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.

111 replies
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  1. TheCraftMan
    TheCraftMan says:

    @Bill,

    I posted a response earlier, but used a different email address. Hence, the response is stuck in the moderation cue. I am going to repost it.

    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.

    How does this relate to your comments? Well, you said…

    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.

    It seems as though you're changing your tune. Allow me to quote your previous comment.

    I follow the evidence, not speculation.

    Appeals to authority are not evidence. I want evidence. What evidence do you have that your perspective is more reasonable?

  2. Stuart
    Stuart says:

    Craftman,

    O well. I might edit them later. :-)

    Let me use this comment also to recommend you get yourself a gravitar. Follow the link above. Make it G rated.

  3. Bill Williams
    Bill Williams says:

    No. It’s a fallacy of logic to appeal to proffesionals or experts to determine the truth of a position.

    That's quite the statement. If you're interested, here is an opportunity to revise or clarify it before I comment.

  4. TheCraftMan
    TheCraftMan says:

    @Bill,

    That’s quite the statement. If you’re interested, here is an opportunity to revise or clarify it before I comment.

    Wow, really? There comes a point in some discussions where it would be uncharitable to continue. Thus, for your sake Bill, I am going to bow out. Thank you for the discussion up to this point. Have a wonderful day.

  5. Stuart
    Stuart says:

    I'll stick to what I said. And I'd advise you not to argue against basic principles of logic. Quit while your only slighty behind.

    Let me also suggest you get yourself a gravitar by following the link provided. It's very easy to do. Just follow the instructions.

  6. Bill Williams
    Bill Williams says:

    Bill said: 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?

    Stuart said: No. It’s a fallacy of logic to appeal to proffesionals or experts to determine the truth of a position.

    You’ve previously, and incorrectly, referred to this as Argumentum ad Populum. To better understand why, please consider the following references:

    “There is nothing inappropriate about appealing to the judgment of qualified authorities in a field of knowledge as a means of supporting some particular claim related to that field.” – Attacking Faulty Reasoning, 5th Ed., pg 79.

    “…there is no fallacy involved in simply arguing that the assertion made by an authority is true…” – http://www.statemaster.com/encyclopedia/Appeal-to

    “We must often rely upon expert opinion when drawing conclusions about technical matters where we lack the time or expertise to form an informed opinion.” – http://fallacyfiles.org/authorit.html

    Appealing to authority is a common fallacy, but only when it is done inappropriately. One common mistake is to trust experts who make claims outside their field of expertise. But not all appeals to authority are fallacious, i.e., an error in reasoning.

    Before we continue, please support your claim that one can never “appeal to professionals or experts.”

  7. Bill Williams
    Bill Williams says:

    Wow, really? There comes a point in some discussions where it would be uncharitable to continue. Thus, for your sake Bill, I am going to bow out.

    Uncharitable? That's funny.

    I do agree though – this is a good time for you to bow out. You've just made a fool of yourself.

  8. TheCraftMan
    TheCraftMan says:

    @Bill,

    It seems you desire me to stay, so I will. You dig your own grave though.

    Bill: You’ve previously, and incorrectly, referred to this as Argumentum ad Populum.

    No, he did not. He understood your statement "seriously disputed" to refer to a large percentage or the majority of the "philosophical community." Thus, with such an understanding, he was correct in pointing to the fallacy. However, it's possible your statement means something else. If so, please enlighten us.

    Before we continue, please support your claim that one can never “appeal to professionals or experts.”

    He never said "never." He said appealing to an authority cannot be used "to determine the truth of the position." That is precisely what the fallacy in question is about.

    @Stuart,

    If I have misrepresented your statements and/or thoughts, please feel free to correct me. Though, I suspect my representations are fairly accurate.

  9. TheCraftMan
    TheCraftMan says:

    @Bill,

    There is a problem with appeals to authority on subjects which are contentious nature. This almost always results in each perspective presenting their own authorities and then claiming, "My daddy can beat up your daddy." Or, sometimes they devolve to appeals to popularity (i.e., "more scholars believe…") even when genuine disagreement exists. Or, they can also devolve into the "your authority is not an authority" debate. None of these rabbit trails are truly relevant to the main discussion because appeals to authority don't establish truth, and as such these discussions should best be avoided by appealing to reason and evidence instead.

