Unwarranted Certainty

I am agnostic about a variety of issues in life, not just the existence of God. I refuse to hold certainty about any claim that could be refuted by future evidence. This post is my response to content from a Facebook message I received which asked “Is Atheism a belief?”. I don’t think it is.

I think you are missing the distinction between the statements:

1) “I don’t believe there is a God”
and
2) “I believe there is not a God”

Those are two very different statements. Statement 1 is compatible with agnosticism. Statement 2 is not. Statement 1 asserts nothing about God. No belief for or against. Statement 2 positively asserts the nonexistence of God. It is definitively against.

Statement 2 represents a higher class of certainty that I am uncomfortable with and find counterproductive to clear thinking.

Other examples:

“I’ve never seen an Indian man working in my office building”
vs
“There is not an Indian man working in my office building”

“I don’t have any reason to think I’ll get in a car accident tonight”
vs
“I will not get in a car accident tonight”

“I don’t have a reason to think I’ll lose my job”
vs
“I will never lose my job”

and back to our example

“I haven’t seen evidence for God”
vs
“There is no God”

Do you see how all of the second statements show an unwarranted level of certainty about the future state of the evidence?

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51 comments on “Unwarranted Certainty

  1. I agree partly with the sentiment. Although I do think there is a little more than “There is no Evidence for God”. There are many conceptions of God which I do believe warrants the statement “I believe God (in this conception) does not exist”

    While other versions of God I would say “I don’t believe there is ‘that’ God” or more accurately “I don’t care whether ‘that’ God exists or not”. Since the conceptions of God which basically say we shouldn’t expect anything different from a world without a God are the only ones which you don’t have sufficient evidence to say they don’t exist. They are also the versions of God that make me indifferent to whether they exist or not.

  2. No. Since, I can’t see the difference between “there is no gigantic pink llama living on Jupiter’s moon Europa” and “there is no god”. There is no point in claiming uncertainty or hedging against the possibility of something for which there is no good reason to suspect the existence of in the first place.

    • evid3nc3 says:

      The point is clear and accurate thinking. On the contrary, I think there is no point in claiming certainty when we don’t have it. Lack of belief is enough to get the job done and making the statement stronger for no good reason can lead to problems.

      • jvgama says:

        I think “onefuriousllama” is right, because he is not talking about “absolute certainty” (which I believe it is wrong, no matter what the subject) but in an affirmation of belief informed by the evidence available.
        It is “possible” that dragons and mermaids exist, so we shouldn’t rule those out with absolute certainty, but it is quite reasonable to say “I believe mermaids do not exist” because of the evidence against the existence of a being that satisfies the concept the different myths imply.

        It is possible to claim a belief in a “mermaid myth” so “metaphorical” and abstract, that the existence of mermaids by that definition may be compatible with the theory of evolution, but that is not what people think when they use the word “mermaid”.

        If I can claim “mermaids do not exist” (always with an open mind to revise this belief if new evidence shows otherwise), or “standard model is a good description of the particles behavior” (always with an open mind to revise this belief if new evidence shows otherwise), or “smoking tobacco increases the likelihood of lung cancer” (always with an open mind to revise this belief if new evidence shows otherwise), or human CO2 emissions are contributing for global warming (always with an open mind to revise this belief if new evidence shows otherwise), then I can claim “god does not exist” – of course, always with an open mind to revise this belief if new evidence shows otherwise.

        • Frank Jung says:

          I agree with the “jvgama” and “onefuriousllama”. Further, it appears to me that there is an unrealistic expectation on “absolute certainty”. Something we rarely, if ever, experience in the real world. There is ample evidence now, that for all practical purposes one can confidently say, “There is no God”. From a statistical point of view it makes no sense to give the god concept any more credence. Cut your loses, accept it, and move on. At some point the argument of “absolute certainty” is just plain uneconomic. It appears as a last ditched effort, clinging onto an untenable position. Something similar can be seen in addiction. Take gambling for instance. I can’t possibly lose all the time. My luck must turn around eventually. While true, it is a not an effective real world strategy. Better to admit the odds are not in you favour, and move to a more certain future in the absence of the addiction.

          • evid3nc3 says:

            “From a statistical point of view it makes no sense to give the god concept any more credence.”

            I agree.

            “There is ample evidence now, that for all practical purposes one can confidently say, “There is no God”.”

            I disagree. I also see absolutely no purpose to confidently say something doesn’t exist. I find this desire for certain judgement on a concept unnecessary and a vestige of primitive human/animal reasoning.

          • jvgama says:

            «I also see absolutely no purpose to confidently say something doesn’t exist.»

            You would never say “Dragons do not exist”; “Elves aren’t real”; “Mermaids are nothing but mythological creatures”?

          • evid3nc3 says:

            Correct. I would say “I’ve seen no evidence for them.” That intellectually honest statement achieves all the practical goals you are trying to achieve.

          • jvgama says:

            Hypothetically, if given enough evidence, would you believe that “tobacco is not harmful for your health”?

            While that evidence doesn’t come (I suppose we both agree that probably never will), do you suspend your judgment about tobacco’s effects on health, or do you believe – based on the evidence currently available – that «Tobaco is bad for your health»?

          • evid3nc3 says:

            We have plenty of evidence that tobacco is harmful to human health.

            You can never have evidence that something is “not harmful”. All you can say is, “we have no evidence that it is harmful.” Which, again, is intellectually honest and serves all the practical goals you are trying to achieve.

          • jvgama says:

            «You can never have evidence that something is “not harmful”»

            It follows that you cannot have evidence that drinking moderate quantities of water is not harmful for your health.

            Consequently, the status of sentences like “mermaids exist” and “drinking a moderate amount of water is NOT harmful for your health” is the same: both lack evidence in their support.
            You understand the absurdity of giving the same epistemological status* for both propositions , I hope…

            Anyone would realize that the status of both sentences is very different: we have plenty of evidence that mermaids do not exist – it just so happens that the evidence is not definitive. But it NEVER is, no matter the subject.

