? You’re going off on another irrelevant tangent.

  (Quote)

cl June 9, 2010 at 7:14 pm

rkevin,

Sorry, I just noticed your last comment. It won’t be tonight, but I’ll get to it. Probably tomorrow.

  (Quote)

Zeb June 9, 2010 at 7:20 pm

If cl modified his claim from “near-meaningless” to “worse than useless”, I would agree. Such a broad definition of atheist – [a person capable of holding beliefs who is] not a theist – doesn’t help us to know anything of interest about a person. However, by appearing to be something a person can be, it creates the illusion of personal viewpoint characteristics and group identity. It would be a lot more useful to just write and say “not a theist.”

  (Quote)

Hermes June 9, 2010 at 7:31 pm

Cl: Hmmm… I can’t stop wondering if caseywollberg is Hermes.

I could mimic his(?) style — then again, you’re not reading this, right?

Hmmm… in either case, if you are curious, Luke can check to see if there are any similarities in the login information between the two accounts. He may even have details going back weeks to months. Why take my word for it?

  (Quote)

cl June 9, 2010 at 7:34 pm

Zeb,

If cl modified his claim from “near-meaningless” to “worse than useless”, I would agree!

LOL!! I was just trying to be polite, but yeah, we pretty much agree.

Such a broad definition of atheist – [a person capable of holding beliefs who is] not a theist – doesn’t help us to know anything of interest about a person.

That’s exactly right.

It would be a lot more useful to just write and say “not a theist.”

I still agree with Martin that we ought to junk the terms entirely, and start over. Note to the obtuse: not redefine the current terms, but junk them.

  (Quote)

Hermes June 9, 2010 at 7:37 pm

Zeb: Such a broad definition of atheist – [a person capable of holding beliefs who is] not a theist – doesn’t help us to know anything of interest about a person.

So close!

Now, complete the thought. What is a theist? Just tweak your comment above just a little bit to answer that question.

The rest of what you wrote will snap into place.

  (Quote)

caseywollberg June 9, 2010 at 7:37 pm

“I claimed that in my experience, many claim to be weak atheists, yet proceed as if they are strong atheists.”

Lol, that’s seriously what he meant? I doubt it, but, okay, we can move the goalposts. The answer is, which atheists and so what? He’s encountered people he says present themselves as agnostic atheists but make arguments that show they are really, deep down, strong atheists. What? First of all, he doesn’t give details about these mysterious arguments, so they could be, for all we know, discussing specific claims about which they need not be agnostic. Thirdly, this is (non-descriptive) anecdotal evidence in a small sample. And fourthly, it doesn’t prove anything–what, in fact, is the complaint he’s trying to prove? At best, Dunning-Kruger has come across one or two atheists who are not quite capable of expressing their views clearly, or who are a bit confused themselves. Wow. Groundbreaking. Who the fuck cares? What does it indicate to any degree that it would be appropriate to complain about it on a blog like this? This dirty little sophist here wants to pretend that he wasn’t attempting an underhanded attack on atheists in general by faking this sudden attack of precision that makes his argument irrelevant. See how they do their god’s work? So desperate to win that they’ll sacrifice any relevance their argument might have had, just to wriggle out of a devastating bind. You watch. Later he’ll be back insinuating that his hazy anecdote is relevant in some way (of course, all the while failing to delineate it clearly).

“I’ve got no problem saying I’m wrong”

Yes you do, obviously. If not, then why haven’t you fessed up yet?

“but if you think I’m just going to fold for some big-mouth with a chip on his shoulder, you’re mistaken.”

Don’t do it for me, sophist. Do it for the baby Jayziss.

  (Quote)

Hermes June 9, 2010 at 7:41 pm

Cl: Note to the obtuse: not redefine the current terms, but junk them.

If you have the push, go for it. I’ve coined a few words and promoted some from obscurity. Knocking off an established word let alone a few of them, though, that takes real effort.

  (Quote)

caseywollberg June 9, 2010 at 7:43 pm

Oh, great, Zeb’s here. Just when you thought the waters couldn’t get any muddier.

  (Quote)

Hermes June 9, 2010 at 7:43 pm
Cl: I’ve got no problem saying I’m wrong

caseywollberg: Yes you do, obviously. If not, then why haven’t you fessed up yet?