    Thus, a point of suggestion, if you feel inadequate to argue in favor of a subject on your own then refrain from making grand claims about the subject. It's really that simple. Further, I find it rather odd that someone who claims to follow the evidence would devolve into appeals to authority.

  10. Stuart
    Stuart says:

    Bill,

    As a side note, it's kinda funny how your gravitar refers to circular reasoning, cos what you have done is appleal to authority in order to conclude it is ok to appeal to authority. Just a funny observation.

    I have to appologise for shifting the goal posts. I've gone back and seen that you were saying appeals to authority confer reasonableness to a position. And I reponded that appeals to authority do not confer truth to a position.

    Which is still true, despite your quotations. With the possible exception of one, all those only speak to the former. But following that one, I have found you have cherry-picked the quote from a larger sentence and wider context. I'm glad you posted the link with it. That way all can read that sentence in light of the first paragraph.

    The argument that was akin to ad populum was the one you made when you appealed to the dispute among philosophers on the aruments for Gods existence to negate the reasonableness of those arguments. The appeal to authority made by you was on a different matter, namely, your and TheCraftMan's side discussion on innate beliefs of infants.

    TheCraftMan is correct that you have here only been appealing to authority. What makes these types of appeals pursuasive is not the authorities opinion. It is the reasons they give for why they hold their opinions. So if your comments are to move beyond the fallacy of appeal to authority, you also need to provid the reasons… – that is not to say I'm interested in them (here at least). I think that topic has drifted far from the field if the orginal article above and was subsequently was defending in the comments. The discussion is on the definition of atheism and the burden of proof with respect to the claims both atheist and agnostic make.

  11. Stuart
    Stuart says:

    TheCraftMan,

    I think you have assesed the situation fairly. We are on the same wavelength – we must have been typing our simila replys at the same time. Thanks for the backup. :-)

  12. Bill Williams
    Bill Williams says:

    Let’s review. Stuart, in your post on May 2010 at 1:47 pm, you made an assertion that theistic logical arguments are strong evidence for your beliefs. I very reasonably challenged your assertion because the majority of experts disagree with you. In our resulting discussion (including the side discussion on innate beliefs of infants), the two of you made the following unsupported assertions:

    Stuart: 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.

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

    TheCraftMan: 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.

    Stuart: It’s a fallacy of logic to appeal to proffesionals or experts to determine the truth of a position.

    Stuart: I’d advise you not to argue against basic principles of logic.

    TheCraftMan: He understood your statement “seriously disputed” to refer to a large percentage or the majority of the “philosophical community.” Thus, with such an understanding, he was correct in pointing to the fallacy [Argumentum ad Populum].

    He said appealing to an authority cannot be used “to determine the truth of the position.” That is precisely what the fallacy in question is about.

    TheCraftMan: I find it rather odd that someone who claims to follow the evidence would devolve into appeals to authority.

    You both insist that I am committing these fallacies, adding that I’m “arguing against basic principles of logic” – prove it! Show me links to online descriptions of the fallacies Argumentum ad Populum and Argument from Authority that are consistent with your preceding claims.

    Many accredited universities have online resources to help people understand informal logic and argumentation. Therefore it should be easy to find links where I can read about my errors. Please point me directly to the specific places within the texts that describe the errors you claim I’m making.

  13. Bill Williams
    Bill Williams says:

    Stuart, just a curiosity. Because of the small size, I'm having trouble making sense of your new gravitar.

    What it is?

  14. Bill Williams
    Bill Williams says:

    I'd like to further clarify my request. I've always understood Argumentum ad Populum to refer to "the masses," i.e., the herd.

    Please show me credible philosophical resources that say it's a fallacy to appeal to "expert" consensus, not just herd mentality.

  15. TheCraftMan
    TheCraftMan says:

    @Bill,

    The appeal to authority and appeal to popularity fallacies are both fallacies of relevancy. This means that they appeals are not relevant to the argument, as Stuart has already hinted at.

    Appeal to Authority.

    However, appealing to authority as a reason to believe something is fallacious whenever the authority appealed to is not really an authority in this subject, when the authority cannot be trusted to tell the truth, when authorities disagree on this subject (except for the occasional lone wolf), when the reasoner misquotes the authority, and so forth.

    You have committed this fallacy.

