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"Alpha Privitive" prefix, -ism suffix, and their Abuse.

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darkgoob
PostPosted: 2012-01-29 07:24pm 

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The "alpha privitive" is the "a-" that gets put in front of a word to make the opposite meaning. The "-ism" suffix is added to the end of a word to make an action of it, while "-ist" is used to denote a practitioner of said action. The point that I will argue in this post is that modern-day agnostics who want to think of themselves as "atheists" are misusing a-, -ism, and -ist.

I may not hold a degree in science, philosophy, or religion, but I do hold one in Literature & Languages, specifically Classics (mainly Ancient Greek). I am also trained in Linguistics and Literary Theory. So, I am qualified to make statements about this subject.

In my field, we often analyze the meanings of words by using Venn diagrams. First, we describe the fields of actual meaning to which the words in question refer. Then, we plot out the areas of meaning that are encompassed by the words by drawing a shape (usually a circle). Sometimes the meanings of two words can overlap and flow together, such as "blue" and "cyan" -- the Ancient Greeks called this "confusion" ("con-" = "together", "fus-" = flow). Other times, the meanings of words do not overlap at all, such as the meaning of "red" and "green."

So let us look at two Venn diagrams for "athiesm" and "agnosticism:"
Image

First, let me tell you what is happening. While almost any dictionary, such as Merriam Webster's, defines "atheist" as the following: "one who believes that there is no deity," meanwhile there seems to be a war being waged to expand this meaning to encompass all agnostics -- those who lacks a belief in God (whether or not they reject the belief in God as false).

Now, it's very safe to say that the most broadly accepted definition of "atheism" is the belief that God does not exist. This follows from the proper meaning of the suffix, "-ism," which makes an abstract belief into a concrete action. That is why referring to the lack of any sort of belief as "atheism" is a misuse of "-ism," because "-ism" always implies the active practicing of a belief. If you lack a belief, you might be able to be described as actively practicing not believing anything, which is why the term "agnosticism" suits those who do not believe that God exists and also who do not believe that God does not exist.

The thing about prefixes like the alpha privative is that they do not modify any suffixes attached to the word. They only modify the root meaning of the word. For instance, the meaning of "asexual" is not the opposite of "sexual" but it's the meaning of "(asex)ual".

Still, there are many people who wish to think of themselves as "atheists" (for whatever reason) even though they are not. So they abuse the proper use of "a-" and "-ism" so that they can go on their crusade against religion, or whatever. Evidently they feel that to take a position of a lack of belief is "weak" and so they describe such people as "weak athiests." Of course this is no more than rhetoric and nonsense.

I have limited time to edit this post and flesh it out, but I'd like to hear your responses. I am sure I've made some missteps in my arguments but I will correct that in replies.
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SCRawl
PostPosted: 2012-01-29 07:53pm 

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Without getting too far into your arguments, I can tell you that the labels for your second Venn diagram are misplaced. A quick look should suffice, I don't think that I need to explain it.
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Thanas
PostPosted: 2012-01-29 08:14pm 

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Joined: 2004-06-26 07:49pm
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Also, confusion is not really a greek word but stems from latin. con is a variant of the latin cum and fusion comes from the latin word fundere, specifically the particle fusus.

I ask you to demonstrate your degree at this time.
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madd0ct0r
PostPosted: 2012-01-29 08:46pm 

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Joined: 2008-03-14 07:47am
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I'm not really sure what you're arguing?
(especially since both your diagrams declare that atheists believe in god. I may not hold am linguistics degree, but that seems... odd)

In a normal conversation, I'd use normal conventional definitions:
Agnostic - one who does not believe in any particular god
Atheist - one who believes that there is NO god.

I fail to see what you're crusading about here.
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Lord Zentei
PostPosted: 2012-01-29 09:16pm 

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Joined: 2004-11-22 03:49am
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Quote:
First, let me tell you what is happening. While almost any dictionary, such as Merriam Webster's, defines "atheist" as the following: "one who believes that there is no deity," meanwhile there seems to be a war being waged to expand this meaning to encompass all agnostics -- those who lacks a belief in God (whether or not they reject the belief in God as false).

Now, it's very safe to say that the most broadly accepted definition of "atheism" is the belief that God does not exist. This follows from the proper meaning of the suffix, "-ism," which makes an abstract belief into a concrete action. That is why referring to the lack of any sort of belief as "atheism" is a misuse of "-ism," because "-ism" always implies the active practicing of a belief. If you lack a belief, you might be able to be described as actively practicing not believing anything, which is why the term "agnosticism" suits those who do not believe that God exists and also who do not believe that God does not exist.

So, what is your argument here? Are you complaining about people's use of language? Are you waging a counter-crusade or something?

Several things seem to escape you. First, something called "burden of proof". In other words, he who makes a claim is required to prove it. Second, the non-equality of claims. In other words, the disbelief in something whose existence is not demonstrated does not bear the same burden of proof as the claim for its existence, due to the no-proof-of-a-negative principle. Third, Occam's Razor and its application to an infinite being. Fourth, the difference between the implications of the use of scientific evidence vs. logical deduction. Hint: pure use of the latter CANNOT make definitive statements about the external universe, and the former is NEVER absolute, so the term "agnostic atheist" makes perfect sense in that context.

BTW: atheism literally means "without god". Moreover, as you no doubt know, Christians were initially derided as atheists by the pagans due to their rejection of the reality of the old gods, so broad use of the term isn't exactly new.