:-)

  (Quote)

caseywollberg June 9, 2010 at 7:57 pm

“The term atheist is insufficient on its own because atheist says nothing about what you actually do believe.”

It doesn’t have to. You only wish that it did, as has been explained to you ad nauseum. I thought you were going to stop pestering me with your incongruent nonsense. What happened to that? You said you keep your promises, unlike me. And I don’t. If I see something I want to shred, I may or may not do so. I promise. For now, I think I’ve wrung all the good times I can out of this encounter. Anyway, my pillow is lonely.

  (Quote)

cl June 9, 2010 at 8:02 pm

rkevin,

Just so you know, it’s not for lack of time that I opted to wait until tomorrow to address your comment. It’s more of a courtesy thing: I consider the bulk of our past exchanges to be productive. I want to approach your comments with a clean slate, if you know what I mean. As for this crap here… well, let’s just say I want to give you my best.

caseywollberg,

…okay, we can move the goalposts.

Where is the evidence for this weakly-stated claim that they’ve been moved? I’ve not wavered from my original argument(s), at all. So, either show the evidence, or stop making claims without evidence – unless of course you don’t care about debating responsibly.

The answer is, which atheists and so what?

As for “which atheists,” I’ve already told you: several that I’ve encountered.

As for “so what,” you tell me so what! You’re the one with your underwear all in a wad about what I said.

…it doesn’t prove anything…

I’m not trying to prove anything. I have no need to prove what I’ve seen. All I’m doing is stating the facts: I believe that atheist as typically used is so broad as to be near-meaningless. I have encountered atheists who claim to be weak atheists, yet carry on as if they are in fact strong atheists. I believe that’s a fundamentally self-deceptive way to operate. That’s it. Two claims. I mean, you can level insults until you’re blue in the face, but I don’t see how that should change anything.

At best, [cl] has come across one or two atheists who are not quite capable of expressing their views clearly, or who are a bit confused themselves.

This is hilarious. You make claims with no evidence, and call yourself a rationalist!

This dirty little sophist here wants to pretend that he wasn’t attempting an underhanded attack on atheists in general by faking this sudden attack of precision that makes his argument irrelevant.

I’m not faking anything, my claims haven’t wavered, and it’s your duty as claimant to prove they have. So go on! Actually rise up to the challenge, if you can.

…just to wriggle out of a devastating bind.

The “bind” I’m in is about as “devastating” as those silk pillows you admitted to screwing a few comments back.

So, here we go again: do you have any valid arguments that actually refute a point I’ve made? If so, can you,

1) State the point(s) that you think I’ve made; then,

2) Explain how your rebuttal refutes said point(s)?

  (Quote)

caseywollberg June 9, 2010 at 8:03 pm

Hermes, I enjoyed being your dark side. Good night.

  (Quote)

cl June 9, 2010 at 8:07 pm

Anyway, my pillow is lonely.

Tee-hee! In some weird, perhaps perverse or even masochistic way, I actually enjoy reading you. See ya tomorrow!

  (Quote)

Hermes June 9, 2010 at 8:56 pm
Hermes June 10, 2010 at 8:22 am

This is hilarious. You make claims with no evidence, and call yourself a rationalist!

[ *blink* *blink* ]

  (Quote)

caseywollberg June 10, 2010 at 8:46 am

@Hermes, wrt your link.

“You can’t win, Darth. If you strike me down, I shall become more powerful than you could possibly imagine.”

  (Quote)

caseywollberg June 10, 2010 at 2:39 pm

I’ve got a few minutes to spare on a hobby…

“I accuse some atheists of being weak on the record but strong in what they write. You have no response to that, of course, other than to call it names.”

Just a sample of your lies, cl. Here’s where I challenged this assertion, for the third time, I think, and which you promptly decided to ignore for the sake of your sophistry…

1) “First of all, he doesn’t give details about these mysterious arguments, so they could be, for all we know, discussing specific claims about which they need not be agnostic. Thirdly, this is (non-descriptive) anecdotal evidence in a small sample.”

For more detail on my first point, refer to my other previous comment regarding this subject:

2) “What you fail to grasp (besides everything) is that one may be a strong atheist with regard to some specific claims and agnostic with regard to others. In the case of strong atheism regarding specific claims, I can easily bear the burden of production. Wish to challenge me?”

