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 Post subject: Atheism: lack of belief or belief in no god? PostPosted: 2010-03-03 07:29pm
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Youngling

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Alright, I was having a casual debate with someone on another forum. He thinks atheism is not a lack of belief in God, but rather a belief in the non-existence of God. Me and one other person are trying to tell him that it's semantics, but there is a difference. But his last few posts have me thinking, and I'm not sure I was right. I was about to concede, but I figured I'd ask some of the brilliant minds here first. The exchange follows:

me wrote:
him wrote:
Originally Posted by ithinktherefore View Post
What am I missing? Atheists follow a specific philosophical worldview regarding the ultimate nature of the being of reality. Included are beliefs regarding how reality functions, operates, and is described. To rid yourself of the concept of you believing in an entity is to say you have no belief, and thus have no way of describing your outlook or worldview. "Belief" does not have to be an affirmative stance, and having a non-affirmative stance does not negate such stance as being a belief.

figured I'd just throw out some of that criticism.... i could be off

The burden of proof is on the believer of supernatural things, not the non-believer. Atheism is not a belief, it's a natural response to a complete lack of evidence for the supernatural. I get what you're saying, but trying to frame atheism as a belief, even a non-affirmative one... well, just doesn't seem right. I know someone here has a better response to this than I can think of right now. I'm trying to say they aren't in the same ballpark really, not because I want to distance myself from religious belief (I don't really give a fuck) but because they don't seem that way.

It's not a belief in the non-existence of something because that implies the truth is that such a thing exists and those who don't believe have the burden of proof. There. That's what I'm trying to say. We don't have a belief in the non-existence of the tooth fairy, we just know it's something made up to entertain children. If you wanna play semantics, you can call it a belief, but IMO it isn't.
him wrote:
The point of faith is that it is not certain and makes no affirmative claim. Otherwise, what is the point of using the term faith?

I don't know where this is coming from. I see how you're trying to frame the argument, but almost all faith makes very certain affirmative claims. It's not the same as atheism.


him wrote:
I don't believe in the toothfairy. Therefore, I have a belief in the non-existence of God (edit: i mean toothfairy).

Just like atheists don't believe in God.... therefore, atheists believe in the non-existence of God.


him wrote:
Believing in the non-existence of somethting does not imply that such a thing exists as Jacques put it. Seems like ya'll talking out your asses. Although I understand that when an athiest says they believe in the non-existence of God that it makes them inferior to intellectuals who have some kind of emotional baggage with the word belief.

I believe 2+2 does not equal 5. Oh wait, I forgot I just implied that 2+2 could equal 5. Whoopsies


him wrote:
And also to say the burden of proof is not on that person because they do not implicate the existence of God, or give it a possibility, shows that they are making affirmative claims towards the nature of reality because they are claiming the possibility to be zero. If there is any possbility for a God in the mind of an atheist, no matter how small, they admit that there is a possibility and must find some argument to rule it out - and therefore, having a degree of burden for proof. Just because one argues against a specific claim does not mean that they are making a claimless statement in that argument themselves.


So which is it, beyond semantics? Is atheism a lack of belief, or an affirmative belief in the non-existence of God?

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 Post subject: Re: Atheism: lack of belief or belief in no god? PostPosted: 2010-03-03 08:13pm
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Briefly, atheism literally means "non-theism", where theism is the belief in at least one god.

So, both categories (lack of belief in god AND the assertion of the non-existence of god) fall under the general category of "atheism".

There is a distinction between the two. I have usually heard it referred to as "weak atheism" (lack of belief) and "strong atheism" (assertion of non-existence of god), though Wikipedia refers to it as Implicit and Explicit atheism.

See Also:
http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Implicit_and_explicit_atheism
http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Weak_and_strong_atheism

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 Post subject: Re: Atheism: lack of belief or belief in no god? PostPosted: 2010-03-03 08:46pm
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Quote:
So which is it, beyond semantics? Is atheism a lack of belief, or an affirmative belief in the non-existence of God?

The first is accurate for the majority of atheists. Here is a simple way to resolve this. Don't call yourself an atheist. Sure, its an accurate description of yourself, but then so is calling yourself a non-martian or a skeptic of ghosts/reincarnation/[insert whatever supernatural or mystical belief you want here]. If you tell him (briefly) what you do believe in you can short circuit his way of thinking.

