• Jerry
    38
    Almost all atheists nowadays define their atheism as "the lack of belief that gods exist" or something similar. But the more I think about atheism and the atheists I've seen, the less I understand this definition.

    I was an agnostic atheist who used this definition myself for over half-a-decade. Now I'm agnostic and don't fully accept that meaning of atheism. I think atheism as "the belief that no god exists" is more accurate, because I believe most atheists are of this sort. I was certainly of this sort. Also, it seems more philosophically accurate to position people in terms of their belief of the proposition "some god exists" or "no gods exist" (its negation).

    Similarly, I don't like how it makes theism/atheism a dichotomy. It lumps people that are undecided on the existence of god or have other proposition attitudes in with people that believe that god doesn't exist (a much different position). Furthermore, a theist could easily make the argument that theism is defined as "the lack of belief that no god exists", and that agnostics are really theists then.

    Also, it seems like an escape from burden of proof to take the "lack of belief" side. To "believe god doesn't exist" holds a burden of proof, but most atheists claim that only the theist has a burden of proof, even those that clearly believe no god exists.

    Those are my rough thoughts on the issue. I'd like to hear why you think atheists insist, or why you insist, on this understanding of atheism. I can think of some reasons, but I'd rather hear from others and discuss them then.
  • Jerry
    38
    Oh, I just realized I didn't describe what I mean when I say I'm agnostic.

    Simply, I do not believe that no gods exist and I do not believe that some god exists.
  • Bitter Crank
    11.1k
    I don't find a difference in these two formulations.

    "the lack of belief that gods exist"Jerry
    "the belief that no god exists"Jerry

    What I do find is that the first statement is passive and the second statement is active. Active statements are more vigorous than passive ones, and are preferable. The most direct statement would be "I do not believe god(s) exists."

    Your statement about agnosticism is confusing and is contradictory.

    It sounds like you do not know whether gods exist, which is a common meaning of agnosticism
  • Jerry
    38
    @Bitter Crank
    I don't find a difference in these two formulations....

    Well, to make the difference a little more clear, I'll point out that "I lack belief that some god exists" is the same as saying "I do not believe that some god exists". Oh, also "some god exists" is the same as "god(s) exist". So the two statements become:

    "I do not believe that some god exists"
    "I believe that no god exists"
    Notice that "no god exists" is the negation of "some god exists".

    These are actually not the same. I'm gonna use "the gumball example". Excuse me if you know of this example and reject it, or that you think it doesn't apply. Anyway, it goes:

    You have a jar of gumballs. You know the number of gumballs is either even or odd. The question is, "do you believe there are an even number of gumballs"? You would say:

    "I do not believe that there are an even number of gumballs" (because there is an equally likely chance that there are an odd number)

    Is this the same as saying "I believe that there are an odd number of gumballs"? No, because you also wouldn't believe that there are an odd number of gumballs, for the same reason you didn't believe the number was even.

    What you are saying then is "I do not believe that there are an even number of gumballs" and "I do not believe that there are an odd number of gumballs". You don't believe either because, in this case, the possibility is equal, and you can't have a good degree of certainty either way.

    That's also my position on the existence of gods, which I use agnosticism to mean, which is also a common use case of agnosticism.

    Oh, and you are right, I don't know whether a god exists or not, although most atheists don't claim to know either.
  • TheMadFool
    13.9k
    It appears simple to me and I'm afraid it isn't.

    Take your position on God as a page from a book.

    If you're agnostic (undecided) then the page is blank.

    If you're a theist (believe god exists) then the page contains ''God exists''

    If you're an atheist (don't believe god exists) then the page contains ''God doesn't exist''.

    Note that in all cases you either did something (wrote) or you did not (left the page blank).

    So, it is fully justifiable to ask ''why?'' you wrote (theist/atheist) or did not (agnostic).

    You must explain your actions.

    I'm agnostic leaning towards atheism. My pen is hovering over my blank page wanting to write ''NO God doesn't exist''.

    The burden of proof falls on every position you take.


    One interesting point to note is that of a young child who hasn't even thought of God. This I compare to some one who doesn't even have a page on the topic of God. Such people could be labeled as ''lacking belief in God'' and are free from the burden of proof.

    However, the moment such a child is introduced to God then he has been given a page and must explain what he does with it.
  • Shawn
    12.1k
    I find that hard to believe.

