• Strange Notions Strange Notions Strange Notions

Debunking One of the Worst Arguments Against Atheism

Head in Hands

There are a lot of good arguments against atheism (like the argument from contingency). There are also some good ones which unfortunately have been used incorrectly so many times that they have been misidentified as bad ones (like Pascal’s Wager). Even more unfortunately, there are also some genuinely bad ones (like the argument from the banana), and some of these are quite popular.

One of the worst is all the more dangerous because it sounds enough like a good argument that it is often made by seasoned apologists. I don’t think it has a name, but the idea is that in order for someone to know that there is no God, one would have to have to be God. Even the more “sophisticated” versions of this schoolyard argument are fallacious, and this needs to be called out before the argument does any more damage.

Proving Universal Negatives

It is popular in apologetic circles to argue that one cannot prove a “universal negative” (aka a “negative existential proposition”) such as “God does not exist.” This has some intuitive appeal – after all, how can one make an assertion concerning all of reality (i.e., “God does not exist anywhere.”) without knowing all of reality? Indeed, the famous atheist philosopher Bertrand Russell once admitted that when it comes to the existence of God, the proper “attitude may be that which a careful philosopher would have towards the gods of ancient Greece. If I were asked to prove that Zeus and Poseidon and Hera and the rest of the Olympians do not exist, I should be at a loss to find conclusive arguments.” However, the argument still fails as an apologetic strategy.

The underlying mistake is that the problem of proving a universal negative only applies to things that (at least) can possiblyexist. So, for example, it might be impossible to completely disprove the existence of unicorns, simply because of the difficulty of searching out every possible location such creature might inhabit (perhaps extending to other planets). Thus, it would be extraordinarily difficult to definitively prove that “there are no unicorns in existence anywhere.”

When it comes to the existence of Santa Claus, however, it would not be nearly as difficult. This is because the existence of a being answering to the standard description of Santa Claus can be shown to be definitively impossible. Rather than surveying all possible locations where such a being might be found, one can simply note that the conditions required for such a being to exist are essentially impossible.

Put another way, while I may not be able to prove the non-existence of any 10′ tall bachelors, I can certainly prove the non-existence of married bachelors. In a similar fashion, if one could show that based on the type of being that God would be if he existed that such a being was impossible, then the universal nonexistence of God could be known without “knowing it all.”

Requiring Godlike Powers

A corollary to the above mistake is the followup conclusion that one would need to be godlike oneself in order to coherently deny God’s existence. The idea is that one would have to be omniscient and / or omnipresent (know everything there is to know or be everywhere there is to be) in order to posses the knowledge that God does not exist, because anything less would leave the door open for God’s existence in a heretofore unknown part of reality. But omniscience and  omnipresence are attributes of deity. Thus the popular conclusion is that in order to disprove God, one would have to beGod.

This is a popular but philosophically ill-informed apologetic tactic. For example, seminary president and popular apologist Alex Mcfarland writes,

“It is important to realize something about being an atheist that even most atheists fail to acknowledge and that is that atheism requires omniscience (complete knowledge of everything).… An atheist is making a positive assertion that there is no God. The only way that anyone could make such an assertion would be to presume that he knew everything about everything.” (“The 10 Most Common Objections to Christianity”, 37-38).

The same claim is made by the president and founder of Christian Apologetics and Research Ministry (the top Evangelical apologetics website) Matt Slick:

"Then you cannot KNOW there is no God. . . . atheism is illogical. You cannot know there is no God. To do that, you’d have to know All things to know there is no God." (“An Atheist Says He Knows There Is No God”)

This argument is also made by Christian research institute president Hank Hanegraaff:

“Atheism involves a logical fallacy known as a universal negative. Simply stated, a person would have to be omniscient and omnipresent to be able to say ‘there is no God’ from his own pool of knowledge. Only someone capable of being in all places at the same time — with a perfect knowledge of all that is in the universe — can make such a statement based on the facts. In other words, a person would have to be God to say there is no God. Hence, the assertion is logically indefensible. By using arguments like this, you will often find that an atheist quickly converts to agnosticism and is thus making progress rapidly in the right direction.” (“The Folly of Denying God” CRJ, 1990)

The same conclusion is repeated by popular apologists Ron Rhodes and Kenneth R. Samples in their respective articles on dealing with atheists in the Christian Research Journal in the 1990’s.

