What is Atheism?

FelixChaser

New Member
For those interested in a different perspective, you might enjoy this video:
I agree with some aspects of it, and disagree with others, but thought it be worth sharing here, given its relevance to the topic.
 
Atheism is when you go around acting like you know everything because you pretend you use science to guide every step of your life.
 

Sparhafoc

Well-Known Member
Atheism is when you go around acting like you know everything because you pretend you use science to guide every step of your life.

Le sigh.

So let's engage in the same level:

Christianity is where you get a hard on talking to the ceiling believing some man in the sky created the universe just to listen to your overweening narcissism.

Or, you know, we could all do a little better, well, frankly, a lot better on your part.
 

Dragan Glas

Active Member
Greetings,

@AronRa

In the Bible, there is a disagreement whether it is by works or grace alone that gets one into heaven. Augustine was the one who "championed" grace, as I recall.

@All

There seems to be some confusion over words in English beginning with the letter "a".

It is only Greek words in English that start with the letter "a" where it means "without" - this does not apply to any other word in English.

@FelixChaser

The fact that both terms - atheism and theism - came into usage "in the wrong order" does not negate the fact that they derive from Greek origins.

Only their meanings have become more restricted;

Atheism, in the original Greek, applied to those whose behaviour was ungodly as well as lacked belief - when it entered French, it simply meant "without belief". It is this meaning that has become the general usage in English. Perhaps the usage is different in Australia, or just in your experience!?

As has been noted, the majority of people use general dictionaries, not specialist philosophical ones.

I disagree with the need to use some other term in its stead.

Kindest regards,

James
 

hackenslash

Active Member
I delivered my thoughts on this some years ago. Possibly I should go back and see if there are things I'd say differently now, but here it is anyway:


I do recall that one of the critical things I talk about there is the asinine but ubiquitous notion that dictionaries are authorities on what words mean, which is a fallacy twofer. If dictionaries were prescriptive, we'd still be left with Samuel Johnson's definition of oats (which I might well have included in the post'; edit: I didn't, so here it is. Oats: a grain, which in England is generally given to horses, but in Scotland supports the people), which would be absurd in the highest degree. Dictionaries describe usage, but they're always subservient to semantics which, far from being a fallacy, is one of the most important disciplines in thought.

I also treat common definitions of 'agnostic' and show that there's really only one definition that has utility. The common definition, that of 'not knowing' is entirely redundant, because nobody knows. In particular, I advocate for the definition of 'agnostic' as somebody who thinks it isn't possible to know. I further posit, based on this, that we should all be gnostic - i.e., that it's possible to know - about interventionist conceptions of deity, because it should definitely be possible to see evidence of their interventions.

Anyhoo, there it is.
 

hackenslash

Active Member
As far as I am concerned, the only way I could come to have a burden of proof regarding this position is if I were to make a negative claim: e.g.

A god or gods do not exist.

That would require me to defend that statement.
I disagree with this.

The burden of proof is always on the affirmative claim. If you think about it, it could hardly be otherwise.

If you were to declare that the Oort cloud* is composed entirely of teddy bears, and I say 'no, it bloody well isn't', have I shouldered a burden of proof? Of course not, not least because the burden on the affirmative hasn't been met.

At the risk of being accused of the etymological fallacy, the full Latin moniker for the fallacy of shifting the burden of proof is Onus probandi incumbit ei qui dicit, non ei qui negat, which translates directly into English as 'the burden of proof is incumbent on him who affirms, not him who denies'. If you think about it, it must be the case, because a negating claim in the absence of an affirmative claim is absurd.

There is a case in which the burden of proof seems to shift, but it's really a change in affirmative claim, and that's when the affirmative claim has already been proven or put on a sound evidential footing, at which point denying the affirmative and well-supported claim becomes the affirmative claim that the evidence/proof is wrong or flawed.

This is a subtlety oft-overlooked, and I see many instances of the burden being accepted by the negating claim just because they think that having argued that the affirmative claim is bullshit means they've shouldered a burden which is not nor was it ever theirs.

*For the sake of this exposition, we're assuming arguendo that the composition of the Oort cloud is not known, which would be a factually incorrect assumption.
 

Sparhafoc

Well-Known Member
I disagree with this.

The burden of proof is always on the affirmative claim. If you think about it, it could hardly be otherwise.

Looking back, I agree it wasn't well worded.

My point was concerned with a more formal debate structure. If I were - for some reason - to state the contention 'no gods exist' and make that the proposition, then as in any debate I'd be expected to bring more than just the statement to the discussion.

I appreciate that usually the affirmative position is formulated grammatically as a positive (i.e. god(s) exist) and didn't express clearly the context in which I meant this point, that it wouldn't be a sensible idea to stake such a proposition in the first instance. But that doesn't actually stop people doing it - I've seen people do it many times over the years.

