On atheism – Here we go again

atheism Philosophy of Religion

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David Gleeson over at exchristian.net wants to correct common misconceptions about atheism. Unfortunately he ends up perpetuating a major misconception of his own, and also messes up a little Greek. Commenting on the very first alleged misconception, he says:

1. Atheism is the belief that no gods exist.

This statement’s ubiquity is exceeded only by its utter falseness; not only is it misleading, but it is the complete opposite of the truth.

The word ‘atheism’ comes from the Greek prefix ‘a’, meaning without, and ‘theist’, meaning having a belief in a supernatural deity. Atheism, therefore, literally means “without theistic belief”. Atheism does not positively assert anything; rather, it is a statement of withheld belief.

Atheists, therefore, do not positively assert that gods do not exist. Atheists simply withhold belief in said gods because the evidence is not sufficient to warrant the belief. This is not to say that there isn’t sufficient reason to believe that certain gods do not exist. There is. But to categorically deny the existence of all gods would require a leap of faith that is anathema to a true atheist. Atheism requires no such leap.

I’ll start with the way that the writer gets his Greek wrong. “Theist” is an English word. It is a word derived from the Greek word theos, which means god. A theist is a person who believes that there is a god (i.e. they believe there is a theos) – not a person who believes that there is a theist (i.e. who believes that theism exists). Similarly, polytheist is an english word made from two Greek roots: polu means “many,” and theos, “god.” so a polytheist believes that there are many gods – not that there are many theists or many theisms (this would be to confuse Greek and English, since theist and theism are English words). The Greek prefix a means “no” or “not.” When affixed to Greek nouns, it generally indicates a denial of that noun. For example, something is amorphous if it has no shape (morphe is the Greek word for shape). Ablepsia is another name for blindness, and it means no sight (a means “no” and blepsis means “sight”). Nobody versed in Greek would ever doubt this, so Mr Gleeson has simply made a mistake. The English word Atheism, based on its Greek derivation, if we rely on derivation / etymology (as Mr Gleeson, for better or worse, does), does not mean “no theism” or “not theism.” Like theism and polytheism, atheism refers to a belief, namely the belief that there is no (a) God (theos).

So he has his Greek wrong when he tries to show what atheism means based on etymology.

Secondly however, Mr Gleeson quite misleads his readers by implying that the claim that atheists deny the existence of God is the opposite of the truth. There’s a good reason that the claim is “ubiquitous” as Mr Gleeson complains. It’s a common claim because it represents an historical fact. The claim is pretty simple to document, as I have done before, but a timely reminder is always, well, timely. Here’s what the Cambridge Dictionary of Philosophy says in it’s entry for atheism:

Atheism (from Greek a-, ‘not’, and theos, ‘god’), the view that there are no gods. A widely used sense denotes merely not believing in God and is consistent with agnosticism. A stricter sense denotes a belief that there is no God; this use has become the standard one.

Mr Gleeson might like the “widely used sense,” because it is epistemically weaker (i.e. it means he doesn’t have to defend anything) and because it’s common among sceptical bloggers for that reason. But the fact remains, it’s not what the word strictly means (notice too how the Greek derivation is explained in the above quote).

The Stanford Encyclopedia of Philosophy says in its entry for atheism and agnosticism that “‘Atheism’ means the negation of theism, the denial of the existence of God.” The more general resource Encyclopedia Britannica says:

Atheism, the critique or denial of metaphysical beliefs in God or spiritual beings. As such, it is the opposite of theism, which affirms the reality of the divine and seeks to demonstrate its existence. Atheism is to be distinguished from agnosticism, which leaves open the question of whether there is a god or not, professing to find the question unanswered or unanswerable; for the atheist, the nonexistence of God is a certainty.

The entry for “Atheism” in the Routledge Enclyclopedia of Philosophy says: “Atheism is the position that affirms the nonexistence of God. It proposes positive belief rather than mere suspension of disbelief.” When Antony Flew, back in his non-theist days, argued for “weak atheism,” namely the belief that theism ought not be affirmed, he did so while quite honestly and openly admitting that “weak atheism” is not the regular meaning of “atheism,” hence the need to add the qualifier “weak.”

So like David Gleeson, I wish people would stop perpetuating misconceptions about what atheism is and is not. Unlike Mr Gleeson however, I’m aware that he is one of the guilty parties.

Glenn Peoples

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{ 51 comments… add one }
  • Anon January 25, 2010, 2:03 am

    “Atheists simply withhold belief in said gods because the evidence is not sufficient to warrant the belief. ”

    Isn’t that actually agnosticism?

    Seems like atheism is dead and is replaced by agnosticism these days.

  • Daniel A. Wang January 25, 2010, 8:57 am

    Meaning isn’t determined by etymology, so it doesn’t matter who appeals to it to settle the issue. Definitions differ too much to settle such issues, and indeed it is difficult to find a good definition for any word (for instance, since every word needs a definition, but a definition can only consist of words in the first place).

    At the end of the day, it comes down to how the term is used, which is nothing static at all. Most people probably perceive “atheist” to denote someone who explicitly believes that God does not exist. Some nonbelievers consider themselves “atheists” even though they simply lack theistic belief. And this idea is not unheard of in the philosophy of religion (Michael Martin for one), the relevant subject matter. All of this is perfectly relevant.

    However, if simply lacking belief is enough to be an atheist then tables, chairs, and infants would surely have to be atheists as well (which sounds rather ad hoc). The distinction between negative and positive atheism is perhaps a bit clearer, although the fact that every positive atheist would also be a negative atheist is no great help either.

    As a side note, in my Liddell & Scott the alpha privatum is described as “expressing want or absence”, while “atheos” is defined as “without God, denying the gods”.

  • Daniel A. Wang January 25, 2010, 8:59 am

    “Isn’t that actually agnosticism?”

    The focus of agnosticism is on knowledge, or “gnosis”. And there are different sorts of persons who might consider themselves agnostics. There is a difference between someone who is simply undecided on whether theism is true, and someone who believes that we can’t know anything either way.

  • Glenn January 25, 2010, 10:23 am

    Like atheism, agnosticism can be thought of as strong or weak. Weak agnosticism is just the position where a person does not claim to know that God exists. In this sense, many people who say they are atheists are only really willing on examination, to affirm agnosticism. A much stronger agnosticism says that nobody can know that God exist or that God doesn’t exist. I think this runs into problems when confronted with a position like Alvin Plantinga’s, because it actually requires the denial of some theological claims.

