Getting agnostics to admit that they are atheists.

Strafio
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Getting agnostics to admit that they are atheists.

One of the things RRS seems to be interested is getting agnostics to admit that they are really atheists. I'm personally half way there, perhaps just one more intellectual stumbling block for me to cross before I feel comfortable considering myself an atheist. (we'll get to that in a bit)
There are reasons why agnostics distinguish themselves from atheists, and although these reasons are flawed (IMO) all that means is we need to get good at exposing these flaws, right?

So here are some points that need to be addressed:

1) What it means to believe.
I can think of two ways to define 'belief'.
One is that 'affirmative feeling', the other is the 'would you act on this?' question.
If it's the former then I'm agnostic because I sometimes get that 'affirmative feeling' of something greater. Rationalising has lessened the occurance of this affirmative feeling but it's still there. People who consider themselves open minded will be open to these 'affirmative feelings' and think that they sometimes believe, making the 'atheist' tag seem inappropiate.
However, if we were to use the latter definition, the "would you act on this?" (it's often said that if you really believe in something then you act on it) then so many more people would be happier to consider themselves atheistic. Most agnostics act as if God isn't there. I also think that it would clear up other confusions e.g. someone who got an 'affirmative feeling' about a racial prejudice might be appalled at themselves and think that they are racist. However, there's a large difference between one of these feelings (that we've probably all had at some point or other) and a 'rationalised' thought out belief that one acts on (like a real racist who actively discriminates in practice).
(PS. If we settle this one here then I'm officially an atheist!)

 

2) Rejection of supernaturalism does not mean rejection of mysticism
The most common objection to Dawkins' or Harris' "religion is irrational/bad" stance is "what about Buddhism?"
As it happens, neither of them are against Buddhism.
We all know Harris' support of mysticism and although I can't think of an exact quote from Dawkins, his criticisms tend to be aimed at supernaturalistic dogmas. I'm certain he's said good things about the character of Jesus at some point or other.
Both are fine with religion myths as metaphor/culture and would definately agree that we can learn valuable things from religious teaching. What they are fighting against is practical disasters caused by delusion. The use of supernaturalistic dogma to make irrational arguments against stem cell research and condom use.
When you couple this separation of mysticism and supernatural with the refined definition of belief (i.e. acting on rather than 'affirmative feeling&#39Eye-wink then you might find that there's a lot of moderates who are in it for the mysticism and realise that they don't really 'believe' in supernaturalism...

 

These are the most important two that come to my mind. I'll be sure to post any more that I think of and you guys can add your own ideas. 


Hambydammit
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Rationalising has lessened

Rationalising has lessened the occurance of this affirmative feeling but it's still there.

A more correct way of saying this is that using reason has allowed you to lessen the effects of irrational thoughts, but they are still there.

People who consider themselves open minded will be open to these 'affirmative feelings' and think that they sometimes believe, making the 'atheist' tag seem inappropiate.

People who "consider" themselves "open-minded" may not be. Open-minded simply means that a person will listen to an idea and judge it on its merits. I am open to the existence of ghosts and goblins, but I'd like to see evidence first. This makes me open-minded but not gullible. "Open-minded" and "gullible" have two completely different definitions, and you used the wrong one, thus giving "open-minded" two definitions and clouding the water.

So, "People who are gullible will be open to these affirmative feelings and etc..." is the precise way to word this sentence. Whether they consider themselves gullible or not is not relevant.

I think you're on to something with your "Would you act on it" definition, but I'd like to encourage you to be careful with it. Many, many politicians act on the mandates of the Christian Right, but, as Dawkins and Harris have both pointed out, it would be a an amazing statistical anomaly if there were no atheists in congress. My point is that people will act on things they don't believe, and even if you apply this test internally, you can be wrong. I've acted on things and later realized I was fooling myself.

For a personal litmus test, I think this can be a helpful tool, but that's about as far as you can take it.

As to supernatural vs. mystical, I kind of agree with you in principle, as do Harris and Dawkins, if I read them correctly. The problem here is one of insinuation. Even though the word "Negro" refers to a person of African-American decent, I would offend a lot of people if I started using it in everyday conversation -- because of the historical weight of the word.

Likewise, even though it may be nice to officially define "mysticism" as pseudo-religious experiences based entirely in the natural universe, the implication is supernatural, and I am going to go out on a limb and say that atheists are maligned enough as a minority that we can object to words because 98% of the people who hear them will get the wrong idea, just like if I decided to take back the phrase "porch monkey."

I hope you can make the leap and call yourself an atheist with pride. I think if you do some serious definition-searching, you might find that you're already there.

 

Atheism isn't a lot like religion at all. Unless by "religion" you mean "not religion". --Ciarin

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Strafio
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The main point about the

The main point about the 'open minded' but was that if someone is getting those 'affirmative feelings' and they identify belief with such feelings then they're going to consider themselves to believe such things. The thing is, we can get such feelings when we toy with an idea or 'lose ourselves in fantasy'. In the other thread I made comparisons of thinking I was a Jedi and prancing my room, shadow boxing, pretending I'm Bruce Lee...

