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Is Atheism a Belief or a Lack of Belief?

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When asked to prove atheism is true, many atheists say that they don’t have to prove anything. They say atheism is not “belief there is no God” but merely “no belief in a God.” Atheism is defined in this context as a “lack of belief” in God, and if Catholics can’t prove God exists, then a person is justified in being an atheist. But the problem with defining atheism as simply “the lack of belief in God” is that there are already another group of people who fall under that definition: agnostics.

The "I Don't Know's"

 
Agnosticism (from the Greek word for knowledge, gnosis) is the position that a person cannot know if God exists. A strong agnostic is someone like skeptic Michael Shermer, who claims that no one is able to know if God exists. He writes, “I once saw a bumper sticker that read “Militant agnostic: I don’t know and you don’t either.” This is my position on God’s existence: I don’t know and you don’t either.”1

A weak agnostic merely claims that while he doesn’t know if God exists, it is possible that someone else may know. Agnosticism and weak atheism are very similar in that both groups claim to be “without belief in God.”2

Pope Benedict XVI spoke sympathetically of such people in a 2011 address:
 

"In addition to the two phenomena of religion and anti-religion, a further basic orientation is found in the growing world of agnosticism: people to whom the gift of faith has not been given, but who are nevertheless on the lookout for truth, searching for God. Such people do not simply assert: ‘There is no God.’ They suffer from his absence and yet are inwardly making their way towards him, inasmuch as they seek truth and goodness. They are ‘pilgrims of truth, pilgrims of peace.’"

 

A Difference Without a Distinction

 
Because agnosticism seems more open-minded than atheism, many atheists are more apt to describe themselves like agnostics, who likewise have “no belief in a God,” even though they call themselves “atheist.” They say that an atheist is just a person who lacks a belief in God but is open to being proven wrong. But saying you lack a belief in God no more answers the question, “Does God exist?” than saying you lack a belief in aliens answers the question, “Do aliens exist?”

This is just agnosticism under a different name.

For example, can we say agnosticism is true? We can’t, because agnostics make no claims about the world; they just describe how they feel about a fact in the world (the existence of God). Likewise, if atheists want us to believe that atheism is true, then they must make a claim about the world and show that what they lack a belief in—God—does not exist.

Belief on Trial

 
An illustration might help explain the burden of proof both sides share. In a murder trial the prosecution must show beyond a reasonable doubt that the defendant committed the murder. But if the prosecution isn’t able to make its case, then the defendant is found “not guilty.” Notice the defendant isn’t found “innocent.”

For all we know, he could have committed the crime, but we just can’t prove it. Certain kinds of evidence, like an air-tight alibi, can show the defendant is innocent. But it is the responsibility of the defense to present that evidence.

Likewise, even if the theist isn’t able to make his case that God exists that doesn’t show God does not exist and therefore that atheism is true. As atheists Austin Dacey and Lewis Vaughn write:
 

“What if these arguments purporting to establish that God exists are failures? That is, what if they offer no justification for theistic belief? Must we then conclude that God does not exist? No. Lack of supporting reasons or evidence for a proposition does not show that the proposition is false.”3

 
If he wants to demonstrate that atheism is true, an atheist would have to provide additional evidence that there is no God just as a defense attorney would have to provide further evidence to show his client is innocent as opposed to being just “not guilty.” He can’t simply say the arguments for the existence of God are failures and then rest his case.
 
 
(This blog post is an excerpt from my newly released book, Answering Atheism: How to Make the Case for God with Logic and Charity.)
 
 

Notes:

  1. Michael Shermer, The Believing Brain (Henry Holt and Co: New York, 2012) 175.
  2. According to the Catechism of the Catholic Church, “Agnosticism can sometimes include a certain search for God, but it can equally express indifferentism, a flight from the ultimate question of existence, and a sluggish moral conscience. Agnosticism is all too often equivalent to practical atheism.” – CCC 2128
  3. Austin Dacey and Lewis Vaughn, The Case for Humanism: An Introduction (Rowman and Littlefield Publishers, 2003) 162.
Trent Horn

Written by

Trent Horn holds a Master’s degree in Theology from the Franciscan University of Steubenville and is currently an apologist and speaker for Catholic Answers. He specializes in training pro-lifers to intelligently and compassionately engage pro-choice advocates in genuine dialogue. He recently released his first book, titled Answering Atheism: How to Make the Case for God with Logic and Charity. Follow Trent at his blog, TrentHorn.com.

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  • Peter Piper

    Let us take seriously the hypothetical scenario proposed by Horn here:

    What if these arguments purporting to establish that God exists are failures? That is, what if they offer no justification for theistic belief? Must we then conclude that God does not exist?

    What should someone in this scenario give as an answer to the question `does God exist?' I think the correct answer is `almost certainly not', at least for a typical Christian account of God, simply because that account is so specific that it is, prior to considering the evidence, implausible. This answer of `almost certainly not' reflects a mainstream atheist position: for example, it is the position of Richard Dawkins.

    • http://www.brandonvogt.com/ Brandon Vogt

      "I think the correct answer is `almost certainly not', at least for a typical Christian account of God, simply because that account is so specific that it is, prior to considering the evidence, implausible."

      Thanks for the comment! Some interesting points here, Peter. If your answer to the question 'Does God exist?' is 'Almost certainly not', then two things necessarily follow. First, that means you agree it is at least *possible* that the Christian God exists. If you think it's at least possible, you open yourself to applying Pascal's Wager. Are you willing to risk your eternal fate in light of that seemingly small possibility, even when you stand to gain nothing by rejecting it?

      Second, if you claim God almost certainly does not exist, then you now carry part of the burden of proof. You have to provide good reasons and evidence for the "almost certainly not" claim.

      Third, I'm confused about the last part of your comment. Perhaps you can help clarify it for me. Can you please explain how the Christian account of God is "prior to considering the evidence, implausible"? Also, even if this was true, why would it matter? We don't define our beliefs *before* examining the evidence but after.

      • http://briangreenadams.wordpress.com/ Brian Green Adams

        We do not know if it is possible for a God to exist or not.

        • http://www.brandonvogt.com/ Brandon Vogt

          "We do not know if it is possible for a God to exist or not."

          While I, as a Catholic, obviously disagree, I believe this is a far more intellectually honest approach than claiming God "almost certainly does not exist."

          • Peter Piper

            Perhaps unintentionally, you have given the impression here that you consider atheists to be intellectually dishonest. If that is true, you should probably have been clearer about it in the way you constructed the site (so that we could make an informed choice about whether we want to join the conversation here). But I guess you didn't mean to imply that, right?

          • http://briangreenadams.wordpress.com/ Brian Green Adams

            Depending on the God of course, if I propose the flying spag monster, I imagine you would feel confident in saying almost certainly not.

            If we are talking about Yaweh with a certain set of omni characteristics I could get close to certainty not. If you describe god as the material universe itself I would say it almost certainly does exist.

            We seem to always come back to what do you mean by god and what do you mean by exist.

          • DannyGetchell

            what do you mean by god

            That's an issue handled very inconsistently on this site.

            But then so many apologists (Catholic and Protestant) do this.....

            "There cannot be an uncaused cause - - - (waves hands about in air) - - - ergo, the Trinity !!!"

            .... that I can't point to Strange Notions as a unique case.

          • Irenist

            But then so many apologists (Catholic and Protestant) do this.....

            "There cannot be an uncaused cause - - - (waves hands about in air) - - - ergo, the Trinity !!!"

            Well, it would be "there *must* be an uncaused cause . . . ergo the Trinity," but yeah, that's admittedly still egregious.

            As a Catholic apologist, I need to walk you step by step from:

            1. atheism -> abstract theism (uncaused cause, etc.)

            2. theism -> Christianity as the best theism (Christ's redemptive suffering solves abstract theism's Problem of Evil, etc.)

            3. Christianity -> Catholicism (Patristic arguments for papal primacy, etc.)

            Anyone who tries to jump from atheism -> Christianity without the middle term is not doing the philosophy right. (That's not to say that someone couldn't come to specifically Christian or Catholic faith through a vision of the Virgin Mary or something, just that in the apologetical argument context where reason rather than faith is being appealed to, the middle step is not to be skipped). If you're encountering Christian apologists who do skip the middle bit, then sorry about that.

            If I were going to try to argue for the Trinity in particular, I'd first have to move you from atheism -> theism, then I'd have to begin with an argument for Jesus Christ as specifically worthy of your attention (for which I think the Passion as solving theism's Problem of Evil is the most manifest way) as a theist.

            Having established to your satisfaction that Christ is God, I would then direct you to Trinitarian passages in the Bible and the Church Fathers, with particular attention to Augustine's Neoplatonic account of the Trinity as Infinite Being, Being's Infinite Self-Knowledge, and Being's Infinite Love for Its Known Self.

            Tangentially, I might draw to your attention the Hindu conception of Brahman as sat-chit-ananda (Being, Consciousness, Bliss) and observe that not only Christianity, but pagan Neoplatonism and Vedantic Hinduism have this Trinitarian understanding of the Ultimate, which suggests that the Trinity is a real aspect of reality, and not just somebody's idiosyncratic idea.

            But for *any* of that to be of interest to you, you'd have to be a theist first.

        • litesp33d

          When we look at things without emotion, logically and rationally the complete and utter lack of any evidence at all to support the existence of any kind of god and the harder we look the less likely it becomes. It is therefore reasonable to take the view that a god does not exist. To be even more fair on a scale of 1-10 the likelihood of no god is 9.9 with the next 9 continuing to infinity. For most reasonable people that would be enough but for the emotionally engaged religionists that still means there might be a chance. You cannot use rational argument with people who think like this.

      • Peter Piper

        Please bear in mind, in the replies I give here, that we are exploring the consequences of a particular assumption introduced in the OP, namely that there is no justification of any kind for theistic belief.

        Regarding Pascal's Wager, there is no particular gain for me in attempting to conform my beliefs to the Christian worldview, since it is no more plausible (on this assumption) that I will be eternally rewarded for doing so than that I will be eternally punished.

        The reason for the `almost certainly not' claim is what I said in my first comment: the lack of any justification for theistic belief (our standing assumption) and the specificity of the claim.

        The `prior to considering the evidence' clause was a rephrasing of the standing assumption that there is no evidence. With hindsight, I can see that this might be confusing, for which I apologise.

        Clearer now?

        • http://www.brandonvogt.com/ Brandon Vogt

          "Regarding Pascal's Wager, there is no particular gain for me in attempting to conform my beliefs to the Christian worldview, since it is no more plausible (on this assumption) that I will be eternally rewarded for doing so than that I will be eternally punished."

          You're partially right, and partially wrong. It's true that your eternal destiny doesn't depend solely on whether your *belief* conforms to the Christian worldview. For Jesus himself admitted that, "even the demons believe [in me]."

          What matters is how you live your life. If Christianity is true, which you implicitly admitted is a possibility (cf. "almost certainly not"), then your eternal destiny *does* depend on whether you conform your life to the Good.

          "The `prior to considering the evidence' clause was a rephrasing of the standing assumption that there is no evidence. With hindsight, I can see that this might be confusing, for which I apologise. Clearer now?"

          I'm afraid not, but I'll let it pass. Perhaps the confusion is due to my own density.

          • Peter Piper

            Regarding Pascal's Wager, my point was a little different. Given our standing assumption, It is no more plausible that I will be eternally rewarded for, as you put it, conforming my life to the Good, than it is that I will be eternally punished for it.

      • Andre Boillot

        Brandon,

        "If you think it's at least possible, you open yourself to applying Pascal's Wager. Are you willing to risk your eternal fate in light of that seemingly small possibility, even when you stand to gain nothing by rejecting it?"

        Why do you persist on proposing this as a good (moral?) reason for believing? This is a wager made based on the threat of damnation. A wager that somebody, who cannot decide on the existence of the Christian god, is supposed to make. To hedge their bets because they know that this god demands belief prior to a person knowing for certain that this god exists, and that failure to believe prior to certainty means hell.

        • http://whoiswallaceintrube.blogspot.com/ Nicholas Howley

          agreed - and surely this characterises the relationship a christian is supposed to have with god in the wrong way? as is said many, many times, Christians do not "believe that God exists"; they "believe in God", suggesting not merely a belief in his existence, but a belief in his goodness/worthiness of worship. The idea of being coerced into belief on the potentiality of damnation is antithetical to this. Furthermore, it's egoistic to base one's belief ultimately on a matter of gains or losses to the self. Surely, one reason that we say someone "converts" to Christianity (or any religion) is because they become completely re-orientated, moving from a position of "self-centredness" to "world-centredness", which simply cannot happen if your belief is still premised on looking after your own eschatological interests...

          • DannyGetchell

            Exactly. In a nutshell, anyone who takes Pascal's bet has, by doing so, tried to outfox God and thus excluded himself from the fruits of winning the wager.

        • http://epiphanyproject.wordpress.com/ Timothy Matias

          I don't know why Pascal's Wager is used by Christian apologists even though the Bible itself is adamant that belief in God is not enough!

          James 2:14-20

          14 What does it profit, my brethren, if someone says he has faith but does not have works? Can faith save him? 15 If a brother or sister is naked and destitute of daily food,16 and one of you says to them, “Depart in peace, be warmed and filled,” but you do not give them the things which are needed for the body, what does it profit? 17 Thus also faith by itself, if it does not have works, is dead.

          18 But someone will say, “You have faith, and I have works.” Show me your faith without your[d] works, and I will show you my faith by my[e] works. 19 You believe that there is one God. You do well. Even the demons believe—and tremble! 20 But do you want to know, O foolish man, that faith without works is dead?

      • felixcox

        I'm sorry, but are you serious about Pascal's Wager? As a former christian, I remember when that was persuasive. However, as I got older, and read much much more about history and religions, I simply concluded that there was insufficient evidence to support the incredible claims of christianity. Pascal's wager makes absolutely no sense if you don't find it believable. One could apply that wager to any implausible religion, be it Islam, Mormonism, or Christianity. One believes or not- most reasonable people cannot simply conclude, "well, it makes no sense, but believers say I should believe it anyway or risk eternal torture."
        Are you unfamiliar with this counter-argument to the Wager, or are you deliberately ignoring it? It's quite common among non-believers.
        And no, if you admit god/s might exist, the onus is on the one asserting he probably does. The standard skeptical position is, where's your proof? you offer nothing here. If I told you that right now, there's a poisonous snake underneath your couch, you would probably say it's possible, but extremely unlikely I would know that. I would have the burden of proof, not you. Just acknowledging something has remote plausibility does not bring a burden of proof. It's being honest about the limits of our knowledge. (Note, the idea of a snake underneath your couch is orders of magnitude more probable than the idea that a god created a son who is not really his son, who performed miracles, raised the dead, stopped the son, born of virgin..... )

      • nickdangerthirdi

        Why is the burden of proof placed on the non believer? I agree absence of evidence is not evidence of absence, however absence of evidence for long periods of time does not convince anyone something is true, but it is the religious who have "faith" in god which has multiple meanings but most notably the belief that something is true despite there being no evidence it is true. I have faith that my car will start when I turn the key every morning, I have no proof that this is true, but previous experience tells me that is probably what will happen. But my argument for that faith is past experience starting my car. We are not the ones who say that god does exist, in real science the burden of proof is on the ones who say something is a certain way when there is no evidence to support that claim. There is no evidence that supports the claim that god exists, religion is the one makes that claim, and religion has been around longer than I have, so in my mind the burden of proof is on the religion, not those who lack faith in the absence of evidence. It is up to you (or your god) to prove to me that he/she exists, not up to me to prove to you they do not. Why do you ask? because the church want me to believe the same thing that it does, I have no interest in making church believe the same thing as me.

