Is Atheism a World View?

A lot of our commenters and even our team members (myself included) have been continually writing and allowing category mistakes. I wanted to write a quick post that I can reference later for future "infractions."

Atheism is neither a religion nor a world view; it is a position on theistic belief.

In the past, I spoke of an atheistic world view because the language was so ingrained in the presuppositionalism I was confronting that it seemed distracting to correct in that context. It has now become such a ubiquitous mistake, though, that I think a short post is in order.

There are four theistic positions. While each of these positions are found within world views, none of them are world views per se.

Monotheism is the theistic position that there is one and only one god. Though there are many world views that hold this theistic belief, it is not, itself, a world view. Christians are monotheists (although weird, Trinitarian ones), as are Muslims, Jews, and many other adherents to various world views. Being a monotheist does not require a person to subscribe to any one, particular world view.

Polytheism is the theistic position that there is more than one god. Though there are many world views that hold this theistic belief, it is not, itself, a world view. Hindus and countless tribal religions are polytheists. Being a polytheist does not require a person to subscribe to any one, particular world view.

Pantheism is the theistic position that everything that exists is god. Though there are many world views that hold this theistic belief, it is not, itself, a world view. Kabalistic Jews and some modern new age groups are pantheists. Being a pantheist does not require a person to subscribe to any one, particular world view.

Panentheism is the theistic position that a god is immanent within everything that exists (as opposed to being everything that exists). Though there are many world views that hold this theistic belief, it is not, itself, a world view. Kabalistic Jews and some modern new age groups are pantheists. Ancient South American tribal religions and tribal religions of South East Asia were panentheistic. Being a panentheist does not require a person to subscribe to any one, particular world view.

Atheism is the theistic position that there is (probably) no theos (i.e. god). Though there are many world views that hold this theistic belief, it is not, itself, a world view. Zen Buddhists, Taoists, many naturalists, and many materialists are atheists. Being an atheist does not require a person to subscribe to any one, particular world view.

*A note about "agnosticism." There is no such thing as agnosticism in the discussion of theistic positions. A person either believes that there are gods or a god or they do not. So-called "agnostics" have simply misunderstood the claims of atheism. Very few atheists say that they can "prove" (i.e. in a universal sense) that a god or gods do not exist. The atheists who do say this are called "strong atheists" (and are, in my opinion, philosophically naive). Weak atheists (which is what consider myself and what I imagine most of the atheists one meets consider themselves) simply say that they do not have theistic beliefs and are, therefore, atheistic (i.e. a-without; theism belief in one or more gods).

From now on, I encourage all of our team members and our commenters to carefully watch for this mistake.

35 comments:

Francois Tremblay said...

You didn't define what a worldview is, and how we figure out what is a worldview. Personally, I define it as - a coherent system for understanding reailty and our place in it. I consider rational individualism to be my worldview, with logic, science and deconstruction being its main tools.

Jonathan Erdman said...

Ok, my comment was deleted, but here is my question for exbeliever...Isn't it presumptuous of you to change the philosophical vocabulary used in a couple of paragraphs on a blog???

The entire philosophical world categorizes worldviews based on how they answer the God question. What qualifies you to change how scholars have been categorizing worldviews for centuries now??? And what do you propose that we do, instead!!!

Ollie said...

Could you maybe make another post about strong and weak atheism? I actually consider myself a strong atheist, though by your definition I'd be a weak atheist. To me, it's more useful to make a slightly different classification amongst atheists.

Weak atheists, in my view, hold no belief in god because of various reasons which tend to boil down to there being no evidence for any god ever presented to them or inherent logical impossibilities in the claims. Strong atheists, on the other hand, believe no gods at all exist. This is a bit different that believing it impossible for gods to exist, or proving gods don't exist.

My reason for strong atheism is that any being that is part of our universe must effect it in some consistient way, or everything would just be random. If it is consistient, it must follow rules. If it follows rules, it can be studied. Maybe we lack the ability to do so, but it ought to be done in principle. And so what one would consider a god is merely a vastly powerful being. Granted, this is kind of just redefining god, but it is my reasoning.

On a separate (almost) note, I like your description of agnostics. It's right on in my opinion.

Jason said...

Jonathan said:

The entire philosophical world categorizes worldviews based on how they answer the God question.

As someone that is 2 weeks away from a degree in philosophy, I can assure you that this is not the case.

Kaffinator said...

Then what is a worldview? Dictionary definition: "The overall perspective from which one sees and interprets the world."

While it is true that one's theistic position is only one component that makes up an individual's worldview, it can hardly be considered an unimportant one.

Jason said...

I agree that the theos position assumed by a worldview is not unimportant. That is consistent with the claim that atheism is not a worldview.

DagoodS said...

You make a good point, ex-believer, and I find myself as guilty. There are so many points I want to make, that spending time on the fact that atheism is not a worldview, and most mean naturalism seems like more wasted words; I tend to gloss over it. And I have even been known use it as a term of worldview myself, since my opposing colleague is, as well.

