What is Atheism?

0. Introduction

Atheism may be defined provisionally as the view according to which there are no gods. However, despite this seemingly simple idea, there is a bit of controversy about the more precise meaning of ‘an atheist’. I will spell out some of the issues involved and outline my position.

  1. Atheism and theism

One might like to think of a proposition, p, which is to be understood as follows:

0)           p = ‘Some god exists’

It seems clear that the terms ‘theism’ and ‘atheism’ have some intrinsic relationship to p. One may think that the relationship is of the following sort (where ‘iff’ means ‘if and only if’):

i)            Theism is true      iff     p is true

ii)           Atheism is true    iff     p is false

This means that theism is logically equivalent to the proposition that some god exists, and atheism is logically inequivalent to the proposition that some god exists (it is equivalent to the falsity of ‘some god exists’).

1.1 Atheist and theist

If we accept i) and ii) as the definitions of theism and atheism, then we may move on to the definition of ‘theist‘ and ‘atheist‘. Doing this means bringing the agent, a,  into the definition. The natural way to define these terms is like this:

iii)           a is a theist       iff     a believes that [p is true]

iv)           a is an atheist   iff     a believes that [p is false]

There is a direct symmetry between -ism and -ist on this view. It is a nice and easy to grasp picture. The pattern is that the definiens of iii) and iv) are just those of i) and ii) but with the words ‘a believes that…’ at the start, and that the difference between theism/-ist and atheism/-ist is just that the former has ‘p is true’, and the latter has ‘p is false’. This means that a theist is just someone who believes that theism is true, and an atheist is just someone who believes that atheism is true. Thus, we have the pleasing result that theist is to theism what atheist is to atheism.

Here is a diagram of the logical relations:

slide1

If is an atheist in the sense of iv) above, call her a ‘hard atheist‘.

2. Lacktheism

There is another way of characterising what it means to be an atheist, and this departs from the pattern we have established above. On this definition, an atheist is someone who does not believe that p is true:

v)        a is an atheist    iff      not-[believes that p is true]

This definition of atheism is well-represented in public defences of atheism. Atheists commonly claim not to have a positive belief that p is false, i.e. to believe that no god exists, but merely to lack the belief that p is true. When they are doing this, they are advocating v), and someone who does this is a ‘lacktheist’.

3. Does ‘atheist’ mean ‘hard atheist’ or ‘lacktheist’?

There is some controversy about whether ‘atheist’ means ‘hard-atheist’ or ‘lacktheist’. Often, ‘atheists’ self-describe as lacktheists, but this leads to a charge of being ad hoc by the theists. I will explain the controversy and why I think it is logically dissolvable. First, I will outline the argument by theists according to which an ‘atheist’ should be thought of as a ‘hard-atheist’.

It seems like v) (the definition of lacktheist) messes up with the symmetry we had between i) and iii) (theism and theist), and between ii) and iv) (atheism and atheist). The symmetry was that the difference between theism/-ist and atheism/-ist is that the former ascribes truth to p and the latter ascribes falsity to p. With definition v) in place of iv) though, we have switched to talking in terms of the negation of p instead. The diagram would look like this:

slide2

So, the theist is someone who believes that theism is true, but (according to v) the atheist isn’t someone who believes that atheism is true, rather they are someone who does not believe that theism is true. This seeming abnormality may be seen as reason to reject v) (lacktheist) in favour of iv) (hard-atheist). Why, we might think, should we break the symmetry? We might just insist that an atheist is to atheism as a theist is to theism. If so, then an ‘atheist’ is a hard atheist, and a lacktheist isn’t an atheist at all. Changing the definition of ‘atheist’ seems unsystematic. In this situation, it is not that atheist is to atheism what theist is to theism, so we have lost our intuitive looking principle.

Added to the feeling of oddity about breaking the symmetry of the definitions, theists may be cynical about the motives of the atheist who argues for v) rather than iv) (the lacktheist). The reason for this cynicism would be that a consequence of using v) is that the defender of it seems to have less burden of proof in an argument than the defender of iv). And a position with lighter burden is easier to defend. So, the theist may suspect the atheist is choosing definition v) over iv) for the sole reason that  it makes her position easier to defend. If that were the only motivation on behalf of the atheist, we might view her decision to do so as ad hoc. In addition, if the approach treats atheist differently from any other similar position, then there could also be the accusation of special pleading as well.

The theist may insist that the situation should, in fact, be a level playing field, where each side (theist and atheist) has the same justificatory burden. The reasoning for this would be something like the following:

  1. If a says “I am a theist”, then is implicitly saying that a believes that p is true.
  2. If a (even implicitly) says “I believe that p is true”, then a has the justificatory burden of the claim “is true”.
  3. Therefore, if a says “I am a theist” then a has the justificatory burden of the claim “p is true”.    (1, 2, hypothetical syllogism)

Thus, claiming to be a theist carries with it the justificatory burden of claiming that it is true that some god exists. These justificatory relations are mirrored with our first definition of an atheist:

  1. If a says “I am an atheist” (and means definition iv), then is implicitly saying that a believes that p is false.
  2. If (even implicitly) says “I believe that p is false”, then a has the justificatory burden of the claim “is false”.
  3. Therefore, if a says “I am an atheist” this means that a has taken on the justificatory burden of the claim “p is false”.   (1, 2, hypothetical syllogism)

Thus, if we use the original definition of ‘atheist’, then the theist and atheist have the same justificatory burden. Surely, to try to change the definition of atheism here would be just to avoid this burden.

And indeed, if says “I am an atheist”, and means definition v), then a has not made an implicit claim about what a believes. Rather, a has made a claim that a does not have a belief that “p is true”. Thus, premise 1 above would be false if we used definition v) for ‘atheist’. This is why, if uses the lacktheist definition of ‘atheist’, that a‘s claim “I am an atheist” does not have the justificatory burden of the claim that “p is false”, and why the burden is avoided.

So, the claim could be that the atheist is making an illegitimate switch, from iv) (‘hard atheist’) to v) (‘lacktheist’). It could be seen as illegitimate because definition v) seems to be an otherwise arbitrary breaking of the symmetry of definitions, and seems like it is only justified through the benefit it bestows on the defender of the position (which is the root of the ad hoc complaint). We shouldn’t treat the definition of atheism differently to theism unless there is a good reason to do so  (or it would be special pleading). The atheist seems to have only selfish and illegitimate reasons for identifying as a lacktheist rather than as a hard-atheist.

4. Mirroring

However, one could in fact start the reasoning again slightly differently, and make ‘hard atheist’ look like the deviation from the pattern, and ‘lacktheist’ look like the expected one. This also transfers the charges of ad hoc and special pleading to the theist.

For example, we could stick with definition i), but define atheism as follows:

i)             Theism is true       iff                p is true

vii)           Atheism is true     iff       not-[p is true]

In a classical language, there would be nothing to distinguish between ii) and vii); ‘p is false’ is logically equivalent to ‘not-(p is true)’. Saying that atheism means that “it is not true that there are any gods”, seems just as faithful to the idea of atheism as the claim that it means that “‘there are gods’ is false”. Because they are equivalent, there is nothing one could appeal to logically which could decide in favour of i) rather than vii), and vice versa. Thus, we seem to have no real reason not to start from vii) if we want. And if we do proceed from here, then we can define theism as before, but use v) for the definition of atheism, and it looks like it is obeying the pattern of reasoning employed so far:

iii)           a is a theist       iff                a believes that [p is true]

v)            a is an atheist    iff    not-[believes that [p is true]]

Now the relations between i) and iii), and vii) and v) are just as neat and tidy as they were earlier. Here is a diagram of the logical relations:

slide3

As before, the relation between -ism and -ist is just that the -ist definition has ‘a believes that…’ added before ‘p is true’. The relation between theism and theist on the one side and atheism and atheist on the other is just that the atheism/ist side has ‘not-…’ prefixing them. On this view, a theist is to theism what an atheist is to atheism. Note that v) is the definition of a lacktheist.

So, an atheist is ‘naturally’ thought of as a lacktheist if we say that atheism means that it is not true that some gods exist. Given that starting point, it isn’t changing the pattern of definitions to get to lacktheism; instead, it looks as if insisting on hard-atheism would be unsystematic here. One can imagine a theist insisting that an atheist should still be a hard-atheist , but this time the accusation of symmetry-breaking could be levelled at the theist for doing so. Who is being unsystematic, it seems, depends on the starting point taken.

And a theist would have a selfish motive for making this demand too. We cannot ignore the fact that insisting that the atheist breaks the symmetry and uses the definition of ‘hard-atheism’ would remove the justificatory advantage that the atheist would otherwise ‘naturally’ have. However, because ii) and vii) are logically equivalent, there can be no reason to pick one over the other, and so the insistence of the theist to use the hard-atheist definition looks to the atheist as being ad hoc – being done merely for the rhetorical benefit it provides to the theist.

Thus, the two positions mirror each other perfectly. Depending on the definition given for atheism, the definition of atheist as hard-atheist or lacktheist seems unwarranted. The theist judges the atheist as trying to illegitimately lighten their own burden; the atheist judges the theist as trying to illegitimately add to the atheist burden. Whether it makes the atheist’s job harder, or the theist’s job easier, depends on whether atheism means that it is false that some gods exist, or whether it is not that some gods exist is true. And there doesn’t seem like there could be any reason for picking one over the other.

There seemed to be an observation that atheist’s were making an illegitimate move when defining atheist as lacktheist, which was being done just to get an advantage over the theist rhetorically. But if we start at another position, it would seem like the theist is the one trying to shift the burden just for their own advantage. This seems to dissolve the accusations of foul play on either side.

5. Post-definitional thinking

I think that the lesson of all this is just that there is nothing purely logical to appeal to which means that ‘atheist’ should be thought of as ‘hard-atheist’ rather than ‘lacktheist’. Either view is equally defensible, and any choice between them can only be ad hoc. In a sense, as it is a discussion about the nature of definitions, it is rather pointless. And this is hardly surprising.

Instead of worrying about the definition of ‘atheist’, we should rather pay more attention to the nature of the beliefs that a holds. In addition to the basic notion of a simply believing that p, we can talk about the ‘degree of belief’ that a has that p. Let’s say that the degree of belief a has that p is the following:

Da(p) = x, where 0 x ≤ 1.

Degrees of belief are real numbers between 0 and 1, rather like probabilities. They express your feeling of confidence in a proposition. 0 is maximally uncertain, 1 is maximally certain, and 0.5 is absolute indecision.

It seems to me that the proposition p, that there are any gods, is rather hard to evaluate. I find the idea of a personal loving agent quite unlikely indeed, for various reasons (it seems suspiciously like the sort of thing made up by humans, for one). However, the question of whether there are any gods seems a lot more of a difficult thing to evaluate. Perhaps some kind of being created the universe, but remains utterly divorced from the subsequent comings and goings of the world itself, or perhaps one is fascinated by the comings and goings of radically different forms of life on the other side of the universe than us, etc. These sorts of ideas are interesting, but are almost impossible to say anything about, either for or against. I kind of couldn’t have any good reasons to think that any of these sorts of hypotheses were true rather than false. What would count as evidence for or against? In this situation, my degree of belief that p (i.e. the proposition ‘some god exists’) has got to be around 0.5.

Yet, I do have a sneaking suspicion that there probably aren’t any gods like this. If you put a gun to my head and made me decide, I would opt for the no-gods option. That’s what I think is more likely, and so I my degree of belief that isn’t exactly 0.5. The following is certainly true:

Da(p) < Da(~p)

However, the imbalance seems to me to be very, very slight. I wouldn’t know how to put a precise number on it, but it seems reasonable to think that my degree of belief that ~p is between 0.5 and 0.55.

Now, does this state of mind mean that I believe that p? I certainly believe that there is an almost even probability about whether there are any gods or not, with a very slight imbalance towards no gods. My degree of belief is similarly minimally slanted towards the no-gods position. The question is the relation of these facts to the question of whether I believe that p.

Belief, as opposed to degree of belief, is an all or nothing notion. You either believe p or you don’t. Yet, my degree of belief is a scale. It ranges from 0 (definitely not belief) to 1 (definitely belief), and could be any value in between. How do the two notions relate to one another?

One idea, at one point seemingly advocated by William Lane Craig, is that the relation between belief and degree of belief is as follows:

If it is more plausible that a premiss is, in light of the evidence, true rather than false, then we should believe the premiss.” (taken from: http://www.reasonablefaith.org/apologetics-arguments#ixzz4Kp11AOyR)

The idea could be put as follows:

a believes that p    iff   Da(p) > 0.5

So long as your degree of belief that p is more than 0.5, then you believe that p is true. On this view, saying that you ‘believe that pjust means that your degree of belief is more than 0.5.

One problem with this view is that there seem to be situations in which it sounds wrong to say ‘I believe that p‘, even though they are clearly situations where our degree of belief that p is more than 0.5. Here is one.

Say I have a pack of cards, I thoroughly shuffle it and I take one out. It is the ace of spades. I discard the card, and take another one without looking at it. Let be the proposition that ‘the card is red’. Do I believe r?

The probability that r is true should be calculated as 26:51 (i.e., the remaining number of red cards:the remaining number of cards), or roughly 0.52. Given that I know this, my degree of belief that r is true should be correspondingly 0.52. Any other number would be perverse.

I think that in this situation, though my degree of belief is clearly in favour of red over black (or not-red), I still don’t think it is correct to say that I believe that the card will be red. I am sufficiently hesitant that the phrase ‘I believe that r is true’ would be misleading. It would indicate a higher degree of belief than that.

Perhaps you are thinking that you do believe that the card is red in this situation. Perhaps tilting the degree of belief 2 percentage points towards r is enough for you. If so, then consider the following version of the previous example:

Say I have a million packs of cards, I thoroughly shuffle it (somehow!) and I take one card out. It is the ace of spades. I discard the card, and take another one without looking at it. Let be the proposition that ‘the card is red’. Do I believe r?

This situation is exactly like the previous one, except that the chance that the card is red is slightly closer to being exactly 50:50 than before. The probability would be: 0.50000002. Now, the chance that the card is red is only two millionths of a percentage point more likely than that it won’t be. Do you believe that it is red? If so, then your position is probably that of Craig’s above. Any imbalance in one direction entails belief rather than disbelief.

On the other hand, you may be agreeing with my intuition that asserting belief in these situations is incorrect. If so, then this means that there is some value of degree of belief (say 0.45 – 0.55 or something) in which is is not true that you believe p or disbelieve it (or believe ~p). In this penumbra (or indeterminate area) we lack belief that p, even though we possess a positive degree of belief that p. If you think this, then it cannot be true that ‘a believes that p iff Da(p) < 0.5′.

One may ask what the value is, if not 0.5? What does the value of your degree of belief that have to be in order for it to be true that you believe that p? This, I think, is a complex question. One that is so complex, in fact, that it may be malformed. There may be no answer to it as such. It may be that in certain contexts the threshold is higher than others. Perhaps this varies from person to person, from conversation to conversation, from time to time, etc. Perhaps it varies in a chaotic and untraceable manner. This may be the case, within some sort of range outside of which it doesn’t go. For example, belief is never inappropriate in the case where the agent has a degree of belief which is 0.99, for example. It seems like it also isn’t appropriate in the case where the degree of belief is 0.50000001, etc. When people say ‘I believe that p‘, they are not necessarily reporting to a precise degree of belief (0.65 rather than 0.66, say), but just that they feel that their degree of belief is sufficiently over the threshold (whatever it is). Conversely, when someone says that they believe that ~p, this means that their degree of belief that ~p is sufficiently over the threshold (whatever it is) for ~p. When one is not sufficiently over either threshold, as in the card examples above, one should not say that one believes that p, or that one believes that ~p. One simply lacks beliefs in either direction. This is perfectly compatible with the idea that the degree of belief is believed, and perhaps even known. All that matters is that the degree of belief is extremely close to 0.5.

Thus, I have made a case for my claim to lack belief, which is not ad hoc because it is motivated by a general principle about when to withhold belief either way, and is not special pleading because I apply it to any case that is relevantly similar. I do not believe that any gods exist in the same way as that I do not believe that the card is red. In each case, my degree of belief is very close to 0.5, and that is what makes it inappropriate to affirm in either direction.

5. Conclusion

I think that this characterises my views about theism. I have a degree of belief that theism is false which is marginally over 0.5, but less than enough to indicate positive belief that it is false. Whether that counts as an atheist or not probably depends on your personal choice of definitions. Definitions aside, that is my view.

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95 thoughts on “What is Atheism?”

  1. I think this is a reasonable approach. It resonates with my experience in deconstructing my religious beliefs – when I abandoned some of my positions that were based on biblical literalism, but conflicted with scientific and other evidence. The former consistency in my belief system was upset and I “went back to square one”. Looking for a starting point, I have yet to find a reason to push the belief needle very far in the positive direction. I’m probably actually somewhere below your self-assessment in fact.
    It gave me some insight as well about how to think about the efforts by people on both sides to cast the burden of proof on the other side. I listen to apologetics and most of the time, for me, there is negligible effect on my confidence in the existence of god(s). Sometimes the arguments seem so poor, I go the other way on principle. “Bad form for Slytherin! You lose 50 points.”

    One apparent typo in your post:

    The idea could be put as follows:
    a believes that p iff Da(p) 0.5″ instead. This is repeated later in the post.

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  2. I think there might be good reasons to break the “symmetry” in favor of “lacktheism.”

    First, lack of belief is a perfectly reasonable doxastic position: lack of belief in p does not entail belief in not-p, and this could very well be the sincere position (belief) of the “lacktheist.” Absent a theist’s demonstration that either (a) lack of belief in p always entails belief in not-p (i.e., the lacktheist’s position is doxastically untenable) or that (b) the lacktheist’s position is ad-hoc for dishonest reasons (e.g., to gain unfair rhetorical advantages), the lacktheist is doxastically warranted in defending his position free from accusations of ad-hocness or insincerity (after all, the shoe could be on the other foot and the lacktheist could accuse the theist of dishonestly when the former accuses him of dishonesty for the same ad-hoc reasons).

    Second, I contend that there is an inherent asymmetry in the evidential demonstrability of existence claims. Outside of a-priori “sciences” like mathematics or logic, and absent self-contradicting or inconsistent claims, proving non-existence is, essentially, impossible, while proving existence is eminently possible. Producing Russell’s teapot would complete the existence proof; not producing it would not constitute a non-existence proof.

    In the physical world, in fact, a non-existence proof (barring self-contradicting claims such as violations of physical law, like perpetuum mobiles) is impossible. To prove that “something” or some “state of affairs” does not exist would require an observer to simultaneously gather information from all corners of the universe–a physical impossibility as it would require superluminal transfer of information.

    Specifically in the theism/atheism case, I’m not claiming, nor do I need to claim, that God is only describable in the domain of the “evidential sciences,” but, rather, that to the extent that he/she/it is not exclusively describable by the a-priori “sciences” it may well be impossible to prove his/her/its non-existence. If it is impossible to prove the non-existence of a crafty, evasive Santa Claus, it may be no less impossible to prove God’s non-existence.

    Lest a theist claim a gotcha! victory, let me remind the theist that this impossibility of non-existence proofs is not limited to God, but applies equally well to a potentially infinite number of fanciful concepts that most reasonable people don’t hold: pink flying unicorns, garden fairies, Big Foot, Leprechauns, the Loch Ness monster, invisible dragons in my garage, alien abductions, etc. etc. This “victory” would only place God squarely in the company of those same fanciful concepts.

    To the extent that a theist does not forego evidential reasons for God’s existence, the asymmetry in the existence/non-existence proofs holds, I think.

    This asymmetry would make an undue burden of proof on the “non-theist,” and would constitute an intellectually dishonest requirement by the theist, unless the non-theist claimed to be a “hard atheist.”

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    1. I believe this is solved when you consider the suffixs used – ‘ism’ and ‘ist’.

      (1) ISM

      The suffix ‘-ism’ when used about a theory or doctrine, as far as I am aware, describes the thing it is affirming. So in all cases I can think of ‘-ism’ words (and I’m willing to be corrected!), they do not have a corresponding ‘-ism’ word that simply denies the truth of what it claims.

      For example, there isn’t ‘Marxism’ and then another ‘-ism’ that describes a theory that ‘Marxism’ is false. This seems obvious because someone would simply say “I don’t believe Marxism is true”, and so it would be redundant to have a new ‘-ism’ to describe this.

      On these grounds, it seems to me like a view needs to affirm some theory or principle to count as an ‘-ism’ word, which is then either accepted or rejected. In other words, it seems to me like ‘-ism’ words cannot be contingent on other ‘-ism’ words.

      For this reason, ‘atheism’ would more naturally mean the affirmation of the theory that there is no God, and the symmetry examples given in this article suggest an atheist is the proper name for someone who believes the theory of atheism, i.e. believes that there is no God.

      (2) IST

      For the atheist = lacktheist to be true (using Alex’s terms) then anything that ‘doesn’t believe it is true that God exists’ is an atheist… yes, anyTHING. By using the symmetry idea, all that is require is a lack of belief and hence all things that do not have a belief in God’s existence are Atheists. However, formal definitions of the ‘-ist’ suffix, and all other examples I can think of, require there to be, at the very least, a person. An ‘-ist’ is a person who holds an ‘-ism’. Surely this is the simplest, most consistent and obvious way to use these terms!

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      1. In response to your claim that ‘in the physical worlds proof of non-existence are impossible’…. not sure that is the case.

        It may contradict itself, or contradict another better theory, or have evidence for it’s non existence. For example, I could believe there are no absolute morals (amoralism) and site as evidence that different cultures have different morals. Or general relativity claims there is no force of gravity by siting evidence that space-time is curved is a better theory that surplants the old one.

        The point is, there can be an evidential case made that there is no God

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  3. I’m interested what you think happens if you include an action that is a result of a belief.

    So, if the following argument is correct:

    (1) if someone believes [a] then they would do [b]
    (2) someone doesn’t do [b]
    (3) therefore someone doesn’t believe [a]

    In this case, your views on theism mean that you do not believe there exists any God that necessitates a certain action that you are not partaking in. Not simply that you lack belief in, but you believe it doesn’t exist.

    I would suggest that Christianity and Islam are such Gods

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  4. Sorry – for clarification
    let [a] be: ‘a God exists that demands a particular action that should be followed’
    and [b] be: ‘the particular action demanded when able to’

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    1. I’ve had this sort of objection put to me elsewhere in relation to this. The argument is obviously valid. My reply is that premise 1 is false, so the argument isn’t sound.

      Why do I say that premise 1 is false? Well, beliefs are compatible with lots of different behaviour. I used to smoke, and when I did so I knew full well that it caused cancer.

      Let [a] be ‘smoking causes cancer’, and [b] be ‘stop smoking’. It would seem like anyone who believed that smoking caused cancer would stop smoking. Yet people don’t always act in this way to their beliefs. So even if I did believe p, I may still not act in accordance with p. This stops you being able to reason via modus tollens (as you did) from me not acting according to p to a belief that not-p.

      Part of the problem is the conflict of other beliefs. I want to be happy, and i will be happy if I get fit, and I believe that going to the gym will make me fit. Yet I don’t go to the gym. I also believe that sitting on the sofa and eating chocolate will make me happy. So in the conflict of my beliefs, something has to give.

      Maybe we always act in accordance with some belief or other, but in general you cannot reason from a particular act to a particular belief due to the inherent messy and complicated nature of our beliefs. Often we post hoc rationalise that our action was ‘because’ of a particular belief we hold, but in reality if we had acted in the opposite way we would have had a ready and waiting belief which we would claim was the ‘because’ for that action too. When I smoke it is because I believe it makes me look cool; when I give up it is because it will cause cancer. I believe both together. Etc, etc.

      Hope that helps.

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      1. I think there is an extra step from ‘smoking causes cancer’ that would be something like (off the top of my head):

        (1) if I believe ‘[a] = there exists a 100% reliable fortune-teller who tells me I’ll die tomorrow unless I never smoke again’ then ‘[b] = I will never smoke again’ [providing I am willing and able]
        (2) I smoke again [though I am willing and able]
        (3) I don’t believe such a fortune teller exists

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      2. I think that you can say that if you held a belief that there was that sort of fortune teller, than you would be very unlikely to keep on smoking, and that it would seem irrational to do so. However, there is no logical connection between having a belief like that and any particular action. There is no contradiction (that I can see) between believing that-p and acting in such a way that you do not believe that-p, for any p. I think I can just act against what I assess is the best thing to do, and sometimes do. It is called ‘akrasia’, or ‘weakness of will’ in the philosophy literature. These phenomena seem logically possible, anyway. And that is enough to prevent the argument from going through.

        Anyway, even if somehow you were right, the argument would have to have a cateris paribus clause in there. I mean, maybe I believe that smoking now will kill me tomorrow with 100% certainty, and choose to smoke now as a way of avoiding the otherwise inevitable brain tumour I have just discovered that I have. Or maybe I have been captured by the Galactic Empire on charges of treason, and I smoke to avoid being tortured to death tomorrow afternoon. My point is that there would be circumstances where I have the belief you hold, and I do that action you think is linked to the belief, and it is a perfectly reasonable action because of extenuating circumstances. So for various reasons I don’t find your line of reasoning particularly plausible, even when patched up like you do.

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      3. Yes. I understand. So maybe the added conditionals will account for these?

        (1) if ‘[a] = I believe there exists a 100% reliable fortune-teller who tells me I’ll die tomorrow unless I never smoke again’ and ‘[a1] I don’t want to die tomorrow’ and ‘[a2] I am willing and able to never smoke again’ then ‘[b] = I will never smoke again’
        (2) I smoke again
        (3) therefore either all or some of [a], [a1] or [a2] are not true.

        In this ‘weakness of will’ is captured in [a2]?

        It seems to me like there are some beliefs which will necessarily lead to actions given specific conditions. Maybe this is a bad example, but are you saying that you think there are no beliefs which necessarily lead to actions in some specific situations?

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      4. Well, I am not convinced there is any set of conditions like the ones that you outline that logically ensures that you will not do the action. No matter how much you strengthen your antecedent with more facts about my beliefs or motivations, this will never equal it being impossible for me to do the action in question. Motivations are just inherently non-determinative. They influence actions, and explain actions, but they do not determine actions. So both of my two types of counter-example still stand.

        So, the first one is about possible circumstances in which the motivation becomes reasonable. Lets say that ‘[a] = I believe there exists a 100% reliable fortune-teller who tells me I’ll die tomorrow unless I never smoke again’ and ‘[a1] I don’t want to die tomorrow’ and ‘[a2] I am willing and able to never smoke again’. This doesn’t mean that I won’t smoke tomorrow. In the brain tumour example, I don’t want to die tomorrow, but I *really* don’t want to die in 6 weeks with the potentially painful and distressing consequences of the tumour. So even though I don’t want to die tomorrow, and I 100% know that smoking will kill me tomorrow, I do smoke, just to avoid the consequences of the tumour.

        But even if there were no tumour-like thing I was avoiding, I think it is (at least) logically possible that I simply don’t act in accordance with my beliefs. Let’s suppose I am given 100% reliable information that smoking will kill me tomorrow, I fully believe that, and there are no extenuating circumstances like a tumour or torture, etc. I still say that I could (logically could) still smoke in that situation. Nothing really prevents me from doing so. Sure, I would be irrational. Sure, it makes no sense. But those constraints don’t actually stay my hand when it reaches for the cigarettes. I *could* still do so, even though I think it would be a terrible mistake. This seems pretty obvious to me if by ‘could’ we mean ‘is logically possible’. All that means is that there is no logical contradiction in supposing that it is true. It seems to me to be contradiction-free. If you think you can see a contradiction, please let me know what it is.

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      5. OK, I see what you say is write and the step from belief to action is (probably) non deterministic.
        However, building on our conversation, you might agree the following is sound:

        (1) If a rational person believes there exists [a] then they would do [b] unless [c] is true
        (2) [d] is a rational person doesn’t do [b] and [c] is not true
        (3) therefore [d] believes there does not exist [a]

        In the smoking case it would be –

        (1) If a rational person believes there exists [a 100% reliable fortune teller says you’ll die unless you stop smoking immediately] then they would [stop smoking immediately] unless [they wanted to die]
        (2) You are a rational person who doesn’t [stop smoking immediately] and [you don’t want to die]
        (3) Therefore you believe there does not exist [a 100% reliable fortune teller says you’ll die unless you stop smoking immediately]

        The question I have with this is whether it is valid, or should (3) be: ‘therefore you do not believe there exists [a]?’

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      6. Well, whatever you do to strengthen the premises, I don’t think it will ever get around my second objection. Let’s say that I only have one desire (so that there is no mitigating circumstance, and so we can forget about my first objection). Let’s say this desire is to not die, and let’s say that I know with 100% certainty that if I do x then I will die. Does it follow logically that I will not do x? I don’t think it does.

        You might object that if I was ‘rational’ then I wouldn’t do x. But my reply is that even if I am a rational person, it is still possible for me to act irrationally. Being rational is a de dicto property, not a de re property. To see the distinction, consider this. Is it possible for a ‘good mathematician’ to make a mistake in a simple addition? Well, if they did make such a mistake, then this makes the description of them as a ‘good mathematician’ less applicable to them; but there is nothing which logically prevents anyone from making a simple mistake in an addition. Even the best mathematician is fallible. So in a de dicto sense, a good mathematician cannot make a simple mistake, but only because the description would fail to hold of the person. In the de re sense, the actual person who is currently described correctly as a good mathematician could make a simple mistake. In the same way, even a perfectly rational person could (de re) do an irrational thing.

        So I profoundly disagree with the basic idea of yours here, which is that actions logically indicate beliefs. In my view it is philosophically confused. It is often put forward in religious contexts, by people who are trying to make claims about what people believe which they cannot justify. It is based on a subtle, but perfectly dissolvable, confusion.

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  5. I believe this is solved when you consider the suffixs used – ‘ism’ and ‘ist’.

    (1) ISM

    The suffix ‘-ism’ when used about a theory or doctrine, as far as I am aware, describes the thing it is affirming. So in all cases I can think of ‘-ism’ words (and I’m willing to be corrected!), they do not have a corresponding ‘-ism’ word that simply denies the truth of what it claims.

    For example, there isn’t ‘Marxism’ and then another ‘-ism’ that describes a theory that ‘Marxism’ is false. This seems obvious because someone would simply say “I don’t believe Marxism is true”, and so it would be redundant to have a new ‘-ism’ to describe this.

    On these grounds, it seems to me like a view needs to affirm some theory or principle to count as an ‘-ism’ word, which is then either accepted or rejected. In other words, it seems to me like ‘-ism’ words cannot be contingent on other ‘-ism’ words.

    For this reason, ‘atheism’ would more naturally mean the affirmation of the theory that there is no God, and the symmetry examples given in this article suggest an atheist is the proper name for someone who believes the theory of atheism, i.e. believes that there is no God.

    (2) IST

    For the atheist = lacktheist to be true (using Alex’s terms) then anything that ‘doesn’t believe it is true that God exists’ is an atheist… yes, anyTHING. By using the symmetry idea, all that is require is a lack of belief and hence all things that do not have a belief in God’s existence are Atheists. However, formal definitions of the ‘-ist’ suffix, and all other examples I can think of, require there to be, at the very least, a person. An ‘-ist’ is a person who holds an ‘-ism’. Surely this is the simplest, most consistent and obvious way to use these terms!