      • http://epiphanyproject.wordpress.com/ Timothy Matias

        1. Anything's possible. Science is about developing knowledge with the highest probability of being true, and prioritizing knowledge accordingly. We do this by utilizing the scientific method to verify and replicate results, and by determining the utility of knowledge.

        2. Pascal's Wager is fascinating, but it's inherently fallacious in that the entire thought experiment is built on the foundation of a false dichotomy. There are infinite possibilities inherent in such a theological argument as Pascal's Wager proposes, yet the validity of the wager explicitly depends on there only being two scenarios:

        (a) That God exists: if you don't believe in him you'll go to hell, but if you do believe in him you will go to heaven

        (b) That God doesn't exist, so what you believe doesn't matter. You won't go to hell or heaven regardless of your beliefs regarding God.

        Pascal's wager disregards the infinite other possibilities, including the evil demon/dream conjectures of Descartes, the possibility that God doesn't want you to believe in him, that God is actually evil and will send people to hell regardless, that God set up theology as a test to see how many people can be intellectually honest and only believe what can be confirmed (only exists go to heaven), etc. Pascal's wager, by disregarding other possibilities, fails as a thought experiment argument.

        3. "Second, if you claim God almost certainly does not exist, then you now carry part of the burden of proof. "

        Incorrect, you have here committed the straw man fallacy. Peter's claim was regarding the Christian God. The reason why this God almost certainly does not exist is because evidence disproving many things the Christian God said happened, did not happen. These include:

        1. 6 day creation
        2. The Great Flood
        3. Flat Earth
        4. Several Biblical contradictions regarding core historical facts
        5. Inconsistencies between Biblical claims about history and the actual known record.
        6. Overwhelming proof that prayer to the Christian God cannot beat placebo for effectiveness.

        It's a lot easier to have a good debate about God when those involved in a debate do not resort to logical fallacies to make their points ;)

  • http://briangreenadams.wordpress.com/ Brian Green Adams

    We are never going to agree on universal definitions for these terms, the best thing to do is establish what you mean atheist and theist.

    Trent seems to be muddying the waters a bit here by suggesting that how we define terms and what people think about the existence of a god has something to do with whether or not the god actually exists in an ontological sense.

    I think the clearest and most useful distinction in fora like this is between theists, defined as people who hold a belief that a god exists, and everyone else who we should describe as atheist, lacking such belief. Sure, people can hold to positive atheism and we can discuss questions of knowledge, belief and epistemology, but we just need a quick clarification of terms.

  • http://briangreenadams.wordpress.com/ Brian Green Adams

    "If he wants to demonstrate that atheism is true, an atheist would have
    to provide additional evidence..."

    And this is the problem he, Trent has used a definition of atheism that is too vague for the point he is making. What he means is, "if he wants to demonstrate that no gods exist, than he will have to bring evidence." But that is not what is being said, all that is being said is, the time to believe in something is when the evidence establishes it. The evidence hasn't been established so it is not reasonable to accept these wild claims of theism.

  • http://star-www.st-and.ac.uk/~pr33/ Paul Rimmer

    Depending on the definition of "God"...

    I see this as only a semantic matter. It shouldn't matter with the new evangelism, which is about engaging the individual where he or she is. Labels don't help much for that sort of thing. Labels are more for proselytizing, which Pope Francis says is garbage.

    I think Trent Horn's diagram is very sensible, although possibly incomplete. What about agnostics who don't know whether it's possible to know whether God exists? Are these agnostic agnostics?

    But there's another common set of definitions:

    Gnostic: Knows that God exists/does not exist.
    Agnostic: Does not know that God exists/does not exist.
    Theist: Belief in God.
    Atheist: No belief in God.

    So gnostic theists and atheists would always have a burden of proof. Agnostic theists will have to explain why they believe in some way, even if they don't claim to have justified true belief. Agnostic atheists will never have the burden of proof, because they aren't actually claiming anything. Most people who use this set of definitions are agnostic atheists.

    Who is right? Who cares?

    In a dialogue, I think it's best to adopt common definitions that both parties will agree with. If someone wants to call himself an atheist, but you think he's really an agnostic, give it up. Call him what he wants to be called. It's an invitation to ask about what this person does in fact believe.

    • Loreen Lee

      This made me giggle, Paul, in thinking about my self-referential label of being an a-theist Catholic. I put the - between a and theist, because my situation is, and I assume here, very much like yours. I can take Spinoza's pantheism as very credible, and then see that other criteria would limit the efficacy of its insight. This is just an example. Also, although I don't understand most 'science', I feel that some of the answers they give, and the questions they ask are 'credible' to the point where I have to think of myself as a 'naturalist'. Also when it comes to Catholicism, I'm sure you would concur that there are many varying interpretations, which leaves me in the position where I can still struggle in my search for 'reason' and 'love?' (Indeed, I have had the thought that there are as many 'G/gods as there are people within the world!!!!) Since I pick and choose what I feel is 'sound judgment' in spiritual matters, etc. I would have to also call myself Buddhist, Hindu, etc. and even a bit of a 'Commie'. Hey! Maybe that's why I may be truly justified in calling myself 'catholic'. grin grin.

  • workforlivn

    Actually, I think you mean 'deist' not theist. Then you must decide on which one. Apollo?

    Theology is the effort to explain the unknowable in terms of the not worth knowing.
    H.L. Mencken

    • http://www.gettingholdofgod.com/ Glenn Dickinson

      H.L. Mencken had the cleverest and wittiest way of making one embarrassed for feeling one had something to say.
      ---Glenn Dickinson

      • workforlivn

        The article uses a block diagram that asks if God exists. For a yes answer it concludes that you are a theist with a religion. OK if you have a religion which one? There are thousands of dead gods (enumerated by Mencken). What draws you to pick a particular one? You are now at the position of a deist, you believe there is a God or divine watchmaker. You haven't advanced your position one bit towards the adoption of one or another religion. Are you a Mormon? They have books. Jew? Books? Christian? (I think I know). What allows you to select one. What knowledge do you possess denied to others that advances you to the position of theist? Just because you were born in a predominately Christian nation doesn't provide a reason.

        • http://www.gettingholdofgod.com/ Glenn Dickinson

          Actually, I know about the name thing. I was just trying to offer a parody of the Mencken quote. Clearly I need to work on my technique.

          I understand your questions, but are you implying that my beliefs are somehow suspect because I came about them at least in part through cultural and social factors? I guess that seem to me like rejecting lunch because you aren't sure where the ingredients came from, or rejecting the soup because they might have served stew next door. Yes, it might have turned out differently, but I'm hungry.

          Peace

          • workforlivn

            I know. I resist parody by pretending not to get it. I'll work on mine as well.

            You are deflecting the question and ignoring my premise. I'll restate: Declaring that you believe that there is a creator makes you a deist. Deist - Believes in a deity. Calling yourself a theist - Believes in a religion or a study of God - is a leap from there. Do you make that leap by faith? Do you offer your credulity, to others, as a reason to believe?

            In the interest of time I'll jump to what I expect is your next move. You like your religion because of its utility to your life? That is not an argument for its truthfulness.

            or

            You believe the Bible is the inerrant word of God? Tell me your denomination and I'll pick out any number of things about the Bible that you think are not true.

            When you argue Theist and atheist you miss the opportunity the see religion from the outside. Religion makes huge claims on scant to no evidence. A deist can reason that a god is likely because of the apparent order that we observe in the universe. An atheist can't refute that as we are talking, at this point, about what is likely.

            Theists, on the other hand, claim to know many more things. Things they have no way of knowing. Observing religious institutions from the outside displays a terrible fascination with the temporal.

            The hunger you refer to predates all religion. Your hunger is no claim to a knowledge of the mind of god.

          • http://www.gettingholdofgod.com/ Glenn Dickinson

            I thought your questions were mostly rhetorical, so I tried to address the underlying point. But I'll accept your criticism as valid. The answers are personal, and I wasn't sure you were interested in my story, but since you asked:
            I am a Roman Catholic. What draws me to pick that one can be pretty simply stated, in the way that the story line in Crime and Punishment can be simply stated. But to state it simply is to miss much that also is worth stating. Anyhow, I was raised in a Catholic home, so I had a solid grounding in the Christian faith. As I was losing my faith, I read about other religions in a desultory manner, learning a little about them. My atheism eventually was shaken by what I can only call a religious experience, and much of my faith in the meantime stems from succeeding religious experiences. Yes, these are personal and subjective experiences, but all conversions are personal. There is a truism in apologetics that no one is converted by argument, and I believe it. I wasn't. Argument clears away obstacles, but it doesn't compel or even lead to belief, at least not in my case.

            As to "why Christian," that's largely because the claims of this religion's founder are wholly unlike the claims of any other religion's founder. They show that either he was a maniac of a particularly repugnant sort, or he was exactly who he said he was.

            I'm not a Biblical fundamentalist, so I agree with your underlying point about the accuracy of the Bible. It's really a library, not a book, so it's hard to categorically say whether it's true or not. Is Crime and Punishment true?

            I have seen religion from the outside, and it looks dreadful from that point of view. Whether the evidence is scant or weighty depends I suppose on your opinion about the thing to be proved.

            I don't claim to know the mind of God. Only a maniac would do that. Or that guy from Nazareth.

            I hope some of this is on point.

          • workforlivn

            Most claims by Christianity are drawn from prior religions. Virgin birth, blood sacrifice there is very little that is original or unlike most religions. If you claim that Socrates did not really exist, it doesn't have any effect on the import of the teachings attributed to him. If Christ did not rise from the dead he's just another mystic and his claims of salvation are worthless. I reject your claim of evidence being consequent of an opinion; that is not evidence. It is a statement of belief. If you present credulity as evidence you must be a witness or personal knowledge of a witness. Rising from the dead was fairly common during the resurrection of Christ according to the texts.

            Thank you for your personal story. It does not shed any light on how you selected your religion other than geographic. Had by chance you been born in another country you would expect a different outcome. If you tell me you're not a fundamentalist, can I assume that baptism is not a requirement, belief in Jesus not a requisite for eternal life? Does that make your religion a la carte?

            I suspect your distance from fundamentalism can be measured by scientific advances that make prior beliefs untenable.

            I mean none of this as a personal attack on your beliefs. The headline of this article however speaks of a lack of beliefs for atheism. I consider it a lack of credulity.

            I do not lack for the transcendent or spiritual and am encouraged by the pronouncements of Francis of late.

          • Irenist

            workforlivn,
            Here is how I selected my religion:

            1. Aquinas' five ways and his subsequent elaborations--properly understood--logically demonstrate that there is a God: an omniscient, omnipotent, omni-benevolent Being at the ground of all being.

            2. Of the various religions on offer, Christianity's narrative of redemptive suffering by the Incarnate God best resolves the Problem of Evil, which must be resolved if my belief in (1.) is to be coherent.

            3. Early Patristic writings from shortly after the lifetimes of the apostles offer strong evidence for the authority of the Bishop of Rome as properly the highest teaching authority in Christianity, so I ought to be a Catholic if I am to be a Christian.

            Having been a weak atheist as defined in the O.P. for over a decade, and having dabbled in Unitarian Universalist agnosticism, Mahayana Buddhism, Druidic neopaganism, and Sufi Islam for less but still substantial time, I did not restrict myself to the Catholicism of my birth. Also, each of my three steps involved careful inferences. You may (and apparently do) disagree with my view of which philosophy and religion are most true, but I daresay my choice has not been any more arbitrary than being a finite human in a specific time and place necessarily bias anyone's to be.

          • Irenist

            "Declaring that you believe that there is a creator makes you a deist."

            I respectfully disagree. According to the accepted usage of centuries, a theist is someone who believes in God or gods, whereas a Deist is specifically someone who believes in the uninvolved demiurgic watchmaker God of various eighteenth century thinkers.

            A similar problem afflicts the Venn diagram posted above: agnostic is properly represented, but "Gnostic" is already a precise name for a Christian heresy of late Antiquity and a loose adjective for similar esoteric sects in other faiths (e.g., "The Ismailis were gnostic Muslims.") and so is unavailable for the usage it gets in the Venn diagram.

            This kind of redefinition of terms in contrast to their historically and academically accepted usage seems worryingly common in online discussions of atheism.

  • Kyle

    Aron Ra recently made a post on his blog which is of a similar topic:

    http://freethoughtblogs.com/aronra/2013/10/03/youre-either-theist-or-a-theist-there-is-no-agnostic-3rd-option/

    At the end he proposes this test for atheism:

    "Are you convinced that an actual deity really exists?

    Those who answer ‘no’ will be correctly classified as atheist."

    We do have to agree on the definitions of these terms if we wish to use them in discussions amongst ourselves.

    • jasmine999

      I think that is a tad extreme. First of all, belief does not always involve gods or religions. You can believe in any number of things. For instance, I believe that my son will do well in college. I have no evidence, and I'm not entirely sure, but I believe it. I believe that my son's friend will flunk out. Again, I have no evidence, and I'm not entirely sure, but I believe that anyway. I have no belief whatsoever as to how my daughter will do. You can say that I'm an agnostic theist re my son, an agnostic atheist re my son's friend, and an agnostic, pure and simple, re my daughter.

      About my agnosticism when it comes to my daughter: that "idk" doesn't mean that I believe she'll flunk out, and it doesn't mean that I believe she'll excel. I simply do not know.

      So, for me, an atheist is someone who can say that "I believe there are no gods." He could add "well I'm not entirely sure, of course." In that case they'd be an agnostic atheist. A theist is someone who can say "I believe in gods." He could also add "I'm not entirely sure, but..." In that case, he'd be an agnostic theist. An agnostic is just hanging out there, with no belief position one way or another. That would be me, lol.

      Semantics suck.

      • Kyle

        I am intrigued by your response, I have some comments.

        If you really have NO evidence that your son will do well in college, why do you believe it? It seems to me that by the time a child reaches college age, it would be (nearly?) impossible for a parent to have NO evidence as to how the child will fare in college. You would have time to evaluate their skills as they pertain to college success e.g. Are they hard working? Did they succeeded in high school? Are they highly motivated by their field of study? These are the types of evidence that would allow you to form a belief about college success.

