Comments

  1. StonedRanger says

    A couple of things this week. First off, kudos to Russell, John, and the AE crew for the efforts each week to put on the show. It seems to me that the station is either remiss in their responsibility to provide working equipment or they just don’t care about this show and give them crap stuff to work with. Either way, well done.

    Second thing- theists, you don’t get to tell me what my beliefs are. How many times does the host (in this case Russell) have to tell you no, that’s not what we believe before you accept what he is saying? FFS that just has to be so frustrating. Keep up the good work.

  2. toska says

    The last caller (which continued into the aftershow) brought up a parable about a man who spent his life saving up his grain in order to retire, but he died as soon as he saved up enough. So the conclusion was that his life was a waste, and I guess the caller meant to say that this demonstrates that all earthly goals are essentially meaningless if they don’t support a god’s purpose for you. I actually thought that parable was a GREAT demonstration of why religion is harmful for believers. Like the man saving up grain, Christians spend their lives preparing for their afterlife and working toward an ‘eternal purpose,’ as the caller worded it. This effectively makes their actual lives as meaningless as the man who was preparing for retirement. At the end of their lives, they die, and the afterlife never comes. They spend their lives working toward a kind of ‘retirement’ that will never exist, EXACTLY like the man in the parable. I’m sure the caller had something else in mind when she brought it up though.

  3. says

    The second caller started with the “How do you explain…”.. initially I wished the hosts shot that one down, because it’s a classic shifting of the burden of proof. Though apparently the caller never went there, and was just actually asking.

    For the last caller, I kind of get the idea of the bleak purposeless existence of an atheist.

    I compare it to the different between an employed and self-employed person. The life-long employed person is so used to just having tasks assigned to him/her, that the self-employed person is a mystifying curiosity. It may seem frightening in a few ways. Being fired has always been equivalent to an excommunication – a death sentence. It also calls into question as to whether one’s own position that employment is the only way… and whether one’s life has been wasted on it.

    “How do you know what to do?”, the employed person may ask. It’s not easy, but most answers would essentially say “You decide for yourself”, but those answers aren’t really satisfying.

    I think one’s attitude heavily influences whether those answers are accepted… like going to see a movie with lowered expectations, one might actually enjoy it more, than if one had high expectations.

    If you thought your entire career was that the President had special tasks and jobs for you, within his/her grand plan for the fate of the planet, it’d be sort of a disappointment to realize that this was just all made up by your parents who were trying to encourage you with these ideas… but only because they themselves believed it.

    For life to be “reduced” to the same decision level of deciding what to do with one’s vacation, just seems vacuous in comparison, and they’d rather just keep believing the delusion.

  4. Markus F says

    About: Tara – Bale City, VA

    As I watched this, I really wanted to jump in. The anguish of a world without God… this is a deep question. What I wanted to say to her was something like this:

    This might seem condescending, so please don’t take it the wrong way. The anguish you feel now is the direct result of your religious upbringing, which shielded you from this question at the age when you were properly equipped to deal with it. Let’s say around seven, the canonical age of reason, when you start to trust your own judgement and can use your mind to evaluate the world from your own perspective for the first time. When you encountered that question, you were fed a protective ideology: everything has a purpose, god has a plan, don’t worry about it.

    Existentialism sometimes describes four sources of anguish, which presumably every self-aware mind faces at some point in its development: the fear of death and oblivion, free will and one’s inescapable freedom, solitude and ultimate isolation of the mind, and the absurdity of the world. Religion shields your from all of these: you will not die, you must follow moral laws, you are not alone, and god has a plan. Now that your religious beliefs weaken, you must face these existential questions as an adult. And that is scary.

    Again without condescending, I remember quite well playing with these questions before my teens. It’s like looking into an abyss, getting closer to feel the vertigo and retreating when it gets too intense. You can get this feeling from contemplating infinity or eternity as well. Just think about not only death, but oblivion. There will come a day when nobody remembers me, when this civilisation will be only studied by archaeologists, when our planet will be destroyed, when the entire universe will be dead… What’s the point of anything, then?

    Our inescapable free will is just as intriguing. Nobody can read my mind, I can think the most horrible things without anyone but myself judging me. When I’m alone, I can also do anything I want. I can commit crimes, and even get away with them if I’m smart. There are no ultimate moral laws, only those I set for myself. But I’m only a kid, how can I possibly know all the consequences of my actions? How can I be moral without omniscience?

    But, as a kid, you play with these questions for a while and then you get hungry, or sleepy, and life goes on. And that, in some way, is a deep answer to these deep questions: life goes on.

    When addressing these questions, try not to find answers in any ideology, new age spirituality, or ancient Maya prophecies. In short, not in anything you have learned as an adult. Address them as a kid would, playfully, with innocence.

    To return to the meaning of it all, look around you, talk to people, ask them what makes them tick. You will find that Christians and atheists are very much the same: some have a passion, some suffer and complain, some have a goal, some just enjoy stuff, some embark on a mission, some try to solve a problem, some have a calling, some judge and critique everything, some seek love and happiness, some get comfortable in every day life… But people who don’t assign any meaning at all, or who rely solely on some divinely inspired meaning? I have only met them in the local mental institution. It’s just not healthy. With or without god, you need to find your own meaning to things. Whether there is an ultimate plan or not, you are not omniscient, and you need to take your decisions for yourself, from your limited perspective.

    Anyway, just start with this: whatever you do with the ultimate question of the meaning of it all, life goes on.

    Cheers!

  5. JD and Co. says

    The last caller who said she thought she would feel empty without God? When I lost my first love, I thought I’d never again feel happy again (is there any broken-hearted teenager who *doesn’t* feel that way?). When I was having severe doubts about religion, I thought I would always attend church anyway because I’d feel too guilty otherwise. Needless to say I’ve found outstanding love…and was astonished at how not-guilty I felt when I stopped going to church!

    Humans are lousy predictors of how they will feel in the future under certain circumstances. To quote Counting Crows (“Mr. Jones and Me”), “when everybody loves me, I’ll be just about as happy as I can be…” Adam Duritz has later said he regretted writing those words, as they turned out to be miserably untrue.

  6. Narf says

    @5 – JD and Co.

    To quote Counting Crows (“Mr. Jones and Me”), “when everybody loves me, I’ll be just about as happy as I can be…” Adam Duritz has later said he regretted writing those words, as they turned out to be miserably untrue.

    Wait, what? Wasn’t that entire song written sarcastically? I rather took it to be the voice of someone who was aspiring to fame and had all sorts of messed up perceptions … sort of a parody of the desperation of famous people.

  7. JD and Co. says

    @6 Narf
    I always took the song to be tongue-in-cheek, an admission of what every garage musician (and writer, and actor) secretly thinks to himself/herself as they’re struggling to make it. But apparently Duritz was so bitter that he rarely plays the song in concert anymore, and if he does he changes the lyrics to “…when everybody loves you, that’s about as fucked-up as you can be.” (http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Mr._Jones_%28Counting_Crows_song%29).

    Nevertheless, it’s a good example of how mistaken you can be when you’re absolutely convinced “When X happens, I’m going to feel Y.”

  8. Narf says

    Yeah, I guess Duritz was the person who should be parodied. It’s funny that someone could write something with such obvious satirical potential and mean it seriously.

