Monday, November 28, 2011

"Yes," "No," and "I Don't Know"

John Wilkins has continued the discussion about agnosticism, atheism, and the meaning of debate [Once more into the fray, dear agnostics]. I'll try and respond to the specific points he makes in a minute or two, but first I need to make my own position (more) clear.

I teach a course on critical thinking about scientific issues such as evolution/creationism. Most (all?) of the "scientific" debates that enter the public realm can be divided into two groups: those where one side is right and the other side is wrong, and those where the issue is controversial. From a personal perspective, that means you can have three responses when asked if you agree with a scientific argument: "yes," "no," and "I don't know."

Some issues seem to be pretty much settled. For example, the Earth is billions of years old, not 6000 years old. You're on pretty safe grounds if you call a Young Earth Creationist a silly poo poo because in order for them to be right you would have to discard most of science and abandon rationalism. I think this is a case where there's a right answer and a wrong answer for all practical purposes.

However, there's always a "however" when talking to philosophers. If one is going to defend the scientific way of knowing—evidence-based, skeptical, rational thinking—then one also has to admit that the knowledge we get from this way of knowing is always provisional. It can turn out to be wrong. In this particular example, it is at least conceivable (therefore possible) that everything we think we know is an artifact and the Earth really was created in 4000 BC.

How do we reconcile this apparent conflict? I think it's time we started to draw a distinction between pragmatic, day-to-day, rational thinking and the kind of exercises we might engage in if we were in a philosophy lecture. In most cases, we do this without thinking about it. How many of you have debated whether that chair actually exists or whether your perception of "red" is the same as mine? We know these questions can't be resolved unequivocally—there's no "right" or "wrong"—but we don't suspend judgment about chairs and colors in our everyday lives.

Now, you could argue that our acceptance of chairs and the color red is an unfounded premise, or bias, that resembles a "belief" more than it does rational thinking, but I don't think that's very helpful. I think we operate in a pragmatic world where we can confidently accept certain concepts based on the evidence that they work and they are consistent with all the rest of our knowledge. Thus, I don't have any real doubts that the chair I'm sitting on will continue to support me while I finish this post. I don't have any real doubts that the red light I stop my car at is the same color seen by every other human.1

If this sounds confusing, it's because it is, and that's the fault of philosophers! :-)

We've gotten used to ignoring some of the more meaningless philosophical debates like whether the chair exists or not. We're pretty comfortable with some truth claims, such as the age of the Earth, because we don't quibble about all knowledge being provisional. On the other hand, pragmatic philosophy doesn't seem to work for questions like the existence of supernatural beings!

Let's look at some specific examples about how we settle scientific debates. I teach my students that there are such things as genuine scientific controversies where neither side is right or wrong because we just don't have enough information. It's important to recognize the difference between such genuine scientific controversies and pseudo-controversies since so many of them spill over into the public domain.

Evolution is an excellent example. There really isn't any scientific controversy over the existence of evolution and the fact that life on Earth has evolved. (Provided, of course, that you adhere to a pragmatic philosophy of science.) But there is genuine scientific controversy over some aspects of evolutionary theory. Creationists are certainly going to exploit this genuine scientific controversy to try and discredit evolution and it's important for critical thinking scientists to distinguish between the stupid claims of creationists and the ones based on real scientific reasoning. Sometimes you just have to say "I don't know" when asked about specific aspects of evolutionary theory. There are other times when you are quite justified in saying that particular arguments from the creationists are idiotic.2

The existence of junk DNA is not controversial. We have enough data to conclude, with confidence, the some of the DNA in our genome is nonfunctional. Anyone who says that none of our genome is junk is wrong, speaking as a pragmatist. On the other hand, whether only 5% or 90% of our genome is junk is a genuine scientific controversy. There are two legitimate sides to that debate and even though I feel strongly that the number is closer to 90% than to 5%, I have to admit that I just don't know for sure. That does not prevent me from attacking and ridiculing some of the arguments from the other side (e.g. The Myth of Junk DNA by Jonathan Wells). The arguments can be dead wrong even if the issue is still a scientific controversy.