        As far as your daughter's success in college (I am assuming she is quite young for arguments sake), I think we can still safely return to a re-statement of Aron Ra's question. "Are you CONVINCED that your daughter will succeed in college?". It really is a yes or no question. In the case of my own infant daughter, I think the only honest answer would be "No", because I don't know enough about how she will behave as a young adult. However, this would likely be a situation where it would be appropriate to state something along the lines of "I don't have enough information to offer an informed answer to that question, so I reserve the right to change my mind".

        The point I'm trying to get at is that 'belief' and 'non-belief' is a dichotomy that covers ALL possibilities. Everyone must fall into one category or the other, by definition. 'Knowledge' and 'lack-of-knowledge' is an orthogonal issue.

        I think the only way you could have no belief position is if it was the very first time you are being presented with a concept. After any degree of consideration towards that concept, you will have formed a belief. How strongly you hold that belief is something different.

        I agree, semantics suck.

        P.S. To be clear - any references to your children in my discussion are entirely impersonal. I was just trying to follow along with your thoughts. In reality, I wish them all success in college and otherwise :)

        • jasmine999

          Belief is not inevitable, and the term is subjective. "I don't have enough information to offer an informed answer to that question, so I reserve the right to change my mind," would apply better to the take on my son and his friend, where I have made up my mind, so can change it. I haven't made up my mind when it comes to my daughter, so can't change an opinion I do not have.

          This is where semantics come in. When it comes to gods, I am hard agnostic. That means I have no belief that gods exist, which would make me an atheist according to some definitions. That is fine. However, I define an atheist as someone who believes that there are no gods, and I lack that belief as well. btw I am NOT equating atheism with theism when I use "belief" in the definition; there is a chasm between believing that there are gods, and believing that there are no gods.

          • http://www.gettingholdofgod.com/ Glenn Dickinson

            I've long thought that to believe in something involves an act of will, a decision to orient one's thoughts and possibly also actions towards a certain object, or away from a certain object, or both. So, in that analysis, the distinction is not so much atheist or agnostic as having a belief or not having a belief. One could believe God is, or isn't, or might be but probably not, or might be but we can't ever know so don't waste your time, etc. Or one could have no belief on the subject. Does that make sense to you?

          • jasmine999

            I'm confused! It should be agonizingly clear that I'm no philosopher. Would any kind of consideration of a given topic be an act of belief?

          • http://www.gettingholdofgod.com/ Glenn Dickinson

            No, absolutely not. You can have a belief and be a partisan (theist or atheist), or you could have a belief that one must not or may not or cannot commit (hard agnostic). Or you could be a person who hasn't made up his or her mind. That person considers and discusses and comments, but still hasn't made a commitment.

      • Geena Safire

        You can believe in any number of things.

        True, but irrelevant. Atheism isn't about lack of belief in general. Atheism is a "lack of belief in any god(s)."

        Note the "theo" root, meaning "god". It's exclusively about belief in god(s). It has nothing to do with beliefs about anything else. You cannot, therefore, be a theist nor an atheist with respect to any other topic than deities.

        ------

        Separately, gnosis has to do with 'knowing' in general, and it is not limited to god claims. So it can be used regarding other knowledge claims.

    • http://star-www.st-and.ac.uk/~pr33/ Paul Rimmer

      If people want to use this system of definitions, that's fine. It's a perfectly sensible way to define "atheist". This is fine for surveys.

      But this shouldn't be used as a way to relabel people against their will. Calling Neil deGrasse Tyson an atheist in the public square is disrespectful. It doesn't respect his right to define his own beliefs as he likes.

      If I want to call myself a pantheist or an agnostic, and if you don't want to start a fight, you should do me the favour of acknowledging the label I choose for my beliefs.

      • Kyle

        I couldn't agree more.

        As long as I am clear on the individual's stance, I really don't care about the label.

  • http://whoiswallaceintrube.blogspot.com/ Nicholas Howley

    Two quick things: I think you're right to make the issue one of "reasonable doubt" (and its contrary "reasonable belief") rather than proof, which is not at all forthcoming on either side of the argument. An atheist would argue that, given things like the existence of gratuitous suffering and the fact that if even if this world was designed, it resembles not so much a perfect designer as a rather incompetent and imperfect one, then the unlikelihood of God's existence (given the evidence) is of such a magnitude that one would NOT be justified/reasonable in assenting to a belief in him.

    The problem with Pascal's wager is that it misconstrues the decision - it's not a two-way choice between "not believing" and "believing in the Christian god". It's a decision between a huge plurality of religions - Judaism, Islam, Buddhism, Hinduism, Confucianism, Zoroastrianism, and others (estimated total 4,300). Furthermore, a number of the religions - a number of specific denominations within these religions - say that unless you actually believe particular things about God (e.g. the trinity, or whether God is personal etc.), you won't achieve salvation. Some religions think it's enough to be a "good person", but certainly not all - think the Calvinist tradition for example, and many branches of Islam. Whatever you choose, you WILL have a number of religions telling you that you've chosen wrong and are going to be damned. I'm afraid that Pascal's wager just doesn't work.

    • Andre Boillot

      Nicholas,

      "The problem with Pascal's wager is that it misconstrues the decision - it's not a two-way choice between "not believing" and "believing in the Christian god"."

      Actually, I think that Pascal's Wager is aimed precisely at those who stuggle between unbelief and Christianity. At the very least, it's aimed at unbelief vs. religions which posit eternal damnation for unbelievers - otherwise, there's no reason to hedge your bet in the first place.

      • http://whoiswallaceintrube.blogspot.com/ Nicholas Howley

        OK - let's take that as a presupposition then. You're dealing with unbelief vs Christianity. Isn't there still a multiplicity of choice - between Christian denominations, all of whom ask you to believe their particular interpretation of the bible? Some of whom condemn other denominations as unbelievers who won't achieve salvation? Even then the bet isn't a safe one! And on the basis of what do you choose a particular denomination? I think even if somehow you've managed to successfully adjudicate between religions, and come to the conclusion that Christianity is the most "believable", when it gets to the level of specific denominations there's almost nothing in the way of evidence, or history, or beliefs about the world which differentiates the claims, so I doubt the possibility of being able to beyond reasonable doubt settle on one denomination, as a sort of "if you're going to be religious, this is clearly the only reasonable option"!

        • Andre Boillot

          Haha, I think it's a terrible concept, I just wanted to point out that it's formulated with the presumption of just the two choices. :)

          • JohnC

            That is a point I tried to make in the Andrew Sullivan post. Christians in particular, and the religious more generally, have no way to adjudicate the differences to arrive at the "correct" set of religious beliefs. Heck, they can't even agree on the "correct" way to interpret the bible.

            I would think that before one could make the case for religion v. atheism, one would have to figure out which flavor of religion to go to (shades of John Loftus and the outsider test of faith). I.e., why does the catholic church offer the most accurate set of religious truths? (which is why I find it funny that some commentators quote and fondly cite William Lane Craig, a protestant, who would find a great deal to disagree with concerning Catholicism. I mean, if Craig's arguments were convincing, why choose to become a Catholic or some flavor of Protestantism).

          • Irenist

            JohnC, I think you have the logical order wrong.

            It seems more intuitive for an unbeliever on his or her way to belief to proceed as follows:

            1. Is there a God?

            2. Okay there is a God, but is Christ God Incarnate, or Krishna Vishnu's avatar, or is Muhammad His Prophet?

            3. Okay, which denomination is Christ's Church, or should I be a Vaishnavite or Shaivite Hindu, or should I be a Sunni or Shia Muslim?

            The reason for this is that atheism -> God -> religion -> denomination involves (IMHO) far, far shorter inferential leaps, e.g., than atheism ------------> Wisconsin Evangelical Lutheran Synod. It's the difference between stepping stones across a pond . . . and jumping in a lake. It's also why Lewis wrote "Mere Christianity" the way he did.

      • Sqrat

        The real problem with Pascal's Wager, in the naive form it is often expressed (which is not necessarily the form it was originally expressed by Pascal), is that one can choose what one believes by a simple act of will. That is nonsense. I cannot simply choose to "believe in God" any more than I can choose to believe that I can fly by flapping my arms up and down vigorously.

  • http://weighandconsider.wordpress.com/ Noah Luck

    Why rehash this? What's wrong with the traditional etymological meanings of the words? What value is there to be gained by substituting alternative definitions that the group of people won't accept as accurately representing them?

    agnostic: having the characteristic ("-ic") of not ("a-") knowing ("-gnost-")
    gnostic: having the characteristic ("-ic") of knowing ("gnost-")

    atheist: person lacking ("a-") belief ("-ist") in at least one god ("-the-")
    theist: person with belief ("-ist") in at least one god ("the-")

    One of the absurdities of the non-etymological definitions suggested in this article is that polytheists would count as atheists since they would say answer the question "Does God exist?" with "No. But various gods do exist."

  • Sqrat

    Trent's post is about the meaning of a word in the English language -- "atheism" -- and thus about a question of semantics, but that doesn't mean that it's not a useful question.

    It seems to me that "atheist" eventually came to mean, and in common parlance long meant, "someone who believes that God does not exist." Then, at some point mostly in the Internet age (that is, mostly rather recently), some people who called themselves "atheists" began to insist that it meant "someone who does not believe that God exists."

    Now "someone who does not believe that God exists" is not necessarily "someone who believes that God does not exist." An infant does not believe that God exists, but also does not believe that God does not exist. The question of whether an infant is an atheist therefore depends on how the word is defined. Some people who call themselves atheists are quite adamant that infants are, indeed, atheists. Personally, I'm quite comfortable with, and strongly prefer, the old and well-established definition of "atheist" as "someone who believes that God does not exist". In part this is precisely because I don't see anything to be gained in terms of clarity by calling infants "atheists," any more than there would be anything to be gained by labeling an infant a "Catholic" (just because its parents are Catholics?). Call infants "nonbelievers" if you must (because they are certainly not "believers"), but don't call them "atheists."

    Regardless of which definition of "atheist" we go with, it's clear that "atheism" is defined in terms of belief and not knowledge. Thus, it is certainly possible to be an agnostic atheist -- one who believes that God does not exist, but also contends that one cannot know that he does not exist. Is it possible to be an agnostic Catholic, one who believes that Catholic doctrines are true but also does not claim to know that God exists? Perhaps. I will have to let the Catholics sort that out. It does seem to me, however, that it makes perfect sense for an atheist to say that he "knows" that God does not exist. This simply requires invoking the classic philosophical definition of "knowledge," where one may be said to "know" something if:

    1. One strongly believes it.
    2. One has good reasons for one's beliefs, and
    3. What one believes is actually true.

    Thus, if God does not exist, an atheist can "know" it if he strongly believes what is actually true, and he has good reasons for such a belief. On the other side of the coin, for a Catholic to be said to know that God exists requires, not only his or her strong belief, and good reasons for that belief; it would also require the fact of God's actual existence.

    • Paul Boillot

      It seems to me that "atheist" eventually came to mean, and in common parlance long meant, "someone who believes that God does not exist." Then, at some point mostly in the Internet age (that is, mostly rather recently), some people who called themselves "atheists" began to insist that it meant "someone who does not believe that God exists."

      I fully respect that your gut told you that atheists started claiming a lack of belief instead of belief of lack three and a half weeks ago, but my extensive research into the subject puts the lie to your hypothesis.

      http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Atheism#Etymology

      • Sqrat

        Oh, I was certainly familiar with that Wikipedia article long before you mentioned it. That is, I knew that some people who described themselves as atheists had claimed a broader definition of atheism than Trent wants to argue well before there was anything such as the Internet. That is why I was quite careful to phrase my argument the way I did, and I stand by my basic point. I agree with Horn that "They [some? many? atheists] say atheism is not 'belief there is no God' but merely 'no belief in a God.' " I still contend that this has been mostly an Internet-age phenomenon, and I would even go so far as to agree with Horn that the reason why some atheists have taken this position is that "When asked to prove atheism is true, many atheists say that they don’t have to prove anything" because atheists is not a belief that needs to be defended, but a lack of belief (which doesn't needed to be defended?). That is, it's primarily a debating tactic (an implicit or explicit claim about who bears the "burden of proof"), not an attempt to describe how language is actually used. Note that this is precisely the point of Horn's article -- to assert that atheists "properly defined" bear a burden of proof. So Horn's article is simply a debating counter-tactic.

        One area where I strongly disagree with Horn, as well a number of those who have criticized him here, is with the implicit claim that, when there is some question as to what a word means, the proper procedure, for some reason, is NOT to go out and, you know, find out what it actually means, but just to state your personal claim about its meaning over and over, in ever more strident terms. Maybe I'm just an old curmudgeon, but in my day the idea was that if you didn't know what a word meant, you bloody well went and looked it up in a dictionary, assuming that the lexicographers probably knew what they were talking about when they said that "this is what people generally mean when they use this particular word."

        Now, if anyone can be bothered to perform that particular exercise and consult several different general dictionaries, he or she may find that they do not agree precisely on their definitions of "atheism" or "atheist". I actually did that last night (not for the first time, mind you), at a big-box bookstore. Two different dictionaries that I looked had almost precisely the same definition of "atheism." One said it was "A belief that God does not exist," while the other said it was "THE belief that God does not exist." In other words, according to the compilers of those two dictionaries, Horn is precisely right about the meaning of "atheism" and "atheism," and his critics precisely wrong. Both of those dictionaries were entirely unaware of any other definition than the one Horn is claiming. According to several of Horn's critics here, it must be the case that those dictionaries are wrong, their compilers wholly ignorant of the "real" meaning of "atheism."

        A couple of other dictionaries that I looked at last night defined atheism at least partly in terms of "disbelief" in God. That's a little more ambiguous, because it raises the question of the meaning of "disbelief." Is its meaning negative ("not believe") or positive ("believe not")? But what I did not find last night (and so far have not yet found) was a general English-language dictionary that explicitly defined atheism as a "lack of belief" in God. I would argue that there's a very good reason for that, and the reason is that the substantial majority of English speakers do not understand, and do not use, the word that way. As far as I know, you will only find that definition in more specialized sources (such as the Wikipedia article you pointed to), and the impression one gets from such sources is that it is primarily or even exclusively people who call themselves atheists (and not necessarily all of them) who have advocated the "lack of belief" definition, while it is primarily theists who have either disputed that definition or have been unaware of it.

        Of course my point here is that the fact that they are theists does not automatically make them wrong in this case.

  • Paul Boillot

    The diagram at the top of this article is incorrect, insulting, and an oversimplification of what the various categories of people believe.

    Mr. Rimmer commented earlier on the better way to break the distinctions down, but for now let me just add that seeing a theist tell me what would or would not be a "more honest" way of categorizing myself while simultaneously not understanding the distinctions he's talking about is amusing.

