Atheism, Agnosticism, and Bullshit: Part 3 – Agnosticism as Knowledge

The Reconquista Initiative

Presents…

Atheism, Agnosticism, and Bullshit: Part 3 – Agnosticism as Knowledge

In both Part 1 and Part 2 of the previous essay “Atheism, Agnosticism, and Bullshit”, it was argued that so-called lack-of-belief atheism (or negative-atheism) and agnosticism are essentially synonymous; indeed, negative lack-of-belief atheism is really just agnosticism by another name (or is better described as something like ‘ignotheism’ for those who are genuinely ignorant of the question of God’s existence). Now, in response to the claim that lack-of-belief atheism and agnosticism are the same position, some atheists assert that the difference between atheism and agnosticism is that atheism allegedly deals with belief claims whereas agnosticism deals strictly with knowledge claims, thereby implying that a person could be an atheist and an agnostic at the same time without a contradiction necessarily arising. Such critics argue that rather than seeing agnosticism as resting at the mid-point between atheism and theism on the spectrum of theistic belief, agnosticism is actually best understood as resting in a separate category altogether, thus meaning that it does not overlap with atheism. Consider, for example, what Austin Cline, an ‘Agnosticism & Atheism Expert’ at the popular website ‘atheism.about.com’, says in his 7th of September 2016 online article “Atheist vs. Agnostic – What’s the Difference?”, which was accessed on the 28th of February 2017; Cline says the following:

[QUOTE] An atheist is anyone who doesn’t happen to believe in any gods, no matter what their reasons or how they approach the question of whether any gods exist. This is a very simple concept, but it’s also widely misunderstood. For that reason, there are a variety of ways to state this. Atheism is: the lack of belief in gods, the absence of belief in gods, disbelief in gods, not believing in gods.

An agnostic is anyone who doesn’t claim to know for that any gods exist or not, no matter what their reasons or how they approach the question of whether any gods exist.

There’s a simple test to tell if one is an agnostic or not. Do you think you know for sure if any gods exist? If so, then you’re not an agnostic. Do you think you know for sure that gods do not or even cannot exist? If so, then you’re not an agnostic. Everyone who can’t answer “yes” to one of those questions is a person who may or may not believe in one or more gods, but since they don’t also claim to know for sure they are agnostic — an agnostic theist or an agnostic atheist.

An agnostic atheist has two qualities: they don’t happen to believe in any gods and they don’t claim to know [f]or sure that no gods can or do exist. 

An agnostic theist has two qualities: they believe in the existence of at least one god and they don’t claim to know for sure that this god or gods definitely exist.

…many people have the mistaken impression that agnosticism and atheism are mutually exclusive. But why? There’s nothing about “I don’t know” which excludes “I don’t believe.” On the contrary, not only are they compatible but they frequently appear together because not knowing is frequently a reason for not believing. It’s often a very good idea to not accept some proposition is true unless you have enough evidence that would qualify as knowledge. [UNQUOTE, http://atheism.about.com/od/aboutagnosticism/a/Atheist-vs-Agnostic-Difference.htm%5D

And note that this attempt to differentiate atheism from agnosticism in the above manner stems from the fact that the word ‘gnostic’ pertains to the issue of knowledge and of having knowledge, and so an ‘a-gnostic’ is thus be someone who lacks knowledge about something.

Now, as Cline notes, what the above atheistic assertion claims is that when it comes to categorizing the various unbelieving positions that a person could hold, a person could thus join atheism and agnosticism together without contradiction or redundancy. Indeed, a person could thus be an agnostic-atheist; and this would mean—as per Cline—that the person does not happen to believe in any God or gods (hereafter just God) and he does not claim to know that there is no God. But here we run into a problem. Namely, if atheism—as Cline defines it—is just a lack of belief in God, then the term ‘agnostic-atheist’ actually is redundant and trivial. Why? Because to claim to know something necessarily includes having a positive belief about it. Indeed, knowledge is most often defined as a ‘justified true belief’ or a ‘warranted true belief’. Furthermore, even a more commonsensical and common understanding of what knowledge is, namely, a very well-evidenced belief, still includes a positive belief within it. After all, when a criminal is found guilty of a crime beyond a reasonable doubt, we believe that the criminal is guilty, but we consider such a belief to be knowledge because it is a very well supported belief; this is why, in common parlance, we rightly say that we know that the criminal is guilty of the crime in question. So the point is that knowledge necessarily includes a component of belief within it. But what this now means is the following: if a person lacks a belief in some proposition, then they necessarily do not know it. Consequently, if atheism is defined as just a lack-of-belief in the existence of God, then there is no point in claiming to also not know that God does not exist, because such a lack of knowledge is necessarily included and implied in the initial lack-of-belief; to lack a belief in something is to lack knowledge of it as well, so there is no reason to say the same thing twice. Indeed, the term ‘agnostic-atheist’ essentially means that you are saying “I have absolutely no positive belief of any type concerning the existence or non-existence of God (lack-of-belief atheism), and I have no justified true belief (knowledge) concerning the existence or non-existence of God either.” Well, obviously, for if you take the former position, then the latter one is automatically included in it, and thus there is no point in being redundant by calling one’s self an agnostic-atheist. And so, the whole push to somehow make lack-of-belief atheism and agnosticism distinct, and thus combinable, becomes yet another shell-game, for it is just a way of saying the same thing twice. Indeed, if atheism is defined as just a lack-of-belief, then agnostic-atheism is a redundant and unnecessary term.

Now, to see this whole problem from a different angle, consider that if the term ‘agnostic-atheist’ were useful or necessary, then the term ‘gnostic-atheist’ should also be useful and necessary. But far from being useful, the term ‘gnostic-atheist’ is incoherent. Indeed, for if atheism is defined as just a lack-of-belief, then no atheist could be a gnostic-atheist. Why? Because the term ‘gnostic’ means to have knowledge, which—as shown above—means to have a positive justified true belief about something (or a warranted true belief), not a lack of belief. But if atheism is just a lack-of-belief, then ‘gnostic-atheism’ is a contradiction, for it is claiming that someone both lacks a belief concerning God’s existence (atheism) while at the same time actually having a positive justified true belief (knowledge: ie – gnosticism) that God does not exist. But no one can lack a belief concerning the question of God’s existence while at the same time positively believing that God does not exist, for to have a positive belief that God does not exist means that you do not lack a belief concerning the question of God’s existence, but rather you positively deny that God exists. And so the term ‘gnostic-atheist’ essentially means that you are saying “I have absolutely no positive belief of any type concerning the existence or non-existence of God (lack-of-belief atheism), and yet I have a justified true positive belief (knowledge) that God does not exist.” Now, obviously, such a position is contradictory, and so it is indeed impossible for someone to be a gnostic-atheist so long as atheism is taken to be a mere lack of belief.

Therefore, when atheism is defined as a lack-of-belief, adding an agnostic or gnostic prefix to the term ‘atheism’ is either redundant or contradictory. Furthermore, note as well that even if the term ‘agnostic-atheism’ was not redundant, it is still just agnosticism by another name. Indeed, for given that the agnostic-atheist allegedly lacks a belief in God and also does not claim to know whether or not God exists, then such a person just is a person who neither believes nor disbelieves in the existence of God, and such a definition has traditionally been the definition of what an agnostic is, as numerous quotes in the previous essays in this series show. So even the attempt to combine atheism and agnosticism into the term ‘agnostic-atheist’ does nothing to remove the fact that such a position is merely another name for what many people—and many legitimate sources—already define as straight agnosticism.

And so, the long and short of it is this:  if atheism is defined as a lack-of-belief, then the attempt to make agnosticism into something that is distinct from atheism and that can be tacked on to the term ‘atheism’ simply does not work. After all, the term ‘agnosticism-atheism’ is redundant and is still synonymous with just plain old agnosticism, while the term ‘gnostic-atheism’ is contradictory. Thus, this particular attempt to escape the claim that lack-of-belief atheism is essentially just another term for agnosticism fails. Now, if atheism was defined in a positive manner—namely as a positive belief that God does not exist—then separating atheism into gnostic-atheism and agnostic-atheism would work, but whether or not this strategy would allow atheism to avoid the charge of just being another term for agnosticism is a topic for another essay.

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Anno Domini 2017 03 03

Non nobis Domine, non nobis, sed nomini tuo da gloriam

Atheism, Agnosticism, and Bullshit: Part 2 – Martin’s Example

The Reconquista Initiative

Presents…

Atheism, Agnosticism, and Bullshit: Part 2 – Martin’s Example

In the previous essay “Atheism, Agnosticism, and Bullshit”, it was argued that lack-of-belief atheism—also called negative-atheism—is really just agnosticism in disguise. Indeed, the two terms are essentially synonymous. And in that previous essay, it was specifically mentioned that atheist Michael Martin, via his own writings and through his own words, provides the very means to demonstrate why negative-atheism and agnosticism are essentially the same. And so this essay will examine Martin’s writing to see why this is the case.

Now, in his “General Introduction” to the 2006 Cambridge Companion to Atheism, Martin says the following about atheism:

[QUOTE] If you look up “atheism” in a dictionary, you will find it defined as the belief that there is no God. Certainly, many people understand “atheism” in this way. Yet this is not what the term means if one considers it from the point of view of its Greek roots. In Greek “a” means “without” or “not”, and “theos” means “god.” From this standpoint, an atheist is someone without belief in God; he or she need not be someone who believes that God does not exist. Still, there is a popular dictionary meaning of “atheism” according to which an atheist is not simply one who holds no belief in the existence of a God or gods but is one who believes that there is no God or gods. This dictionary use of the term should not be overlooked. To avoid confusion, let us call it positive atheism and let us call the type of atheism derived from the original Greek roots negative atheism. [UNQUOTE]

And now Martin, after agreeing that a negative-atheist is someone without a belief in God or gods (hereafter just God), then continues in the following vein concerning agnosticism:

[QUOTE] Agnosticism, the position of neither believing nor disbelieving that God exists, is often contrasted with atheism. However, this common opposition of agnosticism to atheism is misleading. Agnosticism and positive atheism are indeed incompatible: if atheism is true, agnosticism is false and conversely. But agnosticism is compatible with negative atheism in that agnosticism entails negative atheism. Since agnostics do not believe in God, they are by definition negative atheists. This is not to say that negative atheism entails agnosticism. A negative atheist might disbelieve in God but need not. [UNQUOTE, bold emphasis added]

So it is clear that Martin perceives the conflation between negative-atheism and agnosticism. And although Martin says that while agnosticism entails negative-atheism, negative-atheism does not necessarily entail agnosticism, it is hard to see why this is so. Martin does say that a negative-atheist might disbelieve in God but need not do so. Now it is hard to know exactly what Martin means, but if he means that a negative-atheist might be a person who is genuinely ignorant of the whole issue of God and thus does not actually disbelieve in the existence of God because the person does not even know what God is, then such a view is fair enough, and perhaps the term negative-atheist can be used in this way. However, in reality, not only would such a genuinely ignorant person be better labelled with the less-prejudicial and more accurate term of ‘ignotheist’ (or even ignorant-agnostic (both of which mean someone who is genuinely ignorant of theism and who thus, by necessity, neither believes nor disbelieves in the existence of God), but, additionally, if the term negative-atheist (or lack-of-belief atheist) merely describes a person who is genuinely ignorant of the concept of God, then it is a term which is completely inapplicable to any self-described and self-aware adult atheist. And yet, it is precisely such people that use the term negative-atheist to describe themselves. So if the term ‘negative-atheist’ is meant to describe people who are truly ignorant of even the idea of God, then not only is it a poor term for this task, but it has almost no practical application given that nearly all the individuals who use the term as a self-label are well-aware of the question of God and his existence. Furthermore, Martin’s own words will later show that negative-atheism, as he defines it, cannot apply to individuals who are genuinely ignorant of God. And so, even if its potential applicability as a descriptive label of people who are genuinely ignorant of God that is the only reason why negative-atheism does not entail agnosticism, then, with the removal of that reason—a reason that can indeed be removed for all practical purposes given the way that the term negative-atheism is actually applied in our modern culture—it is thus the case that negative-atheism does indeed entail agnosticism and there is not real difference between the two. And this point can be shown in even more detail when we consider how Martin, once again in the same work, defines the two types of agnosticism. Here is Martin’s definition:

[QUOTE] Here I will explore what is at issue between positive atheism and agnosticism. An agnostic, one might suppose, is skeptical that good grounds exist [to disbelieve that God exists], whereas an atheist is not. However, this is not the only way the difference between these positions can be construed. An agnostic might think that there are good grounds for disbelieving that God exists but also believe that there are equally good grounds for believing that God exists. These opposing reasons would offset one another, leaving no overall positive reason to believe or disbelieve.

