Misuse of 'atheism' and 'agnosticism'

Topher
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Misuse of 'atheism' and 'agnosticism'

So according to Strafio, following is valid:

Theism = Believes that God exists
Agnostic = Not sure
Atheism = Denies that God exists

He says this is how people generally use the terms, thus in general use, it’s valid.

For the sake of fairness, I’ll let Strafio put forward he’s own position:

Strafio wrote:
The general, everyday view of a 'position' is you agree, disagree or are agnostic - no real opinion either way.
"God exists." is such a position.
Theism is 'agree', atheism is 'disagree' (the fact you can disgree by being a 'strong atheist' or 'weak atheist' is irrelevent!) or you have no clear opinion on the matter leaving you agnostic. Perhaps you've left such 'primitive' ways of looking at the world behind with the uneducated folk? Although I doubt you approach every topic that comes up with a full epistemological analysis!

When you looking into the epistemology of the statement 'God exists' then the philosophical terms bear more relevence to the situation.

When I said you are 'firm' in your atheism I wasn't accusing you of being closed minded or dogmatic. It's a fact that you are very sure of your position. You are sure that it is right. So you are a clear 'disagree' with the 'God exists' statement. Other 'weak atheists' might shrug when asked if God exists. Technically they lack belief, but in the agree/disagree/no-opinion sense they're agnostic.

So you see the distinction between the 'Do you believe in God?' question in a general setting and when we're analysing the epistemology?
Give me one problem with the 'general' use that has nothing to with epistemology?

Of course, the matter is actually black and white. You either believe in God, or you don’t. There is no other logical option. Not being sure if God exists is still lacking belief! And not believing in God is NOT asserting that God doesn’t exist.

Now the correct definitions that I was arguing for, which Strafio refers to as ‘technical’ or 'philosophical' and thus are only needed for technical philosophical discussions:

Theism: the belief that God exists.
Weak atheism: lacks belief in God.
Strong atheism: the belief that God does not exist
(None of these are a matter of epistemology since they are beliefs)

Agnosticism: I don’t know if God exists.

These definitions are not only the way they were meant to be used, as the etymology of the words dictates, and the way they literally translate, but the way in which they all have distinct, coherent meanings.

So, are the incorrect definitions - which result in atheists being painted as dogmatic and so sure of themselve - ever valid? I think not. Discuss.

"It is far better to grasp the universe as it really is than to persist in delusion, however satisfying and reassuring" -- Carl Sagan


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You covered it fine


You covered it fine Topher, not much more that needs to be said.

See here for official RRS (and 97% of the atheist community) reply: http://www.rationalresponders.com/am_i_agnostic_or_atheist


Also see me actually discussing it here. Feel free to post over there as your name and password from this site will work on that site.

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Topher
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Sapient wrote:You covered it

Sapient wrote:
You covered it fine Topher, not much more that needs to be said.

Yes. Unfortunately it gets rather annoying given it is shown to clearly be invalid defintions, yet the person refuses to accept it. I know Strafio understands why it is invalid, but he doesn't understand that no amount of argumentum ad populum will make it valid.

"It is far better to grasp the universe as it really is than to persist in delusion, however satisfying and reassuring" -- Carl Sagan


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It's ironic that often

It's ironic that often people claiming to be agnostic without a belief in god have rejected the claims of religious people on the issue of god. They've often seen through the claims of religious, however on the issue of the definition of atheism these same "agnostics" can't see through the bullshit definition that religious people have proposed.

This is why we call this type of agnosticism irrational. People who can't muster to accept that agnostic is not a middle position between atheism and theism are simply being irrational, specifically those people who have been exposed to the definitions.

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I'd say they're just afraid

I'd say they're just afraid of the big bad "A" word - they probably heard bad things about atheists their entire life.

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Topher wrote:Sapient

Topher wrote:
Sapient wrote:
You covered it fine Topher, not much more that needs to be said.

Yes. Unfortunately it gets rather annoying given it is shown to clearly be invalid defintions, yet the person refuses to accept it. I know Strafio understands why it is invalid, but he doesn't understand that no amount of argumentum ad populum will make it valid.

We've been over this...
It's nothing to do with "everybody does it".

Language is defined for use.
There is a valid use for the alternative versions of "agnostic" and "atheist".
The adaptions from the original greek versions that we use on here are more suited to philosophical based discussions on epistemology. The 'general' usage is more suited to general conversation because of the way people generally approach positions. (see the quote)

What I'm saying is:
"Yes, the ones we use here are more suited to philosophical discussions but general conversation isn't always supposed to be philosophical."
Surely you guys don't approach every conversation you come across as a philosophical analysis?


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Strafio wrote: Surely you

Strafio wrote:

Surely you guys don't approach every conversation you come across as a philosophical analysis?

