What does Atheism really mean?

In the April 2010 Reasonable Faith Newsletter, William Lane Craig had this to say about his visit to the University of North Carolina and his debate with Herb Silverman at UNCW, the Faculty Forum on the existence of God.

“Around 1,000 people showed up to hear a very rousing debate. As is typical with secular humanist types, Dr. Silverman had very little of substance to say about the arguments for or against God’s existence (indeed, he presented no arguments against God’s existence, taking the lazy man’s route of re-defining atheism to be just the psychological state of being without a belief in God).”[1]

Atheism has traditionally been defined as the belief that God does not exist. This remains the formal definition in the Philosophy of Religion.[2] Though not usually done, this idea can legitimately be expanded in certain contexts to include the denial of any particular god or gods. The early Christians for instance were called Atheists because they denied the existence of a whole pantheon of Roman god’s.

In recent years there has been a further expansion of the term to what Craig describes above as “the psychological state of being without a belief in God.” The columnist Christopher Hitchens advocated this construal of atheism during his debate with Craig last year (2209) at Biola University. Antony Flew, formally the worlds leading Atheist intellectual recognizes this shift of definition in the Blackwell Companion to Philosophy of Religion.

“…the word ‘atheist’ has in the present context to be construed in an unusual way.  Nowadays it is normally taken to mean someone who explicitly denies the existence . . . of God . . . But here it has to be understood not positively but negatively, with the originally Greek prefix ‘a-’ being read in this same way in ‘atheist’ as it customarily is in . . . words as ‘amoral’ . . . . In this interpretation an atheist becomes not someone who positively asserts the non-existence of God, but someone who is simply not a theist.”[3]

It is said that this shift in definition is taken up to avoid the burden of making an argument. No longer does the atheist have to make an argument, because atheism has changed from being a view to being a psychological state. The first must have a truth-value, while the second is absent any proposition, and therefore has no truth-value.

But have these “atheists” truly escaped the burden of making an argument? I think not for at least two reasons.

First, in moments of honesty you will find that those who claim to be Atheist’s of the new variety are actually undercover atheists of the old variety. Ask any of them in an unguarded moment, “Do you believe there’s a God?” and what answer will you get? There answer will be “No.” They may say “no” in different ways, like “God is a Delusion,” (Richard Dawkins) or “You won’t find me guilty of wishful thinking.” (Christopher Hitchens). Bill Cook, the president of the New Zealand Secular Humanist Society in debate and in print has chosen to define atheism in this new, unorthodox way. In debate Craig caught him out by pointing out that a god merely in the imagination and a god not existing is “a difference without a difference.” A recent Thinking Matters comment stated something comparable to; “I’m not arguing that God doesn’t exist. I just want you to admit that the essential attributes of your God are incoherent.” This is philosophical double-speak. At bottom, these Atheist’s still hold to the classical construal of Atheism, no matter the lip service they give to a having no-belief regarding God.

The absurdity of their insistence on the new definition, is that if it were so, babies, dogs and cats, even trees should also be considered Atheists. Further still, if Atheism on the new construal were diligently and systematically applied, it would be totally compatible with for Theism being true, and even the more rationally respectable option. So if this truly is what Atheists mean by “Atheism,” why is it that the New Atheist’s rail against the notion of God so much? Misquoting Shakespeare, my history professor said of Dawkins, “Methinks he doth protest too much.”

The extreme expression of this linguistic pose is Reggie Finlay, the host of the Infidel Guy Radio program. He will describe himself as an Atheist-Agnostic or Agnostic-Atheist. Agnostic because he recognizes that he cannot know with certainty that God does not exist, and Atheist because he believes that nevertheless Atheism is the more likely than Theism. Findlay says, “I really doubt it [theism].”

To this you may respond, “What reason is there to think that Atheism is more reasonable than Theism?” You would be right to do so. Here is the second reason for why the atheist has not escaped the burden of having to make an argument. Because they implicitly, sometimes explicitly, make the claim that traditional Atheism is the more probable candidate. This claim, like any other positive assertion, needs philosophical justification. Thus the new brand of Atheist is in the difficult position of once again having to support his position with arguments lest he be called irrational.

Attempts of deflection are unsuccessful. Generally Atheist’s appeal to the idea that it is Theism that makes a claim to knowledge that has not yet been demonstrated, so we should not believe God exists in the absence of evidence. This appeal is what is called the Presumption of (traditional) Atheism. It is a poor appeal in two respects.

First off, Atheism also makes a claim to knowledge that cannot be demonstrated. Why then does the adherent of Atheism adopt this psychological state of non-belief in God? Was a coin flipped? Why not non-belief in Atheism? Why not Agnostic-theism?

Second, this appeal relies on idea that all the arguments for Theism, such as the cosmological, teleological, axiological, ontological and historical arguments, etc., are unsuccessful. This lays a heavy burden on the Atheist who now has to try and find reasons to either deny (highly plausible) premises or show an informal fallacy of some sort in the arguments for God’s existence. This is an uncomfortable position to be in as it will always be on the back-foot – defensive mode.

The Atheist might try to appeal to make other appeals, such as to the presence of evil in the world. But once they go there, they are once again in the difficult situation of trying to make arguments like their Atheistic intellectual forebears. Arguments that, after years of re-formulation, eventually grew tired and were found not to work. For instance, Christopher Hitchens, whose only argument (or shall we say railing?) is the Problem of Evil, embarrassingly admitted in a panel discussion in Dallas Texas that the presence of evil and suffering in the world could be explained coherently on the Christian worldview.

If my arguments are correct, then one implication is that Atheism is not the default position or a position of intellectual innocence/neutrality. As rational agents we should be able to give account for the justification of our beliefs and the Atheist must accept this fact, no less than the Theist. Personally, I think so-called Agnostic-atheists, non-theists, a-theists, etc., should tie their shoelaces and become either full-fledged Atheists, or kept faithfully to Agnosticism while calling it thus.


[1] William Lane Craig, Reasonable Faith April Newsletter 2010, www.reasonablefaith.org/site/News2?page=NewsArticle&id=8081

[2] Atheism: “the view that there is no divine being, no God.” Penguin dictionary of Philosophy. Edited by Thomas Mautner. Penguin Books (1996)

“Atheism is ostensibly the doctrine that there is no God.” The Oxford Companion to Philosophy. Edited by Ted Honderich. Oxford University press (1995)

The belief that God – especially a personal, omniscient, omnipotent, benevolent God – does not exist.” The Blackwell Dictionary of Western Philosophy. BUNNIN, NICHOLAS and JIYUAN YU (eds). Blackwell Publishing, 2004.

“Atheism is the position that affirms the nonexistence of God. It proposes positive disbelief rather than mere suspension of belief.” William Rowe (1998). Atheism. In E. Craig (Ed.), Routledge Encyclopedia of Philosophy. London: Routledge. Rowe does go on to say in the article: “Another meaning of ‘atheism’ is simply nonbelief in the existence of God, rather than positive belief in the nonexistence of God. These two different meanings are sometimes characterized as positive atheism (belief in the nonexistence of God) and negative atheism (lack of belief in the existence of God). Barring inconsistent beliefs, a positive atheist is also a negative atheist, but a negative atheist need not be a positive atheist.”