I would say, though, that I consider myself a strong atheist. I affirmatively state, “There is no God.” If that makes me philosophically naïve, I can live with that.

I agree that there is no mathematical “proof” that eliminates the possibility of a God. But in life, rarely are we confronted with such proofs. We tend to live on a scale of probability, rather than a dichotomy of possible/impossible. Is it possible that aliens have landed on earth before? Sure. But most people hold that to a very low degree of probability. If aliens started appearing, that probability would increase dramatically!

The proofs, in the world I exist, are on a scale of presenting evidence, and prevailing parties. My mind does not think in mathematical certainties. The arguments against God are quite good. All-encompassing? No. Completely eliminating? No. But they reduce the probability down to almost nothing. The arguments for God are based upon speculative definitions of a realm that is presumed before being proven. These arguments, too, reduce the possibility of God down to almost nothing.

I hate to use the comparison, as it is offensive, but we do not talk in terms of “lack of belief in a Santa Clause” or an Easter Bunny, or leprechauns. Due to the extremely low probability of such creatures, we say, “There is no Santa Clause.” I see an equally low probability in a God existing.

For me, as it exists today, the proofs compel me to say no such creature as a god exists. Now, if some 60-foot humanoid appears off the coast of California, shooting laser beams from its eyes, those probabilities could increase to the point I am a theist! I can understand why other atheists would prefer to not go out on such a limb, (it tends to make one assume the burden of proof by making an assertive statement) and use the term lack of belief in a god. I have no problem with some being strong atheists, some weak, and some in-between. Due to the variances in humans, there are no cut-and-dried scales upon which we must fall on our designated spot.

John W. Loftus said...

I generally let people define for themselves how they use the terms in our discussion. If I disagree with how they use the terms I will argue over the definition of the terms involved only in so far as the argument depends on my particular definition. Sometimes he who defines the terms has an edge in winning the debate.

On this topic consider Richard Carrier's book, Sense and Goodness Without God. He argues on behalf of the worldview of "Metaphysical Naturalism." He writes: "This book surveys my philosophy of life, my 'worldview,' and explains why I beieve it is true." (p. 4) "I build and defend a complete worldview by covering every fundamental subject...." (p. 5). But Carrier's atheism is "only incidental" to his world-view because his worldview is his "complete philosophy of life: what exists, who we are, why we are, and how we should behave--everything." (p. 65)

For Christian believers, what they believe about God is supposedly a huge part of their worldview. I remember Dr. James Strauss telling us over and over: "Tell me about your God and I'll tell you what else you believe." Whether he's right or not isn't my point, but he thought he was right. The first problem is that this is simply and obviously not true with atheists at all.

Atheists probably disagree with themselves on how to live one's life, what to believe, and so forth, more so than any particular Christian religious sect does.

An atheist's non-belief in God may not be that important to their over-all worldview. That is, their unbelief doesn't make that much of a difference in how they live their lives. You can never know that much about what an atheist believes, or how he lives his life just because he is an atheist. The only thing you can know is that he or she disbelieves in God.

Some Christians assume their is one world-view for Christian believers, just like James Sire seems do do in his book, The Universe Next Door. This is plainly false. Christian authors Brain Walsh and J. Richard Middleton argue against this in The Transforming Vision.

A person's worldview includes whether he is politically liberal (the war in Iraq?), what he think of the advancement of science (Amish), family (single moms, divorce, gay marriages), ethics (capital punishment?), and so forth, and no one Christian shares exactly the same beliefs with regard to every theological and socio-political issue. That's a world-view. And while many Christians share the same beliefs and do the same actions, it's highly unlikely there will be complete uniformity in any group of three or more people.

What exactly is wrong with this definition? There's nothing inconsistent with it, is there?

CyberKitten said...

exbeliver said: Atheism is neither a religion nor a world view; it is a position on theistic belief.

That's exactly right. Atheism is a position on a particular question - the existence of God. It is not, in itself, a world view but (probably) part of a world view in the same way that theism is part of a world view.

My atheism is a core value that informs and influences my other positions on various topics that add up to my world view. Though central to that view it is not the whole ball of wax.

exbeliever said...

Francois,

You wrote: "You didn't define what a worldview is, and how we figure out what is a worldview. Personally, I define it as - a coherent system for understanding reailty and our place in it."

I think your definition is acceptable. The main idea that I wanted to get across in my post is that one's theistic position is part of one's system of beliefs, that it is not a system of belief per se

JE,

You wrote: "Isn't it presumptuous of you to change the philosophical vocabulary used in a couple of paragraphs on a blog???"

It would be presumptuous if I were actually attempting to do this. You are very wrong to state, "The entire philosophical world categorizes worldviews based on how they answer the God question." This is simply not the case. I don't know of any major philosophers who categorize world views by theistic positions. This is a wrong-headed belief that I think we can thank Greg Bahnsen and other Christian apologists for. Stein corrected him in their debate when he defined atheism.

Are you saying that your entire world view is summed up in the fact that you believe in one god? What about Muslims? Are your world views the same because you have the same theistic position?