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    1. Slight correction on the second paragraph, it should read:

      [For example, there isn’t ‘Marxism’ and then another ‘-ism’ that describes a theory that ‘Marxism’ is *not the case*. This seems obvious because someone would simply say “I don’t believe Marxism is true”, and so it would be redundant to have a new ‘-ism’ to describe this.]

      Also – on reflection, I think ‘-ism’ words can actually be contingent on another ‘-ism’ words (e.g. may be Marxism entails Socialism), but they cannot be solely contingent on another ‘-ism’ word.

      As another example, it would be completely redundant for me to define ‘Truemarxism’ as the theory the ‘Marxism’ is true. By reflection, it seems equally redundant for me to define ‘Nottruemarxism’ as the theory that ‘Marxism’ isn’t true.

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      1. This article has really been on my mind, so thank you Alex. This is because before reading this article I had always agreed with the modern usage of the term ‘atheist’ as being someone who doesn’t believe theism is true. I would identify as a theist myself, and have tended to go with the flow of the modern definition of atheist. But this article has really persuaded me otherwise for the reasons expressed above. I really am interested if you think that what I have said is legitimate and provides a strong case for the view that ‘atheism=there is no God’ and the mirror ‘atheist=believes there is no God’.

        Another way I’ve been thinking about this is by comparison to a parallel I see. It seems to me what an ‘er’ is to an ‘ing’ when referring to an action is what an ‘ist’ is to an ‘ism’ when referring to a belief. So, an [x]er is someone who does the action of [x]ing; and likewise, an [x]ist is someone who believes the theory of [x]ism. Using this parallel, it’s easy to see that there must be some affirming content. When we think of an action, e.g. ‘running’, we obviously have a specific action in mind, something that is done by a ‘runner’. It seems obvious that we cannot describe ‘notrunning’ as an action noun itself, it doesn’t actually refer to anything other than running and so really the thing being referred to is ‘running’ (I think there are some parallels here to your objection to the theists refrain ‘nothing can come form nothing’ were ‘nothing’ is incorrectly used as a referent). I think we can see a parallel to this in the world of belief where the same pattern holds by simply substituting *action* with *theory* and *does* with *believes*:

        A is someone who *does* the *action* of
        A is someone who *believes* the *theory* of

        By parallel, then, just as not [a]ing cannot be another action (when someone says they were not running they are not describing a new action called ‘notrunning’ but rather denying they were doing the action of running), similarly not [a]ism cannot be another belief.

        To end on a lighter note, and illustrate the absurdity of this if I’m correct, if it’s true that *a is a p-ist = Not-[a believes that p is true]* (the second definition) then, as said previously, all things without the ability to believe are p-ists, which leaves us in the humorous situation that ‘theism is an atheist’.

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  6. The example should read:
    A runner is someone who *does* the *action* of running
    A capitalist is someone who *believes* the *theory* of capitilism

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  7. When you say that “it may contradict itself,” how so?

    I think you slightly misquoted what I said because I was referring to physical reality, i.e., entities that exhibit physical properties. I was not referring to all non-existence proofs.

    In plain language what I mean is that, *in general*, proofs of non-existence of objects that exhibit physical properties are not possible.

    For example, suppose that I claimed that a life-size bust of my head (made of white marble, say), exists somewhere in the universe (not that anybody would want that, mind you :). Can you prove me wrong? The bust itself, if it existed, would not violate the “laws” of logic or of physics, etc. so in that sense you could not prove its non-existence through “obvious” inconsistencies or self-contradictions (like the proverbial married bachelor, for instance, or a perpetual motion machine).

    So, barring self-contradictions, to prove the bust’s non-existence you’d have to have access to every nook and cranny of the universe *simultaneously*. But that, itself, is physically impossible (i.e., it would violate the laws of physics).

    By contrast, a claim of existence could be easily proven by simply producing the bust.

    In the realm of, say, mathematics, you can define the content of your universe and have simultaneous epistemic access to all elements in that universe, and be able to construct all manner of non-existence proofs like “there are no prime numbers between 7 and 11, exclusive” or “no eigenvalue of a stochastic matrix is greater than one” etc. The physical universe is fundamentally different.

    In fact, the only “physical properties” that I require for my assertion is for the object in question (the bust) to “exist” in some generalized location in space and time within the physical universe, not be the physical universe itself, and be subject to the laws of physics (this last one is redundant with “exist within the physical universe”).

    To see what I’m saying, denote the bust’s location “a” at some time “t1” as (a,t1). Suppose you claim that you checked that the bust is not in (b,t1). I could claim that it could well have been in (c,t1) all along, where c is spatially far away from b. By the time, t2, that you obtain information as to whether the bust was in (c,t1), it could well now be in some other location (d,t2), and so on.

    The only way to resolve this, is for you to have information about all possible spatial locations a,b,c,d,e,… in the entire universe all at the same time. But this requirement, per Special Relativity is physically impossible, as it would require superluminal (i.e., faster-than-light) information transfer. This is not a technological obstacle, but an actual physical impossibility, much like a perpetual motion machine.

    Now, I can see how a proposition about proofs that is self-referential may be self-refuting (the proposition may claim that its own proof is false), but I don’t see how that’s the case here, because I’m referring to the physical universe.

    I’d be interested in finding a formulation of this problem that’s self-refuting

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    1. I understand what you’re saying and sorry for misquoting you. Regarding the physical world, what about proving that a ‘faster-than-the-speed-of-light bust of your head’ doesn’t exist? Just musing!

      But back to the point of this article, I don’t really think ‘proof’ is the right term here anyway. Recall that this is about atheism, and whether it would be correct to call it a theory that no God exists. It seems to me in the case of other theories (or ‘ism’s) that the person who holds the view doesn’t have ‘proofs’ that the theory is true, but rather arguments that it should be held. E.g. If someone believes Marxism, they can never provide absolute definitive proofs that Marxism is right, but rather provide arguments that it is right.

      So, as long as a person could provide arguments that there is no bust of you in the universe, then I can’t see why they couldn’t be justified in holding the theory that there is no bust of you in the universe (e.g. We do not know of one in existence, there is no good reason to believe that someone has made one, there is a low probability of one forming randomly, a bust of you is not a necessary thing etc. etc).

      I think this all makes sense?

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      1. PS – what I mean by ‘it may contradict itself’ is that I can prove that a square circle doesn’t exist. So if a proposed being can be shown to be contradictory then you have proved that it cannot and therefore does not exist

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      2. No, I’m afraid that what you say doesn’t make any sense to me.

        The point here was to decide whether existence and non-existence are “symmetric” claims when it comes to burden of proof (that’s how “proof” *is* relevant here :).

        My position was that the burden of proof resides with the positive claim (existence) whenever the existence claim refers to an object that exhibits physical properties (EVEN IF it exhibits logical consistency AND it doesn’t violate physical law).

        Your example of “Marxism is right” is not relevant because (a) Marxism is not an object that exhibits physical properties, and (b) the claim in your example is not about existence but about the interpretation of the concept of Marxism as being “right.” Apples and oranges here :).

        Your “square circle doesn’t exist” example is not relevant either because it’s a logical contradiction which, if you read my post, does not apply to the object whose existence is being questioned, because I defined it as something that was logically consistent:

        “…in that sense you could not prove its non-existence through “obvious” inconsistencies or self-contradictions (like the proverbial married bachelor, for instance, or a perpetual motion machine).” You could easily add a “square circle” or a “doughnut without a hole” etc. etc. These are irrelevant examples.

        You claimed that you thought this could be self-contradicting. I’d love to see a demonstration of that.

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      3. I’m not sure the point was to see if ‘existence’ and ‘non-existence’ are symmetric.

        Burden of proof lies with whoever makes a truth claim, surely?

        My Marxism example was merely to show that you back up a theory with evidences, not proofs that provide certainty

        In terms of the physical world – two points come to mind: (1) no-one claims God is physical so seems irrelevant anyway; (2) But also, I think you absolute can provide evidences that a physical object doesn’t exist. As I said with your ‘bust of you’ example, my evidences that it doesn’t exist may be [a] you don’t know of anyone who has made one, [b] there is no good reason for someone to make a bust, [c] the probability of one forming by chance is incredibly small, [d] it doesn’t seem a necessary object, etc.etc.

        Maybe we’ll have to agree to disagree. I still feel convinced that the link between ‘Atheist’ and ‘Atheism’, and the need for an [x]ist to believe in [x]ism would favour the interpretation that Atheism=theory there is no God, otherwise everything in the universe that doesn’t have a belief in God’s existence (including objects that can’t believe) would be atheists!

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      4. The whole point of Alex’s article was to ascertain whether theism and atheism were “symmetrical” claims and whether “theist” or “atheist” had symmetrical burdens. I offered a reason why the burdens are not symmetrical, and why the theist has a larger burden of proof than the atheist.

        “I’m not sure the point was to see if ‘existence’ and ‘non-existence’ are symmetric.”
        –The point is that a theist makes a claim of belief in the “existence” (of at least one god), it’s that simple. I’m not sure what the problem is here?

        “(1) no-one claims God is physical so seems irrelevant anyway;”
        –But a theist god does interact with the physical world (alleged miracles, resurrections, plagues, floods, parted seas, talking donkeys, talking snakes, answered prayers, punishments, part-human/part-god entities, etc.). So to the extent that this God interacts with the physical world, he/she/it exhibits physical properties. Otherwise, we’d be talking about “deism.”

        “(2) But also, I think you absolute[ly] can provide evidences that a physical object doesn’t exist.”
        –Yes, but where did I dispute that? I was saying that the burden is much more onerous on someone who lacks belief, because non-existence is much harder to demonstrate than existence.

        As to your examples of evidences that my marble bust doesn’t exist, they are all rather weak and indirect, especially when you compare them to my ability to prove my existence claim: I simply produce the darn thing–easy!

        Here are your own examples:

        “[a] you don’t know of anyone who has made one.”
        –Why do you claim that? How can you be sure? I may know that someone has made one. You and I both know of many (many!) examples of busts that do exist (just go to a museum of classical art, say), so it’s not at all a stretch that one of me exists.

        “[b] there is no good reason for someone to make a bust”
        –Not at all! The fact that many busts exist means that people throughout history must have had reasons that are, well… good enough to make them!

        “[c] the probability of one forming by chance is incredibly small”
        –Yes, I agree, but I never claimed that it formed by chance, only that one of me exists. I made no claim of how it was made. So this objection is irrelevant.

        “[d] it doesn’t seem a necessary object, etc.etc.”
        –Yes, I agree, but I never claimed that it was a necessary object, etc. etc.

        So, you see, you’re supporting my claim with your own examples: It’s VERY DIFFICULT for you to prove that something doesn’t exist, and VERY EASY for me to prove my claim that it does exist by simply pointing you to where it is. Hence the ASYMMETRY of the claims.

        “Maybe we’ll have to agree to disagree.” Indeed.

        “I still feel convinced that the link between ‘Atheist’ and ‘Atheism’, and the need for an [x]ist to believe in [x]ism would favour the interpretation that Atheism=theory there is no God,”
        –What can I say, that’s your prerogative, of course. But I reject that atheism is a theory of anything or that an “atheist” has to have a theory of anything, anymore than a person who doesn’t accept assertions that fairies exist, must be committed to a theory of their non-existence, or anything at all.

        Let me give you an example. If I toss a coin and cover it with my hand before you can see it, and ask you “Do you believe it’s heads?” You say “No.” Does that commit you to believing that it’s “tails”? Does that commit you to a theory that it’s “not heads”? I maintain that it doesn’t commit you to a belief nor to any theory.

        In other words: NOT BELIEVING SOMETHING DOES NOT COMMIT YOU TO BELIEVING THE CONTRARY, NOR TO A THEORY OF THE CONTRARY, NOR TO A THEORY OF ANYTHING, FOR THAT MATTER.

        “otherwise everything in the universe that doesn’t have a belief in God’s existence (including objects that can’t believe) would be atheists!”
        –I’m not even sure this makes any sense at all :). I think the working presumption is that whomever does either the believing (the theist), or the withholding of belief because she doesn’t find the evidence compelling enough (the atheist), or believing the contrary (the hard atheist) should at least have the capability of forming beliefs! In either case, if you insist on calling inanimate objects “atheists,” because they lack beliefs, that’s your prerogative. It’s just a label. It doesn’t invalidate or add anything to the arguments here. You may as well call them “non-dentists” or “apathetic” also! 🙂

        I think the disconnect here might come from how theists’ belief in their god is far more important to them than an atheist’s lack of belief is to her. If, as an atheist, you place lack of belief in a god in the same category as lack of belief in fairies, Leprechauns, world-creating pixies, ghosts, pink flying unicorns, and the like, none of these things are all that important to you. I.e., your “theories of the world” or whatever don’t depend strongly on whether you believe in pink flying unicorns, and you don’t have theories about the non-existence of pink flying unicorns. The same thing goes for gods, if you simply don’t believe in them.

        The reason we don’t have labels such as “pink-flying-unicornists” vs. “a-pink-flying-unicornists” is because we don’t have pervasive beliefs in pink flying unicorns in our society today, so we don’t have a need for such labels.

        Now, a theist may find god belief or lack of belief as something very fundamental to their (the theist’s) world and their views about the world, so they may want to insist that it should also be important for the atheist (which is not necessarily the case), and they may want to insist that lack of belief in the theist’s god is so earth-shattering and fundamental, that it should be part of the atheist’s “worldview” or something like that. In some sense, theists are “projecting” their own view onto atheists and placing unwarranted requirements on the atheists.

        Cheers.

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  8. Hello Alex, I posted here as “Miguel” previously, but, when I tried to reply to someone’s comment, I had a problem with WordPress where I couldn’t login or retrieve my password, so I had to get another account. I couldn’t call myself “Miguel” anymore because, the name was “already in use” (probably by me :).

    Anyway, I had to come up with another name and came up with this one. Just FYI. (And you don’t have to “approve” this post, as it’s just, er, FYI.)

    Thanks.

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  9. I imaged you ending that post with a ‘so there!’ and sticking your tongue out.

    Few things on what you said (my comments start with >)

    “The whole point of Alex’s article was to ascertain whether theism and atheism were “symmetrical” claims and whether “theist” or “atheist” had symmetrical burdens”

    > I don’t think it was, I thought the symmetry being discussed was between atheist and atheism compared with theist and theism. The burden question was a subsequent discussion

    “I offered a reason why the burdens are not symmetrical, and why the theist has a larger burden of proof than the atheist.”

    > That might be the case, but that’s irrelevant. We’re trying to get at meanings of words and consistency of language.

    “I’m not sure the point was to see if ‘existence’ and ‘non-existence’ are symmetric.”

    “(2) But also, I think you absolute[ly] can provide evidences that a physical object doesn’t exist.”
    –Yes, but where did I dispute that? I was saying that the burden is much more onerous on someone who lacks belief, because non-existence is much harder to demonstrate than existence.

    > So what? You can’t define what an ‘ism’ is based on how easy or hard the burden of proof is. That is entirely irrelevant.

    “I still feel convinced that the link between ‘Atheist’ and ‘Atheism’, and the need for an [x]ist to believe in [x]ism would favour the interpretation that Atheism=theory there is no God,”
    –What can I say, that’s your prerogative, of course. But I reject that atheism is a theory of anything or that an “atheist” has to have a theory of anything, anymore than a person who doesn’t accept assertions that fairies exist, must be committed to a theory of their non-existence, or anything at all.

    > That’s fine, it’s fine for some one to not believe God exists, and therefore not be a theist, or reject theism. But this is a discussion of terminology. If atheism is a thing, then all other examlples of ‘isms’ affirm something, not merely deny another ‘ism’. As I said previously, this makes it redundant.

    In other words: NOT BELIEVING SOMETHING DOES NOT COMMIT YOU TO BELIEVING THE CONTRARY, NOR TO A THEORY OF THE CONTRARY, NOR TO A THEORY OF ANYTHING, FOR THAT MATTER.

    > I understand… You miss my point entirely. As I said, the article was asking ‘what is atheism’ which is a question about termonology. My only contention is that if we follow normal convention, atheism must be a theory about something. I understand that someone can just not believe in God without believing there is no God, but it seems obvious to me that they are simply not a theist. An atheist, however, believes atheism. That sentence makes no sense if atheism means not-theism.

    “otherwise everything in the universe that doesn’t have a belief in God’s existence (including objects that can’t believe) would be atheists!”
    –I’m not even sure this makes any sense at all :). I think the working presumption is that whomever does either the believing (the theist), or the withholding of belief because she doesn’t find the evidence compelling enough (the atheist), or believing the contrary (the hard atheist) should at least have the capability of forming beliefs! In either case, if you insist on calling inanimate objects “atheists,” because they lack beliefs, that’s your prerogative. It’s just a label. It doesn’t invalidate or add anything to the arguments here. You may as well call them “non-dentists” or “apathetic” also!

    > You prove my point. A non-dentist is someome who is not a dentist, just as a not-theist is not a theist. This is different from an atheist.

    I think the disconnect here might come from how theists’ belief in their god is far more important to them than an atheist’s lack of belief is to her. If, as an atheist, you place lack of belief in a god in the same category as lack of belief in fairies, Leprechauns, world-creating pixies, ghosts, pink flying unicorns, and the like, none of these things are all that important to you. I.e., your “theories of the world” or whatever don’t depend strongly on whether you believe in pink flying unicorns, and you don’t have theories about the non-existence of pink flying unicorns. The same thing goes for gods, if you simply don’t believe in them.

    > No, the disconnect is that you have made a huge leap. I’m not saying someone should define themselves as anything. Somebody is not either a theist or an atheist. Someone may be neither. If someone does not believe in God they are just not a theist. The question is why is it so important for you to call yourself an atheist?

    The reason we don’t have labels such as “pink-flying-unicornists” vs. “a-pink-flying-unicornists” is because we don’t have pervasive beliefs in pink flying unicorns in our society today, so we don’t have a need for such labels.

    Now, a theist may find god belief or lack of belief as something very fundamental to their (the theist’s) world and their views about the world, so they may want to insist that it should also be important for the atheist (which is not necessarily the case), and they may want to insist that lack of belief in the theist’s god is so earth-shattering and fundamental, that it should be part of the atheist’s “worldview” or something like that. In some sense, theists are “projecting” their own view onto atheists and placing unwarranted requirements on the atheists.

    > > Please look up the definition of the suffix ‘ism’ and ‘ist’. reading them should clear this up. It is not about unwarranted requirements, you clearly have a bee in your bonnet. It’s just about termonology. I leave you with a thought – If you lack belief in God why do YOU need the label atheist. Why not just that your not a theist?

    Alex, fancy throwing in any of your clear headed logic here?

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  10. My comments are below start with (**).

    I imaged you ending that post with a ‘so there!’ and sticking your tongue out.

    (**)Aren’t we getting a little personal here? 🙂 I didn’t stick my tongue out, I thought I was very respectful, even if I argued my points passionately. Please, don’t be offended, it’s OK to disagree :).

    Few things on what you said (my comments start with >)

    “The whole point of Alex’s article was to ascertain whether theism and atheism were “symmetrical” claims and whether “theist” or “atheist” had symmetrical burdens”

    > I don’t think it was, I thought the symmetry being discussed was between atheist and atheism compared with theist and theism. The burden question was a subsequent discussion

    “I offered a reason why the burdens are not symmetrical, and why the theist has a larger burden of proof than the atheist.”

    > That might be the case, but that’s irrelevant. We’re trying to get at meanings of words and consistency of language.

    (**) I think it’s been a while since you last read Alex’s article. Allow me to quote a few paragraphs from Alex’s article, towards the end (emphasis with CAP LETTERS is my own):

    ———————————————–From Alex’s article: ————————-

    So, an atheist is ‘naturally’ thought of as a lacktheist if we say that atheism means that it is not true that some gods exist. Given that starting point, it isn’t changing the pattern of definitions to get to lacktheism; instead, it looks as if insisting on hard-atheism would be unsystematic here. One can imagine a theist insisting that an atheist should still be a hard-atheist , but this time the accusation of SYMMETRY-BREAKING could be levelled at the theist for doing so. Who is being unsystematic, it seems, depends on the starting point taken.

    And a theist would have a selfish motive for making this demand too. We cannot ignore the fact that insisting that the atheist breaks the SYMMETRY and uses the definition of ‘hard-atheism’ would remove the justificatory advantage that the atheist would otherwise ‘naturally’ have. However, because ii) and vii) are logically equivalent, there can be NO REASON TO PICK ONE OVER THE OTHER, and so the insistence of the theist to use the hard-atheist definition looks to the atheist as being ad hoc – being done merely for the rhetorical benefit it provides to the theist.

    Thus, the two positions MIRROR EACH OTHER PERFECTLY. Depending on the definition given for atheism, the definition of atheist as hard-atheist or lacktheist seems UNWARRANTED. The theist judges the atheist as trying to illegitimately lighten their own BURDEN; the atheist judges the theist as trying to illegitimately add to the atheist burden. Whether it makes the atheist’s job HARDER, or the theist’s job EASIER, depends on whether atheism means that it is false that some gods exist, or whether it is not that some gods exist is true. And there doesn’t seem like there could be any reason for picking one over the other.

    There seemed to be an observation that atheist’s were making an illegitimate move when defining atheist as lacktheist, which was being done just to get an advantage over the theist rhetorically. But if we start at another position, it would seem like the theist is the one trying to shift the BURDEN just for their own advantage. This seems to dissolve the accusations of foul play on either side.

    5. Post-definitional thinking

    I think that the lesson of all this is just that there is nothing purely LOGICAL to appeal to which means that ‘atheist’ should be thought of as ‘hard-atheist’ rather than ‘lacktheist’. Either view is EQUALLY DEFENSIBLE, and any choice between them can only be ad hoc. In a sense, as it is a discussion about the nature of definitions, it is rather POINTLESS. And this is hardly surprising.

    Instead of worrying about the definition of ‘atheist’, WE SHOULD RATHER PAY MORE ATTENTION TO THE NATURE OF THE BELIEFS THAT a HOLDS. In addition to the basic notion of a simply believing that p, we can talk about the ‘degree of belief’ that a has that p. Let’s say that the degree of belief a has that p is the following: [….]

    ————————————————————————End of Alex’s quote.——————-

    (**) You can see that the point of the article was to decide to what extent the the labels should be “symmetric” (Alex’s term) or whether there’s justification for “breaking the symmetry” (Alex’s term) by appealing to different “burdens” (Alex’s term) and that we can attempt to do this by paying attention to the nature of the beliefs. I attempted to provide a reason (a warrant) as to why they should not be symmetric, because of the undue burden required of the person who’s supposed to defend “non-existence.”

    “I’m not sure the point was to see if ‘existence’ and ‘non-existence’ are symmetric.”

    “(2) But also, I think you absolute[ly] can provide evidences that a physical object doesn’t exist.”
    –Yes, but where did I dispute that? I was saying that the burden is much more onerous on someone who lacks belief, because non-existence is much harder to demonstrate than existence.

    > So what? You can’t define what an ‘ism’ is based on how easy or hard the burden of proof is. That is entirely irrelevant.

    (**) I was addressing your point (2), so if there’s a “so what?” it applies to your comment (2). Your point (2) was not talking about definitions of an ‘ism’ but whether it’s possible to provide evidences that a physical object doesn’t exist, which in turn missed my original point. We’re really talking past each other at this point.

    “I still feel convinced that the link between ‘Atheist’ and ‘Atheism’, and the need for an [x]ist to believe in [x]ism would favour the interpretation that Atheism=theory there is no God,”
    –What can I say, that’s your prerogative, of course. But I reject that atheism is a theory of anything or that an “atheist” has to have a theory of anything, anymore than a person who doesn’t accept assertions that fairies exist, must be committed to a theory of their non-existence, or anything at all.

    > That’s fine, it’s fine for some one to not believe God exists, and therefore not be a theist, or reject theism. But this is a discussion of terminology. If atheism is a thing, then all other examlples of ‘isms’ affirm something, not merely deny another ‘ism’. As I said previously, this makes it redundant.

    (**) OK, I’m glad we agree on something. I’m not sure that “atheism is a thing” (define “thing”), but in any case, let’s assume for the sake of argument, that all other ‘isms’ affirm something (you’ve used “Marxism” in your examples before), rather than deny something else. With your example, “Marxism” would not be the “denial of Capitalism” or something like that. I would agree with you. However, you seem to be focusing only on the suffix “ism” while completely ignoring the PREFIX “a” which means “free or without, or the absence of,” and its meaning is similar to the suffix “less.” In that case, the closest to someone who does not subscribe to Marxism is not “Capitalist” but rather “a-Marxist.” Of course, we don’t have such a term. But we do have the terms a-theism and a-theist. and the whole point of Alex’s article is whether we should think of an atheist as someone who’s a hard atheist or a “lacktheist,” and under what situations it would be warranted to say than an “atheist” is a “lacktheist” or a “hard atheist.”

    In other words: NOT BELIEVING SOMETHING DOES NOT COMMIT YOU TO BELIEVING THE CONTRARY, NOR TO A THEORY OF THE CONTRARY, NOR TO A THEORY OF ANYTHING, FOR THAT MATTER.

    > I understand… You miss my point entirely. As I said, the article was asking ‘what is atheism’ which is a question about termonology. My only contention is that if we follow normal convention, atheism must be a theory about something. I understand that someone can just not believe in God without believing there is no God, but it seems obvious to me that they are simply not a theist. An atheist, however, believes atheism. That sentence makes no sense if atheism means not-theism.

    (**) We’re here trying to decide which of the two definitions (soft or hard atheist) apply to atheist. Again, I fail to see that it should be the “hard” variety, because of the prefix “a” which means, literally, “THE ABSENCE OF.” In this case, that could definitely be interpreted as someone who lacks theism, without being committed to any theory or belief! Alex was contending that either the “weak” or the “strong” form could apply. I provided reasons for why I believe the meaning should be the “weak” form of atheism (“lacktheism”) because of the asymmetry in the burden of proof, which was not expounded upon by Alex in his article.

    “otherwise everything in the universe that doesn’t have a belief in God’s existence (including objects that can’t believe) would be atheists!”
    –I’m not even sure this makes any sense at all :). I think the working presumption is that whomever does either the believing (the theist), or the withholding of belief because she doesn’t find the evidence compelling enough (the atheist), or believing the contrary (the hard atheist) should at least have the capability of forming beliefs! In either case, if you insist on calling inanimate objects “atheists,” because they lack beliefs, that’s your prerogative. It’s just a label. It doesn’t invalidate or add anything to the arguments here. You may as well call them “non-dentists” or “apathetic” also!

    > You prove my point. A non-dentist is someome who is not a dentist, just as a not-theist is not a theist. This is different from an atheist.

    (**) Yes a non-dentist is someone who’s not a dentist but every inanimate object would also fit that description, according to YOUR definition because you would insist that non-dentist means not being a dentist, which fit inanimate objects. Remember, it was you who brought inanimate objects here, not me. Yes, you could probably say that a “not-theist” is not a theist, but not being a theist does not entail that you believe anything!!! It simply means that you do not subscribe to the beliefs of a theist. You’re insisting that “not a theist” is different from “atheist.” I completely disagree. Look up the definition of the suffix “a.” If that doesn’t do it for you, please note that this is precisely what we are trying to argue here. You can’t simply assert your conclusion without supporting it. Again, we’re talking past each other.

    I think the disconnect here might come from how theists’ belief in their god is far more important to them than an atheist’s lack of belief is to her. If, as an atheist, you place lack of belief in a god in the same category as lack of belief in fairies, Leprechauns, world-creating pixies, ghosts, pink flying unicorns, and the like, none of these things are all that important to you. I.e., your “theories of the world” or whatever don’t depend strongly on whether you believe in pink flying unicorns, and you don’t have theories about the non-existence of pink flying unicorns. The same thing goes for gods, if you simply don’t believe in them.

    > No, the disconnect is that you have made a huge leap. I’m not saying someone should define themselves as anything. Somebody is not either a theist or an atheist. Someone may be neither. If someone does not believe in God they are just not a theist. The question is why is it so important for you to call yourself an atheist?
    (**) I don’t agree that someone can be neither a theist nor an atheist. If these are defined as belief and lack of belief (in a god), there’s no middle ground: you are either convinced or not convinced and these cover all possibilities (by the Law of the Excluded Middle). Yes, they are not a theist if they don’t believe in God (they are an a-theist, which means they lack (absence of) belief. Again, if “theist” means someone who believes in a god, “atheist” means someone who lacks a belief in a god (or who does not have a theory on the existence of God). This is precisely what the Greek suffix “a” stands for. I never said it was “important” for me to “call myself an atheist,” my friend. You’re putting words in my mouth; I’m simply debating (hopefully in a cordial way) why I believe theists may want to impose a higher burden on atheists by requiring atheists to “believe” in something or “have a theory of” something. Again getting personal? 🙂

    The reason we don’t have labels such as “pink-flying-unicornists” vs. “a-pink-flying-unicornists” is because we don’t have pervasive beliefs in pink flying unicorns in our society today, so we don’t have a need for such labels.

    Now, a theist may find god belief or lack of belief as something very fundamental to their (the theist’s) world and their views about the world, so they may want to insist that it should also be important for the atheist (which is not necessarily the case), and they may want to insist that lack of belief in the theist’s god is so earth-shattering and fundamental, that it should be part of the atheist’s “worldview” or something like that. In some sense, theists are “projecting” their own view onto atheists and placing unwarranted requirements on the atheists.

    > > Please look up the definition of the suffix ‘ism’ and ‘ist’. reading them should clear this up. It is not about unwarranted requirements, you clearly have a bee in your bonnet. It’s just about termonology. I leave you with a thought – If you lack belief in God why do YOU need the label atheist. Why not just that your not a theist?
    (**) If it’s all about terminology, then PLEASE LOOK UP THE DEFINITION OF THE PREFIX “A” which should help clear some of this up. I offered the “unwarranted requirements” argument as a way to “break the symmetry” (this is Alex’s own terminology, not mine) and to show that the “lacktheist” was a more appropriate definition for “atheist” than “hard atheist.”

    (**) Again, Alex argued in his article that either definition (“strong” or “weak”) can be thought of as valid. I gave reasons, including the asymmetry in the burden of proof, to show that “weak” was preferred. You keep bringing up the “ism” and “ist” suffixes, while ignoring the “a” prefix, which also has a meaning!

    (**) Again, I don’t have, nor have I expressed, a “need” for any labels, it is YOU who want to label me that way. I’m simply attempting to argue on the merits; my personal beliefs or lack thereof is of no concern. And yes, not being a theist, is the same as being an atheist.

    (**) As for the “bee in my bonnet,” again, must you get so personal??? Maybe the shoe is on the other foot? 🙂

    (**) Peace. 🙂

    Alex, fancy throwing in any of your clear headed logic here?

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    1. OK – I agree we seem to be talking past each other a little. My ‘sticking your tongue out’ comment was meant to be a bit of light banter (sorry, just my sense of humour!) 🙂

      Instead of doing another long response to what you wrote, let me just try and succinctly restate what I’m saying:

      The article seeks to address the question ‘What is atheism’, and Alex says towards the start “There is a direct symmetry between -ism and -ist on this view”. As I understood it, it then proceeds to unpack what this symmetry looks like, and how the symmetry may be maintained for both views ‘atheist=hard atheist’ and ‘atheist=lacktheist’. He then discusses further issue related to probability etc. [may be Alex is the only one who can say if this is fair]

      My point, in response, is that this is actually a discussion of terminology. We must look at how the suffixs ‘ism’ and ‘ist’ are defined and used; and as you correctly stated we must look at how the prefix ‘a’ is defined and used. This seems to me to be the core issue; Whether or not the burden of proof is greater for one or other position is irrelevant – this is not definition-ally connected to the terms. So we must seek to dispassionately assess the terminology. (for your interest – I am a theist who used to think atheist=lacktheist was a legitimate position until reading this article).