3) “The fact is, any theist claim that is falsifiable *can be*, and has been, demonstrably, again and again. It is only the unfalsifiable claims, for which no evidence *can* be brought to bear–i.e., for which neither claimant *can* have a case–that so-called “weak” atheists are agnostic about. Far from your charge of cowardice, this is the only reasonable position to take.”

4) “Another problem with your complaint is the question of plausibility. Given present knowledge, some claims are relatively plausible and some are, to be vulgar, fucking retarded. This principle is applied to non-falsifiable claims specifically. If you told me some ancient Jew named Jesus was raised from the dead (by Yahweh, no less) and that this supposed event can, by some unknown and unknowable mechanism, forgive my “sins” (whatever that entity is) and magically imbue me with immortality in the form of some kind of phantom being in a fantastic place (?) called “Heaven” where everything is wonderful all the time, I would be well within the bounds of reason to reject it as some of the most implausible silliness known to man. Although it is non-falsifiable and I can’t make a case against it (and again, I’m not the claimant, so I don’t have to in order to reject it–and you can’t make your own case, in any event), I can point out that it lacks evidence, multiplies entities to the extreme, and contradicts almost everything we know. It is far less plausible than, say, the existence of an invisible teapot in orbit around Jupiter, which in turn is far less plausible than, say, the existence of multiple universes, which itself is moderately less plausible than, say, the existence of unicorns. So, you can see that such a scale of plausibility means very little to theists, but to atheists, plausibility is awfully important. It isn’t proof of anything, but it’s a reasonable guide, and it’s far from grounds for whining by the likes of you.”

Your only response to these points was a serving of red herring, like, “I too believe in plausibility.” That’s fine, but dodging the relevance of my argument to yours is not addressing my argument; it is…wait for it…sophistry. Let me break it down for you again…

You say, “I have encountered atheists…”

Bad start. The strategy here is to make a charge that sounds relevant to the discussion, but to be vague about it so you can later dodge challenges to your assertion. It’s a cheap way to purchase temporary credence for a charge that can’t stand on its own. This is why I asked, “Which atheists?” to which you responded, of course, “Some I’ve encountered.” There’s the dodge. If this is purely anecdotal, it makes your charge generally irrelevant. Of course, you didn’t respond to that challenge either.

You continue, “…who claim to be weak atheists, yet carry on as if they are in fact strong atheists.”

Carry on? What does that mean, precisely? This is why I asked about their arguments and pointed out that they could have been arguing perfectly validly from an agnostic atheist perspective, without being guilty of your charge. You don’t say what their arguments were or give any reason why you think those apparently apocryphal arguments would be more properly made by a “strong atheist.” You never attempted to clear this up. Why? Another dodge, that’s why.

You also never responded to my point on the possibility of being a strong atheist with regard to certain claims and agnostic with regard to others, which, if these apocryphal arguments are of this nature, would put your already faltering charge to rest completely. You never give any details of course, because you are banking on someone (anyone) being impressed by a vague charge up front, allowing you to skip out on paying the full bill for the credence you’ve put such a cheap deposit on. But we aren’t fools here: we’re demanding you A) actually support your argument, or B) admit that it is a generally irrelevant anecdote. The choice is yours, sophist.

  (Quote)

Hermes June 10, 2010 at 4:42 pm

caseywollberg: 2) “What you fail to grasp (besides everything) is that one may be a strong atheist with regard to some specific claims and agnostic with regard to others. In the case of strong atheism regarding specific claims, I can easily bear the burden of production. Wish to challenge me?”

I’ll second the offer. While I’ve offered this service many times before, few theists take me up on the offer, probably because they know it’s not much of a challenge.

Some deities are not adequately described, so there’s not much to comment on. Some are described in detail, but are not done in a meaningful way. Most are just asserted, arms crossed. Some actually exist, but aren’t what I’d say qualify as a deity — but that’s up to the believer, so I won’t quibble if they can point to it (actually or referentially). Some are in a category of deities that are not plausible and have enough details that they can be refuted.

So, it all comes down to what the theist claims about the set of deities they say exists. Note that the diversity of claims made by sects within mainline religious groups and the diversity of individual beliefs by different theists makes getting an adequate description from a theist difficult. Once it’s out there, though, addressing those claims is not very hard.