    I very reasonably challenged your assertion because the majority of experts disagree with you.

    Without evidence of the majority, you are guilty of the fallacy. Next, Argumentum ad Populum.

    "Snob Appeal": the fallacy of attempting to prove a conclusion by appealing to what an elite or a select few (but not necessarily an authority) in a society thinks or believes.

    (There are many non-fallacious appeals in style, fashion, and politics–since in these areas the appeal is not irrelevant.)

    You have committed this fallacy.

    I very reasonably challenged your assertion because the majority of experts disagree with you.

    Wait. You object, "But the article says, 'But not necessarily an authority.'" You are correct. However, as you will notice, the "not necessarily" element leaves open the possibility of appeals to authority to be an appeal to popularity. The question which remains is, "When?" Taken from Appeal to the People.

    The ‘too strongly’ is important in the description of the fallacy because what most everyone believes is, for that reason, somewhat likely to be true, all things considered. However, the fallacy occurs when this degree of support is overestimated.

    Because you have overestimated the degree of support, you have committed the fallacy.

    There is a simple way to counter my presentation. You can produce evidence that shows the large majority of experts, scholars, and professionals disagree with Stuart and myself. I'm assuming since your position is supposedly based on evidence and not speculation, then you have a ready reservoir of evidence which you can present to defend your perspective on all the points of contention at which you have appealed to authority and/or popularity.

    Fair warning. If you respond without producing evidence for your fairies, then I will not bother responding because your baseless and empty rhetoric have become boring.

  16. Bill Williams
    Bill Williams says:

    Hey, what’s for dinner? Red Herring!

    If you want to play apologist rhetorical games, fine, let's back up. For now, I retract everything that I said about experts.

    Stuart claimed to have strong evidence for his theistic logical arguments, which is a positive assertion. Yet he never offered an argument, i.e., no supporting reasons to back up his claim (which you constantly insist that I do).

    Therefore his original statement is pure conjecture, which I have no obligation to accept.

    Stuart claimed to have strong evidence – prove it! After that, we’ll talk about logical fallacies.

  17. Stuart
    Stuart says:

    TheCraftMan,

    Thanks for doing the leg work on that one. I'm more inclined to think that all appeals to authority are fallacious. That is because the truth of a proposition and an authority's opinion have no correlation with each other. The one mitigating factor that I can see (which is said in many different ways) is that an authority is likely to have good reasons as to why he holds to a certain proposition, so appealing to an authority would lend a proponent a modicum of confidence that it was true (or false). In that case, its evident that what matters is not the opinion of the authority, but the reasons the authority gives for holding that opinion.

    Stuart: There are a multitude of good arguments, including cosmological, teleological, axiological, historical, transcendental, etc.

    Bill WIlliams counters: (1) 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, (2) 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… [numbers mine]

    (1) Is an appeal to authority. These arguments don't claim to produce a conclusive result. They claim to render the conclusion the God exists as more likely than any type of negation. And further, the refutations of the arguments from Natural Theology are also seriously disputed in the philosophical community, so I don't see why the idea that those arguments are seriously disputed should matter all that much.

    (2) Three points in response: (A) Any vagueness or ambiguity about the being concluded by the arguments for a first cause (Cosmological arguments) is irrelevant, as any conclusion is at least a defeater for naturalism or atheism. (B) That the Cosmological arguments do not also prove the validity of the Biblical narrative is also irrelevant. It does not purport to be able to do so. (C) The claim is blatantly false anyway. Conceptual analysis of a first cause of the universe would render a being that is (i) immaterial or non-physical, (ii) timeless or sans-time therefore eternal, (iii) spaceless or sans-space (omnipresent?), (iv) tremendously powerful (omnipotent?), (v) that which is sans-time and immaterial would also be (vi) changeless, therefore (vii) necessary and uncaused. It would also be (viii) transcendent. Being immaterial one could argue for (ix) simplicity. With additional arguments you could also conclude such a being would have to be (x) personal. Now if an argument for a first cause is vague (as Bill Williams claims above) such that folks might think that sit was Zeus or Thor, how does that not help the theistic case? Or, if the argument is indeed sound, how does that at all mitigate that idea that Christianity is more reasonable than atheism?

