You’re either Theist or a-Theist; There is no ‘agnostic’ 3rd option!


It is so annoying having to repeat the same explanation over and over again -especially when you have to chop such complex explanations into 140 characters for Twitter, just to have all your work lost in cyberspace by tomorrow. So I’ll post it all here, where it can be archived in context for future reference.  I hope that this will suffice the next few hundred times I have to explain this.

Most atheists don’t even know they are atheist. They’ve been lied to about what the word ‘atheist’ means, as if it means a conclusion of certain knowledge of the non-existence of God. Sorry no, that is not what ‘atheist’ means. But this lie so often repeated, it has caused even the best atheists to reject that label. Carl Sagan and Neil deGrasse Tyson are two of best models of atheism anyone could point to, but neither of them would use that word to describe themselves.

Sagan said that he is not an atheist, because [he thought] “An atheist knows there is no god. An atheist knows a lot more than I do. By some definitions, atheism is stupid”. He’s right; by that WRONG definition -a deliberate misrepresentation constantly repeated- atheism would be stupid. But that is not what atheism means.

A-theism means ‘without theism’. It is not necessarily a claim of knowledge or even a conclusion. It is simply any perspective that does not include or accept the beliefs held in theism.  It is the default position regarding the failure of theists to make an adequate or compelling case for their unsupported and evidently false assertions. Theists know they can’t bear the burden of proof, so they try to reverse it, to shift it onto us, by saying that atheism is a belief that there is no God. No, atheism is a lack of belief in the existence of a god; not the existence of belief in the lack of a god.

Neil deGrasse Tyson knows what the true definition is, and he knows that it accurately applies to him, but he hates the label so much that he says the word should not even exist. I understand.

We should        be defined by what we are      .
We should not be defined by what we are not.

At the same time, when we’re living in a global population where those who have that belief grossly outnumber those who don’t, we kinda have to distinguish ourselves as the tiny minority of folks who do NOT believe in magic invisible fiends -for no reason, since there is no evidence to support that sort of nonsense.

I should add that if you have no reason to believe something, then you have no reason to believe it, and it’s important to bear that in mind.  Having no reason to believe something is a pretty good reason not to believe it. Otherwise you’d believe everything imaginable no matter how inconsistent, contradictory, unsupported, improbable, or impossible it may be.  That’s why science doesn’t have to disprove every absurdity any drug-induced idiot can dream up, and most (if not all) of the claims of religion really do fall into that category.  In science, there is only what is supported by evidence, and what is not supported by evidence, and whatever is not supported simply doesn’t yet warrant serious consideration.  Any claim requiring faith should be rejected for that reason.

“Positive claims require positive evidence;
extraordinary claims require extraordinary evidence.”
-Carl Sagan

“What can be asserted without evidence
can be dismissed without evidence.”
-Christopher Hitchens

These atheists who don’t know they’re atheist often call themselves ‘agnostic’ instead -because they don’t know what the word, ‘agnostic’ means either. They think you either believe in God or you believe in no-gods, or you can play the agnostic card if you just want to avoid the question altogether, because that’s what that amounts to.

One of my oldest and dearest friends is this way. He is an atheist in denial. He says he is not convinced there is a god, but he can’t be atheist because he’s not convinced there is NOT a god either. He seriously thought that was a valid argument!

For my friend, and for the millions of other unaware atheists out there, let me clarify this for you:

You are either convinced that a god exists, (Theist) or
you are not convinced that any god exists (a-Theist).

There is no undecided ‘maybe’ middle ground to escape to: You will remain unconvinced until you are convinced, and the whole time you’re not convinced, that’s when you should be saying “maybe, but I reserve judgement until you prove your case”, which of course theists will never do.

I should also add that it doesn’t matter how convinced you are, because conviction does not equal knowledge.  Knowledge differs from mere belief in that knowledge is always demonstrable with measurable accuracy.  If you can’t show it, you don’t know it.  If we can’t test or otherwise verify your claims to any degree at all by any means whatsoever, then it is a fact that you cannot honestly claim to know what you might think you know.

Gnosis refers to knowledge of God rather than belief in God.  Most theists are gnostic in that they pretend to know what no one even can know.  There are also many theists who are agnostic, saying that they believe in some vague concept of god, but “who can say for sure who that god is or what prophets he really spoke to?”  Most atheists are agnostic, saying that since it is impossible to test any knowledge claim relating to anything supernatural then no one really knows anything about gods, devils, ghosts, psionics or any other purportedly paranormal thing, and that is certainly reason enough to reject such beliefs.

I used to define myself as an agnostic atheist, but I don’t think that’s quite true anymore.  An argument from my friend, Cristina Rad (regarding undetectable elves living in her butt) finally convinced me that I am a gnostic atheist.  While I do still say it is impossible to ‘know’ anything that can never be indicated nor vindicated, verified nor falsified, I think I can adhere to the rules of scientific logic and still honestly say that I know there is no god.

One way I can know there is no god is that the most common concept of God is defined by its being miraculous, meaning that defies the laws of physics and is thus physically impossible -by definition.  Also that it exists beyond our reality, meaning that it is not a part of this reality, meaning that it is not real -again, by definition.  Otherwise if the god in question is inextricably tied to the supposedly infallible doctrines which we can prove are not factually accurate -about anything- then that disproves the deity along with the dogma.  Otherwise, I know there’s no god the same way I know there is no celestial tea pot, and no invisible pink unicorn; the same way I know, there was never a Paul Bunyon (at least not THAT one) and no Pecos Bill either.  I know there is no god the same way that I know there is no herd of wildebeest stampeding through my sock drawer, and that monkeys will never fly out of my ass. Not only is there no evidence of any of these preposterous things, but everything ever claimed about any of them are at least the empty assertions of incredulous people, or they’re fraudulent fibs conjured by imaginative but obviously not entirely honest people.

Theists will even agree with my logic here, because they readily claim certain knowledge of the non-existence of leprechauns -simply on the basis that there is no evidence to support them, and everything we know about anything could turn upside-down if there were such things.  That’s how it is with God.  If such a thing were real, nothing in the universe would make any sense anymore.  All the evidence from all the sciences would be meaningless, because facts wouldn’t mean anything, and our very existence would be rendered meaningless too, both before and after death.

However gnostics are a minority among atheists, and do not change the overall definition of that term. Atheism does not require any knowledgeable conclusion that there is no god, only that there is insufficient confidence that there is one.

That also depends on what a god is, because a lot of people will deny they’re atheists on the grounds that they believe there’s “something”, but they don’t say what that something is.  I think we all believe that; even me, although I suspect that ‘something’ will turn out to be completely natural emergent patterns of next-level physics or some such, which we cannot yet comprehend, and haven’t indicated either. Mine is not a faith-based belief, but recognition of the probability that we will keep discovering new things that turn out to be fundamental somehow.  In any case, it doesn’t relate to the question of atheism unless the ‘something’ you believe in happens to be a god.

Atheist doesn’t mean the same thing as ‘apistevist’, (empirical rationalists who believe nothing on faith).  Just because you don’t believe in any gods doesn’t mean you don’t believe in alternative medicine, psionic powers, or alien invaders.  There are even atheist religions out there, Shaman, animism, Chinese ancestor worship, Taoism*, and so on, that do not typically or necessarily include gods, and pantheistic beliefs do not qualify Gaia as a god.

*Taoism is not technically a religion, but that combined with Confusionism is the template for the Jedi/Sith religion, which has no other name, so we’ll call it that within this context.

My area of special interest is in the systematic classification of life-forms. In order to categorize any collective, one must first define the grouping by the total tally of traits held in common by every member already universally accepted within that set, without making special exceptions for certain ones -before we can determine whether some new addition truly belongs there.  We cannot redefine divinity so as to exclude most of the ancient gods traditionally worshiped by millions of people for thousands of years.  I’m not going to explain the full analysis now, but if we categorize the whole pantheon correctly and collectively, then deities can all be summarily defined as magical anthropomorphic immortals, and this includes YHWH.

So if you believe there’s ‘something’. Fine.  Do you believe that something is a magical anthropomorphic immortal? If not, then you’re still an atheist.  You can be a Sith or a Jedi and still not believe in a god. The Force is neither anthropomorphic nor immortal, since it acts as a pattern of emergence from the component level, just like natural things do. However, by some reckoning, the Force would be a higher power, certainly, and logically would be a higher power even than a deity could be.

In 2009, there was a poll of scientists who are members of the American Association for the Advancement of Science, regarding how many of them believed in a god “or higher power”.  The majority (41%) said they didn’t believe in either one.  33% said they believe in a god, and 18% said they do not believe in a god, but do believe in a universal spirit or higher power.  The context of the question implies that the ‘power’ might be higher than that of a god.  Indeed most of us who “believe there’s something” seem to have higher expectations of what that ‘something’ is than theists ever express for their god.  What theists worship generally fits the essential description of djinni, and that puts the bar pretty low for everyone trying to view the whole uber-galactic cosmological scope.

Finally, all this reminds me of another poll regarding the ‘nones’, the demographic identified as those who chose ‘none’ when asked to specify their religion.  Atheists often claim that is their group, but I know of many Christians here in Texas who don’t know what the word ‘religion’ means.  They say, “Christianity isn’t a religion; it’s a philosophy”.  In the next breath, they might brag that Christianity is still the most popular religion on Earth right now.  They don’t know that a religion is a faith-based belief system which includes the notion that some essence of self continues after the death of the physical body.  They think they have to choose ‘none’ to identify their religion as ‘non-denominational’ Christian.  So the majority of that set may be most ignorant of all religious believers, people who definitely do have a religion, but who don’t know enough about what their religion is, or what a denomination is, or what any of that even means.

Likewise, -as was just explained- most of the people who do not believe in anything like an actual deity do not or will not identify as atheist, for various reasons of ignorance, apathy, deception, or denial.  So I would like to see another poll done to determine how many people in America are actually atheist, regardless whether they would rather call themselves agnostic, whether they believe in vague ambiguous things other than gods, or whether they’re ‘apatheist’, meaning they don’t even care about any of this in their day-to-day lives.

To account for -and eliminate- all these errors in reporting, I want to see a national poll ask the following question:

Are you convinced that an actual deity really exists?

Those who answer ‘no’ will be correctly classified as atheist.

It really is that simple.

Comments

  1. Kristopher Flory says

    Thank you! I had a long discussion about this the other day. The Athiest-Theist and Gnostic-Agnostic descriptors are answers for separate questions, and agnostic is NOT a middle ground between belief in a deity and a lack thereof.

  2. Félix Desrochers-Guérin says

    I should add that if you have no reason to believe something, then you have no reason to believe it.

    Tautology much?

  3. Mike de Fleuriot says

    For me, it’s pretty simple. Define your god and I WILL show that, that defined god can not exist. Which means that your god does not exist, as does any defined god. This shows that no gods exist, because if they can be defined, they can be shown to not be gods.

    • J says

      I worship my cat, who rules with the powers of a cat. Please show me my cat is not real. I think my cat is a supreme being, and call it God.

      Seriously, though, there are cases where a god doesn’t violate nature, so long as they retain wholly natural abilities. Only when supernatural powers or logical fallacies, or mutually exclusive properties are claimed can we rule out a god’s existence. I’m I’m schizophrenic and I worship Pickle, my fatass cat as a god, but I give her no powers beyond what a cat has, you can’t prove she doesn’t exist. Since a god merely needs to be some kind of supreme being, I just need to consider Pickle the Fatass Cat to be supreme.

      • Ichthyic says

        I worship my cat, who rules with the powers of a cat. Please show me my cat is not real.

        strawman.

        I think my cat is a supreme being, and call it God.

        then what powers does it have that define it as such?

        well?

        you can’t simply redefine the word “God” to mean “Cat” and figure that’s a logical argument to make.

        fail.

  4. says

    The definition of atheism you are attacking is not “wrong” just because you reject it now, because it is indeed the classic historical definition that was understood by almost everyone, even atheists themselves, until around the 1990s. It has nothing to do with putting the burden of proof on atheists as opposed to theists. Rather, it was a recognition that “lacking belief in any gods” was not the same as the “dogmatic denial of the existence of all gods”. The term for the former used in the past was actually non-theism. Thomas Huxley coined the term “agnostic” for himself and rejected the term “atheism” because he was not dogmatic about his non-theism, and both Carl Sagan and Neil deGrasse Tyson have both been followers of that form of non-theism, called agnosticism, along with myself. And there was not a recognition of such people as “agnostic atheists” either until recently.

    Seriously, if you accept the common contemporary meaning of atheism now, never use the term “agnostic” again, because now it is completely useless.

