Atheism, Agnosticism and the Default Position

On a forum someone said this: "Atheism is not a belief, rather it is the absence of a belief, and it is beliefs which need to be justified." I responded as follows:

Atheism simply describes a "non-theist." Since the word “atheism” is a negative one, meaning “not a theist,” it doesn’t specify much of anything else except that a person who is an atheist is a non-believer. A non-believer in what? When the question is whether a person believes in any God, an atheist is someone who does not believe in any of them. However, I want to add that when the question is whether a person believes in, say Christianity, an atheist is someone who does not believe in the Christian God. Christians themselves were called atheists in the first century C.E. because they did not believe in the gods and goddesses of the Roman Empire, even though they clearly believed in a God. So when I say Christians are atheists with regard to all other gods but their own, I am being accurate by calling them atheists with regard to those other gods, even if they are not atheists with regard to whether any God exists. It depends on the question and the context what the words atheism/atheist mean.

An agnostic will agree with the atheist against all religious accounts, but she will go on to argue against atheism, claiming it can give no sufficiently justifiable account of the natural world either.

I cannot make too much sense of the idea that atheism, in the context of our debates, means a lack of a belief in God. My position is that agnosticism is the default position, the position that merely says, "I don't know" (which can probably best be described as soft-agnosticism). ANYONE WHO LEAVES THE DEFAULT POSITION HAS THE BURDEN OF PROOF, whether it's a theist or an atheist. When faced with the theist claims an atheist denies them. She doesn't merely say, "I don't believe you," for then she would be an agnostic, the default position. An atheist says "there is no god" (again, depending on the question being asked). And the strong atheist claims she knows this with a great deal of assurance while the weak atheist claims she knows this weakly.

So when an atheist says, "there is no God," or "this God does not exist," those are indeed stated beliefs. If it isn't a stated belief then what is it? And all beliefs must be justified sufficiently to the person making the claim. Non-beliefs must be those things we have never heard about or taken a position on.

55 comments:

BahramtheRed said...

"Atheism is not a belief, rather it is the absence of a belief, and it is beliefs which need to be justified."

Completly wrong. I have investigated the evidence. Looked for reasons on both sides. My beleifs are now pretty simple. There is no grand world desgining, personel, perfect god of love like the one christians.

I have no need to justify this any more than a chrisitan has to justify their beleifs.

Now I'm not totally athetist, some of that evidence kinda shook the support for that (and posting some of that drew a lot of fire on another athetist board), but to proclaim I don't have beleifs because I don't see anything that could be called god is ridculous.

stevec said...

Atheism and agnosticism aren't mutually exclusive.

Agnosticism has to do with what is knowable, atheism has to do with what is (not) believed.

One can be an agnostic atheist, or an agnostic theist.

AIGBusted said...

I would say that I am an agnostic atheist. I do not have absolute knowledge that God does not exist, but based on the knowledge I do have, I believe it is highly unlikely that any god exists.

Evan said...

When it comes to any possible deity, I believe there can be no certainty. When it comes to the Christian God I am a positive atheist with near absolute certainty.

david said...

I agree with you John.

I would like to try my hand at a modus tollens to prove that one cannot be agnostic with respect to the Christian God. Any thoughts?

If P then Q,
-Q, therefore -P

1. If the Christian God exists, then everyone has knowledge that He exists. (Romans 1)

2. The agnostic claims no knowledge that the Christian God exists.

3. Therefore, the agnostic necessarily denies that the Christian God exists.

Or let me try it this way:

If the Christian God exists (P), then everyone knows him.(Q)
Not everyone knows him(-Q)
Therefore, the Christian God does not exist(-P)

Jeffrey said...

I completely agree that "I don't know" is that default position. However, I would say that to move from agnosticism toward atheism does not require "evidence" but reasons to think that theists don't have evidence.

With no evidence before searching, one should be agnostic, while with no evidence after searching, one should be an atheist.

(Btw, I'm a deist-leaning agnostic.)

goprairie said...

If the thing being discussed defies other things known to exist, one can be pretty certian to totally certain it does not exist. God and the miracles of Jesus and the resurection of Jesus defy the known laws of physics. Therefore I can say that because physics is known, and aspects of God would defy physics, there is not God. What is the default position of Santa, tooth fairy, leprachauns, volcano gods, mermaids, unicorns, and such? If something is ridiculous, illogical, unreasonable, and counter to other things one knows, one does not have to have a defailt position of "I don't know". Once can reasonable start right at "It does not exist" and even "It cannot exist".

John W. Loftus said...

david, thanks but premise 1 is a non-sequitur. In any case if you want to debate the point I'll step aside and let Christians do that with you.

Cheers.

John W. Loftus said...

gopraire said…If the thing being discussed defies other things known to exist, one can be pretty certian to totally certain it does not exist.

But how did you arrive at your prior conclusions? Did you start out by assuming such things didn’t exist, or did you test them by experience and logic? When you tested them did you start out by assuming your conclusions before doing so? Surely not! If you did, you’re not a scientist who strives for objectivity; even though I take it that you are a scientifically minded person.

If you want to you can consider the default position I’m referring to as the position someone begins with behind a Rawlsian “veil of ignorance,” which is a hypothetical viewpoint before any experience whatsoever…before anyone has any idea from other Bayesian life background factors whether any such claim is true or not.

gopraire said…God and the miracles of Jesus and the resurection of Jesus defy the known laws of physics. Therefore I can say that because physics is known, and aspects of God would defy physics, there is not God.

Listen. I’m an atheist, but I think I can at least treat my opposition better than you do. It is simply unfair to say that a spiritual being, if one exists, must be known by the laws of physics. If one exists then it is outside the laws of physics. And even if such a being can be known by these laws there may be reasons why he hides himself from people who don’t want to know him. William James argued that maybe the God-hypothesis needs to be met half-way before such an entity will reveal himself to us. I find it strange to argue for the Christian hypothesis with you, since we’re both atheists. But I remain adamant that we cannot dismiss the Christian claims by laying down some alien rules for detecting such a being that they reject. Doing so begs the question in favor of the hypothesis one favors. This is an old bait and switch trick, one which I reject for all of the right reasons.

gopraire said…What is the default position of Santa, tooth fairy, leprachauns, volcano gods, mermaids, unicorns, and such?

You and I have gone around on this before. I take it what I said didn’t convince you, eh? ;-)

I could only wish that when kids first heard from their parents about Santa Claus they would at least take the default position. That would be quite an improvement don’t you think? And the same thing would go for other entities when kids first heard of them. Saying “I don’t know” is the first step of the child skeptic. It eschews gullibility. It demands evidence before committed to believing in such an entity. And it’s a step in the right direction. It’s a halfway house between belief and non-belief. What if, like Stephen Pinker, kids said instead: “That’s an interesting hypothesis…I hope someone tests it?”