            And we DO have evidence that drinking moderate amounts of water is not harmful: not only because it follows from our understanding of the human body (based on evidence) but because it is trivial to make the direct experiment, and it was done repeatedly.

            (* “lack of evidence to support them”)
            —-

            Anyway, let me rephrase my earlier question:

            Hypothetically, if given enough evidence, would you believe that “the sun is mostly made of Nitrogen”?

            While that evidence doesn’t come (I suppose we both agree that probably never will), do you suspend your judgment about the sun’s composition, or do you believe – based on the evidence currently available – that «the sun is mostly made of hydrogen»?

            It is okay to believe in something that could be disprovable by future evidence – everything is – you just have to adjust what you believe to what the current evidence says. Any absolute certainty is unjustified.
            So, the evidence about the nonexistence of something may be obviously not definitive; but not definitive doesn’t mean not existent.
            We have evidence that there aren’t 500000000000000 tons of iron in the sun, neither a giant black hole in the moon. As with everything, we may be mistaken, but we shouldn’t hold our judgment about that, or otherwise we couldn’t say anything about the world around us.

  3. HC says:

    What about “I am reasonably, but absolutely, certain that there is no god”?

    • evid3nc3 says:

      Why would you ever need to make such a statement?

      • HC says:

        Because the issue of the existence or non-existence of a creator god is not just an academic or philosophic curiosity. A universe that is created by a sentient entity is fundamentally different from a universe that is not. Therefore it is prudent to treat the existence of a creator god as a scientific hypothesis – and that hypothesis has to be rejected, for much the same reasons that the hypothesis concerning the existence of a teapot in a solar orbit between Earth and Mars has to be rejected. There is just no evidence. Thus the reasonable certainty.
        But I can’t be absolutely certain – again, just like with the teapot.

        Still, I think it would be intellectually and scientifically dishonest not to phrase my statement the way I did.

        • evid3nc3 says:

          I don’t agree that we have to reject the concept of God to function scientifically. Any more than we have to reject an infinite amount of other concepts with no evidence, like Russell’s teapot. All that effort in rejection serves no purpose that I can see.

          All we have to do is invest positive energy into the things we *do* have evidence for.

          • HC says:

            And I don’t agree with the notion that a hypothesis can not be accepted but at the same time not be rejected. I really don’t think there is a third option here. (Which doesn’t mean there can’t be varying degrees of certainty, of course).

            And while the Teapot is inconsequential to anyone not actually at risk of colliding with it, the existence of god is not. It is a very real, very consequential question. Just look at how the individual answers to this question shape our customs, our laws, our daily interactions.

          • evid3nc3 says:

            You mistake my position on God in society. I absolutely oppose the use of the concept of God to justify laws, customs, and daily interaction. I oppose it because of my agnosticism. I see no reason to use God that way and demand evidence before other people affect lives using it that way.

          • Frank Jung says:

            It is the consequences of entertaining something of remote possibility that is the important point. We have seen how Tobacco Lobbyists, Climate Change Deniers and others have dishonestly used doubt to create a destabilising wedge. That takes no small effort to correct.

            But I think I understand your point. You have admirable empathy for moderate theists. Those that use it to shape their lives in a positive manner. (Can I assume your empathy extends to Hindu, Muslim and other faiths?) Your position on atheism is, I feel, a rational and consistent consequence of this. You do not want, or see a need to be unnecessarily antagonistic. This may garner more support than an position of strong atheism which tends to polarise groups.

            Thank you all for a very informative and constructive conversation.

            PS I see myself as 6 on 7 point Dawkins scale of atheism.

          • evid3nc3 says:

            While I appreciate your respect, it seems that you actually do not understand my point.

            It has nothing to do with empathy. It has to do with epistemology. I really don’t think we can know something doesn’t exist. I could care less how diplomatic that stance is. I think it is the truth. I’ve explained why in my responses to jvgama above as well as the original blog post, which, with all due respect, I’m honestly not sure you’re understanding.

          • Frank Jung says:

            Then, let me attempt to give it another go. You are not making a knowledge claim about the existence of God. You are merely stating that there is no evidence for or against. And this is where we disagree: you don’t think it is possible or useful to deny that God exists. I say, that current evidence gives me confidence that God doesn’t exist. At least a sentient God, one not so distorted that it becomes indistinguishable from natural laws. I view your epistemological stance as being too rigid. I prefer a statistical argument. This allows for action without complete knowledge. Biological entities do this all the time, successfully I might add, if the billions of years of evolution are anything to go by. So, while not epistemologically concrete, it is practical.

          • evid3nc3 says:

            Thank you for giving it another go. We are now at the crux of where you and most people misunderstand me.

            “This allows for action without complete knowledge.”
            “So, while not epistemologically concrete, it is practical.”

            This is it. Action. You think that you must deny God to act. And this is where I disagree. I see absolutely no action that requires denying the existence of God as a prerequisite. It is a false requirement. We do not need that kind of certainty to act. I can operate in a fully practical way without denying the existence of God.

            I don’t need the final judgement on anything to act. I am perfectly comfortable acting in an uncertain world. I’ll simply change my actions if my evidence changes. So let me challenge you: what actions do you think you can’t take without first denying the existence of God?

          • Frank Jung says:

            > So let me challenge you: what actions do you think require denying the existence of
            > God as a prerequisite?

            Every action, if one also requires transparency. If evidence is to be our guide, then we must be able to use naturalistic methods for evaluating our world. God, as part of the supernatural, is not a testable hypothesis. Consequently, God should not be used as a justification for making decisions or taking actions.

            Like you, I am happy to change my position, given evidence. In the absence of such evidence the best course of action will be to use testable concepts. What other choice do we have?