    • jakael02

      I assumed the diagram at the top was oversimplified due to reach a broad audience and due to simplify it for discussion. Maybe I'm wrong.
      However, how come a theist telling you what would or would not be a "more honest" way of ctaegorizing yourself be amusing? I honestly don't know, was curious. Thanks.

      • Paul Boillot

        Well, there's several layers to the humor I find it in; I'm going to be brief here (as brief as I know how to be), but if you're interested there's a lot more to say on this subject.

        The author draws a counterfactual diagram, misplaces weak atheism, then chides that philosophical point of view for being dishonest and not answering 'the question' -- both accusations resulting directly from his false categorizations.

        Why do I find it amusing?

        How could you not?

        • jakael02

          I relooked at the diagram, how was "weak atheism" misplaced? He seems to have placed it there intentionallly to draw his point that it's really agnosticism rather than atheism? I don't know much about atheism, that's why I'm here to learn. Thanks.

          • Paul Boillot

            "He seems to have placed it there intentionally to draw his point."

            I couldn't disagree with you less.

            Since you ask for details, in the spirit of discussion here goes.

            The terms 'atheist' and 'agnostic' are not well-defined and often not well understood by those who use them. They have mean many things over many years, and they're not the same age.

            I am an atheist because I don't believe in God(s), and by that definition so are all agnostics ... but, since I don't want to speak for others, I'm glad that there have been recent efforts to codify the language of these discussions.

            I just typed in "atheism diagram" on google, and there's quite a few images which pop up immediately. For now I'll deal with one of the diagrams which makes the most sense to me.

            As Mr. Rimmer indicated earlier http://www.strangenotions.com/is-atheism-a-belief/#comment-1068593854, this is a subject with (at least) two axes.

            There is the question of belief, and there is the question of knowledge.

            Q. Do I believe that God(s) do or don't exist?
            Q. Do I have proof that God(s) do or don't exist?

            I like this diagram http://usureason.com/wp-content/uploads/nb2mO.jpg because pretty colors, but it's also prette effective at pointing out the different tenets of the categories, as I understand them.

            In any case, Mr. Horn tried to collapse this two-dimensional plane of views into a hierarchical tree, and while it is possible, he flubbed it, misplacing 'weak' or 'agnostic' atheism while claiming that weak atheists should know their place and be more honest -- if he had bothered to talk to an informed atheist (in my experience they're not rare), he would've known better.

          • jakael02

            Thanks. That is helpful for me. That's an interesting diagram. So you described yourself as "Atheist", would that be an "Agnostic Atheist or Gnostic Atheist"? I would guess according to the above diagram, I'm a "Agnostic Theist" depending upon the definition of "Proof". I'm defining proof in a scientific, labatory, & physical means. If that makes sense.

          • Paul Boillot

            Agnostic atheist to the max.

            I think I've only ever 'met' one gnostic atheist, and that was just a wacked out combo box warrior who didn't fully grasp logic.

          • jakael02

            Yes I know what you mean by the wacked out combo box warrior type. So are you saying the majority of atheist's are technically "Agnostic atheist" and most Christians are technically "Agnostic theist"? 1 more Q. Did you define "proof" as generically scientific proof? Thanks!!

          • Paul Boillot

            Of course this is a matter of "technicalities," but not in the perjorative sense!

            The deeper we go into any field of inquiry, the more specialized the language we use must become so that we can talk intelligibly to each other with precision.

            I, and apparently many others, seem to like this schema of using atheism/theism to denote belief and gnostic/agnostic to denote thoughts about possible knowledge. I'm not saying this is carved in stone, no language is, and I'm not saying that all atheists use these terms the way I am.

            But I think we've come to a point where you and I know what the words mean in the current schema, and in this setting I'm comfortable saying the following:

            1) I know of 0 gnostic atheists
            2) I know plenty of people of all kinds of faith who would self-describe as gnostic theists, people who have had direct knowledge of God(gods)
            3) I'm sure that many believers are more agnostic than gnostic

            By "proof" I just mean some sort of evidence that deities exist. For example, if the beauty of...the ratio PHI in nature were enough to prove to my brain that a supernatural being created the universe, I would call myself 'gnostic,' though that wouldn't be much of a scientific proof.

            The idea of these categories is not to provide fodder for rhetorical 'gotcha' moments, as in the OP, but to facilitate honest and precise dialogue about what we think and believe.

          • jakael02

            Yes, I agree. It does seem a matter of technicalities. You sound very intelligent, which is good to dialogue with. I learn a lot this away.
            There is a lot for me to chew on here at StrangeNotions. The concept of proof is one I need to explore further. Is proof limited to only science? Or can logic conclude proof? Can philosophy conclude proof? I honestly don't know.
            I agree that I know 0 gnostic atheist. I have heard/read about "gnostic theist"; people with apparitions, locutions, NDE's, miracles, etc. And I agree that most believers are more agnostic theist than gnostic. That's why i categorized myself there when I first saw that diagram.
            I read a lot of comments with "agnostic atheists" here who are frequently offended by the writer's definitions, approaches, etc. I hope that gets corrected soon so we can all learn from one another! :)

          • Sqrat

            " The concept of proof is one I need to explore further. Is proof limited to only science?"

            One of the great philosophers of the twentieth century, Karl Popper, argued that proof is NOT possible in science -- or rather, that, in science, you can prove that a hypothesis is false, but you can never prove that it is true. This is the famous principle of "falsifiability."

            For Popper, if there is no way to prove that your hypothesis is false, through experiment or observation, then it's not a valid scientific hypothesis. If repeated experiments and observations fail to prove your hypothesis false, that may be good reason for believing that it's true, but it's not absolute and conclusive proof.

          • jakael02

            That's a serious mind twister there. I'll have to chew on that. That makes sense though. So from Popper perspective, very little can be proven, ony hypothesis that are not true.

          • Sqrat

            Popper was actually addressing a much broader philosophical problem that had been raised by David Hume in the 18th century, the "problem of induction." The sun has always risen every day in the past. Does that prove that it will rise tomorrow? Nope, said Hume.

            Popper believed that he had solved this problem by saying that the hypothesis to be tested here is that "the sun rises ever day." The hypothesis could be falsified if, on a particular day, the sun did not come up. Repeated "attempts" to falsify this hypothesis in the past had always failed, because on all previous days the sun has come up. This should give us great confidence that the hypothesis -- "the sun rises every day" -- is true, and thus great confidence that the sun will rise tomorrow. However, it does not prove it.

          • jakael02

            That's a good example. I see his point. It can't be proven, b/c the sun doesn't even "come up" but rather the earth "spins" around the sun. So the hypothesis was not suited to support a proof claim that the sun rises every day. Thanks for sharing!

          • Sqrat

            Perhaps the example was misleading. The problem of induction is similar to the statement you often get from financial services who want to sell you something (advice or some other product): "Past performance is no guarantee of future results." The fact that the earth has spun on its axis every day for the past four and a half million years does not prove that it will continue to spin on its axis tomorrow.

          • jakael02

            That makes sense. I see what you are saying. Thanks for clarifying.

          • Adam O’Shea

            There are three variables, not two.
            - lack or no lack of gods
            - claim or no claim of knowledge
            - belief or nonbelief

            And it leads to 6 valid positions of the 8 created broadly broken down as such:
            (w for weak, s for strong)

            Atheist
            s: A belief in lack that makes claim and a nonbelief to the contrary.
            w: A belief in lack that makes no claim and a nonbelief to the contrary.

            Theist
            s: A belief in no lack that makes claim and a nonbelief to the contrary.
            w: A belief in no lack that makes no claim and a nonbelief to the contrary.

            Agnostic
            s: A nonbelief in a lack and in no lack that makes claim.
            w: A nonbelief in a lack and in no lack that makes no claim.

    • http://briangreenadams.wordpress.com/ Brian Green Adams

      we need a Venn diagram

    • picklefactory

      Welcome to Strange Notions, where atheists come to be patronized by Catholics.

      Took a break for a couple weeks, but coming back to this and to the Ted Seeber Ur-Thread, maybe the next big question to answer is Why Bother?

      • http://www.brandonvogt.com/ Brandon Vogt

        picklefactory, thanks for the comment. As far as I'm aware, nobody demanded, requested, or bribed you to come back. If you find the conversation here so deplorable, I'd invite you to seek better discussion elsewhere.

  • David Nickol

    There is a rather serious problem for a religious believer to overcome when he or she tries to define atheism. For the religious believer, God is the very center of his or her belief system. God's existence is the religious believer's most fundamental fact. So he or she tries to define everything else in the light of that.

    Annoying and offensive though it may be, this is where the Church of the Flying Spaghetti Monster becomes rather useful. Nobody feels the need to classify people who do not believe in the Flying Spaghetti Monster. As far as I know, believers in polytheistic religions don't feel the need to have a word that lumps together people who believe in only one god and people who don't believe in any gods.

    If we didn't live in a culture in which monotheism was dominant, it is doubtful that we would have the word atheist. Of course, people do self-identify as atheists, but in a certain sense they are letting the believers do the defining.

    When I was a kid, my mother was Catholic, my father was not, and I and my brother and sisters were raised Catholic. My father used to be irritated by the way Catholics divided the world into two groups, Catholics and non-Catholics, as if those were the only two classifications that mattered. Non-Catholic is a meaningful designation only among Catholics who predominate or think they do. Similarly, if there were few or no people who believed in "God," there would be no atheists. It wouldn't be a meaningful classification.

    In a certain sense, the word atheist is a word religious believers use to designate other people as "not like us" or "not one of the in-group." It might be wise for nonreligous people to refuse to be classified as atheist or agnostic. They are, when they accept the classification of atheist or agnostic, allowing the religious people to set the terms of the debate or perhaps the Zeitgeist. A person who calls himself or herself an atheist or an agnostic is acknowledging the legitimacy of defining himself or herself in terms of what religious people believe. It is kind of like, if one is a Democrat, feeling the need to call oneself a "non-Republican," as if it were legitimate to divide everyone into Republicans and "non-Republicans," and to tacitly admit that what was important about your political philosophy was not what it was, but what it wasn't.

    • David Nickol

      Further thoughts: I think those who call themselves atheists don't limit the meaning to not believing in the God of Jews, Christians, and Muslims. They don't believe in the supernatural. They are materialists. So it is Christians, Jews, and Muslims who make the meaning of atheist "a person who does not believe in the God of Jews, Christians, and Muslims." Atheists also don't believe in the Hindu deities or Wiccan deities, but the chart given to us by the OP is based on the question, "Does God Exist?" Christians defining atheism are revealing their "Christian cultural bias."

      • jakael02

        I answered my own comment above. I now understand atheism is anti-believe in just monotheistic religions. And you are anti-any God. Did I state that correctly? Thanks.

        • David Nickol

          And you are anti-any God. Did I state that correctly?

          I am not identifying myself as an atheist. I am just trying to figure out the meaning of the word or the implications of the way people use the word.

          Intellectually, I don't find there are convincing arguments for the existence of God. Emotionally (or at least some -ly that is not intellectually) my sense is that there is a God. Whether that is some kind of faith, or whether it is just because I was raised a Catholic, or whether it is for some other reason, I don't know.

          It seems to me that if the norm were no religious belief, we would not have much use for the word atheist. And most people who believe in God don't describe themselves at theists. They call themselves Catholics, or Jews, or Baptists, or whatever. It is, as I said, like Catholics calling people who are not Catholic "non-Catholics." It is a very important distinction to Catholics, but if there were no such thing as Catholicism, describing someone as a non-Catholic would be as meaningless as describing someone today as a non-Sadducee. Atheist doesn't so much tell you what someone is as what he or she is not. Yes, people do self-identify as atheists, but what I am saying is that they are mainly accepting a label for them that was invented by someone else.

          • http://www.gettingholdofgod.com/ Glenn Dickinson

            Interesting line of thought, David. Are you trying to define or conceive of a position for which the existence or non-existence of God is not the defining feature?

          • http://www.gettingholdofgod.com/ Glenn Dickinson

            I should have said, "for which A BELIEF IN the existence or non-existence . . ."
            So the question is: Are you trying to define or conceive of a position for which a belief in the existence or non-existence of God is not the defining feature?

          • David Nickol

            Are you trying to define or conceive of a position for which a belief in the existence or non-existence of God is not the defining feature?

            I guess what I am trying to say is that atheist isn't a thing in itself any more than non-Catholic or Gentile. For example, it doesn't make sense to call the ancient Israelites non-Catholics, even though they obviously weren't Catholic. There are all concepts that groups who think of their identities as of great importance use to describe people who don't belong to the group. Calling someone an atheist doesn't really tell you much about the person, just as calling someone a non-Catholic doesn't say much of significance about a person except for Catholics who believe it is all-important to be Catholic, and calling someone a Gentile doesn't say much of significance about a person unless you are a Jew who believes it is all-important to be Jewish.

          • http://www.gettingholdofgod.com/ Glenn Dickinson

            I think I see the point, although I'm not sure the comparisons are entirely apt. Calling the ancient Israelites non-Cathiolics would be anachronistic and so wouldn't make sense for that reason. Maybe a better comparison would be to say that a tiger is a non-Cathoilic; that makes no sense, because tigers are not capable of forming religious beliefs. But a person CAN form religious beliefs, so identifying the person's lack of religious beliefs does say something meaningful about him.

            I totally get that you aren't satisfied with the labels, and frankly neither am I, but perhaps for a different reason: because then we end up nattering about labels instead of talking about the more important questions, like, Is there anybody up there, and if so, what is he up to?

            Peace

          • Irenist

            Mr. Nickol,
            If God, as the ground of being, is as integral to the makeup of the world as, e.g., matter or other persons' minds--as classical theism asserts He is--then disbelief in God is a distinctive position in much the way that Berkeleyan Idealism or solipsism are distinctive positions. We don't have a special word for non-solipsists (AFAIK), because belief in other minds is the human default. Outside movements like Pyrrhonism and Carvaka, belief in Being as God was pretty much the human default throughout the Eurasian ecumene for millennia. So having a word for atheism has seemed a good idea. Given that (IMHO), Thomism is philosophically correct, the word remains useful to me in much the way "solipsist" is useful.

          • jakael02

            Good point. It makes sense. Maybe future articles here should be targetted towards to what some segments of "atheist" brand themselves as rather than lumping it all into one. It would seem that atheist would appreciate that and get more out of the dialogue.

    • jakael02

      Yes I agree there are many ways to define "atheism". I assume the author and Christians generally agree when the term is used that they assume the most commonly used definition is the one understood by the recipient. I don't see "atheism" as "not like me" but rather one who doesn't believe in any deity, especially the God of Abraham, Isaac, and Jacob. Just curious, how do you define yourself? How would you prefer Christians to identify you? Thanks.

