Thursday, August 25, 2016

Craig on defining atheism

Here. 

88 comments:

John Moore said...

What makes a definition "faulty"? Surely you guys aren't thinking that words have their own inherent and objective definitions. Isn't it obvious that people define words for their own purposes?

So then it's just a question of whose purpose it serves to define atheism one way or the other.

By the way, Dr. Craig is wrong when he says the standard definition "exonerates the unbeliever from having to give any defense of his viewpoint." This opinion makes no sense! Of course I need to engage with theist arguments and explain why I'm not convinced by them.

What I don't have to do is explain why God most definitely does not exist. Because that's not what I believe. And I'm an atheist.

Shouldn't you try to let people define themselves first? If someone says they believe something, then you can try to demonstrate that they don't really believe that, so they're contradicting themselves. But that's not what Christians do. They just try to change a word's definition.

Maybe Christians have trouble with the whole concept of word-definitions. In the gay rights struggle, we saw Christians focusing on the supposed definition of marriage, but that argument never convinced anybody. It would be so great if you Christians would stop quibbling about vocabulary and focus more on actual reasons and evidence.

planks length said...

John's comment above is interesting. First he writes Dr. Craig is wrong when he says the standard definition "exonerates the unbeliever from having to give any defense of his viewpoint." But this is followed almost immediately by his stating What I don't have to do is explain ... Hmm...

But what really made me laugh was we saw Christians focusing on the supposed definition of marriage, but that argument never convinced anybody. Really? Never? Not anybody? Does John have "evidence" for this amazing claim?

Hal said...

Obviously John engaged in a little exaggeration.
However, since the word "marriage" can now be used to refer to gay couples as well as straight couples it is clear that those conservative Christians who tried to claim that they knew the one true definition of marriage failed to persuade their opponents.

Cal Metzger said...

Reading Craig try and explain that atheists don't really know what they mean when they say that they lack a belief in gods is like watching a man try to swim forward in outer space.

Cal Metzger said...

Moore: "Maybe Christians have trouble with the whole concept of word-definitions. In the gay rights struggle, we saw Christians focusing on the supposed definition of marriage, but that argument never convinced anybody. It would be so great if you Christians would stop quibbling about vocabulary and focus more on actual reasons and evidence."

From the Apologists Handbook, Page 17: "If you don't have evidence, complain about definitions."

Chad Handley said...

Cal, Hal, and John: if "atheist" is the term for someone who lacks a belief in God, what terminology would you use to describe someone who believes that God does not exist?

Chad Handley said...

For him atheism is just a psychological state and therefore it is neither true nor false. It is not a view. It's a description of one's psychology.

This is an important point that doesn't get enough attention, in my opinion. Defined as a lack of beliefs, atheism is something that cannot be publicly defended as truth. It makes no reference to any objective state of affairs beyond the individual atheist's psyche. It's true that certain people are atheists, but it makes no sense to say "lack of belief" atheism is true per se. It would be as incoherent as saying that schizophrenia, or any other purely subjective state of mind, is "true." The best a proponent of such atheism could say is that, like schizophrenia and other purely subjective states of mind, some people have atheism and some people don't. But to ask whether it is true would be to make some sort of category mistake, because it's not the kind of thing that is eligible for truth status.

I have a feeling that if we held atheists to this definition strictly, much of what they say would be nonsense. For example, when Dawkins speaks of an atheistic universe, by his own definition, he is not referring to a universe in which God doesn't exist but a universe in which everyone lacks a belief in God. And of course such a state of affairs is perfectly compatible with God's existence

Chad Handley said...

And I realize I'm filibustering but one more question to Cal, Hal, and John: do you extend to believers the same courtesy of respecting their definitions? For example, do you accept that no believer in any mainstream religion, certainly not Christianity, has ever defined faith as "believing without evidence?" Or do you ignore how Christians define faith and insist on the "belief without evidence" definition?

Satta M. said...

I think Craig is equivocating on "God"

For example, I'm as certain that Yahweh/Jesus doesn't exist to the same extent that I am certain that Zeus or Quetzalcoatl don't exist, which is as close to 100% as I can be certain about anything.

If it's any interventionist god that has interest in homo sapiens, I'm very certain they don't exist.

If it's a non-intervening theistic or deistic god, that gets much harder to differentiate from a natural-appearing universe, so I suppose I'm a little less certain. About the the same certainty that we're not in a simulation.

He wants me to call all these possibilities "God" and have a single response to them? Impossible

B. Prokop said...

"Do you accept that no believer in any mainstream religion, certainly not Christianity, has ever defined faith as "believing without evidence?" Or do you ignore how Christians define faith and insist on the "belief without evidence" definition?"

EXCELLENT questions! We're waiting for an answer, Hal, Cal, and John.

Cal Metzger said...

Chad: "Cal, Hal, and John: if "atheist" is the term for someone who lacks a belief in God, what terminology would you use to describe someone who believes that God does not exist?"

An atheist who believes that God does not exist.

Victor Reppert said...

