Atheism, theism and jelly beans

Discussion in 'Religion' started by James R, Aug 3, 2019.

  1. Vociferous Valued Senior Member

    It includes all the usual features of a God, omnipotence, omniscience, etc. just without any particular religious storytelling or mythology. Maybe that's disconcerting for you, to have no mythology to refute as a proxy to theism itself.

    And how does that differ from what your OP criticizes religious people for thinking?
    It seems you have trouble keeping it straight yourself. If you've since changed your mind, your whole OP seems irrelevant.

    Your own OP argues that atheism is "not holding a belief" in the existence of any God, as opposed to the belief that gods don't exist, e.g. '"opposite" belief'.

    You seem to be conflating a-theism with anti-theism. The "a-" prefix denotes indifference (mere lack of belief), while the "anti-" prefix denotes direct opposition. If you're now claiming that atheism entails the latter, then your OP distinction is completely superfluous. Just an anti-religious way to criticize people. It's as if you read an article with the OP analogy but failed to understand the distinction it was making. Now maybe it's just that you are both atheist and anti-theist, but conflating the two runs counter to your own OP.

    You seem to have some personal baggage that doesn't comport with any standard definitions. Maybe that's what tripping you up?

    No, I'm saying that you are using religious claims to support your denial of theism. Why is it so hard to understand the distinction? You do understand what Deism is, right? Your "denial" of theism is supported every time religious fail to make a good case for god. Again, while most (not all) religious are theists, not all theists are religious. And you seem reticent to discuss theism without any religious trappings. Why is that? Are you afraid a good case could be made?

    Again, you seem to have some personal baggage that doesn't comport with standard definitions. Anti-theism is the belief that gods definitely do not exist, nothing more. It's an affirmative claim, rather that the noncommittal claim of atheism. Personally, I think you have a stronger argument against the typical religious person if you stick with the noncommittal claim. It's harder for them to shift the burden onto someone making no affirmative claim.

    We would have a more productive discussion if you weren't using so many idiosyncratic definitions.

    So you are both atheist and anti-theist. You definitely believe that no gods exist. In which case, any religious person is wholly justified in making the arguments, at least with you, that your OP criticizes them for. It really seems that you are then the one who has taken this thread off-topic from the OP.

    Again, thinking you've refuted theism by finding no religious arguments convincing, while your prerogative, doesn't address theism in and of itself. If you really think it does, it's odd that you seem determined to avoid theism itself.

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  3. Vociferous Valued Senior Member


    You seem to vacillate between saying atheism is "not believing that God exists" and "believing that God doesn't exist". That's the exact distinction made in your own OP.

    See, you're terribly inconsistent with how you express whatever it is you really mean. In this post alone, you've gone from saying "Atheism is the idea that gods don't exist" to "God might exist." See the trouble? That's why the clear distinction between atheism and anti-theism is useful.

    I agree that no one can be expected to prove a negative. But it's generally easier to avoid affirmative negative claims than to explain to some people why. And the onus is always on the positive claim, as the null hypothesis is the default assumption. The question is whether atheism or anti-theism best entails the null hypothesis. Considering science does not bother with negative claims, like affirming pink unicorns don't exist, it seems the null hypothesis is best represented by disbelief (atheism) rather than negative belief (anti-theism).

    Since I've seen you try to convince people that their erroneous ideas about science (flat earth, water spinning off the earth, rockets landing on moon, etc.) are incorrect, it seems a bit disingenuous to say you wouldn't do likewise with claims of cold fusion.

    Only if you believe in the misguided notion of scientism would you believe that every question can be addressed/known by science. But it seems you would find some notions of God not extraordinary enough, perhaps because they would not offer extraordinary evidence. Again, insulated with incredulity.

    Not specifically/solely deistic. If God didn't exist, why is there something rather than nothing, why the evidence of a beginning of the universe, why the ubiquitous belief arising independently in almost every culture throughout history? These are questions that science and even philosophy cannot compellingly answer. Now I'm sure you have plenty of reasons to believe none of those point to a God, but I assume you acknowledge that those same reasons do not compel your conclusion.

    Nothing of the sort. What a person finds convincing is not an inherently moral question.

    Yet you still seem to vacillate, even in this post.