Let us call the view that there are no good reasons for believing that God exists and none for believing that God does not exist skeptical agnosticism and the view that there are equally good reasons for believing both theism and atheism that offset one another cancellation agnosticism.

Arguments that are intended to establish both negative and positive atheism refute both skeptical and cancellation agnosticism. Showing that negative atheism is justified undermines cancellation agnosticism, for it assumes that both atheism and theism have good grounds that cancel each other out, and negative atheism entails that there are no good grounds for theistic belief. Moreover, arguments showing that there are good grounds for the nonexistence of God undermine skeptical agnosticism since skeptical agnosticism assumes that there are no good grounds for either atheism or theism. [UNQUOTE, bold emphasis added]

Now the problem that arises from Martin’s aforementioned connection between agnosticism and negative-atheism is that Martin’s own reasoning essentially destroys any justification for the existence of what Martin calls negative-atheism.

Consider that Martin says that cancellation-agnosticism—which Martin defines as being the position that while there are good grounds for theistic belief, these grounds are cancelled out by equally good grounds for atheistic belief—can be undermined by negative-atheism, because negative-atheism allegedly shows that there are no good grounds for theistic belief. And yet the problem is that if negative lack-of-belief atheism undermines cancellation-agnosticism by removing the cancellation-agnostic’s good grounds for theistic belief, then the cancellation-agnostic (as per Martin’s definition) still has good grounds for atheistic belief, which means that the cancellation-agnostic becomes a positive-atheist rather than a negative one, for the atheist now has unimpeded good grounds for the positive belief that God does not exist. But if the cancellation-agnostic does not have good enough grounds to become a positive-atheist after hearing the negative-atheist’s arguments, then he is, also as per Martin’s definition, simply a skeptical-agnostic rather than a negative-atheist, for remember that Martin defines a skeptical-agnostic as a person who sees no good reasons for believing that God exists and no good reasons for believing that God does not exist.

But now the question becomes: where does negative lack-of-belief atheism fit in to all this? After all, as per Martin’s own definitions, it seems that negative-atheism, when pushed, simply collapses into either positive-atheism or skeptical-agnosticism, and thus there is no room to legitimately fit negative-atheism into the spectrum from positive-atheism to agnosticism. For again, if negative-atheism causes the cancellation-agnostic to lose his good grounds for believing in theism but to simultaneously maintain his good grounds for believing in atheism, then the cancellation-agnostic becomes a positive-atheist, even if only to a slight degree. And yet if negative-atheism causes the cancellation-agnostic to lose his good grounds for believing in theism, and if the cancellation-agnostic then also loses his good grounds for believing in atheism, or if his grounds for believing in atheism are not sufficient to justify belief in positive-atheism, then the cancellation-agnostic simply becomes a skeptical-agnostic, not a negative-atheist. In essence, there is nowhere for the negative lack-of-belief atheist to fit, for either 1) an unbeliever has good enough grounds for atheism to believe that atheism is, to a greater or lesser degree, more probable than not, and thus the unbeliever becomes a positive-atheist of a certain strength, or else 2) the unbeliever does not have good enough grounds to believe that atheism is true, and then the unbeliever becomes a skeptical-agnostic; what there is no room for is a negative-atheist who just lacks a belief in God, for such a lack-of-belief atheist just is a skeptical-agnostic. And so, in light of the above, and as per Martin’s own definitions, and at least if we are speaking of individuals who are aware of the idea of God, then it seems that there cannot be any coherent place for negative-atheism to fit along the spectrum of theistic belief unless it serves as nothing else than a different label for skeptical-agnosticism.

Additionally, if the negative-atheist tries to squeeze himself in somewhere between positive-atheism and skeptical-agnosticism by claiming that there are good enough grounds for atheism to not label oneself as an agnostic, and yet those grounds are not quite good enough to have a positive-belief in atheism, then note that such a claim is incoherent. After all, a positive-atheist’s degree of belief in the proposition that God does not exist can be quite weak, but it is nevertheless still a positive belief in a positive claim. Indeed, it is the positive belief that there are good enough grounds to lean away from agnosticism towards a type of tenuous atheism, but not good enough grounds for full-blown beyond-a-reasonable-doubt atheism. But again, a tenuous form of positive atheism is nevertheless still a positive claim that would need to be defended, and it is by no means a mere absence of belief. Thus, such a tenuous atheism cannot coherently be categorized as a lack-of-belief, for it is nothing of the kind. Rather, it is, as stated, a positive belief, albeit a very weak and hesitant one. And so again, such a tenuous and probabilistic atheism simply cannot be accurately described as lack-of-belief atheism, for it is actually a positive belief, and thus it falls under positive-atheism, even though the tenuous level of positive-atheism that the person possessed in this particular case would need to be made clear.

 

Negative-Atheism as No Good Grounds

Now, if the unbeliever tries to claim—as Michael Martin did in one of the quotations above—that negative-atheism is a position which entails that there are no good grounds for theistic belief, and thus that a negative-atheist should be understood as a person who holds that there are no good grounds for theistic belief, then a number of points can be noted in response to this idea.

First, notice that if a negative-atheist is a person who holds that there are no good grounds for theistic belief then, by definition, such a person cannot be genuinely ignorant of the idea of God; after all, a person know believes that there are no good grounds for theistic belief needs to know what theism is and needs to know, and reject, the grounds for theism. And so if negative-atheism describes a person who claims that there are no good grounds for theistic belief, then it cannot be used as a label for a person who is genuinely ignorant of theism, which was—as we saw earlier—a potentially legitimate use of the term ‘negative-atheist’. But such use of the term is no longer possible if negative-atheism entails that there are no good grounds for theistic belief.

Second, merely claiming that there are no good grounds for theistic belief does not necessarily indicate what an individual’s position is on the spectrum of theistic belief. For example, a fideistic-theist could agree that there are no good grounds for theistic belief and yet believe in theism regardless; consequently, believing that there are no good grounds for theistic belief would not necessarily mean that a person is a negative-atheist, nor that a person would wish to be labeled as such. In fact, as I explain in my book Turning the Tables on Atheism, a person could hold that there are no good grounds for theistic belief and yet nevertheless still prefer to be labeled as a negative-theist rather than a negative-atheist. Furthermore, note that the skeptical-agnostic also holds that there are no good grounds for theistic belief, and yet the skeptical-agnostic is an agnostic, not a negative-atheist. So simply holding to the idea that there are no good grounds for theistic belief is insufficient grounds to label someone as a negative-atheist. And, as illustrated above, such a label might actually be quite inaccurate in certain cases.

Now, the third response to the idea that negative-atheism should be understood as the position that there are no good grounds from theistic belief is the more substantive one, for this response argues that defining negative-atheism in the above fashion still does nothing to alleviate the problem that negative-atheism is simply a different term for skeptical-agnosticism. After all, as mentioned, the skeptical-agnostic also holds that there are no good grounds for theistic belief, and so negative-atheism appears to be nothing more than skeptical-agnosticism in disguise. And again, if the negative-atheist not only claims that there are no good grounds for theistic belief, but he also claims that there are no good grounds for positive atheistic belief (and a negative-atheist could claim this), and thus the negative-atheist claims to neither believe nor disbelieve in God, then that is the very definition of a skeptical-agnostic! And so again, negative-atheism is still nothing more than skeptical-agnosticism. And yet if the negative-atheist thinks that there are no good grounds for theistic belief but there are good grounds for atheistic belief, at least to some degree or another, then, by the definitions provided above, such an individual is a positive-atheist, not a negative one. So again, there is no room for the idea of negative-atheism, for either an individual is a skeptical-agnostic, or he is a positive-atheist.

However, perhaps it could be argued that a negative-atheist is someone who holds that there are no good grounds for theistic belief, and yet, at the same time, the person is completely ignorant of the grounds for atheistic belief. Now, while the existence of a person who holds such a position is theoretically possible, in practice, such a potential reality is essentially irrelevant given the fact that anyone who examines the grounds for theism, and finds them wanting, will almost certainly encounter and/or contemplate some arguments and reasons for atheism while doing so; this means that, in practice, a person who holds that there are no good grounds for theistic belief will never really be completely ignorant of some of the grounds for atheistic belief. In fact, since a person who contemplates the grounds for belief in God’s existence would, at the same time, almost certainly come to consider at least some of the grounds for belief that God might not exist, this then means that after doing so, the person would necessarily adopt some kind of position about that latter claim; and so this means that after contemplating some of the grounds for atheism, the person would either 1) accept the grounds for atheistic belief and come to believe that God does not exist (positive-atheism), or 2) take the opposite view (theism), or 3) reject the grounds for atheism and adopt a position of uncertainty about God’s existence (agnosticism). However, this returns us to our earlier point, which is that a person who rejects the grounds for theism but accepts those for atheism is a positive-atheist, whereas a person who rejects both the grounds for theism and for atheism is a skeptical-agnostic; but again, there is no room for negative-atheism between the two unless negative-atheism is merely a synonym for skeptical-agnosticism!

Furthermore, note that even if, in the purely theoretical sense, it was possible for a person to hold that there were no good grounds for theistic belief while being genuinely ignorant of any of the grounds for atheism, this would still do nothing to negate the fact that negative-atheism is really just a form of agnosticism in disguise, and that it is best described as a type of agnosticism. After all, a person who holds that there are no good grounds for theistic belief, but is ignorant of the grounds for atheistic belief, would still be a person who neither believed nor disbelieved in the existence of God; but such a position is the very definition of agnosticism, as Martin and others—as well as many dictionaries—have pointed out (and see their quotes in both this essay and others for substantiation of this claim). At the very least, it is as much of an agnostic position as it is one of negative-atheism, and so, once again, a conflation between negative-atheism and agnosticism occurs. Additionally, it is highly questionable whether it is fair or even accurate to label a person who is ignorant of atheism as a negative-atheist; rather, and as mentioned earlier, a term like ‘ignorant-agnostic’ seems like a much more judicious, fair, and appropriate label for such a person. And so, even if there could be a person who is wholly ignorant of atheism while still holding that there are no good grounds for theistic belief, this would not negate the fact that negative-atheism would not be an appropriate label for such a person, and that such a person’s actual position would be a form of agnosticism, thus once again showing the tangled web that negative-atheism has with agnosticism.