Oh come now. All you have to do to escape any evidential bind is just to let your definitions slide around all over the place. If we are confused about what we are looking for evidence for, then of course any possible evidence for it can be denied as real evidence. For example, if we define faith as belief without evidence, then of course if we are looking for reasonable faith we aren't going to find it.

Cal Metzger said...

"Do you accept that no believer in any mainstream religion, certainly not Christianity, has ever defined faith as "believing without evidence?" Or do you ignore how Christians define faith and insist on the "belief without evidence" definition?"

Defining a hat as a bird with large eyes that preys nocturnaly does not turn a hat into an owl. It just means that your definition doesn't describe the thing you're referring to.

Please try and let that soak in for a while.

B. Prokop said...

"Defining a hat as a bird with large eyes that preys nocturnaly does not turn a hat into an owl."

That is so true! And for that very reason, Faux defining "atheist" as someone who simply lacks a belief in God doesn't make it so.

Cal Metzger said...

VR: "If we are confused about what we are looking for evidence for, then of course any possible evidence for it can be denied as real evidence."


That is why looking for "evidence FOR" something is foolish. Just look for the thing itself. Unless you want to keep fooling yourself.

John Moore said...

I just want to repeat the key point that atheists aren't trying to avoid discussion, and they still have to defend their philosophical position.

When an atheist says he does not believe in God, the positive assertion is that all theistic arguments fail to persuade. I'm perfectly willing to discuss why every argument for God's existence falls to pieces. I'm not avoiding the issue.

On the other hand, when Christians sometimes ask me why I'm so sure God doesn't exist, I simply say I am not sure at all. You can't expect me to defend a position I don't hold.

Cal Metzger said...

John Moore is entirely correct.

Legion of Logic said...

"Defining a hat as a bird with large eyes that preys nocturnaly does not turn a hat into an owl. It just means that your definition doesn't describe the thing you're referring to."

Exactly. I will save this to use any time an atheist attempts to define faith as belief without evidence, which is of course embarrassingly wrong.

Cal Metzger said...

"Exactly. I will save this to use any time an atheist attempts to define faith as belief without evidence, which is of course embarrassingly wrong."

And good luck to with that. :)

Legion of Logic said...

"When an atheist says he does not believe in God, the positive assertion is that all theistic arguments fail to persuade."

If I found a deserted island where two men were stranded, and one of them was dead with a gunshot to the back of the head, with the gun lying about 20 feet away, and only two sets of footprints on the island, I would say "The second man murdered the first."

A skeptic comes along and says I have no evidence without fingerprints or DNA or motive.

I maintain that until evidence is found for an alternative, then I'm going with the second man being a murderer, since I have no credible alternatives.

Atheists love to try and shoot down arguments for God, which is fine. Their opinion is noted (and rejected). Rather than attempting to shoot down my idea, let's see the evidence for an alternative.

Let's see the evidence that existence is possible, and that the features thereof are more likely, without a creator. Do that, and that will be far more powerful an argument against God than your personal opinions on the evidence for God.

Thus far, zero evidence has been presented that existence is possible without a creator. Ergo, a theist am I.

Cal Metzger said...

Legion: "Thus far, zero evidence has been presented that existence is possible without a creator. Ergo, a theist am I."

Does God exist?

Victor Reppert said...

CM: That is why looking for "evidence FOR" something is foolish. Just look for the thing itself. Unless you want to keep fooling yourself.

VR: Fine, OK. I have found God. Looked him in the eyeball. Now what?

Chad Handley said...

Defining a hat as a bird with large eyes that preys nocturnaly does not turn a hat into an owl.

I think what you're trying to say is that most people claim to believe on the basis of evidence, but actually do not.

I think you're quite wrong. I've never seen a theist state that they believe in God for absolutely no reason whatsoever. They will say they believe because God answered their prayer, or because they "feel Jesus in their heart," etc. In other words, I think many theists believe on the basis of bad or insufficient evidence, but they do so unknowingly. That's a far cry from believing on the basis of absolutely no evidence on purpose, which is what you accuse them of.

I think you should read the article and the technical distinctions made, because to make your "belief without evidence" charge stick, you have to make the amateurish philosophical mistake of conflating "bad evidence" with "no evidence," and while both practices are irrational, they are far from the same thing.

More to the point, obviously, even if most people actually believed without any evidence at all, that does not suffice to show that the term "faith" actually means belief without evidence.

After all, it is quite possible that most people who are atheists actually deny the existence of God, knowingly or unknowingly. And you obviously wouldn't agree that this would suffice to show that the term "atheism" actually means the denial of the existence of God.

Christians actually have a term for belief without evidence: fideism. Fideism is considered a sin in all mainstream branches of Christianity. So why not just use the existing terms accurately, and say that the very small group of people who actually believe in God without evidence are not practicing faith they are practicing fideism?

Cal Metzger said...

VR: Fine, OK. I have found God. Looked him in the eyeball. Now what?

Ask the big fella why he doesn't know anything you don't already know.

John Moore said...

Yes, atheists generally make other positive assertions besides saying theistic arguments fail. Evolution can explain all the varieties of life we see around us. That's one I'm willing to defend.

