Atheism, theism and jelly beans

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

  1. Truck Captain Stumpy The Right Honourable Reverend Truck Captain Valued Senior Member

    how horrendous! we should call DHS on them! #ImprisonBadParents #BanParenting #Understanding
    [need I indicate the intentional hyperbole?]

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    I've always thought that evidence was circumstantial support for the non-existence of a god, really. It's more about humans making a deity in their own image to me.

    Personally, I don't have a problem with a person having a faith of any kind. It's when they codify rules to judge others, and especially when they then try to force others to accept their dogma as reality that I have a problem. Worse still is when they argue their faith or belief as being equivalent to or superior to objective and validatable reality, like christian "science" or similar cult-like religions.
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  3. DaveC426913 Valued Senior Member


    Personal beliefs don't need to be defended. Unless you assert them for discussion as some objective reality that constrains others.
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  5. RainbowSingularity Valued Senior Member

    why does atheism get listed under religion ?
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  7. James R Just this guy, you know? Staff Member

    If so, then that would just tend to expose that the belief is held for unsound reasons.

    The problem with this is that I, for example, don't look at the rocks and the grass and see God. If God is in there, he's hidden away with such skill that the rocks and the grass look the same as we'd expect if there was no God at all, at least as far as I can tell.

    Nevertheless, a theist making this statement is at least be making an honest statement about his or her belief. I can respect the honesty, even if I think this doesn't stack up as evidence of a god. The claim being made is that God is obvious. But God isn't obvious at all in the rocks or the grass. If he was, everybody would see him there.

    Cue the cries about the wilful blindness of the evil atheist.

    Beliefs can be held for good or bad reasons. If somebody thinks they have good reasons for their beliefs, then they ought to be able to defend those beliefs using the reasons.

    Recall that when somebody says "I believe X", that somebody is making a claim that X is true. Nobody says he believes in false things. So, if he's deciding to make a public claim that X is true, rather than keeping his belief private, then he should be willing to defend (or, better, support) the claim. And when it's an extraordinary claim, like the claim that a supernatural omnipotent being exists, then the defence of the claim ought to be a persuasive one. "Just look! It's obvious" doesn't really cut the mustard.
    Last edited: Nov 19, 2019
  8. James R Just this guy, you know? Staff Member

    You mean in general, or are you asking why it is discussed in sciforums' Religion subforum?

    If there was no religion, there'd be no need for the word "atheist".

    Atheism, in itself, is not a religion. A religion is an institution concerned with belief in supernatural beings and/or divine powers, and atheists don't believe in either of those.

    Atheism is the counter to the claim that Gods exist, so it obviously tends to come up when religion is debated.
  9. Tiassa Let us not launch the boat ... Staff Member

    You extremists and your make-believe aren't actually funny.

    What ever happened to atheism simply meaning, "without God"?

    Sounds more like antireligious bigotry than "atheism". Stop deliberately misinforming people.

    Seriously, James, this is what happens when you stop thinking rationally and start thinking religiously.
  10. foghorn Valued Senior Member

    Why the upper case G on god, do you only know of one god?
    Tiassa's arrived.
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  11. Yazata Valued Senior Member

    It does mean that in ordinary language. If I say that "I don't believe in global warming", most people would interpret that as my denial that global warming is happening. If I say that "I don't believe in right and wrong", most people would interpret that as me denying the reality and applicability to me of these ethical values.

    And the religious people would seem to me to be (roughly speaking) correct about atheists.

    Atheists typically entertain a whole collection of additional beliefs besides "We lack the belief that God exists". They include:

    1. 'God exists' is F, ~(God exists) is T. In other words, I think that most atheists believe exactly the belief that you insist religious people falsely attribute to them.

    2. (As atheists typically use the word) God seems to exclusively refer to the "Abrahamic" God, perceived in a particular way, seemingly derived from fundamentalist Protestantism. Atheists love to respond to philosophy of religion arguments with Biblical (dis)-proof texts, using their Bibles and Bible quotations precisely as fundies do, except in reverse. The Bible is still the uniquely revealed Word of a God that the atheist no longer believes in. This completely ignores the possibility that maybe some sort of God exists in the sense of the universe's ultimate Source and Explanation, something that might even conceivably give some sort of big-picture meaning to the seemingly random and pointless events of human life, but the Bible is nevertheless an ancient book-of-myths that has no more to do with it than Homer's Odyssey. (It's a little telling that theoretical physics often seems to want to intrude into natural theology's turf, into the role of revealing the fundamental mysteries.)