Finally, note as well that if a person held that there are no good grounds for theistic belief, and yet that person was merely doubtful or skeptical of the “goodness” of the grounds for atheistic belief—meaning that he was doubtful of just how good the arguments for atheism were, but not that they were good arguments in general—then, once again, such a person is best thought of as either a skeptical-agnostic or a positive-atheist, but not as a negative-atheist. And why is this so? Because again, if the person is skeptical enough of the “goodness” of the grounds for atheistic belief that he does not believe, to any degree, that God does not exist, then the person is nothing more than a skeptical-agnostic (as per Martin’s own definition), for he holds that there are no good grounds for theistic belief and none for positive atheistic belief either. However, if such a person is skeptical of the “goodness” of the grounds for atheism, but nevertheless believes, to some positive degree, that God does not exist, then such an individual is a positive-atheist, not a negative one. Indeed, perhaps the best term for such a person is an indeterminate-atheist, or an unsure-atheist, given that he is unsure of how good the grounds are for his atheism, but he is still a positive-atheist nonetheless. And so even here, negative-atheism simply does not fit.

And so, the long and short of it is this: using atheist Michael Martin’s own words, we can see that the concept of negative-atheism either collapses into skeptical-agnosticism, or, at best, serves as an inappropriate and inaccurate label for certain positions which could theoretically exist, but which have few, if any, real-life instantiations. Indeed, Martin’s own writings show us that, in reality, negative lack-of-belief atheism is little more than agnosticism in disguise. Consequently, and as has been repeatedly stated, this fact thus further supports the idea that the modern unbeliever’s use of the label ‘negative-atheist’, or ‘lack-of-belief atheist’, is a bullshit maneuver, for while it is rhetorically useful for the unbeliever to use such a term given that it provides him with the burden-avoiding benefits of agnosticism while allowing him to label himself as an “atheist”, it is still a disingenuous maneuver regardless.

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Anno Domini 2017 03 02

Non nobis Domine, non nobis, sed nomini tuo da gloriam

 

The Motives for Lack-of-Belief Atheism

The Reconquista Initiative

Presents…

The Motives for Lack-of-Belief Atheism

Over the course of a number of previous essays, it has been pointed out that it is reasonable to believe that one of the primary motivators that leads certain unbelievers to embrace the concept of lack-of-belief atheism is that it gives a veneer to legitimacy to unbelievers who are essentially atheistic-naturalists (philosophical-naturalists) to nevertheless claim that they have no burden of proof for their position, and so such unbelievers embrace lack-of-belief atheism as a means of avoiding the burden of proof for their positive views. Indeed, such unbelievers, even though they really do not lack-a-belief in the literal sense and actually possess numerous positive burden-bearing beliefs about the God question, nevertheless want to exploit the burden-avoiding property of agnosticism and so they are motivated to disingenuously claim that their positive unbelief is nothing more than a mere lack-of-belief. And again, to see that this is the case, the words of atheist Luke Muehlhauser, the author of the website ‘commonsenseatheism.com’, can be noted. In his 23rd of February 2009 article titled “Atheism and the Burden of Proof”, which was accessed on the 8th of August 2016, Muehlhauser stated the following:

[QUOTE] But most intellectually-inclined atheists I know do not merely “lack” a belief in God – as, say, my dog lacks a belief in God. Atheists like to avoid the burden of proof during debates, so they say they merely “lack” a belief in God. But this is not what their writings usually suggest. No, most intellectual atheists positively believe that God does not exist. In fact, most of them will say – at least to other atheists – that it’s “obvious” there is no God, or that they “know” – as well as we can “know” anything – that God does not exist. Thus, if the atheist wants to defend what he really believes, then he, too, has a burden of proof. He should give reasons for why he thinks that God almost certainly doesn’t exist. [UNQUOTE, bold emphasis added, http://commonsenseatheism.com/?p=597%5D

And so, in light of Muehlhauser’s quote, and in light of other evidence that has been presented in this series, it can indeed be reasonably believed that many atheistic-naturalists conceal their true burden-bearing beliefs behind the claim that they merely “lack-a-belief” in God. Thus, such unbelievers are bullshitters—in the philosophical sense—given that their primary goal is not to describe the true state of their unbelieving point-of-view, but rather their goal is to simply say anything which augments the rhetorical strength of their position, which avoiding the burden of proof does do.

But while avoiding the burden of proof serves as a strong motive for atheistic-naturalists to embrace lack-of-belief atheism, this group is only one sub-set of the individuals who embrace this negative position. Indeed, for while atheistic-naturalists have positive beliefs concerning the non-existence of God, and are motived to embrace lack-of-belief atheism as a means of skirting the burden of proof, there are also unbelievers who are essentially straight agnostics about the issue of God’s existence—meaning that they neither positively believe nor disbelieve in God’s existence—who nevertheless also embrace the ‘lack-of-belief atheist’ label rather than calling themselves agnostics. Indeed, such individuals now often identity themselves as merely ‘atheists’ rather than as agnostics who are uncertain or unsure about whether or not God exists. And while avoiding the burden of proof is a clear and strong motive for atheistic-naturalists to disingenuously claim that they merely lack a belief in God, the question remains as to whether there is also a strong motive which could be driving agnostics to call themselves ‘atheists’? In essence, is there a reason why a person, in today’s day and age, might prefer to use the term ‘atheist’ rather than ‘agnostic’, even if, intellectually, such a person is more in line with the latter position than the former one? Indeed there is, but to understand this motive, a few quotes need to be considered.

First, consider relatively popular atheist Jason Rosenhouse and his ‘Evolution Blog’, which is located in the main ‘Science Blogs’ forum. In a post titled “Agnosticism Is For Wimps”, which was written on the 23rd of January 2013 and accessed on the 26th of January 2017, Rosenhouse writes the following:

[QUOTE] Remember that scene in A Fish Called Wanda, where Kevin Kline, talking to a British woman who has cornered him in rhetorical combat, says, with maximal sarcasm, “Oh, you British are soooooo superior.”

That’s pretty much how I feel when I read essays written by agnostics. By all means make whatever arguments it amuses you to make for not taking a stand on the God question. But please stop acting like you’re soooooo superior. You’re not the sensible middle ground between two extremes, and you’re not the clear-thinking pluralist calmly sifting the evidence. You’re just a wimp.

The title of this post is meant tongue in cheek, but only slightly. I really don’t think agnosticism has much going for it as a philosophical position, and in practice it often functions as a way for pedants to act superior. Of course, in most cases agnostics are functionally indistinguishable from atheists, and so I feel I have a lot in common with them. The fact remains, though, that at the level of abstract argument I think even theism has more going for it than agnosticism.  [UNQUOTE, bold emphasis added, http://scienceblogs.com/evolutionblog/2013/01/23/agnosticism-is-for-wimps/%5D

So Rosenhouse thinks, at least somewhat, that agnosticism is for wimps; in fact, he even thinks theism has more going for it than agnosticism does, which is shocking given that Rosenhouse does not think that theism has much going for it. And yet note that Rosenhouse is not alone in thinking that agnosticism is for wimps.

Next, consider atheist and professor of biochemistry Larry Moran, who, on his blog ‘Sandwalk’, in a 14th of November 2006 post which was titled “Agnostics Are Wimps”, and which was accessed on the 26th of January 2017, wrote the following:

[QUOTE] Jason Rosenhouse over at EVOLUTION BLOG has challenged John Wilkins’ position on agnosticism in Wilkins on Dawkins.

They are both discussing an issue raised by Richard Dawkins in The God Delusion. In his section on “The Poverty of Agnosticism” (pp. 46-54), Dawkins describes agnostics as fence-sitters, and this was not meant as a compliment.

John, with all due respect, if you walk like an atheist and talk like an atheist then, to all intents and purposes, you’re a practicing atheist, whether you want to admit it or not.

We spent a whole Sunday together and I know you didn’t go to church. You are not a theist. The word that describes that non-believer lifestyle is “atheist,” not “agnostic.” Please join Jason Rosenhouse, Richard Dawkins, and me, and come all the way out of the closet. [UNQUOTE, bold emphasis added, https://sandwalk.blogspot.co.uk/2006/11/agnostics-are-whimps.html%5D

Now, notice two critical things with Moran’s statement. First, he too thinks agnosticism is for wimps, as both the title of his post states and as he implies by suggesting that agnostics are just closeted atheists who are too afraid to fully out themselves. Second, Moran interprets that Richard Dawkins’s comment about agnostics being fence-sitters is also meant to be taken negatively, as if there is something cowardly or weak with such fence-sitting.

And also consider popular atheist and evolutionist Jerry Coyne. On his blog ‘Why Evolution is True’, in a 25th of October 2013 post titled “Bertrand Russell on why the term ‘agnostic’ is for show”—which was accessed on the 26th of January 2017—Coyne writes:

[QUOTE] …yes, you cannot give a logical demonstration that the Greek gods don’t exist. (That’s the “you can’t prove a negative” line.)  But you can give a practical demonstration that their existence is improbable, for if they interact with the world you should find some evidence of that interaction; and you find none.

…if you have no belief in gods, you should call yourself an “atheist.”  The term “agnostic” is for wimps. [UNQUOTE, bold emphasis added, https://whyevolutionistrue.wordpress.com/2013/10/25/bertrand-russell-on-why-the-term-agnostic-is-for-show/%5D

So, what do all these quotes show? Well, they show that some prominent and popular unbelievers view agnosticism as a position for wimps and cowards. And could this fact serve as a motive for people to avoid being branded as an agnostic? Absolutely, for given that most people naturally wish to avoid being labeled as a weakling or a coward, then evading such a fate would be a strong motivator for many people, thereby driving them to drop the ‘agnostic’ label in favor of the ‘atheist’ one.

But also note that while the three quotes above come from modern professors and academics, the attitude that agnosticism is for wimps is not restricted to those in the ivory tower. For example, in a 30th of July 2010 blog post titled “Why is agnosticism cowardly atheism?”—which was accessed on the 26th of January 2017—an internet personality named ‘tildeb’ (whom I have interacted with before), writes the following on his blog ‘Questionable Motives’:

[QUOTE] Ron Rosenbaum tells us in this Slate article why his infantile Templeton-funded “radical skepticism” kind of agnosticism is so new and improved. It is neither. It is an intellectual embarrassment.

New Agnosticism (versus New Atheism, of course) as a practical matter is nothing more and nothing less than cowardly atheism but with a healthy dose of accomodationism [sic] built right in. [UNQUOTE, bold emphasis added, https://questionablemotives.wordpress.com/2010/07/30/why-is-agnosticism-cowardly-atheism/%5D

And in the comments to that blog post, tildeb further argues that the type of agnosticism that Dawkins describes as fence-sitting is indeed intellectual cowardice.

