Tuesday, November 22, 2011

Trying to Understand Agnostics

 
John Wilkins has tried, again, to explain the difference between an atheist and an agnostic [Positivism about agnosticism].

My position is similar to that of Richard Dawkins, and many others. I am an atheist (i.e. not a theist) because there is no convincing evidence for gods, in my opinion. Thus, I do not believe in them (not-a-theist).

There is always a possibility that gods actually exist even though I see no evidence for them. I cannot prove that they are all non-existent. Thus, I am, in a sense agnostic on the possibility of gods existing, although I think the odds are incredibly small.

Like Dawkins, "I am agnostic only to the extent that I am agnostic about fairies at the bottom of the garden." I am a practicing atheist because I do not believe in gods but I am philosophically agnostic as well. I have theist friends who believe in God but are also agnostic.

John says,
Let me be quite clear on this: I do not think there is evidence for a God, as an agnostic. And I certainly think there is evidence against many stories and characterisations of gods. But, and this seems to be the point that strong “skeptics” like Hecht cannot get into their heads, not all. So long as there is a formal possibility that some gods might exist, and no general evidence against it, the rational thing to do is hold off judgement on the (empirically permissible) claims. So Thor doesn’t exist, but Leibniz’s deity might.
Like me, John, doesn't believe in gods—he is not a theist. But he is not an a-theist in spite of the fact that if you followed him around for several days you could not distinguish his bevavior from that of any other non-believer.

We agree that there's a possibility that some sort of gods exist but we both have declined to become believers (theists). Yet, I am a strong atheist/agnostic while John is a nonbeliever but only an agnostic.

Have I got that right, John?

As an amateur philosopher, it seems to me that you could apply the same logic to the existence of fairies or UFO astronauts with a fixation on body openings. There's no evidence that they exist so we don't believe in them. But as long as there's a formal possibility that they exist—and there is—we have to be agnostic about their existence.

For some reason we don't go around announcing to the world that we are agnostic about the existence of fairies, UFOs, and Santa Claus. Why? Doesn't the formal possibility of their existence merit consideration? Don't we recognize that we could never PROVE that fairies don't exist?

The word "agnostic" only ever applies to the belief in gods and never—in common speech—to fairies. We all know the reason for this. It's accommodationism. It's a way to avoid insulting our religious friends by proclaiming you don't believe in their gods. Too bad it's almost always atheists who are so sensitive. You don't see many theists avoiding the word "theist" in favor of "agnostic."

Part of the problem is that agnostics like John tend to use a different definition of "atheist" than we do. He seems to think that it means we deny the possibility that gods exist. I think that's why he considers "atheist" and "agnostic" to be non-overlapping sets.


40 comments :

  1. I just love it when someone like this has a big jar of words, pours them into a blender, puts it on puree for 2 minutes and pours the mixture onto a page and bakes it at 300F for 20 minutes.

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  2. To me, agnosticism isnt a weaker form of atheism. We already know there are strong and weaker forms of atheism. Agnosticism, by contrast, is similar to saying I dont give enough of a damn about the topic to have an opinion either way.

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  3. I give a damn I just don't have enough evidence either way. I'd actually really really really like to know.

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  4. For some reason we don't go around announcing to the world that we are agnostic about the existence of fairies, UFOs, and Santa Claus. Why? Doesn't the formal possibility of their existence merit consideration? Don't we recognize that we could never PROVE that fairies don't exist?

    Somewhere in th universe/multiverse/cosmos that we only BARELY know anything about, there might exist creatures that, when we finally get around to meeting them, we might fairly append the label "fairies." Our Mars probes, if there were to be observers there, might fairly be called "UFO's." Santa, being a specified entity with a specified set of traits (and which we KNOW people lie to children about) is a different matter ... more like the "god" of the Old Testament.

    You can fairly dismiss Santa along with Ken Ham's god. Dismissing everything that you don't happen to have "evidence" for (with all the epistemological difficulties that entails) is another matter.