    Important part of religion, sure, but not theism. Islam reveres Jesus as a prophet, and even among Christians, there's some variety of belief about the Trinity. From the outside, you really have no basis to doubt what the followers tell you about their own beliefs. That's just like them trying to tell you that you really do believe in God but are just in "denial".

    Since both religions share the Old Testament, you seem to be saying that one God split into two. That'

    Who's trying to decide which religion is correct? That seems like a preposterous idea from an atheist.

    While mono-/polytheists would disagree on the number of Gods, they would agree on the central question of theism itself, that at least one God exists.

    And those schisms do not touch on the central tenet of theism, that at least one God exists. Again, theism is not religion.

    No, because, again, theism is not religion. Almost every religion agrees that at least one God exists.
    And the plethora of views suggest to me that theism (the belief that at least one God exists) has such a strong impact that many diverse cultures have made it a fairly central element of its mythology and morality.

    But is there anything else where the diversity of views suggests to you that none are true? Or is religion a special case?
    And even if no religions are right, that does not imply that their shared theistic belief is also incorrect. It would be faulty reasoning to presume that differences in mythology somehow undermine the point of agreement.

    What would give you that idea? While I think different flavors of theism are not mutually exclusive, different religions definitely make competing claims.

    You repeatedly seem to be arguing some religious straw man. I wonder if you conflating religion and theism works to insulate you from addressing purely theistic arguments. Maybe religious arguments are just so much more like shooting fish in a barrel.
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  5. DaveC426913 Valued Senior Member

    It hasn't been that hard for me; I've done it here before when our resident theist Jan made a similar assumption.

    When he asked how I can believe God doesn't exist without first defining what God I was taking about, my answer was simple:

    "Is this God supernatural in nature? Yes? Then he probably doesn't exist, since I generally do not believe in supernatural things. A more detailed break down than that is superfluous."
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  7. Vociferous Valued Senior Member

    Except that you have to precede by immediately asking about the nature of God. Hence not talking about atheism without also addressing theism. Not sure how you think that contradicts what I said.

    But more interesting...what if the answer is "no", God is not supernatural in nature? If the supernatural are things that contradict natural laws, I don't think a God would contradict its own creation.
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  8. DaveC426913 Valued Senior Member

    OK, if you consider 'Is it supernatural? Yes or no?' to be a discussion.

    Then you would be able to produce him so I may shake his hand.

    Well that's not what it means, so moot point.

    That sounds like a problem for theists to work out.

    Atheists already have a perfectly consistent solution to that paradox.
    Last edited: Jan 12, 2020
  9. Vociferous Valued Senior Member

    It's literally asking about the nature of God. No consideration involved, just reading the actual words written. But do tell, how do you ask about God without discussing God?
    Can you produce the wind or dark matter so I may shake their hands?
    You presume a lot about God to assume it is embodied with hands.
    (of a manifestation or event) attributed to some force beyond scientific understanding or the laws of nature.​
    So the noumenon, qualia, etc. are supernatural? Those are beyond scientific understanding.
    And how would we know something is beyond the laws of nature if it never conflicts with those laws?
    So do I, a God that is not supernatural.
  10. DaveC426913 Valued Senior Member

    Again, if you accept a single binary question as 'discussing' then OK.

    But to be clear: we are discussing the concept of God. That is not the same thing as discussing the nature of God. And note, that that concept is simply the assertions and beliefs of individuals.

    Think about, say, the magic of Harry Potter. I can certainly discuss it as a concept; but it doesn't require discussing anything about the details of it to conclude that is is fictional. If asked whether its real, I don't need to discuss any specifics.

    We can discuss the thoughts and creative process of the writer(s). Much like with God. We can only discuss what various theists believe God to be. There's no objective description of God to discuss.

    OK, let me turn your pseudo-definition back on you then. Since you can't shake the hand of the wind or of DM, does that mean you consider them supernatural?

    I suppose I could use less interesting language if that would be easier for you to follow the logic.

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    But I suspect you're smarter than that. I suspect this was just an evasion of the point - which you got. Agree?

    Also, God can give himself hands, can't he?

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    Yes. Beyond or above.
    You'll agree I'm under no obligation to accept your substitution of word.

    No they're not. Limited direct scientific scrutiny, sure. Certainly not beyond.