    • EnlightenmentLiberal says

      This is simply not true. If you look at the writings of every popular published writer who self-identified as atheist in the entire history of modern atheism, they do not use the word like you do.

      The beginning of modern atheism is about 300 years ago, at least a century before Huxley. Arguably the first modern self-identified atheist writers were Meslier and Baron D’Holbach. Both are quite clear in their writings that a specific god hypothesis – the god hypothesis of some christians that their god made the world 6000 years ago – is complete humbug. They would say that it’s demonstrably false, and we can be certain that there is no such thing to the same degree of confidence that the sun will rise tomorrow (roughly).

      We can also look at modern atheists.

      Hitchens was quite clear that atheism is not the position that there are no gods. You can watch many of his lectures where he defines the word differently. He often says that it is impossible to prove or demonstrate that there are absolutely no “gods”.

      Dawkins is the same. Dawkins called himself a 6 on a 1 to 7 scale concerning certainty that there are no gods. He said that he’s confident that there are no gods like the christian god described in the bible to the same degree of confidence that there are no faeries at the bottom of his garden. Remember that Dawkins clearly defines the god hypothesis in his book which he is talking about as one of the commonly understood gods who regularly interfere in the daily lives of people. He clearly states that he’s not talking about non-interfering gods for most of the book.

      The funny thing is – you can also look at all modern Huxley-agnostics, and they hold to the exact same positions.

      For example, IIRC Bertrand Russel did not like the atheist word, and preferred the term agnostic. However, he said he’s as agnostic about teapots in orbit around Jupiter as he is about gods. This is exactly the same position as Meslier, d’Holbach, Hitchens, and Dawkins.

      Carl Sagan also disliked the atheist word. However, his parable about garage dragons might as well be the texttbook go-to reference for what atheists actually believe. For any specific concrete testable popular god hypothesis – we’ve tested it, and it’s come back falsified. However, if you sufficiently make the hypothesis untestable by removing it from observable reality such as the garage dragon proponents, then it becomes untestable, and thus we cannot say that it’s demonstrably false. We can only say that we do not accept the claim is true because of the lack of evidence.

      I have yet to find a popular self-identified atheist or self-identified agnostic writer in the history of modern atheism who holds a different position.

      Note that there are some perhaps minor disagreements about the exact terminology appropriate for a completely non-interfering deist god, but AFAIK more or less all of them held to the position that it’s utterly untestable, and thus we must remain strictly agnostic on that issue. (Some went even further and called such ideas meaningless, in the usual sense of logical positivism.)

      Once you accept the above, I have one further point to make. I fundamentally disagree with Aronra on this topic. The concepts of agnostic atheist vs gnostic atheist is utterly worthless.

      Matt Dillahunty has it completely right: We all know what it means to have beliefs, but the usual definition of knowledge is wrong. The usual definition of knowledge is “justified true belief”. No one uses the word that way in practical matters. Knowledge is just beliefs held to such a high degree of certainty that it would be quite surprising if they found out they were wrong. Knowledge and beliefs are not completely separate things. Knowledge is a subset of belief.

      For a specific well-formed boolean proposition X, it is either true or false. However, your three basic options w.r.t. belief and knowledge are: I believe that it is true, I believe that it is false, and I do not know.

      Atheism includes the last two, or at least that’s how every self-identified atheist writer of the last 300 years has used the word.

      Consequently, the 4-quadrant breakdown of atheist vs theism and gnosticism vs agnosticism is worthless and meaningless and just confusing. That 4-quadrant classification is simply not a useful or accurate classification scheme for actual people. The useful breakdown is:
      – Theists: Those who believe there is an actively interfering god (or past interfering god).
      – Deists: Those who believe that there is a first-cause creator god who never interfered after that.
      – Atheists: Those who do not accept as true that there is a god. This includes those who do not know, and those who believe that some god hypotheses are false, and some god hypothesis are unknown.

      d’Holbach was rather extreme IIRC, like I am, and argued that the evidence from physics and science overwhelmingly shows that mindless forces acting on microscopic particles plus a simple reductionism adequately captures what’s actually going on, and that means that there is no room for interfering gods outside of physics. E.G. there are no breaks of physics, there are no miracles, based on the overwhelming evidence, and thus there is no interfering god. However, even d’Holbach said that for the non-interfering god, he does not know.

    • says

      The definition of Gnostics was already known thousands of years before Huxley, and their religion was always about pretending to know what no one even can know, and asserting baseless assumptions as though they were fact. If Huxley meant to define agnostic as you say, for the reason that you say, then he was clearly wrong on both the definition of atheist and of the actual opposite of Gnostic.

      • says

        Aron-Ra,

        In a blog entry on this same subject, I said, “The New Atheists have a choice. They can either discard the term agnostic completely (and thus discard Huxley’s intellectual legacy), or they can reverse course and admit what we always have known, that it is indeed possible to be neutral on the issue of Theist/Atheist, that Atheism is a dogma and that agnosticism is something to be accepted on an equal level with Theism, non-Theism, and Atheism.” If you are indeed willing to discard the term “agnostic”, then do so. Continuing to use it knowing who coined it and that he did so because his definition of atheism was wrong according to you is being inconsistent.

        And do not give me that “To be gnostic or agnostic is to make a claim about having knowledge or lack thereof.” That is nonsense. It does not matter what anyone may claim, actually having knowledge is different from merely claiming it. My basic credo regarding God is, “I do not know anything about God, and neither do you.” That means NO ONE knows, period. But we can still choose freely to believe, to deny, or to do neither of these regarding theism.

        • EnlightenmentLiberal says

          Please read my above post. Meslier and d’Holbach predate Huxley by a good century, and used the term “atheist” differently. “Agnostic” is generally used by people who are atheists, but don’t like the connotation, and/or used by atheists who want to appear less confrontational, and/or who don’t want to deal with stuff exactly like this from you.

  5. AlexYap says

    I’m atheist towards all the gods of all the religions that humanity has come up with till now. For me, they are all non-existent.

    However, I believe that in a universe as old and big as ours, it is entirely plausible for some alien civilizations to have evolved far longer than ours. A civilization that is a few million years old will appear god-like to us, with our mere <10,000 year history. If something fits all (or most) of the definitions that we can think of for a god, then it can be said that "gods" can plausibly exist.

    So am I an agnostic, atheist, agnostic atheist, or something else?

  6. John Daker says

    A lack of belief in gods is still a belief. Our entire view of reality is a set of beliefs, because we all create models of the real world, some of which are better approximations than others. But beliefs can be affirmed to some extent by scientific evidence. So if you don’t believe in gods, hopefully it is because you have looked at what passes as evidence for supernatural sky fairies, and found it unconvincing, if not downright laughable. And because scientific discoveries go against the ancient fairy tales of religions.

    • says

      A lack of belief in gods is still a belief.

      This makes no sense.

      It’d be like saying “The lack of going swimming in the lake is still going swimming in the lake”, or “Not owning a Corvette is still owning a Corvette”

      This is in violation of the basic logical absolutes. You’re literally saying that !A = A

      You’ve attempted to fix this by saying that we have other beliefs, which is true, but doesn’t fix the original statement. It’d be analogous to saying “Your not owning a Corvette is still owning a Corvette, and this is true because you take the Metro or bike around.”

      • Spooky Tran says

        I don’t think those are very good analogies. The a/theistic parallel would be “The lack of a belief in gods is still the belief in gods,” and no one is saying that. I support John Daker’s comment in principle, even if linguistically it’s kind of a muddle.

    • Monocle Smile says

      I’m with Jasper. Theist love to bootstrap all sorts of crap to atheism, like “if you don’t believe in a god, then you believe the universe formed from purely natural causes.” Maybe I do accept the latter, but it’s not implied by the former.

    • EnlightenmentLiberal says

      Quoting John Daker
      “A lack of belief in gods is still a belief. ”

      No it’s not. This is a false dichotomy. You can believe X is true. You can believe X is false. You can also be undecided. In other words, you can be ignorant. “I do not know.”

      I could specify a certain scale with a digital display, and we can consider what would happen if I I go down to the local grocery store and weigh the bag of rice closest to the cardinal north. The digital scale will output a specific number. This is unambiguous. There is only one right answer. Let’s ask the question: “Will the least significant digit be odd or even?”. I don’t know. I do know that the odds are about 50-50 that it will be even or odd. However, I have no good reason to believe it’s odd, and I have no good reason to believe it’s even. I lack belief. The only belief I have on this subject is that I believe that I lack sufficient evidence to have any knowledge or belief on the subject.

      • John Daker says

        Some of you have criticised my post by forgetting about everything but the first sentence. A lack of belief in gods is a belief about some aspect of reality, whether that aspect is real or not. What I’m saying is that we use models of reality, with varying levels of closeness to what is actually real. Hopefully atheists have scientific evidence on their side to back up their claims, while religious folk do not. But atheism and theism are beliefs/models of reality. Its just that atheism appears to be closer to what is actually real when you examine the evidence from various sources.

        • EnlightenmentLiberal says

          And you seem to be unable to read at all. “I do not know” is not a belief in any reasonable use of the word “belief”. “I do have a belief either way” is not a belief. A state of ignorance is not a belief. “I do not know” is not a model of reality. It is explicitly a lack of a model of reality.

          And “I do not know” is included under the atheist umbrella. See my post up-thread (talking about Meslier and d’Holbach) for more information.

      • says

        For your scale example, it could be explained that a theist is a person who says “The number on the scale will be even.” and an atheist says “I don’t believe that.” It doesn’t mean the atheist accepts that the number is false, it means they don’t believe it’s even.

        The so-called agnostic would not be alone in the middle saying “I don’t know.” The atheist would be right there with them.

    • Ichthyic says

      A lack of belief in gods is still a belief

      no.

      atheism is a conclusion, not a belief.

      two entirely different things.

  7. Rhiannan says

    This was basically almost perfect! I appreciated it so much that I bookmarked it so I could read it many more times, because I was a bit confused reading the first time, but I definitely would like to understand and get the most from this (: I believe a problem people have most surely is that they use words, but they don’t know what that mean, and as an aspiring writer I believe understanding is key to making your message come across clearly. When people ask me to explain my Atheism or some other conclusion I’ve made for myself, I need to understand it thoroughly myself, and this definitely gave me some solid answers, and validation! Thank-you (:

  8. Freethinkin Franklin says

    nice piece, perhaps a future posting can be about the anti-theists, people who think religion poisons everything from our political system, our judicial system and our (including but not limited to texass’) public school systems, and like yourself, are not afraid to step up and say so, and provide facts showing its so and take the heat for doing the right thing….. all freethinkers owe you a big thank you for what you do….
    THANK YOU !!

  9. C. Sosa says

    Thank you, I am glad more and more visible atheists are feeling comfortable saying this. I know there is no god to the same extent that I “know” there are no fairies or anything else I “know”.

  10. scottbelyea says

    It really is that simple, is it?

    Only because you do what you seem to dislike when others do it – set out your own definitions and then flog those who don’t agree. I hope that you’re intellectually honest enough to recognize that there are definitions and discussions of the term “atheist” which take a different view, and which are thoughtfully put forth by some people (or dictionaries/encyclopedias/etc.).

    Frankly, I suspect anyone who uses the “just that simple” formulation of being at bottom a bit of a fanatic.. In my opinion, not admitting the possibility of an intelligent or good-faith opinion different than your own is an unattractive characteristic.

    • says

      This is not a matter of opinion, and it doesn’t matter if you disagree; all that matters is why you disagree. I did not make up my own definitions either. I learned long ago that any single dictionary will likely get things wrong. To prove it, look up animal in a handful of them. None of them will give the biological definition, and all of them will have something wrong. So it is necessary to discover what the true meaning is, and that can be objectively done. I’ll be happy to show you how. Disagree all you want to, but I’ve already been down whatever path you take, and I can prove that I got it right.

      For example, I never implied in any way that I reject the possibility of differing opinions. In fact I acknowledge that throughout. The mere fact that you made that allegation shows that you’re not paying adequate attention. It also implies that you’re more likely fanatic than I am, and you probably don’t have the wherewithal to support your contention either.

    • EnlightenmentLiberal says

      I challenge you.

      Challenge 1: Find me one famous or well-read published writer who self-identifies as atheist in the last 300 years, since Meslier and d’Holbach, whose writings unambiguously state that there is no god (to some high degree of certainty or with absolute certainty).

      Challenge 2: Find me one famous or well-read published writer who self-identifies as atheist in the last 300 years, since Meslier and d’Holbach, whose writings unambiguously use the term “atheist” to mean someone who claims that there are no gods (to some high degree of certainty or with absolute certainty).

      You will find that all of them at least say that for the deist gods – for the gods which do not actively interfere in reality near humans in human history – those gods are untestable, and thus one must remain strictly undecided on the existence of such things. You will not find anyone to the contrary.