  9. Curt Cameron says

    About the guy who said atheists claim there isn’t a god and therefore have the same burden of proof:

    I think there are better ways to address this fallacy. My own preference is in two steps, first to explain what I actually claim about the subject, and then to use a metaphor (simile?) to highlight the point.

    Theists (mostly) claim that there is a god. I don’t believe it, so I’m an atheist. That’s what an atheist is. I myself would go further and say that I actually believe there isn’t a god. But that’s not my claim – my claim is that there is insufficient evidence for a god to justify belief in one. This claim is a negative one and can’t be formally proved, but it could easily be falsified by someone producing good evidence. Since we’ve been waiting for this to happen for thousands of years, I have a pretty high confidence that it’s not going to happen.

    A perfect metaphor is the idea of leprechauns. If someone says he believes in leprechauns, and I say that I don’t believe that, do I have a burden of proof? I don’t believe there are leprechauns, and I would say that I believe there are no leprechauns. There is not sufficient evidence to lead someone to that belief. But I can’t prove they don’t exist – I can turn over every rock in Texas looking for one, and the believer would just say that the leprechauns just moved to Oklahoma. If someone says there are leprechauns, he can show it by producing the leprechauns.

  10. Robert, not Bob says

    Yes, leprechauns are a frequently-used example on the show. Theists usually get offended, though there have been some cases of the caller getting the point. You can use other examples, but Bigfoot is more likely, I’ve noticed, to offend.

  11. Narf says

    Theists usually get offended, though there have been some cases of the caller getting the point.

    Considering that our very existence offends them, causing or not causing offense is pretty far down my list of concerns. Perhaps you noticed that about me, in our interaction with Jerry, over in the Pascal’s Wager post. 😀

    I spent a few minutes trying to come up with another comparison which might not offend them, and I’m coming up empty. Considering that the point of the comparison is to demonstrate how silly we think their religion is and to try to get them to grasp that fact and how it is in no way a properly basic assumption, I think that the very nature of the exercise prevents an inoffensive comparison.

    Anyone who has read Christian apologetics uncritically will probably have a lot of issues with this sort of thing. There’s so much shit that apologists shovel into the heads of their readers/listeners, which taints the very process of rational thinking. Ray Comfort and other presuppositionalists even come right out and declare that god is an axiom, clearly having no idea what an axiom is … not that Ray is intelligent enough or educated enough to string together a formal presuppositionalist argument, but he does a dumbed-down version.

  12. Mr. Dave says

    @12 Narf

    In the case of Ray Comfort, I’m of the opinion that he’s “packaged” himself in order to sell the crap that he peddles to people. His whole shtick centers around being unable to absorb any facts that are explained to him, so that he can maintain his facade of ignorance. Using that facade, he’s given himself something of an excuse for continuing his fallacies and lies, by pretending he just does not have the capacity to do better. Coupling that with what I consider to be an additional facade of never-ending cheerfulness, Ray is the perfect “village idiot”, one that is managing to cash in on the gullibility of others. Anybody who has enough business acumen to operate a seven-figure flim-flam enterprise, must either be an idiot savant of sorts, or just a very good actor.

  13. Stephen says

    I’m just wondering if there’s a reason the after show portion is not included in the mp3 download. I know that I’ve heard it at least once, but as a general rule it is not. It can be a bit frustrating to hear half of a call, and then suddenly have it cut short by the end of the show.

  14. pwuk says

    There is an infinite number of things that don’t exist, do they all need disproving too?

  15. JT Rager says

    If someone pulls out their dictionary hat and tells me that “that’s not what an atheist is”, I’ll usually say what Russell said, along the lines of saying they can consider me a non-atheist if they want, but it’s my identity and it’s by and large what the atheist community uses. And then I’ll shift the conversation as best I can and clarify my position on the existence of gods, and they should address that. If they continue to be hung up on the definition of atheism, then the conversation is about the definitions of words, which is far less interesting then actually having a discussion on the existence of gods, so I’ll stop talking to them if they continue that way.

  16. says

    @16

    Actually, I’d go a step further and point out that most dictionaries have the “lack of belief” definition too, so why is the person applying the other definition?

  17. JT Rager says

    At a certain point, I really just don’t give a shit what an atheist is. Within the context of me fed up with their definition (whether it matches the dictionary or not), I’d rather just say “ignore the definition, because I don’t care about it right now. Focus on my position.” If they continue to wrestle with definitions, there’s a good chance they’re just trying to get me to “admit” that I’m really just an agnostic and not an atheist (and therefore a liar or untrustworthy), or that I have a burden of proof to fulfill. Neither of those are true, and it’s a disingenuous tactic. If they are looking for an honest discussion, they will actually address my position.

  18. Narf says

    @16-18 – JT & Jasper
    I had a couple of Jehovah’s Witnesses try that this morning, actually. Sadly, I really needed to get a couple more hours of sleep, so I didn’t have the time to straighten them out on some basic definitions. I was kind of annoyed at their timing, since it had been almost a year since I’d had some, and I was feeling a little peckish.

    Jasper, they use the more narrow definition because they think they can then convince you that if you don’t know, it’s safer to believe that a god (their God, obviously) exists, if you aren’t absolutely sure, in some half-assed version of Pascal’s Wager. I usually short-circuit this a bit by clarifying that my agnostic-atheist position (in those contexts in which I would be a default atheist) is not a position based upon ignorance, and that I’ve almost certainly studied the issue more thoroughly than the evangelist has … particularly in the case of a Jehovah’s Witness, who seem to universally have an almost kindergarten-level understanding of theology/mythology. More-over, in regards to their god or any other god-concept based upon the Bible, I’m not a default atheist.

  19. Narf says

    @14 – Stephen
    Yeah, I don’t know why they do that. Whoever does the .mp3 rip included it in a few episodes, about a year ago, and then they went back to just the content of the official show. I wish they would go back to that, so that it’s easier to get the whole thing in one go.

    Well, at least UStream keeps the archive for a damned long time. I was able to pull up at least back through #830, when I checked the archive just now. I’m not sure what the limit is.

  20. Robert, not Bob says

    Narf, as an “aspie” I have plenty of experience with people taking offense, and as a kid I thought it was a choice they make, either as a defensive mechanism or a tactic to take the moral high ground. Not usually conscious, I suppose.

    “Argumentum ad dictionarium” is something I run into in discussions of feminism a lot. A good argument might be had about whether the definition you’re using is a useful one (rather than the Correct Definition, whatever that means), but it never gets that far.

  21. JD and Co. says

    @16 JT Rager

    If they continue to be hung up on the definition of atheism, then the conversation is about the definitions of words, which is far less interesting then actually having a discussion on the existence of gods, so I’ll stop talking to them if they continue that way.

    Good point. Force them to pick one topic and stick with it. My response is “You can call me what you want. I call myself an ‘atheist’ because ‘agnostic’ all too often leads Christians to hope that I’m a lost soul looking for enlightenment.”

  22. frankgturner says

    @Robert not Bob # 21
    Funny that you mention the whole Aspie thing (given that I am a fellow Aspie on here, we have discussed that right?). The topic fits well into my issue with the 3 times this week Calvinist, “hermeneutics” caller (Bill, or Phillip, or whatever he wants to call himself).