    I agree that derivation/etymology isn’t going to settle much. I only brought it up because Mr Gleeson tried to argue that the etymology of “atheism” proves that it’s not a positive claim. His appeal was to etymology, so I pointed out how, if one does make that appeal, Mr Gleeson’s claim is wanting. I then went on to use scholarly resources to show that in terms of usage in reputable sources, Mr Gleeson is also incorrect.

  • Daniel A. Wang January 26, 2010, 6:54 am

    “I only brought it up because Mr Gleeson tried to argue that the etymology of ‘atheism’ proves that it’s not a positive claim.”

    One characteristic of presupposition is constancy under negation. If someone is asked whether he has stopped beating his wife yet, the affirmative and the negative answers are equally damning. So how does one respond? By saying that one never started beating her, or that there is no wife of which to speak. Similarly, the best response to an etymological fallacy is to simply point out said fallacy.

    He failed to trace “theism” back to “theos”, which makes it incomplete, but not wrong as such. The bit where he says that to categorically deny the existence of all gods would be anathema to a “true atheist” is worse. The theist only believes in one God, although there are several concepts (deism), many alleged divine beings (Thor). But surely someone who “denies the existence of all gods” would have to be an atheist, if not the other way around!

    Now, suppose that one accepts the traditional English definition of “atheism”, that of the denial of God’s existence. Doesn’t that leave the question of whether someone who does not explicitly believe in God must face a burden of proof? Whether they happen to qualify as “atheists” or not, a fundamentally negative term however you look at it (and so it doesn’t provide much in the way of positive description), seems secondary.

  • Glenn January 26, 2010, 10:26 am

    Well the etymological argument definitely was “wrong as such,” since he claimed that the etymology proved that the word merely indicates that one is not a theist, and that one is not making a positive claim. That’s wrong, because the etymology proves no such thing. As you say, etymology itself doesn’t fully determine meaning, and secondly, if we actually follow the etymology as he suggests, it falsifies his claim. I then went on, after noting that the etymological argument was weak, to demonstrate that in terms of usage in reputable sources today, Mr Gleeson is mistaken about what atheism is.

    And yes, of course a person who denied the existence of all gods is an atheist. This hardly needs to be pointed out. But his claim was that one can be an atheist and not deny the existence of any gods, and (here is the important part) that this was the basic meaning of the word. That’s a claim that is historically false as can easily be documented, and his etymological argument was wrong as well – both because of how he attempted to trace the etymology, and secondly for a reason that you accept: to wholly determine the meaning of a word via etymology is misguided. Also, as I showed via a second argument, in terms of usage in reputable sources today, it is clearly a mistaken view of what atheism is. I don’t see a good reason why anyone would defend Mr Gleeson’s claim at all.

  • Daniel A. Wang January 26, 2010, 11:53 am

    “Well the etymological argument definitely was ‘wrong as such,’ since he claimed that the etymology proved that the word merely indicates that one is not a theist”

    Well, someone could certainly be “without God”, “godless”, and “not believing in God” without denying the existence of God. And all of those can be found in relevant works as translations of “atheos”. If memory serves correctly, even *Christians* were at one time labelled in this way, because of their exclusive worship.

    Since we’re clearly agreed that the etymological route is fallacious anyway, I’m just wondering why you’re accusing someone of bad Greek and misunderstanding etymology, without a single reference to a relevant source. Unless I’m missing something, there’s only a couple of quotes from dictionaries on philosophy (eminently useful in their own right), and vague appeals to authority.

  • Glenn January 26, 2010, 12:10 pm

    Daniel, the fact that it’s fallacious to appeal to etymology to wholly determine a word’s meaning doesn’t mean that a positive claim about a word’s etymology should just be ignored.

    You mightn’t find it interesting that this guy got his etymology wrong. For whatever reason, I do, if only for the purpose of noting that he made two errors and not one.

    You might harbour a suspicion of the four reference tools that I cited. I don’t know how many would suffice. This just is the way reputable sources explain the meaning of atheism, as shown by this sample of four. But if you for some reason wish to resist what I take to be a widely know derivation, aside from not really understanding why, I am not troubled.

    It’s true that Christians were labelled as atheists, but that was due to their positive denial of the existence of the pantheon of Gods. That accusation was a bit silly, obviously, as Christians affirm that one God does exist. But still, you must surely see that they didn’t merely withhold belief regarding other gods. They actually denied their existence.

  • Daniel A. Wang January 26, 2010, 1:40 pm

    “Daniel, the fact that it’s fallacious to appeal to etymology to wholly determine a word’s meaning doesn’t mean that a positive claim about a word’s etymology should just be ignored.”

    I have not suggested that it should be ignored altogether.

    “You mightn’t find it interesting that this guy got his etymology wrong.”

    Actually, as a linguistics student with some knowledge of Attic and Koine Greek I take such things as getting etymology right quite seriously. That’s not the problem at all.

    “I don’t know how many would suffice.”

    It’s not an issue of quantity, but of quality and relevance. If I want to claim that someone is abusing Greek or messing up the etymology, I would generally go to a source dealing with precisely this, like a Greek lexicon (such as the one to which I previously referred). This is rather an important principle, quite independently of any linguistic quibbling.

    Frankly, what’s so controversial about suggesting that your method is flawed, even if your conclusion happens to be right?

  • Glenn January 26, 2010, 2:38 pm

    Well wait a minute Daniel. You are misrepresenting what I was trying to do by citing those books (which are, obviously, not Greek dictionaries). I did not go to those sources to demonstrate my claim about the Greek. Those sources were introduced after I said “secondly however,” and went on to explain that Mr Gleeson’s claim about what atheism is is historically false. Surely you see this.

    I just don’t actually see what it is you’re driving at, Daniel. Have you uncovered some error in my claims about the etymology of the English word “atheism”? Not that I can see. Yet you seem to be insistent about… something, I just don’t know what. Why are we arguing?

  • xxx January 27, 2010, 1:18 am

    That definition is atheist solution to their small number in world’s population. That’s why atheists kept on insisting on this new definition.

  • Daniel A. Wang January 27, 2010, 2:14 am

    “Have you uncovered some error in my claims about the etymology of the english word ‘atheism’? Not that I can see.”

    You’re assuming that it’s up to anyone else to demonstrate problems with your own assertions. I was just hoping that perhaps you intended to substantiate claims about other people’s Greek abilities by looking at sources which are dedicated to the language. How is this any different from, say, what you would expect from people talking about the philosophy of religion?

    Moreover, if we’re going to look at Greek at all, why not go beyond analyzing the prefix to death, and look at the nuances of the term “atheos”, which after all is closest to the English “atheist”?