      • Jeremy

        “We are all atheists about most of the gods that humanity has ever believed in. Some of us just go one god further.”

        ― Richard Dawkins

    • DannyGetchell

      Well said, David. In much the same way, Muslims divide the world into Muslims and everyone else, with only trivial shades of difference in the latter category.

      As a non-practicing deist, I have most of my life been in the position of "I agree with part of what you believe about god, but not all of it" with respect to just about everyone I meet. So I've never had much trouble in recognizing what we might term (borrowing from Darwin) the "transitional forms".

    • Jeremy

      If the Flying Spaghetti monster is offensive, then so is "God" or "Allah", or "Zeus", or "Odin" or any other various "Gods" that man created.

  • Michael

    I'm an atheist. I don't know that there's no God, I simply lack belief in one.

    As far as I've ever known, agnostics believe that knowing if there is a God or not is unknowable. I'm not wise enough to know something like that, so I take the most "blank slate" approach that I know -- atheism.

    If you really want to mull something over, many people call themselves Christians but do things like work on Sundays, use the lords name in vain, get divorces, etc. I think an outreach campaign to these individuals would be more worth your time then trying to decide if self-identified atheists are agnostics or whatever. How/why would that ever matter to you? You have a life of love to lead.

  • Paul Boillot
  • Geena Safire

    This is just agnosticism under a different name.

    No, it is not. If we thought it was the same thing, then we would be using that name, wouldn't we?

    Further, I find it completely and utterly insulting that you would presume to tell another group of people what they ought to call themselves, and to deny their chosen name because you feel you have some God-given right to insist they use definition 2 from the dictionary, an increasingly anachronistic one, instead of definition 1 which they claim.

    From Wikipedia: "Atheism is, in a broad sense, the rejection of belief in the existence of deities. In a narrower sense, atheism is specifically the position that there are no deities."

    This tactic is particularly counter-productive in a forum designed to foster dialogue between Catholics and atheists, I'm surprised Brandon let this puerile article through.

    It is also incorrect and presumptuous to say we cannot validly use our chosen name unless we accept that the baggage you insist it carries." Nonsense!

    There exist some strong atheists who declare that certain god claims are
    invalid or impossible. If you want to debate with some of them, I can
    put you in touch. But they are not at all the majority. And no one on this forum, from what I've read.

    Even in the hugely-acrimonious abortion debate, in polite company, the
    parties refer to each other as "pro-life" and "pro-choice."

    Please stop playing games, Trent, and call us by the name we choose and accept the valid definition we have chosen.

    ----

    Here is a more valid diagram of atheism and agnosticism, from Freethinker in the UK.

  • Octavo

    An article with a catholic telling some atheists that they should call themselves agnostics, is analogous to an article explaining to Catholics that they don't really count as monotheists thanks to their triune god and choirs of angels.

    ~Jesse Webster

  • Geena Safire

    An illustration might help explain the burden of proof both sides share. In a murder trial the prosecution must show beyond a reasonable doubt that the defendant committed the murder. But if the prosecution isn’t able to make its case, then the defendant is found “not guilty.” Notice the defendant isn’t found “innocent.” For all we know, he could have committed the crime, but we just can’t prove it. Certain kinds of evidence, like an air-tight alibi, can show the defendant is innocent. But it is the responsibility of the defense to present that evidence.

    Categorically wrong.

    In the US legal system, the defense is under no obligation to present any information of any kind. For example, Bugsy might have an airtight alibi, but he might not want his wife to find out he was with his mistress in a public place out of town. He is under no obligation to present that alibi, or to raise any kind of defense at all. Not unless he and his counsel think it would be to his advantage.

    If there is factual proof of innocence and the defendant and hir counsel believes it serves the defendant (and it usually does, except for cases like Bugsy above), defense counsel would not present the information proving innocence as part of a defense in a trial - that would show gross incompetence on the part of the attorney. What the defense would do with such incontrovertible proof of innocence would be, before the trial even started, to move for a finding of factual innocence.

    If the prosecution has not proven its case, or if the defense has shredded the prosecution's case on cross-examination, and the defense believes the jury is not convinced, the defense can merely rest its case. The onus is completely on the prosecution to make its case. There is absolutely no burden of proof on the defense. It has a full opportunity to present a case, but has no legal burden of any kind at all whatsoever. None. Zilch. Ninguna carga de la prueba. Keine Beweislast . Aucune charge de la preuve.

    ------

    Further, in any case, Trent, your court case description isn't how this
    particular argument works with regard to atheism anyway. (By the definition we
    use for ourselves and by which we represent ourselves to others, of course, not the straw man you'd prefer we could be stuffed us into.) Here's how it goes.

    A particular purported deity is "on trial", "accused" of existing. The theist or the church makes the best case possible for a "guilty" verdict.

    The atheist is in the jury box, not the defendant's chair, which is reserved for the deity in question. If the atheist is not convinced beyond a reasonable doubt of the deity's existence, states that s/he has found said deity "not guilty" of existing.

    A few atheists may, if they so desire, act in the role of defense counsel, making a case for the deity being "not guilty" of existing. These would the ones usually called "strong atheists" -- those who affirmatively assert that certain god claims can be refuted.

    But the default case is that the atheists are in the jury box.

    -----

    ProTip 1: When I write an article related to physics, I check my book and online sources, and then, once I've tightened it up, I vet it with a friend in the field. Similarly when I write about legal issues, Catholicism, or extreme sports, I check things out.

    ProTip 2: If I'm going to try to turn around a theistic apologetic argument, first I try to understand how the argument is constructed.Then I look to see if others have already wrestled with it and consider if I think I have something new to bring to the party. If so, then I try to construct a solid counter-argument. Starting at step 3 doesn't usually turn out so well.

    ProTip 3: The phrase you were looking for is "A Distinction without a Difference," not the other way around. When I intend to appear smart by using hip phrases unfamiliar to me, I usually look them up first.

    ProTip 4: I already wrote in another comment about the basic decency of calling someone by the name they have chosen and using the definition that they use for it.

    That book you've got in the pipeline, "Answering Atheism: How to Make the Case for God with Logic and Charity." You might want to have a few atheists proof it for you, if this article is any indication.

    I'm just sayin'.

    • http://www.gettingholdofgod.com/ Glenn Dickinson

      "In the US legal system, the defense is under no obligation to present any information of any kind."

      Actually, the defendant always bears the burden of proving an affirmative defense, although I am a civil attorney, so I don't know for certain if establishing an alibi is an affirmative defense. But let's not split hairs. The real issue is whether we talk with the purpose of appearing smarter than one another, or with the point of learning something useful. There are other reasons to talk, of course, but as between these two, I'd choose the latter.

      The trial analogy has a profound validity to the question of faith. I a trial, we are never presented with evidence that establishes to an irrefutable certainty whether the defendant is guilty. Even if 12 witnesses to the crime sit in the jury box, it's possible they might have been the victims of a con game created to frame an innocent person. It's the same way with God. You can witness miracles and still not believe (this happens all the time, actually). In the end though, the jury must make a choice. If they don't, it's called a hung jury, and we start the trial again with a new jury. In life, however, you don't have the option of being on a jung jury.

      Peace

      • Geena Safire

        the defendant always bears the burden of proving an affirmative defense,

        If the defendant chooses to mount an affirmative defense, it should be as good a defense as possible. However, the defendant is under no requirement to mount an affirmative defense.

        In addition, even with an affirmative defense, there is still no "burden of proof". All the defense has to do is to create "reasonable doubt" in the minds of the jury.

        The burden of proof, in our legal system, is entirely on the prosecution to prove the guilt of the defendant beyond a reasonable doubt. The defendant is in no way required to prove nor attempt to prove hir innocence.

        If the defense believes that the prosecution has presented insufficient evidence to convince the jury, or that defense counsel has shot down (or even created reasonable doubt about), on cross examination, the purported 'evidence' the prosecution thought it had, then the defense does not need to mount any defense case at all. After the prosecution rests, the defense can simply rest.

  • Casey Braden

    I am curious as to what the author's goal is with this article. I'm sure that we can all agree that words have different meanings, sometimes subtle. I am well aware that the definitions of atheism and agnosticism he proposes are one of the ways the words are commonly used. However, these are not the ways that the words are typically used among atheists, especially atheists who are active in the "atheist community." Since our ultimate goal when choosing words should be shared understanding, would it not be more important to understand what one means when he or she says "atheist," as opposed to trying to convince the person that the chosen word is wrong?

    Additionally, I would point out that agnosticism and atheism deal with two different things: knowledge and belief. One can believe something but not claim to know. Agnosticism is a position regarding knowledge, and atheism/theism are positions regarding belief. It is possible for me to not have knowledge of a god but still believe in God. In fact, most believers would admit that they don't have demonstrable knowledge, which is why faith is required. For most people who self-identify as atheists, they have chosen this word because they do not believe, and want to make sure that point is conveyed. The claim of agnosticism often causes people to assume that the agnostic thinks the possibility of God existing is as plausible as him not existing.

    • http://www.gettingholdofgod.com/ Glenn Dickinson

      "Additionally, I would point out that agnosticism and atheism deal with two different things: knowledge and belief. One can believe something but not claim to know. Agnosticism is a position regarding knowledge, and atheism/theism are positions regarding belief."

      I agree that this distinction is important. But can anyone ever "know" whether God exists or does not exist, in the same way we can know whether it's raining outside? I personally don't think so, though others might not agree. It seems to me that we live in a house without windows, so we can't know whether it's raining or not. But we still have to step outside, and then we'll definitely know.

      Peace

      • Casey Braden

        That's a very interesting analogy. So technically, you're an agnostic (when it comes to "knowledge"). Yet, you believe. And I think this is the case with many believers, if they're speaking honestly. This is one of the reasons that this that many self-identifying atheists use the word "atheist," as opposed to agnostic.

        • http://www.gettingholdofgod.com/ Glenn Dickinson

          Yes, I would be an "agnostic believer," according to a formulation that I've seen on this site. Owning that label gives me an appreciation for why some nonbelievers get so prickly about the labels put on them. Because I am not agnostic at all about my faith in Jesus Christ or in the church he founded.(say Amen, somebody). But I used to be an atheist, so I know the kind of sense that atheism makes.

          Peace

    • Sqrat

      "I am curious as to what the author's goal is with this article."

      It's quite clear what his goal is -- it's to assert that atheists have some kind of burden of proof for "demonstrating that atheism is true."

      If he wants to demonstrate that atheism is true, an atheist would have to provide additional evidence that there is no God just as a defense attorney would have to provide further evidence to show his client is innocent as opposed to being just “not guilty.” He can’t simply say the
      arguments for the existence of God are failures and then rest his case.

      Wrong, Mr. Horn, he certainly can. If he does, the ball goes back in your court. If you want to make your case to that atheist, you now need to demonstrate to him:

      1. That the argument for the existence for God are not failures, or,

      2. Why (if you grant that they are indeed failures precisely as the atheist claims), it's still somehow unreasonable for the atheist to believe that God does not exist.

      • http://www.gettingholdofgod.com/ Glenn Dickinson

        It seems like the burden of proof is the hot potato in this discussion: each side wants the other side to have it. I truly don't that this is a useful way to think about the issue, because it involves an abrogation of a responsibility that, to some degree, each side has. So I don't really quarrel with the point that believers should present their evidence. I have a sharper conflict with atheists over the question of what evidence can be considered in the question of God's existence. I have blogged separately about this at http://gettingholdofgod.wordpress.com/2011/12/

        As regards the burden of proof, I believe that atheists and theists both make affirmative statements of fact on the question, and so should be called to account for the reasons supporting those statements.

        Peace

        • Octavo

          Atheism isn't itself an affirmation of facts, but atheists often affirm facts. Example: life evolved into many forms through a process unguided by intelligence. Or: The Earth and the Moon were naturally formed by the debris ejected from stars.

          I think you're right that the hot potato is thrown back and forth irresponsibly, though. We non-theists need to accept the burden of proof for the things we affirm.

          ~Jesse Webster

          • http://www.gettingholdofgod.com/ Glenn Dickinson

            Fairly said. No doubt some would want to wheedle affirmations out of you in order to point out problems with them. But I just want to move the conversation on to a more interesting topics than questions like who has the burden of proving what to whom, or whether you can not know something without knowing whether you don't know.

          • Octavo

            I agree completely. I'd rather discuss more interesting and substantive issues than whether I'm trying to prove a negative or whether I just don't hold a belief.

        • Sqrat

          As regards the burden of proof, I believe that atheists and theists both make affirmative statements of fact on the question, and so should be called to account for the reasons supporting those statements.

          But that's the appeal of defining atheism as lack of belief: "I ain't sayin' that God don't exist. I ain't even sayin' that I believe that God don't exist. I'm just sayin' that I don't believe that he exists." The only affirmative statement being made there is one for which you have no possible way calling the speaker to account even if you wanted to, so the "burden of proof" is all yours, right?

          Actually, there is probably another affirmative statement being made there, if only implicitly, and that is that "'Atheism' means a lack of belief in the existence of God." I would argue that this is an affirmative statement for which it is indeed possible to call the speaker to account. However, if you try, the speaker may attempt to take refuge in Humpty-Dumptyism: "'When I use a word,' Humpty Dumpty said, in rather a scornful tone, 'it means just what I choose it to mean — neither more nor less.'"

  • Jay

    For all practical purposes, why should it matter to the Christian community how individuals who don't believe in God or doubt the belief in God define themselves? It's an interesting topic of conversation, but I don't see it as being one that should be really that pertinent to Christians.

    You reach out to people who don't believe or question the belief in God, as you reach out to all people.

  • Atman

    I acknowledge that atheism has 2 distinctive definitions:

    1) a-theism (without theism/ non-theism): an umbrella term covering various
    attitudes and beliefs (like agnosticism, ignosticism, apatheism, and Atheism)
    regarding the existence of god.

    2) Atheism: the belief that god doesn't exist. (traditional definition)

    When a self-proclaimed "atheist" describes his position as "lack
    of belief in god", he's using the umbrella term a-theism, thereby not
    being specific as to which a-theistic/non-theistic position he holds to. So, he
    should be offered a list of a-theistic options to choose his position:

    1. Agnosticism: position that holds god's existence is ultimately unknowable or
    admits personal ignorance but makes no knowledge claim regarding the existence
    of god. (some agnostics see some truth in both Theistic and Atheistic positions
    but admit they are not sure either way.)

    2. Ignosticism (aka theological noncognitivism): position that holds that religious language, and specifically words like God, are not cognitively meaningful.

    3. Apatheism: acting with apathy, disregard, or lack of interest towards
    belief, or lack of belief in a deity. (obviously he cannot be an apatheist
    if he's arguing with you)

    4. Atheism: the belief that god doesn't exist.

    *Doesn't believe in god? Check.