      So, let’s start with the prefix ‘a’. You’re correct that it means ‘without’. So what does this do to the word ‘atheism’? It seems to me like it could legitimately mean either sense – ‘without theism’ (i.e. ‘lacktheism’) or ‘without God’ (i.e. ‘hard atheism’) – Theos just being the Greek word for God. So, to consider which of these we should favour we should look at the suffix ‘ism’. At dicitonary.com we have – “used as a productive suffix in the formation of nouns denoting… doctrines”, which is similar to other definitions. From this definition, we should favour atheism meaning the doctrine there is no God, because ‘not-theism’ isn’t a noun. It just means not ‘theism’. Of course, you could just say ‘atheism is just not-theism’ but then it is not anything, it means all your saying is ‘not theism is just not theism’.

      Moving on then, what about the suffix ‘ist’. This case is even stronger, because the definition of this is – “An adherent or advocate of a specified doctrine, theory, or school of thought”. So the atheist must ‘adhere to’ or ‘advocate’ a specified doctrine. Obviously this doctrine for the atheist is ‘atheism’. But as we have just seen, the definition of the ‘ism’ must actually describe a doctrine/theory. Not-theism isn’t actually a doctrine or theory, it is merely not theism. This means we should favour the view that an atheist is someone who believes atheism which is a theory that no God exists.

      In the article, Alex used mirroring to show that is atheism is defined as ‘not-theism’ then there is a symmetry between atheist and atheism which is upheld. But this is only this case if atheist is defined us ‘someone who is not an adherent/advocate of theism’, which is simply not allowed in the definition of the suffix ‘ist’.

      Here it is as a deductive argument. If you want to respond please either show this is not valid or state which premise you disagree with:

      (1) An Atheist is either someone who ‘believes there is no God’ or someone who is ‘not a theist’

      (2) If ‘ist’ is used as a suffix then it describes someone who adhere’s to a doctrine/theory
      (3) If ‘ism’ is used as a suffix then it describes a doctrine or theory

      (4) If atheism means ‘not-theism’ then an Atheist is someone who is ‘not a theist’

      (5) Atheism is a word using the suffix ‘ism’
      (6) Therefore (from 3) Atheism is a doctrine/theory

      (7) Atheist is a word using the suffix ‘ist’
      (8) Therefore (from 2) an Atheist is someone who is an adherent to a doctrine/theory

      (9) ‘Not a theist’ is just someone who is not an adherent to theism
      (10) Therefore (from 8 and 9) an Atheist is not merely someone who is ‘not a theist’
      (11) Therefore an ‘Atheist’ is someone who believes there is no God.

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      1. Obviously there is a lot of discussion here, and I am not going to offer a detailed commentary on all of it, or weigh in on any particular issue. As there is an argument present though, I will say something about that. I can think of several counterexamples to premises 2 and 3, which make me think that it is unsound. Consider the terms sadist and sadism. Is sadism a doctrine or theory? I don’t think it is best described in this way. It relates to a sort of sexual identity (or something a bit like that anyway). Saying that someone is a sadist is not correctly described as “someone who who adheres to a doctrine/theory”. So both premise 2 and 3 are false, as they are universal generalisations with clear counterexamples.

        I think that trying to make hard and fast rules based on etymology is a fool’s errand. English is too messy to expect every application of ‘ist’ and ‘ism’, or ‘a-‘ for that matter, to be consistently applied. They just aren’t. Medieval authors used a version of Latin precisely for this reason; their own European languages were too messy, and the dead and highly modified version of Latin allowed the formulation of regular rules so that arguments could be presented more clearly. These days we use formal logic in place of Medieval Latin, but it plays a similar role.

        Another interesting, and very closely related, term is ‘agnostic’. I think we could use the term ‘agnosticism’ (although ‘agnosticist’ sounds wrong). It seems to me that, in contrast to theism, agnosticism is not the sort of thing that can be true or false. Ask: what would the world be like if theism were true? The answer is that a god would exist. Now ask: what would the world be like if agnosticism were true? There is no answer to this. It isn’t a claim about the world. It is a description of an agent’s psychological state (that they do not know what to think about the god question, or something like that). So agnosticism seems to be a spanner in the works for the argument as well, as there is no agnosticist, and no doctrine of agnosticism. I suppose the issue between hard-atheist and lacktheist is about whether they should be considered like theists (who make claims about the world) and agnostics (who don’t).

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      2. Thanks Alex.

        Some thoughts on what you said –
        The full definition of suffix ‘ism’ is actually threefold: [1].indicating an action, process, or result: criticism, terrorism [2]. indicating a state or condition: paganism [3] indicating a doctrine, system, or body of principles and practices: Leninism, spiritualism.
        Likewise, the full definition of the suffix ‘ist’ can also mean someone who ‘practises’ something, as well as someone who ‘holds’ a particular view/doctrine.

        So premise (2) and (3) should start with something like – ‘In the context of this discussion…’, and I don’t think there is dispute over which context of the suffixs we are using. Your ‘sadist’ example falls under [1] from the definitions above. A terrorist is someone who practices Terrorism, a sadist is someone who practices sadism. Clearly, in the atheist/atheism discussion we are using definition [3] – it isn’t a practise, nor is it a state of condition. This is just a different sense of the word. I’d like to see if you can think of any examples of sense [3] used for an ‘ist’ word that merely defines someone who does not hold some view or other.

        Regarding agnosticism – I think the most common definition is someone who believe that nothing is known or can be known about God; and agnosticism is the theory/doctrine that nothing is known or can be known about God (whether it should be ‘is known’ or ‘can be known’ is another debate). This fits perfectly with my argument. What would the world look like if nothing is known or can be known about God? It would look like a world with people who do not know anything about God.
        What is certain is that an agnostic isn’t defined as someone who does not hold the view that God can be known. Obviously, being an agnostic entails this, but it would mean anyone who hasn’t thought about the issue is an agnostic. Surely this cannot be correct!

        Alex – it seems to me like your mirroring example lends strongest support to the definition Atheism=’hard atheism’ regardless of etymology. I feel we are left in all sorts of interesting absurdities if the second definition is correct (atheism=lacktheism). Can you tell me which of the following statements is incorrect if atheism=lacktheism and atheist=not-theist, bearing in mind that the second definition states a is an atheist iff not-[a believes that [p is true]]

        (1) Theism is an atheist (because not-[theism believes that [theism is true])
        (2) Atheists are not defined as people who hold Atheism (because atheism=not-[theism] but atheists don’t hold not-[theism], rather they don’t hold [theism])
        (3) The vast vast majority of the universe is Atheist as every single molecule is an Atheist (because not-[molecule believes that [p is true])
        (4) Theists have atheist bones (same reason as above).

        There are a thousand more absurdities like this. This is why I find your argument so strong in favour of atheism=no God exists

        Any thoughts welcome!

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      3. I find your response to my objection quite strange. Your second premise was this:

        “If ‘ist’ is used as a suffix then it describes someone who adheres to a doctrine/theory”

        I presented something to which the antecedent applies, but that the consequent doesn’t (as a counterexample). Your response is to propose a restriction on the use of ‘ist’ such that rules out the type of counterexample I pointed out. That works, but at a cost.

        Note that applying this restriction makes the claim a tautology. So, if we make the move explicit (which doesn’t mean adding “in the context of this discussion”, itself a vague and unclear addition), the premise becomes:

        “If ‘ist’ is used as a suffix [in such a way as to only to describe someone who adheres to a doctrine/theory], then it describes someone who adheres to a doctrine/theory”

        Well, I’m not going to object to the reformulated 2nd or 3rd premise, because now they are trivially true.

        But here comes the cost. This move has made premises 5 and 7 rather dubious (or perhaps simply question begging). Sure, atheism is the adherence to a doctrine … IF the -ism suffix in atheism is the sort of suffix that indicates this. But is it? That seems to be where the disagreement is. Does being an atheist indicate commitment to a claim about the world (can it be true or false, like theism)? Or is being an atheist like being an agnostic, which merely reports the state of knowledge about the person without indicating anything about what the wider world is like? One is adherence to a doctrine, etc, and the other isn’t. If the first, then atheist is like hard-atheist, but if the second it is like lacktheist. Both are perfectly acceptable uses of ‘ism/ist’, because as you concede the suffix itself doesn’t just mean adherence to a doctrine. If you restrict by use of a definition what you mean in the 2nd and 3rd premises like that, you loose the right to use the terms later on without begging the question at hand.

        I find your notion of agnosticism rather strange as well. I would have thought that the agnostic is someone who themselves does not know whether god exists or not. That might be because nobody knows, or because nobody can know, but I don’t see why it has to be about that. Even if you insist somehow that your definition is right, what do we say about the people who say that:

        a) they don’t know whether god exists
        b) they don’t know (or make any claims about) whether other people know if god exists, and
        c) they don’t know (or make any claims about) whether other people can know if god exists?

        I would call such a person an agnostic. To me it seems intuitive that the positions (theist/atheist/agnostic, etc) are the sorts of thing that you might get as answers to the question: does god exist?

        a) Yes, I know that he does (gnostic/hard theist)
        b) Yes, I believe that he does (theist)
        c) I don’t believe that he does or doesn’t (lacktheist)
        d) I don’t know that he does or doesn’t (agnostic)
        e) No, I believe that he doesn’t (hard atheist)
        f) No, I know that he doesn’t (hard agnostic)

        Either way round, my intuition is that someone who identifies as an agnostic is someone who is identifying that they (and not necessarily anyone else) does not know either way about the god question.

        As for the absurdity examples, I intended that the use of the variable ‘a’ in the definitions was supposed to range over (belief-possessing) agents. I did explicitly say that when moving from ‘ism’ to ‘ist’ meant “bringing the agent, a, into the definition”. It is implicit that agents are the sorts of things that act and are responsible for things, and (relevantly for us) have propositional attitudes (like belief) towards things. So the idea is that it says:

        For all agents a, a is an atheist iff not-[a believes that p]

        It would be rather strange to think of the variable ‘a’ as having unrestricted quantification in this context. I used the letter ‘a’ (and made explicit reference to them as ‘agents’), but I guess I should have been more explicit about that, and what an agent means.

        If you want to use unrestricted quantification, then I would formulate the definition with an antecedent clause as follows:

        For all x, if x is an agent, then (x is an atheist iff not-[x believes that p])

        Yes, if the definition of atheist covered inanimate objects, or concepts, etc, then it would result in absurd consequences of the sort you point out. However, this can be avoided without going being driven to hard-atheist/ism. When understood that the term only applies to agents, this worry is avoided.

        I don’t see 2 as an absurdity anyway. Maybe there is a symmetry that is broken if the atheist is not someone who holds that atheism is true; however, as it seems (at least logically) possible that atheist is a term that identifies people in the same sort of way that agnostic does.

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      4. Thank you for clarifying. I will address your premises below. First, let me succinctly re-state the thread. (Sorry if I occasionally use caps, but I don’t know how to insert italics here. I don’t mean to sound loud, just want to emphasize some terms.)

        (A) Alex argued that, LOGICALLY, either the “weak” or “strong” definitions could apply to “atheism” or “atheist.”

        (B) I argued that the “weak” form is doxastically warranted (Alex did also). I further argued that the “weak” form should be preferred because of the asymmetry in the burden of proof when you don’t limit the theistic existence claim to only the a priori “sciences” like logic. I was looking at the reasonableness of the definition NOT necessarily at etymology.

        (C) You attempted to refute my claim of the asymmetry of the burden of proof, which I defended.

        (D) You said the asymmetry argument was irrelevant, and switched back to etymology (the meaning of “ist” and “ism”).

        OK now to your premises. For clarity, this is what I found for the definition of the prefix “a”:

        a- an- Greek: prefix; no, absence of, without, lack of; not

        As to your premises, I’m not clear on (1), and see serious problems with (2), (3).

        (1) You say an atheist either “believes there is no God” (this is the “strong form”) or “is not a theist” (here it’s not very clear whether you mean the “weak form” but I’ll assume that’s what you mean).

        (2) I disagree here. For example, a plagiarist does not adhere to the “doctrine of plagiarism” or something like that. But even if I granted you that a theist is someone who adheres to the doctrine of theism, the suffix “a” can simply mean the negation of the ADHERENCE to such a doctrine, without committing the non-adherent to a doctrine of his own. So, going by etymology alone, a perfectly reasonable definition of “atheist” would be “someone who does not adhere to the theist’s doctrine.”

        (3) I disagree. For example, plagiarism is not a doctrine. But again, for argument’s sake, let me assume that theism “describes a doctrine or theory.” In this case, the prefix “a” can be construed as meaning the absence of or lack of a doctrine or theory. Under this interpretation, atheism means the lack of, or absence of, a theistic doctrine or theory. This in no way commits atheism to being a doctrine or theory, just the absence of one.

        It seems perfectly reasonable to think of atheism as meaning “without theism” or “lacking theism” instead of without God or lacking God because the “a” prefix modifies “theism,” not “theos.” Per your definition of “theism” this would mean without the doctrine or theory of theism.

        Likewise, it seems perfectly reasonable to think of an atheist as meaning someone who does not adhere to the doctrine or theory that a theist adheres to: not-[someone who adheres to the doctrine or theory of theism].

        You seem to be arguing that there has to be a necessary commitment to the strong form of atheism on etymological reasons, but even then, the argument doesn’t necessarily work, does it?

        You seem to making two assumptions here:

        (i) That suffixes like “ism” or “ist” necessarily entail a doctrine or theory, and an adherent to a doctrine or theory, respectively in EVERY word that they modify. But this is demonstrably wrong, as in the word “plagiarism” or “plagiarist.”

        (ii) Even in the cases where “ism” or “ist” apply to doctrines or adherents, a prefix of negation like “a” does not modify what comes after it, but is itself somehow joined with the root and then is modified by the suffixes that come after it, (which necessarily means that the word becomes a doctrine or adherent). Again, why should we necessarily take that position and not the reverse, namely that “a” modifies what comes after it?

        However, my argument (or Alex’s, I think) was not rooted on etymology, which is too imprecise anyway, as there can be different usages of suffixes etc. I was trying to argue for what a reasonable definition should be, given that there is freedom in the interpretation.

        Cheers.

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      5. Autonomous reason – I answered much of what you said in a response to Alex. There are other definitions of the suffix ‘ism’ and ‘ist’ but they do not apply in this situation (to say there are multiple definitions is not the same as saying you can reinterpret it as you want). The examples you give are when an ‘ist’ practices an ‘ism’. But that is not the contention here.

        Regarding the prefix ‘a’ – I acknowledged in the previous comment that this could mean ‘non-theism’ and ‘non-theist’ but think this leads to all sorts of strange situations. The biggest of which is that under this definition an atheist does not hold the view of atheism. In fact, in this view atheists are completely unrelated to atheism, and if someone says they are an atheist they make no claim whatsoever about their position on atheism. Does this not at the very least seem odd?

        It also seems redundant to me – the big question that has not been addressed. What is the added value to saying atheist over not-theist? And is it even correct to call not-a-thing a some-thing?

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  11. Now here is a discussion! (I love this stuff)

    Just some thoughts on what you said, and bear in mind that I am not trained in logic and you are so go easy!

    Regarding my new premises (2) and (3) on ‘contextualising’ them:
    I agree that premise (2) and (3) falls into a tautology as you described it. However, it can also be formed conclusion of the following argument:

    (a) The suffix ‘ist’ describes either [1] someone who practises something or [2] someone who adheres to a doctrine/theory
    (b) Atheist does not describe someone who practises something
    (c) Therefore Atheist describes someone who adheres to a position.

    Assuming you would agree with (b) and (c), then you would need to reject (a) as a false dichotomy, which requires you to provide an alternative definition. I feel more grounds is needed for this new definition than ‘we could define it this way’.

    These same steps could be made for the suffix ‘ism’

    Regarding what agnosticism means:
    I really think that the way I am defining agnosticism in the correct way. How would you define the word ‘agnosticism’ then? I don’t see how your definition wouldn’t start with ‘the doctrine/view that…’. That is all that is required to prove my point. All definitions I’ve read state, at a minimum, that it is a view about something. Can you direct me to any writing/evidence that claims agnosticism is not a view/doctrine about knowledge.

    You said “an agnostic is someone who is identifying that they (and not necessarily anyone else) does not know either way about the god question”.
    Firstly, you’re right that there is not ‘agnosticist’ so there is a sort of disconnect here.
    But Secondly, this definition you gave can be interpreted to fit the definitions I gave of ‘ism’ and ‘ist’ also (reflecting your first definition atheist=strong atheist) :

    [agnosticism] is the view that [It is true that ‘I do not know whether God exists or not’]
    [agnostic] is someone who holds the view that [it is true that ‘I do not know whether God exists or not’].

    To follow the same example you gave in your article of atheist=lacktheist formula, the alternative would be:

    [agnosticism] is not-[‘I know God exists’]
    [agnostic] is someone who is not-[believes that ‘I know God exists’]

    From my assessment, these have virtually the same meaning, although definition 2 would include anyone who has not thought about whether or not they now God exists. Doesn’t it seems strange to speak of someone who has never considered whether they know God exists as agnostic?

    Besides, as long as version 1 stands, there is no need to think the agnostic/agnosticism relationship is any different to the definition of the suffix’s I gave initially (which are the dictionary definition also)

    Regarding the absurdities:
    Yes, you can add ‘they must be an agent’ clause which gets you out of this problem. But I think this is rather ad hoc. It requires there is an agent, problem solved. But what about an agent who lacks the ability to hold a view (babies, mentally disabled etc.)?… of course, we could simply add it requires there is an agent who is capable of holding a view, problem solved. But what about an agent capable of holding a view but has never considered the view?… of course we could add it requires there is an agent who is capable of holding a view and has looked into the view, problem solved. Suddenly, our definition is:

    For all [a], if [a] is an agent who is capable of holding [p is true] and has considered the view [p is true], then [a] is an atheist if not-[a believe [p is true]]

    Is this not rather ad hoc? It seems like it’s trying to redefine a word according to some preconceived notion without a general demand for this. Atheism alone seems the exception of ‘ism’ words even if you take your definition of agnosticism (which I don’t accept).

    Finally, I find it hard to believe that you think ‘Atheists do not necessarily believe that atheism is true’ is not absurd. What happens if an atheist who didn’t believe atheism is true is persuaded to believe that atheism is true. They become a…. ???

    To put a different way, even if it may be the case under atheism=lacktheism that an atheist isn’t defined as someone who believe atheism, surely we have to say the other way around is true, namely that someone who believes atheism is necessarily an atheist. So another absurd situation is that we have the same word defined in both ways as being true. Maybe, but this is superfluous, and completely redundant as someone need only say – ‘I am not a theist’

    Can I ask, don’t you see a problem with defining not-[p is true] as a thing? Is this not logically the same as anything-other-than-[p is true]? Doesn’t this make all propositions except for ‘God exists is true’ atheism? This would make capitalism atheism. Surely you will agree this is absurd?!

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    1. Just as a quick note (due to time constraints), you say: “Yes, you can add ‘they must be an agent’ clause which gets you out of this problem. But I think this is rather ad hoc.” It might be ad hoc if I had added it in response. However, I added it explicitly at the time, and you didn’t realise the significance of the word (I admitted I should have been more explicit). ‘Agent’ is commonly used in philosophy to mean a certain type of entity. It is (more or less) something which can have propositional attitudes (believing that p, hoping that p, knowing that p, desiring that p, etc). So I didn’t add this in as a response to a criticism, but it was part of the definition from the start, precisely because it would make no sense to define atheism/theism etc (which are clearly certain sorts of propositional attitude) in relation to non-agents. So I am brushing off this line of criticism completely. If I was guilty of anything, it was a lack of clarity, not of being ad hoc (at least, in this particular regard).

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      1. Yep – I happen to have some free time, so don’t worry about time constraints!

        I take your point about ad hoc, but can I just check: It can still be ad hoc in your original article, right? Even if you mentioned that it needs to be an agent there. I thought ad hoc simply meant an argument added for a particular purpose only; lacking generality or justification. I’m saying regardless of whether you mentioned an agent in your original example, you have to add ‘agent who has considered the view’ as a clause in the definition to make the mirroring you suggested work adequately, whereas there doesn’t seem to be a generalised reason why this should be done, nor does it seem justified. If the justification is purely ‘so that atheism can mean not-[agent a believe p is true]’ then isn’t that begging the question?

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    2. I will accept your (a) and (b), but not your (c) as it does not logically follow.

      (a) The suffix ‘ist’ describes either [1] someone who practises something or [2] someone who adheres to a doctrine/theory.

      — Granted for argument’s sake.

      Now, to apply this to the theist/atheist case, and per the meaning of the prefix ‘a’, let’s negate [1]: not-[someone who practises something]. We have 3 possibilities as they apply to the weak or strong form of atheists:

      (i) not-[someone] who practices something. This is trivially absurd, (it takes “someone” to practice anything), so we can discard this as the intended meaning of atheist.
      (ii) someone who not-[practices something]. This is coherent, and yields lacktheist (weak form of atheist).
      (iii) someone who practices not-[something]. This is problematic (how can someone practice not something or nothing?), but it can be phrased as someone who practices something other than the [something] in question, so it could be interpreted as the hard atheist case.

      Now let’s negate [2]: not-[someone who adheres to a doctrine/theory]. There are 3 germane possibilities:

      (i) not-[someone] who adheres to a doctrine/theory. Absurd, discard.
      (ii) someone who not-[adheres to a doctrine/theory]. Coherent, yields lacktheist/weak form of theist.
      (iii) someone who adheres to not-[a doctrine/theory]. Arguably problematic, but can charitably be interpreted as the hard atheist case.

      (b) Atheist does not describe someone who practises something.

      — Granted!

      (c) Therefore Atheist describes someone who adheres to a position. (Technically, given your disjunctive syllogism, this should be “Therefore Atheist describes someone who adheres to a doctrine/theory.”)

      No, this does not follow, because of [1](ii) and [2](ii), which are perfectly reasonable and, I would argue (did argue), more coherent descriptions of atheist.

      The problem is with your ignoring the negation in front of the word theist and your insistence that it should be modified by the suffix with your definition, instead of denying it.

      More specifically, you’re insisting on interpretations [1](iii) and [2](iii) of the negation, while completely ignoring the perfectly reasonable (and I would argue more coherent) [1](ii) and [2](iii), EVEN according to your own definitions.

      In other words, you’re saying that in the word [a]-[theo]-[ist] we are obligated to interpret it as [a-theo]-[ist], where [ist] modifies [a-theo], while ignoring the possibility of interpreting it as [a]-[theo-ist] where the negation from ‘a’ applies to [theo-ist]. I think this is completely ad hoc and arbitrary, even using your definitions and your banking the definition of ‘atheist’ exclusively on etymology (which as you can see, is problematic to say the least).

      To further clarify, let me try to rehabilitate your disjunctive syllogism, if I may:

      (a’) The suffix ‘ist’ describes either [1] someone who practices something or [2] someone who adheres to a doctrine/theory.
      (b’) Therefore a ‘theist’ describes either [1] someone who practices [theism, or belief in a god] or [2] someone who adheres to a doctrine/theory of [theism, or belief in a god].
      (c’) An ‘atheist’ is the opposite or negation of a theist (per the definition of the prefix ‘a’).
      (d’) Discarding absurd definitions, an ‘atheist’ is either:
      [1](i’) Someone who does not practice [theism, or belief in a god] or
      [1](ii’) Someone who practices [not-theism or not-believing in a god] or
      [2](i’) Someone who does not adhere to a doctrine/theory of [theism, or belief in a god] or
      [2](ii’) Someone who adheres to a doctrine/theory of [not-theism, or believing in not-god].
      (e’) An atheist is not someone who practices anything; i.e., an atheist is not [1](ii’).
      (f’) Therefore an atheist is either
      [1](i’) Someone who does not practice [theism, or belief in a god] (weak form) or
      [2](i’) Someone who does not adhere to a doctrine/theory of [theism, or belief in a god] (weak form) or
      [2](ii’) Someone who adheres to a doctrine/theory of [not-theism, or believing in not-god] (strong form).

      Even with your definitions and insistence on etymology, you still can’t establish that the strong form is the only alternative by resorting to etymological definitions.

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    3. I don’t think it’s ad hoc to require that definitions have some implicit assumptions that are reasonable and generally accepted (like beliefs/non-beliefs apply to or require agents). The alternative is endless clarifications.

      What’s ad hoc, is your insistence that your suffixes must override the negation coming from the prefix ‘a’.

      You require [ist] to apply to [a-theos] but ignore that [a] can just as easily modify [theos-ist]. Without justification, this is ad hoc.

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  12. It’s not ad hoc. A major difference between any -ism and -ist is that the latter involves explicit reference to an agent (a person to whom the view applies). That seems pretty obvious. Suggesting that it involves reference to a ‘thing’ (rather than an agent) seems unjustified to me.

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    1. Yes, but this is entailed in the expression ‘believes that’ so is an necessary condition in the definition you gave initially.

      Believing something entails agency
      Not believing something does not

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    2. I would define theism/atheism as statements about beliefs/lack of beliefs, and gnosticism/agnosticism as statements about knowledge or certainty.

      In this way, theism/atheism are binary (in other words, you either believe or you don’t believe the existence of gods, where the position of disbelief does not commit you to believing the contrary, as in the case of an agnostic atheist, who doesn’t believe but is uncertain).

      Gnosticism/agnosticism are statement of certainty or knowledge. If you are a gnostic you must be a believer, but not the other way around. You can be:

      Gnostic Theist = Believer who is certain (strong theist),
      Agnostic Theist = Believer who is uncertain (weak theist)
      Agnostic Atheist = Non-believer who is uncertain (weak atheist)
      Gnostic Atheist = Non-believer who is certain (strong atheist).

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    3. “Suggesting that it involves reference to a ‘thing’ (rather than an agent) seems unjustified to me.”

      That’s why I think such absurd definitions should be discarded, as I did in my analysis of Ezbee’s (a),(b),(c) syllogism above. It should be understood that when we’re talking about beliefs, adherence to theories, etc., we’re talking about agents capable of those beliefs, etc.

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      1. “In other words, you’re saying that in the word [a]-[theo]-[ist] we are obligated to interpret it as [a-theo]-[ist], where [ist] modifies [a-theo], while ignoring the possibility of interpreting it as [a]-[theo-ist] where the negation from ‘a’ applies to [theo-ist]. I think this is completely ad hoc and arbitrary, even using your definitions and your banking the definition of ‘atheist’ exclusively on etymology (which as you can see, is problematic to say the least).”

        I am not ignoring the possibility of interpreting it as [a]-[theist], I am merely saying that it is more reasonable to take [atheo]-[ist] position for numerous reasons; one of which is its relationship to atheism, which was related to the topic of Alex’s article. His suggestion was that theist and theism should mirror atheist and atheism to be consistent. In order to make atheist = [a]-[theist] then atheism must = [a]-[theism]. However, the mirroring works on one level, but on the most fundamental level it fails – the fact that theist entails theism, whereas [a]-[theists] doesn’t entail [a]-[theism]. This make [a]-[theism] entirely redundant. This is not how it is used.

        When you say ‘it should be understood that when we are talking about beliefs we’re talking about agents capable of beliefs’ – that is my point; to define atheist = a-[theist] means you give up the right to assume agency – you have to include it explicitly, because there is nothing intrinsic to the idea of a-[theist] that requires the ability to believe anything. It just means ‘not a theist’.

        So you have to unnaturally include a definition (they must be an agent) that is not required in any other circumstance.

        Is it possible you are suffering confirmation bias? (just asking – 🙂 )

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  13. All of us suffer from confirmation bias, it’s part and parcel of what means to be human. Maybe that includes you as well? My guess is yes, but it’s not worth bringing this up, is it? Maybe it’s one of those reasonable assumptions about all human beings that’s so obvious that we don’t need to re-state it in lieu of sticking with the arguments? Confirmation bias is one of the (many) cognitive blind spots that all of us humans are prone to. That’s why we use reasoning and logic. Another blind spot is to get personal instead of addressing arguments on their merits. Do you really think getting personal (and then calling it “just your sense of humor”) advances your arguments at all? Just asking… 🙂

    Now back to the arguments where the discussion should be:

    “I am not ignoring the possibility of interpreting it as [a]-[theist],”
    –> I think that’s explicitly what you did when you offered your syllogism above where you ignored options [1](ii) and [2](ii), that I exposed. I took the trouble to address your syllogism painstakingly (I took it very seriously), why don’t you address my objections to it directly?

    “I am merely saying that it is more reasonable to take [atheo]-[ist] position for numerous reasons;”
    –> Yes, that’s what you’re saying, but your reasons don’t seem to hold water, as I demonstrated in my detailed objection to your syllogism. Please address my objections to your syllogism instead of repeating your conclusion. I objected to your syllogism, which means I objected to your conclusion. Restating the conclusion won’t advance your point.

    “…related to the topic of Alex’s article. His suggestion was that theist and theism should mirror atheist and atheism to be consistent. In order to make atheist = [a]-[theist] then atheism must = [a]-[theism].”
    –> Later in the article Alex goes on to offer LOGICAL reasons why the weak and strong definitions are on equal footing. There’s no problem here, because neither the ‘ism’ nor the ‘ist’ entails or requires the strong form! That’s precisely what we’re arguing about. You keep re-stating your position without offering arguments, or addressing my objection to your syllogism directly.

    “However, the mirroring works on one level, but on the most fundamental level it fails – the fact that theist entails theism, whereas [a]-[theists] doesn’t entail [a]-[theism]. ”
    –> Again, what fundamental level is that? If someone is a believer in something, that entails a belief in the truth of that something. If someone is not a believer in something that does not entail the belief in the falsehood of that something! I refer you again to my coin-flipping example of a while ago. What’s wrong with that example?

    “to define atheist = a-[theist] means you give up the right to assume agency – you have to include it explicitly,”
    –> I don’t see that I have to give up the reasonable presumption of agency for something that requires agency, this is just a trivial quibble (Alex has hammered that ad nauseam in his responses to you). But even if I had to include it explicitly (or exclude it explicitly when searching for reasonable definitions, as I did when I addressed your syllogism above) in order to leave out any doubts from an interlocutor that doesn’t know that to believe or to lack a believe requires an agent capable of believing or lacking a belief, so what? Clarifying the definition explicitly, still doesn’t commit anyone to the hard atheist or hard atheism definitions that you seem to cling to. If somebody told you that psychopathy is the inability of expressing or feeling empathy, would that mean that a tea kettle is a psychopath or exhibits psychopathy? I don’t understand why you’re hanging your argument on this one.

    “because there is nothing intrinsic to the idea of a-[theist] that requires the ability to believe anything.”
    It just means ‘not a theist’.”
    –> I don’t see the problem here at all because I think being an atheist is (or at the very least can be interpreted as) not being a theist. You’re saying “On the most fundamental level it fails, because then the opposite of my conclusion would be true, and we can’t have that.” Well, I’m arguing that I don’t accept your conclusion, and in fact I’m arguing that your conclusion is false. This is question-begging.

    Please address my objections to your syllogism above instead of going around in circles re-stating your conclusion. I promise that I may yet be convinced if you offer a good argument (in fact, I will have no choice 🙂 .

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  14. Ok – be patient with me, I’m a scientist not a philosopher by trade.