I didn't mean to suggest that the burden of proof is on the non-believer when rejecting an affirmative claim that gods exist; generally the claimant has a higher standard of evidence to meet as much to overcome the null hypothesis as the opponent.

So if I want to claim there's a teapot orbiting Mars, you'd rightly be able to reject out of hand such a claim if evidence is absent - if there is no available evidence, how can the claimant know?

But if I were to stake a proposition in a debate contending there was no teapot orbiting Mars, I'd run into the problem of never actually being able to validate that claim either.
 

hackenslash

Active Member
Certainly. It's about how the proposition is formulated.

That is, in fact, why formal debate is structure the way it is, with the affirmative going first, so that he can attempt to fulfil the onus, with the negating position's work being to grill the affirmative to find the flaws.

Of course, debate has become more of a spectator sport than a means of getting to true propositions, a bit like mathematics used to be.

To anybody surprised at the suggestion that mathematics used to be a spectator sport, you're not alone.; I was too. There's a really wonderful guest post about the history of the foundations of mathematics on my blog by Phil Scott (a.k.a. Vazscep), a dear friend of ours and a truly brilliant mathematician and computer scientist.
 

Sparhafoc

Well-Known Member
I can't recall who it was, but it was a then quite familiar poster on RS who started off something like:

"Gods don't exist, prove me wrong" - now, that's not quoted word for word, but the general idea was the same. This is of course problematic: it's not possible to stake a contention and expect others to invalidate the claim. If the claim is going to be staked, it needs to offer support itself.

Of course, it's quite possible to support this proposition in terms of standard justification:

i) historical lack of evidence
ii) widespread contradictions on characteristics of gods
iii) provably false claims made about the purview or powers of the gods
iv) absence of necessity of gods to explain phenomena


A series of sound arguments can be made to justify the position that there are no gods, but the opponent doesn't actually in this case have any obligation to show that there is a god, all they have to do is show that the justification used in the affirmative is weak or flawed.

Of course, I agree that debates are generally performative style over substance regardless, but still there are some obligations in order to take part.
 
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hackenslash

Active Member
I can't recall who it was, but it was a then quite familiar poster on RS who started off something like:

"Gods don't exist, prove me wrong" - now, that's not quoted word for word, but the general idea was the same. This is of course problematic: it's not possible to stake a contention and expect others to invalidate the claim. If the claim is going to be staked, it needs to offer support itself.
I agree, that's just daft.

My contention is only that no burden is shouldered in the negating position. That statement is internally contradictory anyway, because it defines a standard in the enjoinder not present in the declarative, i.e., it's insisting on a fully deductive support for in response to a declarative that isn't deductively supported, rendering it internally inconsistent.

I suppose, at bottom, it's the possible ways that 'affirmative' can be interpreted. I treat an affirmative as a subset of the declarative. I think people often think of the affirmative and the declarative as the same, leading them to treat the fallacy as 'the onus of proof is on him who declares, not him who denies', which is an easy trap to fall into, not least because, as the statement you provided shows, the negation is also a declarative.

The negating declarative cannot exist in any sensible fashion absent the prior existence of the affirmative. That is, in fact, the logical basis of our insistence on terms being robustly defined. If somebody says, 'god exists', I have no idea of what they just said. Of course, 'god' looks a lot like a term that's been defined but, as you and I know from voluminous real-world experience, its semantic purpose is entirely to avoid being pinned down on definition. That's why we can demolish certain arguments by substituting that undefined term with some gibberish of our own choosing, my personal favourite always having been 'furzlewurgle'. If I were to declare confidently that furzlewurgle doesn't exist, I wouldn't be making sense, not just because of the lack of definition, but also because negation is entirely contingent on affirmation.

Not sure if I cleared anything up or merely served further to muddy the waters, but it's nice to ramble occasionally. :D
 

Sparhafoc

Well-Known Member
If somebody says, 'god exists', I have no idea of what they just said.

It's actually one of my favourite claims because, the more I think about it, the more confused those 2 words and their relationship to one and other become! :D

It's like a routine form of begging the question was too long-winded - we can't wait until the conclusion to assume the truth of that conclusion via the premises, we also want to stack more assumed conclusions into the only two words of the premise itself.

What exists? <this thing> 'thing exists'. What is a thing that doesn't exist? That there's <thing> at the outset already assumes the existence of said <thing> so why the repetition, what meaning is added? It's basically a trap of language, a grammatical well they fall down too busy looking upward for inspiration.

I also enjoy the notion of this still remaining a popular argumentation today after centuries of theologians deeply contemplating the nature of divinity as it actually feels something similar to the behavior of a young child who's just begun to speak, and feels awfully pleased with themselves wandering around declaring the nouns of things.

Uncharitably, of course, I do have to point out that we'd correct a child if they pointed at no apparent thing and stated a label, because that's not really how we use language and we wouldn't want our children to misapprehend that core component of communication.

Ramble on, dear sir!
 
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