Surely you don't approach every cash register assuming that 75 cents equals three quarters.

My point...

Represent the truth at all times, if someone is too ignorant to not know the truth, educate them whenever needed. If I ask someone "Do you believe in God?" and they answer "I'm agnostic." They've done nothing to tell me if they believe or not, in fact they may as well have answered "I like pork." I have no clue if someone believes in god when they answer "I'm agnostic" they've done little to further the conversation. It's up to us to say we're atheists, let people make fools of themselves with a popular definition, and for us to educate them on what most atheists actually mean when they say "I'm an atheist."

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Who says they're not being

Who says they're not being truthful?
Most people approach debates in the standard way:
There's a position that you're for, against, or undecided/uncaring.
The layman's believer, atheist and agnostic paints the picture to this template. Is there a reason why they shouldn't look at it like this? This way of looking at it is limited in depth (our versions of the words are more appropiate for more indepth discussions) and if the conversation takes a turn into a more detailed discussion of epistemology then the 'more accurate' terms need to be introduced.

So why not use the the 'more accurate' terms in general as well for indepth discussions? Because they're not really adequate for the task. They miss out details that are important in everyday conversation, like how set/confindent someone is in their beliefs.

Would you say there's a difference between the weak atheist who doesn't have a proper opinion, just lacks a belief in theism and the weak atheist who has considered all the options and is firm in their opinion that there is no rational grounds for belief?
That is the difference people speak of when they call the former an agnostic and the latter an atheist.

The words have perfectly legitimate use and tell most people what they want to know. Seeing as you've clearly mastered both uses, it shouldn't be hard for you to interpret exactly what they mean.


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Strafio wrote:Seeing as

Strafio wrote:
Seeing as you've clearly mastered both uses, it shouldn't be hard for you to interpret exactly what they mean.

That's where you're wrong. I've had the conversation many times. I ask someone if they believe in god or not, and they say they're agnostic. Honestly, at that point I don't know if they believe or not. One might assume that they don't, however they could know the proper definition and be an agnostic deist who just chooses to say agnostic. Atheist and theist aren't words reserved for deep philosophical conversation, they're as basic as ham and eggs. We should use them properly.

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The other use is a proper

The other use is a proper use.
It's just designed for a different form of conceptualisation.
It treats belief in God as a 'position' that one can agree, disagree or have no solid opinion on, rather than your prefered binary "belief or not?" approach. (I'll come back to this after I've done my Philosophy of Mind module, but I'm not convinced that this 'reduced to binary' version is necessarily ideal....)

If they've said agnostic then they don't have a full opinion on either believing the position or disbelieving it. That's narrowed it down a little bit and you're only one question away from getting the details you're looking for.
"Is that agnostic as in don't know, or don't care, or you just can't make up your mind?"
"Don't know" or "Don't care" mean that they are weak atheists and "Can't make up mind" means they swing between weak atheism and weak theism.
Surely that tells you as much as you need to know?

Even if that's not ideal for you:
a) Other people who ask them the question aren't looking for the same details you are, they're looking for the other details. (confidence in belief etc)
I think that's what the majority of people are looking for when they ask that question, so it makes sense they answer the question that the majority of people ask them.
b) Why should they necessarily have to use the same conceptualisation of beliefs that you have? It might be the standard in philosophy of mind but even then, why should everyone have to stick to this particular conceptualisation?


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Look, it's easy to

Look, it's easy to understand. If you believe in a god or gods you are a theist. If you don't you are an atheist. It really is that easy.

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Strafio wrote:If they've

Strafio wrote:
If they've said agnostic then they don't have a full opinion on either believing the position or disbelieving it.

If they don't have an opinion then they clearly are without belief in God. Ergo they are an atheist!

The fact that many people refer to this as agnostic does not make its use any less incorrect.

Your argument is simply an appeal to popularity - "the incorrect definitions are often used [by ignorant people], so I think it’s valid to use them".

Would you think it’s valid to say Christians = creationists? After all, many Christians are. Just like many [strong] atheists rule out God. If you think it is valid to use a definition of atheism which does not accurately describe all atheists they surely you also agree that it’s valid to use a definition of Christianity that doesn’t accurately describe all Christians.

"It is far better to grasp the universe as it really is than to persist in delusion, however satisfying and reassuring" -- Carl Sagan


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Strafio wrote: If they've

Strafio wrote:

If they've said agnostic then they don't have a full opinion on either believing the position or disbelieving it.

An inpossibility. If you believe, you believe... EVERYTHING ELSE is disbelief.

Quote:
"Don't know" or "Don't care" mean that they are weak atheists

Don't know does not tell me if the person believes or doesn't believe. Don't assume that I'll automatically assume it means they don't believe. I won't.