    Bill Williams complains that the theist has not managed to carry his burden of proof with respect to God's existence, for logical and philosophical arguments only provide 'weak' evidence. This is pejorative rhetoric. Insofar as he maintains the philosophical arguments the theist uses are weak for the reason that they are disputed amongst professional philosophers, he is appealing to authority and therefore committing a fallacy of logic. To which it follows that his reason for labeling the theistic arguments as 'weak' is a poor one and cannot be trusted.

    As I have been saying, if the agnostic informed of the theistic arguments is to maintain that his position is reasonable, then he would have to show why the case for theism fails, or else show why the case for atheism is equally as persuasive. Until then, given the case for theism (discussed elsewhere on this blog, not in the this thread or article) and the lack of case for atheism (also discussed elsewhere on this blog), it is more reasonable to believe that God exists.

  18. Stuart
    Stuart says:

    Bill Williams,

    Looks like we were typing at the same time. I accept your retraction of your appeal to experts.

    I've lately been thinking about what you have just asked for. Here is my quick response.

    In this article and subsequent comments, my case for theism (which is part of my case for Christianity) has not been the concern. So my failing to provide it here is not cause to call it pure conjecture. I have referred in part to my case, and just above you have seen me quote the relevant section. Though I have never comprehensively laid it out or even published an outline, in searching the Thinking Matters archives you would be able to piece it together. Its by no means original, drawing on the thought of philosophers and theologians of the past. And by no means complete – I'm still filling in major sections that are at the moment only outlined. For instance, here at Thinking Matters the predominant special area of interest has been arguments for God's existence, but we haven't done too much concerning the authority of the Bible or the coherence of the the Incarnation, for example.

  19. TheCraftMan
    TheCraftMan says:

    @Stuart,

    I’m more inclined to think that all appeals to authority are fallacious. That is because the truth of a proposition and an authority’s opinion have no correlation with each other.

    Fair enough. I don't fully agree, but I don't have the time to engage on the matter. Don't be too harsh on Bill. ;)

    @Bill,

    Fair enough. I'll let it stand at that point. Have fun.

  20. Bill Williams
    Bill Williams says:

    In this article and subsequent comments, my case for theism (which is part of my case for Christianity) has not been the concern.

    Huh? If you print this thread it stretches well past 40 pages. You claimed to have strong evidence for theism on page 12, and we’ve been arguing about it ever since. How has that not been the concern?

    Further, you've continually insisting that I provide argument to prove that your evidence is weak, yet when finally pressed to present your original claim as an argument, you can’t. Lesson learned (at least for me).

    So my failing to provide it here is not cause to call it pure conjecture.

    Conjecture: the formation or expression of an opinion or theory without sufficient evidence for proof. http://dictionary.reference.com/browse/conjecture

    Not only have you not put forth evidence, you haven’t even formed an argument. The fact that you’ve written a bunch of disjointed articles on the subject is irrelevant – that’s now how argumentation works.

    You advanced an unsupported claim as though it was fact, and then began the classic apologist tactic of attacking any and all objections. You boys don’t play fair, which allows you to protect your unsupported beliefs. Your clever rhetorical tactics are incompatible with the Truth Seeking and Fallibilityprinciples.

    Your statement of having strong evidence is empty opinion. Until you’re prepared to put forth a cogent argument, I have no obligation to consider your opinion. For now, this discussion is dead.

  21. TheCraftMan
    TheCraftMan says:

    @Bill,

    If you print this thread it stretches well past 40 pages. You claimed to have strong evidence for theism on page 12, and we’ve been arguing about it ever since.

    You were printing our comments? Hehe. The writing style and register remained the same. The comments seemed so disconnected from the conversation. This helps me to understand why now.

  22. Bill Williams
    Bill Williams says:

    You were printing our comments? Hehe. The writing style and register remained the same. The comments seemed so disconnected from the conversation. This helps me to understand why now.

    Wow, look at that. Another irrelevant comment with no substance. How about providing a logically sound argument to support Stuart's "conjecture" about having strong evidence? (An empty opinion that you clearly seem to embrace.)

    You seem to think that you're intellectually superior – so prove it! Let's see – you have faith, and personal experience, and what?!?! So far you've offered nothing! Gee, I wonder why…

    I was of the understanding that this site embraces intellectual discourse that is grounded in the principles of logic and argumentation. You and your apologist buddy have been defending his explicit yet unsupported claim to have strong evidence. You both argued incessantly across 30 pages of text. When pressed to put forth an argument, he replied that this "has not been the concern." Boy, talk about a convenient excuse.