    3. Atheists will typically insist that there is no evidence for the existence of God. Which is obviously a propositional assertion that goes beyond simply saying "I don't currently believe in God". It's also factually false, since there's no end of what religious believers take to be evidence. Religious experience, miracles, arguably even the existence of reality and the seeming "laws of nature". We should be saying that There's no evidence that I'm willing to accept as being good or convincing evidence. There may be sound and convincing reasons for the atheist taking that position, but it nevertheless is a position and it does need argument. Argument that can't be evaded by the familiar atheist "I'm not asserting anything and have no burden of proof!" evasions.

    4. Atheists will typically insist that belief in God or adherence to religion is somehow 'ignorant'. The idea that if somebody was suitably intelligent, educated and knowledgeable, then he or she would naturally reject religion. There's some radical enlightenment inspired idea that atheism is more 'progressive'. Atheism is supposedly what all the smart people believe. There's a widespread tendency for atheists to picture themselves as champions of "reason" (while they simultaneously argue that they have no need to present an intellectual case for their atheistic position). We see it in how atheists often make analogies between belief in God and belief in spaghetti monsters, pink unicorns or fairies. Beliefs that the atheist believes are ridiculous.

    5. There's often a highly emotional edge to atheism. Many atheists viscerally dislike religion and they react to it with anger. (We see plenty of that right here on Sciforums.) Atheists will often insist that belief in God is morally reprehensible. Not only is there the implication that one shouldn't (in some moral sense) believe in 'ignorant' ideas or hold unfounded beliefs, there's a style of atheist historiography that interprets religion as the historical cause of most war and much of man's inhumanity to man. Religion was supposedly invented by evil priests to strengthen their hold over the innocent masses, so the story often goes. There's the familiar "conflict thesis" that (falsely) interprets the history of science as science's valiant battle against the cold grip of ignorant and obscurantist religion which has always tried to suppress the flowering of "reason".

    That's collapsing atheism together with agnosticism. As an agnostic, I welcome atheists moving over to what I consider a far stronger intellectual position. But I oppose atheists claiming agnosticism's turf as their own while still clinging to their atheist beliefs (beliefs that they deny even having).

    If an atheist wants to become an agnostic, then lose the equation of "religion" with Protestant Christianity. Lose the conviction that there's no evidence and replace it with "I haven't seen any evidence yet that convinces me". Lose the visceral anger and hostility towards religion and religiosity. Lose the simplistic philosophy and historiography.

    You're still arguing against Jan Ardena's peculiar arguments, aren't you? (Where is Jan??)

    There is a valid point there that if we are arguing about the existence or non-existence of 'X', we need to have some shared concept of what 'X' means, what it refers to (assuming it actually refers). So in order to be an atheist, an atheist seemingly must have some familiarity with the concept of 'God', at least in one of its countless variants. So Jan would be right to the limited extent that 'God' must exist as an idea, in order for atheists to exist.

    The problem there is that the word 'God' has been understood in many different ways. There's the big blustering Jewish guy on top of Mt. Sinai, the voices Mohammed heard in his head in a cave outside Mecca, and the lithe blue guy in India who was always seducing milkmaids. Then there's the austere and abstract metaphysical first-cause and designer proposed by Aristotle and the natural theologians.

    Where Jan went off the rails is in his/her conviction that there is one single correct definition of 'God' that is found in all 'scriptures' and upon which all 'scriptures' agree. (Whatever 'scriptures' are.)

    If one can't explain the objective nature of mathematics and explain how human beings know about things like logical necessity and logical implication (necessary not only for mathematical proofs, but for reasoning in general), then theoretical physics would seem to be just another aspect of life based primarily on intuition.

    I certainly agree with that.

    That's certainly true. But the problem doesn't just apply to religion.

    Your gut feeling that some things are morally right and other things are morally wrong is unlikely to convince somebody who holds different moral views. The point being that ethics exists on ground that's probably just as shaky as the ground beneath religion.

    Agnostics (in Thomas Huxley's original sense) are inclined to think that most of the things we believe are on shaky ground, if we just poke deeply enough.
    Last edited: Nov 19, 2019
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  12. Truck Captain Stumpy The Right Honourable Reverend Truck Captain Valued Senior Member

    I actually disagree with this quote for the following reason, and offered IMHO only: a religion (see definition below), which I, personally, separate from "faith", typically codifies a set of beliefs using those internal beliefs as reasons to judge others in order to set boundaries for others and form a common core establishing control over the whole. These boundaries typically are used for external judgement and include the promotion of prejudice justified by their internal beliefs.