[3] A Companion to Philosophy of Religion, ed. Philip Quinn and Charles Taliaferro (Oxford:  Blackwell, 1997), s.v. “The Presumption of Atheism,” by Antony Flew.

I am indebted to Jason Kumar for most of these footnoted references as well as excellent editorial advice.

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  1. Bill Williams
    Bill Williams says:

    I view myself as being both agnostic and atheist. To see why, lets break down the words.

    Agnostic (A = without, gnosis = knowledge)
    Atheist (A = without, theism = god belief)

    I cannot conclusively prove that a god doesn’t exist, therefore I don’t know, i.e., I’m agnostic. At the same time, no one has produced evidence to convince me that there is a god, so I’m without a god belief, i.e., I’m an atheist.

    Here’s the kicker. I think that many people who claim to be agnostic are also atheists. Saying you don’t know doesn’t seem to be compatible with “I believe.” If you don’t believe, well…

  2. @vijilKiwi
    @vijilKiwi says:

    That’s exactly what the article is about – the change of definition. You position yourself as exactly the kind of person Stuart is talking about. “Atheist” traditionally meant active non-belief. Somewhere along the line various folks decided to change that, and while the word itself correctly means “without belief in God” the change still represents a shift in thinking.

  3. Bill Williams
    Bill Williams says:

    First let me say, kudos to Thinking Matters for tolerating dissent. Many religious sites conveniently omit dissenting posts. Stuart and I just finished a lively debate on The Argument from Evil. I appreciate having the opportunity to share more of my views, as unpopular as they may be. I also appreciate the intellectual insights gained by interacting with someone of your caliber.

    On to my comment. I’m afraid I’ll have to challenge the notion that Silverman, Hitchens, and I are “taking the lazy man’s route of re-defining atheism.” I realize that atheism is commonly associated with strong denial. This is consistent with the position of some atheists, and the time-honored tradition of demonizing atheists from the pulpit.

    However, I’m unable to internally reconcile that conception of atheism. When defining words, I’m well aware of the folly of common usage, as demonstrated by people who cherry pick contradictory definitions to fit their pre-conceived notions. Look up the word “atheist” in almost any dictionary (philosophical or otherwise), and you’ll see that we can both find supporting definitions to fit our conception of atheism. For example, the definition of atheism in my “Cambridge Dictionary of Philosophy,” 2nd Ed. says, “A widely used sense denotes merely not believing in God and is consistent with agnosticism.”

    When evaluating the meaning of a word, I try to focus on the word itself, rather than common usage. Let’s break down the components of the word atheist to expose its core meaning (A = without, Theism = god belief). Why should we let common usage (flavor of the day) supersede the core meaning of the word?

    To further appreciate why I view myself as an atheist, please consider my situation. As a former Christian (I come from a family of ministers), my day-to-day life is now completely free of god belief. I don’t pray, I don’t contemplate whether big brother is watching, and I don’t worry about eternal consequences. I truly have no belief in the big guy in the sky, which is why I think I am an atheist. I’m guessing that fits your concept of atheism as well.

    However, I also genuinely acknowledge that I cannot prove the non-existence of a god or gods (I have no such illusion). In fact I’ve debated other “strong” atheists on this point. As I’m sure you know, claiming that a god cannot exist is epistemologically unsound. I freely acknowledge that there could be a god or gods, and in my view, anyone who argues otherwise needs to spend more time studying epistemology. Therefore, I don’t know, which makes me agnostic.

    As an agnostic, I’m unconvinced by the claims and evidence available to me, which is why I view myself as an atheist. So for me, the issue comes down to the validity of the reasons offered to support a belief in god or gods.

    I don’t view this as being intellectually lazy. In fact I think I’ve tried much harder than most Christians ever do. As an atheist, I’ve read books written by Christians (including C.S. Lewis’s “Mere Christianity,” which was intended to convert atheists). I’ve also read every page of the bible, cover-to-cover. As a lay person, I think that’s pretty good.

    Outside of apologist circles, how many Christians do you know who have bothered to read their entire bible – the guidebook purportedly given to them by their creator? How many non-apologist Christians read books that strongly contradict their religious beliefs? The answer is almost none!

    Lazy is not a word I would use to describe my approach to this issue.

    Based on the preceding paragraphs, you tell me. Am I agnostic or am I an atheist. As noted in my previous post, I argue that I’m both.

  4. originalsimon
    originalsimon says:

    formerly/formally"“What reason is there to think that Atheism is more reasonable than Theism?” "For the same reason that a-umpa-lumpaism is more reasonable than umpa-lumpaism."This claim, like any other positive assertion, needs philosophical justification."No. Any and every claim needs evidentiary justification.

  5. Bill Williams
    Bill Williams says:

    Though I could offer many reasons by atheism is more reasonable than theism, the fundamental question to answer is; Does god (or do gods) exist? The truth of this question clearly determines which worldview is more reasonable.

    Christians make numerous extraordinary claims, such as:

    * I have an invisible friend who deeply cares about my thoughts and actions

    * My invisible friend is real because an old storybook (the bible) says so

    * If I want something I can think about it (pray) and get what I want

    * The laws of physics are regularly violated by supernatural intervention

    * When I die I don’t really die. Rather, I live forever

    If you want other people to believe your positive assertions, then intellectually you’re required to prove it (as with science, extraordinary claims require extraordinary evidence).

    To better appreciate this issue, imagine that a curious extraterrestrial alien visited earth and was approached by various religious advocates. Here is the dilemma (recognizing that liberal believers tend to be more accommodating):

    * Muslim – The only god is Allah. Believe in him or burn in hell

    * Catholic – Non-Catholics are full of it. Join our church or burn in hell

    * Baptist – Catholics (and non-Baptists) are full of it. Join our church or burn in hell

    *Mormon – All other “Christians” are full of it. Join our church and you can be a god on your own planet

    * Hindu – There are bunch of gods. Don’t piss them off.

    * Etc., etc., etc., times THOUSANDS of gods!

    What is the alien to do? These evangelists have mutually-exclusive beliefs, i.e., we’re right, everyone else is wrong. Many have their own special storybooks that they offer as proof of their beliefs, and they’re all certain that they are right.

    The burden of proof lies with the advocate, not the deeply confused alien. The alien is an atheist by default. It’s unreasonable to expect her to prove that your extraordinary claims are false. In logical circles that’s called “Arguing from Ignorance.” (That’s not an insult – I’m correctly labeling fallacious thinking.)

  6. Stuart McEwing
    Stuart McEwing says:

    Hi Bill Williams,

    You say,

    Based on the preceding paragraphs, you tell me. Am I agnostic or am I an atheist. As noted in my previous post, I argue that I’m both.

    By refusing to use the formal definition of "Atheism" and instead construing the term as in common usage you are right – you are both. This is why I think this redefinition is profoundly unhelpful. Its obvious isn't it: if you define Atheism such that it can be consistent with agnosticism (I speak here of a soft-agnosticism) you'll get people, such as yourself, who fit into both categories.