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  5. Dr Wilkins had a 6 part discussion of this under the series Atheism, agnosticism and theism 6.

    http://evolvingthoughts.net/2011/07/atheism-agnosticism-and-theism-the-landscape-part-1/

    I have to admit to be a bit mystified by it, but came to the conclusion John was distinguishing between:

    1) I am convinved no God exists.

    and

    2) I am not convinced a God exists.

    The difference between these two statements gets to a level of syntactic pedentary which is almost beyond me, but then again John is a philosopher so these issues are important to him.

    My understanding of this is that he's not convinced a God exists - something that meshes perfectly with his philosophical ideals - but because it is a position of uncertainty he calls this agnosticism.

    He is not convinced there is no God (his definition of atheism), because in order to do that you'd have to assume knowledge you cannot honestly have, and be able to define God etc so rigourously that there is no wriggle room.

    For me this is where the term defacto atheist is so helpful.

    I am ultimately agnostic because I have no idea what so ever about such metaphysical things and the universe does seem stranger than anything dreamt of in my philosophy, but as I see no evidence for any deity etc I do not live my life according to any religion - and hence am a defacto atheist.

    You can't be certain of anything - Gods, fairies, your perceptions of reality. Erm maybe you can if you go "if I assume a, b, and c (ie mathmatical axioms) then d, e and f", but such a statement is based on your initial assumptions which may not be valid. Given this contingency there is always uncertainty and hence room for doubt. Dr Wilkins seems to think this is important.

    I feel this argument is about at the level of angels on pin heads, but that is the lot of philosophers.

    Is his definition of athiest and agnostic unusual? I don't think so, its just pedantic.

    For those with an empirical bent they are almost irrelevent. John's behaviour would I believe be indistinguishable from an atheists.

    Only a few athiests would say they wouldn't change their views if the evidence changed - though PZ has challenged that asking what would be coherent evidence for God.

    If you can't define it how can you have a debate on its existence of not?

    To be certain that something you can't define doesn't exist does seem a little odd.

    But then again trying to alter your behaviour because such a thing might exist is equally bizarre. So is ultimate agnosticism, but defacto atheism the right way to go?

    Do Dr Wilkins and Dr Moran really disagree with this?

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  6. I think fairies differ importantly from the gods whom agnostics say they can't rule out. Fairies are believed, by those who believe in them, to interact with humans in definite ways, described in many folk tales and a few current accounts. The lack of solid evidence for any such interactions justifies the conclusion that fairies don't exist here on Earth, and makes fairy-agnosticism a weak position. Agnosticism regarding gods of unspecified properties somewhere in the universe is more rational, though perhaps uninteresting.

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  7. In his post Why am I not speaking at 2012 Global Atheism? John admits to being "an Australian practical atheist", so I think the difference is indeed negligible

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  8. John Wilkins wrote in his article:
    So long as there is a formal possibility that some gods might exist, and no general evidence against it, the rational thing to do is hold off judgement on the (empirically permissible) claims.

    I cannot agree with that statement. If we have "evidence against many(*) stories and characterisations of gods" and no evidence for others, the rational thing to do is to assume that gods don't exists and wait if someone can give you some positive evidence. (Not to mention that the same argument apply to other maybe-existent beings.)

    (*) instead of "many" I think there should be "all except few".

    Why agnostics don't want to describe themself as theists, deists or atheists?
    I can't speak for others, but when I lost my faith, I used to call myself agnostic because inability to disprove idea of god(s) (which I considered very important - because many people (belivers) think it's important) seemed very important to me.

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  9. Dawkins is as good a source on what Atheism / Agnosticism is or isn't as Creationists are on what evolution does or does not entail.

    If you are going to approach the discussion in a serious matter then the point of departure should probably be Martin and Drange.