    Once we allow for the codification of rules which are established under the shaky ground of religious reasoning then we allow for the spread of prejudice and advocate for their moral superiority, even if that isn't easily recognizable, and this is demonstrated by the historical US and other national laws based on religious morality, still found today as Blue Laws or similar prejudicial injunctions such as the restrictions on marriage (which in and of itself is ridiculous considering of the history of marriage and it's relationship to the Abrahamic religions in the first place).

    to me, religion, defined as the codified set of rules, typically surrounding or justified by a faith, used for judgement, is a fundamental problem in humanity. Until we can establish a universal morality that isn't subjective, and we can remove the culturally and religiously defined justifications, then we will continue to have issues with racism, sexism, ageist and other similarly related prejudices.

    but then again, what do I know: I'm just a simple Mountain Man

    Ok, not advocating violence, mind. I thought I should clarify that one.
  13. Tiassa Let us not launch the boat ... Staff Member

    Because without it, the word becomes a plural, and that's not how atheists have said it, over the years. To wit, I know someone who does not believe in the deity described in the Bible; this does not make her an atheist. No, really, trust me, she's a coven priestess unto a goddess.

    If I say, file under "Duh", maybe that's not fair, but the phrase in question, "without God", has history in this sort of discourse. The simplification of religion according to the needs of ignorant critics is unhelpful and, in any rational historical discussion, inappropriate. Whether the Unmoved Mover necessary to Aristotelian formulations, the accretions and balance of religion according to Sufism, Diderot's eighteenth-century pensée, or a modernist post-Christian tautology by which, "God is", we are frequently reminded of the difference between deity and religion.

    Meanwhile, remember: Atheism is reactionary; as a natural state unto itself, atheism would not identify itself any more than tribal names that simply mean, "people", or invoke the word.
  14. RainbowSingularity Valued Senior Member

    autism stand-up
    "the simplification of my complexity gives me complexes"

    patriarchal sit-down-stand-up
    church of the penis
    "Dont daintify my diety... ive got my stick in my hand & i need to smash something"

    "excuse me, could you please hold my man-bag while i do something completely inappropriate"
    "certainly dear, get me one while your at it"(orders quiche & a taco)

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  15. StrangerInAStrangeLand SubQuantum Mechanic Valued Senior Member

    Would you like it to be listed under politics?

  16. RainbowSingularity Valued Senior Member

    God was a politician once, but she had to resign to find a better work life balance to juggle "home/life family" responsibilities.
  17. Xelasnave.1947 Valued Senior Member

    I disagree also for many reasons.

    How extrodinary that folk make excuses for religion and ignore the deaths. .How extrodinary they can pretend they can make even a slim case for religion. How extrodinary they bother when the obvious is ...well obvious.

    An article from Redit.

    How Many People Have Been Killed in the Name of Religion?

    How many deaths have been caused by religion? Here's a list of religiously motivated wars and genocides and their death tolls. Let me know if I missed any!

    • The Crusades: 6,000,000
    • Thirty Years War: 11,500,000
    • French Wars of Religion: 4,000,000
    • Second Sudanese Civil War: 2,000,000
    • Lebanese Civil War: 250,000
    • Muslim Conquests of India: 80,000,000
    • Congolese Genocide (King Leopold II): 13,000,000
    • Armenian Genocide: 1,500,000
    • Rwandan Genocide: 800,000
    • Eighty Years' War: 1,000,000
    • Nigerian Civil War: 1,000,000
    • Great Peasants' Revolt: 250,000
    • First Sudanese Civil War: 1,000,000
    • Jewish Diaspora (Not Including the Holocaust): 1,000,000
    • The Holocaust (Jewish and Homosexual Deaths): 6,500,000
    • Islamic Terrorism Since 2000: 150,000
    • Iraq War: 500,000
    • US Western Expansion (Justified by "Manifest Destiny"):20,000,000
    • Atlantic Slave Trade (Justified by Christianity): 14,000,000
    • Aztec Human Sacrifice: 80,000
    • AIDS deaths in Africa largely due to opposition to condoms: 30,000,000
    • Spanish Inquisition: 5,000
    • TOTAL: 195,035,000 deaths in the name of religion....
    End of article... perhaps a little ambitious but I think we can get the idea why some folk think religion is something that invokes a predictable response..