    Put your money where your mouth is. Otherwise you're just making noise, and continuing to make a fool of yourself.

  23. TheCraftMan
    TheCraftMan says:

    @Bill,

    Wow, look at that. Another irrelevant comment with no substance.

    My comment was not intended to be directly relevant. I was merely thinking out load about an observation made.

    You and your apologist buddy have been defending his explicit yet unsupported claim to have strong evidence.

    I was not defending Stuart's claim, or rather Stuart's side note. This is precisely what I meant by disconnected. You failed to understand that I only defended Stuart insofar as the one specific instance about the argument from popularity. You have misconstrued, as you have repeatedly done with our comments, that my defense on that one specific point was a defense of everything Stuart has argued.

    You both argued incessantly across 30 pages of text.

    Correction, across one page. ;)

    When pressed to put forth an argument, he replied that this “has not been the concern.”

    He did not press forth an argument. He made a side note and wanted to focus on the main topic addressed by the blog post. You were the one who got stuck on pressing him down that rabbit trail, unrelated side note. That's why he said the note was not a concern.

  24. TheCraftMan
    TheCraftMan says:

    @Bill,

    Okay, I am officially done. You have the floor for the last response to any of my comments. Have a great day!

    @Stuart,

    I am officially done now. Good luck.

  25. Bill Williams
    Bill Williams says:

    Okay, I am officially done. You have the floor for the last response to any of my comments. Have a great day!

    Goodbye.

  26. Stuart McEwing
    Stuart McEwing says:

    Bill Williams,

    Sorry I haven't replied in some time. I have been busy of late. Looks like you might have given up, which may be just as well. I too grow weary of this discussion.

    Stuart: In this article and subsequent comments, my case for theism (which is part of my case for Christianity) has not been the concern.

    Bill WIlliams: Huh? If you print this thread it stretches well past 40 pages. You claimed to have strong evidence for theism on page 12, and we’ve been arguing about it ever since. How has that not been the concern?

    In my perspective, and I think this bears out in the text above, my case for theism has not been the focus of the discussion here, the concept of a theistic case being only peripherally involved. Rather, the focus of the discussion has been that the burden of making arguments for the agnostic or atheist is not avoided given two specific conditions. (1) If they are informed of the arguments for theism, and (note the conjunction) (2) if they are to make the claim (implicitly or explicitly) that maintaining their position is reasonable.

    Your response has generally been to either (1) to construe my remarks as an effort to shift my burden of proof, as a theist, onto the atheist or agnostic, (2) or to claim there is only "weak" evidence with appeals to the dispute among philosophers concerning the arguments for God. The first response is wrong – I accept my burden of proof – and the second response is fallacious.

    You say,

    Further, you’ve continually insisting that I provide argument to prove that your evidence is weak, . . . .

    Yes. That is what you claimed ( – and if the agonistic is to persist reasonably in his or her agnosticism, while informed of the theistic arguments, that is exactly what they would have to do – ), and you bear a burden to prove this. Now I have been insisting that the reasons you have thus far given for thinking the arguments for theism are weak have been fallacious.

    Stuart: So my failing to provide it [arguments for theism] here is not cause to call it pure conjecture.

    Bill Williams: Conjecture: the formation or expression of an opinion or theory without sufficient evidence for proof. http://dictionary.reference.com/browse/conjecture

    Not only have you not put forth evidence, you haven’t even formed an argument. The fact that you’ve written a bunch of disjointed articles on the subject is irrelevant – that’s now [sic] how argumentation works.

    Right. I haven't put forth any evidence – HERE. I have elsewhere on this website. Yes they are slightly disjointed, but they can be found. I have written on three cosmological arguments, only slightly on design arguments, extensively on the moral argument, and, from memory, laid some foundations for a historical argument. I have defended my own personal experience of the Spirit of God and my acquaintance with the miraculous, which I take as veridical. Most recently I have written on the Anthropological Argument concluding it was a good argument, but not great. So its unfair to indict me on the charge that I have failed to provide arguments for theism when, (1) I have been sticking to the topic in this thread and that has not been the topic, and (2) I have given them elsewhere.