Another positive assertion I've sometimes made on this forum and elsewhere is that we can build a machine that is truly alive and conscious like us if it is a neural network that evolves by natural selection. A related point is the idea that intentionality always involves a physical flow of energy from the symbol to the thing symbolized.

I'm sure lots of atheists have all sorts of theories and philosophical positions they're arguing in favor of.

Atheists are just agnostic on the question of the fundamental nature of reality or what happened before the Big Bang. Atheists tend to take existence as a foundational assumption, not something that can be explained.

Cal Metzger said...

Chad: "That's a far cry from believing on the basis of absolutely no evidence on purpose, which is what you accuse them of."

Sure I do.


Chad Handley said...

Atheists are just agnostic on the question of the fundamental nature of reality or what happened before the Big Bang.

You can't make this stuff up.

Cal Metzger said...

"Fideism is considered a sin in all mainstream branches of Christianity."

No, it's really not. Histrionic much?

Chad Handley said...

Sure I do.

Okay, but... they pretty obviously don't. Ask one. Any one.

They'll certainly give you an answer that you will deem insufficient, but they won't say "I don't need a reason."

I don't understand how people who pride themselves on their reliance on science can so blithely ignore their duty to engage in observation.

Chad Handley said...

Carl, in what mainstream branch of Christianity is fideism not considered a sin?

(Before you ask, I define "mainstream" in the usual way, as generally adhering to the Nicene Creed.)

Cal Metzger said...

Chad: "You can't make this stuff up."

What exactly astounds you?

Cal Metzger said...

Chad: "I don't understand how people who pride themselves on their reliance on science can so blithely ignore their duty to engage in observation."

Has it ever occurred to you that you are the one who misunderstands?

Chad Handley said...

What exactly astounds you?

If only we already had a word for being "agnostic on the question of the fundamental nature of reality."

Then we'd have one word for being agnostic about the fundamental nature of reality, and one word for the denial of God's existence.

But what word would we use? Hmmmm....

Cal Metzger said...

Chad: Carl, in what mainstream branch of Christianity is fideism not considered a sin?"

The same ones whose creeds demand that we express belief in things for which we have no other reason to believe other than that they are stated in those creeds. I'd start there.

Cal Metzger said...

Chad: "Then we'd have one word for being agnostic about the fundamental nature of reality, and one word for the denial of God's existence."

Yup. Two different things, two different words. Some overlap, with subtle but important differences

Chad Handley said...

The same ones whose creeds demand that we express belief in things for which we have no other reason to believe other than that they are stated in those creeds.

There are no such branches of mainstream Christianity.

Chad Handley said...

I'm getting the feeling that Cal is not somebody I should spend a lot of time arguing with. Am I wrong?

Victor Reppert said...

It's considered heresy in the Catholic Church. De fide at Vatican I.

Cal Metzger said...

"There are no such branches of mainstream Christianity."

Disagree.

Some overtly wrestle with this difficulty (see Lutheran scholarship, which is a tad formative), but more importantly open your eyes and wonder about the words the creeds ask you to state you believe--and then ask yourself how you could know those things without accepting them first (on faith).

Chad Handley said...

open your eyes and wonder about the words the creeds ask you to state you believe--and then ask yourself how you could know those things without accepting them first (on faith).

I do believe them on faith as Christians have historically defined faith: trust in a previously vetted, established, and trustworthy authority.

I do not believe them on faith as you define faith: belief without any evidence.

I ask again: in what mainstream branch of Christianity is belief without evidence, aka fideism, not considered a sin?

Cal Metzger said...

Chad: "I ask again: in what mainstream branch of Christianity is belief without evidence, aka fideism, not considered a sin?"

Why do you even think that's relevant?

But Lutheranism (again) is mainstream.

Chad Handley said...

Why do you even think that's relevant?

Why do I think the fact that fideism is generally considered a sin is relevant to the claim that faith is belief without evidence?

But Lutheranism (again) is mainstream.

Lutherans are not fideists. Luther did think that some aspects of theology were beyond the ability of reason to capture or prove but he did not advocate belief without any evidence whatsoever.

Chris said...

It seems to me that one of Craig's key points is that many "atheists" today conflate atheism and agnosticism. This is the case because of the so called presumption of atheism, that is, atheism as the "default" worldview. If the arguments for theism fail to convince- then we default to atheism. But, is that right? Doesn't that just get you to agnosticism? Why is a positive argument for atheism not required?

Legion of Logic said...

"Why is a positive argument for atheism not required?"

A typical atheist (of the New Atheist stripe anyway, there are atheists far more sophisticated and knowledgeable than New Atheists) does not want to engage in defense, which is why the "lack of belief, therefore no claim to defend" strategy is so popular. It's easy to attack when you can simply make evidence impossible to present.

It's better to question one of these atheists back. When asked if you believe in God or if you have any evidence for God, counter with "Why do you ask?" Once they answer that question - for example, they question God belief because they believe religion is harmful - then we can label them antitheists, who do make positive claims that can be dissected and revealed as flawed.

I spent years playing the defensive game and being told that nothing counts as evidence for God. They do have a point that I agree with, though. Offense is much more fun.

David Brightly said...