    Now let us expect excuses that it was really about this or that and when we accept there was more to a particular war proceed to ignore the aspect of using religion as a motivator so we can discuss religion in a civilized casual ignorant fashion.

    Last edited: Nov 20, 2019
  18. Xelasnave.1947 Valued Senior Member

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

    Strange how you call me an extremist but then go on to agree with me:
    Obviously, what's happened here is that you've got your tits in a tangle because I didn't explicitly make a distinction there between following an organised religious tradition and merely believing in some kind of deity. Apparently, that's enough excuse for you to lash out at me, despite the fact that I have been more than clear on that point elsewhere on this forum on countless occasions.

    In light of all that, it's hard to take the following as anything other than another personal attack you chose to make against me because you're upset about unrelated things:
    So, moving on.
  20. James R Just this guy, you know? Staff Member


    Thanks for your post. There's a lot there for me to get my teeth into.

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    You sound a bit angry about it all. Why is that? Got a horse in this race?

    Hence the confusion.

    Part of the problem is binary thinking: the assumption that there are only two possible positions in play. Either you think God is real or you don't. But you yourself admit there is a third position, in this case the position of not being sure if God is real or not or, as I put it, not being convinced that God is real but keeping the possibility live.

    Binary thinking isn't only a trap in the atheism/theism debate. It's a problem in lots of other debates, too. In fact, there's room for a third path in both of the other two examples you give here, as well.

    But we're not speaking roughly in this thread. I was careful to be precise in my opening post to this thread, because precision is actually important when it comes to this particular debate.

    So now you're about to construct a stereotype of your "ideal" atheist. I don't claim to speak for all atheists, by the way. Again, I could point you to my opening post, where I said things like "In my experience ..." and similar. Atheism isn't monolithic, and not all atheists hold all the same views on everything. Also worth mentioning is that many atheists are newer at this than I am, so I try to be careful and precise most of the time when I'm talking about my atheism.

    But let's see what your perception of the stereotype is, because that's interesting.

    This only tells me that you have the same misconception that a lot of theists have, and it validates my reasons for starting this thread in the first place.

    I think you're wrong, and most atheists do not hold the position you say they hold. On the other hand, I am quite certain that some atheists do hold that position, but I think I said that before. I know for certain that I'm not in that camp.

    Typically, western atheists tend to clash with the more ardent types of western theist, most of whom are found in the United States, a predominantly Christian nation. Moreover, a lot of western atheists have religious backgrounds of their own, more likely to be Christian than anything else. So it makes sense that atheists tend to talk about what they know, and also to debate against the people who challenge them most often.

    Most arguments from run-of-the-mill theists are not philosophy of religion arguments, but rather tend to rely on the bible as an infallible record of God's divine words and commands. One way to combat those arguments is to meet those theists on their home turf, so to speak. There are plenty, after all, who are unlikely to be swayed by philosophical arguments against their religion.

    I think it's safe to say that the God of the bible or the Qur'an is pretty much a non-starter given what we know these days. But there are still plenty of areas of knowledge into which we can insert a God of the Gaps if we are so inclined. The issue you have with physics, I think, probably has to do with its annoying habit of closing some of the gaps that God used to fit into.

    If you have been reading my posts on this topic for any length of time you will be aware that I am rather careful to say that there's no convincing evidence rather than there is no evidence. There's a ton of bad evidence for God, or evidence of things that might be God but might just as easily be something completely different.

    Personally, I am inclined to cut atheists a bit of slack when they are confronted by theists who claim to have good evidence for the umpteenth time and then it turns out that they are just relying on the authority of the bible again. Atheists regularly find themselves having to walk theists through the notion of what actually counts as evidence for something. It can become a shorthand to say simply "there's no evidence". The subtext from the atheist, however, is almost always that there is no convincing evidence.

    Statistics bear it out, like it or not. Mind you, mere education is not enough; you need to be educated in the right things - like critical thinking. Understanding how science approaches things is immensely useful.

    I take your point, in that people don't "naturally" reject religion. Critical thinking is a learned skill, at least in part, rather than being a natural facility that everybody has.

    On the subject of ignorance, I have witnessed countless examples of discussions between atheists and theists in which the atheist's knowledge of, say, the bible is superior to the theist's. Most people don't believe in God because of evidence for the proposition. Most often they are indoctrinated from a young age.
    Last edited: Nov 20, 2019
  21. James R Just this guy, you know? Staff Member


    I invite readers to compare the "reason" of the average atheist debater with the same as displayed by the average theist. Judge for yourselves, assuming you're properly equipped to make the call.