But again, tildeb is still not alone. Consider, for example, that a British TV comedian named Steve Coogan says that he is an atheist because agnosticism is for cowards (see a 26th of October 2013 article in ‘The Guardian’ titled “Steve Coogan: knowing me? No way”, which was accessed on the 26th of January 2017 (https://www.theguardian.com/film/2013/oct/26/steve-coogan-philomena-interview)). And magician Penn Jillette, in the 2012 paperback edition of his Simon-and-Schuster published book God, No!: Signs You May Already Be an Atheist and Other Magical Tales, in the Section titled “Agnostics: No One Can Know for Sure but I Believe They’re Full of Shit”, calls agnosticism a view for “fucking puss[ies]” and states that most agnostics are “…really just cowardly and manipulative atheists”.

Furthermore, even agnostics themselves point out that they are often viewed as intellectual cowards. For instance, in a 19th of December 2003 interview with PBS, which was published in written form in an article titled “Interview: Studs Terkel” on the PBS website—which was accessed on the 26th of January 2017—agnostic Studs Terkel made the following comment: “You happen to be talking to an agnostic. You know what an agnostic is? A cowardly atheist. (http://www.pbs.org/wnet/religionandethics /2003/12/19/december-19-2003-interview-studs-terkel/11022/)

So the point here is that the idea that agnosticism is a cowardly position is one which is wide-spread and has permeated numerous different levels of society. And what this, in turn, means, is that the concept of ‘a cowardly agnostic’ is not merely being advanced by those individuals in ivory towers but is also pushed by the common-man. In fact, it is even interesting to note that as of 9:11 am on the 25th of January 2017, the four Google search-box autocompletes for the phrase “Agnostics are…” were the following:  1) “agnostics are atheist”; 2) “agnostics are atheist without balls”; 3) “agnostics are cowards”; and 4) “agnostics are stupid”. And this search was done on a computer account that had never searched for the phrase “Agnostics are…” before, nor was the computer logged-in to a Google account, which means that the autocompletions mentioned above were based, at least in large part, on what other people have searched for in the past, thereby providing some further evidence that the idea that agnostics are cowards is not an obscure belief.

And lest it be thought that calling an agnostic a ‘cowardly atheist’ is a recent phenomenon, it should be noted that even back when the term ‘agnostic’ was first coined, certain atheists were accusing agnostics of being weak and cowardly. For example, in atheist-turned-deist Antony Flew’s 26th of July 1999 Encyclopedia Britannica article on “Agnosticism”, which was accessed on the 26th of January 2017, Flew notes that atheist Frederick Engels, of communist infamy, wrote that T.H. Huxley, the father of the term ‘agnosticism’, was just a “shame-faced atheist.” Indeed, Flew writes the following:

[QUOTE] Agnosticism in its primary reference is commonly contrasted with atheism thus: “The Atheist asserts that there is no God, whereas the Agnostic maintains only that he does not know.” This distinction, however, is in two respects misleading: first, Huxley himself certainly rejected as outright false—rather than as not known to be true or false—many widely popular views about God, his providence, and man’s posthumous destiny; and second, if this were the crucial distinction, agnosticism would for almost all practical purposes be the same as atheism. It was indeed on this misunderstanding that Huxley and his associates were attacked both by enthusiastic Christian polemicists and by Friedrich Engels, the co-worker of Karl Marx, as “shame-faced atheists,” a description that is perfectly applicable to many of those who nowadays adopt the more comfortable label. [UNQUOTE, bold emphasis added, https://www.britannica.com/topic/agnosticism%5D

Now the late Antony Flew had his own definition of agnosticism, and it is Flew’s very definition that has caused a great deal of the conflation that occurs today between agnosticism and atheism, but regardless of this point, Flew’s above statement is interesting for two reasons. First is the obvious point that Flew shows us that the idea that agnostics are considered less-than-brave atheists is one which has existed for generations. But second, note that even Flew states that the description of agnostics as “shame-faced atheists” is a description that is applicable to many people today who adopt the more comfortable and easy label of agnosticism. So even Flew, who was still an atheist at the time that he wrote this article—and who was arguably the most intellectual atheist of the past century—tacitly implies that many modern agnostics are merely cowardly atheists.

Thus, what all these quotes show is that the idea that agnosticism is just a cowardly form of atheism is a well-known belief across a wide spectrum of the unbelieving community. And yet since, as stated earlier, it is reasonable to believe that few people would wish to be known as shame-faced-in-the-closet cowards, then the fact that this is precisely how many people view agnostics would thus be a powerful motive for a person not to label himself an agnostic. Indeed, faced with the prospective of labeling oneself an agnostic and being seen by many people as a wimp or of calling oneself an atheist and being seen as brave and bold, it is quite reasonable to hold that many unbelievers, being human beings subject to the same psychological pressures and drives as the rest of humanity, would choose the latter option rather than the former one. And yet, this very fact thus provides us with a reasonable motive for why more agnostic-oriented unbelievers would choose to label themselves as atheists rather than agnostics. But at the same time, since the very same unbelievers who want to be known as atheists rather than agnostics also realize that they want the burden-avoiding argumentative benefits that agnosticism provides, then this also creates a powerful incentive to create a form of atheism, namely lack-of-belief atheism, which is agnostic-like in its content but atheist-like in terms of rhetoric.

And so, the long and short of it is this:  when it comes to negative lack-of-belief atheism, there are two motives which it is reasonable to believe drive the embrace of negative-atheism. First, for the unbeliever who is more of an atheistic-naturalist, the motive for embracing so-called lack-of-belief atheism is the desire to avoid having to bear any burden of proof for his unbelief as well as the desire to appear legitimate when doing so. Second, for the unbeliever who is more of an agnostic, the motive for embracing lack-of-belief atheism is the desire not to be labeled a ‘coward’ by other members of the unbelieving community, while still nevertheless maintaining an agnostic-like position. And so, from both ends of the unbelieving spectrum, it is possible to see that there is indeed a strong psychological incentive to embrace a position which is rhetorically ‘atheist’ but essentially ‘agnostic’, and this is precisely what we see with so-called lack-of-belief atheism. And this is, at least in part, why both outright atheists and actual agnostics embrace the label of ‘lack-of-belief atheism’ even though neither of them really lack a belief about the God-question in any literal or relevant sense.

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Anno Domini 2017 01 29

Non nobis Domine, non nobis, sed nomini tuo da gloriam

Lack-of-Belief Atheism and a Rule of Thumb

The Reconquista Initiative

Presents…

Lack-of-Belief Atheism and a Rule of Thumb

In the essay “Introducing Bullshit-Atheism”, it was argued that, for the sake of intellectual honesty, atheism needs to be divided into two new forms: namely bullshit-atheism and honest-atheism. It was also pointed out that the term bullshit-atheism is meant to be, at least in part, a rhetorical device which can undermine the atheist’s own rhetorical strategy of using so-called lack-of-belief atheism as a way to avoid the burden of proof for his disbelief. And now, in this particular essay, a rule-of-thumb concerning bullshit-atheist shall be offered to the theist, and this rule-of-thumb is one which every God-believer should consider using when dealing with a self-described lack-of-belief atheist.

In essence, given the sometimes disingenuous nature of the atheist’s self-described lack-of-belief, each and every God-believer needs to ensure that they are never hoodwinked by an unbeliever’s use of the generic term ‘atheism’. Indeed, since many modern atheists hold a multitude of God-related positive beliefs as well as a number of positive beliefs which directly oppose certain types of theism, and yet they conceal this fact behind their so-called lack-of-belief, then, in light of this fact, and as a good and reasonable rule-of-thumb, what every theist should do is assume that each and every atheist interlocutor that he interacts with is actually more of an atheistic-naturalist with positive atheistic beliefs rather than not, and then the theist needs to maintain this presupposition until and unless it is clearly demonstrated not to be the case. Indeed, upon hearing the word ‘atheist’, the God-believer should assume that who he is dealing with is actually someone akin to a philosophical-naturalist or materialist, and only after being provided good evidence to the contrary should the theist drop this assumption.

In practice, what this rule-of-thumb means is that in any potential debate-like interaction with an unbeliever, the theist should immediately seek to determine what the unbeliever’s unbelief really entails. Indeed, before any substantive engagement with an atheist occurs, and in order to prevent the atheist from shifting from honest-atheism to bullshit-atheism for rhetorical purposes, the theist should readily press the atheist to explain what he believes until it is clear just what that particular unbeliever’s beliefs about God actually are (and, of course, the atheist can and should do the same with the theist). Additionally, if the unbeliever’s atheism is exposed as honest-atheism rather than bullshit-atheism, which it most usually will be—unless the atheist just breaks-down and admits that he is really more of a straight agnostic than an atheist—then the theist should not let the atheist get away with avoiding the burden of proof that his honest-atheism requires him to meet.

Now, for the atheist’s role in this whole issue, it is proposed that each self-aware and self-described atheist seriously consider the following: 1) whether they genuinely hold an actual lack of belief about God’s existence in their day-to-day lives, and whether they should thus be labeling themselves as agnostics rather than atheists, or 2) if they really do hold to something more like atheistic-naturalism as their main point of view, and if they should thus be up-front about this positive position and not shy away from it, even when it means shouldering a share of the burden of proof. In essence, if an atheist really holds to honest-atheism rather than bullshit-atheism, then such an atheist should simply admit that his atheism is chock-full of burden-bearing positive beliefs and then defend those beliefs to the greatest extent possible rather than playing the shell-game that is bullshit-atheism.

However, in saying the above, it is realized that many self-described atheists do appreciate the difference between bullshit-atheism and honest-atheism, and these atheists, to their credit, do indeed make it clear that their atheism is not merely a lack of belief but is actually a positive point-of-view full of burden-bearing beliefs. Such atheists, furthermore, accept that they have a burden of proof for their position. And so again, such atheists are to be commended for their honesty. However, at the same time, the fact is that other atheists—as learned from experience—either do not or will not appreciate the need to make a clear and overt distinction between bullshit-atheism and honest-atheism, nor will they wish to make this distinction widely known given the burden of proof requirement which doing so will suddenly place on them. And so, regardless of what is said here, many atheists will continue claiming that their atheism is nothing more than a mere burden-less lack-of-belief concerning the existence of God even though, in reality, it is likely much more than that. Furthermore, such atheists will continue labeling themselves as atheists rather than adopting the term agnosticism for their point-of-view. And this is why, in the end, a rhetorical tool like the label ‘bullshit-atheism’ is needed, and it is precisely why that label should be used.

And so, the long and short of it is this: given that many atheists are not more upfront with the types of positive burden-bearing beliefs their point-of-view actually entails, theists, by extension, thus need to be wary of any self-described lack-of-belief atheist. Consequently, until and unless shown otherwise through robust questioning, the theist should assume that any atheistic unbeliever that the theist is speaking with, is more of an atheistic-naturalist than a mere lack-of-belief atheist; and by following this simple rule-of-thumb, the theist will ensure that he is not readily fooled by the all-too-often used con-game that is bullshit-atheism.