    If you were to use the traditional and formal definitions (preferred here given the context of a philosophy of religion forum) then I think you'll find you, for the most part, are an soft-agnostic. That is someone who simply doesn't know if God exists or not – an ignoramus with respect to God's existence.

    It is said that agnostics make no claim, and so therefore do not need to make argument for their position. However, if rationality is going to be proffered to an agnostic informed of the suite of arguments for Theism, he or she would have to maintain that having no belief in God is more reasonable than belief in God. The only caveat to this I can think of is that the agnostic be equally informed of the arguments for Atheism and is similarly impressed, and so becomes unable to make up their mind. Still, they are in an extremely difficult position. As I have said above with respect to the new construal of Atheism:

    [the reasonableness of their stance] relies on idea that all the arguments for Theism, such as the cosmological, teleological, axiological, ontological and historical arguments, etc., are unsuccessful [not only unsuccessful, but do not even generate general considerations in favour of Theism]. This lays a heavy burden on the Atheist [who is actually an agnostic] who now has to try and find reasons to either deny (highly plausible) premises or show an informal fallacy of some sort in [every one of] the arguments for God’s existence. This is an uncomfortable position to be in as it will always be on the back-foot – defensive mode.

    So why the re-definition? What I suspect is the desire to escape the need of rational argumentation or philosophical justification. A lazy-mans out, so to speak. But as I have argued, this escape is unsuccessful.

  7. Stuart
    Stuart says:

    Hello again Other Simon,

    at the risk of covering ground already well-trodden

    Stuart recomments asking: “What reason is there to think that Atheism is more reasonable than Theism?”

    Other Simon answers the question: For the same reason that a-umpa-lumpaism is more reasonable than umpa-lumpaism.

    And what is that reason. Spell it out really clear and make your argument. Here are some clues for you. Use a syllogism. Don't include the premise – we can't experience God with our senses (that would be a very lame argument).

    Stuart: This claim, like any other positive assertion, needs philosophical justification.

    Other Simon: No. Any and every claim needs evidentiary justification.

    Interesting your should make that claim, Other Simon. (The immediate negation "No" is curious in itself, but I'll focus on the positive assertion following that, which I have italicised.) If it is indeed true then it must have evidentiary justification. Does this claim have evidentiary justification?

  8. Stuart
    Stuart says:

    Bill Williams,

    The alien should be, barring any prior commitments of her own, agnostic by default. I find its amusing that you forget the Atheist also approaches the alien saying, "Don't listen to them. They're all wrong. There is no God."

    As you say, the burden of proof lies with the advocate, not the deeply confused alien.

    (I'd be interested to know what your reasons are for thinking Atheism is more reasonable than Theism.)

    (You see how clear this issue becomes without this bastardization of the terms?)

  9. Bill Williams
    Bill Williams says:

    <blockquote cite="">It is said that agnostics make no claim, and so therefore do not need to make argument for their position. However, if rationality is going to be proffered to an agnostic informed of the suite of arguments for Theism, he or she would have to maintain that having no belief in God is more reasonable than belief in God. <cite>

    Once again, this is the Argument from Ignorance. You’re taking the extraordinary position of placing the burden of proof on the agnostic, i.e., requiring doubters to disprove your unproven claims.

    That position strongly violates the principles of argumentation and would not hold up in intellectual circles or in criminal testimony. Why do you think your position warrants special pleading?

    You asked how I can think that agnosticism is more reasonable than theism. This is where your thinking goes wrong. As I noted in my previous post (#29), the fundamental question to answer is; Does god (or do gods) exist? The truth of this question clearly determines which worldview is more reasonable. If there is not strong evidence to support these extraordinary claims, then it is reasonable to continue doubting until the claims are proven.

    To see why, imagine that you were told that space aliens regularly visit earth and do secret experiments on humans, sexual or otherwise (millions of people really believe this and thousands claim to have personal experience). You reasonably ask to see their evidence. They share numerous anecdotes, show you some supporting passages from an old book, and tell you about their enormous faith in alien visitation. Presumably you would doubt their unsupported claims.

    Let’s see how your previous argument fits this scenario. The alien believers say that since you don’t believe their space alien stories, you are making a positive claim. You therefore have the burden to prove that non-belief is more reasonable than belief? (As you said about agnostics, “he or she would have to maintain that having no belief in God is more reasonable than belief in God.”)

    I’m curious – how would you respond to their attempt to shift the burden of proof to you?

  10. Bill Williams
    Bill Williams says:

    Note regarding my previous post

    I unsuccessfully tried to quote the first paragraph. Those are the words of Stuart McEwing. The remaining paragraphs are my response.

  11. Stuart
    Stuart says:

    hi Bill Williams,

    Educate youself. From the infidels;

    Argumentum ad ignorantiam means "argument from ignorance." The fallacy occurs when it's argued that something must be true, simply because it hasn't been proved false. Or, equivalently, when it is argued that something must be false because it hasn't been proved true.

    (Note that this isn't the same as assuming something is false until it has been proved true. In law, for example, you're generally assumed innocent until proven guilty.)

    So what I'm doing is not an argument from ignorance. I'm not saying that theism is true because it hasn't been prooved false. I'm not sayog that atheism or agnosticism is false because it hasn't been prooved true. I'm sayin the agnostic informed of the arguments for theism, if he is to maintain that his position is more reasonable, needs to show why the case for theism is less so or the case for atheism is equally persuasive.

    I want to affirm what you say here;

    the fundamental question to answer is; Does god (or do gods) exist? The truth of this question clearly determines which worldview is more reasonable. If there is not strong evidence to support these extraordinary claims, then it is reasonable to continue doubting until the claims are proven. </blockquote >

    Regarding your illustration using aliens;

    They share numerous anecdotes, show you some supporting passages from an old book, and tell you about their enormous faith in alien visitation. Presumably you would doubt their unsupported claims.

    It is a mistake to think the case for aliens is comprable to the case for theism. If it was, as you make out in your example, then yes, I would remain doubltful. That is not a positive claim. I would not make the claim that aliens do not exist – that would be an argument from ignorance. If I were to maintain that my doubt about aliens is more reasonable than belief in aliens, then I would have to make some arguments – either by showing how the case for aliens existing is defective or how the case for aliens not existing is equally persuasive.

  12. Bill Williams
    Bill Williams says:

    I’m saying the agnostic informed of the arguments for theism, if he is to maintain that his position is more reasonable, needs to show why the case for theism is less so or the case for atheism is equally persuasive.

    We agree on the definition of Arguing from Ignorance. Where we differ is your insistence that Christians and agnostics (doubters) are in comparable positions and therefore have the same evidentiary requirements. Consider this sequence:

    1. Doubter, like all humans, is born a non-believer (our default state)

    2. Christian makes an extraordinary claim (an invisible man exists)

    3. Doubter asks for strong supporting evidence

    4. Christian offers weak evidence

    5. Doubter has no intellectual obligation to believe weak evidence and therefore continues in the default state of non-belief, i.e., no change.