Besides, all of the above, we need to compare apples to apples here. Reasonable hypotheses need to be compared to their rivals, not to unreasonable ones. As I’ve said before, I think there are only four conceptions of God that are worthy of the name. 1) The theistic God of the three monotheistic religions; 2) the Deist god (which is the "god of the philosophers"); 3) the Pantheistic god, or the ONE; and 4) the panentheistic, or process theology God of liberal theism. Embodied local polytheistic gods and goddesses are to be relegated to the ancient superstitious past. These gods are simply not big enough to answer any deep questions about existence. These beliefs are primitive notions that only simpletons in today's world accept, who have not thought deeply about the kind of questions that the whole notion of a supreme deity is supposed to be an answer for.

gopraire said…If something is ridiculous, illogical, unreasonable, and counter to other things one knows, one does not have to have a defailt position of "I don't know". Once can reasonable start right at "It does not exist" and even "It cannot exist".

I've already commented somewhat on this but let me add to what I've said.

There are two distinctions we need to make here. First, there is the distinction between denying and affirming something. Denying something is the easy part. Affirming something is the hard part. Second, there is a distinction to be made between the kinds of questions that the word atheist answers. There is a question about a particular God, and then there is a question about whether any God at all exists.

When it comes to denying any one particular God, we all do that quite easily. Like Evan, I reject the Christian God without hesitation. Such a God does not exist. I’m about as sure of that as I can be. But when it comes to affirming whether or not any God exists at all, I think agnosticism is the default position. How can someone be sure, for instance, that no such entity exists? What do we mean by such an entity? What are the criteria for deciding that such an entity does not exist? What counts as evidence for and against the existence of such an entity? What if there is a hidden God? Or, a scientific God who created us as laboratory rats for intensive study? Or, an evil God who just doesn’t care? Or, an impotent God who cannot act? On this question we must begin by affirming the default position. We just don’t know. Once I leave that default position I have the burden of proof to show why I think no God exists at all. We’ve gone over this before. If a spiritual God does exist in another dimension we couldn’t detect him. I see no reason to shut off inquiry prior to investigating such a claim by saying, as you did, that such a God cannot exist, at least NOT AT THE BEGINNING OF SUCH AN INVESTIGATION, which is what I mean, by the default position!

Have I made some headway with you this time, my friend?

Scott said...

I conceder myself an atheist even though I can't say with 100% certainty that God does not exist in some form or another.

When someone attempts to put me in the agnostic camp, I say that I am an atheist because live my life as if God does not exist. This is in contrast to an agnostic says he does not have enough knowledge to know if God exists or not.

If I were to approach a field in which I was agnostic about the presence of land mines, (I didn't have enough knowledge to know if mines were present or not), it would have a significant impact on my decision to cross it. But as a resident of a major metropolitan city in the United States, It's highly improbable that any field I might cross would actually contain mines. The fact that I can't be 100% certain that a mines are not present does not cause me to change course. It's logically and even physically possible that a mines could be have been planted, but my actions would be as if they were not.

In the same way, an agnostic position on God would imply a relatively equal probability of his existence, which would have a significant impact on my actions. However, this is not the case. I act as if God does not exist because I have evaluated the theist's claims and found them highly unlikely to be true.

In the highly unlikely case that God does exist, I find that many specific claims which theists make about God's nature are self-conflicting, irrational and ad-hoc. Even if If some kind of singularity must exist, the "evidence" which theists claim proves God "loves" us, "answers" prayer or has a "personal relationship" with us simply does not follow.

In other words, If God exists, he has been falsely saddled with human like desires, wants and attributes. These are merely projections of ourselves in an attempt to understand the world around us.

John W. Loftus said...

Thanks for your input Scott. Remember we're not talking about land mines, nor Santa Claus, nor unicorns.

Here is a summary statement of what I mean: When it comes to the question of whether there is any God at all, the default position should be agnosticism, I don't know. Anyone wishing to affirm that there is no God has the burden of proof, just like any person who affirms there is a God.

tigg13 said...

Bravo John! I agree 100%.

Damien said...

I would have to say, in the realm of belief, there are only two positions. I think agnosticism muddies the water in an unnecessary way. And that's why I separate agnosticism into its own category away from belief but not mutually exclusive from either belief you choose.

I think belief is a matter of one and zero as such:

1:positive
0:none

And I think atheism, at least weak atheism, is 0, and it's the default position. This allows atheism to encompass a lot more things, even ignorance of the question, because it deals strictly with belief. And let's face it, you either have a belief or you don't. When you ask an agnostic if they believe in God and they say "I don't know", you should reply, "I didn't ask you what you know, I asked you what you believe." And when you look at it in that context, you may begin to see why agnosticism deserves its own place outside of belief.

I believe that even Dinesh D'Souza recognizes this difference when he makes the claim that he doesn't believe in his brother because he knows the guy. He believes in God, but he admits he is agnostic. Dinesh D'Souza is an agnostic theist.

So then there's this difference between strong atheism and weak atheism. Can you equivocate the statement "I don't believe in gods" with "I believe there are no gods"? I have seen people try to use that, but the real equivolent would be "I do believe in no gods." But in this sentence, "no gods" doesn't mean there are no gods, only that zero gods have made it into your beliefs, making your belief not a belief at all, but a zero.

I would say Strong Atheism is a positive belief, but still a valid one given the complete lack of evidence for any gods. Afterall, it's okay to believe something without absolute knowledge. You only have to be convinced that it's true based on the evidence available, or the lack of.

Even Bill Craig, who goes to great lengths to label his debate opponents agnostics, once made the mistake of saying his "Absence of evidence is not evidence of absence" line and in the same debate saying that he could prove a unicorn was not in the room based on the absence of evidence for one. The difference between the Strong Atheist and Bill Craig is that one doesn't see evidence for God, and the other does.

There are a lot more factors that play into this problem than just agnosticism being in the wrong place. This draws in questions about the definition of God, the nature of belief and epistemology, the noncognitivism problem, and a host of other things. It's too complicated to get into in a blog comment.

John W. Loftus said...

In that forum I mentioned someone said...Not to believe in something is not to believe in something. If I do not believe my girlfriend cheats on me, saying I have a belief she does not cheat on me only means that it is a possibility of language that we can reverse propositions. It is playing with words.

I responded:

Who is doing the playing here? I think it’s you and others. Tell me this: Do believe there is no God? You have now been asked this question. If you answer in the affirmative you have finally stated a belief, i.e., that there is no God. The only sense I can make of nonbeliefs are those things we have never encountered before, and/or never stated a position on, and there are many such claims. This goes for your question: Do you believe your girlfriend is cheating on you? Yes or no? If no, then you have a belief about your girlfriend, ie., that she's not cheating on you. I think atheists and agnostics play with these words in gerrymandering fashion for their advantage. Stop cheating with words. You aren't alone in doing this.