          • evid3nc3 says:

            I don’t see how valuing transparency and testable concepts has anything to do with denying the existence of God. I can fully execute those principles while saying “I’ve seen no evidence for God.”

  4. Ruben says:

    I agree with the points you’ve made on the topic of certainty but I do believe atheism is a belief. I don’t see how it couldn’t be. Having a lack of belief is still a belief. For instance, it is my belief that the god of the bible (or at least, as described in the bible), doesn’t exist. That is my belief and I base that belief on the extreme lack of evidence in support of that god’s existence as well as the all the evidence against that god’s existence. But my certainty on the matter is a different topic altogether.

    The issue I take with theists assertion that atheism is a belief is that they try to equate it their beliefs or belief system; the implication being that atheism is just another religion (the fallacy of equivocation if I’m not mistaken). As I’m sure you’re aware, that just isn’t true. While atheism is a belief, it is a belief on one single issue and one single issue only – the disbelief in any god or gods. That’s it. Nothing else can be derived from that but contrast that with theism which does have multiple beliefs that stem from one core belief. Historical events, life’s origins, rituals, codes of conduct, and morals, etc. One has all the hallmarks of what constitutes a religion while the other does not…

    • HC says:

      I would really like to upvote that comment ^^

    • I also would like to upvote that comment!

    • mikethetv says:

      Well you can write it that way… but you can also write believing in God as a non-belief.

      I believe in God.
      I don’t believe there is no god.

      I don’t believe in God.
      I do believe there is no god.

      So literally, yes, non-belief is a belief. But since everything is a belief, including disbelief, disbelief is redundant. Functionally, it’s just easier to separate people who believe in things and people who don’t believe in things. I can just say, “I don’t believe this is true.” And someone can say, “Yea well that’s just what you believe.” and I can say, “What did you just accomplish with that.” And then I just fly away in a helicopter, slightly irritating that person forever, while secretly being slightly irritated myself.

      It’s like when you’re talking about what you liked or didn’t like in a movie, and someone’s like, “Yea well that’s just your opinion. Dude it’s subjective…” and I’m like, “I KNOW, GOD, everything anybody ever says is subjective, including, but especially in the context that you’re using it in: movie reviews.”

      Throwing more don’ts and nots and nos in there just to retool a phrase into belief or disbelief is just a distraction. You believe in this, I don’t believe in this— that’s all that’s necessary to move on to the meat&potatoes of any debate.

      “Everything we hear is an opinion, not a fact. Everything we see is a perspective, not the truth.” – Marcus Aurelius

      • Ruben says:

        Sounds to me like you and I are in agreement. Belief, disbelief, acceptance, it’s all semantics really and just serves to distract from the real issue (the meat&potatoes as you called), which I addressed in my follow-up paragraph.

        • mikethetv says:

          I do agree with you, but I did want to mention why I find it to be dismissible in an actual debate. Belief in disbelief is mad-balls annoying to try and describe to anyone that isn’t in-the-know— it seems that belief, the word, is perceived as an attack on someone’s position.

          We know that’s not the root of their problem, it’s that their argument or evidence isn’t persuasive enough. Thus their belief becomes “just a belief” and it discredits itself. That’s why I think that theists often feel the need to call atheism a belief, because they feel that atheists are weaponizing the word belief.

          • Ruben says:

            Don’t you mean you don’t disagree with me? :p

            Again, I agree. Though it’s been my experience that faith is used against theists more so than belief (another topic altogether).

            Typically, when theists assert that atheism is a belief (sometimes even stated as belief system), it’s usually a tactic to shift the topic of discussion away from their beliefs. But again, it’s just a way to equivocate their beliefs with atheists and make it seem like a reasonable position to hold. Red herring and smoke screen tactics are quite common in such discussions. It’s for this reason that I always remain cognizant of the actual topic of concern whenever I engage in such debates.

    • Darrel Martin says:

      “While atheism is a belief, it is a belief on one single issue and one single issue only – the disbelief in any god or gods.”

      You’re equivocating propositional knowledge with skepticism. The extant to which you argue that a non-belief is still a belief dilutes the meaning of a core belief. Withholding belief due to insufficient evidence is not the same as believing it to be untrue. Evid3nc3 explained this quite clearly.

      “For instance, it is my belief that the god of the bible (or at least, as described in the bible), doesn’t exist.”

      Here, you are proposing, I assume based on evidentiary factors, that the God of the bible does not exist. Your positive stance of his non-existence is a claim to knowledge, and therefore, a propositional belief. There is nothing wrong with this other than the fact that it is unnecessary, as Evid3nc3 is saying. Being skeptical would suffice.

      “Having a lack of belief is still a belief.”

      Not necessarily, as no claim to knowledge is being made by just “lacking belief.” What you are referring to is skepticism, which is the act of withholding belief. By equivocating the two, things get unnecessarily muddled.

      • Ruben says:

        “You’re equivocating propositional knowledge with skepticism.”

        How is that? I didn’t even so much as imply equivocation between the two. I’m not even sure how you could equate the two.

        “The extant to which you argue that a non-belief is still a belief dilutes the meaning of a core belief.”

        My arguments (up to that point), had nothing to do with core beliefs. Non-belief and core beliefs (while very similar to one another), are two separate and distinct topics just like certainty and belief and two separate and distinct topics. I don’t think you followed what I wrote.

        “Withholding belief due to insufficient evidence is not the same as believing it to be untrue. Evid3nc3 explained this quite clearly.”

        If someone makes a claim (propositional knowledge), you can either accept it or not (either be skeptical or completely reject it outright). It’s perfectly fine to respond, “I doubt what you say is true. I don’t believe you.” Withholding belief until such time that convincing evidence presents itself (either for or against), but going on about your life disregarding the claim as if it weren’t true is, for all intents and purposes, no different than rejecting the proposition outright. As the old saying goes, actions speak louder than words.

        “There is nothing wrong with this other than the fact that it is unnecessary, as Evid3nc3 is saying. Being skeptical would suffice.”

