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There's a fundamental disconnect between atheists and the word "atheist". Part of this is because there isn't complete agreement on what the word means.

  • Lack of belief in God
  • Lack of belief in God's existence

Lack of belief in God could simply mean a choice not to believe in God because he is cruel or undesirable for some reason -- but does not specifically address the question of God's existence.

Lack of belief in God's existence is more specific but still leaves the door open for interpretation because the phrase "lack of belief" is ambiguous. It might be a matter of degree or preponderance of evidence and not an absolute statement of disbelief. A more definitive position would leave no doubts:

  • Denial of God's existence

Denial of God's existence leaves no wiggle-room for interpretation. It's a flat-out position that God does not exist.

It's been my experience that most long-time atheists do not deny God's existence and adopt a more scientific stance which is willing to consider any argument or evidence that might change their minds. They don't want to make claims they can't back up. They understand the need for rational integrity. Just as the unqualified claim of God's existence is an article of faith, so is the unqualified claim of God's nonexistence. There's no evidence either way. An atheist can claim that there is no evidence for God or the supernatural (and never has been) and that there's no compelling reason to believe there ever will be. But there is a possibility -- however vanishingly small -- that there could be. A creator God is not an impossible proposition given what we know thus far. Existence . . . whether it's God's, the universe's or ours -- is an ineffable mystery; the greatest mystery of all. Certainty is an illusion and a claim that science is careful to avoid. Our understanding of the universe has undergone multiple paradigm shifts and will experience more in the future.

Whether you're absolutely certain that God exists or does not exist, you're pretending to know facts you have no access to.

Views: 701

Tags: God, ambiguous, atheism, belief, certainty, existence, faith, illusion, integrity, paradigm, More…rational


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Comment by Richard ∑wald on April 9, 2012 at 7:56am

"And non-belief without proof is belief in contra-positive."

No, it isn't; existential non-belief in does not hinge on truth-dependence, non-belief in is a default negation of a affirmative existential claim, not in any way a contra-positive.

Logic 101, Yes does not mean Yes no.

Comment by Richard ∑wald on April 9, 2012 at 7:53am

"god is a non falsifiable hypothysis,there is no way you can prove it wrong"

Actually there is, given enough of a description, any contra-positive claim of existence is possible, if any part of the description deemed a necessity is disproved.

Comment by Atheist Exile on April 9, 2012 at 7:52am

@Richard ∑wald,

Our senses provide only a limited sampling of objective reality but by the time the brain processes what our senses provide, there's a distinct difference between what is and what is perceived. Our intellect is similarly imperfect. We may be pattern-seeking creatures but there seems to be a disconnect between the patterns in nature and the patterns in our minds. It took thousands of years to realize the Earth orbits the sun, instead of vice versa. It took hundreds of more years to understand fundamental forces, despite exponentially increased attention to these mysteries. And we still don't understand these fundamentals completely.

Physics features 2 paradigms, General Relativity and Quantum Mechanics, both of which are amazingly accurate at describing and predicting nature. Yet they break when asked to cooperate. As happened to classical physics, we're seeing fundamental weaknesses in mankind's greatest explanatory models of reality. Weakness that point to an even deeper paradigm that will surely overturn the way we currently think. Yet people often make claims to certainty -- not claims of rationale -- based on these flawed models (such as those who claim free will is impossible -- as opposed to improbable -- based on physics).

What I think you're not appreciating in this discussion is the limits of modern knowledge and how human understanding must be vigilantly mindful of the difference between fact and opinion.

The way you contrast subjectivity with objectivity (placing things in context) appears to make unwarranted assumptions. Objectivity is not synonymous with reality, truth or certainty. I believe there IS an objective reality but I KNOW we don't know what it is. Objectivity is an (educated) approximation and, as such, represents an approach to knowledge, not knowledge (certainty) itself. Besides, how can one be objective about something he claims, with certainty, doesn't exist? The claim itself makes explicit a lack of objectivity.

Fact and opinion . . . really important stuff.

Comment by Vasanth Ra on April 9, 2012 at 7:43am


No, it's a non-belief, not a creed or system of belief, "pride in humility" is an oxymoron.

But, if you want to play fast and loose with word definitions, you can of course apply any meaning to them you want, that you'll be conveying meaning however, is doubtful.


Richard,I think you've got me wrong there.Those are not the definitions of atheism but some of the reasons why I embrace atheism,without any regrets.As you have said somewhere,"Some don't seem to understand that; making the contra-positive claim of "gods do not exist" not only puts the burden of proof squarely on their lap, …the absence of absolute certain proof of the non-existence of any gods, requires faith" and somewhere else "Because one addresses belief, the other absolute certainty",god is a non falsifiable hypothysis,there is no way you can prove it wrong.I left theism because it required belief(because I couldn't find any proof,though I tried a lot).And non-belief without proof is belief in contra-positive. 

