Thursday, May 24, 2007

What kind of atheist are you?

 
You scored as Scientific Atheist, These guys rule. I'm not one of them myself, although I play one online. They know the rules of debate, the Laws of Thermodynamics, and can explain evolution in fifty words or less. More concerned with how things ARE than how they should be, these are the people who will bring us into the future.

Scientific Atheist

92%

Militant Atheist

50%

Agnostic

42%

Theist

33%

Angry Atheist

25%

Spiritual Atheist

17%

Apathetic Atheist

8%

What kind of atheist are you?
created with QuizFarm.com

I scored 42% agnostic. This is accurate in spite of what John Wilkins thinks. There's nothing wrong with being an agnostic atheist. I'm in good company with Richard Dawkins and PZ Myers. Please, let's drop this silly idea that you have to be either an atheist or an agnostic.

I'm also agnostic about Santa Claus and the tooth fairy because I know I can't prove their non-existence. But I don't believe in them so I'm an asantaclausist and an athoothfairyist.

37 comments :

  1. The term agnostic was, as far I am aware, coined by Thomas Huxley to indicate a person who did not think it was possible to know if god(s) existed or not. In that respect it would be possible to be a theist but agnostic, although I suspect there are not many theists who could call themselves agnostic.

    An atheist is, of course, a person who does not accept or believe god(s) exist. It is quite possible, and indeed logical in my view, to be both. If you do not think it is possible to know if god(s) exist then parsimony would lead one to conclude there is no reason to believe god(s) exist.

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  2. Tell you what, Larry, when you stop telling me I have to fit somewhere on Dawkins' simplistic scale of belief about god/s, I'll stop saying that one has to be either a gnostic or an agnostic about a given claim.

    And it might also help if you stop saying that because one is agnostic about X, one has to be agnostic also about Y and Z...

    These simple rhetorical fallacies do not help the discussion at all.

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  3. Larry is right, but
    I muts confess I have avoided calling myself an agnostic atheist, even if it is an accurate enough description, becuase of the taint against the "agnostic" part as accomodationists, fencesitters, etc.
    Thta is it may cause someee kneee-jerk rejection form the more militant atheists

    Abnyways I've been thinking that the distinction we wat is between "scientific atheist" and "philosophical atheist".
    I would consider myself a philosophical atheist.

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  4. Alipio,

    I get your point about being considered in the "Chamberlain School of Atheists" if you claim to be an agnostic and an atheist. However my view is that what was good enough for Thomas Huxley .......

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  5. John Wilkins says,

    Tell you what, Larry, when you stop telling me I have to fit somewhere on Dawkins' simplistic scale of belief about god/s, I'll stop saying that one has to be either a gnostic or an agnostic about a given claim.

    You've got a deal. I'll continue to maintain that everyone has to fit somewhere on Dawkins' simplistic scale. You can continue to say that for any given claim, one has to be an agnostic or not.

    And it might also help if you stop saying that because one is agnostic about X, one has to be agnostic also about Y and Z...

    I really don't understand this. Are you, or are you not, agnostic about Santa Claus and the tooth fairy. If not, how to you propose to prove their non-existence?

    I've asked this question many times and you keep avoiding it. You may think it's rhetorical trickery but it doesn't seem that way to me. To me it goes right to the heart of the debate.

    Perhaps you see agnosticism about God as a special case that distinguishes it from all other similar situations? If so, I'd appreciate a brief explanation. Perhaps you could explain your position on Satan or Thor? Are you agnostic about all Gods?

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  6. I really don't understand this. Are you, or are you not, agnostic about Santa Claus and the tooth fairy. If not, how to you propose to prove their non-existence?

    Here's where your approach fails. I am atheist about S. Claus and T. Fairy. Where does it say that I need to prove their non-existence? That's just silly rhetoric.

    As far as I recall, any notion of atheist that I've come across is something like, "a person who denies or disbelieves the existence of a supreme being or beings." Proof? Why should I?

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  7. As far as I recall, any notion of atheist that I've come across is something like, "a person who denies or disbelieves the existence of a supreme being or beings." Proof? Why should I?

    Could not an atheist see no evidence for supreme beings, etc. and thus logically disbelieve in such? Thus, an atheist would not have to prove the non-existence of (insert entity) in order to disbelieve in (insert entity). The rhetorical trickery at issue is logically sound and merits a better response than that.