The 'acting on it' needs a little refinement but I think is close.
The example you gave might not be a major counter example. Were they really acting on their belief in supernatural or their belief that they have to put on a Christian image in the current climate? So they were acting on a belief but not a theistic one. If the political climate changed then they'd have to find another reason to defend theism (perhaps an attachment to the 'culture' of their upbringing) or they'd act on their real beliefs.
Perhaps 'acting as if it was true' is more accurate than 'acting on it' as they might not act on something they thought was true if such an action went against their pragmatic beliefs.


Hambydammit
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I get what you're saying.

I get what you're saying. Really.

My point is that your definitions are hazy, and I am hypothesizing (based on empirical evidence from your posts, by the way!) that much of your wavering between agnosticism and atheism is based on an indistinct understanding of the precise meaning of a few crucial statements.

The main point about the 'open minded' but was that if someone is getting those 'affirmative feelings' and they identify belief with such feelings then they're going to consider themselves to believe such things.

Right. I get what you are saying, but it's still a fuzzy way of saying that if someone gets an affirmative feeling and doesn't apply rational logic to it, he's still being gullible.

I don't remember specifically the Bruce Lee or Jedi reference, but I can only guess that you're talking about "losing yourself in make believe" or "method acting" or something like that. I'm not sure how that applies to a real belief. Are you saying that the euphoric feelings we get when we live in a fantasy for a while are similar to those we feel when we believe god is talking to us? If so, I agree. It's a perfect argument for atheism.

The "acting on it" argument is a tricky one. It is a form of backward thinking that looks like logic, but isn't...

1) If a person believes X, he will act upon it.

2) Since Bob acts on X, he believes X.

This doesn't follow, because statement 1 is not exclusive. Within the parameters of the statement, Bob could act on X but not believe it. All we know for sure is that if Bob believes, he will act. We can't make it work in reverse.

So, if you are using actions as a litmus test, they only go so far. That was my point. In other words, if you suspect you believe a thing, you can ask yourself, "Am I acting on it?" If you are, then you have support for your theory that you believe. You cannot, however, use an action and say that it proves your belief.

I'd say this is particularly appropriate to politicians who do unpopular things. There is a strong probability that Al Gore believes in global warming because he has gone out of his way to promote awareness of it even though it's a very unpopular position for a politician to be in, and he could be making more money doing other things.

(I just tossed that example off the top of my head. If I'm missing some facts, just substitute another politician you know about who takes an unpopular stand.)

Finally...

Were they really acting on their belief in supernatural or their belief that they have to put on a Christian image in the current climate? So they were acting on a belief but not a theistic one.

Again, I get your point, but it's missing a point. We don't know which it is, and it's distinctly possible that many of the politicians are not completely sure. This is why actions are difficult to judge. Actions don't have to follow beliefs, but a lack of action is a significant indicator of a lack of belief.

1) If Bob believes X, he will act upon it.

2) Bob does not act upon X.

3) Therefore ....

 

You see?

I know this argument is not perfect, because people believe things but do not act on them for various reasons. This is why it's only good as an internal litmus test.

1) Am I acting upon X?

(If yes, then there's a decent chance that I believe it.)

2) If I'm not acting on X, is there an external reason?

(If yes, then there's still a decent chance that I believe it.)

In other words, the statement A: If Bob believes X, he will act on it, is demonstrably not a truism.

Atheism isn't a lot like religion at all. Unless by "religion" you mean "not religion". --Ciarin

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Strafio
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So if I was to push for the

So if I was to push for the "Bob believes X if Bob acts on X" then I'd have to account for beliefs that aren't acted on. I could argue that this only happens in the case of conflicting beliefs, that only the strongest belief will be acted on. Something for me to work on. Smiling

The bit with Jedis was in the first thread I made about belief.
This thread was more about how this definition of belief would make atheism seem more sensible to people.


Hambydammit
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hehe... that's kind of my

hehe... that's kind of my point, but...

What do you mean by conflicting beliefs? It's completely possible to have beliefs that contradict and not choose. Religious people do it all the time. A friend of mine says that the only unique thing about the human animal is that it can simultaneously believe "A" and "Not A." I don't know if he's right about the unique thing, but the fact that we can believe a thing and its opposite is well documented.

I think what you mean is that when a person discovers a cognitive dissonance, they are forced into choosing one of the options, but it's just not so. To be a believer, you have to have an "A and Not A" belief system, because if you don't discard science, you can't believe -- yet, you won't discard science on anything else. (Ok, some people do discard it on other things, but it's still not rational!)

That's the "last step" you've been alluding to. It was for me when I became a full fledged atheist. The moment that I admitted to myself that either A is or is not, I was free from the supernatural, because it allowed me to start down whole new lines of thinking, whereas before, I would have just chalked up cognitive dissonance to the "will of God" or a "Mystery of Creation."

I admit I haven't followed your link, so I may be off base, but my feeling on the definition of atheism is that it is "X" and calling it something else is giving respect to religion, and I do not respect religious bias. Belief is what it is, and giving it a fluffier definition is just an invitation to misinterpretation, or an attempt to placate the masses by not insisting that they be "completely" rational.