    Dunno. Your word. I'll stick with the definition.

    OK, that certainly puts you in an extremely small club.

    But one possibly fruitful for exploration. It raises a whole bunch of intriguing questions.

    Is it alive?
    Where does it live?
    Does it affect Earthly activity?
    If so, by what mechanism??
    Is it bound by natural physics?
    Say, limited to the speed of light?
    Thermodynamics? Does it do work? Emit heat?
    Obey laws of conservation? If it cures me of illness, can I detect its machinations with the right instruments?
    Did it come into existence some time since the Big Bang?

    These questions by be difficult to get definitive answers, but if it is natural in origin, they are certainly scientifically explorable in principle.

    And perhaps the biggest question: Is it not self-contradictory? By pretty much any theological definition (barring yours) God is supernatural. If it's natural, then it's just another (presumably very powerful) alien critter, is it not?
    Last edited: Jan 13, 2020
  11. James R Just this guy, you know? Staff Member


    I apologise for the confusion this has apparently caused you. Perhaps you thought that an atheist needs to deny every theist's personal version of God, one after the other, rather than making the more general statement that the atheist doesn't currently accept that any gods exist. I think it's fine to make the general statement. If the theist has a good argument and evidence for his god, of course the atheist is willing to change his mind. But I thought that, by now, I'd have made this point abundantly clear in this thread.

    Any other questions?

    I think you're playing word games, along with Vociferous. You're both looking for some "gotcha" moment where you hope to catch me out in an inconsistency. Since the only way to do that is focus on pedantic minutiae, that's what you're both trying to do.

    I'll expand on this in my next reply to Vociferous.
    Last edited: Jan 14, 2020
  12. James R Just this guy, you know? Staff Member


    Err... no I didn't. I merely said that I would be interested to know what convinced you that a god exists. I was thinking we could discuss that in a different thread. Sorry for any confusion this has caused you. It sounds like you thought I wanted you to discuss your god in this thread.

    Point taken.

    Okay, I'm willing to broaden the discussion if you feel like you want to discuss your god here. Flexibility is a virtue.
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  13. James R Just this guy, you know? Staff Member


    No, I'm fine with it, really.

    Do you draw any conclusions about your God's possible role in the creation of the universe? What does this omnipotent God of yours do on a day-to-day basis? Do you have any knowledge about that?

    In the opening post, I was talking about what atheists tend to mean when they say that they don't believe that gods exist. I get that it's a subtle distinction, so I understand your struggle.

    First, we have two competing concepts or ideas:
    1. No gods exist.
    2. At least one god exists.

    Atheism is the first of these two ideas; theism is the second.

    With that under our belts, we drill down into the details of the atheist belief. Possible varieties of atheism include:

    1a. The belief that the existence of gods is ruled out by some kind of logical reasoning or a priori assumption.
    1b. The belief that the existence of gods has not been convincingly and objectively established by those who claim belief 2, above.

    My assertion is that atheists are generally more likely to hold the position 1b, rather than 1a. My own position is 1b, just to be clear. Additionally, I assert that many theists assume, incorrectly, that atheists generally hold position 1a. I also addressed another position: those theists who assume that, in fact, people who claim to be atheists actually, secretly, hold position 2 whilst asserting position 1, meaning that atheists are "in denial" because they are really closet theists.

    I haven't changed my mind. It seems I have not succeeded in adequately explaining my position to you so that you can understand what it is, that's all. If you're still unclear after this post, I'm happy to answer further questions, but maybe the above will help you (?), along with the rest, below.

    Atheism involves holding a belief - namely belief 1a or 1b, above (and I leave it open to add 1c, 1d etc. if further positions come to my attention that are relevant to this discussion). Note, however, my holding belief 1b does not mean that I "believe there are no gods" or that I "believe that gods don't exist". I certainly entertain the idea or concept that there might, in fact, be no gods, but I do not assert that as a positive belief I have. The reason is simple: I don't believe I have sufficient evidence against the existence of gods in order to be able to draw the definite conclusion that there either cannot be any gods anywhere anytime or that there certainly is no god presently existing.