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  8. I muts confess I have avoided calling myself an agnostic atheist, even if it is an accurate enough description, becuase of the taint against the "agnostic" part as accomodationists, fencesitters, etc.

    Very interesting, considering the current usage of the word "agnostic" was developed less than 1.5 centuries ago by someone who wished to avoid the baggage of calling himself an atheist.

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  9. dunbar:

    The rhetorical trickery at issue is logically sound.

    I don't buy it. Just because I don't believe in the E. Bunny or Thor or whoever is no reason to try to pin me down with the freshman "Prove that the E. Bunny doesn't exist!" silliness.

    There's no logical fallacy being violated; there's no burden of proof hanging over my head.

    And all of this is quite apart from the added silliness of a demand to prove a negative.

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  10. As Gertrude Stein might have said: atheist is an atheist is an atheist. Either you believe in god or you don't; if you don't, you're an atheist. To try to draw a distinction between atheistic agnostics, agnostic atheists, non-believing atheists, unbelieving atheists, and disbelieving atheists is ridiculous. That's why all the other labels besides "atheist" are hogwash. Let's leave that kind of pointless categorization to the religionists.

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  11. Exterminator, you say you don't believe in god. Let me correct you: according to your way of thinking, what your really wanted to say is "I KNOW there is no god".
    I myself, I just say I don't believe in god.

    Scott,
    Of course you can prove a negative, in the true world, under defined conditions with truly scoentific objects of study.
    But of course, this ceases to be pòssible when dealing with the supernatural entities you "naïve empiricists" demand evidence for. As if you WOULD acnkowledge any evidence put in front of you.

    C'mon.

    Just answer this question for me: what evidence, if presented to you, could make you belive in santa claus, the flying spaghetti monster, or any supernatural creature?

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  12. alipio:

    I don't think you have the mindreading -- or language -- skills to tell me what I "really wanted to say." I'll keep your name in mind, though, in case I ever need someone to translate for me into Arrogant.

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  13. I don't buy it. Just because I don't believe in the E. Bunny or Thor or whoever is no reason to try to pin me down with the freshman "Prove that the E. Bunny doesn't exist!" silliness.

    So what if it's freshman. 2 + 2 = 4 is kindergarten. Oooooh we can't have any kindergarten math, noooooooooooooo...

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  14. Larry said Are you, or are you not, agnostic about Santa Claus and the tooth fairy. If not, how to you propose to prove their non-existence?

    I've asked this question many times and you keep avoiding it. You may think it's rhetorical trickery but it doesn't seem that way to me. To me it goes right to the heart of the debate.


    In fact I don't keep avoiding it. Rather, my comments seem to be invisible to some. Here it is, in simple terms:

    1. Each claim is independently assessed. You make a Thor or a YHWH claim, and I will take each one separately.

    2. For each claim my first question is: is there a factual claim here that is empirically decideable?

    3. If so, has that claim been empirically disconfirmed? [Does that god require belief in something false?]

    4. If so, be atheist about that claim.

    5. If not, be agnostic about that claim.

    Simple as that, really. If no knowledge (gnosis) can be had about the claim, because it has no knowledge-relevant aspects (that is, it's empirically irrelevant), then be an agnostic about the claim, which in my case translates to smile, and nod when people say they believe this, and change the subject back to actual knowledge claims from science.

    So one can be agnostic about an Anglican intellectual's view of God, but atheist about an Anglican evangelical's view that is indistinguishable from any other creationism, etc.

    Basically I rely on the following premise: the only testable knowledge claims are those that come out of science, the scientific method, or something so like it that we could do it as science. If someone makes a claim that has no empirical content than I am agnostic about it (and moreover, apathetic about it).

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  15. 1. Sounds good to me.

    2. Now I'm on shakier ground. First, is "Tooth fairy" empirically decidable, and "god" is not? Why? We could probably come up with a metaphysically nebulous tooth fairy concept -- would you then say you're agnostic about it?

    Secondly, and I think you seem to think differently about this, a claim that fails #2 seems to be a stronger sort of failure, but you assign such phenomena to what I consider a weaker category, as unresolveable.

