Who Did You Say You Were Again?

People generally place themselves into particular categories in order to self-identify with like-minded people who share the same worldview.  This compartmentalizing is helpful for discussion, it keeps us from having to lay out all our views from the outset.  While we all have the freedom to identify with labels, I don’t particularly think we have the freedom to change the definitions or equivocate the labels we use.  Obviously some labels allow for degrees of nuance.  But others have specific meanings.  I want to refer to a blog I was reading, specifically the comment section.

The blog, larrydixon.wordpress.com, was discussing how to move someone from atheism to agnosticism with a few questions designed to expose a liability atheism has by not having complete knowledge of the universe, and thus cannot claim with certainty “God does not exist”.  Like standing before a swimming pool filled to the top with blue marbles; one could not make the claim “there are no red marbles in the pool” without digging through the pool and checking every marble to verify none were red.  At best the most you could claim is “it is highly unlikely given the amount of marbles I can see, that there are any red marbles are in the pool”.

One commenter responded with the following:

You just don’t know what “atheist” means.“Atheist” means “not a theist.”

“Atheist” does not imply any particular degree of certainty; you are adding that as a requirement to your own idiosyncratic (and incorrect) definition of “atheist.”

Plus, this is so tiresome. I always see people try to use this false “certainty” requirement to state that atheists are really agnostics. However, to be consistent, the same standard needs to be used against believers, and nearly all Christians (and Muslims, Hindus, etc) are suddenly agnostics instead of whatever religion they used to follow.

But I never see people do that, they only do it in an attempt to redefine atheists. But that’s just dishonest wordplay.

To which thekeyofatheist (an atheist blog I recommend, by the way) replied:

I definitely agree with Brian about this standard applying equally (if not more) to religious believers.

Here’s the thing about atheism and agnosticism: The terms are so contentious and so personal that I would argue the only reasonable course is to allow people to self-identify however they choose using these terms. Trying to settle on a single definition for all self-described atheists and agnostics is fine in theory, but in practice it’s a losing battle. Both terms have fairly diverse usage and both admit of a great deal of nuance in many of their common permutations.

Acknowledging the self-identification of others is a basic courtesy, but in this particular discussion it’s also a practical necessity.

Now, I’m not really in the business of telling people what they believe, and I share the sentiment of thekeyofatheist.  However, words do have meaning.  Strictly speaking, it is Brian the original commenter who is incorrect about what “Atheist” means.   Only until relatively recently has it become common for Atheists to re-define their position as being “the lack of belief in a God” and not necessarily “God does not exist”. By making this change, Atheists have conveniently maneuvered themselves to not have to defend their position.  Basically, saying there is a difference between the claim: “I do not believe God/gods exists” and “I believe God/gods do(es) not exist.”  I take this change in usage to be incredibly intellectually dishonest..

The word “atheism” is basically a transliteration of the Greek word atheos, (theos meaning God/deity).  In Greek “a” could mean “without” or “lacking” when related to passive a verb, however, in the case of the noun atheos the “a” takes on the meaning of an “opposite of” or reversal of meaning of the noun it is associated with.  So in the case of atheos, it means the opposite of theos. If theism is to affirm that a deity/deities exist, then atheism is to affirm that no deity/deities exists (theos=god(s); atheos=no god(s)). When the particle “a” is joined with nouns it should always be associated with the object; the negation is on the thing and not on the belief itself. So as a matter of Greek grammar, an atheos is someone who denies that a particular God or gods exist. Since the English terms “atheism” and “atheist” are directly derived specifically from atheos, their meanings in English directly correlate.

To be clear, Atheism is:

  • a claim to knowledge
  • a worldview
  • a position
  • different from agosticism
  • requires justification by way of evidence or philosophical argumentation
  • the position that there is no God or gods (rather than an absence or lack of belief)
  • either true or false

Of course Atheists can claim whatever they want as their self-identification, but their new usage of the word “atheism” as being just a non-positive “without a god-belief” is linguistically and grammatically invalid, and is foreign to the normative usage of the term atheos from which their self-identified label is derived.  So in this case, Larry Dixon is correct and his point stands.  This is why the vast majority of professional philosophers do not make the claim that God does not exist, but rather that it is unlikely God exists, because the former claim is virtually indefensible since it would require complete knowledge.