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Anno Domini 2017 01 22

Non nobis Domine, non nobis, sed nomini tuo da gloriam

Introducing ‘Bullshit-Atheism’

The Reconquista Initiative

Presents…

Introducing ‘Bullshit-Atheism’

Over the past number of essays, it has been contented, and arguably demonstrated, that it is reasonable to believe that many self-described and self-aware atheists who label themselves as lack-of-belief atheists are intellectual bullshitters. At the same time, having had a solid amount of experience dealing with such atheists, it is evident that they will continue to employ the idea that their atheism is just a burden-less lack-of-belief regardless of how inappropriate this self-label actually is. In fact, the strategy that they will most likely employ is rather predictable: namely, when in a discussion concerning a topic unrelated to God’s existence, or when in a discussion with other unbelievers, such lack-of-belief atheists will expose themselves as being much more like atheistic-naturalists (philosophical naturalists) than individuals who merely lack a belief in God’s existence; but then, the moment that such atheists enter into a debate with a theist, such atheists will immediately revert back to claiming that their unbelief is merely a lack-of-belief in God’s existence, and that the whole burden of proof is on the God-believer. And so, given the existence and use of this rhetorical strategy by the lack-of-belief atheist, what is the God-believer to do?

Well, the first tactic that the theist can use to counter the atheist is for the God-believer to use his own rhetorical trick against the atheist, which is precisely why it is proposed that the term ‘atheism’ once again be split; indeed, just as modern atheists split atheism into a positive and a negative lack-of-belief form because they believed that doing so was necessary to properly reflect the full scope of what atheism entailed—and because doing so gave atheists a rhetorical advantage over the theist—I too believe that the disconnect between the type of atheism that is deployed during a debate with a theist and the type of atheism that is lived in daily life by atheists themselves shows us that atheism, for the sake of intellectual honesty, and for the sake of a good rhetorical jab to the atheist’s face, needs to once again be divided into two different forms. Namely, atheism needs to be split, on the one hand, into ‘bullshit-atheism’ (or, for the less salty among us, into something like ‘debate-atheism’ or even ‘rhetorical-atheism’) and, on the other hand, into ‘honest-atheism’ (or something like ‘worldview-atheism’, or even ‘living-atheism’). And so, whereas bullshit-atheism covers the type of questionable and disingenuous atheism that many unbelievers allege that they possess whenever they are in a debate with a theist, note that honest-atheism not only entails positive-atheism but it also includes the numerous other positive beliefs which most atheists hold and which show them to be closer to atheistic-naturalists than mere atheists. Consequently, the terms ‘bullshit-atheism’ and ‘honest-atheism’ clearly allude to the fact that atheists are all-too-often insincere in how they present themselves to the outside world, which is precisely the rhetorical effect that these new terms seek to achieve.

Now, it is appreciated that honest-atheism appears to be little more than what many people would call ‘philosophical-naturalism’, or ‘materialism’, or even ‘atheistic-naturalism’, and so an objection could be raised as to why we require the creation of a term like honest-atheism when other terms already exist to describe such a position. But the answer to this objection is obvious. The term ‘honest-atheism’, while mirroring atheistic-naturalism and thus describing an actual position that many atheists hold, is also meant to have a rhetorical effect on the conversation by implying that there is such a thing as ‘dishonest-atheism’, which there indeed is, and it is called bullshit-atheism. Thus, it is immaterial that, philosophically, honest-atheism is very close in meaning to atheistic-naturalism, for the purpose of the term honest-atheism is to contain truth within a rhetorical package, which is precisely why the terms honest-atheism and bullshit-atheism need to exist and be used.

And so, the long and short of it is this: in order to reflect reality as it presently is on the ground rather than as atheists want it to be, and in order to give the God-believer a powerful rhetorical weapon, the theist can thus begin using the terms bullshit-atheism and honest-atheism as means to counter the lack-of-belief atheist’s own rhetorical BS.

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Anno Domini 2017 01 21

Non nobis Domine, non nobis, sed nomini tuo da gloriam

 

Atheism’s BS Trilemma

The Reconquista Initiative

Presents…

Atheism’s BS Trilemma

In the essay “The Positive Burden-Bearing Beliefs of Lack-of-Belief Atheists”, it was noted that many atheists, while overtly claiming to merely lack a belief about God’s existence, actually hold to a number of positive beliefs which are indirectly yet intimately related to the question of God’s existence (meaning both God and gods). For example, most atheists hold that God’s non-existence is more probable than not, that no one created the universe or sustains it in existence, that matter exists, that the universe was not designed, that life ultimately came naturally from non-life without guidance, that the evolutionary process was wholly random and without interference from divine beings, that consciousness ultimately arose from non-consciousness naturalistically, that a soul does not exist, that God-given moral commands and duties do not exist, and so on. Additionally, many atheists claim that there is no evidence for God’s existence nor any good arguments for his existence either. But if this is the case, and if the atheist does hold to such positive beliefs as the ones mentioned above, then it soon becomes clear that such an atheist is not some mere negative-atheist who lacks a belief in God’s existence in some literal or straightforward sense, but rather the atheist is an unbeliever who holds a number of beliefs which have a burden of proof and which he must thereby justify and defend.

But now note that if the unbeliever, suddenly realizing that his positive endorsement of many of the aforementioned naturalistic claims thereby puts a burden of proof on his shoulders, thus started to back-track his affirmative endorsement of those claims, then such a move would create some serious concerns for the unbeliever. Indeed, for if an unbeliever who previously affirmed the aforementioned naturalistic claims suddenly repudiated them, and thus began to state that now he neither believed nor disbelieved that anyone created and/or caused the universe, and/or he claimed to neither believe nor disbelieve that there was any evidence of God’s existence in nature, and/or that God was involved in the evolutionary process, and so on and so forth, then such a retreating move to neither believing nor disbelieving any of the aforementioned naturalistic claims would indeed generate two potential issues for such an unbeliever.

First, the aforementioned withdrawal from the various naturalistic claims mentioned above would strongly suggest that such an unbeliever was really more of an agnostic than a genuine atheist, at least when dealing with the deities that most modern theists believe in. But why this is so?

Well, as many atheists themselves admit, if a person neither positively believed nor disbelieved in the existence of God, and thus held a position of equal uncertainty and doubt about that issue, that person would be viewed as an agnostic by most people, not as an actual atheist. And both atheists and others admit that to move from the agnostic position towards atheism, the person would need to positively affirm, at least to some degree, that it is more probable than not that no God exists. For example, in his book The God Delusion, in the section titled “The Poverty of Agnosticism”, arch-unbeliever Richard Dawkins provides us with a seven-point scale for theistic belief with pure agnosticism in the middle of the scale and with an increasingly more probable belief in either God’s existence or non-existence forming opposite ends of the scale; and so Dawkins, at least, thinks that to be an atheist in a real world sense, an unbeliever would need to believe that God’s non-existence is much more probable than not. And Robert M. Martin, in his 2002 3rd Edition of The Philosopher’s Dictionary defines atheism, theism, and agnosticism as follows: “Atheists believe that God doesn’t exist. … Atheism is contrasted with its opposite, theism, the view that God does exist, and also with agnosticism, the view that there isn’t any good reason to believe either that God exists or that He doesn’t.” Thus, for Martin, like Dawkins, to move from agnosticism to either atheism or theism requires good reasons to do so, and the existence of such reasons would allow a person to claim that God’s existence is either more probable or less probable than not depending on the direction that the person moved in. So for Martin and Dawkins, and other atheists who agree with them, to be a real-world atheist is to view God’s existence as at least somewhat less probable than not.

But now, with all of the above in mind, note that if the unbeliever is a broad atheist who positively disbelieves, whether tentatively or with certainty, that no God of any type exists, then, by necessary extension, such a person would, for example, also need to positively disbelieve, whether tentatively or with certainty, that no personal being created or sustains the universe—where ‘the universe’ means all of physical reality—for any being capable of doing so would easily be classified as at least a lower-case god. Thus, to positively and broadly affirm, at least to some probable degree, that no Gods exists is to implicitly and simultaneously affirm that no personal being created or sustains the universe. And so, the point of all this is to show that it is indeed the case that if a person claims to neither believe nor disbelieve the assertion that a personal being created the universe and sustains it in existence, then this means that the person cannot be a broad atheist who believes that the non-existence of all Gods is more likely than not, for to do so he could not be agnostic about the existence of a possible creator and sustainer of the universe. Consequently, this shows that the more agnostic a person is on the God-related questions and issues mentioned earlier, then the more agnostic-like the person appears to be in general. And just think of this in a common-sense manner: if a person told you that 1) he neither believed nor disbelieved that Gods exist, and 2) he neither believed nor disbelieved that a personal being created and sustains the universe, and 3) he neither believed nor disbelieved that a personal supernatural being created life, guided evolution, created consciousness, left evidence of his existence in nature, and so on, you would rightly come to see such a person as much more agnostic-like than atheist-like. Such a person might indeed be an atheist about certain deities, but it would be reasonable to hold that such a person, generally-speaking, would best be described as an agnostic, or at least as someone who was mainly an agnostic, rather than describing the person as a tentative or certain atheist in the broad sense. And so again, if an unbeliever back-tracks into agnosticism concerning all the relevant God-related questions, then such an unbeliever, by extension, gives others good grounds to see him as more of an agnostic than an atheist.

So the above issue is the first one to note if you find that an unbeliever is back-tracking from making any kind of positive claim concerning the various God-related questions and topics that are normally and naturally associated with atheism. But now the second issue is that if the aforementioned back-tracking unbeliever does indeed appear more agnostic than atheistic concerning all the God-related questions, and yet that unbeliever refused to countenance the fact that his views, to others, would suggest agnosticism much more strongly than atheism, and if the unbeliever continued to insist that his views were nevertheless still atheistic in nature—as many lack-of-belief atheists do—then such a stance would readily and reasonably make an outside observer come to believe that such an unbeliever disingenuously wished to make use of the intellectual and burden-free benefits of an agnostic-like position while still being able to rhetorically label himself as an atheist. Indeed, such a move would make the unbeliever’s intellectual integrity and motives suspect, and quite rightly so.

And so, the long and short of it is this:  whether he wants to be or not, the self-described atheistic unbeliever is stuck in a bit of a trilemma. First, if the unbeliever waters down his views to the point where he makes no real positive or committed claims about any God-related questions, then this strongly indicates that such an unbeliever really would be more appropriately regarded as an agnostic rather than as an atheist, regardless of what the unbeliever’s self-label is. However, if the unbeliever does answer certain God-related questions positively, then his atheism is indirectly shown to not merely be a lack-of-belief, but rather it is an actual positive point-of-view which denies the existence of certain types of gods—usually the most popular ones—and this means that the atheist has a burden of proof which he must meet and cannot avoid. And finally, if the unbeliever makes no real positive claims about any God-related questions and is thus rightly seen as an agnostic rather than an atheist, but if such an unbeliever nevertheless adamantly maintains and proclaims that he is an atheist regardless of the fact that he holds to a position which everyone else sees as more agnostic than atheist, then this situation creates the grounds to make it reasonable to suspect that such an unbeliever is simply trying to bullshit the rest of us into accepting the rhetorical maneuvers which are most advantageous to him, and this is something that we need not do. And so, for the self-described atheist who wants to be called an atheist but who nevertheless wants to avoid the burden of proof, the choices are grim: either he admits he is actually best classified as an agnostic, not an atheist, or he admits he is an atheist but then shoulders his share of the burden of proof, or he gets called out as a mere rhetorical bullshitter who is trying to have his atheistic cake and eat it too.