  (Quote)

rvkevin June 10, 2010 at 6:20 pm

“I accuse some atheists of being weak on the record but strong in what they write.”

Any citation? Just a link to anywhere would be fine…to youtube, to a blog, to anywhere?

I have head this claim before, but when I asked for examples, I didn’t hear anything past the claim. We can only discuss issues that are independently verifiable to all of us, we can speculate about these people you’ve run into all we want, but I would rather talk about something more tangible. If no examples can been found in the public sphere, I don’t find it worth talking about such an issue.

  (Quote)

caseywollberg June 10, 2010 at 7:03 pm

@ Hermes

Your explanation amply demonstrates why theists bear the burden of proof, and why they are so desperate to shift it. I don’t expect Dunning-Kruger to appreciate this. Instead, s/he’ll proclaim, “I agree, I agree! What’s your point?” and then waffle on about theism not being a “vacuous prosecution,” without ponying up whatever evidence he has in mind that we cowardly atheists are dismissing without consideration and thereby supposedly making a positive claim ourselves (what it is, he never says) while hiding it behind his failure to bear the burden of proof (sure, in Wackyland). The poor sophist just can’t bear to clearly state what it is he wants us to argue against, preferring instead the strategy of demanding that we restate his arguments in our own words and then explain how our arguments have refuted them (Jesus fucking Christ). Next he’ll bring out the accusation of misunderstanding–as though we were meant to understand in the first place. What does a sophist do when he’s cornered? We’re about to find out…(I LOVE this part!)…

  (Quote)

caseywollberg June 10, 2010 at 7:20 pm

rvkevin:

“I accuse some atheists of being weak on the record but strong in what they write.”

Any citation? Just a link to anywhere would be fine…to youtube, to a blog, to anywhere?”

Oh, just some people, you know…I don’t have to prove what I say I’ve experienced or even give you any details about what I mean by phrases like “some atheists” or “strong in what they write.” Hell, I don’t even need for this statement to support my argument. But, goddammit, it sure is relevant and you better take it seriously, or else I’ll pray to my magic sky daddy and he’ll give you hemorrhoids.

  (Quote)

caseywollberg June 10, 2010 at 7:23 pm

Guess who just learned some HTML. How many Internets do I win for that?

  (Quote)

Hermes June 10, 2010 at 7:25 pm

[ looks at link -- yep, I won't forget that for a while ]

Well, to paraphrase Matt Dillahunty if people won’t put words in their own mouths to explain exactly what they actually think, it’s just sour grapes when they complain that someone else gets it wrong. We’re not psychics. We can only go on what little is presented.

  (Quote)

Hermes June 10, 2010 at 7:48 pm

Oh, here’s a new one I heard today. Have you seen the bread with the Bible quote — Ezekiel 4:9? It turns out that if they would have read a bit more, there are some nasty bits there. It’s an ‘unclean’ bread meant to defile them.

Ezekiel 4:9 commentary and image

I wonder if the company that markets that is being ironic, self-abusive, thinks their customers are idiots, or are just oblivious. It’s almost as bad as clinging to John 3:16 and not bothering to read or understand the nasty bits that follow.

  (Quote)

caseywollberg June 10, 2010 at 8:06 pm

@ Hermes

I didn’t know that about Ezekiel bread, but then my cult wasn’t into Ezekiel bread–we were more into Ezekiel, i.e., his prophecies, so I had heard of that passage. Silly zealots; they’ll do anything to get closer to their Bibles…except read them for comprehension. Apparently religious illiteracy is a big problem in the States, and it correlates strongly with religious faith, of course.

  (Quote)

cl June 11, 2010 at 4:06 pm

rkevin,

Any citation? Just a link to anywhere would be fine…to youtube, to a blog, to anywhere?

One atheist that comes to mind is a guy who goes by PhillyChief who blogs at www [dot] youmademesayit [dot] com. This atheists goes to great lengths to distinguish himself as one who doesn’t claim that God doesn’t exist. For example, he draws a line of demarcation thusly:

Now to be clear, there are some atheists who assert that there are no gods,

This is clearly a negative claim of weak atheism, yet, if you read him long enough, you’ll see a whirlwind of statements that are consistent with strong atheism. If you really wish, I’ll take the time to dig up a few of my personal favorites, but hopefully I’ve supplied you with a decent initial example of what I’m talking about.

