In the recent past, in AN discussions, I have noticed two different opinions about what constitutes atheism.

One opinion holds that all humans are born atheists and they may later become religionists or confirm themselves as atheists, as they grow up. This seems like a transient atheism. This supposes that not knowing about the existence or otherwise of god or gods is also enough to qualify as an atheist. To be called an atheist, it is not necessary to thoughtfully, firmly, state that no supernatural exists. It is not necessary posses a firm belief or knowledge to qualify to be an atheist. Knowledge, therefore, is not an essential constituent of atheism.

What is then the status of a less-than-year-old child that is made to fold its hand in worship by the suggestion of an elder? Does this child remain an atheist? If lack of knowledge of a god can be atheism, then, conversely, can lack of knowledge of atheism make a child a religionist? Can a mentally retarded person whose mental status is the same as an infant, be counted as an atheist? This opinion would prohibit a person from being an agnostic till he acquires knowledge but allow him to be an atheist till then! A transcendent atheist will feel no importance of science, the greatest support of atheism today.

This opinion is extremely helpful for winning an argument about natural status of atheism.

The second opinion about what constitutes atheism states that atheism must be a conscious decision. An atheist must be able to proclaim that he does not believe in god, no such thing as god exists, that god is a man’s creation, a fiction. Therefore, atheism is a knowledge-based argument. This opinion will not support “natural atheism” theory but will lend atheism tremendous weight of firmness arising out of knowledge. Atheism thus defined will not be a transient atheism but will be a potentially firm belief, reversible only in the most unlikely event of knowledge supporting belief in god.  This definition of atheism will permit secularism, agnosticism as precursors to atheism, as it’s natural steps. Science can be a strong part of the support structure of such an atheism.

These are basically the arguments of the two sides. Which opinion is more correct? Which one would you support and why?

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Replies to This Discussion

Madhukar, I am very sorry, I didn't include your name as author of Two Atheisms. It is a powerful article and evoked some comments on my part ... that is the power of your writing, it evokes further thinking on my part. 

Joan Denoo

Absolutely no need to feel sorry. The poinion matters and it is good that we both agree on this matter.

"Which opinion is more correct?"

The one that doesn't ignore parsimony/Okham's Razor -  and isn't based on the logical fallacies; wishful thinking, shifting of burden of proof, equivocation, moving the goal-posts, post hoc ergo proper hoc, etc.

Let's look at the second opinion:

"What is then the status of a less-than-year-old child that is made to fold its hand in worship by the suggestion of an elder?

A pawn. 

Does this child remain an atheist?"

Yes, it should be blatantly obvious in that ->"made to fold its hand" is not a willful act, as such does not remotely imply -> "in worship". You can also place a micrometer in an infants hands, but a claim that he is measuring anything is false.

"If lack of knowledge of a god can be atheism, then, conversely, can lack of knowledge of atheism make a child a religionist?"

Three things: equivocation, shifting of burden of proof, irrelevant conclusion.

  1. Atheism is not a position of knowledge, it is a non-belief.
  2. A non-belief is not a contrapositive claim, it is a negation.
  3. Atheism is not a religious position, there are religions that don't involve belief in god(s).

Can a mentally retarded person whose mental status is the same as an infant, be counted as an atheist?

Yes, though many theists would say no.  

This opinion would prohibit a person from being an agnostic till he acquires knowledge but allow him to be an atheist till then!

Equivocation again, as well as self-contradictory.

A transcendent atheist will feel no importance of science, the greatest support of atheism today.

Actually no, science is neutral on the matter of theism/atheism, as science doesn't consider the existence of supernatural deities/supernatural moral agencies/supernatural prime causes -> of any kind. 

"This opinion is extremely helpful for winning an argument about natural status of atheism."

Only if the person contesting it is unaware of how intellectually dishonest the argument is, and can't spot the various logical fallacies employed.

"The second opinion about what constitutes atheism states that atheism must be a conscious decision."

It also employs many of the same fallacies often used by creationists and theists, so it also affirms their more bogus arguments and conclusions.

"An atheist must be able to proclaim that he does not believe in god, no such thing as god exists, that god is a man’s creation, a fiction."

No, as a matter of fact, in some parts of the world, atheists who proclaim their non-belief are put to death -> their silence doesn't mean they're theists. Further, atheists who proclaim "no such thing as god exists" are positing a contrapositive claim, as such they are voluntarily assuming burden of proof = how do you prove something's non-existence? As for, "that god is a man’s creation, a fiction." is quite often proclaimed by theist fundamentalists about all other theist gods, but their own.

"Therefore, atheism is a…."

Sorry, there's nothing behind your therefore, but smoke, mirrors and confirmation bias.

We're also born, by default; non-stamp collectors.

A non-stamp collector can be a life-long non-stamp collector, even if they never even acquire the knowledge that there are people who collect stamps.

We are all, by default; born atheist.

Richard Ewald

One thing I would applaud about your reply is that it tries to anwser all my questions. However, there are many points in your reply that raise more questions, twhich makes it difficult to reply all of them in one answer. If you do not mind, I wuld like to debate this matter, split in small questions, and asked and answered only one at a time.

Okay...

 

Let's start with the title of this thread, "Can atheism be a "child's opinion?"