    Regarding spaghetti monsters and the like, the comparison is a valid one. When it comes down to it, what evidence is there of the God of Abraham, say, that is fundamentally different from the kind of evidence put forward for the existing of the spaghetti monster? A common argument goes that millions of people can't be wrong, but you and I both know they can be.

    In some cases that's because the atheists have their own past history of belief, often followed by angry rejection and sometimes outright ostracism imposed by their former co-religionists. It can hardly come as a surprise that one would be angry at a religion that has caused one's own parents do disown their child and cut off all communication, for example.

    But it's interesting that you talk about the emotionalism of atheists. I suppose you've never seen an angry theist?

    Where there's smoke, there's often fire. Religion has a lot to answer for when it comes to war and man's inhumanity to man, as I'm sure you'll agree. Christians often hold the bible up as a thesis on morality, not knowing that their book is full of immoral acts apparently sanctioned by - or in some cases ordered or carried out directly by - the God they say they worship.

    L. Ron Hubbard thought the best way to control people and make money was to invent a religion. Today we have Scientology, which is likely to become a "mainstream" religion if it manages to weather the storms from its thousands of exploited ex-members.

    Again, where there's smoke there's fire. Science has battled religious dogma, famously. Religion has tried to suppress the flowering of (certain brands of) reason.

    If you need a modern example, look no further than fundamentalist American Christianity's attempts to suppress the teaching of evolution.
  22. James R Just this guy, you know? Staff Member


    Unfortunately, the word "agnostic" is used in several different ways and in common usage has strayed from its original meaning.

    Personally, I say that atheism/theism is a statement about belief, whereas gnosticism/agnosticism is about an attitude to evidence, or what counts as such. I call myself an agnostic atheist. That means that I don't believe that God exists (I don't have the belief that God exists) and that I simultaneously hold that we shouldn't believe in things unless and until there is sufficient evidence (that's the agnosticism part).

    Following this usage, it is possible to be an agnostic theist, who believes there is sufficient evidence to accept that God exists. It's also possible to be a gnostic theist (of course) - "Who cares about evidence? I just know that God is real." And it's possible to be a gnostic atheist - those would include the ones who hold the positive belief that there is no God.

    We're already there.

    The question you need to answer is: do you currently believe that there is a God? If your answer is "no" then you're an atheist, regardless of whether you're agnostic or gnostic. If you're not sure and you think there might be a God but the evidence is insufficient to establish that, then you're currently an agnostic atheist like me.

    It sounds to me like you're confusing atheists' statements about belief with their statements about method.

    I agree with you!

    This thread has been here for a while now. Maybe Jan was around when I started it. Actually, I think he had disappeared before that. I like to imagine him undergoing a crisis of faith as we speak.

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    But now that you mention him, I don't see any harm in covering his arguments as well as others. Besides, he'll probably be back sooner or later.

    That point has never been disputed by any atheist on this forum, as far as I am aware. We all have an idea of God.

    That's not as big a problem as you might think, given that we can extract a few common attributes of all these gods.

    Jan's justification of his own beliefs has always boiled down to "Because I say so!"

    Physics is, at its base, an empirical science. Talk to most physicists and their criteria for keeping the good and throwing out the bad is what "works" and what doesn't. Nature is the final arbiter on what works (in this regard), not philosophical nuances about logical necessity and implication.

    That's one reason why I find the subject of ethics so intriguing. As things stand, there's no clear objective basis for ethics. Not that various people haven't made suggestions about possible candidates for an objective grounding for the discipline.

    Nevertheless, even in the absence of an ultimate justification for ethics, it seems clear that there are valid ethical arguments and invalid ones. It is not true that all proposed ethical systems are equal.

    Right! It is in Huxley's original sense that I try to apply the word "agnostic" to my own beliefs (or, more accurately, methods).
    Last edited: Nov 21, 2019
  23. Baldeee Valued Senior Member

    A/theism - a matter of ontology
    A/gnosticism - a matter of epistemology

    Agnosticism is not the middle ground between theism and atheism, as that would require it to be on the same axis (ontology).

    (Note the small “g” when talking about gnostic/ism, as when capitalised it generally refers to a specific group of ideas / beliefs / believers, rather than those who aren’t agnostic.)
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