For more information, the TVtropes "useful notes" page on atheism is shocking in its clarity. Seriously.



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 Post subject: Re: Atheism: lack of belief or belief in no god? PostPosted: 2010-03-03 09:05pm
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Dave's right, there are two different kinds of atheism: strong and weak, positive and negative, I've heard both used. Weak atheism is lack of belief in a god, strong atheism is an actual belief that no god exists.



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 Post subject: Re: Atheism: lack of belief or belief in no god? PostPosted: 2010-03-03 09:07pm
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Strong atheism is the knowledge that there is no evidence god exists. There isn't, and thus saying god exist (or might exist) is meaningless.



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 Post subject: Re: Atheism: lack of belief or belief in no god? PostPosted: 2010-03-03 09:27pm
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An apolitical person is a person who is not political.

An atheistic person is a person who does not have a god. A person who has never heard of gods has no more gods than a living theological encyclopedia who thinks they're all false. IOW, atheism is a statement on the number of gods a person believes in. If it's none, they're an atheist, regardless of the surrounding knowledge.

A "strong atheist" thinks that it's reasonable to conclude there are no gods.

A "weak atheist" doesn't accept that but doesn't have any gods (yet). Most self-described agnostics would be in this category.

An antitheist is a person who is opposed to theistic belief and its attendent problems.



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 Post subject: Re: Atheism: lack of belief or belief in no god? PostPosted: 2010-03-05 05:59pm
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Thanks for the responses guys. Strong vs. weak atheism doesn't quite address the point he was making though. I framed the debate wrong. Here's another post that will hopefully clarify it a little:

him wrote:
someone else wrote:
Zzzzz this argument again?

I believe there is no God. Just like I believe there are no unicorns. That says nothing about the possibility of these things existing.

The point was regarding whether or not Atheists are making affirmative claims towards the nature of reality.

Quote:
About burden of proof, do I have to prove to you that unicorns don't exist? No, because that's silly.

No one has to prove God exists either. I'm not arguing whether or not anyone has to prove anything, but rather, whether or not Atheists are making claims to the nature of the properties of reality. The argument I am disagreeing with is whether or not Atheists 'believe' anything at all when they make claims such that the non-existence of God is a real entity or property of the reality we are in.

Quote:
If you believe in unicorns, do you have to prove to me that they exist? No you don't have to. But you're going to lose a lot of credibility.

You are not understanding what I am arguing at all. Put aside Richard Dawkins and Christopher Hitchens for a minute.


Is he wrong? I'm not thinking he is.

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 Post subject: Re: Atheism: lack of belief or belief in no god? PostPosted: 2010-03-05 06:40pm
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Punarbhava wrote:
Thanks for the responses guys. Strong vs. weak atheism doesn't quite address the point he was making though. I framed the debate wrong. Here's another post that will hopefully clarify it a little:

Actually, it does, because his "argument" boils down to a "begging the question" fallacy. Observe:

him restating his point broken record style wrote:
The point was regarding whether or not Atheists are making affirmative claims towards the nature of reality.

Sweeping generalizations much? WHICH atheists are making these claims? I certainly don't, but the word "atheist" is perfectly accurate when describing my beliefs. And the guy he is responding to is directly contradicting his premise-- that atheists are making a positive claim about reality.

See, Punarbhava, this guy is trying to redefine terms to suit his agenda. Why let him do this? Do I get to redefine what a theist or christian is is? No, because that would be asinine especially considering that I am not a theist or christian. He is not an atheist, and his pig ignorance is no excuse for butchering the term. Strong atheism makes such claims about reality, weak atheism does not. Simple as that. A weak atheist accepts that there MAY be an entity or set of entities which could be defined as a deity or god-- emphasis on MAY. Ask yourself why is he redefining the term, and what gives him that right? Why should you accept his definition of atheism? Why does he get to define who you are? If he's doing this to try and make atheists look no better than theists or to paint them as close minded, he's just a stupid asshole who doesn't know what he's talking about and should be treated as such.

Just to knock down the rest of his garbage:

Quote:
No one has to prove God exists either.