  • Daniel A. Wang January 27, 2010, 2:38 am

    In that vein, “theos” clearly does not mean “theist”, even though “theist” is derived from “theos”. How would one take “atheos”? Someone who isn’t God? Someone who believes that God does not exist? Someone who is without God? Someone who does not believe that God exists?

    This seems to be more of a problem with English than with Greek.

  • Glenn January 27, 2010, 9:28 am

    Daniel, I realise that a theist isn’t a god (theos). I have been talking about English words that refer to beliefs. The English word theist does not have the same meaning as the Greek theos, nor does the English word atheist mean the same as atheos. This perhaps explains why you were expecting me to use Greek sources and also why I was not doing so. The way the English word atheist is put together is similar to the way the English word polytheist is put together. It refers to what a person believes exists, in this case to the belief that no God exists.

    I hope that issue can be laid to rest now that you see what I’m not saying.

  • Daniel A. Wang January 27, 2010, 4:54 pm

    Well, the statements which I find particularly troubling in the absence of sources are:

    “[he] also messes up a little Greek”

    “The Greek prefix a means ‘no’ or ‘not.’ When affixed to Greek nouns, it indicates a denial of that noun.”

    “nobody versed in linguistics (or Greek) would ever doubt this”

    “The English word Atheism, based on its Greek derivation, does not mean ‘no theism’ or ‘not theism.'”

    When you say that the English term “atheism” refers to the belief that no God exists, that is begging the question. It has been traditionally understood in this way, and probably most English speakers would think of it as meaning this. If we accept that as a reason to think of it this way, we haven’t actually relied on any considerations of Greek, but simply of the attitudes of speakers, which change over time. Doesn’t “theist” mean something more today than just “belief in some sort of god”? Theism posits a being with very specific attributes.

    Your argument seems to be that since “poly” + “theos” -> polytheist -> someone who believes in many gods, therefore “a” + “theos” -> atheist -> someone who believes there is no God. In doing so, you seem to be doing the very same thing you’ve accused Gleeson of doing: confusing Greek and English. But if the “derivation” you suggest doesn’t even work in Greek, why would it be expected to work in English?

  • Glenn January 27, 2010, 5:47 pm

    Daniel, you must certainly be reading something wrong if you honestly believe I am doing the same thing that Gleeson is doing. One final explanation from me, then I will leave the last say with you.

    Gleeson claims that atheism doesn’t mean the belief that there’s no God, and he claims that this is proven by the etymology of the English (not Greek) word “atheism.” That’s his strong claim: Proof from etymology (something you have said you don’t approve of). This is the claim in question (it is his), and my reply is that he failed to establish it.

    By contrast, I do not claim that the meaning of the English word is obviously proven by considering such derivation. But for some reason you’ve zoomed in on that claim (which I do not make) and made an issue of it. I don’t know why you did that.

    What I do, however, is point out that if one uses this etymological method, he will not arrive at Gleeson’s position. This is where you’ve gotten it wrong in your last comment, suggesting that I’m mixing up English and Greek. This is just not so. I don’t think it’s a reasonable demand to ask me to now make my own proof from etymology by quoting Greek sources. I don’t believe in proof by etymology, and neither do you! So my first argument was that Gleeson’s attempt to construct a proof from etymology fails.

    However, in addition to this argument about the failure of an etymological proof, I make a second claim, namely the claim that the English word atheism in fact does refer to the belief that no god exists, and I have drawn on a number of sources to show this. It’s important to see that this is a second claim, not based on the first. It is independent of any comments about etymology. This was my positive evidence that in fact the word “atheism” as a term referring to a position in philosophy of religion does in fact refer to the belief that God does not exist.

    You must surely have an axe to grind over something if this hasn’t been made clear enough by now, yet you are still muddling up those two distinct claims of mine. I just do not see why you are trying to find something to disagree over. With that, the last word is yours, should you wish to have it.

  • Vijay Kumar February 11, 2010, 12:15 am

    No matter how much we debate or discuss… the existence of God Almighty can never be denied! If we exist… if human beings exist so do God Almighty… the creator of all things cosmic! Why? Every human being primarily is a soul atman on its cosmic journey of 8.4 million manifestations (an earthly life cycle of 96.4 million years)! Every soul atman manifests the human form to work out its karma… remove dross impurities within!

    It is only when God Almighty explodes self with a big bang… the whole cosmos gets created! The simple definition of God Almighty is… the cluster of all purified souls atmans in the cosmos at a given moment of time! The sacred Bhagavad Gita of Hinduism is absolutely clear on this point!

  • Powell October 7, 2011, 6:20 am

    You can divide a-the-ist meaning no/not-god-believer in two important ways.

    1. athe-ist meaning no/notgod-believer. This would refer to someone who is a believer that there is no / not a god. This is how most dictionaries do it, probably written by theists.

    2. a-theist meaning no/not-godbeliever. This would refer to someone who isn’t a god believer, someone who isn’t a believer in god. An alternative term would be nontheist.

    The second definition is the one that should be used since it’s the meaning most atheists intend and it’s more general since it includes both weak atheists (those who lack a belief in god but aren’t persons who believe in the lack of god) and strong atheists (who not only lack a belief in god but also believe there is a lack of god).

  • Glenn October 7, 2011, 5:48 pm

    “You can divide a-the-ist meaning no/not-god-believer in two important ways.”

    What I’ve said here is that “believer” should not even come into it. It’s “no-god.” There is already a category for simple lack of belief or knowledge: agnosticism. We make “atheism” a much less helpful category by enlarging it to include everything that is not explicit theism. Language is at its best where it makes distinctions more obvious, rather than less obvious.

  • Powell October 8, 2011, 5:50 am

    Agnosticism is about knowledge, not belief. You can have agnostic atheists (persons who lack a belief in god, but acknowledge that they don’t know whether god exists) and agnostic theists (persons who believe in god, but acknowledge that they don’t know whether god exists).

    It’s helpful to make the definition of “atheist” more enlarged than generally done in dictionaries because that’s the way most self-proclaimed atheists use the term. That way it will include everyone who, on the question of the existence of god(s), isn’t a believer. If demographers won’t use “atheist” for that then they might use “nontheist.”

    To satisfy the need for distinctions we can add clarifying terms like “strong atheist” and “weak atheist” and “agnostic strong atheist” and “gnostic theist,” and “Mormon theist,” and “Muslim theist,” and so on.