    3. OK, but I'm still a bit at sea. Has the tooth fairy been empirically falsified? How about Sasquatch or Thor?


    I guess the part that still mystifies me is this one:
    If someone makes a claim that has no empirical content than I am agnostic about it

    I think what might be missing here is that there is another element. These ideas don't come wafting out of the ether with no context. I can sort of see where you'd be coming from in a discussion of an abstraction, but that's not what we're dealing with. We're interacting with people. They're saying "[I believe in an entity]" and you're inferring that they logically continue with "[with no empirical content]". That, as a practical feature of this kind of statement, they have an implicit acknowledgment that they believe it actually does have empirical content -- people do not invest substantial chunks of their lives in this entity if they were to accept the second part of that statement -- which you are a more or less denying exists.

    Or alternatively, you could view it as the atheist inferring an implicit clause. The atheist is doing something other than simply not believing an entity exists. He is stating that he rejects the idea that the believer has knowledge that the entity exists.

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  16. don't whine, "exterminator"

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  17. Wow, Paul, I'm not sure this is the place for a debate, but until it gets too unwieldy, I guess this is where it is...

    You wrote:

    2. Now I'm on shakier ground. First, is "Tooth fairy" empirically decidable, and "god" is not? Why? We could probably come up with a metaphysically nebulous tooth fairy concept -- would you then say you're agnostic about it?

    Yes I would. There's a further step I will take, that I outline at the end of this remark.

    Secondly, and I think you seem to think differently about this, a claim that fails #2 seems to be a stronger sort of failure, but you assign such phenomena to what I consider a weaker category, as unresolveable.

    Not sure what you mean by this. So far as I am concerned, the only things that are worthy of being called knowledge claims are the results of empirically grounded reasoning, akin to (or on alternate Wednesdays, restricted to, depending on how strong the coffee is) science.

    If something makes no difference to science, then it is neither knowledge or resolveable (or as I would say, a decideable question). [Which is either to say that it isn't resolved yet or that it cannot be in principle. I'm really concerned here with the latter class).

    3. OK, but I'm still a bit at sea. Has the tooth fairy been empirically falsified? How about Sasquatch or Thor?

    If you come to me and say "the reason that teeth under the pillow are removed and a coin left is because of the tooth fairy", I can say, "well, actually it's your parents. There's not been a single case documented in which the tooth fairy didn't turn out to be parents". Not hard, really; ordinary explanation and epistemology. If you say "each tooth has a soul that the tooth fairy collects when parents do that", what am I to say? Pat you on the head, smile wanly and move away slowly, is all... I certainly cannot argue against that view, for whatever would tell against it? So although I am not motivated to hold it for any reason myself, I tolerate it in you, and make no knowledge claims. If I am a militant agnostic (I don't know and neither do you!) then I will say that you only believe it, not know it, and that faith claims are indefeasible, but warrant nothing.

    I guess the part that still mystifies me is this one:
    If someone makes a claim that has no empirical content than I am agnostic about it


    Yes, this is where it all goes swampy. You think that any claim has to have some epistemic warrant, or it can be dismissed. I think that there are entire slabs of human cognitive content that are not knowledge claims at all, and are not worth defeating, or trying to.

    I think what might be missing here is that there is another element. These ideas don't come wafting out of the ether with no context. I can sort of see where you'd be coming from in a discussion of an abstraction, but that's not what we're dealing with. We're interacting with people. They're saying "[I believe in an entity]" and you're inferring that they logically continue with "[with no empirical content]". That, as a practical feature of this kind of statement, they have an implicit acknowledgment that they believe it actually does have empirical content -- people do not invest substantial chunks of their lives in this entity if they were to accept the second part of that statement -- which you are a more or less denying exists.

    I know many theists. Few of them are trying to impose their worldview or ontology upon me. When they do, I ask them how their view stacks up against science, and if it has no contradictions, then I smile wanly again, and continue on my way. I certainly do not want to tell them they are wrong, for again, on what grounds can I do this? Bayesian probabilities won't work, because there are no priors that we can use to evaluate the "hypotheses". So as long as they are fully in tune with science, I don't care what else they think.

    The theisms that you oppose, though, are dealt with easily by referring to science - they are contrary to fact claims, and can be dismissed. I don't need to attack all theisms to achieve this goal, though. It's enough they have false beliefs.

    Or alternatively, you could view it as the atheist inferring an implicit clause. The atheist is doing something other than simply not believing an entity exists. He is stating that he rejects the idea that the believer has knowledge that the entity exists.

