Tuesday, November 16, 2010

Let Me Tell You--Vehemently, And In Great Detail--All About My Hobby Of Not Collecting Stamps

From the comments to this post:
"You get the argument that their position is different because it is a non-belief, rather like not collecting stamps."

This has always seemed silly to me. When an atheist claims that all atheism is is a lack of belief in god, and that therefore he makes no claims whatsoever and has no burden of proof in a discussion about atheism and theism, I ask him if he lacks belief for a reason. If not, then his position is non-rational, and not worth discussing. If so, then he does, it seems to me, make at least one claim, viz. his reason(s) justifies his lack of belief. If this is so, why is he not obligated to defend *that* claim?

The response I usually hear is, "well I lack belief because there's no evidence," to which I respond, "fine, but you must now tell me what you mean by evidence, what counts as evidence, and so on, and then defend the claim that there is no evidence for god's existence against some claims that such and such counts as evidence for god's existence, so you *still* have an obligation to defend your claim; oh, and you must use the term evidence consistently, so you cannot say that X isn't evidence for god because it fails to meet requirement R, but Y is evidence for this or that scientific theory (or whatever), if it too fails to satisfy requirement R."

Not only that, but if atheism is merely a lack of belief, then it's just a description of one's psychology: search all of S's beliefs, and you won't find the belief, "god exists." But then to say that Jones is an atheist is akin to saying that Jones has red hair. Notice, though, that while we can say it's true *that* Jones has red hair, it's meaningless to say, Jones's red hair is true (or rational, or probable, or warranted, etc.; but if this is the case, then it's just as meaningless to say that Jones's atheism is true (or rational, probable, warranted, etc.). But atheists tell us all the time that atheism is rational, etc. Hence, atheism cannot be merely descriptive, i.e. refer to a lack of belief merely.


Ilíon said...

So often, your very titles are an entire argument and refutation!

Stephen R said...

You are correct. Not believing anything in particular is not atheism, it is, perhaps, agnosticism.

Atheism is a specific belief that god does not exist.

(so says an atheist)

Ilíon said...

When one fully examines/grasps its logic and the implication thereof, agnosticism is the assertion (and belief) that *nothing* can be known.

Stephen R said...

Not necessarily. Agnosticism can also be "I don't claim to know" -- in the face of pretty much all other beliefs which ARE claims to know.

Ilíon said...

No matter what the subject matter, to stake out an agnostic position is never simply to say, "I don't claim to know." At the very minimum, it is to say, "I *choose* to form (or express) no opinion on the question."

Now, there are many reasons a person may choose to form (or express) no opinion on a question; non-exhaustively:
1) he may be wholly uninterested in the question;
2) he may think himself unqualified to hold an opinion;
3) he may be unconvinced by the arguments for or against the question;
4) he may actually have an opinion, but does not wish to defend it;
and so on. And, of course, these (and others) may combine in any individual’s rationale for adopting an agnostic stance.

And, frequently -- especially when the question is “Is God?” -- option (4) plays some important role in an agnostic stance.

And, when the question *is* “Is God?” the agnostic stance is generally much stronger than "I *choose* to form (or express) no opinion on the question," and is likely to be something like “And *you* have no epistemic right to hold/express an opinion, either.”

To assert that agnosticism is the proper stance with respect to whether God is turns out to be to assert that, in fact, no one may know anything about the world.

Now, you self-identifying atheists are every single one of you wrong on the God-question; and many of you (especially those who follow the Dawkins line and attempt to redefine atheism as making no positive epistemic claims) are intellectually dishonest, to boot. But the agnostics! Those people tend to combine a passive-aggressive self-righteous smugness with their intellectual dishonesty.