Comments

  1. There are a lot of words in the world whith meaning is in constant change. Take for example the english word consumption. It has not been 100 years when the main meaning of this word was a disease. Now, it is seen as main definer of western economic and cultural activity. You are wrong in claiming that since a word had some other original meaning, it can only mean that.

    It is a common misconception of religious people to think atheists are also thinking in religious terms. Atheism is not a religion. It does not fall under bickering sects, who all think they have the singular and absolute truth about everything (42, for example;) like the religions of this world. It is a wider perspective on the universe. And it is not dogmatic, every atheist defines their own wiev. It is not blind belief in the total nonexistance of the supernatural, but rather the defining common word we today have for people who do not see the world in religious terms. The word agnostic is usually thought to mean a person who has doubts about the existance of a god. Now, since there is such a wide wariety of people left outside the long since aged and strict definitions of an atheist and an agnostic. It should be perfectly acceptable that people use these as general terms, according to wich they relate more closely. The western terminology in these matters originates from the religious thinking because it was for more than a thousand years that only religious thinking was allowed in these matters. A nother kind of perspective brought public led straight to be burned alive at the stake.

    The “apostole of the North”, bishop Ansgarius who tried to convert the scandinavians in the 9th century (and failed) said that “the worst kind of pagans” he ever met were the “men of their own power”. These he describes as men of cosmopolitan backround having travelled the wide world, they were vikings, you see. The reason he thought them as the “worst kind” is that they exercised no rituals. So they could not be induced to christianity by including christian rituals to their daily lives. According to him they claimed not to need any gods help for anything, hence the name: “men of their own power”. These were not agnostics, nor were they atheists in the strict meaning of the word you give it, but pagans by the nomination of Ansgar. However today most people would describe this kind of relationship to gods as atheist. Simply because gods or even their existance did not matter to them in any way. There are a lot of people with this kind of relatioship to the supernatural even among the officially christians. Maybe there is or should be something more politically correct to call people like that of today, than pagan or “worst pagans” at least. Would you consider accepting that people have a right to call such people rather atheists than pagans? At least, if that is how these people see themselves.

    • You have to start scaling back your comments to a paragraph or so. They are so long effective dialogue is virtually impossible.

      No one writing on this site ever claimed atheism is a religion. But on this point, if atheists, or anyone for that matter enters the theological arena, and use theological terms, they still need to be accurate in their terminologies.

      Even though word’s definitions can shift over time, the shift in the usage in this instance has been rather recent and one of convenience. The understanding has only shifted in the atheist community, and only for the purpose of attempting to avoid having to shoulder a burden of proof for their worldview.

  2. Sorry about the long replies. I lack the lakonian skill. But, I will “sin no more”.

    The general meaning of words is in rapid change at the times like these when the modern technology gives people possibility to converse more in enverioments that are not within their “community”. If words have long since changed their meaning in other circless it may come as a surprice to an outsider. This is what sometimes happens to me when I look at religious groups. Or possibly the outsider has just had a wery narrow glimpse of the other “community” in the first place. It seems to me, that this is what has happened to you.

    In my experience atheists are more like over enthusiastic to prove their world wievs, than avoiding it. It is part of self definition, wich is healthy. It depends entirely on the person (atheist and religious alike) how willing they are to prove their worldwievs publicly. Especially in hostile enverioment.

  3. Brian Westley says:

    “. But on this point, if atheists, or anyone for that matter enters the theological arena, and use theological terms, they still need to be accurate in their terminologies.”

    I’m not using a theological term when I use the word “atheist;” I’m using an ordinary word. An atheist is someone who is not a theist.

    Looking at some online theology dictionaries, some definitions of atheist agree with mine, and some are absolutely terrible (such as insisting that atheists necessarily subscribe to evolution). Given that theology dictionaries don’t agree with each other, and that some agree with my definition, I’d say you don’t have any cause to complain.