So that you know, just because you have never heard of a widely held belief, doesn't mean that it isn't widely held. It may simply mean that you don't have a lot of philosophical experience.

You wrote: "And what do you propose that we do, instead!!!"

I propose that you compare world views to world views and theistic positions to theistic positions. Fair?

Ollie,

You wrote: "Could you maybe make another post about strong and weak atheism?"

Probably not. I'm pressed for time.

You wrote: "I actually consider myself a strong atheist, though by your definition I'd be a weak atheist."

That's the slippery thing about definitions. My definition is not authoritative.

You wrote: "Strong atheists, on the other hand, believe no gods at all exist. This is a bit different that believing it impossible for gods to exist, or proving gods don't exist."

You believe in the proposition, "No gods at all exist." This is a proposition that has truth value. The problem is that it seems to me impossible to verify this proposition. How would one know this is true? They would have to have infinite knowledge.

While I certainly agree that your proposition is most probably true, I'm not comfortable being so certain about it.

Really, though, I have no problem with "strong atheists" and I probably overstated my claim when I called them "philosophically naive."

You wrote: "I like your description of agnostics. It's right on in my opinion."

Thanks.

Nihlo,

You wrote: "As someone that is 2 weeks away from a degree in philosophy, I can assure you that this (i.e. "The entire philosophical world categorizes worldviews based on how they answer the God question.") is not the case."

And you are certainly correct!

kaffinator,

You wrote: "Then what is a worldview? Dictionary definition: 'The overall perspective from which one sees and interprets the world.'"

I can accept that particular perspective. A theistic position, however, does not an "overall perspective" make.

You wrote: "While it is true that one's theistic position is only one component that makes up an individual's worldview, it can hardly be considered an unimportant one."

The first part of your statement is the only point I sought to make in my post. I also agree with the second part of your statement and wonder how you think that anything that I said makes it sound as if one's theistic position is not an "important component" of one's world view.

The point is, however, that a theistic position is not a world view; it is part of one. So, everyone should stop comparing world views to theistic positions.

Dagoods,

I tend to "gloss over" this mistake as well. But, it seems that we are letting the Christians get a way with a little too much with this one. They assume too much when they use terms like "atheistic world view."

You wrote: "I affirmatively state, 'There is no God.' If that makes me philosophically naïve, I can live with that."

I guess I'm not that adamantly opposed to your statement. I feel that it is too easy to counter, though, because it just cannot be proven.

I can say confidently that "There is no Muslim/Christian/Jewish/Hindu gods," because there are logical contradictions inherent in those constructed concepts of gods. But I don't know every concept of god, so I'm not comfortable saying unequivocally, "There is no god." I think it highly improbable (which is exactly what you are saying), I just don't like the absoluteness of your statement.

Gotta go.

CalvinDude said...

I do use the term "atheist worldview" as a short-cut since "everyone" uses it that way. However, to be precise, I really think that your worldview determines your theism/atheism.

That is, if your worldview rules out the possibility of the supernatural or the immaterial, you're not going to accept the existence of a supernatural or immaterial being. This seems pretty obvious.

So, the worldviews of "naturalism" or "materialism" or "supernaturalism" (etc.) take precedence over the idea of "theism" or "atheism." This would also include "empiricism", which would say that the only things that exist are things that our senses can sense (which might be considered a part of materialism too, depending on who you're asking).

Anyway, I don't think this ambiguity is something that is used solely by theists. Atheists use it too, since it affords them the opportunity to not have to define which worldview they really hold to. In other words, they can be a materialist when that suits their purposes, or shift to naturalism (which would allow the existence of immaterial things, but not supernatural) when that suits their purposes. All of which allows the atheist wiggle room too--which perhaps is why you don't bother "correcting" it (that and the fact that it's really a minor quibble in the form it's usually used in).

By the way, I would also add that when you say you're an atheist, you're not just simply taking a stand against a particular belief. You have positive beliefs that must necessarily follow (e.g. One must explain how it is that anything exists at all if there is no Creator, etc.). Thus atheism isn't simply the denial of God but the assertion of some positive atheistic worldview too.

Bruce said...

Great point about agnosticism. We need to remember that the burden of proof is always on the theist and atheism is the default position. Thus, unless you make a positive claim that you believe in a god(s), then you are some degree of atheist by default. It always seemed to me that agnostics referred to themselves as such because they didn't want to ruffle any feathers, but really they are weak atheists.

Although I understand the weak/strong atheist distinction, I really don't consider it that important. Again, because the burden of proof is on the theist, atheists don't need to prove a thing. Besides, atheists will never be able to prove to a theist that God doesn't exist because, as I've heard time and time again, we mere humans can't measure God with our puny scientific method, thus, we will never be able to prove it in the first place.