    People who call themselves Atheists have been trying to redefine what that actually means since atleast the late 1990's ( See Drange 1998 ).

    As an Agnostic I must admit that I see the exercise as intellectually bankrupt.

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  10. Dawkins is as good a source on what Atheism / Agnosticism is or isn't as Creationists are on what evolution does or does not entail.

    If you are going to approach the discussion in a serious matter then the point of departure should probably be Martin and Drange.

    People who call themselves Atheists have been trying to redefine what that actually means since atleast the late 1990's ( See Drange 1998 ).

    As an Agnostic I must admit that I see the exercise as intellectually bankrupt.

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  11. @Dave Evans

    Would that gods had the common courtesy to not interact with humans in definite ways (not to mention their deluded followers).

    From appearing on random pieces of baked bread, dogs assholes, oil slicks on pavement, shimmering apparitions apparently visible to thousands, the cause of every earthquake, tsunami, hurricane and volcano, usually accompanied by a very important message on how to conduct our sex lives, I for one eagerly anticipate the day when gods interact with us about as often as fairies do.

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  12. @Chinahand

    John's definition of atheist and agnostic ignores what each addresses.

    Theism goes to what you believe.

    Gnosticism goes to what you know.

    These aren't the same thing.

    I don't believe Bigfoot exists, but he might. Someone could conceivably present one to the world in Seattle or Vancouver tomorrow. I doubt it, but it's possible. So while I don't believe, I don't claim to absolutely know. With regard to belief, I'm an aBigfootist. With regard to knowledge, I'm Bigfoot-agnostic. So while I don't claim to know for certain Bigfoot doesn't and couldn't possibly exist, I don't go around living my life as if he did, setting Bigfoot traps, buying Bigfoot repellant, and taking out homeowner insurance with "act of Bigfoot" premiums.

    If, though, I claimed I absolutely knew Bigfoot didn't exist (for say, some biological reason that would make it impossible for such a creature to exist, like, he breathes methane but lives on modern Earth), then I could claim to be gnostic about my aBigfootism.

    So:

    People who are convinced no god could possibly exist are gnostic atheists.

    People, like me, who don't believe but are open to possibility proof could be established, are agnostic atheists.

    People who believe in a divinity (say, they "feel" it to be so), but aren't certain one exists or don't claim to know its nature, are agnostic theists. People typically call such people "deists".

    And finally, people who believe in a divinity, and claim to know all about it (like most people in organize religions) are gnostic theists.

    Gnosticism and theism, then, are overlapping sets that address different matters on the issue.

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  13. I see this as quite simple.

    For me to say there are no gods you have a perfect right to ask "where's your evidence for such a claim?"

    But it's just fine for me to say "I see no convincing evidence for gods so I choose not to believe and I will live my life based on that choice."

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  14. Why is Thor dismissed so easily and Leibniz deity not?

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  15. Just to add to what other commenters have already said:

    ...it seems to me that you could apply the same logic to the existence of fairies or UFO astronauts with a fixation on body openings. There's no evidence that they exist so we don't believe in them. But as long as there's a formal possibility that they exist—and there is—we have to be agnostic about their existence.

    John does reject certain gods (e.g. Thor), so I'm sure he'd be quite happy to reject "UFO astronauts with a fixation on body openings" as well - and for the same reason: there is evidence against these assertions. For example, in the case of the aliens, we have reasons to believe that the interstellar travel necessary is hard to perform. John would, then, be "atheistic" about these aliens while he might, at the same time, be agnostic about the claim that there exists aliens on other worlds that have managed space flight.

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  16. I support the idea that atheism and agnosticism doesn't belong to the same spectrum, nor are they mutually exclusive, since theism/atheism deals with what yo bieleve, and agnosticism/gnosticism deals with what you know or believe it's knowable.