    I can see from your objection to my syllogism that premise (2) should be split in two and say:

    (2) a) Atheist is a word using the suffix ‘ist’ as described in premise 1
    (2) b) An atheist is not someone who practises something

    Maybe I should restate the whole syllogism more like is:

    (A) If a doctrine is described as [x]ism then it is held by someone who can be described as a [x]ist
    (B) Atheism is a doctrine described as [x]ism
    (C) Therefore Atheism is held by an Atheist
    (D) Therefore Atheists hold the position of Atheism
    (E) Therefore Atheists cannot merely be someone who does not hold the position of theism.

    Do you think this is valid / sound?

    Are you agreed that atheism can be interpreted either way? If so then the burden of proof surely lies on the person claiming the relationship between atheism and atheist is an exception to the rule?

    Under atheism=lack theism then atheism is the proposition ‘it is not true that God exists is true’. But this is a completely redundant expression isn’t it? You must admit it sounds odd right? Think of another proposition that is phrased in a similar way. And it is only in formulating it this way that there is any mirroring as per Alex’s article?

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      1. What ‘ism’ would I use to describe the doctrine that there is no God? Well, aside from objections to the word “doctrine” (which I’m not sure applies here, I would prefer “position”), I’d use the words “hard atheist” or “strong atheist.”

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    1. I would object to B. It has not been established, and it does not follow from A. You would need another premise like:

      (A2) Atheism is a doctrine.

      Also, you switch from “doctrine” to “position.” I’d be careful about that.

      I don’t think you could establish (A2) easily. A doctrine is something like the doctrine of the Trinity within Christianity, or the doctrine of the Transubstantiation within Catholicism (a form of Christianity) for instance, and someone could object to calling atheism a doctrine. A “weak atheist” for example could object to that, and even a “strong atheist” or “hard atheist” would say that his “belief that there are no gods” is not a doctrine anymore than his atheism is a religion.

      I think “position” would be easier to defend. You could say that atheism is a position without many objections (I think). From that, you could get to atheists holding the position of atheism.

      However, someone could still maintain that atheism is a position of disbelief in a god or gods, which means that an atheist can hold a position of not believing in a god or gods, which still doesn’t get you to where you really want to go, namely that “an atheist necessarily believes that there are no gods.”

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      1. Ok, i’m using doctrine and position interchangeably and all doctrine really means is a set of beliefs held by a group, there doesn’t need to be any religious connotations. But not something I care too much about, so fine – let’s go with ‘position’.

        You reject (A2) based on your assertion that atheism means a-[theism]. I have provided an argument below as to why I don’t think that is the case, and will leave you read through that.

        However, to offer another thought, consider all the other related set of ‘…theism’ words:

        montheism
        polytheism
        ditheism
        tritheism
        pantheism
        panentheism

        In all these cases, the prefix is used to modify the position held so that it is a new position. Monotheism obviously doesn’t mean ‘one-[theism]’, poly theism obviously doesn’t mean ‘many-[theisms]’, pantheism obviously doesn’t mean ‘everything is-[theism]’ etc etc. Rather, montheism means [one theo]-ism, and polytheism means [many theos]-ism, and pantheism means [evething is theos]-ism etc. etc.

        In fact, can you give a single example of a word that uses the suffix ‘ism’ where the prefix modifies the word in the way you are suggesting? I can think of countless that work the other way (anabaptism, neodarwinism, immaterialism, ascetesism, panseuxialism etc. etc)?

        Of course, we can arbitrarily define a word differently, but I’m sure neither of us want to do that.

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  15. I can see there is a problem between (C) and (D).
    (D) Should say –

    (D) either ‘a is atheist iff a believes p not true’ or ‘a is atheist iff not-[a believes p is true]’
    (E) Therefore (because C and D) Atheist = believe that God doesn’t exist

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    1. I don’t think C and D get you to “Atheist = belief that God doesn’t exist” necessarily.

      C doesn’t prevent you from ruling out the second disjunct in D, because an atheist ‘a’ could hold the position that “not-[a believes p is true]” in other words, an atheist could hold a position of not believing something without being committed to believing the opposite.

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  16. OK – let me try and bring together various things from my discussion with autonomous reason. And if I have put this in a valid form then I believe it will highlight the root disagreement:

    Let’s start with the disjunction:
    (1) Either ‘atheist’ describes someone who holds ‘atheism’, or ‘atheist’ describes someone who is not a theist (but not both)

    And bring in the premise:
    (2) If something is described as [x]ism and also has propositional content, then a person who adheres to it is described as an [x]ist

    Let’s now run the argument with atheism=it is not true the ‘God exists’ is true, and call it lacktheism, and say [a] is a lacktheist iff [a] is someone who doesn’t believe ‘God exists’ is true (this is Alex’s second definition) …

    (3) Lacktheism is something described as [x]ism and has propositional content
    (4) Therefore, because (2), lacktheism is held by someone called a lacktheist
    (5) Therefore, because (1), ‘atheist’ describes someone who holds ‘atheism’

    OK, now let’s run the argument with atheism=’God does not exist’ is true, and call it hardtheism, and say [a] is a hardtheist iff [a] is someone who believes that ‘God does not exist’ is true (this is Alex’s first definition) …
    (6) Hardtheism is something described as [x]ism and has proposition content
    (7) Therefore, because (2), hardtheism is held by someone called a hardtheist
    (8) Therefore, because (1), ‘atheist’ describes someone who holds ‘atheism’

    I believe this is a valid argument (feel free to pick apart if not)

    The only way around it I see is deny premise (1) as a false dichotomy, or deny premise (2).

    On denying Premise (1):
    It is possible that the word ‘Atheist’ may describe both definitions of atheist. In that case, the syllogism above shows that it cannot be that atheist is not used to describe someone who holds atheism, even if atheism=lacktheism.

    However, I think there are good grounds to think (1) is not a false dichotomy. If it has been conceded that atheist can be used to describe someone who holds atheism, then a link has been established between the ‘atheism’ and ‘atheist’ such that ‘atheism’ is best understood as [atheo]ism and ‘atheist’ as [atheo]ist.
    Also, it breaks the ‘mirroring’ that Alex was trying to establish
    Also, it makes the lacktheist=someone not believing theism definition redundant because atheist means not a theist
    Also, it confuses the definition, and requires further qualification even if atheism=lacktheism, otherwise the two are unresolved.
    Also, there are no example of other cases where the suffix ‘ist’ describes someone who both holds one view (the related ‘ism’) and also separately someone who denies a separate view (an unrelated ‘ism’). This would need to be demonstrated.

    On denying premise (2):
    This could be denied by saying either (a) the word atheism is not an ‘ism’ word, or (b) that atheism doesn’t have proposition content, or (c) that someone who adheres to this [x]ism is not always called an [x]ist

    I believe we have good reason to believe all three:
    (a) atheism seems demonstrably an ‘ism’ word
    (b) the formulation atheist=not true that-[‘God exists’ is true] has propositional content so cannot merely be not-theism (rather, it it is saying not true-theism)
    (c) It seems to me that the burden lies here on the person claiming ‘someone who adheres to [x]ism is not called an [x]ist’ because I’m sure there is at least a general agreement that this seems to be the case and there are countless examples of this holding true.

    I’d be interested to hear your thougths

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    1. I think there’s a conflation, all throughout your post, between believing a proposition and the proposition itself. It seems to me that you jump back and forth between the proposition and the belief.

      I’m not sure your argument is valid as is even without objections to (1) or (2), but OK, let’s consider those two premises.

      To start, I would object to (1).

      Before getting to my objection, note that in your defense of (1), you start out with:

      “In that case, the syllogism above shows that […]”

      You cannot use the conclusion from the syllogism that uses Premise (1) to defend Premise (1). This is question-begging (circular).

      Be that as it may, I see no reason for the exclusive disjunction (false dichotomy) in (1), according to which an atheist cannot hold both [the position of] atheism and be someone who is not a theist. (You seem to be starting with what you want to prove.) This needs to be demonstrated; maybe you could start with some clear definitions of atheist and atheism that elicit no valid objections (definitions that don’t start with what you want to prove).

      I think it’s perfectly possible for atheism to be a position of non-belief (in a god), for an atheist to hold a position of non-belief (in a god), for theism to be a position of belief (in a god), and for a theist to hold a position of belief (in a god). In this way, it is perfectly possible to say that an atheist both ‘holds a position’ and ‘is not a theist’. In other words, an atheist is ‘not a theist’ because they hold different positions (of belief in the proposition “a god exists,” one believes it, the other does not). (***)

      Continuing with your defense of (1):

      “However, I think there are good grounds to think (1) is not a false dichotomy. If it has been conceded that atheist can be used to describe someone who holds atheism, then a link has been established between the ‘atheism’ and ‘atheist’ such that ‘atheism’ is best understood as [atheo]ism and ‘atheist’ as [atheo]ist.”
      –>I don’t think this has been established. This is your conclusion and is not a defense of (1); it is question-begging.

      “Also, it breaks the ‘mirroring’ that Alex was trying to establish”
      –>Please note that Alex, later in his paper, CONCLUDES that both the weak form (lacktheism) and the strong form of atheism are allowed definitions of ‘atheist’. It would be helpful if you don’t bring up the first part of Alex’s paper while ignoring the latter part of his paper (the punchline). Maybe you can state your own argument independent of Alex’s? Just for clarity, so we don’t have to keep referring to it.

      “Also, it makes the lacktheist=someone not believing theism definition redundant because atheist means not a theist”
      –>A lacktheist is not “someone not believing in theism,” it is someone not believing the proposition that a god exists. (This is a conflation of the belief in the proposition with the proposition itself.) Also, I see no problem with there being redundancy between ‘not a theist’ and ‘atheist’. There is redundancy in words all the time (synonyms and definitions, for example).

      “Also, it confuses the definition, and requires further qualification even if atheism=lacktheism, otherwise the two are unresolved.”
      –> I don’t understand this defense of (1). See my possible definitions above followed by (***). There is no confusion there, and no further qualification required. Which “two are unresolved”?

      “Also, there are no example of other cases where the suffix ‘ist’ describes someone who both holds one view (the related ‘ism’) and also separately someone who denies a separate view (an unrelated ‘ism’). This would need to be demonstrated.”
      –>First, I don’t see how this would matter, even if there were no other examples that are perfect analogies to this case. I’m not necessarily conceding that, but even if it were true, this could be a unique case and that’s perfectly acceptable, as long as there is self-consistency. Second, these are not “separate” views or “unrelated isms”, they are very much related: one is a position of belief in a proposition and the other is a position of non-belief in the SAME proposition (the proposition that “a god exists”). Third, you’re assuming that a view (or, to be consistent, a position) is being denied. This is not necessarily true. Again: not believing something is not the same as denying it or believing the contrary. You are assuming what you are trying to prove.

      I don’t think you have supported (1), and I could stop here.

      As for (2), It would’ve been clearer if you’d defined what you mean by ‘propositional content’ and ‘adheres to’ but OK, let’s proceed.

      Note that (2) is a definition in itself. For brevity, let me rephrase it to a more compact logical equivalent using the definition ‘adherent’ as ‘a person who adheres to the ‘ism’ in question’:

      (2) An ‘ist’ is an adherent to an ‘ism’ that has propositional content.

      Now, I may quibble with this definition in a variety of ways and don’t have to accept it. But, you have chosen to define it that way. To the extent that the rest of your syllogism depends on this definition, your conclusion will depend on the strength of this definition.

      Notice that (2) is NOT the same as and does not imply:

      (2A) All ‘isms’ have propositional content.

      Moreover, using the definition of the prefix ‘a’ as ‘not’ or ‘without’ means that assuming (2) is true, the following possibilities would result:

      (2B) An ‘a-[ist]’ is not-[an adherent to an ‘ism’ that has propositional content]. (weak ‘ist’) or

      (2C) An ‘a-[ist]’ is an adherent to an a-[‘ism’ that has propositional content]. (strong ‘ist’)

      Here we’re back to square one. You seem to be constructing definitions into your premises so that you can conclude (2C) and exclude (2B). But even they do not work for the case of atheism and atheist.

      OK on to your defense:

      “This could be denied by saying either (a) the word atheism is not an ‘ism’ word,”
      –> OK here we get into equivocation. Technically (and trivially) yes, the word atheism contains the suffix ‘ism’. But this doesn’t mean that we have to take on board (2A) namely that all ‘isms’ have propositional content. To see this, suppose an ‘ism’ has propositional content. When you apply the prefix ‘a’ (meaning ‘not’ or ‘without’) then you have an ‘a-[ism]’ meaning ‘not-[ism]’ or ‘without-[ism]’ which can be argued to be without propositional content. Regardless, let’s grant that atheism is an ‘ism’ as long as we don’t forget that it’s also an ‘a-[ism]’. 🙂

      “or (b) that atheism doesn’t have proposition content,”
      –> Yes, but this is OK, because remember (2) doesn’t imply (2A), namely that all ‘isms’ must have propositional content. But again, you’re jumping back to ‘atheism’ which is not mentioned in (2).

      “or (c) that someone who adheres to this [x]ism is not always called an [x]ist”
      –> The objection that an adherent to an ‘ism’ would not be called an ‘ist’ would only work in the case that didn’t have a negation in front, or in the case of a strong negation, but not in the case of a weak negation. We’re back to the same definitional equivocation.

      “I believe we have good reason to believe all three:
      (a) atheism seems demonstrably an ‘ism’ word”
      –>Yes (no demonstration needed 🙂 ). But remember that it is also an ‘a-[ism]’ word.

      “(b) the formulation atheist=not true that-[‘God exists’ is true] has propositional content so cannot merely be not-theism (rather, it it is saying not true-theism)”
      –> What do you mean by your equal sign? atheist is not a proposition, it is someone (yes, an agent is implied here) who holds a position of either a lack of belief in a proposition (weak form), or a belief in the opposite of the proposition (strong form), where the proposition is “a god exists’. Yes, you could argue that the strong form has propositional content, but the weak form has no propositional content. However, you have not demonstrated that there is a problem here with the weak form.

      “(c) It seems to me that the burden lies here on the person claiming ‘someone who adheres to [x]ism is not called an [x]ist’ because I’m sure there is at least a general agreement that this seems to be the case and there are countless examples of this holding true.”
      –> I’m not saying that an adherent to an ‘ism’ is not called an ‘ist’ so I don’t see the need to defend this with counter examples. The problem is that you haven’t demonstrated that an adherent to an ‘a-[ism]’ cannot be called an ‘a-[ist]’ even on account of YOUR definitional requirement (granted for argument’s sake) of an ‘ist’ having to adhere to an ‘ism’ with ‘propositional content’.

      Notice that throughout this, I have accepted, for the sake of argument, a lot of definitions and assertions on your part that I’m not sure are reasonable, like:

      -Atheism is a ‘position’
      -An atheist is an ‘adherent’
      -An ‘ist’ must be committed to an ‘ism’ WITH ‘propositional content’

      Even then, I don’t think your argument is sound.

      Like

      1. OK -lots of things you said there, so let me respond to some (I’ll start my comment with >>)

        I think there’s a conflation, all throughout your post, between believing a proposition and the proposition itself. It seems to me that you jump back and forth between the proposition and the belief.

        >> I don’t accept conflation, but there are one or two typos, you are correct

        I’m not sure your argument is valid as is even without objections to (1) or (2), but OK, let’s consider those two premises.

        >> Please show how

        To start, I would object to (1).

        Before getting to my objection, note that in your defense of (1), you start out with:

        “In that case, the syllogism above shows that […]”

        You cannot use the conclusion from the syllogism that uses Premise (1) to defend Premise (1). This is question-begging (circular).

        >> The conclusion I referred to when making this point relied only on Premise (2) and not on Premise (1), hence it is not question begging and is correct to say (unless someone denies premise 2)

        Be that as it may, I see no reason for the exclusive disjunction (false dichotomy) in (1), according to which an atheist cannot hold both [the position of] atheism and be someone who is not a theist. (You seem to be starting with what you want to prove.) This needs to be demonstrated; maybe you could start with some clear definitions of atheist and atheism that elicit no valid objections (definitions that don’t start with what you want to prove).

        I think it’s perfectly possible for atheism to be a position of non-belief (in a god), for an atheist to hold a position of non-belief (in a god), for theism to be a position of belief (in a god), and for a theist to hold a position of belief (in a god). In this way, it is perfectly possible to say that an atheist both ‘holds a position’ and ‘is not a theist’. In other words, an atheist is ‘not a theist’ because they hold different positions (of belief in the proposition “a god exists,” one believes it, the other does not). (***)

        Continuing with your defense of (1):

        “However, I think there are good grounds to think (1) is not a false dichotomy. If it has been conceded that atheist can be used to describe someone who holds atheism, then a link has been established between the ‘atheism’ and ‘atheist’ such that ‘atheism’ is best understood as [atheo]ism and ‘atheist’ as [atheo]ist.”
        –>I don’t think this has been established. This is your conclusion and is not a defense of (1); it is question-begging.

        >> Again, this conclusion is reached regardless of the truth of premise (1) and only relies on premise (2), so not question begging.

        “Also, it breaks the ‘mirroring’ that Alex was trying to establish”
        –>Please note that Alex, later in his paper, CONCLUDES that both the weak form (lacktheism) and the strong form of atheism are allowed definitions of ‘atheist’. It would be helpful if you don’t bring up the first part of Alex’s paper while ignoring the latter part of his paper (the punchline). Maybe you can state your own argument independent of Alex’s? Just for clarity, so we don’t have to keep referring to it.

        >> Hang on – this is in the context of Alex’s article. My point is that Alex makes an important point about mirroring being needed, and if I can show that the atheism=lacktheism definition doesn’t maintain the mirroring then the first definition should be held.

        “Also, it makes the lacktheist=someone not believing theism definition redundant because atheist means not a theist”
        –>A lacktheist is not “someone not believing in theism,” it is someone not believing the proposition that a god exists. (This is a conflation of the belief in the proposition with the proposition itself.) Also, I see no problem with there being redundancy between ‘not a theist’ and ‘atheist’. There is redundancy in words all the time (synonyms and definitions, for example).

        >> It is not conflation. The whole first part of the article was establishing how the relationship between theism and atheism should mirror the relationship between atheist and theist, and it was resolved in the case of atheism=lacktheism by saying *a is theism iff [p is true]* and *a is atheism is atheism if not-[p is true]*. Recap this section of the article if you need to. Because theism=’p is true’ it is therefore the case under this definition that atheism is not-theism.
        >> OK, you can assert there is no problem in this redundancy. But it seems like an arbitrary assertion because it is only needed to make this definition work, and is not required in any other ‘ist’ word.

        “Also, it confuses the definition, and requires further qualification even if atheism=lacktheism, otherwise the two are unresolved.”
        –> I don’t understand this defense of (1). See my possible definitions above followed by (***). There is no confusion there, and no further qualification required. Which “two are unresolved”?

        >> The ‘two’ unresolved are ‘athiesm=lacktheism’ and ‘atheism=hardtheism’. Fine, a way round this is indeed to add ‘strong’ and ‘weak’ in front – not going to labour this point. However, the qualification ‘strong’ and ‘weak’ implies a scale of ‘atheism’; whereas if ‘atheism’=’lacktheism’ or ‘atheism=’hardtheism’ they are two distinct beliefs.

        “Also, there are no example of other cases where the suffix ‘ist’ describes someone who both holds one view (the related ‘ism’) and also separately someone who denies a separate view (an unrelated ‘ism’). This would need to be demonstrated.”

        –>First, I don’t see how this would matter, even if there were no other examples that are perfect analogies to this case. I’m not necessarily conceding that, but even if it were true, this could be a unique case and that’s perfectly acceptable, as long as there is self-consistency.

        >> self-consistency is not the only test. It may be special pleading to say ‘we must include this as an exception so that our definition holds’

        Second, these are not “separate” views or “unrelated isms”, they are very much related: one is a position of belief in a proposition and the other is a position of non-belief in the SAME proposition (the proposition that “a god exists”).

        >> Nope, this is simply incorrect. One is the position of belief in a proposition (God does not exist), and the other is a position of non-belief in a DIFFERENT proposition (God does exist). It means for a lacktheist that atheism is completely irrelevant and unrelated in a causal way.

        Third, you’re assuming that a view (or, to be consistent, a position) is being denied. This is not necessarily true. Again: not believing something is not the same as denying it or believing the contrary. You are assuming what you are trying to prove.

        >> Yes, you are correct here. I shouldn’t say ‘deny’ I should say ‘does not accept’.

        I don’t think you have supported (1), and I could stop here.

        As for (2), It would’ve been clearer if you’d defined what you mean by ‘propositional content’ and ‘adheres to’ but OK, let’s proceed.

        >> Propositional content means it contains at least one proposition (a statement that expresses a statement or opinion).
        >> Adheres to mean ‘believes in or follows the practices of…’

        Note that (2) is a definition in itself. For brevity, let me rephrase it to a more compact logical equivalent using the definition ‘adherent’ as ‘a person who adheres to the ‘ism’ in question’:

        (2) An ‘ist’ is an adherent to an ‘ism’ that has propositional content.

        >> No, this is not the same. All men are mortals, but not all mortals are men. I am not defining an ‘ist’ as only someone who adheres to an ‘ism’ (it may be something else also), I am stating that all ‘[x]isms’ held by someone are ‘[x]ists’

        Now, I may quibble with this definition in a variety of ways and don’t have to accept it. But, you have chosen to define it that way. To the extent that the rest of your syllogism depends on this definition, your conclusion will depend on the strength of this definition.

        Notice that (2) is NOT the same as and does not imply:

        (2A) All ‘isms’ have propositional content.

        Moreover, using the definition of the prefix ‘a’ as ‘not’ or ‘without’ means that assuming (2) is true, the following possibilities would result:

        (2B) An ‘a-[ist]’ is not-[an adherent to an ‘ism’ that has propositional content]. (weak ‘ist’) or

        (2C) An ‘a-[ist]’ is an adherent to an a-[‘ism’ that has propositional content]. (strong ‘ist’)

        Here we’re back to square one. You seem to be constructing definitions into your premises so that you can conclude (2C) and exclude (2B). But even they do not work for the case of atheism and atheist.

        >> I have not said all ‘isms’ have propositional content, so 2A is not necessary.
        >> 2B would be a way to reject my formulation – i.e. denying that atheism has propositional content. This I defended beneath
        >> 2C is not a premises but a conclusion. If my original 2 is correct and ‘atheism’ is an ‘ism’ with propositional content, then someone who adheres to it (conclusion) is an ‘atheist’

        OK on to your defense:

        “This could be denied by saying either (a) the word atheism is not an ‘ism’ word,”
        –> OK here we get into equivocation. Technically (and trivially) yes, the word atheism contains the suffix ‘ism’. But this doesn’t mean that we have to take on board (2A) namely that all ‘isms’ have propositional content. To see this, suppose an ‘ism’ has propositional content. When you apply the prefix ‘a’ (meaning ‘not’ or ‘without’) then you have an ‘a-[ism]’ meaning ‘not-[ism]’ or ‘without-[ism]’ which can be argued to be without propositional content. Regardless, let’s grant that atheism is an ‘ism’ as long as we don’t forget that it’s also an ‘a-[ism]’. 🙂

        >> Again, 2A is not necessary. In this case you would simply have to argue that ‘atheism’ doesn’t have propositional content (doesn’t make any propositions), and my original argument would be shown false. This I defended beneath (and is not something you hold anyway)

        “or (b) that atheism doesn’t have proposition content,”
        –> Yes, but this is OK, because remember (2) doesn’t imply (2A), namely that all ‘isms’ must have propositional content. But again, you’re jumping back to ‘atheism’ which is not mentioned in (2).

        >> I know it may be ok, That is the thing being discussed!

        “or (c) that someone who adheres to this [x]ism is not always called an [x]ist”
        –> The objection that an adherent to an ‘ism’ would not be called an ‘ist’ would only work in the case that didn’t have a negation in front, or in the case of a strong negation, but not in the case of a weak negation. We’re back to the same definitional equivocation.

        “I believe we have good reason to believe all three:
        (a) atheism seems demonstrably an ‘ism’ word”
        –>Yes (no demonstration needed 🙂 ). But remember that it is also an ‘a-[ism]’ word.

        “(b) the formulation atheist=not true that-[‘God exists’ is true] has propositional content so cannot merely be not-theism (rather, it it is saying not true-theism)”
        –> What do you mean by your equal sign? atheist is not a proposition, it is someone (yes, an agent is implied here) who holds a position of either a lack of belief in a proposition (weak form), or a belief in the opposite of the proposition (strong form), where the proposition is “a god exists’. Yes, you could argue that the strong form has propositional content, but the weak form has no propositional content. However, you have not demonstrated that there is a problem here with the weak form.

        >>This is the typo I was referring to. This should say atheism=not true that-[God exists is true]. My point is, atheism is more that not-[theism]; it must be a proposition: not true that-[theism is true]. This merely establishes that atheism is a proposition

        “(c) It seems to me that the burden lies here on the person claiming ‘someone who adheres to [x]ism is not called an [x]ist’ because I’m sure there is at least a general agreement that this seems to be the case and there are countless examples of this holding true.”
        –> I’m not saying that an adherent to an ‘ism’ is not called an ‘ist’

        >> Then this is not an objection to premise (2) – easy!

        so I don’t see the need to defend this with counter examples. The problem is that you haven’t demonstrated that an adherent to an ‘a-[ism]’ cannot be called an ‘a-[ist]’ even on account of YOUR definitional requirement (granted for argument’s sake) of an ‘ist’ having to adhere to an ‘ism’ with ‘propositional content’.

        >> What I need to defend is that an adherent to [x]ism is rightly called a [x]ist, which I think is demonstrated by a thousand examples.

        >> The point is the step from [x]ism to [x]ist is at a minimum established with this argument, and it sounds like you have no quibbles about that.

        >> Your disagreement seems to be with premise (1). This I have sought to establish, and believe it requires you to defend as the burden is on your side to show that an ‘ist’ can be used to describe two sorts of people with seemingly no connection between the two (one believing one proposition [God does not exist] and the other not-believing a separate proposition [God does exist]).

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  17. Or put another way: if atheism should be interpreted as a-[theism] = [not]-[theism] then it is something that has no propositional content. This leads to the absurdity that everything that is not ‘theism’ is ‘atheism’. But in order to bring propositional content into atheism, you must define it as [not true]-[theism], which becomes [a-[theism]]ism. But this is just the same thing as [atheo]ism.

    So either atheism = a-[theism] and has no propositional content (which means anything that isn’t theism is atheism) or atheism = [atheo]-ism, in which case it is held by an [atheo]-ist.

    Likewise, we could run the example for atheist (though I know you don’t like it when I insist that there is no reason to assume agency if atheist=a[theist]). If atheist is interpreted as a-[theist] = [not]-[theist] then it simply means not a theist. But this doesn’t need to be a person at all, so we need to say something like atheist = [someone who is [not-[theist]]], which becomes [a-[theist]]ist which is just an [atheo]-ist.

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    1. “Ok, i’m using doctrine and position interchangeably and all doctrine really means is a set of beliefs held by a group, there doesn’t need to be any religious connotations. But not something I care too much about, so fine – let’s go with ‘position’.”
      –>OK, but this is crucially important because when you say ‘doctrine’ means ‘a set of beliefs’ I would argue you’re presuming what you want to prove (the strong form of atheism as a belief instead of a lack of belief).

      You reject (A2) based on your assertion that atheism means a-[theism]. I have provided an argument below as to why I don’t think that is the case, and will leave you read through that.
      –>I am not asserting that it has to mean a-[theism]; it is you who is asserting that ‘atheism’ must always mean [a-theos]-ism (strong version). I stated that EITHER interpretation is valid. As far as I’m concerned, you have failed to exclude the a-[theism] (weak version). I believe all of your arguments to that effect have been addressed and found to be invalid or unsound, unless you can spot a mistake in my objections.

      “However, to offer another thought, consider all the other related set of ‘…theism’ words:

      monotheism
      polytheism
      […]

      In all these cases, the prefix is used to modify the position held so that it is a new position. Monotheism obviously doesn’t mean ‘one-[theism]’, poly theism obviously doesn’t mean ‘many-[theisms]’, […]”
      –>OK, I agree with you that in those cases the meaning is [mono-theos]-ism, [poly-theos]-ism, and the like. Granted! However, I have two objections. First, there isn’t another reasonable interpretation of these, so there’s no ambiguity. For example mono-[theos-ism] would mean a “single belief” in a god or gods (what would that be, Hinduism but not Islam?) while poly-[theos-ism] would mean many beliefs in a god or gods (what would this be self-contradicting religious beliefs?). These are nonsensical, so they only admit one interpretation of the definition. This is not the case with the prefix ‘a’ which can be applied to produce either the weak or the strong definition of atheist. Second, none of these have the prefix ‘a’ which is a negation, so in that sense they’re not applicable either.

      “In fact, can you give a single example of a word that uses the suffix ‘ism’ where the prefix modifies the word in the way you are suggesting? I can think of countless that work the other way (anabaptism, neodarwinism, immaterialism, ascetesism, panseuxialism etc. etc)?”
      –> I don’t think I have to, because this could be (though I’m not saying it is) a unique case, which is OK as long as there’s self-consistency.

      “Of course, we can arbitrarily define a word differently, but I’m sure neither of us want to do that.”
      –> Alex put it well when he said that using etymology to define words precisely is a “fools errand.” The English language is very imprecise. Instead of the Greek prefix meaning negation ‘a’ you can use the Germanic ‘un’, the Latin ‘i’ ‘anti’ ‘dis’ or ‘contra’, you can use the suffix ‘less’ etc. etc. There are times when you use ‘ist’ and ‘ism’ other times you use ‘y’ and it just goes on and on. There is really no method to the madness. English is not logical.

      –>As a non-native (oh yes, I forgot ‘non’ 🙂 ) speaker of English, I can tell you that English is very imprecise and, given that English has no official overseer of the language (there’s no “Royal Academy of the English Language” for example, like other European languages have, including my native one), it tends to change very quickly. Word meanings very often drift away from their etymology.

      –>I continue to think that it’s perfectly reasonable to define ‘atheism’ using the weak form, since either form is acceptable (Alex showed either form was logically acceptable in his article). I don’t think you have established using etymology or anything else, that the strong form is the only acceptable definition.

      –>Earlier, I tried to argue (using completely different arguments that have nothing to do with etymology) why it’s more reasonable to use the weak form. Alex used a logic perspective to conclude that either the weak or the strong worked. Logic is an a priori “science” in that it doesn’t rely on evidence. I used a perspective that included evidential reality, which requires ‘evidential’ sciences. I think this is a more inclusive and interesting approach than only using a priori “sciences” because many people like to offer evidential support for their beliefs (not just logical support) and like to think of their ‘god’ as existing in a ‘reality’ that’s accessible by evidence, not just by a priori ‘sciences’ like logic or mathematics. In that case, I maintain that the “weak” form of atheism is the appropriate one because it is not saddled with an impossible evidential burden of proof.

      –> When you think about it, if you held a belief in something that is only accessible by a priori knowledge (like logic or mathematics), you’d be limiting yourself to things that only exist in some Platonic realm. When you bring in evidential reasoning things get more interesting.

      –>Again, etymology is not that useful or interesting here, but this was a good exercise in logical argumentation which I’ve enjoyed.

      Like

    2. I think there’s a conflation, all throughout your post, between believing a proposition and the proposition itself. It seems to me that you jump back and forth between the proposition and the belief.