I think the reason a lot of theists (and some atheists) see atheism as a religion or world view is due to the fact that since we make our decisions about life based on empirical evidence using our logical thinking caps, a significant amount of our decisions are going to be the same since the facts naturally tend to lead us all in the same direction. I'm not saying that we all vote the same in every election or hold the same views on every major political and cultural issue. But my guess would be that the majority of us feel the same way about most of those issues and thus it gives the appearance of a singular world view.

By the way, I would also add that when you say you're an atheist, you're not just simply taking a stand against a particular belief. You have positive beliefs that must necessarily follow (e.g. One must explain how it is that anything exists at all if there is no Creator, etc.). Thus atheism isn't simply the denial of God but the assertion of some positive atheistic worldview too.

No offense CalvinDude, but haven't you been reading the above comments? The only sure thing that you can deduce from the atheist label is that someone doesn't believe in god(s). Atheism doesn't need to make a postive claim with regard to any god(s) because the burden of proof is on the theist.

But yes, most atheists I know do have ideas, beliefs, notions about how the world works. But atheism is just one part of their world view, not the definition of their world view.
I don't make decisions by thinking to myself "There is no God, therefore ..." I make decisions based on the facts as I have them at the moment and by reasoning what is the best course of action based on those facts. Granted, my decisions are not based on what I think any god(s) would want me to do, but that is merely a given because I don't believe in any god(s), sort of an afterthought. It is not the primary motivation for my decisions.

And why MUST we explain how anything exists if there is no Creator. Granted, it would be nice to know the answer, and someday maybe we will, but why MUST we know it now? Aren't you willing to concede that there are some things that are just out of our reach at the moment? Just because we can't explain them does not mean that we need to create supernatural beings in order to be able to explain them at this very moment. It may make you feel better, but it does not get you any closer to the answer.

J.S.Brown said...

It's clear that many Christians relate morality directly to their belief in and relationship with their god. When one thing is responsible for how you determine all rights and wrongs, I'd call it a world view. This puts a boundary on Christian thought, because if someone is without a god, then they must also be without any moral guide to deal with, well, everything. I'm not sure most Christians can think outside of this box. With that said, it's unlikely that many Christians, even thiests, will ever figure out that atheism isn't a world view. I know how exhausting it is trying to explain atheism to some of them. They just don't understand; possible CAN'T. Perhaps the solution is to abandon terms like 'atheist' completely, which speak in negative terms rather than positive. It's too open-ended to use around people with 2,000-year-old, canonized presuppositions. I'd say that is part of the problem.

Mark Plus said...

Tony Pasquarello in an essay in American Atheist magazine a few years ago argued that the term atheism doesn't refer to lack of belief in gods, but rather to a proposition about the contents of reality, much like the heliocentric theory in astronomy. Gods still won't exist and the planets in our solar system will still orbit the sun even if every remaining human died so that none of them could form a belief about either gods or planetary motion. Given this insight, these days I tend to define atheism more along the lines of "The conclusion that reality doesn't work the way theists claim," specifically, theists' assertion that entities called "gods" play a role in the universe other than in the human imagination.

Of course, this conclusion unsettles many other ideas and beliefs humans had established in the childhood of the race, before we knew any better. Atheism therefore does have deep implications about how we make choices and narrate our lives -- but not anything nearly as scary as the cartoon version of "godlessness" promoted by theists.

exbeliever said...

Mark,

I never read Pasquarello's essay, so I can only comment on your summary.

It seems odd to load the term "atheism" with so much baggage when the terms monotheism, polytheism, pantheism, and panentheism are so "unloaded." Why is it that monotheism isn't counted as a complete world view (but rather an integral component of several different world views), but the term "atheism" must take the burden of being a complete world view?

I don't think I buy it. I know that in my own thinking, atheism is but a piece of my overall system of belief.

I also do not consider myself to be making any absolute proposition about the non-existence of anything that could be called a god.

You'll have to let me know how I can access his specific article, though.

Mark Plus said...

Findarticles.com used to carry articles by American Atheist, including Pasquarello's, but it no longer does. I saved the text on my PC, however, and I can email you a copy if you contact me at markplus@hotmail.com.

I think you misunderstood my point about the consequences of atheism, however. The impersonal, nobody-runs-the-universe conclusion of atheism suggests that people would do well to stop all their superstitious efforts to propitiate imaginary supernatural beings. Otherwise atheists would look pretty silly if they still got baptized, gave money to the church and abstained from premarital sex to suck up to a god they knew didn't exist. They would resemble children who still wrote letters to Santa after learning where their christmas presents really came from.

Kaffinator said...

Exbeliever > I also agree with the second part of your statement and wonder how you think that anything that I said makes it sound as if one's theistic position is not an "important component" of one's world view.

The point is, however, that a theistic position is not a world view; it is part of one. So, everyone should stop comparing world views to theistic positions.


I wasn’t saying you thought theistic position is unimportant to one’s world view. But in fact it is so integral that I think it is reasonable to equate them in casual conversation. A chocolate cake only has a relatively small amount of cocoa in it along with a lot of other ingredients, but the cocoa affects every part of the cake. You seem to insist that just because it contains eggs, flour, etc., means we should never refer to it as a chocolate cake.