Now let's get to the points that John Wilkins makes on his blog.
So I owe it to Larry to try, one more time, to explain my views. This time, I will do it carefully and not at all sarcastically. I will explain it as if I were talking to a… scientist, and not to a philosopher. This might help. That’s not being sarcastic; that is a recognition that the rules of debate in science (and in common life) are often very different from those of philosophy.
Thanks, John, I appreciate the effort. Unfortunately, most of your post looks very much more like philosophy than science. That's not necessarily a bad thing because I think the issue is partly about the difference between a pragmatic philosophy and a more esoteric one. Perhaps we can sort that out?

I'm not sure I understand all of the points you make about "reasoners for" and "reasoners against" but I agree with you that there are statements that we put into the category of "truth" or "knowledge" and there are statements that are just hypotheses or tentative models. In the latter case, we just don't know (for now) whether these statements are correct (= "truth").

I like your idea that we are only dealing with ideas that are coherent and possibly true—I think this rules out meaningless debates over whether you or I actually exist, right? I like the idea that you have divided the set of debatable issues into two categories. One of them, according to your division, is "consistent with known facts" and the other is "consistent with unknown facts." I don't accept that distinction. My division is between "consistent with available evidence" and "we don't have enough data to reach a conclusion." I don't think it's possible to have a category where something is consistent with something else that's unknown but that's really just a quibble.3 I get the point.

Let's see how your distinction plays out in a scientific debate.
Consider a parallel case to clarify this. I think that, circa 1982, AIDS might be caused by lifestyle factors, and you think that it might be caused by a virus, but as yet nobody has shown one belief to be factual and the other false. So it is rational at that time to think either view, and disputing the environmental factorist by calling them irrational, at that time, would simply be to beg the question. This is not rational behaviour.
I agree with you. In 1982, we just didn't know what caused AIDS so it would have been irrational and unscientific to claim that there was a right answer and a wrong answer. The correct response was "I don't know." I don't think there are very many scientists or philosophers who would disagree, do you?

I also agree with you that by 1990 the situation had changed because we had more data. Today, it is rational to say that HIV deniers are irrational, silly poo poos but only if you are operating in the pragmatic world. If you were to claim that it's impossible for lifestyle factors to cause AIDS, in the absence of HIV, then you are affirming a negative and, sure as heck, some philosopher is going to call you on it. And if they don't call you out on that, they'll be sure to point out that all scientific conclusions are provisional so you can never say "impossible." Philosophers can be a real pain in the butt! :-)

My point is that in 1982 nobody should have been making a "truth" claim or a "knowledge" claim. If they did that, they were wrong, no matter which side they supported. It was okay to defend a hypothesis (and attack your opponent) but you had to recognize that the issue was still up in the air. Things had changed by 1990 and it was then possible to assert that HIV causes AIDS—this was a "truth" claim, not a hypothesis.

When two sides are making conflicting claims about "truth" then either both sides are wrong or one side is wrong and one is right. There will never be a situation where both sides could be right when the data is in and they both say the issue has been settled.4

Now let's look at the existence of supernatural beings.
Now consider whether God exists. Can we say absolutely that God does not exist?
No, that would be irrational, in my opinion. However, in the real, pragmatic world, it is irrational (delusional) to believe in any of the common gods that most people believe in. There are some theoretical versions of theism that can't be ruled out (deism is one) but these are null sets. As far as I know, nobody actually believes in those gods.
Is it therefore irrational to believe in gods that do not require facts not to be facts? I cannot say this, and I think it is wrong to try.
Is it irrational to believe in things for which there is no evidence? Yes, it is. Just as it's irrational to deny that all gods exist, it's also irrational to make a "truth" claim that some do.

We agree that there are two types of gods. One type is those that have been discredited like Zeus and Mithras. Anyone who claims that the discredited Judeo/Christian god of the Bible actually exists is wrong. The other kind of god is the fuzzy kind like the deist god or the gods of the philosopher and the "sophisticated" theists. Those kind of gods can't be disproved—that's why they were created in the first place—but they can't be proved either. Anyone who makes a "truth" claim about their existence is wrong. (This means that theists are always wrong when they claim that supernatural beings actually exist. The best they can hope for these days is that the existence of some fuzzy gods remains a distinct possibility.)