    • The term “atheist” is a theological term, just like “theist”. I don’t disagree that you might be able to find some online theological dictionary definition which might have re-defined the term as atheists have (though I’m not sure why it would be found in a theological dictionary if it’s not a theological term). As I said above, it has only been relatively recently that the term has taken a new understanding. No doubt theological dictionary editors may capitulate to atheist objections.

      I’d like you to answer my question from the original comment section this article was drawn from, as you tap danced around it there. Does God exist? It is a yes or no question. I would appreciate it if you would indulge me here.

  4. John,
    Atheism and agnosticism are corollary but independent terms. Agnosticism is a knowledge statement and Atheism is a faith statement. I am an agnostic atheist. I believe I cannot know, given the limits of philosophy and science, with reasonable certainty that a God exists or does not. I am agnostic.
    I do not have faith that any God exists. I am an atheist.
    I’m torn as to whether you can be agnostic and a Christian, but I can assure you that you can be agnostic and a theist. Agnostic is from the latin gnosis: to know. It really has nothing to do with God. We misuse that word far worse than we do atheist. Theism is about faith. Faith by it’s nature is based on more than knowledge. Atheism means not having faith in the existence of any Gods.
    Just because I cannot know with absolute certainty that God exists does not mean I can’t have a very well reasoned belief that none exist. I cannot say with absolute certainty that I will wake up tomorrow, but given my relative health, the unlikelihood of major catastrophes, and a solid track record of doing just that- I’ll go out on a limb and say I believe I will. I am agnostic about that issue, yet I am a tomorrowist- I believe that I will be alive tomorrow.

    You are attempting to orphan the word, to either be a fundamentalist atheist (gnostic), or stop using the term as a valid description.

    Oh, and just because you are a gnostic theist and Brian may be an agnostic atheist does not give any more weight to your position. Your gnosticism is still based on your belief, right or wrong, that you can know with certainty.

    • I don’t think we misuse the term agnostic, but rather we have become acustomed to leaving off what it is we are agnostic in regards to. The term has universally been understood to be in regards to theism, so instead of saying “I’m an agnostic to whether or not God exists” we just say we’re agnostic.

      “Atheism means not having faith in the existence of any Gods”

      Here is my point of contention. In fact atheists do have a faith about the existence of any Gods. Their faith/belief is that there are none. The way the term “atheist” has always been used is to describe someone who affirms the proposition–God does not exist. This is a very important distinction, it moves the atheist from a position they must defend because they are making a knowledge claim about reality–God does not exist. And as I said earlier, this is merely a linguistic trick because the position–God does not exist, is indefensible.

      My argument is made both from traditional understanding as well linguistic and lexiconal analysis, not just what I think it should mean. So the point being it is the atheists and not theists who have done the attempted re-defining of the term for a matter of convenience. I would simply ask for some honesty as to why it was done.

  5. John,
    Atheism may or may not be informed by faith. A person can be a gnostic atheist and I would be willing to argue that that position is at least equal to and likely better informed than that of a gnostic theist.
    You can affirm a proposition without having absolute knowledge of it. If one believes he is a gnostic Christian, that does not mean he has an objective truth; it means he thinks it possible to know for sure. The fact that he affirms that he has proof of God does not mean he has good proof, just that the information he has meets his subjective metric for a truth claim.
    You cannot affirm the existence of God based on the fact that atheists won’t generally elevate their opinion to a gnostic one. Atheism and theism are both opinions, your Christianity is an opinion on the truth of the gospel, my atheism is an opinion on the truth of every religious claim. Your gnosticism is an opinion as well; you believe first that it is possible to be certain of whether or not God exists and secondly that you know enough to be certain. Agnosticism is an opinion that it is impossible for anyone to be certain of God’s existence or that you do not believe you have the requisite amount of knowledge to make that assertion. Those are mutually exclusive propositions.
    You are trying to impose your gnosticism on everyone, that if you are agnostic that it makes you uninformed. Facts and truths are independent of your opinion of them, they will be facts and truths regardless of whether you affirm or deny them. I think we can both agree on this. You are trying to elevate your opinion to a fact without following the requisite step of offering proof to others.
    Atheism can be faith based, it can also be knowledge based.
    Theism can be faith based, it can also be knowledge based.
    You do not get the luxury of taking that away from atheists.