This is why someone might draw contrast between an “atheist world view” with a “Christian world view”. I don’t see the big deal.

exbeliever said...

Kaffinator,

So, can I say that you have a "monotheistic world view" and, thereby, equate you with Muslims, Jews, etc. and not with your true world view, Christianity?

It doesn't make any sense. Monotheism doesn't tell me what you believe about salvation, Jesus Christ, the Christian Bible, etc. It tells me one thing and one thing only, i.e. that you believe in one god.

Similarly, my atheism says one and only one thing about me. . . I don't believe in a god or gods. The "big deal" is that people are ascribing beliefs to me because of their construction of a world view that I don't hold.

CalvinDude said...

bruce wrote:
---
No offense CalvinDude, but haven't you been reading the above comments? The only sure thing that you can deduce from the atheist label is that someone doesn't believe in god(s). Atheism doesn't need to make a postive claim with regard to any god(s) because the burden of proof is on the theist.
---

None taken, but you missed the point I was making. Atheism does assert positive things. When you say that there is no God, you are saying that the universe got here by some other means than a Creator. You may leave those means undefined, but it is still a positive position that you are taking. Likewise, you would have to say that a belief in God comes about from some other means than the fact that God has revealed Himself to mankind. Whatever means you decide on (or even if you leave it undefined and unknown) you have a positive position that it's something other than God.

Thus, the "burden of proof" is not solely on the theist. This, ultimately, is the point of the presuppositionalist argument of "the impossibility of the contrary." There are so many things that happen (existence being one of the most obvious and important ones) that must be explained by your position.

Put it this way.

Proposition 1: I exist.
Proposition 2: I exist because God made me.

That is my positive belief (and yes, I do have a burden of proof here too).

You disagree with Proposition 2 that God made me (although I would hope you agree I exist). Thus you must provide an adequate reason as to how Proposition 1 can be true. In other words, you have:

Proposition 1: CalvinDude exists.
Proposition 2: CalvinDude exists for reason X.

Whatever reason X is, you have the burden of proof to prove it true. Thus, atheism is not solely a negative belief at all.

exbeliever said...

CalvinDude,

You wrote: "Atheism does assert positive things. When you say that there is no God, you are saying that the universe got here by some other means than a Creator."

Let's say that some says, "There is no god." Is that the same proposition as "There is no god and there never has been a god"? Clearly not.

One could, then, be an a-theist and believe that the universe got her by the means of a Creator, but that creator doesn't exist any more. Atheism only says that a person does not hold the theistic belief that a god currently exists.

Likewise, there are people who are monotheists who believe that they are the process of evolution and the universe the process of the Big Bang. All they claim is that there is one existing god.

Monotheism doesn't demand that the universe got here by means of a god, only that one exists. Similarly, atheism doesn't demand that the universe got here by means other than a god, only that a god does not exist now (obviously, though, most atheists don't believe a god ever existed, but you cannot infer this from the position of atheism).

You wrote:
Proposition 1: I exist.
Proposition 2: I exist because God made me.

That is my positive belief (and yes, I do have a burden of proof here too).


I agree, you have a burden of proof to verify this statement, but this burden isn't a result of your monotheism which doesn't demand that a god created you; it is the result of your Christian world view which demands that the Christian god created you.

You wrote:
Proposition 1: CalvinDude exists.
Proposition 2: CalvinDude exists for reason X.

Whatever reason X is, you have the burden of proof to prove it true. Thus, atheism is not solely a negative belief at all.


If I did assert that CalvinDude exists for reason X, I would have a burden of proof as well. My proposition, however, would not have come from my theistic position that a god doesn't exist, it would, rather, come from whatever world view I held (e.g. naturalism, materialism (or, in my case, a leaning towards a posteriori physicalism)).

Atheism doesn't say anything about my cosmology, my stance on biological evolution, etc.

CalvinDude said...

exbeliever,

While I agree with some of your points, ultimately I still disagree with you because of the definition of "God." Part of the definition includes the aspect of God as a Creator. Even in pantheistic views, this is the case as the "gods" are said to be what creates the lightning or the seasons, etc.

Now I know quite well that someone can say: "I believe in a God who is exactly like a moose, and thus is not the Creator but instead is a being that feeds on foilage in the bottom of pools." But this is no different than if someone said, "A square is round." Simply saying it (and even if someone believed it)doesn't make it a valid definition. So unless you want to go the complete deconstructionalistc route and say that words have no meaning at all (in which case we might be talking about my blood pressure now for all I know) then there has to be some concept of "God" in view that would include the Creator aspect.

DagoodS said...

I would agree, CalvinDude, that making the positive assertion, “There is no God” provides the atheist with a burden of proof. I have always enjoyed having the burden of proof, and will step up, as necessary.

Of course, that is partly why I would differentiate myself a strong atheist. I would not claim a weak atheist has a burden of proof. In my opinion. It is a position of not having a belief, due to the lack of evidence. It is the theist’s burden to provide that evidence.

