Ethical Realism

December 20, 2013

Atheism as Nonbelief

Filed under: philosophy — JW Gray @ 6:20 am
Tags: , , ,

A lot of people are saying ‘atheism’ is what we call it when people don’t believe in gods.1 The more traditional meaning of ‘atheism’ is the belief that no gods (or certain types of gods) exist. This newer (nontraditional) type of atheism is sometimes called ‘soft atheism’ as opposed to ‘hard atheism.’ I will describe atheism, consider reasons that the newer definition of ‘atheism’ can lead to confusion, and I will consider reasons why people might prefer this newer definition.

There is a difference between lacking a belief in gods and believing that gods don’t exist. To believe gods don’t exist is an example of lacking a belief in gods, but another example of lacking a belief in gods is being undecided if gods exist. Some people don’t believe a god exists and don’t believe that no gods exist either. I lack a belief that there’s intelligent life on any specific planet other than Earth, but I also lack the belief that Earth is the only planet with intelligent life. You could say that I’m undecided about where intelligent life exists (other than on Earth).

What exactly does it mean to have a belief? Some people might say they are 90% sure that gods don’t exist, but still don’t disbelieve in gods. I don’t think they use the word ‘belief’ properly. My view is that there can be degrees of belief. I don’t think you have to be able to guarantee that some statement is true to believe it. For example, I don’t think we can guarantee that scientific theories are true, but I think we can (and should) often believe scientific theories are true.

The soft atheist definition of ‘atheism’ is not the historical way people used the term, but I don’t think there is necessarily a correct definition for it—it’s a word a use for communication and is not part of the fabric of the universe. My main concern is that we use language in ways that aid in communication. I prefer the more traditional definition because I think the new definition can lead to confusion.

The main problem with the soft definition of ‘atheism’ is that it is strange to say that people who are undecided are atheists. A person who is undecided could very well become a theist after studying the relevant arguments. Such a person could simply not know what to think at this point in time. Do many people say they are atheists because they are undecided? I haven’t met many people like that, and I doubt there are many. I think almost everyone who says they are an atheist really do believe that gods don’t exist.

Also consider how some people claim that there are arguments for atheism. Is an argument to be undecided an argument for atheism? I wouldn’t think so. I would think an argument for atheism would be an argument to believe that gods don’t exist.

Another illustration of how strange it could be to think an atheist could be undecided is the distinction between agnostic atheists and gnostic atheists. Agnostics don’t think we can know that gods exist (or don’t exist), but gnostics think we can. An agnostic theist is someone who believes a god exists, but doesn’t think we can know that a god exists. We need a term for those who reject the existence of gods who are also agnostic. Calling them ‘agnostic atheists’ seems like the most appropriate option. Other people could be said to be agnostic and undecided.

A gnostic theist is someone who believes in a god and thinks we can know that that a god exists. What should we call someone who rejects the existence of gods and thinks we can know that gods don’t exist? ‘Gnostic atheism’ seems like the best option, and we can say people who think we can know if gods exist, but are undecided are “gnostic and undecided.” Some people are undecided about whether gods exist, but thinks other people who have studied the issue carefully could know. I don’t think this person should be called a ‘gnostic atheist.’

Why do so many people want to define ‘atheism’ as nonbelief?

I know of three potential reasons to define ‘atheism’ as nonbelief:

One, in The Presumption of Atheism (1977) Anthony Flew defined ‘atheism’ as the lack of belief in gods because he wanted to argue that atheism is the default position—the burden of proof in a debate is on the theist (or whoever makes any other controversial claim). If someone is undecided about the existence of god, then that person is not making a claim one way or another. Flew also pointed out that a debate about the existence of gods is pointless if we don’t have a meaningful definition of ‘god.’ Many people claim that god exists, but refuse to give a clear definition of ‘god.’ It would be unfair to give an atheist the burden of proof to prove that gods don’t exist whenever we don’t even know what ‘god’ refers to. Even so, we can try to argue that any clearly defined type of ‘god’ doesn’t exist, and I think Flew would agree that those who say gods don’t exist would have the burden of proof.

What we call the ‘burden of proof’ usually refers to the requirement for people to argue for their controversial claims during a debate, which is required to rationally persuade others to agree with the controversial claim. A theist will have to give an argument to rationally persuade an atheist to become a theist, but someone who claims gods don’t exist will also need arguments to rationally persuade others to agree with that assertion as well.

I’m not convinced that Anthony Flew gave us a good reason to define atheism as nonbelief. We can simply say that those who make controversial claims have a burden of proof, and the assertion that no gods exist (when ‘god’ is defined properly) is a controversial claim.

Two, a related reason some might say that atheism is nonbelief is because some atheists have no interest in arguing for their belief that gods don’t exist. They might think that saying atheism is lacking a belief in gods would be a way to get people to leave them alone. However, I don’t think atheists (or theists) necessarily have to argue for their beliefs. They can just say they aren’t interested in doing that type of thing. If we have a good reason to think the belief that gods don’t exist (or that they do) is irrational, then we might think those with such potentially irrational beliefs need to make sure their beliefs aren’t irrational. However, I don’t know of good arguments to that effect at this point in time. (The problem of evil might be a reason to think that one type of theism is irrational, but not that all types of theism are irrational.)

Third, some people might also say that whoever has a belief and fails to argue for their belief is being irrational or just “has faith.” Theists often claim that atheists “have faith” that gods don’t exist. The assumption seems to be that atheists have a belief, and that all beliefs are irrational (or a product of faith) unless there’s a good argument for it. However, I am not yet convinced that anyone is necessarily irrational for refusing to argue for their beliefs (or that such a person’s belief is necessarily a product of faith).

Whether or not a belief is irrational is a somewhat different issue to having the burden of proof in a debate. We might say that some beliefs seem irrational (like the contradictory belief that intelligent life exists on another planet, but intelligent life doesn’t exist on another planet). Some people seem to think that all beliefs are irrational that haven’t yet been proven, so they might say that those who believe gods don’t exist are being irrational unless they can prove their belief to be true. I see no good reason to agree with that, and I think we have a good reason to think that not all beliefs have to be proven. If all beliefs have to be proven, then we would need an argument for every belief, but we need premises to argue for a belief. We would then need to argue for those premises, and we would then have even more premises that need to be proven. No one can argue for premises on and on forever like that. (Go here for more information.)

Even so, I do think that arguments and debate can be related to what we should believe. I think we should try to argue for our controversial beliefs, and we should try to find out when our beliefs are false.


