Comment by Jhayes on April 29, 2013 at 5:55pm

Anthony: Thank you for conciseness. Conciseness is not one of my qualities.

Andrew: See Anthony's comment, and also...

"Science/observation have not proven God's nonexistence; they have only failed to prove his existence." Science/observation has not proven anything's nonexistence. But studies after studies have failed to prove many things, such as the existence of a flat earth, the existence of a fountain of youth, the existence of little green men living on Mars, (recently) the existence of a link between autism and vaccinations and so many other things mankind has believed . The failure to find evidence for something in scientific study is evidence (not proof) that it does not exist. Your analysis to the contrary seems awfully stringent. Of course we don't prove god's nonexistence, but it is possible to determine through scientific observation a near-zero likelihood of something. Also, "I define a person's religion as the set of their religious beliefs." Well, then, I cannot tell you you're wrong, of course. For the same reason you can't tell me I'm wrong if I declare that a persons politics are defined by the set of their political beliefs, or their viewpoint by their points of view or a bachelor is always someone who is not married. Your ultimatum wins, but it is, of course, not an argument. But for sake of argument, add your definition of religious belief "as any beliefs someone assumes to be true with insufficient evidence." Again, this seems awfully stringent. The creationists love you: there is insufficient (fossil gaps) evidence that life evolves. Evolution must be religious, too, then? What about everyone who believes the moon landing was a hoax? I wasn't there. I didn't see it with my own eyes. Evidence gap?

Your arguments are fascinating, philosophical and academic, but they spin a trap. I think I see through it, and I argue that your trap is tied to your discussion of a priori. The math example is key: our understanding of math is completely irrelevant if our critical axioms turn out false. So is our understanding of all things science: we study things based on the assumption that our senses and observations describe reality. Of course, we may live in the matrix; philosophers and movie directors love for us to consider the potentiality of an alternate reality. Perhaps nothing we sense or observe is real. In the meantime, my only a priori assumption, my only axiom, is that mankind's understanding of reality is reality. And if that is the case, refer back to Anthony's above statement. At least in the reality that mankind tends to perceive, to seek evidence that a hypothesis is true and to find none is a good reason to set aside the first, and try a different hypothesis. If you like the superman super-intelligent dude in the sky hypothesis, go to it -- so many have before you -- and I'll join you if you find reason for me to bring it back to the forefront of potential reasons for/causes of our existence. In the meantime, my atheism is not religious. My atheism is based on scientific observation. My scientific observation is based on the assumption that mankind's fundamental composite perception is reality. If we live in the matrix, so be it. But I won't agree with you if you claim that my belief that we don't live in the matrix is religious, anymore than I'll agree that to believe that there is no god is religious. If you bring this discussion into the realm of metaphysics, then reality may not be reality, religion may be science, science may be religion, and the linguists are babbling incoherently.

Comment by Andrew on April 29, 2013 at 9:27pm

"there is insufficient (fossil gaps) evidence that life evolves." Fossil gaps do not make insufficient evidence that life evolves. They make insufficient evidence that life evolves along one particular line. In other words, if we know that organism A existed, followed by a fossil gap, then that organism Z existed, and I claimed that the evolution followed the path A -> M -> Q -> X -> Z, then THAT claim would have insufficient evidence. Evolution merely claims "A -> ... -> Z." In fact it's even less specific: it doesn't claim that A did evolve into Z but merely that it could have.

The theory of evolution is actually a bad example for you to use there, since it's actually more akin to math than science, in that it can be proven from two basic principles/axioms: Survival of the Fittest (SotF) and Genetics. Evolution is a purely logical conclusion once you accept those two. It falls upon science to prove that genetic theory is correct via experimentation. SotF actually can be mathematically proven, too, although it's absolutely trivial: the organisms/genes most likely to survive will be the ones with the highest probability of survival, QED. 

Comment by Andrew on April 29, 2013 at 9:41pm

"my atheism is not religious" I can't fully disagree with you on that one, but from what you described, I think your atheism would be better titled, "agnosticism," seeing as you continue to recognize that the (non)existence of God is something that cannot be inherently known, but rather is to be doubted until the evidence proves otherwise. But I won't continue about that since I feel like I may be repeating myself.

The one thing that can reconcile the point-of-view you've described to me with the word "atheism" is the rejection of objective reality altogether in favor of a subjective reality. I say this because you said, "my only axiom is that mankind's understanding of reality is reality." I've understood this as meaning that nothing outside of reality can even exist, because its existence would be utterly meaningless. In this "subjective reality" viewpoint, to be an atheist it merely suffices to have never seen/observed evidence for God's existence. But if you take an "objective reality" viewpoint and claim that un-observed things still exist/occur, then I posit that one of those unobserved things could be God, however unlikely that may seem to you. Personally I flip-flop back and forth between these subjective/objective points of view on reality, which is why depending on my mood I may identify as agnostic or atheist.

Comment by Jhayes on April 30, 2013 at 12:21am

And thus concludes a conversation that I thought I was having with an intelligent being. You claim that an agnostic is one who conceptualizes the null hypothesis. Bullshit. The ability to conceptualize the null hypothesis is basic; it takes intelligent analysis to derive knowledge from observation. 