Long story short, this looks like the typical agnostic/crypto-theist whining about language in order to claim that atheists are just as biased as believers.


Incidentally, both of your Venn diagrams are mislabeled.
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Lord Zentei
PostPosted: 2012-01-29 09:18pm 

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madd0ct0r wrote:
In a normal conversation, I'd use normal conventional definitions:
Agnostic - one who does not believe in any particular god
Atheist - one who believes that there is NO god.

This is not what the terms mean.

Agnostic = without knowledge (as in, without knowledge of whether god exists).
Atheist = without god (either definitively believing that none exists, or lacking belief).

Complaint-prone agnostics such as OP deny that "atheist" can include "lacking belief in god". Other than that, obviously the two terms are not mutually exclusive.
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Executor32
PostPosted: 2012-01-29 09:36pm 

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darkgoob wrote:
<snip>
If you were as well-qualified as you say, I'm sure you'd know that atheist has existed in English for far longer than you seem to imply. It's first seen in English texts in 1566 (theist is in fact not seen until 1662, nearly a hundred years later), and it was used for its current connotation as early as 1577. Regardless of whether or not it is technically correct, it's been in use long enough to become accepted as correct in English. Atheism also has a cognate in ancient Greek: ἀθεότης (atheotēs), literally godlessness.
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Shadow6
PostPosted: 2012-01-29 09:42pm 

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Joined: 2009-01-20 09:58pm
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Frankly, I don't care one way or the other whether the more technically correct term to describe lack of theism (whether active denial or lack of belief) is 'atheism' or 'nontheism'. Language is a fluid thing and words don't necessarily hold to their etymological meaning. I personally use the 'lack of belief' definition of atheism.

However the term 'agnostic', as originally definied, does not mean "lack of belief one way or the other", as you put it. It is instead a statement about the unknowability of a deity's extistence. The term was first coined by Thomas Huxley:
Quote:
They were quite sure they had attained a certain "gnosis,"–had, more or less successfully, solved the problem of [God's] existence; while I was quite sure I had not, and had a pretty strong conviction that the problem was insoluble. So I took thought, and invented what I conceived to be the appropriate title of "agnostic."

Most dictionaries give at least this definition:
Quote:
Concise Oxford English Dictionary
agnostic
noun a person who believes that nothing is known or can be known of the existence or nature of God.
Quote:
Merriam-Webster Online
Definition of AGNOSTIC
1: a person who holds the view that any ultimate reality (as God) is unknown and probably unknowable; broadly : one who is not committed to believing in either the existence or the nonexistence of God or a god

The two concepts - belief in a deity/deities and belief in the knowability of the existence of a deity/deities - are entirely seperate. Hence, strictly speaking, I identify myself as an agnostic atheist. (Of course, in the same vein, I'm agnostic about the statement "the sun will rise tomorrow" but in practice this is knowable to the same degree of certainty that the non-existence of a god or gods is.)
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mr friendly guy
PostPosted: 2012-01-29 09:55pm 

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Just looking at his Venn diagram, the definition of atheism and agnostic seems a bit off. Atheism is a lack of belief in God, which could manifest as a belief there is no god, but doesn't have to. For example someone could say God might exist, but I won't believe in him/she/it without evidence. This goes in with the burden of proof.

Agnostics are usually ones who say God is unknowable. Based on that you could be agnostic and a theist (ie God is unknowable, but I will believe anyway), and also agnostic and atheist (ie God is unknowable so why should I believe?). Now your definition of agnostic ie lack of belief one way or the other, only works if you define atheist as a belief that God doesn't exist, as opposed to a lack of belief in God. I trust you can see why that is so, since if atheism is a lack of belief in God and theism is, there is no middle ground, its an either / or proposition. Only by redefining atheism in this manner can you get away with it.

Even if try it with the proper definition of atheism, then the term agnostic (one who does not profess a belief in either way) loses meaning. Since they profess neither belief in theism, they must be atheist by definition. If they profess not to belief in a "lack of belief in God", they are either
a) self contradictory, less likely but possible (since they can't discuss a lack of belief in God without acknowledging that such a concept exists, hence not believing in it, seems strange, as opposed to disagreeing with it

b) or if they disagree with the lack of belief in God, then they're theists
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Terralthra
PostPosted: 2012-01-29 10:05pm 

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Joined: 2007-10-05 09:55pm
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I hold a degree in (English, primarily) Language & Discourse and am in a Master's degree program for English Composition. I've studied a fair amount of linguistics and philology, and I have to say I've never drawn a venn diagram for word definitions in my entire academic career.

"Atheism" is typically understood to mean "lack of belief in gods," whether a negative belief ("I do not believe there are any gods") or an affirmative belief ("I believe there are no gods"). From this perspective, agnosticism is arguably a subset of the negative belief set: "I do not believe the question 'Are there gods?' has answers which are knowable by a human/knowable by me/provable. Ergo, I do not believe there are any gods."
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Shadow6
PostPosted: 2012-01-29 10:32pm 

Youngling


Joined: 2009-01-20 09:58pm
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Terralthra wrote:
I hold a degree in (English, primarily) Language & Discourse and am in a Master's degree program for English Composition. I've studied a fair amount of linguistics and philology, and I have to say I've never drawn a venn diagram for word definitions in my entire academic career.

