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Thursday, July 3, 2008

A Bloody Mess

The ignorance of his latest entry is astoundingly discomforting. The comment concluded that Ray was like a boyfriend who beats you and then buys you a necklace the next day. Nay, it's more like the boyfriend who beats you and tells you that you deserve it and it's for your own good as he does it.

What's remarkable about this post is he likens himself to a doctor in an insane asylum and atheists are the patients with delusions and psychological problems. Seriously? I mean, really, seriously? How many people in an insane asylum are there because they believe that there are evil squirrels out to kill them? I couldn't quote statistics, but it is likely more than the number of people in an insane asylum because they don't believe that there are evil squirrels out to get them. Or how about the number of people there because they believe aliens are manipulating the weather patterns and one day will take over Earth? Again, I don't have the hard numbers in front of me, but roughly more than the number of people there because they don't believe.

And yet, Ray, by your own admission, you believe that a magic man is manipulating weather patterns and will one day take over Earth. And I should be there because I don't believe that? The role of the doctor at such a hospital is to serve a dose of rationality and get them to see that they are delusional and anything they point to is simply coincidental, confirmation bias, irrelevant, or better explained by something else. The doctors are the only people in the insane asylum who don't believe such fantastic claims of the supernatural, delusional, and magical variety. Like so many other things, Ray, you get the definitions all wrong. The person claiming that aliens, the government, witches, warlocks, or magic are manipulating the weather patterns aren't called the doctors; they're called the patients.

He concludes the entry by pulling out his classic gem of ignorance:
Any thinking person who denies God’s existence will admit that he doesn’t know for certain that there is no God, because someone in the universe (in the evidence he hasn’t yet come across) there may be ample evidence to prove that He does exist. He is therefore forced to say "With the limited knowledge I have at present, I have come to the conclusion that there is no God, but I really don’t know." So he cannot truthfully say "There is no God." He’s not an atheist. He’s actually an agnostic--someone who doesn’t know if God exists.
It's not that hard, Ray. Allow me to be the twenty millionth or so atheist who has tried to get these simple, basic definitions and distinctions through your skull:
Theist (n): one who believes in a god or gods.
Atheist (n): one who lacks the belief/doesn't believe in a god or gods.

Gnostic (n): one who claims to know that that which they claim to believe is true/knowable/provable.
Agnostic (n): one who doesn't claim to know that that which they claim to believe is true/knowable/provable.
If you'd like some extra credit, Ray, Iron Chariots has a nice, brief article clarifying the two terms.

Atheism and agnosticism are not mutually exclusive as they have basically nothing to do with one another. One addresses one thing while the other addresses another thing entirely. Agnosticism is not unsure atheism. Everyone, theists and atheists, should be agnostics. You can combine these terms into four labels:
Gnostic Theist
Agnostic Theist
Gnostic Atheist
Agnostic Atheist
Ray likes to define atheism as "knowing there is no God" so that he can build up a straw man to beat down with his whole "only God is omniscient" shtick.

Belief and knowledge are two different things -- epistemology 101. Let me consult my handy dictionary for you Ray, something you should really invest in:
belief (n):
1. something believed; an opinion or conviction: a belief that the earth is flat.
2. confidence in the truth or existence of something not immediately susceptible to rigorous proof: a statement unworthy of belief.

knowledge (n):
a (1): the fact or condition of knowing something with familiarity gained through experience or association (2): acquaintance with or understanding of a science, art, or technique b (1): the fact or condition of being aware of something (2): the range of one's information or understanding knowledge c: the circumstance or condition of apprehending truth or fact through reasoning : cognition d: the fact or condition of having information or of being learned
And let me submit something to you, Ray. You do not know the Christian God. You believe he reveals himself to you, speaks to you, answer your prayers, etc. But you can't know that it is really the Christian God doing the revealing, speaking, and answering, though. How could you? Because he tells you that he is Jesus/God? You can't verify it. While Jesus/God would tell you that it is him who is revealing, speaking, and answering to you, it would also be the sort of thing a prankster alien, a prankster spirit, or a demon would say to you as well. And since you have no way of verifying or "knowing absolutely" (as you would put it), you can't possibly know. Therefore, Ray, you are not a theist; not a believer. You are "actually an agnostic--someone who doesn’t know" if your Christian God exists.

Your analogies are as ridiculous as your logic is faulty.

Other Blogs on this Topic's Atheism / Agnosticism (over atheism vs agonosticism)
Of Microbes and Men


Anonymous said...

     Personally, I generally take "atheist" to mean someone who believes there is no god. (There is no real consensus on terms, although vocal people will often try to force the terms to whatever assists their agenda.) My own rationale is simple. I want a term that describes people who specificly believe there is no god and I don't want to lump in the "I don't know; I don't care" people.
     Interestingly, I would be somewhat leery (sp?) of putting people away simply for having strange beliefs. There are a couple reasons for this. Sometimes truth is strange. Someone with a bizaare belief could turn out to be right. Worse, putting people away can be a tool that a government uses to quash dissent. My take is a little different if the person becomes dangerous, for example if he starts shooting people "under the control of the evil squirrels.