      For example: Dawkins in his book “The God Delusion” makes no such claim. He is quite specific that he is talking only about the “naive” common understanding of a regularly interfering god, not non-interfering deist or pantheist gods.

      So, all self-identified atheist writers for at least 300 years have been quite consistent on what they believe and what atheism means. Thus, you as a christian (likely) get to define what “atheist” means as soon as I – as an atheist – get to define what a true christian is, e.g. never. Deal with it.

      • says

        I don’t agree with Meslier and d’Holbach on this. In my opinion–and this can be demonstrated–deism and pantheism are based on the failure(s) of theism. Think of Aristotle’s prime mover or Thomas Paine’s God of Nature or Advaita Vendantist’s Brahman (which is actually a reversion to Vedic Brahmanism); the first is based on the failure of Greek theism, the second on the failure of Christian theism (which Paine makes clear in the Age of Reason), and the last is based on the failure of bhakti Hinduism. When a personal, interfering force becomes unintelligible, the art of making the concept even more abstract becomes useful. Think on that.

  11. says

    It’s a good point that need to be covered often.

    I do a bit of straddling the line between identifying as an agnostic or gnostic atheist in my internet arguments, but that’s because I want to drill a point into the heads of theists I argue with: I see no consensus on what a “god” is, and I’m not going to privilege any one of the various Christian concepts over any other god concept. They need to know how much they’re implicitly asking me to grant.

    The result is that I default to agnostic atheist until the person asking the question defines what they mean by “god.” Once the term is defined, then I can be a gnostic atheist with regard to their definition by pointing out the internal contradictions, false premises, failed predictions, and contrary evidence.

  12. Corwyn says

    I feel that a lot of people are being lead astray by the concept of ‘belief’. If we replace it with the concept of ‘confidence in a proposition, expressed in log-odds’, much of the confusion and acrimony can be removed. 1) Log-odds (decibans, for example) make clear the idea that there is NO absolute certainty of any proposition. That would require infinite (or negative infinite) evidence. 2) Theism / Atheism is thus a SINGLE confidence level on a SINGLE proposition. What confidence do you place in the proposition, ‘A (at least one) god exists’. 3) Since confidence is an expression of evidence, someone claiming to have 100 decibans of confidence in the existence of god can be asked to show 100 decibans of evidence. Conversely, someone claiming -100 decibans of confidence in the existence of god, can be asked to show 100 decibans of evidence. 4) Pretty much everything qualifies as evidence, and the likelihood of that evidence determines how much it should affect the confidence one has in a proposition (as expressed by Bayes’ Theorem).

    So, the idea that an atheist has (negative) infinite confidence in the proposition of the existence of god, can be immediately rejected, as it is logically impossible. If that is to be the definition of ‘atheist’ then it denotes an empty set, and the word is useless, and thus open for recycling with a new (possible) definition.

  13. Brandon Wilson says

    Well said, however I believe that we simply cannot know if there is a “God” or not. I will say that, hypothetically, if there was one, normal logic would not work as (assuming it’s all-powerful) it could easily travel through dimensions easily. So, let’s say this being existed and at one-time or another interacted with humans, and that some religions have sprung from that. Some problems for the more popular religions (Christianity, Islam, Catholicism) are:
    1. Worshiping the being would be pointless, since it does nothing for us or the being.
    2. The religions have become so convoluted they don’t follow the original path set by the founder(s), which makes them invalid (since they aren’t really worshiping the being).
    3. The being is too abstract for us to worship or communicate with.

    Really just some thoughts, haven’t had the time to think it thru all the way and would love feedback.

    • Corwyn says

      I believe that we simply cannot know if there is a “God” or not.”

      But this is demonstrably false, as you clearly show,

      let’s say this being existed and at one-time or another interacted with humans, and that some religions have sprung from that.

      In which case we COULD know if there is a god.

      It would be true, with the added clause: “we simply cannot know if there is a “God” or not, if that god has no impact on our Universe (including its creation).” At which point, I would ask why we should care.

      • Shenonymous Says says

        Since your reply is in the form of a hypothetical (“let’s say” and “at one-time…or another”), unless you demonstrate there is knowledge, everything that follows is also only hypothetical and not very helpful in the quest to see the difference between agnosticism and atheism.

        Sorry to chime in so late, but I just tripped over this website and found it immensely interesting.

  14. Spooky Tran says

    Aron, would you consider a newborn an atheist? I don’t personally consider the term apt.

    • says

      Atheism means without theism right? Are babies born with theism? Isn’t the null set always the default position? Someone who hasn’t been convinced of anything has to be in the null set right? That’s one of many reasons why it is so ridiculous when people say that a lack of belief is still a belief; they’re just trying to obfuscate the fact that they failed to justify the things they themselves have chosen to believe.

    • GalapagosPete says

      But a Christian would argue that we are all born with the knowledge of their god’s existence, the “there’s no such thing as an atheist” BS based on Romans 1:18-25. So they would say that even newborns aren’t atheists.

  15. shelldigger says

    I agree with this assessment entirely. Gods either is or isn’t. With no evidence for gods (magic) that pretty much leaves us with natural causes (no magic). When a theist can show us their god’s magical powers, and scientists can detect said powers with a magic detector, then we have cause for a discussion. Until then, all they have is hot air, suppositions, rationalizations, and their shamans who are busy rattling bones.

    For the fence sitters, who for whatever reason, lack the conviction to think this through to its logical conclusion, I get it. It takes time to sort these things through, and I think this process comes in many stages, but sooner or later you got to fall off on one side of the fence or the other.

    I also agree with the sentiment that: “we should be defined by what we are”, and not by “what we are not”

  16. Tom Flynn says

    Thank you for getting it right! Atheism is a-theism; that initial “a” is a privative, indicating that a-theism is a lack of something, namely of belief in the existence of a god. It’s so simple, and it’s indeed frustrating to have to keep repeating it continually! — Tom Flynn, editor of FREE INQUIRY and THE NEW ENCYCLOPEDIA OF UNBELIEF

  17. moarscienceplz says

    [Atheism] is the default position regarding the failure of theists to make an adequate or compelling case for their unsupported and evidently false assertions.

    Ding, ding ding! We have a winner!

  18. moarscienceplz says

    I do still say it is impossible to ‘know’ anything that can never be indicated nor vindicated, verified nor falsified

    This, I think, is where having the mind of an engineer becomes handy. Say you assemble an Ikea bookcase but you have a bolt left over. You carefully examine the bookcase and can’t see any hole for the bolt to go into. You test each shelf and they each hold good amounts of weight with no problem. So, is the bolt an actual part of the bookcase or not? I’d say the best answer is “no”. Throw it away! Even if later on your neighbor builds the same style bookcase and does find a place for the bolt, you’ve still had a nicely functional bookcase all this time, and have slept soundly.

    Same thing for ‘supernatural’ stuff. If it demonstrably has an effect on the natural universe (like Dark Matter), then it’s not actually supernatural. It is in fact a part of Nature. OTOH, if it doesn’t have a demonstrable effect on natural things, I think it’s quite safe to say not only is it not a part of our natural universe, it doesn’t exist, period. If you are proved wrong later, c’est la vie!

  19. Sciencewizardlol says

    This is some cry baby bullshit. ‘Either you’re with us or them! You can’t not be part of the atheist club and not a christ tard okay!’ Bullshit. Atheist may literally mean ‘no god’ but it doesn’t mean everyone who doesn’t believe in god is part of your club. I was raised and homeschooled in a christian fundamentalist home. I was suicidal a lot. I was abused. Atheists just made fun of me. They didn’t give a shit. now that I know that truth I hate atheists even more. And I don’t mean anyone who doesn’t believe in god I mean the atheist movement. You can totally be agnostic and just ‘not know’ if there’s a god. And you can believe there’s no god and still refuse to be lumped in with you assholes.

    • Scott says

      Sorry for how you were treated or felt you were being treated.
      Are you sure they were laughing at you, or was it the arguments/justifications being given for believing in God. That line can get blurred for both sides at times.
      Challenging why someone believes in something like religion often is taken as a personal attack by theists when no personal attack is being made. Now, if you act in a way that based on that belief – attacking you based upon that action is another thing. i.e. killing someone because you believe your religion demands that upon you. In attacking actions which harm other people – then that may give reason to ‘attack’ the person..

    • says

      Reading your post, I find it ironic that you’re the one calling me a crybaby. These atheists that laughed at you, were they all humans? All of them? If so, then maybe the problem isn’t that they were atheists, but that they were people. Yes, atheist means ‘without theism’, and that means that the only way you can honestly say that you’re not atheist is if if you’re convinced that at least one god really exists. But that doesn’t mean -and could not imply- that there is any ‘club’ to be a part of.

      • Sciencewizardlol says

        Its not ironic. You’ve never been part of a cult that ruins your life while everyone who knows the truth just laughs at you. When I see billboards that say ‘There is no heaven’ all I can think of are times when I was suicidal and the thought of heaven gave me encouragement and I just feel hatred at the atheist movement. People who know the truth about reality have a moral obligation to deconvert the religious not write persnickety articles whining about how all these people who know there’s no super-natural deity aren’t willing to associate themselves with your movement. It doesn’t matter that the word literally means without god. People who are athiests are people like you; people who heard about the idea of god and rejected it. Some people haven’t heard of it and some people don’t know if they believe there is or isn’t a god. You can whine all you want that your movement deserves to be much bigger because of all the idiots who refuse to admit that because they’re not actively believing in god they should self-identify as atheists but it won’t change anything. Most/many words have meaning that isn’t rooted in their literal translation, ‘atheist’ is one of them. You can totally be an agnostic.

        • Monocle Smile says

          Your experience is crappy, but words don’t change meaning just because your story is the saddest.

          • Monocle Smile says

            Furthemore, it’s unfortunate that you choose to tar us all with the same brush despite how awful that same experience made you feel.

          • Sciencewizardlol says

            Oh fuck you. We don’t use every word literally. Plenty of our words have ancient roots that have nothing to do with the way the word is used or only a metaphorical meaning. Like sarcasm literally means to rip off the flesh. I guess we should all stop being sarcastic since that means we’re tearing off peoples flesh or maybe we should admit that we’re miss-using a word and say that we’re being mocking instead of sarcastic. Same thing with atheist; doesn’t matter it literally means without god. I don’t believe in god and I’m not an atheist because you guys are atheists. Try all you want to define me into your group and agnosticism is still rational/possible. Jesus Christ you people are so fucking annoying. Its no surprise you’re overrun with misogynistic MRA losers.

          • says

            Winge all you want, but the term ‘agnostic’ will never be a possible or rational intermediate between theism and ‘without theism’.

          • Sciencewizardlol says

            Yeah yeah and you keep on the literal use of the word atheism like a fool. Fuck you.

        • Hal says

          As a small child, hugging my teddy bear made me feel better, feel like I had a friend. Looking forward to the tooth fairy bringing me money made me feel better. Santa made me feel better. Yet, as an adult, I don’t feel somehow cheated when someone tells me Santa is not real. And I don’t feel like they are trying to take some portion of my life away, or invalidate it, They’re not doing it to be mean, they’re saying it because it’s truth, and it’s better for you as an adult to know there is no Santa, and of course, no God.

          • Sciencewizardlol says

            Atheist bullied me till I wanted to kill myself. Being part of a cult is in no way shape or form like believing in Santa claus. Jesus Christ you’re an insufferable pretentious dumb fuck.

  20. Andrew Nolley says

    I have no interest in playing your bullshit games atheist, any more than I am interested in playing theists games. Leave me the fuck out of it and don’t tell me what I am or am not.

        • Corwyn says

          Nope. Disagreement would require interest in either theism or atheism, both of which are specifically disclaimed.

          Wanting to be left out of an atheist blog on the net, is a bit like wanting to be left out of an obscure cave in remote country far away. Traveling all the way there to make that pronouncement seems either disingenuous, or moronic, when doing absolutely nothing would accomplish the goal far better.

          • says

            So given the question of whether you have theism or whether you are without theism, it seems that your answer is “Phhhththththppppttt!”

    • Scott says

      You get to choose if you believe or not, you choose which of the dichotomy you fall in. How you feel about the label, what you think it means does not change which category describes your position. You do get to choose if you wear that label, if you associate with the movement.

  21. dthunt says

    I strictly agree with Aron in one sense, which is that I agree it is possible to perform a good sort on people’s beliefs at some given time (even given internal inconsistency). This one question survey probably ought to explain that “atheism” here means “answered no to that question above” and covers a broad spectrum of other beliefs, some fraction of which are not popularly categorized as atheist, but maybe ought to be (on strict definitional grounds, definition written thereunder).