    *But doesn't make any positive knowledge claim regarding the existence of god?
    Check.

    *Is his position an active lack of belief as opposed to apatheism? Check.
    (obviously, otherwise he wouldn't be arguing with you in the first place.)

    *Understands the definition of god in a meaningful way? Check.

    Conclusion: He’s an agnostic.

  • mriehm

    Russell's teapot and the Flying Spaghetti Monster demonstrate that the burden of proof is indeed on the person asserting the existence of god.

    • Atman

      If a person claims that Russell's teapot and FSM don't exist, they also have the burden of proof. End of story.

      • Geena Safire

        If a person says, "Russell's teapot does not exist," that person would have a burden of proof.

        But if a person says, "I don't believe there is a teapot in orbit around Jupiter," that person does not have a burden of proof.

         

        Another analogy:

        If you claim, "This lawn has an even number of blades of grass, I will say, "I don't believe that."

        I'm not saying that I believe the lawn has an odd number of blades. I just do not hold the belief that the number is even. I don't hold a belief about whether the number of blades is even or odd. I'm an a-evenist (and an a-oddist).

        Absent evidence to convince me, I am not convinced, so I do not accept your claim. There is no burden of proof on me to prove there an odd number -- because I didn't make that claim. I only did not accept your claim that the number is even.

        If you want to convince me that the lawn has an even number of blades of grass, you would need to provide me with information sufficient to convince me. You have that burden of proof, because you made that affirmative claim.

        End of story.

        • David Nickol

          You have that burden of proof, because you made that affirmative claim.
          End of story.

          If you say, "The person who makes the claim always has the burden of proof," are you not yourself making a claim for which you have the burden of proof? So what is your proof that the person who makes a claim has the burden of proof?

          • Geena Safire

            On the off-chance that you might actually be serious about having a complete lack of basic understanding of this fundamental and longstanding concept in reasoned discourse, philosophy, logic and the law, here are just a few examples of, as you put it, "proof that the person who makes a claim has the burden of proof."

            "burden of proof
            1. the obligation to prove one's assertion."

            -------------------------

            Wikipedia on Philosophical Burden of Proof.

            "Holder of the burden

            "When debating any issue, there is an implicit burden of proof on the person asserting a claim.

            If this responsibility or burden of proof is shifted to a critic, the fallacy of appealing to ignorance is committed. This burden does not necessarily require a mathematical or strictly logical proof, although many strong arguments do rise to this level (such as in logical syllogisms). Rather, the evidential standard required for a given claim is determined by convention or community standards, with regard to the context of the claim in question.

            In public discourse

            Burden of proof is also an important concept in the public arena of ideas. Assuming both sides have agreed to reasoned discourse. the burden of proof can serve as an effective tool to ensure that all relevant arguments from both sides of an issue are introduced. After common assumptions are established the mechanism of burden of proof takes over to keep those engaged in discourse focused on providing evidential warrant and cogent arguments for their positions."

            ---------------------------

            Logical Fallacy: [Attempting to Shift] the Burden of Proof

            "The burden of proof lies with someone who is making a claim, and is not upon anyone else to disprove. The inability, or disinclination, to disprove a claim does not render that claim valid, nor give it any credence whatsoever. However it is important to note that we can never be certain of anything, and so we must assign value to any claim based on the available evidence, and to dismiss something on the basis that it hasn't been proven beyond all doubt is also fallacious reasoning."

          • Irenist

            Ms. Safire:
            "God exists" is indeed a claim and an assertion.
            However, "it is logically possible for there to be something rather than nothing without appeal to the concept of God" is also a claim and an assertion. As is "a coherent atheist morality is possible."
            That God exists cannot be demonstrated a priori. However, given the existence of something rather than nothing, or the possibility of correct moral evaluation, God can be logically demonstrated a posteriori.
            Citing Occam's razor, or some variation on Russell's teapot, does nothing to save atheism from incoherence once certain basic facts (e.g., something, anything, exists) are granted. E.g., once one grants that change (of any kind) occurs, Aquinas' argument from act and potency leading to a Being Who is Pure Actuality must be met. I have yet to see atheism do so.

    • Irenist

      Reposted from above with adaptations (apologies to Brandon if that's a faux pas):

      "God" is a different concept than Russel's teapot or the FSM.

      A "god" like Zeus or Thor is a discrete entity, like Russell's teapot, the Flying Spaghetti monster, or Australia. Empirical inductive investigation can reveal if anyone has ever seen the FSM (no) or Australia (yes).

      "God," despite sharing a name with the common noun "god," is not like that. God is Being itself. Thus, the existence of God is logically demonstrated by argument a posteriori from the observation that there is something rather than nothing. Because classical theism demonstrates God logically (rather than through emprirical investigation), the proper rebuttal is a contrary logical argument (e.g., an argument that the problem of evil renders God conceptually self-contradictory), not an empirical investigation into whether there have been any miracles lately.

      Thus, there is no burden of evidentiary proof on either side, but rather a burden on both sides for logical demonstration. There are many fine atheist arguments--e.g., the argument from the problem of evil mentioned above. With all due respect, however, "I just believe in one less god than you do" is not a respectable atheist argument, because God is not "a god" in the relevant sense.
      * * *
      Consider the following silly dialogue as an admittedly unfair model, presented to clarify an issue here:
      A: "I don't believe in the number 5."
      T: "Do you believe in the number 4 and 1, and the rules of addition?"
      A: "Yes."
      T: "But then how can you not believe in 5?"
      A: "I can't proof a negative! I just have an absence of belief in 5. The burden is on you."
      T: "No it's not. I can demonstrate to you logically that your other beliefs (in 1, 4, and the rules of addition) are logically incoherent without belief in 5. You need to meet that argument."
      * * *
      Theists argue that the atheist is akin to the a-fiveist: the atheist often believes, inter alia, that there is something rather than nothing, that some things are right/wrong or good/bad, that intentionality is a real property of consciousness, etc. Theists argue that these beliefs are logically incoherent with atheism, just as belief in 4 and 1 implies belief in 5, or belief in Perth and Melbourne implies belief in the continent of Australia, or belief in table salt implies belief in sodium and chlorine, etc.

      TL;DR: Lack of belief in something can be just as much an obstacle to a logically coherent worldview as belief in something. The a-fiveist, a-Australianist, or a-sodiumist positions are untenable. To argue that "lack of belief" *never* needs to argue for itself is to beg the question. Lack of belief *coherent with the rest of one's worldview* (e.g., lack of belief in something like Russell's teapot, which is not implied by any other part of one's world picture) may indeed be accepted by default. Not so incoherent unbelief. Whether atheism is a coherent unbelief is precisely the issue between the theist and the atheist. It cannot be merely waved away.

      • xyzzy

        If "God" is not "a god", then why do you use the same word for both concepts?

        I am an atheist. I do not believe in "a god" any more than I believe Russell's Teapot is orbiting half way between Earth and Mars.

        (Is anybody really open to the existence of Russell's Teapot? You're not willing to go out on a limb and say that the specific Teapot that Russell described is not out there, even though you know he *made* *it* *up* as a thought experiment?)

        I'm confident that Yahweh, Allah, Krishna, Apollo, Thor, and Anansi are are all characters from stories made up by people. There is no credible evidence for any of them.

        But if you're going to say that "God" is not "a god", then my only answer is that I have no idea what you are talking about.

        If the word "God" means "things exist", then I have a problem with your choice of words, but I do believe that things exist.

        • Michael Murray

          I thought that we could detect Russell's Teapot using our sensus teapotatis ?

          http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Sensus_divinitatis

        • Irenist

          Great questions! Let me know if my answer is helpful.

          If "God" is not "a god", then why do you use the same word for both concepts?

          Etymological accident, really. In the religions and philosophies that emerged among speakers of the ancient Indo-European and Semitic languages, the specifically monotheistic conception of "God" as the infinitely transcendent ground of being, as described by Vedantic Hinduism and Neoplatonism (to give Indo-European examples) and in Judaism and Islam (to give Semitic examples), grew out of a "henotheistic" conception of God as the highest finite god of a pantheon of finite gods (a history reflected in Heraclitus' epigram that "God is both willing and unwilling to be called Zeus," and in the Decalogue's "Thou shalt not have any gods before me."), which in turn grew out of a more polytheistic worldview characterized by finite gods of specific natural or cultural spheres. Christianity, a religion born among Hellenistic Jews, of course adopted the vocabulary of Judaism and of the Greco-Roman world in referring to God as "God" and the first Anglo-Saxon converts to Christianity naturally did likewise. So we're sort of stuck with it unless we're going to coin some ghastly neologism.

          [Russell's teapot argument presented]

          I'm confident that Yahweh, Allah, Krishna, Apollo, Thor, and Anansi are are all characters from stories made up by people. There is no credible evidence for any of them.

          Well, AFAIK, Apollo, Thor, and Anansi are all just finite entities susceptible to arguments like Russell's teapot.

          The others are a bit different. Krishna, although finite, is IIRC presented as an avatar of Vishnu, who is in turn understood in Vedantic varities of Hinduism to be an aspect of Brahman, the transcendent ground of being. Whether the stories about Krishna are just stories (as you and I both think) is one question, but whether the reality Hindus call Brahman exists is another.

          Allah, literally "the God" as opposed to "a god" like the deities of pre-Islamic Arabian paganism, is also presented as transcendent ground of being.

          Again, whether God did (as Muslims think) or did not (as you and I think) speak to Muhammad is a separate question from whether the reality Muslims call Allah exists.

          "Yahweh" began as the name for a Semitic tribal deity akin to Zeus or Thor (and thus vulnerable to Russell's teapot arguments) but as Judaism evolved out of Semitic paganism YHWH, derived from the declaration "I am that I am," in Exodus, was taken up as the name for the ground of being. Again, whether the personality of the ground of being entered into a covenantal relationship with Israel (as I believe and you do not) is a separate question from the metaphysical question of whether the ground of being (called YHWH in Judaism) exists. IOW, "Yahweh" started out as a term for "a god" of storms and war and whatnot in Hebrew, but became the Hebrew name for "God" proper. "Zeus" shows a similar evolution among certain Greek philosophers, as I mentioned above.

          But if you're going to say that "God" is not "a god", then my only answer is that I have no idea what you are talking about.

          In brief, "God" is the ground being; "God" is Being Itself. Whereas "gods" are just finite "beings" like you or me, or UFOs and celestial teapots or whatever.

          If the word "God" means "things exist", then I have a problem with your choice of words, but I do believe that things exist.

          The word "God" means "the ground of existence of all existent things," although "existence exists" is an unfortunately common misinterpretation among those who apply modern post-Fregean logic to classical and medieval arguments where it doesn't belong.

          Properly formulated, I believe the dispute between us would hinge on whether finite things' existence is a brute fact not calling for explanation, or whether instead it needs to be grounded in some sort of transcendent Unmoved Mover to uphold each existent in being from moment to moment.

          E.g., for a Thomist like myself, I am persuaded that there must be a Pure Actuality Whose Essence is identical with His Existence. Whether the arguments for that (e.g., Aquinas' Five Ways and his ontological argument (which is very different from Anselm's) in "On Being and Essence) are persuasive is a matter of logical demonstration, rather than of evidentiary investigation.

          Thus, although you can argue (along with many brilliant atheists, e.g., J.L. Mackie, that Aquinas' logic is flawed and perhaps be persuasive, an evidentiary argument like Russell's teapot misses the point when applied to the God of classical theism.

          • xyzzy

            Hey, that's cool formatting. How do you make that quoted text in disqus? (Their online help is not very helpful.)

            I have to say that your explanation might be the best I've ever encountered for this concept. Usually, people trying to explain the "ground of being god" can't do it without confusing "ground of being" with lots of other personalized attributes. It still leaves me confused, though.

            That etymological accident hinders communication. A neologism (ghastly or not) would be better, because I would know when you are talking about "a god" and when you are talking about "Ground of Being". For that matter, you could just say "Ground of Being" when that is what you mean. It avoids the implicit implication that "Ground of Being" is the father of "Jesus" who either is or is not "a god" (I can't tell from your definition).

            I don't follow your point about Apollo/Thor/Anansi being different from Krishna/Allah/Yahweh. Krishna, Allah, and Yahweh all are described by many of their followers as persons who take great interest in human behaviour. What makes you think that any of them are connected with your Ground of Being?

            I don't know the phrase "modern post-Fregean logic". If you mean the modern scientific method, it is the only valid approach. Modern science contains things that we have kept from ancient times, but we have discarded a lot too. If you want to show me a medieval argument, you have to show me in modern terms, or you have not shown me anything.

            It would appear that we have at least TWO areas of disagreement.

            One is our observations about "Why is there something instead of nothing?" I don't know why, primarily because I have insufficient evidence to make a determination. If I accept your conjecture as true for the purpose of discussion, all I know from the available data is that the "Ground of Being" exists and it works. It doesn't tell me anything more than "things exist".

            The other is whether you need evidence or not. I need evidence. Even if you do not argue with the logic (which looks pretty feeble to me), Aquinas's Five Ways do not prove anything interesting. All they even *claim* is the existence of *five* entities with different characteristics. Aquinas arbitrarily chose to give those five entities the same name. Aquinas chose the name "God", but why can't I choose "The Grand Unified Field Theory"?

            About factual claims: If you think that your "Ground of Being" is connected in any way to Christianity, that is a factual claim. I don't need to argue about whether Jesus came back from the dead -- all I need is to ask you this question: Why you think that Jesus has anything to do with the "Ground of Being?"

          • Irenist

            How do you make that quoted text in disqus?

            Like the following, but delete the asterisks, which I've only inserted so Disqus won't execute the commands instead of showing the html to you: sample text

            As for ghastly neologisms, perhaps in our chat here I'll type "GoB" (as in ground of being) for clarity.

            I don't follow your point about Apollo/Thor/Anansi being different from Krishna/Allah/Yahweh. Krishna, Allah, and Yahweh all are described by many of their followers as persons who take great interest in human behaviour. What makes you think that any of them are connected with your Ground of Being?

            Great question. There's a lot of layers to the answer, but the kernel is that like "God" in English, some (not all, but some) believers in Krishna, Allah, and Yahweh have explicitly identified these deities with the GoB, Who is Infinite and Infinitely Good, Knowing, and Powerful, whereas believers in Apollo, Thor, and Anansi have usually defined these gods as just really powerful but finite beings, sort of like the X-Men or something: powerful, but not all-powerful, smart but not omniscient, etc.

            IOW, imagine that you and I are characters inside a sci-fi novel. Thor is like a fellow character who happens to have cool thunder-based powers. But GoB isn't a fellow character. GoB is the *author* of the book we live inside of (like in that Will Ferrell/Emma Thompson movie). That's not a difference of degree between GoB and Thor, it's a difference in kind. The Zeus character can shoot a lightning bolt at you if Zeus exists. But if GoB exists, and decides he doesn't want to work on our novel anymore, and He stops writing, our entire universe ceases instantly: GoB sustains us in being, upholds us from nonexistence. If the Apollo character in the sci-fi novel wants to know something, he asks the other gods about it. If GoB wants to know something about the world in our novel, he immediately does know it--He's the one writing the novel, so he knows everything about its world. Etc.

