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Rationalism vs atheism

  1. Dec 5, 2003 #1
  2. jcsd
  3. Dec 6, 2003 #2
    On the subject of logic, you might be interested in Tom's more in-depth study of it, in the thread called "Logic". As to the arguments toward atheism or theism, I think PF has abandoned discussion of such things. To believe in some form of theism, or to remain neutral (atheism) is a personal choice, and needn't be based on logic; it can be based on faith.
  4. Dec 9, 2003 #3
    Hmm. I think you mean agnosticism. Atheism is not neutral. I would argue that all three views can be based either on faith or logic. In other words the personal choice is how to apply faith and logic.

    I suspect that there are as many atheists who depend on faith as there are theists who do.
  5. Dec 9, 2003 #4
    Actually, "agnosticism" comes from the Greek word "gnosis" (which means "knowledge") along with the disclaimer "a". Ergo, the putting of the word "a" before the word "gnosis" indicates a lack of any certain knowledge. An agnostic doesn't believe anything.

    Actually, it is. If theism is the belief in a deity, then "anti-theism" would be the belief that there certainly is no such deity, and "atheism" (again with the disclaimer "a" before the Greek word "Theos" (which means "God")) is simply the lack of the definite belief in a creator. IOW, they don't take for granted that the deity exists, but don't take for granted that it doesn't exist either, since that would be "anti-theism".

    There are many anti-theists that depend on faith, and even more that depend on credulity (there is a difference, btw), and the same is true of theists. Atheists, OTOH, have faith in only one thing: that they haven't made up their minds on this issue yet.

    I'd also like to add that, from all that's been said in this post, it can be deduced that an agnostic, if presented with the issue of whether there is a deity or not, would take the atheistic stance, would s/he not?
  6. Dec 9, 2003 #5
    We must have different dictionaries. The Penguin Dictionary of Philosophy gives:

    Atheism: The view that there is no divine being, no God.

    Agnosticism: a theory according to which things within a specified realm are unknowable. Especially the view that we cannot know whether or not God exists.
  7. Dec 9, 2003 #6
    Your etymological breakdown of atheism is indeed correct; however, most people associate atheism with anti-theism Canute has pointed out. It's this reason that I choose not to apply social or political labels to myself, because outside of a discussion on the relative merits it serves only to ostracize.
  8. Dec 10, 2003 #7

    Ok, if a persons belief system can be an issue of faith, then why aim to pursue wisdom? What is wisdom? What is a fact? And why are facts more important than arbitrarily believing in whatever you please? Why not have faith that the earth sits on a turtle? Surely, faith can not be criticised?
  9. Dec 10, 2003 #8

    This depends on how you define, the slight differences between theism, atheism, and agnosticism.

    By default, if one can not say, "I believe in GOD," they are an Atheist, for at the core of the terms meaning, it means "without belief" in a "Deity." In this sense then, an Agnostic is an Atheist, because he does not have "an actual belief" with regards to the concept of a Deity. In this sense, yes, Agnosticism is another way of saying, "I dont believe in flying purple pigs."

    There is another side however to the term. The term Agnosticism is not really a stance, in the same way "an opinion" is a stance. To be agnostic in the true sense only means to acknowledge the fact that "one is ignorant of" a certain issue, mainly, with whether or not it is that case that within the vastness of the Universe, there is a phenomenon that justifiably deserves the name of "GOD." From this perspective, the term is not a stance in the same way a statement like "I believe in Aliens" is.

    To say, "i do not know," is not the same as, "i do not believe." People need to buy a dictionary, and learn words. There is nothing grammatically in correct in saying something like, "I am an agnostic Christian." Ones opinions about something, is not the same as ones knowledge about something. Hence, one can have as an opinion the view that 'Jesus Christ was the actual Savior of Humanity sent by GOD to rescue the dimwits from the Power of Lucifer.' Having this as a belief does not logically invalidate ones right to admit that such a view as a view is what it is, and not necessarily as anything more than that.

    Too many people confuse an opinion with a piece of fact. Knowledge are facts. Beliefs are opinions. Look up the terms in any standard English dictionary.
  10. Dec 11, 2003 #9
    But is that the only definition associated to atheism, by Penguin?

    Most dictionaries will list that as one of it's meanings, given that it's a common usage. Most also list 'A disbelief in god or gods.' with disbelief meaning 'not having or holding a specific belief' or 'refusal or reluctance to believe'. Both definitions of disbelief say nothing about holding the opposite belief.
  11. Dec 12, 2003 #10
    There is always some ambiguity with words, their meanings change over time for one thing. However I'm sure that current usage is as per the dictionary definitions I gave. Agnosticism is sitting on the fence, while atheism (and theism) is making your mind up. I take your point about the roots of the words (ammoral vs immoral for instance) but this seems to be what they have come to mean for most people, and how they're generally used.

    (Collins gives

    Agnostic: A person who holds that knowledge of a supreme being is impossible.