    This fellow seems to be unable to break from considering his base axiom – definition of what it means to be an atheist. To him (and I don’t blame him, a lot of society is this way due to misunderstanding and unwillingness to consider alternatives) you are only an atheist is you are certain that god does not exist and only a theist is you are certain that god does. To him, agnosticism is only the pure middle ground, saying “I don’t know.”
    .
    Something Matt often said on the show is that words have meaning by consensus. I wish that were not the case and i am sure that our Calvinist caller does not either. I would be perfectly happy with words that had their context built into their definition but that would require an infinite number of words to define an infinite number of contexts. So hermeneutics and its study makes a bit of sense if you are opened and flexible word definitions changing over time but I don’t think he is…yet.
    .
    The Aspie thing ties in here. My mother was often very accusatory of me growing up for not reacting appropriately to social cues, body language and facial expressions and tones of voice. She thought that I knew better and did it on purpose. I asked what the tone of voice was and what the appropriate response was and all I did was get scorned. I learned that I had Asperger’s as an adult. My nephew and (oddly enough) niece have it too. As a grandparent my mother is coming to learn that not everyone understands the same meaning of non verbal communication. When she raised me, she was totally unwilling to even entertain the idea that social cues were, for some, NOT an inborn trait and had to be actively taught an learned by some.
    .
    Calvinist man needs to comprehend that the way a large part of society may define and use a word may NOT be the appropriate way to use it within a select group.
    .
    Lately though I call myself an “agnostic” though due to my understanding of how society defines said term even though among you all I might be more prone to call myself an “atheist” based on how you use the term. For me using one word among one group and another word among another because I am aware that there is NOT a consensus is perfectly fine with me.
    .
    Oh Narf, or anyone else willing to answer, is there a place out there where I can set up a web site for free (or a small price) to do blogging where I could sell advertising space for a profit? I think I have an idea for something I will sell but need a web site / blog to do it.

  23. JD and Co. says

    @23 frankgturner

    There are lots and lots of free and very easy to use website builders. weebly, webeasy, webbuilder…you get the idea. I do websites as a living so if you need some guidance I’ll be glad to help.

  24. frankgturner says

    @ JD & Co
    Sure, please give me a path on how to contact you (like a link that goes to an address where you have an email or something). I would love some guidance.
    .
    Oh and that agnostic comment led to the same thing with me, at first. Got some Xtians thinking I was a lost soul that just needed evidence. Until they tried to present me with what they considered evidence…and their knowledge (or rather lack thereof) of scripture. A few walk away frustrated but I do get some more opened to an alternate understanding of the word “agnostic.”
    .
    One even acknowledged to me that by my definition she is agnostic too, just one that defaults to theism in the absence of evidence rather than the other way. At least she was willing to learn.

  25. JT Rager says

    So to get things straight…

    Atheist: “You can’t prove that my god doesn’t exist, You just have faith in something you don’t actually know for sure!”

    Agnostic: “So you aren’t sure? Have you considered what the word of Jesus Christ has done for me?”

    It’s almost as if humans are non-nuanced one-dimensional beings for which there is always an answer from the Bible how to “witness” to.

  26. Narf says

    @21 – Robert

    Narf, as an “aspie” I have plenty of experience with people taking offense, and as a kid I thought it was a choice they make, either as a defensive mechanism or a tactic to take the moral high ground. Not usually conscious, I suppose.

    Oh, you’d be quite correct to think it was a tactic, in this particular case. The sheep that you’re receiving the I’m-offended-at-the-things-you-dare-to-think bullshit from might not be aware of the tactic, but somewhere higher up the chain, people are aware of the power of declaring something offensive.

    We have people trying to pass blasphemy laws here in the US, too, and we have people trying to enforce laws that should have been struck from the books a century ago. The case of the 14 year-old arrested for taking a lewd picture with a statue of Jesus is a perfect example. I’ve heard that the church is not pressing charges, but I hope it actually ends up going to court. The damned law needs to be completely struck down.

    The other label you brought up, defensive mechanism, is applied more actively on the level of the idiots actually wielding it against you. Of course it’s usually at a subconscious level, as you said. Most defense mechanisms are.

    Quite simply, being outraged at our perfectly understandable and applicable analogy means that they don’t have to think about it and examine their beliefs.

    “Argumentum ad dictionarium” is something I run into in discussions of feminism a lot. A good argument might be had about whether the definition you’re using is a useful one (rather than the Correct Definition, whatever that means), but it never gets that far.

    Strangely, I often run into the opposite problem, when getting into arguments over feminism. “There’s a far-left political-party in some Scandinavian country that managed to get one person elected to the parliament, and she proposed a law to tax men more than women. So, THAT is the official position of the feminist movement!”

    That was more or less the argument presented by this one MRA that I encountered at work. It was so much stupid loaded into a small package … I think about 5’5″ or 5’6″.

    He didn’t know which country it happened in. He didn’t know which year it happened. He didn’t have an article to point me to, even from an MRA website.

    I mean, for fuck sake. I could see someone proposing legislation like that, here in the US, as a sort of “How do you guys like the idea? Because that’s what you’re doing to us, with the contraception health-insurance-coverage bans and other various Republican proposals.” You can’t point to a piece of joke legislation, which the proposer calls a piece of joke legislation, then call that an official position of an entire movement. How do I know you’re not talking about something like that?

    I won’t even get into the idea that a movement as diverse as the feminist movement could have an official position like that. That’s too stupid to need addressing.

  27. Narf says

    @23 – fgt

    (given that I am a fellow Aspie on here, we have discussed that right?)

    You’ve mentioned it once or twice, yes. That was several months ago, though, so some of our current commentators might have missed it.

  28. Narf says

    I’ll let JD handle your questions about web hosting, Frank. I’m hardware/networking side, although my girlfriend is a web developer/web-accessibility specialist. I know of several hosts, including some that JD mentioned, but my information about quality and functionality of any given hosting provider is horribly out of date.

    Heh, funny. I knew a guy named JD, when I worked for Blue Cross Blue Shield, who was going more into the web design end of things.

  29. Narf says

    @26 – JT Rager (and other bits by other people, further up the comment section)

    So to get things straight…
    Atheist: “You can’t prove that my god doesn’t exist, You just have faith in something you don’t actually know for sure!”
    Agnostic: “So you aren’t sure? Have you considered what the word of Jesus Christ has done for me?”

    That’s often the way that evangelists slap it together, yes.  Most evangelists have amazingly bad concepts of basic critical-thinking, since how they really came to their conclusions involves the argument from authority and the argument from ignorance, at multiple points.  Any attempt at more rational thought involves them representing methods of thinking that they don’t normally make use of, and so they don’t know how to use them.  What you’re actually up against, with most evangelists, is a set of rhetorical gambits, with very little understanding of the “logic” that underpins them.

    Your example is one of the reasons that I always adopt the atheistic label in a discussion with an evangelist.  For one thing, I’m an explicit atheist in regards to the god that they’re pushing, so it’s technically a bit more precise for the discussion at hand.  We can deal with my position in regards to a more nebulous, deistic god-concept when they’re willing to propose that I should become a deist.  “You should care about God and the afterlife!  God apparently doesn’t care, and we haven’t heard anything from him lately, but you should care!”

    Hey, anyone want to start a door-to-door deist-evangelism campaign with me?