Comment by Andrew on April 30, 2013 at 10:06pm

Not sure what you mean by "conceptualize the null hypothesis"

Whatever it is you're meaning to say, there's no reason to phrase it so rudely.

Also keep in mind that this thread was dead for about a month and a half before yesterday's post, and no, I did not reread it, so I acknowledge my arguments may have been a bit rusty.

Comment by Jhayes on April 30, 2013 at 11:16pm

Sorry. I may have been rude. But it became obvious to me that you are not debating whether atheism can be separate from religion as much as you are insisting that we all have to be agnostic because we can't know what lies beyond reality. If that is the case, I go back to my original argument. My cat is agnostic. I am not. I use objective scientific method, logic and analysis to arrive at a conclusion that the existence of a god is as likely as the earth being flat, a teapot orbiting the sun or the great spaghetti monster having created everything. And you flipflop between agnostic and atheist based on your mood and insist that a possible thing that could exist unobserved might be god. Yup. In fact everything unobserved could exist. How can I have a conversation with that? You understand my frustration. Stop trying to figure out why I either have to be agnostic or religious, and instead figure out what you are and why. I believe your biggest problem lies in semantics. You confuse agnosticism with "an inability to know for certain" and atheism with "a certain knowledge that there is no god". Neither of these are true. And as long as you insist they are, this debate is moot.

Comment by Strega on May 1, 2013 at 12:08pm

May I interject for a moment on this very interesting exchange?  I have just been reading Robert Ingersoll's essay on "Why I am an Agnostic" and I feel that his thoughts may provide interesting supplemental interpretations of the Agnostic/Atheist debate.

Towards the end, he says,

If there be gods we cannot help them, but we can assist our fellow-men. We cannot love the inconceivable, but we can love wife and child and friend.

I think personally that this conclusion he draws is a good one, but his essay is very, very readable.  When I came across it I had only planned to skim it but it drew me in and it turned out to be a delightful read.  I do feel it shines some light on the more difficult aspects of differentiation of the two terms, Atheist and Agnostic.

Comment by Jhayes on May 1, 2013 at 2:06pm

Thanks, Strega. Ingersoll's essay is beautiful, deep, thorough, poetic, and nothing short of genius. I shouldn't dare make assumptions, but for the sake of argument, I wonder: would Ingersoll, 110 years later, during a time when religious wars and mindless murders are rampant and revolutionary media technology brings terrorists into every home in real time -- would Ingersoll, in a fundamentalist time, in which believers argue that atheism is religious, and to be agnostic is to admit that, unlike the fundamentalist who knows for certain, you really have no idea -- would Ingersoll have given the fundamentalists of the 21st century more reason to continue their fight against the non-religious by claiming they don't know? Or would he have said, in line with everything else he points out in this essay, that, while he cannot know that which he cannot disprove, "I do not believe" in a god. "I believe that the natural is supreme -- that from the infinite chain no link can be lost or broken -- that there is no supernatural power that can answer prayer -- no power that worship can persuade or change -- no power that cares for man." My understanding is that the meanings of the words agnostic and atheist are becoming more clearly defined in our age, and that an atheist is one who believes, like Ingersoll, through observation, logic and objective observation, that there is no supreme being, and an agnostic is one who cannot make up his/her mind. 

Comment by Andrew on May 1, 2013 at 8:54pm

"you are insisting that we all have to be agnostic because we can't know what lies beyond reality." Almost, but not quite: "agnostic" for me doesn't mean you can't know what lies beyond reality; it means that you realize and accept that you can't know what lies beyond reality, both in your mind and in your heart. A Christian can't know what lies beyond reality any more than I can, but I wouldn't call him an agnostic, b/c he doesn't realize/acknowledge that ignorance. It's possible that your cat does not realize/accept his/her own ignorance about metaphysical realities, so I won't make any claims about your cat's religion (I'm agnostic with regards to your cat's agnosticism, lol). 

"You confuse agnosticism with 'an inability to know for certain' and atheism with 'a certain knowledge that there is no god'" See above for "agnosticism", and for that definition of "atheism," I'd change "knowledge" to "belief."

Yes, it is getting down to semantics... that's where most debates go when you pick them apart fully. So the old adage goes, "the language controls the debate." 

"[today], when religious wars and mindless murders are rampant" I don't mean to be a contrarian, but this is a pet peeve of mine: today's society is actually no different from past societies in this regard. Religious war and mindless murder have been around as long as humankind (well, ever since Eve bit that apple ;D ). 

Comment by Anthony Dodd on May 1, 2013 at 9:03pm

Everyone is born an atheist...Each "soul" must be indoctrinated to make the huge jump to believing that the invisible sky god dictates who goes to "hell" and who goes to "heaven".  Apparently it means nothing to follow the words they claim are the words of "God"...Don't cut the corners of your hair/beard, don't get tattoos, if you rape someone, you have to marry them, the handicapped will not be welcomed in heaven...etc. etc. etc. 

The bible is a joke. If you believe what it says, you are a either a moron, or a hypocrite.  Pick one.

The bible is a joke. 

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