  27. Bill Williams
    Bill Williams says:

    I understand your point about the focus of your original article. But "you" made the claim about having strong evidence and pretended like it was solid. Based on my objections to that claim, we launched into a ton of related discussion. You were perfectly content to go off on those tangents, but when asked to defend your original claim – no, that's off topic. That's not playing fair.

    The point is, if you can't defend your claim, you have no business making it (or you should acknowledge that its conjecture). You certainly can't expect other people to take it seriously. Telling someone to "piece together" your past disjointed articles to find your implicit argument is just plain inappropriate. The fact that you're impressed by theistic arguments and like to write about them is irrelevant. Per your own admission, you don't have an argument.

    The discipline of argumentation is a rigorous structured process. If you want a better understanding of how argumentation works, the following lecture series is excellent. The audio version is fine, i.e., you don't need the more expensive DVD's – http://www.teach12.com/ttcx/coursedesclong2.aspx?…

    As I mentioned, I learned an important lesson. If we have discussions on other subjects, you won't get away with making grand unsupported claims again – they'll be ignored until they are supported.

    Best wishes.

  28. Stuart
    Stuart says:

    When I have made positive argumets in support of theism, they have been starkly explicit.

    Above, when I referred to the case for theism and the various arguments that can be marshalled for it's defense, I was correcting your characterization of the case for theism which was (at least evidentially) weak. You may call foul, but you need only go back into the TM archives to find the context in which your comments come, and see that the calling of foul is, at least in this case, unfair.

  29. Bill Williams
    Bill Williams says:

    I too grow weary of this discussion.

    Let's end on a positive note. I found something that we agree on. :-)

  30. Ron Krumpos
    Ron Krumpos says:

    Stuart,

    I also agree with your comments on atheism (at least we agree on something).

    If so-called atheists are convinced that God does not exist, let them move on to something which does interest them. It's usually best to ignore matters which you don't believe in (unless life forces you to confront them). Please don't argue with the last sentence; it's just a casual observation.

  31. Ryft Braeloch
    Ryft Braeloch says:

    "Let's break down the components of the word ‘atheist’," Williams said, "to expose its core meaning." Although he began properly by describing the Greek privative alpha (‘a-’) as meaning "without," for some reason he launched into inappropriate anachronism by invoking the English word "theism"—which did not exist prior to the 17th century. The reader should be made aware that Williams was therefore not breaking the word ‘atheist’ down to its component parts. Given its origins, the word reduces to negating the Greek ‘theos’. Contrary to the demonstration Williams supplied, breaking down the components of the word actually exposes its core meaning as "without god" or "godless." That is what an Atheist is: someone who is without God and/or holds a godless world view.

    It was also interesting to note that, when asked for evidence that atheism is the default condition, Williams reasoned in a vicious circle, from the notion that "everyone is born without God-belief" to the conclusion that "non-belief is the default state"—with a dash of personal incredulity by adding, "How could it be otherwise?" The strength of theistic arguments is a product of not only the intellectual merits thereof but also the astonishing bankruptcy of fallacy-riddled scientarded twaddle offered by Atheists.

  32. Joe
    Joe says:

    atheism is a lack of belief in god, not belief in no god, which is a STRONG atheist point. You must first lack belief in god, to believe in no god.

  33. Stuart
    Stuart says:

    That seems to be the same distinction as William Rowe gives. I think that WEAK atheism is just an intellectual pose, and can only be rationally sustained by ignorance.

  34. Joe
    Joe says:

    It's not an ignorance exclusive to them. You are just as ignorant as the strong atheist with regards to this matter.

  35. Joe
    Joe says:

    A strong atheist would BELIEVE they know god does not exist, just as a theist, esp a strong theist would BELIEVE they know god DOES exist.

    Or are you saying god both exists and does not exist, now? That since they KNOW, they're both correct?

  36. Ryft Braeloch
    Ryft Braeloch says:

    <blockquote cite="Stuart">I think that 'weak' atheism is just an intellectual pose, and can only be rationally sustained by ignorance."

    It is indeed an intellectual pose and for the very reasons you already outlined in your original article (pathological avoidance of the burden of proof that cannot be escaped). I really appreciated the considered insights you invested it with, and that by the grace of God you are able to articulately decipher atheistic rhetoric for the readers. Since discovering the Thinking Matters ministry yesterday, you gentlemen became a permanent feature on my prayer list.

