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Theism and Atheism: Are They Indefensible? 
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Post Theism and Atheism: Are They Indefensible?
In Chapter 1, Shermer makes this statement:

Quote:
...from a scientific or philosophical position, theism and atheism are both indefensible positions as statements about the universe.


Do you agree or disagree with this statement? Why?

Eric

Edited by: ecstian at: 3/6/04 6:54 pm



Sat Mar 06, 2004 6:43 pm


Post Re: Theism and Atheism: Are They Indefensible?
I disagree because to agree would mean to state that we know with absolute certainty that no absolutely certain knowledge is possible. Which is a logical contradiction... :b

Edited by: Kostya at: 3/7/04 3:39 pm



Sun Mar 07, 2004 3:37 pm
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Post Re: Theism and Atheism: Are They Indefensible?
Eric

The only way for this statement to be true is if we define "atheism" as "strong atheism." I'll post more on this later, but I have always been extremely frustrated by people that attempt to define atheism in this fashion, as most rational people would never make such a claim.

How can we know there isn't a God? Nobody knows. The moment a particular God is defined strictly is the moment THAT God can be refuted and shown to not exist as defined. But the vague concept of an immaterial creator can never be refuted.

Chris

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Post 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. Vascular is of or relating to or having vessels that conduct and circulate fluids. Avascular 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. Amoral 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 with certainty. 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.

Nad

Thank god I'm an atheist.

Edited by: NaddiaAoC at: 3/9/04 12:21 pm



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Post Re: Theism and Atheism: Are They Indefensible?
Cheryl

Holy @#%$ that was fantastic. I agree with every single word you typed, and you have me thinking that something really needs to be done about this continued problem. I'm tired of dictionaries defining atheism improperly. Who creates dictionaries? More than likely, people that detest atheism.

I'd like to see what Michael Shermer has to say about this discussion, so cross your fingers. I'm going to forward this to him soon.

Atheists do indeed fall on a broad spectrum, with strong atheists existing on the one extreme. It is not fair to group all atheists in with this irrational group, and quite frankly, I am pissed this happens so frequently. Most atheists make no such assertion. They lack the belief, but do not claim "God doesn't exist." We don't have a clue whether or not God exists, just like we don't know if an alien race of bow-legged midgets lives in the Bermuda Triangle.

Chris

"The man who does not read good books has no advantage over the man who cannot read them"



Tue Mar 09, 2004 4:47 pm
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Post Re: Theism and Atheism: Are They Indefensible?
There is nothing like being labeled irrational fanatic or fanatical irrationalist for simply being certain of something... lol

I consider myself a strong atheist. I don't particularly like the word "strong", perhaps "positive atheist" would be better, but that's just semantics.

From what I understand (please correct me if I am wrong) when people talk about philosophical defensibility of a position they are talking about absolute proof. I don't think that there is absolute proof of anything. Thinking in terms of absolutes is pointless.

If A is NOT B and C is A can we be absolutely sure that C is NOT B? What about in some other universe where rules of logic "magically" do not apply anymore? My point is that there is always going to be some kind of argument that will "hang a question mark" on your defensible position and will make your position less than 100% certain.

So if nothing is 100% certain are we ever justified in being certain about anything. Am I justified to say that I _know_ something if I am 99.999% certain? What about 98% or 90% certainty?

And finally coming back to my first post in this thread: Can we be certain that absolute certainty is impossible?

Is agnostic someone who is only 50/50 certain in his/her knowledge or should we widen the range of percentages? At what degree of certainty does one switch from agnostism to knowledge?

Should we be talking about degrees of defensibility of philosophical positions as well? :)

I am sorry, for all these rhetorical questions, but I find it silly when people say that being certain is somehow less rational or even fanatical.

Finally, I would like to apologize for sidetracking of this thread. I know that nobody was attacking strong atheism per se, but some of the rhetoric caught my eye.

Thank you.





Tue Mar 09, 2004 6:32 pm
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Post Re: Theism and Atheism: Are They Indefensible?
Kostya,

It's not that certainties do not exist. They can exist in the context of logical argumentation and mathematics. In formal logic certain conclusions can be obtained. For example, if I state that all dogs are male and all males are incapable of reproducing, it's a logical conclusion, a certainty based on that premise, that all dogs are incapable of reproducing. Of course, that premise is wrong so the universal certainty of that statement is in error, but the logic is sound. If those two statements are true, the conclusion is a certainty.

The point is that certainty can exist within the right context. If my existence is real and not an illusion and if I am awake and mentally sound, I am certain that I live in Northern Kentucky and work at Children's Hospital in Cincinnati. I have no doubt whatsoever about that. However, I cannot prove with certainty that I actually do exist. My existence could be an illusion. Therefore my certainty is tempered by an understanding that I lack an absolute understanding of the universe.

