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onlookerofmayhem

Atheist vs. Agnostic Label

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onlookerofmayhem

Here is a video of Matt Dillahunty. He is one of the most recognized atheists is America.

https://en.m.wikipedia.org/wiki/Matt_Dillahunty

Herein he discusses the different terms and how they relate to each other.

Feel free to watch the whole video, but for the main point go to 12 mins in. There is a 5 minute chunk that kind of sums up the point.

I would like to discuss the difference in claims of belief and knowledge pertaining to gods.

For example, "I know God exists" and "I believe God exists." Or "I know God doesn't exist" and I don't believe God exists."

Which way do you state your position and why? 

 

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eight bits

The threshhold problem of the video was that Matt prefers to call himself an atheist, but a theist critic insisted to him that Matt was instead an agnostic. I'm unsure that that's worth about a half an hour: If Matt presents himself to the world as an atheist, then he is, but alas there isn't much any of us can do about what names others call us, except protest.

What takes a half-hour are all the issues that surround calling somebody else anything, or labeling when the person disagrees with the label chosen. Plus, there are all the issues surrounding the nature of belief, knowledge and formal debate (including courtroom drama). Plus plus all the issues when the beliefs are about the supernatural. Now there's a half hour's worth of problems, and then some.

Matt does seem to accept that "middle ground" exists between I believe that (whatever is true) and I believe that (whatever is false). However, to all appearances, Matt doesn't occupy that "middle ground" regarding gods. So no surprise, he's less interested in the plight of those who do than he is that he not be word-lawyered onto that middle ground because he believes rather than knows with absolute certainty, whatever that phrase could possibly mean besides believe with the utmost confidence.

I, on the other hand, do occupy that "middle ground." The phrase is in scare quotes because it isn't really between any two things, but rather I accept neither possibility is a distinct responsive answer to the Question of God. If you must picture the situation geometrically, then consider the triangle rather than the line segment.

I will resist being word-lawyered off of the middle ground, for which eviction any number of rationales are proposed.

To continue beyond that is probably pointless here and now. Matt isn't a member here, so it is impossible to have a discussion with him about the many claims he makes about ontology, epistemology, lingusitics, history and much else besides.

 

 

 

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Habitat

What's in a name she sez, a rose by any other name, would smell the same. I have had people here telling me supermarket trolleys are atheists, and I can't argue with that, I have seen some that were Libertarians, and just did whatever they liked !

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onlookerofmayhem

@eight bits

That's where I have difficulty in the labelling aspect of the questions and the answers to them.

There are separate distinctions depending on which question is being asked.

"Do you know God exists?" And "Do you know God doesn't exist."

"Do you believe God exists?" And "Do you believe God doesn't exists?"

Knowledge being a subset of belief.

As stated in the video about the negative connotation about "lack" of belief. When you lack something it infers a need. "I lack food/money/etc." 

There is the "courtroom analogy" that basically posits, "I find God not guilty of existing."

When in court, the burden of proof is on the people trying to prove guilt. Innocence is presumed until reasonable evidence is presented that guilt is more probable. Beyond reasonable doubt.

Nobody has ever proven, beyond a reasonable doubt, that God exists.

Nobody has proven that it's impossible for God to exist. 

So I'm not claiming God doesn't exist. I am rejecting the claim that it does due to lack of evidence. 

So, my position is, I don't know if God exists, but I don't believe it does.

Is it possible? Sure. I can't rule it out entirely. But until I'm given sufficient evidence to think it does, I reject the claim that it does.

Another analogy is the "gumball analogy."

There is a jar of gumballs. There is either an odd or even number of gumballs in the jar. No other option. Somebody claims that it is an odd number.

Without knowing how many there are, one cannot accept the claim of an odd number of gumballs. At the same time, one is not claiming that the number is even.

There is insufficient data to make a claim either way.

 

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eight bits
Posted (edited)
1 hour ago, onlookerofmayhem said:

That's where I have difficulty in the labelling aspect of the questions and the answers to them.

There are separate distinctions depending on which question is being asked.

Well, Ok, it's spring here in the Northern Hemisphere, and so time for batting practice :)

"Do you know God exists?" And "Do you know God doesn't exist."

"To know" can mean a lot of different things. Three popular ways:

- recognition of a tautology or contradiction (so, NO in that sense; God's existence is neither tautological nor contradictory)

- supreme confidence (some people say they have that, one way or the other; I don't for either YES or NO)

- directly confirmed as opposed to inferred to be plausible ("I don't believe, I know" as Carl Jung meant it; I don't have that, either)

"Do you believe God exists?" And "Do you believe God doesn't exists?"