However, I do not hold to the position that the atheist must explain many things. Or even anything. Nor would a metaphysical naturalist. (I need to remember to differ between the two.)

Take existence. A theist has proposed a reason for existence (“reason” being a loaded term) in a God. But what kind of answer is that? Depending on the theist I talk to, the God’s definitions and attributes and even numbers change. It is a loose concept that provides no real answer, as we are left scrambling, rather than for a reason for exist, but to define this creature called, “God.”

I grant you it is convenient. What created the world? God. Why are bumblebees black and yellow? God. What happens when we die? God. It is a nebulous answer that fits everything, yet explains nothing.

And all an atheist does, or a naturalist, is remove one of the possibilities of how the universe came into being. I do not, necessarily, have to provide an alternative to be right about the exclusion.

Imagine I proved a wall was not painted black. But that is all I prove. It does not provide any information about the shape of the wall, the construction of the wall, the location, or even what, among a variety of colors, the wall is. All it does is limit us to one color the wall is not. I do not have to prove what color the wall is, or its shape or anything else. All I did was exclude one possibility.

We did not come into existence by a God. We have reviewed the arguments for a God, and eliminate it as a possibility for how we came into existence. There are a number of possibilities as to how we came into existence, parallel universes, string theory, perpetual universe, multi-verse, etc. In fact we may never know how we came into existence. “I don’t know” is NOT an inferior answer to “A God did it. A God we don’t know.”

This is an area in which theists and naturalists (I’m trying!) will always disagree. “I don’t know” is an adequate reason for me. I have read the scientists that make the claims, and must acknowledge they are much brighter than I. While they are learning more with better technology, we can’t see past the Big Bang. We can theorize, and reduce hypothesizes, but we can’t see it.

I am sure that is NOT adequate to a theist. But postulating a God, and then being completely unable to define it is not adequate to me. In reviewing the course of human history, and all the superstitious creatures proposed, it is human’s make-up to do so. Gods are just one of many.

While each of us may grasp the burden of proof, neither of us will provide a reason that is “adequate” to the other, I fear.

(Although, on a side note, the contributors to this blog DID, as theists, find adequate reasons as provided by naturalists. And I am sure that goes both.)

exbeliever said...

CalvinDude,

You wrote: "While I agree with some of your points, ultimately I still disagree with you because of the definition of 'God.' Part of the definition includes the aspect of God as a Creator. Even in pantheistic views, this is the case as the 'gods' are said to be what creates the lightning or the seasons, etc."

This isn't *my* definition of a god. In the polytheistic cultures you mentioned [I'm assuming you meant polytheistic, not pantheistic], those gods didn't create the universe. Apollo didn't create the universe, nor did Zeus. Are you arguing that Zeus shouldn't be called a "god"? What about tribal gods? It sounds to me as if you are trying to redefine the term so that it only fits your particular theistic view.

Bruce said...

CalvinDude said:
You disagree with Proposition 2 that God made me (although I would hope you agree I exist). Thus you must provide an adequate reason as to how Proposition 1 can be true.

There's that word again, MUST. Why MUST we have to explain our existence right now at this very moment in time? Granted, it is a question that many people would like to answer, but that doesn't mean that we MUST come up with an answer and if we don't know the answer then we should just pull one out of thin air.

Sometimes not knowing all the answers can be a good thing. It gives us a reason to keep on asking questions. It provides the drive to push the limits of our current knowledge. Remember what happened during the dark ages when religion had a monopoly on the truth?

“I don’t know” is NOT an inferior answer to “A God did it. A God we don’t know.”

DagoodS, you rock!

Kaffinator said...

Kaffinator,

Exbeliever > So, can I say that you have a "monotheistic world view" and, thereby, equate you with Muslims, Jews, etc. and not with your true world view, Christianity?

Yes, you can say exactly that. Monotheistic world views share certain characteristics, such as ascribing creation, morality, and man’s destiny as the outworking of the purposes of a single ultimate god. One example of an implication of that worldview is that devotion to that ultimate god would be the highest aim of any individual. This would be a fair thing to assume about any serious monotheistic adherent.

Now you might not be safe to assert particulars about my belief system (for example, my position on the validity of the prophet Muhammad). This is because “monotheism” is a generic term. But then again so is “Christianity” as numerous and conflicting worldviews have arisen within Christendom itself. For example it would be unfair of you to say “oh because you are a Christian then you believe the world is 6000 years old and therefore you’re an idiot”.

An “atheist world view” then is any world view that derives its chief flavor from atheism. One might generalize that an atheist, believing in no god, also would not believe in any absolute moral standard (although an atheist will likely hold, for differing reasons, what he considers to be a serviceable relativistic substitute.) Would that be unfair?

> Similarly, my atheism says one and only one thing about me. . . I don't believe in a god or gods. The "big deal" is that people are ascribing beliefs to me because of their construction of a world view that I don't hold.