    I’m a gnostic atheist, under these terms. That also happens to closely conform to my self-identification, that of a strong atheist who doesn’t buy the anthropic principle.*

    I think, though, self-identification is the standard we ought to respect. There’s only so much nuance you can capture with a few words, and even gnostic atheists come in so many flavors that trying to get concensus out of them is frequently likened to herding cats. When someone picks a label, he does so for an audience (picking words they will understand) and generally also with respect to a major division he perceives. Sometimes, this division is counterfactual, or a result of misinformation, or some rather strange definitions, but that’s hardly unique to positions on theism.

    When Neil DeGrasse Tyson identifies as a form of agnostic, and provides an explanation for why he chooses that label, and someone tells someone else that Tyson is an atheist, they are doing a disservice to his earnest attempt to communicate, the same way they would be doing him a disservice by labelling him as a theist because they somehow read “God” into his explanation about how beautiful the universe is. Mind, under my mental model, I still plop him in a bucket labeled Atheist, but there’s a little tag attached to his ear explaining “I have a problem with this bucket you have stuck me in. Maybe you ought to subdivide it or rename it, or perhaps it was improperly carved off from some other hypothetical buckets somewhere, and thus will wind up having more divisions than are strictly necessary and overly complicate your bucket-sorting-subsytem. Who died and made you king of bucket-sorting?!!”

    Most people in my atheist bucket have a tag of some sort like that attached to their ear. I see this as a problem. I’m not sure if it’s a problem with atheists, or with my buckets, but I have a very strong suspicion it’s a problem with my buckets.

    Anyway, I think most people who perform a thoughtful attempt at self identification also provide some additional context into their mindset, because that has more communicative value than “agnostic” or whatever.

    The thing that troubles me is when someone’s self identification is twisted, and in particular, when it’s turned on its head. I recall a religiousity poll about a decade ago that would have classified me as a theist because I had gone to Temple once with my girlfriend at the time in order to meet her Rabbi (and, I confess, because I was curious what sort of people went to Temple). Both of us were atheists; the connection to the temple was hers, and existed as a cultural element rather than a religious one. The poll never asked for self identification, and so lost the indicator that would have told them that “attended a religious gathering in the past year” was probably not the best way to categorize someone as religious or not.

    So, knowing that Tyson sits in my mental Atheist bucket, how would I respond if someone asked my about Tyson’s beliefs? “Ask Neil deGrasse Tyson”, or, “Identifies as an astrophsyicist, but he observes that his behavior closely confirms with agnostic, and so that’s probably what he would tell you.”

    And I’m totally okay with that. A Japanese knifesword has to be split into either knife or sword in modern English, and this is not a defect in knives, swords, or knifeswords.

    *Anthropic principle: The weak version is something to consider, but I have issues with its invocation due to its lack of predictive power, the same way I have issues with inappropriate use of Ockham’s Razor in argument. After all, if you look on a broad enough scale, it really does look like the universe is trying pretty hard to kill us. How typical is this universe? Oh, we don’t know?

  22. moarscienceplz says

    When Neil DeGrasse Tyson identifies as a form of agnostic, and provides an explanation for why he chooses that label, and someone tells someone else that Tyson is an atheist, they are doing a disservice to his earnest attempt to communicate

    When Neil DeGrasse Tyson identifies as a form of agnostic, he is essentially saying, “It is Science’s responsibility to disprove God”, and I think that is a crummy stance to take for a person who wants to be identified as a famous scientist. I’d be a lot happier if he instead said, “I’m an atheist, but my mind could be changed”. This places the burden of proof where it belongs – squarely on the shoulders of the theists.

    • dthunt says

      I’m not sure I understand where ‘science’s job is to disprove God’ comes from that.

      • moarscienceplz says

        The various churches have had thousands of years to provide valid evidence for their god(s) and have failed utterly. So now, the theists have tried to flip the argument and say that until Science absolutely disproves the validity of their pet hypothesis everybody needs to keep an ‘open mind’, and if you don’t then you are dogmatic and strident and just like Hitler. So for a prominent scientist like Tyson to say he ‘doesn’t know’ which is the sensible position to take here either means he hasn’t really thought about it (which I don’t believe for a moment), or that he buys the theist’s argument. If this second case is his honest opinion, then he is being a crappy scientist, because it is the job of the hypothesis’ proponents to support it. It is NOT the job of the scientific community to refute every wild claim that comes down the turnpike. And if it’s not his honest opinion, then he is lying.

        • Hal says

          Consider purple Unicorns, let’s all keep an open mind, and for purple unicorns, he would not make the same argument,

          • Sean Lynch says

            I understand Tyson’s and Dawkin’s positions. There are no absolute certainties in science, only degrees of confidence(sigma) that can be calculated with regard to the measured and therefore known to a degree of certainty. Degrees of confidence cannot be stated with regard to the unknown prior to measurement but probabilities of predictions (a degree of possibility) of expected observation can be made based upon some other set of “knowns.” With regard to the unknown, for which there is no evidence or theory based on the known we may use terms for probability like vanishingly small but these estimates are fluid assumptions based upon what we know. An honest scientist should be willing to accept (or refute by scientific method) any validated peer reviewed experimental result giving repeatable evidence with a known degree of confidence-regardless of personal belief.

            Based upon lack of evidence I personally believe that the possibility that a theory of deity will be found or that deity exists is close enough to 0 that any closer doesn’t matter. But I cannot put an exact number on my confidence and therefore to a very small degree I am honestly mathematically uncertain. I call myself agnostic atheist because that fits within the statistical/mathematical paradigm of my confidence in my position.

    • Corwyn says

      When Neil DeGrasse Tyson identifies as a form of agnostic, he is essentially saying “As an educator and politician (to some extent), I can’t afford to lose half my audience by using a word which is not essential to my basic message”. It is up to people like Aron to make the word palatable before we can expect people who rely on the goodwill of the entire populace to use it.

      Anyone listening to Dr. Tyson can not help but know where he fits in that listener’s personal definitions of various words. There seem to be people who care more about the word, than what the word actually describes. Prof. Dawkins quotes someone saying “Well, I can accept that you don’t believe in god, but an Atheist?!”

      • dthunt says

        I am extremely skeptical w/r to the claim that Neil DeGrasse Tyson identifies publicly as agnostic for the purpose of being less offensive to crazy people’s sensibilities.

        • EnlightenmentLiberal says

          Really? It seems immediately obvious that that’s exactly what he’s doing.

          • Scott says

            He seems to avoid associating with most labels because he sees his role as a communicator of Science and does not want to let other issues to interfere with that job – not wanting other ‘baggage’ to make that job tougher.

      • Vicki says

        On the other hand, a friend of mine found that it was much more politic, socially, to tell people she was a heathen than an atheist. “Heathen,” to them, meant non-Christian/nonbeliever, and atheist meant some kind of evil. Since the Manassas, Virginia, definition of “heathen” correctly described her position, she wasn’t misleading anyone.

        • moarscienceplz says

          That’s fine, but there is a big difference between how one would talk when invited into someone’s house to socialize, and standing on a stage answering questions as a world-famous proponent for the value of Science and the scientific method.

    • says

      Do you know what the difference between thinking, say, Ranmaru Mori is gay, and Neil DeGrasse Tyson is an atheist, is? One of them is actually evidenced by contemporaries, and the other is an assertion that is plausible but has nothing but wishful thinking behind it. And I’ll give you a hint: Ranmaru Mori’s status as Oda Nobunaga’s lover is pretty well supported by Nobunaga’s journal…

      • Hal says

        And Tyson’s being an atheist is well supported by pretty much everything he’s ever said publicly, except for the “I don’t consider myself an atheist” bits ;-)

  23. Jennifer Allen says

    The origtinal post and the comments are, to me, one gigantic muddle. Nearly everyone argues over the meaning of a label when, in fact, the use of a label is both unnecessary and counterproductive. Say something simple like, “I am without belief in or knowledge of anything non-natural.” Then STOP!

    Once you start using a shorthand word, 99% of your audience will ignore your definition. They’ll either substitute their own without admitting what they’re doing, quote someone else’s different definition, or delve endlessly into whatever they want you to think the historical evolution of the label-word has been.

    Think plainly. Then write plainly. Don’t engage in or fall for the obfuscation that (seemingly) characterizes these discussions.

    • says

      Yeah, why do we need a word for someone who is NOT drunk or who has NOT had sex, or who

      We could either say that we’re the ones who do NOT believe impossible nonsense for no good reason, but that puts us in the negative grouping too. So how do we identify ourselves among an overwhelming majority is only distinguished from us by what they do that we ….don’t?

    • EnlightenmentLiberal says

      Words are about communication. We have a word for “dog” because saying “that four-legged animal derived from wolves domesticated by humans a few ten thousand (?) years ago” because the second is needlessly wordy. In information theory terms, it would be nice to have a high information content and a short message length.

      In other words, it would be annoying to spell out the whole of Sagan’s garage dragon parable, plus explain basic skepticism, plus explain basic scientific reductionism, every time someone asked me if I believed in a god. Instead, there’s a few nice labels for that, including “atheist” and “skeptic”.

      The problem is that the word is being constantly perverted and strawmanned by the theists, mostly christians in the west. There is a massive smear campaign going on. For example, the guy up-thread who thinks that up until 1990, atheists all claimed that there is no god of any kind, even though a cursory examination would conclusively show this to be false. That’s because the christians lie about atheists. The whole “everyone knows there is a god” and “atheists worship Satan” and the false dichotomy of you either belief there is a god or you belie there is no god. That last one is endemic to the religious mindset. They just cannot handle “I don’t know”.

      So, I very much feel that the word is important. We need the word, and we need to fight every time explaining what the word means, in an effort to better explain to people what we actually believe.

      And we can’t just choose a different word, because the same smear campaign would just move to the new word.

      And we can’t just go without a word, because the same smear campaign would apply, and it would be much harder on us to properly communicate if we are not allowed to use a label for this.

  24. Jennifer Allen says

    EnlightenmentLiberal responds to me,

    Words are about communication. We have a word for “dog” because saying “that four-legged animal derived from wolves domesticated by humans a few ten thousand (?) years ago” because the second is needlessly wordy. In information theory terms, it would be nice to have a high information content and a short message length.

    Your analogy fails miserably. The meaning of the word ‘dog’ is not in dispute.

    In other words, it would be annoying to spell out the whole of Sagan’s garage dragon parable, plus explain basic skepticism, plus explain basic scientific reductionism, every time someone asked me if I believed in a god.

    You don’t need to say any of that. Just say, “I am without belief in or knowledge of anything non-natural.” Then STOP!

    Instead, there’s a few nice labels for that, including “atheist” and “skeptic”.

    Yeah, labels the meaning of which are in widespread dispute — as this thread conclusively shows.

    The problem is that the word is being constantly perverted and strawmanned by the theists, mostly christians in the west. There is a massive smear campaign going on. For example, the guy up-thread who thinks that up until 1990, atheists all claimed that there is no god of any kind, even though a cursory examination would conclusively show this to be false. That’s because the christians lie about atheists. The whole “everyone knows there is a god” and “atheists worship Satan” and the false dichotomy of you either belief there is a god or you belie there is no god. That last one is endemic to the religious mindset. They just cannot handle “I don’t know”.

    Uh huh,

    So, I very much feel that the word is important. We need the word, and we need to fight every time explaining what the word means, in an effort to better explain to people what we actually believe.

    You’re a purist who yearns to lose and lose badly while valiantly fighting a battle you’ve already admitted you can’t win. Are you a Republican?

    And we can’t just choose a different word, because the same smear campaign would just move to the new word.

    Uh huh.

    And we can’t just go without a word, because the same smear campaign would apply, and it would be much harder on us to properly communicate if we are not allowed to use a label for this.

    How would you go about ‘smearing’ the 10-word sentence I used?

    Do you love your favorite label more than effective communication?

    Do you want to argue inconclusively with others or do you want to educate others?

    Jennifer

    (who tells my mother-in-law, ” “I am without belief in or knowledge of anything non-natural.” Then I STOP! She rants about atheists. I ignore that crap and respond, “I am without belief in or knowledge of anything non-natural.” Then I STOP! After a few repetitions, she starts trying to deal with what I’ve said. She can’t. She makes a fool of herself. I win, and those listening have had a new thought planted in their warped fundie brains — a thought unpolluted by emotional buzzwords and pointless arguments about definitions. Later, after it’s all over, one of the less dense listeners whispers in my ear, “Why do you take that position?” I say, “Lack of evidence.” Then I say, “Can you produce evidence for even one non-natural entitiy?”)

    • EnlightenmentLiberal says

      Just say, “I am without belief in or knowledge of anything non-natural.”

