About six months ago I had the opportunity to interact with an atheist on Twitter; our topics of discussion: Christianity, atheism, and belief, particularly the definition of atheism and its effects on the atheist-Christian dialogue. Our conversation began with a discussion on the definition of the term “Christian”; that is, to be a Christian, one must affirm certain things to be true.

As a quick aside, Max Andrews of sententias.org affirms the proposition that, to be a Christian, one must not only believe certain things to be true, but must be saved by God as well. In other words, in order to be a Christian, then P (one must affirm Christian truth propositions) and Q (one must be saved by God). Many times non-Christians (and some Christians) speak of being a Christian as only entailing P; but that is an incomplete theological definition unless Q as well. This might seem elementary but it is a fair point to make when atheists (or others) sometimes refer to themselves as ex-Christians (which is logically problematic).

Andrews’ particular definition of a Christian (as entailing P and Q) was the initial subject of our conversation. Once the atheist and I agreed upon that definition, my interlocutor then proposed that atheism is a “lack of belief”:

This seems to be a popular strategy lately among internet atheists[1] as it allows them to deflect any responsibility to make a case for their view; and that is exactly what happened next:

In other words, the atheist says that, when compared to Christians, his group is “neutral,” i.e. believes nothing, whereas the Christian group believes something. Therefore, according to this characterization, the need to provide evidence(s) for a belief rests solely on the ones having the belief: Christians, not atheists.

Let’s just call this for what it is: A sneaky, underhanded trick of semantics that allows some atheists to weasel their way out of the difficult task of supporting their claim. Make no doubt about it, folks, atheists are doing the exact same thing that Christians are doing when it comes to belief. We believe God exists and they believe God does not exist. Both groups believe something. Any atheist that says otherwise is furthering intellectual dishonesty. Think of it this way:

  1. God DelusionIf the term “atheism” simply describes a missing mental property (i.e. a lack of belief), then the definition is too broad to be meaningful. Given this new definition there would be no difference between an atheist and the armchair he’s sitting on; that is, an armchair also lacks a belief in God just like the atheist.
  2. If the term “atheism” simply describes a lack of belief, then there can be no argument to support what is lacking. It is merely describing an absence of an opinion. Atheists, therefore, cannot support absence with any good reasons; for, in absence, there is nothing to support. This relegates their view to the same level of seriousness as an aversion to lima beans or boiled cauliflower.
  3. If the term “atheism” simply describes a lack of belief, then atheists like Richard Dawkins, Sam Harris, and Christopher Hitchens went to an awful lot of trouble writing books describing their missing mental property. As a matter of fact, I’m curious how the internet atheist should interpret Dawkins’ chapter title in The God Delusion: “Why There Almost Certainly is No God”. Perhaps he should read it as: “How My Lack of Belief Explains Why There is No God”.

The point is: atheism is not a mental property nor does it describe someone’s psychology. Atheism is a proposition or a truth claim about the world; and that proposition is: God does not exist. The only way Dawkins, Harris, Hitchens, and others can make arguments for their view is if they actually have a view to begin with. As William Lane Craig and J.P. Moreland point out, “[A] redefinition of the word atheist trivializes the claim of the presumption of atheism, for on this definition, atheism ceases to be a view…”[2]

As a matter of fact, the only person that can claim a neutral position on the existence of God is an agnostic. During the conversation I asked the atheist why the term “agnostic” is insufficient to describe him. Certainly the term “agnostic” travels a sufficient definitional distance, as it were, without having to create new definitions for old words. He never answered this question (even though I asked it multiple times).

I also asked the atheist to affirm or deny the proposition “God exists”:

This challenge was meant to show that the atheist still takes a position whether he wants to admit it or not. Certainly the atheist will not answer “Yes” thus affirming God’s existence. Rather, it would seem logical for him to answer “No” since atheism affirms that God does not exist. Except, my interlocutor saw his dilemma and could not bring himself to take a position; which, I jokingly suggested, probably makes him a confused agnostic. Agnosticism is the position that one can neither believe nor disbelieve in God since we cannot know whether God exists. To my surprise, however, the atheist affirmed that he was indeed an agnostic and an atheist at the same time. In essence he was taking a position while denying that one can take a position. When I tried to point out the problem with using both terms to describe himself the atheist figuratively locked his arms and shrugged.

By the way, at this point in the conversation my interlocutor referred to a subcategory of atheists where some consider themselves agnostic atheists and some gnostic atheists. This is unnecessary and totally absurd. A gnostic affirms the claims of gnosticism, which is a 2,000 year old religious belief affirming the existence of multiple gods. So, to call oneself a gnostic atheist is even more absurd than calling oneself an agnostic atheist since a gnostic atheist is one who affirms the existence of multiple gods and denies the existence of those gods at the same time. So the semantic gymnastics that internet atheists resort to in order to shrug off their intellectual responsibilities is painfully awkward and transparent.

Well, to those of us who know better, it is transparent. To a lot of these internet atheists, it is not. That is why, while I have been expressing my frustration at the strategy itself, we must remember that many of these folks simply don’t know what they’re doing. They are caught up in a pseudo-intellectual fad that allows them the opportunity to demand a lot of work from everyone else while avoiding it for themselves. The best way to point out their error is to ask crucial questions, like: “Since a ‘lack of belief’ is not a view, then why object to my point of view?” “How does your lack of belief tell you that I’m wrong?” These two questions are meant to draw out the obvious: atheists must stand on a foundational view of reality in order to argue against the theist’s view of reality. Or you can simply ask: “Why is the term “agnostic” insufficient to describe you?” Let them grapple with these questions and confront the consequences of their view in a gracious yet persistent way.

Of course, the best question to ask a self-avowed “lack of belief” atheist is: Do you affirm or deny the proposition “God exists”? If he denies the proposition then he has taken the non-neutral position that God does not exist. If he affirms the proposition, then the lion’s share of the work is already done.

*Edited on 6/14/15

[1] I use the term to mean a small subgroup within the broader community of atheists.

[2] William Lane Craig & J.P. Moreland, Philosophical Foundations for a Christian Worldview (Downers Grove, IL: InterVarsity Press, 2003), 156.

112 COMMENTS

  1. Your post nicely bears this out in plain language:

    Let ‘G’ be the claim that God (or gods) exists. So, the negation of G is not-G, which is the claim that God does not, or gods do not, exist.

    Your interlocutor says “I don’t believe there are gods” is a neutral position–the position of lacking a belief in God or gods. This is equivalent to saying “I don’t believe that G.” All propositions are either true or false. So, if he doesn’t believe that G is true, then he believes that not-G is the case. Therefore, he actually affirms “I believe there are none” by implication, even if he doesn’t want to admit it. So these two positions cannot be divided in the way he claims, and he is in fact committed to the non-existence of God (hardly a neutral position).

    • False. The problem is the term “believe”. Belief is an activity.

      The negation of an activity is the not activity. Therefore:

      Let G be the belief in God/gods. Not-G is not believing in God/gods.
      Let N be the belief that there are No God/gods. Not-N is not believing that there are No God/gods.

      G and N are mutually exclusive. Not-G and Not-N are not mutually exclusive.

      I know that because that is my position. I do not believe in God or gods. I cannot say that I believe there are not God or gods, because I don’t waste my time believing things. Based on the evidence, I think it is unlikely that there are God or gods, but belief is a level of certainty that is not possible given my lack of knowledge. Indeed, for some definitions of God I will say that it’s impossible to disprove.

      • This actually illustrates his point. The Truth is, beleif is not “An activity”, and Atheist is not a ceasation of said activity. Beleif is simly maintaining somethign is True. Atheists actually maintain that God does not exist. Heck, there would be no Atheist arguments otherwise.

        • I don’t think you read my statements very carefully. Specifically, I said “Based on the evidence, I think it is unlikely that there are God or gods, but belief is a level of certainty that is not possible given my lack of knowledge. Indeed, for some definitions of God I will say that it’s impossible to disprove”.

          The first thing we need to establish when you say “God does not exist” is what you mean by God. Do you mean Yahweh, the God of Abraham, worshipped by Christians, Jews and Muslims? Is that God a Trinity or an individual. Is that God accurately portrayed in the Old Testament or is some other text?

          • Thanks for the comments, Ed. A couple of things came to mind as I read this. First, belief is not, as you suggested in a previous comment, an “activity”, rather it is a propositional attitude. Some even use the term disposition. Surely an activity can be based on a belief but belief, itself, is not an activity.

            Second, you seem to equate belief with a level of certainty that “is not possible”. I wonder what you mean by that. If you hold to a view (whether actively or passively) between 51-100% certainty then you believe it. In other words, even if you held to a view with only 52% certainty, you still assent to its being true. So when you say that belief entails a level of certainty that is not possible, I wonder if you’re holding yourself to a standard more in line with an empiricist’s than, say, an epistemologist’s.

            Finally, you seem to be conflating two distinct questions. On the one hand, does God exist? is often asked purely as a metaphysical explanation for the universe. In this first sense, the particular characteristics of this metaphysical explanation that you are curious about are irrelevant. On the other hand, if you assent to the existence of God as a metaphysical explanation for the universe (even for argument’s sake), the next question could be: What kind of God is it? To answer the question is to consider the characteristics you are interested in: Yahweh’s, Allah’s, or some other’s. For the purposes of this post, however, only the first question is in view: Does God exist? Considering your “lack of belief” it seems logical to suppose that you cannot say “No” since, as you said, that would require a level of certainty that is not possible. But then you’re not an atheist, according to Bertrand Russell, you’re simply an agnostic. And that’s the point I was making in the post.

          • Thanks to you, Nate, for starting this discussion.

            I think Bertrand Russell and I are on the same page. Here’s what he had to say about it:

            “As a philosopher, if I were speaking to a purely philosophic audience I should say that I ought to describe myself as an Agnostic, because I do not think that there is a conclusive argument by which one prove that there is not a God.

            On the other hand, if I am to convey the right impression to the ordinary man in the street I think I ought to say that I am an Atheist, because when I say that I cannot prove that there is not a God, I ought to add equally that I cannot prove that there are not the Homeric gods.” — Am I An Atheist Or An Agnostic? A Plea For Tolerance In The Face Of New Dogmas by Bertrand Russell (1947)

            Regarding the level of certainty, you said “If you hold to a view (whether actively or passively) between 51-100% certainty then you believe it”.

            I think you’ve hit on the fundamental semantic issue in this discussion: What does it mean to believe something.

            Google turns up this definition of “believe”:

            be·lieve
            bəˈlēv/
            verb

            1. accept (something) as true; feel sure of the truth of.
            “the superintendent believed Lancaster’s story”
            synonyms: be convinced by, trust, have confidence in, consider honest, consider truthful

            2. hold (something) as an opinion; think or suppose.
            “I believe we’ve already met”
            synonyms: think, be of the opinion that, have an idea that, imagine, suspect, suppose, assume, presume, take it, conjecture, surmise, conclude, deduce, understand, be given to understand, gather, fancy, guess, dare say

            The problem with my argument is that I’m limiting myself to the 1st definition — “believe” as being convinced of the truth of something, ignoring the common use of it as “this is my opinion”.

            But let’s be honest. When we are talking people’s religious beliefs, they aren’t just opinions or suppositions, are they? You aren’t just 51% certain that God exists, are you? Indeed, these are often part of people’s core identity and worldview, and are not easily swayed by argument or evidence.

            I don’t doubt that there are atheists who are completely convinced there is no God of any sort, definition or description. Those atheists certainly “believe” in atheism, and many of them would even reject solid evidence as lies and trickery. There are also those atheists like me, who freely admit no absolute proof of non-existence is possible, and think the idea of of God varies so much among theists that there will always be wiggle room for people to describe God in a way that is not falsifiable.