    I always thought the claim that there is no God, a stronger belief than asserting there is a God.
  • Jerry
    38
    @TheMadFool
    Interesting that you would say a burden of proof falls on an agnostic. I don't think by the standard understanding of the burden of proof you would have to account for a position of agnosticism, as you would not be making any claim either way about a proposition. However, I do sympathize and agree with you that you should be able to explain your position regardless.
  • Mr Bee
    463
    Similarly, I don't like how it makes theism/atheism a dichotomy. It lumps people that are undecided on the existence of god or have other proposition attitudes in with people that believe that god doesn't exist (a much different position). Furthermore, a theist could easily make the argument that theism is defined as "the lack of belief that no god exists", and that agnostics are really theists then.Jerry

    Exactly. I never really got those definitions either. It just sounds alot more confusing and unnecessarily complicated, which is the exact opposite of what words are supposed to be used for. It muddles an issue that most people do care about (that of belief) by blurring the lines between the three clearly different positions one can take with respect to a proposition, while adding an element that most people don't care much about at all (that of certain knowledge).

    If I were to ask you about your stance on God, like any other issue, I am concerned primarily with your belief on the matter. I couldn't care less about whether you think you're certain about your position than the position you actually hold. And for the most part, it doesn't seem like most other people do either. So I never understood why I'm expected to add an extra term in order to indicate my certainty/uncertainty as if people do give a damn. At least, this is just from my experience.

    Also, it seems like an escape from burden of proof to take the "lack of belief" side. To "believe god doesn't exist" holds a burden of proof, but most atheists claim that only the theist has a burden of proof, even those that clearly believe no god exists.Jerry

    I would say generally yes, but in the case of the existence of a God, not really. As people would say, "Extraordinary claims require extraordinary evidence", and the issue of God is arguably about an extraordinary claim, so the burden of proof lies solely with the theist to provide positive reasons for believing in one.

    Those are my rough thoughts on the issue. I'd like to hear why you think atheists insist, or why you insist, on this understanding of atheism. I can think of some reasons, but I'd rather hear from others and discuss them then.Jerry

    My guess is that it's a numbers game to them (the atheists). A way of inflating their numbers so as to piss a bunch of theists off. Sounds stupid and petty, but really, the entire debate between theists and atheists can get pretty childish sometimes, given how personal the topic of religion is to most people.
  • Michael Ossipoff
    1.7k


    Almost all atheists nowadays define their atheism as "the lack of belief that gods exist" or something similar.Jerry

    Then they're self-declaring as Agnostics, not Atheists.

    "Atheist" means someone who believes &/or asserts that there isn't a God.

    All of our politicians are closet Atheists. Though they don't assert Atheism, they evidently believe in it.

    Someone who doesn't take a position on the matter, who doesn't claim to know, is an "Agnostic".

    So yes, the people calling themselves "Atheists" are espousing Agnosticism.

    ...until they start espousing Atheism, as they always do, sometimes in their next breath.

    So, such people, even aside from the name that they call themselves, routinely and regularly contradict themselves about Atheism vs Agnosticism.

    What to call them? Does it matter?

    Also, it seems like an escape from burden of proof to take the "lack of belief" side. To "believe god doesn't exist" holds a burden of proof, but most atheists claim that only the theist has a burden of proof, even those that clearly believe no god exists.

    There's no burden of proof. Religion has nothing to do with proof, argument, or convincing anyone.

    I define metaphysics as statements about what is, where such discussions are, arguable and provable, and are about matters and things that are fully describable and discussable. Other matters, feelings and impressions of what is, I don't regard religion as part of metaphysics. I suggest that some, maybe many, Theists don't regard God as an element of metaphysics.

    If you're interested only in matters discussable, describable, arguable and provable, then stick with science, metaphysics, etc.

    Those are my rough thoughts on the issue. I'd like to hear why you think atheists insist, or why you insist, on this understanding of atheism. I can think of some reasons, but I'd rather hear from others and discuss them then.

    it's probably because they want to believe, and show you, that they're "more scientific than thou", and are believers in the religion of Science-Worship, a pseudoscientific religion characterized by the belief that Science covers and explains all, and that the material world is the ultimate reality and the ground of all being. and that physical science describes all of Reality. (In other words, the religion of Science-Worship is either the same as the metaphysics of Materialism--a metaphysics that doesn't hold up to examination--or is at least believed-in by the same people. But Materialism's insupportability is another topic.)

    Michael Ossipoff
  • TheMadFool
    13.9k
    Interesting that you would say a burden of proof falls on an agnostic. I don't think by the standard understanding of the burden of proof you would have to account for a position of agnosticism, as you would not be making any claim either way about a proposition. However, I do sympathize and agree with you that you should be able to explain your position regardless.Jerry

    I've been struggling with these labels for quite some time now. I had a difficult time making sense of these positions, especially the way atheists defend themselves by saying atheism=lack of belief and using that as a reason to not prove the nonexistence of God.