He further said...What I would agree on, is that I have a belief (that is well founded) that science gives us the only valid knowledge we have, and that my atheism is a consequence of that. But this atheism, in itself, has no content. It is not a proposition about the world, it is the mere rejection of a proposition about the world that has no satisfying ground.

I responded:

How can a word, any word, have no content, much less the word atheism? This admission sinks your position. There can be no contentless word in the context of any sentence. If you can show me any other word that has no content then and only then would I consider that the word atheism might be another such word. That atheism is not a proposition about the world means little here, unless you presume that only words about the world have content, which prejudges the whole issue and begs the question. Atheism is a proposition about God, ie., that such an entity does not exist. Any if by the term God you mean all such deities then it is a proposition about the world too, by proxy, ie., that the natural world is all there is.

John W. Loftus said...

damien, knowledge is typically defined as "justified true belief." You cannot get around the word "belief" in your definition of "knowledge." They are inter-related. Usually a belief isn't considered knowledge unless it's sufficiently justified, while some claims of knowledge are mere beliefs because they are not sufficiently justified.

You're right though, that this can get complicated.

Greg Reich said...

Atheists can just as easily say, "Gods are myths." Atheists do not have to say, "There is no god." It does not require any sort of belief to reject the claims of theists.

Just saying "I don't know if gods exist" lends legitimacy to myth, in my estimation. It's akin to saying "I don't know if leprauchans exist." What you do know is that there is insufficient evidence to convince you that they do, so you do know that both leprauchans and gods are myths. That makes you an Atheist, or "not a theist".

david said...

I agree there is a lot of word play that goes on. My two cents definitions:

Belief that God doesn't exist = Atheism

No Belief that God exists AND ALSO
No Belief that God doesn't exist = Weak Agnosticism

Some call themselves agnostic and only claim "No Belief that God exists," but that doesn't seem to distinguish from atheism. It would be more accurate (to me at least) to say "No Belief about the Existence of God" because that covers the negation and distinguishes from atheism. What do the atheists say, is that fair?

At any rate, when I called myself an agnostic it was epistemic. I didn't think there were any means to warrant belief in God; which is different from saying there is no evidence.

Damien said...

Hmm, the way I see it, belief should be handled question to question, checking for a positive answer or a zero answer. If the answer is positive, you're all done, but if the answer is zero, you need to ask a new question to find the positive. A statement of nonbelief is different from a statement of fact in this way, that you can infer the opposite is true if a statement of fact is false.

"God exists" is a statement of fact. If it is false, you can infer that God does not exist. To tie this in with my last post, we can look at it with numerical examples.

True: 1
False: -1

Whereas, with belief, I think it's more like this:

Believe: 1
Don't believe: 0

What this means is that you can infer what you don't believe from what you do believe, but you cannot infer what you do believe from what you don't believe. 1 has a negative, 0 does not. I can try to illuminate this by changing the word belief into what you've been convinced of.

"Have you been convinced God exists?"

If you answer yes, we can know that you don't believe he doesn't exist. If you answer no, we don't know that you've been convinced of the opposite. Simply, saying "no" tells us only what you aren't convinced of, and nothing about what you are.

People can usually agree that this is the case, because it is what we believe agnostics are doing. They are saying "no" to the questions "do you believe in God" and "Do you believe there are no Gods". Both of those questions have either an answer of a one or a zero. If it were a case of 1 or -1, there wouldn't be any agnostics.

What I am trying to say is that agnosticism doesn't belong in the place it inhabits. Agnosticism wasn't really meant for that place. I think that atheism can already cover that base, and we can move agnosticism in with gnosticism and clean up our vocabulary a bit. So once again:

"Do you believe in God?"

Answer this question with a 1, and you're a theist. We now know what you do and don't believe in. Answering with a 0 means you're not a theist, and should be considered atheist no matter what, if any, belief you have.

Zero is the default position because nobody believes anything by default. If that were so, we'd believe in everything and widdle our beliefs down from there. I just happen, in this instance, to call atheism zero. I would call "no belief in God" zero atheism, and "belief there are no gods" positive atheism.

In regards to belief versus knowledge, I might have to agree with Hume, I think it was, who said that the only things we truly know are those which are true by default, or truisms. Statements like "a triangle has three sides" we know to be true, because it has to be.

John W. Loftus said...

I think I've said all I want to say here.

Greg Reich, what exactly is the ontological difference between the following two statements: 1) [All] Gods are myths; and 2) There is no god.

I see none at all. You see, the fact that people believe in myths doesn't say anything about whether these myths correspond to something that exists.

I can easily affirm that all gods are myths and at the same time affirm there is no god.

Moses said...

"Atheism is not a belief, rather it is the absence of a belief, and it is beliefs which need to be justified."

Wrong. Simply put, every baby born is an atheist. That is the default position.

He (or she) is then taught about Santa, God, Jesus, the Easter Bunny, Thor, Vishnu, Fairies, or whatever supernatural folk-ways his parents and society feel they must shove in his/her head.

Atheism is about a lack of acceptance-as-reality in these stories. Specifically those of a religious nature. That is, these stories failed, through the massive lack of evidence, to support their claims. And thus, they are rejected.

You have, in your sloppy thinking on this matter, interjected that atheism is making a positive claim. It is not. It is that you don't believe someone's mythology.

I don't believe in fairies because there is no evidence. I don't believe in God because there is no evidence. I don't believe in Santa because there is no evidence. I don't believe in Thor because there is no evidence.

Sogn said...

Babies are born atheists only if you (implausibly) equate 'atheist' with 'nontheist'. It's true that 'atheist' is etymologically equivalent to 'nontheist', but etymology isn't a sufficient basis for evaluating definitions. Using 'atheist' in such a way as to apply it to infants flies in the face of overwhelmingly contrary common linguistic practice. I think 'atheist' implies, at the very least, having a reflective opinion on the subject, i.e. having given it at least a little thought. Infants don't qualify. They could reasonably be called nontheists, but then, they are non-everything that involves thinking.

goprairie said...

"Have I made some headway with you this time, my friend?"
Nope. The very first time I heard of Santa, I said there is not way a man in a sleigh can make it to every house in one night and my parents moderned up the guy to maybe having a jet helicopter - and I still didn't beleive, even tho presents showed up. There is no reason for there to be a god and no evidence for there being one. Therefore I can say I do not beleive and never did. Everything I ever heard about God or Jesus, my first reaction was 'I doubt it happened that way' and I tried to fit in by making up things that could look like god stuff, but never convinced myself really. Every time I learned a Native American 'legend' or a Greek 'myth' I wondered how long before the crap they were trying to teach me would fit into a similar category.
What I don't understand is why you seem you seem to want or need "I don't know" to be the proper default. That might be a more interesting question.

goprairie said...