        I’m sure it would suffice for some people but again, I suspect you weren’t following what I was getting at. I was trying to make the distinction between beliefs and certainty. I’m quite certain the god of the bible doesn’t exist (a distinction), but I’m not quite as certain other gods don’t exist as well. Nevertheless, I don’t believe they exist (another distinction), and I go on about my life living as if they didn’t.

        “Not necessarily, as no claim to knowledge is being made by just “lacking belief.””

        No claim to knowledge need be made to be doubtful and lack belief. Being doubtful (or skeptical), is perfectly sufficient to lack belief in any given claim – god claims included.

        • Darrel Martin says:

          “How is that? I didn’t even so much as imply equivocation between the two. I’m not even sure how you could equate the two.”

          This doesn’t address my contention to the original quotation. You claimed that a disbelief is still a belief; a propositional claim, but you never set forth a chain of reasoning to defend this. However, people who disbelieve by withholding judgement are not making any propositional claims; they are simply skeptical. It seems you are not differentiating between the two in making the following point: that “atheism is a belief”.

          “My arguments (up to that point), had nothing to do with core beliefs. Non-belief and core beliefs (while very similar to one another), are two separate and distinct topics just like certainty and belief and two separate and distinct topics. I don’t think you followed what I wrote”

          I can just as easily say that your response shows that you didn’t follow what I wrote. It’s ironic you claim they are distinct yet you have to equivocate the two in order to demonstrate your point. It entirely depends on whether the atheist is making a propositional claim, or if the person is an atheist, per se, because they decide to withhold judgement. You have not demonstrated why the latter should be considered a belief. This is really my main point. Fair? Merely claiming that “a disbelief is still a belief” is not a high enough standard for me. If you disagree, that’s fine. We have different standards.

          “I’m sure it would suffice for some people but again, I suspect you weren’t following what I was getting at. I was trying to make the distinction between beliefs and certainty. I’m quite certain the god of the bible doesn’t exist (a distinction), but I’m not quite as certain other gods don’t exist as well. Nevertheless, I don’t believe they exist (another distinction), and I go on about my life living as if they didn’t.”

          I tried following you as best I could, but as far as I can tell, you were not demonstrating a distinction between belief and certainty in the first quote that I responded to, so I am unsure why you would bring this up. It doesn’t address my response. I just want to know why atheism as a result of skepticism, not propositional knowledge, is a belief. I have no problem with you being certain that the god of the bible does not exist.

          “Withholding belief until such time that convincing evidence presents itself (either for or against), but going on about your life disregarding the claim as if it weren’t true is, for all intents and purposes, no different than rejecting the proposition outright.”

          I’m following you, but as soon as you say that disregarding a claim is the same as rejecting it outright, we have a bit of a problem. I think you need to follow definitions more correctly and not misrepresent nuanced positions such as skepticism with propositional knowledge. It’s irrelevant if someone does not dwell upon unproven claims “going on about” their lives, as you say it.

          “No claim to knowledge need be made to be doubtful and lack belief. Being doubtful (or skeptical), is perfectly sufficient to lack belief in any given claim – god claims included.”

          This simply restates what I’ve been saying. I agree with you.

          Claiming that atheism is a belief will seem misleading and unnecessary to a lot of people. I do respect a lot of what your saying though. Cheers.

          • Ruben says:

            “This doesn’t address my contention to the original quotation.”

            You’re right, it addresses the you claim made in support of your original contention – that being equivocation which is what I challenged.

            “You claimed that a disbelief is still a belief; a propositional claim, but you never set forth a chain of reasoning to defend this.”

            Then lets look up some definitions in Google then.

            Theism: Belief in the existence of a god or gods. Note the use of the word belief.
            In English, prefixing a word with the negation “A” would mean the opposite to original words meaning. So someone who is asexual would be someone who is, not, sexual. Someone who is apolitical would be someone who is, not, political. More relevant to this conversation:
            Atheism: The disbelief or lack of belief in a god or gods. Once again, note the use of the word belief in both definitions.
            So by definition, atheism is a belief. And also take note of what that definition addresses – disbelief. Or put another way, a lack of belief. In other words, one single issue just as I had originally written:

            “While atheism is a belief, it is a belief on one single issue and one single issue only – the disbelief in any god or gods. That’s it. Nothing else can be derived from that but contrast that with theism which does have multiple beliefs that stem from one core belief. Historical events, life’s origins, rituals, codes of conduct, and morals, etc. One has all the hallmarks of what constitutes a religion while the other does not…”

            Notice that certainty doesn’t play a part in that statement. Certainty simply describes how confident you are of something. Someone can be an atheist and be very confident in that position just as easily as someone else can be an atheist while not being particularly confident. In both cases, they’re atheists. How certain they are on >>>why<<>>why<<>>why<<>>what<<>>why<<>>why<<>>what<<< they believe and you're not even supporting your claim.

            "I tried following you as best I could, but as far as I can tell, you were not demonstrating a distinction between belief and certainty in the first quote that I responded to, so I am unsure why you would bring this up."

            Because normally I don't have to bring out the dictionary when communicating with people; they already know what those words mean so I just assumed I didn't need to go into such detail.

            "I just want to know why atheism as a result of skepticism, not propositional knowledge, is a belief."

            Because you seem to be confusing the what in this conversation with the why. Belief is the what while skepticism and propositional knowledge are the why's. And as previously defined, atheism is a belief, by definition.

            "I’m following you, but as soon as you say that disregarding a claim is the same as rejecting it outright, we have a bit of a problem."

            Which is why I qualified my statement by writing, "for all intents and purposes" and followed that up with, "actions speak louder than words."

            "I think you need to follow definitions more correctly and not misrepresent nuanced positions such as skepticism with propositional knowledge."

            Irony. I think you should look-up definitions in the first place so you don't get so easily confused. Moreover, you shouldn't misrepresent someone else's position; especially when one can reread what has already been written.