            Your idea that somehow the question of “Does God exist?” can be considered independent of the question of “What do you mean by ‘God’?” seems to me just plain silly. Does Zmixgtil exist? How can you possible ask the question if you don’t know what Zmixgtil is? If anyone can define “Zmixgtil” however they want, then of course it exists by some definitions. So unless you are prepared to at least assign some core discussion of what you mean by either of Zmixgtil or God, no meaningful discussion is possible.

            It is my opinion, rather strongly held, that no God ever yet worshipped by human religions actually exists. I’d like to think that I’m open to evidence and sound argument, but since to date I’ve always found flaws in the evidence and arguments presented I can’t be sure. Is it the arguments and evidence that are unsound? Or am I stubbornly resistant to the idea of God? I don’t know for sure.

            So what does that make me? It seems like for most purposes, the word atheist is a better description; certainly with respect to the biblical Yahweh, who I can reasonably prove does not exist. My disbelief in Yahweh is an “activity”, not just a disposition; since it is the result of long study, consideration, and argument. It goes far beyond passive skepticism.

            My disbelief in other definitions of God is far more passive, closer to passive skepticism. If someone wants to argue that there is a God who kicked off the Big Bang and is doing nothing more than watching it all unfold, that seems like pure speculation — no more or less plausible than any other idea we have of how it started. For that definition, I am truly an agnostic. I see no reason to invest in that as a core part of my world view, but neither does it affect me at all if it did turn out to be true.

            I hope this clarifies what I mean when I talk about belief as an activity, and the reasons that I describe myself as atheist rather than agnostic.

            Thanks again for the interesting discussion.

          • Yes, that does clarify. Thank you for that. I appreciate your taking the time, Ed.

            Your response got me thinking about a couple of different things. When I mentioned Russell, I was thinking of this quote: “An agnostic thinks it impossible to know the truth in matters such as God and the future life with which Christianity and other religions are concerned… An atheist, like a Christian, holds that we can know whether or not there is a God. The Christian holds that we can know there is a God; the atheist, that we can know there is not. The Agnostic suspends judgment, saying that there are not sufficient grounds either for affirmation or denial.” – Bertrand Russell, What is an Agnostic? (1953)

            I certainly don’t begrudge a neutral stance on the God question. The post isn’t addressed to folks who are neutral, rather to those (and I’m starting to think you’re not one of them, Ed) who use “lack of belief” in order to shirk the responsibility of providing an alternative explanation for the existence of the universe. Even if one were to posit many worlds theory, fluctuation in the quantum vacuum, etc. it would still be a thousand times more productive than claiming neutrality and then sharpshooting someone else’s explanation. Anyone who makes a claim (whether it be “(God) is the explanation for the universe” or “(Alternative) is the explanation for the universe”) bears the responsibility of supporting it with good reasons. Would you agree, Ed?

            Also, I wasn’t saying that no characteristics are relevant to the discussion, I was referring to the ones you seem to be interested in (whether it was Yahweh, Allah, or something else). You’re right, we do need to know what Zmixtgl is. But for the question (Does Zmixtgl exist?) it is not necessary to know whether Zmixtgl is omnibenevolent, omniscient, or fill in the blank. The only questions to consider about characteristics at this point should be related to existence, like: Is Zmixtgl a contingent being or a necessary being? No Christian considers a contingent being God since contingent beings are no greater than the universe itself, which is also contingent. Incidentally, this is why it’s a category error when some atheists appeal to Zeus or Thor in discussions with Christians; because those gods are contingent beings and Christians (and philosophers) are talking about a necessary being when discussing God. More specifically: a necessary being that is the metaphysical explanation or “first cause” of the universe. That is the only relevant characteristic in the discussion of God’s existence. Sure other characteristics follow if a being powerful enough to hypothetically create a universe exists. But determining whether the Yahweh that appeared to Moses is the same being that kickstarted the universe is unnecessary to answer the question: Did a being kickstart the universe in the first place?

            Anyway, thanks again for the opportunity to discuss, Ed. Happy New Year!

          • Great stuff Nate!

            I largely agree with your points as stated — it sounds like Russell’s point of view shifted or was imprecise… I know mine has and is. Also, yes, sharpshooting other’s claims while hiding behind false neutrality is unfair and perhaps cowardly. People should defend their point of view and have good reasons for it. Likewise, I agree that there a vast number of characteristics of God that are irrelevant to the general question of “did a being create the universe?”.

            In my experience, when people are discussing the question of God’s existence, that’s usually just a single point on a dizzying array of points that are considered. Particularly since the only possible honest answer to the question at present is “we don’t know”.

            So what then?

            This question is usually used to put the atheist on the horns of a dilemma. Since atheists like to think of ourselves as driven by logic and evidence, and we are often very quick to accuse theists of ignoring the same; so an attack on that foundation is particularly devastating.

            The dilemma is easiest to see in the question of the origin of the universe. Since nobody truly knows what happened, anyone who claims to be certain that God doesn’t exist and didn’t create the universe is doing so based on belief/opinion. But if they admit that it’s possible that a being created the universe, then they are incorrect in describing themselves as atheists.

            All this is really a way to show that atheism requires faith/belief just like theism does, and therefore can’t be shown as more rational or evidence based.

            I think that’s bunk.

            It’s bunk for the same reason many theists call out atheists as not just “lacking belief”. Most atheists hold worldviews favoring scientific understanding of the world, and prefer science based explanations to what we see than religious explanations — even in cases where there is no way to know what actually caused some phenomenon. In the same way, theists don’t just hold the worldview that a being created the universe. Their worldviews encompass a whole variety of additional ideas that how that being was God, what God did after creating the universe, God’s plan for us, and even what rules we need to follow to please God and avoid His wrath.

            It’s in that whole pile of ideas where we find logical contradictions and contrary evidence. And it’s in defending those views that the specific definitions of God are needed. And that’s why I ask for a definition, because I don’t really have anything to argue with a theist whose only belief is that God created the universe.

            But wait?! Did I just agree to your basic premise — that atheism is not just a lack of belief? Well, sort of. Based on this discussion, I’d like to make a small but important point — atheism is just a tiny portion of the worldview of atheists. It’s the lack of belief in God part. The rest, what we believe instead of in God, is the part that should be held up to the same rigorous skepticism that we apply to religion. So to the folks who say “Atheism is a religion” (and I realize that wasn’t your argument), I say no. Secular Humanism maybe. Empiricism maybe. Science maybe. But atheism still means “not believing in God or gods”, and doesn’t require a specific set of counter beliefs. Just like theism means “believing in God or gods” without requiring a specific set of beliefs. So if you say “atheists (as people) don’t just lack belief in God”, I’m fine with that.

            Happy New Year to you as well!

  2. Great post, Nate. This attempt to redefine words to better suit a desired position is a little telling, I think. Especially when it results in not wanting to provide any information affirming their position.

    You might rethink your first point in the three you listed: “If the term “atheism” simply describes a missing mental property (i.e. a lack of belief)… there would be no difference between an atheist and the armchair he’s sitting on.” Yes, technically an armchair lacks a belief, but that’s because beliefs (or mental properties) aren’t things that an armchair can have at all. It strikes me as one of those things thats rhetorically powerful, but is actually a category error. Your thoughts?

    I think your second and third points are solid though. Especially the “in absence, there is nothing to support” line. In sticking with this redefinition, atheists would have to find support for an absence the same way they try to explain our origins by supposing something came from nothing.

    • Gene, how dare you! If I were a Hindu you would not be accusing me of a category error. Ha.

      Point taken, my friend! I suppose I am guilty of a rhetorical flourish… only with regard to the example that I gave. I want to be clear that the point I was making still stands: A term needs exclusive boundaries in order to describe something meaningfully. The definitional boundaries for atheism as a “lack of belief” is just too broad to accomplish this task. Under this definition dogs, monkeys, babies, coma victims, etc. are all atheists. Think about it: A Christian that becomes a coma victim can now be considered an atheist under this definition. This is nonsense. Everyone is faced with the same evidence and, therefore, holds to their positions according to their convictions. To attempt to include dogs, monkeys, babies, coma victims, even agnostics under the big tent of “atheism” is to render the term meaningless; which is why internet atheists must redefine not only atheism but, now, agnosticism and gnosticism as well.

      If I wanted to be really silly, I could self-identify as a Christian Atheist because I “lack a belief” that there is no God. If the intellectual back flips I had to do in order to make that claim is obvious, then it should also be obvious when the atheist tries the same semantic trick. And that’s all this really is.

  3. Thanks for the article. Just a minor point at the end regarding your last few sentences… if one affirms that God exists then they are a theist — but have not necessarily made the jump to Christianity.

    • Gah! I know, I know, Jack! Boy, between you and Gene I just can’t have any rhetorical fun around here. Ha! Seriously, though. Thanks for the catch. Good looking out. 🙂 Also, to add to your point, someone who affirms God’s existence may also be a deist, which might be where some atheists would want to go, as it were, if they were compelled to change their stance on this issue.

  4. So perhaps you should have had this conversation with an actual self avowed “lack of belief” atheist. We could have saved you the trouble of asking a rhetorical question and actually given you an answer.

    Do I affirm or deny the proposition “God exists”?

    I think that there is insufficient evidence to affirm the proposition that “God exists”. I assert that the term “God” means many different things to many different people. For some definitions of “God”, which are logically contradictory or nonsensical, I would assert that particular definition is false and that no such being exists. For other definitions of “God”, I would not make any such assertion, but instead would say “sure, that’s possible”. Just because something is possible does not make it true.

    It’s possible that a carload of Victorias Secret models are driving over to my house as I type this, intent on ravishing me. It’s just extremely improbable and so I’m not going to believe it.

    • Thanks for a clearer picture Ed. Though then you have a very committal stance. To some positions on God you are an atheist and to others you are agnostic. This indicates that you do a have some sort of objective or fixed belief about God. Some are plausible and others not. These underlying assumptions should be proven or you are guilty of exactly what the author of this article is claiming.

      • A very good point, Anonymous, and one that’s equally applicable to all claims of certainty.

        But there’s a problem, as I’m sure you are aware. There are certain foundational assumptions that any claim of certainty rests upon. For example, we must assume that there is an objective reality, as opposed to everything just being an illusion in a single mind. That’s fundamentally unprovable.

        So, I propose that any foundational assumptions that both sides’ arguments rest upon not be considered as assumptions that need to be proven.

        Since there are countless variations of definitions of God, why don’t we talk about one in particular that I’m will make a claim of knowledge about — Yahweh as described literally in the Old Testament of the Bible.

        My position is that the being Yahweh is described as having traits and performing actions that make him entirely unsuitable as a model for moral behavior, and thus even if that being existed or exists, unworthy of being worshipped as God.

        Given that, would you like to interrogate my position for underlying assumptions?

        • Even your belief that God is an unsuitable model for moral behavior has underlying assumptions that need to be addressed, such as, “What moral values do you hold to be true-objective or subjective moral values?” and “Do you believe that humans are intrinsic or merely instrumental?” If human value is merely instrumental to each individual, then right or wrong lies in the eyes of the beholder and one can treat another person however they want and call it “good”. Your opinion of God would be just that-just an opinion. If humans have intrinsic value, then your worldview must account for it; but this is contrary to Darwinian Evolution. Besides, the majority of atheists do not like claiming to believe in something (such as the intrinsic value of human beings) for which there is no hard empirical data. What good evidence is there for intrinsic value that would live up to your standards? Intrinsic value would be more probable on theism than on atheism. Whenever people such as yourself want to condemn God’s actions, the you exhibit a belief that humans are intrinsic when you think God should not have acted; but there is no intrinsic value on atheism. What a paradox indeed.