In conclusion, using the term ‘atheism’ as nonbelief can lead to confusion because it seems strange to say that people who are undecided are atheists. So far I also know of no good reason to use the term atheism in that way. An atheist might want to say that the burden of proof is on the theist (and not on the atheist), but whoever makes a controversial assertion during a debate has the burden of proof. An atheist might have no interest in arguing that no gods exist, but I don’t think they necessarily have to. Finally, an atheist might worry that saying gods don’t exist is irrational or requires an act of faith, but I don’t think rationality requires that we argue for all our beliefs anyway.



1 I believe that Anthony Flew was one of the first to define ‘atheism’ as nonbelief, and he made it clear that this was unusual. In The Presumption of Atheism (1977) he said, “The word ‘atheism’, however, has in this contention to be construed unusually. Whereas nowadays the usual meaning of ‘atheist’ in English is ‘someone who asserts that there is no such being as God’, I want the word to be understood not positively but negatively. I want the originally Greek prefix ‘a’ to be read in the same way in ‘atheist’ as it customarily is read in such other Greco-English words as ‘amoral’, ‘atypical’, and ‘asymmetrical’. In this interpretation an atheist becomes: not someone who positively asserts the non-existence of God; but someone who is simply not a theist. Let us, for future ready reference, introduce the labels ‘positive atheist’ for the former and ‘negative atheist’ for the latter.”

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  1. I’ve taken recently to thinking of belief as a three part system – the thesis, antithesis, and null belief. I came to this conclusion because, if you think of atheism as including all that is not theism, it must include both non-belief and anti-theism. If anti-theism is the positive belief in no god, then it also must have a negative in ananti-theism, the lack of belief that there is no god. Then consider the fact that theism can only exist in an environment of ananti-theism, and anti-theism can only exist in an environment of atheism – the two systems mutually rely upon each other, indicating that the underlying belief is the same. If you do a logical AND on the two “a-” beliefs, you end up with a three part system.

    Sadly, I think I’ve explained it better in this comment then on my own blog’s brain dump of a post.

    I agree with you that atheism (without god belief) skews more toward anti-theism than theism, but I would suggest that this is due to the difficulty of escaping religion. I know I looked for any reason to hold onto my belief until the bitter end. Once you’ve exhausted all your options, you’re not about to look at your old beliefs and think, “Well, they could still be true.” And, since by virtue of having believed one thing, you believed everything else was false, you’re going to end up in or nearby anti-theism.

    Comment by Ignostic Atheist — December 20, 2013 @ 7:57 am | Reply

    • I don’t yet see a need for those distinctions. There are propositions that can be symbolized as A and the negation can be symbolized as not-A, which just means A is false. Beliefs are basically propositions like that. You could also have no opinion one way or the other, which is what I called undecided. There’s probably a lot of different distinctions we can make about being undecided as well — those who have never had any thoughts about it, those who feel torn between two possibilities, etc.

      I have also heard about ignosticism and there are probably different varieties of that — those who say that no god concepts can be defined properly, those who just haven’t heard any that have been defined properly yet, and those who might think some god concepts are defined properly and other aren’t.

      Comment by JW Gray — December 20, 2013 @ 8:10 am | Reply

      • You actually just described a trinary system immediately after you said you don’t feel the need for one.

        Let’s call theism the belief that a god exists: B(G). There are two options from here in terms of negation. Either atheism is the belief that no god exists: B(-G), or the lack of belief that a god exists: -B(G). You choose to believe that atheism is B(-G), and then you add an additional “undecided” category, making your system trinary. I choose to believe that atheism is the literal translation, -B(G), and then I show you that if you consider the positive binary belief that there is no god, B(NG), and its compatriot -B(NG), you can conclude that B(NG) = B(-G), resulting in a trinary system instead of binary.

        Therefore, we both believe that the nature of belief is trinary, but where you are using Theism – Undecided – Atheism, I am using Theism – Atheism – Anti-theism. The difference between the two is that yours uses a popular understanding of atheism and a vague “undecided” for the middle, whereas mine uses words that mean exactly what their construction translates to. I’m thankful that you didn’t try to shove agnosticism into a place where it ought not go, but, considering your willingness to cater to popular opinion on this subject, I am surprised you didn’t toss it in in place of undecided.

        Yes, there are many different varieties within theism, Southern Baptists, Pantheists, Henotheists, etc., and you can come up with ways to subdivide atheism and anti-theism, but at the core, you come down to the three options: Theism, Atheism, Anti-theism.

        Comment by Ignostic Atheist — December 20, 2013 @ 3:05 pm

      • Okay, I understand what you are saying now. Thank you for the clarification.

        Comment by JW Gray — December 20, 2013 @ 8:53 pm

      • Really? Hrm, well… that never happens.

        … anything else we can argue about?

        Comment by Ignostic Atheist — December 20, 2013 @ 10:38 pm

  2. If there is no God then everything came from nothing.

    Believing that everything came from nothing is obviously absurd.

    Yet that absurdity is the fundamental belief of atheism.

    Comment by silenceofmind — December 20, 2013 @ 10:14 am | Reply

    • What if the universe always existed?

      Comment by JW Gray — December 20, 2013 @ 8:11 pm | Reply

      • JW,

        Science has proven beyond a shadow of a doubt that the universe had a beginning.

        Believing that the universe is eternal is like believing that the Earth is flat and/or that it is the center of the universe.

        Such thinking predates the Medieval.

        Comment by silenceofmind — December 21, 2013 @ 5:59 am

      • I don’t think so. The big bang is not necessarily the entire universe. There could be physical existence beyond the big bang or before it.

        There is a view that there was no time before the big bang, but that view doesn’t state that there was a time before anything existed.

        Comment by JW Gray — December 21, 2013 @ 6:27 am

      • JW,

        Your comment amounts to a complete 100% denial of science.

        Science has proven that the universe had a beginning.

        Comment by silenceofmind — December 21, 2013 @ 7:37 am

      • You should talk to a cosmologist about it. You keep making baseless assertions.

        There are some cosmologists who say that the universe came from nothing, but I don’t think all of them do. Also, when they say the universe came from nothing, they might not be saying what you think they are. Finally, I know of no cosmologist who says that god obviously made the universe.

        Comment by JW Gray — December 21, 2013 @ 7:40 am

      • JW,

        The science I’m referring to is cosmology. Modern cosmology has traced the universe back to the beginning. They have even discovered what the early universe sounded like.

        Comment by silenceofmind — December 21, 2013 @ 8:13 am

      • I don’t know that you understand cosmology properly. We have traced the big bang back to a certain number of years ago, but how do you know that the big bang is everything that exists? My understanding is that M theory would suggest that there could be other big bangs and that the big bang we are in could have been caused by a collision of other big bangs. You could say the big bang is the universe, and that there are other universes. If so, there was a period of time before the big bang, and something caused it to exist. In that case there might have always been physical reality.

        Comment by JW Gray — December 21, 2013 @ 8:26 am

      • JW,

        I understand cosmology perfectly.