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Anno Domini 2017 01 20

Non nobis Domine, non nobis, sed nomini tuo da gloriam

The Positive Burden-Bearing Beliefs of Lack-of-Belief Atheists

The Reconquista Initiative

Presents…

The Positive Burden-Bearing Beliefs of Lack-of-Belief Atheists

Over the past few essays devoted to the topic of negative lack-of-belief atheism being bullshit—in the philosophical sense—a number of arguments were presented in order to show that it is reasonable to believe that lack-of-belief atheism is indeed a shell-game meant to rhetorically shield atheists from bearing their share of the burden of proof for their unbelief. Yet even with those previous arguments already articulated, the truth is that this whole matter gets even worse for the lack-of-belief atheist given the fact that when pressed, most atheists, even while claiming to merely lack a belief concerning the existence of God or gods (hereafter just God), will simultaneously admit that they hold a number of other positive beliefs about the God-question which, whether they realize it or not, actually undermine their own self-proclaimed negative-atheism. In fact, in many cases, these other positive beliefs tangentially demonstrate that the unbeliever’s atheism is much more than a mere lack of belief. And to understand how this is the case, let us examine some of these other beliefs.

First, in terms of the positive beliefs that many modern atheists would endorse, we can reasonably claim—based both on personal experience interacting with atheists and from the testimony of atheists themselves—that many modern atheists would hold the affirmative belief that it is more probable than not, even if only slightly more probable than not, that no God exists. For example, arch-unbeliever Richard Dawkins, in his book The God Delusion, in the section titled “The Poverty of Agnosticism”—page 51 of the 2006 hard-copy edition—admit that he is almost certain that no God exists; so Dawkins himself holds to the positive belief that it is much more probable than not that no God exists. But, as stated, note that this is a positive claim that needs defending rather than being a mere lack of belief about the existence of God; indeed, such an atheist as Dawkins does not believe that God’s existence is essentially unknowable or that it is as likely as not, nor does such an atheist literally lack a belief about the God-question, but rather, such an atheist is making the positive claim that God’s existence is less likely than not, and as such, such an atheist owes us some reasons for why he makes this positive claim. After all, if I said that I believed that the theory of evolution, for example, was more likely false than true, every proponent of evolution would demand that I substantiate that claim with arguments and reasons for it, and they would no doubt insist that that was a positive claim which bore a burden of proof; they would not let me get away with just saying that I ‘lacked a belief’ in the theory of evolution, but rather they would rightly demand justification for my claim that evolution is more likely false than factual. But the same holds true for the claim that God’s non-existence is more probable than not, and so such a claim needs to be positively justified. Therefore, if the atheist holds to such a claim, then he is indeed an atheist who is making a positive claim and he thus has a burden of proof that he must meet. And yet note that if the atheist does not hold such a belief, and if he thus claims no positive belief concerning the probability of God’s existence or non-existence, or if he claims to believe that God’s existence and non-existence are roughly of equal probability, then such an atheist is much more of an agnostic than an outright atheist, and so he should stop calling himself an atheist to begin with.

Now, in addition to believing that God’s non-existence is more probable than not, in my experience, many modern atheists also hold other positive beliefs that are unavoidably linked to the God-question, and yet these are the very beliefs which also undermine the atheist’s claim to hold to a mere lack-of-belief style of atheism. For instance, the often repeated atheist mantra that ‘there are no good arguments for God’s existence’, or that ‘there is no evidence for God’s existence’, are cases in point of this phenomenon. Why? Because the positive claim that there is no evidence for God is directly contrary to, for example, the Christian idea that God did provide universally-visible evidence of His existence to all men and that the entire creation is itself universally manifest evidence for the existence of a Creator deity (and please see Romans 1:19-21 and Points 27 to 38 of the newest Catechism of the Catholic Church for detailed articulation of this claim). So the point to understand is that in positively asserting that there is no evidence for God’s existence, the atheist is taking a de facto positive position against certain theistic worldviews, such as certain forms of Christian theism. And this, in turn, means that the atheist, at least in some cases, does not merely lack a belief about the truth of theism, but he implicitly holds the positive belief that certain forms of theism are false.

To understand this idea more deeply, consider this analogy. Imagine, for a moment, two Detectives at the scene of a fatality. The first Detective, examining the scene, expresses his positive endorsement of the hypothesis that the fatality is a murder committed by a notorious serial killer who always and purposefully leaves ample evidence at the scene of the crime to clearly show that he was the culprit. However, upon hearing this hypothesis, the second Detective explicitly asserts that there is absolutely no evidence to show that the fatality was even a homicide. Now, in making this claim, the second Detective is not directly contradicting the first Detective’s hypothesis that the murderer is the notorious serial killer. Nevertheless, the second Detective is indirectly denying that hypothesis through his assertion that the scene shows no evidence of a homicide at all, for since such evidence would have to be there if the murderer was the notorious serial killer in question, then, by claiming that there is no such evidence, the second Detective is necessarily implying that he positively believes that the fatality was not caused by that specific serial killer. At the same time, in making his “no evidence of a homicide” claim, the second Detective is leaving open the possibility that someone else may have killed the deceased person and left no evidence of the act, but he is positively denying, through the unavoidable implication of his claim, that the evidence-leaving serial killer that the first Detective has posited as the culprit is definitely not the murderer. So while the second Detective may lack a belief about other possible murderers, he does not merely lack a belief about whether or not that specific serial killer is the murderer; rather, by saying that there is no evidence of a homicide having been committed, the second Detective is positively implying that no evidence-leaving serial killer could be responsible for the fatality under investigation. And in the same way, the atheist who positively believes that “there is no evidence for God” is simultaneously implying, whether consciously or not, that he also holds the positive belief that no evidence-providing God exists either. And so when it comes to certain deities, such as the God posited by Christian theism, the unbeliever’s other God-related beliefs, such as the belief that there is no evidence for God, unavoidably imply that his atheism is much more than just a lack-of-belief.

And for another example of the aforementioned phenomenon, consider that if an atheist was asked “Who created or caused the universe—meaning all of physical reality—to exist?” and “Who sustains the universe in existence?”, then, most often, the atheist’s answer will be that “No one created or caused the universe to exist, and no one sustains it in existence”; but such an answer is a positive claim which directly contradicts many theistic worldviews, such as Christianity. This is seen in the fact that the atheist is directly asserting that it is false that there is a being who created and sustains the universe, which is something which Christians claim their God has most definitely done and is doing right now. And so this means that if the atheist is explicitly stating that this is not the case, then the atheist is positively implying that orthodox Christian theism is false.

Thus, as such cases demonstrate, the atheist’s subtle but de facto positive rejection of the existence of certain types of gods, as implied by the unavoidable consequences of his other positive statements, appears to strongly undermine his claim to merely lack a belief about the existence of gods in general; indeed, in answering certain God-related questions in a way that unavoidably implies that specific types of theism are false, and thus that the deities posited by those types of theism do not exist, the atheist is tacitly admitting that his atheism, in such cases, is actually a type of positive atheism which thus has a burden of proof that it must bear.

Yet even more so than just the above examples, most atheists also hold to some or all of the following positive beliefs as well: that matter exists, that the universe was not designed, that life ultimately came naturally from non-life without guidance, that the evolutionary process was wholly random and without interference from divine beings, that consciousness ultimately arose from non-consciousness naturalistically, that a soul does not exist, that God-given moral commands and duties do not exist, and so on. But again, all of these are not only positive anti-theistic beliefs which require defending, but they are also beliefs which tacitly imply that certain types of theism are false. Indeed, for consider, as a final example, the issue of evolution. Most atheists would assert that evolution is a genuinely random and undirected process. However, note that since classical theism holds that there are no truly random or undirected processes in the universe, nor could there ever be such processes given God’s providential control and constant sustainment of everything that exists, then if the atheist positively claims that the evolutionary process is genuinely random and not under the control of any being in any way, then the atheist is positively implying that classical theism is false. So the atheist might lack a belief about the existence of some other deity, but his stance on evolution is positively implying that the God of classical theism does not exist. And so, once again, the fact that the atheist, in practice, holds such beliefs as the ones mentioned above implies that the atheist does not merely lack a belief about the truth or falsity of various specific theistic positions, but that he positively, albeit implicitly, holds various types of theism to be false. And thus the atheist who holds these aforementioned positions—as, in my experience, many of them admit to doing when pressed—thereby shows himself to be more of an atheistic-naturalist / philosophical naturalist than a mere lack-of-belief atheist, and yet atheistic-naturalism is a position that most definitely bears a burden of proof.

And note that you do not need to take my word for the fact that for many atheists, atheism is much more than a mere lack of belief. Indeed, to see the difference between the type of atheism used in theistic debates and the atheism that is actually believed by many atheists in their daily lives, consider this letter about atheism, which was written by an atheist to other atheists who he thought were being disingenuous and inconsistent in their unbelief. The letter was provided to a Christian apologist named J. Warner Wallace, who podcasted about the letter and published it at his website ‘coldcasechrisitanity.com’ in a January 14, 2014 article titled “The Inevitable Consequence of an Atheistic Worldview”, which was accessed on the 15th of August 2016. The letter is long, but informative, and so it is well-worth the read. It begins as follows:

[QUOTE] [To] all my Atheist friends. 

Let us stop sugar coating it. I know, it’s hard to come out and be blunt with the friendly Theists who frequent sites like this.  However in your efforts to “play nice” and “be civil” you actually do them a great disservice.                    

We are Atheists.  We believe that the Universe is a great uncaused, random accident. All life in the Universe past and future are the results of random chance acting on itself.  While we acknowledge concepts like morality, politeness, civility seem to exist, we know they do not.  Our highly evolved brains imagine that these things have a cause or a use, and they have in the past, they’ve allowed life to continue on this planet for a short blip of time.  But make no mistake: all our dreams, loves, opinions, and desires are figments of our primordial imagination. They are fleeting electrical signals that fire across our synapses for a moment in time. They served some purpose in the past.  They got us here. That’s it.  All human achievement and plans for the future are the result of some ancient, evolved brain and accompanying chemical reactions that once served a survival purpose.  Ex: I’ll marry and nurture children because my genes demand reproduction, I’ll create because creativity served a survival advantage to my ancient ape ancestors, I’ll build cities and laws because this allowed my ape grandfather time and peace to reproduce and protect his genes. My only directive is to obey my genes. Eat, sleep, reproduce, die.  That is our bible.