This is the age-old problem of generalization. It is the result of people making assumptions based on what they think someone else’s beliefs should be given certain starting conditions. This is done routinely by both Christians and atheists in this sort of discussion. It’s usually unfair and causes offence, unless ample opportunity is given to each individual to explain what their beliefs really are rather than what they ought to be, according to someone else.

exbeliever said...

Kaffinator,

You wrote: "Monotheistic world views share certain characteristics, such as ascribing creation, morality, and man’s destiny as the outworking of the purposes of a single ultimate god."

Not every monotheist believes that a god created the world or is responsible for enforcing a universal morality on it. When I was a "liberal Christian," I believed the world came about by natural processes and that the only god was an ideal. I was a monotheist, but had nothing in common with the views you ascribe to monotheism. I know this was true of most of the people I went to church with during this stage (and it was a rather large church).

You wrote: "One example of an implication of that worldview is that devotion to that ultimate god would be the highest aim of any individual. This would be a fair thing to assume about any serious monotheistic adherent."

This wouldn't be true of a monotheistic Deist. In Deism, there is no concern about devotion to the god who set things in motion.

Many Budhists are also atheists, but they are still religious. Let's just keep the ideas separate. Atheism is not a world view, it not holding a belief in a god. Naturalism, materialism, physicalism, etc. are world views. Naturalists, materialists, and physicalists are also, often, atheists.

One cannot make assumptions from another's theistic position.

exbeliever said...

DagoodS,

Would you agree that it might be more correct to make statements like, "There is no Muslim god," or "There is no Christian god," etc. Instead of saying, "I affirmatively state, 'There is no God.'"

As you point out, "Depending on the theist I talk to, the God’s definitions and attributes and even numbers change." It seems difficult to me to say of everything one could possibly call a god that "There is no god."

One of the theistic commenters, here, Sandalstraps, has a definition of a god without attributes who is "the essence of being" (I think I'm getting his position right). While we can definitely point out reasons why holding this belief seems irrational, I don't think we could prove anything about the non-existence of "the essence of being."

When Einstein spoke of "god," he spoke of Nature. I doubt we would want to say "There is no god," in this context.

It seems to me that we can be more definite (or strong) about certain particular concepts of gods, but that general statements about gods non-existence are more difficult to maintain.

In other words, before any atheist can accept a "burden of proof," she must know what concept of god she is seeking to "debunk." First, then, the theist has the responsibility to describe his god in a meaningful way.

For what it's worth.

Kaffinator said...

> When I was a "liberal Christian," I believed the world came about by natural processes and that the only god was an ideal. I was a monotheist, but had nothing in common with the views you ascribe to monotheism.

God was an "ideal"? Monotheism (as found within orthodox Christianity, Islam, and Judaism) is generally the belief that God really exists (not just as an "ideal"), is immanent but separate from the material world, and is unified as a singular being. It sounds like the church you attended wasn't so clear on these points so it's not surprising that their conclusions would have drifted away from other monotheists'.

> This wouldn't be true of a monotheistic Deist. In Deism, there is no concern about devotion to the god who set things in motion.

Deism may or may not be considered a form of monotheism. According to the definition above, deism stands apart from theism.

Twitch said...

i havent been following along much, but i do appreciate a lot of the clarification that seems to be going on. in that spirit, i would like to point out another "ism" that fits into part of this discussion. "Henotheism" is defined as 'belief in one god, without denying the existence of others.'
this may not be all that stimulating, but it should add a little something to the mix!
thanks

exbeliever said...

twitch,

Welcome back.

It seems to me that any henotheist would either fit into the category of monotheism or polytheism. In other words, a henotheist may either believe one god exists or believe that more than one god exists. While henotheism may be a good way of further defining someone's theistic position, I'm not sure it is distinct enough to warrant inclusion as a separate category. What do you think?

kaffinator,

You wrote: "Monotheism (as found within orthodox Christianity, Islam, and Judaism) is generally the belief that God really exists (not just as an "ideal"), is immanent but separate from the material world, and is unified as a singular being."

I don't think you would have defined my Christianity during that time as "orthodox." I don't think you can define many liberal Christians as "orthodox." One of the Christian commenters here, Sandalstraps, sounds as if he would not define god as "a unified singular being," but rather as "the essence of being" (though, I may be misrepresenting his position unintentionally). Who am I or who are you to tell him that he is not a monotheist? Who makes these decisions.

You wrote: "Deism may or may not be considered a form of monotheism. According to the definition above, deism stands apart from theism."

Most deists believed that a god existed and that that god created the universe and then removed himself from its sustaining actions. If monotheism is simply the belief that only one god exists, then I don't see how you can avoid including deism in that belief. Again, it comes down to saying who has the power to define other people's beliefs.

DagoodS said...

exbeliever-

Much easier to say “There is no Abrahamic God.” In fact, many weak atheists contend they are strong atheists as to this particular creature, and more than willingly give affirmative statements to its non-existence. I just happen to take it one step further.

Normally I do ask the theist to provide at least some direction and definition as to their god. While I do not mind assertively debating all gods, it would be a bit ridiculous to spend 4 pages on the Problem of Evil when discussing with a deist. Obviously they do not have a Problem of Evil. Or Good, for that matter.