    However, atheism, agnosticism, theism are, well, philosophical positions so they must, by definition, have reasons to support them.

    Consider an idea x. Suppose it hasn't been thought of by anyone at all. For me this constitutes a ''lack of belief'' in x as opposed to assuming a mental posture on x (existence/nonexistence/undecided) which definitely requires good reasons.
  • Harry Hindu
    4.9k
    Oh, I just realized I didn't describe what I mean when I say I'm agnostic.

    Simply, I do not believe that no gods exist and I do not believe that some god exists.
    Jerry
    Strange. Your own system seems to indicate a lack of a belief in anything. You do not explain how it is that atheists cannot have lack of a belief, but you can.

    Isn't your lack of belief based on a lack of evidence? That is the same reason atheists have a lack of belief in the existence of gods.

    To say that "Because we do not have evidence does not mean that god does not exist" could be said for the existence of anything, including elves, hobbits, dragons and orcs. We simply do not go around believing in the possibility of everything for which there is no evidence for. We must filter the possibilities some way, and through empiricism and rationality, we can.
  • Streetlight
    9.1k
    One alternative is that the existence - or not - of God is a non-issue, and that the question itself it not worth contemplating because it is a badly posed question. That is, what ought to be rejected is not God's existence or non-existence, but the very question itself, which asks a question about a non-sense, not unlike - perhaps exactly like - the question of weather or not square circles exist: a question not worth answering on account of the nonsensicality of its very subject. God is like that. A mistake of grammar.
  • tim wood
    8.4k
    It seems a lot of folks have their two cents worth to contribute on the topic of the existence of God. Never, however, have I seen, heard or, read such a discussion that was prefaced with a definition of God, or any discussion of who or what God is. I venture to say that no participant in such a discussion, with few exceptions, has any idea what they're talking about - or cares!

    Make a liar of me! Who will venture to make clear who or what it is they're so sure exists, or doesn't exist.
  • Artemis
    2k


    That is, what ought to be rejected is not God's existence or non-existence, but the very question itself, which asks a question about a non-sense, not unlike - perhaps exactly like - the question of weather or not square circles exist: a question not worth answering on account of the nonsensicality of its very subject. God is like that. A mistake of grammar.StreetlightX

    I agree. Like professing a belief or non-belief in a pink invisible unicorn would make no sense either.

    It's merely useful terminology in a society where religion/spirituality are so widespread.
  • Mayor of Simpleton
    661
    I'm not too sure if my comments are of any use, but as I view the issue the term in atheist simply means the belief that no god exists.

    This might seem odd, but I view the term theist to simply mean a belief that a god (possibly gods) exists.

    In spite of popular notions and assumed causal connections neither imply that there must be a system of belief (aka religion) connected to this answer to a single question does a god or do gods exist?.

    Indeed there is a religious system of belief termed theism, but I'd say all believers in the religious system of belief of theism are indeed theists, but not all theists need to have a religious system of belief of any kind connected to this single statement of belief of god existing. It is a very popular notion that one thing lead to another, but belief in a god(s) does not directly imply much less guarantee a sort of religious system of belief resulting from this single answer to a single question.

    Regarding the answer of the atheist not believing in the existence of gods, it could well be possible that this popular notion of if one's answer to the question must lead to having a system of belief; thus this false notion of causality bleeds over to the not believing in the existence of god. Maybe the assumption that a system of belief must follow from this single answer to a single question is the problem?

    Here's a bit of an odd thing to say, but I'll say it.

    If one is a monotheist and believes in say... god X as the only god existing, then this monotheist must be said to be an atheist in respect to all other incarnations of gods who are not god X. So, in respect to say... god Y this particular monotheist who believe only in god X as the only existing god must be an atheist in respect to god Y.

    There isn't really a need for a complete system of belief for the rejection of god Y, but simply the belief that god X is the one and only real existing god is enough to seal the deal for them.

    For an atheist who reject the notion of any and all gods existing there really doesn't need to be a system of belief necessary for this rejection of all other gods, as the rejection itself is enough to seal the deal.

    I will grant you this...