    • But here’s the thing, someone who claims to be an atheist, who does not affirm it with certainty would by definition be an agnostic. And I would say the same for someone who claims to be a theist who has doubts to the existence of God.

      What I don’t understand is–why this is a problem?
      Is there some emotional attachment to the label atheist?
      Does it make you (the collective you) feel more intellectual or something, is there some elite status associated with it?
      Why is it so important to claim the title atheist that you (the collective you) feel the need to redefine it to fit your actual theological beliefs instead of adopting the accurate one?
      Why isn’t the label agnostic sufficient?
      Does the atheist feel they are losing something by claiming the proper label associated with their beliefs?

      I’m not trying to take away or re-define your beliefs. What I am saying is why don’t atheists just use the term which actually defines their theological stance? I think you are looking at this all wrong about my point. I’m not imposing gnosticism as a belief, but rather attempting to get you to see that is already your belief filed under the wrong label.

      In asking declared atheists to change their label, I’m not arguing for the truth of theism, or the falsity of atheism, but instead I’m looking for a “truth in advertizing”.

  6. Here’s the thing John, someone who claims to be an atheist, who does not affirm it with certainty would by definition be an agnostic atheist. He might also be a gnostic atheist who does not believe that he has enough evidence to be certain. If you have enough information to decide that one can have or not have a certainty about a certain subject, you certainly have enough information to form an opinion on whether you postulate a God. You want atheism to be a pigeonhole for dogmatism, which it is not. If you take your tack, that atheism must be informed by a dogmatic affirmation of it’s truth, as opposed to a reasonable inference based on a wealth of evidence, you must also affirm that state for the theist. In short, you want to invent atheism as a faith position. What you are trying to do is put atheism on level ground with unconfirmed theism, which it is not.
    If theism is always traditionally presented as gnostic, how then Pascal’s Wager? Whether or not you yourself consider it to be a good argument, it is one that has been presented as a classical argument for agnostic theism. If you are going to hold that atheism as a definition is misused because of classical theological terminology, you must also concede that their is a classical theological basis for agnostic theism. So you are creating a standard for atheism that does not apply to theism.
    The short answer is that (a)theism is entirely separate from (a)gnosticism.
    What theists want is to twist atheism into a faith position, that is where I have a problem. I agree with you that the atheist has a duty to defend their position, I feel the same way about the theist. To ask atheists to consider themselves agnostic-only is to make them say that their (quite likely) well informed opinion counts for nothing. The logical extension of this attitude is that certainty=truth instead of evidence=truth.
    I’d like you to logically address my analogy from my first comment on this thread, I think it explains my position well. I cannot be certain that I will wake up tomorrow, but I can know that I will with enough certainty to make plans with you for breakfast. The odds are so minute that I won’t live to tomorrow that I can surely believe that I will be here. I don’t think that this is a faith position, this is a belief based on a wealth of good evidence.

    • There is a difference between the standard for atheism and theism. Theism encompasses any number of theistic scenarios. Polytheistic, pantheistic, panentheistic, monotheistic, deistic, etc. So one could affirm some form of theism without being sure what kind of theism is true.

      However atheism is very narrow in a way theism is not. It claims no gods of any kind exist. There is no “wiggle room” on this. If the atheist were to move from “no gods exist” then he has moved away from atheism. A theist can move within theism from Christianity to Islam, to LDS, to Wicca, etc all while remaining a theist; where the atheist is stuck on a single position.

      And, yes, I believe atheism is a faith position. It is not based on direct evidence, only peripheral denials of evidence for theism. Unfortunately, I have never met an atheist who could ever be satisfied by any kind or amount of evidence. There could always be more, and it could always be more compelling. I think generally speaking, atheists place unatainable standards when it come to evidence for theism.