            Historical note: Krishna is identified with GoB by many Hindu thinkers, but Ramakrishna and his follower Vivekananda are especially prominent in modern times. Classical theist Jewish thinkers about YHWH (i.e., thinkers who argue that YHWH = GoB) include Philo of Alexandria and Maimonides. Classical theist thinkers about Allah in a Muslim context include Avicenna and Averroes. Classical theist thinkers about the Christian Trinity include basically every mainstream Christian thinker prior to the Reformation, and most Catholic, Orthodox, and Miaphysite thinkers since.

            I don't know the phrase "modern post-Fregean logic".

            Modern symbolic logic of the sort practiced by Gottlob Frege and Alfred Tarski. The existential quantifier symbol in predicate logic, which looks like a backwards capital "E," but which I can't type for you in a Disqus comment, stands for "there exists," as in "there exists an object such that it is red" or whatever. When a Thomist tries to say "God is Being Itself," the modern logician may interpret this as saying that God just is the existential quantifier, such that to say "God exists" is just tautological gibberish cashing out as "there exists there exists." But what the GoB concept means is not "there exists some object X," but rather "there is an essentially existent pure actuality we call God, and He grounds the existence of everything else."

            all I know from the available data is that the "Ground of Being" exists and it works....

            The other is whether you need evidence or not. I need evidence. Even if you do not argue with the logic (which looks pretty feeble to me), Aquinas's Five Ways do not prove anything interesting. All they even *claim* is the existence of *five* entities with different characteristics. Aquinas arbitrarily chose to give those five entities the same name. Aquinas chose the name "God", but why can't I choose "The Grand Unified Field Theory"?

            Great questions. You know the Buddhist story of the blind monks and the elephant--where one monk thinks he fells a snake, and another a tree trunk, etc.? Aquinas' arguments attempt to demonstrate not just that there must be a GoB, but that the GoB must have certain properties, such as omniscience, omnipotence, total goodness, immateriality, essential existence, necessary existence, self-causedness, etc. Having demonstrated a single being simultaneously having tusks, flappy ears, huge legs, prehensile trunk, etc., it's not arbitrary to call the entity possessed of all these qualities an elephant. Aquinas' arguments require *a lot* of background knowledge (about how he uses terminology, e.g.) before they appear non-feeble. Let me know if you want to discuss any of them. (I'd recommend starting with the First Way, the one about potentiality and actuality, myself). Until then, I'll just assert that Aquinas, having demonstrated that the GoB is all-good, etc., is justified in calling it God.

            About factual claims: If you think that your "Ground of Being" is connected in any way to Christianity, that is a factual claim.

            Agreed. Unlike the arguments for the existence of GoB, and for "GoB = God," which are strictly logical deductions fromt he bare fact that there is something rather than nothing, the arguments for the extended thesis that "GoB = God = Jesus Christ" do entail factual evidence.

            I don't need to argue about whether Jesus came back from the dead -- all I need is to ask you this question: Why you think that Jesus has anything to do with the "Ground of Being?"

            Fantastic question. The short answer is that I agree with Aquinas that the GoB must be all-good, all-knowing, and all-powerful. But I've also observed that the world has lots of suffering in it, with seems inconsistent with my understanding of the GoB. (This is the famous "Problem of Evil" in theology: Why does a good God let bad things happen?) . For me, Aquinas' arguments for the existence of GoB, and for GoB=God are persuasive. But that means, if my worldview is to be at all coherent, that I must have a soultion to the Problem of Evil. Christianity, by claiming that Christ is God Incarnate, who suffered in solidarity with all the badness in the world, and thereby holds out a cure for it, is the best solution I've found.

          • xyzzy

            But what the GoB concept means is not "there exists some object X," but rather "there is an essentially existent pure actuality we call God, and He grounds the existence of everything else."

            You lost me with "essentially existent pure actuality". What does that mean? The GoB exists, right? As in "there exists some thing that is the GoB"?

            Having demonstrated a single being simultaneously having tusks, flappy ears, huge legs, prehensile trunk, etc., it's not arbitrary to call the entity possessed of all these qualities an elephant.

            It is arbitrary if you don't already assume some knowledge about elephants. If you are trying to use the tusks, flappy ears, etc as a way to show that elephants exist, you have to find some way to show that they are connected. If you can't, then it really could be a saber tooth tiger, a rhinoceros, a snake, etc all sitting near each other.

            Since Aquinas is trying to demonstrate the existence of GoB from first principles, he doesn't have an elephant to recognize. He still has to show that the five different elements are all the same thing.

            Aquinas' arguments require *a lot* of background knowledge (about how he uses terminology, e.g.) before they appear non-feeble.

            Would it be fair to say you are saying "those words do not mean what you think they do"? It would be cool if somebody could translate the arguments into modern language using modern concepts of the world.

            famous "Problem of Evil"

            That's an interesting way to arrive at Jesus. Usually the problem of evil is cited as a thing that Christians have to overcome. It almost sounds like the problem of evil supports your belief, rather than challenges it.

            Have you ever considered the Problem of Good? The Problem of Good basically takes the Problem of Evil and swaps the words "good" and "evil" all the way through the argument. In Aquinas's Fourth Way, you can say

            Therefore there must also be something which is to all beings the cause of their being, goodness evilness, and every other perfection; and this we call God.

            and then follow on into the usual problem of evil discussion. You can see this worked out in the debate between Booblefrip and Gizimoth in http://www.csicop.org/si/show/god_of_eth/

            b.t.w. For an atheist contemplating the possibility of god, the Problem of Evil is irrelevant. I look at the world and whatever I see, I know that one of two things is true about it: God wants it to be that way, or he/she/it is unable to prevent it. So, if there is evil in the world, then either God wants there to be evil in the world, or he can't do anything about it. If that is inconsistent with Christianity, then it stands as an argument that Christianity isn't the right answer. It has no relevance to the question of whether there is a god.

          • Irenist

            "essentially existent pure actuality". What does that mean? The GoB exists, right? As in "there exists some thing that is the GoB"?

            Essence is formal cause: the form of an entity.

            Created beings (angels, humans, rocks, whatever) do not exist essentially: whether they exist is an additional thing you know about them, in addition to their essential definition. So, you are a rational animal who exists, and Harry Potter is a rational animal who doesn't exist.

            God isn't like that. As Being Itself, it is of His essence to exist. He exists necessarily.

            To say that God is pure actuality is to say that there is no un-actualized potential in Him: He is perfectly actual, always already in being. An acorn changes into an oak by actualizing its potential for growth. God is always already perfect, and so always already fully actual. This is another way of saying He is Being itself.

            He still has to show that the five different elements are all the same thing.

            Indeed. He does. Much of how he does is to show how Being Itself must be Pure Actuality, which must be Pure Goodness, etc. But he does show his work. It's not just axiomatic, I promise.

            Would it be fair to say you are saying "those words do not mean what you think they do"?

            Exactly right. "Motion," e.g., means "change" for Aquinas, not just local motion as it does in modern English. The same terminological problems bedevil almost every other important word in Scholastic terminology.

            It would be cool if somebody could translate the arguments into modern language using modern concepts of the world.

            Edward Feser's "Aquinas" is good. There are lots of analytic Thomists who attempt to defend Thomist theses using rigorous modern analytical methods. David S. Oderberg or John Haldane would be examples.

            It almost sounds like the problem of evil supports your belief, rather than challenges it.

            Right.

            Have you ever considered the Problem of Good? The Problem of Good basically takes the Problem of Evil and swaps the words "good" and "evil" all the way through the argument.

            The fiction you linked to was fun, in an Eliezer Yudkowsky sort of way. However, because Being = Goodness, God isn't just arbitrarily defined as good: the ground of being has to be good, not evil. Here's more on the equivalence of being and goodness:
            http://www.cts.org.au/2005/universitas12/ongoodness.html

            b.t.w. For an atheist contemplating the possibility of god, the Problem of Evil is irrelevant. I look at the world and whatever I see, I know that one of two things is true about it: God wants it to be that way, or he/she/it is unable to prevent it. So, if there is evil in the world, then either God wants there to be evil in the world, or he can't do anything about it. If that is inconsistent with Christianity, then it stands as an argument that Christianity isn't the right answer. It has no relevance to the question of whether there is a god.

            Your dilemma leaves out the option that God can act to remedy the evil in the world, and through Christ, HAS so acted.

            (I'm giving up Internet stuff for Lent, which starts Wednesday, so apologies if it takes me a month and a half or so to reply to anything else you post here. Great chatting with you!)

          • xyzzy

            Ok, so those words don't mean what I think; every copy I've ever seen of Aquinas is a bad translation.

            I'm not sure we have enough common language to have this discussion. I would never say "an acorn actualizes it's potential for growth". I would say that one thing that happens to acorns is that one happens to fall into an environment where there are suitable nutrients available and not much competition. If that happens, the acorn may sprout and grow into a tree. Of course this happens to less than 1% of acorns; other things happen to the rest. Maybe you would say "Most acorns actualize their potential to rot and be absorbed into the soil, and most of the rest actualize their potential to be eaten by squirrels"?

            I don't buy in to the claim that there even is such a thing as "perfection". Perfect is our description of something that suits our desires very closely. If I want squirrel food, the acorn is perfect as it is -- unless my squirrel prefers peanuts to acorns and then the acorn cannot be a perfect squirrel food. When you say "perfect" the question is "for what?"

            I also don't buy into the argument that anything is independently either good or evil. We assign the designations "good" and "evil" according to what we want them to be. We don't like to be killed, so we say that somebody who tries to kill us is evil. But when someone kills on our behalf to defend us, we call that good. Some people say homosexual activity is evil, but some say it is good. The list goes on.

            In order to say that something is good, you have to ask "according to who"? The US was a significant belligerent during the Cold War. It took many actions that the Soviets could reasonably interpret as acts of war, such as flying US planes into Soviet territory to observe the defensive response. If you were a Cold Warrior, you would have said this was "good" because it gave the US information it needed to counter the Soviet threat. If you were a peace activist, you might have said this was "evil" because it increased the possibility of war. If you were a Soviet General, you would say it was "evil" and it was also evil that you did not have sufficient capability to always destroy the invader. Which was it?

            If I assume the usual colloquial meaning of evil, I feel well justified in saying that Christ has not remedied evil in the world. Evil continues daily throughout the world. In the 20th century, the horror reached magnitudes that the 1st century Romans didn't even have numbers for.

            On a personal level, I am also experiencing evil. I am going to die of cancer. With my diagnosis, 28% live until 5 years after diagnosis. At some point, I will start to see the symptoms that indicate I am in the losing case, and then I can expect certain death in another 12-18 months. Nobody survives - the question is just how long it will take to die.

            In my personal judgement, I am going to declare cancer and the associated pain to be "evil". I observe that Christ does not appear to have remedied it, so no, I don't think the claim that God has acted to remedy evil is supported by the evidence.

            Further, if there is a "Ground of Being" "God", it is continuously holding the tumors in existence, and therefore is continuously committing evil against me.

            The closest I could possibly come to your position is to conjecture that there might be a God who does not care about my suffering. All the proofs and syllogisms in the world have to yield to the evidence.

            ( I guess I don't say "Happy Lent", because I don't recall that Lent is supposed to be a happy time. But I hope you got what you needed from it. )

          • Raymond Barrett

            The word "God" means, "the ground of existence of all existent things,"

            Says who?

  • Renzo Bruni

    I think there is another dimension in this issue, although I am not sure where it might fit into the algorithm pictured at the head of the article. That is specifically those persons who do not care if god exists & who walk away from the discussion. I call it «apatheism».

    It might be a subset of the weakest atheists or be a new parallel set next to weak atheists, or as I see it new branch entirely. In this mode of viewing the Venn diagram of stances, the question "Does god exist?" could elicit the four basic mindsets: "Yes," "No," "I Don't Know," & "I Don't Care."

    Yes and No stay and argue vehemently while I Don't Know watches and smiles and quips and quotes, sometimes saying something argumentative. I Don't Care says good bye and leaves.

    Good-bye.

  • http://theyhavenowine.wordpress.com/ Bob Drury

    The question, ‘Does God Exist?’ is a red herring.

    Typically the existence of something is a matter of experience, not a matter of argument or proof. In Aristotelian philosophy we know the natures of things through experience of them. Nothing in our experience has a nature to which the word, God, is applicable. The existence of a being of pure act, i.e. a being whose nature and existence are identical, is the conclusion of the argument that the existence of things within our experience can only be explained by such a being, which is transcendent to material reality. It is in this conclusion that both the concept of God and his existence concomitantly originate. Consequently, as a starting point one can neither claim that God exists or does not exist. At the start of the philosophical inquiry of ‘What is the explanation of the existence of things within our experience?’, the word, God, has no definition. Initially, too the words theist and atheist have no definition.

    No philosopher has an initial burden to prove that there is no God. However, he should address the question: ‘What is the explanation of the existence of things within our experience?’ These things are indifferent to existence, which is a fatal flaw to the self-explanation of their existence. He should also address the argument and conclusion of Aristotle.

    The question is incumbent upon every thinking person because there are two self-evident principles. A self-evident principle is one, if denied, denies the possibility of all human knowledge and communication. They are: (1) things exist; (2) everything has an explanation (including the existence of things which are indifferent to existence).

    • Peter Piper

      I deny (2). It is self-evident to you, but not to everyone.

      • http://theyhavenowine.wordpress.com/ Bob Drury

        That (2) is self-evident could be approached from the abstraction of it in logic. One exception to one rule of logic would destroy logic in its entirety. If one thing exists without an explanation of its existence,
        nothing makes sense. There would then be no knowledge and no communication. Of course, we don’t know every explanation, but we know everything has an explanation. Everything makes sense.

        • Peter Piper

          I don't know what you mean by the `abstraction of (2) in logic'. Could you give a more precise statement?

          I also don't see why one thing not having an explanation forces everything to be senseless. Maybe some things have explanations and others don't.

          • http://theyhavenowine.wordpress.com/ Bob Drury

            It is my contention that reality must be completely self-consistent. There can be no contradictions in reality. Human thought to be true must reflect this complete self-consistency in principle. The rules of human thought, namely logic, are in abstract or immaterial correspondence to reality. I find it is easier to see that in order to be valid at all, logic must be completely self-consistent, than to see this as true of reality. I should see it the other way round, because logic reflects reality, not vice versa.

            The second self-evident principle may be expressed as various corollaries: The principle of non-contradiction, the principle of sufficient reason, everything has an explanation, everything makes sense.