    Unlike the Christian, the doubter has not made a positive assertion. You’re unable to prove your extraordinary claims and are instead trying to force the skeptic to disprove them. To illustrate the absurdity of this tactic, let’s change the preceding points to a courtroom scenario:

    1. Judge/Jury doesn’t believe the defendant is guilty (default “neutral” state)

    2. Prosecution makes a claim (Col. Mustard committed the murder)

    3. Judge/Jury ask for strong supporting evidence

    4. Prosecution offers weak evidence

    5. Judge/Jury has no obligation to believe weak evidence. The verdict: “Not guilty!”

    From this case we can correctly infer that “not guilty” (non-belief) is more reasonable than believing an unproven extraordinary claim. “Not guilty” is not a truth claim – it’s the default neutral position. Yet you, the prosecution, insist that the case is not over. In your eyes, the court must now prove that believing that the defendant is not guilty is more reasonable than believing he is guilty.

    Huh? Imagine a prosecutor losing a case and then demanding that the judge take the stand to prove his case. That’s an absurd expectation.

    You’re assuming that your case is true because it hasn’t been proven false, i.e., you’re arguing from ignorance. You can’t shift that burden to the judge/jury, or for that matter, to the defense. You still have the burden to prove your unproven case.

    You are so sure of your truth claims that you think your weak evidence is strong, and you see the rejection of your weak evidence (the court’s verdict) as a positive truth claim. That’s not how argumentation works.

    It is a mistake to think the case for aliens is comparable to the case for theism.

    The alien example closely mirrors your argument (agnostic non-believer, extraordinary claims, weak evidence, and an unreasonable attempt to shift the burden of proof). Why is this comparison a mistake?

  13. Stuart
    Stuart says:

    Bill Williams,

    Just quickly: you've made two mistakes.

    In your first argument numerated above the premise which states "there is weak evidence" is false in the case for theism. There are a multitude of good arguments, including cosmological, teleological, axiological, historical, transcendental, etc. The case for theism should not be reduced to 1) I've experienced something, 2) an ancient book tells me so, 3) I have faith.

    Second mistake;
    In a courtroom, in order to protect against injustice, a principle is adopted called "innocent until proven guity." The idea is if the prosecution can't make their case then the convicted gets off, not by merit of the truth of the matter or their innocence, but by merit of, in the eyes of the law, it could not be proven otherwise. Your analogy to the cortroom scenario only works insofar as this principle is assumed. But in philosophy positive claims such as "innocence" are not permitted to walk away without evidence. All positive claims are on the stand, as it were.

    It appears as if you miss the possitive claim implicitly made by the person who remains agnostic yet who is informed of the case for theism.

  14. TheCraftMan
    TheCraftMan says:

    @Stuart,

    Well, stated. I have often encountered the equivocation from perspective to psychological state in discussions about the "default position." I have long made the distinction between a "perspective position" and a "state position." Yet, unfortunately, most atheists want to pretend as though the distinction doesn't exist.

  15. Stuart McEwing
    Stuart McEwing says:

    To be nit-picky…

    1. Doubter, like all humans, is born a non-believer (our default state)

    I think there may be cause, given the teaching of the Bible, to contend in someway with this premise. Specifically the idea that non-belief is our default or natural state. I'd love to see someone bring Plantinga's religious epistemology to this, or perhaps a Presuppositional apologetic approach. But as I'm more an evidentialist I'll stick to my previous response to Bill's comment.

  16. Bill Williams
    Bill Williams says:

    In your first argument numerated above the premise which states “there is weak evidence” is false in the case for theism. There are a multitude of good arguments, including cosmological, teleological, axiological, historical, transcendental, etc.

    Logical arguments are not evidence – they’re arguments. You should know the difference. Additionally, theological arguments that claim to prove the existence of a creator are seriously disputed in the philosophical community, i.e., the conclusions you prefer are by no means conclusive.

    Further, such arguments don’t help your case because they make vague predictions. For example, a first cause creator says nothing about the validity of your old storybook. The “creator” could be Allah or Thor or Zeus or…

    Following my complaint about weak evidence, you added one item to my list (erroneously claiming that it is strong evidence):

    1. I’m convinced by disputed logical arguments

    2. An ancient storybook tells me so

    3. I have faith (belief without evidence)

    4. I’ve experienced something

    This demonstrates a giant non sequitur in your argument. Christianity is dependent on the Christian storybook being true, yet your logical arguments don’t make any claims about that specific book. Believing the truth of the bible requires faith, which is intellectually bankrupt. I have no obligation to believe anything on faith.

    But in philosophy positive claims such as “innocence” are not permitted to walk away without evidence. All positive claims are on the stand, as it were.

    You’re misrepresenting the “presumption of innocence” in an attempt to salvage your failed arguments. The principles of legal discourse provide an excellent analogy because they closely mirror the discipline of argumentation. Both require that truth claims remain suspect (innocent) until they are proven (guilty). You’re ignoring this very simple point.

    Forming strong beliefs based on weak evidence is the time-honored means by which well-meaning people get misled and duped. Yet you’re claiming that anyone who doubts your weak evidence must disprove the case that you can’t prove. That’s utter nonsense and is completely inconsistent with the principles of argumentation.

    You’re responses to my last two posts have conveniently ignored my strong arguments. In my last post I offered two parallel sequences that clearly illustrate the folly of attempting to shift the burden of proof. You completely ignored the first sequence and made an empty objection about the second. You’ve also ignored my alien analogy other than to say it doesn’t apply, yet when prompted to provide a supporting reason, you remain silent.

    You are violating numerous principles of argumentation in a weak attempt to salvage your untenable arguments. Show me what’s wrong with my sequences – change them if they’re wrong. But don’t just ignore my strong arguments while continuing to reiterate the claims that they dispute. That is conduct unbecoming of rational argumentation.

    Most importantly, show me references where the intellectual community collectively supports your unorthodox approach to argumentation. You’re ignoring and modifying core principles of rational discourse to protect your deeply held beliefs, which is deceptive and unfair.

  17. Bill Williams
    Bill Williams says:

    Bill Williams said: 1. Doubter, like all humans, is born a non-believer (our default state)

    Stuart McEwing said: I think there may be cause, given the teaching of the Bible, to contend in someway with this premise.

    You're proposing another fallacious argument – in this case it's circular. You can't use the bible to prove its own validity.

  18. TheCraftMan
    TheCraftMan says:

    @Bill

    3. I have faith (belief without evidence)

    I'm pretty certain that's not what Stuart means by the term faith.

  19. Stuart
    Stuart says:

    Bill Williams said: 1. Doubter, like all humans, is born a non-believer (our default state)

    Stuart McEwing said: I think there may be cause, given the teaching of the Bible, to contend in someway with this premise.

    Bill Williams said: You're proposing another fallacious argument – in this case it's circular. You can't use the bible to prove its own validity.

    Of course that's not what I'm doing. Neither is it what I'm suggesting could be done.

  20. Bill Williams
    Bill Williams says:

    3. I have faith (belief without evidence)

    I’m pretty certain that’s not what Stuart means by the term faith.