"Atheism" is typically understood to mean "lack of belief in gods," whether a negative belief ("I do not believe there are any gods") or an affirmative belief ("I believe there are no gods"). From this perspective, agnosticism is arguably a subset of the negative belief set: "I do not believe the question 'Are there gods?' has answers which are knowable by a human/knowable by me/provable. Ergo, I do not believe there are any gods."

What about agnostic theists? I would argue that some theists don't 'know' their god exists but have 'faith' that he does.
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madd0ct0r
PostPosted: 2012-01-29 10:36pm 

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Joined: 2008-03-14 07:47am
Posts: 3467
that particular type was what i'd assumed agnostics were. This thread has been useful for at least making me check my dictionary.

It's certainly the most common group I've met who call themselves agnostic.
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D.Turtle
PostPosted: 2012-01-29 11:03pm 

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Joined: 2002-07-26 08:08am
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At this point enough people have jumped on the opening post, so no additional dogpiling on him by others.

Give him a chance to respond first.

People discussing with each other is fine of course.
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darkgoob
PostPosted: 2012-01-30 12:45am 

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Joined: 2012-01-29 05:06pm
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SCRawl wrote:
Without getting too far into your arguments, I can tell you that the labels for your second Venn diagram are misplaced. A quick look should suffice, I don't think that I need to explain it.


Yeah, I screwed the pooch on that one. I fixed it and uploaded the fixed version, thanks for pointing it out.
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darkgoob
PostPosted: 2012-01-30 12:48am 

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Joined: 2012-01-29 05:06pm
Posts: 8
Thanas wrote:
Also, confusion is not really a greek word but stems from latin. con is a variant of the latin cum and fusion comes from the latin word fundere, specifically the particle fusus.

I ask you to demonstrate your degree at this time.


I stand corrected.

Like I said at the end of the post... I wrote it quickly.

(They force you to take both Latin and Greek at the same time in Classics. Please forgive me if at times, my old brain gets confused as to which language a particular root originated from. I'm a bit out of practice, as there aren't too many paying jobs in my field and I work in another one now.)
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darkgoob
PostPosted: 2012-01-30 01:01am 

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Joined: 2012-01-29 05:06pm
Posts: 8
madd0ct0r wrote:
I'm not really sure what you're arguing?
(especially since both your diagrams declare that atheists believe in god. I may not hold am linguistics degree, but that seems... odd)

In a normal conversation, I'd use normal conventional definitions:
Agnostic - one who does not believe in any particular god
Atheist - one who believes that there is NO god.

I fail to see what you're crusading about here.


Well, if everyone agreed with you about the meanings of "atheist" and "agnostic," then I would not be here writing this.

But the thing is, there are certain scientists who really wanted to call themselves "atheists" for whatever reason, even though really, they're agnostics, since they begrudgingly agree that God's non-existence cannot be proven. Take Richard Dawkins for example. He is a scientist, so he really cannot purport to believe in the non-existence of something without solid proof. However, since he feels pretty darn certain there's no God (for his own reasons), he thinks it would be weak of him to just claim to be an "agnostic."

However what is truly weak is the fact that he is not willing to admit that he is, in fact, an agnostic, by definition. What is weak is abusing language and twisting it to your own ends because you're not willing to admit that you are something which you don't really want to be.

If I'm crusading against something, it's that I'm crusading against the misuse of language. Someone has to do it, now that George Carlin is gone.
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darkgoob
PostPosted: 2012-01-30 03:47am 

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Joined: 2012-01-29 05:06pm
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Lord Zentei wrote:
Quote:
First, let me tell you what is happening. While almost any dictionary, such as Merriam Webster's, defines "atheist" as the following: "one who believes that there is no deity," meanwhile there seems to be a war being waged to expand this meaning to encompass all agnostics -- those who lacks a belief in God (whether or not they reject the belief in God as false).

Now, it's very safe to say that the most broadly accepted definition of "atheism" is the belief that God does not exist. This follows from the proper meaning of the suffix, "-ism," which makes an abstract belief into a concrete action. That is why referring to the lack of any sort of belief as "atheism" is a misuse of "-ism," because "-ism" always implies the active practicing of a belief. If you lack a belief, you might be able to be described as actively practicing not believing anything, which is why the term "agnosticism" suits those who do not believe that God exists and also who do not believe that God does not exist.

So, what is your argument here? Are you complaining about people's use of language? Are you waging a counter-crusade or something?


You might put it that way, yes. Well, why did I post it here? This being a community of like-minded individuals to myself, and people I consider intelligent yet reasonable, and game for a nice debate etc., then I felt like it would be a good place to have a go with this argument. Because I have been thinking about it for awhile, but have not yet bounced it off of anyone else.

So really I'm looking to see what kind of holes there might be in my thought process, which you seem to be eager to help me with here.

Quote:
Several things seem to escape you. First, something called "burden of proof". In other words, he who makes a claim is required to prove it.


In mathematics or pure logic, I'd agree that someone must prove what they are claiming. Of course, their proof will not be immediately accepted as a proof by the academic community until it has been verified by independent peers. This verification process can be burdensome, I think.

Meanwhile in science, I think the burden of proof falls even more evenly across the academic community than it does in mathematics. A scientist who puts forth a hypothesis has the burden upon them to perform experiments to support or disprove it. If the experiment is not repeatable by others, or its methods are not described adequately, then any claims made based on its results are viewed with extreme skepticism. The burden that falls upon the first scientist is to explain to other scientists how to perform the same experiment in order to verify the original results. This is why we have peer-reviewed journals, etc. This is why when a group of scientists publishes a paper claiming some particles exceeded the speed of light, competing teams of scientists try to verify it.