  7. I also address Dr. Dixon’s post over at his site. Atheism is only a faith position if an atheist affirms it with insufficient evidence. The difference between my opinion (that of the agnostic atheist) and your opinion (that of a gnostic theist) is twofold. First, my definition of evidence is far different than yours. If you have unequivocal evidence that God exists then you are obviously holding out. You must either want me to trust the Bible as proof of God (which I cannot), trust your personal interpretation of events in your life (which are hardly objective), or argue from incredulity that what few phenomena exist without an explanation in fact have an explanation (which is too much inference). I am happy to accept that you have enough evidence that you find credible that you feel comfortable as a theist. Whether or not that evidence meets my standard is entirely up to me. I have told you before that I would give your evidence due consideration. I will hold it to the same standard by which I form an opinion on anything else. I have yet to see evidence that goes beyond personal feelings, incredulity, undue inference, and unsupported claims. I can only promise to be rational, and I think what amounts to the “evidence” for theism is irrational. I’m open to discussion.
    I think I have sufficient evidence to defend my position rationally.

    I find that arguing from deism is disingenuous. You obviously feel you have enough evidence to be a Christian, so why insist that all other faiths are equally plausible. You are moving the goalposts. If you have enough certainty to call yourself a Christian despite your concessions to other faiths above, then certainly you have to concede that I have enough certainty to avoid being a “mere agnostic”. We are both, I assume, equally atheists concerning all Gods but one.

    The second difference is that in the absence of a “slam dunk” case, I choose the null hypothesis, where you choose to use doubt as positive evidence. ” I doubt that this level of complexity could occur in a materialistic universe, therefor God.”,” I doubt that this weird phenomena/life experience/event could be purely coincidental/random/naturalistic, therefor God”. If you have better evidence than that, then quit being selfish, pony up.

    At the end of the day you are attempting to hold atheism to a standard it is not required to meet. If I have to answer those 3 questions, so do you. If I have to be agnostic, so do you. Your theist opinion is no better supported by evidence than my atheist one, so why must my opinion be irrelevant while yours is not?

    If you want truth in advertising, then consider this change to your “About” page:

    Religion and Politics, I believe, are two of the most important topics one ought to have an opinion on,unless your opinion is an atheist one, then you best reserve your opinion till more evidence presents itself. And by evidence I mean things that affirm God. Your religious beliefs deal with the ultimate things. Religious beliefs are often looked at as something subjectively true. True for me, but not necessarily true for you, unfortunately if two or more people believe contrary things, they cannot all be correct; they could all be wrong, but certainly not all correct. God either exists or does not exist we just don’t know, it cannot be both. God is either personal or impersonal, but cannot be both. However if God exists it is of ultimate consequence who or what kind of God exists, unless we are arguing for vague theism then it doesn’t matter. So if God does exist religious beliefs are urgently important, again, as long as we aren’t arguing against atheists.

    I couldn’t resist….

    • Who is arguing for deism, or that they are all equally plausable? I just point out that the theist position is more flexable than the atheist position.

      I’m also curious where I have used arguments such as: “I doubt that this level of complexity could occur in a materialistic universe, therefor God”, and “I doubt that this weird phenomena/life experience/event could be purely coincidental/random/naturalistic, therefor God”. Neither of those are positions I have argued from.

      Unfortunately, I find it fairly futile to argue evidence with atheists since there is never enough, either quantity or quality. They always want more, or stronger. And unless it compels them to concede to theism they claim it isn’t evidence. The thing is, proof is a subjective term. In my opinion if one side is guilty of moving goal posts, it is atheists.

      Listen, people can believe anything they want, with or without evidence. What I ask is people use accurate terms when describing themselves.

  8. I don’t want to poison the well in this argument. I’m trying to be diplomatic, really I am.
    When you say that theism has flexibility, you are implying that because it has more choices that it is more likely to be right. Though on the surface that seems statistically correct, the problem is twofold. If Islam, to choose an option we both disagree with, is true then were you truly right in your opinion that Jesus was our Savior? You might be vaguely correct in guessing the God of Abraham, but in the eyes of that God, would you get credit for being more correct but still woefully wrong?
    The other problem, the one that after talking to you these last few days I know that you likely agree with, is that the choices are not random. They can be whittled away based on their likelihood of truth, so most if not all the positions that are not yours or mine I feel we can agree are false.
    If I have a jar of pennies with approximately 250 coins, could you say that you’re more likely right if I guess 248 exactly and you say more than 249? You certainly have a more flexible answer, yet there certainly is no more than 300, and you want me to concede that your guess is infinitely more accurate because of the flexibility of your choice. Here’s the rub. Only one number is right. We can both by deduction discount the numbers 1-200, and that leaves me in a one in 100 chance, and you with 1:50, are you twice as likely right? Maybe. But to get the better odds you had to take an agnostic position, that it is futile to commit to one number. You are the one changing the rules, you insist that I be agnostic when the strength of your argument is principled agnosticism. You won’t convince me that you knew there were 255 pennies in that jar by guessing “more than 249”.