The argument does not seem to be losing any steam, either. As late as 2013, Ravi Zacharias made a similar claim on his Facebook page:

Ravi_Zacharias_-_To_sustain_the_belief_that_there_is_no_God____

These alleged requirements are really just another species of the previously-discussed problem of proving a universal negative. Only empirical inductive arguments that require as their support the totality of reality (a “perfect induction” on a universal scale) would fall into such a trap. Rational deductive arguments (especially those involving direct contradictions) do not suffer from this flaw. (Interestingly, given the generally poor reception of the only purely deductive argument for the existence of God – Anselm’s Ontological Argument – among theists and atheists alike, it may be the case that atheists actually have the upper hand in attempting to argue their position based on logic alone.)

Conclusion

This particular argument fails due to the basic difference between empirical-inductive and rational-deductive proofs for a universal conclusion. Because inductive arguments are (by definition) those which (usually) give only probable support to their conclusion, and are usually based on empirical facts for their support, the idea that one could use such a method to disprove God is clearly problematic. There are, however, purely rational deductive arguments which would (in theory) definitively prove their conclusion by demonstrating that the notion of God is self-contradictory. And, since these kinds of arguments are indeed given against the existence of God, then it is not the case that “atheism is logically indefensible” (at least on these grounds). Thus, it is also false that atheists would have to posses godlike powers to know that God does not exist, because contradictions can be proven with merely human abilities.

Although not a lot of atheists have spoken out against this specious argument, it is a very bad one and makes theists look bad. To my fellow theists, I ask that you please do not use this argument, and alert those who have to its failure.
 
 
(Image credit: Wikimedia)

Douglas Beaumont

Written by

Douglas Beaumont earned a Ph.D. in Theology at North-West University. He is the author of Evangelical Exodus, The Message Behind the Movie: How to Engage With a Film Without Disengaging Your Faith, and a contributor to The Best Catholic Writing. Follow Douglas at www.douglasbeaumont.com.

Note: Our goal is to cultivate serious and respectful dialogue. While it's OK to disagree—even encouraged!—any snarky, offensive, or off-topic comments will be deleted. Before commenting please read the Commenting Rules and Tips. If you're having trouble commenting, read the Commenting Instructions.

  • Mike

    Works badly for both:

    Christian: you can't know God isn't right now somewhere on some distant planet but you claim he doesn't exist therefore you claim to have god-like powers which is absurd.

    Atheist: you admit God isn't even on some distant planet or anywhere else in the universe, therefore the only logical conclusion is there is no God.

    • Krakerjak

      It is important to realize something about being an atheist that even most atheists fail to acknowledge and that is that atheism requires omniscience (complete knowledge of everything).… An atheist is making a positive assertion that there is no God.

      Not true for most atheists. An atheist is simply saying that he/she does not believe that there is enough evidence available to convince them that god exists, especially the Judeo/Christian version of said entity.

      Well....I for one do not make the positive assertion that there is no God, nor do I personally know any other nontheists or atheists who make that assertion.....though I am sure that such atheists do exist.

      An atheist is making a positive assertion that there is no God.

      Simply not true. In most cases of atheism. This seems to me to be one of the most silly articles that has ever been posted on SN....though others come close.

      • Robert Caponi

        "Well....I for one do not make the positive assertion that there definitely is no God, nor do I personally know any other nontheists or atheists who make that assertion.....though I am sure that such atheists do exist."

        I often hear this claim, and always find it a bit fanciful. I find it fanciful because, even more often, beneath any Huffington Post or Salon article that even grazes upon the topic of religion, the comments section is chockablock with atheists who absolutely must make their astoundingly clever and original bon mots about fairy tales, and Santa Claus, and the tooth fairy, &c. &c. &c.

        So comparing Christianity to a fairy tale is in no way meant to suggest it isn't true, and comparing God to the tooth fairy is in no way meant to suggest He doesn't exist, correct?

        • Krakerjak

          atheists who absolutely must make their astoundingly clever and original bon mots about fairy tales, and Santa Claus, and the tooth fairy,

          It is silly, childish and just stupid for atheists to make such references to tooth fairies and flying spagetti monsters et al and is fairly moronic.

          • Michael Murray

            I agree they are sometimes used as an insult. But they also I think can serve a useful purpose in challenging people to justify their own beliefs and in questioning religious privilege in a political context.