            "Claiming that atheism is a belief will seem misleading and unnecessary to a lot of people."

            Will seem misleading… And finally we get to the real crux of the matter. This is why I wrote that you weren't following what I had originally written because this is exactly what I was trying to address in the first place. The way a lot of Christians refer to atheism is as if it were a religion by saying atheism is a belief just like Christianity. A very misleading statement because Christianity holds many beliefs while atheism does not. By definition, atheism is a belief on a single topic. Why someone believes what they do and how strongly or weakly their conviction is are separate matters. And I clarified that atheism is not to be confused with beliefs or a belief system (plural). If someone says they're an atheist, then the one and only thing anyone knows about them for sure is that they don't believe in any god or gods. That's it. We have no idea what their political alliances are, their stance on science, feminism, morality, etc, etc. Moreover, no one knows why they don't believe nor do they know how strong that persons convictions are on the matter until such time that that person delves into those particular topics.

          • Ruben says:

            For some reason the seventh paragraph of my response seemed to glitch. Since I can’t use italics, I was trying to emphasize a salient point by using the less than and greater than symbols as arrows. The final sentence should read:

            How certain they are on why (emphasis added), they believe is different than what (emphasis added), they believe.

            Darrell goes on to write: “It’s ironic you claim they are distinct yet you have to equivocate the two in order to demonstrate your point.”

            I think its amazing that people think they can misrepresent other people’s positions in a written forum such as this and think they can get away with it when it’s so easy to go back and reread what someone actually wrote. I never equated the two and I even wrote that I wasn’t sure how anyone could equivocate the two. You yourself never even explained this. And I find it particularly telling that you’ll criticize me for not supporting my claim when you yourself have failed to do so as well. That’s what’s called hypocrisy.

          • Darrel Martin says:

            As it is not allowing me to reply tI’m replying here because it is not allowing me to directly reply to your response dated August 16, 2014 at 11:56 am. I’ll make sure this is my last post. A lot of your responses were dressed up “no it’s not” statements, which I find unhelpful. So this is my last attempt in helping you:

            First, my request that you use proper definitions did not imply that I wasn’t aware of the generic dictionary definitions of atheism. You define atheism as:

            “Atheism: The disbelief or lack of belief in a god or gods.”

            …and because:

            “Once again, note the use of the word belief in both definitions.”

            …therefore:

            “…by definition, atheism is a belief.”

            …and make sure I remember to:

            “…take note of what that definition addresses – disbelief. Or put another way, a lack of belief.”

            Yeah?

            Not really. The definition you gave me is really two different definitions of atheism. The problem is, it is not a subtle difference; they are actually quite different. Let’s split them up:

            Explicit Atheism: The disbelief in a god or gods. (Gnostic, propositional)
            Implicit atheism: The lack of belief in a god or gods. (Agnostic, skeptical)

            Your original, generic definition: Atheism: The disbelief or lack of belief in a god or gods.

            Unfortunately you say:

            “…normally I don’t have to bring out the dictionary when communicating with people; they already know what those words mean so I just assumed I didn’t need to go into such detail.”

            You’ve done a great job demonstrating why we shouldn’t assume that people already know how to implement, and understand, proper definitions.

            This is exactly what I meant when I asked you to define things properly. You may claim, all you want, that you gave me a definition with two definitions, and that I’m confused, or that I’m a hypocrite. But as I read your response, you treat this definition as if you were completely unaware, repeatedly asserting that this one definition proves your point. I won’t be convinced of that. For a number of reasons. First:

            By giving me one definition and not ever clarifying the difference, you equivocate two things once again. The first is an atheism as a result of a propositional claim to knowledge that god(s) don’t exist, the second is a lack of belief as a byproduct of either complete ignorance or skepticism. As a byproduct, the implicit atheist does not believe in god, and he does not believe in the non-existence of god(s). No claims are made. This implicit atheism is a passive byproduct, not a belief. So, Ruben, what does the implicit atheist believe?

            You say:

            “Certainty simply describes how confident you are of something. Someone can be an atheist and be very confident in that position just as easily as someone else can be an atheist while not being particularly confident. In both cases, they’re atheists.”

            Which again equivocates with your conclusion of “In both cases, they’re atheists”.

            What kind of atheist, Ruben? Yes, someone who is absolutely certain believes there is no god. They have a belief. I understand that. What about someone who isn’t certain, or completely ignorant? Well, you bundle both of them up into the umbrella term “atheist”, refuse to differentiate between the two, and going on again about different levels of certainty. Unfortunately you say:

            “I never equated the two and I even wrote that I wasn’t sure how anyone could equivocate the two. You yourself never even explained this.”

            If this doesn’t give you pause, I am not sure what will. You then continue:

            “Notice that certainty doesn’t play a part in that statement.”

            But I’m not asking you to talk about different levels of certainty. I’m asking you to prove why UN-certainty entails a belief, which you still have not done.

            We can track this all the way back to Evid3nc3s original post:

            1) “I don’t believe there is a God”
            and
            2) “I believe there is not a God”

            1) is Implicit atheism
            2) is Explicit atheism

            You never explain why 1) is a belief.

            Secondly:

            If you’re going to claim that because the word “belief” happens to be in the definition, and hocus-pocus, therefore atheists have a belief, then once again you are equivocating something: disbelief with belief. Your response indicates that you consider atheism a belief because the word “belief” happens to appear somewhere in the definition. I’ll quote you again:

            “Once again, note the use of the word belief in both definitions.”

            Well, I have to challenge that. Not only that, but disbelief is a word that denotes the exact opposite of belief. So if implicit atheists have a belief, then how? Why? You haven’t explained. The problem is, I know you understand everything I’m saying. You said yourself…:

            “Because you seem to be confusing the what in this conversation with the why. Belief is the what while skepticism and propositional knowledge are the why’s. And as previously defined, atheism is a belief, by definition.”