        And so do athiests like Stephen Hawking the cosmologist who gave us the black hole.

        Atheist scientists are so stunned by scientific proof that the universe had a beginning that they’ve come up with total absurdities like the “multiverse” to explain away the logical conclusion that God must necessarily exist.

        Comment by silenceofmind — December 21, 2013 @ 8:40 am

      • No, that’s not why cosmologists have speculated about there being more than one big bang.

        You keep making baseless assertions and now you insist that you understand cosmology perfectly. And much of your assertions conflict with what cosmologists say. If you understand cosmology perfectly, then prove what you are saying instead of just saying it.

        People who understand cosmology perfectly (assuming anyone does) requires years of proper training. Do you have a PhD in cosmology?

        Here is what one scientist says about some of these issues:

        The highly speculative idea is that these ways of thinking can be applied to entire universes, which is what Hawking (and many others) have tried to do. For physicists (as opposed to theologians and metaphysicians) the concept of the universe does not refer to “all there is” or the “totality of things.” It refers to a single, self-contained physical structure, comprising a “spacetime manifold” and particles and other things moving around in that spacetime.

        If one thinks of a universe as a particular structure, then one can imagine a multiplicity of universes, with universes coming into and going out of existence in various ways. For example, a new universe might split off from an already existing universe in a manner analogous to the way a small balloon can be “pinched off” from a larger balloon. Or one can imagine a universe starting off as a point of zero size (which is, in effect, no universe at all) and then growing continuously to some finite size.

        By such processes, the number of universes can change. However, we need to keep in mind the special way in which physicists use the concept of “universe,” for these various universes are really features of a single overarching physical system—call it a “system of universes”.

        Comment by JW Gray — December 21, 2013 @ 9:00 am

      • JW,

        Speculation is science fiction, not science.

        There is no evidence of the multiverse.

        Therefore the multiverse cannot be used as a response to real, scientific findings and the logical, reasonable conclusions that result from those findings.

        Hallucinating an alternative reality is a totally irrational response to actual observed and proven phenomenon.

        Comment by silenceofmind — December 21, 2013 @ 9:18 am

      • We don’t know that there’s more than the big bang. I never said we did. It is speculative. That doesn’t mean that there’s no reason to think such a thing. There are reasons to think M theory is true. Moreover, my point is precisely that we don’t know. Maybe the universe always existed. I didn’t say, “Obviously the universe always existed.”

        You can’t just say that your preferred view that the universe (everything that exists) popped into existence is obviously correct. Cosmologists like Hawking don’t even say that he knows that as far as I can tell.

        Note that the author I mentioned was talking about what Hawking thinks. He did not say that Hawking thinks that the big bang is everything that exists.

        Comment by JW Gray — December 21, 2013 @ 9:23 am

      • Was there a moment in time when nothing existed? I know of no cosmologists who ever said that.

        I think the current view is that there was perhaps a first moment in time, but if so, something did exist as soon as time started. So, there was then no moment when nothing existed. There was something from the very start.

        Comment by JW Gray — December 21, 2013 @ 9:30 am

      • JW,

        Modern cosmology and that includes the understanding of people like Stephen Hawking, has found that the universe began in a singularity.

        That means there was a time when nothing existed.

        Comment by silenceofmind — December 21, 2013 @ 9:47 am

      • silenceofmind,

        I don’t know why you even bother posting anything. If you have an argument and people don’t agree with your premises, then obviously they won’t find your argument to be persuasive. You think your premise is justified by science and I don’t. What will you do about that? Insist that you understand cosmology perfectly? No, that will not help you make your case. You can actually show me the science.

        You did make an argument in the beginning, but then you seemed to give up on the idea of arguing. Just repeating yourself is not going to help you make your case. You have to actually show me that you are right.

        Comment by JW Gray — December 21, 2013 @ 9:06 am

      • JW,

        Atheism, as you have demonstrated here with your 100% rejection of science and reason, is an expression of malignant ignorance.

        It is the duty of human beings who know better to fight tooth and nail against the malignant ignorance put forth by atheists.

        Otherwise we will fall back into the barbarism, suffering and brutality that dominated mankind before the rise of Christian Western Civilization.

        Comment by silenceofmind — December 21, 2013 @ 9:51 am

      • No, I haven’t rejected the science. I have explained why the science doesn’t say what you said it does.

        This is how you want this conversation to go:

        You: Science says this.
        Me: No it doesn’t.

        Over and over. That is pointless. I have actually showed what a physicist says about this stuff, and it supports what I have said. By ignoring what scientists actually say and claiming that they say something with no evidence at all, you are the one who is refusing to reason about this properly. To ignore arguments and evidence and just keep repeating yourself is not going to help you make your case.

        If you want to debate properly, you have to argue for your premises. If I don’t agree with your premises, I should not be expected to agree with you. I can make lots of assertions and say you have to agree with me. Is that what you want?

        Let’s see another quote from the article I posted:

        Would this be “creation” in the sense that theologians mean it? And in particular, would it be creation ex nihilo, creation from nothing?

        The answer is no. First of all, one isn’t starting from “nothing.” The “no-universe state” as meant in these speculative scenarios is not nothing, it is a very definite something: it is one particular quantum state among many of an intricate rule-governed system. This no-universe state has specific properties and potentialities defined by a system of mathematical laws.

        The big bang did not start with nothing. A singularity is not nothing in the sense that you think it is. If you can prove a cosmologist actually says that the singularity is nothing at all, then the issue would be controversial among cosmologists — that is the best you can argue for. And I don’t have to agree with what certain cosmologists say about issues they debate about.

        Comment by JW Gray — December 21, 2013 @ 9:07 pm

      • Also, considering that some cosmologists say the universe came from nothing, I wouldn’t say that such a view of things is necessarily irrational. Cosmologists know more about the issue than we do. If you think you can do cosmology better than them, then you can go ahead and try to get published with your own view.

        Comment by JW Gray — December 21, 2013 @ 7:43 am

      • I assume you’re talking about the big bang theory. The only thing we can get from the theory is that we can’t see back before the big bang. It does not say that there was nothing beforehand. Not unlike evolution, it is a description of how things changed, not how they began.

        Comment by Ignostic Atheist — December 21, 2013 @ 1:52 pm

      • Iggy,

        I’m sorry, but you just don’t know what you are talking about.

        The Big Bang originated out of a singularity.

        We know that courtesy of the great work done by atheist cosmologist Stephen Hawking.

        A singularity is nothing, absolutely.

        Comment by silenceofmind — December 21, 2013 @ 2:15 pm

      • Ok, so tell me what kind of environment that singularity existed in.

        You clearly know.