    No, on my taxonomy, that is agnosticism.

    My final move? To treat claims that are neither empirically nor formally incoherent as uninteresting. I don't need to deny that others find them interesting. I don't need to say that they shouldn't find them interesting. I am an apathetic agnostic - in effect, if the question cannot be resolved either by formal inconsistency or by contrary to empirical fact claims, then so far as I'm concerned it is a bit like other psychological mysteries, like why people enjoy rap music. It's just a tolerable fact (in the case of rap music, barely tolerable).

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  18. How do know whether or not some claim is empirically decidable or coherent? Quantum mechanics would have seemed metaphysical (or preposterous) to Newton, yet.. here we are.

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  19. "Either you believe in god or you don't; if you don't, you're an atheist. To try to draw a distinction between atheistic agnostics, agnostic atheists, non-believing atheists, unbelieving atheists, and disbelieving atheists is ridiculous."

    Of course the basic concepts are atheism/theism, but there is a huge difference between saying "I have good reasons to believe no gods exist" and "I have no good reasons to believe that gods would not exist". The distinction between atheism and agnosticism is conceptual.

    Since lumping and reduction works here as in most cases we study, I would not do as Moran and Wilkins suggest here, look at specific claims first. For the purpose discussed, the definition of supernaturalism captures the essence - phenomena without a natural mechanism. It doesn't matter if it is a non-evolutionary unicorn or a zombie originator of an abrahamic religion until we are debunking specific claims.

    "how to you propose to prove their non-existence?"

    It is indeed important to acknowledge that there is an empirical element here. After all, if we observed beings with powers approaching godhood and claiming it, we would for all practical purposes accept that - it is not different from any other approximation or undecidable difference in empirical matters. We must do our best with facts at hand.

    Once we accept that it becomes easy to see that we don't discuss a nebulous philosophical certainty here. Dawkins calls himself agnostic I believe, since he concludes that gods are improbable instead of impossible. But I would call that atheism since all empirical theories have remaining uncertainty and can be revised.

    Agnosticism is when you claim, definitely or not, that you can't say anything. It is a much stronger claim than atheism, as I understand it.

    Another way to see the empirical element is to work in the natural regime. A sketch for a qualitative argument is P(N | D&T) > P(N | D), where P(N) = probability for a Natural universe, D = observed Data, T = natural Theory; for each time we can explain data sets with a natural mechanism the probability that our universe is natural increases.

    If one want to be fancy, the supernatural claim is dual to the naturalistic description. It is enough to ask "Where are they?", since empirical methods affects the strength of surrounding claims.

    That is the difference between a physical argument and a rigorous argument (math or philosophy):

    "A good physical argument can indeed strengthen the links around it; a rigorous argument is generally very rigid in scope and cannot do this. Also, rigorous arguments are generally constructed as chains, so the weaknesses add in series. Physical arguments are in general webs, with a complex interweaving of arguments" ( http://cosmicvariance.com/2007/05/21/guest-post-joe-polchinski-on-science-or-sociology/#comment-264722 )

    On such grounds I would even argue that non-interventionist gods are debunked as belonging to the same class of ideas as the interventionist. But that is a more tenuous and specious argument that is not especially important. In a philosophical setting or for debunking purposes it is enough to be able to slay some gods. ;-)

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  20. For the purpose discussed, the definition of supernaturalism captures the essence - phenomena without a natural mechanism. It doesn't matter if it is a non-evolutionary unicorn or a zombie originator of an abrahamic religion until we are debunking specific claims.

    No, but it does matter if it is a God whose reality subsumes ours. For example, a hypothetical God who gives us our own solipsist dream world to test us. In this scenario, supernatural actually is "natural" and "super".

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  21. John Wilkins says, in talking about belief in the tooth fairy ...

    If you say "each tooth has a soul that the tooth fairy collects when parents do that", what am I to say? Pat you on the head, smile wanly and move away slowly, is all... I certainly cannot argue against that view, for whatever would tell against it? So although I am not motivated to hold it for any reason myself, I tolerate it in you, and make no knowledge claims. If I am a militant agnostic (I don't know and neither do you!) then I will say that you only believe it, not know it, and that faith claims are indefeasible, but warrant nothing.