          • Daryl K. Sauerwald

            "contempt towards those who believe in God.And religion has no contempt for any of the people it killed,raped and tortured.When you preach that those who don't believe as you do,are evil,endanger society,can't know right from wrong,that sir is contempt,murderous contempt.

        • Jim Dailey

          The marketing of religion does occur. We all know it happens and we all know it is appalling. So, I can see where the atheists are pissed off about it.
          When I compare the real story of St. Nicolas with the merchandise-hawking, control freak knows when you've been bad or good Santa Clause, it actually even pisses me off.

      • Mike

        That sounds more like agnosticism to me.

        • Krakerjak

          Most atheists do not deny the possibility that a deist type of god could exist, and in that sense they are not making a "positive" assertion that there is no possibility that god could exist.

          • Peter

            I do not think that it is possible that a deistic god can exist, not in the proper sense of what it means to be God.

            God must be the explanation for the whole of creation, its coming into being and its continued existence. A deistic god by definition is responsible only for bringing creation into being and has no interest in its continued existence.

            There must be something else, therefore, other than the deistic god which sustains creation in existence. If that is so, the deistic god is not omnipotent but has to share its power with whatever sustains creation. Being less than omnipotent, therefore, it is no longer God.

          • Krakerjak

            Hi Peter,you are excluded and one of the exceptions to what I was saying if you are an atheist or agnostic. I was not implying that all atheists believe in the possibility that some intelligent entity deist or otherwise behind creation exists.

          • Krakerjak

            blockquote>There must be something else, "therefore, other than the deistic god" which sustains creation in existence.blockquote>

            If you drop the "therefore, other than the deistic god" part of your comment, I will concede that it is a reasonable and attractive concept to believe that there may be "not must be" something else, which sustains creation in existence, be it an entity, energy "fields" aka matrix,AI or superior intelligence.

          • Mike

            When pushed i agree most atheists will admit they personally aren't certain but prefer to live as though God especially the Christian version does not exist and so they label themselves atheists - actually most practical atheists are ppl who just couldn't care less about God and anything like philosophy, spirituality or any other deep questions; they are ppl who are "into" their immediate lives and don't care about things like this and don't see any point in them.

      • Daryl K. Sauerwald

        I know no atheist that claim a belief in "Omniscience". Modern religion first mistake: science=Atheism.Atheism has been around longer then science,longer then christianity. Please define " omniscience".

  • Robert Caponi

    Of course, many new atheists claim that they are not asserting God's non-existence, but rather that they "lack a belief in God,"— a statement that, like most self-reports ("I'm happy", "My leg hurts", "I'm thinking of a polar bear") we're pretty much bound to take at face value with little or no evidential support.

    However, in defending the supposed superior rationality of "lacking a belief in God"- or more precisely the active deferral of such a belief- they can't help but stumble into a universal neagtive of the exact same form— "There is no evidence for God," which has become, in my opinion, the foundational dumbness of contemporary atheism. While it is understandable that there could be, in principle, an argument made against the logical coherence of God ("God cannot be both all-just and all-merciful," &c.,) it is not clear how one could possibly know, even in principle, that there can be no evidence for God. Asked to provide evidence for this universal negative, they will either repeat the assertion as evidence for itself (a tactic as fallacious as saying "the Bible is true because the Bible is true"— an argument they would rightly reject) or they'll switch the burden of proof and demand you prove there *is* evidence for God.

    Of course, as any reader of this website knows, there is pleny of evidence to support the existence of God, and as any reader of this website similarly knows, most atheists are determined to reject any such evidence no matter its merits. The argument from ignorance they'll use to, as a third way, to defend the non-existence-of-evidence-for-the-existence-of-God (whew!)- namely, that all negative propositions are to be assumed correct until proven otherwise- entails, in practice, that all negative propositions are to be assumed correct no matter what, since some people will never to be satisfied with *any* evidence. I doubt these same atheists would be so accepting of the premise if they were faced with a Young Earth Creationist who said "there is no evidence for evolution," and whenever presented with fossil records, would blithely respond, "No! That's been debunked! Look, it even says so in answersingenesis.org!"

    • Krakerjak

      many new atheists claim that they are not asserting God's non-existence,

      I am at the end of my seventh decade of life, and would not consider myself "new" by any stretch of the imagination and am definitely not asserting God's non-existence in any way that it is not possible for him to exist..:-)

      They'll demand you prove there *is* evidence for God.

      I don't demand anything.