The only rational response to the question of whether a deist god exists is "I don't know."5 I admit that, while still maintaining that I am an atheist because I don't believe in any of the gods. I don't know any theists who admit that all personal gods have been disproved and most (all?) still believe in (i.e. worship) such gods. Some theists claim that they only believe in the gods who fit exclusively into the tiny subset that haven't been discredited. John, do you know of any theists who actually believe in those non-personal gods? If they claim that such gods actually exist (a truth claim) would their position be rational according to your definition?
This leads to the white area of our universe of statements: some views just lack warrant but may one day have them, for or against. AIDS in 1982 might have been caused by all kinds of things; when we discovered the cause, the statements it is not caused by HIV were moved to the incoherent bucket, and the statement that it is moved to the green section. Until then, though, we suspended judgement. Since, as of now, there are no telling facts that rule out gods completely (and I invite those who think otherwise to argue that case), it is rational to suspend judgement. As I have said before: philosophy is what you do when facts don’t fix the solution. When they do, follow the facts.
I agree with you, wearing my (amateur) philosopher's hat. There's no dispute here.

However, it still leaves one issue unresolved. Let's say it's 1982 and some people are proposing that AIDS is caused by male homosexual behavior. We may not have been able to resolve that question, but I was skeptical. I did not buy into the idea that there was a direct cause and effect relationship between behavior and AIDS. Was I being irrational because I declined to adopt that position? I don't think so. Would I have been irrational to declare that their claim was absolutely impossible? Yes, that would have been a bit premature even though all the data was pointing toward that conclusion.

Back in 1982, did we invent a word to describe our lack of knowledge of the cause of AIDS (e.g, "AIDS agnostic"). Were we fixated on the group that suspended judgment? No, we didn't invent a word for those people. There was no reason to do so since we have perfectly good answers to all truth claims about the disease: "yes," "no," and "I don't know."

Back to the existence of gods. Am I being irrational because I decline to adopt the position that some supernatural beings exist (i.e. atheism)? I don't think so. Did we invent a word to describe the fact that we can't disprove each and every claim of supernatural beings? Yes, we did. It's called "agnosticism". For some reason, when it comes to the existence of gods there's a special word for those who "suspend judgment." And now "agnosticism" is elevated to a sort of truth claim; namely, we must suspend judgment and it's irrational to not believe in gods. In other words, because of the invention of that word, we now have the situation where declining to believe in gods—my version of atheism—is supposed to be irrational, according to some philosophers.

Aside from the issue of defining "atheism" (see below) I'm seriously worried about whether the entire debate about agnosticism isn't just an example of philosophical nit picking. Is it very different from saying that you can never disprove Young Earth Creationism? My concern increases when I hear agnostics making the truth clam that we can never resolve the existence of god problem. That's true in the same sense that I can never prove that you or the chair exists. It's not pragmatic philosophy.6
I won’t go into the debate here about how to define the words “atheist” and “agnostic”, based on the writings of authorities. Authorities are either only a guide to actual practices and stances (which has no weight if you are trying to work it out yourself), or they are the outcome of arguments that we can attend to ourselves. While I appreciate Larry’s reading of some internet articles by philosophers (good ones too), I remind him that if I were arguing with him about, say, junk DNA, my citing the internet articles of some scientists might not carry a lot of weight. To be happy with the usages, one must examine the analysis given. I think that philosophers, like every other profession, can sometimes rely too much on established practices (a task of philosophy is to disentangle these prior uses of terms), and it is this I am disputing. So appealing to these articles doesn’t resolve my problems. Nor should it; philosophy is about the debate, not the authority. Maybe it’s different in molecular biology…
I don't understand this point. Using my definition of "atheist," I can be both an atheist and a (very weak) agnostic. Using your definition of "atheist" you can't be agnostic and an atheist. Either we have to agree on a definition or we have to qualify our arguments by noting that they depend entirely on what definition you are using.

I'm not sure where you stand on this, John. Are you arguing that your definition of "atheist" is the only correct definition or are you conceding that Larry is being perfectly rational because he uses a different definition of "atheist"?


1. Did you read that sentence and immediately start to compose a comment based on blind people and those who are color blind? If so, you are part of the problem.

2. To complete the picture, there are times when creationists are quite justified in saying that some arguments from evolutionists are stupid and wrong.