I'm with Craig on this. The evidence for fairies is pretty thin so I believe there are no such things. Likewise El Dorado, caloric, and the luminiferous aether. I'm an an-aether-ist. Gimme that ol' time atheism. Don't care for the modern jejune variety.

AdamHazzard said...

I'm a hard atheist with respect to the claim that God exists as an object or phenomenon within the observable physical universe.

Discourse about the ultimate nature of all reality (including but obviously not limited to theism and metaphysical naturalism) interests me, but I find I'm not in an epistemological position to make knowledge claims about such things.

B. Prokop said...

"I'm a hard atheist with respect to the claim that God exists as an object or phenomenon within the observable physical universe."

Exactly correct! That is a perfect expression of orthodox Christianity. God is not some entity within the observable universe, but rather the Creator of "all things visible and invisible" and external to His creation. He is not a being amongst other beings, but rather the source of all being itself. ("I am who am. ... Before Abraham was, I am.")

AdamHazzard said...

Yep. As I said on another blog, it's a proviso that satisfies 90% of my atheism. Reminding myself of that is a useful way to keep these discussions amicable, at least from my point of view.

My disagreement with Christianity in particular (as opposed to theism more generally) amounts to a rejection of its specific historical and metaphysical creeds.

B. Prokop said...

"a rejection of [Christianity's] specific historical and metaphysical creeds"

May I complement you on laying your cards on the table so succinctly. Saves misunderstanding later on.

Your position appears to be a mirror image of my own. I am a Christian precisely because of my being satisfied with the religion's historical claims. The metaphysical claims follow naturally, once one concludes that the historical record is reliable.

AdamHazzard said...

Fair enough. I find that entering into these kinds of discussions has helped me sort out exactly what I do believe, and how confidently, and why -- maybe you feel the same way. That's one reason the atheist-Christian dialogue still seems pertinent, even when the arguments are tediously familiar and even if no one changes his or her mind as a result.

Hal said...

Craig wrote:
"I think the fact remains that atheism is the view that God does not exist. If certain unbelievers are not willing to adopt that posture and defend it, then they need to just frankly say, “I am not an atheist. I am simply an unbeliever or I am a non-theist or I am a secularist or I am an agnostic” and simply be straightforward about what their beliefs really are."


He is, of course, free to define the term "atheism" any way he wishes. So if someone lacks belief in God he can refuse the term "atheism" to refer to that person. But that is his personal usage. He does not get to control the way others use the term.

But the term is commonly applied to one who simply lacks belief in God. See the OED:

atheist, n. (and a.)

1.A.1 One who denies or disbelieves the existence of a God.
2.A.2 One who practically denies the existence of a God by disregard of moral obligation to Him; a godless man.


Seems to be a common misconception among conservative Christians: they think they know the true meaning of a word.

B. Prokop said...

I'll go along with Hal as long as he agrees to the following:

An atheist is, of course, free to define the term "Faith" any way he wishes. So if someone lacks belief in God he can define the term "Faith" to refer to belief without evidence. But that is his personal usage. He does not get to control the way others use the term. He may not force his definition upon believers, nor may he insist on using it his way in a discussion.

For a proper definition of Faith, see here.

Chris said...

I am puzzled. What is the difference between "God does not exist" and "lacking belief" in the existence of God? If one has never considered the existence of God, then I understand how one could lack belief. But, if one has considered the existence of God and responds, " Nope, not buying it"' - that person has decided that " God does not exist". Is that not a belief?

B. Prokop said...

Chris,

I can actually see the distinction. Some people are sure there is intelligent life on other planets in the galaxy. I personally, although open to the possibility that there may indeed be such, have no firm opinion on the subject. I just don't know.

The problem with most atheists** however, is that this is not how they approach the subject of God. I see no evidence of a benign neutrality, but rather a willed disbelief, a dancing around the subject, a focus on irrelevancies, a moving of the goalposts, and most of all - a refusal to acknowledge the simple fact that their mind is made up.

And this is why I totally agree with Pope France, when he characterized proselytization as "solemn nonsense". (What he meant was that what is required for conversion is not a change of mind, but rather of heart.)

** this is true for every last atheist I know face to face, rather than just through the internet. I have yet to meet a self-styled atheist who genuinely "lacks belief". Press hard enough and you'll find that either they're not really atheists at all (I know one person who, although insisting she's an atheist, readily admits to praying regularly), or that they actively believe there is no God.

Chris said...

Bob,

Thank you.

But, as I understand it, knowing is not the issue at all. What we are talking about is belief- and the atheist believes that there is no God. " I don't know" means undecided, which is a form of agnosticism. It is the position itself that matters, not the degree of certainty. Does that make sense?

B. Prokop said...

We really need more than just two words to describe the full spectrum of unbelief.

The phenomenon ranges from

A. the person who believes that objective truth is inherently, intrinsically unknowable, to
B. the person who believes it's possible to know the truth, but admits that he personally hasn't found it, to
C. the person who suspects he's come face to face with the truth, but still needs convincing, to
D. the person who just doesn't give a damn (the apathetic or the cynical), to
E. The person who is positive there is no truth to be known, to finally
F. The true atheist, who has no doubt that God does not exist.