    In my experience in dealing with atheists quite often they tend to from a sort of group mentality. I used to joke with them explaining that they are really theists who have rejected classical gods and have replace thiem with an anti-god god that they worship through the grand prophet... the newly deified Darwin, try to draw inspiration from the periodic table of elements and usually attend craft beer tastings as a sort of replacement to going to a formalized church service. It is there that they discuss the writings, teachings and podcasts of Dawkins, Harris, Dennett and Hitchens and enjoy speaking out loudly to one another the grand observations they've made and have misinterpreted from watching various science documentaries they've viewed on the Discovery Channel... usually narrated by Morgan Freeman... while wearing a t-shirt with a Jesus fish with feet. (anyone else met these guy?)

    Sorry I'm off the track a bit...

    I have no idea if any of that makes much sense or helps. If you are still interested in bits of it I can always add more words in the hope to enhance my clarity.

    Meow!

    G
  • Buxtebuddha
    1.8k
    One alternative is that the existence - or not - of God is a non-issue, and that the question itself it not worth contemplating because it is a badly posed question. That is, what ought to be rejected is not God's existence or non-existence, but the very question itself, which asks a question about a non-sense, not unlike - perhaps exactly like - the question of weather or not square circles exist: a question not worth answering on account of the nonsensicality of its very subject. God is like that. A mistake of grammar.StreetlightX

    Looks like you've categorically rejected that which you haven't studied to its depths.
  • Streetlight
    9.1k
    Said every raving conspiracy theorist ever.
  • Thorongil
    3.2k
    the lack of belief that gods existJerry

    That's not atheism. That's simple non-theism.

    But the more I think about atheism and the atheists I've seen, the less I understand this definition.Jerry

    It's meant to obviate the need to argue for atheism. Your typical nu atheist who spouts this nonsense is intellectually lazy.

    I think atheism as "the belief that no god exists" is more accurateJerry

    That is what it is, yes.
  • Txastopher
    189
    Why use the term, 'atheist' at all? There are all sorts of things I don't believe, but I don't require a term for my disbelief in them.

    By describing an individual by his or her disbelief in theism suggests that this individual has something prove in defence of his or her position, whereas the onus is entirely on the theists to back up their extraordinary claims.

    Theism is 'theory' that theists hold to be true. Atheism is not a competing theory; it requires neither explanation nor defence, and such has no need for a term to describe itself.
  • fdrake
    5.2k
    I don't agree with the lacking belief definition of atheism. If something lacks belief in god, it is an atheist. Rocks lack belief in god, they lack all beliefs, so all rocks are atheists; that makes little to no sense.

    I think atheism is believing in the negation of the claim 'god exists', IE 'god does not exist', rather than being like the rock. An atheist isn't someone who hasn't encountered the idea of God, they're someone who rejects belief in that idea. Note that this isn't speaking about knowledge of god.

    It's also a pretty lazy rhetorical strategy, there's a belief about lack of belief that it's somehow the default position about god; so any claim about god suffers a burden of proof. This isn't really necessary, knowledge whether substantive or demarcational always requires some speech in the court of reason. I'd prefer it if atheists owned their rejection of god as a metaphysical and practical choice rather than painting themselves as still part of a prelapsarian nature before encounter with the idea of god.
  • _db
    3.6k


    If we are doing philosophy of religion in the analytic sense and arguing about the existence of God, then there are precisely and only three basic positions to take: theism, atheism and agnosticism. I cannot tell you how many times I have encountered vitriolic idiots claiming agnostic atheism is not only a coherent position but also the "default" position.

    BOTH theists and atheists have a burden of proof. If you are an atheist, then you believe God does not exist. You don't have to be extremely confident about this - it's fallacious to assume beliefs can only be held with absolute certainty.

    In my experience, "agnostic atheism" is a veiled attempt at naturalistic question-begging. The reason why "agnostic atheists" claim to be the "default" position is because they take naturalism (and oftentimes scientism) to be true as a given, when the reality is that naturalism just is the argument. Hence why they tend to get so goddamn touchy when this presupposition is questioned - it means they actually have to start doing philosophy and provide arguments! Naturalism just is an argument for atheism - but "agnostic atheists" don't want to have to argue for it. They want naturalism to be a given, and thus force theists to have all the burden of proof. Nonsense question-begging.

    Just like anything else, if you believe something then you ought to have reasons for believing what you do. It's very, very simple. Atheists need to provide reasons just as much as theists. The agnostics have the default position, not the atheists. All this talk about "lack of belief" and "default positions" is quite literally nothing but question-begging nonsense on behalf of the atheistic crowd.

