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Theism versus Atheism

  1. Feb 12, 2007 #1
    We are confronted with a weird fact of human history that the way we think about the world is (more or less) divided into (roughly) two categories (well there are more, but for the sake of argument let's reduce it to these two) of thought, namely theism and atheism.

    This already confronts us with the fact that theism posits itself as a positive, supposedly it admits a positive fact about the world, and atheism is then defined as the negative of that, which then supposedly admits to a negative fact about the world.

    That is not how I see things.

    I wonder why this would be the case, since one can think of the roles of these reversed, in that in fact atheism admits to a positive fact about the world, the fact that there is a world, and can not and never be not a world, while the theist in fact brings that fact in serious doubt if not straight out brought as a negative that the existence of the world (in all time and all space) is not a sure fact, in that it places the world in a position that it lacks something, namely a self-sufficient cause of existence, and that only by an act of a creator of some sort, this then could be "fixed".

    So, in fact the theist admits the negative fact that the world itself lacks reason for it's own existence, and must be given that by a creator.
    The atheist however sees the world as a consistent fact in which the world nothing misses for it's own existence, but is self-sufficient. It already contains it's own reason of existence, which is given to us by the fact that it exists.

    The atheist has the trust that a self-sufficient world without a need of some external cause to exists. The world can be trusted. Our mind my fool us.
    The theist however has some fundamental doubt about the world, in such a way that the theist thinks the world needs some external cause for existing, which is then postulated in the form of a creator. The reason why the theist doubts the world so much, is that it doubts itself, because it is unable or unwilling to perceive of the natural relationships that exist, in which mind is only temporal and the world itself eternal. It is the thought of a seriously troubled mind, which sees itself in the wrong perspective towards the world, that it puts the normal causal relationship in the wrong order. It is a thought based on fear, rather then acceptance of the natural world order, it is a mind not in agreement withitself, and in serious doubt and despair.

    Instead of the natural given relationship in which for every mind that exists it is the case that world already existed before that mind existed, it has the opinion that mind was already there before there in fact was a world.
    This is however just something that the mind can think and deceive itself into (it can create that thought) but is not the truthfull relation as we know exists, and this thought does not change one bit in how the world realy exists.

    Our mind just produces thought, and although we have unlimited freedom of thought, the restriction is that thought does not produce anything outside itself, ie. it does not change anything in the world.
    For a significant part our material existence and biological functions, needed for our existence, are regulated by the brain on it's own, without us bothering to be aware of (unless we are made aware of it). In the ultimate sense, the material organ of the brain is the ground for us having a mind and be able to think. The thinking itself establishes itself at the basis of all the different material relationships within the brain that enables it to operate that way, and we do not even know how it does that exactly. We do not even need to have the knowledge how that all operates, because it does not in any way limit us to use our mental and bodily functions.

    The world itself is in no way dependent on our mind. Whatever thought we produce in our mind, the world is not in any way different because of it. The relationship is directly inverse, our mind is directly dependend on the world itself. Without a brain, we would not be able to think, our mind would not exist, etc.
    The world does not have a choice of existence, it rather simply exists. The world does not deceive us, we can only in our mind deceive us self.

    So rather as recognizing the theist vision as a 'positive fact', as one that positively admits to a belief in god, and under which terms the atheist would only establish a negative fact of reality, that there is no god, the fact is that theism establishes a false relationship between us and the world, in which the world supposedly would not have self-sufficient reason of existence, so is rather clinging on a negative fact about reality. If, however, the world would not have self-sufficient reason of existing, the world would not have bothered to exist in the first place, which we know with our mind, is not the case, for no other reason then that the world itself contains sufficient reason for it's existence. This reason is given to us in conscioussness in the form of the existence of matter of which the world and everything in it is made and is spread out in space and time. Matter has no reason or cause of existing outside of itself.

    The atheist position is just establishing the positive and truthfull facts of existence and reality, that there positively is a world, which is independent of mind, and which forms the sufficient cause of our own (mindly and material) existence.
    Last edited: Feb 12, 2007
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  3. Feb 12, 2007 #2


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    I assume the parenthetical means that you wish just to consider those who affirm or deny deities, and not to consider those who do neither?

    "Ways we think about the world" seems to be a very tenuous label for the notions of atheism and theism -- but I won't argue, since you seem to have meant is that atheism and theism assert some hypothesis about the world.

    Well, no matter how you want to see things, you can't get away from the fact that atheism is literally the assertion that deities do not exist, and theism is literally the assertion that one or more deities does exist.