Matt would like to distinguish that from the "ontological" Question of God, Does God exist?. I don't make the distinction, because I'm always asking a human being and no human being can answer the short version of question except to tell me what they believe, if they do believe something. I can imagine a distinction (I get to ask the Cosmic Oracle, woohoo! But so far, I've been unable to do so.)

Knowledge being a subset of belief.

See above about different meanings of "to know." Mathematicians can be very insistent that the recognition of a tautology is different in kind from "mere" belief. Jung (and others who use the same words the same way he did) intended to make a disitnction in kind. Personally I like the subset model for my own use. I really cannot "feel" any difference between my confidence that every tirangle has three sides (a tautology) and that Donald Trump is the current President of the United States (an inference I have made from a stream of evidence, much of it hearsay). I know they are "different in kind" about why I have such confidence, but ... why bother?

As stated in the video about the negative connotation about "lack" of belief. When you lack something it infers a need. "I lack food/money/etc." 

I understand what Matt's saying, and there may be contexts where that is what an opponent means, to be disparaging. That's not far fetched, "If you had had the experiences that I've had, then you'd believe" really is very close to saying "You need to get out more." Also, in debate you need to be careful about letting your opponent choose the wording of things. However, personally I'm not worried about that connotation, and accept that I do lack belief. Might as well call it that, and let the chips fall wherever they do.

There is the "courtroom analogy" that basically posits, "I find God not guilty of existing."

OK. Just be careful of relying too much on court trials and formal debates for analogies to belief management. Contests have definite outcomes; beliefs are always subject to revision in light of new evidence or argument. But if all you're looking for is an example where the "middle ground" matters, then yes, the criminal courts carefully distinguish between not (proven) guilty and innocent. (Probably not because "innocence" is in general unprovable, but because the prosecutor's burden of proof is taken very seriously, so much so that the defendant need prove nothing at all, much less innocence.)

When in court, the burden of proof is on the people trying to prove guilt. Innocence is presumed until reasonable evidence is presented that guilt is more probable. Beyond reasonable doubt.

Yes, that's the civilian criminal standard in "English" systems. Also, "presumption of innocence" reaches farther than just the verdict; it drives how the defendant is treated awaiting the verdict. However, there are other justice systems, even in the same jurisdictions, with different standards and burdens of proof. (It also turns out that "beyond a reasonable doubt" is effectively a fourth popular meaning of knowledge, and it is not as simple as supreme confidence, but that's a long story.)

Nobody has ever proven, beyond a reasonable doubt, that God exists.

My guess is that that is historically false. That is, i suspect there are people who, having been exposed to one or another of the many "proofs" for God, found themselves unable to formulate a reason for doubting the proof ("reasonable doubt" more-or-less means what it sounds like: an articulated reason to doubt). Nobody has ever proven to Matt beyond a reasonable doubt that God exists may well be true ... although even then, Matt may have been persuaded that way at some time in the past, and later thought differently.

(Jurors are usually prompted to think about whether they would ever come to regret voting for guilt, but even if you can't imagine changing your mind, sometimes you do. Think of all the death sentences that have been overturned on DNA evidence that was simply unavailable at trial ... imagine being a juror with a conscience in one of those cases.)

Nobody has proven that it's impossible for God to exist. 

Agreed, and somewhere in all of the above would be anything more to say about it.

So I'm not claiming God doesn't exist. I am rejecting the claim that it does due to lack of evidence. 

OK. To which I'd add I am also rejecting the claim that it doesn't, for pretty much the same reason. (And so yes, as annoying as it sometimes is to counterapologists, theists really are entitled to say that to justify their own beliefs. It's not much of a reason for anybody else to agree with those beliefs, but that's a different issue.)

So, my position is, I don't know if God exists, but I don't believe it does.

Is it possible? Sure. I can't rule it out entirely. But until I'm given sufficient evidence to think it does, I reject the claim that it does.

OK, and the two taken together seem to me to be just about the perfect expression of atheism. Actually, the second alone would suffice, but the first helps clarity. The first alone doesn't distinguish among unbelievers.

1 hour ago, onlookerofmayhem said:

Another analogy is the "gumball analogy."

There is a jar of gumballs. There is either an odd or even number of gumballs in the jar. No other option. Somebody claims that it is an odd number.

Without knowing how many there are, one cannot accept the claim of an odd number of gumballs. At the same time, one is not claiming that the number is even.

There is insufficient data to make a claim either way.