3. There may be a small category of claims that are "consistent with unknown facts." John is probably thinking about the claim that Macs are better than PCs.

4. The tricky part is deciding when a genuine scientific controversy ceases to be a controversy. This is when it moves from the white part of John's diagram to the green part. There are no rules about this but we usually recognize when it happens. It happened for evolution in 1859, it happened for the Big Bang around 1970, and it happened for the role of humans in global climate change in about 2000.

5. Note to readers, let's not quibble about this. I know there are good, rational, reasons for denying the existence of even the deist god. That's not really the point of this discussion. Think of it as a thought experiment where "deism" stands for any version of the supernatural that you cannot rigorously disprove.

6. Please don't assume that I'm an expect on pragmatism. I'm using the term in the colloquial sense that scientists, not philosophers, might use it. John has kindly agreed that we can do this.

25 comments :

  1. Can't we also accept that belief claims are always provisional?

    I am currently an atheist. I have, as it happens, always been one but there are plenty of people who've been theists, agnostics and atheists over the course of their lives, and not necessarily in the right order.

    I don't know what evidence would convince me there might be gods (I have thought about it), but I can see no reason why such evidence would be impossible - many people flip religious beliefs. I think I would need to make a leap of faith.

    So can't I *currently* be an atheist, without being agnostic (even technically), if I concede that if the Red Sea parted and Jesus came down surrounded with angels that I'd probably rethink?

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  2. The only rational response to the question of whether a deist god exists is "I don't know."5 I admit that, while still maintaining that I am an atheist because I don't believe in any of the gods.

    I doesn't really matter if you or anyone else actually believes in any of the possible gods. When, above, you say "I don't know" instead of "I deny" you are an agnostic. At least that's the way I understand John's position.

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  3. The white part of that argument figure makes little sense. If one is arguing consistent with unknown facts then what exactly is that person basing the argument upon? It seems that the person on the white side of the figuring is pulling their argument out of thin air (a less polite source comes to mind) and just happened to get lucky that the argument was consistent with facts as yet unknown to the arguer. Is that what it means? Or does it mean that their argument is based upon known facts but it also happens to be consistent with other as yet unknown facts? Or both?

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  4. I consider self-proclaimed agnostics to be politically correct atheists.

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  5. It seems that what you call a "truth" claim (such as the link between AIDS and VIH) is actually a testable claim which, after being tested many times without being falsified, has a high Bayesian probability of being true. In that sense, is both irrational and unnecessary to assume axiomatically that such propositions are true. I think it's better to consider it an "informed bet" to assume it's true until proved wrong, but a pragmatic presupposition of certainty is neither necessary nor defensible.

    In the case of such claims as the existence of the monotheistic god of abrahamic religions, evidence suggest as highly probable that it's just a myth. Yet regarding deism, there's not even a way to test that claim, therefore you cannot assign a probability of existance. In that case, Occam's Razor seems to me a good heuristic and the only defensible stand.

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  6. After reading John Wilkins' article I can't help but think that whole argument is really because you are using different definitions of agnosticism and atheism.

    And after thinking about it a while, I still can't agree with statement, that to suspend your judgement is the only rational thing to do.

    Surely - sometimes it is, especially when you are doing philosophy (and I do think that there is possibility that some god(s) exists). But practically you won't hold your judgement when there is only very small probability that one of the conclusions is true.

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  7. I found John's post very poorly written (unusually for him) and hard to understand. As far as I can make out, his central point is that a person cannot be considered "irrational" in a belief unless that belief is "inconsistent with known facts". Larry seems to take a contrary view, that irrationality can follow merely from the absence of evidence in support of the belief (when the burden of evidence is on the believer).

    Personally, I would be inclined to accept John's position, but argue that the evidence is against the existence of God, and therefore belief in God is inconsistent with the available evidence (or inconsistent with "known facts", but I prefer to talk about "evidence"). As I see it, the placing of the burden of evidence is itself based on evidence. I say it is the evidence of our past experience from science that puts the burden on the believer in supernatural entities, since science has progressed so well by accepting a naturalist picture of reality, and found supernatural beliefs counter-productive. In that sense, then, even if there were no specific evidence either way, the general evidence would be against the existence of fairies, gods and the like.