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Irrationality really sucks.

Irrationality really sucks. Sad


Topher
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Sapient wrote:Strafio

Sapient wrote:
Strafio wrote:
"Don't know" or "Don't care" mean that they are weak atheists

Don't know does not tell me if the person believes or doesn't believe. Don't assume that I'll automatically assume it means they don't believe. I won't.

Exactly. All it tells us is they don't know if God exists, not whether they believe he does.

'Don't know if you believe in God' is an impossibility and hence nonsense. By defintion, don't know is an expression of doubt, which is disbelief.

"It is far better to grasp the universe as it really is than to persist in delusion, however satisfying and reassuring" -- Carl Sagan


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Strafio wrote:Topher

Strafio wrote:
Topher wrote:
Sapient wrote:
You covered it fine Topher, not much more that needs to be said.

Yes. Unfortunately it gets rather annoying given it is shown to clearly be invalid defintions, yet the person refuses to accept it. I know Strafio understands why it is invalid, but he doesn't understand that no amount of argumentum ad populum will make it valid.

We've been over this...
It's nothing to do with "everybody does it".

Language is defined for use.
There is a valid use for the alternative versions of "agnostic" and "atheist".

Yes, but it is a context error to transport the meaning of these alternative definitions back into a theological discussion.

Quote:

What I'm saying is:
"Yes, the ones we use here are more suited to philosophical discussions but general conversation isn't always supposed to be philosophical."

True. However, in a atheological/theological discussion the proper meanings apply.

Those who know the good, do the good. - Socrates

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Sapient wrote:If they've

Sapient wrote:
If they've said agnostic then they don't have a full opinion on either believing the position or disbelieving it.

An inpossibility. If you believe, you believe... EVERYTHING ELSE is disbelief.


When I said 'disbelief' I meant a bit more than 'lack of belief'.
Come on guys... you knew what I meant by the context.

Quote:
Don't know does not tell me if the person believes or doesn't believe. Don't assume that I'll automatically assume it means they don't believe. I won't.

Again you're assuming they're using philosophical technical terms.
If they were using 'know' in the phiosophical sense then yes, it doesn't tell you. They might believe in it on faith without 'knowing'.
Have you guys been philosophising so long that you've forgotten how usual language works? Puzzled
When people say "don't know" to questions like that, it usually means that they don't really have an opinion either way - that sounds like 'weak atheist' to me.

Yay!! Chris got it!! thumbs up

todangst wrote:
Yes, but it is a context error to transport the meaning of these alternative definitions back into a theological discussion.

True. However, in a atheological/theological discussion the proper meanings apply.


Ofcourse.
The discussion grew out of the question whether the 'technical' meanings were 'the correct' ones full stop or just the ones more appropiate for epistemological discussion.

So rather than say:
"You're using the words wrong..." (which kind of implies a dogma on word usage) it's perhaps better to say "we use these definitions on this board" or "these are how we use these words in formal theology/philosophy".


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Strafio wrote:When I said

Strafio wrote:
When I said 'disbelief' I meant a bit more than 'lack of belief'.

So you’re making the distinction either “God exists” or “God does not exist” … but not all atheists deny the idea God, they just don’t believe in one, hence the distinction is not accurate. However the distinction “belief in God” or “lack of belief in God” does accurately describe everyone because they are the only two possibilities.

Do you agree with the following 3 positions?
1. Belief that God exists - belief in God
2. Lacking belief in God - without belief in God
3. Belief that God does not exist - without belief in God

(2) and (3) are both atheism.

Strafio wrote:
The discussion grew out of the question whether the 'technical' meanings were 'the correct' ones full stop or just the ones more appropiate for epistemological discussion.

What does epistemology have to do with belief?

"It is far better to grasp the universe as it really is than to persist in delusion, however satisfying and reassuring" -- Carl Sagan


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Topher wrote:So you’re

Topher wrote:
So you’re making the distinction either “God exists” or “God does not exist” …

Not quite.
There's a position "God exists" that you either think is right, think is wrong or have no real opinion either way.
Whether the atheist disagrees with "God exists" in the "I believe that God doesn't exist" or the "I see no reason to believe in God" way is an irrelevent detail.

Quote:
Do you agree with the following 3 positions?
1. Belief that God exists - belief in God
2. Lacking belief in God - without belief in God
3. Belief that God does not exist - without belief in God

(2) and (3) are both atheism.


Do I agree that it's the most precise way of looking at belief in a philosophical/epistemological context? Yes. I use the same definitions as you, remember?
Do I believe that it's more 'correct' than general usage of words?
It's like asking if I think the chess rules are more 'correct' than the rules of draughts. Obviously, the 'correct' rules depend on what game you're playing.

