Absence Of Belief… One God At A Time?

A Christian man once told me that I “disbelieve in God”;
That a claim of that proportion took some gall!
I corrected him, and told him (which he thought was rather odd)
That I don’t believe in any gods at all!

I asked him to consider whether other gods exist
Which was something that, it seems, he’d never done
In examining the reasons every one could be dismissed
It seems stranger to believe in only one!

There are gods he’d never heard about, but clearly did not follow—
Could he really claim he disbelieved in those?—
Demanding active disbelief is rather hard to swallow
But an absence of belief? Well, I suppose.

Gee, looks like I am not the only one looking at definitions of atheism:

One of the great oddities with regards to issues pertaining to Atheism is the ongoing debates about the definition of the term “Atheism” (and thus, “Atheist” as well).

Often, individual Atheists will concoct their own definitions, demand that the definition applies to all Atheists and authoritatively demand that their definition be adhered to as the only true one.

This quote has been brought to you by the makers of “No True Christian”, your trusted name in deflecting blame. If we can’t trust Christians to define atheism, who can we trust?

The writer cites half a dozen online dictionaries (it is a dictionary’s job to describe how language is used; in a majority Christian population, an online dictionary definition of atheism will not reflect the self-description of atheists themselves), and sums up:

The assertion which is clearly stated within academic scholarly definitions means that Atheism is the position of claiming to know that God does not exist.

The problem is threefold:

1) On this issue, Atheists prefer to run away from academic scholarly definitions and invent their own (or, appeal to weak aka negative aka implicit atheism).

2) The academic scholarly definitions require that Atheists provide evidence so as to prove that God does not exist.

3) Such proof would require Atheists to be omniscient (possessing all knowledge) but since omniscience is a characteristic of deity (it would identify one as a deity) then someone who is omniscient could not prove that God does not exist as via the omniscient claim, they would actually prove the existence of God namely, themselves as they are exercising a characteristic of God.

Ok… first off–“academic scholarly definitions”? Now, I cannot claim that I have never seen a dictionary cited as a source in a scholarly paper, but it is very, very rare; a dictionary definition is far more characteristic of a grade school paper. One of the key elements of scientific writing is the specific vocabulary used, which depends greatly on the subject at hand. The common language definitions of a great many things are far too fuzzy for academic use, and it is the common language definition that the dictionary provides. So… point one is a misrepresentation; what is more, the point it makes is precisely the opposite of what actually is happening in this case.

Secondly… Why “God”? Some of those definitions said “God or gods”; if we look at “gods”, then the “academic scholarly definitions” (well, dictionary definitions, actually) put the same burden on anyone who believes in only one of those gods. Like, say, the Christian writing the post.

Thirdly… Again, the writer presupposes the characteristics of one particular god. The Greek gods could be fooled (recall how Prometheus taught the people to offer two sacrifices–one with the good meat hidden in the stomach, the other with the bones covered with a layer of tasty fat, to fool Zeus), so omniscience is not a characteristic of all gods. Besides which, for the writer to believe in one god and not others would require the same degree of omniscience! To recognize omniscience in one’s own god, as opposed to merely “much, but not all, knowledge”, would require omniscience on one’s own part in order to comprehend the god’s knowledge!

But of course, the writer is not omniscient, and need not be; he can take his god’s omniscience on faith. And he does not need to actively evaluate every other god; not believing in them is sufficient. I won’t hold him to the standards he requires of me. Because he’s wrong, and those standards don’t apply to anyone.

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  1. wannabe says

    No, his standards apply to him too. But his god denies the other gods and since his god is good, omnipotent, omniscient, etc., etc., etc., he can rely on his god’s word to do all the heavy lifting. It’s you dirty atheists who have to disprove every single god by yourselves or be shown to be intellectually dishonest.

  2. wannabe says

    Ran my comment through spellcheck.net’s thesaurus, replacing every linked word with its first suggested alternative:

    No, his balusters accost to him additionally. albeit his absolute abnegates the alienation gods additionally because his absolute abides advantageous, omnipotent, canny, etc., etc., etc., he bag anticipate on his absolute’s affirmation to act accomplished the dense ascending. It’s you befoul agnostics who adhere to abnegate every abstemious absolute adjacent yourselves or be appeared to be brainily cheating.


  3. Pierce R. Butler says

    Our merry lexicographer (one Ken Ammi, “Worldview and Science Examiner”) does at least show that many dictionarists do propound definitions that make it sound like none of us has given any thought to the difficulties of proving a negative.

    I don’t have the time or energy to go prowl the major dictionaries which Ammi does not cite to see how much cherrypicking he might have done here, but it seems odd that all of those in a population noted for linguistic inquisitiveness and alertness for nuance would agree on so restrictive a meaning.

    Perhaps all these definitions are unrevisited legacies from earlier dictionaries, whose editors experienced major pressures against appearing to sympathize with the theologically incorrect.