        “Since events before the Big Bang have no observational consequences, one may as well cut them out of the theory, and say that time began at the Big Bang. Events before the Big Bang, are simply not defined, because there’s no way one could measure what happened at them.” – Stephen Hawking

        Tell me again that you know for certain, thanks to Stephen Hawking, that there was nothing before the big bang. Tell me.

        Comment by Ignostic Atheist — December 21, 2013 @ 2:22 pm

      • Iggy,

        Nothing means nothing.

        That means there was no environment at the time the universe was contained in a singularity.

        A singularity is infinitely small.

        You’ve got to start using your head to think and imagine instead of simply repeat atheist religious dogma.

        Comment by silenceofmind — December 21, 2013 @ 2:50 pm

      • Sounds like you gave up thinking a long time ago. I just quoted Hawking saying that you can’t know anything about what occurred before the big bang, and you keep repeating that you can definitively know that there was nothing before, no environment, no energy or matter, nothing.

        Tell me where your knowledge comes from, because it sure as hell doesn’t come from Stephen Hawking.

        Comment by Ignostic Atheist — December 21, 2013 @ 4:55 pm

      • Iggy,

        Hawking is correct. That is why the idea of a multiverse is so ridiculous.

        But the idea that there is a First Cause which brought the universe into existence is reasonable.

        Comment by silenceofmind — December 21, 2013 @ 5:49 pm

      • You’re saying that because we can’t observe anything before the big bang, a theory about the nature of existence before the big bang is ridiculous, but YOUR theory about the nature of existence before the big bang is totally reasonable.

        You don’t know anything about the nature of causality in this pre big bang environment.

        More importantly, even if you do assume a first cause, that doesn’t even imply a god, much less the Christian God.

        Comment by Ignostic Atheist — December 21, 2013 @ 6:08 pm

      • Did you read Hawking’s new book, The Grand Design? He does not reject M Theory. He thinks there can be multiple universes (big bangs).

        In The Grand Design we explain why, according to quantum theory, the cosmos does not have just a single existence, or history, but rather that every possible history of the universe exists simultaneously. We question the conventional concept of reality, posing instead a “model-dependent” theory of reality. We discuss how the laws of our particular universe are extraordinarily finely tuned so as to allow for our existence, and show why quantum theory predicts the multiverse–the idea that ours is just one of many universes that appeared spontaneously out of nothing, each with different laws of nature. And we assess M-Theory, an explanation of the laws governing the multiverse, and the only viable candidate for a complete “theory of everything.” As we promise in our opening chapter, unlike the answer to the Ultimate Question of Life given in the Hitchhiker’s Guide to the Galaxy, the answer we provide in The Grand Design is not, simply, “42.”

        Comment by JW Gray — December 21, 2013 @ 9:21 pm

  3. Defining atheism as the absence of belief is simply better for one reason:

    Imagine two atheists. Atheist A simply does not feel any believe, but has also never thought about it much. He doesn’t go to church, but also doesn’t actively believe that there is no god. Simple. Atheist B on the other hand is more hardcore, he wears a shirt with “I am 100% sure, that there is NO god!”.

    So, which definition fits both of them? Obviously only weak atheism. Both don’t feel any belief in god, that’s what they have in common, that’s what makes both of them atheists.

    Comment by Atomic Mutant — December 20, 2013 @ 10:59 am | Reply

    • Or one is an atheist and one is undecided. Why say the undecided person is an atheist?

      Comment by JW Gray — December 20, 2013 @ 8:50 pm | Reply

  4. My own view is that the constant harping on “belief” (including harping on lack of belief or disbelief) is a holdover from a specifically Christian worldview. Most religions are not about belief in the first place. I am a Buddhist of Jewish background, and NEITHER of those religions (as well as many others) is centered on belief. Instead, these and most religions are centered on practice.

    I would call myself an atheist, not because of what I believe but because of what I practice. My life, and especially my religious practice, has no need of gods. Gods could affirmatively exist and I STILL would be an atheist in practice, because the existence of gods would have no effect on my life.

    Comment by insanityranch — December 20, 2013 @ 9:36 pm | Reply

    • I’m not sure what it means to be an atheist in practice if you could believe in gods and live the same way. You could say a theist in practice could live the same way as an atheist in practice.

      Comment by JW Gray — December 20, 2013 @ 10:15 pm | Reply

      • I will respond to this very intelligent question — because I think it is a vital question — when I have a little time to put my thoughts in order. Probably tomorrow. Thank you for inducing me to clarify this to myself as much as to you.

        Comment by insanityranch — December 21, 2013 @ 12:19 am

    • Isn’t the practice based off of a belief? Also, isn’t Buddhism a poor example? If I’m not mistaken, Buddhists don’t actually believe there are any gods, making it rather irrelevant to the question of the existence of a god.

      Comment by Ignostic Atheist — December 20, 2013 @ 10:55 pm | Reply

      • Dear Ignostic (may I call you Ignostic?) — the mistake you make is precisely the mistake I’m trying to point out.

        Some Buddhists believe in the Biblical god. Some Buddhists believe in Shinto gods. Some Buddhists believe in Chinese “animist” gods. Some Buddhists beileve in devas. Some Buddhists believe in no gods or other supernatural beings. One can make arguments about whether the Buddha accepted the existence of gods or simply made use of the god stories for his own purposes.

        Whether Buddhists believe in gods or no gods is irrelevant. Buddhists have faith, don’t get me wrong. They have faith in the Buddha as a reliable guide, in the dhamma as a useful instruction manual, in the sangha as noble friends who help each other. That non-supernatural faith is central to Buddhism, while metaphysical views are at best peripheral.

        Hope that makes things clearer!

        Comment by insanityranch — December 21, 2013 @ 12:31 am

      • It’s interesting to know that Buddhists have a varied god belief, but Buddhism itself makes no statement on the existence of a god. However, what I am looking for is a religion that stipulates a god whose believed existence doesn’t influence the religion’s practices.

        You can’t really use Judaism, because I used to live nearby a town of Hasidic Jews. I know the assorted things they do out of god belief. I’m sure a lot of cultural Jews are atheists, but that’s a different picture.

        Comment by Ignostic Atheist — December 21, 2013 @ 1:15 am

      • Ignostic: When you write that “Buddhism itself makes no statement on the existence of a god”, I would like to know your source for such a statement. The Pali Canon contains numerous suttas in which gods figure (depending, I suppose, on whether you consider devas, Mara or denizens of the Brahma realm gods). For instance, in the most famous account of the Buddha’s awakening (the Ariyapariyesana Sutta, MN 26), the Brahma Sahampati comes down from the Brahma realms to beg the Buddha to teach. In the Brahma-nimantanika Sutta (MN 49) the Buddha transports himself into the Brahma realms to correct the misunderstanding of a Brahma who, according to myth, was once the teacher of the Buddha-to-be. In that same sutta, the Buddha engages in a battle of wits with Mara, and of course wins. Numerous other examples are available.

