Atheism and Agnosticism

FYI: this post has been moved here.


  1. Someone once quipped that the Devil will be driven to distraction trying to create enough circles of Hell to accommodate all the different definitions of non-believers and will then go insane listening to the arguments on how he got the definitions wrong.

  2. The problem I have is that I happen to think that some words are very useful only if their precise definition is, quite intentionally, left vague and fuzzy. 'Atheism' is one such word. If you try to nail it down precisely you encounter all the problems the make people like Sam Harris lament that the word even exists.

    To my mind, the word 'atheistic' is applicable to anything that can't be described as 'theistic'. If something does not invoke, refer to, or depend on the concept of a supernatural entity then it is 'atheistic'. 'Atheism' is then just the position that this lack of referral is the proper way things should be.

    Now, paradoxically, by this definition, the concept of 'atheism' is perforce 'theistic' (this by the way is the gist of Harris' complaint with the word). I'm content with this paradox because it underscores in my mind the non-sensicality of the theistic premise.

  3. In the third chapter of The God Delusion, Dawkins explains the evidence and line of reasoning which has led him to conclude that "God almost certainly doesn't exist".

    I have a challenge for any Christian willing to take it up. Write down an explanation of the error of fact or logic which renders Dawkins' conclusion invalid. In doing so, you should address the specific line of reasoning which he follows, and demonstrate the flaw in it.

    By the way, thank you for demonstrating the point of my article, which is that Christians aren't prepared to accept atheists' own definitions of themselves.

  4. Jonathan West ,
    “demonstrating the point of my article, which is that Christians aren't prepared to accept atheists' own definitions of themselves”

    Pardon, I thought that pointing out that some atheists think that “the ‘atheist’ movement keeps shooting itself in the foot by failing to reach a consensus regarding the meaning of ‘atheism’” that mentioning atheism, strong atheism, positive atheism, explicit atheism, critical atheism, weak atheism, negative atheism, implicit atheism, Naturalists, Materialists, Rationalists, Humanists, Skeptics, Brights, Freethinkers, Philosophical Skeptics, Universists, Ethical Culturalists, anti-theists, militant atheists, activist atheists, and referencing the definitions of Charles Bradlaugh and even EvilBible.com was enough but apparently not.


  5. Mariano

    Quite frankly, that is wishful thinking on your part. There is one thing that all atheists agree on, and that is that the number of gods that they believe exist is zero. Nearly everything you read is essentially grammatical variations on this.

    For most atheists, their atheism is informed by their evaluation of the available evidence, and since many atheists are remarkably open-minded, they acknowledge that in principle it is possible that some new bit of evidence might appear tomorrow, no matter how unlikely this might be in practice. Therefore, amongst these grammatical variations, you will commonly see forms of words which are designed to communicate that atheism is not a faith position, but is open to revision in the event of new and contrary evidence becoming available.

    But as a religious believer, you are hardly in a position to lecture atheists on "failing to reach a consensus". The phone book in my city lists Church of England, Church of God of Prophecy, UK Church of God, Church of Jesus Christ of Latter Day Saints, Methodist, Roman Catholic, Ecumenical, Baptist, Church of Christ, Evangelical, Assemblies of God, Christadelphian, United Reform, Greek Orthodox, Full Gospel Revival and Pentecostal churches. All of them have different and to some extent mutually contradictory beliefs concerning God.

    In addition, we have Progressive, Messianic, Hebrew, Reform, and Sephardi synagogues, each with their own sets of beliefs. The mosques don't identify their affiliations quite so obviously by their names in the phone book (or alternatively, I'm not as familiar with the meanings of the names) but I would guess we have half a dozen or so variations amongst them as well.

    And even within single denominations you can have a wide range of mutually incompatible beliefs. So where is your consensus?

  6. Jonathan West,
    Good to hear from you again.

    Please note that the statement about atheists "failing to reach a consensus" was a quotation of a statement made by the atheist Jeffery Jay Lowder of the “Internet Infidels.”