If you’d like me to answer any previous questions, or if you have anything else new to discuss, I’m all ears. I haven’t kept up with this thread much, but today I remembered that I’d left you hanging and I apologize.

  (Quote)

rvkevin June 11, 2010 at 4:42 pm

you’ll see a whirlwind of statements that are consistent with strong atheism

This isn’t exactly what we were talking about. We were talking about weak atheists masquerading as strong atheists. Someone making a claim that is consistent with strong atheism doesn’t mean that they hold that position or feign to hold that position. For example, a weak atheist and strong atheist could both think that theism is not justified to hold, so just criticizing theism would not be sufficient to determine his position within atheism yet it is consistent with strong atheism. For this reason, having a strong stance against theism/religion does not make one a strong atheist.

One example of him feigning strong atheism would be enough.

  (Quote)

cl June 11, 2010 at 6:03 pm

We were talking about weak atheists masquerading as strong atheists.

Then we’re talking about the same thing.

Someone making a claim that is consistent with strong atheism doesn’t mean that they hold that position or feign to hold that position.

Agreed. Would you say someone who identifies as a weak atheist yet writes stuff like “God doesn’t exist” is projecting mixed messages at best, or intentionally masquerading at worst? I would.

Similarly, would you say someone that writes stuff like “God doesn’t exist” – which is clearly a claim of strong atheism – incurs absolutely no burden proof? I wouldn’t.

One example of him feigning strong atheism would be enough.

Give me an example or two of the type of claim you’re looking for and I’ll see what I can find.

  (Quote)

rvkevin June 11, 2010 at 9:45 pm

I think if its figurative in nature, its would be for rhetoric effect. For example, “stop believing in your invisible friend.”

Inconsistent use might be the result of poor wording, missing words, etc. For example, when arguing against the definition of atheism being defined as “the denial of God,” he says:

Now of course atheists conclude that there aren’t any gods in light of the failures of all who’ve tried to assert that there are any, which prompts disbelief in those alleged gods, but disbelieving in light of lack of evidence and asserting actual knowledge are two very different things.

I think poor wording on his part make’s this statement misinterpreted and is antithetical to the message of the post and the other posts I have seen and the most reasonable reaction would be to think he meant to say “Now of course some atheists conclude that” or it is a lazy use of language. Such a statement is inconsistent with the rest of the post, and most likely points to a typo. Especially when he goes into more detail (for the rest of the post) about the reverse being a more accurate description of the atheist’s position. To take one part of the message that is inconsistent with the rest and use that as the focal point would be an injustice done to to principle of charity.

If he says that he’s a metaphysical naturalist, a consistent use of “God does not exist” in a single post, if he goes into detail about holding that position, or something similar happening above (a single occurrence) and someone comments on that claim and he defends it as accurate, would be adequate.

  (Quote)

cl June 12, 2010 at 3:03 am

caseywollberg,

So, I had some time and decided to re-read the entire thread. Some good stuff! I especially like how you run your mouth so much that you actually lose track of who you’re running it to:

Zeb=hopeless. (Zeb, quoting caseywollberg)

Oh, hey, that’s right. Maybe I was referring to the argument over the definition of agnosticism. (caseywollberg)

Derp derp!

This one was nice, too:

But when you go around saying, “I’m a better atheist than all you jokers,” you should expect to be called something in response, (to Luke)

Yeah, like that’s not ironic as ever! You’re totally an “I’m a better atheist than all you jokers” type of atheist. A real smarty-pants atheist who’s more punk than the rest of the rockers who get their studded belts at Hot Topic, huh?

How about:

Why in the world would you assume that an entire audience of people you (presumably) have no intimate awareness of laugh at that question because they don’t understand it? (to Luke)

..then, in the very next paragraph, you make an assumption about an entire audience of people you (presumably) have no intimate awareness of:

Atheists are patently *not* hypocrites when it comes to morality.

The real clincher is that atheists like yourselves patently *are* hypocrites when it comes to admonishing other atheists against making assumptions of entire audiences of people they presumably have no awareness of. So tell me: if you hate sophists and wish to cause them pain, does that make you a masochist?