    As for what Frank said on the subject, I find it more useful to do as I do because of where the discussion is likely to go.  I’d much rather have the discussion about the worthlessness of the concept of absolute certainty; the worthlessness of the concept of faith, which they use to prop up their claim of absolute certainty on their own side; and the discussion about the contexts of my implicit and explicit atheism.  If you begin from a label of agnosticism, you’re more likely to get into a discussion of Bible-verse, Bible-verse, Bible-verse, because they begin with the “You’re just a seeker,” bullshit.

  30. frankgturner says

    @Narf # 30

    I find it more useful to do as I do because of where the discussion is likely to go. I’d much rather have the discussion about the worthlessness of the concept of absolute certainty; the worthlessness of the concept of faith, which they use to prop up their claim of absolute certainty on their own side; and the discussion about the contexts of my implicit and explicit atheism. If you begin from a label of agnosticism, you’re more likely to get into a discussion of Bible-verse, Bible-verse, Bible-verse, because they begin with the “You’re just a seeker,” bullshit.

    .
    I don’t mind so much the conversation going to implicit vs explicit atheism and Bible verse, Bible verse as I often look up what the verses mean in the original language (I have done that several times and later been met with…”but it is in english,” which is a hilarious thing to break them out of). The verses are meant to have an emotional impact and they don’t count on someone looking into their deeper meaning. (Remember the conversation about the woman who suggested that I did not really read the Bible because it did not have the emotional impact on me?). It is a lot harder for them go defend their scripture when it eventually breaks down into “I know it is true because god told me so.”
    .
    I see what you are getting at though regarding absolute certainty. And I am definitely more of an implicit atheist than an explicit one. I adopt more of the, “God is innocent of existing because I have not seen evidence of him existing and in the absence of evidence I say innocent until proven guilty” position. That tends to lead to the “I have evidence” at which point when the evidence is presented to me I point out why it is not really evidence which sometimes leads to the same thing, a discussion of absolute certainty and faith.
    .
    @JD # 31
    Thanks, will make do of that.

  31. JD and Co. says

    I thought that remark Tara made about Matt being “scary” was undeserved. Matt is usually polite and kind, especially to people like her who call in with respectful questions. When they interrupt, preach, ignore questions, or get aggressive–then Matt responds in kind.

    The same is true for the posters here, too. As long as I’ve been reading here, I can’t recall anyone getting hostile to a theist who writes in with an honest question.

  32. Narf says

    I don’t mind so much the conversation going to implicit vs explicit atheism and Bible verse, Bible verse as I often look up what the verses mean in the original language (I have done that several times and later been met with…”but it is in english,” which is a hilarious thing to break them out of).

    Heh, I guess either way, you end up at a result of them not having a clue what they’re talking about. I just try to stay away from an actual discussion of the Bible in detail, since any time I’ve tried that, I’ve gotten a response something along the lines of me not reading it with the guidance of the Holy Spirit, or something similarly nonsensical.

    About the only time I go into actual Bible content is to go a bit Socratic with the slavery issue, when dealing with the anti-gay fundamentalists.

    And yeah, I want to have a discussion about explicit and implicit atheism. That’s why I identify as an atheist in order to prompt that discussion, when if I identified as an agnostic, they would start with the spiritual-seaker crap.

    That tends to lead to the “I have evidence” at which point when the evidence is presented to me I point out why it is not really evidence which sometimes leads to the same thing, a discussion of absolute certainty and faith.

    That’s one of the more impressive bits about Josh McDowell’s doorstop, Evidence that Demands a Verdict. How do you write an 816-page book with the word ‘evidence’ in the title, and not include any evidence?

    Many Christians have this mental block preventing them from understanding what words mean. I’ve dealt with several evangelists who could not get their heads around the fact that the passages of the Bible are claims, which then need evidence to support them, before I take them seriously.

    With this sort of poor grasp of what words mean, is it any surprise that fundamentalist Christians don’t understand what science is and why what creationists are doing is not science?

  33. Narf says

    I thought that remark Tara made about Matt being “scary” was undeserved. Matt is usually polite and kind, especially to people like her who call in with respectful questions. When they interrupt, preach, ignore questions, or get aggressive–then Matt responds in kind.

    Well, a lot of people only notice the explosion, not the willful ignorance that lead to the explosion. I think Matt has gone off a little quickly, a couple of times, but in general, he only gets aggressive once it becomes abundantly clear that the conversation isn’t going anywhere.

    Hell, look at the way he handled Bill/Phillip from Chicago. It was obvious that the call wasn’t going anywhere, maybe a minute in, but Bill/Phil remained amiable (sort of like a badly concussed kitten) and so Matt remained so as well.

    The same is true for the posters here, too. As long as I’ve been reading here, I can’t recall anyone getting hostile to a theist who writes in with an honest question.

    Eh, it happens, but it’s far from the norm. Most of us have to get about half a dozen comments into a back-and-forth, before it becomes obvious that we aren’t dealing with an honest person. Then, I feel free to start with the mockery and abuse, once it’s obvious that the person isn’t actually listening to what I’m saying.

    Recent examples are Jerry, in the Pascal’s Wager post, and oldoligarch, in the ‘butthurt’ post. I got aggressive with oldoligarch the moment he showed his hand, though, because I could see where it was going, right away.

  34. Narf says

    Whoops, I forgot comment markers on both of those, but you can see where they’re tied to, since it was only a couple of comments previous.

  35. ironchops says

    I liked it that Russell and John were able to take alot of calls. I wish they would limit each call to 5 minutes. We would have a better opportunity to hear more views points/questions. Callers would be forced to be more concise intead of that shotgun blast of silly questions that sometimes happens.

    I would agree with John’s advise to Raven…”cut yourself a break”. It didn’t sound like it bothered you while you were getting baptized. So you changed your mind, just move on and be yourself. The family will come around…mostly.

    I agree with Narf also, that if you are here honetly thinking and learning then everyone seems nice enough. Some more blunt than others but it’s all good I think.

  36. Conversion Tube says

    #5 WOW that was weird. In your first paragragh you wrote

    “”””The last caller who said she thought she would feel empty without God? When I lost my first love, I thought I’d never again feel happy again (is there any broken-hearted teenager who *doesn’t* feel that way?). “”””

    Immediately reading that I was reminded of when I was a teenager and this girl I liked, liked my best friend instead of me. I remembered how I played the counting crows song Mr. Jones and Me over and over, feeling sorry for myself.

    Then I read your second paragraph

    “””Humans are lousy predictors of how they will feel in the future under certain circumstances. To quote Counting Crows (“Mr. Jones and Me”), “when everybody loves me, I’ll be just about as happy as I can be…” Adam Duritz has later said he regretted writing those words, as they turned out to be miserably untrue.”””

    It just goes to show you, meaningless coincidences happen.

  37. Conversion Tube says

    #5 WOW that was weird. In your first paragragh you wrote

    “”””The last caller who said she thought she would feel empty without God? When I lost my first love, I thought I’d never again feel happy again (is there any broken-hearted teenager who *doesn’t* feel that way?). “”””

    Immediately reading that I was reminded of when I was a teenager and this girl I liked, liked my best friend instead of me. I remembered how I played the counting crows song Mr. Jones and Me over and over, feeling sorry for myself.

    Then I read your second paragraph

    “””Humans are lousy predictors of how they will feel in the future under certain circumstances. To quote Counting Crows (“Mr. Jones and Me”), “when everybody loves me, I’ll be just about as happy as I can be…” Adam Duritz has later said he regretted writing those words, as they turned out to be miserably untrue.”””

