Friday, March 24, 2006

Atheist Theological Disputation

The aptly named Catch22 comments on Kevin Drum. I can't contain my joy at finding an agnostic theologian to debate. Actually the whole comments thread is brilliant. If anyone is reading this, I advise them to read it.
I have had the same experience as eyelessgame

"For some reason, it's hard to get people even to accept that one is an atheist, even by self-declaring. They try hard to get you to admit you're an agnostic, or argue theology and try to shift the burden of proof to make the very position seem unreasonable.

It's an extremely threatening thing to claim of oneself. It's something people don't like to hear."

But the person who refused to believe that I am an atheist is both a saint and a STATA master so I don't want to name him in an even mildly critical context.

Back to our scheduled Godless Theological Quibbling (think "How many angels can't dance on the head of a pin, because they don't exist")

Catch22 starts by quoting Drum

"What's more, if I had to guess, I'd bet the number is more like 25-30% if you include people who vaguely claim to believe in God but neither attend church nor do anything else that even remotely suggests they take their belief seriously."

I guess I dont follow why you want to pretend that atheist has the same meaning as agnostic or someone who doesnt support any particular organized religion.

The definition of atheist includes a specific affirmative belief that God does not exist. Whether or not they advertise the fact, atheists deny the validity of others religious beliefs as opposed to not sharing them.

Now it may be that Americans are just as dismissive of agnostics as they are atheists, but it isnt roughly the same thing.

Agnostics and atheists may be natural allies on a lot of issues, but that doesnt make the terms even remotely equivalent and if you are going to lump them together you should make clear that your definition isnt actually the real definition.


Dear Catch22

You wrote "The definition of atheist includes a specific affirmative belief that God does not exist. Whether or not they advertise the fact, atheists deny the validity of others religious beliefs as opposed to not sharing them."

I definitely agree with you that Kevin Drum is lumping agnostics in with atheists. I, for example, am an atheist. I gather that you are an agnostic. Thus we can have a theological debate without religion. Obviously there are many people who do not have a firm opinion on the existence of God. They are clearly agnostics and not atheists.

I am interested in the question of people who have no hope that there is a God, nor any fear that there is a God but do not have (or do not accept that they have) an affirmative belief in the non existence of God. They are like the tolerant religious people who, for example, say "I am a Jew (Christian) and I think that Jesus isn't (is) God, but don't deny the validity of your Christian (Jewish) belief that Jesus is (isn't) God"

Now that, I just don't get. It makes no sense to me. It seems to me to violate logic. I can say that I don't have proof that God doesn't exist, that I don't think that belief in God is the result of an intellectual mistake, that my faith in the non existence of God is similar to other's faith in the existence of God and what all, that I know they might be right and I might be wrong, but I can't claim that I believe that their beliefs do not correspond to reality and are, thus, false.

To me this is not intollerance, it is just logic.

I think a key word in your definition of agnostic and atheist is "valid". Evidently a belief can be "valid" without being true and one can believe a belief is "valid" without sharing it.

I suspect the word is a dodge. So abstract as to be vague. I have written at narcissistic length about my beliefs about others' religious beliefs and I have no clue as to whether I think their beliefs are valid.

I honestly think that the word "valid" is used in this context as a dodge, a way to avoid either offending people or lying by using a word which makes them think that one does not think that their beliefs are false when one does.

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