      >> I don’t accept conflation, but there are one or two typos, you are correct

      &&&> OK, you call them one or two typos, I call them conflation. Belief in p is not the same as p.

      I’m not sure your argument is valid as is even without objections to (1) or (2), but OK, let’s consider those two premises.

      >> Please show how

      &&&> I don’t have to, because I show that (1) and (2) are both unsupported, per your requirement.

      To start, I would object to (1).

      Before getting to my objection, note that in your defense of (1), you start out with:

      “In that case, the syllogism above shows that […]”

      You cannot use the conclusion from the syllogism that uses Premise (1) to defend Premise (1). This is question-begging (circular).

      >> The conclusion I referred to when making this point relied only on Premise (2) and not on Premise (1), hence it is not question begging and is correct to say (unless someone denies premise 2)

      &&&> This is the full quote of what you said:

      “On denying Premise (1):
      It is possible that the word ‘Atheist’ may describe both definitions of atheist. In that case, the syllogism above shows that it cannot be that atheist is not used to describe someone who holds atheism, even if atheism=lacktheism.”

      &&&> You’re defending Premise (1) by saying that “the syllogism above shows that…” When you say “the syllogism shows that…” what you mean, logically, is that “the CONCLUSION of the syllogism shows that…” In this case, you’re supporting your Premise (1) with the conclusion of your syllogism, not with Premise (2). So either (a) Premise (1) is not needed for (the conclusion of) your syllogism, or (2) you have incurred question-begging. If your conclusion does not depend on Premise (1), then it is not needed, so why are you defending it? Either way, it’s your responsibility not to use sloppy language, not mine.

      Be that as it may, I see no reason for the exclusive disjunction (false dichotomy) in (1), according to which an atheist cannot hold both [the position of] atheism and be someone who is not a theist. (You seem to be starting with what you want to prove.) This needs to be demonstrated; maybe you could start with some clear definitions of atheist and atheism that elicit no valid objections (definitions that don’t start with what you want to prove).

      I think it’s perfectly possible for atheism to be a position of non-belief (in a god), for an atheist to hold a position of non-belief (in a god), for theism to be a position of belief (in a god), and for a theist to hold a position of belief (in a god). In this way, it is perfectly possible to say that an atheist both ‘holds a position’ and ‘is not a theist’. In other words, an atheist is ‘not a theist’ because they hold different positions (of belief in the proposition “a god exists,” one believes it, the other does not). (***)

      &&&>You did not address this paragraph above, which is my main objection to your Premise (1) and your entire syllogism.

      Continuing with your defense of (1):

      “However, I think there are good grounds to think (1) is not a false dichotomy. If it has been conceded that atheist can be used to describe someone who holds atheism, then a link has been established between the ‘atheism’ and ‘atheist’ such that ‘atheism’ is best understood as [atheo]ism and ‘atheist’ as [atheo]ist.”
      –>I don’t think this has been established. This is your conclusion and is not a defense of (1); it is question-begging.

      >> Again, this conclusion is reached regardless of the truth of premise (1) and only relies on premise (2), so not question begging.

      &&&> As above, you’re supposed to be defending (1) here. Either it is not needed, or you’re question-begging, take your pick. Sloppiness is on you, not on me.

      “Also, it breaks the ‘mirroring’ that Alex was trying to establish”
      –>Please note that Alex, later in his paper, CONCLUDES that both the weak form (lacktheism) and the strong form of atheism are allowed definitions of ‘atheist’. It would be helpful if you don’t bring up the first part of Alex’s paper while ignoring the latter part of his paper (the punchline). Maybe you can state your own argument independent of Alex’s? Just for clarity, so we don’t have to keep referring to it.

      >> Hang on – this is in the context of Alex’s article. My point is that Alex makes an important point about mirroring being needed, and if I can show that the atheism=lacktheism definition doesn’t maintain the mirroring then the first definition should be held.

      &&&> Again, you’re ignoring Alex’s conclusion that, even taking into account the mirroring, either the weak or strong definitions of atheism make sense. This is called ‘quote-mining’. Please don’t selectively quote only the part that supports your conclusion and ignore the part that doesn’t. What part of this is not clear? Alex concluded, in his article, that lacktheism and strong theism are BOTH acceptable definitions of atheism.

      “Also, it makes the lacktheist=someone not believing theism definition redundant because atheist means not a theist”
      –>A lacktheist is not “someone not believing in theism,” it is someone not believing the proposition that a god exists. (This is a conflation of the belief in the proposition with the proposition itself.) Also, I see no problem with there being redundancy between ‘not a theist’ and ‘atheist’. There is redundancy in words all the time (synonyms and definitions, for example).

      >> It is not conflation. The whole first part of the article was establishing how the relationship between theism and atheism should mirror the relationship between atheist and theist, and it was resolved in the case of atheism=lacktheism by saying *a is theism iff [p is true]* and *a is atheism is atheism if not-[p is true]*. Recap this section of the article if you need to. Because theism=’p is true’ it is therefore the case under this definition that atheism is not-theism.

      &&&> Per your own definitions here, theism is ‘a position of belief in the proposition that a god exists’ theist is ‘an adherent to the position of belief…’, an atheist is ‘an adherent to the proposition of a belief that a god does not exist’ (strong form)’, etc… Maybe this is what you mean with your ‘=’ sign, but you need to make it more explicit. It’s your argument, so it’s your responsibility to avoid sloppiness. If your ‘=’ sign means ‘a position of belief in the proposition that’ or ‘an adherent to the position of belief in the proposition that’ (depending on whether it’s ‘ism’ or ‘ist’), OK, but you have to clarify and not expect me to fill in the dots.

      >> OK, you can assert there is no problem in this redundancy. But it seems like an arbitrary assertion because it is only needed to make this definition work, and is not required in any other ‘ist’ word.

      &&&> No, actually, the burden is on you to show that there are NO cases without problems here. You’re the one stating that there is always a problem. All I need is a counter-example. You need to prove your case.

      “Also, it confuses the definition, and requires further qualification even if atheism=lacktheism, otherwise the two are unresolved.”
      –> I don’t understand this defense of (1). See my possible definitions above followed by (***). There is no confusion there, and no further qualification required. Which “two are unresolved”?

      >> The ‘two’ unresolved are ‘athiesm=lacktheism’ and ‘atheism=hardtheism’. Fine, a way round this is indeed to add ‘strong’ and ‘weak’ in front – not going to labour this point. However, the qualification ‘strong’ and ‘weak’ implies a scale of ‘atheism’; whereas if ‘atheism’=’lacktheism’ or ‘atheism=’hardtheism’ they are two distinct beliefs.

      &&&> OK, so this defense fails, right? Let me be clear, ‘strong theism’ is the same as ‘hardtheism’ (the position of belief in the proposition that it is false that a god exists), and ‘weak theism’ is the same thing as ‘soft theism’ or ‘lacktheism’ (the position of lack of belief in the proposition that it is true that a god exists). You seem to now be making a distinction that wasn’t there before. If this wasn’t clear due to my sloppiness, I apologize.

      “Also, there are no example of other cases where the suffix ‘ist’ describes someone who both holds one view (the related ‘ism’) and also separately someone who denies a separate view (an unrelated ‘ism’). This would need to be demonstrated.”

      –>First, I don’t see how this would matter, even if there were no other examples that are perfect analogies to this case. I’m not necessarily conceding that, but even if it were true, this could be a unique case and that’s perfectly acceptable, as long as there is self-consistency.

      >> self-consistency is not the only test. It may be special pleading to say ‘we must include this as an exception so that our definition holds’

      &&&> Not at all. Requiring that there be other examples/analogies that exactly match the case we’re talking about is an ad hoc requirement. Analogies are, by definition, always imperfect (the only perfect analogue to a referent is the referent itself), and analogies are not substitutes for syllogistic or deductive arguments (only inductive). The only requirement of any definition is the self-consistency of the argument where it is used. Otherwise, it can be anything; that’s why it’s a ‘definition.’ If you can demonstrate that a definition introduces a logical inconsistency in the syllogism where it is used, then you have grounds to say either the definition or the argument must be modified. Please demonstrate logical inconsistency here.

      Second, these are not “separate” views or “unrelated isms”, they are very much related: one is a position of belief in a proposition and the other is a position of non-belief in the SAME proposition (the proposition that “a god exists”).

      >> Nope, this is simply incorrect. One is the position of belief in a proposition (God does not exist), and the other is a position of non-belief in a DIFFERENT proposition (God does exist). It means for a lacktheist that atheism is completely irrelevant and unrelated in a causal way.

      &&&> To me the propositions (God does not exist) and (God does exist) are not unrelated like you claim, they are related by the fact that one is the negation of the other. Yes, of course they are different, but they are not unrelated. Anyway, this is pointless, my first rebuttal to your defense of requiring perfect analogies elsewhere, stands.

      Third, you’re assuming that a view (or, to be consistent, a position) is being denied. This is not necessarily true. Again: not believing something is not the same as denying it or believing the contrary. You are assuming what you are trying to prove.

      >> Yes, you are correct here. I shouldn’t say ‘deny’ I should say ‘does not accept’.

      &&&> Agreed! But please note that this distinction is crucial and fatal to your entire argument.

      I don’t think you have supported (1), and I could stop here.

      As for (2), It would’ve been clearer if you’d defined what you mean by ‘propositional content’ and ‘adheres to’ but OK, let’s proceed.

      >> Propositional content means it contains at least one proposition (a statement that expresses a statement or opinion).
      >> Adheres to mean ‘believes in or follows the practices of…’

      Note that (2) is a definition in itself. For brevity, let me rephrase it to a more compact logical equivalent using the definition ‘adherent’ as ‘a person who adheres to the ‘ism’ in question’:

      (2) An ‘ist’ is an adherent to an ‘ism’ that has propositional content.

      >> No, this is not the same. All men are mortals, but not all mortals are men. I am not defining an ‘ist’ as only someone who adheres to an ‘ism’ (it may be something else also), I am stating that all ‘[x]isms’ held by someone are ‘[x]ists’

      &&&> OK, the second part of your statement: “I am stating that all ‘[x]isms’ held by someone are ‘[x]ists’ ” is completely non-sensical. Please take the time to check what you say instead of relying on me to clean up your sloppiness. (all ‘isms’ held by someone are ‘ists’) is gibberish nonsense. You may mean that all ‘ists’ hold or adhere to ‘isms’ or something like that, I don’t really know, so please re-state.

      &&&> This was your original Premise (2) verbatim:

      “(2) If something is described as [x]ism and also has propositional content, then a person who adheres to it is described as an [x]ist ”

      &&&> Let’s go baby steps through the logic:

      (2.1) IF (‘ism’ AND ‘ism’ has ‘propositional content’) THEN (person who adheres to ‘ism’ is defined as ‘ist’).
      (2.2) IF (‘ism’ with ‘propositional content’) THEN [(IF person adheres to ism) THEN (person is defined as ‘ist’)].
      (2.3) IF [(‘ism’ with ‘propositional content’) AND (person adheres to ism)] THEN (person is defined as ‘ist’).
      (2.3) IF (person adheres to ‘ism’ with ‘propositional content’) THEN (person is defined as ‘ist’).
      (2.4) (person adheres to ‘ism’ with ‘propositional content’) IMPLIES (person is defined as ‘ist’).
      (2.3) (person is defined as ‘ist’) IF (person adheres to ‘ism’ with ‘propositional content;)
      (2.4) DEFINITION: AN ‘ist’ IS A (person who adheres to ‘ism’ with ‘propositional content’)
      Now, Letting ‘adherent to an ism’ denote (‘a person who adheres to ‘ism’):
      (2.5) An ‘ist’ is an adherent to an ‘ism’ with ‘propositional content’;.
      Or equivalently, we recover EXACTLY my re-phrased version of your Premise (2):
      (2) An ‘ist’ is an adherent to an ‘ism’ that has ‘propositional content’.

      &&&> So it is exactly the same, as you can see, only stated as a definition, instead of as a messy and obscure double-nested conditional. I was trying to help you out by clarifying your own Premise (2).

      Now, I may quibble with this definition in a variety of ways and don’t have to accept it. But, you have chosen to define it that way. To the extent that the rest of your syllogism depends on this definition, your conclusion will depend on the strength of this definition.

      Notice that (2) is NOT the same as and does not imply:

      (2A) All ‘isms’ have propositional content.

      Moreover, using the definition of the prefix ‘a’ as ‘not’ or ‘without’ means that assuming (2) is true, the following possibilities would result:

      (2B) An ‘a-[ist]’ is not-[an adherent to an ‘ism’ that has propositional content]. (weak ‘ist’) or

      (2C) An ‘a-[ist]’ is an adherent to an a-[‘ism’ that has propositional content]. (strong ‘ist’)

      Here we’re back to square one. You seem to be constructing definitions into your premises so that you can conclude (2C) and exclude (2B). But even they do not work for the case of atheism and atheist.

      >> I have not said all ‘isms’ have propositional content, so 2A is not necessary.

      &&&> 2A is necessary because I use it to object to one of your statements (see below).

      >> 2B would be a way to reject my formulation – i.e. denying that atheism has propositional content. This I defended beneath

      &&&> Precisely! Your formulation allows for either 2B or 2C, while you’re maintaining that it leads EXCLUSIVELY to 2C.

      >> 2C is not a premises but a conclusion. If my original 2 is correct and ‘atheism’ is an ‘ism’ with propositional content, then someone who adheres to it (conclusion) is an ‘atheist’

      &&&> No! Your premise is a DEFINITION obscured as a DOUBLE CONDITIONAL. Your own definition leads to 2B or 2C, they’re both COMPATIBLE with your definition in your premise (2) (whether the original or the LOGICALLY EQUIVALENT and clearer re-phrased version).

      OK on to your defense:

      “This could be denied by saying either (a) the word atheism is not an ‘ism’ word,”
      –> OK here we get into equivocation. Technically (and trivially) yes, the word atheism contains the suffix ‘ism’. But this doesn’t mean that we have to take on board (2A) namely that all ‘isms’ have propositional content. To see this, suppose an ‘ism’ has propositional content. When you apply the prefix ‘a’ (meaning ‘not’ or ‘without’) then you have an ‘a-[ism]’ meaning ‘not-[ism]’ or ‘without-[ism]’ which can be argued to be without propositional content. Regardless, let’s grant that atheism is an ‘ism’ as long as we don’t forget that it’s also an ‘a-[ism]’. 🙂

      >> Again, 2A is not necessary. In this case you would simply have to argue that ‘atheism’ doesn’t have propositional content (doesn’t make any propositions), and my original argument would be shown false. This I defended beneath (and is not something you hold anyway)

      &&&> No, it’s not something I hold, but it’s something you defend, so I have to refute it 🙂 .

      “or (b) that atheism doesn’t have proposition content,”
      –> Yes, but this is OK, because remember (2) doesn’t imply (2A), namely that all ‘isms’ must have propositional content. But again, you’re jumping back to ‘atheism’ which is not mentioned in (2).

      >> I know it may be ok, That is the thing being discussed!

      &&&> Precisely!!! Your whole argument is saying that ‘atheism’ must always have ‘propositional content’. I’m arguing that it doesn’t necessarily always have to have propositional content.

      “or (c) that someone who adheres to this [x]ism is not always called an [x]ist”
      –> The objection that an adherent to an ‘ism’ would not be called an ‘ist’ would only work in the case that didn’t have a negation in front, or in the case of a strong negation, but not in the case of a weak negation. We’re back to the same definitional equivocation.

      “I believe we have good reason to believe all three:
      (a) atheism seems demonstrably an ‘ism’ word”
      –>Yes (no demonstration needed 🙂 ). But remember that it is also an ‘a-[ism]’ word.

      “(b) the formulation atheist=not true that-[‘God exists’ is true] has propositional content so cannot merely be not-theism (rather, it it is saying not true-theism)”
      –> What do you mean by your equal sign? atheist is not a proposition, it is someone (yes, an agent is implied here) who holds a position of either a lack of belief in a proposition (weak form), or a belief in the opposite of the proposition (strong form), where the proposition is “a god exists’. Yes, you could argue that the strong form has propositional content, but the weak form has no propositional content. However, you have not demonstrated that there is a problem here with the weak form.

      >>This is the typo I was referring to. This should say atheism=not true that-[God exists is true]. My point is, atheism is more that not-[theism]; it must be a proposition: not true that-[theism is true]. This merely establishes that atheism is a proposition”

      &&&> I know your point is that atheism is more than not-theism, but you have failed to demonstrate this so far.

      “(c) It seems to me that the burden lies here on the person claiming ‘someone who adheres to [x]ism is not called an [x]ist’ because I’m sure there is at least a general agreement that this seems to be the case and there are countless examples of this holding true.”
      –> I’m not saying that an adherent to an ‘ism’ is not called an ‘ist’

      >> Then this is not an objection to premise (2) – easy!

      &&&> No! What it’s not is a DEFENSE of Premise (2)!!!! You’re requiring a burden that does not exist to an objection to a defense to Premise (2). This means you have failed to defend your premise (2), not that I’ve failed to object to it. Wow…

      so I don’t see the need to defend this with counter examples. The problem is that you haven’t demonstrated that an adherent to an ‘a-[ism]’ cannot be called an ‘a-[ist]’ even on account of YOUR definitional requirement (granted for argument’s sake) of an ‘ist’ having to adhere to an ‘ism’ with ‘propositional content’.

      >> What I need to defend is that an adherent to [x]ism is rightly called a [x]ist, which I think is demonstrated by a thousand examples.

      &&&> No, that’s not enough. You need to show an adherent to an ‘ism’ where the ‘ism’ does not contain ‘propositional content’ cannot be called an ‘ist’. This you have NOT shown!.

      >> The point is the step from [x]ism to [x]ist is at a minimum established with this argument, and it sounds like you have no quibbles about that.

      &&&> I followed your definitions and showed that you still could not demonstrate that the only definition left is the strong or hard version of ‘atheist’. It’s not that I have quibbles, I have fatal objections to both of your premises (1) and (2) even when they’re re-phrased and charitably interpreted by accepting all your definitions at face value.

      >> Your disagreement seems to be with premise (1). This I have sought to establish, and believe it requires you to defend as the burden is on your side to show that an ‘ist’ can be used to describe two sorts of people with seemingly no connection between the two (one believing one proposition [God does not exist] and the other not-believing a separate proposition [God does exist]).

      &&&> My disagreement is with both (1) and (2), but notice that if either one fails, your entire argument fails (it’s unsound). I don’t have to defend anything, you have to defend premise (1) (and (2) as well).

      &&&> I don’t have to show that an ‘ist’ can be used to describe two “sorts of people with seemingly no connection between the two (one believing one proposition [God does not exist] and the other not-believing a separate proposition [God does not exist]).” Your second option here has yet another “typo” it should read: not-beliving a separate proposition [God exists], but OK.

      &&&> I’m sorry but this is plain nonsense. Where is the contradiction in stating that a term can have one of two definitions??? I AM NOT DESCRIBING TWO “SORTS OF PEOPLE” SIMULTANEOUSLY!! I’m claiming that the definition is COMPATIBLE with ONE OR THE OTHER, NOT BOTH! I’m not saying that an ‘atheist’ is BOTH a ‘lacktheist’ and a ‘hardtheist’ at the same time. I’m saying that an ‘atheist’ can be either; in other words, that either definition is acceptable! You have taken on the burden of demonstrating that one of these definitions ‘lacktheist’ is incompatible with a possible definition of ‘atheism’. You have not demonstrated this, because either option is compatible (not both simultaneously!!!).

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  18. “if atheism should be interpreted as a-[theism] = [not]-[theism] then it is something that has no propositional content. This leads to the absurdity that everything that is not ‘theism’ is ‘atheism’. ”
    –>I don’t understand this statement, please define what you mean by ‘no propositional content’. The weak-form interpretation of atheism as the lack of belief in ‘the existence of a god’ does not say anything about belief or lack of belief in the existence of, say, chickens. When you refer to ‘atheism’ or ‘atheist’ you are implicitly assuming that the position of lack of belief is with respect to the ‘existence of a god question’. I fail to see that atheism refers to anything outside of the proposition considered in theism. The prefix ‘a’ is modifying ‘theism’ not something else. If you take a position that you don’t believe proposition A, that does not commit you to believing not-A, and it says nothing about position about an unrelated proposition B; you simply haven’t made any reference to B. There is no absurdity here. Surely, this is clear?

    “in order to bring propositional content into atheism […]”
    –> There is no requirement to bring ‘propositional content’ into the weak-form definition of atheism.

    “Likewise, we could run the example for atheist (though I know you don’t like it when I insist that there is no reason to assume agency […]”
    –> First, it’s not about “likes” or “dislikes” it’s about the arguments. Second, (and this is the last time I’ll bring up agency again): there is no requirement for the coherence of the definition to require agency to be made explicit. It can be assumed that when you say ‘ist’ it means there’s an agent that can do the ‘believing’ or the ‘witholding of the belief.’ For example, if you define ‘psychopathy’ as the inability to feel or express empathy, when you refer to a psychopath it is IMPLIED that we’re referring to a person who is capable of feeling empathy but doesn’t; we’re not referring to a toddler, a chicken, or a tea kettle. If the interlocutor is so “thick” that he/she requires the word ‘agent’ or ‘person’ or ‘someone’ or whatever, to be present, so be it. Explicitly including “agent” or “agency” in the definition does not make the ‘weak’ definition of ‘atheist’ any less plausible or less valid. This is a trivial quibble, and you seem to be grasping at straws here. From now on, I will ignore any objections to ‘agency’.

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    1. I’m really interested in your response to something I posted previously that may have been lost:

      However, to offer another thought, consider all the other related set of ‘…theism’ words:

      monotheism
      polytheism
      ditheism
      tritheism
      pantheism
      panentheism

      In all these cases, the prefix is used to modify the position held so that it is a new position. Monotheism obviously doesn’t mean ‘one-[theism]’, poly theism obviously doesn’t mean ‘many-[theisms]’, pantheism obviously doesn’t mean ‘everything is-[theism]’ etc etc. Rather, montheism means [one theo]-ism, and polytheism means [many theos]-ism, and pantheism means [evething is theos]-ism etc. etc.

      In fact, can you give a single example of a word that uses the suffix ‘ism’ where the prefix modifies the word in the way you are suggesting? I can think of countless that work the other way (anabaptism, neodarwinism, immaterialism, ascetesism, panseuxialism etc. etc)?

      Of course, we can arbitrarily define a word differently, but I’m sure neither of us want to do that.

      Like

  19. Again, some response:

    “if atheism should be interpreted as a-[theism] = [not]-[theism] then it is something that has no propositional content. This leads to the absurdity that everything that is not ‘theism’ is ‘atheism’. ”
    –>I don’t understand this statement, please define what you mean by ‘no propositional content’. The weak-form interpretation of atheism as the lack of belief in ‘the existence of a god’ does not say anything about belief or lack of belief in the existence of, say, chickens. When you refer to ‘atheism’ or ‘atheist’ you are implicitly assuming that the position of lack of belief is with respect to the ‘existence of a god question’. I fail to see that atheism refers to anything outside of the proposition considered in theism. The prefix ‘a’ is modifying ‘theism’ not something else. If you take a position that you don’t believe proposition A, that does not commit you to believing not-A, and it says nothing about position about an unrelated proposition B; you simply haven’t made any reference to B. There is no absurdity here. Surely, this is clear?

    >> merely [not]-[theism] means exactly the same is [everything except]-[theism] correct? This first statement is merely saying in itself this has no proposition contained within it, and as such it leads to absurdities- namely, everything that isn’t ‘theism’ is ‘atheism’. Just slowly read the words and I think you’ll get what I’m saying.

    “in order to bring propositional content into atheism […]”
    –> There is no requirement to bring ‘propositional content’ into the weak-form definition of atheism.

    >> There is a requirement to because of the absurdity of the contrary. Look, simply consider this:

    (1) It is absurd to say that everything in the universe that isn’t theism is atheism
    (2) Therefore, it is absurd to say atheism means [not]-[theism]
    (3) Alternatively, we could say atheism means [not true that]-[theism]
    (4) [not true that]-[theism] is the same as [not-[theism]]ism

    Which of these do you reject?

    “Likewise, we could run the example for atheist (though I know you don’t like it when I insist that there is no reason to assume agency […]”
    –> First, it’s not about “likes” or “dislikes” it’s about the arguments. Second, (and this is the last time I’ll bring up agency again): there is no requirement for the coherence of the definition to require agency to be made explicit. It can be assumed that when you say ‘ist’ it means there’s an agent that can do the ‘believing’ or the ‘witholding of the belief.’ For example, if you define ‘psychopathy’ as the inability to feel or express empathy, when you refer to a psychopath it is IMPLIED that we’re referring to a person who is capable of feeling empathy but doesn’t; we’re not referring to a toddler, a chicken, or a tea kettle. If the interlocutor is so “thick” that he/she requires the word ‘agent’ or ‘person’ or ‘someone’ or whatever, to be present, so be it. Explicitly including “agent” or “agency” in the definition does not make the ‘weak’ definition of ‘atheist’ any less plausible or less valid. This is a trivial quibble, and you seem to be grasping at straws here. From now on, I will ignore any objections to ‘agency

    >> Not grasping at straws, and I refer to ‘likes’ and ‘dislikes’ because it elicits this type of response in you!
    >> Psychopathy is not defined as ‘the inability to feel or express empathy’. It is defined as ‘a mental illness causing someone to have the inability to fee or express empathy’
    >> If you are so prickly about the agency question, then let me ask you a related one: If someone lacks belief that God exists, but hasn’t considered the position, are they an atheist?

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    1. “merely [not]-[theism] means exactly the same is [everything except]-[theism] correct? This first statement is merely saying in itself this has no proposition contained within it, and as such it leads to absurdities- namely, everything that isn’t ‘theism’ is ‘atheism’. Just slowly read the words and I think you’ll get what I’m saying.

      &&&> Defining an ‘atheist’ as a ‘lacktheist’ does not lead to absurdities. We’ve gone over this before. You can re-read my comments before, or you can re-read Alex’s article. You can re-state this all you want, but it doesn’t hold water. We can agree to disagree. And the “just slowly read the words…” is called “getting personal.” It’s sophomoric and really does not advance your arguments one iota.

      “There is a requirement to because of the absurdity of the contrary. Look, simply consider this:

      (1) It is absurd to say that everything in the universe that isn’t theism is atheism
      (2) Therefore, it is absurd to say atheism means [not]-[theism]
      (3) Alternatively, we could say atheism means [not true that]-[theism]
      (4) [not true that]-[theism] is the same as [not-[theism]]ism

      Which of these do you reject?”

      &&&> (1) and (2), for the reasons stated above.

      “Not grasping at straws, and I refer to ‘likes’ and ‘dislikes’ because it elicits this type of response in you!”

      &&&> I’m afraid that, yes, you are grasping at straws, because you’re hanging your argument on such a trivial quibble. And the “it elicits this response in you” quip is called “getting personal.” It’s sophomoric and does not advance your arguments one iota.

      “If you are so prickly about the agency question…”

      &&&> I’ve answered the agency question (so has Alex, by the way); see comments above. The “you’re so prickly…” quip is called “getting personal.” It’s sophomoric and does not advanced your arguments or point of view one iota.

      Cheers.

      Like

      1. OK, I’m finding it hard to follow the back and forth because this blog isn’t ordered chronologically (and I’m ‘thick’ apparently), so can I suggest we simply make it that we post one thing and then wait for reply before posting something else (I’m aware I am the one at fault here).

        I feel like some of your accusations to me are unfounded, for example ‘quote mining’ Alex. Quote mining means something like quoting someone out of context to make your case. I don’t believe I have done this. I have been quoting Alex to be fair to his argument about mirroring, and then attempted to say why I think it doesn’t hold for lacktheism (no need to reply to this part)

        On a more friendly note, let me try and state some things I think we are both agreed on:

        (1) At the start of his article, Alex was making the case the atheist can only mean ‘lacktheist’ if atheism is defined as not-[God exists is true]

        (2) Alex was also arguing that we should expect come sort of mirroring of theist/theism with atheist/atheism

        (3) ‘Atheist’ must at least include ‘hardtheist’ – the thing up for debate is whether it should also include ‘lacktheist’

        (4) The way prefixes are used for all other ‘ism’ and ‘ist’ words, and specifically for the subset of [x]theism/[x]theist words (polytheism, panetheism etc.), modifies the position being held

        (5) If atheist=lacktheist then there is no direct connection between atheist and atheism, whereas all other ‘ist’ words have a direct connection to another ‘ism’ word

        Please can you let me know if I have correctly stated what we agree on?

        Then the following questions I’d like to ask you are:

        Because of (4) and (5), would you at least agree that the atheist=lacktheist formulation is unconventional?

        Why do you think burden of proof should be factored into deciding if an atheist could be used to describe a lacktheist? (if I create a new ‘ism’, let’s say Yism, why do we need to consider whether it has a large or small burden of proof?)

        Finally, if you claim etymology is useless, then please tell me if you would reject the following two scenarios, and why:

        (i) The Tri-chotomous example:

        We could define the proposition that [God exists] more specifically, we could create two distinct propositions: [A god who intervenes exists] and [A god who doesn’t intervene exists]. In fact, this is widely accepted to be ‘Theism’ and ‘Deism’ respectively.

        So, under these distinction, we could say atheism = (not-[a god who intervenes exists] and not-[A god who doesn’t intervene exists])

        And equally, we could say deism = (not-[no god exists] and not-[a god who intervenes exists])
        Both these seem faithful to the ideas of atheism (it is not true that a god who intervenes nor a God who doesn’t intervene exists); and deism (it is not true that a no gods exist nor a god who intervenes exists).

        Therefore, using the lacktheist way of defining things:

        A weak atheist = (not-[believe that [a god who intervenes exists]] and not-[believe that [a god who intervenes exist])

        But also:

        A weak deist = (not-[believe that [no god exists] and not-[believe that [a god who intervenes exists]])

        But then a weak atheist = a weak deist.

        The same could be run for weak theist to show a weak deist = a weak theist = a weak atheist

        (ii) The dichotomous example:

        We could also say that theism = not-[no god exists]. This is also faithful to the idea of theism (it is not
        true that no god exist)

        Therefore, using the lacktheist way of defining things:

        A weak theist = not-[believe that [no god exists]]

        Put another way, we could define a weak theist as ‘someone who doesn’t believe that no god exists’

        But according to this a weak theist = a weak atheist.

        I look forward to your response! 🙂

        Like

      2. I too struggle with the achronological ordering of threads here (sorry, couldn’t resist the ‘a’ word :).

        ON PERSONAL QUIPS

        I don’t believe I ever said you were “thick” as I always strive to stick to arguments and not personalities. I believe I used it in the context of an abstract interlocutor so literal or so unfamiliar with language usage, that he/she has to require explicit mention of agency in ‘ist’ words, when it should be clearly implied. (I could turn the etymological tables on you and ask you for examples where an ‘ist’ is not an agent, but I’m sure you can come up with some :). If I did explicitly call you “thick” please point me to where I did that, and I apologize in advance.

        QUOTE MINING AND THE MALPASS MIRROR

        I wouldn’t call the “quote mining” comment an accusation, anymore than pointing out any other fallacy is an accusation, it’s sticking to arguments. Regardless, my usage of “quote mining” is a little different than “quoting out of context.” I use it to mean “selective quoting” where, for example if an author takes positions A and B, and someone mentions A but neglects to mention B when it’s relevant to the argument he’s making. It’s very similar to quoting out of context, but slightly different.