    It just goes to show you, meaningless coincidences happen.

  38. Conversion Tube says

    #5 WOW that was weird. In your first paragragh you wrote

    “”””The last caller who said she thought she would feel empty without God? When I lost my first love, I thought I’d never again feel happy again (is there any broken-hearted teenager who *doesn’t* feel that way?). “”””

    Immediately reading that I was reminded of when I was a teenager and this girl I liked, liked my best friend instead of me. I remembered how I played the counting crows song Mr. Jones and Me over and over, feeling sorry for myself.

    Then I read your second paragraph

    “””Humans are lousy predictors of how they will feel in the future under certain circumstances. To quote Counting Crows (“Mr. Jones and Me”), “when everybody loves me, I’ll be just about as happy as I can be…” Adam Duritz has later said he regretted writing those words, as they turned out to be miserably untrue.”””

    It just goes to show you, meaningless coincidences happen.

  39. EnlightenmentLiberal says

    First caller was ambiguous between two questions.

    A philosophical zombie is a human being who looks normal and acts normally in every way that someone else could test, but which doesn’t have first person experience / thoughts / qualia. Neuroscience is really great at explaining the mechanics of a philosophical zombie. Neuroscience is even really great at explaining how the particulars of the brain affect and change our first person experience / thoughts / qualia. However, neuroscience hasn’t even taken the first step to answer the “how” or “why” question “How / why does these particular brain steps cause first person experience / thoughts / qualia?”. Neuroscience cannot tell us that this person here is a “real thinking human” and not a philosophical zombie.

    It’s just like how Newtonian mechanics and General Relativity are really great at explaining the details and intricacies of matter attracting matter, but it really doesn’t explain at all why or how matter attracts matter. (Yes yes, I know that you can go a little further down, and talk about bending space time and/or gravitons, but the same principle applies.)

    Science currently does not explain how or why first person experience / thoughts / qualia exists, and IMHO it likely never will, in almost exactly the same way that science currently cannot explain why matter attracts matter. Science can only say that it does. Perhaps one day we’ll find an explanation for gravity, but then that explanation will be unexplainable. It’s the fundamental nature of reductionistic answers – you hit bottom eventually.

    PS: I do conclude that other humans are not philosophical zombies, but I do not do so on a “purely scientific basis”. I operate with some degree of humbleness and with some degree of the principle that I am not the center of the universe, and that allows me to conclude that these other human beings have minds just like mine.

  40. EnlightenmentLiberal says

    Re: Agnostic vs atheist.

    I really hate how the hosts of the show defines these terms.

    I also really hate how this Calvinist caller uses the terms. For the Calvinist: Protip: Meslier and Baron d’Holbach were there using the word “atheist” a hundred years before Huxley coined the modern usage of the word “agnostic”.

    IMO, Huxley seemingly invented the word “agnostic” in order to hold more or less the exact same position as your conventional atheist while trying to sound more polite about it and trying to seem more reasonable to religious people about it.

    I have yet to find a single modern (last 300 years) published philosopher who self-describes as “atheist” and who defines the term “atheist” to mean “one who believes that there is no god”. Self-identified atheists more or less have always used the term to simply mean “one who lacks a belief that there is a god”. IMHO, this confusion is the result of a kind of spontaneous self-forming smear campaign by religious people against nonbelievers. It’s a kind of strawman whereby they try to paint our position as something more ridiculous than what it is, in order to knock down the strawman.

  41. Narf says

    IMHO, this confusion is the result of a kind of spontaneous self-forming smear campaign by religious people against nonbelievers. It’s a kind of strawman whereby they try to paint our position as something more ridiculous than what it is, in order to knock down the strawman.

    Read much in the way of Christian apologetics, have we? 😀

    “Atheism is a position of absolute certainty and requires more faith than theism does, because an atheist has to know everything about the universe. Agnosticism is a state of permanent uncertainty about all things, not just the god-question, and is self-defeating, because an agnostic is certain of his agnosticism.”

    Uhhhhhhhhhh, yeah. This is why the vast majority of apologists are unworthy of even a debate. Anyone who works within such elementary-school absolutes needs to grow up first.

    I was speaking to one Christian who demanded that I show respect for his beliefs and for Christian apologetics in general. That’s where I ended the conversation, since I’ve read too many Christian apologetics books to be able to even fake respect for the endeavor.

  42. EnlightenmentLiberal says

    @Narf
    What genius do we have to thank for that quote, or did you pull it out of your ass? It’s pretty funny – it’s accurate enough to be funny. Lol.

  43. Narf says

    It’s a very accurate summation of the descriptions of atheism and agnosticism, given in many apologetics books, not a direct quatation.  I’m thinking I don’t have Enough Faith to be an Atheist, by Norman Geisler and Frank Turek, The Case for Christ, by Lee Strobel, and The New Evidence that Demands a Verdict: Evidence I & II, by Josh McDowell.

    Those definitions are shared by a few of the other apologetics books I’ve read, too, but I don’t remember which ones.  I’ve read about a dozen Christian apologetics books, and they all start to blur together a bit, after a while.  They’re all dishonest in mostly the same ways.

  44. edmond says

    I’ve been on vacation so I’m fairly late to this party, but I’m listening to 909 now, at the guy who’s stuck on the definition of atheism, and it seems that there’s an important word which is missing from this conversation: Gnostic. We focus so much on the opposition between the words “theist” and “atheist”, and we wrangle with trying to squeeze “agnostic” in there, I think we forget that “agnostic” has an opposite, too. Bringing gnosticism into the debate might help some people understand our position better. Gnostics are the only people who really have the burden of proof on any claim. Agnostics, whether theist or atheist, are the ones who admit that they don’t have absolute knowledge. However, it would also be important to note that among atheists, there are (likely) very few who are gnostic, and that among theists, there are likely very few who are agnostic. If you’re a believer, it’s probably because you think you have the right god. But being unconvinced by any gods proposed is not the same as being convinced of inaccessible knowledge.

  45. Narf says

    @49 – edmond
    Eh, agnostic theists are still making a claim to the existence of a god, even if they claim utter lack of knowledge about his attributes and what he wants from us. The default atheist position is pretty much the only one that doesn’t have a burden of proof in regards to any of the relevant questions, since all it’s doing is rejecting both the god and no-god propositions.

    I acquire a burden of proof in regards to the Abrahamic god, because I take a stronger position in regards to that set of claims, but I would never adopt that position in a debate, since the theist could then just dishonestly claim that whatever I’m arguing against is a straw-man of their god.

    You should clarify your one point, by the way. Most atheists are agnostic in respect to the global prospect of there being something, somewhere that someone would call a god, yes. I know many explicit atheists, though, if you narrow down the scope to that of the Abrahamic god.

  46. EnlightenmentLiberal says

    In light of the new posts, let me explain why I really hate the way the hosts of the show define “agnostic” w.r.t. “atheism”.

    I am completely on board with the definition of atheist “someone who lacks a positive belief that one or more gods exist”.

    I really hate this gnostic vs agnostic bullshit. As the hosts of the show will be quick to tell you, absolute confidence in a proposition is a red herring, and an impossibility. From a standard empirical perspective, basically all of our beliefs are held to some degree of non-absolute confidence, and some beliefs are held with a stronger confidence than other beliefs.