      I cannot. I will not. The problem is your choice of terminology there shows a fundamental misunderstanding. By using those words in that way, you are perpetuating that misunderstanding, and that is why I cannot. I am not talking about a mistake of definitions. I am talking about a mistake in the way you approach reality and truth.

      Now, we can define both natural as “all the stuff which isn’t supernatural” and supernatural as “all the stuff which isn’t natural”. However, at some point you have to break the circle. The word “supernatural” in our culture is a weasel word, or a dodge, or a euphemism. The word denotes a completely arbitrary culturally constructed list of things. Some things in this arbitrary list are: gods, demons, spirits, ghosts, telepathy, chi, magic, miracles. The members of “supernatural” are not under dispute, but I dispute that there is any common element tying them all together. As far as I can tell, the only common element tying them all together is that they do not exist. In that sense, saying “I am without belief of anything non-natural” is equivalent to saying “I am without belief of anything which does not exist”, which is a near true-ism.

      The fundamental problem is attaching this magic label “supernatural” to some claims about our shared reality. By attaching this stupid label, plus cultural inertia, it makes some people think that different standards apply to supernatural claims, or that they’re somehow fundamentally different than so-called natural claims.

      Let me use an example I just used on a friend. “What’s supernatural?” “Anything that’s not physical.” “Is the electromagnetic field physical?” “No.” “Is it supernatural?” “No, because we can see its effects.” “By that reasoning, if ghosts exist then they are also natural, because we can see their effects.”

      Again, the idea that there is a difference between supernatural and natural is entirely a cultural construct, and a bad one too.

      Instead, we should be asking if there is evidence for the existence of phenomena. In that case, I happen to think that the evidence is pretty good that there are no ghosts, spirits, souls, magic, miracles, demons, angels, and gods. Or at least if such things exist, they do so in a way that does not interact with our observed reality, and thus can be safely ignored as irrelevant.

      So, I cannot use the words “natural” and “supernatural” because doing so helps propagate the exact flaw of thinking which I’m trying to destroy. The closest equivalent would be to list off some things which a lot of people think exists, but which I do not think exists. One of those things is gods. And there is a word for that position – atheism.

      Yes, there is a lot of dispute about what the word “atheist” means. All of the confusion is by people who do not identify as atheist. Amongst all people who self-identify as atheist, there is no confusion. There is no dispute. A community around a label gets to decide what that label means, especially when the community has had the same position basically unchanged for at least 300 years. This confusion outside the community about the label is deeper than the label. It’s a basic confusion about the community itself, and that is no accident. It is the result of the polemic of christian preachers to keep their believers coming to church, such as “everyone believes in god”, “atheists worship Satan”, “atheists have absolute certainty that there is no non-interfering god – how stupid!”, etc. Thus, as I said before, dropping the particular label will do nothing to solve the basic confusion over what the community actually believes. A new label would acquire the same problems. Going without a label will have the same problems because the confusion is not over the label, but the confusion is over what the community actually believes.

    • EnlightenmentLiberal says

      Sorry for the second post, but — you identified my exact problem with your mother in law. Avoiding the word is useless. She has been told lies about what people in my community believe and do. As soon as I explain what I actually believe, whether I use the label “atheist” or not, she will immediately latch on to that false stereotype. At which point, I would have to go through the entire procedure.

      Furthermore, if I’m successful and I use the word atheist, at least I would help in dispelling her false beliefs about what my community actually believes, but if I don’t use the word atheist, then her false understanding of my community will persist. In that sense, it’s actually better to use the word atheist.

      • JenniferAAA says

        Dear Ms Eliightenment,

        You’re absolutely attached and detrimentally dedicated to uselessly utilizing massively mushy mumbo (jumbo). This time, in both your comments above, it’s ‘belief/believe’ — which can mean anything from “I believe the Cubs will win the World Series this year” even though you know the odds are laughingly low, to “I am eternally convinced with no reservations and no room for future change that a thundering herd of 1001 elephants is fornicating under my bed.” And you come close to running the gamut of those meanings.

        Think carefully. Express accurately. Speak succinctly. Avoid rat holes. To that end, NEVER use multi-meaning words or labels (such as ‘atheist’) whose meaning is disputed.

        Jennifer
        (who doesn’t ‘believe’ anything)

        • Corwyn says

          If you want to “Think carefully. Express accurately. Speak succinctly.” why aren’t you using mathematics?

          • says

            There’s a good idea. I should ask, “how many theistic beliefs do you have?”

            > 1 = theist
            < 1 = a-theist

            Let’s see if that makes things any easier, or am I going to get people trying to answer with i.

          • JenniferAAA says

            Corwyn asks,

            If you want to “Think carefully. Express accurately. Speak succinctly.” why aren’t you using mathematics?

            My mother-in-law is innumerate as are the overwhelming majority of those who don’t understand, or pretend not to understand, that ‘without theism’ means only that.

            Evaluate your audience. Then speak in terms they can understand. When speaking to simpletons, keep it simple.

            Think carefully. Express accurately. Speak succinctly. Avoid rat holes. To that end, NEVER use multi-meaning words or labels (such as ‘atheist’) whose meaning is disputed.

            You need to read up on the KISS principle.

          • EnlightenmentLiberal says

            The flaw in your reasoning that avoiding the word “atheist” will result in less confusion. Again, I argue that the alternatives will result in more confusion, because the contention is not over what the word means, but it’s over what the community of people actually believe. I am keeping it simple by using the word atheist.

          • Corwyn says

            ” the overwhelming majority of those who don’t understand, or pretend not to understand,”

            Well, if they aren’t understanding you, then you are failing.

    • Hal says

      The meaning of the word dog certainly would be in dispute if a group chose to dispute it. Quite common in conservative politics these days, to take a word and introduce negative meaning to it, dog could be next.

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  26. deepak shetty says

    I hope that this will suffice the next few hundred times I have to explain this.
    To respond to the 1001st time or not? To respond!

    No, atheism is a lack of belief in the existence of a god;
    And some of us are aware of that definition and still call ourself agnostic.
    In order to support a (dis)belief of existence
    a. You need a working definition of God that we agree on. Mine would be someone who created the universe. I do not hold any requirement that such a being be omnipotent/omni-anything – he/she/it need not be in the slightest bit concerned with the state of the universe and so on.
    Again it is only necessary for you and me to agree on the boundaries to have such a discussion. If you want to argue against the Judeo-Christian God, be my guest – I have no reason to defend that God.

    b. Define the terms on what constitutes evidence or lack thereof of such a being (who by my definition is outside our universe). But the important thing here is you have to avoid adding human or religious attributes to such a being. Since you most likely cant (you could do this for a specific religious definition – but its hard to see how anyone on this planet can make a general case).

    c. If you could do b) then you might have a case for evaluating the evidence and saying I have a lack of belief. People like me simply say I do not know. I can’t define what would be evidence so I cannot evaluate the question.

    This however doesnt imply an agnostic cant take up any position. I can easily say – born of a virgin? transforms water to wine ? resurrects after 3 days – i dont believe that , even though it is theoretically possible.

    Its easy to see that a third option is possible , if you look at a less controversial, less biased question like
    “Do you believe Aliens exist? Could they have visited earth? perhaps when no creatures were around?”
    a) You could be an alien fundamentalist (yes they do! see here they have anally probed this person!)
    b) You could be a alien liberal believer (it happened once , the universe is vast , surely the odds are that it could have happened?).
    c) You could be an alien atheist ( we dont see any evidence for any aliens wherever we have looked and we have plenty of hoaxes so we dont believe aliens exist)
    or d) you could simply say No Idea – Dont have enough data to make a qualified guess – it certainly looks like current reported Alien visits are hoaxes but I really cant say whether or not Aliens exist.
    But according to you I MUST, MUST be one of a) b) or c)
    I can picture you arguing Schordingers cat must be dead or alive! Whats that programmers? Booleans can only be true/false what is this NULL?

    Ill give you some points for avoiding Agnostics are intellectual cowards or want to avoid offending the religious and align with them nonsense that people like Coyne and The Friendly Atheist have spouted sometimes – but then you do have the I must be ignorant or practicing deception or in denial or something.

    • Jennifer Allen says

      Very good post. I could perhaps improve it a little bit, and only a little, but I won’t bother to try. The thread is over. Only those who endlessly defend insupportable positions are still at it.

      Once again, VERY GOOD POST.

      • Deepak Shetty says

        @Jennifer
        I could perhaps improve it a little bit
        Please go ahead. I’d like to see it (seriously , not a challenge :) )

        • Corwyn says

          One issue is that you change the definition (after accepting Aron’s).

          No, atheism is a lack of belief in the existence of a god;
          And some of us are aware of that definition and still call ourself agnostic.
          In order to support a (dis)belief of existence

          This whole argument hinges (for Aron, I think) on the distinction between those two statements, that you blithely conflate. To wit: Does “lack of belief” equal “disbelief” Saying that they are the same thing misses the *whole point*.

          I will note (once again) that if one uses properly rigorous mathematical notation, that this goes away. The question is what confidence do you put in the proposition, “at least one god exists”. If your answer is “what is a god?” I, for one, have no problem calling you an agnostic.

          If your confidence is negative, I might call you an atheist, and if positive, a theist. There could be some wiggle room in there about where we decide to map the words to the numbers, say, perhaps that agnostic encompasses all confidence levels with absolute values less than 2 (i.e -2 > x < 2) decibans. If someone questions the word, just fall back on giving the number; confusion resolved.

          [As an aside, I personally find it hard to imagine that someone reached an age of being able to hold this conversation, and not have acquired 2 decibans of evidence concerning the existence of any of the common conceptions of god. But, if that is the case for you, be welcome to the label 'agnostic']

    • EnlightenmentLiberal says

      Repeating what was said up-thread:

      Either there exists one or more gods, or there don’t. Either it’s true, or it’s false. However, your knowledge and beliefs can be of one of three basic buckets: I accept that it’s true, I accept that it’s false, and I don’t know. The last two are included under the atheist umbrella. That’s how the atheist community has been using the word for at least the last 300 years, and quite consistently so. I cannot find a single famous atheist writer who has written differently. And people outside the community get to define what the word means just as soon as I as a non-christian get to decide who is and is not a true christian. In other words, never.

      • Deepak Shetty says

        I accept that it’s false, and I don’t know. The last two are included under the atheist umbrella.
        Shrug . so you say(it isn’t true by the way that I dont know comes under the atheist umbrella which even a simple wikipedia search could tell you) – I have no interest in being under an “atheist” umbrella or an “agnostic” umbrella or an “agnostic atheist” umbrella – since neither of these define for me ,any meaningful attribute (Are you good? Do you hold the same values as I do?).

        I cannot find a single famous atheist writer who has written differently.
        Famous maybe / maybe not – I havent read that many -But you can post on Pharyngula whether everyone there is an agnostic atheist (I dont know and I dont believe) – You will get a few who say that in fact they do know (the same way as they know other stuff). And as I have tried to make clear I don’t know is a different answer than I do not even know how to evaluate this question.

        • EnlightenmentLiberal says

          Remember this: dictionary writers knowingly say that abiogenesis is spontaneous generation, and that it has been disproven. Aronra and others have written to them that they’re wrong, but they will not fix it.

          Your wikipedia reference is the same. It’s simply misinformation that’s been repeated time and time again. It’s a combination of ignorance, cultural inertia by those who do not agree, and outright lying. It’s simply not how the word is used by atheists.

          Again, I can tell you that every famous self-identified atheist writer I can find holds to the same position. It’s also true of all self-identified agnostics I can find. You proportion your belief in accordance to the evidence. The set of god beliefs form such a smooth continuum that you can find a god hypothesis at every point along it. You can find a god for which you should remain undecided. You can find a god for which you should be firmly convinced that it does not exist. You can find a god for every certainty in between. As far as I can tell, most posters to FreeThoughtBlogs are with me on this too.

          • deepak shetty says

            EnlightmentLiberal
            Probably my last response
            Pointing out a flaw in a dictionary does not mean that I throw out the entire book right?

            Again, I can tell you that every famous self-identified atheist writer I can find holds to the same position.
            There are different ways in which people use the I don’t know – There is the philosophical one – i.e. that Humans can never “know” anything with 100% certainty – everything is subjective. That empirical truth is always provisional, always subject to change. You can usually see variations of this theme in ” i do not know God exists but I do not know if there is are magic fairies in my Garden either. That’s the type of I don’t know people who identify themselves as Atheists but reluctantly agree that they are “agnostic atheists” are referring to.
            There’s a second type of I dont know which Im using – which works out to That there is simply not enough information to make a qualified guess (I gave you the example of Do you believe Aliens exist? – what is your answer? – You’ll notice that you will not answer the question in the same way that you answer the God question even though there is the same amount of evidence for both). The God question is even worse because we probably can’t even define what would count for/against evidence. When you cannot even do this much, why take a position? – Especially because that position is irrelevant to any meaningful discussion about anything. Do I care that you believe/disbelieve in God? Hell , no – there are a 100+ questions that I care about much more.