        Now, one can make arguments about which suttas are really original and which are, well… branding is not too strong a term. I certainly have opinions about that. But unless you have a command of Pali (as I do not), I don’t see what your basis can be for making hard and fast judgments of that kind. And even if you were able to make reliable judgments about those ancient texts, you STILL could not say the “Buddhism itself makes no statement on the existence of a god.” That statement is simply incorrect.

        Regarding Jews, it is not I who am trying to “use” them. But might I suggest that if you only know Judaism from the outside and only based on casual observation of a rather particular subset, you should perhaps not make sweeping judgments? In any case, my argument was not that Judaism is atheistic, Obviously, it is not. It is a religion based, first and foremost, on practice — on following the legal strictures derived from the Torah My point, to reiterate, is that defining religion in terms of belief is a misunderstanding based on knowing a lot about Christianity and little or nothing about other religions. You have pretty much ended up illustrating my point I’m afraid.

        Comment by insanityranch — December 22, 2013 @ 1:30 am

      • My source for that is you: “Some Buddhists believe in the Biblical god. Some Buddhists believe in Shinto gods. Some Buddhists believe in Chinese “animist” gods. Some Buddhists beileve in devas. Some Buddhists believe in no gods or other supernatural beings.” If it is possible to be a Buddhist and not believe there is a god, or to believe in the god of your choice, then Buddhism as a religion cannot assume the existence of gods. Perhaps there are different sects within Buddhism, some which believe and some which don’t, but you didn’t make that distinction.

        You say that Judaism is based on following legal strictures derived from the Torah, but from where does the Torah derive its authority? From the Jewish god. Even if the practices are being performed by a cultural Jew who doesn’t even believe in a god, the laws were derived from god belief over the centuries.

        However, my primary question still stands. If Buddhism has gods, then that is great, but you still haven’t pointed out the many other religions that stipulate a god whose assumed existence doesn’t influence the practices of that religion. You said that most religions are not about god belief, after all. At best, you’ve pointed out one.

        Comment by Ignostic Atheist — December 22, 2013 @ 3:01 am

      • Hi, Ignostic! OK, so in order to clear the decks, let me try to be clear.

        Many of the earliest Buddhists accepted the metaphysics of the various religious traditions of the lands in which the Buddha taught. (Modern Nepal and perhaps some northern provinces of India.) Thus much of the Pali Canon is concerned with what you might call “apologia” — explaining Buddhist teachings and sometimes engaging in one-upsmanship with members of other important sects, such as Jains and various schools of ascetics. In particular, many suttas concern themselves with the beliefs of the Brahmins, who were the most wealthy and respected religious group in that time and place. If you’re familiar with the writings of the early Christian apologists, this will be familiar ground.

        As Buddhism expanded all over Asia, it integrated into the religious cultures of those countries. Buddhists in Japan generally also observe Shinto rituals. Buddhists in rural Southeast Asia (I’ve been reading a blog by a missionary to Cambodia) oftenis a combine Buddhism with ancient animist rituals. Buddhists in the West are sometimes believing Christians. Wherever Buddhism has gone, it has assimilated some of the religious customs of its neighbors. Here you see an important difference between Biblical religions and Buddhism. The Bible spends a great deal of time condemning people who try to combine worship of God with rituals of other peoples. Buddhists see no problem.

        The reason for this is that Buddhism is, fundamentally, a quest to repeat the Buddha’s experience of enlightenment. As a monk I know put it, the purpose of Buddhism is not to make more Buddhists, but to make more Buddhas. One thing that is quite clear and unambiguous in the suttas is that one cannot become enlightened simply by believing some particular thing. Rather, Buddhism offers an array of tools to handle ethics, emotion, social relationships, and understanding our mental processes and the tricks they can play. The point is to choose some of these tools and learn to use them skillfully. It’s a little like, I don’t know.. lifehacking, maybe. Only tested over 2500 years by a large variety of people

        Now then, Judaism. Looked at from this end of history, it surely looks as if God anchors the Torah, the Torah codes the law, and the law binds Jews. But my background — and my departure from observant Jewish life — involves close reading of the Hebrew Bible. Looked at historically, it often seems as if custom pre-exists the Torah. It’s likely, for instance, that the Sabbath was observed before the justification for it (in the 7-day account of creation) was written. Similarly, when you actually read all those passages condemning people for idolatry or “worshipping strange gods”, you cannot help but have a much more nuanced view of the religious life of ancient Israel. The story of the “discovery of an ancient manuscript” (Deuteronomy) related in the book of Jeremiah looks like the insertion of a much more recent text into the sacred canon of the time. The Mishnah (the foundation stone of the Talmud) clearly expends effort in justifying customs “on the ground” by finding proof-texts for the purpose. In fact, the entire process of legal debate and codification of the opinions of authorities can be seen as a way to read the present reality back into the text as often as the opposite.

        As for other religions, all the “dhamma religions” (most varieties of Hinduism, Jainism, Buddhism, Sikhism) have a primary concern with behavior and the consequences of behavior (kamma and the fruits of kamma.) Myth — including myths about gods, demons, demigods, sorcerers, etc. — mostly serves the purpose of reinforcing behavioral norms.

        My impression is that most of the “pagan” religions of Europe and Asia stressed proper behavior rather than elaborate theories or even elaborate devotion to deities or other supernatural beings.

        If you want an interesting survey of how religion works, with a particular emphasis on religions in remote locations like Papua New Guinea, I recommend Pascal Boyer’s _Religion Explained_. It doesn’t quite live up to its title, but as an anthropologist he is at great pains to debunk the views of religion that derive from trying to fit every other religion into a Christian theoretical framework. It’s an excellent read, not least because it grounds its understanding of religion firmly in the workings of the human brain.

        All the best!


        Comment by insanityranch — December 22, 2013 @ 4:44 am

      • (WordPress ate my really lengthy and exquisite response last night, so I got pissed and got some sleep instead.)

        This is an interesting look at Buddhism. So, while it would not be accurate to say that Buddhists are atheists, neither would it be accurate to say that Buddhists are theistic, but it would be accurate to say that Buddhism is atheistic, where atheism is the lack of god belief.

        I think I understand your perspective now. Christianity’s simple, “believe that Jesus died for your sins and you will go to heaven,” contrasts with the rules and practices other religions require for immortality, enlightenment, etc. It creates a focus on simply believing and bins the necessity of actually behaving appropriately.

        My perspective is that god belief informs those practices. From the point of view of an atheist, of course these gods are man made, and therefore rules and laws are ascribed to them post hoc. However, I maintain that it is the authority of a god, real or imagined, which gives those laws weight.