        • Even your belief that God is an unsuitable model for moral behavior has underlying assumptions that need to be addressed, such as, “What moral values do you hold to be true-objective or subjective moral values?” and “Do you believe that humans are intrinsic or merely instrumental?” If human value is merely instrumental to each individual, then right or wrong lies in the eyes of the beholder and one can treat another person however they want and call it “good”. Your opinion of God would be just that-just an opinion. If humans have intrinsic value, then your worldview must account for it; but this is contrary to Darwinian Evolution. Besides, the majority of atheists do not like claiming to believe in something (such as the intrinsic value of human beings) for which there is no hard empirical data. What good evidence is there for intrinsic value that would live up to your standards? Intrinsic value would be more probable on theism than on atheism. Whenever people such as yourself want to condemn God’s actions, the you exhibit a belief that humans are intrinsic when you think God should not have acted; but there is no intrinsic value on atheism. What a paradox indeed.

          • Sorry, but this “intrinsic human values” dilemma is not a paradox at all. We don’t need God to define human values good/evil. Biology is sufficient. We all need to breathe, therefore breathable air is recognized as an intrinsic good, and actions that harm it as bad. We all need water, therefore clean drinking water is recognized as an intrinsic good, and actions that destroy someone’s drinking water as bad. Heck, even our sense of taste and smell evolved because it helps us eat foods that are good for our bodies and avoid eating things that would harm us.

            We are a social species, and therefore need love and a sense of belonging to the group. Therefore, love is recognized as an intrinsic good; and things like racism or religious discrimination that outcast people from a group for reasons other than their behavior are recognized as bad. We all want to live, therefore saving lives is good and murder is recognized as bad.

            What’s more, all these thing can be derived from logic:
            – I need certain things to thrive
            – Other people need those same things
            – Bad person(s) might try to deny me what I need
            – Grouping with people who are willing to protect me from bad persons can prevent that
            – The strongest group is all of society
            Therefore: recognizing and protecting everyone’s rights is the best protection for mine.

            Because of our ability to use logic, we are able to recognize that the same applies to other beings. If we ever encounter aliens who breath methane and drink liquid nitrogen, we are capable of generalizing the same rules to know that polluting their methane and liquid nitrogen is bad; that we shouldn’t murder them, and we should try to build good relations with them and would prefer to have them as allies rather than enemies. Of course, there will likely be a large segment of the human population who will refuse to recognize the rights of aliens.

            Yet, despite that universal recognition, many humans don’t follow these human values. People put personal benefits above good behavior when we can get away with it. Some people smoke, some pollute our air and water to increase their profits. We eat sugary foods which are bad for us because our taste buds haven’t evolved to match our technical ability to refine carbohydrates. We reject or hate other people based on race, creed, gender, or other characteristics, rather than our own specific knowledge of them as individuals. We kill others out of anger or fear. It takes time for human social ideas to change, and effort to overcome our individual biological urges.

            This is all based on hard empirical data, so it’s not “just my opinion”. It’s readily observable in the world around us; regardless of whether one believes that God exists or not.

            You: “Whenever people such as yourself want to condemn God’s actions, the you exhibit a belief that humans [values] are intrinsic when you think God should not have acted; but there is no intrinsic value [in] atheism.”

            Let’s be clear. I’m not condemning Yahweh’s actual actions because Yahweh doesn’t exist and therefore never actually did anything. I’m condemning the things that reportedly happened in the Bible, such as genocide, rape and infanticide; and pointing out that the Bible says those things were commanded by Yahweh, and found good after they were done in his name.

            This happened during a time when humans ideas of the universality of rights was much weaker. We were much more tribal and much more willing to ignore the fundamental commonality we share with human beings who were not part of our tribe. And our ideas of what was “good” then reflect that, and are echoed in the religion of the time.

            As our society evolved, our recognition of the rights of others expanded, and the number of people who are in our “tribe” increased. We can see that in the New Testament where broad acceptance of people who were excluded is embraced. Of course, even there, Jesus said he came to save the Jews, and reluctantly helped gentiles. It was only later, after Jesus’s death, that Paul expanded Christianity to gentiles. Yet even Jesus and Paul missed one of the great moral wrongs that plagued human behavior — slavery.

            All of this is empirically consistent with Yahweh being a human invention; and inconsistent with Yahweh as a being who is the embodiment of moral authority.

            The real dilemma is for Christian apologists:

            If, as you claim, God is the ultimate moral authority, then why did Yahweh order the enslavement of people? Why did Jesus, the apostles not call it out as a great evil? And the Christian churches all fail to condemn it for millennia? Is slavery not actually evil? Did God change his mind about what was and wasn’t evil? Was God afraid to bring up the subject because slavery was popular?

            If God orders something, is it inherently good? If God had ordered the Holocaust (as many German Christians believed), would it be still have been evil?

        • I think the contradiction of “gnostic atheism” comes from people thinking gnosis=knowledge and gnostic=with knowledge. I thought that until just five minutes ago. I looked up the definition on Webster and it’s apparently not just knowledge but spiritual esoteric knowledge. So what you say makes sense.

          I was going to say that what people mean by gnostic atheism is atheism with knowledge as in “I know God does not exist”. If gnosis just meant knowledge and gnostic meant “with knowledge” then I don’t think there’d be a contradiction. It doesn’t just mean knowledge it means spiritual knowledge so there is a contradiction and it turns out you’re right on that point.

          Still I understand where the people who invented the term “gnostic atheism” were coming from because I also assumed that gnostic could just mean “with knowledge” without referring to Gnosticism the religion. Words can have two meanings but apparently this one only has one.

          • I just typed in “define: gnostic” into google and got this:

            gnos·tic
            ˈnästik
            adjective
            1.
            of or relating to knowledge, especially esoteric mystical knowledge.
            noun
            1.
            an adherent of Gnosticism.

            Oxford dictionaries gives something almost identical. So I don’t think Webster’s is entirely accurate.

  5. “Atheism is a proposition or a truth claim about the world; and that proposition is: God does not exist.”

    ‘Not believing that Odin exists is a proposition or a truth claim about the world; and that proposition is: Odin does not exist.’

    ‘Not believing that Aphrodite exists is a proposition or a truth claim about the world; and that proposition is: Aphrodite does not exist.’

    ‘Not believing that Lord Ganesha exists is a proposition or a truth claim about the world; and that proposition is: Lord Ganesha does not exist.’

    Okay, so what’s your point?

    But in fact atheism is typically the proposition that, while you believe in Bigfoot, you can’t produce credible real world evidence to back up that belief, so your belief is simply not justified. And the truth of the matter is that you really can’t produce credible real world evidence to back up your belief in a god. So the person who believed in a god, and who really thought they could back it up, would be engaged in the business of producing the good real evidence that shows that the god exists. But instead we just generally get these silly vacuous word games where religious believers try to falsely pretend that atheism is a religion, like the religion of religious believers really is religion, merely because atheists refuse to accept the beliefs of people who don’t have any good evidence to back it up.

  6. “[A] redefinition of the word atheist trivializes the claim of the presumption of atheism, for on this definition, atheism ceases to be a view…”[2]

    I’d like to thank Craig and Moreland in this quote for finally acknowledging the rationale for why non-believers have long objected to the word “atheism” in the first place, along the lines of A-Thor-ism, or A-faerie-ism.

    Additionally, this article fails like most of its brethren in that it conflates 1) what actually is, 2) what we believe [about what actually is], and 3) what we “know” [about what actually is], with respect to what atheism can be. It mangles intelligible conversation to suggest that atheism can both be a statement of what actually is while simultaneously being a person’s belief-position.

    Finally, as far as your statement-challenge is concerned…
    ‘I also asked the atheist to affirm or deny the proposition “God exists”’
    For your hypothetical rival to answer this question, you must be able to provide the following information 1) what you mean by God (in a way that can be evaluated by some recognizable criteria), and 2) how you can distinguish between existence and non-existence with respect to this God. I have never heard anyone credibly answer #2.

    • Thank you for the comment @TheGodMonitor, although, you’re going to have help me out with some of these statements you’ve made.

      “I’d like to thank Craig and Moreland in this quote for finally acknowledging the rationale for why non-believers have long objected to the word “atheism” in the first place, along the lines of A-Thor-ism, or A-faerie-ism.”

      I’m not sure what your point is. Are you agreeing with me that atheism is a truth claim about reality or were you going somewhere else with this?

      “this article fails like most of its brethren in that it conflates 1) what actually is, 2) what we believe [about what actually is], and 3) what we “know” [about what actually is], with respect to what atheism can be. It mangles intelligible conversation to suggest that atheism can both be a statement of what actually is while simultaneously being a person’s belief-position.”

      How exactly is this article conflating what actually is with belief about what actually is? To state, as I have, that atheism is a truth claim about the world is to entail that atheism is 1) a statement of what actually is while 2) being a person’s belief-position about what actually is. So there has been no mangling as far as I can see.

      “you must be able to provide the following information 1) what you mean by God (in a way that can be evaluated by some recognizable criteria), and 2) how you can distinguish between existence and non-existence with respect to this God.”

      1) I did. The quotes I used are not a full representation of the entire conversation I had with Alex H. 2) What does a meaningful distinction between existence and non-existence have to do with the question of God? If God exists, why would anyone need to define non-existence with respect to Him? Maybe you have some point to make here. It’s just not coming across.

  7. This: “Of course, the best question to ask a self-avowed “lack of belief” atheist is: Do you affirm or deny the proposition “God exists”? If he denies the proposition then he has taken the non-neutral position that God does not exist. If he affirms the proposition, then he is a Christian.”

    doesn’t seem to fit with this: “As a quick aside, Max Andrews of sententias.org affirms the proposition that, to be a Christian, one must not only believe certain things to be true, but must be saved by God as well. In other words, in order to be a Christian, then P (one must affirm Christian truth propositions) and Q (one must be saved by God).”

    If I affirm that God exists I could simply be a deist or perhaps Muslim etc

    • Hi Art! Thanks for the comment! Yes you’re absolutely right. And jackdpeterson pointed that out in a previous comment. So I first considered editing the post but then your comment (and Jack’s) wouldn’t make any sense anymore. And then I decided to leave the post as is, blemishes and all. I’ve held the latter position for a while but I think you’ve convinced me to change it! So thanks again Art! Unfortunately, now, your comment won’t make any sense. But that’s okay. You and I will know. 🙂

    • You raise a good point, which I try to make clear often. “Atheism” itself has different nuances, and context is important. Atheism is *both* “lack of belief” and also “denial”. It depends on how the term “god” is being used. There is no doubt whatsoever that in the abstract discussion, religious believers can – and do, quite deliberately, mind you – try to make “God” as nebulous as possible. It’s a smuggling tactic, because – generally speaking – the religious believer is actually trying to pack all his nonsensical beliefs in his particular nonsensical god (Allah, Lord Ganesha, Mormon god, Yahweh, etc., etc.) into this undefined nebulous “god” in order to pretend that his beliefs in his particular god are “reasonable” and that atheism is unreasonable because it’s always possible that there is some kind of undefined nebulous notion of “god” that exists.

      Okay, so the quantum energy field is “god,” and so I’m not an atheist even though I know Yahweh, Allah, and Quetzalcoatl are completely bogus.

      It’s all really just the standard vacuous word games you get from religious apologists. Indeed, it really starts with the religious apologists charade of trying to pretend that atheism is a religious belief (like their religious beliefs really are religious belief), by portraying atheism as solely “the denial of the existence of God” – again, “God,” whatever that is supposed to mean. This is a critical point about the rhetoric. I’m not using the phrase “whatever that is supposed to mean” blithely, it’s actually the exact problem with the religious rhetoric. The religious apologist may not *say* “whatever that is supposed to mean,” but it is certainly what it does mean in the context of the argument as they use it.