    I particularly hate the labels of “agnostic atheist” vs “gnostic atheist”, because it confuses a very important issue. We all here know that the hypothesis of a 6000 year old Earth is flagrantly false, and thus several version of the god hypothesis are false. We know this. Not absolutely, but we know this in the usual sense of non-absolute but high confidence. However, there are plenty of god existence hypotheses for which we might not have a belief about. Everyone – religious people included, know that some god hypotheses are false. The term “agnostic atheistic” is IMHO especially pernicious because it conflates my degree of confidence about the young Earth creator god (strong confidence there is no such thing) with my degree of confidence about the god of the aliens on the planet Rigel 7 (very weak confidence there is no such thing, and/or undecided).

    In other words, no one is an agnostic atheist w.r.t. all god claims. They’re only agnostic w.r.t. certain god claims, and to use that label is to privilege those claims moreso than other claims for no good reason.

  47. Narf says

    That’s why I refuse to use the word agnostic usually, EL. The problem is that they have to address the way that other people use the word, when a caller proposes that sort of question. Yes, Huxleyan agnostics are atheists, under any useful definition of the word, but other people can use alternate labels, if they have some sort of odd reason for doing so. Even though I usually think their reasons are bullshit, I’m not going to deny their right to choose their own labels.

    You’ll notice that I almost always use better terms, like implicit and explicit atheism, default atheism, or something similar. I can’t think of the last time that I’ve referred to agnostic-atheism, without prior prompting by someone else’s usage of the agnostic label. Even then, I usually switch off to the better terms.

    I’ve often heard the hosts of TAE go into the bit about context/scope dependency of the implicit and explicit positions, although you’re right that they often don’t as well. *shrug* When you have something come up regularly, you aren’t going to hit all of the import points every time. Is there something specific that they say, which you think is specifically wrong, or is it just important details that they often leave out?

  48. EnlightenmentLiberal says

    Meh. I dunno if the hosts can do better in the short time. Perhaps yes?

    Again, I think my two basic problems are the following. Further, to some extent, they may just be figments of my imagination.

    * Conflating 1- the testable and falsified god hypotheses with 2- the currently untested god hypotheses. We know that some god hypotheses are false, and we are undecided on others. I think that sometimes the hosts and/or callers use the word “agnostic” to mean that there are no falsified god hypotheses.

    * My other complaint is especially with Matt, but with most of the hosts, regarding proper Bayesian reasoning. (It has a lot to do with my complaints about intrinsic methodological naturalism.)

    Let’s take Matt’s “guilty / not guilty” example. Matt says that you examine the “guilty” question separate from the “innocent” question. That’s just wrong. You cannot examine the question “is the defendant guilty?” without concurrently examining the question “is the defendant innocent?”. That’s one of the big things you should learn from proper application of Bayesian reasoning. On a jury, you cannot find a defendant guilty without having the beliefs “X is probably guilty” and “X is probably not innocent”. Similarly, on a jury, you cannot find a defendant “not guilty” without having the belief “I think there’s a 20% or better chance that the defendant is innocent” and the belief “I think there’s a 80% or lower chance that the defendant is guilty”. (Insert your favored standard for “reasonable doubt”.)

    This comes up when Matt discusses the definition of “atheist”. It is true that the proper definition of “atheist” is one who lacks a belief that a god exists. In slightly more formal terms, in Bayesian terms, it’s someone who lacks a strong confidence that there is a god. Or maybe it’s someone who lacks any degree of positive confidence that there is a god – equivalently someone is an “atheist” if they hold that the chance that there is a god is 50 50 odds or worse.

    Again, the consequence of Bayesian reasoning is that you cannot have a position w.r.t. “there is a god” without having a compatible and related position w.r.t. “there is no god”. Matt says that, and Matt is wrong. If you tell me you’re an atheist, then I know something about your position w.r.t. these two claims. I know that you think it’s 50 50 odds or better that “there is no god” is true. I know that you think it’s 50 50 odds or worse that “there is a god” is true.

    Matt often says there is no middle ground. Matt is right that the middle ground is “atheist”, but Matt is wrong that atheist refers to only the claim “there is a god” and has no bearing on the claim “there is no god”.

    Sorry, that probably requires more context, such as watching a lot of the show, but I think you Narf have enough background knowledge to understand.

  49. EnlightenmentLiberal says

    Going back to this show. Does any real religious believer label themself “agnostic theist” and say “I believe, but I don’t know”. Surely very few if any. I really think that this definition of terms of the hosts is a case where the hosts are forcing their non-standard and obscure definitions of these terms onto the public. Basically No one calls themself an agnostic theist. Rarely does one call themself an agnostic atheist.

    Again, as best as I can determine, most people use the word agnostic in the following way, and especially most people who self identify as agnostic use the word in the following way. They use it in the same way that Huxley used it when he coined this modern usage of the word, and it more or less means exactly the same thing as the word “atheist”, but it also carries the connotations of “less confrontational” and “lacks a strong positive belief that no god exists”.

    I agree it’s useful to say that believers have a certain degree of confidence that their god exists, and some believers have strong confidence (e.g. knowledge [and knowledge is a subset of belief]) and some believers have weaker confidence (e.g. mere belief). However, I don’t think the common modern usage of the word “agnostic” maps onto this thing.

  50. EnlightenmentLiberal says

    Figures. Literally the next second John of the show says something like “If you ask most theists they would say that they are agnostic theists because they’re not absolutely sure”. To John: Please – you should know that absolute confidence is a red herring, and IMHO you should use a definition of knowledge that includes mere strong confidence and not absolute confidence.

  51. Narf says

    Going back to this show. Does any real religious believer label themself “agnostic theist” and say “I believe, but I don’t know”. Surely very few if any.

    They’re out there. Whether or not it’s “very few” depends what you mean by that term. It’s a small percentage, probably less than 10%, definitely way less than 50%, so John is completely full of shit.

    I think most Bahá’í would call themselves agnostic theists. Most new-agey theists, like those in the Unity church, would probably call themselves agnostic, if you pressed them on the issue. Some deists might call themselves agnostic theists.

    The theists that we hear anything out of are sure as hell not agnostic about it, particularly those that we have here in the US. The phrase, “I know that I know that I know,” comes to mind, which only serves to demonstrate that the believer in question has no idea what the word know means.

  52. John Iacoletti says

    I believe I said that if theists were *honest* about it, they would admit that they are agnostic theists, not that that actually are that honest about it.

    And, EnlightenmentLiberal, pretty much every atheist I know calls him/herself an “agnostic atheist”. The fact that most theists (and even some atheists) don’t understand the terms, doesn’t change what the terms actually mean. Hence our efforts to educate people on the matter.

  53. Narf says

    Eh, I dunno. How much do you have to browbeat someone to get their honest opinion, and at what point do you consider the coercion to have tainted the result? 😀

    For that matter, what do you consider agnostic and gnostic? That can get pretty confusing on the theistic end of things. If someone believes in the god of the Bible, but he thinks that the writers of the Bible made up a lot of stuff about that god, and the believer isn’t sure exactly what that god wants of us … is this an agnostic theist that we’re talking about? I would consider that believer gnostic, because he more-or-less holds that the god that exists is the god of the Bible, even if the Bible writers were a bit confused. Maybe Yahweh has a spiritual speech impediment?