It'd be great to have a separate word for each of these.

Hal said...

Bob,
Of course I would agree with the point you made at 9:12am today.:-)


Chris,
From my perspective, it is the difference between asserting "I believe that God does not exists" and "I don't believe that God exists". I can't seem to make myself believe in a God but I don't have the evidence that would allow me to assert confidently that God does not exist. I don't think it impossible for there to be evidence for the existence of God, so I'm reluctant to describe myself as an agnostic.

At this stage in my life the only God I sometimes come close to believing in is a non-personal deistic one.

Chris said...

Bob,

That is a really interesting scale that you presented. The grades provide excellent clarification.

Hal,

Thank you for your thoughts on this. But, I still find myself puzzled. If I'm just being dense, my apologies. I remain rather unclear about the difference between " I believe that God does not exist" and "I don't believe that God exists". As I said before, the degree of belief doesn't seem relevant to me, only the belief itself. Whether one says that they are 100, 95, 85, or 65 percent confident that something is true is besides the point. The only thing that matters is an adequate confidence to say that such and such is my belief. If one doesn't have that confidence, then one is undecided. So...,. atheism is the belief, or position if you'd like, that God/s does/do not exist. And theism is the belief or position that God/s does/do exist. Respectfully, the whole lacking belief thing is just, well, weird to me.

B. Prokop said...

"The grades"

Hah! I didn't intend for them to be interpreted that way. I was just using standard outlining terminology to set out some bullet points. But now that you have brought it up...

(As I said, "Hah!")

grodrigues said...

"Seems to be a common misconception among conservative Christians: they think they know the true meaning of a word."

This can only be a joke born out of ignorance. Historically, atheism has always meant a-theism, the denial that there exists a God. This is what the Greek atomists, Lucrecius, French rationalists, French atheist existentialists like Sartre or Camus, Marx, Feuerbach, Schopenhauer, Nietzche, all the best modern atheist philosophers like the first Flew, Mackie, Sobel, etc. have defended.

If someone this late in History, out of intellectual lazyness and cowardice, wants to spoil a perfectly good word and redefine it to mean something else, he is perfectly entitled to, but as Craig himself has pointed out this has entailments which *nobody* here has answered -- not surprisingly I should add, as the atheist commentariat around here is not exactly known for insightfulness.

If atheism really is the mere lack of a specific belief, then as Victor pointed out what is to be made of actual atheists that do believe that "God does not exist" is true? One cannot say that they lack the belief that "God exists" -- call it G -- for, and given that belief is a relation between a mind and a proposition, what they actually believe is that *G is false* (or logically equivalent, not-G is true). Construing "X believes G is false" as X lacks the belief that G is just making the point for me that the redefinition is nothing but inane drivel. Furthermore, it follows that people incapable of forming rational beliefs such as babies, persons with severe mental handicaps or lunatics are also atheists. But one does not hold rational discourse with severe mental handicaps or lunatics; babies we coddle, lunatics we throw in asylums (for their safety as much as ours), etc. I do agree that it does have the advantage of bolstering the atheist population and raising its average IQ. In fact, one does not even hold rational discourse with whomever about lack of beliefs because there is nothing to discourse about a lack of belief (except maybe as a psychological case study). So one does not hold rational discourse with atheists qua atheists on their atheism.

I suspect that it is not merely intellectual lazyness and cowardice behind this inane drivel, but that there is also an actual argument behind this (which again belies this re-definition of atheism). I suspect that something like this inductive argument is what hovers on most people's minds. Once again call G the proposition "God exists".

(1) All the purported arguments for G fail.

(2) If until now all the purported arguments for G have failed, it is reasonable to hold that there are no arguments for G.

(3) If there are no arguments for G, it is reasonable to conclude that this is because G is false.

(4) Therefore not-G is true.

The problem with the argument is that it can be used to prove its exact contrary, namely that God exists, given that all purported arguments for not-G not only have failed, but that given the stance of the modern crop of "atheists", there are even no arguments for not-G on the table.

Hal said...

"If someone this late in History, out of intellectual lazyness and cowardice, wants to spoil a perfectly good word and redefine it to mean something else, he is perfectly entitled to, but as Craig himself has pointed out this has entailments which *nobody* here has answered -- not surprisingly I should add, as the atheist commentariat around here is not exactly known for insightfulness."

What is the point of all these insults? Do you want a conversation or is this just an opportunity to vent your emotions?


"If atheism really is the mere lack of a specific belief, then as Victor pointed out what is to be made of actual atheists that do believe that "God does not exist" is true?"

They are obligated to provide reasons for their belief if they wish to persuade others not to believe in God.
Classification is arbitrary. One can include those who lack a specific belief with those who have a belief.

"One cannot say that they lack the belief that "God exists" -- call it G -- for, and given that belief is a relation between a mind and a proposition, what they actually believe is that *G is false* (or logically equivalent, not-G is true). Construing "X believes G is false" as X lacks the belief that G is just making the point for me that the redefinition is nothing but inane drivel. Furthermore, it follows that people incapable of forming rational beliefs such as babies, persons with severe mental handicaps or lunatics are also atheists."