To claim that a universal certainty exists is impossible to prove. If objective reality exists it stands to reason that universal certainties exist as well. Either an Almighty God certainly does exist or it certainly does not exist, but since we lack knowledge of vast portions of the universe we cannot know one way or another.

Atheism is defensible only as a skeptical position. The nonexistence of a god cannot be proven with certainty. You can demonstrate the nonexistence of specific, well-defined deities whose qualities and personalities are built on claims and premises. If you can destroy the premise of the claim and if you can logically demonstrate that such characteristics are incompatible and contradictory, you can prove that individual deity's nonexistence. But to prove that no god exists is impossible unless you have a complete, absolute understanding of the entire universe and everything that existence entails. If you disagree I would love to hear your proof for the nonexistence of a god.

Cheryl

Thank god I'm an atheist.

Edited by: NaddiaAoC at: 3/9/04 9:52 pm



Tue Mar 09, 2004 9:49 pm
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Post Re: Theism and Atheism: Are They Indefensible?
Kostya

Years ago I was considered a strong atheist, in that I absolutely denied the existence of any and all deities. But then came many courses and books in logic and critical thinking and I stepped back to breathe and reconsider my position.

I completely agree with you that strong atheism is extremely rational and well-supported in reference to certain gods. But you must define the god first or you're dead in the water. The Christian God cannot and does not exist as Christianity teaches. Does this mean their God is completely nonexistent? Of course not. Christianity might be ascribing qualities to this deity that are not consistent with His true nature, as a result of human error, poor translation, and moronic interpretations. But an omnipotent, omniscient, and omnipresent good God doesn't and cannot exist, just like a square circle cannot and does not exist. So in regards to the Christian God I am a complete atheist. I deny this God. I'm making an actual affirmative claim that this God doesn't exist, and as the affirmative claimant I fully accept my responsibility for proving my case...and I can do so with ease.

Can I claim all gods are bunk? No chance. Not without coming across as someone who thinks of himself as a god.

Cheryl says it so well here:

Quote:
Atheism is defensible only as a skeptical position. The nonexistence of a god cannot be proven with certainty. You can demonstrate the nonexistence of specific, well-defined deities whose qualities and personalities are built on claims and premises. If you can destroy the premise of the claim and if you can logically demonstrate that such characteristics are incompatible and contradictory, you can prove that individual deity's nonexistence. But to prove that no god exists is impossible unless you have a complete, absolute understanding of the entire universe and everything that existence entails. If you disagree I would love to hear your proof for the nonexistence of a god.
But...

I think you and I agree more than is coming across in my post here. My purpose is only to say that you can't prove all gods don't exist. But I will join hands with you, in a purely heterosexual fashion :b , in claiming that every deity ever defined by any human on the face of this planet is ridiculous and downright silly. There isn't one iota of evidence for a damn thing supernatural. Buddhism is silly. Christianity is not only laughable, but is downright evil. Wicca...rubbish. Scientology...a known scam. Mormonism...a complete fraud. Not one religion makes sense and can be supported by any empirical evidence.

I'm so confident that I would gamble my very life on this claim. But what does this really mean? I believe the probability is so high, approaching 100%, that no gods ever described or defined by man actually exist. But do I know for sure? Nope.

Chris

"The man who does not read good books has no advantage over the man who cannot read them"



Wed Mar 10, 2004 1:02 am
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Post Re: Theism and Atheism: Are They Indefensible?
I think that most of the disagreement and misunderstanding that we have here in this thread is due to the language being used, definitions that are assumed behind the words and my total inability to communicate my points across. :)

Disclaimer: I am not a philosopher, so please bear with me... :)

The problem at hand is one's answer to the question "Does god exist?" Positions commonly considered are atheistic ("no"), theistic ("yes") and agnostic ("I reserve my judgment"). There could be at least one more position that I will discuss later.

Obviously, the answer to the above question depends on the definition of the word "god". I think that there are 3 distinct possibilities: "specific" god that is "defined" (for example Christian god), "word-substitution" god (for example "I am god") and "undefined" god as in "Well, there could be some kind of god that you don't know about yet!"

Before I go further I would like to point out that it is possible for the same individual to be an atheist in respect to one definition of god, agnostic in respect to other definitions of god and still yet to be a theist in respect to some other version of god. Christians, for example, are atheists in respect to all non-Christian gods.

In case of "defined" gods, it appears that all three of us agree that specific versions of god that we know of can and have been shown to be either non-existent or incoherent.

Cheryl wrote: "You can demonstrate the nonexistence of specific, well-defined deities whose qualities and personalities are built on claims and premises."

Chris wrote: "I completely agree with you that strong atheism is extremely rational and well-supported in reference to certain gods."