While the uneducated masses may cower in their ignorant [-- SNIP --]

Blah, blah, blah… again, superiority complex in full swing, self-projected onto Luke. We all know the drill: “hey, you’re not the smartest atheist in the world, I am damnit!

Anyway. Enough of picking at the low-hanging fruit that is the set of your inconsistencies and contradictions. Let’s get back to our original conversation and see if we can actually get somewhere and possibly even rally together against someone else or some other group of people.

I’m an agnostic henotheist: I believe in gods but only one God.

It’s so simple even a moron like you could understand it–if he wanted to.

I know it’s simple. What confuses me is why you think I don’t understand these very basic terms. Perhaps it’s that ol’ superiority complex you self-projected onto Luke? Never can tell who you’re dealing with online, I guess.

Your problem with the technically correct definition is that it is inconvenient to your agenda of shifting the burden of proof onto atheists.

Not so. Rather, I simply want strong atheists (or gnostic atheists, if you prefer) to provide support for their positive claim that God or gods don’t or most likely don’t exist. I’ve not read anything from you that indicates you have any reason to object to that, either. If you do, hit me with another load of stankbreath. Maybe you’re actually saying something besides all that good, funny, over-compensatory chest-puffing stuff!

To a lesser extent, I want atheists who claim to be weak in order to relieve themselves of the aforementioned burden to refrain from making “strong atheist” statements in their arguments.

What of the distinction between a provisional lack of belief in gods and the positive belief they don’t exist? One is a positive claim (an absurd one) and the other is the rejection of a positive claim. How does your proposed terminology distinguish between these two positions? It doesn’t.

Yes, it does, Mr. Patience. Watch…

Instead it flattens out the distinctions so “atheist” can be used in the pejorative like it was when it was coined by people who didn’t think it was possible for their particular imaginary friend not to exist.

No, no, and no. See, this distinction you accuse me of attempting to flatten is actually the same distinction that I’m asking self-proclaimed weak atheists who come across as strong atheists to respect. You are *absolutely correct* to say that a provisional lack of belief in gods is the rejection of a positive claim, and that the belief gods don’t exist is an absurd positive claim.

So, how does my proposed terminology distinguish between the two positions? Well, one thing working against us here is that when Luke’s virus gave everybody’s computers cooties, we lost a grip of comments. So, I can’t recall exactly what terminology I proposed, but I believe I suggested “believer” for theist, “agnostic” for weak atheist, and “unbeliever” or “nonbeliever” for strong atheist. So there’s your answer to that: my proposed terminology can apparently distinguish just fine. It has the added bonus of being simpler, too, which makes them… well, you know: easier to understand for all those “uneducated masses” you like to show your Scarlet A weenie to.

So, now it is popular for anyone who claims atheism (and understands what “agnostic” really means) to be riddled with ignorant remarks like, “Oh yeah? Prove God doesn’t exist, dur hur.” Thanks to thick skulls like yours, we still have to deal with this ancient stupidity.

No, thanks to that subset of always-willfully-ignorant and thick-skulled believers who either knowingly or unknowingly conflate agnostics with unbelievers. Blame them, not me, chisel-chest. They’re the ones we should all rally against for their egregious errors in this regard. If you weren’t such a loose cannon you might be able to see.

Christian: Yahweh exists! He has x and y characteristics!

Atheist: Got any evidence?

Christian: *You* got any evidence?

This is exactly how you said it goes down,

No, that is not exactly how I said it goes down. That’s exactly the “vacuity of evidence” you need to assume to uphold this dog-and-pony show you’re trying to run.

This is how I said it goes down, in case you want to try listening:

Weak Atheist: I’m not making a positive claim, I’m merely rejecting a positive claim, therefore I retain no burden of proof… then something like, “God doesn’t exist.”

Theist: Hey, wait a minute, you just claimed to be a weak atheist but you’re talking like a strong atheist. What gives? If you’re really a strong atheist, then you’ve got some explaining to do, to, because you’re arguing an absurd claim (that there are no gods).

Got it yet?

I am an agnostic atheist, and have no burden to prove anything. Just exactly what do you think I have to prove? Come on. Tell me. (to Martin)

I’ll gladly answer that for myself: if you are an agnostic atheist, you have no burden to prove anything.