Quote:
Second, the non-equality of claims. In other words, the disbelief in something whose existence is not demonstrated does not bear the same burden of proof as the claim for its existence, due to the no-proof-of-a-negative principle.


Disbelief in anything requires no proof at all.

This is because disbelief is not a claim at all -- really, it's the lack of a claim. Well, unless you want to say that disbelief is a claim about ones own inner thoughts, like: "I disbelieve in God." Well, someone who claims to disbelieve in God hasn't claimed anything about God, just about what they don't believe. And really, we just have to take their word for it. (Well, I guess we could use a polygraph to see if they're lying, but I'm personally skeptical of those things.)

But yeah, I agree that if someone claims something, they should provide evidence for their claim (if it's scientific) or proof for their claim (if it's mathematical).

I do not know what the "no-proof-of-a-negative principle" is. But if I made the negative statement like, "You did not just skip reading this," then if you try to argue no proof can be offered for that statement, it will automatically be proven.

Quote:
Third, Occam's Razor and its application to an infinite being.


Occam was a Franciscan friar and theologian. His philosophy was counter to that of Plato, who believed in "forms" that exist independently of real things. He also believed that the existence of the soul or of God could never be proven. His "razor" was the idea that one should eliminate unnecessary elements from an explanation of phenomena. That's why he did not think things like Plato's "forms" should be considered to exist, since they are not necessary to exist in order to explain phenomena, and there is no evidence for their existence. He did however believe that God, an infinite being, was the only unobservable ontological reality.

Meanwhile scientists today use Occam's Razor as a sort of guiding principle in formulating hypotheses. The classic example was how much simpler it is to explain observations about the motion of the planets if you make the sun the center, rather than the Earth.

However Occam's Razor no more than just this: a guiding principle. It is not a law of logic. It does not magically provide any new or special information about things that are unprovable and unobservable. Occam's Razor does not see into Schrodinger's box, nor does it peer into regions before the big bang. It does not sprinkle pixie dust and suddenly strengthen certain claims and statements about what came prior to the big bang, which are based purely on speculation and conjecture.

Richard Dawkins tries to use Occam's Razor to make statements about the probability of the existence of God, which is fallacious. The fallacy here is argumentum ad populum -- Occam's Razor is popularly accepted as a tool of reasoning, even though it has no logical consequence on this argument. Occam's Razor as it is used in science is for evaluating competing hypotheses to explain scientific observations. Meanwhile, there are no scientific observations to support whether God exists, or he doesn't. It's safe to say there is no way to test whether or not there is a God or thousands of Gods, etc. On the other hand it is possible, though very difficult and time-consuming, to test if there is a teapot orbiting the sun between Earth and Mars. Dawkins tries to say that Occam's Razor gives us information about the probability that God exists. However this is a fallacious argument because either God exists, or he doesn't. If he doesn't, then there is a 100% chance that he doesn't. Otherwise, there is a 100% chance that he does. Probability itself is not useful or even applicable in discussions of the existence of something that cannot be tested for and which either absolutely is, or isn't. (Unless we want to say that God is like Schrodinger's cat, and he both exists and does not exist at the same time until observed, at which case there is a certain chance he will be there!)

Quote:
Fourth, the difference between the implications of the use of scientific evidence vs. logical deduction. Hint: pure use of the latter CANNOT make definitive statements about the external universe, and the former is NEVER absolute, so the term "agnostic atheist" makes perfect sense in that context.


I think that by "the external universe," you mean, "the observable universe." I.e., whatever is accessible by the methods of scientific observation. Because indeed, scientific evidence only exists for the observable universe. But what do you call those aspects of reality that will always be inaccessible to science? Are they not part of the universe?

I feel that, any rational, logical, scientifically-minded person should only conclude that the existence of God cannot be proven nor disproved, and further, that no logically or scientifically valid statements regarding the probability of the existence of God can be made. If, through direct experiences, or through faith, one has arrived at a belief in God, then one is a theist (in the most simple sense of the word). If one does not know or believe if there's a God or not, one is agnostic. If through direct experiences, or through faith, one has arrived at the belief that there is no God, then one is an atheist. (Obviously this is from the Judeo-Christian standpoint, but similar meaning can be explained for multi-God scenarios, etc.)

But what sort of -ism do we call the belief that there can be a probability associated with God's existence? For indeed, this view is just as religious as the belief that there absolutely is or is not a God. We could call them probabilists and aprobabilists, depending on if they think God is likely or unlikely. Got a better idea? I'd much rather be creative, and be a neologian, than to muck up existing words that already mean something. I'm not against people believing whatever they want to religiously choose to believe, such as this belief in the probability of God, but it piques me that these people are trying to take our existing words and twist their meanings around.

Language functions so much better when words have discrete, non-overlapping meanings. Instead of confusing the issue, and making these various words overlap, then people like Dawkins should make up new words for the new concepts they are putting forth, like my suggestions: probabilism and aprobabilism. Neologism is fun!

That said, if you choose to believe in the probability of God's existence, I think that's a perfectly acceptable religious choice on your behalf. But please don't call it "atheism," "agnosticism," "atheistic agnosticism," or "agnostic atheism" -- because that's just confusing. I mean, considering that Christians also do not possess proof of God, by your logic they should be called "agnostic theists." Sigh.

Quote:
BTW: atheism literally means "without god".