Again, I'm just guessing from what you're writing, but is it possible that one of the reasons you want to change the meanings of words slightly is that you feel you could technically remain agnostic while calling yourself an atheist, thereby placating both sides?

Just a guess.

Atheism isn't a lot like religion at all. Unless by "religion" you mean "not religion". --Ciarin

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Strafio
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Hambydammit wrote: What do

Hambydammit wrote:
What do you mean by conflicting beliefs? It's completely possible to have beliefs that contradict and not choose.

Not simultaneously.
The nature of contradictory beliefs is that if X and Y contradict and you're thinking X then you aren't thinking Y and vice versa. To hold conflicting beliefs is to jump between X and Y, either not able to let one of them go (so be in a dilemna) or maybe not even be aware that they contradict. (these are the contradictions we live with without realising, the kind that religious folks have)

Quote:
That's the "last step" you've been alluding to. It was for me when I became a full fledged atheist. The moment that I admitted to myself that either A is or is not, I was free from the supernatural, because it allowed me to start down whole new lines of thinking, whereas before, I would have just chalked up cognitive dissonance to the "will of God" or a "Mystery of Creation."

I'm a bit different. The A is or is not has been apparent to me for quite a while. I knew that a lot of religious folks had terrible contradictions in their beliefs but I didn't think that belief in a supernatural God was necessarily contradictory.

Quote:
Belief is what it is

But what is it?
Does it even have a single coherent definition or do we use it in different ways depending on the context of the conversation?
(This is the kind of questions that philosophers spend years over! Laughing out loud)


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Strafio wrote: One of the

Strafio wrote:

One of the things RRS seems to be interested is getting agnostics to admit that they are really atheists.

 I just wanted to clarify this point.

 

Some agnostics are theist too.  There are theist agnostics and atheist agnostics, and were looking for people to realize they must be one or the other if they claim to be agnostic. 

- Brian Sapient


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Hambydammit
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You ask really good

You ask really good questions.

Not simultaneously.
The nature of contradictory beliefs is that if X and Y contradict and you're thinking X then you aren't thinking Y and vice versa. To hold conflicting beliefs is to jump between X and Y, either not able to let one of them go (so be in a dilemna) or maybe not even be aware that they contradict. (these are the contradictions we live with without realising, the kind that religious folks have)

You're kind of right on this, and I think one of your questions later in the post sheds light on it. Christians often believe that god is all knowing, all powerful, and all good. As we know, these three things are mutually incompatible, and cannot possibly exist together. Since most people "believe" in that they accept the story as true, they will answer yes to all three questions. If you point out the inconsistency, they will say, "but god is all powerful, so he can do it," or some such nonsense. In a philosophical sense, they believe this story in a different way than they believe that they are male or female, or that their mother gave birth to them. Nevertheless, for functional purposes, they live their life as if god exists and has all three incompatible qualities. This is an example of believing A and Not A simultaneously. It is impossible for those things to exist, yet they do.

From one point of view, you can say that this is not simultaneous because they believe this set of laws for god and that set of laws for everything else, and they apply each only to its sphere of influence, but that still doesn't change the fact that they believe things that cannot exist together.

I'm a bit different. The A is or is not has been apparent to me for quite a while. I knew that a lot of religious folks had terrible contradictions in their beliefs but I didn't think that belief in a supernatural God was necessarily contradictory.

But thinking that a supernatural god is possible IS believing A and Not A. That's my point. "The world is based on science and logic except for when it isn't." You must believe that statement in order to believe in anything supernatural.

But what is it?
Does it even have a single coherent definition or do we use it in different ways depending on the context of the conversation?
(This is the kind of questions that philosophers spend years over! Laughing out loud)

Easy one first: No, it doesn't have a single definition, and we do use it in different ways. That doesn't mean that there isn't a correct definition for each use, however. It just means that many people interchange definitions and cause problems for themselves.

What is it? A complete answer is beyond this discussion, as you point out. In another thread, I assert that I don't "believe" in aliens, but I suspect that there probably is ET life in the universe. This is, as someone pointed out, a kind of belief, but I prefer to use the word "suspect" to avoid confusion.

Richard Dawkins, in The God Delusion, applies a 7 point scale, much like the standard for sociological/psychological surveys, to belief, ranging from 100% certainty to 100% disbelief. I think 95% of the time, this scale is a good reference when using the word "belief." Most atheists are 6 out of 7, meaning that they strongly suspect that god doesn't exist, but reserve a space in their minds for proof that has not been presented. So, they believe that god doesn't exist, and even though they are not technically certain, from a pragmatic point of view, (and a statistical one!) it can accurately be said that they disbelieve.

Maybe you're a 5 out of 7. You lean towards the non-existence of god, but you're hesitant to say you're an atheist because you suspect you could be wrong. The thing is, if this is true, you're still an atheist, you're just not as convinced as other people.

Granted, this is using the strict definition of agnostic, in which weak atheism is implicit, so if we're not defining agnostic the same way, the whole conversation is meaningless.

 

Atheism isn't a lot like religion at all. Unless by "religion" you mean "not religion". --Ciarin

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