    I consider myself an explicit atheist, in most respects that matter. You need to wind all the way back to a nebulous, undefined creator-god, as William Lane Craig dishonestly does in his arguments, before I’ll flip to a default atheist. I think that most of the atheists in my local groups are explicit atheists, as well, within the specified scope that a less dishonest evangelist would argue for. It’s only the fuzzier and more undefined propositions that would make most atheists also agnostics.

  54. EnlightenmentLiberal says

    @John
    Thanks for the answer. Note that I won’t go so far as to call you “full of shit” like Narf said. I just think you’re wrong, and I’ll argue it here. Regarding the proper definition and the meaning of “agnostic atheist”, I think you are inventing a history of consensus where there is none, and pretending that you have one.

    Do you have any famous authors who use the word in the way that you propose to use it? Let’s look at some.

    Huxley is the one who invented and coined the modern religious-context of the word “agnostic”, and I don’t think he would agree to your definition. In fact, I don’t think he would agree to your definition of the word “atheist” either. I haven’t read much of Huxley, and so I refreshed myself a little by reading the following
    http://en.wikisource.org/wiki/Essays_upon_some_Controverted_Questions/IX
    and it’s on that paper by Huxley on which I base these assertions. It seems that Huxley defines “atheist” as “one who believes that there is no god” and perhaps with the condition “with absolute confidence”. Huxley says he is no atheist, and Huxley says he is an agnostic. Further, it seems Huxley defines “agnostism” to be more or less what we would call “reason, science, and skepticism”.

    Another famous self-identified agnostic of whom I know is Bertrand Russell. Here is what Bertrand has to say on the topic:

    Here there comes a practical question which has often troubled me. Whenever I go into a foreign country or a prison or any similar place they always ask me what is my religion.

    I never know whether I should say “Agnostic” or whether I should say “Atheist”. It is a very difficult question and I daresay that some of you have been troubled by it. As a philosopher, if I were speaking to a purely philosophic audience I should say that I ought to describe myself as an Agnostic, because I do not think that there is a conclusive argument by which one prove that there is not a God.

    On the other hand, if I am to convey the right impression to the ordinary man in the street I think I ought to say that I am an Atheist, because when I say that I cannot prove that there is not a God, I ought to add equally that I cannot prove that there are not the Homeric gods.

    None of us would seriously consider the possibility that all the gods of homer really exist, and yet if you were to set to work to give a logical demonstration that Zeus, Hera, Poseidon, and the rest of them did not exist you would find it an awful job. You could not get such proof.

    Therefore, in regard to the Olympic gods, speaking to a purely philosophical audience, I would say that I am an Agnostic. But speaking popularly, I think that all of us would say in regard to those gods that we were Atheists. In regard to the Christian God, I should, I think, take exactly the same line.

    A short synopsis of the above quote is Bertrand Russell also says he is an agnostic and not an atheist for the following reasons: while he may believe that there is no god, he lacks absolute confidence in that belief, and thus he is an agnostic and not an atheist.

    I’m starting to see a pattern here. Real intelligent philosophers with real intelligent positions who self-identify as “agnostic” do so because they use the word “atheist” to mean “one who believes there is no god to absolute confidence”.

    Neil deGrasse Tyson is another example of this train of thought.
    >big think
    >Neil deGrasse Tyson: Atheist or Agnostic?
    https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=CzSMC5rWvos
    In this infamous video, Tyson clearly asserts that agnostic and atheist are non-overlapping. Tyson implicitly defines “atheist” as someone who believes there is no god (and an activist against religion). Tyson clearly identifies as an agnostic and says he is not atheist.

    Another example which fits the pattern. Another example of a self-identified agnostic who defines “atheist” as “someone who believes there is no god (to an unreasonable degree of certainty)”, and defines “agnostic” as “someone who is not convinced that there is a god”.

    Tangent: I recall Matt saying he met with Tyson and tried to beat some sense into his head, and asked (paraphrase) “at least don’t piss on the atheists”, and thanks for that. However, this is still evidence of a widely held and prevailing contrary usage of the words.

    According to wikipedia, one of the earliest reference to the term “agnostic atheist” was in 1887 by Robert Flint. However, it defined the term in a way completely different than all of the definitions given thus far.

    The atheist may however be, and not unfrequently is, an agnostic. There is an agnostic atheism or atheistic agnosticism, and the combination of atheism with agnosticism which may be so named is not an uncommon one.[4]

    If a man has failed to find any good reason for believing that there is a God, it is perfectly natural and rational that he should not believe that there is a God; and if so, he is an atheist… if he goes farther, and, after an investigation into the nature and reach of human knowledge, ending in the conclusion that the existence of God is incapable of proof, cease to believe in it on the ground that he cannot know it to be true, he is an agnostic and also an atheist – an agnostic-atheist – an atheist because an agnostic… while, then, it is erroneous to identify agnosticism and atheism, it is equally erroneous so to separate them as if the one were exclusive of the other.

    Here, Flint at least gets the definition of “atheist” right, but then he goes on to give a definition of “agnostic” which conflicts with your definition John and with the definition of Huxley, Russell, and Tyson. Loosely, Flint defines agnosticism as the positive assertion that proof for or against god is impossible – what we might call “strong agnosticism”.

    So again John, why are you pushing this particular definition of “agnostic” when at best you rarely identify as “agnostic” and when there is a seemingly large and vibrant history of philosophers who use the term “agnostic” in a mostly consistent way, and in a way that is contradictory to your purported usage?

    Did I get the facts wrong concerning the history of the usage of of the word by famous philosophers? Do you have the names of any famous philosophers I should read who self identify as “agnostic”, including any potential “agnostic atheists”? I don’t know of any. If you can name a few, that would seriously shake my confidence in this position, and that is how I would recognize that I am wrong.

    What I see is the hosts of the show pushing a definition which probably came about as someone deciding that pushing a definition based on etymology was a great idea. Rather, it’s a really bad idea. Words often have meaning independent of or in spite of their etymology. Attempting to assert that “agnostic” means “without knowledge” because that’s what the Greek root means is incredibly silly. It just strikes me as a sort of “kindergarten” approach to philosophy that I expect out of online communities like 4chan.

    Currently, it seems that the hosts of the show are pushing a definition of a label onto another community who uses the label contrary to how that community uses their label. This is just as intellectually dishonest as when Christians push a particular meaning of the word “atheist” onto the atheist community.

  55. EnlightenmentLiberal says

    Correction:

    Another example which fits the pattern. Another example of a self-identified agnostic who defines “atheist” as “someone who believes there is no god (to an unreasonable degree of certainty)”, and defines “agnostic” as “someone who is not convinced that there is a god and not convinced that there is no god”.

  56. EnlightenmentLiberal says

    In particular, what John and the hosts seem to be doing is accepting the agnostic’s definition of “agnostic” at face value, and inserting their own definition of “atheist”, and then saying you can be agnostic and atheist. However, I think it’s intellectually dishonest to take their definition of “agnostic” out of context in this way. The context of the agnostic’s definition of “agnostic” is that it is an alternative to atheism. It’s simple not reasonable or honest to take only part of the agnostic’s definition of agnosticism. It is taking only part of the definition to say “an agnostic is someone who is not convinced either way” and drop off the next part “I Huxley invented this word to stand in stark contrast to atheist” and “I use the word agnostic because it means something different than atheist”.