      I turn this around by saying, do you deny the existence of Quetzalcoatl? Do you deny the existence of Odin? Do you deny the existence of Ra, the Sun God? Do you deny the existence of Lord Ganesha, the elephant-headed demigod/avatar?

      It’s all based on denying this very real and important fact: People do make up crap. The premise that people do not make things up, and that people making things up which is just bogus is something we don’t have to deal with (since it doesn’t happen), is a premise I find employed incredibly often in religious apologetics rhetoric. (Or the premise that there is no such things as standards of evidence, that’s another obviously false premise I see.)

      The fact of the matter is that there are thousands of bogus gods, and all of us – including religious believers themselves – know fully well that gods are a dime a dozen. So the only route available to the religious apologist is to play the shell game of masquerading his god as some nebulous concept of “god” (whatever that might mean) and then pretending atheists are “religious” because of their “faith” that “god absolutely does not exist.”

      It’s all just one vacuous word game packaged inside of another vacuous word game.

      Atheism isn’t a religious, it is the conclusion of a thought process deriving from principles which are the antithesis of religious faith, and just because you can make “god” mean whatever abstract nebulous concept you want to try to lend it even some tiny measure of respectability this doesn’t somehow magically conjure Quetzalcoatl into existence. Oh, sorry, I meant Yahweh.

      It’s just turtles all the way down.

  8. What is the opposite of “to believe”? Is it to “believe not”? If words mean anything (words like “belief”, “worldview”, “opinion”, and “knowledge”), then when you ask me if I believe gods exist, and I say “no”, you will grant that I did not just say they do not exist. I might also answer you that I’ve never encountered a conceptual formulation of a “god” that I could justifiably believe in, something that those who did not believe in gods were doing in 19th century Britain. Every definition is either so amorphous as to be meaningless (e.g. Tillich’s ground of all being) or contradictory (any three Os conception).

    If a person never encountered a belief in non-physical, supra-natural agents or beings (to include “higher powers”, ancestor spirits, and animistic spirits), would that make them someone who believed they didn’t exist or someone who lacked belief in them? Would either be justified under those circumstances?

    From my colleague; Stephen Bullivant, p. 365-366: http://www.tandfonline.com/doi/abs/10.1080/13537900802373114

    Table 1. Understandings of the term ‘agnostic’.
    The word ‘agnostic’ can be used in many different ways. When I use the word, I understand it to mean . .

    A person who believes that it is impossible to know whether or not there is a God 257 (36.5%)

    A person who can’t make up his or her mind whether there is a God or not 207 (29.4%)

    A person who doesn’t believe in God, but isn’t as convinced as an atheist would be 44 (6.3%)

    A person who doesn’t know what to think 67 (9.5%)

    Don’t know 19 (2.7%)

    Something else (please specify) 63 (8.9%)

    Both ticked one (or more) of the given options and specified something else 10 (1.4%)

    Ticked two or more of the given options 38 (5.4%)

    TOTAL 705

    Table 2. Understandings of the term ‘atheist’.
    The word ‘atheist’ can be used in many different ways. When I use the word, I understand it to mean . . .

    A person who is convinced that there is no God or gods 199 (28.1%)

    A person who believes that there is no God or gods 362 (51.2%)

    A person who lacks a belief in God or gods 93 (13.6%)

    Don’t know 4 (0.6%)

    Something else (please specify) 29 (4.1%)

    Both ticked one (or more) of the given options and specified something else 6 (0.8%)

    Ticked two or more of the given options 14 (2.0%)

    TOTAL 707

    What does he take it to mean? Simply that the terms “agnostic” and “atheist” aren’t applied consistently among those who use them to refer to themselves. I doubt the terms “theist” or “Christian” are either.

    Every time I see someone say that atheists say very much for not having a position/only lacking a belief, I always interpret that as them saying, “theism lacks much in substance; it isn’t a big deal, and there isn’t much to God or belief in God worth talking about”. If you understand theism to possess moral gravity and authority, to be substantive, important, politically and socially and psychologically influential, and worth being discussed, then my opinion is that you probably don’t make such assertions about atheists. I find it strange that you as an apparent fervent Christian (fervency being assumed on the part of one who endeavors forth to perform apologetics) don’t seem to understand that.

    There are plenty of things about which I cannot know if they exist or do not exist. Not having any evidence to support either condition does not mean that my position equals, of necessity, that any one of those “plenty of things” does *not* exist, no more than it equals, of necessity, that any one of those “plenty of things” *does* exist. I like the DoDo bird example; how is it we say they’re extinct when we can’t know? And yet we do say “extinct”; in this case, we are saying they do not (any longer) exist. Why do we say they do not exist if we cannot know? Would it be the same if we said we did not believe they existed? We could say that, then turn out to be wrong, and no one would have to be embarrassed about it.

    Nate, I’m going to guess that you finally hit the “frustration wall” in arguing with people who continually claim to not have a position (suppose I’d be frustrated, too, but, I wonder, can you name an argument that anyone could participate in wherein one participant could be legitimately—according to you—said to not have a position? Meaning, do you think that, if one participates in an argument, one automatically has a position?). Your writing demonstrates a negative emotional valence…some traces of antipathy. It makes me wonder if there is a correlation (yes, a Pearson’s correlation coefficient) between the type of definition for atheism that a person offers and whether or not that person avers that atheism is or is not a religion. (Whether defined as denial or lack of acceptance of the central tenets of theism—how can such a thing be a religion? I often think to myself that those theists who comfortably affirm having a religion ought not to wish atheism to be classified as a religion, given the string of rights and privileges and benefits for atheists which could potentially follow—although: Among religions in this country which do not teach what would generally be considered a belief in the existence of God are Buddhism, Taoism, Ethical Culture, Secular Humanism and others. See Washington Ethical Society v. District of Columbia, 101 U.S.App.D.C. 371, 249 F.2d 127; Fellowship of Humanity v. County of Alameda, 153 Cal.App.2d 673, 315 P.2d 394; II Encyclopaedia of the Social Sciences 293; 4 Encyclopaedia Britannica (1957 ed.) 325-327; 21 id. at 797; Archer, Faiths Men Live By (2d ed. revised by Purinton), 120-138, 254-313; 1961 World Almanac 695, 712; Year Book of American Churches for 1961, at 29, 47.)

    Really, a great deal of your frustration seems to result not from someone being wrong about a definition, but politico-rhetorical strategies and the tactics of discourse. This isn’t really about pure semantics to you; it’s about winning a fight. So you stand on the same battle grounds as your “enemy”, in this case; the same amount of bias you accuse them of regarding “motivated” definitions is the same amount you possess. You *want* atheism to mean a certain thing, because if it does, then this provides a tactical advantage for you and your side. After all, you said: “Therefore, according to this characterization, the need to provide evidence(s) for a belief rests solely on the ones having the belief: Christians, not atheists.” That means you’re aware of this notion. Is that why you want so badly for them to have a positive belief, so that they’d have to defend it (and presumably because you believe they wouldn’t be able to)? For those who can’t seem to conceptualize the difference between “lack of belief” and “believe not”, you wouldn’t get it; you don’t. Those two things are not the same; no one has enough knowledge to say God exists or does not exist. Affirming a negative isn’t the same as not affirming a positive. I’m sorry, brother, but everyone is an agnostic. I literally can’t say God does not exist if I don’t have knowledge of that, and I do not. For you, this may mean that atheists are non-existent if you insist on defining them as those who are willing to say God does not exist.

    And once you have won the fight, that all “internet atheists” (not sure what that means) are actually “internet agnostics” because there are only three options with respect to belief in God (not sure what that means) and “internet atheists” refuse to “affirm or deny”, what will you have actually won? The right to insist that these “atheists” stop call themselves “atheists” and instead refer to themselves as agnostics? And what is that worth to you? It will not change their behavior; I might like to assume that such a thing would be worth more to you than labels (which often do not convey as much information about their eponyms as we think).

    So, do I affirm or deny the proposition “God exists”? The answer is “I can neither affirm nor deny the proposition”. (Which is my way of saying that your question doesn’t possess as much “apologetic pop” as you appear to think.) Do you think this automatically relegates me to an affirmation of the “third way”? My return question for you: is it even meaningful to ask whether gods exist or not if a coherent definition cannot be offered? Per the theologian John A. T. Robinson (1919-1983), God is defined only as the “ultimate reality.” Robinson adds that it is meaningless to ask whether God exists. After all, what characteristics should “a reality” have in order to be considered “ultimate”?

    You can call me an agnostic or an atheist; all I will answer is “you have said so”. Maybe next we’ll define theism as “a rejection of atheism”; I think it would be (obviously) necessary but not sufficient. Once you realize that everyone is an agnostic (and that saying “I know that……” doesn’t automatically and necessarily mean the person *does know* what follows), the terms “atheist” and “theist” are seen for what they are: opinions based on human judgment and assessment (subject to much error, even with things known to exist) of likelihood and probability, not knowledge. I lack a belief in just about anything that possesses the same caliber of evidence that has historically and contemporaneously been offered for Christian theism.

  9. “If a person never encountered a belief in non-physical, supra-natural agents or beings (to include “higher powers”, ancestor spirits, and animistic spirits), would that make them someone who believed they didn’t exist or someone who lacked belief in them? Would either be justified under those circumstances?”

    it would mean they are ignorant of the idea and therefore we wouldn’t ascribe the position of atheist or theist to them, just like it wouldn’t make sense to ascribe a position to a baby.

    Atheism is position that one takes not a psychological state of being ignorant of ideas. If you do not know about an idea then I am not going to say anything other than you are ignorant of it and I am not going to ascribe that you take a position on that idea.

    “I lack a belief”

    Does not say anything about the world, it does not provide any foundation for arguing about what the world presents as evidence, Any arguments you make could not be based on Atheism because Atheism as a lack of belief would say nothing about the world.

    “in just about anything that possesses the same caliber of evidence that has historically and contemporaneously been offered for Christian theism.”

    That’s not the psychological state of lacking belief, to have an opinion on the caliber of evidence means that you have beliefs about what the evidence presented to you says.

    Any beliefs you have could not be anything to do with atheism as you are desperately trying to define it, because that lame definition says absolutely nothing about the world.

    if you want to say that you love reason and science and evidence etc then you have to tell us what beliefs you have that lead you to value reason and science.

    But whatever they are then by the definition provided then they cannot be related to atheism.

    if you are pro reason and science then that cannot be related to that definition of atheism either.

    You might claim to value them but they are unrelated to that weak definition of atheism which says nothing about the world.

    Because this extremely watered down definition of atheism is so poor, It isn’t able to establish any other beliefs, and cannot support a pro-reason, pro-scientific, pro morality worldview, it doesn’t deserve any serious consideration. “Weak atheism” is very weak and pathetic indeed.

  10. If someone understands the proposition “God exists” there are 3 possible responses
    someone can

    1) believe it is true

    2) believe it is false

    3) be undecided

    in the case of atheism it is neither option 1 or 3, therefore option 2 an atheist “believes” the proposition is false

  11. It’s hilarious that so many atheists spend so much time on Christian blog sites making futile comments. So you say you don’t believe in God, huh? That will be an excellent ice breaker when you meet Him.

    • Boy, you really got us! After all, it’s not like this is a blog post about how atheists aren’t what we claim we are. Yep, nothing to see here atheists, this doesn’t concern us at all!

      • I hope you realise that Atheists do the same thing. Faith is defined as beleiving in something without evidence. We know this because Atheists tell us so. If we disagree, we are wrong. Atheists are allowed to define all terms in the discussion, and we aren’t allowed to question these definitions.