Well, I don't hold to the notion that beliefs are relations between a mind and a proposition, but that issue cannot be adequately addressed here.

As to your concern about babies and lunatics being described as atheists: it simply makes no sense to make ascriptions of belief or non-belief to things that have no capacity for belief.

By the way, if you can't stop hurling insults, don't expect any more responses from me.

grodrigues said...

@Hal:

"By the way, if you can't stop hurling insults, don't expect any more responses from me."

You must be laboring under the false apprehension that I actually expect crave your non-responses -- because you did not respond to any point I made. Maybe you have not noticed, but while I did quote you, I did not address my comment to you. Do not want to respond? Don't, as I said there is no big loss.

B. Prokop said...

"Classification is arbitrary. One can include those who lack a specific belief with those who have a belief."

Lovely! So from now on, I will count all those self-identified nones who simply "lack a specific belief" in with the rest of us Christians (who obviously "have a belief"). You good with that?

grodrigues said...

@B. Prokop:

"So from now on, I will count all those self-identified nones who simply "lack a specific belief" in with the rest of us Christians (who obviously "have a belief"). You good with that?"

Not only that, but the "arbitrary classification" defense *after* ironically chiding "conservative Christians" with "Seems to be a common misconception among conservative Christians: they think they know the true meaning of a word." If "conservative Christians" do not know the "true meaning" neither does Hal -- according to what he says, or what least that is how I am reading him -- there isn't even one, so what could possibly be the problem in "conservative Christians" addressing only atheists understood as those that believe that God or gods do not exist?

Furthermore, since the classification is arbitrary I am at liberty to include "babies, persons with severe mental handicaps or lunatics" in the group of atheists to make a rhetorical point and have some fun at the expense of "atheists". And if someone protests I can always scream "The No True Scotsman fallacy!" Grin -- nothing in this whole issue is to be taken as intellectually serious.

grodrigues said...

@B. Prokop:

And while I have time to waste on this non-issue, allow me to point out that this implies that atheists cannot even agree on what atheism consists of. Now according to some atheists (a majority?) the fact that theists cannot reach an agreement on what God or gods exist, or even on what God is supposed to be, therefore theism is false, it follows by the same logic that for these atheists, atheism is false.

Cal Metzger said...

Grod: "The problem with the argument is that it can be used to prove its exact contrary, namely that God exists, given that all purported arguments for not-G not only have failed, but that given the stance of the modern crop of "atheists", there are even no arguments for not-G on the table."

Sigh.

Such a lot of flounce all to finally express the tired plea that we should believe anything until we can demonstrate its opposite.

Yikes.

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

Claimant: "Watch as I turn this lead into gold! Voila!"
Observer: "Nope. Still lead."
Claimant: "Do you have an argument that I didn't turn the lead into gold!"
Observer: "Argument? There's no argument for observing that lead is still lead."
Claimant: "I shall remain a satisfied alchemist until you can argue how it is that lead turns itself to gold without the help of alchemy."
Observer: "I don't even know where to start."
Claimant: "And I shall call you an a-alchemist."




grodrigues said...

@Cal Metzger:

"Such a lot of flounce all to finally express the tired plea that we should believe anything until we can demonstrate its opposite"

I never expressed that "we should believe anything until we can demonstrate its opposite", much less in a tired plea. This is simply your inability to parse elementary English or logic. Your parody is only a parody of your own self and your idiotic non-arguments. Whether the argument I gave is reasonable or not depends on the specific proposition playing the role of G and on other assumptions of what "reasonable" consists of (such as how exhaustive was the search through the argument space and the reasons to hold that the search was indeed exhaustive), but it *is* a bad argument for the specific group of atheists and for the specific reasons I pointed out.

Legion of Logic said...

Such a lot of flounce all to finally express the tired plea that we should believe anything until we can demonstrate its opposite.

More like "It is probably safe to believe something when all attacks on that belief or the object of that belief fail to provide adequate reason to no longer believe." Of course, there is always the possibility that these reasons exist but are simply unknown or poorly expressed to date, so there is that.

Claimant: "I believe that stubbing one's toe on a guitar amp can severely injure or even break the toe."
Observer: "You have no evidence for your claim."
Claimaint: "I...what?"
Observer: "Can you point to a single scientific study demonstrating the truth of your belief?"
Claimant: "Well no, but it's not really something that you need science for."
Observer: "Ah yes, faith - which is defined as belief without support from scientific journals."
Claimant: "That's not what faith - "
Observer: "Teaching your kids that stubbing their toes on guitar amps can break their toes is child abuse."

Cal Metzger said...

Legion: "More like "It is probably safe to believe something when all attacks on that belief or the object of that belief fail to provide adequate reason to no longer believe." "

Is it probably safe to believe that invisible unicorns conspire to control human affairs and keep their involvement hidden from us?


Legion of Logic said...


"Is it probably safe to believe that invisible unicorns conspire to control human affairs and keep their involvement hidden from us?"