Does belief in god not effect matters of policy? Does belief in god effect matters of morality? Does belief in god effect matters of history and science? The answer is yes on every account-- hence, theists either have to prove their god exist, or get fucked. We do not have to do their homework for them.

Quote:
You are not understanding what I am arguing at all. Put aside Richard Dawkins and Christopher Hitchens for a minute.

Do you believe in Shiva? No? Then you can't dismiss the relevance of Dawkin's unicorn analogy.

Every time he handwaves away an argument, hammer him on it. He's trying to paint this as people talking past each other, when they aren't, he's just ignoring the point to suit his agenda.



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 Post subject: Re: Atheism: lack of belief or belief in no god? PostPosted: 2010-03-11 03:39am
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It is useful to think of atheism and what it actually is, and what religions are.

Atheism is a component of another overriding philosophy. It is, at maximum one claim. "No gods exist" and in many cases can make no affirmative claims at all. "I do not accept your argument that a god or gods exist.". These are two different statements. However no matter how you approach it, atheism is not itself a complete philosophy. It does not address metaphysics, epistemology, or ethics on its own.

Religions are. A religion prescribes everything from metaphysics to epistemology to ethics. There are atheists who are communists, randroids, existentialists, nihilists, naturalists, and humanists. It does not stand on its own, and in fact is usually driven by one one of these other complete philosophies (whether the individual knows it or not).

Trying to compare the two is a fools errand.



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 Post subject: Re: Atheism: lack of belief or belief in no god? PostPosted: 2010-03-12 04:16pm
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Thanks for the responses you guys. Helps a lot.

Formless, can you elaborate on how he's begging the question? I don't quite see it.

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 Post subject: Re: Atheism: lack of belief or belief in no god? PostPosted: 2010-03-12 05:59pm
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Punarbhava wrote:
Thanks for the responses you guys. Helps a lot.

Formless, can you elaborate on how he's begging the question? I don't quite see it.

His premise is the same as his conclusion-- all atheists are strong atheists, therefor atheism makes assertions about reality. He doesn't come right out and say it in those terms, of course, because he needs you to never question his assumptions. Instead he throws up smokescreens and (clumsily) attacks the concept of burden of proof as a distraction. Notice that when he was challenged on those premises, he merely restated them: "The point was regarding whether or not Atheists are making affirmative claims towards the nature of reality." News flash: in order to make that point one must deny that Weak atheism is distinct from Strong atheism, which is simply false. Hence why I say that his entire point rests on a begging the question fallacy.

"Gods may exist, but I don't think they do" is not a claim of fact. Only a moron, an apologist, or a flat out illiterate would think so. There are two philosophies at work here-- briefly: Ontology, which deals with what can and cannot logically exist in the universe; and Epistemology (i.e. science), which deals with what we know or believe to exist. Strong atheism makes an ontological claim ("the existence of God or deities as popularly defined is logically impossible") and/or an epistemological claim (such as "God as popularly defined would defy of the laws of thermodynamics/physics, therefor we can reasonably conclude he does not exist"). Weak atheism does not have to do either-- it is just a default state of skepticism. Similarly, we have Strong and Weak agnosticism-- "we cannot make claims about the existence of God" vs. "the evidence for god is inconclusive" * . I don't know why this distinction is so hard for some people to understand.

* Note: as pointed out by Dawkins, the latter is not incompatible with weak atheism, and most weak atheists can also be reasonably called weak agnostics as well. How exactly is that possible if all atheists are Strong atheists? Its not. :roll:



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"Still, I would love to see human beings, and their constituent organ systems, trivialized and commercialized to the same extent as damn iPods and other crappy consumer products. It would be absolutely horrific, yet so wonderful." — Shroom Man 777
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“I would suggest "Schmuckulating", which is what Futurists do and, by extension, what they are." — Commenter "Rayneau"

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 Post subject: Re: Atheism: lack of belief or belief in no god? PostPosted: 2010-03-12 07:23pm
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Alright, I get it now. Wikipedia's explanation of begging the question was too dense for me, a found a much better example here. That combined with your post makes it pretty explicit. Thanks. :)

Alyrium, I felt I couldn't have stated your point better than you did, so I went ahead and quoted part of your post, attributing it to a mind other than my own (but without mentioning you specifically). I hope that's alright. :oops: If that's not kosher I can modify the post, restate it in my own words or attribute it to you specifically.