        • It’s not atheists telling you what “faith” means, it’s the dictionary.

          faith
          fāTH/Submit
          noun
          1. complete trust or confidence in someone or something.
          “this restores one’s faith in politicians”
          synonyms: trust, belief, confidence, conviction; More
          2. strong belief in God or in the doctrines of a religion, based on spiritual apprehension rather than proof.

          Do you really mean to disagree with the dictionary definition of the word “faith”, or are you trying to say that you have evidence to support what you believe?

          If it’s the former, I’ll bid you good day and suggest that you start your letter writing campaign to Oxford and Webster’s. If it’s the later, you can do that without trying to redefine words. I’d be happy to hear 1) what you believe, and 2) what your evidence is for that belief.

          • There is nothing in the dictionary definition that suggests those beliefs are not based on evidence. I certainly agree completely in the dictionary definition.

            The question is “Are the beliefs someone has faith (trust) in well evidenced?” or “Is the person in whom trust (faith) is put trustworthy?”

            Could we agree on that? Do feel that is reasonable?

          • I agree with the dictionary definition as well. To me, “rather than proof” means that faith operates independently of proof; which is slightly different that what I think you are saying.

            If something has strong evidence, then what is the role of faith? I don’t need faith that I’m not going to fall up into the sky when I walk outside; I have strong and continual evidence that gravity will keep me and you and everything else on the ground. And if I do suddenly get a doubt about gravity, I can quickly and easily test gravity to prove that it’s still there, and thus use evidence to continue my confidence.

            Faith, on the other hand, is about choosing to set aside doubts, and letting your desire for something to be true substitute for evidence. At least that’s how I read “faith is the evidence of things unseen”.

            I certainly agree that trust can be rational or irrational. Trust based on evidence is rational (truth). Trust without evidence is irrational (faith).

            What atheists are saying is “It’s nice that you have faith, but we don’t. So how about if you show us your evidence”.

          • I agree wholeheartedly with the dictionary definition. It doesn’t say anything there about lack of evidence.

            Faith or trust can be well evidenced or not, but trust (faith) isn’t automatically irrational or rational. It depends on what we are trusting in…

            Would you agree with that?

  12. “I certainly agree that trust can be rational or irrational. Trust based on evidence is rational (truth). Trust without evidence is irrational (faith).”

    Well…that last sentence is not what the dictionary says. You’re defining faith with a pejorative label. Faith=Trust and like you said trust (faith) can be rational or irrational.

    “Faith, on the other hand, is about choosing to set aside doubts, and letting your desire for something to be true substitute for evidence. At least that’s how I read “faith is the evidence of things unseen”.”

    Again that first sentence is not what the dictionary states. And it isn’t really what the verse is saying either.

    The verse you quote gives a description of the effect of faith. It is not a definition. So when someone has faith they act as if they have seen something which they actually have not. Let me give you an example:

    I am a pilot, when I take someone flying who has never gone and they haven’t seen me fly. They have faith in both me and in the aircraft manufacturer and the maintenance personnel. Their actions are the same as if they had knowledge that all of the above were trustworthy. That is what Hebrews 11:1 is communicating.

    Faith absolutely is opposed to walking by sight. That though is distinct from walking opposed to evidence.

    • “Faith absolutely is opposed to walking by sight. That though is distinct from walking opposed to evidence.”

      Yes, we may be saying the same thing. I’m not saying faith is walking opposed to evidence either; I’m saying it is walking without evidence.

      Your example as a pilot isn’t the same kind of faith either. It takes a huge amount of hours of flying time to get to the level where you have a pilot’s license, and aircraft manufacturers have all sorts of regulations to follow. Plus we have evidence of tens of thousands of planes flying every day and crashes being quite rare. So, for anyone looking at it rationally, the only real faith is that you or your plane didn’t somehow slip through the system for ages and I happen to be the one in a million unlucky winner of the bad pilot lottery.

      Of course, most people don’t look at things rationally, but rather based on emotion, intuition, or what have you. That’s what I meant when I said faith was irrational. It wasn’t intended to be pejorative. There are lots of good things that are not rational, such as love, joy, hope, etc… I just meant it’s based on emotion and intuition and belief, rather than evidence and logic.

      Again, that doesn’t mean that your believe system is not supported by evidence; but just that faith is used in the places where there isn’t evidence.

    • I also disagree that faith = trust. That’s only the first definition, not the one that refers to religious faith. It’s a typical case of English using the same word for two different but similar meanings. That’s why the dictionary shows two different meanings.

      • Ed, you do know you’ve proven my point, right?

        Most Dictionaries do not even contain the “Lack of belief in gods” Definition for Atheism, and most flat call Atheism a belief. You don’t care about the Dictionary Definition of Atheism though.

        Meanwhile, you get to tell us the First Definition of Faith is the “Right one, an the one that applies to Religious Faith.

        Well, why should we accept either of those claims?

        Dictionaries don’t prioritise Definitions. The top definition is no the “Most right” one, the others are just as valid.

        Nor does the First Definition actually say “Religious” in it at all. Your claim tht the First Definition is “The Religious definition of Faith” is not supportd by the text. In fact, the example given under the definition is about Politics.

        But you have decreed that hte First Definition is about Religious Faith and is the definition fo Faiht for Religion so we have to accept that, ebcause you said so.

        The Firts Definition also doesn’t say “Lack of evidence” at all.

        In the end you’re just trtugbto force us to accept that Faith eansbeleif withotu evidence just to support yoru ow DOgmas, all whoile insistign we blidnly accept that Atheism is a lack of beeif in a god for the same Reason.

        • “Meanwhile, you get to tell us the First Definition of Faith is the “Right one, and the one that applies to Religious Faith.”

          No, I didn’t say that; in fact, in the definition I provided, #2 is the one that applies to religious beliefs. — “2. strong belief in God or in the doctrines of a religion, based on spiritual apprehension rather than proof.”

          “Dictionaries don’t prioritise Definitions. The top definition is not the “Most right” one, the others are just as valid.”

          I agree.

          “Nor does the First Definition actually say “Religious” in it at all. You claim the First Definition is “The Religious definition of Faith” is not supported by the text. In fact, the example given under the definition is about Politics.”

          Yes. Again I agree.

          “The First Definition also doesn’t say “Lack of evidence” at all.”

          Correct. The second one does: “…rather than proof”.

          “In the end you’re just trying force us to accept that Faith means belief without evidence just to support your own Dogmas, all while insisting we blindly accept that Atheism is a lack of belief in a god for the same Reason.”

          Nope. I don’t want you to blindly accept anything. And there’s nothing in my worldview that I am unwilling to question, so not sure where the “your Dogmas” bit is coming from.

          I hope you won’t take this the wrong way, but it seems like in your zeal to argue with me you didn’t read what I wrote very carefully. Somehow you got almost the exact opposite meaning from what I actually wrote. I’d invite you to read it again, and see if perhaps it makes more sense.

          • No 🙂

            There are four historical facts which need to be explained and Jesus resurrection best explains those facts.

            In addition, there are very good reasons to think this universe is the product of designer. I also think that some things are apprehended or understood naturally.

          • Ed, let me ask you this. DO you think The Westminster Dictionary Of Theological Terms has a Right ot define Faith in the ocntext of CHristianity? Because Westminster does not define it as beleif that does not rest on roof.

            Nor do any Theologians I know.

            SO why do we have to “mean” Beleif withotu evidence if this isnt what we say we mean?

          • “So why do we have to “mean” Belief without evidence if this isn’t what we say we mean?”

            You don’t. Tell me what you believe and show me your evidence for it and then you’ll have a reasonable argument that your “faith” is referring to something that is closer to the first definition than the second.

          • four facts

            1) Jesus died as result of being crucified
            2) Jesus disciples had experiences they thought were the resurrected Jesus
            3) Skeptics Paul and James the brother of Jesus were converted after Jesus death
            4) The tomb was empty on the Sunday morning following the crucifixion

          • “1) Jesus died as result of being crucified”

            This seems completely normal and expected. Not sure why resurrection is required here.

            “2) Jesus disciples had experiences they thought were the resurrected Jesus”

            Lots of people have experiences that are not entirely based on reality, or are misunderstood; especially after a significant trauma.

            Mohammad had experiences he thought were God talking directly to him. Do you believe Mohammad’s experiences were real?

            “3) Skeptics Paul and James the brother of Jesus were converted after Jesus death”

            I’m aware that the Bible talks of Saul and his conversion to become Paul. However, those are Paul’s accounts. Couldn’t he have just invented those stories? Or bumped his head and hallucinated? Do we really need to invoke a completely unique event that defies the experience of every single human being to ever live to explain it?

            Joseph Smith tells a somewhat similar story of being surrounded by darkness and then being saved by a pillar of light. Do you believe that experience was real?

            “4) The tomb was empty on the Sunday morning following the crucifixion”

            Perhaps. The accounts in the Bible disagree on significant details; which casts some doubt on their veracity. However, there are many other explanations for a body to be missing from where it was left unattended for 3 days. Again, no need for a completely unique event to explain it.

            Please don’t misunderstand me. I don’t have any proof that Jesus was NOT resurrected. But it is an extraordinary claim, that goes against everything we have ever experienced. As such, it should be subject to rigorous levels of proof.

          • “Lots of people have experiences that are not entirely based on reality, or are misunderstood; especially after a significant trauma.

            Mohammad had experiences he thought were God talking directly to him. Do you believe Mohammad’s experiences were real?”

            Lot’s of people have claimed they had experiences. But how many people have been willing to die because they wouldn’t deny those experiences? That is what makes these unique.

          • “Generally when something is written down in a historical text we take most of it at face value right?”

            Of course. Unless it defines other things we know to be true, or makes claims that are far outside the ordinary.

            Muhammad and Joseph Smith both said God talked to them, and Smith at least faced persecution for his claims. Do you believe those claims or not?

            “When Tacitus writes we generally believe what he said unless we have a good reason to doubt. Now what is very clear is that Luke gets a lot correct about a lot of different things in Acts. So very likeyl the beatings Paul took throughout his ministry were real. Also we know Paul got beheaded in Rome. So would he have died and taken multiple beatings and spent years in prison for an invented story? Probably not. Is it possible? Yes. Likely, not at all.”

            All that means is that Paul was convinced that that his experience was real. So what? Apparently so did Muhammad and Joseph Smith. Again, why should I believe one but not the other?

            “How about hallucinated? Well people hallucinate today. Lots of times after a loved one dies they feel their presence. But they don’t think the person was resurrected. ”

            I don’t believe that is a true assertion. There are people in mental hospitals who believe every kind of thing.

            “The idea that Paul (who was running around and locking followers of “the Way” up in prison and killing them) hallucinated and then decided to risk his life continuously based on a hallucination is far-fetched.”

            More far fetched than resurrection? Not by any reasonable standard.

            “Are we invoking something here? No we aren’t. The disciples, Paul and the early Christians invoked it. They said it happened.”

            And you believe them, based on extremely scant evidence. And disbelieve others who have similar claims. Heck, with the New Testament, you don’t even have the original words of any of the gospels. At least Muslims and Mormons have the direct writings of their prophets so we can be reasonably sure they weren’t altered.

            “Seeing an airplane fly was a completely unique event too when it first happened.”

            And yet it is completely explainable within the bounds of things we experience every day; and can be repeated at will. No comparison to resurrection or direct communication with God in a pillar of light.

            “For a tropical native to see a glacier for the first time would contradict all his and his people’s previous experience. ”

            Only because they had not been exposed to that weather. Millions of other humans have, and the tropical native can quickly see that a glacier is part of the natural world. Again, no comparison to resurrection or direct communication with God in a pillar of light.

            “It might just be that if God was to step into our world he might actually use something unique. Something that couldn’t be repeated to authenticate and communicate that it was actually him. It’s possible right?”