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  8. "Is it therefore irrational to believe in gods that do not require facts not to be facts?"

    Is he basically asking, "Is it irrational to believe in things that do not require us to dismiss current facts?"

    I agree with this.

    I believe in the magical cupcake wizards. They live in the transdimensional universe and have not yet been detected by humans, but I suppose there is a possibility that they may in principle be detectable. They monitor our lives and keep track of how many cupcakes we eat. At the end of human history, they will resurrect the top 0.0001% of cupcake consumers and allow them to live in the land of eternal cupcakes. So when I spend all of my money on cupcakes, and you catch me stealing your cupcakes, don't you even dare think of calling me irrational, because my belief is consistent with all the facts!

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  9. Is it therefore irrational to believe in gods that do not require facts not to be facts?

    If there is no evidence for them, of course it is, because gods, especially once it's fair game to make up (non)traits willy nilly, are no different than any other conjecture, be it Dawkins Teapot or the happy pink monkey who lives in my dogs ass and only appears when no one is looking. Possible, but unevidenced.

    This can be made more clear by considering an example using known possibilities. If I roll 10 fair dice and Bob tells you I rolled 10 6's, while Joe tells you Bob is pulling your leg, who should you believe? Joe of course, since the probability of Bob being correct is ~ 1 in 60 million.

    But Bob COULD be right. Its not only possible, we know exactly how it could happen. Yet we rightly dismiss this position as irrational to take anyway. Yet with these wedge-document-like gods designed to survive scientific examination, they are on even shakier footing, since they don't even have known possiblity or mechanism.

    Gods are no more worthy of this sort of attention than are the creatures in my Dungeons and Dragons manual. Using elevated philosophical discourse doesn't chaneg the wordgaming at the heart of what philosophers do with this subject.

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  10. What ScienceAvenger said.

    :)

    (Larry, I enjoyed reading this post a lot.)

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  11. "I still can't agree with statement, that to suspend your judgement is the only rational thing to do."

    Exactly. The universe is either theistic or atheistic, it's not agnostic. We can't say that we're right, we can say the agnostics are wrong.

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  12. Anonymous said:

    The universe is either theistic or atheistic, it's not agnostic.

    The universe is neither theistic, nor atheistic, not even agnostic - because the universe doesn't make any statements about god(s) (or does it ;) ?).

    We can't say that we're right, we can say the agnostics are wrong.

    It depends on how you define atheism and agnosticism. I call myself atheist, but I describe my views about god(s) as both atheistic and agnostic - I cannot be right and wrong at the same time, can I?

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  13. Heads up guys, just because you call yourself an Atheist doesn't mean you get to redefine the meaning of the word.

    The prevailing definition of the word is simply: Noun:
    The theory or belief that God does not exist.


    If you find that this does not adequately describe you, then do what a rational person would do - call yourself something else.

    If you buy into this new-age-atheism of agnosticism being on different plane of existence ( though I'll admit that in a very real but different way it is increasingly looking like that ) then you should try to explain why 'Darwins Bulldog' found the need to invent an entirely new term that has Atheism and Theism as but 2 expressions of the same problem.

    Consider Britannica:
    "Unlike agnosticism, which leaves open the question of whether there is a God, atheism is a positive denial."

    I think its great that you guys want to have more nuanced positions, it seems like the mature thing - so please adopt monikers that reflect them, rather than try to redefine Atheism - because that is just childish.

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  14. I can't reply in detail for about another week...

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  15. "The universe is neither theistic, nor atheistic"

    The universe has/has had either zero gods in it or more than zero.

    "It depends on how you define atheism and agnosticism. I call myself atheist, but I describe my views about god(s) as both atheistic and agnostic - I cannot be right and wrong at the same time, can I?"

    There is an empirical answer to the question 'how many gods does this universe have in it?'. It has never been within human capability to answer it, or to frame it in any practical way. That doesn't mean the best answer is 'dunno'.

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  16. "rather than try to redefine Atheism"

    Cool. Can we insist Christians do the same? Which year's model of Christianity get to call themselves Christians?

    We live in a time of religious pluralism and freedoms. Part of that is we get to pick our own labels and what they mean, thanks. And those words shift due to changing times. We're not in Victorian England, plenty of other words have shifted meaning slightly in the last 150 years.