  • Glenn October 8, 2011, 1:57 pm

    Knowledge is a kind of belief (one that is warranted and true). A person who says they just don’t know whether or not God exists is saying that they don’t believe one way or the other.

    It’s definitely true that on internet discussion forums and in enthusiastic student groups, people who call themselves atheists – although they tend to believe that God does not exist – prefer to insist that people construe “atheism” as a mere lack of belief. That way they will never be in the uncomfortable position of having to defend atheism.

    But in the literature on philosophy of religion, that’s not the more common way of using the terms – primarily because it’s so much less clear. If one is an atheist, then one doesn’t have to say “agnostic” anything, for they deny that God exists. If one doesn’t believe one way or they other – they literally make know knowledge claim – then they’re agnostic. If one affirms that God exists, they’re a theist. This is easily the clearest way to speak about it. One can’t be, for example, an “agnostic theist,” since a theist claims that God exists while an agnostic doesn’t.

    Qualifications like “Mormon theist” would be different in kind from a qualification like “agnostic atheist.” Mormonism is a species of theism. Theism is like the meta category and Mormonism is the smaller category. But agnosticism is as much a meta-category as atheism is. if we can just blend the names like that then we may as well speak of an atheist theist.

    But clarity isn’t the only thing going on here, Powell. Very often there’s an issue of disingenuous slipperiness going on in discussions about these terms. They (those I referred to earlier) will proclaim that atheism is just anything at all that’s not theism so it doesn’t have to be defended as a claim, and yet they, for that reason, act as though their own position (that God does not exist) doesn’t need a defence. I heard someone say recently that what they seem to want is to buy atheism for the price of agnosticism. It’s the intellectual equivalent of shoplifting.

  • Powell October 8, 2011, 8:19 pm

    You’re right that knowledge is a kind of belief, but it’s like certainty is a kind of confidence and proof is a kind of evidence. We shouldn’t insist that a person claim knowledge or guarantee a prediction just because they claim belief or probabilistic confidence like we shouldn’t require proof when all they claim is evidence.

    However, a person who says they don’t know is NOT indicating their belief. They’re saying something about their confidence. They’re saying they aren’t sure. One can say they believe but don’t know or they can say they don’t believe but don’t know.

    Yes, Mormonism is a species of theism while agnostic is a meta category so the examples I gave aren’t so good. However, my point can still be understood that you can define “agnostic” and “atheist” to be broadly applicable terms while joining the terms together to discriminate between kinds of atheists and theists (or kinds of agnostics).

    Yes, if a person doesn’t believe one way or another (undecided) then they are implying they don’t know, they aren’t sure either way. If you claim to be at the 50 yard line then you’re implying that you aren’t at either end zone. I suppose you could classify such a person a fence-sitting or belief-changing theist-atheist because probably they either are vacillating from one side to the other or switching sides. But getting back to the analogy, if you claim to be on one side of the field (which way you believe) then you aren’t saying how close you are to the nearest end zone (how confident you are).

    Metaphorically the “theist” is a player claiming to be currently clearly on, let’s say, the east side of the field, while an “atheist” is a player claiming they aren’t currently clearly on the east side. They could be at or near the 50-yard line or the west end zone or somewhere in between. The “agnostic” is a player claiming they aren’t at the end zone.

    Yes, the majority of self-proclaimed atheists posting on Internet forums and participating in enthusiastic student discussions are what I would call strong atheists or athe-ists, those who believe that god does not exist. Although I agree with them that to claim to be an atheist does not imply they are strong atheists with its greater burden of proof, I think they need to `fess up to their specific position. If they believe god does not exist then they should take the larger burden than someone who merely lacks a belief in god. If they aren’t on the fence then they shouldn’t claim to be a fence-sitter to avoid the greater burden.

    My suggestion to theist dictionary writers and debaters is rather than insisting that anyone claiming to be an atheist be someone who believes god does not exist, they should ask the self-proclaimed atheists what they mean. Do they mean they merely lack a belief in god, but don’t go so far as to believe god does not exist or do they deny the existence of god?

  • Glenn October 9, 2011, 1:00 am

    “However, a person who says they don’t know is NOT indicating their belief. They’re saying something about their confidence. They’re saying they aren’t sure. One can say they believe but don’t know or they can say they don’t believe but don’t know.”

    That’s a stretch. When a person says that they really don’t know, they’re usually telling you that they don’t affirm or deny, which is about belief. Now of course, a theist and an atheist can be dogmatic, tentative, unsure etc. But it’s always clearest to use “atheist” to specify that one has taken a stance and is not agnostic. But even if we were to use “agnostic atheist” in the way you suggest, for an person who is just leaning towards atheism but who isn’t sure they want to state “this is where I stand,” that very phrase shows that “atheist” is being used for a person who affirms that God doesn’t exist (because the qualifier “agnostic” here means that a person is unsure about affirming atheism). So either way, you’re drawing on the same meaning I am.

    And as I said – asking the self proclaimed atheists isn’t as simple as you think. In the literature, the self-proclaimed atheists use the term just as I have said. I use it that way too – both because they do, and because it’s historically correct. And remember – it’s not that “theist dictionary writers” do this. Virtually all of the dictionary/encyclopedia writers do this (along with philosophers of religion in general, whether theist or atheist – or agnostic). This is the norm. Perhaps a helpful parallel is this: Should we use scientific terms the way the man on the street uses them, or as scientists do – just as they have done for centuries? I’m not really in favour of caving in to the lowest denominator.

  • Powell October 9, 2011, 5:38 am

    When you ask someone what they think or believe and they say they don’t know then they’re neither affirming nor denying belief. They’re avoiding voicing a belief position even if they have one. Many of them are fence sitters or vacillating between the two sides or in the process of changing from one side to the other, but probably most of them are currently on one side or the other. But because they’re so close to the fence they are unwilling to take on either moniker of theist or atheist, especially if they’re on the disbeliever side but the dictionary definition of atheist is too strong for how they see their position. Consequently, many of them choose “agnostic” meaning “unsure” for their position concerning god even though vast numbers of theists and atheists are unsure concerning the existence of god.

    I noticed in the Mormon church that I grew up in that the ward members giving testimonies on Fast Sunday gradually changed from claiming they BELIEVED this or that (“The Book of Mormon is true”, “Joseph Smith was a true prophet of God,” etc.) to saying they KNEW this or that. We kids felt encouraged to do likewise. Now as an athe-ist, I figure that most of them claiming to be certain weren’t certain.