    That sounds intriguing. I'll be curious to see what that it looks like.

  21. Bill Williams
    Bill Williams says:

    Bill Williams said: 1. Doubter, like all humans, is born a non-believer (our default state)

    Stuart McEwing said: I think there may be cause, given the teaching of the Bible, to contend in someway with this premise.

    Bill Williams said: You’re proposing another fallacious argument – in this case it’s circular. You can’t use the bible to prove its own validity.

    Stuart McEwing said: Of course that’s not what I’m doing. Neither is it what I’m suggesting could be done.

    It seems that the validity of the bible is central to this discussion, i.e., it's a huge unproven claim. If the teaching of the bible provides the rationale to contest the premise, how is that not circular?

  22. Stuart McEwing
    Stuart McEwing says:

    Bill Williams,

    You say,

    It seems that the validity of the bible is central to this discussion, i.e., it’s a huge unproven claim.

    also,

    Christianity is dependent on the Christian storybook being true, yet your logical arguments don’t make any claims about that specific book.

    Because I'm not here arguing for the inspiration of the Bible, neither am I arguing for the whole of Christian doctrine. I'm merely defending God's existence. The inspiration of the Bible and God's existence are completely separate issues. It should be obvious that believing in God does not commit you what the Bible says about him. The Bible is not central to this discussion, because the discussion is on (1) the definition of atheism, and (2) who (atheists, agnostics, and theists alike) bares the burden of proof with respect to the claims that each make.

    The only links I can see between the case for God and the case for the Bible's inspiration is (1) that the latter requires the former, and that (2) the picture we get of God from the project of Natural Theology* gives us a description consistent with the God revealed in the Bible. These links would be essential if I was to go on to argue for the truth and inspiration of the Bible, but irrelevant with respect to the truth or falsehood of Theism.

    * Arguments for God's existence that do not rely on the resources of special revelation, such as the Bible. i.e., the cosmological, teleological, etc.

  23. Stuart McEwing
    Stuart McEwing says:

    Bill Williams,

    1. I’m convinced by disputed logical arguments 

    2. An ancient storybook tells me so

    3. I have faith (belief without evidence)

    4. I’ve experienced something

    Please do not attribute this argument to me. It not mine. It's not really an argument, anyway. This is your rendering of what you think is the case for theism. In your illustration steps 2, 3 and 4 are given as an example of a poor argument for the existence of aliens. You then seek to undermine the case for theism on the basis of that comparison, thinking it a just comparison. But I made it clear that it is a mistake to equate the case you gave in your example for aliens with the case for theism. The two have no resemblance with each other.

  24. Stuart McEwing
    Stuart McEwing says:

    Bill Williams,

    Logical arguments are not evidence – they’re arguments. You should know the difference. 

    Thanks for the advise, but I do know the difference, and your dead wrong. Arguments can be used as evidence. In fact, I'd even go as so far to say there is no such thing as evidence without an argument that is somehow attached to it. I'll leave it at that because its off the topic and, since this has been raised before by someone else, I'd like to address it in another post. Please don't comment further on this aspect, here in this post.

    Additionally, theological arguments that claim to prove the existence of a creator are seriously disputed in the philosophical community, i.e., the conclusions you prefer are by no means conclusive

    I'm not saying these arguments can't be disputed. And I'm not saying the arguments are conclusive either. But for you to appeal to the dispute in the philosophical community on the arguments for God's existence is a very poor way to undermine the case for theism. In fact it's a fallacy akin to argument ad populum.

    Further, such arguments don’t help your case because they make vague predictions. For example, a first cause creator says nothing about the validity of your old storybook. The “creator” could be Allah or Thor or Zeus or…

    What does the inspiration of the bible have to do with the soundness of the arguments for theism? That is a complete red-herring.

    Also, if the creator was Allah or Thor, that hardly helps the atheistic or agnostic position does it? I would advise you not to argue that way.

  25. Stuart McEwing
    Stuart McEwing says:

    Bill Williams,

    The principles of legal discourse provide an excellent analogy because they closely mirror the discipline of argumentation. Both require that truth claims remain suspect (innocent) until they are proven (guilty). You’re ignoring this very simple point.

    Your comparison of the burden of proof with respect to atheism/agnosticism and theism, and the courtroom is erroneous. You have missed my point. Just as the verdict "Guilty" is a truth claim, so "Innocent" is a truth claim. In philosophy all truth claims, as you say, remain suspect – that is to say, they are neither 'innocent' nor 'guilty,' but remain undetermined (agnostic) until convincing evidence is marshalled. In the courtroom innocence is assumed in order to prevent great injustice.

    Yet you’re [Stuart] claiming that anyone who doubts your weak evidence must disprove the case that you can’t prove.

    No I am not. Please stop misrepresenting me. Note: If the agnostic informed of the arguments for theism, is to remain sceptical and still maintain that his or her position is reasonable, then they must give an account, either as to why the case for theism is unconvincing, or the case for atheism is equally persuasive.

  26. TheCraftMan
    TheCraftMan says:

    @Bill,

    Let’s break down the components of the word atheist to expose its core meaning (A = without, Theism = god belief).

    Your analysis of the "components" based on English morphology is incorrect. Atheism preceded theism in the English language by about a hundred years. This means, etymologically speaking, it is impossible for atheism to be derivative of theism. In fact, theism was introduced into English by a back-formation of atheism.

    Why should we let common usage (flavor of the day) supersede the core meaning of the word?

    Languages evolve. Who are we to dictate how a language can be used?

  27. TheCraftMan
    TheCraftMan says:

    Theism is both a "condition" (i.e., to be or not be something) and an "opinion" (i.e., to believe something is or to believe something is not). Atheism is only a condition. To argue theism has a burden of proof because theism has an opinion is reasonable. To argue atheism has no burden of proof because atheism has no opinion is reasonable. To argue theism has a burden of proof because atheism is the default condition is not reasonable. Problematically, atheists conflate "position as condition" with "position as condition and opinion" only when it's convenient to make the theists do the leg work. Once the tables are turned, atheists revert back to position as condition. And, with Stuart, I don't buy that atheism is a position as condition alone. My experience suggests atheism is both a condition and an opinion, and hence necessitates a burden of proof.

    Additionally, I don't buy the claim that atheism is the default condition. What evidence exists to infer that atheism is the default condition of humanity?

  28. Bill Williams
    Bill Williams says:

    What does the inspiration of the bible have to do with the soundness of the arguments for theism? That is a complete red-herring.

    Here are your exact words: “I think there may be cause, given the teaching of the Bible, to contend in someway with this premise.”

    You can’t have it both ways. If you use the bible as a source, you get to defend it. My concern about circularity was not a red herring.

    If you want to keep this debate focused on whether a creator exists, that’s fine. Please stop referencing your old storybook.

    Also, if the creator was Allah or Thor, that hardly helps the atheistic or agnostic position does it? I would advise you not to argue that way.

    I think it’s important to remember that if creationism can be proven, there are countless explanations (you naturally assume it’s your Jesus god). For example, the “creator” could be an advanced race of aliens from a parallel universe or a different dimension of space.