"Anyone wishing to affirm that there is no God has the burden of proof, just like any person who affirms there is a God."
Do you believe in the Easter Bunny or Frosty the Snowman or the pot of gold? No? Prove they do not exist.

goprairie said...

"An agnostic is an atheist who is too lazy to debate the point."

tigg13 said...

Hi Goprairie.

You are absolutely correct. It is impossible to prove that the pot of gold or the Easter Bunny or Frosty the Snowman do not exist. That is why it would be a mistake to affirm their non-existance as you would have the burden of proving something that cannot be proven.

goprairie said...

if i told you there was a purple cow that was 40 feet tall with mushrooms growing out of its coat standing on one leg in the field a mile west of town, you could fairly and certainly say "there is not" and you would not have to drive there to prove it. there are a number of things about that claim that are absurd and impossible. if i told you there was no hot water in your bathroom faucet, you could reasonably expect me to prove it. the more absurd the thing is that a person does not beleive in, the less the burden is on them to prove that non-existance. the more reasonable the thing it, the more burden to prove the non-existance. your inssitance that 'i don't know' as the default position shows that you do not truly believe in the absurdity of the idea of a god. I do. you claim the argument about god is different from that of the EB, santa, pot of gold, and so on. that is only because to you, those things are absurd. because you so totally beleived in what you were taught about there being a god, it is harder for you to see that one as absurd. it is not for me. it never has been for me. they are the same.

John W. Loftus said...

gopraire said...the more absurd the thing is that a person does not beleive in, the less the burden is on them to prove that non-existance. the more reasonable the thing it, the more burden to prove the non-existance.

You are severely mistaken if you think you do not have your own burden of proof. This is an atheist word game that gets us nowhere as in "no where." You truly have not thought this through, although I cannot convince you otherwise.

As an atheist you claim the universe with its complexity came about through no personal godlike action. The theist responds to you in this manner: "the more absurd the thing is that a person believes, the more the burden is on them to prove it. The more reasonable the thing is, the less burden to prove it." They think such a thing is absurd, and it sure seems as though they are right (I said "seems as though"). It also seems absurd to think something popped into existence out of nothing. Is that what you maintain? Then you must show why you think that, in the same way as you must show why you think an arrowhead found in an archaeological dig was NOT made by any personal agent (assuming you did).

We each share our own burden of proof on this particular question. Proof is personal related. By saying the universe came about by chance the burden of proof is yours if you maintain no God did it. It seems absurd to the theist to think that it did, you see.

Stop talking about Santa Claus. Doing so is laughable, not just to me, but to all theists. Such a thing is non-analogous for the reasons I earlier stated.

Evan said...

The following two sentences in my mind are not identical:

1. I do not believe there is a God.

2. I believe there is not a God.

If you see them as identical, then the slight difference of opinion being addressed here primarily is of a semantic nature, but I believe that you will see they are somewhat different if you analyze them closely. If you see them as different, the discussion is of value.

I agree with John that the word "God" can be given some serious consideration when it comes to the deist God (universal prime mover), pantheism or panentheism (some combination of the universe itself is divine and/or mindful), since these concepts are simply unusual glosses on our understanding of facts widely accepted by all educated people.

This is why the word "God" is so confusing and ought to be abandoned.

Let's make it simpler and re-define the above sentences to show how not using "God" makes the propositions make more sense.


1. I do not believe there is a deity named Yahweh.

2. I believe there is not a deity named Yahweh.

or


1. I do not believe there is a universal prime-mover.

2. I believe there is not a universal prime-mover.

or


1. I do not believe the universe itself is divine.

2. I believe there is no divine character to the universe itself.

Those statements specifically address the issues of the various types of believers and are most certainly not synonymous.

I believe the atheist is most definitely on more solid logical and evidential ground the closer he can define "God" to "Yahweh" or "Allah" or "Thor" or "Zeus" or "Quetzalcoatl". Those named Gods of the history of our species are nearly as absurd as Santa or Leprechauns and deserve to be relegated to the dustbin of history.

As you move toward the more refined, less definite ideas however, the absurdity of them does become less obvious and the need to come up with data to affirm conclusions becomes more equally distributed between the believer and the non-believer.

I believe Stenger's book "God: The Failed Hypothesis" does an excellent job of destroying even the idea of a universal prime mover, but he does put forth evidence and this is not an assertion he makes because the contrary is dismissed with prejudice.

As to the ideas of pantheism and panentheism, for me these are two different ways of being an atheist without having to admit it to your family. I see no difference logically between these two positions and atheism, although I find certain claims by certain panentheists to be nearly as dangerous as those of theists, because they suggest that mankind's role in the world/universe need not be taken seriously because the world/universe somehow is benevolent in character. I have no evidence to support this global/universal benevolence and so I see panentheism as moderately dangerous.

goprairie said...

John, I am SURE you are right. I have not thought my beleifs through at all, I am severely mistaken, and my views are laughable. Hell, I can't even remember to spell belief right most of the time. Thanks for the respectful discourse. I will say one last thing before I try to remember who I am arguing with and shut the hell up and that is that I do not have to explain the origins of the universe to state that I am an atheist. Physics is not my department. I would never claim to be able to understand all of that, nor do I need to in order to satify myself that a god was not involved. Some things can remain unexplained but if this one ever is, god or gods will have had nothing to do with it. How do YOU think the universe came to be? Are you admitting you are not ACTUALLY an atheist because you think there had to be a god to create the universe?

John W. Loftus said...

gopraire, I am arguing with you, that's all. You can be personally upset if you want to be. But someone must bridge the gap between believers and skeptics like us. If I must offend people on both sides to do this I will. Don't expect to get a free ride here because we're in agreement as atheists. There are many claims that I find laughable on the theistic side just as there are many claims on the skeptic side I find laughable.

Goprarie said...Are you admitting you are not ACTUALLY an atheist because you think there had to be a god to create the universe?

This is proof that a skeptic does not think well just because he is a skeptic. To suggest for one second that because I have argued the way I do here that I must be a closet theist is, well, laughable.

No wonder I cannot convince you of that which I am persuaded about. All you can do is to cough up what you have read from other atheist writers on this subject. But when asked by me to explain and defend what you've read you cannot do it.

I mean you no harm. I wish you no ill. I wish you all the very best.

John W. Loftus said...

Evan said...The following two sentences in my mind are not identical:

1. I do not believe there is a God.

2. I believe there is not a God.


Besides merely providing one example after another, my friend, would you mind stating the difference between these two sentences?

In linguistics there is a long held difference between propositions and statements (like types and tokens).

Several different statements utilizing different words in a different syntax can express the same proposition.

Let's eat.
Time to eat.
Dinner's ready.
Supper's on.
Come and get it.

Evan said...

To say that you believe there is no God is to say that you have examined the claim and you have found no evidence to support it.

To say you do not believe in God is to say that you have no a priori notion that a God exists and may or may not be persuadable by a given set of data. I agree with you that this is the default position.