    I would call an agnostic athe-ist someone who believes there isn’t a god but isn’t sure there isn’t a god. Adding agnostic to a-theist is pretty much a waste because if you merely lack a belief in god but won’t go so far as to deny the existence of god then that implies you aren’t sure there isn’t a god. Adding gnostic or agnostic to theist would indicate whether or not they were certain god existed. I would use “gnostic Mormon” for those Mormons claiming to know god existed.

    In general for terms adopted or invented by scientists that we use in our everyday language, we should try to use them to refer to what scientists use them to refer to. A notable counter example is “work.”

    I guess our experiences differ. In my experience most self-proclaimed atheists understand the term to refer to someone who lacks a belief in god. Regardless which of our experiences is a better match to the total population of self-proclaimed atheists, since the “lacking belief” definition would encompass both groups I suggest it’s the more appropriate definition. Persons who lack a belief in god and call themselves atheists should be permitted do so without others insisting that they call themselves something else instead like “agnostic.”

  • matt October 9, 2011, 7:42 am

    I find it hard to understand what the phrase “lacks belief” means. When a person says that they lack belief in such and such, it sounds to me as if what is being said is “when it comes to such and such, my mind is completely blank. I know about such and such, but whenever I try to form an opinion on the matter I just can’t.” It seems to refer to a psychological state at best, but to say that atheism refers to a “lack” of belief is just to say that atheism is a refusal to take a stance on an issue. One would never say that a pro-choice advocate lacks pro-life opinions, that much is obvious and trivial. I hope it can at least be acknowledged that this popular sect of atheism is about as useful for intelligent discourse as a wiffle bat is in a major league game.

  • Glenn October 9, 2011, 2:12 pm

    Powell: “When you ask someone what they think or believe and they say they don’t know then they’re neither affirming nor denying belief.”

    Right, that’s what I said. They’re neither affirming or denying. They’re stating that they don’t have a belief one way or the other.

    “They’re avoiding voicing a belief position even if they have one.”

    Well, if they really do have a belief one way or the other then they’re not really telling the truth! Their response would only be justified if they were very slightly disposed towards one position, but not enough to believe it.

    As for the terms atheists use – perhaps our experiences differ because of our interests. I don’t know whether you have an interest in philosophy of religion, but I certainly do. In such literature, it’s normal for atheism to refer to the belief that there’s no God. I’m also not one for saying “meh, I know the literature and history use the term one way, but if people decide that they just like using it another, I’m good with that.” Especially not when those changes reduce our ability to communicate quickly and clearly – and even more so when there’s the kind of slipperiness going on for rhetorical gain, which I described in an earlier comment. I think people should resist that sort of tactic because it really isn’t very honest.

  • Powell October 10, 2011, 1:45 am

    If you ask someone what they believe and they respond “I don’t know” then technically they aren’t telling you what they believe concerning the question you asked. They aren’t telling you that they neither believe nor disbelieve the proposition. They’re not properly answering the question.

    It’s like asking someone if they have any evidence and they respond “I don’t have any proof.” It’s also like asking someone if they have a probabilistic prediction and they respond “I don’t have anything guaranteed.”

    They could be telling the truth, but they’re responding to the question in such a way that the listener might be misled into thinking they neither believe nor disbelieve or that they have no evidence or that they have no prediction when they very well might.

    We might disagree as to how much burden is proper, but we agree that the atheist should take the proper burden to justify his position. In particular, we agree that the person who believes god does not exist should not avoid his proper burden by indicating he merely lacks a belief in god when personally he goes further than that.

    However, I disapprove of efforts to reduce the ranks of atheists by pressuring potential recruits to join a different army if they aren’t willing to be strong soldiers. If atheist philosophers and dictionary writers are collaborating with theists in applying this pressure then they may need to be reprimanded or demoted.

    In a nutshell, if you’re not a theist then you’re an atheist.

  • Glenn October 10, 2011, 4:20 pm

    Powell: Well sure, if they mean “I don’t know what I believe,” then they aren’t telling you what they believe. But agnosticism is where a person says “I don’t know whether or not God exists,” and that definitely gives us information about their beliefs. It tells us that they have not decided on an atheist or a theist position.

    Your nutshell, for reasons I think I’ve outlined already, is incorrect. Being literally undecided is no closer to atheism than it is to theism. The the mere absence of the theist claim makes a person a proponent of atheism, then the mere absence of atheism could just as sensible make a person a proponent of theism. If that makes no sense because they don’t actually affirm atheism, then you’ll see how much sense it makes to me to call all non-positive-theists atheists.

    It’s quite obvious that we’ll just keep disagreeing. I’m placing a high premium on the fact that atheism has a very well established meaning, and that meaning is used fairly consistently in the philosophical literature written by atheists, agnostics and also theists. I also maintain that the most useful, clear and economical terms should be retained unless there’s a compelling reason for change. I also maintain that people in the groups that I’ve been talking about should learn the language, rather than re-write it. They should become familiar with the way terms are already being used (in any of the standard literature – or in resources like the non-partisan sources I quoted here), so that they don’t have to re-explain themselves to point out that they’re using a special looser sense of words. That’s my thesis. Your thesis appears to be that if a number of people call themselves something – then even if the ordinary meaning of that word still exists and is still being used in the way that it always has by most people in the world who use that term, this new and smaller group can literally force the philosophical landscape to shift to suit their needs (in this case the need to be able to call themselves something that they never wish to defend). That is what I think your thesis boils down to (although I realise you may not agree that this is the need being met). I don’t accept that. We disagree at a very basic level over whether or not that’s acceptable. For that reason I guess there’s no point just having this “is so,” “is not” to and fro. So you can have the last say. 🙂

  • Kenneth October 10, 2011, 6:43 pm

    I don’t know who Powell hangs out with, so obviously I can’t say what he has actually experienced.

    But in both the scholarly literature AND the popular scene, it is far more common, as far as I can tell, to use the meaning of “atheism” that is ubiquitous in the literature, the academy and in history. It’s the view that there’s no God.

    Even the popular organization “American Atheists” uses this definition. They start out talking about a lack of belief, but then they immediately explain that there really is a belief involved:

    Atheism is the lack of belief in a deity, which implies that nothing exists but natural phenomena (matter), that thought is a property or function of matter, and that death irreversibly and totally terminates individual organic units. This definition means that there are no forces, phenomena, or entities which exist outside of or apart from physical nature, or which transcend nature, or are “super” natural, nor can there be. Humankind is on its own.

    SOURCE

    This is not an obscure group, either. It may well be the most popular Atheist organization in America (yeah, we have all the awesome groups!). I know Dawkins also uses the word Atheist this way (“there’s almost certainly no God). I think Powell may be informed mostly by internet message boards by the looks of things.