            Possible in the abstract, sure; in the sense that it’s not something that is falsifiable, so cannot be disproven. It’s also possible that Cthulhu really exists, and ate Yahweh for lunch and will snack on all of us next week. Equally unfalsifiable and impossible to disprove. Why should I believe one but not the other?

          • “I’m aware that the Bible talks of Saul and his conversion to become Paul. However, those are Paul’s accounts. Couldn’t he have just invented those stories? Or bumped his head and hallucinated? Do we really need to invoke a completely unique event that defies the experience of every single human being to ever live to explain it?”

            Generally when something is written down in a historical text we take most of it at face value right? When Tacitus writes we generally believe what he said unless we have a good reason to doubt. Now what is very clear is that Luke gets a lot correct about a lot of different things in Acts. So very likeyl the beatings Paul took throughout his ministry were real. Also we know Paul got beheaded in Rome. So would he have died and taken multiple beatings and spent years in prison for an invented story? Probably not. Is it possible? Yes. Likely, not at all.

            How about hallucinated? Well people hallucinate today. Lots of times after a loved one dies they feel their presence. But they don’t think the person was resurrected. The idea that Paul (who was running around and locking followers of “the Way” up in prison and killing them) hallucinated and then decided to risk his life continuously based on a hallucination is far-fetched.

            Are we invoking something here? No we aren’t. The disciples, Paul and the early Christians invoked it. They said it happened.

            Seeing an airplane fly was a completely unique event too when it first happened. For a tropical native to see a glacier for the first time would contradict all his and his peoples previous experience. It might just be that if God was to step into our world he might actually use something unique. Something that couldn’t be repeated to authenticate and communicate that it was actually him. It’s possible right?

          • Isn’t that whats beign discused onthis blog in General? ANd elsewhere? Surly you knwo by now that Evidence, even if you disagree with th conclusion, is generlaly offered.

          • “Surely you know by now that Evidence, even if you disagree with the conclusion, is generally offered.”

            Yes, which is why I feel comfortable saying that theistic beliefs are not based on strong evidence. However, I’m always open to someone presenting some evidence I haven’t seen before.

          • DOn’t yu think you’re just movin he goalposts now? You want us to accept that Faith is beleif without evidnece, andnow its “Strong evidence”. COme now, this is silly. The point is, THeistic beleifs ae rooted in evidence. Faith isn beleif wihotu it, either.

            ANd we both know yo’ve decided Theism is wrong.

          • The many definitions I have offered of the term faith have all mentioned a lack of proof, not a total absence of evidence.

            Proof is when you have so much evidence that there is no room for reasonable doubt. I’m saying theists have no evidence at all. Just that it’s not sufficient to prove the claims.

            Again, based on the inability of theists to provide evidence to support their claims, yes, I think theism is incorrect. And again, I’m open to new evidence. It’s clear you aren’t going to provide any, so I think I’ll just call it a night.

            Be well.

          • That’s still moving the goal posts. Faith is Trust or COnfidence, not beleif withotu evidnece, or even without proof.

          • “That’s still moving the goal posts. Faith is Trust or COnfidence, not belief without evidence, or even without proof.”

            I find this amusing. I’ve provided proof in the form of a half dozen dictionary definitions from a variety of sources that that one of the several definitions of the word faith is EXACTLY “belief without proof”. You haven’t provided anything to refute my proof, yet you continue to dogmatically insist you are correct and I am wrong.

            It’s clear that you have faith in your definition. In this case, blind faith that defies the facts presented to you.

            If you want to convince me, or any other open minded person who makes decisions based on reason and evidence, you’ll need to do more than simply repeatedly state your opinion. You’ll need to prove your points, because I’m not willing to take them on faith.

            Thank you for so clearly demonstrating the difference between your method of understanding Truth versus my own.

          • “Every martyr for their religious beliefs. It’s actually not that uncommon.”

            You’re absolutely correct. The difference is that most of time they aren’t in a position to know if what they believe is true or false. It is exceeding rare that someone is willing to suffer for something they know is false. The disciples would have known whether their claims where true or false.

            Did Mohammad or Joseph Smith make it up?

            First I don’t know why you think that is an important question. But I’m happy to answer it. Mohammad has experiences he thought initially was an evil spirit he thought he may have been possessed. I think that is a possibility. But I think he made much of it up. Joseph Smith likely made it up. Based on his propensity to do that. Book of Abraham…etc

          • TJ: “They [Muhammad and Joseph Smith] gained both women, riches, and prestige through their “revelations”. The disciples mostly got beat up.”

            You think the power and influence that Paul and the apostles gained as leaders of the early church was immaterial, and didn’t dramatically improve the lives of people were all reportedly otherwise ordinary men?

            Regardless, this is all simply evidence that they believed it; which is at best very weak evidence that it was True.

            Do you doubt that the ancient Egyptians really believed in their gods? Or that mummification would help them in the afterlife? Did that make it true?

          • Me: “Every martyr for their religious beliefs [was willing to deny rather than deny their experiences]. It’s actually not that uncommon.”

            TJ: “You’re absolutely correct. The difference is that most of time they aren’t in a position to know if what they believe is true or false.”

            Agreed. This strongly suggests that Paul believed his experience was real.

            TJ: “It is exceeding rare that someone is willing to suffer for something they know is false. The disciples would have known whether their claims were true or false.”

            Yes, but we don’t have the direct words of any of the people who were his disciples. We have those stories as collected, compiled, and told by believers long afterwards. It’s certainly supporting evidence, but it’s rather weak. It’s sufficient for unremarkable claims, such as Jesus’s existence as a person, or that he taught certain things, or that he was crucified by the Romans. It’s not sufficient for the remarkable claims, such as the occurrence of miracles that define the laws of physics (turning water into wine, creating loaves and fishes from thin air, or rising again after being dead for 3 days).

            Me: “Did Mohammad or Joseph Smith make it up?”

            TJ: “First I don’t know why you think that is an important question. But I’m happy to answer it. Mohammad has experiences he thought initially was an evil spirit he thought he may have been possessed. I think that is a possibility. But I think he made much of it up. Joseph Smith likely made it up. Based on his propensity to do that. Book of Abraham…etc”

            It’s an important question because from my point of view the claims of Paul regarding his conversation with God are indistinguishable from the claims of Mohammad or Joseph Smith. That is, they all rest upon a known historical figure writing about their own experiences with something that is outside normal human experience. They all exhibited changes in their behavior afterwards. Joseph Smith suffered persecution for his beliefs, including being imprisoned and murdered by a Christian mob. Just above, you told me people aren’t generally willing to die for their beliefs if they know them to be false.

            Quite simply, you are not applying the same standards of evidence to Paul’s claims that you are to Mohammad’s or Joseph Smith’s.

          • Definitions of “faith”:

            Mariam Webster: “2 b (1) : firm belief in something for which there is no proof (2) : complete trust”

            Dictionary.com “2.
            belief that is not based on proof:
            He had faith that the hypothesis would be substantiated by fact.”

            Oxford: “2. Strong belief in God or in the doctrines of a religion, based on spiritual apprehension rather than proof.”

            Free Dictionary.com: “4. (Theology) a conviction of the truth of certain doctrines of religion, esp when this is not based on reason”

            Learners Dictionary.com: “accept/take (something) on faith
            : to accept (something) as true without proof or evidence that it is true
            I’m not willing to take her statements on faith.
            I’ll accept it on faith that he knows the truth.
            an article of faith
            : something that is believed without being questioned or doubted
            For many it is an article of faith that the economy will begin to improve soon.”

            Like it or not, one of the many definitions of the word “faith” definitely includes the concept of accepting something as true without proof.

          • “Ed, let me ask you this. Do you think The Westminster Dictionary Of Theological Terms has a Right to define Faith in the context of Christianity? Because Westminster does not define it as belief that does not rest on proof.”

            Yes and no. Anyone has a right to explain what they mean by a particular word. If that meaning is shared by a number of people, it will be recorded in dictionaries; which keep a record of how words are used.

            If Westminister Seminary decides they want to propose a particular definition of the word “faith” as it applies to Christianity, they of course have that right. However, they don’t have the right or ability to tell everyone else that it’s the only correct definition. There is no authority who SETS the meaning of words in English, though there are respected authorities (such as Oxford English Dictionary) on the current and past meaning of words based on how they are actually used by people. Dictionaries record and convey the meanings for people don’t know them; they don’t set the meanings overriding whatever common uses are (at least not in English).

            “Ah”, but you say, “Westminster Seminary is an expert in Christianity, and is only setting the definition in the specialized context of Christianity, just like computer scientists have specialized words for things that only apply to the context of their specialization. A computer ‘mouse’, for example. Industry or discipline specific terms, so to speak.”

            I’m a software engineer, very knowledgeable about the computer industry. I can tell you what people mean in computer science when they use the word “mouse” to refer to a pointing device, how it came to be called that, and so forth. But I’m not able to just willy nilly decide that “mouse” actually refers to the cord that connects some pointing devices to a computer; and insist that definition is the only correct one.

            So. The question for you is: what is Westminster Dictionary of Theological Terms definition of faith? Please provide it. Once you’ve done that, we can examine it and understand how that might apply to our discussion.

      • “Your example as a pilot isn’t the same kind of faith either. It takes a huge amount of hours of flying time to get to the level where you have a pilot’s license, and aircraft manufacturers have all sorts of regulations to follow. Plus we have evidence of tens of thousands of planes flying every day and crashes being quite rare. So, for anyone looking at it rationally, the only real faith is that you or your plane didn’t somehow slip through the system for ages and I happen to be the one in a million unlucky winner of the bad pilot lottery.”

        Seems to me what you’re suggesting when you say it isn’t the same kind of faith, is that the person who chooses to get on an airplane is exercising rational faith. Is that what you’re saying?

        “Again, that doesn’t mean that your believe system is not supported by evidence; but just that faith is used in the places where there isn’t evidence”

        This is where we disagree. Faith is used in places where there isn’t sight. I make an inference about someone’s character or about what I cannot see based on certain lines of evidence. I then have faith in that person about a future situation or about what I cannot see, because of the past evidence or in the case of something I can’t see, present evidence. .

        • “Seems to me what you’re suggesting when you say it isn’t the same kind of faith, is that the person who chooses to get on an airplane is exercising rational faith. Is that what you’re saying?”

          Basically yes. That’s using the common, secular meaning of faith as in “I have a lot of faith in the airline industry”. Which could be explained as “I trust the airline industry because I am familiar with how they operate and the precautions they take to insure passenger safety”. If you want to refer to that as “rational faith” then that’s fine.

          “This is where we disagree. Faith is used in places where there isn’t sight. I make an inference about someone’s character or about what I cannot see based on certain lines of evidence. I then have faith in that person about a future situation or about what I cannot see, because of the past evidence or in the case of something I can’t see, present evidence. .”

          Okay. I think that’s a reasonable explanation of the secular use of what we’ve just defined as “rational faith”.

          Do you agree that there must, therefore, also be a form of “irrational faith”, that is, based on something other than past experience with a person or lines of evidence; but instead based on desire, or emotion?

          If we can agree that some faith is rational and some irrational, then what remains is to look at the evidence for various beliefs and consider the strength of the evidence. I’m certainly willing to present the evidence for my views if you like.

        • Yes, as I mentioned just above, that’s the secular definition that doesn’t necessarily apply to religious beliefs. For example, most Christians believe that Jesus died and then came back to life again after 3 days. Aside from what Christians would agree are resurrection myths in other religions; there is no history we can examine of people returning from the dead. It is unprecedented, and accepting it is inherently a matter of some different kind of faith, not just the reasonable faith that things will be they way they usually are. Right?

  13. “Do you agree that there must, therefore, also be a form of “irrational faith”, that is, based on something other than past experience with a person or lines of evidence; but instead based on desire, or emotion?”

