Re: What is the evidence that atheism is *true*?

From: Chris Cogan (
Date: Thu Jan 13 2000 - 16:05:33 EST

  • Next message: John E. Rylander: "RE: What is the evidence that atheism is *true*?"

    > Chris wrote:
    > > Atheism, as such, is mere non-belief in a God (under typical
    > > so the question, as Craig states it, is *mis-*stated (this is, I believe
    > > typical tactic of Craig's, though it has been some time since I bothered
    > > with him, so I may have him confused with someone else).
    > This isn't quite right.
    > "Atheism" is traditionally defined as the view that there is no God, and
    > "atheist" one who denies that there is a God. -Some do- use "atheism" to
    > mean simply the lack of belief (i.e., the person is either denies the
    > existence of God or doesn't have a belief one way or the other), but this
    > is, in my philosophical experience, -very- unusual, and hence confusing,
    > usage.
    > People who neither assert nor deny the existence of God are usually
    > classified as agnostics (there is "no knowing" one way or the other about
    > the existence of God, often implying something stronger than merely "I'm
    > sure one way or the other", that the matter is deeply unresolvable),
    > (classical) skeptics (suspending judgment on the issue -- strong forms
    > agnosticism), "ignostics" (non-agnostic skepticism), or something like
    > depending on the precise quality of their suspension of judgment. The
    > of the set of people who are atheists (in my dictionary's sense, and in
    > ordinary usage in my experience) or classical skeptics would be
    > nonbelievers.
    John's right in suggesting that "atheism" is commonly understood to mean
    rejection of the existence of God (or gods), but this really is too narrow,
    as John's own dictionary investigations indicate. Further, though people
    will often claim that this is what they mean by "atheism," sometimes these
    same people will use it to refer simply to any failure to believe in God,
    even if this failure has not been associated with a positive belief in the
    nonexistence of God. There seems to be a kind of conceptual "smearing" of
    the ideas of atheist and atheism in these cases. But, still, my definition
    is a standard definition, and it is etymologically supported by the fact
    that, as a word derived from Greek, it means simply "without theism," or
    "without a belief in God or gods."

    One of my reasons for my dig at Craig is that it is theists who have worked
    so hard to make "without theism" synonymous with "rejecting theism."

    We seem to need three terms in this area:

    1. One to mean agnosticism
    2. One to mean positive belief that God (or Gods or gods or "the" gods,
    etc.) does not exist.
    3. One to mean lack of belief in God, *regardless* of whether this takes the
    form of agnosticism, mere lack of interest in the issue (which, I suppose,
    would be technically a form of agnosticism), or a positive denial of God (or
    gods, etc.).

    This suggests that agnosticism itself perhaps ought to be divided up into
    conscious agnostics (people who are aware of the issue but have not come to
    a conclusion as to whether God exists or not) and people who are merely
    accidental or default agnostics (people who simply haven't heard of or
    bothered to consider the issue consciously).

    At any rate, we *do* need a general term for "without a belief in God," and
    the only term, other than "Godlessness," that I know of is "atheism" (even
    "Godlessness" is used commonly to mean or at least connote positive
    disbelief, as when American theists of certain stripes referred to "those
    Godless Communists").

    I would suggest "antitheist" as a term for positive disbelief in God, were
    it not that it might suggest that the person is somehow personally *opposed*
    to God, rather than merely failing to believe in Him.

    Perhaps John is right in suggesting that I was too hard on Craig, but the
    technique of attempting to shift the burden of proof by merely definitional
    means is way to common, even if Craig was not actually doing so in this
    instance. I certainly would not put it past him, given the poor quality of
    his arguments in general (e.g., his attempt at reviving the cosmological
    argument), however, I don't know that he has done so knowingly in this case.
    I apologize both to the list members and to Craig if I've committed a
    "Stephen Jones."

    > In Chris' defense, my Merriam Webster dictionary is indeed somewhat
    > confusing, listing multiple meanings for "atheism", BOTH Chris' take and
    > mine being represented (as well as "ungodliness, wickedness"), but only
    > for "atheist" -- one who denies the existence of God -- that tracks what I
    > take to be Craig's (and my, and nearly all others' I know) usage of
    > "atheism". I also checked my dictionary of philosophy, and it said
    > "atheism" was "The doctrine of disbelief in a supreme being", and my
    > experience and my MW dictionary both use "disbelief" (versus "nonbelief")
    > mean rejection as untrue (though some won't use it so cautiously)
    > Now admittedly, the English language is not perfectly precise (though
    > philosophers seek to approach such when feasible), but certainly in my
    > (strong but still limited) personal and professional experience "atheism"
    > and "atheist" involve denying the existence of a deity, whether the terms
    > are used by atheists, agnostics, theists, etc. There are other terms
    > available for broader concepts.
    > So Chris, use the word your way if you wish (so long as you clarify it for
    > the audience) -- some dictionaries permit it -- but please don't don't
    > attack Craig for using it in the more mainstream way. That'd pettily
    > pedantry.
    > I think I'll leave the rest of your message for others -- there's far more
    > to say than I have time for right now, and I don't know if any are even
    > interested in hearing.
    > John

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