If you can present reasons you believe that to be the case, and I am unable to present good arguments against it, then maybe I should consider these unicorns. If you are unable to present any reasons, then I will dismiss the claim until reasons are offered.

Conversely, if no one can present a good argument for why my reasoning on a matter is flawed, such as in the case of theism vs atheism, then I don't feel much cause to doubt my reasoning.

B. Prokop said...

I find it telling that one side of this "discussion" sticks to serious issues (definition of terms, history, the nature of evidence, etc.), whilst the other can't seem to get past forays into infantile foolishness (alchemy and invisible unicorns).

I guess it's easier to debunk the existence of unicorns than it is to conduct a serious conversation about God.

Drunk, looking for his keys under a streetlight: "I dropped my keys, and I can't find them!"

Passerby: "Where did you lose them?"

Drunk: "Over there in the parking lot."

Passerby: "Then why aren't you looking for them where you lost them?"

Drunk: "The light's better here!"

Cal Metzger said...

Legion: "If you can present reasons you believe that to be the case, and I am unable to present good arguments against it, then maybe I should consider these unicorns."

Legion, as evidence for unicorns controlling human affairs, I give you the state of human affairs -- they are kind of a mess, and I think a good explanation is that unicorns are conspiring to make our affairs as they are. As evidence that they are very clever at keeping their involvement hidden from us, I give you the fact that we cannot discern their involvement.

I think you must now agree that it is probably safe to see the world as I have explained.

David Brightly said...

My goodness me, what heavy weather we are making of this!

In general we can't say that if someone fails to believe proposition P then he believes ~P. For this would rule out being agnostic with regard to P, and such does happen. I didn't follow the case and take no view as to whether OJ killed his wife, for example. But the God question is quite specific. Someone growing up in the late twentieth century West can hardly avoid exposure to it at considerable length. Someone commenting here is likely to have gone into the question more deeply than most. Perhaps my psychological intuitions lead me astray, but I find it hard to accept that a mature such person can be agnostic. On a personal note: In my twenties I called myself an agnostic, but by age thirty I'd looked inside myself deeply enough to see that I believed there was no God. One cannot teeter on the narrow ridge of agnosticism forever, I found.

David Brightly said...

Hal (at August 28, 2016 7:48 AM) says that the OED definition of 'atheist', one who denies or disbelieves the existence of a God, supports his position. But I don't think it does. To deny that X exists is to assert that X does not exist. To disbelieve someone is not to remain neutral with regard to their claim. It's to believe what they say is false.

And at August 28, 2016 3:47 PM he seems to regard thinking evidence for God impossible as a necessary condition for being agnostic. It isn't. Ignoring this confusion, Hal appears to be an agnostic.

Lastly, in the earlier comment Hal says, He [Craig] is, of course, free to define the term "atheism" any way he wishes. I would say that this is to push liberalism into places that can only lead to its undoing, but that's entirely another discussion.

Cal Metzger said...

Brightly: "But the God question is quite specific."

Um, how can a question for which there are millions of proposed answers be quite specific? How can a question for which there is often no means of investigation available be quite specific?

Brightly: "Perhaps my psychological intuitions lead me astray, but I find it hard to accept that a mature such person can be agnostic."

I am an atheist regarding many theistic claims. I am agnostic regarding many other theistic claims. This is true of every other person called an atheist that I can imagine.

The conclusion that is atheism depends on a) the nature of the theistic claim, and b) the process one uses to investigate the claim. Depending on these two factors, one can be either atheistic or agnostic. It's not that difficult a concept.

Brightly: "On a personal note: In my twenties I called myself an agnostic, but by age thirty I'd looked inside myself deeply enough to see that I believed there was no God."

I would say that all who identify as atheists agree to the extent that there appears to be no god THAT MATTERS. Could there be a god that doesn't matter -- that doesn't involve himself in our world so as to make his actions and intentions clear, or does so in a way that masks his involvement? Sure. But my agnosticism on this subject is really just a conclusion that the question isn't just unknowable, it also doesn't matter.

B. Prokop said...

"the question isn't just unknowable, it also doesn't matter"

Really? Then why are you here (on this website)? Stop fooling yourself. You know it matters.

Legion of Logic said...

"I think you must now agree that it is probably safe to see the world as I have explained."

Human nature is a better explanation, so I have no need to invoke unicorns to explain the state of human affairs. Unless you come up with better reasons.

If you seriously believe your unicorn analogy is even close to the best arguments for God, then I think we can both agree with the statement that one of us has no idea what he is talking about. :)

Cal Metzger said...

Prokop: "Really? Then why are you here (on this website)?"

I have explained this many times here; because I feel compelled to point out instance of inconsistency, hypocrisy, and sanctimony. I don't know why I feel so compelled, but that is why I post here.

Prokop: "Stop fooling yourself. You know it matters."

So, you think that a god "that doesn't involve himself in our world so as to make his actions and intentions clear" matters? I don't know why you would.

Cal Metzger said...

Legion: "Human nature is a better explanation, so I have no need to invoke unicorns to explain the state of human affairs. Unless you come up with better reasons."

Human nature is a better explanation for religious belief, so I have no need to invoke unicorns to explain the religious beliefs. Unless you come up with better reasons.