    In other words, I don't believe that there are no gods. I don't know if there are gods or if there are no gods - just like I wouldn't know whether there was an even or odd number of jelly beans in the jar, in the terms of my opening post. Also in my opening post, I wrote:

    When an atheist says she doesn't believe in your God, that usually doesn't mean she believes your God doesn't exist. Rather, it means exactly what it appears to mean on its face: that the atheist doesn't share your God belief - no more and no less.
    Read this in the context of position 1b, expressed above. I do not share your belief in your deistic god. That doesn't mean I believe your deist god doesn't exist. It means I think you haven't given me any reason that I consider sufficient to justify my acceptance of your deist god.

    It is anti-theistic to say that I find your god claims unconvincing? If so, then I guess I plead guilty. But, as I said in a previous post, to me the term "anti-theism" implies a bit more of an antagonistic approach than that.

    Well, this is my thread. I have tried to be clear about my definitions. If you prefer some other definitions, its up to you to make that case, I guess. I'm not sure which "standard" of definitions you're appealing to, here, or if it's anything other than your own personal standards. You haven't cited any references other than your own authority, as far as I can see.

    You mean, the fact that religious people haven't made what I would consider a good case for God? I plead guilty as charged, if that's the case. The weakness of religious claims is certainly one explanation for my atheism.

    I think so. It's a belief in a non-personal God who basically does nothing in the world that is distinguishable from what we athists think natural processes can probably do. Right? If I understand you correctly, your argument is that your God is a "natural" part of the world that does not engage in the typical kinds of supernatural "miracles" that mainstream religions typically describe. So far, you've said nothing that clearly distinguishes your God from things like the universe as a whole or the "laws of nature" or whatever, other than a vague hand-wave towards notions of omniscience and omnipotence. Perhaps your God is a supernatural god who merely chooses never to use his supernatural powers in the universe. I'll wait for your further elaboration, if you wish to provide one.

    If you say so. It doesn't sound unreasonable for me to become more sceptical of specific religious claims when religious people fail to make a good case.

    Not at all. Bring it on!

    If that's how you want to define anti-theism now, then clearly I'm not an anti-theist. It sounds like we're on the same page on this, after all. But then again, other things you've said give me pause.

    I'm not sure why you mention personal baggage. Was it something specific I wrote?

    Are you free of personal baggage?

    Perhaps now would be a good time for you to post the definitions you like to use. Then we can compare.

    I'm not sure about the anti-theist part. Maybe, maybe not. My definition of that term appears to differ from yours.

    No. I don't current accept that any gods exist. See my opening post!

    I would say that such a religious person has not understood my opening post.

    Woah! Hold up.

    When did I ever claim to have "refuted theism"?

    All along, I have talked about my personal beliefs, which are one thing. A disproof of theism is a separate matter, and one that I have not touched on in this thread as far as I can tell.

    Just out of interest: do you think you've refuted atheism?
    Last edited: Jan 14, 2020
  14. James R Just this guy, you know? Staff Member


    I can't see any vacillation. I hope these couple of posts help to clarify my position.

    Having an idea that something could be the case is not the same as asserting that it is the case.

    If I say "I think (believe) my train will arrive late this morning", that isn't the same as asserting that no other outcome is possible. If "a-punctualism" is the idea that my train will be late, my asserting a-punctualism is not the same as making the claim that it is a fact that my train will be late. At best, it's a statement about my current belief.

    See the difference?

    Again, it sounds like we're on the same page, there.

    I didn't say I wouldn't discuss why claims of cold fusion might be wrong, or why I'm not convinced that cold fusion exists. All I said was that the onus of proof of cold fusion is on those who claim it has been shown to exist.

    When it comes to the flat earth and rockets landing on the moon, in recent discussions of those topics I did far more than simply express my doubt about the claims being made. I provided arguments that specifically refuted the claims that were being made. That is, I corrected actual errors in the claims being made, rather than simply saying that I was not personally convinced by the claims.

    I'm interested in what non-scientific evidence led you to your current belief in the deistic god. Care to expand?

    God of the Gaps, then?

    You think so?

    It seems to me that Allah and Yahweh, as described in the Qur'an and the bible are quite different in important ways, even though Islam is obviously derivative of Christianity. It also seems to me there's a general agreement among Muslims and Christians, as well as among scholars, that they follow different religious traditions.

    I understand that some are motivated to claim that Yahweh and Allah are one and the same. For Islam, that assertion provides a useful notion of historical continuity, if nothing else.