    Ammi also includes multiple links to a website called “truefreethinker.com”, which web-prowling atheists need not concern themselves for not having heard of before now. TFT.com, a Christian apologetics blog, features much praise and defense of Judeo-Christian traditions, plus the obligatory slams against one R. Dawkins. (Readers also benefit from musings on weight-lifting and body-building, and the devastatingly witty black box labeled “Atheist Nothing-Cam: waiting to see if nothing becomes something”.) The author boasts that “I wrote the main article on Atheism for Creation Ministries International” – his name is, by amazing coincidence, Ken Ammi.

    Fortunately for him – and for all of us – I do not feel an urge toward doggerel tonight, because I can think of no dignified rhymes with which to grace such eminence.

  4. Cuttlefish says

    Pierce–one thing you might notice… these dictionaries tend to give a definition. As opposed to, say, several definitions, as one expects from dictionaries when a term is a bit nuanced. I am accustomed to people choosing to quote one definition from among many, but these dictionaries do the work for you.

    Kudos on examining “truefreethinker.com”! There is enough variability among atheists that I would not have felt such an intentionally weasel-like approach would have been necessary–but weasel-like it is. If only there were some sort of, I dunno, commandment or something against bearing false witness.

    All the “deep rifts” among atheists, and Ammi still has to manufacture the quotes he needs? That’s just sad…

  5. Pierce R. Butler says

    … Ammi still has to manufacture the quotes he needs?

    Aside from passing (and quote-free) slaps at Dawkins, Ammi seems to most enjoy picking on anti-religion writing from a site called evilbible.com. I roamed around there a bit, too – and the most recent date I found was 2009. Our hardbodied “Worldview and Science Examiner” prefers soft targets.

  6. Al Dente says

    There’s two comments on Ammi’s examiner.com article. One is by an atheist noting that dictionaries are descriptive not proscriptive and the other is spam.

  7. Cuttlefish says

    Heheh, Al… I chose this particular one mostly by chance; there were a number of similar sites thrown up on my aggregator. Having a lot of sites show up on an aggregator is scary, but knowing they are just barking at the moon is rather comforting.

  8. Ed says

    The idea that atheism by definition requires a direct, detailed critique of theism is a byproduct of theism’ s dominance, especially in the time periods where early atheistic works were written.

    If a person who lacks a belief in any deity is not an atheist, what are they? They aren’t theists.

    The article this post links to, like the one the other day, tries to portray skeptical, empirically based atheism as some kind of whim or subjective preference. The only authentic atheists are supposed to be the ones who hold atheism itself as some kind of primary axiomatic truth. Essentially, they would worship atheism.

    Atheism makes more sense as a stance that is derivative of other beliefs about the nature of the universe and the process of acquiring knowledge. It’s like being in a new town and not believing that it has a train station. Someone asks why you have come to this conclusion. There wouldn’t be one big dogmatic answer, but a set of observations and contingent conclusions.

    The town may be very small and located in a region where only medium sized towns and big cities usually get service. You may have ridden trains in the general area before and never seen this town on the list of stations or never seen a railroad map portraying tracks going in the right direction to accommodate such a station. There is a noticeable bus station in the town square but no train station or evidence of tracks running through it. You’ve been there several days and have never heard any sounds that indicate nearby trains.

    Thus the statement “I do not believe that this place has rail service” would be both an accurate statement of your opinion and a very reasonable opinion given the facts you are aware of and inductions drawn from them.

    Another person believes that there really is a station but it is hidden in an abandoned mine, served by futuristic silent trains and tracks which bypass populated areas and the schedule is highly unpredictable and only distributed by a secret society to those they deem worthy.

    What could you say to that except “there is no evidence for such a claim”? Perhaps, “not only is there no evidence for it, but with its hidden station, trains with special properties and secret schedule it sounds like the type of claim which insulates itself from disproof through a variety of untestable rationalizations.”

    If this attitude makes me unworthy to be an atheist by some extreme, ultra-strict definition–fine; call me an agnostic.

  9. khms says

    The writer cites half a dozen online dictionaries (it is a dictionary’s job to describe how language is used; in a majority Christian population, an online dictionary definition of atheism will not reflect the self-description of atheists themselves), and sums up:

    … so I tried the easiest route: ask Google to define:atheism:

    noun: atheism

    disbelief or lack of belief in the existence of God or gods.
    synonyms: non-belief, non-theism, disbelief, unbelief, scepticism, doubt, agnosticism, irreligion, godlessness, ungodliness, profaneness, impiety, heresy, apostasy, paganism, heathenism, freethinking, nihilism More
    “atheism is virtually unknown in rural societies”
    antonyms: belief, faith

    late 16th century: from French athéisme, from Greek atheos, from a- ‘without’ + theos ‘god’.

    (Emphasis mine.)

  10. Menyambal says

    It is funny how so many of the folks who base their lives on a book, supposedly, cannot actually read for shit. Their own presuppositions influence everything.

    My definition of atheism involves not going to church. I don’t do anything instead, or even think about it. I just don’t. Sunday mornings I sleep late, eat something greasy and surf the web, much the same as my Saturdays (huh, today is Sunday, innit? Who knew?) Nothing about church impinges in any way. Nor, on Saturdays, do I think about the Sabbath, nor on Fridays, the Muslim thing. No full moon Shabbats, no harvest moon sacrifices, no goat-birthing ritual diaper-wearing. Yeah, I do Christmas, but only as family and presents. Making sure to return a borrowed car to the nice lady by Sunday morning is as religious as I get.