    I think I understand what you're trying to say here. You tolerate the beliefs of others even if you think they're silly and you don't believe in them yourself. You refer to this as "agnosticism" because you're simply not interested in claims that can't be tested.

    Okay, but isn't it true that in practice you have not been convinced to believe in the tooth fairy? In other words you act as though you were a non-believer with respect to toothfairyism.

    You are agnostic about some of the non-testable claims of tooth fairy believers but that doesn't mean you leave teeth under your pillow. As far as I am concerned, you are both an agnostic about toothfairyism and a non-believer in the tooth fairy.

    Similarly, with respect to God, you are both agnostic and a non-believer in practice. We have a word for people who have not been convinced to believe in God. They're called atheists (without theism). I think you are one but I recognize that you vehemently reject this. I don't understand why but I suspect there are reasons other than the ones you are defending here. Perhaps it's uncool for a philosopher to self-identify as an atheist? Perhaps it carries a certain stigma in your mind?

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  22. I have always thought that theism and gnosticism were two completely orthogonal axes. Theism describes belief in a deity and gnosticism describes knowledge (and the a- forms say "no belief" and "no knowledge" respectively).

    Thus I am an atheist about all gods and all other supernatural beasties and phenomona. I am an agnostic when it comes to the deist's, pantheist's, and panentheist's gods but a gnostic about the various bronze and iron age deities.

    I have no idea why Dr. Wilkins conflates the two terms into one scale.

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  23. John Wilkins says,

    I know many theists. Few of them are trying to impose their worldview or ontology upon me. When they do, I ask them how their view stacks up against science, and if it has no contradictions, then I smile wanly again, and continue on my way. I certainly do not want to tell them they are wrong, for again, on what grounds can I do this? Bayesian probabilities won't work, because there are no priors that we can use to evaluate the "hypotheses". So as long as they are fully in tune with science, I don't care what else they think.

    This isn't directly related to the discussion about agnosticism but it's something that interests me. I agree with you on this one and it's why make a distinction between various believers.

    If you adhere strictly to the Nonoverlapping Magisteria of Gould (NOMA) there there's a place for some believers whose religion does not conflict in any way with science. I've given the example of Deists and many Buddhists.

    However, there are many other believers who do not stick to their proper magisterium and those are the ones I care about. Most Theistic Evolutionists fall into this category. Do you ever debate these kind of theists who step over the line? I don't see many examples on your blog.

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  24. OK, this is not such a good format for an extensive debate, but I'll try to address these issues briefly here.

    How does one determine if something is empirically testable? Well it has to be pretty embedded in our best science. QM is testable, and there are programs underway to find out what of several hypotheses are correct. String theory, OTOH, is not, but I will accept the most parsimonious string theory as our best science in a qualified manner. Obviously there are borderline cases. Science is like that.

    But this raises what I think is the key topic in this debate - what is the source of knowledge? I believe that the only thing that qualifies as knowledge is the outcome of empirically grounded investigation. That is, in other words, science. All else is conjecture, belief, personal preference, social aesthetics, and the like, but it isn't knowledge.

    Now, in the case of religious belief, I am asked to take a stance - there are two ways to construe this. Either I am asked to commit myself to a view for or against the religious belief in question (i.e., I am asked to be an atheist or theist, for example), which presupposes that there is a principled way one even can take a commitment stance, or I am asked to rule on whether I think there is a way to decide if a stance is takeable.

    Since for me this is all about knowledge, I first divide these questions into those that can be decided on empirical epistemological grounds and those that cannot (i.e., gnosis versus agnosis). If the view in question falls into agnosis, then that is all there is to be said about it (for now, if it is merely a lack of knowledge that might tell against it, or forever if there cannot be knowledge that will tell against it).

    If something falls into the gnosis domain, then it is either told for or against (and for my money, all religious claims that have any empirical consequences have been disconfirmed by empirical evidence, which goes to support my initial belief that science is the sole source of actual knowledge). I don't quite know what I'd do with a religious commitment that accurately predicted empirical facts without error. I'd probably adopt that religion, pro tem.

    Torbjörn got it right when he noted that this is about a different of scope in the formulation - the difference between "I do not know that there is X" and "I know that there is no X" (it's a fair bit more obvious in FO Predicate Calculus, where this is a simple move of the NOT operator from outside to inside the brackets). That some gods are slain is,indeed, enough, if it is the gods that cause obstacles to be raised against knowledge (science). We have no need to slay those gods that do not raise such barriers.