        This is, I think, the case with your insistence on Alex’s application of his “mirror” (the Malpass Mirror? :), to the ‘hardtheist’ definition. Remember the flow of Alex’s article was:

        A. Under one interpretation ‘atheist’ can be ‘hardtheist’.
        B. Under a second interpretation ‘atheist’ can be ‘lacktheist’
        C. Resolution: Either definition is equally valid.

        I’ve simplified a lot, but that’s the gist of it. You seem to repeatedly quote A while forgetting the punchline of the entire article, which is C. Since C was actually Alex’s conclusion, I think it’s negligent to only quote a preamble to the conclusion while obviating the actual conclusion, which is really the point of the entire article.

        This is similar to creationists quoting Darwin when he says: “The eye is so complex, it seems impossible that Natural Selection could ever give rise to it.” While ignoring what he said later on: “In what follows I’m going to show you how NS can give rise to a complex structure like the eye.” (I’m paraphrasing, but you get the idea.)

        ON ETYMOLOGY AND “ARGUING” FOR DEFINITIONS

        Before I address some of your arguments, let me attempt to clarify something important. As Alex wisely pointed out, chasing after etymology is a “fool’s errand” (his words).

        Notice that, eloquent as they are, your arguments:

        (i) Are about definitions; and
        (ii) Rest mostly or largely on etymology.

        In the sense of (i) and (ii), your arguments to definitions from etymology are not even arguments! Allow me to explain.

        (i) At the end of the day, a definition is just that: a definition. It is not arrived at by arguments, it is simply an assertion without justification. You can call the ‘lack of belief in a god’ a ‘kerkuflam’ if you’d like, or the Greek letter Lambda. It doesn’t matter, it’s just a definition. You’re always entitled to your definitions, as long as those definitions don’t introduce inconsistencies in your arguments. (You couldn’t have definitions like [X def:= Y], [Y def:= Z] and then go on to argue that [X = not-Z], for example. In this example, at least one of your definitions must go, or the argument itself must go.)

        (ii) Language is imprecise to begin with, it’s fluid, it has influences from many other languages, ultimate origins are lost in antiquity, it has redundancies, inconsistencies, even contradictions, and usage varies from place to place and with time. (The word ‘gay’ used to mean one thing, and now its meaning has drifted to mean something completely different; the word ‘vlog is less than two decades old; and don’t get me started with examples of redundancies, inconsistencies, and the like, as I refuse to get into that refuse, and I would object to the object of that conversation… :).

        There is nothing inconsistent or incoherent about the ‘lacktheist’ definition of ‘atheist’, nor are there any requirements by the English language that might even come close to invalidating it:

        (a) Theism def= The position of holding a belief in the existence of a god.
        (b) Theist def= An adherent to the position of holding a belief in the existence of a god.
        (c) Atheism def= The position of not holding a belief in the existence of a god.
        (d) Atheist def= An adherent to the position of not holding a belief in the existence of a god.

        The presumption here is that the ‘ists’ and ‘adherents’ are, as would be reasonably expected, qualified agents. Also, notice that the negations do not apply to anything and everything, but exclusively to the SPECIFIC position of not holding a belief in the hypothesis of the existence of a god.

        These definitions are not only precise, coherent, self-consistent, and reasonable, but are also widely (even if not exclusively) used by both theists and atheists. Wide usage is what ultimately decides on the meaning of words, and ultimately negates any quibbles or hair-splitting about word roots, origins, and suffixes or whatever. These are, after all, definitions.

        To argue about definitions while resting our arguments on the imprecision of etymology is, at the end of the day, not to argue anything of substance at all.

        When I engaged your arguments on your own terms, I showed them to be flawed (at least I convinced myself they were flawed with what I considered reasoned arguments), and I don’t think you managed to refute any of my objections.

        As I stated in another (achronological) post on this thread, I don’t find etymology all that useful, reliable, or even interesting to rest arguments on, and I will stop addressing etymology from now on (after this post :).

        YOUR ARGUMENTS (SOME OF THEM)

        As for your arguments in your last post, I won’t address them all, for the reasons stated above (sorry). But I’ll take a crack at a few of them.

        I have to disagree with (5) and point you to my examples (a) through (d) above.

        And, while I agree with (4) I have to object to EXTRAPOLATIONS of suffix subordination to all cases.

        I understand your insistence than in many cases, maybe most cases of ‘isms’ and ‘ists’ in words containing ‘theisms’ and ‘theists’ can be interpreted as modifying everything that comes before them (suffix subordination). But you’ve obviated the usage of the negation prefix ‘a’. None of your examples have an ‘a’ before them, except for ‘atheist’ and ‘atheism’ which are the cases at hand.

        In logic, for example, when you negate an expression, you negate what’s immediately adjacent and to the right of the negation operator (prefix priority) as follows:

        not-A and (B or C) and D = not-A and B or C and D

        not-(A and B or C and D) = not-A or not-B and not-C or not-D

        not-(A and B) or (C and D) = not-A or not-B or C and D etc…

        Note that here, the placing of parentheses tells us uniquely and precisely how to interpret the negation; i.e., whether to apply it to the term right next to it or to extend the priority further, even all the way to the end of all terms in the expression (subordination). This is a convention in logic (and set theory etc.) that makes sense, although, admittedly it’s just a convention. Language doesn’t have these sweeping consistent conventions, and we shouldn’t (cannot) rely on anything like this to aid us in a definition, because after all, a definition is arbitrary. Moreover, there are NO PARENTHESES in the middle of words to guide us as to how to precisely negate a word (i.e., whether the prefix should be subordinate to the root and suffix, or whether it takes partial or full priority over the root or suffix).

        Again, I think all this is a pointless exercise in futility, but here it goes again.

        Even if you said that in ‘x-ist’ and ‘x-ism’ the suffixes modify the root of the word, when you place the negative suffix ‘a’ (meaning ‘not’ or ‘without’) you can negate either only the root or the entire remainder of the word, as long as the meaning makes sense. There are NO PARENTHESES encasing any part of the word, so there is ambiguity and freedom of interpretation of the negation.

        In your examples of ‘theisms’ where the prefix takes precedence and the suffix is subordinated, like in (mono-theos)-ism, (poly-theos)-ism, etc., I gave you two objections:

        (iii) Their meanings don’t admit any other coherent definition that makes sense (they’re disambiguated), so we’re forced into suffix subordination (i.e., the prefix modifies the root, and subsequently, the suffix modifies them both);

        (iv) There’s no reason why the negation prefix ‘a’ couldn’t be subordinated to the entire word (if in fact a coherent word could be formed with those words, which doesn’t appear to be possible, and that’s why there isn’t a corresponding word like ‘apolytheism’. Here, language is mute about what this would even mean, unlike in the precise language of logic, where we could, if we wanted to, construct an expression out of a negation, a modifier meaning ‘several’ or ‘many’, and a belief in a proposition.

        However, there is no such problem with the words ‘atheism’ and ‘atheist’ where the prefix is perfectly free to be subordinate while the suffix has priority (‘lacktheism’, ‘lacktheist’), as well as the contrary (‘hardatheism’ ‘hardatheist’).

        I don’t think ‘atheist’ = ‘lacktheist’ is unconventional at all; in fact, I think it’s common usage (even if not exclusive). Notice I’m not necessarily ruling out the other option (‘hardatheist’), which brings me to the following topic.

        BURDEN OF PROOF

        As an example of how important burden of proof is, notice that you have taken a much higher burden of proof than I have. You’re trying to prove that there is ONLY ONE acceptable DEFINITION of ‘atheist’, namely that ‘atheist’ has to mean ‘hardatheist’. I took a much lighter burden that ‘atheist’ could be interpreted EITHER (not simultaneously both) as ‘lacktheist’ OR ‘hardatheist.’ Moreover, you’re trying to base your arguments on an assumption of a precision in language that language, simply, does not have. Finally, we’re talking DEFINITIONS here, which are not arrived at by argumentation. This is probably why I had a much easier time objecting and disproving your contentions and poking holes in your arguments.

        Now to the more interesting part (no more etymology :).

        Burden of proof is very important when using inductive arguments where evidence is required. It is even more important with inductive (evidential) arguments involving hypotheses on the existence of something. For example, in the evidential sciences one uses hypothesis testing where there is a default position called the “Null Hypothesis” (“no effect detected”) and the “Alternative Hypothesis” (“effect detected”). The default is always the Null hypothesis, which is either “rejected” or “not rejected” (neither hypothesis is ever “accepted”). The evidential burden of proof is on the “Alternative Hypothesis” to “reject the Null”. Notice that not rejecting the Null doesn’t mean that the Alternative is not true. It means that the Alternative has not met its EVIDENTIAL burden of proof (even though it could still be true, and we could find this out if we did more experiments, more observations, etc.).

        The flip side is, that even if the Null is rejected, it is only done so with some degree of confidence (95% or 99% etc.) which, while overwhelmingly favoring the Alternative, doesn’t guarantee that it is established with absolute certainty (which is never reached, in principle, in the evidential sciences). In other words, there’s still that 5% or 1% possibility that we think that we’ve detected an effect that’s not really there. (Maybe if we ran more experiments or observations, the outcome would reverse.)

        For example, in a court of law, the default position is “not guilty” (the Null hypothesis). It is the government’s burden to prove, beyond a reasonable doubt, that the defendant is guilty (the Alternative hypothesis). Notice that, even if the Null hypothesis is not rejected, that doesn’t mean that the defendant is innocent! The word innocent doesn’t enter into consideration here, only “guilty” or “not guilty”. Just because the jury doesn’t find that the government has proven its case beyond a reasonable doubt, does not mean that they think that the defendant is NECESSARILY “innocent.” It just means that the government was sloppy and didn’t present sufficient evidence.

        Short of exculpatory evidence (the killer’s DNA doesn’t match mine or something like that), it is virtually impossible to prove lack of guilt. For example, just because I don’t have an alibi for the night of the murder (I was typing an argument in a philosophy blog all by myself), doesn’t mean I’m guilty. To ‘prove’ my innocence may well be impossible. This is partly the reason why the court system is set up this way.

        Anyway, the point is that in “evidential reality” (i.e., reality that’s discernible through evidence) it is IN GENERAL impossible to prove non-existence, unless you’re talking about clear logical contradictions (like a ‘square circle’ or a ‘married widow’ or whatever) or contradictions to empirically established physical laws (like a perpetual-motion machine). On the other hand, you could easily prove existence by producing the item or entity that the hypothesis claims the existence of.

        As an aside, this asymmetry doesn’t exist in the a priori sciences like logic or mathematics, where the “reality” is accessible in its totality. In fact Alex, in his article, arrived at the conclusion that ‘lacktheist’ and ‘hardtheist’ are perfectly acceptable on logical grounds.

        I tried to offer a way to break Alex’s “a priori symmetry” by offering an “evidential asymmetry” by way of the inherent asymmetry in the evidential burden of proof. In other words, to the extent that the theistic God is defended with evidence, the burden of proof should rest with the null hypothesis of “undetected.”

        Otherwise, if the existence of the theistic God is only defended using a priori knowledge (like logic), then there is no such asymmetry and either term would be allowed. My point is that most theists defend their belief with evidential arguments. In that case, the ‘lacktheist’ definition should be adopted.

        Again, this asymmetry in the evidential burden is what I offered to “break the symmetry” that Alex aluded to, in favor of ‘lacktheism’.

        Here are the analogs:

        DEFAULT POSITION: (Null Hypothesis) Examples: Not guilty. Not detected. Atheism (=’lacktheism’).
        BURDEN-OF-PROOF POSITION: (Alternative Hypothesis) Examples: Guilty. Not detected. Theism.

        Notice that not rejecting the Null does not commit you to accepting it! In other words you could be found not guilty even if you’re NOT innocent; you could have not detected an effect that is really there; you could not find evidence for a god’s existence convincing enough to believe in it, but it doesn’t commit you to believing the contrary, namely, that the god does not exist, etc.

        OK, I’ve gone on long enough. I wish you luck with your etymological argumentation, but I think I’ve explored it to the extent that I want to at this point.

        Cheers.

        Like

  20. Alex, I seem to have stumbled on a weird contradiction that seems to happen when I use your atheism=lacktheism line of reasoning. I’m sure it can’t be correct, but can you show me how:

    In a similar way to the way you defined atheism, you may define ‘monotheism’ as:
    a is monotheism iff a is (not-[atheism is true] and not-[polytheism is true])

    This seems faithful to the definition of monotheism – that it is not true that no-God nor many-Gods exist

    Substituting the lacktheism definition atheism = not-[theism is true] gives:
    monotheism is (not-[not-[theism is true] is true] and not-[polytheism is true])

    Using the mirroring you discussed:
    a is a monotheist iff a is (not-[believes that atheism is true] and not-[believes that polytheism is true])

    Which becomes:
    Monotheist is an agent who does not-[believes that [not-[theism is true] is true] and does not-[believes that [polytheism is true]]

    But an atheist on the lacktheist definition is also someone who does not believe atheism is true and does not believe polytheism is true. But this would make them a monotheist?

    So this definition leads to contradictions?

    Am I doing something really silly here?

    Like

    1. Two important typos that I noticed above (sorry you can’t edit these achronological posts :).

      Should read:

      I tried to offer a way to break Alex’s “a priori symmetry” by offering an “evidential asymmetry” by way of the inherent asymmetry in the evidential burden of proof. In other words, to the extent that the theistic God is defended with evidence, the burden of proof should rest with the Alternative hypothesis of “existence.”

      Should read:

      DEFAULT POSITION: (Null Hypothesis) Examples: Not guilty. Not detected. Atheism (def:=’lacktheism’).

      BURDEN-OF-PROOF POSITION: (Alternative Hypothesis) Examples: Guilty. Detected. Theism.

      Like

      1. OK – I’m not going to start a big back and forth about personal quips. I don’t think I was quoting Alex in that way, you think I was, not something I want to continue debating.

        If I understood you correctly, you say that you disagree with (5), and agree with (4) but object to EXTRAPOLATIONS of suffix subordination in all cases.

        So, let me first address these:

        Regarding (5): You disagree that – ‘if atheist=lacktheist then there is no direct connection between atheist and atheism, whereas all other ‘ist’ words have a direct connection to another ‘ism’ word’. In defence of this, you posited definitions (a) to (d). Let’s say, for the sake of argument, you do define atheism as you have (the position of not holding a belief in the existence of god). This comes at a cost:

        (i) Under this definition an atheist cannot be a hardtheist

        (ii) Under this definition, atheism is the only ‘ism’ word that isn’t a proposition/set of propositions. To say ‘the position of not holding a belief in the existence of god’ is to say atheism is merely a state of being, but doesn’t actually propose anything. For example, Marxism doesn’t mean ‘the position of holding to the teachings of Karl Marx’.

        (iii) Because you have defined atheism as a ‘state’ a person can be in, then the way you have defined atheist in (d) actually means someone who supports the state of not holding a belief in god (adherent means ‘someone who supports’, so sub this into (d) an adherent to the position of not holding belief God exists). This means that every theist who supports the position of not holding belief God exists is also an atheist (as they are not mutually exclusive). This is not atheist=lacktheist.

        Regarding (4): I accept that you object to EXTROPOLATIONS of suffix subordination. You claimed that there is a reason why the prefix in atheism/atheist should negate the theism and theist part, and your argument was that it would make no sense to say this of other prefixes in the theist subset. I disagree – e.g. why isn’t is sensible for polytheism to mean different types of theism? For example, this is what separates some people: some believe many religions are correct (many theisms) and some believe only one religion is correct (one theism). So, unless you are willing to extend the meaning of polytheism to many-theisms; and polytheist to be a collective term that describes many theists, then an alternative reason should be sought (unless you concede this is the only case). Additionally, without open up another can of worms, ‘agnosticism’ does not mean not-gnosicism so I do have an example of the prefix ‘a’ modifying the theory being held. Equally – immaterialism is not not-materialism and amoralism is not not-moralism.

        (As a humorous aside, if you will accept polytheist can mean many-theists then when a group of one-god-exists people meet together it becomes a polytheist affair! Try saying that in a Mosque  )

        IS IT UNCONVENTIONAL?

        You then went on to say: ‘I don’t think ‘atheist’ = ‘lacktheist’ is unconventional at all; in fact, I think its common usage (even if not exclusive)’
        I can see an ambiguity in the word ‘unconventional’. I was not meaning ‘uncommon’. I was meaning ‘doesn’t follow the conventions of ist/ism use’. Would you agree that lacktheism/lacktheist definitions at least don’t follow the convention of ism/ist words? (like you said, this isn’t an argument for or against their legitimacy, merely a proposition)?

        BURDEN OF PROOF

        Thank you for your explanation of the null hypothesis. I do know these things as I have a PhD in applied physics, and am a research fellow. I say this merely to save you the trouble of explaining scientific principles in detail.

        I understand that as scientists all we can do is reject the null hypothesis with some level of certainty, and I understand the process of doing this. However, this was not my question. My question is why should this be a criteria in deciding whether atheism/atheist could be described as lacktheism/lacktheist? It seems to me like this is irrelevant.

        For example, if I believed that no other universes exist (i.e. I believe multiverse theory is wrong) you could say I have a larger burden of proof compared with someone who does believe in the multiverse because I have to show something doesn’t exist. But so what? What has that got to do with whether I believe there is no multiverse?

        It seems to me a giant leap of logic to say ‘there is a larger burden of proof to say aliens don’t exist’ therefore ‘someone who doesn’t believes they exists should be put in the same category as someone who believes they don’t exist.

        And, in any case, what about other methods of confirmation. For example, Bayes theory, P(h:e)=P(e:h)P(h)/P(e). I could say the probability of the evidence alone (without hypothesis h – P(e)) is so high that the probability of the hypothesis given the evidence P(h:e) is incredibly small, so I am going to believe the negation of the hypothesis. We could apply this to any theory of causation – say, the hypothesis that there is a giant turtle who made this earth. An evidence may be ‘the earth exists’. Well, I’d say the probability of this evidence alone (given the existence of a universe) is very high. So the probability of a giant turtle creating it is small, and so I believe that no giant world-creating turtle exists.
        Your point about the default position merely shows that the default position should be non-theism, which I accept. It doesn’t help your case at all.

        So, once again, the question is: WHY DO YOU THINK BURDEN OF PROOF SHOULD FACTOR INTO DECIDING IF ‘ATHEIST’ CAN BE USED TO DESCRIBE A LACK THEIST?

        MY TWO EXAMPLES

        I don’t think you disagreed with either my ‘TRICHOTOMOUS’ or my ‘DICHOTOMOUS’ example, unless I missed it. As such, I take it you accept that weak atheism = weak theism = weak deism.

        Like

      2. My comments start with &&&>

        OK – I’m not going to start a big back and forth about personal quips. I don’t think I was quoting Alex in that way, you think I was, not something I want to continue debating.

        &&&> There is no “big back and forth about personal quips” here so far. There’s only one direction: your personal quips towards me. I didn’t use personal quips towards you. If I did, please quote them and accept my apologies in advance. If you can’t produce a single one, please don’t accuse me of them. Please understand that there’s a difference between personal quips and pointing out a fallacy in or a disagreement with an argument: “You’re wrong in claiming X because X is not true…” is not a personal quip.

        &&&> OK, we can agree to disagree on your quoting one part while ignoring the other, if you like. What’s not up for disagreement is the fact that Alex concluded in his article that either ‘hardatheist’ or ‘lacktheist’ are logically allowed definitions of ‘atheist’. That doesn’t mean he’s right or wrong (I think he is), but it was his conclusion.

        If I understood you correctly, you say that you disagree with (5), and agree with (4) but object to EXTRAPOLATIONS of suffix subordination in all cases.

        So, let me first address these:

        Regarding (5): You disagree that – ‘if atheist=lacktheist then there is no direct connection between atheist and atheism, whereas all other ‘ist’ words have a direct connection to another ‘ism’ word’. In defence of this, you posited definitions (a) to (d). Let’s say, for the sake of argument, you do define atheism as you have (the position of not holding a belief in the existence of god). This comes at a cost:

        &&&> Again, you’re engaging in the etymological “fools errand” that Alex referred to in one of his posts. Did you read my post in its entirety? I spent a long time addressing this, but you don’t mention it here at all. It’s not that I disagree, the connection is plainly stated in the definitions (a) – (d). If you say that there is no connection, please point it out. Talking about other ‘ist’ words and assuming a consistency that the English language doesn’t have, does not invalidate the definitions (a) – (d) and does not support your “argument from etymology”.

        (i) Under this definition an atheist cannot be a hardtheist

        &&&> Under the ‘lacktheist’ definition, yes, of course, but that’s a straw man! I’m only saying that ‘lacktheist’ is A valid definition, not that it’s the ONLY one allowed. I said this a dozen times before and you keep falling into this trap. It is YOU who is claiming that ‘hardatheist’ is the only allowed definition. The burden is on you to show that ‘lacktheist’ is not allowed. I’M NOT CLAIMING THAT ‘LACKTHEIST’ IS THE ONLY ALLOWED DEFINITION. I’M NOT CLAIMING THAT ‘LACKTHEIST’ AND ‘HARDATHEIST’ CAN BOTH BE ALLOWED SIMULTANEOUSLY. I’M ONLY CLAIMING THAT ‘LACKTHEIST’ IS ONE OF TWO MUTUALLY EXCLUSIVE BUT INDIVIDUALLY PERMISSIBLE OPTIONS. Please stop tearing the straw man that I’m claiming that ‘hardatheist’ is not allowed as a definition of ‘atheist’ I’m saying it is one of the options. (Oh, and this is not a personal quip., it’s a criticism of your arguments. The caps are used for emphasis because I don’t know how to turn on italics or boldface here, they’re not meant as me raising my voice or something like that :), so please don’t take it personally.)

        (ii) Under this definition, atheism is the only ‘ism’ word that isn’t a proposition/set of propositions. To say ‘the position of not holding a belief in the existence of god’ is to say atheism is merely a state of being, but doesn’t actually propose anything. For example, Marxism doesn’t mean ‘the position of holding to the teachings of Karl Marx’.

        &&&> This, again, is irrelevant for ANY one of three reasons which I already expounded on in my previous post, but which you didn’t address:

        (1) Language is imprecise in any case and ONE CANNOT BANK AN ARGUMENT ON A PRESUMPTION THAT LANGUAGE IS PRECISE AND UNIVERSALLY CONSISTENT–IT IS NEITHER.

        (2) It’s a DEFINITION, so it’s ALLOWED as long as it doesn’t introduce inconsistencies in the arguments where it is used.

        (3) Even if one ignores (1) and (2), which are already sufficient, and engages you in your etymological parsing of suffixes and their prevalence or whatever, THE PREFIX ‘A’ IS ALLOWED TO NEGATE THE SUFFIXES and even your “etymological argument” dissolves.

        &&&> For you to continue with your stance that the only definition of ‘atheist’ that is possible or allowed is ‘hardatheist’ you have to disprove ALL of the reasons above, not just one. You haven’t so far. Actually, you can’t.

        &&&> And yes, that’s precisely what atheism = lacktheism means, it’s not proposing anything (it doesn’t have to!!!), it’s simply disbelieving, or being in a state of disbelief about a particular proposition without being committed to believing the opposite of the same proposition.

        (iii) Because you have defined atheism as a ‘state’ a person can be in, then the way you have defined atheist in (d) actually means someone who supports the state of not holding a belief in god (adherent means ‘someone who supports’, so sub this into (d) an adherent to the position of not holding belief God exists). This means that every theist who supports the position of not holding belief God exists is also an atheist (as they are not mutually exclusive). This is not atheist=lacktheist.

        &&&> Notice that my definitions (a) – (d) are bending over backwards to be charitable to your own phraseology, and uses “position”, “adherent” etc. and they STILL hold perfectly consistently. If you claim they are not, please prove that they are not without any more etymology. In other words, prove that my definitions are logically inconsistent.

        &&&> Your (iii) here is either gibberish or a typo. Here is my (d) again:

        (d) Atheist def:= An adherent to the position of not holding a belief in the existence of a god.

        Substituting your phraseology adherent def:= ‘someone who supports’ yields:

        (d) Atheist def:= Someone who supports the position of not holding a belief in the existence of a god.

        Now you want to “sub this into (d)” and “this means that every theist…” What??? How do you get a ‘theist’ by substituting anything into (d) which is the definition of ‘atheist’? Please clarify this or discard your (iii).

        Regarding (4): I accept that you object to EXTROPOLATIONS of suffix subordination. You claimed that there is a reason why the prefix in atheism/atheist should negate the theism and theist part, and your argument was that it would make no sense to say this of other prefixes in the theist subset. I disagree – e.g. why isn’t is sensible for polytheism to mean different types of theism? For example, this is what separates some people: some believe many religions are correct (many theisms) and some believe only one religion is correct (one theism). So, unless you are willing to extend the meaning of polytheism to many-theisms; and polytheist to be a collective term that describes many theists, then an alternative reason should be sought (unless you concede this is the only case). Additionally, without open up another can of worms, ‘agnosticism’ does not mean not-gnosicism so I do have an example of the prefix ‘a’ modifying the theory being held. Equally – immaterialism is not not-materialism and amoralism is not not-moralism.

        &&&> Again, more pointless etymology; I won’t rehash it. But here’s a point of LOGIC where also you fail. There are only two possibilities here: Either there is no ambiguity in the usual meaning of the word (polytheist means someone who believes in many gods), in which case my point holds, or you disagree with me, and you think that there is an ambiguity, which case your point fails because you’re not warranted in making your extrapolation to begin with and a prefix CAN modify the entire word after it! Take your pick, your argument fails.

        &&&> Gnosticism means certain knowledge while agnosticism can mean without certain knowledge. Anyway, i don’t want to go down that rat hole, let’s stick with the definitions of atheism and atheist :).

        (As a humorous aside, if you will accept polytheist can mean many-theists then when a group of one-god-exists people meet together it becomes a polytheist affair! Try saying that in a Mosque  )

        &&&> This tells me two things: You’re probably not a Muslim, and you’re very daring! (I wouldn’t go into a Mosque to tell Muslims they’re having affairs, that can become inconvenient for me very quickly! Luckily, I’m not the one defining polytheism in such an unreasonable way ;).

        IS IT UNCONVENTIONAL?

        You then went on to say: ‘I don’t think ‘atheist’ = ‘lacktheist’ is unconventional at all; in fact, I think its common usage (even if not exclusive)’
        I can see an ambiguity in the word ‘unconventional’. I was not meaning ‘uncommon’. I was meaning ‘doesn’t follow the conventions of ist/ism use’. Would you agree that lacktheism/lacktheist definitions at least don’t follow the convention of ism/ist words? (like you said, this isn’t an argument for or against their legitimacy, merely a proposition)?

        &&&> I’m not going to etymology again, but I just want to say that I also mentioned that ‘usage’ was what ultimately settles issues of word definitions.

        BURDEN OF PROOF

        Thank you for your explanation of the null hypothesis. I do know these things as I have a PhD in applied physics, and am a research fellow. I say this merely to save you the trouble of explaining scientific principles in detail.

        &&&> Alright! A fellow physicist! My Ph.D. was in stat mech and theoretical condensed matter. Also picked up an MS in EE with emphasis in machine learning, and an MBA along the way (besides the math and physics B.A./B.S. double major). I also teach graduate level math part time. Philosophy is a hobby (although, technically, science is a philosophy ;).

        I understand that as scientists all we can do is reject the null hypothesis with some level of certainty, and I understand the process of doing this. However, this was not my question. My question is why should this be a criteria in deciding whether atheism/atheist could be described as lacktheism/lacktheist? It seems to me like this is irrelevant.

        &&&> Of course! I know this was not your original question, it was my theory as to why lacktheist is preferred in response to Alex’s article where he concludes that either lacktheist or hardatheist is equally acceptable. However, you did ask me why I thought “Burden of Proof” was important, so I was only responding to your query.

        For example, if I believed that no other universes exist (i.e. I believe multiverse theory is wrong) you could say I have a larger burden of proof compared with someone who does believe in the multiverse because I have to show something doesn’t exist. But so what? What has that got to do with whether I believe there is no multiverse?

        &&&> This is precisely the wrong analogy, because the existence of the Multiverse MAY be inaccessible to evidential (empirical) proof. To the extent that other universes don’t interact with ours, this would be more like ‘deism’ than ‘theism’ and would be more of a theoretical construct, in which case it goes back to an a priori question, not an evidential one. I always agreed that a priori positions on existence/non-existence are symmetrical (I agree with Alex’s conclusion that on logical grounds lacktheism and hardatheism are both allowed; the symmetry-breaking which I offered was rooted on evidential or inductive grounds, not a priori or deductive ones).

        &&&> If you consider how cosmologists approach the subject the burden is on the proponents of the Multiverse theory to offer empirical proof that they are right, not on the skeptics. This is because they are scientists and operate on inductive (evidential) reasoning, which is precisely my point.

        &&&> “What has that got to do with whether I believe there is no multiverse?” It has EVERYTHING to do with whether you SHOULD believe it or not, so it has everything to do with whether you end up believing it or not. If experiments/observations show that there is evidence supporting that there is a Multiverse, you’re much more likely to believe it than if not. If you believe that it does not exist (this is different than not believing that it exists!!!), then you’re either holding to a position of dogma (I really believe it does not exist), or you have a huge burden to prove your position of belief in non-existence of something that can’t be accessed. The most reasonable position, absent sufficient evidence, is not to believe that it exists (until you have a good reason, like sufficient evidence, to believe it).

        It seems to me a giant leap of logic to say ‘there is a larger burden of proof to say aliens don’t exist’ therefore ‘someone who doesn’t believes they exists should be put in the same category as someone who believes they don’t exist.

        &&&> Wow, this is again, gibberish or a typo. Where did I say that someone who doesn’t believe they exist (or gods exist) should be put in the same category as someone who believes they (or gods ) don’t exist. I’M SAYING THE OPPOSITE! Why? Because there’s a different burden of proof!

        &&&> Again, saying “I believe aliens do not exist” is NOT THE SAME AS saying “I do not believe that aliens exist”. There is a difference! Not believing that they exist does not commit you to believing that they do not exist!!! Believing they do not exist has a larger burden than not believing that they exist (by far!!). I don’t know why it’s so difficult for me to get this point across, but this is the root of a lot of the confusion. (I’m not taking a personal swipe at you, I’m saying there’s confusion in the arguments, not that you are a confused person. Thought I’d clarify that :).

        And, in any case, what about other methods of confirmation. For example, Bayes theory, P(h:e)=P(e:h)P(h)/P(e). I could say the probability of the evidence alone (without hypothesis h – P(e)) is so high that the probability of the hypothesis given the evidence P(h:e) is incredibly small, so I am going to believe the negation of the hypothesis. We could apply this to any theory of causation – say, the hypothesis that there is a giant turtle who made this earth. An evidence may be ‘the earth exists’. Well, I’d say the probability of this evidence alone (given the existence of a universe) is very high. So the probability of a giant turtle creating it is small, and so I believe that no giant world-creating turtle exists.
        Your point about the default position merely shows that the default position should be non-theism, which I accept. It doesn’t help your case at all.

        &&&> Goodness gracious, man :). The largest P(e) could ever be is 1. DIVIDING BY P(e) CAN NEVER MAKE ANYTHING SMALLER! If P(e:h)P(h) is sufficiently large, dividing it by P(e) So, once again: I HAVE ALREADY EXPLAINED WHY BURDEN OF PROOF SHOULD FACTOR INTO THE DEFINITION: IT BREAKS THE SYMMETRY THAT ALEX WAS TALKING ABOUT :).