    No, no it doesn't. Where did you get that idea? An eternal "world" is not a requirement of atheism, nor is a noneternal world a requirement of theism. In either category, there are philosophies that swing either way on this question.

    Just what the heck is a "self-sufficient cause of existence"?
    Last edited: Feb 12, 2007
  4. Feb 12, 2007 #3
    You mean the agnostic? Well they are agnostic about either position.

    Yes, they are two opposing world visions.
    But perhaps I had better made the distinction at the basis of idealism (those that hold the position that mind is primary) and materialism (the position that matter is primary).

    They are defined in this way, yes.

    My reasoning was that you could change this to the assertion that the atheist holds the position that the (material) world already contains a self-sufficient cause of it's own (which therefore does not need a creator) and therefore takes a the positive position of the self-sufficientness of the world, and the theist acknowledges the world itself has lesser status, and could not exist apart from a creator/creation.

    An "eternal" world is a way in which the world is self-sufficient (does not need an external cause).

    It would seem to me that a theistic view of an eternal material universe is some overdone since an eternal material universe does not depend on anything else and doesn't need a creator.
    On the other hand an atheistic vision of a material universe that appeared for no reason from nowhere, would be in my vision something of an incomplete description.

    Well basically the world can be understood in two categories: that of mind and that of matter. An explenation of the world (that what is fundamental or primary to the world) can be either provided in terms of mind or of matter.
    Were we to give an explenation in terms of mind (as theists do) then mind has to be a self-sufficient cause, which therefore needs a creator which contains it's own cause.

    Otherwise when matter is to be considered primary, then obviously matter is a self-sufficient cause (there are no causes outside of matter itself).
  5. Feb 12, 2007 #4


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    Theism is not idealism, and atheism is not materialism. If you're making those assumptions, then you're arguing a strawman.

    But that doesn't change the fact that both philosophies make some "positive" and some "negative" claims. This sounds more like rationalizing than reasoning: you're trying to focus on the things you find aesthetically pleasing about atheism and pretend the displeasing things don't exist. (And the reverse for theism)

    (I use quotes around positive and negative, because I don't think it's a meaningful distinction)

    "Eternal" has nothing to do with whether it was created or not. If you meant to talk about a created world, then why didn't you say so?

    (And to be clear, when you say world, do you mean the entire universe, or all that exists, or something else along those lines? Or do you just mean Earth?)

    Surely it can be provided in terms of other things too? There are philosophies other than monism -- (and a third category of monism that is neither materialism nor idealism)

    What theists? Every creation account I've read says that something was created, or shaped from other material, or something along those lines. (Of course, there probably are religions that take an idealist point of view, but I'm not familiar with them)

    Allow me to repeat one of the questions I asked:
    I ask that, if you intend to answer this question, then do so with an answer, instead of going off on a tangent.
    Last edited: Feb 12, 2007
  6. Feb 12, 2007 #5
    I thought I had answered that, and that "self sufficient cause" is self explaining.

    But ok, what I mean is this, if for example matter would depent on something other then itself, it would not have a self-sufficient cause.
    Mind is for example not a self-sufficient cause, we need to explain that in terms of matter.
  7. Feb 12, 2007 #6

    Math Is Hard

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    "Self-sufficient cause" is still troubling to me in definition here. Does it mean:

    1) Something causes itself -- Brings itself into existence?
    2) Something needs no cause because it has always existed?
  8. Feb 13, 2007 #7
    The latter.
  9. Feb 13, 2007 #8
    I know very few "Athiests" and a lot more "Agnostics".

    It would be better to compare a Gnostic to Agnostic view rather than the more artificial Theist to Atheist.

    The definition of Gnostic is to Know, have knowledge, therefore you divided your groups between those who feel they know enough to believe in God and those who feel they do not know enough to believe in God, rather than this black and white, God exists, God does not exist situation.

    You have arbitarily removed possibly the majority of your analysis set by only considering two extreems.
  10. Feb 13, 2007 #9


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    I could have tried to infer what you meant from your response, but the whole point of asking you the question is so that I know what you mean, rather than simply trying to guess at it.

    And I would have guessed wrong -- I would have assumed from it's name that a "self-sufficient cause" is a kind of cause, rather than a phrase asserting that no cause is necessary, as you indicate in post #7.

    Certainly a materialist would agree with you, but not an idealist. An idealist would say that matter is what needs to be explained in terms of the mind.

    Wait, why are we talking about the mind anyways? Theism is not idealism. Was the intent of this thread to talk about atheism vs theism, or to talk about materialism vs idealism?