    I suppose I think I would be ok with “I am an agnostic, and an atheist”. However, it really bothers me when someone conjoins the two words together as “I am an agnostic atheist”. That is not an intellectually honest representation of the conventional self-identified agnostic position. In the agnostic’s definitions of terms, “agnostic atheist” is a logical contradiction, just like it would be a logical contradiction to say “atheist believer”. I think that using the phrase “agnostic atheist” denies the actual rich history of the usage of the word “agnostism” by self-identified agnostics.

  57. EnlightenmentLiberal says

    PPS: To be clear, I think that the entire rich history of agnosticism starting from Huxley is a sham, based on intellectual cowardice and a wrong-headed application of the standard of absolute confidence to label oneself with an “ism”. However, I think it is intellectually dishonest to deny this rich history of wrong-headed-ness by using the word of this movement, “agnostism”, in such a way as to violate the primary purpose of its very invention, which is to stand in stark contrast, in mutual exclusion, to the word and position “atheism”!

    Again, it seems that John et al want to redefine the word according to etymology, perhaps as a means to “pick a definition that makes the most sense”. However, that approach denies the history of the usage of the word. The proper response IMHO is to recognize that the word “agnosticism” is inherently built on a bullshit foundation, and there is no reason to use the word, and any attempt to redefine it IMHO is going to be fraught with ambiguity, except when used in the original wrong-headed way which is as a purported mutually exclusive alternative to atheism.

    Ok. I think I’m done spamming for now. Sorry.

  58. Narf says

    Thanks for the answer. Note that I won’t go so far as to call you “full of shit” like Narf said.

    Just on that one point, though. Maybe I should have used a lighter expression, but there’s no edit feature.

  59. John Iacoletti says

    @EnlightenmentLiberal – can you point out where in the Huxley essay that you linked that “It seems that Huxley defines “atheist” as “one who believes that there is no god”?

    I don’t care much for arguments from authority or for dictionary arguments, nor do I have any idea who you consider to be “famous philosophers” or really care how “famous philosophers” define things as long as they explain what they’re talking about. It’s not like the hosts of the Atheist Experience created the idea that atheism is “disbelief”. It appears in every modern dictionary and is the definition I hear most often among atheists. People who want to call themselves something else tend to go with different definitions. If you want to use different terminology, knock yourself out. As long as you’re clear what your position is, I don’t care. I just get tired of bozos making nonsensical challenges such as, “what is your proof and evidence that atheism is accurate and correct?”. I don’t have a burden of proof. I’m not making a claim.

  60. Narf says

    You lost me here too, EL. Have you noticed the way that almost everyone you hear talk about Huxley’s version of agnosticism refers to it as hard agnosticism or Huxleyan agnosticism? There’s a reason for the modifiers. Most people I’ve heard embrace the term don’t take it to the philosophical extreme that Huxley did.

    Either way, you’re talking about someone who died more than 100 years ago, and you’re trying to enforce his opinions on the subject onto modern usage. That doesn’t work. And even back in his day, I don’t think there was the consensus that you seem to be implying.

    What the hosts were doing was accepting the way that the caller was using ‘agnostic’ and acknowledging that that’s the way that most people seem to use the word ‘agnostic’. They then pointed out the common usage of the word ‘atheist’ and how the two categories have considerable overlap. Where does the problem come in? Part of what you should take away from the discussion is the general uselessness of the term ‘agnostic’.

  61. Narf says

    And I don’t care if the purpose of Huxley coining the term was to stand in stark contrast to atheism. If he defined the term in such a way that it overlaps with atheism, then it overlaps with atheism. Huxley was foolish to demand an exclusivity when he hasn’t defined an exclusivity.

  62. EnlightenmentLiberal says

    @John
    Acceptable. Nevermind on this topic.

    PS: I cannot help but bring in this one nit. If you look in most modern dictionaries, under “abiogenesis”, they include an explicit definition that it means the same thing as “spontaneous creation”, and they define “spontaneous creation” as a falsified scientific theory. Dictionaries on contentious issues like this are generally not a good place to start.

    @Narf
    I haven’t read the most of Huxley. I’ve barely read any. However, based on the link supplied above, Huxley does not use the word “agnostic” to mean “I do not know, and I know that it is impossible to demonstrate either way”. Rather, Huxley explicitly defined (quote unquote) “agnosticism” in that link to mean what we would call reason, science, and skepticism. Huxley’s definition of agnostic allows for the later conclusion “there is no god” or “there is a god”. Am I wrong about Huxley? Have you read Huxley? I think Huxley is grossly misunderstood. He seems to be a rather strident atheist even by today’s standards, strident in the sense that he calls shenanigans on obvious religious bullshit (but uses a bad epistemology where he demands absolute certainty of himself before he is willing to make some claims – sigh).

    Whereas, Robert Flint does define “agnostic” in this stronger sense. He defines it to mean “I do not know if there is a god, but I know that it is impossible to demonstrate either way”. And Flint made that definition explicitly in the context of “agnostic atheist”.

    I still think the word “agnostic” is fucked beyond all use, and there is no right definition. Huxley is confusing, and seems to mean nothing more than “currently undecided” – possibly “not convinced beyond a reasonable doubt (one way or the other)”. Others like Flint use it to mean “knows that it is impossible to decide the question one way or the other”. Others like Bertrand Russell use to mean “not absolutely convinced”. Tyson uses it to mean “not absolutely convinced and not an activist”.

  63. Narf says

    Part of the problem is that Thomas Huxley lived 70 years. His own definition of agnosticism probably vacillated a bit, throughout his life. It’s similar to when apologists misquote Einstein for their purposes. The apologists are being obviously dishonest, yes, but that’s just layered on top of the problem of trying to sum up the various beliefs that someone has held in 76 years of life with a single quote.

    I haven’t read Thomas Huxley in depth, but what I’ve read of his seems like he pushed for the harder definition of agnosticism that you attribute to Robert Flint. I’ve only read a handful of essays, sometimes fragments of essays. You and I might have read bits from different periods of his life, in which he maintained different approaches to the question.

    I still think the word “agnostic” is fucked beyond all use, and there is no right definition.

    No argument there. I never use the word on my own, only ever in response to someone who brings it to the discussion, as happens on the show. Even then, we’re going to have a discussion about the various applications of the word and how meaning is more important than the word itself, and I’m going to jump down your throat the moment you start equivocating with sloppy definitions.

    That last point is particularly important when dealing with any evangelist who has taken a lot from Christian apologetics, in which they will use one version of agnosticism in one paragraph, while arguing against atheism, then use the most drastically different version of agnosticism in the next paragraph, while arguing against agnosticism.

    I’m fine with Tyson’s usage of agnosticism, since he seems to be using it strategically. He’s firmly in the atheist camp, but he’s more interested in the promotion of science than in opposing religion.

  64. Monocle Smile says

    @EL
    Yes, dictionaries typically fuck up abiogenesis.
    Encyclopedias, however, do not.

    I side with John here, as I think that generally, concepts are important, not words. The only time words become important is when we want to properly label things that have a concept in common. I use “agnostic” only when I’m accused of “knowing for sure there is no god,” and I’ve stopped using it completely for the most part. I don’t find it to be a useful term. However, as long as someone’s clear on what they mean when they use the term, I can’t really complain.

    I’m not a Huxley fan because from what I’ve read from him, he had a very bad habit of backing up otherwise solid conclusions with shaky (or even nonsensical) foundations.