    Your argument reminds me of Life of Brian: 'how should we fuck off, oh lord?'. The exact manner in which I don't think there are gods is only trivially important.

    An atheist is 'without gods'. That's all. Some people are 'apathists', they simply have no involvement with the issue. Some are 'agnostic', in that they want to leave the door open to see if anything walks through it (spoilers: nothing will). Others are, yes, actively anti-religion, anti-clerical or whatever. It's all atheism.

    Back in the days of the Roman Empire, 'atheism' meant 'didn't honor the city gods' - most of the early Christian martyrs were executed for atheism, because their 'there's only one God' stance meant they broke the only religious law there was, which was tolerance for other faiths.

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  17. Some guy on the internet said:
    Part of that is we get to pick our own labels and what they mean, thanks.

    No, sorry guy, but you don't.

    While I think it is crazy that Atheists would even want to do that - I could really care less. Except that this novel interpretation is then used to try to change the meaning of Agnosticism.

    I fully support your right to have a 'rich inner life', but please try to not confuse it with reality.

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  18. "Some guy on the internet said"

    Yeah, sorry, Joe Agnostic, for not using my real name.

    "'Part of that is we get to pick our own labels and what they mean, thanks.'

    No, sorry guy, but you don't."

    We live in an age where groups get to pick their own name and what they stand for, they don't get assigned one by some central authority. If you haven't spotted that, I'm sorry.

    Now, yes, I'm all for precision in language, but 'atheist' is a problematic term, it's always been an umbrella term, and actual atheists are better placed to define their belief system than Christian theologians, who invariably make the sophomoric point that the term sets itself in opposition to a thing, then says that thing doesn't exist, so why are we so angry blah blah atheism is just another -ism blah blah.

    'Atheist', in other words, sets us up as 'anti' and 'negative'. We're not. Cue 'I'm not an anti-unicornist, you are atheist about Zeus' cut and paste.

    We need a word for 'someone with no gods in their life' and 'atheist' is the word we have, and attempts to replace it are doomed. Like many groups before us, the best thing to do is take the term of abuse - Quaker, Desert Rat, Tory, Queer - and embrace it.

    If you think I'm wrong about that, and its up to some external authority - usually hostile, seeing themselves as the default value of the human race and keen to other those who don't look or think like them - to name and define groups, well, please have fun telling the negroes that.

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  19. Anonymous said:
    Now, yes, I'm all for precision in language, but 'atheist' is a problematic term, it's always been an umbrella term,

    While I agree that there was a long period of time where its usage was broadly for "Not like us" it has had a rather precise meaning since at least Huxley and certainly captured in EB 1911 which also happens to contrast it to Agnosticism (convenience link)

    Anonymous said:
    We need a word for 'someone with no gods in their life' and 'atheist' is the word we have, and attempts to replace it are doomed. Like many groups before us, the best thing to do is take the term of abuse - Quaker, Desert Rat, Tory, Queer - and embrace it.

    If you think I'm wrong about that, and its up to some external authority - usually hostile, seeing themselves as the default value of the human race and keen to other those who don't look or think like them


    There are plenty of other words which also encapsulates the position of 'someone with no gods in their life' for a brief rundown you could refer to Atheism, Agnosticism, Noncognitivism by Theodore Drange - who is most definitely not hostile to the position we are talking about.

    The problem, for me, is that in watering down atheism, you now have to create adjectives that recreate the level of precision that is necessary to have it convey meaningful information - such as 'weak', 'strong', 'positive', 'negative' etc. Furthermore, and nearer to my personal motivations, you are now also moved to needlessly confuse yourselves about Agnosticism.

    Agnosticism isn't "weak atheism" - it is "strong rationalism".

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  20. "The problem, for me, is that in watering down atheism"

    I'm not watering down anything. An atheist is someone without a god in their life. There are probably as many variations within that as there are within Christianity from people who never give a thought to gods through to those who dedicate their lives to anti-clericalism.

    I'm not going to say all agnostics are atheists. But agnosticism is clearly not some compromise position where you worship God but don't believe in any of the bullshit (that's Anglicanism, ba-dum tish!).

    "Agnosticism isn't "weak atheism" - it is "strong rationalism"."