            …and then the first you do is confuse the two, in your definition. I understand what your saying here. It’s quite clear and pretty straightforward. It’s pretty obvious. However, this doesn’t at all negate what I’ve said. I’m not buying it, Ruben. This entire time I’ve been telling you the difference between the “what’s”, if I must use such a term, and not to base your generic assertion that’s atheists have belief without acknowledging the different types of atheism and the motivations, or lack thereof, behind it.

            I can make claims to hypocrisy too, but does that really help? It doesn’t matter if someone disbelieves, or lacks belief, because they have just been born or because they haven’t seen enough evidence. They simply have no belief. You keep claiming that it is. Why? Likewise, merely claiming that you are not equivocating two different sets of positions, or repeatedly claiming that they can’t be equivocated or that you’re not

            “ even sure how you could equate the two”

            …does not demonstrate that you aren’t, nor does it help the fact that you are. You go on to say:

            “Someone who is apolitical would be someone who is, not, political.”

            Let’s define Apolitical:

            Lacking interest in political affairs.

            Now let’s give a definition for atheism that is consistent with implicit atheism (technically, it is consistent with explicit atheism, but it would then be considered an incomplete definition for it):

            Lacking belief in god(s).

            Would you make the claim that someone who is apolitical, because they lack interest or are ignorant of politics (agnostic), has an interest? Would you claim they have an interest in not being interested? Or, more properly (and my entire point), is their lack of interest a byproduct of something else (ignorance, apathy). It doesn’t make any reasonable sense, nor is it helpful, nor is it justifiable, to claim that someone who is technically apolitical because they are completely ignorant of politics, actually has an “interest” in being uninterested towards politics. Furthermore, an implicit atheist doesn’t “believe” that god doesn’t exist, they lack belief. It’s not the same thing, even if “belief” happens to be in the definition. Sorry.

            You keep asserting:

            “If someone says they’re an atheist, then the one and only thing anyone knows about them for sure is that they don’t believe in any god or gods.”

            …which uses the phrase that atheists “don’t believe in god”. That phrase is implicit. Yet, you equivocate it by making it account for all variances of atheism. This is my entire point, and again, I’ve kept it pretty simple. I know that I asked you previously to prove to me why atheism is a belief, but everything up until that point should have made you realize which type I was speaking of (the byproduct of skepticism). You can’t claim that this is my fault.

            Implicit atheism, as a result of either skepticism of complete ignorance, is not a belief.

            I’ll finish with a couple of your interesting, and very unhelpful, quotes:

            “Irony. I think you should look-up definitions in the first place so you don’t get so easily confused. Moreover, you shouldn’t misrepresent someone else’s position; especially when one can reread what has already been written.”

            “I think its amazing that people think they can misrepresent other people’s positions in a written forum such as this and think they can get away with it.”

            “And I find it particularly telling that you’ll criticize me for not supporting my claim when you yourself have failed to do so as well. That’s what’s called hypocrisy.”

            Not even close.

          • Ruben says:

            It doesn’t seem to be letting reply properly either. So I’ll be responding here.

            Belief: The belief that a statement or proposition is true.
            Disbelief: The belief that a statement or proposition is not true.

            To review:
            Theism: The belief in the existence of a god or gods.
            Atheism: The disbelief or lack of belief in a god or gods.

            The important context to remember here is existence. That is to say, people have been presented with a proposition (in this case, the existence of a god or gods), to which people can either believe or disbelieve. If you disbelieve (or put another way, believe that the existence of god or gods is not true), then you can colloquially say that you lack, or are without belief in the existence of those god(s) – but that is still a statement of belief. If you’re completely ignorant of something (i.e. you’ve never been presented with a particular concept or proposition), then you can’t believe either way. Only under that circumstance are you truly without, or truly lacking a belief in something. For any claim or proposition that you’ve ever been presented with (gods or otherwise), then you either believe that claim, or you don’t (aka disbelief). To be philosophically correct, you can withhold judgement on the matter till a later time but as stated in a previous post, actions speak louder than words and your actions will be indicative of your true beliefs on the matter.

            For the sake of brevity, I provided a generic, all encompassing definition of atheism because that’s all that’s necessary to make my point. If you want to subdivide that term into implicit and explicit atheism to be more specific, that’s fine. But all you’re doing is conflating the what with the why in this conversation. It is just as valid to say that you believe someones claims to be false or untrue as it is to say that you don’t believe, or that you disbelieve their claims. The English language is quite flexible in that regard.

            Now if I tell you that there exists a 50 foot, pink and purple fire-breathing dragon locked in a dungeon beneath my apartment complex, then you’ve just been presented with a proposition. You’re no longer completely ignorant of the matter so you either believe it to be true, or you believe it to be false. Your reasoning for that can be gnostic or agnostic about it, doesn’t matter. If you disbelieve in the existence of that dragon, then you (colloquially speaking), lack belief in that dragons existence – but understand, that is a statement of belief. Again, the only time you can truly lack belief, or truly be without belief in something is if you’ve never been presented with that proposition in the first place. The same holds true of god(s).

            “Implicit atheism, as a result of either skepticism of[sic] complete ignorance, is not a belief.”

            Sure it is. Again, all you’re doing is conflating what with why. The only thing that differentiates this specific form of atheism from the general definition is the inclusion of why someone is an atheist. To write it another way, implicit atheism is the belief that there are no god or gods due to (the why), either skepticism or complete ignorance (I contend however that you can’t be an atheist of any sort if you’ve never been presented with, and are thus completely ignorant of the concept of a god). If you’re going to claim that that is not a belief, then my follow-up question would be, what god or gods do you believe in? Giving me answers like skepticism or doubt only tells me your reasoning for why you don’t believe. But as as soon as you tell me you don’t believe, or reply that you lack belief in any god or gods, etc, then that tells me what you are – an atheist.