        I can’t speak for the various polytheistic religions; I’m not familiar with how active their gods are with rewards and punishment, but 50% of the world subscribes to the idea of the monolithic, judgmental Abrahamic god, and some significant percentage of those forgo thinking in favor of finding meaning in ancient rules. I assume that other god-beings fill a similar role of enforcing laws and rewarding virtues. That seems like more than enough for god belief to be an important consideration, more than just a narrow focus of Christianity.

        I’ve added Boyer’s book to my future reading. Thanks for the suggestion.

        Comment by Ignostic Atheist — December 22, 2013 @ 2:37 pm

    • Hi, JW!

      OK, I finally gave up on the effort to put this response into philosophical terms (because I do not have time), and instead, I will illustrate what I’m talking about by describing my own prorgress from theistic to athistic practice. I think of it in terms of habits I broke, and habits I substituted for the abandoned ones.

      I broke the habit of considering my actions and thoughts from the point of view of a judgmental overseer. Eventually, I replaced that habit with the habit of examining both my intentions and the predicted consequences of my actions before choosing an action (if there was time.) Also, I came to accept the fact that I’m responsible for all the consequences of my action, including the unintended ones.

      I broke the habit of escaping from unpleasant feelings by fleeing to the embrace of an imagined loving relationship. It wasn’t until I had been meditating for a couple of years that I discovered really good, reliable tools for dealing with unpleasant feelings, such as accepting the past unconditionally. (By “accepting” I do not refer to being satisfied with the past, but only to recognizing the solid incontrovertable factuality of what has already happened.)

      I broke the habit of reacting to unexpected, fearful or unpleasant events with indignation (“how could you DO this to me?”) That freed me to form the habit of looking immediately for the best response to unexpected events. Also, eventually (again, the Buddhist teachings on impermanence were of use here), I learned to expect that nothing would happen exactly as I expect.

      I broke the habit of thinking that there was a complete and accurate record of the moral law of the universe, and that my crew had it. I instead learned to cultivate wholesome mental states like goodwill, compassion, appreciation and readiness to act when opportunity arose. By training my moral reactions the way, let’s say, a soldier trains physical reactions, I was able to eliminate a lot of dissonance between my “ought” and my actual behavior.

      I will offer only one more (though there are many): I broke the habit of thinking that gods were something outside human culture. But that happened much later than the stuff I wrote about above. The reason that I eventually came to affirmatively disbelieve in gods was that I saw the process of self-making and self-projection clearly.

      I get the impression you would only consider this last step “atheistic”. But I disagree. It was at least 15 years from the time I first decided to stop dividing my mind into “me” and “God” and the time I had a clear understanding of the nature of gods. But I was a practicing atheist at the BEGINNING of that time, even though I was not a “believing” atheist until the end. And the belief is of little worth compared to the practice.

      Comment by insanityranch — December 22, 2013 @ 1:50 am | Reply

      • You did change how you live based on changing how you view the world. There are certain theistic beliefs that can get people to behave a certain way. However, deism and certain types of theism might not have any effect on what we ought to do.

        Comment by JW Gray — December 22, 2013 @ 5:11 am

  5. Christianity and certain other religions might make a mistake by having an obsession concerning what members believe insofar as they have these weird heresies and could encourage close-mindedness, but what we believe (and why) is a very important in philosophy. We want to know what we should believe and why. Some people say we should be atheists (believe that no gods exist). If so, we need an argument (or set of arguments) that would tell us why we should think such a thing. An “argument for atheism” would be appropriate to answer that question.

    Comment by JW Gray — December 21, 2013 @ 7:37 am | Reply

    • I understand that “what we believe (and why) is a very important in philosophy”, but I would consider that a methodological shortcoming. We need embodied philosophy, I think. There have certainly been philosophers whose philosophy was a matter of practice as well as of intellect. (Socrates and Spinoza spring to mind.) I think that is the ideal.

      Comment by insanityranch — December 22, 2013 @ 1:55 am | Reply

      • Philosophy does relate to how we should live, but that is mainly because what we believe is related to how we should live (at least some of the time).

        Comment by JW Gray — December 22, 2013 @ 4:59 am

    • JW,

      what you are referring to here is intolerance.

      As we see with Phil the Duck and his excellent dissertation on homosexuality, leftists are obsessed with trying to turn an obvious sexual disorder into a basic human right.

      And that follows your obsession with creating science fiction as a means of explaining away scientific findings on the origin of the universe..

      Comment by silenceofmind — December 22, 2013 @ 2:59 am | Reply

      • “On bigotry, tolerance and the First Amendment”

        Comment by JW Gray — December 22, 2013 @ 5:06 am

      • JW,

        Again, you are demonstrating severely retrograde ideas.

        It is the law of the land that employment cannot be based on color, creed, or gender.

        Phil expressed an opinion that is based on his mainstream religious beliefs.

        Yet Phil was fired for expressing his religious beliefs and A&E broke the law because they fired Phil because of his religion.

        A&E is the bigot, not Phil.

        Homosexuality is an obvious sexual disorder that leftist NAZI’s are trying to shove down everyone’s throat.

        Comment by silenceofmind — December 22, 2013 @ 10:39 am

      • You said:

        Your post on homosexuality, like your ideas on science, are retrograde and demonstrate the rejection of common sense and facts.

        Christian doctrine holds that copulation outside of marriage is adultery. That includes heterosexuals.

        Since marriage is the union of a man and a woman, Christian homosexuals are called to celibacy since they cannot marry.

        Homosexuality is an obvious sexual disorder since if everyone were homosexual the human race would go extinct.

        It is obvious then that Christianity is ordered to human nature and so is the definition of marriage: the union of a man and a woman.

        Healthy sexuality is therefore heterosexual and only heterosexuals can be married.

        I already talked about the Bible argument, and you didn’t respond to what I said about it.

        I already responded to the argument that homosexuality could lead to the extinction of the human race.

        Arguments that ask us, “What if everyone did it?” are not good arguments.

        You are not advancing the conversation because you are making points that I already talked about. Read the actual post and respond to my actual arguments.

        Comment by JW Gray — December 22, 2013 @ 9:32 pm

      • JW,

        My comment united Christian doctrine with obvious common sense.

        That means your argument against Christianity with regard to homosexuality is also an argument against obvious common sense.

        I recommend getting to know the philosophy of Saint’s Augustine and Aquinas.

        They united Christian faith with the philosophies of Plato and Aristotle which concerned man and how he should live.

        Comment by silenceofmind — December 22, 2013 @ 10:44 pm

      • Okay, you think philosophy can support your view. Good. Here’s what the Stanford Encyclopedia of Philosophy says about Natural Law/Aquinas’s ethical philosophy:

        Now give an argument that shows how this theory proves homosexuality to be wrong.

