Re: Theism and Atheism: Are They Indefensible?
I tend to disagree with Shermer's comments regarding atheism and agnosticism. On page 8 he discusses the Oxford English Dictionary's definition of atheism as the "disbelief in, or denial of, the existence of a God." Even though this is not the most accurate definition of the word, he justifies the legitimacy of the definition by stating that dictionaries do not give definitions, they give usages
Well, quite honestly, I don't give a rat's ass about how one particular dictionary or even multiple dictionaries define the usage of the word. I'm looking for a word that most closely and accurately defines my viewpoint. Atheism
does this. By putting "a" on the front of a word, the word simply means without
is of or relating to or having vessels that conduct and circulate fluids
is without blood vessels
. It's not the denial of or belief in no blood vessels. Moral
has numerous definitions along the lines of: of or concerned with the judgment of the goodness or badness of human action and character
is without moral standards or principles
. It's not the denial of the existence of morality.
Just because the average person is clueless about the nature of atheism and dictionaries give common usages instead of accurate definitions doesn't mean the word itself is improper. On the contrary, theism is belief in a god or gods
. Atheism is simply without belief in a god or gods.
I'm quite comfortable with that definition and I find that any effort to discredit atheism is generally nothing more than an argument over semantics. Forget semantics. Let's get down to what we actually mean.
Agnosticism, as defined by Huxley, is also a legitimate definition in my opinion, but it differs completely from atheism. As Huxley himself states in his definition, agnosticism is not a creed, but a method
. It's a method that rejects certainty "of the objective truth of a proposition unless he can produce evidence which logically justifies that certainty
." Agnosticism does not necessarily apply exclusively to the existence of god. It can apply to any philosophical idea that lacks logical demonstration.
Agnosticism has nothing to do with what a person believes
. It relates to what a person claims to know
. A weak theist may believe in the existence of a god but claim no certainty in the matter. All theists are not fundies who emotionally cling to belief in a god for completely irrational reasons. There are some theists whose beliefs are based on philosophy and reason. Although I would argue that their logic is flawed, their theism may lack certainty. Some theists even acknowledge that their belief is based in faith rather than reason and is irrational, so they make no absolute claim to certain knowledge of god. It's a belief, not knowledge.
Shermer seems to accept the common view that theism is belief in a god, atheism is a denial of god (or strong atheism), and agnosticism is a more balanced or reasonable middle ground. I disagree with his perspective on this. I think that's entirely too black and white, cut and dry, and not really accurate. A more accurate categorization is that theism exists on a continuum of belief in a god or gods, from your hardcore fundamentalist fanatics to your "yeah I think god exists because I don't have a better explanation but I really don't know and don't care" folks. Atheism exists on a continuum of simply lacking belief because of a lack of evidence (a skeptical position) to strong, fanatical certainty that no god exists.
Theism and atheism relate to belief and everyone is either a theist or an atheist in the most basic sense of the words. The only exception that I can think of is a person who is going through a crisis of belief and for a temporary period simply doesn't know what they believe. They may vacillate from day to day, some days believing in god and some days not. I did that for a while during my gradual loss of faith.
Agnosticism does not relate to belief. It relates to claims of knowledge. A person may be a weak theist and believe in god, but claim no certainty of belief. This person would be an agnostic theist. A person may be without belief in god, but claim no certain knowledge about the nonexistence of god. This would be an agnostic atheist. A strong theist or a strong atheist would be disqualified from the realm of agnosticism because of their certainty.
In my opinion, atheism
is not an indefensible position as a statement about the universe because it is not a positive assertion of any sort. It's simply without belief in a god or gods. An individual
atheist, a strong atheist, may make a positive assertion about the lack of existence of a god. That position is indefensible. However, to broadly claim that such a position is represented by the atheistic viewpoint is narrow-minded. In all my time debating with and against atheists I've only met one who claimed the nonexistence of a god with any certainty and he did a piss poor job defending his atheism. His atheism was based in emotion, not reason. The vast majority of intellectually inclined atheists are weak atheists, agnostic atheists. That's how I would classify myself. I don't give a damn how the common person who has never put any objective thought into the subject cares to classify my views. I don't really care about the common dictionary usage
. I attempt to define my views in the most logical way I can.
Thank god I'm an atheist.Edited by: NaddiaAoC at: 3/9/04 12:21 pm