In general conversation, not only do the alternative versions have a valid use, they are the ideal definitions for this form of conversation because they give the answers that people are seeking when they ask the question in the general context. It doesn't give the answers you guys are looking for because you're looking for a philosophical conversation.

Topher wrote:
What does epistemology have to do with belief?

The distinction between "lack of belief" and "belief in no God" is only really an important detail when we discuss the epistemology of beliefs. Otherwise the difference is trivial. So the difference is always there, but it's not really worth noticing until we bring up epistemology.


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Just one thing I need to say

Just one thing I need to say - though it is mainly semantics. I don't like hearing atheism defined as "lack of" a religion. I prefer "absence of." After all, it's not like we are "lacking" anything - "lack" usually means you don't have something that you need or at least should have.

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Lol! I didn't think of it

Lol! I didn't think of it like that.
The word 'lack' does seem to imply a deficiency.
Thing is, abstinence is such a mouthful (3 syllabals and 2 'ssss' sounds) while 'lack' rolls off of the tongue so nicely.
I know we're typing here but I still feel the 'tongue' aesthetics...

Deficiency isn't always a bad thing.
"I can't do this because I lack the stupidity."
or "I can't like this because I lack the terrible taste required."
Does that help remove the negative connotations of the word 'lack'?

(I'm defending using a word because I like the way it rolls off of my tongue... I've got waaay too much time on my hands! Laughing out loud)


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Strafio wrote:Whether the

Strafio wrote:
Whether the atheist disagrees with "God exists" in the "I believe that God doesn't exist" or the "I see no reason to believe in God" way is an irrelevent detail.

It’s not an irrelevant detail. One is not even a belief!

Saying "I believe that God doesn't exist" is a belief.
Saying "I do not believe that God exists" is NOT a belief.

How can you amalgamate a belief with a non-belief!

Strafio wrote:
It's like asking if I think the chess rules are more 'correct' than the rules of draughts. Obviously, the 'correct' rules depend on what game you're playing.

Of course. Unfortunately, there are not two separate ‘games’ here!

If someone is ignorant of the rules of chess you don’t give them their own separate rules, instead, you educate them on the actual rules.

Strafio wrote:
In general conversation, not only do the alternative versions have a valid use, they are the ideal definitions for this form of conversation because they give the answers that people are seeking when they ask the question in the general context. It doesn't give the answers you guys are looking for because you're looking for a philosophical conversation.

We are simply looking for an accurate reflection of people’s beliefs, and the correct definitions do exactly that.

Why allow vague definitions when there are already definitions which provide distinct, coherent and useful meanings. We should stick to a single use of the words to save on the unnecessary confusion of allowing two!

One can argue that allowing these skewed definitions is probably one of the reasons why people reject evolution. Think about it… many theists associate evolution with atheism, but their incorrect impression of what atheism actually is – “God does not exist” – probably means they associate the proposition of defiantly rejecting God directly with evolution.

"It is far better to grasp the universe as it really is than to persist in delusion, however satisfying and reassuring" -- Carl Sagan


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Topher wrote:It’s not an

Topher wrote:
It’s not an irrelevant detail. One is not even a belief!

I know, but it's irrelevent.
I've been over which details are relevent depending on the form of the conversation.

Quote:
Of course. Unfortunately, there are not two separate ‘games’ here!

Have a real conversation with someone.
I'm certain you'll find that there are.
I also recommend a look at the beginning of Wittgenstein's Philosophical Investigations. Other than it being my favourite 'Philosophical Classic', he looks very carefully at the 'essence' of language. You seem to assume that language ought to be designed purely for 'philosophical calculus' with these arguments. He specifically argued against such a dogma.

Quote:
Why allow vague definitions when there are already definitions which provide distinct, coherent and useful meanings. We should stick to a single use of the words to save on the unnecessary confusion of allowing two!

So which use of 'theory' should keep it's original name and which uses should we invent new names for? Should we flip a coin between money bank and piggy bank? Too, two and to have different spellings but maybe we should give them different sounds too - avoid confusion... Eye-wink

We're used to having different uses for different words in different contexts.
"Evolution is only a theory?" causes similar confusion as the one you described caused by 'atheism' but you don't see anything wrong with that use of 'theory' in general, just in that context.
When asking someone about their personal beliefs the general use tells you what you need to know. When we look more detailed epistemology then further distinctions have to be made and we get the technical terms (where the 'confidence' is no longer relevent so that get's dropped).


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what about deists and

what about deists and pantheists then? Dawkins called pantheism "sexed up atheism", yet I know many pantheists who don't consider themselves atheists. not everyone is going to label themselves in such black and white terms just b/c you want them to