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Old Jul 18th 2010, 11:04 AM
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Michael Michael is offline
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Default Re: Literal isnít Lazy

Moderator's Note: It does appear that this thread has been thread-jacked by a discussion about the 'proper' definition of atheism. Since it is relevant to the issue in the OP, and because I really don't want to do thread-surgery to move this specific discussion between WFCY and myself off to another properly labeled thread, I'm just going to continue this discussion here.

Originally Posted by WFCY View Post
The first paragraph of the above quote makes your point succinctly and very potently, and pretty much sums up your whole criticism of one of my posts. So forgive me for not quoting in full, but I will address this.

First of all, Stanford Encyclopedia of Philosophy (not "Sanford"), is a very reliable source of terms used in philosophy. The other authority I would fall back on is the Cambridge Dictionary of Philosophy, which is only available in print, and this was why I did not resort to it.
My apologies for the typo on Stanford. I'm quite familiar with them and have read dozens of articles from it - it is by far the best source available on the net. This is the first time I've seen anything there I consider objectionable or questionable.

Re-stating your quotation (that you kindly transcribed) from above for reference:
(p.59) Atheism: The view that there are no gods. A widely used sense denotes merely not believing in God and is consistent with agnosticism. A stricter sense, denotes a belief that there is no God; this use has become the standard one. In the Apology Socrates is accused of atheism for not believing in the official Athenian gods. Some distinguish between theoretical atheism and practical atheism. A theoretical atheist is one who self-cosciously denies the existence of a supreme being, whereas a practical atheist may believe that a supreme being exists but lives as though there were no god.
1st bold: Socrates was accused of lacking belief in the official Athenian gods. Socrates was not accused of denying their existence.

2nd bold: An atheist does not (or can not) believe that a supreme being exists (theoretically or otherwise). That's a logical contradiction. An atheist only has to acknowledge that it is possible that one might exist as one's own knowledge of the issue is limited by definition.

It would appear that there is a major distinction within atheism, but that seems to be between a 'moderate' type that claims only a lack of belief in God, and an 'extreme' type that will assert the claim that God does not exist. There is a substantial epistemological difference between these two points (as we have already noted and agreed upon).

Originally Posted by WFCY View Post
(theoretical vs practical is just the strong vs weak, explicit vs implict contrast I mentioned already)
As I've consistently stated, I just can't accept that the statement of atheism (stating a lack of belief in theism) must logically entail the positive assertion that 'God does not exist'. That just seems to add extra baggage to the word (and an impossibly unjustifiable claim at that!).

I agree that there are two varieties of atheists, but there shouldn't be two varieties of atheism. Some atheists certainly do make the claim that 'God does not exist', but that is ill-educated nonsense and shouldn't be considered philosophical. If anything, that is a religious-type claim.

Originally Posted by WFCY View Post
I don't need to tell you, perfectly consistent with what I said about Atheism. These two sources are about as authoritative as it gets in the field of philosophy before one is prompted to look into the individual literatures and beyond standardized sources. Wiki btw, although not as respected by philosophers, nevertheless echos these two, and echos my definition (wiki link already in my prior post).
I certainly am aware that this 'Stanford' definition is widely disseminated and widely supported, and for all intents and purposes, definitive in contemporary society.

But as one who has always claimed to profess a complete lack of any faith in any theism of any kind, I just can't accept it. That (Stanford) definition seems like it was written by a Christian - or an anti-atheist at the very least. It is religiously biased.

Originally Posted by WFCY
Originally Posted by Michael
If this definition of atheism is to stand uncontested, that means that the number of intelligent atheists is zero. End of discussion.
Actually, you are right, end of discussion.

It is correct that if we go by the strict definition- No atheist is holding his belief based on certain knowledge (certain, as opposed to probable). But if the existence of god is a matter of probability, as I mentioned before, and so did the author of the Stanford encyclopedia- then when the probability of his existence is low, we might as well regard ourselves as atheists instead of an agnostic. In fact, this was the argument given by Richard Dawkins.

Of course, human beings' self identification is not purely based on reason. There is still a leap to make from 0.001% of god existing to asserting 0% of god existing. Then there would of course be some emotional, or anti-theistic grounds behind making such leaps (refer to what I said about antitheism). These things are not mutually exclusive, which is why words are not science.

There are a few other ways to get around but I will just talk in the confines of the concepts that I have set up so far until it becomes necessary to bring in new concepts.
But I'm not playing game theory here to optimize or hedge my position with respect to any theoretically potential existence of God (or afterlife). That doesn't interest me because I lack belief (and thus lack interest).

Lack of belief in God is just that. God might exist, but that's none of my business and I don't really care if God actually exists or not, because it doesn't matter to me, since I don't believe it. (Unless some physical evidence becomes available, then I'm interested!)

As for the probability of God's existence, I consider that moot. I possess the same lack of belief in the 1% probability case as I do in the 99% probability case.

Agnosticism seems to be a hedge statement, trying to cover all one's bases and claiming optimal superiority to all of them. Indeed, from the perspective of 'covering all of one's bases', this does appear to be the optimal approach.

But I think atheism ought to represent just the plain and simple lack of belief statement that the word is identified by (a-theism).

Originally Posted by WFCY View Post
Now, why would we want to use the narrower sense of the word "atheism" ever? A meaning which implies ignorance, or assertion beyond one's knowledge, you may ask.

Because in a discussion about "atheism vs agnosticism", this distinction becomes important. Without agnosticisim, atheism can mean a lot of things- I deny the existence of god, or I simply lack belief in god, etc. But when it's "atheism vs agnosticism", agnosticism already took the "I lack belief in god" part. How else would you be able to distinguish the two? So you may as well attribute the unfortunate attachment of ignorance (saying "there is no god" while not knowing for certain) onto atheism to the development of philisophy of religion. I mean, agnosticism is only a very recent term compared to atheism. Atheism used to subsume agnosticism until agnosticism came along as a philosophical term. Now that atheism needs to distinguish itself, in a conversation when agnosticism is involved. And unfortunately, atheism has got the rotten left-overs. Agnosticism took away the good stuff.
How do you reconcile the two bolded statements?

Originally Posted by WFCY View Post
Margot wants to go strictly by the morphlogical roots of words. It does not work after a while, when the concepts denoted by these words have been discussed and developed by philosophers.
I agree that the morphological roots of words cannot be always taken absolutely definitive.

However, I do believe that the one place that the morphological roots of words is most relevant and authorative is in respect of philosophy. Popularity ought not to be used to determine philosophic definitions.
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