        &&&> Going back to your aliens example. Imagine if you said you believe there are aliens in the universe. You could look at evidence for that, like the prevalence of earth-like planets, the probability of life forming in such planets, you could even look at radio signals etc. etc. Moreover, you could even be CERTAIN that they exist if you had communicated with such aliens.

        &&&> Now imagine the opposite claim: I say that I believe aliens do not exist (notice the difference between my belief and a lack of belief that they exist which does not commit me to believing that they do not exist ;). I could look at your evidence and dispute it, etc. but I could never be CERTAIN that they do not exist because I cannot explore all planets in the universe! In that respect, there’s an asymmetry. I could, in principle, ask you to prove that they exist, but you couldn’t ask me to prove that they do not exist; this would be an impossible task for me, though not for you.

        &&&> If I said to you “Big Foot exists” and you said “I don’t believe you” and I riposted “OK, you prove to me that Big Foot doesn’t exist” and claimed that “unless you proved to me Big Foot doesn’t exist, then I’m justified in my belief.” Would you accept that? Of course not. Your inability to prove to me that Big Foot doesn’t exist does NOT constitute a warrant (a good reason) for me to believe that Big Foot exist. The burden of proof is not on you to prove non-existence (potentially a near impossibility); the burden of proof is on the person making the positive claim, just as it is in any other evidential field: science, courts of law, etc. It would be intellectually dishonest of me to require you to provide a burden of proof that could well be impossible, and that does not provide me a warrant to believe in the existence (of Big Foot, God, etc.). That’s why the ‘lacktheist’ definition is better: it’s fairer, and it’s also reasonable.

        MY TWO EXAMPLES

        I don’t think you disagreed with either my ‘TRICHOTOMOUS’ or my ‘DICHOTOMOUS’ example, unless I missed it. As such, I take it you accept that weak atheism = weak theism = weak deism.

        &&&> No, of course I don’t accept those definitions. I didn’t explicitly engage these examples because I don’t want to continue going down the etymology rat hole (or as Malpass calls it, the fools’ errand ;).

        Like

    2. There was something wrong with my previous post. Some stuff was omitted for some reason. Instead of:

      &&&> Goodness gracious, man :). The largest P(e) could ever be is 1. DIVIDING BY P(e) CAN NEVER MAKE ANYTHING SMALLER! If P(e:h)P(h) is sufficiently large, dividing it by P(e) So, once again: I HAVE ALREADY EXPLAINED WHY BURDEN OF PROOF SHOULD FACTOR INTO THE DEFINITION: IT BREAKS THE SYMMETRY THAT ALEX WAS TALKING ABOUT :).

      It should be:

      &&&> Goodness gracious, man :). The largest P(e) could ever be is 1. DIVIDING BY P(e) CAN NEVER MAKE ANYTHING SMALLER! If P(e:h)P(h) is “sufficiently large”, dividing it by P(e) So, once again: I HAVE ALREADY EXPLAINED WHY BURDEN OF PROOF SHOULD FACTOR INTO THE DEFINITION: IT BREAKS THE SYMMETRY THAT ALEX WAS TALKING ABOUT :).

      Like

    3. Wow, the chopping off happened again! It seems that I cannot use the ‘greater than or equal to’ sign, so I’ll try again :)…

      Hopefully it will work this time. It should be:

      &&&> Goodness gracious, man :). The largest P(e) could ever be is 1. DIVIDING BY P(e) CAN NEVER MAKE ANYTHING SMALLER! If P(e:h)P(h) is “sufficiently large”, dividing it by P(e) which is greater than or equal to 1, can’t make P(h:e) any larger than the numerator was. Need I go on here??? :).

      So, once again, the question is: WHY DO YOU THINK BURDEN OF PROOF SHOULD FACTOR INTO DECIDING IF ‘ATHEIST’ CAN BE USED TO DESCRIBE A LACK THEIST?

      &&&> So, once again: I HAVE ALREADY EXPLAINED WHY BURDEN OF PROOF SHOULD FACTOR INTO THE DEFINITION: IT BREAKS THE SYMMETRY THAT ALEX WAS TALKING ABOUT :).

      Like

  21. In fact, Alex – I know you have time restraints, but if you ignore everything else please critique this syllogism (I think you are are so clear thinking and I really do want to be shown if this is not-valid or not-sound as I think it logically proves lacktheism definition is incorrect):

    (1) The lacktheist definition can more generally be formulated as: ‘[x]ist is someone who does not believe the contrary proposition [y]ism’
    (2) The proposition [God exists] is called theism
    (3) The proposition [not true that [God exists]] is called atheism
    (4) Because (2) and (3) atheism and theism are contrary propositions
    (5) Because (1) and (2), an atheist is someone who does not believe [God exists]
    (6) Because (1) and (3), a theist is someone who does not believe [not true that [God exists]]
    (7) Therefore, because (4) and (5), if someone does not believe [God exists] and does not believe [not true that [God exists]] then they are both an atheist and a theist

    I think this is valid, but as I said I am not a philosopher so maybe not- can you comment on this?

    If you accept 6 then it renders ‘atheist’ meaningless as I could consistently call them a ‘theist’ also.

    If you reject (1) then you are saying this definition only applies to ‘atheist’ – isn’t this question begging?
    If you reject (3) what is the alternative?

    Like

    1. Actually, it’s the “less than or equal to” sign :))).

      It seems you can’t use “<" and "=" together or together after a parenthesis such as after P(e).

      I tried to write P(e) "less than or equal to" 1 using "<" and "=" and the post skipped ahead several lines…

      Like

      1. Ok… Nice to know we are one physicist to another. My PhD was in nuclear magnetic resonance spectroscopy.

        Let me start by conceding that I was mistaken when talking about P(e) in the denominator of Baye’s theorem, apologies. What I should have said was that if the probability of the hypothesis given background knowledge alone P(h) is sufficiently small, then regardless of the evidence, P(h:e) is very small also.

        Now, I want to just address some of your responses (particularly the typo responses you made). But then, because you seem to reject etymological argument outright, I will attempt a logical argument.

        (iii) Because you have defined atheism as a ‘state’ a person can be in, then the way you have defined atheist in (d) actually means someone who supports the state of not holding a belief in god (adherent means ‘someone who supports’, so sub this into (d) an adherent to the position of not holding belief God exists). This means that every theist who supports the position of not holding belief God exists is also an atheist (as they are not mutually exclusive). This is not atheist=lacktheist.

        &&&> Your (iii) here is either gibberish or a typo…

        £££> This is not gibberish. My point is that you can be a theist (believe God exists) and still support the position of not holding belief God exists. But, don’t worry too much because it’s just terminology. If your happy with ‘an atheist is in the state of disbelief that God exists’ lets go with that

        £££> I personally think that it is odd to say ‘someone is in a state of disbelief’, but I guess that may just be personal opinion. And note, this is different to what Alex was proposing. Alex was defining atheism/theism as propositions, so they were theories. You’re defining atheism/theism as states of being (which I’m still not sure whether a belief can be a state of being, but maybe that’s for another post).

        It seems to me a giant leap of logic to say ‘there is a larger burden of proof to say aliens don’t exist’ therefore ‘someone who doesn’t believes they exists should be put in the same category as someone who believes they don’t exist.

        &&&> Wow, this is again, gibberish or a typo. Where did I say that someone who doesn’t believe they exist (or gods exist) should be put in the same category as someone who believes they (or gods ) don’t exist. I’M SAYING THE OPPOSITE! Why? Because there’s a different burden of proof!

        £££> And again, not gibberish. You believe that there is such a thing as weak atheist and strong atheist, which are surely two subsets of the broader category ‘atheist’? So you do say that someone who doesn’t believe God exists should be in the same category as someone who believes God doesn’t exists – atheis to. You then believe there should be a further qualification, weak and strong. That is the debate.

        &&&> If I said to you “Big Foot exists” and you said “I don’t believe you” and I riposted “OK, you prove to me that Big Foot doesn’t exist” and claimed that “unless you proved to me Big Foot doesn’t exist, then I’m justified in my belief.” Would you accept that? Of course not. Your inability to prove to me that Big Foot doesn’t exist does NOT constitute a warrant (a good reason) for me to believe that Big Foot exist. The burden of proof is not on you to prove non-existence (potentially a near impossibility); the burden of proof is on the person making the positive claim, just as it is in any other evidential field: science, courts of law, etc. It would be intellectually dishonest of me to require you to provide a burden of proof that could well be impossible, and that does not provide me a warrant to believe in the existence (of Big Foot, God, etc.). That’s why the ‘lacktheist’ definition is better: it’s fairer, and it’s also reasonable.

        £££> This really is at the heart of the issue. All that you’ve said is fine. If I said I was a theist, and you said you didn’t believe God exists, and I said unless you prove he doesn’t exist then I am justified, then of course I wouldn’t accept that. But all this could still be true if I was a theist, and you weren’t a theist – why does it require you are called a weak atheist? You can’t argue it’s better because it’s fairer, what does fairness have to do with anything?

        Ok, feel free to comment on that or not. I would however like you to comment on the following which is based on logical consistency, not etymology:

        Premises:
        (1) in the case of the relationship between atheism/theism, strong [x]ism is the belief in proposition [p],
        (2) in the case of the relationship between atheism/theism, weak [x]ism is the lack of belief in the opposite proposition that is believed in strong [x]ism
        (3) an [x]ist is someone who is in the state of [x]ism

        Conclusions:
        (4) Because (1) strong atheism is the belief that [god does not exist]
        (5) Because (2) and (4), weak atheism is a lack of belief in the proposition [god does exist]
        (6) Because (1), we may say strong theism is a belief that [god does exist]
        (7) Because (2) and (6), we may say weak theism is a lack of belief in the proposition [god does not exist]
        (8) Because (3), (5) and (7), someone who is a weak atheist but not a strong atheist is the same as a weak theist who is not a strong theist.

        If you deny premise (2) and say it only counts for atheism, isn’t it begging the question?

        Like

  22. Should say:

    (1) The lacktheist definition can more generally be formulated as: ‘[x]ist is someone who does not believe the contrary proposition [y]ism’
    (2) The proposition [God exists] is called theism
    (3) The proposition [not true that [God exists]] is called atheism
    (4) Because (2) and (3) atheism and theism are contrary propositions
    (5) Because (1) and (4), an atheist is someone who does not believe [God exists]
    (6) Because (1) and (4), a theist is someone who does not believe [not true that [God exists]]
    (7) Therefore, because (5) and (6), if someone does not believe [God exists] and does not believe [not true that [God exists]] then they are both an atheist and a theist

    Like

  23. I’m not sure if this was addressed to me or to apmalpass, but anyway, for what they’re worth, my comments follow after &&&>.

    (1) The lacktheist definition can more generally be formulated as: ‘[x]ist is someone who does not believe the contrary proposition [y]ism’

    &&&> Theism is not a proposition, it is a belief in a proposition. If you’re saying that a lacktheist is someone who does not “believe in theism” I disagree. A lacktheist is someone who does not believe the proposition believed in theism. Propositions and beliefs in propositions are not the same thing. You would be saying here that a lacktheist doesn’t believe in a belief, which is not what we’re saying. A lacktheist doesn’t believe in a proposition [God exists].

    &&&> In fact, you are mixing labels. You’re using an ‘ist’ as someone who does not hold a belief in a proposition, and at the same time using an ‘ism’ as a proposition itself. To be consistent with “someone who believes something” as “adhering to an ism” you’d have to say that an ‘ism’ is, correspondingly, a belief in a proposition.

    &&&> For example, [God exists] is a proposition. The position of belief in the proposition [God exists] is not a proposition, it is a position of belief which defines ‘theism’.

    &&&> Again:

    (1a) theist def:= Someone who believes that [God exists].
    (1b) lacktheist def:= Someone who does not believe that [God exists].
    (1c) hardatheist def:= Someone who believes that a not-[God exists].

    (2) The proposition [God exists] is called theism

    &&&> No. Theism is not a proposition, it is the belief in a proposition. I would say that:

    (2a) theism def:= The position of belief in the proposition [God exists].

    (3) The proposition [not true that [God exists]] is called atheism

    &&&> Again, no, as in (1). As defined, atheism, is not a proposition; it is either the position of not believing a proposition, or a position of believing the contrary of the proposition. You can either believe in the denial of the proposition (hardatheist) or not believe the proposition (lacktheist), those are two different things, so I would say that ‘atheism’ admits either of two definitions:

    (3a) atheism def:= The position of not believing that [God exists] (lacktheism option).
    (3b) atheism def:= The position of believing that not-[God exists] (hardatheism option).

    (4) Because (2) and (3) atheism and theism are contrary propositions

    &&&> No. They are not propositions, they are positions of belief or lack of belief in propositions. There are two ways in which the definition of atheism can be the denial of theism: via (3a) (lacktheism) or via (3b) (hardatheism). In other words, you can deny theism by either denying the belief itself or by believing the contrary of the proposition believed in theism (namely, [God exists]). Again:

    (4a) atheism denies the belief in the proposition [God exists] (lacktheism option), OR
    (4b) atheism is the belief in the denial of the proposition that [God exists], namely not-[God exists] (hardatheism option)

    (5) Because (1) and (4), an atheist is someone who does not believe [God exists]

    &&&> No, not in general, because this is only the lacktheist option (1b), and there are two options available, (1b) and (1c).

    (6) Because (1) and (4), a theist is someone who does not believe [not true that [God exists]]

    &&&> No! You have reached this point because you started with (a bad) lacktheist definition in step (1), then switched to the hard-atheism definition in step (3), while playing fast and lose with ‘ist’=’believer in a proposition’ and ‘ism’=’the proposition itself’. When you say that [y]ism is a proposition, that’s wrong. It is a belief in a proposition, not the proposition itself.

    &&&> The key difference here is that a proposition has only one negation: the negation of [God exists] is not-[God exists], that’s it! Beliefs are different in that you have more options because not believing the proposition does not commit you to believing the contrary of the proposition:

    (6a) You can: believe the proposition [God exists] (theist).
    (6b) You can: believe the opposite of the proposition, namely you can believe not-[God exists] (hardatheist)
    (6c) You can: not believe the proposition [God exists] (lacktheist), which is NOT the same as (6b)
    (6d) You can: not believe the opposite proposition, namely you can choose not to believe that not-[God exists] (agnostic theist??? we haven’t defined or even considered this one, which is NOT the same as 6a).

    (7) Therefore, because (5) and (6), if someone does not believe [God exists] and does not believe [not true that [God exists]] then they are both an atheist and a theist

    &&&> No! :). If you’d kept your definitions straight (not confusing beliefs with propositions and not switching from lacktheist to hard-atheism) you wouldn’t have reached this quagmire. You are simply defining lacktheist and a new term which we haven’t discussed, namely ‘agnostic theist’ or something like that.

    &&&> Again, you need to demonstrate that my definitions (a) through (d) above in terms of lacktheism are logically inconsistent, (without resorting to fruitless etymology).

    &&&> Here they are again:

    (a) Theism def:= The position of holding a belief in the existence of a god.
    (b) Theist def:= An adherent to the position of holding a belief in the existence of a god.
    (c) Atheism def:= The position of not holding a belief in the existence of a god.
    (d) Atheist def:= An adherent to the position of not holding a belief in the existence of a god.

    Like

    1. See my previous post where I re formulated this with your definitions.

      To reiterate though, I addressed this to Alex because I was using his definitions not yours. In the article, Alex did define atheism/theism as theories or propositions. I think this is where some of the confusion in our conversation has come. His definition is that a theist is someone who believe the proposition theism. Your definition is that a theist so someone who is in a state of theism. Do you agree this is a difference?

      Like

      1. “Alex did define atheism/theism as theories or propositions. I think this is where some of the confusion in our conversation has come. His definition is that a theist is someone who believe the proposition theism. Your definition is that a theist so someone who is in a state of theism. Do you agree this is a difference?”

        &&&> Yes, I agree this is a significant difference, and the source of confusion. However, I was clear with my definitions (a) through (d). I don’t think my definitions suffer from any inconsistencies.

        Like

      2. Let me start by conceding that I was mistaken when talking about P(e) in the denominator of Baye’s theorem, apologies. What I should have said was that if the probability of the hypothesis given background knowledge alone P(h) is sufficiently small, then regardless of the evidence, P(h:e) is very small also.

        $$$> No problem. But notice that now you’ve taken on the position that the a priori probability of the hypothesis is very small (i.e., close to 0). This is tantamount to showing a logical inconsistency with the positive claim, which is not what we’re talking about here. In other words, my burden of proof argument for skepticism requires that evidence actually should matter. If not, we’re back to a priori (deductive) reasoning of things that are not susceptible to evidence. I was talking about EVIDENTIAL arguments, not a priori arguments. Most theists don’t think of God as not being susceptible to evidential “confirmation” Otherwise, they would not be theists; they’d be deists. That’s my whole point.

        $$$> Yes, I reject “etymological arguments” but for good reasons. They are not arguments. When constructing arguments one relies (or should rely) on logic, not on imprecise languages. Also, definitions are not arrived at by arguments but by requiring consistency of the definitions with whatever arguments you use them in. Do you not agree?

        (iii) Because you have defined atheism as a ‘state’ a person can be in, then the way you have defined atheist in (d) actually means someone who supports the state of not holding a belief in god (adherent means ‘someone who supports’, so sub this into (d) an adherent to the position of not holding belief God exists). This means that every theist who supports the position of not holding belief God exists is also an atheist (as they are not mutually exclusive). This is not atheist=lacktheist.

        $$$> I have defined them, per your phraseology before, as “positions.” I’m not sure what the problem is with being in a “state” of non-belief or lacking a belief. In the coin example, I can be in a state (or take a position) of not believing it’s “tails” which doesn’t commit me to a belief. In my previous post I addressed the apparent contradiction that gets you to equate ‘lacktheist’ with ‘agnostic theist’ (which we haven’t considered until now), which you wrongly conclude leads to the nonsensical ‘atheist’ = ‘theist’. It has to do with, well, inconsistency in definitions, which my definitions don’t suffer from.

        £££> I personally think that it is odd to say ‘someone is in a state of disbelief’, but I guess that may just be personal opinion. And note, this is different to what Alex was proposing. Alex was defining atheism/theism as propositions, so they were theories. You’re defining atheism/theism as states of being (which I’m still not sure whether a belief can be a state of being, but maybe that’s for another post).

        $$$> I don’t see a problem with being in a ‘state’ of belief or in a ‘state’ of non-belief about a specific proposition (like [coin landed heads]). Notice that I used ‘position’ before, but I don’t see a problem with your new moniker of ‘state’. I agree that there’s a different between my definitions and Alex’s. The question is: Are my definitions inconsistent among themselves when placed in an argument? I’m not necessarily defending Alex’s definitions; I’m defending mine.

        It seems to me a giant leap of logic to say ‘there is a larger burden of proof to say aliens don’t exist’ therefore ‘someone who doesn’t believes they exists should be put in the same category as someone who believes they don’t exist.

        &&&> Wow, this is again, gibberish or a typo. Where did I say that someone who doesn’t believe they exist (or gods exist) should be put in the same category as someone who believes they (or gods ) don’t exist. I’M SAYING THE OPPOSITE! Why? Because there’s a different burden of proof!

        £££> And again, not gibberish. You believe that there is such a thing as weak atheist and strong atheist, which are surely two subsets of the broader category ‘atheist’? So you do say that someone who doesn’t believe God exists should be in the same category as someone who believes God doesn’t exists – atheis to. You then believe there should be a further qualification, weak and strong. That is the debate.

        $$$> I’m not putting them in the same “category” by which I mean I think they’re very different. One is lacktheist and the other is hardatheist. I’ve been repeating over and over not to confuse those two. Now, I do say that the term ‘atheist’ can take on either definition (not both simultaneously because they’re not the same and that would lead to a contradiction!). I don’t believe there should be a further qualification, that’s just a fact, not my belief :). Now you’re arbitrarily defining ‘atheist’ and ‘theist’ as the only two categories, and saying that I’m lumping lacktheist and hardatheist into the same category. This is just another arbitrary convention or classification that you’re now introducing, which I wasn’t even bringing up. The bottom lines is,they are different because, for the twentieth time: “Lack of belief in something does not entail belief in the contrary.” But there’s nothing wrong with saying that either one of these two definitions could apply to the word ‘atheist’ and that we can choose whichever one makes the most sense. To help me decide, I used my ‘Burden of Proof Asymmetry” argument.

        &&&> If I said to you “Big Foot exists” and you said “I don’t believe you” and I riposted “OK, you prove to me that Big Foot doesn’t exist” and claimed that “unless you proved to me Big Foot doesn’t exist, then I’m justified in my belief.” Would you accept that? Of course not. Your inability to prove to me that Big Foot doesn’t exist does NOT constitute a warrant (a good reason) for me to believe that Big Foot exist. The burden of proof is not on you to prove non-existence (potentially a near impossibility); the burden of proof is on the person making the positive claim, just as it is in any other evidential field: science, courts of law, etc. It would be intellectually dishonest of me to require you to provide a burden of proof that could well be impossible, and that does not provide me a warrant to believe in the existence (of Big Foot, God, etc.). That’s why the ‘lacktheist’ definition is better: it’s fairer, and it’s also reasonable.

        £££> This really is at the heart of the issue. All that you’ve said is fine. If I said I was a theist, and you said you didn’t believe God exists, and I said unless you prove he doesn’t exist then I am justified, then of course I wouldn’t accept that. But all this could still be true if I was a theist, and you weren’t a theist – why does it require you are called a weak atheist? You can’t argue it’s better because it’s fairer, what does fairness have to do with anything?

        $$$> By weak atheist you mean lacktheist. Let’s stick with the same terminology to avoid confusion. OK so a lacktheist is a perfectly reasonable position, right? You can lack belief in Big Foot without committing yourself to believing Big Foot doesn’t exist. This means it’s doxastically warranted to be a lacktheist (switching to God from Big Foot). Hopefully no objection there anymore, and we can agree that it is POSSIBLE to call yourself an ‘atheist’ while meaning ‘lacktheist.’

        $$$> As for fairness, I justified it with the asymmetric burdens of proof inherent in the positions IF one engages in EVIDENTIAL arguments. Again, it would be intellectually dishonest for me to require you to prove ‘a negative’ namely to require you to prove ‘Big Foot does not exist’. This could result in you accusing me of insincerity or ad hoc-ness because I’m requiring that you do the IMPOSSIBLE (you couldn’t be everywhere in the universe all at once to prove that Big Foot does not exist). On the other hand, the reverse is EMINENTLY POSSIBLE! I could produce a live Big Foot and allow you and a bunch of primatologists to examine it closely for as long as you want, and I’m done! Proven! So there IS an asymmetry in the possibility of proof, so the burden of proof should match that!

        $$$> Think about it this way: In every other EVIDENTIAL realm, (the empirical sciences, courts of law, etc.) the burden of proof always rests with the positive claim. Why should it be different when it comes to the theistic question? This would be ad hoc and, yes, unfair. That’s my point. I don’t understand why it should be so difficult for me to get that point across.

        I’ll address the remainder of your post (your syllogism) in another post to avoid more lengthiness here…

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      3. &&&> This is actually much more interesting than etymology! :))

        Premises:
        (1) in the case of the relationship between atheism/theism, strong [x]ism is the belief in proposition [p],

        &&&> OK, but, before, we had not defined ‘strong theism’ (only strong atheism which really means hardatheism, to be consistent with our prior terminology).

        (2) in the case of the relationship between atheism/theism, weak [x]ism is the lack of belief in the opposite proposition that is believed in strong [x]ism

        &&&> Before, we used lacktheism but we had not defined ‘weak-theism’. This is now a new consideration that you’re bringing into the fold, not just a new naming convention or phraseology, but a brand new concept that we weren’t considering before. But OK.

        (3) an [x]ist is someone who is in the state of [x]ism

        &&&> OK, but this is new phraseology, again. Before you wanted to use ‘adherence’ and ‘position’, now we have ‘state’.

        Conclusions:
        (4) Because (1) strong atheism is the belief that [god does not exist]

        &&&> OK, granted!

        (5) Because (2) and (4), weak atheism is a lack of belief in the proposition [god does exist]

        &&&> OK, granted!

        (6) Because (1), we may say strong theism is a belief that [god does exist]

        &&&> New term, but OK.

        (7) Because (2) and (6), we may say weak theism is a lack of belief in the proposition [god does not exist]

        &&&> OK, but this is a brand new concept altogether, and is strangely defined using a double-negative (maybe that’s why it’s not in common usage).

        (8) Because (3), (5) and (7), someone who is a weak atheist but not a strong atheist is the same as a weak theist who is not a strong theist.

        &&&> There is no need to specify that a weak atheist (lacktheist) is not a strong atheist, nor that a weak theist is not a strong theist, the categories are different.

        &&&> I accept that there is APPARENT overlap between weak theist and weak atheist as they stand with the way you have defined them. One is not convinced of God’s nonexistence, while the other is not convinced of God’s existence. But there should be no real overlap because you would only call someone a theist if their belief in God’s existence was slightly more than 50%. If it were slightly less than 50% you would call them an atheist, not a theist. So I see no problem here at all, provided you add these caveats to your definitions!

        &&&> Remember, I was never the one saying that there was a problem with defining ‘atheist’ as either the strong or the weak version on LOGICAL (a priori) grounds; it was you who insisted that only the strong version should be allowed and the weak version should be excluded. Now you’re introducing the weak form of theism and asking “why is that not THE SAME AS weak atheism?” Well, the burden is on you to provide consistency in your definitions, since you have introduced a brand new concept. I didn’t have weak theism included in my definitions (a) through (d) above, so I’m not required to defend any problems introduced by a concept that I didn’t introduce! I would suggest that, if you want to avoid inconsistencies, you should require weak theists to be slightly more convinced that God exists, and weak atheists to be slightly less convinced that God exists. Otherwise, what would be the point of calling one theist and the other atheist? The only problem would come in when they’re both sitting at exactly 50% convinced (or shall we say unconvinced? :), in which case they’d be neither a theist nor an atheist. Agreed?

        &&&> Another problem I’d see with ‘weak theist’ is its definition in terms of a double-negative, which is confusing and would probably not get used much. But, as far as I can see, it’s logically consistent!

        &&&> My other comment would be that my evidential burden of proof symmetry-breaking argument preferring the weak atheist definition of atheist still holds. I suspect that, if pressed, I could also apply it to prefer ‘strong theist’, but that’s another discussion that we weren’t considering… (Did I just open a brand new can ‘o worms? :).

        If you deny premise (2) and say it only counts for atheism, isn’t it begging the question?

        &&&> It’s not relevant, because I didn’t deny it, but I believe it wouldn’t be begging the question, it would be more like special pleading :).

        Cheers.

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  24. Autonomous reason, now we have a discussion! Trust us as Physicists to be talking about ‘states’ of things 🙂

    Firstly – Looking back over the posts I really do think many of the confusions between us where in this shift of definition from Alex’s in the articles to your ones. I’m not blaming either of us for this, just making the comment!

    So, let me concisely restate my case based on your definitions:

    ON ETYMOLOGY

    OK, I know you don’t find this side of the discussion persuasive, but for my sake let me just put it down and there is no need to comment – I will assume you find it useless.

    It’s seems to me that the suffix ‘-ist’ is not used to define someone/something being in a specific ‘state’. This is generally described, in relation to an ‘ism’ word, with the suffix ‘-ic’. For example, an alcohol-ic is in a state of alcoholism, where alcoholism is ‘addiction to alcohol’.

    The suffix ‘-ist’ is more generally used (when linked with an ‘ism’) to describe someone who believes an ‘-ism’ (e.g. Marxist believes Marxism); or practices an ‘-ism’ (e.g. A sadist practices sadism; a racist practices racism).

    Whilst I agree with you that this does not provide definitive proof, I think it at least renders ‘atheist as a state of being’ different from standard usage of these terms. I don’t think etymology is entirely silent on the issue.

    But, once again, feel free to ignore this – it’s not my strongest case.

    ON ‘ATHEISM’ BEING A STATE OF BEING

    The issue I have with ‘belief in a proposition’ being a state of being is that ‘belief in a proposition’ is actually nested, such that the result is three states of being, not two.

    Let me demonstrate with the example you gave about the coin. Imagine the situation where someone may or may not be holding a coin in their hand which is heads-up or tails-up. Because the situation is nested, we have three states of being: ‘holding a heads-up coin’, ‘holding a tails-up coin’ and ‘not holding a coin’.

    Now, I could, if I wanted, describe the third state as ‘not holding a heads-up coin’. This is correct. But the problem is it is ambiguous because it doesn’t tell me which of the other states I’m in. I also could be accused of implying that I am holding a tails-up coin because of the way I have phrased it, and accused of unfairly representing the full situation because I have omitted the fact that I am also ‘not holding a tails-up coin. So, whilst it is correct in this state to say ‘not holding a heads-up coin’, it is misleading and reveals bias, and therefore I would say inappropriate.

    OK – let’s stretch the analogy further than it probably should be stretched. Imagine it is possible to have a coin that isn’t 50:50 heads:tails. Let’s make the probability of heads-up:tails-up be 1000:1, such that you are almost guaranteed, if holding a coin, to be holding a heads-up coin. I don’t see how this changes the situation? I don’t think you could then argue it is legitimate in this case to describe the third state as ‘not holding a tails-up coin’ because it is far more probable that I am holding a heads-up coin. The probability of the coin being heads up or tails up is irrelevant. It still feels misleading and reveals bias, and therefore is inappropriate.

    I think the is highly analogous. By defining someone who lacks belief in god but doesn’t believe god doesn’t exist as a ‘weak atheist’ is like describing the third state as ‘not holding tails-up’. And it doesn’t matter what you say about the probability of the proposition either way, it seems inappropriate.

    ON MY LOGICAL EXAMPLE

    I’m glad you find my logical argument interesting! I’m hoping you will also find it devastating to your position 😉

    You say that I have proposed an APPARENT overlap. I seek now to persuade you that this is not merely APPARENT, it is very real, and presents a real problem in your definitions.

    Let me illustrate with a venn diagram – just a simple one with two circles.

    One circle is ‘no belief that God exists’ (set 1). Another separate circle is ‘no belief that God doesn’t exist’ (set 2). These both seem legitimate positions (in fact, if you accept hardatheism and lacktheism you must accept these two sets exist).

    Now, ‘belief that God does not exist’ is necessarily a subset of set 1 – let’s call it set 1a
    Likewise, ‘belief that God does exist’ is necessarily a subset of set 2 – let’s call it set 2a

    The rest of set 1 and set 2 can be defined as 1b and 2b.

    So now we have four separate subsets: 1a, 1b, 2a, 2b

    However, because of the relation between the two circles, it is impossible to be in 1b and not be in 2b.

    Therefore, it necessarily follows that the correct venn diagram is two circles overlapping such that we have three subsets – 1a 1b=2b and 2a.

    If you follow this then it is not about an APPARENT ovelap, it is a NECESSARY overlap for consistency.

    Now, with this venn diagram in mind, lets label the subsets:

    Let’s call 1a ‘strong atheism’, no one would disagree with this I think. Let’s call 2a ‘theism’, no one would disagree with that. The question now is what should we call 1b=2b.

    It seems unfair to the relationship between the two, and in particular the NECESSARY overlap, for it to include either ‘atheism’ or ‘theism’ because this subset is shared. As with the coin example, to include either of these terms in describing subset 1b=2b would be ambiguous, misleading and reveal bias.