On this particular blog, I focus on the Christian definition. I let others debate theism as a whole, I do that elsewhere. (I may touch on it at times.)

I would have to explore what sandalstraps meant by “essence of being” before I could comment on that. I have read his blog. Liberal Christianity. I am familiar with it. Has as many problems as fundamentalist Christianity. The people seem nicer.

If we are going to ascribe the term “God” to things that already are defined and existence, then yes, I can no longer say, “There is no God.” If, for example Einstein would define all of nature as a “God” I clearly cannot claim there is no nature. But why, then, have the term “God” at all? “Nature” works just as nicely, thank you very much. I can be as in awe of Nature as a God!

So, anyone that desires to prove I am not a strong atheist, define kittens as “God” and present me with a kitten. I will be forced to capitulate, and concede that such a “God” exists!

Yes, general statements that god(s) do not exist ARE hard to maintain. Why should I make it easy on myself? I love a challenge. I have debated against a God that was defined as initiating the Universe one second before the Big Bang, and then never interacting again. One that, by definition, left no proof of its existence except the Universe itself. And yet there are strong (in my opinion) evidences against even that slight of a God.

I admit that we need some frame of reference before I take the burden of proof. Yet once given, no matter how slight, I still do so. I find it slightly amusing that the one claiming to hold “Truth” (with a capital T) shrinks from the burden of proof. We jockey for position in my field, and the one holding the burden of proof often gets to control how the evidence is laid out. Calls the shots, if you will. I realize that in philosophical debate “burden of proof” is different than what I use in my vernacular (so is “proof”). Can’t help it. I see “burden of proof” and pursue it like a junkyard dog.

And puzzle why the theists (who have God in their pocket) don’t.

Dale Callahan said...

You mean professed atheism?

The bible says that there is no such thing as a real atheist.

All men know the God through the created order. They know him to such an extent that they are without excuse.

Their willful rebellion will earn them an eternity of damnation.

Their damnation is eternal because their rebellion will be eternal

exbeliever said...

Dale,

Maybe you would like to offer some reasons why we should believe what the Bible says--i.e. reasons that demonstrate the Bible speaks truth, not reasons like, "If you don't believe the Bible, you will go to hell."

DagoodS said...

Dale Callahan, good ol’ Romans 1:20.

I understand the Christians’ predicament. On the one hand, they have a human (me) saying “I am an atheist.” On the other, they have a human (Paul) telling them that God says “There are no atheists.” Which human to believe?

But you truly believe that God is speaking through Romans 1:20. So to you, the comparison is between a human and a God, and therefore you will believe a God every time. You can’t believe me. It is not within your ability.

However, if you want Romans 1:20, can you live with the full ramifications of it? Remember, Romans was written first, then the Gospels, then Acts. Romans was written to Jewish Christians.

Paul does not quote Jesus in Romans, and does not list a single miracle. Not one. When Paul argues for the greatest commandment being “Love you neighbor” he doesn’t quote Jesus. (Rom. 12:9) When arguing about vessels created for destruction, he only uses Tanakh examples, nothing from the recent vintage of Jesus. (Romans 9)No biographical details of Jesus. Fails to address Jesus defying the Law when it would be MOST helpful. It is as if Paul didn’t even know the Gospel Jesus.

When confronted, apologetics claim it is that the group Paul was writing to, already knew of these claims of Jesus, and therefore it is unnecessary for Paul to reiterate the point. Or, that it was not Paul’s intention to quote Jesus. (Why is beyond me.)

If Paul was writing to Jews, who were familiar with the events of Palestine of 20 years previous, and is making the claim that everyone knows there is a God, why wouldn’t he list the things that Jesus did? Even Jesus said that particular generation received the “sign of Jonah.” (Mt 12:40)

Further, in the first sermon recorded (but written after the Gospels were written—a key point) Peter uses quotes from Jesus (Acts 2:34) and specifically uses the recent miracles. (Acts 2:22)

So, we have Paul arguing for God. Doesn’t use quotes from Jesus, doesn’t use miracles. We have the Gospels written. Then we have the claim that arguments for God used Miracles and quotes literally within days of the resurrection. It is very indicative that the story grew into legend.

You can have Rom. 1:20 to say there are no such things as atheists. You seriously undermine, if not all but eliminate a historical Jesus. The price seems awful high for a minor point.

Scott said...

DagoodS wrote:

"While each of us may grasp the burden of proof, neither of us will provide a reason that is “adequate” to the other, I fear."

I tend to agree.

But I have to ask what would constitute "proof" to an atheist that there is a God or better yet a Christian God?

Is there such a thing?

I know the same question could be asked to a theist as to what would constitute proof that there is no God -- and I freely admit I do not have an answer to that question.

You also mention that "we need a frame of reference...".

Do we have a frame of refence within which to "prove" anything to each other?

(I apologize if this has been asked and answered elsewhere. I have read much but not all of this site.)