    ... and clearly your own identity politics are deeply invested in that interpretation.

    Part of the deal with atheism is ... I just think there's more interesting and useful things to be doing than theology and quibbling about theological terms. Rearranging colored pencils in alphabetical order. Staring at a wall.

    I'm happy you live a godless existence, I don't feel the need to label you or declare you one of the tribe or count you in a pretend census.

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  21. Anonymous said:
    I'm not watering down anything. An atheist is someone without a god in their life.
    Dude, seriously? What is it that compels you to ignore the established definition of:
    Atheism Noun:
    The theory or belief that God does not exist.
    I honestly 100% don't get it - if you don't want to take the time to circumscribe your personal outlook with more precision than the above then maybe irreligious or with a bit more 'zing' to it BEYOND BELIEF: ATHEISM, AGNOSTICISM, AND THEISTIC CERTAINTY IN THE UNITED STATES(2008):

    What is interesting,
    however, is that somewhat higher proportions of atheists report
    relatively regular church attendance when compared to agnostics
    or those who believe in a higher power.
    (pg. 449)

    Much love, Joe

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  22. My previous post got garbled ( yes, yes, they are all garbled)

    From memory ( Larry, if you have access to the original could you fix it? ):

    ...
    if you don't want to take the time to circumscribe your personal outlook with more precision than the above then maybe irreligious or, with a bit more 'zing' to it, post-theism is more your speed.

    And if you would stop buying into redefining words willy-nilly then we agnostics wouldn't mind having you either :)

    Anonymous said:
    I'm not going to say all agnostics are atheists. But agnosticism is clearly not some compromise position where you worship God but don't believe in any of the bullshit (that's Anglicanism, ba-dum tish!).

    Indeed it is not, in fact, according to the paper
    BEYOND BELIEF: ATHEISM, AGNOSTICISM, AND THEISTIC CERTAINTY IN THE UNITED STATES(2008):


    What is interesting, however, is that somewhat higher proportions of atheists report relatively regular church attendance when compared to agnostics or those who believe in a higher power. (pg. 449)

    Much love, Joe

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  23. "Dude, seriously? What is it that compels you to ignore - "

    Mate, seriously, what is it that compels you to think any dictionary definition is complete and eternal?

    'Atheism' is, clearly, a spectrum of different stances, positions, attitudes, beliefs and so on, the commonality being a lack of religious or theistic beliefs and behaviors. It represents the oldest religion-related tradition, one we know was in place and philosophically consistent with modern atheism before creationists say the world was created. One that is *at least* three times older than the current fad for Jesus.

    As for 'circumscribing my personal outlook' - no thanks. I infer there aren't gods, and my understanding and behavior is informed by that. I label that as 'atheist'. If you want, in the privacy of your own home, to call it something else because you conclude I believe it but don't believe it, where the second 'believe' is pronounced in a slightly different tone of voice, fine, go knock yourself out.

    I assume we can agree that the status of the existence of gods won't alter however we decide to define atheism? In the end, the extra nature or labeling of the relationship between my understanding there are no gods and the fact there are no gods isn't terribly interesting or important to me.

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  24. Anonymous wrote:
    Mate, seriously, what is it that compels you to think any dictionary definition is complete and eternal?
    This isn't about eternal - language is in a state of flux, but what we have now is the situation where the vast majority of source directly contrast atheism with agnosticism based on their truth claims relative to existence of God(s).

    Doing away with that distinction seems unnecessary and undesirable, both to agnostics like myself and a number of atheists see: evilbible.

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  25. Long, long ago, a bunch of hominids went about their business as best they could, with no time for metaphysics. Had they a need for the term, they would have called themselves atheistic, since they had nothing to be theistic (or agnostic) about. Then times got better; they discovered the pleasures of leisure and discourse. "What does it all mean?" they asked each other. Various ideas were put forward, and the most popular became the new (indeed, the first) religion. The world resulted from ... (here, the text becomes a little hard to make out). This was accepted by all but one, who found it all too unbelievable. They dubbed him "Agnostic" - He Who Knows Not Whether What We Say Is True Or Not, Since He Cannot Prove It False. "Bog off!" he protested. "I haven't changed my position; how have I suddenly become something with respect to your favoured myth?".

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