            Implicit and explicit are simply subcategories of atheism. Just as you put it:

            “Now let’s give a definition for atheism that is consistent with implicit atheism (technically, it is consistent with explicit atheism, but it would then be considered an incomplete definition for it):

            Lacking belief in god(s).”

            The reason that’s technically consistent with both categories is because it defines general atheism which only lacks why someone is either of the two subcategories. Why someone is either though, is irrelevant. Regardless, you can just as easily rewrite the above definition as, I believe in no god(s). Neither statement is the same as saying there is no god(s) but both are statements of belief.

            I think I’ve beat this dead horse long enough. If you still disagree with me, I think it’s best that we simply agree to disagree.

          • Darrel Martin says:

            Thanks Ruben. I’m personally not satisfied with colloquials, nor am I seeing anything new here. Agree to disagree. Whenever you feel up to it, you can tell me what an implicit atheist believes:

            An implicit atheist believes…

        • Ruben says:

          I think the important thing to remember here is this is really discussion of semantics of which I don’t consider to be particularly important or consequential. As I see it, there’s nothing wrong with your definition of an implicit atheist. When I hear that, the big take away for me is that they don’t worship an god or gods; same as me. If I want to find out anything more about that person and what they believe, then we’ll talk about it.

  5. Britt says:

    Excellent points! As I read one time: ‘there are agnostic theists and agnostic athiests.’ ;)

  6. I believe that before this discussion -any discussion- can take place, words must be defined, thus, “What is (a)god?” Once we can come to an agreement of what our defined terms are we can best then partake in debate/discussion. One can thus better attack or defend a position. I myself, Believe that “Truth” is God and “God” is Truth. Simple as that, yet as Great as that. This going off of my defining “god” as that which is held as the greatest or most powerful “thing” or concept that has “control” of our existence and ALL that IS. “God” has a “Will” which determines that-which-is and that-which-isn’t. “God” is perfect and thus without flaw (these are subjective terms, B.U.T. since we humans judge and determine such things, then let’s compare and contrast ALL that can be judged in “quality”).

    Now, once we start dealing with “sentient” and “intellectual” aspects or characteristics, well, then we run into a slew of issues which must be ADDITIONALLY debated. Even to the level of “Why does your sentient god allow children to be murdered?”

    The simplest actually turns out to be the best. And in the immortal words of Spock (Arthur Conan Doyle) “Once we eliminate the impossible, whatever is left, no matter how improbable, it must be the Truth.” Truth bless.

    • I think you might like his video http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=0l80Alsiw40

      My “God” is sometimes written E[X], sometimes X-Bar, some call it a random variable. It’s in everything both living and non-living, and everywhere even where we can’t see. My God has always existed, and will always exist (based on new evidence verified by CERN). My God helps some prophets to predict things before they will come to pass, but withholds enough information that we mere mortals can’t predict too far ahead or too perfectly. Maybe most importantly, my God isn’t bounded by a will or an omniscient and infinitely elaborate plan. My God allows real free-will. My God is also all inclusive: not a player hater, or a harsh judge. My God neither cries at tragedy or smiles on success, but my God does help tell us where we should focus our efforts to alleviate or prevent tragedy. My God lives in all of us and is used by the dumb and smart, old and young, and always has and always will for as long as their’s a form of life that controls part of it’s own destiny.

  7. Spahrep says:

    Hey, great to see you are still around :) Any plans on more youtube videos in the future, I loved your last serries.
    — Spahrep

  8. To start, I reject the notion that Atheism is a belief, but that is for myself; I see for others their atheism is a belief.

    As a side note, try reading all the statement pairs assuming that one individual said each of them. Read them again assuming two different people said those statement pairs from different venues. If the statements come from one person I’m compelled to want them to pick a side; my cognitive dissonance. If they come from different subjects, then I’m compelled to wonder what evidence would lead to making that statement.

    What is interesting is why/how we got to where we are, not what group we say we are in. Two people buy a lottery ticket. Both must have some confidence that they will win because they spent a dollar. One say’s he probably won’t win, but he buys one ticket each drawing and uses a favorite set of numbers based on birthdays of family members. The other is sure he won’t win because he knows the odds against winning from calculating the combinations of possible outcomes, but he constructed the expected payoff table and noticed that their was a certain level of jackpot that made it more acceptable of a wager relative to other risks and uses of his disposable income, and he picks his numbers randomly. Should we say both don’t *believe* they will win? Would we say the second has an *unwarranted* level of confidence, or that the first is being more *reasonable* about the unknown and future events. When the lottery commission’s agent takes the dollar’s wagered without their stories, both players look the same; they both *believe* they will win to the level of $1. Thus atheism can be a belief for some, and an infinity minus 1 degree of certainty for others.

    This noteworthy language distinction hinges on a couple things.
    One is sloppy standards of language. These word choices are ones that have a wide variance on the concept of statistical certainty. For example, I love chocolate, I love my wife, and I love acceleration; same word many meanings. Also, many people apart from me love my wife, but it’s clear we would be hard pressed to measure our levels of love so as to order each person from most to least.
    I would wager that if Evid3nc3 said, “I don’t believe there is a God,” that the power of his statement is profoundly stronger than somebody that became an atheist solely because a priest abused them in their youth and they say, “I believe there is not a God.”
    Another confounder here is the inappropriate equivalence between the theology statements and measurable things like inhabitants of a building. What happens there is the tacit level of risk changes with each statement set. We can envision a person making some of the statements more flippantly than others. We can also see the same person making different claims based on the subject they are talking to; a telemarketer on the phone vs an FBI agent face to face.