        You did give arguments as to why you think it’s wrong already, but I responded to them already in the article. I don’t think they are “common sense.”

        I also talked about Aristotle’s view of ethics and how I think it should apply to homosexuality.

        Comment by JW Gray — December 22, 2013 @ 10:50 pm

      • You said, “The multiverse is science fiction, not science.”

        You said how good the work of Hawking is. He thinks it is science. Right now it is the best explanation as to how we can square quantum physics with the rest of physics.

        You said, “Atheism demands that kind of defective mental process, however and that is but one reason atheism is so deadly to human being.”

        Yes, we speculate. But that doesn’t mean we think our speculations have to be true. We should reject our speculative beliefs when they are proven false.

        And I don’t think Atheism requires us to do anything irrational. If you think you can prove that, then go ahead.

        You have rejected the science that says homosexuality is not a disorder. You do that probably because of your religious beliefs. If religious beliefs cause you to reject science, then perhaps you are allowing your religion to make you do something irrational.

        Comment by JW Gray — December 22, 2013 @ 10:56 pm

      • JW,

        Science is science, fiction is fiction and people are people.

        People are not consistent.

        Einstein as great as he was, rejected quantum mechanics in a fit of absurdity.

        His totally ridiculous and egotistical comment on that was: “God doesn’t play dice with the universe.”

        Comment by silenceofmind — December 23, 2013 @ 1:26 am

      • I did respond to the point that “homosexuality is unnatural,” which is an argument that a lot of Thomasts make.

        Comment by JW Gray — December 22, 2013 @ 11:44 pm

      • JW,

        The effect of homosexual celebacy is the same as homosexual sexual promiscuity with regard to procreation.

        Homosexual copulation is closed to procreation.

        Sexuality evolved for the purposes of reproduction. That means that homosexuality is a sexual disorder.

        Comment by silenceofmind — December 22, 2013 @ 11:51 pm

      • So is celibacy morally wrong? Is it a sexual disorder?

        Not everything we evolve is good, and using things for a purpose they were not evolved for is not necessarily morally wrong. I already responded to that point in my piece.

        I think it’s interesting how you are so dismissive of what I wrote when I already responded to just about every point you make in the piece I wrote. I doubt you even read it.

        Comment by JW Gray — December 22, 2013 @ 11:57 pm

      • JW,

        Celebacy is a choice. Homosexuality is a disorder.

        I’m really surprised that you can’t reason out for yourself, something so simple.

        Comment by silenceofmind — December 23, 2013 @ 1:35 am

      • You said that homosexuality is a disorder because if everyone was a homosexual, the human race would die off.

        If everyone was celibate, then the human race would die off as well.

        I am amazed that you can’t see the implications of your own arguments.

        Comment by JW Gray — December 23, 2013 @ 6:39 am

      • JW,

        The topic is gay marriage.

        It is obvious that marriage for celibates is ridiculous, no?

        The same goes more homosexuals. Gay marriage is ridiculous.

        Comment by silenceofmind — December 23, 2013 @ 9:24 am

      • You said homosexuality is a dysfunction and that it is morally wrong. That is not just about gay marriage.

        Comment by JW Gray — December 23, 2013 @ 9:40 am

      • JW,

        Our topic is gay marriage and how it is ridiculous.

        The atheist, never able to argue effectively, must change the subject.

        In logic that fallacy is called moving the goal post. But atheists don’t do logic so anything goes.

        That kind of undisciplined, reality-free, opinion-based thinking is called, “free thinking” by you folks.

        Comment by silenceofmind — December 23, 2013 @ 10:47 am

      • This is the first thing anyone said about homosexuality here:

        “As we see with Phil the Duck and his excellent dissertation on homosexuality, leftists are obsessed with trying to turn an obvious sexual disorder into a basic human right.”

        You are the one who changed the subject. You have not once said anything relevant to the actual topic of this blog post.

        Comment by JW Gray — December 23, 2013 @ 9:06 pm

      • I don’t think he should have been fired for it.

        I don’t agree with you about leftist nazis or that homosexuality is a disorder. Scientists who study disorders agree that it’s not a disorder.

        Here’s some information about the research:

        Comment by JW Gray — December 22, 2013 @ 9:48 pm

      • You might want to take a look at my much more excellent piece on homosexuality.

        Is Homosexuality Immoral?

        Comment by JW Gray — December 22, 2013 @ 5:18 am

      • JW,

        Your post on homosexuality, like your ideas on science, are retrograde and demonstrate the rejection of common sense and facts.

        Christian doctrine holds that copulation outside of marriage is adultery. That includes heterosexuals.

        Since marriage is the union of a man and a woman, Christian homosexuals are called to celibacy since they cannot marry.

        Homosexuality is an obvious sexual disorder since if everyone were homosexual the human race would go extinct.

        It is obvious then that Christianity is ordered to human nature and so is the definition of marriage: the union of a man and a woman.

        Healthy sexuality is therefore heterosexual and only heterosexuals can be married.

        Comment by silenceofmind — December 22, 2013 @ 10:32 am

      • Honestly, I don’t see why you aren’t in favor of gay marriage. The more that get married, the less that will be in heterosexual relationships, trying to fit in with the world, spreading their little gay genes around. Instead, they could be in loving gay relationships, adopting kids that need a home and family, and keeping their genes to themselves.

        Or maybe some being gay is just the natural order, and there’s nothing you will ever be able to do about it other than be an asshole.

        By your logic, a career woman is also a sexual disorder because she’s not interested in having kids. If all women were career focused, the human race would go extinct!

        Comment by Ignostic Atheist — December 22, 2013 @ 1:50 pm

      • Iggy,

        I’m against gay marriage because there is no such thing. It’s an absurdity.

        When absurdity is sold as a basic human right, then there are no longer any human rights.

        We see that with Phil Robertson. He was fired for expressing his opinion.

        It had nothing to do with his job performance. In fact, Duck Dynasty is a ratings bonanza for A&E.

        Comment by silenceofmind — December 22, 2013 @ 4:27 pm

      • It’s an absurdity because it disagrees with what you think Christianity says about homosexuality, or because marriage is only for the purpose of procreation?

        Comment by Ignostic Atheist — December 22, 2013 @ 6:19 pm

      • Iggy,

        My arguments are based on common sense and natural law is is part of a nearly 3000 year philosophical heritage.

        That means you don’t have to believe in a religion to understand what I am talking about.

        It is obvious that homosexuality is a disorder.

        Anyone with a brain, not a religion, can understand the obvious, unless that anyone is an atheist. For the atheist is necessarily outside the realm of reason.

        To be an atheist one must believe the absurdity that everything came from nothing.

        Anyone who can believe that horrific bit of nonsense can swallow the absurdity of gay marriage.