    You have probably seen that chart where atheism/theism and agnosticism/gnosticism define the two axis and four regions: agnostic atheism (skeptic or "weak" atheism), gnostic atheism ("strong" atheism), gnostic theism (the mainstream stand among believers) and agnostic theism (fideism, I guess).

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  17. So long as there is a formal possibility that some gods might exist, and no general evidence against it, the rational thing to do is hold off judgement on the (empirically permissible) claims.

    IOW, if there exist any gap where gods may be...Ken Ham would be proud.

    And of course there is a ton of general evidence against gods, in the same form of the general evidence against doomsday predictions and perpetual motion machines (for the physics-impaired), ie, a collosal track record of failure. So the question as posed is a straw man.

    There also seems to be a "lotto fallacy" flaw in Wilkins logic. It's one thing if someone poses a concept of a god prior to inquiry, and the space that god supposedly inhabits remains unexamined/untouched after all possible inquiry has been exercised. It's quite another, as is the case with every modern concept of gods, to invent the definition of them AFTER all possible inquiry has been performed. It's cherry picking in reverse, a "just so" story, something that could be done with any topic. No dragons you say? Well, give me a map of where on earth you've searched and I'll simply claim they might be where you haven't. Give me a list of traits you've eliminated as impossible and I'll merely give my dragon those traits that remain. Presto, you must be agnostic toward the existence of dragons.

    I give the semanticians credit for their skill with words, but that's all it is. It doesn't create scientific plausibility, nor does it lend credibility to any of the invented concepts. You can't define something into existence.

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  18. I would also like to know what circumstances would cause an agnostic like Wilkins to behave differently than an atheist like PZ Myers. If there isn't one, even in principle, then we are indeed just playing a semantic game.

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  19. Joe Agnostic says,

    People who call themselves Atheists have been trying to redefine what that actually means since atleast the late 1990's ( See Drange 1998 ).

    As an Agnostic I must admit that I see the exercise as intellectually bankrupt.


    The question I have is whether you are an atheist or not. In order to answer that question, we have to agree on a definition of "atheist." But we can't because you think it's "intellectually bankrupt" to discuss the definition of atheist.

    Strange.

    BTW, how do you define "agnostic," or is that also an intellectually bankrupt question?

    The Wikipedia article on atheism contains a nice summary of the "intellectual bankrupcy" that Joe Agnostic is presumably talking about.

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  20. IMHO, careful distinction between atheism and agnosticism amounts to mental masturbation. In practice, agnostics are atheists who would want to be called atheists because of various social pressures. That's all there is there.

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  21. Larry,

    Atheism has been a rather well understood word for a long time, it is beyond me why people who otherwise seem capable of reading have such a hard time with accepting that.

    See http://www.infidels.org/library/modern/theodore_drange/definition.html and http://books.google.com/books?id=MNZqCoor4eoC&lpg=PA463&ots=TUaMTtZOwy&dq=martin%20atheism&pg=PA463#v=onepage&q=martin%20atheism&f=false for the common and broadly accepted definition, namely: "The belief that there is no God".

    As for a definition for agnosticism, consider Huxleys take on it: "Agnosticism is not a creed but a method" - if you ask me what it means then I will sum it up with another quote, which also answers ScienceAvengers query regarding the differences between Atheists and Agnostics:

    What is wanted is not the will to believe, but the will to find out, which is the exact opposite. —Bertrand Russell

    As for DKs comment - the social pressure that exists is that of the unwillingness to be affiliated with the rank stupidity that many "Atheists" have come to represent.

    In practice the Theists and Atheists are simply 2 examples of the perils to furtherance of knowledge that zealous adherence to a belief system represents.

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  22. Joe Agnostic says,

    Atheism has been a rather well understood word for a long time, it is beyond me why people who otherwise seem capable of reading have such a hard time with accepting that.

    See ... for the common and broadly accepted definition, namely: "The belief that there is no God".


    That's a very silly definition when you're trying to have a serious discussion. Atheism is not a "belief," it's the absence of belief. I am not a theist; therefore I'm an atheist.