Does that help?

The same process of thinking analogically would apply to the rest of my subsequent statements.

Your list of examples is instructive:

Let's eat.

I am hungry, I would like it if you would eat with me.

Time to eat.

It is now the hour at which we usually eat, whether we are hungry or not.

Dinner's ready.

A large meal has been prepared and is at its maximum taste/texture/heat value at this moment.

Supper's on.

The evening meal is now on the table.

Come and get it.

Something is ready for you to come and get.

John W. Loftus said...

Evan, thank you, but I'm not sure.

Your definitions of the two sentences are person related, no? That is, you've defined them as they mean to you. Would you say everyone would agree with how you defined them? Must they agree with you for one reason or another? What would that reason be? Why should theists, for instance, agree with the way you've defined them?

All of my "eating" statements (in the usual context) called people to eat, and you know that. They all connoted something, ie., "come and eat now because the food is ready."

Linguists also make a distinction between what words denote and what they connote.

Evan said...

I agree that I certainly can't enforce my understanding of statements on others. But I do think the distinctions I'm making are in general those of most English-speakers. The other languages I speak have similar transitions.

In Turkish for instance, although the grammar is very different, the same ideas can be expressed meaning basically the same thing with small changes in denotation due to the primary religion of most Turkish speakers being Muslim and therefore a contradistinction between the word "tanri" which is any deity and "Allah" which is the unified God of Islam. The ways of stating belief -- I do not believe in a god(tanrisi inanmiyorum) or I belive there is no god(hic tanrisi degildir inaniyorum)[my apologies to native Turkish-speakers for the lack of proper alphabet and any grammatical errors that I have inadvertently made here] stand in the same relative positions, however.

John W. Loftus said...

Evan, I'm glad we agree, but agreement isn't called for, just a better understanding. I maintain there is no real useable distinction between these two statements, apparently against most English speakers. (!)

Is this just semantics? I dunno. Does it matter? Probably not. Still I think we need to try to understand what our language is supposed to convey.

1. I do not believe there is a God.

2. I believe there is not a God.

The distinction you've proposed between the above statements is one between an examined position on the God issue and no belief one way or another on the God issue. We're in agreement that the default position is no a priori belief one way or another on the God issue.

That being said, language is elastic and tough to pin down. There are connotations, propositions and statements, as mentioned. There are intentions of the author and what the words signify to the reader (or meaning and significance).

To properly look at these two statements would actually require a detailed analysis of all aspects of these things...things I'm not willing to do at this point.

Except that I want to look into one particular aspect, and maybe you can help me.

What is a "non-belief" in comparison to a "belief" when we state what we believe or don't believe? I can have a non-belief on the issue of whether there is a guy named Duke who is dying in, say, a boat off the shores of South Africa right now. Why? Because until I entertain such a question I have no belief about it one way or another. However, once I entertain such a question and issue a statement about it one way or another I have moved from having "no belief" to having a belief about the question. If not, why not?

So in my opinion, since Both 1 & 2 above are making statements about the God question, both of them reflect a belief about God.

Now, if there is anything in those two statements indicating that one of them is an examined belief and the other is not, or that such a distinction can even be sustained under further questioning, I'm all ears.

Cheers.

Shygetz said...

So when an atheist says, "there is no God," or "this God does not exist," those are indeed stated beliefs.

A few quibbles. First of all, how you define atheism and agnosticism is not how I was taught the terms. Agnosticism deals with the question of knowing...is it possible to know if gods exist? Weak agnostics say that, given our current state of knowledge, we cannot know if gods exist, and strong agnostics say we can NEVER know enough to say if gods exist. Atheism deals with the question of existentialism...can we justifiably conclude gods exist? A weak atheist says we cannot justifiably conclude gods exist, and a strong atheist says we can justifiably conclude gods do NOT exist. Most atheists are weak atheists AND either weak or strong agnostics, but it's possible to be a weak atheist AND a "gnostic" (i.e. it's possible for someone to know, but I don't), or a strong atheist and a gnostic (i.e. a person who has concludes the very definition of gods is inconsistent and therefore impossible), or even a strong atheist and a strong agnostic (i.e. a person who has FAITH that no gods exist). I am a weak atheist and a weak (who is slowly wavering towards strong) agnostic.

So, when an atheist says "this God does not exist", assuming that the claim for this God is unjustifiable, the atheist has an inherent justification based on Bayesian probability. If we take all possible knowable scenarios of the universe that are consistent with what we know, and then of those we take out only the ones that are consistent with "this God" that is unjustifiably claimed, the probability of the unjustified claim being true is the number of possible knowable scenarios with "this God" divided by all possible knowable scenarios. This number will be very small, and the more specific the definition of "this God", the smaller the number. Therefore, if a person claims anything more than "something(s) exist that we would agree are god(s)" without justification, the Bayesian statistics justify the null without further argument.

ANYONE WHO LEAVES THE DEFAULT POSITION HAS THE BURDEN OF PROOF, whether it's a theist or an atheist.

Sorry, but you're wrong--saying "I don't know" is not the default position, and you don't REALLY believe it is. Does HIV cause AIDS, or is it HIV plus space aliens? HIV plus invisible gremlins? HIV plus telepathy? Or maybe it's JUST telepathy, and the HIV is a symptom of the telepathy--when we treat the HIV, the telepaths decide to ease up on their bad voodoo vibes? All of this and more is POSSIBLE and inherently UNTESTABLE (so it will NEVER be disproven), but since I pulled them all out of my ass without justification, they are all HIGHLY UNLIKELY.

The burden of proof lies upon the phenomenological claim that A affects B. To subscribe to your different version of rationality would force you into decision paralysis...you would be forced to grant every unjustified claim that cannot be tested a 50/50 shot of being correct, and would have to make judgements based on cost/benefit analysis with no information on probability of results.

Let me use one of my recent favored analogies to demonstrate that we are in violent agreement. I claim that aliens have embedded a miniature nuclear fusion warhead in your abdomen without your knowledge. It's powerful enough to wipe out everyone within several hundred yards of you. It will be detonated by your body heat in ten minutes UNLESS you cut your intestines out and let them cool to room temperature.

Now, my claim is wholly unjustified, but based on all the knowledge we have it is not impossible--nuclear fusion could generate enough energy to do that with a tiny amount of mass, and there are no fundamental laws that would make such a bomb impossible. There are numerous reports and calculations that alien lifeforms may (or even probably) exist, and even some highly dubious reports that they may have visited Earth. So, the claim cannot be immediately refuted. Based on your definition of burden of proof, you must give the idea equal consideration with it's null, since neither can be refuted based on the facts we have--all we have is an absence of evidence. So, you are left with a cost-benefit analysis--if my claim is true and you don't act, then if you don't act you and everyone close to you will die in a fiery explosion. If my claim is false and you do act, only you will die but those close to you will still be saved.