Therefore, we should agree that strong atheism is justified and is defensible when it comes to gods that are defined. We _know_ or claim to know that those defined gods do not exist.

When I talk about "word-substitution" gods, I talk about defining a god as substitution word for some other object or concept. If I say, "I am a god" and then ask "Does god exist?" I am faced with "Do I exist?" question. "God is sun" results in "Does sun exist?" and so on. I think that this deprives the conversation of its true meaning.

Nevertheless, in respect to some of "word-substitution" type of gods I am a theist. I make an exception for concepts that are shown to be non-existent or meaningless. I am atheist about non-existent things and I am a strong theist when it comes to existence of things like universe, sun and myself.

Finally, the last type of god is what I call "undefined" god. This type is reserved for some concept of god that is not known to us yet. This is the type of god when people say "There might be a god there somewhere in the vast universe that we know nothing about yet. It just might be there and how are we to know unless we have absolute and ultimate knowledge of everything..."

So now we have the question "Does god exist?" when the word god is "undefined".

I think that this is where the main difference in our positions is. Your answer to this question seems to be "We don't know. We do not have enough information about this god to give you an answer" This is the position of an agnostic in respect to existence of such god.

My answer to this question is "I don't understand the question." This is what Theodore Drange calls a position of "noncognitivism with regard to God-talk."

I think that unless the word god is defined in terms that we can understand the question "Does god exists?" is deprived of any meaning. It is a non-sense to ask someone about existence of something that cannot be defined or described.

So not only am I justified in not believing in whatever it is I am asked about, but I am also justified in not even considering this to be a valid question.

However, if we do attempt to assign properties and claims to such "undefined" god it begins to migrate into our first category of "defined" gods and we have already discussed that strong atheism is a justified position in respect to those gods.

Next question is "Can there be a defined god that cannot be shown not to exist?" in other words "Is it possible to have god that is defined and that exists at the same time?"

I think so, in fact gods like this are all over the place and are being born and die every day. Every time humans encountered a phenomena that they could not explain it was proclaimed to be god or of god. Then we learn about those things and they loose their status of gods and become domain of our knowledge. These are so called "gods of the gaps". In a way they are identical to "word-substitution" gods



Fri Mar 12, 2004 7:21 pm
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Post Re: Theism and Atheism: Are They Indefensible?
Without sounding rhetorical, the word atheism is under and subject to theism. Atheism has no definition in the absence of the word theism.

The original premise is no opinion or stated position. Theism is a stated position, therefore it is obligated to provide proof and defense of its position. No proof or defense is needed for a person with no stated position on a proposition.

Once the word atheism is used, theist yield to the temptation to make the atheist prove their 'universal negative' position is true, which we all know is nearly impossible.

We may not like the dictionary definition of atheist, or how other may define us when we use the word to describe us, but that is the reality we live with. It is the majority that shape the definition of a word in use.

Once the battle over religion and superstition are over, we will not use such words as theist or atheist any more. We will just be a cluster of human beings living and working with each other with interests in artifact collections, star gazing, transportation buffs, home decor hobbyists, and etc. Speculation will be reduced to silly entertainment with no one taking its conclusions seriously unless grounded with verified or verifiable facts and principles.

So perhaps it is best not to use any word at all. Place others in the hot seat if they choose to label themselves. Continue to ask them a barrage of questions on their position until they relent. They cannot attack back unless you have a position.

Humanism & humanitarianism are positive positions as they are a group of humans who wish to improve the human condition with known and reliable resources such as science, technology, and our own two bare hands.


Monty Vonn
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Mon Mar 15, 2004 1:46 pm
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Post Re: Theism and Atheism: Are They Indefensible?
In my experience the easiest way to counter someone who insists on using the "wrong" (as we see it) definition of atheism is to turn the tables on them.

Come up with something completly arbitrary whose existence/non-existence could not be proved, my favorite example being the invisible purple llama who lives under my bed, and ask them if they believe that such a creature exists.
Presumably they will be confident that such a creature does not actually exist. Lack of evidence of non-existence does not amount to a positive argument for the affirmation of its existence.
You can either force their definition onto them, and have them conclude that they can only be "agnostic" with regards to the invisible purple llama (and a whole host of other such creations), or they can go out on a limb and state that while they cannot know (in the strongest sense of the word) that the llama does not exist, to actually believe in such a thing would be completely irrational.

Then state that this is indeed your argument about god: To believe in god is irrational.

A person who holds this opinion is, in my view, an atheist, despite that fact that that person will fully admit that he/she has absolutely no evidence for the non-existence of god, and will even conceede that it is a logical possibility that god exists.

Edited by: CSflim at: 3/15/04 3:27 pm



Mon Mar 15, 2004 3:26 pm
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