This title is misleading (loaded question), as it presupposes your conclusion that an atheist position alone constitutes an opinion. "Opinion" implies judgement; judgement implies "belief" (atheism is a non-belief). Complicating things (unnecessarily) further, in your conclusion, you conflate "opinion" with knowledge. "Opinions" do not require facts or knowledge.

As such, your question: "Can atheism be a "child's opinion?" can only be answered; no. However, this does not address the question: Are we all born atheists? As such, any conclusion of the second question based on the answer of the first question is a syllogistic error in reasoning (Illicit Major).

So, which question are you asking?

  • Can atheism be a "child's opinion?
  • Are we all born atheists?


 

Richard, I like your approach and I would like to learn from you about logical debate; this is going to be an interesting experience for me. 

You wrote:

"Opinion" implies judgement;

"judgement implies "belief" (atheism is a non-belief). 

"you conflate "opinion" with knowledge. "Opinions" do not require facts or knowledge."

"Are we all born atheists?"

If atheism is a non-belief, then a newborn cannot have judgement, belief, knowledge, or facts. Therefore, no one is born an atheist. 

A newborn certainly has opinions, but it is about hunger, wet, cold, hot, etc., but no thoughts of theism. 

"If atheism is a non-belief, then a newborn cannot have judgement, belief, knowledge, or facts. Therefore, no one is born an atheist."

A non-belief is not:

  • a judgement
  • a belief
  • knowledge
  • or fact

A non-belief does not require any of the above.

A newborn certainly has opinions, but it is about hunger, wet, cold, hot, etc., but no thoughts of theism.

Hunger, wet, cold, hot; are not opinions they're sensations. When an infant reacts to any sensation they find unpleasant (prior to acquiring language skills) they cry. Crying is not a; judgment, opinion, belief, form of knowledge or expression of fact. Crying is an emotional response to negative stimuli.

"I would like to learn from you about logical debate…"

Here's a start:

Learn to spot (and not employ) the fallacy of equivocation.

Is non-belief just a belief?

Let's contrast and compare...

Belief is the psychological state in which an individual holds a proposition or premise to be true.

~ The Stanford Encyclopedia of Philosophy

…it should be obvious - a non-belief is not a belief.

It gets better, theism is a specific type of belief; existential belief in.


Okay, what's that mean exactly?

To claim belief in the existence of an entity or phenomenon with the implied need to justify its claim to existence. It is often used when the entity is not real, *or its existence is in doubt. "He believes in witches and ghosts" or "many children believe in fairies" are typical examples.

The Oxford Companion to Philosophy

Take special note of "the implied need to justify its claim to existence".


"Burden of proof" is where atheism (non-belief) becomes the default position (*null).

The burden of proof is always on the person asserting something. Shifting the burden of proof, a special case of Argumentum ad Ignorantiam, is the fallacy of putting the burden of proof on the person who denies or questions the assertion. The source of the fallacy is the assumption that something is true unless proven otherwise. 

It's important to not that the converse argument: "It must be false because it isn't true" is also committing the same fallacy.

Don't fall into the trap of committing the same fallacy by allowing that atheism means, "The belief that there is no god"; by understanding that the burden of proof lies with the affirmative claim.

It doesn't make sense, …think about it. The negation of this claim is:

Theism - the non-belief that there is no god.

Don't fall into this trap by your own flawed reasoning, …not all theists are ignorant, they'll take advantage of the mistake by letting it slide, why? It puts you at a disadvantage, …and it doesn't even make sense.

Excellent point!

Another facet of this is:

Don't volunteer to "prove a negative".

No need to

Don't try to get away with "you can't prove a negative" either.

No need to (and it's not a universal axiom)i.e. "no, I just checked, it isn't raining".

If a theist tries to goad you with, "Okay, disprove there is a god" or attempts to shift burden of proof subtly by the ol' ploy, "Sure, I can't prove there is a god, but you can't prove there isn't one".

Put the ball back in their court:

"You haven't offered me any proof of god to disprove, the burden of proof is with the affirmative claim".

Greg,

If I mention that the world will end in 2012, then my coworker will reasonably want more evidence to substantiate my claim.

If some substantiating is required to prove a point, then an infant that can not substantiate anything is neither a theist or an atheist. How can we then assert that we are born atheists?

 

Madhukar, I continue to struggle with this, even though I have rehearsed the words. 

To me, if I believe something I have thought about it and come to a conclusion about ... whatever. I use cognitive processes. 

An atheist is a non-believer. Does that imply the day I walked out of church feeling totally abandoned that all I needed was to "not-believe"? That implies all those years of trying so hard, working and struggling, and coping, and putting up with disgusting behaviors, all I had to do was not believe? 

"I don't believe there is a god and I have no obligation to submit!"

BREAKTHROUGH!!!!!!!!!!!!!

Thanks everybody! I'm 76 and free of that burden at last. 

Jeeze, I got an A in logic but it was because I memorized answers. Now, let me think. 

To claim belief in the existence of god implies need to justify its claim to existence. 

Joe claims to believe in the existence of god; 

Joe needs to justify Joe's claim of god's existence?   or

Joe needs to justify god's existence?

The burden of proof is on Joe.

Joe does not believe there is no god. 

Bill, the atheist (non-believer) has no burden of proof. 

Bill does not believer there is a god and has no burden of proof. 

Am I missing something here? 

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