    Atheism: A rejection of belief in God or Gods. (from Greek 'atheos'- godless)
    Last edited: Dec 12, 2003
  12. Dec 12, 2003 #11


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    It's futile to argue with a dictionary but the Collins definition of agnostic bugs me. I called myself an agnostic for many years but I never held that knowledge of a deity was impossible, just that there was no evidence for it currently available. The Collins definition, like atheism, like theism, is making a large assertion about reality without any evidence.
  13. Dec 12, 2003 #12
    I think it's just that words are quite often inadequate to their task. Like you I used to consider myself to be an agnostic because I didn't know, not because I thought I couldn't know. I'm sure lots of people do the same. Normally this doesn't cause problems. However in metaphysical discussions a bit more care is needed to avoid misunderstandings, it actually matters to the discussion precisely what you mean. (For what it's worth I gave up agnosticism for atheism).

    Agnosticism is not an assertion when defined in a dictionary, just a term to name a belief that some people adopt. Philosopher of consciousness Colin McGinn for instance embraces 'mysterianism' which is much the same thing, and many belief systems are based on the unknowability of God. In a way Plato, Kant, Popper and others who deny the possibility of certain knowledge were agnostics in the Collins sense, and many agree with their views. Even Hawkings has written an essay entitled 'The End of Physics' in response to Goedel's proofs, and suggests that we can't ever know the Truth about reality for logical reasons. Technically I would say this was agnosticism.

    But I agree with you that we all use these words very imprecisely and their meanings are often ambiguous around the edges.
  14. Dec 12, 2003 #13
    Read your own definitions: Agnostic is one that holds knowledge of a supreme being is impossible - this says nothing about their beliefs as to the existence of said being, only that certainty, via knowledge is impossible. Belief is acceptance with little or no evidence, knowledge is certainty based on direct evidence.

    Atheist may reject a belief, but that is hardly the holding of an opposite belief. I reject the belief that you wear womens underwear (because I'm assuming you're male and probably well adjusted). But I don't hold that you don't wear it, as a belief (for all I know you could be female). I don't hold either because I have little evidence to accept either position.

    As far as atheism and beliefs you're taking a tri-state condition (belief in, belief in not, and no belief) and trying to fit it into two states (belief in, belief in not).
  15. Dec 12, 2003 #14


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    I like www.dictionary.com because it lists the definitions given by multiple dictionaries. So re: athiesm and agnostic, it only gives one definition for athiest in two different dictionaries (word for word identical until the last 3 words):

    -One who disbelieves or denies the existence of God or gods.

    For agnostic, it gives both definitions discussed above (from American Heritage):

    -One who believes that it is impossible to know whether there is a God.
    -One who is skeptical about the existence of God but does not profess true atheism.

    I also like the statement that its tough to argue against a dictionary. Yes, there is some ambiguity, but beyond that a definition is something you really can't argue against. It just is.
  16. Dec 12, 2003 #15
    I feel it is important to note that disbelieves and denies are not synonyms, here. One's a failure to believe, one is the belief in the contrary.

    I agree that both fall under a definition of atheist, but the latter is much more narrow than the former.
  17. Dec 13, 2003 #16
    We seem to agree.

    Sometimes it is, sometimes it isn't.

    Sometimes it is, sometimes it isn't. Sometimes people just use it to mean indirect scientific knowledge and so forth.

    Atheists believe that God does not exist. Full stop, end of story, and all dictionaries agree. What are you trying to say?

    You shouldn't reject a belief on the basis of an assumption. It's bad philosophical practice. You don't reject the belief, you just don't hold it.

    You'll never make a tabloid journalist thinking like that.

    Theism, atheism and agnosticism make three. Belief in, belief in not and uncertainty. There's some muddle but this is the usual and most convenient way of using the words.
  18. Dec 13, 2003 #17


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  19. Dec 13, 2003 #18
    Are you telling me that atheists claim that God might exist after all? I don't think many atheists here would agree. On the whole they claim he doesn't exist.

    What is your term for someone who claims God does not exist?
  20. Dec 15, 2003 #19
    This atheist does. Other than a few (obviously very few) online, how many people have you actually met, who consider themselves atheist?

    The vast majority of people that call themselves atheists, in the west, would accept that a god existed, if given some strong evidence.

    I, and many, many of the folks I've talked with on this and other forums (alt.atheism.moderated is a popular one), use the terms strong and weak atheism to denote those that 'believe' there is no god and those that have no belief, respectively. In my experience, with many years of debate on a number of forums, the weak atheists out-number the strong atheists at least 20 or 30 to 1.

    As mentioned above, strong atheist is the term used on most atheism/religion forums. Most atheist became atheists because they consider faith and strong beliefs a less rational position. That they would jump to the opposite belief is just as irrational.

    While I understand the contention that one definition and common usage of 'atheism' does match what you've stated, just your claim that it is the only definition doesn't change it, anymore than it changes the reality of what I do and do not believe. Atheism, as do many words, has more than one meaning. Each are valid.

    The reason those of us who consider ourselves atheist, state the definition is for clarity of discourse. Arguing semantics is somewhat inane. Assuming you don't accept the definitions we (and many dictionaries) give, I presume you accept our word concerning our own beliefs and lack thereof. If you can't accept what we are saying about our own lack of beliefs, then I would have to agree with FZ that this is a straw-man ploy, just being used to make your argument points easier to defend.
    Last edited: Dec 15, 2003
  21. Dec 15, 2003 #20
    I'm not making any argument, other than disagreeing with your use of 'atheism'. Still, language is use, as someone said.
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