    Yes faith can irrational both because it is rooted in emotion or because it is a faulty interpretation of the evidence.

    As a follower of Christ, I don’t base my what I believe on emotion or desire. I am applying rational faith and that is why I hold the views I hold.

  14. If we can agree that some faith is rational and some irrational, then what remains is to look at the evidence for various beliefs and consider the strength of the evidence. I’m certainly willing to present the evidence for my views if you like.

    That’s more like it…..

    email me at tj nospace here actually kilcup @gmail.com so the 2 names @gmail I’d love to hear why you think what you think.

  15. Me: “Mohammad had experiences he thought were God talking directly to him. Do you believe Mohammad’s experiences were real?”

    TJ: “Lot’s of people have claimed they had experiences. But how many people have been willing to die because they wouldn’t deny those experiences? That is what makes these unique.”

    Every martyr for their religious beliefs. It’s actually not that uncommon.

    I noticed you didn’t answer the question. Do you think Mohammad was telling the truth about his experiences? Or did he just make the whole thing up?

    How about Joseph Smith?

  16. http://www.merriam-webster.com/dictionary/faith

    None of the three definition include lack of evidence or lack of proof.

    http://www.thefreedictionary.com/Faith

    None of these include lack of proof or evidence either

    It is silly for you claim we mean something, when we are the people making the statement. We know what we mean. Why are you insisting we mean something else. Why don’t you simply say, “I don’t find your evidence convincing?”

    Proof fyi is an unrealistic standard to rationality in all sectors of life. Hardly anything in this life has “proof”.

    • http://www.merriam-webster.com/dictionary/faith

      “None of the three definitions include lack of evidence or lack of proof.”

      You are wrong. Look under “Full Definition of Faith” on that page, section 2 b (1). Please let me know if you see what I see there: “firm belief in something for which there is no proof”

      http://www.thefreedictionary.com/Faith

      Look at the 2nd and 3rd blocks of definitions. Please confirm or deny that they contain:

      “4. (Theology) a conviction of the truth of certain doctrines of religion, esp when this is not based on reason” — in the 2nd definition block.

      “2. belief that is not based on proof.” — in the 3rd definition block

      “It is silly for you claim we mean something, when we are the people making the statement. We know what we mean. Why are you insisting we mean something else. Why don’t you simply say, “I don’t find your evidence convincing?””

      I’m not telling you what you mean when you say faith. You are trying to tell me that the word faith DOES NOT and NEVER means “belief without proof”. I know you think you have proof. I’ve said REPEATEDLY that I find your proof unconvincing, and I’ve several times tried to shift the discussion to that proof. Someone identifying themselves as TJ even responded with 4 points of evidence and I’m engaged with that person (presumably you) in discussing that evidence.

      Unfortunately, you keep demonstrating a combination of poor scholarship and stubbornness in insisting that one of the several definitions of the word “faith” doesn’t exist; going so far as to provide me links to definitions that include the very thing that you say isn’t there!

      After all that, do you really expect me to take you seriously?

      • First you’re absolutely correct that is in the expanded section, which I neglected to look at.

        Second, I don’t think anyone here would say that there are no people who use the definition of faith: belief in something for which there is no evidence.

        If I have denied that, that was a mistake. People clearly do use that as a definition. My point and I think everyone else’s point on this forum is that, when we use it in relation to our beliefs we do not use that way.

        The reason I said, “why don’t you just say I don’t find your evidence convincing?” Is that from my perspective it looks like you’re trying to foist 1 of about 7 definitions of faith on us. Doing that doesn’t seem to make sense when we clearly aren’t using faith like that.

        I fully realize we were engaged in discussing some of the evidence 🙂

        • My apologies TJ, if I carried some of my frustration about the conversation with skwilliamsss over into our own conversation. SK is clearing denying that, I’m glad you aren’t.

          Perhaps you and I can just resume our conversation about the evidence 🙂

          • I only deny that Faith i a Religious Sense is beelif without evidence because that’s not actually TRue.

          • “I only deny that Faith in a Religious Sense is belief without evidence because that’s not actually True.”

            Great. Then lets discuss your evidence. What do you believe about God, and what is your evidence to support that belief?

          • I’v discussed that sort fo thig ebfore. However, rught now we’re discusisng the definition fo the word Faith, and the word Atheism. Ut’s rather not appropriate to ask that in this specific discussion. No, that’s not a cop out, I just don’t liek shiftign focus.

          • “I’v discussed that sort fo thig ebfore. However, rught now we’re discusisng the definition fo the word Faith, and the word Atheism. Ut’s rather not appropriate to ask that in this specific discussion. No, that’s not a cop out, I just don’t liek shiftign focus.”

            Okay, I don’t know what else there is to discuss then. You believe you have evidence to support your beliefs. I’m skeptical that your evidence is sufficient to constitute “proof” and suspect that your faith is the blind kind, help without proof. But you won’t offer that evidence. I don’t see where we go from here.

          • “Yes, but we don’t have the direct words of any of the people who were his disciples. We have those stories as collected, compiled, and told by believers long afterwards. It’s certainly supporting evidence, but it’s rather weak. It’s sufficient for unremarkable claims, such as Jesus’s existence as a person, or that he taught certain things, or that he was crucified by the Romans. It’s not sufficient for the remarkable claims, such as the occurrence of miracles that define the laws of physics (turning water into wine, creating loaves and fishes from thin air, or rising again after being dead for 3 days).
            e don’t have the direct words of any of the people who were his disciples. We have those stories as collected, compiled, and told by believers long afterwards. It’s certainly supporting evidence, but it’s rather weak.”

            Actually we most likely do have words from Jesus and his disciples. But crucially what we have are the fact that they died for their beliefs. It is pretty historically obvious what they believed, and they clearly died for it. This is true even if we didn’t have words.

            You say it was a long time afterwards. Not by the standards usually used in study of the time period. Do you know when the first biography of Alexander was written in comparison with his death?

            300 years. Compare that to Jesus who has 4 biographies likely written within 70 years of his death. This is in addition to Paul writings which predate the Gospels and they contain creeds and traditions about his life which go back even further. Bart Ehrman has said about the 1 Corinthians 15 creed that it is very very early after the crucifixion maybe as early as two weeks. This is remarkable evidence when we compare it to what we would expect from that time period.

            We need to have a separate discussion about what constitutes good enough evidence I think…

            “Paul regarding his conversation with God are indistinguishable from the claims of Mohammad or Joseph Smith. That is, they all rest upon a known historical figure writing about their own experiences with something that is outside normal human experience. They all exhibited changes in their behavior afterwards. Joseph Smith suffered persecution for his beliefs, including being imprisoned and murdered by a Christian mob. Just above, you told me people aren’t generally willing to die for their beliefs if they know them to be false.”

            Pointing out multiple similarities doesn’t make these things equivalent. I’ve listed some of the crucial differences below

            First, the evidence I’m citing isn’t simply Paul. Remember the four facts. The disciples had experiences they actually thought were risen Christ

            Regarding Joseph Smith
            A) Paul had nothing to gain unless his message was true…remember polygamy in the Mormon church? Joseph Smith got women, wealth, and prestige from his stories.
            B) Joseph Smith is a known fraud and liar, Paul was not. What false statements did Paul make in his letters?
            C) Paul thought he was going to his death multiple times….Joseph Smith thought he was going to prison…not be killed.

            Mohammed’s experience is distinct from Paul’s in multiple ways.
            A) when Mohammad first had the experiences he thought he was possessed by a demon.
            B) As a result of Mohammed’s revelation he got women, wealth, and prestige.
            C) As far as I know Mohammad didn’t repeatedly exposed himself to death for his belief the same way Paul did
            D) Mohammad said many things which verify that he was a false prophet.

          • TJ, you are just repeat the same points. I addressed the “four facts” earlier. The are, in my judgement, insufficient to constitute proof that God exists, or that Jesus came back from the dead.

            While they may not be identical or equivalent to the claims of Mohammed or Joseph Smith, they are in the closely in the same evidentiary realm general realm — they are reasonable and convincing for someone who already believes, and uncompelling for someone who does not already believe and wants to look at evidence.

            Alexander the Great is a wonderful comparison, thanks for bringing it up. Did Alexander the Great’s biographers make any extraordinary claims about him? Anything that would go against the laws of nature? Such as, say, him dying then rising from the dead?

            Would you believe those claims if they did?

            Did his biographers make claims about specific things that he said?

            If so, would you believe that they captured his specific words just as well as if they had been written down or recorded as they were said, with no room for distortion or inaccuracy?

            I wouldn’t.

  17. You are acknowledging the differences I pointed out it seems. You just still maintain they are so similar to Smith and Mohammed that it doesn’t matter. Is that correct? I disagree, but I think it doesn’t matter when it comes to assessing a event in the past. The evidence for each event has to be weighed on it’s own merits.

    When we accept given historical facts we need to come up with an explanation for those facts. That explanation should be a better explanation in that it has better explanatory scope (the amount of facts it explains) explanatory power (the facts follow from explanation as highly likely) It shouldn’t be ad hoc. The explanation should be more plausible given the background knowledge that we have. It should illuminate other solutions to problems unrelated to the event in question.

    So far I’m not sure if you have been attacking the facts or trying to provide an alternate explanation of them. But to go through and actually do the historical work requires figure which things you think were facts then providing a explanation that meets the above criteria. If you accept the four facts let me list them for clarity

    1) Jesus died by crucifixion
    2) The disciples had experiences they thought were the risen Jesus
    3) skeptics Paul and James the brother of Jesus were converted
    4) The tomb Jesus was buried in was empty

    then it is up to you to explain those facts with another explanation other than resurrection, if you want to say there is a better explanation, of course. You can obviously ignore it too. That alternate explanation must meet the criteria of a good historical explanation listed earlier. That is how historical study is done.

    But maybe that isn’t really why you don’t find it convincing. Because if God exists then the resurrection is obviously possible. If God doesn’t exist then obviously no amount evidence is sufficient to suggest he acted in history.

    Let me clarify these particular area’s in which I think you may have misunderstood what I was trying to say.

    “TJ, you are just repeat the same points. I addressed the “four facts” earlier.

    You had stated, “Paul regarding his conversation with God are indistinguishable from the claims of Mohammad or Joseph Smith.”

    My point about the 4 facts was more that Paul’s experiences are not similar to the other’s mentioned because there were collaborating other experiences and a unique context for his experience. I fully realize you don’t find those facts indicative of anything abnormal. However, both Mohammed and Smith’s experiences were out of the blue and the experience was not had by others. Paul’s was in the context of 1) Jesus having just been killed by crucified 2) Other people had experiences of the risen Jesus as well 3) There was an empty tomb

    The conclusion being; This is yet another significant difference being Paul’s experience and Mohammed and Joseph Smith’s.

    My point with Alexander the Great was that the stuff written about him is way way later. You had stated,

    “Yes, but we don’t have the direct words of any of the people who were his disciples. We have those stories as collected, compiled, and told by believers long afterwards.”

    I was demonstrating how false that is when compared to the standards usually used by historians when looking at that time period.

  18. Wow. Just wow. Make one lighthearted truthful statement & a conversation gets resurrected after 4 months of dormancy. Reading back, I guess there was some sarcasm in there, so apologies. Your conversation is definitely humorous though. So many people so set on making others believe what they type in a comment discussion on a blog (any blog for that matter). So much ego & pride here; from both sides. “Jesus Christ can afford to be misunderstood; we cannot. Our weakness lies in always wanting to vindicate ourselves.” Oswald Chambers. Mr/Mrs atheist; did we hurt your feelings or offend you by attacking your faith in nothing? What is the purpose for you striving to “convert” people of God to your “lack of belief”?

  19. #1, your main problem is that you really don’t seem to grasp the concept of “probably” and “probably not”.