    If you were to continue referencing the bible in your comments, then this point would be more relevant. Either way, it certainly doesn’t hurt my position.

  29. Bill Williams
    Bill Williams says:

    …for you to appeal to the dispute in the philosophical community on the arguments for God’s existence is a very poor way to undermine the case for theism. In fact it’s a fallacy akin to argument ad populum.

    You introduced theistic logical arguments by claiming that they are strong evidence for theism (using the word evidence in a very broad sense). The fact that they are seriously disputed in the philosophical community is a valid objection to your unsupported claim, i.e., they are not a strong form of evidence.

    Therefore, I did not commit the fallacy of argument ad populum. I’m correctly objecting to your unsupported claim. For further clarification, please keep reading.

    If the agnostic informed of the arguments for theism, is to remain sceptical and still maintain that his or her position is reasonable, then they must give an account, either as to why the case for theism is unconvincing, or the case for atheism is equally persuasive.

    Your first option (must give an account why the case for theism is unconvincing) is perfectly reasonable. To be fair, let’s acknowledge that this is a significant shift from your repeated attempts to shift the burden of proof to the skeptic.

    I completely agree that if I find your evidence to be unconvincing, I’m required to say why. This, finally, is a reasonable expectation of the skeptic.

    Okay, here’s why I’m unconvinced. The only “evidence” you’ve offered is highly disputed by the community of experts. To better understand this issue, we can tap the wisdom of Bertrand Russell. Note: I’ve softened his use of the word certain to align with my understanding of epistemology.

    * When the experts are agreed, the opposite opinion cannot be held with confidence unless we can show beyond a reasonable doubt that the experts are mistaken

    * When they are not agreed, no opinion can be regarded with great confidence by a non-expert

    * When they all hold that no sufficient grounds for a positive opinion exists, they ordinary man would do well to suspend his judgment.

    I think it can be fairly said that religious apologists are far more impressed with these arguments than the majority of professional philosophers. As a non-expert, I would be foolish to ignore the experts. Because your claims are highly contested by the experts, they cannot be construed as strong evidence.

    You yourself acknowledge that these theistic arguments are "not conclusive." Why then am I be obligated to believe them?

    Your evidence is weak. Therefore, your case for theism is unconvincing. Plain and simple.

  30. Bill Williams
    Bill Williams says:

    Languages evolve. Who are we to dictate how a language can be used?

    That is precisely my point. You are consciously choosing your preferred definition of atheism. I previously demonstrated that I can easily pick a different definition. My “Cambridge Dictionary of Philosophy,” 2nd Ed. reads, “A widely used sense denotes merely not believing in God and is consistent with agnosticism.”

    When you cherry pick your preferred “flavor of the day” definition, you’re dictating the use of language. The components of the word clearly inform us of its meaning. There’s no need to add more to it.

  31. Bill Williams
    Bill Williams says:

    I don’t buy the claim that atheism is the default condition. What evidence exists to infer that atheism is the default condition of humanity?

    Everyone is born without god belief. You weren’t born a Christian anymore than you were born a member of a particular political party. If you’re like most Christians, you were raised by Christian parents who immediately began the process of religious indoctrination.

    Beginning in the 1950’s, U.S. rhetoric frequently described the U.S.S.R. as a nation of “godless communists,” i.e., atheists. Why were they atheists? Because they weren’t indoctrinated as children to have a god belief, or they weren't convinced later in life.

    Non-belief is the default state until either someone intervenes (religious indoctrination) or the person is eventually convinced through other means. How could it be otherwise?

  32. TheCraftMan
    TheCraftMan says:

    @Bill,

    That is precisely my point. You are consciously choosing your preferred definition of atheism. I previously demonstrated that I can easily pick a different definition. My “Cambridge Dictionary of Philosophy,” 2nd Ed. reads, “A widely used sense denotes merely not believing in God and is consistent with agnosticism.”

    You clearly misunderstood my argument.

    When you cherry pick your preferred “flavor of the day” definition, you’re dictating the use of language. The components of the word clearly inform us of its meaning. There’s no need to add more to it.

    Eh? I accept that languages evolve. I accept that over time words take on new meanings and lose old meanings. I accept that people can use a word to mean anything they desire, so long as they inform the others in the discussion of this choice. Where am I dictating language usage? You, on the other hand, appeal back to some "core meaning" and say, "There's no need to add more to it." You are the one dictating language usage, not me.

  33. TheCraftMan
    TheCraftMan says:

    @Bill,

    Everyone is born without god belief. You weren’t born a Christian anymore than you were born a member of a particular political party. If you’re like most Christians, you were raised by Christian parents who immediately began the process of religious indoctrination.

    I see a claim, but not evidence.

    Beginning in the 1950’s, U.S. rhetoric frequently described the U.S.S.R. as a nation of “godless communists,” i.e., atheists. Why were they atheists? Because they weren’t indoctrinated as children to have a god belief, or they weren’t convinced later in life.

    I see another claim, but no evidence.

    Non-belief is the default state until either someone intervenes (religious indoctrination) or the person is eventually convinced through other means. How could it be otherwise?

    I see a claim, no evidence, and a shifting of the burden of proof. Would you like to put forth some actual evidence for your claim?

  34. Stuart
    Stuart says:

    Bill,

    You ask how could it be othewise (refering basically to the idea that people are born with no belief regarding God, and remain with no belief untill some sort of indoctrination occurs). Well it could be as Calvin suggests. That we are all born with a < I>sensus divinitatis (a sense of divintiy) which spontaneously arises in the appropriate circumstances to produce the belief that God exists. It could be as Plantinga suggests, that warrant for belief can only be explained with reference to the cognitive faculties functioning properly in an appropriate enviroment, and that to have proper function of the cognitive faculties is to have the cognitive faculties operating as God designed them. It could be that our cognitive faculties do not function properly (thus produce spontaneously, in a wide variety of circumstances, the belief that God exists) because, as the scriptures suggest, our faculties are disrupted by the noetic effects of sin.

    There is your alternative account. So, as I said, I think there may be cause to dispute the idea that the default position must be one of no beleif. But also, as I said, that I would not be arguing that way. I'm willing to grant for now that no belief is the default position for the sake of arument. If I was to dispute that, that would be a side branch to the main topic on this tread, and one Im not altogether familiar with to argue confidently anyway – so I won't.

  35. Bill Williams
    Bill Williams says:

    Bill wrote: Everyone is born without god belief…

    TheCraftMan wrote:I see a claim, but not evidence.

    The atheistic majority of the former U.S.S.R. is form of evidence to support my claim. How can millions upon millions of people not believe in god, if as Stuart speculatively suggests, there might be something like a “sense of divinity”? Why didn’t the Soviets have it? Why are there roughly 1 billion non-believers on this planet? One could make further speculations, but that’s all it is – speculation.

    I’m no expert on newborns, but I’m pretty sure that their little brains, lacking the ability to comprehend human language, would be unable to grasp complex concepts like Santa Claus, the Easter Bunny, or the invisible man in the sky. We all have to first acquire language before we can be indoctrinated into a religion, which means we are born as atheists, i.e., without god belief.