We deride the Theists for having created myths and holy books.  We imagine ourselves superior.  But we too imagine there are reasons to obey laws, be polite, protect the weak etc.  Rubbish. We are nurturing a new religion, one where we imagine that such conventions have any basis in reality.  Have they allowed life to exist?  Absolutely.  But who cares?  Outside of my greedy little gene’s need to reproduce, there is nothing in my world that stops me from killing you and reproducing with your wife.  Only the fear that I might be incarcerated and thus be deprived of the opportunity to do the same with the next guy’s wife stops me.  Some of my Atheist friends have fooled themselves into acting like the general population.  They live in suburban homes, drive Toyota Camrys, attend school plays.  But underneath they know the truth.  They are a bag of DNA whose only purpose is to make more of themselves. So be nice if you want. Be involved, have polite conversations, be a model citizen.  Just be aware that while technically an Atheist, you are an inferior one.  You’re just a little bit less evolved, that’s all.  When you are ready to join me, let me know, I’ll be reproducing with your wife.

I know it’s not PC [politically correct] to speak so bluntly about the ramifications of our beliefs, but in our discussions with Theists we sometimes tip toe around what we really know to be factual. Maybe it’s time we Atheists were a little more truthful and let the chips fall where they may.  At least that’s what my genes are telling me to say.” [UNQUOTE, http://coldcasechristianity.com/2014/the-inevitable-consequence-of-an-atheistic-worldview/%5D

So here we can see that an atheist quite readily admits that in terms of how he views the world, morality, meaning, and so on, his atheism is much more than a mere lack of belief. Instead, it is a vast mix of positive beliefs, all of which require defending and which need substantiation before being accepted. Therefore, in terms of how atheism makes many unbelievers perceive reality, atheism thus appears to be, for all practical purposes, much more like a comprehensive worldview than just an absence of belief.

And to support the above atheist’s claim that atheists sometimes conceal the true extent and implications of their unbelief from theists, remember as well what atheist Luke Muehlhauser said in his 23rd of February 2009 article “Atheism and the Burden of Proof”, which was accessed on the 8th of August 2016 on his website ‘commonsenseatheism.com’; namely, Muehlhauser states the following:

[QUOTE] But most intellectually-inclined atheists I know do not merely “lack” a belief in God – as, say, my dog lacks a belief in God. Atheists like to avoid the burden of proof during debates, so they say they merely “lack” a belief in God. But this is not what their writings usually suggest. No, most intellectual atheists positively believe that God does not exist. In fact, most of them will say – at least to other atheists – that it’s “obvious” there is no God, or that they “know” – as well as we can “know” anything – that God does not exist. Thus, if the atheist wants to defend what he really believes, then he, too, has a burden of proof. He should give reasons for why he thinks that God almost certainly doesn’t exist. [UNQUOTE, bold emphasis added, http://commonsenseatheism.com/?p=597%5D

So here even Muehlhauser admits that certain atheists that he knows will admit to other atheists that it is obvious that there is no God, but such atheists will nevertheless use lack-of-belief atheism as a means to avoid the burden of proof during debates on atheism.

Additionally, note that even in the political arena there is a connection between atheism and certain positive points-of-view. For example, as was reported in Point 3 of the Pew Research Center’s June 1st, 2016 web-article “10 Facts About Atheists”, which was accessed on the 1st of August 2016, only one-in-ten of self-identified US atheists count themselves as conservative while about two-thirds of atheists identify as Democrats or lean in that direction; and a majority of atheists, at 56%, call themselves political liberals (http://www.pewresearch.org/fact-tank/2016/06/01/10-facts-about-atheists/). And even atheists themselves, such as Austin Cline in his ‘atheism.about.com’ article “Atheists & Agnostics in America Tend to be Politically Liberal”, accessed on the 1st of August 2016, admit that there is good statistical evidence that atheists and agnostics have strong liberal tendencies (http://atheism.about.com/od/Atheist-Agnostic-Belief-Survey/a/Atheists-Agnostics-America-Politically-Liberal.htm). So even in politics and culture there seems to be a solid correlation between atheism and certain positive beliefs which are generally opposed to traditional orthodox religious morality. And such a finding again suggests that, in practice, the atheism of many atheists is more than a mere lack of belief about the truth or falsity of theism but rather that such an atheism is indeed the positive view that certain types of theism—such as any theism which claims that modern progressive ethics are incorrect—are false (or, possibly, that they are true but need to be opposed regardless of their truth).

Finally, in light of all this, also note the interesting point that since many common and daily interactions between atheists and theists involve theists who are religious followers who usually believe in the types of deities that many atheists implicitly reject through their affirmation of such positive beliefs as those noted above, then it does seem rather disingenuous for the atheist to assert that his atheism is a mere lack of belief concerning such deities; rather, in such cases, the atheist should admit that he has a positive burden-bearing view that the specific deity of the particular religious believer does not exist. And yet, since such cases form a sizable portion of the interactions that atheists deal with, then the non-believer’s atheism should very often be presented as the positive view that it is, not as a mere lack of belief.

And so, the long and short of it is this: although atheists like to hide behind so-called lack-of-belief atheism, more often than not, when you scratch an atheist, what you get is not someone who lacks a belief in God in a literal or straightforward sense, but rather you get an individual with all sorts of positive and burden-bearing beliefs concerning God that he should be defending. In fact, what you most often get is someone who is essentially an atheistic-naturalist of some type or other, but who nevertheless wishes to avoid justifying his atheistic-naturalism, thereby leading him to invoke the ‘lack a belief atheism’ move. But such a move is, in the end, just plain bullshit, and it needs to be called out as such.

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Anno Domini 2017 01 18

Non nobis Domine, non nobis, sed nomini tuo da gloriam

Atheists are Just Bullshitting Agnostics

The Reconquista Initiative

Presents…

Atheists are Just Bullshitting Agnostics

In the essay “Lack-of-Belief Atheism is Bullshit”, it was argued that, based on the experience of a number of individuals, as well as the testimony of certain atheists, it is reasonable to believe that so-called ‘lack-of-belief atheism’, or negative-atheism, is little more than a shell-game meant to give atheists cover for avoiding the burden of proof for their unbelief. And in that essay, a particular quote from atheist Luke Muehlhauser, the author of the website ‘commonsenseatheism.com’, which was very popular during New Atheism’s heyday, stood out. And that quote, which was in Muehlhauser’s 23rd of February 2009 article “Atheism and the Burden of Proof”, and which was accessed on the 8th of August 2016, was the following:

[QUOTE] But most intellectually-inclined atheists I know do not merely “lack” a belief in God – as, say, my dog lacks a belief in God. Atheists like to avoid the burden of proof during debates, so they say they merely “lack” a belief in God. But this is not what their writings usually suggest. No, most intellectual atheists positively believe that God does not exist. In fact, most of them will say – at least to other atheists – that it’s “obvious” there is no God, or that they “know” – as well as we can “know” anything – that God does not exist. Thus, if the atheist wants to defend what he really believes, then he, too, has a burden of proof. He should give reasons for why he thinks that God almost certainly doesn’t exist. [UNQUOTE, bold emphasis added, http://commonsenseatheism.com/?p=597]

Now, for this essay, the idea that shall be focused on is Muehlhauser’s interesting and salient point that, as he says, intellectually-inclined, and thus self-aware and self-described atheists do not lack a belief in God (meaning both God and gods) in the same sense that other things, like his dog, do. Indeed, there is an obvious and categorical difference between the alleged lack-of-belief about God which the self-aware and self-described negative-atheist has and the lack-of-belief that a dog has. And since such atheists are also not like molecules, or moss, or mice, or monkeys, all of which also literally lack a belief in God and yet which we would never call ‘atheistic’ in any meaningful sense, then there is a difference here as well. And so, there is obviously something less than straightforward in the type of lack-of-belief that the self-aware and self-described negative-atheist allegedly possesses given that all the aforementioned things—dogs, mice, moss, and so on—clearly and literally lack a belief in God as well, and yet it would be absurd to deem any of these things to be atheistic in any way.

At the same time, it is also interesting to note that self-aware and self-described negative-atheists are not even like infants or toddlers or utterly ignorant adults in their lack of God belief, for infants and toddlers and ignorant adults lack a belief in God’s existence because they have not yet entertained the question and are therefore genuinely and completely ignorant of it. By contrast, self-aware and self-described atheists—by virtue of being self-aware and consciously describing themselves as atheists—have obviously contemplated the question of God’s existence and thus they are not ignorant of the God concept. After all, atheists are atheists, they are not what could best be described as ignorant-theists, or ‘ignotheists’ (which would be a person, like an infant, who is truly and wholly ignorant of the idea of God and thus genuinely and literally lacks any belief about a deity given that that person has never even contemplated the God concept to begin with). And so again, there is a clear difference between the lack-of-belief concerning God that an infant or toddler or mentally handicapped person has, and the lack-of-belief that a self-aware and self-described negative-atheist alleged has.

But also note that there is even a difference between the negative-atheist’s lack of belief in God and the lack of belief in God that other non-ignorant adults in particular situations might have. For example, it would be laughable to think that we would call a sleeping Pope or a dozing clergyman a lack-of-belief atheist even though they actually do happen to literally lack a belief in God at the time of their slumbers. Indeed, for while the Pope truly does lack a belief in God while sleeping, it is absurd to think that the Pope should be labeled a lack-of-belief atheist when he naps but that he then transforms back into a Catholic God-believer upon waking. Furthermore, it is doubly-absurd to think that a fully awake and conscious religious monk, while in a mind-clearing meditation that seeks to put him in a contemplative state-of-mind, should be called a lack-of-belief atheist in that moment simply because he happens to lack a belief about God at the time of his most important religious practice.

And so, given all the above points, it begins to become evident that the alleged lack-of-belief which the negative-atheist claims he has is suspiciously dissimilar from the common-sense and literal understanding of what we normally take a ‘lack’ of something to entail; indeed, we begin to see that if so-called ‘lack-of-belief atheism’ is understood in a straightforward sense—namely, as a literal lack of belief about God’s existence—then the very idea that a self-aware and self-described atheist is simply a person who lacks a belief about God is, to put it charitably, immediately questionable both in its veracity and in its coherence. But then this raises the key question: namely, if the self-described and self-aware negative-atheist does not lack a belief about God in the literal and straight-forward sense of the term, then what kind of lack-of-belief does such an atheist actually have?

The fact is that only if a person has never thought about the God concept can he maintain a position where he lacks a belief about God’s existence in the genuine sense of literally possessing no belief one way or the other about the matter. After all, before writing this passage, I had never contemplated the issue of whether there was silver on the planet Pluto, and so I genuinely lacked a belief about that issue given that I had absolutely no belief one way or the other about that topic. But now that I have contemplated this question, I no longer literally lack a belief about the matter; rather, I now have the positive belief that I have insufficient evidence to either affirm or deny the existence of silver on the planet Pluto, and I thus hold a position of uncertainty about this question, thereby meaning that I am ultimately an agnostic about this issue. And the same holds true for the God-question, for the minute that we hear of the God-issue, and understand it, and contemplate it, we then unavoidably adopt a position along the spectrum of theistic belief, which ranges from certain-atheism on one end, to certain-theism on the other end, and with pure agnosticism in the neutral middle (and theistic non-cognitivism would be there as well). But at no point do we merely continue to lack a belief in God’s existence in the same literal way that we did before we even contemplated the concept of God. Instead, we hold a position where we either view God’s existence as more probable than not, or less probable than not, or we come to hold the purely agnostic point-of-view. But again, what we do not have is a ‘lack of belief’ in a literal sense.