Are you eviscerating yourself yet? Or are you treating my claim with skepticism based solely on the fact that I did not justify it, even though you cannot debunk it in the next ten minutes? You, me, and Socrates all know the answer to this question, John--by default, you disbelieve untestable, unjustified assertions.

Empirical rationalism DEMANDS that every claim be testable, and that it be rejected if it is not--if your version of rationality is true, why would empirical rationalism make this specific demand? Why not merely say that untestable claims be held as maybe right, maybe wrong? It's because the burden of proof in empirical rationalism is on the positive phenomenological claim--the default assumption is always that A does NOT affect B. Now, even small amounts of evidence can serve to put this assumption in doubt, but with zero evidence the assumption holds. Yes, it holds as a provisional truth, but empirical rationalism holds ALL truths as provisional.

The atheist's mantra is not "I know how the universe was made." It's "I don't know, but I'm damn sure you don't either."

John W. Loftus said...

Shygetz said... A few quibbles. First of all, how you define atheism and agnosticism is not how I was taught the terms.

I wonder how many definitions of agnosticism there are and which one’s must be considered orthodoxy? I agree with your definitions, however, and I like the the way you articulated them. Thanks! Nothing I said indicates I think otherwise, although yours are more precise definitions. Mine were personalized ones since I think arguments are all person related. That is, they are all related to what I personally think is the case.

Shygetz said... Sorry, but you're wrong--saying "I don't know" is not the default position, and you don't REALLY believe it is.

Yes I do, when it comes to why something—anything—exists. The other cases you mention are non-analogous…the alien example is not about a supreme deity or the answer to why we exist. Let me ask you if you’ve read through this whole thread before commenting, for I think I’ve already addressed your concerns…concerns which you’ve expressed before.

I’m the first person to argue that we evaluate any claim based on Bayesian background factors, which I call control beliefs. I have skeptical control beliefs and I spent half of my book arguing for mine. Again, half of my book argues for my skeptical control beliefs. But it took half of the book to do so, you see. I think atheists and skeptics are so far removed from the world of a supernaturalist that they cannot even understand them enough to reason with them on such issues. But I can. So I do. When approached by claims about aliens and gods and goddesses I initially disbelieve in them all, just like you. But I understand the supernaturalist control beliefs. They think atheists believe in absurdities. Do skeptics just not understand this? Or do they refuse to do so? The default position is an a priori one, before examining the arguments and the evidence. When it comes to aliens and gods and goddesses I already have examined enough to develop the skeptical control beliefs that cause me to reject such claims. But when we’re talking about a truly supreme deity as a necessary being, who cannot not exist, as a sufficient answer to the question about existence, that is another matter entirely, and reflected in your definitions about agnosticism and atheism earlier.

Shygetz said... You, me, and Socrates all know the answer to this question, John--by default, you disbelieve untestable, unjustified assertions.

Yes we do, but it’s not by default that we do so. We’ve developed skeptical control beliefs that cause us to do so. Does no one understand this, or even try to do so?

Shygetz said... The atheist's mantra is not "I know how the universe was made." It's "I don't know, but I'm damn sure you don't either."

Just a quibble here. Some atheists do indeed claim to know how the universe was made, at least Paul Davies does, as does Victor Stenger.

Evan said...

Shygetz, John, I think we're entering scholastic-level discussions here but they are at least entertaining.

However I do think your analogy breaks down a little Shygetz and here is why I would say so.

The universe as we observe it has an n of 1. We know nothing of any other instantiations of the universe. Therefore something about our universe is (from our perspective) sui generis.

The atheist believes this on the basis of math. The believer believes this on the basis of whatever conclusions she draws about the basic facts as they present to her consciousness.

So, contra your statements about the fusion device in the abdomen, the general question of whether there is or is not a supernatural deity of any type is something that the individual must decide on the basis of the relatively scant number of examples they have. Whereas the nuclear device is something they have at least 6 billion examples which they can use and they realize this is quite unlikely after looking at those examples.

For Jesus and Yahweh, or for that matter Allah and many other named deities, the ability to rule them out comes pretty quickly. But I agree with John that it's harder to rule out the Deist god and I would say it's impossible to rule out pantheism since I see that more as a flavor than anything else. Panentheism is a special case but it is also one I find easy enough to rule out given the facts as we see them.

goprairie said...

"No wonder I cannot convince you of that which I am persuaded about. All you can do is to cough up what you have read from other atheist writers on this subject. But when asked by me to explain and defend what you've read you cannot do it."
my my my, you certainly do know exactly what is in my head, don't you? what is it you think i have 'read' and by whom? you are quite full of judgements and accusations. what have you asked me to explain that i have not? perhaps the error was in the asking if i failed to answer to you satisfaction. or perhaps i answered with questions to you that YOU did not answer.
you have defined this 'default position' concept out of whole cloth and the rule is apparently that no one is allowed to disagree with it without being subject a personal critique by you. so be it.

John W. Loftus said...

gopraire said......the rule is apparently that no one is allowed to disagree with it without being subject a personal critique by you.

Really? My, but I misjudged your thinking skills. Sorry about that.

Evan said...

Goprairie please calm down. I'm disagreeing with some of what John says, so is Shygetz, so are you. John's a big boy and he can defend himself. There's no reason to get this upset about it. We can disagree where we disagree and agree where we agree.

John's specific position that I'm not sure I agree with is that the arguments in favor of the theist/deist/pantheist/panentheist God are not by themselves ridiculous (and here I assume he means that this is before the facts are examined dispassionately).

Personally I find the theist position ridiculous and self-refuting. I am in more agreement with the possibility that deism and pantheism may have merit.

On the other hand, I spent a significant portion of my life as a theist, so I would be making my old self into a fool if I really believed that the theist position was prima facie absurd.

What I think most of the freethinkers on this board have done is examined the theist position closely, and on close examination declared it untenable, and then in hindsight declared it worthy of ridicule (which it most certainly is).

This is very different than the position of someone who has *NOT* examined the position and I think this is where the distinction is.