No, it literally doesn't mean that. Atheism is a noun, whereas "without God" is an adjectival phrase. The suffix, -ism, means an active practice of some doctrine, belief, cultural practice, set of behaviors, etc. The prefix, a-, affixed to a root inverses it, making it the deprivation of that thing (hence why it's called "alpha privative" -- short for "deprivative"). Therefore "atheism" means the active practice of the belief that God does not exist. Similarly, barbarism describes what goes on amongst actively practicing barbarians. Neologism is the active practice of making up new words. Capitalism is the active adherence to the idea of a free market economy, etc.

Anyone who does hold an opinion regarding whether or not God exists, therefore, cannot be called an "atheist." Because they are not actively practicing any belief regarding God, one way or the other. The only belief they are actively ascribing to is that they do not know if God exists -- hence why they are called "agnostics." They are actively following the belief of "agnosticism" -- the belief that they do not know if God exists, or if he doesn't.

Richard Dawkins is, by the literal definition, NOT an atheist. He is an agnostic, strictly speaking. Even Bertrand Russell admitted he was an agnostic. He is famously quoted: "I ought to call myself an agnostic; but, for all practical purposes, I am an atheist. I do not think the existence of the Christian God any more probable than the existence of the Gods of Olympus or Valhalla. To take another illustration: nobody can prove that there is not between the Earth and Mars a china teapot revolving in an elliptical orbit, but nobody thinks this sufficiently likely to be taken into account in practice. I think the Christian God just as unlikely."

Bertrand Russell was an "aprobabilist," to use my own neologism. Pick your own though, if you have something better. Also, he was wrong about the teapot, clearly, since we can easily imagine a future where enough robots operating for a long enough period of time with sufficiently powerful image sensors and detectors could find such a teapot, not to mention, giant squids and lots of other neat stuff. Also, I consider the preservation of language and meaning to be a "practical purpose" and so I must also disagree with Mr. Russell that he is, "for all practical purposes... an atheist." He's not an atheist for the practical purpose of conserving the literal meaning of "atheist" so that it remains a useful word in our language.

Quote:
Moreover, as you no doubt know, Christians were initially derided as atheists by the pagans due to their rejection of the reality of the old gods, so broad use of the term isn't exactly new.


If by "pagans" you mean the Romans, then I am aware that the refusal of some Christians to worship other Gods than their God was punished quite severely by the Romans in many cases. I was not aware that they actually called them "atheists" however, what is your source for that? I'm not really doubting you, since it seems plausible enough. I'm more just curious. Also, if you talking about some other group than the Romans, I'd be interested to know what it was.

Quote:
Long story short, this looks like the typical agnostic/crypto-theist whining about language in order to claim that atheists are just as biased as believers.


First, what did I do to warrant such an ad-hominem attack?

Second, atheists literally are believers, so how could I make any claims comparing the bias of atheists to the bias of believers?

Third, biased towards what?

Anyway, heh, you really meant: ..."in order to claim that atheism requires just as much faith as theism." ... right? In that case, I'd say they are both based on faith, but I think most religions in their strictly doctrinal forms require a lot more faith than simple atheism or what I am calling "probabilism." I think that certainly, atheism and probabilism are the choice professed beliefs for most scientists for many extremely valid reasons, but I don't think any of those reasons include "logic" (pseudo-logic at best).

If a scientist like Russell or Dawkins wants to appear to be a strong, clear thinker to his colleagues, then while they are having drinks at a conference, he cannot openly just say, "I'm open to the possibility of there being a God that created everything." That would be like a Navy Seal, sitting around with a bunch of other Navy Seals, saying, "I might convert to Islam." Because now you are a potential threat in some way. When you consider all the active harm religious creationists do to the scientific community, particularly regarding evolution, I completely understand why people like Dawkins have to draw a very firm line in the sand -- as illogical, and detrimental to the meanings of common words as it might be. But you must admit that even Bertrand Russell openly admits here to being a crypto-agnostic parading as an atheist. Dawkins is the same way.

This is the same reason so many bisexual people simply claim to be straight while they are having drinks with the team after a game, scoping out chicks at the bar. No one is going to say, "I'm open to the possibility of that dude over there." Because now you are a potential threat in some way to everyone in the shower room. An evolutionary biologist cannot maintain that he is an agnostic because WHAT IF HE'S REALLY A THEIST IN DISGUISE? (Crypto-theist as you put it... nice neologism... yours? Could we call them "closet theists"?)

Quote:
Incidentally, both of your Venn diagrams are mislabeled.


Fix'd. Hit refresh and make sure you clear your cache for that page (on Safari on Mac, it's option-refresh).

Let me know if I made any other mistakes, thanks!
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darkgoob
PostPosted: 2012-01-30 04:19am 

Redshirt


Joined: 2012-01-29 05:06pm
Posts: 8
Lord Zentei wrote:
madd0ct0r wrote:
In a normal conversation, I'd use normal conventional definitions:
Agnostic - one who does not believe in any particular god
Atheist - one who believes that there is NO god.

This is not what the terms mean.

Agnostic = without knowledge (as in, without knowledge of whether god exists).
Atheist = without god (either definitively believing that none exists, or lacking belief).

Complaint-prone agnostics such as OP deny that "atheist" can include "lacking belief in god". Other than that, obviously the two terms are not mutually exclusive.