  • Powell October 11, 2011, 5:52 am

    Glenn, by them saying “I don’t know” I’m not saying they’re saying they don’t know what they believe, but they’re saying they aren’t sure whether or not god exists. In other words, they’re agnostic. But even those we agree are atheists and theists can be unsure whether or not god exists. Are you 100% certain that God exists? If you are then you aren’t agnostic, but you’re what I would call a gnostic theist.

    Kenneth, that AA quotation uses the definition I’m supporting, but the writer is mistaken about what is implied by the definition.

  • Glenn October 11, 2011, 5:07 pm

    Powell, certainty is about confidence, a psychological state. You don’t need to be a dogmatist to qualify as a theist or an atheist, and you don’t need 100% absolute couldn’t-be-wrong certainty in order to know something either.

    Sure, you could be undecided but inclined one way or the other, but so long as a person is undecided enough to say “I haven’t taken a position yet,” they’re agnostic. Once they move beyond that and are willing to take a position on the existence of God, it’ll be either theism or atheism. Now of course, strong agnosticism does take a stance on what can be known. it claims that nobody can know that God doesn’t exist (or that God can exist). In other words, it claims that nobody should affirm atheism or theism.

  • Glenn October 11, 2011, 5:08 pm

    Whoops – sorry! I forgot that I was going to let you have the last, my apologies, genuine mistake. 🙂

  • Powell October 11, 2011, 8:13 pm

    But, Glenn, that’s what so many theists are doing when they use “know.” They’re indicating their confidence, their dogmatism if you like. When they say “I not only believe, I know” then they aren’t saying “I not only believe but my belief is true and warranted” as you would have us believe by your philosophical definitions. They already consider their belief to be true and warranted without affirming they know. Rather, they’re saying they not only believe but they’re certain.

    So, why aren’t you going after all these self-proclaimed theists who are hiding behind the weak moniker of mere belief and its weaker burden of proof, when to be honest they should be affirming knowledge since they consider their belief to be true and warranted? Why don’t you go after them and leave the weak atheists alone? Why don’t you clean up your own philosophical house before going after the dirt you think is in ours?

  • Glenn October 11, 2011, 9:00 pm

    Powell, knowledge is warranted true belief. Not warranted true and also dogmatic belief, or warranted, true, and tenaciously held belief or anything like that. It’s just a belief that is warranted and true.

    Defending a belief is exactly the same as far as burdens of proof go as defending something you take yourself to know. There’s no difference between defending one and defending the other.

    Anybody who holds a belief, unless there is something wrong with them, supposes that it is warranted. Why would I go after people who are just being open and honest about what they take to be true? They aren’t guilty of the kind of slipperiness I’m talking about. If I ask them if there’s a god, they’ll say “yes.” What’s to clean up?

  • Powell October 12, 2011, 1:44 am

    “Theist” refers to someone who believes God exists, yes? It doesn’t say they have to know God exists, yes? Yet, so many people adopting the moniker “theist” consider their belief to be true and warranted but won’t claim to know God exists. They’re avoiding the greater burden they see would result if they were to claim knowledge. Shouldn’t they avoid this kind of slipperiness?

  • Glenn October 12, 2011, 4:36 pm

    Powell, nobody believes something that they think is unwarranted or false.

    Ergo, those who believe that something is true think that they know it to be true. There’s no difference in burden. Arguing that something is true = arguing that something is true. This does not change, regardless of how strongly a person believes that something is true. It’s getting silly to accuse people of being slippery for saying “I believe that X is true” even though really, secretly, deep down inside, they think that they know it’s true. Saying “I believe that X is true” indicates that a person takes himself to know that X is true. Otherwise he would say something like “I haven’t decided on whether or not I think X is true.” The relevant question is whether or not a person affirms a belief and will defend that belief. If they will, then they have done enough to defend anyone who thinks they know X. I wonder how you think an argument from a person who believes that X is true should look different from the argument of a person who thinks that X is true and who also believes that they know X is true?

    This is different in kind from the slipperiness that bothers me: Namely people who claim that their position means “lack of belief in God” when in fact they believe that there is no God.

    Come on Powell, you’re reaching, and quite frankly lowering the tone of discussion.

  • Arthur October 12, 2011, 6:30 pm

    Powell, I don’t think there is a need to separate knowledge and belief. I think they are the virtually the same thing, in varying degrees. Unless one can claim certainty, there needs to be belief. As such, we *all* have beliefs. No one lives their entire life based on how you’re using the term *knowledge* When you get in a plane do you check the pilot’s record? When you get in your car do you ask for all the streets to be cleared? This sort of certainty you’re asking for in the position of the theist can only be asked when one takes for granted all the things they do in their lives that they have no certainty about. I’m not trying to be radically skeptical here. There’s simply a level of warrant for trusting one position over another. There is no burden being avoided by theists.

  • Powell October 13, 2011, 12:55 am

    Hmm, I seem to have hit a disagreeable nerve.

    Glenn, why don’t you ask theists if they know that God exists, maybe pass out a short 2 question survey to a student group? Ask them “Do you believe God exists?” followed by “Do you know that God exists?” You might be surprised how many answer “yes” then “no.”

    Tyler Vela, based on your blog you seem to accept the definition of atheist I support but then point out that so many atheists go further than merely lacking a belief in God. I agree with that. A synonym for atheist is nontheist, another is “nonbeliever in God.” It’s sort of like nonMormon or Gentile or alien. Such a designation doesn’t specify what the world view of the nonMormon or Gentile is or what country the alien is from (maybe none), just that it isn’t the world view of Mormons or Jews or they aren’t a citizen of the local country.

    Arthur, although knowledge is a kind of belief, they are quite different. It’s like proof is a kind of evidence and certainty is a kind of confidence and a guaranteed prophecy is a kind of prediction. I agree that a person who believes they will reach their destination has some level of confidence, but not usually certainty.

  • Arthur October 13, 2011, 2:20 am

    Powell, //A synonym for atheist is nontheist// Umm…not really. This sounds like you’re denying theism *only*. By not being wholly inclusive of the rejection of *any* and *all* gods, you’re leaving room for their possibility, albeit by refraining from making explicit reference, but the definition is incomplete at best. Atheism is the rejection of *any* and *all* gods, not a god of a specific kind.