    Incidentally, what are the criteria for determining whether something needs a cause or not? (And why is it relevant?)
    Last edited: Feb 13, 2007
  11. Feb 13, 2007 #10
    It boils down to that the position is that matter does not need a cause outside of itself.

    That's right. They are fundamentally different positions on what is primary, matter or mind.

    It seems it is already mixed up.

    It is dependent on what you define in your philosophical system to be primary. For instance, in materialism, matter is primary. In Idealism, mind is primary.
  12. Feb 13, 2007 #11
    What is aesthetically pleasing of course depends on what position one reasons from.
    I just try to show that you could reverse the position by not focusing on that one position claims a postive (God) and the other claims it's opposite, by explaing that for theism the material world is incomplete (misses a self-sufficient cause), while the other position does attribute this to the world itself (it does not relent on anything else).

    If matter hadn't a self-sufficient cause, it would depent on something apart from matter (for instance mind) it would then be so to say a creation of this other thing (mind).
    The way in which matter does not need a cause outside itself, so that it has a self-sufficient cause, is because matter is eternal.

    "world" is all what exists.

    I don't know exactly, but are that entirely different things, or can that be reduced to either matter or mind?

    At some point theism also need to explain where matter came from.
  13. Feb 14, 2007 #12
    In general, I can get behind the idea that positive/negative designations are arbitrary and subjective. To use this to redefine the distinction between theism and atheism is mistaken, though.

    Theism and atheism, each being the negation of the other, leave no middle ground between them. Each describes the set of a person's beliefs with respect to the particular belief in the existence of deities. Either you have a belief or you do not...it is binary. Essential to theism is the belief in the existence of one or more deities, so the negation of this (atheism) is to NOT have that belief. It is overreaching to equate this lack of belief with belief in the absense of deities. Absense of belief is not belief in absense.

    But what if we came at it from the other direction and imagined that atheism were limited to the belief in the non-existence of deities? The negation of this (theism) would then be characterized by the lack of belief in the non-existence of deities. This version of theism would include people who lack belief either way.

    Such people who lack belief either way must belong in one or the other camp, since there is no middle ground between theism/atheism. It seems obvious to me that the claim that theism requires belief in deities is more justified than the claim that it does not.
  14. Feb 14, 2007 #13


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    If you change the meanings of the words, you can prove anything you like. But it will mean nothing to the rest of us.
  15. Feb 14, 2007 #14
    The major defect in atheism is that it reduces a person to no more than a collection of atoms which has no purpose and no value. We need the concept of God to give us rights, purpose, and value. The atheistic values (or lack of values) of the communistic systems of the past made it easy to justify killing 100 Million people. After all, they were only rearranging atoms.
  16. Feb 14, 2007 #15
    Like our bodies depend on mind?
  17. Feb 14, 2007 #16


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    That is not a requirement of atheism. Some atheistic philosophies do this, some do not.


    And more importantly, is this relevant to heusdens thread?
  18. Feb 15, 2007 #17
    Heusdens thread is an argument to view atheism as more enlightened than theism. Atheism: positive. Theism: negative. If one does a 'reality check' it seems that neither one can be empirically varified. The agnostic view is the only legitimate view empirically. Atheism/Theism is not part of the scientific method.

    The VALUE approach is a much more enlightened way to evaluate which is more positive or negative. Since the vast majority of humankind believes in some form of theism, I would suggest that people find more value in theism than in atheism. This is a philosophically legitimate way to evaluate Atheism/Theism.

    Also, atheism presupposes that we know everything necessary to evaluate GOD, and hence, we can declare GOD dead. We do not even begin to have the knowledge to evaluate whether a Higher Power (which is generally viewed as GOD) exists or not. If one is to ontologically evaluate Atheism/Theism, one must have an adequate knowledge base.

    As a practical assessment: There are only two choices: The Higher Power is eventually either GOD or it is the STATE. We would do well to remember the atheistic model of communism when making this choice. What would Plato choose?
  19. Feb 15, 2007 #18
    I'm sorry but what happened in those communistic systems was totally independent of atheism. Hitler and Stalin were just simply madmen and had insane ideologies. It has nothing to do with atheism. It's amazing how many people think the two are related. And even with religion, you think killing of this sort doesn't happen?
    Last edited: Feb 15, 2007
  20. Feb 15, 2007 #19
    With regard to the communist world wide movement, it was who (thier own countrymen) was killed and the number killed (85-100 million) in the given time span (about 70 years) that was appalling. Hard to find a similiar experience in human history. It seems the more dedicated a government is to eliminating God, the easier it is for them to eliminate people.
  21. Feb 15, 2007 #20
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