(A) I haven't identified myself as being any -ism here. For all you know I'm an atheist or a Buddhist. But the fact that you automatically believed I was agnostic, without evidence either way, goes to show how strongly founded your sense of reasoning is in logic and evidence.

(B) The alpha privative does not modify "-ism." It doesn't work that way. When you put the alpha privative in front of an -ism, it does not imply the lack of belief or lack of practice etc. All it does is modify the root of the word.

For example: "atomism" is not "the lack of belief that there are no fundamental particles sans any belief to the contrary." Rather, it is the doctrine and belief that at some level, matter can be reduced to base components (atoms, from the Greek root for "to cut" plus the alpha privative... so, "unable to be cut"... or at least, as we have learned, very hard to cut :D).

Another example: "acosmism" is not "the lack of belief that the universe is real," but rather, it's the active belief that there is no reality to things.

Now there are times when it wouldn't make a difference to the meaning of the word if the alpha privative affected the -ism suffix and the root. Take for example "achromism," the state of being colorless. You could also say it's the lack of having a colored state, and you'd also be right. But that's just a happy coincidence; it's not because the alpha privative actually had an effect on the suffix, -ism. "Anarchism" is probably another example of this, for what is the difference between actively practicing having no government, and not practicing having one?

But in the case of the belief in God, there is quite a difference between actively believing there is not a God, and on the other hand, not believing there is a God. The two are mutually exclusive and incompatible. Because the latter definition leaves the door open for the belief in the possibility that there is a God.

I mean, seriously, in all seriousness: what is the point of the term, "atheist," if it can refer someone who does not deny that God might exist?
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darkgoob
PostPosted: 2012-01-30 04:31am 

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Joined: 2012-01-29 05:06pm
Posts: 8
Terralthra wrote:
I hold a degree in (English, primarily) Language & Discourse and am in a Master's degree program for English Composition. I've studied a fair amount of linguistics and philology, and I have to say I've never drawn a venn diagram for word definitions in my entire academic career.

"Atheism" is typically understood to mean "lack of belief in gods," whether a negative belief ("I do not believe there are any gods") or an affirmative belief ("I believe there are no gods"). From this perspective, agnosticism is arguably a subset of the negative belief set: "I do not believe the question 'Are there gods?' has answers which are knowable by a human/knowable by me/provable. Ergo, I do not believe there are any gods."


Well, I know that some people do hold this view. Some dictionaries have the definition of "lack of belief in gods," while others do not.

But I would be willing to bet $1,000 that if you asked 100 random people on the street, or 100 high school juniors, etc., to define agnosticism and atheism, then the vast majority would define these words as the first Venn diagram illustrates: atheism is the belief that there's no God, whereas agnosticism is the belief that you don't know enough say whether or not there is a God (or more simply put, it's when you don't know if there's a God).

I would also bet that most people view agnosticism as a "middle ground" between two poles: atheism and religious belief.

I would bet if you asked them if an agnostic person is necessarily an atheist, they would say no.

Personally, I don't see any value in considering agnostics to be atheists. Not only does it make zero sense based on the literal roots of the words, but also, it just confuses people. Regular people.

Now, I do not think that atheism is the same as antitheism. I feel that antitheism is when you are against religion itself, as opposed to simply believing there is no God. An atheist can tolerate religion, and even go to Church and be perfectly happy getting whatever valuable moral lessons might be had (but without believing in the mumbo-jumbo around it). Meanwhile an antitheist cannot tolerate religion and is against other people believing in God.

So in that sense I think that Richard Dawkins is an agnostic antitheist, for instance. But he's not an atheist, not in my book.
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darkgoob
PostPosted: 2012-01-30 04:35am 

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Joined: 2012-01-29 05:06pm
Posts: 8
Shadow6 wrote:
Frankly, I don't care one way or the other whether the more technically correct term to describe lack of theism (whether active denial or lack of belief) is 'atheism' or 'nontheism'. Language is a fluid thing and words don't necessarily hold to their etymological meaning. I personally use the 'lack of belief' definition of atheism.

However the term 'agnostic', as originally definied, does not mean "lack of belief one way or the other", as you put it. It is instead a statement about the unknowability of a deity's extistence. The term was first coined by Thomas Huxley:
Quote:
They were quite sure they had attained a certain "gnosis,"–had, more or less successfully, solved the problem of [God's] existence; while I was quite sure I had not, and had a pretty strong conviction that the problem was insoluble. So I took thought, and invented what I conceived to be the appropriate title of "agnostic."

Most dictionaries give at least this definition:
Quote:
Concise Oxford English Dictionary
agnostic
noun a person who believes that nothing is known or can be known of the existence or nature of God.
Quote:
Merriam-Webster Online
Definition of AGNOSTIC
1: a person who holds the view that any ultimate reality (as God) is unknown and probably unknowable; broadly : one who is not committed to believing in either the existence or the nonexistence of God or a god

The two concepts - belief in a deity/deities and belief in the knowability of the existence of a deity/deities - are entirely seperate. Hence, strictly speaking, I identify myself as an agnostic atheist. (Of course, in the same vein, I'm agnostic about the statement "the sun will rise tomorrow" but in practice this is knowable to the same degree of certainty that the non-existence of a god or gods is.)


You make a very good point, and you actually are supporting my argument that the alpha privative cannot modify the -ism. Because indeed you are correct that agnosticism is the active belief that one does not possess or cannot possess knowledge about God (the fact that the knowledge relates to God is implied). Because the lack of knowledge about God results directly in the lack of belief in God, then by proxy agnosticism is commonly used to simply refer to the state of lacking belief in God -- even though that's not what it literally means.