    <blockquote cite="Joe">It’s not an ignorance exclusive to them. You are just as ignorant as the strong atheist with regards to this matter.

    There is a confusion here, Joe. First, what Stuart said is definitionally correct, insofar as 'weak' atheism is another term for agnostic atheism and 'agnostic' implies ignorance by definition; i.e., that is simply what the word means ('a-' + 'gnosis'). An agnostic or weak atheist is someone who answers "I don't know"—ignorance—to the question about God's existence. Second, the only theist who shares this ignorance is an agnostic theist (e.g., fideism), which none of the staff writers at this site are. Third, the strong atheist would defy your characterization, insofar as they position themselves as knowing that God does not exist. If they were ignorant, they would be agnostic or 'weak' atheists, not strong atheists.

  37. Ryft Braeloch
    Ryft Braeloch says:

    The strong atheist professes to know that God does not exist. The strong theist professes to know that God does exist. You rightly point out the contradiction that results if they are both correct (which would also result if they are both incorrect), which means that only one of them can be correct. That means one of them has a broken philosophy. The strong atheist would confidently assert that it's the Christian whose system of thought is broken, presupposing the truth of his own view in order to evaluate the matter. The Christian on the other hand would say, "Critically investigate the atheist's view under its own terms, and the Christian view under its own terms, and see which one is left standing at the end of the day, which view coherently and accurately accounts for the facets of common human experience." Only one of the two views can be correct, and it is no reliable guide to beg the question against the other view.

  38. TheCraftMan
    TheCraftMan says:

    @Ryft,

    “Let’s break down the components of the word ‘atheist’,” Williams said, “to expose its core meaning.” Although he began properly by describing the Greek privative alpha (‘a-’) as meaning “without,” for some reason he launched into inappropriate anachronism by invoking the English word “theism”—which did not exist prior to the 17th century. The reader should be made aware that Williams was therefore not breaking the word ‘atheist’ down to its component parts. Given its origins, the word reduces to negating the Greek ‘theos’. Contrary to the demonstration Williams supplied, breaking down the components of the word actually exposes its core meaning as “without god” or “godless.” That is what an Atheist is: someone who is without God and/or holds a godless world view.

    You sir, are a true wordsmith. This is much more elegant than my attempt at the same idea.

  39. Joe
    Joe says:

    “Critically investigate the atheist’s view under its own terms, and the Christian view under its own terms, and see which one is left standing at the end of the day, which view coherently and accurately accounts for the facets of common human experience.”

    Let's see: an immaterial, disembodied, powerful, all-knowing and all-good god who has created the universe, then life on an infinitesimal part of it, and chooses and even smaller section of that life and gets angry that they touched themselves at night. It also claims to know all, but also claims that its subjects also have this thing called "free will".

    Yeah.

  40. TheCraftMan
    TheCraftMan says:

    @Joe,

    Let’s see: an immaterial, disembodied, powerful, all-knowing and all-good god who has created the universe, then life on an infinitesimal part of it, and chooses and even smaller section of that life and gets angry that they touched themselves at night. It also claims to know all, but also claims that its subjects also have this thing called “free will”.

    Yeah.

    That's an original criticism which hasn't been answered.

  41. Stuart
    Stuart says:

    Expressing incredulity is not critical examination.

    I'd like to see the charge of a contradiction between omniscience and free will developed. I don't think I've seen that before.

  42. Joe
    Joe says:

    an all knowing god would know what its subjects would do in advance. Thus, how can the subject do anything "freely" when there's no choice in their action? Everything is in essence predetermined. Either god is not omniscient, or people do not have free will but an illusion of one.

  43. Stuart
    Stuart says:

    There's an argument in there somewhere. Interestingly, there are different streams of Christian theology which do choose one option over the other (either God is not omniscient – open theism, or humans only have the illusion of free will – Calvinism). For myself though, I dont see why foreknowledge should imply determinism. I see this as the arguments fundamental flaw, and needs to be developed further if it's not going to be a giant non sequitur.

  44. Joe
    Joe says:

    For myself though, I dont see why foreknowledge should imply determinism.

    God knows you will do A at B.

    Because of his omniscience, you will do A at B.

    There is no other choice, because if you do not do A, that means god did NOT know this.

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