    It's beyond me why otherwise intelligent people have such a hard time accepting any definition other than the one that supports their particular belief.

    Is it your position that I'm guilty of "intellectual bankruptcy" by proposing a definition that bettter reflects my position and that of many other atheists?

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  23. A problem I see, I think alluded to by ScienceAvenger, is that it is unclear to me what god even means. What is this god thing? I know what most people who claim to be religious think he is, and what he did, what he will do, and what he wants. But spend one minute in a mosque or catholic church and it becomes obvious this is all just intellectually infantile made-up bullshit. So what is god really? Creator of the universe? Not necessarily. Builder of the cosmic supercomputer in which our grand illusion unfolds? Why would the builder of such a device be a god? It would merely be an entity incredibly more advanced than ourselves. I guess it isnt very clear to me what this god thing is supposed to be exactly. And I find it impossible to be agnostic towards something that has either no real definition, or alternatively, an infinite number of ever-shifting definitions.

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  24. I managed to miss "not" in the "would not want above...

    Huxley, the guy who coined the term, is the picture perfect example of someone caving in to social pressures. Except that he thought that he was so smart to come up with the smoke and mirrors of "agnosticism" - while in reality he was simply talking utter nonsense. In his famous assay he mentions asking "myself whether I was an atheist, a theist, or a pantheist" and proceeds to claim that he "had neither art nor part with any of these denominations". Of course that's pure bullshit. One can have zero gods, one god, or many gods. There is nothing else possible! So if something like having "-4 gods" makes no sense (and it obviously doesn't) then the very idea of agnosticism also makes no sense whatsoever.

    There is nothing wrong with believing in all kinds of strange things, gods included - that's just human nature. But intellectual honesty requires one to at least admit this simple fact.

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  25. it is unclear to me what god even means.

    Does discussion of every subject have to come to a grinding halt because someone insists on precise definitions? (There are no such things in real life).

    This is no better that the infamous "it depends on what the meaning of the word 'is' is".

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  26. Larry Moran said:

    Atheism is not a "belief," it's the absence of belief. I am not a theist; therefore I'm an atheist.


    Outside your personal relationship with Atheism that simply isn't how it works - why do you think that Flew wrote:
    The word 'atheism', however, has in this contention to be construed unusually. Whereas nowadays the usual meaning of 'atheist' in English is 'someone who asserts that there is no such being as God', I want the word to be understood not positively but negatively. I want the originally Greek prefix 'a' to be read in the same way in 'atheist' as it customarily is read in such other Greco-English words as 'amoral', 'atypical', and 'asymmetrical'. In this interpretation an atheist becomes: not someone who positively asserts the non-existence of God; but someone who is simply not a theist. Let us, for future ready reference, introduce the labels 'positive atheist' for the former and 'negative atheist' for the latter.
    The introduction of this new interpretation of the word 'atheism' may appear to be a piece of perverse Humpty-Dumptyism, going arbitrarily against established common usage.


    Or why Drange later concludes: My conclusion here is that no good case has ever been made for using the word "atheist" in the sense of "one who is without belief in God."

    Larry Moran wrote:
    Is it your position that I'm guilty of "intellectual bankruptcy" by proposing a definition that bettter reflects my position and that of many other atheists?

    I am saying that you are either engaging in creative humpty dumptyism or displaying a severe lack of intellectual curiosity in failing to realize that there are perfectly good words which already exist that might better capture your position, such as theological noncognitivism or simply nontheist.

    How would you react to one of your students trying to redefine the meaning of exothermic - or redefining natural selection to incorporate orthogenesis? I hope you can see how silly that is.

    Your infatuation with the term Atheist is blinding you to its actual meaning - and your blind desire to redefine that meaning is undermining any claim to an intellectual high ground.