    So my question is this: Do you argue to fulfill the Great Commission, to bring people to Jesus, to spread the Truth, or do you just argue to seem more likely correct? Are you arguing for your position or just against mine?

    I will tell you once again that I will give any evidence you have the same due process I give any evidence of anything. I hope you have novel evidence, because I have yet to see even enough evidence to be an agnostic theist. To me, gnosticism says more about your burden of proof then anything else. If you have convincing evidence, then pony up McDowell, and let’s ride. I promise to give you attention, give you reasoning, and not shrug off evidence without a reasonable defense.

    Here’s the thing. If you try to hold atheism to a level of intellectual honesty that you would never hold your position to, it is unfair. If, as Dixon claims, I need to concede that given the dearth of total knowledge available to a single human that there is a possibility that evidence exists for God that I am unaware of; then likewise you need to concede as a theist that there is a possibility that evidence exists for a monist and materialistic Universe. That makes us both agnostic by your own metric. So both theism and atheism are meaningless words, or just reserved for the deluded and insane.
    I wouldn’t stake that as my position, and you seem reticent to defend it. Every response to me on this thread has avoided addressing my arguments, and instead changed the subject to how I’m too closed minded to be a Christian, without even trying to back that up.
    I’ll call myself agnostic when you do, thank you very much….

    • Why do you keep addressing things I have never brought up? I’m not arguing for or against the truth of atheism or theism. We were discussing definitions, and how the term agnostic should or should not be used. The atheist has no room to maneuver within its view. If you move from the position of “No God” you have left atheism proper into agnosticism or theism. However within theism, you can maneuver between different views and different gods while still remaining a theist. So what is this that you are saying I am trying to prove theism by statistical probability?

      Listen, I’m lost. I don’t see anything here about you being too closed minded to be a Christian. Perhaps I have argued that you are too closed minded to see that your definition of atheism is intentionally convenient so that atheists can feel they are in a privelaged position to not have to defend their view, because they think they are making no claims. You have gone off the pier on this. I have no idea where you are getting any of what you’re accusing me of. Reread it again.

  9. It seems to me that the point John Barron jr was trying to make was that the atheists are somehow incencere, in that the meaning of their defining word has been used deliberately in a new and somehow wider meaning.

    The word atheist has for ages had a wider meaning in common speach, but a theologist would want to use the distinct meaning as theologists would see themselves as scientists. However, today as more and more people would define their relation to religion (even though most people even today learn their beliefs and values from parents never to be questioned), there is an ever increasing need for the meaning of the word atheist to be seen in a more wide angle. As I demonstrated before in this conversation the meaning of other “theological terms” like the word pagan has had to strech even in the use of theologists. If there were a better word to describe a non-believer than atheist I for one would consider embracing it. Agnostic is not a better word, because it only implies suspicion, wich is a quality of many theists also. In fact, I do not think there is a wide spread atheist conspiracy to use the defining word as means to spread atheism to people who would not embrace it otherwise. Atheism is a wider perspective, it does not have to bind it self into the rules of the playground set by the theologists. Otherwise it would never have even been born.

    The conservative thinker sees conservative form of the word a virtue, but a flexible thinker is able to understand new meanings of words and new angles of things. This is the main problem of religious thinking. It is a state where the world and everything in it, like the words are set and should not be changed. That is also why science so often collides with religion, because new discoveries often contradict the old faith based worldwiev, even if they are not meant to.

    • I agree with everything except that we should embrace the new understanding. If the term atheist does not fit your beliefs, then use agnostic or invent some other word which does fit. What I don’t understand is the affinity to the term “atheist”. I had asked George a number of questions he had not addressed, and I have not yet posed them to any other self-professed atheist to have them answered, but I’d like sincere answers to them.