All analogies have their limits :) . I think I see what you and Matt would be getting at, but I am not obliged to overlook the evidence of the report that the number is odd. Maybe that person knows something I don't. Calling it a "claim" is fine, but there is a possibility of reliable knowledge here that simply doesn't exist in the Question of God.

Also, I myself really can see the jar. It exists. The gumballs exist, here and now. There are only so many. Whatever the count turns out to be, it will be odd or else even. And there will be a count, after which there will be no remaining uncertainty about the outcome. (God willing that it isn't like the 2000 Florida recount, but if not, then the completed count becomes an example of when some people say "I don't believe, I know.")

Because all that is so, I might be able to form a justified opinion of my own about the (more likely) parity of the count based on whatever experimentation you will allow me to perform before the definitive count, or whatever other background information I might have.

The Question of God isn't like that.

Agnosticism is a tricky business. It arises from applying the same principles to QoG as would apply to any other uncertain reasoning problem, but recognizing that the QoG problem itself has some unusual features that other, more typical uncertain reasoning problems avoid.

Edited by eight bits
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onlookerofmayhem

@eight bits

Thank you for your thorough and well put response. 

I see exactly what you mean and where you are coming from.

I pretty much agree with everything you wrote and don't have any objections. B)

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Liquid Gardens
5 hours ago, eight bits said:

"I, on the other hand, do occupy that "middle ground." The phrase is in scare quotes because it isn't really between any two things, but rather I accept neither possibility is a distinct responsive answer to the Question of God. If you must picture the situation geometrically, then consider the triangle rather than the line segment."

"Agnosticism is a tricky business. It arises from applying the same principles to QoG as would apply to any other uncertain reasoning problem, but recognizing that the QoG problem itself has some unusual features that other, more typical uncertain reasoning problems avoid."

So we have our line segment with belief and disbelief at either end.  In the middle are people who have made some evaluation of the question (I'm excluding atheist cats and non-believing rocks and such from this geometry) and do not lean sufficiently enough in either direction and neither believe or disbelieve.  "I know there isn't very compelling evidence for God but on the other hand I find the fact that there is this something instead of nothing to suggest a great intelligence, so it's in balance for me, I don't believe or disbelieve"; this person is an agnostic, but I'm not sure if you're the same kind of agnostic if I'm understanding you.  There is a possible flaw in the methods people use to place themselves on the line segment I think in your agnosticism, the process of evaluation of evidence/arguments for either position that is usually done to determine a belief in something doesn't apply to this specific question, or is incomplete or inadequate?

Taken pedantically, "I accept neither possibility is a distinct responsive answer to QoG", doesn't seem right, at least on the surface level.  I assume that your lack of noting whether either possibility is accurate or not to you is intentional, that would again be the agnostic flavor above.  But "God exists" seems fairly distinct and definitely responsive to me to QoG.

 

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Horta

Something usually overlooked but very relevant to these discussions is not so much the belief, but the definition of god being discussed. This is where christians often (wrongly) get their pov of atheists. It's possible to be quite sure the biblical god doesn't exist and be able to support that claim (to the same confidence level of fairies for instance), while still being open to the possibility that a god of some sort could exist. In the same way that if someone feels quite sure that odin doesn't exist, it says nothing about their overall beliefs.

Something also overlooked is that most rational, science based atheists will never attach absolute certainty to what they accept as knowledge itself, let alone belief.

Agnosticism has become a way of avoiding the question more than anything else. It's possible for a genuine agnostic position to require every bit as much faith and belief as a theist. To claim no knowledge of god is common to atheists as a starting point. To go further and claim knowledge of god is impossible for humans acquire if it does exist (which is also an agnostic position) is  a very strange position requiring an awful lot of belief. Seems irrational in itself.

 

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XenoFish

Guess I'll just settle on calling myself an Igtheist.

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onlookerofmayhem
16 minutes ago, XenoFish said:

Guess I'll just settle on calling myself an Igtheist.

Very interesting link. I had never heard of this one. Thanks.

"Ignosticism, or igtheismis a theological position. If followed to its logical end it concludes that the entire question about God's existence is a non-question and that taking a yes, no or even ambivalent position is absurd. It can be summarized as "We have no clear concept of anything labeled 'God' and/or how to test it, nor do we have any reason to suspect that anyone does either.""

A great example of why one must specifically define the terms that make up their argument. 

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Will Due
Posted (edited)
3 hours ago, onlookerofmayhem said:

There is insufficient data to make a claim either way.

 

And yet hands down, everyone makes a claim. Which thus reveals, the data is there. Otherwise, no one would make a claim.

 

So what's really going on here?