          • Peter Piper

            I agree with your first paragraph here, and I accept the principle of non-contradiction. I don't see that it is equivalent to the claim that everything has an explanation.

    • Raymond Barrett

      Things exist. Everything probably has an explanation. But sometimes the only answer one can give is, "I don't know."

      As to the question of why something, rather than nothing, "I don't know, and neither do you."

      • http://theyhavenowine.wordpress.com/ Bob Drury

        We're close to agreement. I am a little more emphatic. Everything has an explanation even if we don't know it. That all things are inherently intelligible, i.e. explicable, is the necessary basis of all human knowledge and communication, irrespective of our limited knowledge.

        The characteristics of everything within our experience have their explanation in what it is, e.g. a cat. However, 'what it is' does not explain its existence. (From here is where we may part company) There must be a being whose nature (what it is) does not have this fatal flaw of not explaining its own existence. The nature of that being and its existence would have to be only logically distinguishable. Such a being would explain its own existence and the existence of everything within our experience.

        • Raymond Barrett

          Presuppositional apologetics is garbage. You can't assume what you're trying to prove and expect anyone to take it seriously. There is no 'necessary being' - for all either of us knows, the universe has always been here, and will always be here, and was neither caused nor 'created' by anyone or anything.

          • http://theyhavenowine.wordpress.com/ Bob Drury

            You took the words
            right out of my mouth. Actually, I wrote them down on page 26 of the DES
            Journal, Vol. LVII, #1, http://deltaepsilonsigma.org/media/delta-epsilon-sigma/Volume-LVIII-Spring2013-Number1.pdf,
            (pdf file of the Spring 2013 issue). It is not possible to start with
            presupposing the existence of God or a definition of God, e.g. ‘a necessary
            being’. It is possible to start with the existence of a cat and the two self-
            evident principles that things exist and are fully explicable. To deny these
            two self-evident principles eliminates all of human knowledge and
            communication. I have also argued that the existence of the universe as such is
            not a starting point leading to the conclusion of the existence of God, http://catholicstand.com/kalam-cosmological-argument-fails/.

          • Raymond Barrett

            You're assuming too much.

            (1) A thing is explicable when there is an explanation for it, and not before. Before then, you believe it will be explicable.

            (2) All of your "must be's" and "have to be's" are assumptions. The only thing that "must be" is whatever is, but you have to establish that it is.

            (3) Claiming that something is "self evident" doesn't make your assumption a fact.

          • http://theyhavenowine.wordpress.com/ Bob Drury

            “A thing is explicable when there is an explanation for it, and
            not before. Before then, you believe it will be explicable.”

            Isn’t this subjectivism? Doesn’t the existence of objective truth require that the proximate source of explicability is things, themselves, because intelligibility is characteristic of the nature of everything?

          • Raymond Barrett

            Isn’t this subjectivism?

            I don't see how. I'm not saying that "you have your truth and I have mine." I agree that a thing can be true or false, regardless of one's personal opinion.

            "Explicable" means "able to be explained." If you (or someone else) can't explain it, then how can you say, "everything is explicable"?

            I think a kind of epistemic humility is important. We should be careful about making blanket statements, or factual claims.

  • Ben Keller

    The foundation of this article is a very common mistake in semantics.

    Many people think that atheism is the hard-line stance that God does not exist, whereas agnosticism represents uncertainty regarding God's existence.

    This isn't quite true.

    "Theism" and "Atheism" refer to a belief or lack of belief in the existence of gods.

    "Gnosticism" and "Agnosticism" refer to the knowledge or lack of knowledge of gods.

    Belief and knowledge are not the same thing.

    The terms "atheism" and "agnosticism" are therefore not mutually exclusive, let alone different points on the same spectrum of belief.

    Many of the most prominent atheists in the world, such as Richard Dawkins, acknowledge a certain amount of agnosticism, because they do not claim to have concrete knowledge of the nonexistence of gods.

    That's because it's logically impossible to know such a thing.

    The existence of gods cannot, by definition, be proven or disproven, because gods, like fairies and many other mythological beings, are claimed to be beyond the realm of direct human perception.

    Therefore we cannot logically claim to "know" that gods exist or do not exist, not matter how much we believe or disbelieve in their existence.

    There are a great many gnostic atheists in the world, those who claim to both believe that no gods exist and somehow "know" it to be true.

    There are also a great many agnostic theists in the world, those who believe in the existence of a god or gods but do not claim to have direct knowledge of such beings' existence.

    I myself am an agnostic atheist. I recognize that the existence of divine beings can neither be proven nor disproven, and this makes me agnostic.

    I do not claim to have direct knowledge of the nonexistence of gods. Neither do I claim to have direct knowledge of the nonexistence of Santa Claus.

    This doesn't change the fact that I do not, for a moment, believe that gods exist, any more than I believe that Santa Claus exists.

    And that's what makes me an atheist.

    Hope this helps clear things up.

  • Ben Keller

    "If he wants to demonstrate that atheism is true, an atheist would have to provide additional evidence that there is no God just as a defense attorney would have to provide further evidence to show his client is innocent as opposed to being just 'not guilty.'"

    Defense attorneys don't have to do that. Juries don't declare a defendant "innocent," they declare them "not guilty."

    This is because a person is *presumed* innocent until *proven* guilty.

    Athiests have no need to prove the nonexistence of God. Such a thing is logically impossible. I can't prove to you that Santa Claus doesn't exist. You cannot prove a negative.

    The burden of proof rests on the one making the claim. Theists claim there is a god or gods. Atheists are, by definition, those who do not believe that claim.

    Atheism is not an assertion to be proven, it is a lack of belief.

    • Irenist

      "Atheism is not an assertion to be proven, it is a lack of belief."
      Correct. However, consider the following silly dialogue as an admittedly unfair model, presented to clarify the issue here:
      A: "I don't believe in the number 5."
      T: "Do you believe in the number 4 and 1, and the rules of addition?"
      A: "Yes."
      T: "But then how can you not believe in 5?"
      A: "I can't proof a negative! I just have an absence of belief in 5. The burden is on you."
      T: "No it's not. I can demonstrate to you logically that your other beliefs (in 1, 4, and the rules of addition) are logically incoherent without belief in 5. You need to meet that argument."
      * * *
      Theists argue that the atheist is akin to the a-fiveist: the atheist often believes, inter alia, that there is something rather than nothing, that some things are right/wrong or good/bad, that intentionality is a real property of consciousness, etc. Theists argue that these beliefs are logically incoherent with atheism, just as belief in 4 and 1 implies belief in 5, or belief in Perth and Melbourne implies belief in the continent of Australia, or belief in table salt implies belief in sodium and chlorine, etc.
      TL;DR: Lack of belief in something can be just as much an obstacle to a logically coherent worldview as belief in something. The a-fiveist, a-Australianist, or a-sodiumist positions are untenable. To argue that "lack of belief" *never* needs to argue for itself is to beg the question. Lack of belief *coherent with the rest of one's worldview* may be accepted by default. Not so incoherent unbelief.

  • Raymond Barrett

    The "weak atheism" statement in the above illustration should say something more like, "I do not believe in the existence of gods & goddesses because there is insufficient evidence to warrant belief."

    However, to say that the burden of proof is on me to prove that there are no gods is strange. Must I also provide "proof" for my lack of belief in fairies, or unicorns, or bigfoot?

    • Irenist

      "God" is a different concept than "gods, goddesses, fairies, unicorns, bigfoot," etc.

      A "god" like Zeus or Thor is a discrete entity, like Russell's teapot, the Flying Spaghetti monster, or Australia. Empirical inductive investigation can reveal if anyone has ever seen unicorns (no) or Australia (yes).

      "God," despite sharing a name with the common noun "god," is not like that. God is Being itself. Thus, the existence of God is logically demonstrated by argument a posteriori from the observation that there is something rather than nothing. Because classical theism demonstrates God logically (rather than through emprirical investigation), the proper rebuttal is a contrary logical argument (e.g., an argument that the problem of evil renders God conceptually self-contradictory), not an empirical investigation into whether there have been any miracles lately.

      TL;DR: There is no burden of evidentiary proof on either side, but rather a burden on both sides for logical demonstration. There are many fine atheist arguments--e.g., the argument from the problem of evil mentioned above. With all due respect, however, "I just believe in one less god than you do" is not a respectable atheist argument, because God is not "a god" in the relevant sense.

      • Raymond Barrett

        Most of the theist/atheist debate, at least in the West, has come specifically from Christians, and to them, God is a specific entity, with a specific name, YHVH. They do not view God as a philosophical concept.

        I am not aware of a single theistic tradition that views "God" as Being itself, and not a particular individual being. Even in Hinduism, the more philosophical conception of Godhead is worshiped through a particular deity, as a pathway to know the presumably ineffable.

        If you're going to claim that a thing exists, and you want others to believe it exists, then, yes, you have to offer evidence.

      • Raymond Barrett

        Most people are not philosophers, and when they say "God" they specifically mean (and assume that other people mean) the God of the Bible, Yahweh.

        If God, however, is "Being itself," then we're having a different conversation. How can one "believe" or "not believe" in Being? What would that mean?

  • Michelle

    So many people cannot wrap their heads around the notion that a person simply does not believe in something, so they mistakenly define atheism as "the belief that gods don't exist". It sounds like semantics, but it can be an important distinction. Atheism isn't a belief system or even a claim about gods, it's a affirmation about the individual. Rearrange the words to say an atheist "does not believe gods exist" (which is the correct definition). This doesn't imply a belief system of any kind. It simply makes the statement that one does not believe gods exist. I wish more people would learn the difference between "atheists believe gods don't exist" and "an atheist does not believe gods exist". One is a belief. The other is a disbelief.

  • Chris Rodgers

    The Diagram displayed is completely flawed for example:

    Religion is a faith based system meaning Believers are Agnostic about evidence and knowing if the claim is true but choose to follow a faith based system instead.

    This diagram also misses the point of having Gnosticism. Gnostic is Knowing if the claim is true, meaning there's evidence involved.

    Agnostic is not knowing if the claim is true, meaning it's a choice between taking the claim on faith and not taking the claim on faith.

    I'm an Agnostic Atheist, meaning I don't know if the claim of a deity from any particular religion is true or not, but I wont take it on the basis of faith.

    Creationists are Gnostic Theists, meaning they know god exists and they have evidence which is yet to be presented.

    The world is Agnostic, there's simply no evidence on either side, but it's your choice to take the claims of religions on the basis of faith or not.

  • frankyburns

    Who made up the phoney diagram? I say "phoney" because it begs the question, That is, the conclusion is already embedded. It should simply read: Do you believe in a God? Do you lack any belief in a God?...

    Then there are variants that come after that. For example, are you "agnostic" about Santa Claus, or are you for all intents and purposes convinced that he is a fairy tale? So, compared to the die-hard Claus believers (some actually do exist), you are an a-Claus.

  • Doug Shaver

    If he wants to demonstrate that atheism is true, an atheist would have to provide additional evidence that there is no God just as a defense attorney would have to provide further evidence to show his client is innocent as opposed to being just “not guilty.” He can’t simply say the arguments for the existence of God are failures and then rest his case.

    I sometimes wonder if many theists find it easier to argue about the meaning of atheism than to defend their theism.

    If the arguments for God's existence are failures, then I'm justified in not believing that God exists. We can, if you wish, discuss whether my justification is as good as I think it is. But if instead you tell me that I should not be calling myself an atheist, then you're changing the subject.

  • http://epiphanyproject.wordpress.com/ Timothy Matias

    This author of this article (Trent Horn) doesn't understand atheism. Here Trent, watch this video, it'll clear things up for you ;)

    https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=-QklGBkXeXg

  • http://www.lutherwasnotbornagain.com/ Gary

    There may well be a Creator. There may well be millions of gods. There may be millions of supernatural beliefs that are really true. Almost every culture has its superstitions. So how do we determine which to believe and which to discount as very improbable and therefore beliefs that we should not lay awake at night worrying about? Do you worry that Allah is going to cast you into the Muslim hell? Of course not.

    Supernatural claims by definition cannot be proven false with physical evidence. We each must weigh what evidence we have available to us to determine the likelihood of a supernatural claim. You do not lie awake at night terrified of being cast into the Muslim hell by Allah because you do not believe that there is sufficient evidence to believe this supernatural claim.

    And I hold the same position regarding your Christian supernatural claims. Just as you are not angry at Allah, I am not angry at the Christian god. Just as you are not choosing to rebel against Allah, I am not choosing to rebel against Yahweh/the Trinitarian Christian god. You don’t worry about the Muslim hell because you don’t believe that Allah exists, as I do not believe that Yahweh exists. You would demand evidence from a Muslim to believe his supernatural ancient tale, as I am doing with you of your ancient supernatural tale.

    Most atheists and agnostics (including me) do not attempt to prove that a Creator does not exist. Our argument is that there is no evidence to prove that the Christian god is the Creator; that the Christian holy book is the very Word of the Creator; or that the Church represents the Creator here on earth. We believe in Science and Reason. Give us good evidence that the Christian god exists and we will believe. But give us evidence, don’t ask us to accept your supernatural tale by blind faith.

    You wouldn't accept the Muslim story by blind faith, so why would you expect us to believe your Christian story by blind faith?

  • Philosopher

    If there was no god, humanity would have to create one. Therefore god exists, but does not have to be real. Perhaps an analogy will clear that statement for us.
    When an egg hatches, a baby bird enters the world, in a fully formed nest. Yet, as an adult, it creates an almost identical nest. How did it know how to do this? It is not a learned response. It is encoded in DNA and is inherited through many generations. There is a plethora of empirical data to show that this, inherited response is common throughout many species.
    When we are small children and are threatened, we run to parents for protection. Again it is not a learned response and the same is true for most animal life extant.
    The dilemma that arises when we grow to adults is "Who do we run to for safety when we need help?"
    There is no obvious "higher power" so we must create one. That is my explanation of why god exists, even if he is not real. I am an athiest and believe that science can explain the god dillemma.

  • Rakaru

    This argument is one of the worst I've ever seen. First off, if you ask an atheist if god exists you must be very clear, generally speaking when someone asks "Does god exists?" they actually mean "Do you believe a god exists?", the answer to that is (generally) a quick and decisive "no", ergo they are an atheist (that would be a= "lacking" and theism="A belief in a god") but that does not speak to what that person knows.
    Second, if you are not asking for what a person knows to be true then the term agnostic doesn't even factor in, as Agnosticism goes to what one knows whereas theism/atheism go to what one believes.
    Third, atheism is not a belief, it is a lack of a belief.
    Fourth, to use the court case, most atheists make the case of "I don't know if a god exists, I don't believe he does" ("soft atheism"), we would be the attorney saying that the defendent is "not guilty" of existing, it is up to theists (the ones saying that they know a god exists) to prove that he is "guilty" of existing.