    A final note on language distinctions is messaging/meaning. Most people like to have an executive summary and like to have their decision making be discrete. I, as a person living in infinite shades of the standard normal curve, am comfortable with my self-doubt and 2nd guessing. Most people I know detest not knowing one way or the other. This would mean that when talking to an unschooled theist that just wants good things in their future and bad things for those that wronged them, I am certain that their is no god. For a conversation with a fellow atheist that is skilled in the natural sciences, I’m convinced their is no god. For a skilled mathematician/statistician, I’m pretty sure their is no god. In none of these cases am I basing it on a belief; I’m relying on a wealth of historical evidence, faulty logic and contradictory statements in the opposition’s claims, and “a priori” statistics where no experimental statistics are available. It is not a belief for me (where belief is an idea founded on the hope that it’s true).

  9. mike092148 says:

    God. What of the notion that there is a higher intelligence which cannot be imagined or seen… Described or known… by humans in this life. “We can look down on the ants in their world, but they cannot look up at ours,” kind of thought. But can be intuited, can be felt by the chakra of the heart.

    Not some humanoid governed by the laws of the physics of this Universe, yet an entity, a consciousness, a force or spirit just the same?

    Where does that take you?

    • evid3nc3 says:

      No evidence. Thus, I am agnostic to your version of God too. Which, as I’ve tried to explain to others, is not a strong position for a concept or claim to be in.

    • Ruben says:

      No where. Because if it can’t even be imagined, then it doesn’t even fall in the realm of imagination much less reality. No evidence, therefore no reason to believe it…

    • As an aside, and to be funny, your ant metaphor fails; we look down and see orderly intelligent interaction that we had no control over, they look up (eventually with their telescopes), and they see empirically measurable chaos and devastation among the angry gods who let their fragile egos guide their actions. ;-)

      I will grant you that life has many examples where counterintuitive choices are the optimal ones to select, and that transfers to your argument of second-guessing a god has no merit, but…
      …What limitations do you ascribe to this higher intelligence? Would you call Hyperdontia

      https://www.google.com/search?q=hyperdontia

      part of a grand plan, or a moment of bad judgement, or outside the control of the higher intelligence?
      Can your higher intelligence alter the laws of physics to make magical, unpredictable things happen? Or does this intelligent entity have a plan for everything that happens in your life personally? Can your god see THE future, or just a little bit ahead of right now? Is your god aware of the location of every subatomic particle at all times and field value of every field type at every 3-space real point in the known and unknown infinite universe, or is it just in control of our solar system and the placement of humanly visible stars?

      People can feel all kinds of things that aren’t real. That’s part of the package with our brains as they are. People go to a frightening movie then upon arriving at their safe home, they can just feel an intruder with murderous intentions inside the house somewhere. That feeling is real, but the truth is nobody is in the house. Our confirmation bias allows us to believe our own lies if we tell them long enough. http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Confabulation

      I think it is all too easy to define away problems, and that leads to erroneous thinking. Like suppose I call myself perfect, then you counter by pointing out my crooked nose, and I say those without experiences of fistfights are not complete people. You claim their is a higher intelligence, I counter with Hyperdontia, you say its beyond the realm of humanity to understand the grand plan of a higher intelligence. Its a cop-out to allow the fantasy to endure.

      So what evidence beyond feelings do you have to support your god?

  10. Mitchells00 says:

    Have you read William K. Clifford’s essay ‘The Ethics of Belief’? If you haven’t, I think it’s very much relevant to your interests; a copy: http://people.rit.edu/wlrgsh/Clifford.pdf

    The best summary of the first 1/3 of the essay I’ve found comes from an amazon.com review:

    “What you believe affects your actions, and your actions affect others. As you are responsible for the effects of your actions on others, so, too, are you responsible for the effects of your beliefs on others. Therefore, you have no right to simply believe whatever you want to believe any more than you have a right to do whatever you want to do. You ought to act responsibly so as not to harm others, and to do so, you need to believe responsibly. Thus you need to be careful about what you believe. And that means that you need to have adequate reasons or evidence in favor of what you believe.” – ‘What’s in a name?’

    http://www.amazon.com/review/R16U2BBR36IL9I/ref=cm_cr_dp_title?ie=UTF8&ASIN=1573926914&channel=detail-glance&nodeID=283155&store=books

    Great work, BTW.

    • wnymathguy says:

      I know this isn’t the focus of the original post, but hey… That was a very insightful quote. Thanks for passing it on. A couple of weeks ago I was listening to the Keith and the girl podcast, and I was intrigued by their difference of perspective on the issue of her former roommate that vandalized and robbed her on his way out. Their dissonance put a thought in my head that we all live in our own collective reality based on our individual experiences in a dynamic society. Keith’s determination of the former roommate was harsh and was justified by his prior experiences. Chemda likewise had a justified, but compassionate determination based on her prior experiences in life. Both were looking at the same evidence from the same person and predicting future outcomes and prior motives based on independent experiences in the past with different people. As you have quoted, each had their own beliefs about “run-your-pockets Johnny,” but the plan for the future treatment of said perpetrator were different.

      However, neither Keith nor Chemda were being irresponsible with their beliefs before this occurrence, and neither were being irresponsible socially in this situation based solely on their own individual beliefs, but their different plans for restitution indicate that somebody was wrong.

      So here’s the problem; their is no way to confidently determine the long term ramifications of a belief in the making, so how can we expect ourselves or others to be careful with beliefs as we create them in the future? It’s only through errors and hindsight that we can conclude that a belief is ill-conceived, and only through clashing discourse that it can be discovered that an idea is ill-conceived. Wanting to not harm others is a great plan, but I doubt Einstein thought his ideas would help vaporize Japanese cities. Everybody (Nazis not included) with a time machine would kill Hitler, but nobody (WWII Japanese citizens not included) would kill Einstein.

      This is all great thinking though. Me seeing life through eyes that can leave my own confident ideas as working theories/beliefs has allowed me to see my zealous opponents as just people with a different collective reality than the one I have. They aren’t inflexible dangerous enemies of society; they are self-justified overstressed people trying to do the right thing. It allows me to be less zealous myself, and more easily engaged with in discourse.

  11. Jackson says:

    Interesting Read

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