    I think that if you regard my view as a unique one on this, then you probably haven't read widely enough.

    All the major religions, for starters, though to be fair they all already think they have the answer.

    It sounds to me like you're bending over backwards to try to argue that all gods are One. It's reminiscent of Jan Ardena. To do that, you have to skim over the surface of the various religions, or else carefully pick and choose from each while ignoring huge slabs of inconvenient inconsistencies and blatant contradictions.

    It is possible to mulch the god concept into something so vague that you can fit it to any religious idea you want, but then the god loses most of attributes that provide the reasons why believers worship the god(s) in the first place.

    Is it a case of lowest-common-denominator for you, then? Is that the extent of your own belief in God?

    Sure. For instance, in science I have many questions about dark matter. It is possible that none of the current hypotheses about dark matter is correct.

    Another example would be astrologers' predictions for significant world events that will occur in 2020, at least the ones that are specific enough to be confirmed or refuted at the end of the year. It is quite possible that none of the astrologers is right.

    It wouldn't be hard for me to come up with lots of other examples.

    That "point of agreement" you mention sounds to me like the mulched concept of a god that I mentioned above. All I can say is if that is the full extent of your belief in a god, then I have to wonder why you believe it at all, given that it's so ill-defined and apparently unevidenced.

    It seems to me that it is you who is working overtime here to abstract out your god from the specifics of any religious claim that could be tested, whereas when I talk about refuting religion I try to engage with the actual beliefs that actual believers in the mainstream religious faiths say that they hold. Those go far beyond vague notions of omniscience and omnipotence.
    Last edited: Jan 14, 2020
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  15. James R Just this guy, you know? Staff Member

    A thought: here's a simple test for whether you're an atheist or a theist.

    Do you currently believe that at least one god exists?

    If your answer is "yes" then you're a theist.
    If your answer is "no" then you're an atheist.​

    That's all there is to it!

    Note that if your answer is "I don't know if at least one god exists", then you're not answering the question that I asked you. I didn't ask what you know; I asked what you believe.

    Also, if your answer is "I'm an agnostic. I believe that the question of god's existence is unanswerable", or something along those lines, then once again you have not answered the question that was asked. You answered a different question about what you believe about what it is possible to know. You still need to answer the question as to what you currently believe about god(s). If you think that it's impossible to know if gods exist, but you choose to believe in one anyway, then you're a theist. If you think it's impossible to know if gods exist and you don't currently believe in a god, then you're an atheist. In the former case you might like to use the term "agnostic theist", and in the latter case "agnostic atheist".
  16. davewhite04 Valued Senior Member

    Why does anyone need to answer this question?
  17. DaveC426913 Valued Senior Member

    A question atheists have been asking since the dawn of time.
    Yet theists seem obsessed - not only with their own beliefs - but with those of others.
    If theists just kept their personal beliefs to themselves - or at least among those in their club - there would be no need to discuss it. That would make the rest of the world perfectly happy.
  18. Michael 345 New year. PRESENT is 70 years old Valued Senior Member

    Because their brand of god is real and as Ricky Gervais puts it all the others are just silly superstitions

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  19. James R Just this guy, you know? Staff Member

    To work out for yourself whether you're a theist or an atheist, if you're confused.
    Also, so others can work out if you're a theist or atheist, if you can't adequately categorise your own beliefs.

    I'm trying to help you here, davewhite04.
  20. gmilam Valued Senior Member

    I see no evidence to support the hypothesis.

    I believe that puts me in the atheist column.
  21. davewhite04 Valued Senior Member

    Not knowing there is a God is not a weakness or a bout of confusion. It is a humble position.

    What beliefs? It is one question, if you want to question it.
  22. James R Just this guy, you know? Staff Member


    Okay, but what has that got to do with whether you believe in a god or not? I was careful to distinguish the question of what you believe from what you know, above.

    What do you believe?

    Sorry, you've lost me. Perhaps try reading post #232 again.
  23. davewhite04 Valued Senior Member

    50/50 tonight. Obviously I'm different to you, I can switch sides at a moments notice. Nothing defines me.

    Were you talking about evaluating someone to decide whether they are atheist/theist by what "beliefs" they held? You can't decide what someone is.

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