    Larry asked if I'm a (suitably unempirical) toothfairyist non-believer. You have to be very careful with negations in formal logic. Where they go is crucial, and in ordinary language, ambivalent statements can be interpreted in several ways. Do I believe Not-toothfairyism, or do I Not-beleive toothfairyism? I would say the latter - I simply have no belief commitment to toothfairyism or its negation. If you ask me, do I think toothfairyism is true, I will answer you, it has exactly the epistemic warrant of an infinity of other views that are not decideable. A rough back-of-the-envelope calculation suggests that its Pascal Wager likelihood is 1/∞, and hence approaches 0, but I cannot say this means that all unempirical claims are equally false, only that they are equally unlikely, a priori. Suppose one of them is true (it need not be religious - let's take the unempirical claim that the world exists independently of mind) - my likelihood assessments will fail to be good guides. But yes, I don't hold much regard for tootfairyism. However, I won't deny that it is possibly true.

    Incidentally, it is uncool for a philosopher to take my view, not atheism. Nearly every philosopher I know who I have ever polled on the matter is an out and out atheist; several have been out and out theists. Almost none are agnostics.

    martindh wonders why I conflate gnosis and theism - I do not, rather explicitly. Here is a post that gives a graphical view of how I see the conceptual landscape of this subject.

    Finally, I do not accept Gould's NOMA view. Science and religion, as well as science and politics, science and social fashion, and so on, all elbow each other for room, and there is considerable conflict. I also do not think that religion has a "proper" domain. What I do think is that science has a proper domain, and insofar as all these other activities and endeavours of human behaviour encroach upon it, they should be trimmed or repelled.

    Oh, and the reasonable theists don't make a big deal of their views, which is why you don't see them in public. Of course, if you take those who shout loudest to be the most representative, you will think the fundies and nutbars are what religion is all about, but the bulk of thoughtful adherents of any view are typically pretty silent. They need the odd - and I do mean odd - philosopher to stand up on their behalf occasionally.

    I hope that finally clarifies what I think.

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  25. John Wilkins says,

    Larry asked if I'm a (suitably unempirical) toothfairyist non-believer. You have to be very careful with negations in formal logic. Where they go is crucial, and in ordinary language, ambivalent statements can be interpreted in several ways. Do I believe Not-toothfairyism, or do I Not-beleive toothfairyism? I would say the latter - I simply have no belief commitment to toothfairyism or its negation. If you ask me, do I think toothfairyism is true, I will answer you, it has exactly the epistemic warrant of an infinity of other views that are not decideable. A rough back-of-the-envelope calculation suggests that its Pascal Wager likelihood is 1/∞, and hence approaches 0, but I cannot say this means that all unempirical claims are equally false, only that they are equally unlikely, a priori. Suppose one of them is true (it need not be religious - let's take the unempirical claim that the world exists independently of mind) - my likelihood assessments will fail to be good guides. But yes, I don't hold much regard for tootfairyism. However, I won't deny that it is possibly true.

    If you substitute "God" for "tooth fairy" in that paragraph then you have just described my position with respect to theism. I am an atheist in the sense of "not-believe" theism but I won't deny that it is possibly true in some sense that does not conflict with science.

    I also maintain that you cannot ever disprove claims that have no empirical component so I'm agnostic about religion in that sense. Just as I'm agnostic about the tooth fairy.

    John, as far as I can see the tooth fairy analogy has turned out to be a good analogy. When you say "I simply have no belief commitment to toothfairyism" that's exactly how I describe my atheism. I have no belief commitment to theism. I don't think you do either but somehow you resist calling this atheism. I still find that strange.

    Oh well, you made catshark happy and that's quite an achievement! :-)

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  26. John Wilkins says,

    Finally, I do not accept Gould's NOMA view. Science and religion, as well as science and politics, science and social fashion, and so on, all elbow each other for room, and there is considerable conflict. I also do not think that religion has a "proper" domain. What I do think is that science has a proper domain, and insofar as all these other activities and endeavours of human behaviour encroach upon it, they should be trimmed or repelled.

    Actually, I think your version of NOMA is indistinguishable from Gould's. You smile politely and walk away from those religious people who stick to their proper domain outside of science and that's what Gould would do as well.