    Thus, I was lecturing no such thing.

    But for FYI purposes: the Orthodox Church, Roman Catholic Church and Protestantism certain have some varying beliefs yet, each agree on the Nicene Cree and thus the overwhelming majority of Christians all over the world agree on essentials.


  7. I just did a web search of "Jeffery Jay Lowder" and "failing to find a consensus" and the only hits I got were people claiming that he had said that and quoting him. Would you mind providing a link to an article available online which Lowder actually wrote in which he says this?

    You see, through long experience I have found many examples of quote mining carried out by the religious who wish to make their words appear to carry more authority, so whenever I see such a quote, I always like to look at it in context. You'll be amazed (or perhaps you won't) at how often the quote is taken so thoroughly out of its context that it appears to say the exact opposite of what the author actually meant.

    As for Christians agreeing on the Nicene Creed, I'm afraid you are wrong there. The Orthodox and Western churches split over disagreements in the formulation of the Nicene Creed, specifically whether the Holy Spirit proceeds from the Father, or whether it proceeds from the Father and the Son.

    If you can offer any means at all by which this dispute could be arbitrated by reference to reality (e.g. by examining the Spirit and seeing what deductions can be made about where it proceeds from) then you can be a decisive figure in history - the person who re-united the Christian Church! But I don't expect it to happen any time soon.

    But even if you succeed, you might notice that I talked not merely of churches but of religious believers. After all, if God is going to assign you to everlasting bliss or torment on your death, it is quite important to know what he wants of you and therefore on what basis he's going to make that decision. If you've been following the Christian rules and it turns out that God is really the Muslim type and you should have made a pilgimage to Mecca, then you're going to be in deep trouble after you die.

    And yet the Muslims have some very different ideas about God and Jesus compared to those of the Christians. How do you know that you're right and they are wrong?

  8. Jonathan West,
    You will note that the name "Jeffery Jay Lowder" is hyperlinked. It links to “Freethought & Rationalism Discussion Board where he posted his statement. The page seems to no longer be functioning. Please write to them and enquire. Yet, in any regard; I was quoting him and not making my own statement.

    Sir, I am certain that you are too bright to play the quote mine accusation game against “the religious” as you are surely much too well aware that both sides are susceptible to that fallacy.

    The Orthodox and Western churches split over the interpretation not on the face value statement.
    Issues of philosophy of which theology is a branch are not the sort that are generally determined by reference to reality which is the very reason that they are, in nature, mental exercises.

    And if it turns out that there is not God then none of it matters—Christian, Muslim or Atheist—and all of our concerns about truth and ethics are merely quaint bio-chemical secretions by insignificant bio-organism’s on a pale blue dot in the universe’s backwaters.

    How do you know that I am right and they are wrong?
    How do you know that you are right and I am wrong?

    Please read these posts:
    On the Flying Spaghetti Monster, the Invisible Pink Unicorns, et al., part 4 of 4

    On the Qur'an’s Composition

    Misconceptions in Reason and History

    Who Was Abraham Told to Sacrifice, Isaac or Ishmael?

    Muhammad and Jesus

    For starters.


  9. Would you care to invite me to be a guest blogger in order to provide an answer at more length?

    If you make an answer to me by quoting 5 articles, I can hardly make a considered and reasoned response to them all within in the character limit imposed on comments here.

    After all, a reasoned debate between atheists and theists might help both reach a point closer to the truth, whatever it might turn out to be.

    You can contact me through the email address available in a link on my profile. You might think atheism is dead, but this atheist is very much alive and well and prepared to debate the issues with you.

    The exchange between us can also be published on my blog htttp://scepticalthoughts.blogspot.com, so your arguments will be able to reach a new audience of sceptics and atheists. Who knows, you might persuade some of them away from sordid materialism!

  10. It looks as if you aren't interested in a reasoned debate. Oh well.

    If you ever change your mind, post a comment on my blog at http://scepticalthoughts.blogspot.com. You will be very welcome.