    I’d bet a lot of money that the community of scientists who specialize in infant cognition would overwhelmingly agree that it is impossible for human infants to comprehend such concepts. There is almost certainly a ton of hard scientific evidence to support their position.

    I agree with Stuart that we can let this one go for now. If you want to claim that there is some other magical or hidden god agenda in the infant brain, I’d be curious to hear why you think that.

  36. TheCraftMan
    TheCraftMan says:

    @Bill,

    The atheistic majority of the former U.S.S.R. is form of evidence to support my claim.

    Consistent, not support.

    How can millions upon millions of people not believe in god, if as Stuart speculatively suggests, there might be something like a “sense of divinity”? Why didn’t the Soviets have it? Why are there roughly 1 billion non-believers on this planet? One could make further speculations, but that’s all it is – speculation.

    Numbers support belief.

    I’m no expert on newborns, but I’m pretty sure that their little brains, lacking the ability to comprehend human language, would be unable to grasp complex concepts like Santa Claus, the Easter Bunny, or the invisible man in the sky. We all have to first acquire language before we can be indoctrinated into a religion, which means we are born as atheists, i.e., without god belief.

    I’d bet a lot of money that the community of scientists who specialize in infant cognition would overwhelmingly agree that it is impossible for human infants to comprehend such concepts. There is almost certainly a ton of hard scientific evidence to support their position.

    Speculation.

    I agree with Stuart that we can let this one go for now.

    Convenient.

    If you want to claim that there is some other magical or hidden god agenda in the infant brain, I’d be curious to hear why you think that.

    I haven't, and will not.

  37. Bill Williams
    Bill Williams says:

    Bill wrote: If you want to claim that there is some other magical or hidden god agenda in the infant brain, I’d be curious to hear why you think that.

    TheCraftMan wrote: I haven’t, and will not.

    Yeah, I wouldn't either. It would be an extraordinary supernatural claim that isn't supported by scientific evidence, which makes it virtually impossible to prove.

    It's much easier to defend the simple (not extraordinary) and well supported scientific notion that human infants start out ignorant and learn as they go.

  38. TheCraftMan
    TheCraftMan says:

    @Bill,

    Yeah, I wouldn’t either. It would be an extraordinary supernatural claim that isn’t supported by scientific evidence, which makes it virtually impossible to prove.

    It’s much easier to defend the simple (not extraordinary) and well supported scientific notion that human infants start out ignorant and learn as they go.

    That's some crafty rhetoric there, but it's rhetoric lacking substance. There are nativists who would disagree. Thus, it seems your confidence is misplaced.

  39. Bill Williams
    Bill Williams says:

    There are nativists who would disagree. Thus, it seems your confidence is misplaced.

    I didn't say anything about a blank slate and absolutely agree with nativists that we have hard wired capabilities. Infants simply have much to learn before they can comprehend the idea of an invisible daddy in the sky. You're making unfounded assumptions.

    My "confidence" comes from knowing that your deeply held beliefs have weak or no evidence and are therefore unprovable.

  40. TheCraftMan
    TheCraftMan says:

    @Bill,

    Allow me to briefly quote the most relevant portion of the article.

    Some nativists believe that specific beliefs or preferences are hard wired.

    That seems to be at odds with your perspective, as quoted below.

    Everyone is born without god belief.

    It’s much easier to defend the simple (not extraordinary) and well supported scientific notion that human infants start out ignorant and learn as they go.

    Your perspective sounds like tabula rasa, as quoted below.

    Tabula rasa is the epistemological thesis that individuals are born without built-in mental content and that their knowledge comes from experience and perception.

    Yeah, I'm going to have to disagree with your "unfounded assumption" claim.

    My “confidence” comes from knowing that your deeply held beliefs have weak or no evidence and are therefore unprovable.

    Quaint.

  41. Stuart McEwing
    Stuart McEwing says:

    Bill Williams,

    Stuart: Also, if the creator was Allah or Thor, that hardly helps the atheistic or agnostic position does it? I would advise you not to argue that way.

    Bill Williams: I think it’s important to remember that if creationism can be proven, there are countless explanations (you naturally assume it’s your Jesus god). For example, the “creator” could be an advanced race of aliens from a parallel universe or a different dimension of space.

    That's only a critique on the teleological argument, and in no way even touches any of the cosmological arguments – which would prove creationism. It seems to me you either have a very callous un-thoughtful approach to the arguments for theism, or are completely ignorant of them. No one who has ever considered what a First Cause would have to be like could ever suggest it could be aliens.

    The fact that they are seriously disputed in the philosophical community is a valid objection to your unsupported claim [that logical philosophical arguments for theism provide strong evidence]

    Actually its not valid at all. It breaks an informal fallacy akin to ad populum.

    Stuart: If the agnostic informed of the arguments for theism, is to remain sceptical and still maintain that his or her position is reasonable, then they must give an account, either as to why the case for theism is unconvincing, or the case for atheism is equally persuasive.

    Bill Williams: Your first option (must give an account why the case for theism is unconvincing) is perfectly reasonable. To be fair, let’s acknowledge that this is a significant shift from your repeated attempts to shift the burden of proof to the skeptic.

    I have not shifted my position at all (Please note my first comment on this thread, which my quoted comment above is just a rewording of). Also note that I have not, here or ever, tried to shift MY burden of proof onto the atheist or agnostic. Each hold their own burden of proof with respect to their own explicit and implicit claims.

    Bill WIlliams rephrasing Bertrand Russel: When they are not agreed, no opinion can be regarded with great confidence by a non-expert

    Bill Willaims: Because your claims are highly contested by the experts, they cannot be construed as strong evidence.

    This, according to your own rephrasing of Bertrand Russel, is exactly the wrong conclusion to draw. The correct conclusion would be, "because I am a non-expert, I cannot claim great confidence in either atheism or theism." A conclusion I can agree with.

    You yourself acknowledge that these theistic arguments are “not conclusive.”

    For clarification, that means my evidence does not establish with Cartesian or mathematical certainty that God exists. I nevertheless think that my case for theism establishes that it is more reasonable to believe in God's existence, and that it therefore is less reasonable to not believe in God's existence.

    Your evidence is weak.

    You haven't even wrestled with my evidence. This statement is pejorative as well as being uninformed. Please note, your statement is also a positive claim and needs to be justified with arguments if you are to retain any claim to rationality. Even intellectual respectability.

  42. Bill Williams
    Bill Williams says:

    Your perspective sounds like tabula rasa, as quoted below.

    Tabula rasa is the epistemological thesis that individuals are born without built-in mental content and that their knowledge comes from experience and perception.

    You’re again imposing your assumptions on me. I’m familiar with the nature/nurture debate and find it hard to that believe that we don’t have innate wiring. Based on real scientific evidence (rather than speculative religious hopes), it seems quite likely that we have innate wiring related to things like intuitive physics and natural fears of things like heights. That doesn’t fit my understanding of knowledge, but it is mental content.