-=DG=-
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Thanas
PostPosted: 2012-01-30 08:11am 

Magister


Joined: 2004-06-26 07:49pm
Posts: 25406
darkgoob wrote:
Thanas wrote:
Also, confusion is not really a greek word but stems from latin. con is a variant of the latin cum and fusion comes from the latin word fundere, specifically the particle fusus.

I ask you to demonstrate your degree at this time.


I stand corrected.

Like I said at the end of the post... I wrote it quickly.

(They force you to take both Latin and Greek at the same time in Classics. Please forgive me if at times, my old brain gets confused as to which language a particular root originated from. I'm a bit out of practice, as there aren't too many paying jobs in my field and I work in another one now.)


It also is not a particle, but a participle. I was wondering if you would pick up on that (as anybody who is really schooled in the languages would).

Again, I require you at this point to show me proof of your degree. PM it to me if you don't want it publicly known, but I have seen too many people claim degrees they did not have on this board.

Failure to do so may result in a ban.
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mr friendly guy
PostPosted: 2012-01-30 10:08am 

The Doctor


Joined: 2004-12-12 11:55pm
Posts: 8116
Location: In a 1960s police telephone box somewhere in Australia
darkgoob wrote:
(A) I haven't identified myself as being any -ism here. For all you know I'm an atheist or a Buddhist. But the fact that you automatically believed I was agnostic, without evidence either way, goes to show how strongly founded your sense of reasoning is in logic and evidence.


So is Lord Zentai wrong? Why don't you state what you are and once and for all show he is wrong. The fact you choose not to do so, when such a simple task would strongly support your position is quite telling.
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Shadow6
PostPosted: 2012-01-30 10:36am 

Youngling


Joined: 2009-01-20 09:58pm
Posts: 146
It's slightly ambiguous, but I still don't think you have your Venn diagram (which is technically an Euler diagram, as it doesn't have a region for each possible combination of inclusion/exclusion from each set) correct. Currently, it still appears that “Negative atheism/Agnosticism” is a subset of “Positive Atheism”, unless the vertical line between “Lack of a belief one way or the other.” and “Belief that there is no God.” is the divider, in which case there is an unlabelled area in the left part of the ellipse.

It would also be helpful if you could clarify what you are arguing. I see at least two main points:
  1. The terms ‘atheism’ and ‘agnosticism’ are misused in their meaning.
  2. Scientists (such as Dawkins) should not identify as ‘positive atheists’ but as ‘agnostics’ (your definition of agnostic). To do otherwise would not be scientifically honest.

Let’s dispel a few things straight away:
darkgoob wrote:
But the thing is, there are certain scientists who really wanted to call themselves "atheists" for whatever reason, even though really, they're agnostics, since they begrudgingly agree that God's non-existence cannot be proven. Take Richard Dawkins for example. He is a scientist, so he really cannot purport to believe in the non-existence of something without solid proof. However, since he feels pretty darn certain there's no God (for his own reasons), he thinks it would be weak of him to just claim to be an "agnostic."

However what is truly weak is the fact that he is not willing to admit that he is, in fact, an agnostic, by definition. What is weak is abusing language and twisting it to your own ends because you're not willing to admit that you are something which you don't really want to be.

darkgoob wrote:
If a scientist like Russell or Dawkins wants to appear to be a strong, clear thinker to his colleagues, then while they are having drinks at a conference, he cannot openly just say, "I'm open to the possibility of there being a God that created everything." That would be like a Navy Seal, sitting around with a bunch of other Navy Seals, saying, "I might convert to Islam." Because now you are a potential threat in some way. When you consider all the active harm religious creationists do to the scientific community, particularly regarding evolution, I completely understand why people like Dawkins have to draw a very firm line in the sand -- as illogical, and detrimental to the meanings of common words as it might be. But you must admit that even Bertrand Russell openly admits here to being a crypto-agnostic parading as an atheist. Dawkins is the same way.

Regarding Dawkins, I'm just going to quote the relevant section from The God Delusion:
The God Delusion, pg 47-52 wrote:
I'd be surprised to meet many people in category 7 ["Strong atheist. 'I know there is no God, with the same conviction as Jung "knows" there is one.'"], but I include it for symmetry with category 1 ["Strong theist. 100 per cent probability of God. In the words of C. G. Jung, 'I do not believe, I know.'"], which is well populated. It is in the nature of faith that one is capable, like Jung, of holding a belief without adequate reason to do so (Jung also believed that particular books on his shelf spontaneously exploded with a loud bang). Atheists do not have faith; and reason alone could not propel one to total conviction that anything definitely does not exist. Hence category 7 is in practice rather emptier than its opposite number, category 1, which has many devoted inhabitants. I count myself in category 6, but leaning towards 7 - I am agnostic only to the extent that I am agnostic about fairies at the bottom of the garden.

[...]

Another way to express that error is in terms of the burden of proof, and in this form it is pleasingly demonstrated by Bertrand Russell's parable of the celestial teapot:
Quote:
Many orthodox people speak as though it were the business of sceptics to disprove received dogmas rather than of dogmatists to prove them. This is, of course, a mistake. If I were to suggest that between the Earth and Mars there is a china teapot revolving about the sun in an elliptical orbit, nobody would be able to disprove my assertion provided I were careful to add that the teapot is too small to be revealed even by our most powerful telescopes. But if I were to go on to say that, since my assertion cannot be disproved, it is intolerable presumption on the part of human reason to doubt it, I should rightly be thought to be talking nonsense. If, however, the existence of such a teapot were affirmed in ancient books, taught as the sacred truth every Sunday, and instilled into the minds of children at school, hesitation to believe in its existence would become a mark of eccentricity and entitle the doubter to the attentions of the psychiatrist in an enlightened age or of the Inquisitor in an earlier time.