So what’s the problem now? You balls-deep in those silk pillows again?

  (Quote)

Larry November 12, 2010 at 10:49 am

Hypothetical story leading to rhetorical question.

In the beginning the big bang exploded and a lot of space crap condensed as it blew out from a single point of energy. The condensed space crap became stars and planets. Earth was one of them. Earth was hot and then it was cool. It became cool enough for liquid water. A crystal formed to keep it’s valence electrons. More and different crystals formed. The best crystals became living cells being most successful at keeping valence electrons keeping its energy. The best cells became other things and eventually humans.

Humans are inbred and deformed monkeys. There were three humans. Male human named A mated with a female human B. B mated with male human C and ignored A because C had better attributes. C was better for producing offspring likely to live longer lives. A got mad at B and C because he wasn’t getting any attention. A knew from the past violence of the animals eating each other and the atoms taking other atoms electrons and the big explosion that it would be bad to kill B and C.

This is why there is no god right?

  (Quote)

mojo.rhythm November 20, 2010 at 5:19 am

Larry,

The reason many atheists are not persuaded by arguments for your God’s existence is for exactly the same reasons you are not persuaded that Allah, Zeus or Poseidon are real. You have just concocted a strawman (and a pretty funny one if you were being a Poe ;)

  (Quote)

doaftheloaf March 23, 2011 at 9:25 pm

“But of course I am an atheist and a moral realist, so I must think there is good argument and evidence in favor of objective moral facts.”

What are these good arguments and evidence? You didn’t seem to answer this in your post.

  (Quote)

Alex Hogendoorn October 13, 2011 at 3:23 pm

Again, loved your honesty and think you’re moving in a very good direction which fosters good discussion.

As a Christian, and one who holds to Divine Command Theory, I would disagree with you on this point:

“Divine command theory, because it grounds moral facts in the attitudes of a person, is by definition a subjective moral theory, not an objective one.”

First, while many debate whether or not moral goodness is independent of God, I would hold to the position that it is not God’s *attitudes* that determine morality, but the essence of His person. He is truth, thus He speaks truth. Being made in His image it is wrong for me to lie because it goes against His nature and thus mine. This is not an arbitrary decision on His part, or an attitude, but rather an expression of His person. He cannot act out of accordance with Himself, and so morality has an objective basis in the One who is unchanging.

Second, this is not just *a* person; operating from the belief that God exists, He would be *the* Person. He alone would be self-defining; everyone else is contingent. Morality found in anyone else, or in anything else (remembering the universe to be contingent as well) would be subjective.

However, that all said, I would love to read your argument for an objective moral foundation without God.

  (Quote)

samuel welsh January 25, 2012 at 2:25 am

sadd yet factual about the countries mentioned.
God sent his only son to rescue us from sin .
He invented science ,science is being foolish by ignoring this
and giving God glory ;shame on athiests ,for closed hearts and minds
with cold logic as ones leader,basic morals only go so far.

  (Quote)

Matthew Flannagan January 27, 2012 at 10:19 pm

“The reason many atheists are not persuaded by arguments for your God’s existence is for exactly the same reasons you are not persuaded that Allah, Zeus or Poseidon are real. You have just concocted a strawman (and a pretty funny one if you were being a Poe ;)”

Interesting, given Allah and the Christian God are arguably the same deity, it appears Christians accept Allah’s existence, they reject that Mohamed is his prophet but thats not the same as denying that Allah exists ( in fact Christain Apologists like Craig actually defend the very same arguments used by Muslim apologists for Gods existence and say they are sound.

But lets play along and looks at your main point “The reason many atheists are not persuaded by arguments for your God’s existence is for exactly the same reasons you are not persuaded that Allah, Zeus or Poseidon are real.” I was unaware that most atheists did not believe in the Christian God because they have climbed mount olympus and found they are not there. I thought they offered arguments like the problem of evil which only apply to the existence of a monotheistic deity, or the arguments from divine hiddeness which only applies to a God who wants to have a certain kind of concious relationship with God.

The reality here is the silly straw man is your own, Christian apologists typically do accept the arguments used my Muslim apologists for Allah’s existence, and the reasons people rejet Zeus are not the same reasons they reject theism.

  (Quote)

Leave a Comment

{ 2 trackbacks }