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  27. When I was a Christian, I considered myself to be an agnostic theist - ie that it was impossible to know for sure, but based on the evidence I had, theism seemed a reasonable conclusion. My standards of evidence improved, and I now consider myself to be an agnostic atheist. I don't know for sure that there are no gods of any sort anywhere, but I do not see any evidence for such a thing. In casual conversation, I self-identify as an atheist, on the basis that I lack belief in gods, and only get into the agnosticism bit if people start raising questions of epistemology and/or solipsism.

    I do dislike the view of agnosticism as "weak atheism" (aka fence-sitting), since I know numerous people (like John) who self-identify as agnostic as a strong and substantial position. (On the other hand, I can certainly sympathize with people who have to survive in Christian circles (especially family circles) who get fed up with defending how they *know* there are no gods, and just decide to pick a (perhaps) more acceptable term like agnostic.)

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  28. Does discussion of every subject have to come to a grinding halt because someone insists on precise definitions? (There are no such things in real life).

    Who the hell said the discussion had to stop? Though it would help to have some sort of idea of what is actually being discussed. But by all means, carry on!

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  29. Not synchronous - asynchronous
    Not symmetrical - asymmetrical
    Not theist - atheist

    ...Works for me.

    This pedantic insistence on a particular dictionary definition would be nothing but a silly annoyance except that there are bigots who try to use the unreasonable, dogmatic, god-denying definition to justify discrimination and/or marginalization.

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  30. The word atheism has had many connotations in the past. It was even used to describe those who believed in "the wrong" god or gods.

    While I generally decry incorrect use of words being recognized as "evolution of language" (like "decimate" to mean "complete destruction") the root etymology of atheist is simply "not theist". To insist that it can only mean "the belief that there is no god" is simply wrong.

    Quite frankly, I'd be quite happy to use a different word if it would end this kind of nonsense but I don't think it would - there are just too many pedantic assholes around who find some fault with any label.

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  31. The simplest distinction that I have seen is that atheism is about belief, whereas gnosticism is about knowledge. If one can grant (if only for the sake of argument) that "knowledge" and "belief" are in fact different cognitive structures, atheism and agnosticism are therefore also different approaches to the question of god(s) and the existence thereof.

    I think I'll leave it at that for now, because, while it may appear that I am demurring with respect to my opinions on atheism and agnosticism, I do feel that it is important to at least have a common, provisional vocabulary in order to have a meaningful discussion about any topic. After all, is not the lack of a provisional vocabularic convention, a predominant, if not central, them in Dr. Moran's entry?

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  32. Your desire to change the meaning of the word Agnostic to fit in with your newspeak is very sad.

    Oh well, in the brave new world I'll just keep on being an Agnostic Theist until the thought police re-educate me

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  33. @Anonymous

    I'll just keep on being an Agnostic Theist until the thought police re-educate me

    It's already happened, it called religious education, the shamans got to paw through your mind when you were defenceless child.

    And the look at the result.

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  34. In this connection, it's worth considering this from Judith Hayes's essay, "The Happy Heretic":

    "One cannot be an agnostic. Agnostic means "not to know" and almost by definition all humans are agnostic about God in that no one can be sure whether a God of some sort really exists. I know I haven't a clue. But no thinking person can say that he does not know if he acknowledges a God. We all know if we believe in a God. In our heart of hearts, we either do believe or we do not believe. Either way, we know if we believe. There is no such thing as not knowing if we believe. This supposedly "neutral" position about the existence of God, agnosticism, is no position at all. The sooner it is eliminated the better, for all of us freethinkers, atheists, unbelievers, nonbelievers, humanists, or whatever."

    More apt, perhaps, is this from "Atheism: The Case Against God" (Buffalo, NY: Prometheus Books, 1989), by George Smith:

    "Atheism, therefore, is the absence of theistic belief. One who does not believe in the existence of a god or supernatural being is properly designated as an atheist." Atheism is sometimes defined as 'the belief that there is no God of any kind,' or the claim that a god cannot exist. While these are categories of atheism, they do not exhaust the meaning of atheism--and are somewhat misleading with respect to the basic nature of atheism. Atheism, in its basic form, is not a belief: it is the absence of belief. An atheist is not primarily a person who believes that a god does not exist, rather he does not believe in the existence of a god."