    If we move away from analytic philosophy of religion and into previous forms of philosophical religious discussion (such as Scholasticism, or post-modern theology), then we arrive at different ways of construing the debate. Scholasticism will still accept atheism as a valid position but will absolutely demand the atheist provide good and compelling reasons for believing atheism to be true. And post-modern theologians might scrap the whole "debate" as misguided and re-construe the positions in terms less "metaphysical" and more social, moral and phenomenological.
  • _db
    3.6k
    Here.

    Actually, this has come up several times here in the past.
  • Buxtebuddha
    1.8k
    Said every raving conspiracy theorist ever.StreetlightX

    I like the fact that you didn't deny what I said, :fire: :ok: :eyes:
  • Txastopher
    189
    If we are doing philosophy of religion in the analytic sense and arguing about the existence of God, then there are precisely and only three basic positions to take: theism, atheism and agnosticism.darthbarracuda

    This division is a vestigial contingency derived from the status quo from which it emerged. It is not a necessary division.

    BOTH theists and atheists have a burden of proof. If you are an atheist, then you believe God does not exist.darthbarracuda

    An atheist is one who attempts to disprove the existence of God/gods, but there is also a group who have no reason whatsoever to believe in supernatural beings or have no interest in what those who do believe in them have to say on the topic, and consequently don't waste their time in trying to disprove that which there is no reason to believe in in the first place. I suspect that most of those categorised as atheists fall into this group, but calling them atheists seems wrong since one need not be opposed to something that one considers does not exist.

    Atheists play into the theists hands by according them respect and a platform. The category to which I refer accords theists about as much attention as the Easter Rabbit.
  • _db
    3.6k
    Oh, I can't remember. It might not even be in that thread. But I distinctly remember dealing with a few self-proclaimed "agnostic atheists" on this forum and others.
  • _db
    3.6k
    An atheist is one who attempts to disprove the existence of God/gods, but there is also a group who have no reason whatsoever to believe in supernatural beings or have no interest in what those who do believe in them have to say on the topic, and consequently don't waste their time in trying to disprove that which there is no reason to believe in in the first place. I suspect that most of those categorised as atheists fall into this group, but calling them atheists seems wrong since one need not be opposed to something that one considers does not exist.jastopher

    Then these people are not doing philosophy, and thus are not philosophical atheists. Call them what you want - irreligious, non-believers, whatever. If they consider the existence of God a worthless debate that wastes time, then I have the right to ignore them. They are not participating or contributing.

    Atheists play into the theists hands by according them respect and a platform. The category to which I refer accords theists about as much attention as the Easter Rabbit.jastopher

    Yup, as I said before. When you treat a debate about the existence of God as akin to a debate about the Easter Rabbit, you have forfeited your right to be listened to. It's disrespectful, a straw man, and a waste of everyone's time.
  • Txastopher
    189
    When you treat a debate about the existence of God as akin to a debate about the Easter Rabbit, you have forfeited your right to be listened todarthbarracuda

    In terms of evidence, and thus reason to engage in argument regarding the existence of either, there is none for either entity. Debating the existence of God is not philosophical it is engaging in petito principi and shouting tu quoque at whoever disagrees with you. As long as there are atheists willing to be drawn into this quagmire theists will have their own existence guarenteed.

    Only by ignoring it will we be able to free ourselves of theism.
  • _db
    3.6k
    In terms of evidence, and thus reason to engage in argument regarding the existence of either, there is none for either entity. Debating the existence of God is not philosophical it is engaging in petito principi and shouting tu quoque at whoever disagrees with you. As long as there are atheists willing to be drawn into this quagmire theists will have their own existence guarenteed.

    Only by ignoring it will we be able to free ourselves of theism.
    jastopher

    Isn't this just a massive petito principi? Aren't you just begging the question against theism? You come here with an already pre-made picture of what God is, what theism is, what religion is, and what philosophy of religion must therefore be. No wonder people don't take your atheism seriously. If you aren't even open to discussion then there's no point in even engaging with you as an atheist.

    The fact that you have such a shallow, narrow and overly-hostile attitude to theism shows you are not familiar with the literature surrounding philosophy of religion, and clearly are unaware of sophisticated forms of theism that are compelling and serious. This is not the courtier's reply: this is you just not reading, and going into a gunfight armed with a toothpick.
  • Txastopher
    189
    The fairy at the end of my garden who created the universe has told me that you are the messenger of Satan.
  • _db
    3.6k
    Well, you turned out to be a disappointment. :shade:

    Come back when you learn how to read.
  • Txastopher
    189
    ↪jastopher Well, you turned out to be a disappointment.darthbarracuda

    See, now you're a non 'atheist'. Welcome!
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