            So if you say God is as likely as fairies- well no – we can determine what would be considered as evidence for fairies, and evaluate them , and you can reasonably conclude that fairies are not currently existing on planet earth. (such analogies are also stupid because maybe some atheist in the past could have said God is as likely as [insert some example which would appear impossible 200 years ago but is commonplace now])
            You cannot do the same for God. Note I’m not making the argument that God is undetectable – merely that how a being outside our universe may or may not interact with us and what such an interaction would look like is something we cannot currently define. An example that you can consider is how a 3D being would appear to a 2D being. If you were that 2D being would you be able to describe a 3d being?
            If you want to make a rational case , answer pt b. in my original question. I define God as a being who could have created our universe and who exists outside it. Please provide questions that can be evaluated against existing evidence as to how you would detect such a being. Such a being may or may not interact with our universe – may or may not care about us – we might just be byproducts of an experiment – may or may not have visited us years in the past. if such a being observes us – how does it do it? What would such observation look like from our side? Does the being see like us? – does it need photons to travel outside our universe? Is that even possible? How could we detect it? What properties does this being have? How would one test for these properties?

            If you cannot answer questions like the above – How on earth are you concluding that there is a “lack of evidence?”.

          • Corwyn says

            If you want to make a rational case , answer pt b. in my original question. I define God as a being who could have created our universe and who exists outside it. Please provide questions that can be evaluated against existing evidence as to how you would detect such a being. Such a being may or may not interact with our universe

            This is quite simply contradictory. No such being can possibly exist. Any being that ‘created’ the universe by definition ‘interacted’ with it.

            As usual, once one has defined god (even just enough to satisfy *having* a definition), that in itself is enough evidence to have a non-zero confidence in the proposition. Often it is not quite so cut and dried as your example.

          • deepak shetty says

            @Corwyn
            This is quite simply contradictory.
            Huh why? Also such a being may or may not interact with us now. And we have no idea what an interaction would look like – unless you want to define those interactions like impregnated a virgin

          • EnlightenmentLiberal says

            @deepak shetty
            Do you have a problem reading? It’s almost as though you haven’t understood a single thing I said.

            For example, “So if you say God is as likely as fairies” – I never said that (under your meaning). No famous self-identified atheist writer I have ever found has said that (under your meaning). Specifically, Dawkins has not said this (under your meaning). I’m not going to copy-paste my reply again.

            However, to address your main question:

            If you cannot answer questions like the above – How on earth are you concluding that there is a “lack of evidence?”.

            This is a semantic word game which I’m not very interested in playing. I don’t know if you’re doing it purposefully. On the hope that you are not, here is the answer:

            Skepticism (loosely) is the standard of belief which says that you should believe X is true only when you have a good and sufficient justification. If you are unable to even identify what might be evidence for a proposition, then you definitely lack a good and sufficient justification for a belief that the proposition is true. Thus, you should remain strictly undecided, and you should claim full ignorance on the topic.

            However, if someone else comes along and makes a claim, and is similarly unable to present good and sufficient justifications, but they claim a belief, then that’s where you can point out that they’re failing at basic skepticism, and they should similarly be without beliefs because they do not have any good reasons for the beliefs.

            PS: I’ve taken the opportunity to skip everything else because I don’t think it matters, but if you want me to answer something specific, just ask please.

          • Corwyn says

            Huh why? Also such a being may or may not interact with us now.

            Why? Because a god which may *not* have interacted with the universe didn’t create it. Q.E.D.

            What difference does ‘now’ make? We have evidence from back to the time that the universe became transparent, and are able to form a reasonable conjecture back to plank time after the beginning. If a god interacted with the universe, we should be able to find evidence of that.

          • deepak shetty says

            @enlightened liberal
            Skepticism (loosely) is the standard of belief which says that you should believe X is true only when you have a good and sufficient justification
            Answer the question Do you believe Aliens exist? There is no credible evidence so per your standard the correct response is that there is ” a lack of belief in the existence of a god?”

            @corwyn
            We have evidence from back to the time that the universe became transparent,
            Really what evidence is this? Please recount to me the events on Alpha_Centauri circa 2000BC

          • EnlightenmentLiberal says

            @deepak shetty
            But we do have evidence concerning aliens. We have evidence that there are a lot of Earth-like planets in the universe, and we have some tolerable evidence that abiogenesis isn’t that extremely rare, which leads me to a weak belief that there is probably alien life on other planets outside of our solar system.

            To reply to the other point, we’ve been looking for violations of physics in response to human prayers, requests, and obvious interactions in human cultures from an extra-human intelligent source. We’ve been looking for a long time, and we’ve found nothing. I know that you’ve heard “absence of evidence is not evidence of absence”, but that’s just wrong sometimes. When you have a proposition, and that proposition says you should see something, and you don’t, then that’s evidence against. When you go into the garage and you do not see a dragon, that’s evidence against dragons in your garage. When everyone every day goes into their garage, that’s evidence against dragons in garages. When everyone goes about their daily life, and they never see a dragon, that’s evidence against dragons in general.
            http://www.godlessgeeks.com/LINKS/Dragon.htm
            “Once again, the only sensible approach is tentatively to reject the dragon hypothesis, to be open to future physical data, and to wonder what the cause might be that so many apparently sane and sober people share the same strange delusion.”

            PS: I find it deeply ironic that I’m quoting Carl Sagan to refute another (potentially?) misunderstood quote of Carl Sagan.

            PPS: Is that the right use of the word ironic? Meh, I never get that right.

      • JenniferAAA says

        EnlightenmentLiberal blathers

        Either there exists one or more gods, or there don’t. Either it’s true, or it’s false.

        OK. Well, sort of OK. You haven’t said what you mean by gods, so we don’t yet know what you’ve really said. But I’ll say ‘uh huh.’

        However, your knowledge and beliefs can be of one of three basic buckets:

        You just blew the ball game. Knowledge and belief are different kettles of simmering pig’s feet.

        I accept that it’s true, I accept that it’s false, and I don’t know.

        What is this “it” you’re speaking of?

        The last two are included under the atheist umbrella.

        Huh? Theism is “belief in a god or gods, however ‘god’ may be defined. Atheism is the absence of such belief. By contrast, “I don’t know” is (duh!) about knowledge. The two are orthogonal.

        It’s perfectly possible to be an agnostic theist, and most theists are just that. They BELIEVE in some god or other, but are honest enough to admit that they don’t KNOW that their god(s) exist. Christianity, for example, doesn’t claim to KNOW that their god(s) exist. But Christians BELIEVE their gods do. It’s all about faith. It’s not about knowledge.

        Me, I don’t BELIEVE in any gods. (Fact is, as far as I can tell, I don’t BELIEVE in anything.) But I don’t KNOW that gods do or don’t exist. Hey, there could be one hiding under a rock in some unexplored spot of the universe. So, I’m an agnostic atheist.

        Of course, I’m taking ‘agnostic’ to mean “I don’t KNOW if god(s) do or don’t exist.”

        [NB: Poor old Tom Huxley was a bit addled when he invented his ‘agnostic’ word. He contended that he didn’t know because he couldn’t know because such knowledge was forever unobtainable. And that is a (rather goofy) faith-based BELIEF.]

        LOL

        Jennifer

        • EnlightenmentLiberal says

          Atheism is the absence of such belief. By contrast, “I don’t know” is (duh!) about knowledge. The two are orthogonal.

          That makes no sense. Knowledge is merely belief held to a strong degree of certainty. Knowledge is a subset of belief. They’re not separate things.

    • Ichthyic says

      In order to support a (dis)belief of existence

      you define a set of circumstances that you can then prove are not met.

      and you can do this infinite times and every time show the conditions are not met, and never have been.

      that’s not agnosticism, that’s atheism.

      it’s a conclusion reached by thousands of repetitions of exactly what you are doing here.

  27. says

    … I think I can adhere to the rules of scientific logic and still honestly say that I know there is no god.

    We know there is no God, in much the same way as we know there are no mermaids:

    1) There is no verifiable empirical evidence that mermaids exist, or ever existed, anywhere.

    2) There is no known “mechanism” or set of circumstances by which mermaids have any reasonable chance of being created or born.

    3) We currently know of PLENTY of circumstances, processes and natural laws that make the existence of mermaids physically impossible.

    4) We cannot accept that mermaids exist, without rejecting massive chunks of knowledge of the Universe that have proven valid and indispensible in all other instances. And if we reject all of that knowledge, then we will be left with absolutely no tools for explaining or predicting events in the Universe.

    5) The only way to accept that mermaids are even possible, without discarding science and rational inquiry altogether, is by arbitrarily postulating some super-advanced technology and/or presently-unknown physical laws that make possible what all the available evidence now shows is impossible. And that is not something we can do lightly — we’d need some extraordinary reason to do so, like an actual mermaid being sighted in New York City and hauled into a lab for extensive examination.

    • Corwyn says

      Not to derail your argument, but exactly what makes mermaids impossible? If primates had taken the same route as the progenitors of dolphins, I would expect the result to be roughly ‘mermaids’ (and merman, of course).

      • says

        Good point — but the upper half of such a creature would give him/her serious disadvantages maneuvering in water, and the lower half would do the same on land. Such a species would be easy pickings for predators of both land and sea.

      • says

        Also, it’s simply not realistic to expect any species to evolve to maneuver in both land and sea, without at some point having to commit to one or the other LONG before developing things like sentience or opposable thumbs. Whatever land-mammal became dolphins did so before they could fully evolve to move and work on land – which is probably why they were both forced and able to go back to water. Primate and human species got too far from the water, and had plenty of time to evolve land-compatible bodies, which would have a very hard time re-adapting to water; and any primates who tried that would probably get eaten by sharks faster than they could evolve fins to outswim them.

        • Corwyn says

          the upper half of such a creature would give him/her serious disadvantages maneuvering in water, and the lower half would do the same on land.

          Human with flippers on maneuver pretty well in water. Dolphins manage to survive the entire evolutionary trip from something like hippos, to their current form. Why would a similar process not work for a primate?

          it’s simply not realistic to expect any species to evolve to maneuver in both land and sea, without at some point having to commit to one or the other LONG before developing things like sentience or opposable thumbs.

          Frogs. Sentience is a red herring of course. Nor is there any folklore which insists that mermaid are able to maneuver in both land and sea. That is in fact, the whole point. I think you might benefit from reading how evolution works, you seem to be under some serious misconceptions, like ‘commit’, progression of traits, etc.

          Primate and human species got too far from the water

          The shrew-like progenitor of all mammals was just as far from water. Dolphins moved BACK.

          And finally, I was referring to the mermaids of folklore, which is what the word “mermaid” means.

          So was I. If you are going to rudely suggest that you know what the word ‘mermaid’ means, and that I don’t you really need to provide some difference you perceive in our respective definitions.

          • says

            The difference I perceive is that I was talking about the mermaids of folklore — fully human above the waist with a fishlike tail in place of legs — and you were talking about hypothetical creatures that would be LIKE mermaids in one or two ways, but would not be what most ordinary people call “mermaids.”

          • Corwyn says

            2) There is no known “mechanism” or set of circumstances by which mermaids have any reasonable chance of being created or born.

            Sorry. Incorrect. The mechanism is called ‘evolution’. If you are of the opinion that you have exhaustive knowledge about what evolution can and can not produce, I suggest you go read about the pre-cambrian explosion.

            We currently know of PLENTY of circumstances, processes and natural laws that make the existence of mermaids physically impossible.

            Name two.

            4) We cannot accept that mermaids exist, without rejecting massive chunks of knowledge of the Universe that have proven valid and indispensible in all other instances.

            Further nonsense. Exactly what chunks of knowledge of the universe would we need to reject?

            you were talking about hypothetical creatures that would be LIKE mermaids in one or two ways, but would not be what most ordinary people call “mermaids.”

            I was? Wow, I had no idea. Or you could just be making things up, since you haven’t actually mentioned a *single* point where my vision differs from folklore mermaids.

            So, why not step up and either defend your amazing pronouncement, or consider that you might have to back down from it.

          • says

            Seriously, Corwyn? You really think it’s possible for the mermaids of folklore — as in, fully human above the waist, fish-or-aquatic-mammal below — to exist as described in the folklore? You really believe any of that folklore describes real creatures? If that’s what you’re trying to say, then the burden of proof is on you, not on me.