I won't speak for John but I do think his position has more merit than I thought when I first examined it, although I don't know that I'm fully convinced when it comes to theism.

goprairie said...

evan, i am perfectly calm. but john cannot just change the definition of words and make up new criteria for them. or maybe i was backpacking on the island when he was voted representative of all the atheists, i mean, agnostics. he claims i cannot say i am atheist unless i can prove there is no god. or something like that - that i cannot be an atheist unless i can prove why. well, i cannot do that. but i maintain that i can still claim that i with 100% certainty am an atheist. there is nothing special about god. i don't beleive in gods. it is absurd to look at a volcano and assume there is a god inside and it is absurd to claim that god made the universe. if that is the case, and john would answer this himself if he were debating the other side, who made god? john ridicules my suggestion that god would defy the laws of physics so cannot exist, puts the words into my mouth that the universe just popped into existance without some force, then mocks that idea that he just attributed to me. so i ask him how HE thinks the universe came to be and did god do it. no answer. so he maintians one has to be able to prove there is not god if he is an atheist. he calls himself an atheist in his book title. where is his proof there is no god? in the book? maybe when amazon finally makes good on my order, i will know. but could he summarize here? how does HE prove there is no god in order to get the title atheist? if he can't, and that is how he is going to define atheist, he better lay in a stock of sharpie markers and get to relabeling the covers of all of them with agnostic instead of atheist. i am not saying he is actually agnostic, but if that is his new definiton of the word, it has to apply to him too. in the end, this IS about the bearded plump man i have been told to shut up about and the mythological rabbit and the native american sun god and the ghost of that cemetery in chicago. none of them exist and they are all absurd. equally so. and it is legitimate to claim to not beleive without 'proof'. just because people spend great parts of their lives believing in IT because they were taught to believe in IT does not make IT less NOT. as in less mythical, less made up, less a human invention. it might be harder to give up god because it is a bigger concept, a bigger story, with threats of eternal doom, but one can still say they don't beleive at all without having to prove why they don't believe. it is not my area to know a straw man from special pleading nor to have the ability to take biblical text back to source or know all the terms john uses. but my disbelief, my unbelief, my belief there simply is not god no spirit no soul is just as valid as his. whatever it is based on. if you heard someone say god gave us flowers so that we could enjoy their beauty, you might say that is ridiculous. but could you answer to why flowers are beautiful? i know some botany and some evolution and some anthropology and some sociology and i can actually tell you why flowers are beautiful and tell you therefore why the idea it was made that way by god is ridiculous. but you can KNOW it is ridiculous intuitively without knowing the details i know. and that does NOT make you a sloppy thinker. i merely means your areas of specialty are not the same as mine. but your conviction that god is not the reason flowers are beautiful is just as valid as mine, even if you may not be able to 'prove' it. anyway i am calm. or i will be until john slices and dices me again.

tigg13 said...

Hi Goprairie.

Have you ever noticed how often believers will avoid discussing the relative absurdity of their beliefs with you and, instead, challenge the legitimacy of your point of view?

You do not need to prove anything to anybody to call yourself an atheist. But if you say to someone "I think you are wrong because what you think is absurd." then you are going to have to defend your definition of absurd and your authority to make such a claim.

John is not attacking your beliefs, he is pointing out that simply dismissing god or the Easter Bunny as absurd does nothing but shift the burden of proof onto you.

This doesn't mean you shouldn't think of these as absurd; but just imagine if I were to say to a christian, "Hey, your god doesn't exist because Goprairie says he's silly." Not much of an argument, is it? Sooner or later it all boils down to your opinion vs their opinion.

If, though, you begin without an opinion, no predetermined boundaries for what is "plausible" or even "possible" (an open mind, as it were), then you can say "Ok believer show me why I should believe. Convince me. Convert me. Make me understand why this makes sense to you." (The agnostic default)

All of the burden is on them now. You've made no claims that need to be justified and no assertions that have to be proven.

This is not a trick or a strategem. It is simply acknowledging that everyone has a valid point of view and that everyone (atheists, theists and everything in between) is capable of being mistaken even about those things that they are the most certain of.

No one is going to listen to you and consider what you have to say if you aren't willing to sincerely listen to them and take their beliefs seriously.

John W. Loftus said...

If anyone is interested, the forum I had mentioned in my OP is the Internet Infidels where a philosopher and I are dealing with these same questions. You can read our exchange so far here, where I entered the discussion. I plan on replying to his latest post today.

Logossfera said...

Here we go again: agnostics claiming that agnosticism is the default position and atheism should be justified.

First of all I want to say that I agree. Our senses, our logic, our science points to the ideea that nothing is ultimately justifiable and absolute certainty in knowledge doesn't exist. So agnosticism is the default position.

Second of all I want to say that I disagree. Agnosticism is the default position but it is not a position to be taken. As any rule there are some rare ocassions that require some kind of apathy from the agnostic.

I'll give you an example. You find a person you like and he/she says he/she likes you back. Do you really 100% know that either she is lying or not? People can act and he/she may be acting. People can find hard to express their emotions so she maybe telling the truth even though other signs tell you he/she doesn't. And yet we never stay agnostics. We take the risk. We "choose" (loosely stated) to believe or not. In rare ocassions when we don't care what that person thinks we choose to remain agnostics which basically means postponing the decision.

We all have beliefs either we like it to call them such or not. All the knowledge we aquired is based on at least one untestable claim and thus nothing is ultimately provable. Staying always on the default position would require for the agnostic to not get out of the bed and be totally apathetic.

I have never met an agnostic who would say "I don't know with 100% certainty that lighing and thunder are not the product of an angry god so I'm an agnostic toward Zeus". That would be an agnostic who lives up to the label. The rest are people who give some credit to the ideea of God but know they don't have any valid reason to believe.

goprairie said...

You are saying then that an offensive atheist does need to provide reasons, and with that I would agree. But that is not the same at all as a defensive atheist. It is one thing to declare that I don't beleive a thing in a declarative manner, as if someone invites me to a prayer service, so say "I don't believe in god or prayer" but quite another to declare it on an offensive way that puts a negative value judgement on it. The first is merely to say that thing is not for me, but the second is to pass judgement on it and say it is not valid for anyone. If you chose not to wear purple, you are not obliged to defend it, but if you tell someone they look bad in the purple suit they are wearing, you are on the offensive and ought to explain why.
And you seem to be saying that agnosticim is the default position but only for a brief instant in time, because once you say you don't know, you should investigate and make up you mind one way or another. this means it is such a temproary things as to be meaningless.
There is also a huge difference between proof and reasons. When I say I do not beleive in gods, I cannot prove that. I think we've been down that path a number of times here. But I can explain my reasons. My reasons might resemble a proof or they might be simply this: Every single thing I was ever told was because of god and every single thing i considered might be has turned out to be caused by nature (where humans are part of nature) and so I conclude that any question that is still unanswered will as well. That is not a proof there is no god but i thnk it is certainly a valid reason for not being open to the possibility. a trend is not a proof, but it is how people think and make decisions.

tigg13 said...

Goprairie: "If you chose not to wear purple, you are not obliged to defend it, but if you tell someone they look bad in the purple suit they are wearing, you are on the offensive and ought to explain why."

But if I post regularly an a "People Look Putrid in Purple" website wouldn't that imply that I am taking an offensive stance against wearing purple clothes?

GP: "And you seem to be saying that agnosticim is the default position but only for a brief instant in time, because once you say you don't know, you should investigate and make up you mind one way or another. this means it is such a temproary things as to be meaningless."