DisComforting Ignorance said...

Well, this has been one of my biggest gripes with Ray: redefining terms for his own use. For example, he redefines liar to "someone who has lied" or links agnosticism to ignorance. He specifically redefines atheism to one who "knows there is no god" as opposed to one who "believes there is no god." The former definition is a gnostic atheist while the latter definition is of a "strong" atheist.

I would have to disagree that there is no consensus on the term. Atheism comes from the Greek a- meaning without and theos meaning God, so literally as "without god" or "godless." So, atheist means one who is not a theist. But you do have such a term for believing there is no god, and that is strong atheism. There's really not much sense in redefining a word that has always been understood to mean not believing there is a god (including by dictionaries) to instead mean the belief there is no god.

See Also: this article.

I would also tend to agree with you about putting people away -- the metaphor was Ray's, not mine. People believe some truly strange things: homeopathy, 9/11 conspiracies, ESP, telepathy, telekinesis, alien abductions, Bigfoot, etc. I would never think to put those people away, but would privately put on the coat of Dr. Atheist to hopefully serve up a dose of rationality, critical thought, and skeptical inquiry.

The interesting question is, though, what when Christianity drives you to bombing abortion clinics or assaulting/killing gays? It's entirely rational from their perspective, as are Muslims who fly planes in buildings.

Anonymous said...

     According to Webster's New Universal Unabridged Dictionary (1989): atheist n. one who denies or disbelieves the existence of God or gods.
     According to –noun; a person who denies or disbelieves the existence of a supreme a person who denies or disbelieves the existence of a supreme being or beings.
     Now, it should be noted that I can find sources that use your definition. But, as the definition I use appears to be more prevalent, you might find it useful to accept my assertion that there is no consensus. If there had been a consensus that your definition was correct, I would have sought a new term. But a definition of "atheist" that suited my purposes was already in common use. (On the other hand, the only places I can find Ray's definitions are christian sites.)

Anonymous said...

     Hmm... It looks like I had a slight problem with my cut-and-paste.

DisComforting Ignorance said...

The two definitions you give clearly define atheism as those who disbelieve the existence of God or gods. From

disbelieve (v): to have no belief in; refuse or reject belief in.

To have no belief means to be without belief. This goes to the very etymology of the word atheism. Atheism also includes those who believe there is no God as that is a subset of disbelief (as to believe there is no God you must also disbelieve there are gods).

But, as the definition I use appears to be more prevalent, you might find it useful to accept my assertion that there is no consensus. If there had been a consensus that your definition was correct, I would have sought a new term.

That is a false compromise. There is a consensus -- you've provided two definitions and you can also consult atheist organizations as well as encyclopedias. The waters are only muddled because of those, such as Ray, who attempt to redefine the word.

Also from

theism (n): belief in the existence of a god or gods (opposed to atheism).

When you add the prefix a-, that denotes "not" or "without." For example, typical means characteristic. Atypical means not typical. Similarly, atheist means not theist -- one who does not believe in the existence of a god or gods.

Anonymous said...

     The phrase "refuse or reject belief in" certainly sounds synonymous with believing to be false. The example they give, "to disbelieve reports of UFO sightings" supports that as well.
     I have engaged in no false compromise. In fact, your own example supports the idea that an atheist does not merely lack a belief in any god but actually believes there is no god. It is not an unreasonable position. People disbelieve in unicorns meaning they believe there are no unicorns.
     Now, I don't dispute that Ray is trying to redefine terms. Belief and knowledge are two different things. However, I submit that you, too, are trying to redefine terms. (I wasn't sure until you claimed "false compromise.") The only places I have actually seen the term "atheist" used to include the "don't know" people are those with an agenda.
     I also submit that my term is reasonable in the sense that people who identify themselves as atheist also fit my definition. Indeed, you, yourself identify yourself as an atheist because you believe there is no god.
     You may be convinced that "atheism is the default position." There are atheist sites that make that claim. Similarly, I have little doubt that many of Ray's followers believe "theism is the default position." But when you say you don't believe in god, you aren't still in default, having no idea what you think is true.

DisComforting Ignorance said...

Hey anonymous,

I think this is worthy of a post on the subject to explain more on it. I'll address your latest comments there, as I'd like to incorporate discussions from other sites/blogs as well as give some illustrations of the difference between not believing a claim is true and believing that a claim is false. I'll also clarify my own views on the reason and why I use the label atheist.

If there's anything additional you'd like me to discuss/respond to, please either comment here or email me and I'll incorporate them. I'll have the entry up probably by Monday.

Just as a note, I'm not trying to stop the discussion or anything, I quite enjoy it as, if I am wrong, I would like to shed the false belief immediately. I'm just currently out of town, preparing for the Rational Sabbath tomorrow, and have a lot of points I'd like to touch on here.

- JT