          • Corwyn says

            You really believe any of that folklore describes real creatures?

            I suspect that that is enough of a complete strawman to allow you to avoid any responsibility for defending your claims. Congratulations, you have wily slipped away…

          • Ichthyic says

            We currently know of PLENTY of circumstances, processes and natural laws that make the existence of mermaids physically impossible.

            Name two.

            I only need name one.

            common descent.

            reasonably assuming you accept it (and we can reject you outright if you don’t), then mammals and fish shared a common ancestor how long ago exactly?

      • says

        Just to be clear on your earlier assertion:

        If primates had taken the same route as the progenitors of dolphins, I would expect the result to be roughly ‘mermaids’ (and merman, of course).

        Would you really expect only the lower half of the primates’ bodies to adapt to water, while the entire upper half didn’t change a bit? That’s what mermaids are: humans with fishlike lower halves, NOT mammals fully adapted to water like dolphins or manatees. And that is what I’m calling impossible.

        • Corwyn says

          When exactly did dolphins become completely adapted to water? What were they half way between then and when they started the journey? Is a sea otter completely adapted to water? Why or why not?

          Seriously, go look up some evolution textbooks. Evolution isn’t directed. It doesn’t have a goal. There is no final form. Nothing is ever completely adapted. Is a sea otter completely adapted to water?

      • Ichthyic says

        If primates had taken the same route as the progenitors of dolphins, I would expect the result to be roughly ‘mermaids’ (and merman, of course).

        noooo…. they would be something like whales, not merfolk.

        you seem to be trying to redefine both folklore AND biology in your attempt to make a point that is elusive at best, and utterly ridiculous at worst.

  28. says

    The most oft-stated difference between atheists and agnostics, is that atheists say they’re at least pretty sure there are not gods, while agnostics say they have no firm beliefs either way. This difference is real — but whether it MATTERS depends entirely on circumstances. The two could be firm allies in one dispute (i.e., over religious freedom), while arguing endlessly with each other in another.

    • deepak shetty says

      while arguing endlessly with each other in another.
      which isn’t a problem.
      The problem is statements of this sort do not or will not identify as atheist, for various reasons of ignorance, apathy, deception, or denial.
      Why would I call such a person an ally? (Though it cuts both ways – plenty of agnostics are all too willing to accuse reasonable atheists of dogmatism , arrogance etc)

      • says

        The problem is statements of this sort do not or will not identify as atheist, for various reasons of ignorance, apathy, deception, or denial.

        Whether it’s a problem really depends on the reasons for their refusal to call themselves this or that (and besides, who are you to tell others what they should call themselves?); and on how they actually act in the real world. An atheist who calls themself agnostic is fine as long as he/she’s a person of decent character.

    • EnlightenmentLiberal says

      If you actually read their works and understand them, you will see it’s all pedantics.

      For example, the famous self-identified agnostic Bertrand Russell once said something to the effect that he’s 99% sure there are no gods, which in his opinion makes him a technical agnostic, but for everyday conversation in his opinion he’s an atheist.

      Carl Sagan is another self-identified agnostic who seems to hold to basically the same position as the self-identified atheists.

      The problem is demanding a single answer to “is there a god?”. The reply that all of the agnostics and atheists give is: “Which god?”. For the christian god of the christian bible, the agnostics and atheists believe it does not exist. For a deist god, they’re all undecided. Again, please read the garage dragon parable to understand our basic position:
      http://www.godlessgeeks.com/LINKS/Dragon.htm

      • says

        If it’s all “pedantics,” then why should I bother with it? The important thing is what these people DO, not what they call themselves or why, or whether they use this or that philosopher’s definition of what a label means.

        • EnlightenmentLiberal says

          You said:

          The most oft-stated difference between atheists and agnostics, is that atheists say they’re at least pretty sure there are not gods, while agnostics say they have no firm beliefs either way. This difference is real

          What they say is literally true, but it also had the connotation that this is what they believe. This is not what they believe. They are using different language to describe the same beliefs. Hence I wanted to follow up with a correction and/or clarification.

      • Ichthyic says

        The problem is demanding a single answer to “is there a god?”.

        no, the problem is, you have phrased the question poorly.

        the real question is:

        Is there THAT God?

        where THAT equals any specific definition one cares to put forward.

        the answer so far has been no. There is no reason to assume that any new comers will have a new definition to which the answer is yes.

  29. says

    When a group with a certain identity is under attack — as atheists currently are, and have been for a long time — it is perfectly understandable for people in the group to look at people they perceive as fence-sitters and demand they pick a side instead of trying to waffle and avoid consequences while people on the front lines bear all the burdens. I believe this is what all this debate about labels is about: when there’s a war on, neither side is likely to have any patience for people trying, or pretending, to be “neutral” or separate from the unpleasantness.

    And while I think it’s both rational and necessary for atheists to want a unified front, and to get as many fence-sitters as possible to come down on their side, I also think there may be more effective ways to do this than by arguing about semantics (that’s the right word, EL, not “pedantics”) and trying to dictate to others what they get to call themselves. If someone insists on calling him/herself “agnostic,” then instead of angrily saying “you can’t call yourself that,” one should ASK them why they’re using that word, and maybe see an opening to persuade them to come down more concretely on the right side of the fence.

    • deepak shetty says

      as atheists currently are, and have been for a long time
      And other non believers are not? Including being attacked by other atheists?

      it is perfectly understandable for people in the group to look at people they perceive as fence-sitters
      Fence sitters for what?

      Discrimination against non believers? What makes you say that agnostics are fence sitters?
      Discrimination against women ? What makes you say that agnostics are fence sitters?
      Discrimination against gay people ? What makes you say that agnostics are fence sitters?
      The existence of God? who cares. And even if it mattered Why cant you see there are more than 2 viewpoints and that these other viewpoints do not necessarily mean that we are sitting on the fence. We have evaluated the evidence and we have come to a conclusion that you cannot arrive at any conclusion based on the data and evidence you have now .deal with it.If you wish to conclude this involves wishy washy thinking or deception or cowardice on our part – go ahead – just dont expect us to stand up for you when people accuse you of arrogance and dogmatism.

      • says

        What makes you say that agnostics are fence sitters?

        I didn’t say they ARE fence-sitters; I said they might be perceived as such, and that that seems to be part of what is happening in disputes like this. The title of this post all but explicitly says “There’s only two sides in this conflict, and you have to pick one!” And that’s not a title I wrote.

    • Ichthyic says

      I believe this is what all this debate about labels is about:

      read the OP again.

      I don’t think that this is what it is about at all. It’s like you didn’t even read what Aron wrote, or even try to parse the argument he made there.

  30. says

    Write more, thats all I have to say. Literally, it seems
    as though you relied on the video to make your point. You clearly know what
    youre talking about, why throw away your intelligence on
    just posting videos to your blog when you could be giving us something informative to read?

  31. says

    I would like to point out, that when you say you’re a gnostic atheist, I assume you’re talking about a specific God or God(s) and not about the knowlede of any God(s) ever in the history of the entirety of forever, I’m with you in reference to things like the Abrahamic God, or Hindu Gods, all the Proto-Indoeuropean Gods (Of which Yahweh, or the Abrahamic god was originally one) and all the gods who are logical contradictions (All- gods) Or for that matter any God with any supernatural or unprovable claim. Correct? But, for instance Gods, that have evidence for existence, you don’t claim not to exist, you do for instance believe that Caesar existed, and Caesar was Deified, as a God, so he did exist, however, obviously, whatever supernatural claims there may have been about him, is another thing. If I held up a cup, and claimed it was my god, and I worshipped it for it’s ability to hold fluid, you wouldn’t say that it didn’t exist, if my reason for worshipping it was that it held fluid, right? If I made no claims about Kerfefflelups the Holder of Water, that I could not back up with proof, you would accept that it was my deity, yes? So, while I applaud you for your statement about being a gnostic atheist, I do think it is not something that *anyone* can be, and still be a skeptic, atleast not across the board. I consider myself an agnostic atheist, because, while for *some* individual theist claims, I am gnostic and rejecting them with 100% certainty, I do not believe I can gnostically reject the claim of *every theist claim that will ever be, made with 100% certainty* in fact, I can think of some claims that I cannot reject, again Caesar, or Alexander the Great spring to mind, as historical figures that have enough *evidence* of their existence from diseperate and corroborating sources, that were *deified* and worshipped as gods, and while I can reject claims about supernatural things attributed to them, I cannot reject that they were made deities, nor that they existed. Nor can I say that I could never ever conceive of something that could be worshipped and considered a god by all current standards, without being supernatural in origin, something a *god* does not have to be.

  32. Laird says

    I originally composed this post to a friend who “liked” this blog post on Facebook. I since discovered that I did not have rights to comment on the “liked” post, so I figured that rather than waste my effort in composing a response, I would post it here. Emil is the friend on Facebook to whom I intended to respond (Emil is Danish, hence my reference at the end of my comment). His blog post, which he linked to in a comment, is here: http://emilkirkegaard.dk/en/?p=1232

    Emil, at least you acknowledged the usual definition of atheism/agnosticism/theism in your blog post, which is more than I can say for the blogger whose post you liked. Kudos to you, even though I disagree with your conclusion. Personally, I see no reason to redefine the usual definition. I see that blogger’s post as – basically – an attempt to poach supporters: “Hey, you’re not really an agnostic, you’re really an atheist… or at least you should let us count you amongst our numbers”. I think he over-emphasises the distinction between belief and knowledge. In my view, epistemic positions are a continuum, from mere suspicion, to opinion, to weak belief, to strong belief, to knowledge (belief in that knowledge, anyway, as you seem to recognise). In this sense, there is no qualitative difference between “I don’t believe in God” and “I know that no God exists”, merely a matter of strength (degree) of belief. So, I would argue that the traditional categories are perfectly appropriate. The three positions are: (1) my position is that God does not exist (atheism), (2) my position is ambivalent towards the existence of God (agnosticism), and (3) my position is that God exists (theism). Whether these positions constitute “knowledge”, “belief”, or mere “opinion” or “suspicion” is hardly relevant, the point is the psychological attitude evinced in them. To speak more broadly towards the blogger’s post, I found it to be quite arrogant, as though to say: “This is the way it is, pal, and take your story walking if you don’t agree”. I don’t take kindly to that approach (although I am quite non-violent myself). Anyhow, good luck to you, I know you mean well. P.S. I don’t yet speak or read Danish, even though you’ve encouraged me to learn, so I don’t know to what extent I am duplicating/contradicting past posts in this status update. Best wishes to you all.

  33. Sean Lynch says

    I understand Tyson’s and Dawkin’s positions. There are no absolute certainties in science, only degrees of confidence(sigma) that can be calculated with regard to the measured and therefore known to a degree of certainty. Degrees of confidence cannot be stated with regard to the unknown prior to measurement but probabilities of predictions (a degree of possibility) of expected observation can be made based upon some other set of “knowns.” With regard to the unknown, for which there is no evidence or theory based on the known we may use terms for probability like vanishingly small but these estimates are fluid assumptions based upon what we know. An honest scientist should be willing to accept (or refute by scientific method) any validated peer reviewed experimental result giving repeatable evidence with a known degree of confidence-regardless of personal belief.

    Based upon lack of evidence I personally believe that the possibility that a theory of deity will be found or that deity exists is close enough to 0 that any closer doesn’t matter. But I cannot put an exact number on my confidence and therefore to a very small degree I am honestly mathematically uncertain. I call myself agnostic atheist because that fits within the statistical/mathematical paradigm of my confidence in my position.
    It’s not worth me compromising my core beliefs to fit a mold. Been there, done that, lost the t-shirt.
    I apologize for the duplicate post.

    • Ichthyic says

      But I cannot put an exact number on my confidence and therefore to a very small degree I am honestly mathematically uncertain.

      do you act as though that uncertainty bears weight?

      no, you don’t.

      therefore, it is irrelevant.

      you are an atheist.

      Dawkins was wrong to state it as he did, and has caught flak for it repeatedly.

      It’s also NOT how science works, at all. it’s NEVER a measure of strict probability, the only use of probability being specifically applied to the statistical analysis of actual datasets.

      since there ARE no datasets wrt any proposed divine being, ever, it is inappropriate to even attempt to apply probability estimates to it.

      Dawkins has a fail. It happens more often than you might think.