    #2 not everyone is necesarily a cookie cutter cliche of their people (there are conservatives that like black people, liberals that like guns, Muslims that eat pork etc) and, quite frankly, if you ARE a walking cookie cutter cliche, I pity you.
    [
    #3 Dawkind already explained all that, he invented The Dawkind Scale and put himself at 6.9. He has often said that there is “almost certainly no god” but never said “there is definitely no god”. Granted, the difference is tiny and nitpicky, but if you didn’t want to get into tiny nitpicky semantics you should have moved on.

    #4 YES Agnostics and Atheists overlap!

    #5 Atheism has nothing to do with “foundation for believe in reality”. Atheism is what we DON’T what we DO believe is Science, logic etc. Nothing to do with Atheism.

  20. For all the atheists reading…. let’s go to RationalWiki

    Methodological naturalism is the label for the required assumption of philosophical naturalism when working with the scientific method. Methodological naturalists limit their scientific research to the study of natural causes, because any attempts to define causal relationships with the supernatural are never fruitful, and result in the creation of scientific “dead ends” and God of the gaps-type hypotheses. To avoid these traps scientists assume that all causes are empirical and naturalistic; which means they can be measured, quantified and studied methodically.

    However, this assumption of naturalism need not extend beyond an assumption of methodology. This is what separates methodological naturalism from philosophical naturalism – the former is merely a tool and makes no truth claim; while the latter makes the philosophical – essentially atheistic – claim that only natural causes exist.

    PHILOSOPHICAL NATURALISM is the CLAIM and BELIEF that there is no supernatural cause…a.k.a. God.

    It’s straight from the mouths of atheists. I go into more detail with my video:

    Why honest historians are forced to lie about the Bible

    • You need to consult a proper historian regarding Thallus. Once you have done that, then you will be in a better position to discus the veracity of this claim.
      Try Carrier.

      • The term “Proper Historian” doens’t apply to Richard Carrier. He allows his biases toget in the way. and its not just that he’s an Atheist who says thing I don’t liej which prompts this respone he has a low H Index and isn’t taken seriosuly in Academia. Jheck, even his “Peer Reviewed” book is a joke, the Ppeer Review was doen by his Publisher.

        Carrie isn’t a credible or reputable soruce for anything. He even makes basic mistakes, such as his claim that America’s Foudners were not at all influcnedby the Bble and were instead influnced by one Greek hilosopher, or his idiotic Jesus Myth thesis. Oh. he also pushes the ‘Hiter was a CHristain motivated by Christainity” bit. And giess what? These were things he opushed before he got hsi degree and that were ommon on Atheist websites long ago.

        If you want to now of Thallus, read a real Historian, or Thallus himself, not Carrier, Carrier is a joke.

        • @SK WIlliams

          Carrie isn’t a credible or reputable soruce (sic)for anything.
          Carrier is a joke.

          While I acknowledge Professor Carrier can be somewhat pedantic at times, I can’t see how leveling ad hominems at him improves your own credibility. Are you an historian?

          If you want to now of Thallus, read a real Historian, or Thallus himself

          ,

          I cannot think of a single historian that would credit the goings on surrounding the biblical story of the crucifixion as historical and neither the resurrection for that matter.
          However, your comment seems to suggest that you know of an historian who does consider these events actually happened. Could you offer me a couple of historians you recommend?

          I am surprised over your statement regarding Thallus. I was unaware we have extant texts from him. Please can you offer a link.

          Thanks.
          Ark

          • O didnt levie any Ad Homenems at him. Everythign I said is confirmable fact. He’s not taken seriosuly by Academia, he has a low H-Index to show thi, and he is seen as a joke. His arguments are easy to dispell, too, with basic internet no less.

            And I am a Psychologist and Religisu STudies degree holder.

          • You said Carrier was a joke. This is an ad hominem.
            So perhaps you simply don’t understand the term, ad hominem?

            Can you substantiate your claim that he is not taken seriously by academia with at least a reference to a noted academic in a relevant field?

            Also I am still waiting for you to name an historian regarding, Thallus and also a link to the extant texts of Thallus you alluded to.

            As you are claim you are a religious degree holder I am going to presume you simply forget to include this in your previous comment.
            Please include these links in your next reply. Thanks
            Ark.

          • Calling Carrier a joke is not an Ad Homeneim, its an observation. That’s exactly hwo he’s treatd in the Acdemic World. ALso, peopel in Academia rarly say “So and so is a joke”, but you can gauge how seriously they take someones work by the afoerementioend H-Index.

            He’s not cited very foten at ll. In fact, he has so few citations, and few relativ to Time elapsed, that Fringe Theories who talk about globaist conspiracies yet managed to get degrees often have higher H-Indexes than him,and I can name names there.

            As for thallus, a few Years ago I fodun an onlien site for the fragments. Thalllus’s completw works is lost to us, but 8 Fragments remain. However, the one and only online soruce is missing. I’;l be bakc later if you can remidn em tomorrow to post some respruces offline.

          • No, I don’t think I will remind you. You need to learn to write with more clarity and your approach to history and Carrier suggest your background in theology has coloured your ability to make rational judgments.
            Thanks all the same.

          • Ark, if you think my background in Theology has biased me, then aren’t you being biased yourself? One thing I get really tired of is Militant Atheists saying that Religion clouds peoples Minds, but hey, they “Merely lack belief in a god’ so can’t be biased, when obviously they are.

            I’m not biased here, and can appreciate real Scholarship from Atheists, even Scholarship I disagree with. For example, you won’t see me say the same things I say f Carrier that I say of, for example, Bart Ehrman or Noam Chomsky, and the Reason is, both of them are actual Scholars presenting a legitimate view based on real evidence fairly presented. Even when I disagree with them, I see the validity of their position.

            But read Carriers work. It’s obvious from his work that he is simply writing polemic against Christianity and using his degree and a few tricks to give weight to arguments you’ve seen on Atheist websites for years now, from the Jesus Myth Theory, to the American revolution was not influenced at all by Christianity, to Hitler was a Christian, it’s all aimed at attacking Christianity, by undermining its Historical basis, and by linking it to evils and removing it from any good. (Of ovruse this assumes the Revolution was good but I digress, Carrir obvious does see it that way.)

            I don’t need to write more clearly. I’m being clear. I didn’t have Time yesterday to do a proper post, so asked if you could remind me today so I wouldn’t forget. But now I want to address this.

            What makes Carrier a Credible source to you?

            Other than his degree, what makes his actual work credible?

          • There is no evidence whatsoever for a single foundational tenet of your religion. Thus, if you truly accepted the validity of the position of people like Ehrman you would not be a Christian.

            And Carrier’s take on Thallus was legitimate.
            You did not provide any further evidence of any extant documents or anything else to back the claims which remain spurious.

            Thanks.

          • ARK, you didn’t answer my question. You opted instead for bullying and personal attack, and it seems from them you don’t even understand what I’ve said. For example, saying someines position is “Legitimate” is not sayign tis correct, or even sayign I agre with it. I even said I don’t agree with CHomsky or Ehrman a lot of the Tme. But I see thir work as Legitimate.

            DO you see the difference?

            Also, you didn’t really answer my question. WHy do you see Carriers work as credible?

            For example, you say his work on Thallus is Legiitimate. Well, why do you say this? WHat, exactly, make shis work Legitimate?

            The same can be asked of his wother works.

            SO again, why is Carrier’s work seen as credible and legitimate by you?

          • You cannot claim that Ehrman’s perspective is legitimate and then deny what he is telling you.
            Well, you can of course, but this suggests willful ignorance on your part or maybe you are not being quite as truthful as you would like me to believe?

            As an example. I see no legitimacy whatsoever in Creationism and thus do not entertain it, no matter how erudite it is presented.

            I consider his essay on Thallus to be legit because he presents the argument in the way that any genuine historian would present.

            So again, what about those extant texts you mentioned?
            Or maybe an historian of your choice that can support the claims made in the video?

          • Ark, we’ll get back to my claims in short order, but first you have to answer my question. I want to know specifically what makes Carriers Thallus arguments credible. Saying he presented them as any legit Historian would isnt enough, I want details as to why he’s credible.

            DO you have those?

            Also, just because I can accept that people can have valid Reasons for believing X doesn’t mean I have to accept X as well. What you’re saying is if I disagree with something I can’t see it as something a Rational person can believe, which is nonsense.

  21. I dnt’ see my previosu rep;y. I’l be brifn btu sya this again. Richard Carrier is a joke. He may have a Historical Degre, but he’s been cauht mang obviosu blunders and a lot of his claims are just self serving polemic that’s easy to discredit using basic soruces.

    Carrier disagrees with the bvast, overwhelming majoriy of Historians on many topics and his evidence is laughabley weak.

    SO no, lets not tyy Carrier.

  22. Ark, we’ll get back to my claims in short order, but first you have to answer my question.

    In fact, I don’t and as you objected to Carrier’s presentation based largely on the assertion that he was a joke and I should read a proper historian and also made mention of the extant Thallus texts then the onus is on you to provide the information that backs your clams and refutes what Carrier has written.
    So far you have done neither.

    And I will add, I am more than willing to read any historian you care to name regarding this matter.
    So, now you know what you need to do to move this discussion forward.

    Ball’s in your court, my friend.

    • You know, ever since VIctor STenger decided to redefine Atheism as a mere lack of beleif in a god as opposed to a beleif that no gods exist in order to claim only Theosts have the Burden of Proof, the idea of gettign out of somethign by claiming the other bloke has the Burden of Proof and not the “Atheist’ has grown. But hwo does that apply to this situation?

      I am askign you a direct quetion about why you Trust Carriers work and judgement given the obvious biases he carries and how his prejudicial ideals have been proven to be a driving force behind his presentations.

      All I a askign here is why you Trust Carrier. And I don’t want a vauge “Because he presents his work liek a real, proffessional Historian” line, either. I get the same sort of responce from defeners of David Barton. ANd no, I don’t Trust Barton either and I also call him a Joke.

      This isn’t about Atheism VS THeism, its about why you have decided Carriers work is Legitimate.

      Now, I did say I’d provide more on Thallus, but before I do that, I just want to know why you think Carier is credible. I don’t see hwo that is unreasonable a syou told others ot rad Carrier.

      Given what you’ve said abotu how my backgroun in Thelogy clouds my Judgement and the tytpocal “Religious poepl are delusional and only select arguments ot prove their side, not base don Truth” refrain I’ve heard a lot, I know from expeirnce hat it doesn’t matter what I show you, as you’ll fall back on Crrier anyway. Even if you find you can’t do that here you’ll stll us ehim as a souce later on.

      SO before we begin I want to settle the matter f credibility. I want to know why you thinkl Carrier is Credble, in precice terms.

      Then I’ll give you the (really easy to find) materials on Thallus. (Seriosuly, you can do a basic search and find mostof it, and thanks to Babelfish you can Translate the German stuff, too.)

      SO come on, just give me a Reasn to buy that Carrier is anythign but a Polemisist writtign propaganda.

  23. Your completely unworkable definition of ‘Christian’ is no better than your critique of weak atheism. This is shallow, cliche, and simply unhelpful in all respects.

  24. […] There are a couple of problematic elements in Russell’s and Dawkins’ comments. First, they both assume that there is no evidence for God. At least, it seems that Russell’s presupposition is that there is no evidence, thus allowing for his analogy; and Dawkins appears to accept Russell’s analogy wholesale. Second, Dawkins claims (via Russell) that, since there is no evidence for God, theists are the only ones that bear the burden of proof. This reminds me of a similar strategy amongst some atheists that attempts the same result, i.e. placing the burden of proof squarely on the theist’s shoulders. To read more on that, see “Why Atheism Is Not a Lack of Belief.” […]

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