But now consider that self-aware and self-described negative-atheists are individuals who have indeed already thought about God’s existence and are thus not actually ignorant about this matter. What this means is that the self-aware negative-atheist cannot lack a belief about God’s existence in the literal and straightforward sense, like an infant does, but rather he can only lack a belief in the sense that the agnostic lacks a belief: namely, by being uncertain about the issue of God’s existence and thus neither affirming God’s existence nor denying it (and see the essay ‘Atheism, Agnosticism, and Bullshit’ for support of this definition of agnosticism). Consequently, and as mentioned, the idea that a self-aware unbeliever can lack a belief in God in the literal sense is, at best, a seriously questionable concept, and it is, at worst, outright false. And yet if ‘lack-of-belief atheism’ does not describe an unbeliever who lacks a belief in God’s existence in the literal sense, but rather it merely describes an unbeliever who is uncertain and uncommitted one way or the other about God’s existence, then lack-of-belief atheism appears to be nothing more than agnosticism by another name. So either lack-of-belief atheism is an inappropriate label for most self-aware and self-described negative-atheists given that such atheists do not genuinely nor literally lack a belief in God’s existence like a wholly ignorant person does, or else lack-of-belief atheism is just another label for agnosticism about God. Either way, this whole issue of lack-of-belief atheism is problematic for the unbeliever given its appearance of intellectual dishonesty, and so it is a problem that unbelievers should address.

Now, if a self-aware and self-described atheist does not see this problem, then this points towards ignorance of the issue, which is its own concern. And yet if such an atheist does see this problem, but he continues to promote and use lack-of-belief atheism anyway even though it is an inappropriate label for him and if he simply uses it as a concealed synonym for agnosticism, then, once again, this fact serves as some evidence towards the view that intellectual bullshit is afoot, for it provides some evidence that such an atheist, through his use of the ‘lack-of-belief’ shtick, wants to gain the rhetorical benefits of calling himself an “atheist” while at the same time reaping the burden-avoiding properties of agnosticism. In essence, such an atheist want to gain the perceived prestige that comes with proudly and boldly labelling himself an ‘atheist’ rather than a wishy-washy agnostic, but he also wants to avoid any burden for justifying his unbelief, which is why what such an atheist has done is merely to repackage what most people understand as agnosticism into a new box called ‘lack-of-belief atheism’.

So either the self-described and self-aware atheist is ignorant of the problems that labeling himself as a lack-of-belief atheist poses, or else he is aware of these problems, but he disingenuously continues to label himself as a lack-of-belief atheist anyway. And since atheists are intelligent people, it is reasonable to suspect that the latter is the case, which is precisely why this point again serves as some evidence that lack-of-belief atheism, when used by self-described and self-aware negative-atheists, is indeed just a bullshit maneuver meant to give such atheists a rhetorical upper-hand against theists, even though their so-called negative-atheism is indistinguishable from agnosticism.

And so, the long and short of it is this:  it seems that the old adage that ‘an agnostic is just a cowardly atheist’, while possibly true, is not the only adage that we now need to consider, for it also appears that we can now just as readily say that ‘an atheist is actually little more than just a bullshitting agnostic’.

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Anno Domini 2017 01 17

Non nobis Domine, non nobis, sed nomini tuo da gloriam

Atheism, Agnosticism, and Bullshit

The Reconquista Initiative

Presents…

Atheism, Agnosticism, and Bullshit

In the previous essay “Lack-of-Belief Atheism is Bullshit”, it was argued that the testimony of a number of individuals, both atheist and theist alike, as well as the experience of this author, provide the reasonable grounds to believe that the popular assertion made by many modern atheists, which is that atheism is simply a lack-of-belief about the existence of God or gods (hereafter just God) rather than being a positive belief claim, is, in fact, a bullshit move which is employed by atheists not because it is true, but because it helps them avoid the burden of proof for their position. And so, the evidence provided supported the contention that lack-of-belief atheism is, in essence, a shell game used to give atheists a rhetorical advantage over theists concerning the question of who bears the burden of proof.

In this essay, yet another point will be provided which will add a slight amount of further grounds to support the idea that lack-of-belief atheism is indeed more of a rhetorical tactic than a legitimate position. And this point stems from the blending of negative lack-of-belief atheism with agnosticism. Indeed, the conflation and overlap that occurs between lack-of-belief atheism and agnosticism is another point which is sufficiently suspicious that it deserves to be noted.

Now, to understand this overlap between atheism and agnosticism, consider first how atheist Michael Martin, in his “General Introduction” to the 2006 Cambridge Companion to Atheism, defines atheism:

[QUOTE] If you look up “atheism” in a dictionary, you will find it defined as the belief that there is no God. Certainly, many people understand “atheism” in this way. Yet this is not what the term means if one considers it from the point of view of its Greek roots. In Greek “a” means “without” or “not”, and “theos” means “god.” From this standpoint, an atheist is someone without belief in God; he or she need not be someone who believes that God does not exist. Still, there is a popular dictionary meaning of “atheism” according to which an atheist is not simply one who holds no belief in the existence of a God or gods but is one who believes that there is no God or gods. This dictionary use of the term should not be overlooked. To avoid confusion, let us call it positive atheism and let us call the type of atheism derived from the original Greek roots negative atheism. [UNQUOTE]

But Martin, in the same work, then defines agnosticism as follows:

[QUOTE] Agnosticism, the position of neither believing nor disbelieving that God exists, is often contrasted with atheism. However, this common opposition of agnosticism to atheism is misleading. Agnosticism and positive atheism are indeed incompatible: if atheism is true, agnosticism is false and conversely. But agnosticism is compatible with negative atheism in that agnosticism entails negative atheism. Since agnostics do not believe in God, they are by definition negative atheists. This is not to say that negative atheism entails agnosticism. A negative atheist might disbelieve in God but need not. [UNQUOTE, bold emphasis added]

So observe how Martin defines agnosticism as neither believing nor disbelieving in the existence of God, which means that the agnostic lacks a positive belief in either the existence or the non-existence of God, just as the negative-atheist allegedly does. And so, as per Martin’s definition, agnosticism is thus best construed as the middle position between positively believing and positively disbelieving in the existence of God; it is directly between positive-atheism and positive-theism on the spectrum of theistic belief. Thus, agnosticism is indeed a lack of belief concerning God’s existence, just as negative-atheism is claimed to be. And even Martin himself admits that negative-atheism overlaps with agnosticism. And while Martin argues that these two positions are not identical, Martin himself provides the very means to undermine his own claim that these are two separate and distinction positions—although explaining why this is so will be the topic of a separate essay.

Note as well that Martin is not the only one who implicitly admits the overlap between negative-atheism and agnosticism. For example, Matt McCormick, in his online article “Atheism” on the ‘Internet Encyclopedia of Philosophy’ website, accessed on the 25th of November 2015, also defines agnosticism as a lack-of-belief when he says:

[QUOTE] Atheism is the view that there is no God … It has come to be widely accepted that to be an atheist is to affirm the non-existence of God.  Anthony Flew (1984) called this positive atheism, whereas to lack a belief that God or gods exist is to be a negative atheist… Agnosticism is traditionally characterized as neither believing that God exists nor believing that God does not exist. [UNQUOTE] (http://www.iep.utm.edu/atheism/, bold emphasis added)

Notice how McCormick, like Martin, does indeed tacitly admit that both the negative-atheist and the agnostic have a lack-of-belief concerning God’s existence, thereby again demonstrating the conflation that occurs between these two terms.

So the point here is that there is a clear overlap between agnosticism and lack-of-belief atheism, and even atheists, such as Martin and McCormick, admit as much. But this fact, in turn, offers the grounds for a reasonable person to suspect that what the unbeliever is trying to do in defining atheism in a manner that overlaps it with agnosticism is to gain the advantage of agnosticism’s burden-free position while at the same time still being able to call himself an atheist; thus the negative-atheist gets the rhetorical benefit of “proudly and boldly” calling himself an atheist rather than labelling himself as a (perceived) wishy-washy agnostic, but at the same time, the atheist receives the agnostic’s debate advantage of not having a burden of proof for his own position. And so, for the unbeliever, branding one’s self as a lack-of-belief atheist is to his rhetorical advantage all around, which is precisely why it is reasonable to suspect that this is the primary reason for why the unbeliever seeks to define atheism as a mere lack-of-belief.

Furthermore, this whole issue is made all the more suspicious by the fact that there is no need for the existence of the label of negative-atheist (and again, this will be discussed in a separate and longer essay). After all, if the label of agnostic encompasses the idea of a lack-of-belief in God, as it does, and if it can be modified to encompass numerous types of lack-of-belief, as it can be, then there is no need for the overlap and conflation between agnosticism and lack-of-belief atheism, especially given that the latter is unnecessary and could thus be justifiably shaved away via Occam’s Razor.  Consequently, atheism could be left with the more standard definition of being the positive belief that God does not exist whereas agnosticism would be the position where there was a lack-of-belief about God. And yet, atheists, and in particular negative-atheists, tacitly maintain this overlap between negative-atheism and agnosticism in spite of the fact that not only is there no good reason to do so, but there is a good reason not to do so: namely, as mentioned, Occam’s Razor and the appeal to parsimony, which should motivate the atheist—who so often invokes Occam’s Razor in other matters—to cut off the unnecessary limb of negative-atheism from the tree of agnosticism, thereby making matters linguistically simpler by removing the overlap between these two terms. But the fact that atheists are not willing to do this, even though many of them do indeed realize that negative-atheism and agnosticism all too often overlap, is suggestive of the fact that there may be an ulterior motive at play in the desire to maintain the idea of negative-atheism regardless of its overlap with agnosticism.

And so, the long and short of it is this: the existence of overlap between negative-atheism and agnosticism, as well as the atheist’s desire to maintain this overlap even when there good reasons not to do so, and no equally good reasons to maintain the overlap, can thereby lead a reasonable person to suspect that the atheist is indeed maintaining such an overlap for less-than-forthright purposes, such as for the purpose of gaining a rhetorical advantage over the theist when it comes to the burden of proof.  And so, in light of this reasonable suspicion, we once again get a whiff of intellectual bullshit coming from the atheist camp when it comes to their endless drive to ensure that atheism is defined as a mere lack-of-belief concerning the God question.

Additional Note:  Atheism versus Agnosticism

As an important side-note to the question of whether negative-atheism is simply conflated with agnosticism, please be aware that in response to this issue, some atheists assert that the difference between atheism and agnosticism is that atheism allegedly deals with belief claims whereas agnosticism deals strictly with knowledge claims, thereby implying that a person could be an atheist and an agnostic at the same time without an overlap necessarily arising between these two terms. Although addressing this particular objection in full is outside the scope of this essay, let two things be said about it. First, the author is aware of this objection and has a number of responses to it which show that the objection will not save negative-atheism from its conflation problem with agnosticism. And second, the fact that numerous sources do not define atheism and agnosticism in the manner that this objection desires—and both Martin and McCormick are a case-in-point of this fact—means that the claim that this objection makes is readily disputable.

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Anno Domini 2017 01 13

Non nobis Domine, non nobis, sed nomini tuo da gloriam