Lord Zentei wrote:
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.
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.
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.
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!)
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.
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.
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.
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"?)
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!