 

To me, it looks like everyone is being forced to make a bonafide free will decision. A decision about what the data points to. And in my opinion, these choices, like swords, are what we will either die, or live by.

 

 

Edited by Will Due

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XenoFish
5 minutes ago, onlookerofmayhem said:

A great example of why one must specifically define the terms that make up their argument. 

Which leads to a debate of which God-Idea we're focused on. But the problem with that, is that it isn't God, it's a concept of god. A man-made idea. So we're right back to square one.

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onlookerofmayhem
8 minutes ago, Will Due said:

 

And yet hands down, everyone makes a claim.

I don't claim God exists and I don't claim God doesn't exist.

What exactly am I claiming then?

11 minutes ago, Will Due said:

To me, it looks like everyone is being forced to make a bonafide free will decision. A decision about what the data points to.

Nobody is being forced into adopting a strict yes or no position. 

If there is insufficient data, saying "I don't know." is totally reasonable. 

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onlookerofmayhem
9 minutes ago, XenoFish said:

Which leads to a debate of which God-Idea we're focused on. But the problem with that, is that it isn't God, it's a concept of god. A man-made idea. So we're right back to square one.

Absolutely. Since we have no God to assess or make any empirical observations about, we can only discuss a concept of god. Which there are, at least, thousands of.

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XenoFish
1 minute ago, onlookerofmayhem said:

Absolutely. Since we have no God to assess or make any empirical observations about, we can only discuss a concept of god. Which there are, at least, thousands of.

A lot of these god's represent cultural ideals as well. So it's rather easy to see human finger prints all over them. God in this sense really is a meme. What I really think draws people into a religion and to "god" is that there is something within it they idealize. Cultural conditioning may play a huge part in this.  

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XenoFish

The problem with labels is that they do not always encompass a persons full beliefs.

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XenoFish

A theist is an atheist in regards to other gods. Interesting how that works. 

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Will Due
20 minutes ago, onlookerofmayhem said:

I don't claim God exists and I don't claim God doesn't exist.

What exactly am I claiming then?

 

You're claiming that you don't claim things about God.

Which is a claim, in and of itself. 

 

20 minutes ago, onlookerofmayhem said:

Nobody is being forced into adopting a strict yes or no position. 

 

Being forced, may or may not be reasonable to make a decision. I suppose it's just another choice one is being forced to make.

 

20 minutes ago, onlookerofmayhem said:

If there is insufficient data, saying "I don't know." is totally reasonable. 

 

But your statement infers the data is there.

Whether or not it's sufficient is a decision. Just like it's a claim.

 

 

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jmccr8
47 minutes ago, Will Due said:

And yet hands down, everyone makes a claim.

Hi Will

The only claim some of us make is that there is no supporting data either way so we are not arguing if there is or isn't a god but that the positions presented are not convincing enough.

jmccr8

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jmccr8
53 minutes ago, Will Due said:

To me, it looks like everyone is being forced to make a bonafide free will decision

Hi Will

Would you care to explain how one exercises free will while being forced to make a choice? Seems more weak-willed than free willed unless of course one exercises their free will to not be forced.

jmccr8

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jmccr8
15 minutes ago, Will Due said:

 

You're claiming that you don't claim things about God.

Which is a claim, in and of itself. 

 

 

Being forced, may or may not be reasonable to make a decision. I suppose it's just another choice one is being forced to make.

 

 

But your statement infers the data is there.

Whether or not it's sufficient is a decision. Just like it's a claim.

 

 

Animated GIF

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XenoFish

I think someone has made a hobby of mental gymnastics.

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Will Due
4 minutes ago, jmccr8 said:

Hi Will

The only claim some of us make is that there is no supporting data either way so we are not arguing if there is or isn't a god but that the positions presented are not convincing enough.

jmccr8

 

I got you j, but what I'm claiming is that there is data. For example, the many religions that exist with their traditions and their scriptures. That's data isn't it?

What you're claiming is that the existing data in the example I just stated, isn't enough for you to support claiming God exists. Am I right so far?

But there is data. And also, there's everyone's decision about it. Which may be right or wrong.

My claim is that eventhough some of us claim there's insufficient data, we are nonetheless forced to make a bonafide free will decision. Based on the data that exists.

Whether or not being forced to decide means we don't really have free will, is just another decision we're being forced to make.

 

 

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onlookerofmayhem

@Will Due

Please don't derail the thread with nonsense word salad garbage not pertaining to the topic.

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Will Due
9 minutes ago, jmccr8 said:

Animated GIF

 

Notice Alice isn't paying attention to where she's going.

 

 

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