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 Post subject: Re: Atheism: lack of belief or belief in no god? PostPosted: 2010-03-12 10:04pm
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Liberty wrote:
Dave's right, there are two different kinds of atheism: strong and weak, positive and negative, I've heard both used. Weak atheism is lack of belief in a god, strong atheism is an actual belief that no god exists.

For a person who accepts the logical principle of parsimony, there is no distinction between those two positions. If there is no reason to believe something exists, then the rational conclusion is that it doesn't.

For an irrational person who rejects that logical principle, there's a big difference.

No one differentiates between "weak non-believers in Yoda" and "strong non-believers in Yoda". You either think Yoda is real or you don't. No one says: "OK, you don't believe Yoda exists, but that doesn't mean you believe he does not exist, right?" This "weak atheism" vs "strong atheism" bullshit is just the influence of Christian thinking. They refuse to lump their belief in with all of the other unsubstantiated things one might believe in.



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 Post subject: Re: Atheism: lack of belief or belief in no god? PostPosted: 2010-03-13 01:28am
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The distinction does serve one use, though-- namely, its an admission that we don't dismiss the proposition "god exists" out of hand, and that were we to be given evidence we would give it serious consideration. But if you think God is an impossible entity, that does indeed require positive proof.

Of course, that's assuming you can come up with a workable definition for what God is. I can easily say Yahweh is impossible as most commonly defined by Christians-- that is, omnipotent, omniscient, and existing outside of the universe-- because its a breach of the no limits fallacy. But what about the Pantheist definition where God is synonymous with the universe? That's a little harder to prove as impossible, although it can also be claimed that it's a pragmatically useless and unfalsifiable definition. Xenu, well aside from being a blatant lie designed to con people out of money, may not be impossible per say. And so forth. So yes, strong and weak atheism aren't the most useful qualifiers, but in the eyes of most Christians (hell, most theists) it doesn't matter that they aren't the only one's in the religion business.

This is why I don't think you should label yourself as an atheist. In the eyes of a theist it puts their beliefs on a pedestal when they by no means have a monopoly on superstitious non-sense. By not doing that, you can prevent arguments like this from ever coming up.



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“I would suggest "Schmuckulating", which is what Futurists do and, by extension, what they are." — Commenter "Rayneau"

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 Post subject: Re: Atheism: lack of belief or belief in no god? PostPosted: 2010-03-17 06:02pm
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I agree that the distinctions in atheism are splitting hairs, but they are useful, especially if you tend to argue with Evangelicals. One of their common tricks is a false retreat, asking if you can be sure that there is no way that any "supreme being" or "higher intelligence" could exist. If that's what you're saying, that's a positive claim that you'd have to back up. However, most people who would call themselves atheists are actually just relying on parsimony, though if you intend to explain that to them, best of luck to you.

Instead of strong or weak atheism (Dawkins uses 'big A' Atheism vs 'little a' atheism), I'd use the term "agnostic atheism" vs "gnostic atheism." The former says "I don't know, but there's no reason to suppose the positive, so my default is atheism. The latter is much more tricky, and I doubt it can be backed up in all cases. However, you can be a gnostic atheist about certain deities, most notably the Abrahamic Yahweh, who is internally logically inconsistent, and therefore cannot exist (find your own arguments for this, Dan Barker is quite good at it, as is the Epicurean argument).

Quote:
This is why I don't think you should label yourself as an atheist. In the eyes of a theist it puts their beliefs on a pedestal when they by no means have a monopoly on superstitious non-sense. By not doing that, you can prevent arguments like this from ever coming up.


Sam Harris proposed this at AAI '07, but I don't think its a very good idea for the moment. Religious groups are just too vocal and large to snipe at from the edges, and history shows that whenever rationality becomes so commonplace that religion is assumed to be dead, it has a disturbing knack for staging a revival, the results of which in America have been Ronald Reagan, George Bush and Sarah Palin.



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 Post subject: Re: Atheism: lack of belief or belief in no god? PostPosted: 2010-03-18 05:26pm
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