    So, as such it seems to me that ‘weak atheism’ is an inappropriate label that misunderstands the relationships between contrary beliefs in contrary propositions.

    It also seems to me that if someone claims to be a ‘weak atheist’ they are unfairly associating with the ‘atheist’ side of the circle when in fact they NECCESRAILY overlap; and I could equally tell them based on their own reasoning that they are also a ‘weak theist’. If they believe in anyway that they are an atheist, then it seems they are accepting they are also a theist

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    1. BTW – I have this nicely illustrated with pictures now! Is there any way I can send you a powerpoint, I believe it nicely illustrates my point and believe it will convince you.

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    2. I may reply piecemeal to your (non-etymological :)) statements due to time constraints on my end, but hopefully I’ll get to them.

      Before continuing, I have to say that it seems to me that you ignore much of what I say, or at least don’t address it, and then “move the goal post” by starting off on other tangents. I’ve given you the benefit of painstakingly addressing your arguments (even the “etymology” one), so please give me the courtesy of carefully reading mine and addressing them, particularly when I’ve claimed to demonstrate a flaw in yours. If you don’t acknowledge or address my claim that your argument is flawed, then I can rightly assume that your argument has been refuted.

      ON ATHEISM BEING A ‘STATE OF BEING’

      Remember, this was YOUR phraseology, not mine, so I find it odd that you’re now trying to challenge your own phraseology. You went from “position” and “adherent” to “state” and now “state of being.”

      I’m not “phraseology-” or “notation-” bound, so I will “humor” your definitions by accepting them at face value (I have no choice, really, because they’re YOUR definitions), until such time as they become contradictory or inconsistent, at which time I would object. Remember (per what I said above about definitions), you’re entitled to your own definitions (they’re YOUR definitions!) and if I were to challenge them, the burden would be on ME to demonstrate that they’re inconsistent. Now, you’re not entitled to your own “facts” or to flawed arguments, but definitions are neither facts, nor arguments!

      There is nothing preventing someone from saying that hey are in a “state of disbelief” about something, so I see no problems here at all. It’s just phraseology (yours), but I see nothing wrong here. The problem comes, when you try to extend that phraseology to the breaking point of the original meaning.

      With your example of holding a tails-up coin, I’m tempted to quote Pauli: “it’s not even wrong;” it’s that bad :). Seriously, it’s a confused morass. You’re again conflating propositions with beliefs in propositions, and in addition, using the properties of a double-nested conditional proposition as if it were a single unconditional proposition.

      First, “holding a coin” is a separate proposition from “the coin is tails-up”. When you say “I’m holding a tails-up coin,” this is two propositions in one: (1) “I’m holding a coin” and (2) “The coin (which I’m holding) is tails-up.” The coin being tails-up or not depends on (is conditional on) there being a coin in your hand in the first place. The coin being in your hand or the coin existing in the first place (or the Big Bang having happened which allowed stars and metals to form… :), is ASSUMED when we talk about the coin being ‘tails-up’ or ‘heads-up.’ This quibble is reminiscent of your “agency” requirement when we were talking about ‘ists’ :).

      Second, Holding a coin is not the same as believing that you’re holding a coin. Holding a tails-up coin is also not the same as believing that you’re holding a tails-up coin. Holding a coin is a proposition, which could be true or false. Believing that you’re holding a coin is also one or the other (you either believe it or you don’t believe it), but it’s different than, and separate from, the proposition itself, or the truth value of the proposition itself.

      A proposition p can either be true or false. Someone can either believe or not believe proposition p, but this has nothing to do with the truth value of proposition p. I could believe that p is false (whether p is true or false), I could believe that p is true (whether p is true or false), I could not believe that p is false (whether p is true or false), or I could not believe that p is true (whether p is true or false).

      The key point that you seem to always miss is that not believing p, does not commit you to believing ~p ( where I’ve set ‘~p’ = ‘not-p’). Surely, this is obvious? If not, please tell me where I’ve gone wrong.

      When you say “belief in a proposition” is nested such that the result is three states of being, I would disagree. I would say that belief has two “states” (if you want to call it that): “believing” or “not believing.” Either you believe or you do not believe a proposition. There’s no middle ground, you can’t be “half-pregnant” when it comes to belief.

      However, the lack of belief “state” can result from two possibilities. Now, you may call those “states” if you want, and then we’d be quibbling over semantics, and it’s a matter of preference. Regardless of what you call them, there are two possibilities within the “state” of not believing p:

      (1) I KNOW that p is false (e.g.: I know for a fact that square circles do not exist, therefore I do not believe the proposition p = [square circles exist]; in addition, I ALSO believe ~p);

      (2) The reasons provided to me that p is true are unconvincing, so I don’t believe p, but I remain open to the possibility that p might be true (e.g.: I’m not convinced that aliens have visited Earth, though I remain open to the possibility, therefore I do not believe the proposition p = [aliens have visited Earth] but I also do not believe the opposite: ~p).

      Notice that in both cases you do not believe p, but in the first case you also believe ~p whereas in the second case you don’t. There are two “states” but the “state” of non-belief can arise from two possibilities. In one case of non-belief you don’t believe the opposite of p, in the other case you do.

      To get to the root of the difference between the truth value of a proposition, and (the “state” of) belief in a proposition, consider the following.

      Let B(p) denote “Belief in proposition p” (you can put “state of” in front of the definition if you’d like, I don’t care). While on one hand B(~p) entails ~B(p), on the other hand ~B(p) does NOT entail B(~p).

      Now you want to say, well what happens if I don’t believe not-p? Again the same logic applies, but in that case, when it comes to usage, it’s clearer to define ~p as q such that q def:= ~p, and we’re back to where we started, but without all the double negatives around.

      Your complaint about ambiguity is a red herring, because the ambiguity is there, period. What you can do is keep your definitions straight and not fall into the trap of the ambiguity (e.g., believing that ~B(p) entails B(~p), which is false). Complaining that it shouldn’t be there does nothing to remove it. Requiring that it should be removed is a non-starter because it is there and will remain there.

      As to probabilities, note that what I said above is independent of probabilities. However, it is not true to say that probabilities are irrelevant to belief! If your assessment of the probability of proposition p is 0, Pr(p) = 0, you would not believe p! If your assessment of Pr(p) = 1 you would definitely believe p!

      In fact, when you say that you believe something, you say that you are convinced that it’s true with a high degree of certainty. Usually when people say they believe in something, they’re convinced beyond merely 51%, it’s usually more like 80 or 90%. Of course, nobody’s suggesting actual numbers, just degree of conviction, that’s all. In that sense, they ARE relevant to a conversation about belief.

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  25. I don’t know of a way to send pictures here (can’t even use italics! :). I suppose you could put it on a site, send me the link and I can download?

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  26. I agree that some of the confusion probably came from some of Alex’s definitions being different than mine, but I was very clear and explicit with my definitions several posts back :).

    ON ETYMOLOGY

    No, not this again! :). I didn’t get far into what you said, because, really, it is NOT an argument at all! To pretend that the English language is logical or precise enough that it can substitute for logic and allow anyone to make inferences based on that is, to beat a dead-and-buried horse: “a fools’ errand” :).

    In any case, even when I engaged you in etymology on your own terms, I devastated your “argument” (or did you not read the last few posts?). It’s very easy to poke holes in those “arguments”. Why? Because they’re not arguments if they’re justified by etymology! :).

    The gist of your “argument” was that you kept insisting that the suffixes ist/ism had to ALWAYS modify everything that came before while IGNORING that the prefix ‘a’ could override that and modify everything that came after it! You insisted, wrongly, that there was only one interpretation, when there were two.

    Why? Because a word is not a logical expression and has no parentheses in it to force one interpretation over another, so you can’t escape the simple fact that ‘a’ can modify the root OR the root plus the suffix!!!

    Then you gave contrived examples of prefixes like ‘poly’ and proclaimed: you see? ‘In this case it works the way I want…’

    I riposted that (1) there are no examples of ‘poly’ with an ‘a’ in front of it, so the example is not germane, and I even gave a reason why, in that contrived case, it works the way you want, namely (2) there’s no ambiguity for the interpretation anyway, so we’re forced to take that interpretation to respect the only acceptable meaning of the word (in other words, the meaning disambiguates what the prefix is allowed or not allowed to do!!).

    Then you said “I disagree, why couldn’t polytheism mean ‘many beliefs’…” This was, not only a ridiculous grasping at straws, because that word is NEVER used that way (it’s nonsensical), but also, even if I humored you that anyone could use such a ridiculous meaning, your “argument” self-refutes!!!

    Moreover, it is usage, not etymology that ends up assigning definitions to words. This is demonstrably true, just crack open a dictionary, and you’ll come up with plenty of examples.

    So, in short, even while playing your etymology game, your “argument” fails.

    That you can’t or won’t see this is very puzzling to me.

    If you want to continue to use English-language etymology in place of predicate logic, you’d have to demonstrate how the English language is precise and self-consistent enough that you can “map” it to logic and substitute it for logic when constructing arguments. Please don’t use etymology again until you have demonstrated that it’s a sound basis to rest your arguments on. Good luck with that! Until then, I’ll continue to dismiss it as baseless and ignore it.

    When you bring this back again and again, it’s difficult for me to take any of your arguments seriously, or think that we have a “common language” to get anywhere (sorry :).

    DEFINITIONS

    You seem to have ignored everything I said about definitions; or at least, you haven’t responded to what I wrote, never mind objected to it.

    Again, you’re entitled to your definitions as long as they are consistent among themselves when you put them in an argument. This means that anything goes, you can define a term to be whatever you want, as long as the definition is clear and doesn’t get contradicted by another definition in an argument. That’s all!

    Definitions are not arrived at by argument, so “arguing” for a definition is another “fools’ errand.” If you disagree with a set of definitions, you have to demonstrate that either they’re not consistent among one another, or equivalently that, when placed in an argument, they contradict one another.

    If you disagree with this, please point me to where I’ve gone wrong. Otherwise I’ll assume you agree, because this is important.

    Why is this important? Because the definitions (a) through (d) that I offered above using the ‘weak atheist’ or ‘lacktheist’ definition of ‘atheist’ etc. have not been demonstrated to lack consistency, so therefore, they can stand as perfectly ALLOWED. Moreover, they are in common usage (even if not exclusively), so, to top it off, they’re actually REASONABLE to use. I attempted to justify the reasonableness of the ‘weak atheist’ definition of ‘atheist’ using my burden of proof argument. That’s all.

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  27. Firstly, regarding etymology, as I said I don’t think it is silent, you think it is. Fine. But the thing that puzzles me is that you will not even accept that the lacktheist way of using ‘ist and ‘ism is an unusual way to use the terms? That is all I suggested in the previous post, no more.

    Secondly, the reason I spent so much time describing the Venn diagram is because I was responding to your comment that it was only an APPARENT overlap. I was trying to show you that under your definitions it is a NECESSARY overlap. I felt this was the crux of your case

    Thirdly, let me say a few things relating to definitions. OF COURSE I CAN USE ANY WORDS FOR DEFINITION. If I want I can say ‘crazyism’ is the belief that no god’s exist. However, other people could still provide a case that this is inappropriately defined. They could argue that this word links with craziness which has nothing to do with god. Similarly, I could say that I define the belief that no gods exist as ‘anti-egalitarianism’ or the belief that god exists as ‘anti-racism’, or define a lack of belief god exists as ‘Hitlerism’. And in one sense as long as there is consistency this is possible. I could say ‘they are just labels’. However, if someone could show me that these are illegitimate or inappropriate or display bias or misleading then they have a case that this is not a definition that should be used. Surely you agree with that?

    My argument is that when you understand the relationship between the words often defined as ‘strong atheism’, ‘weak atheism’ and ‘theism’ then the term ‘weak atheism’ (if it defines someone who lacks belief in god) displays bias, is ambiguous and is misleading. If you engaged with my coin analogy, or the sets I was describing in the previous post, you’d see this.

    Now, let me respond directly to some comments:

    &&&> There is no need to specify that a weak atheist (lacktheist) is not a strong atheist, nor that a weak theist is not a strong theist, the categories are different

    £££> Yes, I agree. I was just adding emphasis because strong atheist and weak atheist are subsets of atheist, which is the set in which everyone who doesn’t believe that God exists resides..

    &&&> I accept that there is APPARENT overlap between weak theist and weak atheist as they stand with the way you have defined them. One is not convinced of God’s nonexistence, while the other is not convinced of God’s existence. But there should be no real overlap because you would only call someone a theist if their belief in God’s existence was slightly more than 50%. If it were slightly less than 50% you would call them an atheist, not a theist. So I see no problem here at all, provided you add these caveats to your definitions!

    £££> Again, this is not APPARENT. See the post where I showed it is very REAL, just consider the sets/subsets
    £££> You have now introduced the idea of ‘slightly more than, slightly less than’ 50%, which is different from your definitions (a) to (d). Essentially, you are now defining atheist as ‘If someone would believe the probability of god existing is less than 0.5 then they are an atheist. This is a completely different definition to ‘lack of belief’. However, this then becomes a binary atheist/theist split. Which is fine – but again, it is not the definitions you gave previously. Have a go, try and include those caveats in that syllogism. Doesn’t work. You’ve completely changed the definition to (a)-(d) by including this

    &&&> Remember, I was never the one saying that there was a problem with defining ‘atheist’ as either the strong or the weak version on LOGICAL (a priori) grounds; it was you who insisted that only the strong version should be allowed and the weak version should be excluded. Now you’re introducing the weak form of theism and asking “why is that not THE SAME AS weak atheism?” Well, the burden is on you to provide consistency in your definitions, since you have introduced a brand new concept. I didn’t have weak theism included in my definitions (a) through (d) above, so I’m not required to defend any problems introduced by a concept that I didn’t introduce! I would suggest that, if you want to avoid inconsistencies, you should require weak theists to be slightly more convinced that God exists, and weak atheists to be slightly less convinced that God exists. Otherwise, what would be the point of calling one theist and the other atheist? The only problem would come in when they’re both sitting at exactly 50% convinced (or shall we say unconvinced? :), in which case they’d be neither a theist nor an atheist. Agreed?

    £££> If you define ‘atheism’ as ‘lack of belief that god exists’ as you did, then if it is possible for someone to believe god does not exists (which it is) then there NECESSARILY must be a subset within your definition of atheism that believes god does not exists – so your definition forces two groups within it – those that believe god doesn’t exists, and those that merely lack belief that he does. All the rest follows. So this syllogism is saying simply saying UNDER YOU METHOD OF DEFINITION, there are two subset within the position of [not believing no gods exists], again NECESSARILY because of your definition, and as such these are overlapping sets. I have used a complete consistency of definition. I am using your definitions to make my case.

    £££> If you are using probabilistic methods of defining if someone is an atheist or theist then you are accepting that it is based on how probable you believe god’s existence is. That’s fine, that is essential a single line with ‘belief 100% god doesn’t exist’ on one end and ‘belief 100% god does exist’ on the other, and if you sit on one half you are atheist, on the other half you are theist.

    &&&> Another problem I’d see with ‘weak theist’ is its definition in terms of a double-negative, which is confusing and would probably not get used much. But, as far as I can see, it’s logically consistent!

    £££> You miss the point, under your definition WEAK THEISM IS WEAK ATHEISM. Using your definition of atheism and could claim the opposite for theism which makes the overlapping sets. The intersection is WEAK THEISM=WEAK ATHEISM. Please read my Venn diagram post!

    &&&> My other comment would be that my evidential burden of proof symmetry-breaking argument preferring the weak atheist definition of atheist still holds. I suspect that, if pressed, I could also apply it to prefer ‘strong theist’, but that’s another discussion that we weren’t considering… (Did I just open a brand new can ‘o worms? :).

    £££> OK, I can respond to this but it requires you fully understand what I’m saying about sets. Allow me to reiterate:

    If atheism is ‘lack of belief god exists’ as you defined, then it is a set within which it there is necessarily a subset ‘belief god doesn’t exists’.

    If theism is ‘belief god exists’, then it is actually a subset within a larger set ‘lack of belief that god doesn’t exist.

    Therefore, under this definition of atheism, atheism is a set that overlaps with the opposite set ‘lack of belief god exists’. The non overlapping region of atheism describes the belief that god doesn’t exist. The non overlapping region of ‘lack of belief god doesn’t exists’ is the belief god does exist.

    Our debate is over what the label for the intersection of the two sets should be. I am claiming that by giving it a label linking it to atheism, it is unfairly biasing it towards atheism, it is misleading because it implies no intersection, and it is ambiguous because it only points to half of the story. In addition, the reasoning of the definition of ‘atheism’ could be mirrored to label ‘lack of belief that no god’s exist’ as theism, and suddenly the intersection is equally a theism subset.

    So, with that in mind, you claim that the inbalance in burden of proof should favour your definition. But this misses the fact that the default position IS the intersection. All the burden of proof argument establishes is that one should not fall outside the intersection without persuasion.

    In summary, your ‘burden of proof’ argument doesn’t show we should favour the definition ‘atheism=lack of belief that god exists’ because within that is the subset of belief that god doesn’t exist.

    I will work out how to send powerpoint because it would it is so much easier with a diagram!

    But please respond to my coin analogy, and my set description

    Like

  28. There was a typo in he last part that was quite key, so have rewritten

    Allow me to reiterate:

    If atheism is ‘lack of belief god exists’ as you defined, then it is a set within which it there is necessarily a subset ‘belief god doesn’t exists’.

    If theism is ‘belief god exists’, then it is actually a subset within a larger set ‘lack of belief that god doesn’t exist.

    Therefore, under this definition of atheism, atheism is a set that overlaps with the opposite set ‘lack of belief god *DOESN’T* exists’. The non overlapping region of atheism describes the belief that god doesn’t exist. The non overlapping region of ‘lack of belief god doesn’t exists’ is the belief god does exist.

    Our debate is over what the label for the intersection of the two sets should be. I am claiming that by giving it a label linking it to atheism, it is unfairly biasing it towards atheism, it is misleading because it implies no intersection, and it is ambiguous because it only points to half of the story. In addition, the reasoning of the definition of ‘atheism’ could be mirrored to label ‘lack of belief that no god’s exist’ as theism, and suddenly the intersection is equally a theism subset.

    So, with that in mind, you claim that the inbalance in burden of proof should favour your definition. But this misses the fact that the default position IS the intersection. All the burden of proof argument establishes is that one should not fall outside the intersection without persuasion.

    In summary, your ‘burden of proof’ argument doesn’t show we should favour the definition ‘atheism=lack of belief that god exists’ because within that is the subset of belief that god doesn’t exist.

    I will work out how to send powerpoint because it would it is so much easier with a diagram!

    But please respond to my coin analogy, and my set description

    Like

  29. I will respond to your Venn Diagram section later (the LOGICAL EXAMPLE one). If you’d like, please wait for that one so we don’t have to repeat ourselves. For now, let me respond to some of these objections to my partial response.

    You’re straw-man-ing what I said about definitions by bringing up absurd examples. Your definition examples are not even in the ballpark of what we’re arguing about. Using ‘atheist’ as ‘weak theist’ is very much allowed and it is even in common usage! I’m not using anti-Hitlerist or something like that, or suggesting we should use that. You have a burden to show that ‘weak atheism’ is NOT ALLOWED, as a possible definition of ‘atheist’ which you haven’t remotely met!

    If you don’t believe me that it’s in common usage, watch, for example, a very popular program that many atheists in the U.S. watch: “The Atheist Experience” videos. Matt Dillahunty has a definition of ‘atheism’ that’s essentially ‘lacktheism’. He also has other videos (I think they’re called “Atheist Debates”) where he defines these terms–point of interest: Matt has interviewed Alex Malpass, in one of those videos, I believe. That’s what they use all the time. It is used, it is allowed, it is consistent, and it is reasonable. That pretty much settles it for me, and we really shouldn’t be spending this much time arguing about definitions. I’d prefer to stick to my burden of proof suggestion as to why ‘weak atheism’ is the more reasonable of the two ALLOWED definitions of ‘atheist’.

    Notice that there’s only “overlap” in your definitions, because of the way you’ve defined your terms. My definitions (a) – (d) didn’t suffer from this (and still stand on their own), because I had not introduced or used the term “weak theist”. Notice that you introduced that term, and I humored you because you’re entitled to your own definitions, and they were interesting.

    The problem is that, as they stood, your definitions were inconsistent because of what I labeled the “overlap” problem! I gave you a (very reasonable) suggestion of using the 50% probability threshold to break the overlap so your definitions wouldn’t get the nonsensical “weak atheist” = “weak theist.” I was trying to help you out so you could have consistency in your definitions. The “overlap” problem is with your definitions, my definitions didn’t even consider the new term of “weak theist”, nor was I under any logical obligation to include it.

    You introduce a new term which then messes up your definitions, and then you’re arguing that I’m supposed to defend that? I don’ t see that. I don’t have to modify the (a) – (d) definitions because they don’t include the “weak theist” definition as some awkward double negative that’s unlikely to become common usage anyway. Although, I’m sure I can come up with another set of definitions (a) – (e) that included that term without ambiguities or self-contradictions. In fact, I offered you a way to do it! :).

    Note also, that all you’ve been trying to do here is to work from the specific terms ‘atheist’, ‘theist’, etc. and work up to some presumed generalization of ‘ists’ and ‘isms’ which is UNWARRANTED because of how messy etymology is to begin with! You want to claim that your over-generalization has to hold immutably and for all words and terms, and then you want to work back down to claim that definitions don’t apply to the original specific terms under consideration ‘theism’ ‘atheist’ etc. This is what the problem is, and why it’s a “fools’ errand”!

    You keep saying that my burden of proof argument doesn’t show we should favor “weak atheist” but all you use to refute it is your definitional game via general “properties” of ists and isms and the like, and that completely misses the point.

    I’d be happy to download your picture of your Venn diagram if you put it somewhere where I could download it.

    Cheers.

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  30. OK – I can barely read your response because you really aren’t thinking through things here and keep claiming I say things and means things and define things when it is simply not the case.

    For example – you said ‘state of being’ was my definition. Look back over the posts. You gave the definition that atheism meant ‘not holding a belief that god exists’. That definition requires us to us expressions like ‘state of being’. This a opposed to Alex’s definition (and probably my own) where atheism is a proposition. YOU ARE THE ONE THAT HAS DEFINED ATHEISM AS A STATE OF BEING AND NOT A PROPOSITION. So it is not me that is claiming it is a state of being, it is you. Your definition (d). I would prefer the definition that it is a proposition, but this is not how you defined (d), so I am making pains to use your definition! And yet you accuse me of conflation and changing definitions. THIS IS YOUR DEFINITION. If you disagree, please show me how on earth you definition (d) is a proposition and not a ‘state’ someone can be in?

    Listen – there is no point me going over all your lack of understanding point by point as this will just become a jumbled mess. Please let me just explain to you (in even more simple terms) the coin analogy because you seem to have completely misunderstood it. When the penny drops (pardon the pun) then I think you should see that it in fact a perfect analogy, and hopefully your big enough to admit this. YOUR DEFINITION IS ‘ATHIESM=NOT HOLDING A BELIEF IN THE PROPOSITION GOD EXISTS’. This is YOUR DEFINITION. This is not conflation, this is YOUR DEFINITION. If you like you can re-read (d), where YOU DEFINED ATHEISM AS NOT HOLDING A BELIEF THAT GOD EXISTS. On the surface, this way of defining seems to allow for 4 alternatives: NOT HOLDING BELIEF THAT THE PROPOSITION IS TRUE, NOT HOLDING BELIEF THAT THE PROPOSITION IS FALSE, HOLDING BELIEF THAT THE PROPOSITION IS TRUE, HOLDING BELIEF THE PROPOSITION IS FALSE. In that sense, it is nested – the belief can be held or not, and the proposition can be true or false. But the analogy simply shows that there are not in fact 4 alternatives, but only 3…

    The situation we are discussing is EXACTLY like the analogy (so I resent the ‘not even wrong’ quote and hopefully you will come to a point where you will revoke it).

    Don’t confuse the analogy now – let me spell it out step by step in the example and what the three possible states/alternatives are in relation to our discussion:

    (1) PHYSICALLY HOLDING THE COIN HEADS UP is analogous to MENTALLY HOLDING A BELIEF THAT PROPOSITION IS TRUE.
    (2) PHYSICALLY HOLDING THE COIN TAILS UP is analogous to MENTALLY HOLDING A BELIEF THAT PROPOSITION IS FALSE
    (3) NOT PHYSICALLY HOLDING THE COIN (IN EITHER HEADS-UP OR TAILS-UP) is analogous to NOT HOLDING A BELIEF ABOUT THE PROPOSITION (EITHER TRUE OR FALSE).

    Now, remember, your definition is ATHEISM=NOT HOLDING A BELIEF THAT GOD EXISTS…. SO HOW IS THIS ANALOGY NOT A PERFECT MATCH TO THE THREE POSSIBILITIES IN YOUR DEFINITION? PLEASE SHOW ME ANOTHER IF YOU THINK THERE IS ONE?

    Please please please – you must be able to get this. But if you keep accusing me of changing goal posts etc. when I have STUCK RIGIDLY TO YOUR DEFINITION (d) AFTER YOU SPELT IT OUT then not sure what to do. FOR MY OWN SANITY PLEASE TELL ME WHY YOU THINK THE ANALOGY DOESN’T WORK

    Please tell me how this example is not analogous? Please tell me how UNDER YOUR DEFINITION OF ATHEISM you cannot see that SOMEONE CAN BE IN THREE STATE: BELIEF GOD EXISTS; BELIEF GOD DOESN’T EXIST; AND NOT BELIEF EITHER WAY. How can there be anything else?

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  31. Didn’t mean upset you :). OK, thank you for clarifying, I will accept your analogy! Let’s not quibble over terms, as long as we’re both clear, and let’s be more concise.

    I’d prefer that we stuck to p = “God exists”, instead of analogies, maybe we can do that going forward?

    Anyway, back to your analogy. The three “states” in your analogy (1), (2), (3) fit perfectly well under my definitions (a) – (d) as follows:

    (1) “Holding a belief that p is true” would correspond to a ‘theist’ (b);

    EITHER (2) “Holding a belief that p is false” OR (3) “Not holding a belief in p” would fit under ‘atheist’ (d).

    Does that make sense?

    Also, since you said you’d corrected typos in separate posts and to avoid confusion on my part, would you like to restate your Venn diagram section “ON MY LOGICAL EXAMPLE” as concisely as possible before I address it?

    Cheers and Happy Friday!

    Like

  32. Sorry, reading that back it definitely felt like a rant! Put it down to a busy day, or stressful kids, or time of the month 🙂

    Ok, I’m a little busy today so will do as you suggest and restate the point i’m making with the Venn diagram and try and get a link up to them, but will have to be later today or tomorrow

    But just on the analogy, you can see that your definition of (d) includes the two states you agreed previously – holding belief god doesn’t exist, and not holding the belief god does exist. I think you agreed this when you said atheism is either states (2) or (3) in the analogy.

    So, follow the analogy, if I was in state 3 (not holding a coin) and someone asked me which of the three states I was in, and I said – ‘NOT PHYSICALLY HOLDING A HEADS-UP COIN’ that this is an unfair description of the 3rd state. It is ambiguous, and shows bias because it seems to imply I’m holding a tails up coin, or at least associates me more to this group.

    By using the label ‘atheism’ for states (2) and (3) you are connecting state (3) to atheism. But it is WITH EQUAL PROPORTION connected to state (1) – theism. This is why I am saying it misunderstands the relationship between these three state.

    Again – SOMEONE IN STATE (3) NECESSARILY LACKS BELIEF THAT GOD EXISTS AND BELIEF THAT GOD DOESN’T EXIST.

    I’ll post the other stuff soon.

    (PS – out of interest, are you based in America? You seem to reply in the middle of the night, and I woke up this morning (Saturday in the UK) to the greeting ‘happy friday’)

    Like

  33. Likewise from my end, so no worries :). I have a teenage son of my own, so I empathize. Yes, I’m in NY actually, good morning :).

    I think I understand the issue. I’ve stated that: “Not believing a proposition does not entail belief in the contrary,” which is true. However, it is also true that: “Believing the contrary of a proposition entails lack of belief in the proposition.”

    In a Venn diagram “not believing the proposition” would be a large circle fully enclosing the smaller circle of “believing the contrary.” The latter entails the former, but not the other way around.

    One of our problems here is the imprecision and vagueness of English: there are many ways of saying, in English, the same logical statement. I think it would be helpful to use precise definitions and logical statements to avoid vagueness and also to avoid writing these lengthy and verbose posts, of which I’m the most guilty :).

    I’ll do that in my next post to clarify exactly what I mean.

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  34. To avoid English-language vagueness, let me be more precise.

    Let q be a proposition with a truth value (i.e., q can be T or F) and “~” represent Boolean negation when left-applied to a proposition.

    Let B(q) represent “the belief that proposition q is true,” or simply, “belief in q” or “belief that q.” Let “~” represent “not”, “lack of”, or “absence of” when left-applied to a belief B(q).

    (Aside: I would have liked to use a different symbol for “lack of belief” but given the constraints of posting comments here, I’ll use “~” for both negating beliefs and negating Boolean propositions. Their use is clear in the context in which they’re applied.)

    Note that a belief in q is, in principle, independent of the truth value of q; i.e., a B(q) can be held independent of whether q = T or q = F.

    For the theistic case, specifically, we can write the following:

    DEFINITIONS

    Let p be a q such that:

    (Def.1): p = [At least one god exists] or, if preferred, p = [God exists];

    (Def.2): ~p = [No gods exist] or, if preferred, ~p = [God does not exist];

    (Def.3): B(p) = [Belief that ‘God exists’];

    (Def.4): ~B(p) = [Lack of belief that ‘God exists’].

    From these we can get:

    B(~p) = [Belief that ‘God does not exist’], and

    ~B(~p) = [Lack of belief that ‘God does not exist’].

    Let the symbol ” ==> ” denote ‘belief implication’ or ‘belief entailment’. For beliefs with respect to q and r, respectively, A(q) and B(r), A(q) ==> B(r) means “A(q) implies B(r) ” or “A(q) entails B(r)”.

    Let the symbol ” NOT==> ” denote “does not imply”, or, “does not entail” or “entails nothing about” such that A(q) NOT==> B(r) means “A(q) does not entail B(r)” or “A(q) entails nothing about B(r)”.

    With these definitions we have:

    BELIEF ENTAILMENTS

    (Ent.1): B(q) ==> ~B(~q);

    (Ent.2): B(~q) ==> ~B(q);

    (Ent.3): ~B(q) NOT==> B(~q);

    (Ent.4): ~B(~q) NOT==> B(q).

    Finally, we can rephrase the definitions (a) – (d) (from my prior post above) more precisely:

    THEISTIC DEFINITIONS

    (Def.a): ‘Theism’ = B(p);

    (Def.b): ‘Theist’ = An adherent to B(p);

    (Def.c): ‘Atheism’ = ~B(p);

    (Def.d): ‘Atheist’ = An adherent to ~B(p).

    From the Theistic Definitions and the Belief Entailments, we can write the:

    THEISTIC ENTAILMENTS

    (Th.Ent.1): Theism entails lack of belief that God does not exist.

    (Th.Ent.2): Belief that God does not exist entails Atheism.

    (Th.Ent.3): Atheism does not entail belief that God does not exist.

    (Th.Ent.4): Lack of belief that God does not exist does not entail Theism.

    I believe that these are all well-defined and self-consistent.

    Confusion probably arose from the belief entailments being uni-directional (asymmetric).

    Does this make sense?

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