Comment by Richard ∑wald on April 9, 2012 at 6:58am

here we go (not nearly as action-packed and no "erstwhile"):

Subjective preference defines meaning in the case of self-identity labels, context decides it for position definitions.

As for self-identity based on positions?

I don't go around calling myself a "non-believer that there's no rattlesnakes in my back yard" or "I'm not 100% sure there are no rattlesnakes in my yard". It's a meaningless label. But, as positions, they mean different things, one addresses a non-belief, which isn't evidence dependent the other a lack of 100% certainty; which is.

Comment by Richard ∑wald on April 9, 2012 at 6:49am

Yeah, I'm still miffed, it was a good one, I even managed to slip in the word "erstwhile".


Comment by Atheist Exile on April 9, 2012 at 6:41am

Yikes, Richard, I HATE when that happens!

Comment by Richard ∑wald on April 8, 2012 at 9:31pm

I just wrote a very long post, copied it and deleted to fix a typo (no edit here) and lost the whole thing. Will try again when my frustration is ameliorated. 

Note: if you need to fix a typo or append a blog comment, paste first, delete later.

Comment by Atheist Exile on April 8, 2012 at 6:16pm

@Richard ∑wald,

If atheism means the unequivocal denial of any god, then I'm an agnostic. I do NOT deny God unequivocally. If atheism allows me to side with the preponderance of evidence and state that the odds of God's existence is so vanishingly remote that there's little reason NOT to embrace atheism, then I'm an atheist. If being agnostic means NOT being REASONABLY certain of God's existence or lack thereof, then I am not an agnostic: I certainly AM reasonably sure God does not exist. If being agnostic means a lack of commitment to God's non-existence, then I'm an agnostic by the slightest of margins because, given the ineffable mystery of existence, I am willing to seriously entertain any argument or evidence for God's existence. So far, there has been no such argument or evidence. And because I seriously doubt any such evidence will be forthcoming, I confidently call myself an atheist.

The problem here is lexicography. If you look up the word, "atheism", in a single dictionary, you'll find multiple definitions. If you combine all the variations of definitions from all dictionaries, you'll have a broad spectrum of definitions. And if you speak to other atheists and agnostics, you'll find more variations than contained in all the dictionaries in the world.

In other words, the word is ambiguous. We have the literal Greek translation (1580–90;  /span> Greek áthe ( os ) godless + -ism) but that doesn't really help much. The wide variety of formal definitions don't help much. The varied opinions of atheists themselves doesn't help much.

In the face of this ambiguity, it's the baggage accompanying the words "atheist" and "agnostic" that most people think of. If people think an atheist is "in your face", then I'm an atheist whenever invited to express my opinion on the matter.

Then there's the matter of rational integrity. Certainty of the meaning of atheist, in the face of its ambiguity, is a wrong-headed pretense. How does one go about discerning, with certainty, which definition or common understanding is the "right" one?

The fact is, dictionaries don't tell us what words mean . . . we, by our usage of words, tell lexicographers what words mean -- and they dutifully include those meanings in their definitions. If those definitions are ambiguous, it is because we use those words ambiguously.

Comment by Richard ∑wald on April 8, 2012 at 4:46pm

Let's be clear, are we talking about identifying a position on a single point of data, or speaking of a label to self-identify?

If the latter, it means what ever the person claiming to be "_______", wants it to mean.

Dawkins moved the goal-posts with his "Spectrum of theistic probability" to a word that already had an either/or definition. Not the best part of "The God Delusion", IMO.

As well, deGrasse Tyson has made it clear in a few interviews that he avoids the "label" atheist because he doesn't want to be seen or thought of as people like the acerbic P.Z. Myers.

Labels, …people have the right to self-identify as they want, I can call myself an atheist, …or a non-badminton player, …for the same reason these two things fail as identity labels because they convey nothing but a no/non/not. I am not a reticulated python either, or a box-girder bridge, …still doesn't mean anything as to identity. It only conveys things …I am not.

On the other hand, when asked whether or not they believe in god(s), I doubt the answer will surprise you from either Dawkins or deGrasse Tyson. They do not profess belief, they assert rather, non-belief. There's a word for the position: "non-belief in god(s)".

As for Dawkins, our contemporary "Darwin's Bulldog", he oversteps his authority (IMO) when he attempts to redefine a term coined by erstwhile and original "Darwin's Bulldog", T.H. Huxley, who made it clear when asked as to the definition of the term "agnostic":

"Agnosticism is not a creed but a method, the essence of which lies in the vigorous application of a single principle... Positively the principle may be expressed as in matters of intellect, do not pretend conclusions are certain that are not demonstrated or demonstrable."

WHile the term has been co-opted by many to mean any number of things regarding "self-identity" and question of the existence of god(s), it's clear that this is not a creed, but a position.

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