        Comment by silenceofmind — December 22, 2013 @ 10:21 pm

      • You think it’s obvious that scientists are wrong about M Theory, and that homosexuality isn’t a disorder. Other people think it’s obvious that you are wrong. If you think your opinion is obvious, no one cares. Try to actually prove your opinions are correct.

        I also think it’s inappropriate for you to find non-scientists and to tell them how science is wrong. Guess who might actually understand the science better than us? That’s right, scientists! Talk to them about it. They will know more about these issues than we do. To “win an argument” doesn’t mean anything if people don’t fully understand the topic.

        I also think your beliefs are inconsistent. You said that homosexuality is a disorder because if everyone was a homosexual, the human race would go extinct. You also think homosexuals should be celibate. If everyone was celibate, the human race would go extinct. Therefore, you should think celibacy is also a disorder.

        Comment by JW Gray — December 22, 2013 @ 10:30 pm

      • JW,

        The multiverse is science fiction, not science.

        Science is based on evidence, experimentation, observation and reality.

        The multiverse is none of those.

        If speculation were a viable form of argumentation than any fact could be called into question simply by imagining an absurdity.

        Atheism demands that kind of defective mental process, however and that is but one reason atheism is so deadly to human being.

        Comment by silenceofmind — December 22, 2013 @ 10:50 pm

      • JW,

        What determines the validity of thinking is its relation to reality not simply thinking something.

        Simply thinking something is called opinion. That’s what is at the foundation of atheism.

        Without God, the author of reality and objective truth, all that remains is opinion. And one opinion is just as good or worthless as another.

        That’s why our Western Heritage is so important. Starting with Plato and Aristotle right thinking became a systematic, reality-based pursuit of objective truth.

        Objective truth is far better and of infinitely greater value than mere personal opinion.

        Comment by silenceofmind — December 23, 2013 @ 12:16 am

      • Yes, it is better to have reasons for beliefs. Scientists have reasons for their conclusions. Many philosophers are atheists and they try to have reasons for their beliefs as well.

        An opinion is not relevant to philosophy in the sense that you can’t expect everyone to agree with your opinions — especially if you already know they are controversial.

        However, I do not claim you can prove all your beliefs to be true. Go here for more information on that issue:

        Comment by JW Gray — December 23, 2013 @ 12:22 am

  6. There’s a point at which a person exhibits so much stupid obstinance that you just have to leave them and go about your life. Silenceofmind is the embodiment of close-minded. His opinions are set. New data are irrelevant. Counterarguments are false before they’re given.

    It’s like our own pet William Lane Craig: “…to try to show you it’s true, I’ll share with you some arguments and evidence that I really find convincing. But should my arguments seem weak and unconvincing to you, that’s my fault, not God’s. It only shows that I’m a poor apologist, not that the gospel is untrue.”

    Don’t feed the troll.

    Comment by Ignostic Atheist — December 23, 2013 @ 12:34 am | Reply

  7. Let’s try putting this in different terms and see what happens. Suppose that instead of talking about a belief in God, we were talking about a belief that little red men live on Jupiter. Theists would be people who believe that little red men live on Jupiter. Agnostics aren’t really sure if they should believe in these little red men or not. Atheists don’t believe that little red men live on Jupiter. After all, why should they? There is no known evidence that even suggests that there are little red men who live on Jupiter.

    Suggest the possibility, as a science fiction author might, and the atheist would say, okay, that’s an interesting idea, but is there any truth to it? Any proof of any kind that there really are little red men living on Jupiter? If there’s not the least bit of evidence to suggest that there might be little red men on Jupiter, why would an atheist need to positively prove that there are, in fact, no little red men living on Jupiter? The atheist would simply not believe in these little red men on Jupiter unless or until such time as factual evidence indicates otherwise. It makes no difference if one person believes in them, or if millions of people believe in them, if there is no real evidence. Well, it makes no difference factually, anyway, whatever the social consequences.

    And that’s the difference between God and little red men on Jupiter. In spite of the lack of factual evidence, millions upon millions of people have, and continue to believe, that the fiction of a deity is real. An atheist shouldn’t have to positively prove that no god or deity exists, and there’s no reason to reconsider the atheist position until some kind of factual evidence is turned up. The Christian god Yahweh is as much a creation of man as are the gods Odin, Zeus, Thor, Hercules, etc.

    As for the cosmological creation question, saying that there’s some power or First Cause that created us and our universe doesn’t really answer anything. If there is such a First Cause, where did they come from? The absurdity of something being created from nothing is slightly less absurd than the absurdity of something being created from something whose own cause we don’t know. If we can say this First Cause always existed, why can we not go the slightly simpler route and just say the universe always existed? Of course, any such assertions, either way, prove nothing, but I would think it incumbent upon the theists to prove that we have to go the more complex route rather than the simpler route. And if faith alone is good enough to believe in God, then why isn’t faith alone good enough to *not* believe in God? What reason is there to give preference to the belief in God over the non-belief in God?

    Comment by macsnafu — August 2, 2014 @ 7:14 pm | Reply

    • macsnafu,

      The question is if we have a reason to think at least one god exists or that no gods exist. Are you saying that believing x doesn’t exist is always the default position? Should we assume that there is no one currently existing inside a neighbor’s house? If there’s currently no evidence one way or another, it might make the most sense to be undecided.

      Thinking there is a first cause is confusing because we are also talking about something being caused that’s not in space or time. The concept of cause seems to have a lot to do with something in space and time.

      Comment by JW Gray — August 3, 2014 @ 5:46 pm | Reply

      • I think it’s a matter of probabilities. The very fact that the neighbor’s house exists, being common to our experience, hardly requires an “atheistic” default view that no one is living in it, especially since more houses tend to have people living in them than not. Aliens living on other worlds in our solar system is not merely uncommon, but so far, not known at all. To believe there are little red men living on Jupiter requires a higher proof than to believe someone is living in the house next door to me.

        So where does God and other deities lie on the probability chart? Certainly large numbers of people have claimed that God or gods exist, but the evidence for such claims are slim to none. I therefore think an atheistic position, not the agnostic position should be the default for low-probability events, such as the existence of God. To change that, someone wouldn’t even have to provide proof, merely show that the existence of God or gods is a higher-probability event than I think it is. For higher-probability events, agnosticism, pending actual evidence, would be the default view, instead atheism.

        Comment by macsnafu — August 3, 2014 @ 9:10 pm

      • I think the real issue is that we already have reasons to suspect certain things to exist or don’t exist. It is somewhat about probabilities, but we might not be able to actual give the numbers.

        I agree that something with a low probability of existing seems like something we could rationally think don’t exist when there is no good evidence given for it.

        Comment by JW Gray — August 4, 2014 @ 3:12 am

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