  43. TheCraftMan
    TheCraftMan says:

    @Bill,

    You’re again imposing your assumptions on me. I’m familiar with the nature/nurture debate and find it hard to that believe that we don’t have innate wiring. Based on real scientific evidence (rather than speculative religious hopes), it seems quite likely that we have innate wiring related to things like intuitive physics and natural fears of things like heights. That doesn’t fit my understanding of knowledge, but it is mental content.

    You are conflating content with ability. The point of contention was not ability, but rather belief. Allow me to again quote the relevant section from the article, with emphasis.

    Some nativists believe that specific beliefs or preferences are hard wired.

    You have confidently rejected that one can have hardwired beliefs, have you not?

  44. Bill Williams
    Bill Williams says:

    Some nativists believe that specific beliefs or preferences are hard wired.

    You have confidently rejected that one can have hardwired beliefs, have you not?

    Based on what I've studied in the cognitive sciences, I'm of the opinion that our brains don't come pre-wired with specific beliefs. I wouldn't call that confidently rejecting the claim though. As a non-expert I have to rely on the community of experts to inform me.

    If it was clear that the consensus of cognitive experts supported the existence of hard-wired beliefs, I would alter my view in a heartbeat. That is a radically different approach to knowledge than the belief-defending nature of apologetics.

    I follow the evidence, not speculation.

  45. Bill Williams
    Bill Williams says:

    The fact that they are seriously disputed in the philosophical community is a valid objection to your unsupported claim [that logical philosophical arguments for theism provide strong evidence]

    Actually its not valid at all. It breaks an informal fallacy akin to ad populum.

    You’re misunderstanding ad populum. In most areas of knowledge I’m a non-expert. To have any opinion on complex subjects, I have no choice but to rely on the consensus of experts, i.e., I’m unqualified to evaluate the evidence in most realms. So are you.

    For example, I’m guessing that you’re not competent to evaluate the complex mathematics behind the many strong conclusions put forth by the scientific discipline of physics. If, for example, you (a non-expert) accept the overwhelming scientific consensus about aspects of quantum mechanics, does that mean you’re committing the fallacy of ad populum? If no, then how is that different?

    Following expert consensus is not the same thing as hopping on the bandwagon. They are experts – not the herd. Just because there is a majority opinion doesn’t mean a fallacy is being committed.

  46. Bill Williams
    Bill Williams says:

    Bill WIlliams rephrasing Bertrand Russel: When they are not agreed, no opinion can be regarded with great confidence by a non-expert

    Bill Willaims: Because your claims are highly contested by the experts, they cannot be construed as strong evidence.

    This, according to your own rephrasing of Bertrand Russel, is exactly the wrong conclusion to draw. The correct conclusion would be, “because I am a non-expert, I cannot claim great confidence in either atheism or theism.” A conclusion I can agree with.

    Yet you are certain of your god belief, as demonstrated by the Statement of Faith on your website and the belief-defending nature of apologetics. That seems like a double-standard.

    I could have better worded by statement to read, “Because the community of experts doesn’t find your evidence convincing, I shouldn’t either.” Though, I still stand by my original wording.

    I disagree with your claim that based solely on clever philosophical arguments, I need to make a determination about theism or atheism (that’s one-dimensional framing). I’m informed by many lines of evidence, including the fallibility of the human mind as demonstrated by the scientific disciplines of neurobiology and cognitive psychology. There are many other factors to consider, not just clever (and unimpressive) logical argument.

    Your evidence is weak.

    You haven’t even wrestled with my evidence. This statement is pejorative as well as being uninformed. Please note, your statement is also a positive claim and needs to be justified with arguments if you are to retain any claim to rationality.

    Rubbish. As a non-expert I’m not qualified to “wrestle with your evidence.”

    I love how you’re insisting that I support my objection to your claim, when you haven’t supported your initial claim of having strong evidence. Instead you just threw out complex logical arguments and expected a non-expert to evaluate them, or trust your claim about having strong evidence.

    The majority of professional philosophers disagree with you. From that I can very reasonably conclude that your evidence is not strong, i.e., its weak. Given that your arguments fail to convince the experts is further reason that you the burden lies with you to prove your unsupported claim.

    You say these arguments are strong – how do you know that? The most appropriate place to evaluate such a claim is the philosophical community. Why, I wonder, didn’t you honestly admit the problems with your arguments?

    I think its telling that you’re circumventing the experts and going straight to the more ignorant herd to pitch your beliefs. If you really had strong evidence, why can’t you convince the experts? It’s strong evidence, right?

  47. Bill Williams
    Bill Williams says:

    That’s only a critique on the teleological argument, and in no way even touches any of the cosmological arguments – which would prove creationism. …

    My understanding of these arguments primarily comes from an 18-hour audio course on the Philosophy of Religion http://www.teach12.com/ttcx/coursedesclong2.aspx?….

    I’m therefore familiar with the ontological, cosmological, and teleological arguments, which are all extremely vague in their predictions, e.g., the argument for a first cause creator tells us nothing about the attributes of that creator. You seem to be implying otherwise.

    No one who has ever considered what a First Cause would have to be like could ever suggest it could be aliens.

    Just because you haven’t heard that logical possibility doesn’t mean “No one has ever” said it. The professor in the course I just mentioned used that example – I didn’t make it up. I’ve also heard it in other venues.

    It’s a logical possibility, as is the Jesus god and the thousands of other imaginary gods, all competing for attention via human advocates.

  48. TheCraftMan
    TheCraftMan says:

    @Bill,

    Based on what I’ve studied in the cognitive sciences, I’m of the opinion that our brains don’t come pre-wired with specific beliefs. I wouldn’t call that confidently rejecting the claim though. As a non-expert I have to rely on the community of experts to inform me.

    Well, the confidence factor has been lowered. Thus, we have seen a softening of your position. You have gone from "it is so" to "it is my opinion." Fair enough.

    If it was clear that the consensus of cognitive experts supported the existence of hard-wired beliefs, I would alter my view in a heartbeat. That is a radically different approach to knowledge than the belief-defending nature of apologetics.

    I follow the evidence, not speculation.

    This is an interesting repeating process. Why do you feel the need to present your perspective as better than apologetics? Why the need for a rhetoric swipe? Is that because your position is not as strong as you present it to be?

  49. TheCraftMan
    TheCraftMan says:

    @Bill,

    You keep appealing to the "experts" and (the authority of) "science." When are you going to actually present some evidence for your perspectives? You keep rejecting our arguments as "weak," yet your own rest on nothing more than appeals to authority. Where is this so-called evidence you based you perspectives on? I'm convinced it doesn't exist. Your position is all smoke and mirrors.

  50. Bill Williams
    Bill Williams says:

    Why do you feel the need to present your perspective as better than apologetics? … Is that because your position is not as strong as you present it to be?

    That is one possibility. Another possibility is that my position really is better than apologetics.

    To determine which position is more reasonable, I’d like to suggest that we consult the community of experts, i.e., professional philosophers, especially those who specialize in logic.

    That makes sense, doesn’t it?

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