    //proof is a kind of evidence and certainty is a kind of confidence and a guaranteed prophecy is a kind of prediction.//
    Proof is actually rooted in certainty, generally derived by established truths and concrete facts, not “a kind of evidence.” Certainty is NOT a kind of confidence. Certainty is concrete and absolute. For example, some would tell you that the only thing you can be *certain* about is self-consciousness. Notice how this is not *a kind of evidence* but something that you can know 100%.

    I’m not really sure what your reference to “guaranteed prophecy” is alluding to, but I don’t see anything compelling in your argument that knowledge and belief are //quite different//.

  • Powell October 13, 2011, 4:23 am

    I’m an atheist, yet I allow for the possibility of God. As an athe-ist I believe that there is no god, but I don’t know that there’s no god. That’s because I’m an agnostic athe-ist.

    Proof is like certainty and like 100% confident and like “guaranteed will happen”. Evidence is like probably and like more than 50% confident and like a prediction.

    Rational belief is based on evidence leading to a judgment that the proposition is probably true. As I see it people claim to know based on what they consider to be proof leading to a judgment that the statement is certainly (or at least close to certainly) true.

    If someone says they believe then it’s proper to ask for their evidence, for their reasons for belief, but if they claim to know then they ought to have proof, supremely reliable evidence.

  • Glenn October 13, 2011, 8:00 pm

    Powell, that’s mere epistemological confusion. You’re muddling up epistemological states of affairs (e.g. knowing that X is true) with psychological states of affairs (e.g. the feeling of overwhelming confidence that X is true). These are different in kind.

    “As an athe-ist I believe that there is no god” – As all real atheists do. 😉

  • Powell October 14, 2011, 12:30 am

    I don’t think I’m confusing them. I’m saying that when theists say they know God exists or atheists say they know god doesn’t exist then they’re not merely claiming that their belief is true and warranted otherwise they aren’t adding anything to their claim of belief. Rather, they’re saying something important about their belief. They’re claiming overwhelming confidence that their belief is true and warranted. For example, a theist might claim they know God exists after having a theophany. An atheist might claim they know that a self-contradictory god doesn’t exist.

    A-theists lack a belief in god without going so far as to denying the existence of god. Athe-ists go further than merely lacking belief. Athe-ists deny the existence of god. “Atheist” encompasses both groups. It’s wrong to insist that a-theists be athe-ists in order to be counted as an atheist like it would be wrong to insist that weak theists be strong theists in order to be counted as a theist.

  • Arthur October 14, 2011, 1:07 am

    Powell, I really appreciate the minor distinctions that you’re making about various types of atheism. I guess the bottom line is this: what difference does all of this ultimately make? Since you put yourself in the camp of “God can exist, but I don’t believe He does” and therefore, you’re more open to the possibility, I would urge you to consider the claims about God’s existence more seriously. These efforts to reach out to an unbelieving world are generally not done for a Christian’s own benefit, but for the love of souls we want to reach, and yes radical love to reach those who may and often do, hate us. At the end of a life, those minor distinctions carry very little weight when facing the possibility of the greatest cosmic facepalm.

  • Powell October 14, 2011, 6:01 am

    Thanks for the show of appreciation, Arthur, and I’m touched by your concern for my soul, but your evangelism would be more effective if directed at someone who wasn’t such a hard sale.

    There are three battles going on here: definitions, burden of proof, and politics. For many people, the battle over the definition of atheist is basically just to help them win the more important battle over burden. Many atheists don’t want the burden of proof and many theists want atheists to take the burden of proof. That seems to be Glenn’s focus. My focus here is not burden of proof but politics. I want the broader definition of atheist adopted so that atheists are seen to be a larger segment of the population.

    Can you see how theist leaders might want to gerrymander definitions to split the opposing party by pressuring would-be atheists into calling themselves something else?

  • Glenn October 14, 2011, 5:40 pm

    I don’t think I’m confusing them. I’m saying that when theists say they know God exists or atheists say they know god doesn’t exist then they’re not merely claiming that their belief is true and warranted otherwise they aren’t adding anything to their claim of belief.

    Powell, knowledge is warranted true belief. That’s the very definition of knowledge. That’s the totality of it. Ergo, when I claim to know something, I am saying that the belief is warranted and true. And that’s it. You’re right – this doesn’t add anything at all to my claim to believe something. Nothing.

    It really does look like you’re getting epistemological concepts and psychological ones confused here. Knowledge is not warranted true belief that I am brimming over with confidence about. Knowledge is just warranted true belief.

    EDIT: You may find my “Nuts and Bolts” post of use: What is Knowledge?

  • Arthur October 14, 2011, 7:48 pm

    I’m touched by your concern for my soul, but your evangelism would be more effective if directed at someone who wasn’t such a hard sale.

    Powell, first, I wasn’t necessarily trying to evangelize. I was merely trying to get you to think along the lines of what I brought up, which it seems you’re continually unwilling to do. However, now that you’ve made it a point to “repel” whatever evangelism you detected, essentially, what you’re saying is that nothing I say will convince you of my position, so basically I should just move on. Therein lies the crux of your problem: first, you are not readily willing to objectively consider the evidence, and this feeds into your prior conviction that there just is no evidence for God; there is more at work in your unbelief than you will consciously admit – been there, done that! There are real psychological motivations at work, and I know you’re probably going to deny this (trust me – I’ve been there), which is fine…this sort of cognitive dissonance relies on that type of response to regenerate itself.

  • Powell October 15, 2011, 4:28 am

    Arthur, I acknowledge that there are psychological motivations at work in my beliefs about theology, but I feel willing to properly consider the evidence you have. The problem is that unless your evidence appears to be dramatically superior to what I’ve been exposed to then I’ll likely write it off as insufficiently reliable to justify me believing in your extraordinary claims about god. If you provided reliable references demonstrating that the scientific community had recently adopted the god theory to explain some apparently supernatural events then that would be very persuasive to me.

  • Arthur October 15, 2011, 6:06 am

    I feel willing to properly consider the evidence you have. The problem is that unless your evidence appears to be dramatically superior to what I’ve been exposed to then I’ll likely write it off as insufficiently reliable to justify me believing in your extraordinary claims about god.

    I can justly say that your prior rejection then is based on your established assumptions that your exposure to ALL the evidence is absolute. This is problem #1.

    Additionally, just because you may have heard some piece of evidence and failed to find it convincing is really of no consequence. Others may _have_ found it convincing. A question arises – why do some people look at the same evidence and come to such dramatically different conclusions about the nature of reality? The problem is not the evidence necessarily, but the manner of thinking. Let me demonstrate. You said,

    If you provided reliable references demonstrating that the scientific community had recently adopted the god theory to explain some apparently supernatural events then that would be very persuasive to me.