    Now, for personal reasons, I myself do go further and get a bit active in thinking that there is no God. It isn’t an unknowable issue. Basically, the only reason to think that there is a god, is that so many people say there is. I used to kinda trust them, and assumed they have good reason, and some expertise. But when I look, they are dishonest, wrong and incompetent. They are the reason that I know that there is no god.

    The linked article argues that the only way to know that there is no god, is to know everything in the universe, which would make you god. It’s an old argument, and I may be phrasing it different than this guy does. But if the definition of a god is an omnipresent being, one doesn’t have to look everywhere, one can just look anywhere. So if I look into the heart of a sincere worshipper, and don’t find the god there, that is an absence, there is no omnipresence, there is no god. And, given the dreck these guys write, and the hate in their lives, there is no wise and loving god in them, so poof.

  11. hotshoe, now with more boltcutters says

    … so I tried the easiest route: ask Google to define:atheism:

    noun: atheism

    disbelief or lack of belief in the existence of God or gods.
    synonyms: non-belief, non-theism, disbelief, unbelief, scepticism, doubt, agnosticism, irreligion, godlessness, ungodliness, profaneness, impiety, heresy, apostasy, paganism, heathenism, freethinking, nihilism More
    “atheism is virtually unknown in rural societies”
    antonyms: belief, faith

    late 16th century: from French athéisme, from Greek atheos, from a- ‘without’ + theos ‘god’.

    Huh, didn’t know that “define: ” would work. Cool, thanks for mentioning it.

  12. Menyambal says

    khms, thanks for that “define:” trick.

    It occurs to me that Christians should already understand atheism, whst with their emphasis on missionary efforts. They keep nattering on about people in other lands who have not heard about Jesus. Well, that’s what an atheist is — someone who has not heard about Jesus enough to believe in him.

    Sure, most of us have heard of Jesus, or about Jesus, but those of us who haven’t heard enough to be convinced … well, we are atheists. At least as regards Jesus. Some folks may believe in God, but not Jesus, or they believe in other gods, or in goblins or something. But the folks who are not Christians, the ones that the missionaries are going to, they are atheist. Christians should know that.

    Yeah, I need to define flavors of atheist, then, but the missionary-to-atheist and ignorant-atheist is familiar enough to the Christians that they shouldn’t even be asking what an atheist is. Except that they seem to have pushed the ignorant into the category called “agnostic”.

    “Agnostic” means “not know”, and has two general meanings. First is the ignorant, which includes those who have heard, but haven’t heard enough, as I said above. The second is a group who have somehow decided that knowing is impossible. They are the heirs of a group who once decided that God was unknowable, indeed was the unknowable. These guys pop up in online discussions to state that there is no way to decide God’s existence, so we should all give up. So since they exist, I call them agnostic, and like to call the simply ignorant as atheists, as they have no belief in God.

    The Christians in the linked article, though, they think that atheism is a stand, a definite premise. I just said that agnosticism can be a stand, a definite position. So it is a complicated discussion, and it isn’t for the Christians to tell the atheist what to call themselves.

  13. Cuttlefish says

    Actually, Menyambal, missionaries are not after atheists–they are after heathens. As I wrote elsewhere (http://freethoughtblogs.com/cuttlefish/2012/01/10/yeah-but-what-about-the-other-guys/)

    We already have words for those who are not christians (heathens), those who are not muslims (infidels), those who are not jews (gentiles or goyim); we do not call those people atheists, because only *some* of them are actually atheists–others are simply nonbelievers in that particular god. (I am well aware that the three examples I have given are all Abrahamic religions, who arguably believe in the same god. When you can get an ultra-orthodox jew to agree that his god is the triune god of catholicism, I will cede that point.)

    I suspect the vast majority of those they were trying to convert to Christianity, they were converting from some other tribe. A heathen tribe, but one with its set beliefs. Hard, then, to conceive of atheists as not being another example of that.

  14. Menyambal says

    Good point, Cuttlefish.

    I think that I am going to start using the classic term: Dog of an unbeliever.

  15. gordonmacginitie says

    My atheism is to know that God is a very bad idea.
    I also prefer to use ‘atheist’ as an adjective, not a noun.

  16. jenny6833a says

    Bad dictionaries provide the one definition that most people use, or the definition the publisher wants you to think is ‘correct..’ Somewhat better dictionaries provide multiple definitions in approximate order of usage. Good dictionaries provide the history of each meaning.

    But none of them tell you what an author means when using a word.

    With rare exceptions, dictionary definitions are short. Authors who wish to communicate clearly say,”In what follows, I use ‘atheist’ to mean ‘X’ and insert whatever they mean by ‘X.’

    For example, “In what follows, I use ‘atheist’ to to mean ‘anyone who disagrees with me on anything.’ Or, “In what follows, I use ‘atheist’ to mean ‘anyone who lacks belief in the past or present existence of gods.’

    As Voltaire put it, “Before we converse, let us define our terms.” If an author doesn’t do that in the first few paragraphs, I stop reading.

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