      • Sean Lynch says

        “since there ARE no datasets wrt any proposed divine being, ever, it is inappropriate to even attempt to apply probability estimates to it.”
        Did I say otherwise? You did not understand what I wrote, perhaps confusing Possibility with probability though I thought I was plain enough in differentiating the two as well as discussing the nature of certainty verses uncertainty.
        To discard the explanation of my position as irrelevant was rather caviler. There are no absolutes in science. I tried to explain that above. As soon as we would adopt scientific absolutes (which we won’t) we would become slaves to dogma and close our minds.
        I reserve the right to label myself as “Agnostic Atheist” and refute the labels others would put upon me so that I would conform to their social sensibilities.
        Certainty in the unknown only belongs to the ignorant and the theist.
        HOW DARE YOU PRESUME TO TELL ME WHAT I AM. Shame on you.

  34. Ichthyic says

    An agnostic claims there can be no solution to the equation:

    x+y=z

    an atheist says there are unlimited solutions… all you have to do is plug in SOME DAMN NUMBERS.

    • Sean Lynch says

      You probably believe your comment may have some humor associated with it. However you would be correct in asserting that an educated Agnostic would assert there is no solution to the equation given. One equation, three unknowns, no initial values, no boundary conditions, no statement regarding continuity/discontinuity and no clue as to the nature of x,y, and z. Are x, y z functions, trig functions, real, imaginary, vectors et?
      Variables in equations are often limits which approach a value but never reach it.
      Plugging in numbers will hardly help either since we can plug in any three values-consider: 3+5=9
      Educated Agnostics and Atheists would agree that a solution to any problem depends on the definition of the problem domain and what we are given to work with, but as noted above- 1 equation, three unknowns, in general and specifically in this case- no solution.

  35. Sean Lynch says

    Let the schisms begin. The purity of the non-believer must be maintained. Those who lack certainty are certainly unwelcome fence sitters. They are not true unbelievers. And so it goes in the social quest for conformity that cannot help but exclude some. And when I express my opinion am I to be told my particular position is wrong? I don’t believe in god(s) but I am absolutely certain of nothing, especially the unknown, because I am a scientist. Am I to be told my position, like that of Tyson and Dawkins, causes flack and has no merit? Hey wtf? Since when is your lack of belief superior to mine. This kind of bullshit will only serve theists by driving “fence sitters” away from other Atheists. We’ll be so concerned with what other Atheists don’t believe, or how they don’t disbelieve enough that we won’t be paying attention to theists in TX who passed HB 308.

    • says

      Wow Sean, did you misunderstand my post! There is no issue of ‘purtiy’, no thought of anyone being ‘unwelcome’. There is only the fact that there are no ‘fence-sitters’ in this case. There are those who convinced and those who are not convinced, and no space in between.

  36. Sean Lynch says

    I apologize for my rant and choice of vocabulary aronra. My comment was out of context to a thread and the error was mine. I was being overly sensitive.
    I believe I understood your post. It was some of the comments that pumped me up. Your point is well taken that atheists and theists alike may misunderstand the definition of atheism; “…is a lack of belief in the existence of a god; not the existence of belief in the lack of a god.”

    • Sean Lynch says

      And I did it again. 38-was supposted to be a reply to 37, perhaps now is a good time to consider precision verses accuracy. I’m repeatable but not very damn accurate. I can say that with confidence.

  37. Ted Smith says

    There is more than one way to skin a cat. Labels such as this carry all sorts of additional problems, due to their existence sociologically, historically and to an extent politically, as well as in our general use of language. Extraneous to this neatly argued definition for atheism, is the slightly different definition of atheist traditionally used in a philosophical context, perhaps some historical uses, as well as less clearly defined usages of atheism generally in society. By the definition argued here, every non theist is an atheist, but by other available definitions, atheist is assigned more specific and exclusive uses. People are not obliged to agree that only the one correct definition of atheist exists, similarly to the way that people are not obliged to choose only the one definition of the word gay, or the word theory, or the word run, or any other word with multiple definitions. People reject the label atheist sometimes and do so fairly, for a variety of different reasons. If people do not wish to label themselves as an atheist and argue their case reasonably and soundly, then forcing acceptance of one’s preferred label on this matter can serve to increase tensions and potentially conflict, rather than accord.

  38. Berlin Brown says

    I know this is old, but I still don’t understand Tyson or Dawkins.

    Dawkins proposed a scale “Dawkins called himself a 6 on a 1 to 7 scale”. I want to be a 7. I am a 7 on that scale for non-existence. Why isn’t he? Who are other 7s on the scale?

    • DevinMacGregor says

      Dawkins said he was a 6 leaning 7.

      “Dawkins comments, in his 2006 book, as to his own position on the scale, that he is in the 6 to 7 range: [1]

      “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.””

      The scale goes higher btw:

      http://www.eoht.info/page/Dawkins+scale

  39. Al Dente says

    Berlin Brown @40

    Dawkins and many other atheists including me don’t say “there are absolutely no gods.” We say that here is no evidence for gods and therefore it’s unlikely that gods exist. It someone comes up with convincing evidence for gods then we’ll accept their existence. Until then, based on the overwhelming lack of evidence, we believe gods don’t exist. But there is a finite chance that gods might exist.

    I don’t believe there are leprechauns and I spend zero time looking for pots of gold which careless leprechauns might have mislaid. But there is a non-zero chance that leprechauns exist. So while being an aleprechaunist I’m not committing myself to flatly denying even the possibility of leprechauns. Personally I think the probability of existence of gods and leprechauns is about equal.

  40. DevinMacGregor says

    Nice article btw. I have your youtube channel subscribe recently. What irks me is all this special pleading. The below I wrote and posted in a debate going on over someone claiming they were agnostic but not atheist and actually giving a slight slam to atheists. In that thread of the video we had several claimed agnostics claiming they have the most logical position. I do not care for the word atheist just as I disagree with the term abigfootist or atoothfairist and with my almost 30 years of studying religion as the history of or more precise the cultural evolution of religion as these memes or archetypes regurgitated over and over again this kind of debate to me now is rather pointless. Dawkins actually said he was a 6 leaning 7. I am definitely a 7-10+. Yes his scale as been expanded.

    Someone else said it above about pulling things out of context which is my point below on special pleading. We are really deluding ourselves in this kind of debate when the word god is just a title like lord and does not denote any entity whatsoever. We have pulled a character out of the story to say the story is false but the character is real or possibly real and even more ludicrous is you can’t say that it is not real or does not exist. It is simply an intellectually dishonest and bankrupt notion. Well I am getting ahead of myself:

    What is truly amazing is how we are still embroiled into this argument that is nothing more than philosophical hand waving, a basic Philosophy 101 of Special Pleading, the old Agnostic vs Atheist debate.

    As said before Huxley promoted science as being the model to explain the natural world and that religion was an invalid model to do so. What some hold onto was his next comment, “at best highly unlikely.” But the reality is agnostic as in without gnosis as in knowledge was saying the Supernatural is unknowable to us. Not well it could exist on some planet on the other side of the galaxy. It was saying the unreal was just that not real and we could never know the unreal because if we did it would not mean it was unreal but real and thus again we never knew the unreal. He was not setting the word to be used in some quasi buddhist matrix language of before you can bend the spoon you must know there is no spoon or that all words are just fiction and everything is myth. Huxley again promoted science as in evolution.

    So as we explore the Universe whatever we find will be real, it will be explained by the natural world even if we currently do not have the knowledge of science to understand it at that moment. Atomic theory btw was started back in 475 BCE in Greece. Other Greeks and Romans expanded on it and then it went dormant till the Renaissance when we moved into the modern era of science.

    Now on to the Special Pleading, we like to think we are such smart almost hairless human apes but with our Philosophical Hand Waving we have kept ourselves down with the lower primates and among the dumb monkeys.

    We have taken Harry Potter and all the characters within these scriptures we call fiction writing and broken then down to their basic hero and anti hero archetypes and then have said well I cannot say those archetypes are not real and do not exist. Why if I do that I have made an extraordinary claim and now I must prove that Harry Potter does not exist. It is not testable. It is not falsifiable. Etc etc. All the while acting like I am being logical. Ignoring the fact that we are talking about fiction writing. And to be clear things made up that are not real.

    If we took all the fiction writing we have today and transported them back 2000 years and hell we do not even have to go that far many would look at all of this as non fiction and think these events happened. And why would a polytheistic world doubt what the Jews and later Christians said to have actually happened? Their gods did things too. They performed miracles as well. So wouldn’t they think it was real unless they were starting to see that all of this was fantasy and made up. But then again every religion is atheist to another religion in most cases. Why my make believe things are real but yours are not. Why yours is just silly but mine makes perfect sense. And what is worse are those who pin science and theism as opposite sides of the same coin. This is so dishonest.

    Many and this includes some agnostics and atheists are not going to think I am serious for using Harry Potter or the Easter Bunny or the Tooth Fairy or Santa Claus, or even the bogeyman because NO one thinks for even the slightest that any of these things are anything more than literary inventions and not real. No one says well you can’t say they do not exist. Come on dumb monkeys. You know. You know. Yes, you know. This is fiction. This is how we humans learned ethics and how to handle conflicts etc. We create stories to teach ourselves moral lessons.

    We have taken what a bunch of goat herders have written down about how they think the world is and strip them of specific details down to basic archetypes and then saying to what is left WELL YOU CAN’T PROVE IT DOES NOT EXIST while IGNORING that they are all literacy characters that are designed as teaching tools. We learn this in ENGLISH COMP AND LITERATURE.

    In Comparative Mythology and Cultural Anthropology we see that religion is nothing short of cultural evolution and that most of the worlds myths stem from Ancient Egypt just spitting out the same things but with each new cultural slight spin on it. None of it was ever real and none of these goat herders or dirt farmers knew about some entity on the other side of the galaxy. They had no clue. So if we found such an entity A) it was never what they were talking about and B) it will be a natural entity. See unreal above. BUT we better hope that this species likes us and does not see us in its way for its own survival or our own species will be doing the Ghost Dance and Trail of Tears on the road to our own extinction.

    And how could I possible accept this? The same way I accept macroevolution since the macro is nothing but a series of micro levels. I have no reason not to believe that the micro level workings of today would not work the same as the micro level workings 200 million years ago. I have no reason and better yet rational reason to believe that chemical bonding on this side of the galaxy will not work the same on the other side. Gravity measurements will fluctuate but the math will remain the same. Meaning I can calculate it.

    So we see micro literature and have no reason to believe that on the macro level it is any different. Rationally we can look and see how primitive man believed the heart was where the soul was. Think little monkeys think. Why would they think that? What is the difference between a dead man and one who is alive? I am primitive man and I only have my senses to guide me. Could I not put my hands on the chest of one I think is asleep and feel nothing but on mine I feel a beating. But this still does not quite explain why they thought it was where the soul was. What else was different between a dead man and one who is alive? We see the chest is not moving and our hand over their mouth we feel nothing yet on ourselves and others who are standing around we see our chests moving and we feel something on our hands that are held over our mouth. Yes they were all mouth breathers. Go with it.

    So that thing we call breath must have left their body and that breath is your soul. Hence why some words could not be spoken out loud and were considered too sacred to speak with your soul. Then came the question well where did the soul go? Hence why the Egyptians did not preserve the brain but the heart and why they felt in the afterlife one had their heart weighed and if heavier than a feather then you were devoured and hence why the Maya and Aztecs did not bash open some ones skull and toss their brains to the gods to appease them but ripped open their chest to tear out their still beating heart.

    And thus our journey begins in believing fiction writing was real but it was NEVER real, all literary devices no different than Harry Potter. Oh but all some will get from this is WELL YOU CANNOT SAY THE SOUL DOES NOT EXIST and we are back to being dumb monkeys not fit to be next to the great apes as we wrestle back down to the hand waving of Philosophy 101 and believe we are being honest and truthful when we are just deluding ourselves and one reason why we cannot have nice things.

    It is time for the children to grow up.

  41. DevinMacGregor says

    Holy moly I just wanted that video and I am in love. Maybe Weird Al will make a song about butt elves.

  42. Wabun says

    sorry i did not read all of your post as i just came here from another discussion to look for something in you post aaaaaand check i also found it:

    You have bent the definition of Atheism to be ‘A’ ‘theism’ ‘ism’ just to suite your argument. It is per definition ‘A’ ‘Theos’ so it very well means no god. Evidence 1: the term ‘Atheism’ is 100 years older than Theism. Evidence 2: There is a word for religious belief ‘Eupistia’, so what you are describing would be ‘Aneupistia’. ‘Isms’ are not named after other ‘isms’.

    Yes you can say atheism means something different for you and you feel akin with agnostics. I would say the cultural definition is always the one you should go for. But do not try to ‘claim’ people by distorting the etymological meaning.

    Something does not have to be a belief-system to be a philosophy. I was raised without religion and i am an Agnostic. It is not because i do not want to offend anyone but because i stand outside your binary quarrel and am only interested in religion and counter-movements out of scientific curiosity. And above all i am Agnostic because i define myself as one.

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