I thought you said you would have to provide good arguments against my belief to justify you're not adopting it? But instead, it appears that you just dismissed it.

Do you see where I would find this inconsistent?

Cal Metzger said...

Sorry, this:

Human nature is a better explanation for religious belief, so I have no need to invoke unicorns to explain the religious beliefs. Unless you come up with better reasons.

Should have been this:

Human nature is a better explanation for religious belief, so I have no need to invoke gods to explain religious belief. Unless you come up with better reasons.

Chris said...

"I feel compelled to point out instance of inconsistency, hypocrisy, and sanctimony"

Oy. You can't make this stuff up.

Legion of Logic said...

"Human nature is a better explanation for religious belief, so I have no need to invoke gods to explain religious belief. Unless you come up with better reasons."

If the existence of religious beliefs was my sole reason for believing in God, then yes your statement would indeed stand.

Legion of Logic said...

"Human nature is a better explanation for religious belief, so I have no need to invoke gods to explain religious belief. Unless you come up with better reasons."

If the existence of religious beliefs was my sole reason for believing in God, then yes your statement would indeed stand.

Cal Metzger said...

Me: ""I feel compelled to point out instance of inconsistency, hypocrisy, and sanctimony."
Chris: "Oy. You can't make this stuff up."

I read you to mean that those are characteristics I'm showing here. Can you quote an instance here of me being inconsistent, hypocritical, or sanctimonious?

I'm genuinely curious, if that's what you mean.

Cal Metzger said...

Legion: "If the existence of religious beliefs was my sole reason for believing in God, then yes your statement would indeed stand."

But that's not the statement we're exploring. You had said, "If you can present reasons you believe that to be the case, and I am unable to present good arguments against it, then maybe I should consider these unicorns. If you are unable to present any reasons, then I will dismiss the claim until reasons are offered."

My point being that you appear to believe in a god, but not in a conspiracy of unicorns. And you had said that if you couldn't provide good reasons against my conspiracy of unicorns, then you will consider them (it appears you can't provide good arguments against my conspiracy of unicorns -- at least I haven't seen them -- that a skeptic could apply equally against god belief). So, do you still really think that's the reason why you believe what you believe?

Legion of Logic said...

"My point being that you appear to believe in a god, but not in a conspiracy of unicorns."

Correct.

"And you had said that if you couldn't provide good reasons against my conspiracy of unicorns, then you will consider them"

Correct.

"it appears you can't provide good arguments against my conspiracy of unicorns -- at least I haven't seen them -- that a skeptic could apply equally against god belief"

Invisible, undetectable unicorns have no explanatory power in the same way that I have no reason blaming a lunar eclipse on God - there is already a known reason for those things, thus no further proposed causes are required. That's not to say God couldn't cause an eclipse for some reason, but the only way I would invoke God would be if the lunar eclipse did something really weird and seemingly impossible, like occurring two nights in a row or reversing itself or something.

We have no naturalistic explanation for why anything exists or why what does exist has the features that it does. We know how things work - evolution, etc - but we have no explanation as to why the universe has properties that allow life to arise and for life to have properties allowing it to evolve and survive. These things seem far, far more likely in a theistic reality than in an atheistic reality. The invisible undetectable unicorns don't even approach this level of explanatory power.

(The above isn't the totality of why I believe in God, but it's a fine example of one of the reasons.)

"So, do you still really think that's the reason why you believe what you believe?"

I don't understand the question. Think that what's the reason? That since thus far atheists have failed to refute the reasons to believe in God, that it's most likely a safe assumption?

David Brightly said...

For present purposes we can take the specific, ie particular, question to be Does the Christian (refined to Catholic, Orthodox, Anglican, etc, if you will) God exist? It need be no more complicated than that, and plenty of people are prepared to answer Yes. Unlike the question, say, Is the population of London greater than that of Nanjing?, which most people will never have encountered and on which they will be agnostic for lack of information, the God question is one they will have come across in childhood. It's next to impossible to avoid contact with the materials that lead to a personal response to it. I suppose there could be a very refined philosophical attitude which judges the arguments on both sides to be inconclusive and insists on agnosticism, but in the surveys of professional philosophers I've seen the Don't Knows are a small minority, as they are on most philosophical issues. Philosophers are not known for their reluctance to take sides, and I suspect this reflects a natural propensity in our belief formation. Sitting on the fence is a hard balancing act.

Cal Metzger said...

Brightly: "For present purposes we can take the specific, ie particular, question to be Does the Christian (refined to Catholic, Orthodox, Anglican, etc, if you will) God exist?"

Exist in what way? Is god here physically, now, in a meaningful way that matters? Or is god outside our world, involved in ways that are incomprehensible?

Above I asked Legion, "Does God exist?"

I asked this because had said, "Thus far, zero evidence has been presented that existence is possible without a creator." If that is true, then god cannot exist. Although I am sure that Legion wouldn't agree with my conclusion, that is a consequence of his statement.

Brightly: "Sitting on the fence is a hard balancing act."

It's more of a motte & bailey routine than a balancing act.