      Agnostic encompasses at least three understandings:

      1) That we do not have enough information/evidence to make an informed decision to whether God exists.
      2) That given the described nature of God, we are not in a position to make an informed decision to whether God exists.
      3) That there may be enough information/evidence, and given the described nature of God we are in a position to make an informed decision, but I have not investigated the issue to the extent where I can make an informed decision.

      Here’s the thing, the term “agnostic” is the kind of term which can be legitimately defined to fit your theological beliefs without having to create a new understanding. Why is there such a strong desire to hold on to the term “atheist” to the point where you have to redefine the definition to fit your beliefs, rather than adopt an accurate term?

  10. I agree that we are getting lost in tangents. Let’s address the core issue. I hope you agree that this is a valid argument.
    1.In Dr. Dixon’s post, the one that you quote from as the basis for your position, he has 3 questions that he believes show that every atheist is in point of fact, merely agnostic.
    Do you agree?
    2. The answers to questions 1 and 2 are subject to some opinion, yet no-on would claim that we currently have access to all the information available to us- nor would someone purport to know greater than or equal to the percentage of information that they suggest humans know from question 1. So the percentage of information available to humans and known to the responder will always be less than 100%.
    Do you agree?
    3. Unless someone has 100% of all available knowledge known to them, they cannot trust any inference that they may make based on evidence available to them. Their inference might be wrong.
    Do you agree?
    4. If someone is to be internally consistent in regards to their answers to questions 1 and 2, then they must either a) affirm that ultimate proof might exist for God or against God, and that that information is not available to them at present. or… b) they must show that there exists objective proof that is known to them which cannot have any other reasonable explanation.
    Do you agree?

    I am willing to suspend my objection that the person described in postulate 4a) is, in point of fact, a gnostic who claims ignorance as opposed to an agnostic by the true definition of those terms. I will begrudgingly allow you, for now, to label that position “agnostic”. If this were true, then we have two choices available to the theist or atheist. Either they affirm proposition 4a), and they are an agnostic(not a theist or an atheist), or they affirm proposition 4b). You must hold to the position that there is no possible, even remotely plausible, chance that you are mistaken.
    Do you agree?

    So if you are a true theist, by your very own definition, you are entirely closed minded. I think that the problem is not that I am closed minded, it is that I am not closed minded enough.
    In addition, I think you claim a false dilemma when you say that someone who doesn’t claim certainty does not have to defend their view. I gladly defend mine, I am making claims that deserve an explanation. If you are encountering atheists who refuse to defend their views, then that is the fault of the particular atheist, just as I hold only the individual theist at fault when they tell me that I just need to have faith.
    My question is….Do you agree?

    • 1.In Dr. Dixon’s post, the one that you quote from as the basis for your position, he has 3 questions that he believes show that every atheist is in point of fact, merely agnostic.
      Do you agree?

      Yes, He uses questions he believes shows atheists are actually agnostics.

      2. The answers to questions 1 and 2 are subject to some opinion, yet no-on would claim that we currently have access to all the information available to us- nor would someone purport to know greater than or equal to the percentage of information that they suggest humans know from question 1. So the percentage of information available to humans and known to the responder will always be less than 100%.
      Do you agree?

      Here’s the first stage where your point breaks down. This is only a liability for the atheist. Here’s why, in order to make the claim: there is no gold buried in Alaska, you would need to search every square foot of earth in Alaska for that claim to be accurate. However to make the claim: there is gold buried in Alaska, you only need to find one piece of gold in the earth in order to be accurate. Theists claim to have evidence when it comes to God. The skeptic may not be convinced, but it does not mean it isn’t evidence. In this case the theist is justified to holding the belief God exists based on just one bit of evidence even though it may not tell you which God it is. So what the skeptic of both gold and God should say is: it is highly unlikely… rather than the claim of certainty they do make.

      3. Unless someone has 100% of all available knowledge known to them, they cannot trust any inference that they may make based on evidence available to them. Their inference might be wrong.
      Do you agree?