How long should it take for somebody to investigate and reach a conclusion about issues that philosophers, theists, scientists and other great thinkers have been studying to one degree or another for pretty much all of human history without ever coming close to reaching an agreement on any workable solutions?

Do you think that maybe, just maybe, you haven't given these issues as much thought as they deserve?

GP: "When I say I do not beleive in gods, I cannot prove that. I think we've been down that path a number of times here. But I can explain my reasons."

There's no need. You have demonstrated, both on this thread and in other topics that you have many very good reasons for being an atheist.

goprairie said...

"Do you think that maybe, just maybe, you haven't given these issues as much thought as they deserve?"
On the contrary. I think I have wasted far too much time on anything to do with religion. Perhaps including reading and commenting here. Interesting point. If I have decided it is irrelevant, why bother?
I already know the answer to that: My only hope in participating is to be part of the significant mass that is here to provide support for those on the fence, those with doubts, thinking they are alone or strange for their doubts.
I also have concerns about the USA letting religion creep more and mroe into state matters, into the school, such as the new Illinois 'moment of silent refleciton' law, and such mixing is dangerous, so I hope to keep informed in order to argue against such further creep if I have the opportunity.
So - No, I do not think I need to waste much more time on evalutating or reevaluating whether I should beleive or not. That does not mean I will not reconsider new evidence. I have read quite a bit on the recent Lakeland 'healings' for example. And I might defensively point out that no one can know how much time another has spent on this topic. One may have easy answers that were easily come to or one might have struggled with it at great length. Would any amount satisfy you? What is the amount of thinking that would make me 'worthy' in your eyes. One point I have been trying to make here is that I am not a professional debunker, as John is, and he sometimes puts down people a bit for not using the right rules of debate or riducules people for not being sphisticated enough about this, but it is indeed 'not my area' and therefore I am not as proficient in the tools of it. But that does not make my position less valid or less 'right' or less 'true'. THis is not a club one has to meet certain miminum hours of thinking to join or know certain debate styles to join with levels of membership achieved. Some people were pretty much always atheist because it never felt right or made sense and some people spent years and years studying it at universities and colleges. If they both got to the correct answer, is the hard earned one more correct?

goprairie said...

Here's one thing I have been thinking about. John said:
"It is simply unfair to say that a spiritual being, if one exists, must be known by the laws of physics. If one exists then it is outside the laws of physics. And even if such a being can be known by these laws there may be reasons why he hides himself from people who don’t want to know him."
Many people look at the 'dark energy' thing and claim that the 70some percent of the universe that it occupies is plenty of room for god. But if god exists outside the realm of physics or god exists in or as dark energy, is that god relevant?
What makes God relevant to us? The need to beleive to be 'saved'? A need to worship him/it? The value of prayer?
Can a God outside the realm of physics or within or of dark energy that we can't see or feel or know about be relevant? Can a god outside physics interact with us within the rules of physics where we reside? This is a question not so much of the existance of god but allowing that if that sort of god exists, it it relevant? Would such a god 'care' about worship or beleif or prayer? If such a god cannot interact with us because it is in another realm with different rules, is itirrelevent to us?

Shygetz said...

No time to get into the discussion, but I'd like to make one quick comment:

Just a quibble here. Some atheists do indeed claim to know how the universe was made, at least Paul Davies does, as does Victor Stenger.

I'd love for them to show their math.

Evan said...

Shygetz I think Stenger does a good bit of this. I read his latest book God: The Failed Hypothesis and found his arguments compelling.

Moreso, I've yet to see a single educated Christian rebuttal to his points.

Scott said...

John wrote: When it comes to the question of whether there is any God at all, the default position should be agnosticism, I don't know. Anyone wishing to affirm that there is no God has the burden of proof, just like any person who affirms there is a God.

But what do you mean by "any God?" A disinterested and reclusive God who sat on the sidelines while the universe - and all life in it - formed naturally could exist. The existence of such a God could never be ruled out, but his existence would be irrelevant.

As such, I don't see the significance about being agnostic about such a God because he wouldn't have any decernable impact. It's like saying I don't know about things that would be impossible to know or would essentially be irrelevant even if I did know the answer.

Of course, what I've described does not match most people's definition of "God."

However, a God that exhibits agency in the universe to manifest a specific plan would have an discernible impact outside himself. Knowledge, or the lack of knowledge, of this God's existence and his reasons for taking action would be relevant and and could possibly even influence said God's future actions. But, in defining God in this way, one moves from "I don't know" to "I DO know."

Based on these properties, what abilities would God require to make such an impact? What motivation would God have for making said impact? Do we have evidence that such agency has taken place in the past or will occur in the future? Do these features pose a contradiction?

These are positive claims which we can evaluate and reject based on what we know about human perception, motivation and even personal experience gained by stepping back and objectively questioning and observing our own actions and behaviors.

If I were to say "I don't know" about the existence of a God with properties that would make him relevant, I'd need to say "I don't know" about everything around me.

As such, I don't see the significance of singling out God when I'd be agnostic about everything else.

Shygetz said... Sorry, but you're wrong--saying "I don't know" is not the default position, and you don't REALLY believe it is.

John wrote: Yes I do, when it comes to why something—anything—exists.

For the sake of argument, let's assume some deity tuned the laws of the universe just enough so eventually humans would evolve, but left some factors just enough out of tune so our universe would look as if it may have formed naturally. This deity doesn't have a personal relationship with us, doesn't make any demands of us and has made no provisions for some kind of afterlife. We have no knowledge of his intention, moral orientation, goals or his reason for creating us.

If you knew this deity existed to this extent as just described, what advantage would you gain over knowing the universe was formed natural and organically?

Making the distinction between these two possible realities doesn't seem to be a fruitful endeavor.

Before you could make any significant conclusions, You'd have to ASSUME said deity was good or evil, had a rational reason to create us, that our specific design was not an accident or mistake, etc. These things do not follow and are not apparent.

Sure, it's an interesting question, but when it comes down to taking concrete actions based on the belief of the existence of a God or Gods, (which I think we are really concerned about here), does making such a distinction have relevance?

John W. Loftus said...

Scott, such a God is not irrelevant to liberal believers like John Hick and others.

Remember, my position is a priori.

And I do argue against any God, just like you do.

I just think we should treat believers with fairness on this and admit with Sam Harris we really don't know why anything exists at all (something Shegetz said and which I agree with him about, if I understand him correctly.

Are you reading the link I provided?

That Other Guy said...

Just to resurrect this quickly, my understanding of atheism is not "believing there are no gods," but rather "not believing there are gods." It's a very important distinction.

John W. Loftus said...

guy said...atheism is not "believing there are no gods," but rather "not believing there are gods." It's a very important distinction.

If you've read through what I've said then please state why you think this is a very important distinction.

I maintain atheism means what it means, "non-theism." I maintain it depends on the question being asked. I maintain it is the agnostic who disbelieves in the gods.