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  35. I must admit that I find this whole thing tragicomic.

    There seems to be an unwillingness to accept the historic and common definition of Atheism.

    Namely: Noun:
    The theory or belief that God does not exist.


    Some of you are going through all kinds of disturbing contortions to make everything else fit into that.

    It is your blind faith in this neologism that enables your misreading of agnosticism.

    See Huxley: When I reached intellectual maturity and began to ask myself whether I was an atheist, a theist, or a pantheist; a materialist or an idealist; Christian or a freethinker; I found that the more I learned and reflected, the less ready was the answer; until, at last, I came to the conclusion that I had neither art nor part with any of these denominations, except the last. The one thing in which most of these good people were agreed was the one thing in which I differed from them. They were quite sure they had attained a certain "gnosis,"–had, more or less successfully, solved the problem of existence; while I was quite sure I had not, and had a pretty strong conviction that the problem was insoluble. So I took thought, and invented what I conceived to be the appropriate title of "agnostic." It came into my head as suggestively antithetic to the "gnostic" of Church history, who professed to know so much about the very things of which I was ignorant.

    As is my nature - I can't claim to know why people have tried to blunt the edge of Atheism while retaining its barb - but I see no need for it; considering noncognitivism, nontheism and agnosticism what reasons do you see for watering down Atheism?

    It almost seems like it is the result of psychological dissonance at being unable to give up the word "Atheism" while finding "belief" antithetical to their, erm, beliefs.

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  36. Larry, God either does or doesn't exist. What's all this stuff with 99.whatever % ? How about 87%? As your D day is approaching are you getting cold feet with atheism?

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  37. But, Joe, the problem with what you describe as the "historic and common definition of Atheism" is that, as George Smith suggests (above), it's inaccurate and truncated. Most dictionaries have unfortunately been written by theists who fail to recognize their implicit bias.

    The better and more accurate definition is: "the absence of [belief in] gods." It's from the Greek; "a" meaning "not" or "without," and "theism" meaning [belief in] gods.

    Put simply, "theism" is the belief in a personal god, and "atheism" is not holding such a belief. Atheism makes no claim in itself; it simply does not accept the claim made by theists. The concept at issue--“god"--comes from a theistic proposition. Therefore, the theist bears the burden of proof. The atheist's statement is only that the burden of proof has not been met. That statement does not constitute a “belief." Rather, it’s a response to the theist's proposition.

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  38. Bellavance,

    Whats interesting is that George Smiths argument was itself truncated (above) and is the same "Appeal to Etymology" line that was forwarded by Martin and eviscerated by Drange.

    We could argue etymological what-ifs all day and it wouldn't matter - what if "A-Theism" meant Without God - and that was to be understood as "A reality without God" etc. etc.

    We circle back to the same fallacy of people who call themselves Atheists having the sole discretion over how that word should be defined - this only works for when you, as Huxley did, create fully new words.

    Its not really that complicated:
    Theists posit that a God exists.
    Atheists posit that no God exists.
    Noncognitivists go 'wtf?'
    Agnostics shrug.

    God non-/existance can be considered a binary proposition, either there is or there isn't a God and either you affirm a positive belief regarding one of those outcomes ( A-/Theism ) or you affirm you don't know ( agnosticism ) or you are wondering what they are on about ( noncognitivism ).

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  39. Beautiful language and logic all. Don't you all love "The Big Bang Theory" TV show? How did it all get started - the beginning of all that we know, that is? Where did the matter come from that banged big? I think I will know the answer to that someday, after I am no longer here. Peace be with you. miken

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