      No, I don’t agree. I could walk into my house to find things askew (tv on, cabinet open, etc) and conclude someone was in my home; and that the wind didn’t blow through because windows weren’t left open, or there wasn’t a very localized earthquake just in my livingroom to to explain the situation. So even though I could not be 100% certain it was a person in my home, I can be justified in that belief. The atheist on the other hand would be essentially coming home to a home which they feel is left askew but makes the claim “no person was in my home”. And it is this claim of certainty which is unjustified unless they complete knowledge.

      4. If someone is to be internally consistent in regards to their answers to questions 1 and 2, then they must either a) affirm that ultimate proof might exist for God or against God, and that that information is not available to them at present. or… b) they must show that there exists objective proof that is known to them which cannot have any other reasonable explanation.
      Do you agree?

      I don’t think this follows at all.

      I think it’s great that you will engage your views to examination. My personal anecdotal experience is your willingness to open your beliefs to discussion is not the norm. Just go back ad read comments from “god” on other posts, who feels his position is correct by default and he can just simply sit back and declare “nonsense” to the claims of theists, without ever having to offer or defend his reasons why. The atheists I have interacted with overwhelmingly make the claim that their position, really isn’t a position, and that they are making no claim, and thus have nothing to defend.

      Any theist who simply offers “just have faith” is stuck in a church which discourages investigation. It’s sad.

  11. I like your spirit, John. Your argument seems sound, until you get to the part about evidence.
    Let’s run with your Alaska analogy, but let’s change it slightly. I wish to do this if only because there is most certainly gold in Alaska, and until you are willing to offer physical and material proof for God, the weight of your evidence is assumed to be less than outright confirmation. Let’s use Easter Island.
    1. If you believe there is gold in the ground on EI, then you are a goeist.
    2. As an agoeist, I obviously hold to the belief that all the facts we have available confirm the fact that there is no gold on Easter Island. None has ever been found, our understanding of geology and earth sciences does not bode well for gold being found there, and people have lived there for centuries without any being found.
    3. As a goeist, you say that unless I can search every nook and cranny of the island, I cannot say with certainty that I am correct. In order to back up your case, you offer two very interesting pieces of evidence. First, there is a book written by ancient Polynesians that says that they came across an island covered in gold while sailing south from Hawaii. The book also says that when they visited the island 400 years later, no trace of gold was visible. You also offer that the inhabitants of EI have in their vocabulary a word that means “Shiny Yellow Rock”. So you have evidence, and I have an absence of evidence.
    4. You consider my claim to be impossible to defend. Is absence of evidence really evidence of absence? Well, yes. Unless your evidence which is based on a priori assumptions is confirmed by direct evidence. I do not need to comb the earth to know that unicorns are a creature of fantasy. I do not need to investigate all the cosmos in order to believe that there are no orbiting teapots remotely controlling our weather. I have no evidence for either of these, yet both have been postulated and at least one is made reference to in many books.
    The problem with your “evidence” is that it makes assumptions that cannot be confirmed or disproved. If you assume that the polynesian book is even talking about the same island, then you are also confirming that the people of EI had prior dealings with a civilization that knew about “shiny yellow rocks”, so your linguistic evidence is tainted. Yet you cannot even say with any certainty that the polynesian book was even talking about EI, since it only says they sailed south. Maybe they got to Peru? So though you believe you have evidence and I do not, what you are doing is saying that bad evidence is better than no evidence. Since you concede that the only evidence that would suffice would be for me to search every grain of crushed rock and soil from the whole island, you set up a system where I must accept bad evidence because I can produce no evidence that you would accept, shy of dismantling an entire island.

    If you have physical and material proof (actual gold in your hand) then you must concede that we are not talking about Alaska here. If you can build a strong inferential case (and I think you can), then I would say that your belief is justified but not necessarily correct. I can offer a similar inferential case which I believe is justified and as likely to be correct as I require to feel comfortable as an atheist.
    This is where I would like to start. Discuss.

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  1. […] there are those who are well aware of the logical fallacies involved, but nevertheless will try to define atheism as the positive claim that no gods exist. Only until relatively recently has it become common for […]

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