    Problem #2: Your appeal to a consensus for your declaration of reality. Erroneous! Consensus has shifted positions thousands of times during the course of human history, and at each turn we learn that we were wrong after all. Hence, the radical reliance *MERELY* on consensus to give you truth is untrustworthy. The arguments need to be taken on their own merits. You, furthermore, want an official position on a God hypothesis, which is a bit naive. Appeal to a consensus basically says ‘I want others to do my thinking for me, and since my inner inclinations are well aligned with the consensus anyway, I feel good about my position.’

    Problem #3: You expect *scientifically* verifiable detection of a supernatural event. If you think about this a bit you will see how foolish this sounds. How would you ever detect something like that? Science relies on a radical reliance on methodological naturalism. As such, EVERY effect is expected a NATURAL cause at the outset. You see the problem? Naturalism is assumed in order to do science, and if we want to find only natural causes then this would suffice. The problem comes into play when natural observations lead to radical philosophically unrealistic and fallacious arguments (i.e. the universe created itself…LOL). Science gives you nothing but brute data…numbers, functions and laws. Your worldview is what interprets that data. This is the reason why some of the most brilliant scientists in the world can do brilliant science and are still convinced of the existence of God, and ironically in many cases it is their scientific pursuit that has brought them to that conclusion, not religion.

    Problem #4: Your identification of supernatural as that which *has to* necessarily be outside the laws of nature. I realize the definition appeals to that, but in the Bible for instance there are numerous “supernatural” events that don’t really supersede the laws of nature. What makes them “supernatural” (unfortunate term) is that they appear at very specific times for very specific reasons to actualize a very specific end.

    Being objective means that you evaluate the evidence for its own sake and not try to mold it to your expectations. The bottom line is this: you have already set up a failed experiment in your mind. With this set of requirements, your persistence in your positions is a virtual guarantee. Congratulations! You get to keep the positions you currently have and *WANT*, but perhaps at the cost of truth. Do you really do want to know the truth, even if it means that you may be wrong?

    If you’re willing to take an objective look at the evidence, I propose you look at the universe itself. Have you considered the cosmological argument for God? Do you not see how God would be a necessity to have something instead of nothing at all?

  • Powell October 15, 2011, 8:25 am

    Why do people come to different conclusions based on the same evidence? One answer is that there are goats and sheep, those who are more skeptical and those who are more gullible.

    Unless I personally experience it, I’m not likely to believe a supernatural event occurred unless it’s verified by multiple reliable news sources or by scientific reports. If a magician is involved I might need magicians to do the testing. Lacking that kind of confirmation I will probably judge that the people affirming the supernatural event are mistaken.

    I wouldn’t call my method naive, but practical. Unless I’m personally involved in the study of the phenomenon then I’m going to rely on current scientific understanding.

    Although currently science assumes nothing supernatural occurs because supernatural hypotheses have not been fruitful, I can assure you that if many dead Christians were reliably reported to be rising from the graves then there would be scientists trying to take measurements and testing hypotheses, even the Christian God hypothesis.

    Theism is a tenacious belief. Even brilliant scientists can succumb to its siren song.

    There are mysteries about cosmology which leave the door open for a God of the Gaps, but I don’t consider God to be necessary or actual. Also, I expect that the persons who will be given credit for answering these cosmological mysteries by the history books of the distant future won’t be mere theologians, but they will be people who understood the underlying science.

    About things that science has something to say I suggest you rely on science over religion.

  • Arthur October 15, 2011, 9:19 am

    One answer is that there are goats and sheep, those who are more skeptical and those who are more gullible.

    Are you claiming that no one skeptical has believed in God? You can’t mean that. I, for one, would be the prime example of someone who has. That claim is false. The answer is there are those who simply do NOT *want* to believe.

    Unless I personally experience it, I’m not likely to believe a supernatural event occurred unless it’s verified by multiple reliable news sources or by scientific reports.

    As Glenn has repeatedly pointed out, your epistemological understanding is much to be desired. You can come to know truths in many ways. You don’t need reporters covering a specific event to know that it happened.

    I can assure you that if many dead Christians were reliably reported to be rising from the graves then there would be scientists trying to take measurements and testing hypotheses, even the Christian God hypothesis.

    Once again, you are assigning your own expectations on what that evidence is supposed to look like and how we can detect it.

    Theism is a tenacious belief. Even brilliant scientists can succumb to its siren song.

    …or atheism is a tenacious belief and even brilliant scientists can succumb to its siren song.

    There are mysteries about cosmology which leave the door open for a God of the Gaps, but I don’t consider God to be necessary or actual. Also, I expect that the persons who will be given credit for answering these cosmological mysteries by the history books of the distant future won’t be mere theologians, but they will be people who understood the underlying science.

    So, you would cater to the science of the gaps? I will agree that science has gaps and many of those gaps will get filled in. But you see what you’re doing here? You’re not making an inference to the best possible explanation, but *BY BLIND FAITH* awaiting for human achievement to eradicate any need for God. Alternately, those who actually take an objective look at the evidence know the limits of nature and do take the inference to the best possible explanation. As I suspected, you are not after truth, but your interest lies in simply eradicating religion. As such, you grandiose claims that Glenn make room for your brand of atheism, is now null and void.

    I don’t know what you mean by ‘mysteries in cosmology’ The way I see it, the universe began to exist, sprang into existence out of nowhere. There is NO natural solution to this problem. And, even if there were, it does NOT solve the age old question of the first mover. With naturalism the nonsensical infinite regress is inescapable.

    I’m speaking from experience – the best thing you can do in life is to be honest with yourself! I wish you luck, and whether you want me to or not, I will pray for you, Powell. Take care.

  • Powell October 15, 2011, 12:50 pm

    There are skeptical theists and gullible atheists, but atheists on average are more skeptical than theists.

    There are kinds of “spiritual” evidence currently discredited by science because they have not proven themselves to be reliable. If that were to change then you’d find scientists including them in their reports as support.

    Mysteries become solved when you have the answer. I expect science rather than religion to fill the gaps by providing the most reliable answers, “the inference to the best possible answer” as you put it.

    Questions like “What happened before the universe?” might be like the question “What’s north of the North Pole?” We should rely on science to guide our understanding about things like time and space and motion rather than relying on mere common sense and philosophical musings.

    I’m not asking Glenn to make room for my brand of atheism. I’m the kind of person he thinks deserves the moniker. I’m asking him to make room for the would-be atheists who are pressured by dictionary definitions to choose a different name.

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