We would not waste time saying so because nobody, so far as I know, worships teapots; but, if pressed, we would not hesitate to declare our strong belief that there is positively no orbiting teapot. Yet strictly we should all be teapot agnostics: we cannot prove, for sure, that there is no celestial teapot. In practice, we move away from teapot agnosticism towards a-teapotisin.

Dawkins is a self-confessed agnostic, according to the strict definition. I could continue to quote Dawkins, but I think it is generally understood, whenever he says "There is no god", it comes with the unspoken caveat "almost certainly". He is also correct in identifying himself as an atheist, at least according to the definition of the term in 'skeptical' circles.

I dare say this is true of the vast majority of 'strong atheist' scientists and would challenge you to identify any who have explicitly said something to the effect of "there is no possibility of the existence of a god", and not merely "there is no god".

Quote:
I feel that, any rational, logical, scientifically-minded person should only conclude that the existence of God cannot be proven nor disproved, and further, that no logically or scientifically valid statements regarding the probability of the existence of God can be made.

Why? If this is indeed what you believe, then you should be entirely consistent: either this hypothetical god of yours is entirely non-interactive with our universe and hence irrelevant or no logical or scientific statements can be made about the probability of anything.

darkgoob wrote:
That said, if you choose to believe in the probability of God's existence, I think that's a perfectly acceptable religious choice on your behalf. But please don't call it "atheism," "agnosticism," "atheistic agnosticism," or "agnostic atheism" -- because that's just confusing. I mean, considering that Christians also do not possess proof of God, by your logic they should be called "agnostic theists." Sigh.

Possessing proof of something is not the same as believing you 'know' something. Some theists believe they possess proof (e.g. they might believe scripture to be the inerrant word of God, nevermind circular reasoning (but no one said theism was rational)). Indeed, some theists don't profess to 'know' that their god exists, merely that they have faith in its existence. They perfectly fit the description of 'agnostic theist'.

darkgoob wrote:
You make a very good point, and you actually are supporting my argument that the alpha privative cannot modify the -ism. Because indeed you are correct that agnosticism is the active belief that one does not possess or cannot possess knowledge about God (the fact that the knowledge relates to God is implied). Because the lack of knowledge about God results directly in the lack of belief in God, then by proxy agnosticism is commonly used to simply refer to the state of lacking belief in God -- even though that's not what it literally means.

I agree that the term ‘agnostic’ commonly carries the implication that one also lacks a belief in a deity. However at this point I am confused – you admit that this is not the technically correct definition. You seem to be asserting that agnostic nontheists such as Dawkins should identify (purely?) as agnostic, despite the term not covering theism or lack thereof, and that agnostics shouldn't identify as 'atheists'.

Hence it would seem your only point of contention left is whether 'atheist' means nontheist or explicit denial of existence. If it is the former, then there is no problem. If it is the latter, then 'nontheist' is more accurate than 'agnostic'.
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Terralthra
PostPosted: 2012-01-30 01:34pm 

Sith Marauder


Joined: 2007-10-05 09:55pm
Posts: 3665
Location: San Francisco, California, United States
darkgoob wrote:
But the thing is, there are certain scientists who really wanted to call themselves "atheists" for whatever reason, even though really, they're agnostics, since they begrudgingly agree that God's non-existence cannot be proven. Take Richard Dawkins for example. He is a scientist, so he really cannot purport to believe in the non-existence of something without solid proof. However, since he feels pretty darn certain there's no God (for his own reasons), he thinks it would be weak of him to just claim to be an "agnostic."


By the same logic, one would have to say one is "agnostic" that the sun will rise in the east in the morning. One can not prove it will do so, only inductively indicate that the sum of past observation indicates it is overwhelmingly likely to do so. All scientific knowledge is indicated by probability. Things that are "known" are things for which evidence is overwhelmingly on one side.

By that token, for example, I can say that I do not believe there is any link between vaccines and autism. I can't fundamentally disprove such a link, but I can show numerous studies indicating no link, even studies which set out to show such a link. Like all scientific knowledge, it is probabilistic knowledge.
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Spoonist
PostPosted: 2012-01-30 05:04pm 

Jedi Council Member


Joined: 2002-09-20 11:15am
Posts: 2399
This is stupid.

1) With these silly interpretations there would be no atheists. Only different degrees of agnostics who would then have to be renamed etc. Making any such point redundant and pain verbal diarhea.
2) Since theists can't prove stuff either about other religions than their own they would also be agnostics. So if taken to its "logical" conclusion this arguement will lead to everyone being different types of agnostics. Which again is verbal diarea.
3) The diagrams and its implacations are missing a lot of factors.
3a) Theistic agnostics.
3b) I couldn't give a damn agnostics (ie who doesn't care either way)
3c) Non-informed atheists (ie never told about a concept of god/s)
3d) Atheistic theists (there is no god but the concept of god/s for morality and tradition must be perpetuated)
etc
That "venn" diagram would be a lot more complex had an actual scholar made it.
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