    You fight—in theory if not in practice—those theists who encroach on the science magisterium and that's what Gould did.

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  27. Reading the above and in particular the contributions of Mess’rs Moran and Myers fills my mind with visions of angels dancing on pinheads and enough split hairs to send Paris Hilton screaming hysterically to her hairdresser.

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  28. John, as far as I can see the tooth fairy analogy has turned out to be a good analogy. When you say "I simply have no belief commitment to toothfairyism" that's exactly how I describe my atheism.

    You left out John's "or its negation". Is that invisible?

    Oh well, you made catshark happy and that's quite an achievement! :-)

    People clearly stating cogent positions always do make me happy. But that may amount to the same thing ...

    ;-)

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  29. I have a post on this sort of thing: I generally call myself an atheist, but can god-claims into 3 groups. See my post for a more in depth description, but I generally think that if you really want to be rigorous you have to look at the different types of god claims separately.

    I think everyone here agrees on the specific claims being either decidable or not, it's just a question of labeling

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  30. Hey, Larry and Paul are scientists. It's us philosophers who split pinheads and dance on angels.

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  31. The vision of a silverback (even a small one) dancing on an angel whilst splitting pinheads was too much; I almost choked on my tea when I read that. My lawyers will be in touch on Tuesday morning with the compensation claim.

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  32. ... split pinheads and dance on angels ...

    Copyrights be damned ... that's mine now!

    My lawyers will be in touch on Tuesday morning with the compensation claim.

    Okay, I'll trade you a day's billing for the rights, John.

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  33. Going slightly off topic, but not far, the cover story in the newest issue of the highly influential German news magazine is “GOTT IST AN ALLEM SCHULD!” Der Kreuzzug der neuen Atheisten. For those whose German is not up to speed ”GOD IS TO BLAME FOR EVERYTHING!” The Crusade of the new Atheists. Being brand new it is only available on line against payment. I have not read the article yet so I can’t say what it is like but I think the title gives a fair indication.

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  34. that respect it would be possible to be a theist but agnostic, although I suspect there are not many theists who could call themselves agnostic.

    Au contraire, Matthew, every theist I've ever met who was worth arguing with has defined themselves as agnostic in the sense that they accept that the existence of their god is not demonstrable by all definitions of proof. That includes several ordained priests and ministers, including a professor of theology.

    They have of course gone on to argue that the point is trivial, since the definition of their theological discourse doesn't demand that the existence of god is demonstrable by all definitions of proof.

    This is why they have no problem with also accepting a scientific discourse which doesn't demand the presence of god. Dawkins' problem lies in his insistence that his own discourse is the only one that is capable of self-consistency. I choose to reject the theological proofs of god because I do, not because they don't work in their own terms. The fact that I'm not particularly interested in those terms is neither here nor there.

    To be intellectually consistent, Dawkins would have to declare himself the sworn enemy of literary criticism and the Surrealist Manifesto. A few scientists, notably Pinker, have come close to this position, and egregiously silly they look doing so.

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  35. highly influential German news magazine

    Sorry! That should of course read;highly influential German news magazine Der Spiegel! I even previewed it before I posted. Bloody hell! Talk about bleedin word blind!

    "... split pinheads and dance on angels ...

    Copyrights be damned ... that's mine now!"

    Be warned Mr Pieret I'm claiming co-authorship for having inspired Mr Wilkins to this brilliant job discription for a philosopher.

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  36. I don't believe in evolution, I just find the evidence for it convincing.

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  37. Catching up on some very old threads.

    Anonymous:

    No, but it does matter if it is a God whose reality subsumes ours.

    Not in the analysis that followed. ("Another way to see ...".)

    John Wilkins:

    Since for me this is all about knowledge, I first divide these questions into those that can be decided on empirical epistemological grounds and those that cannot (i.e., gnosis versus agnosis).

    The problem with that is that you can't know which category a question resides in a priori.

    We have no need to slay those gods that do not raise such barriers.

    But they fall on the wayside, mauled by the fallen gods. If a concept is worthless, we reject it wholesale, not by bit by bit.

    Further on in the comment there is a probability argument. But small enough probabilities can be rejected as not observed beyond reasonable doubt. (Which doesn't preclude that it can be revisable wrong.) The problem can be to assess these probabilities - but not in the case of tooth fairies and their presumed actions.

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