      • Robert Caponi

        "I don't demand anything."

        Well I was describing patterns of behavior typical of atheists defending the premise "there is no evidence for God", in my experience. I wasn't attempting to characterize all atheists everywhere.

        • Krakerjak

          Well perhaps not characterizing every atheist, but you seemed to be characterizing atheists in general. I suppose that it would be wise of you to exercise more care in in your choice of words,

    • Actually, my impression has been more along the lines of:

      My words...As any reader of this website knows, there is hardly any evidence to support the existence of God, and as any reader of this website similarly knows, most theists are determined to advance any argument no matter how flimsy.

      Funny how two people can get such divergent impressions from the same set of data.

      • Robert Caponi

        How flimsy the evidence may or may not be can profitably be discussed on a case-by-case basis, quite unlike the towering proclamation "There Is No Evidence For God™,"

        It would be perfectly reasonable to say, for instance, "I don't believe in God, because I haven't seen any reason to," and such a statement might actually lead to productive dialogue, and would not incur any unanswerable burden of proof. Atheists never seem to be content to leave well enough alone, however, and compulsively go for the gross overreach in their attempts to establish the ultimate objective rationality of atheism.

        • Krakerjak

          the towering proclamation "There Is No Evidence For God

          Perhaps it would be more accurate and fair to quote atheists as saying that there is no compelling evidence for god, instead of referring to The Towering proclamation that there is no evidence for God Very poetic and hyperbolic, but not really accurate or fair.

          • Robert Caponi

            Again, I'm speaking from my own experience, and I have been told "there is no evidence for God"- in those exact words- literally hundreds of times.

            But yes, the qualification for *compelling* evidence might seem more plausible, at the very least, since a clever enough person can usually manage to marshal some evidence even for outrageously untrue statements like "Achilles can never outrun the tortoise", or "O.J. Simpson didn't kill Nicole Brown."

            Still the assertion doesn't accomplish anything in any persuasive sense, since we still have to discuss the evidence on a case-by-case basis, as well as what it means to be compelling.

          • Krakerjak

            what it means to be compelling.

            Compelling:
            Oxford Dictionary: Not able to be resisted overwhelming:
            Mirriam Webster: capable of causing someone to believe or agree.

            Let us not quibble as children do. We all know what the word means in the colloquial sense.

          • Robert Caponi

            The distinction is neither childish nor academic (nor both.) Evidence, by definition, is capable of making someone believe or agree, so by that metric, all evidence is compelling evidence. At the same time, the evidence for God's existence is not so unavoidable that to deny it leaves a person unable to feed or bathe themselves, or to die at a happy old age.

            That, after being presented with evidence, the atheist can just peremptorily declare, "Yes, but there isn't any *compelling* evidence for God" doesn't seem like much of an improvement over the atheist who says "There is no evidence for God, because for any evidence you provide, I can find a page on [IronChariots, RationalWiki, &c.] claiming it's been debunked."

            You're free to believe there is no compelling evidence for God, of course, but declaring it as fact doesn't accomplish much.

          • Krakerjak

            You're free to believe there is no compelling evidence for God,<

            Why thank you Robert for giving me permission to not believe. And you are also free to believe that there is compelling evidence for god but by declaring it does not accomplish much either my friend.

          • William Davis

            It also doesn't accomplish much to have such a "snooty" attitude. Christians have always thrived off persecution (whether real or imagined). Don't play into their stereotype if your goal is to convince them of the merits of your position. If your goal is to come on here and make yourself feel smarter and superior to them, I suppose you are going about it the right way, but hurting your position in the process. It's a lot like what Evangelicals do to non-Christians actually...do you want to be like them? I've actually been successful in disarming a lot of misplaced Christian dogma, but having the right attitude and turning the other cheek goes a long way. What you said isn't all that bad, of course, but I feel obligated to point it out. I've been quick to point it out when its been coming from Christians, so I'm trying to be fair :)

          • Krakerjak

            You are obviously a superior individual.....and thanks for pointing out how "snooty" an attitude I have. BTW as you were "pointing" did you happen to be looking in the mirror? :-)

          • William Davis

            I used to get into debates to prove my own superiority, it's a pretty common motive, sometimes it still happens, especially if someone is a complete insulting ahole. Once I determine there is no hope for real conversation, sometimes I let my inner arrogant snob out to play. It never really accomplished anything, it's not like anyone is going to change a real ahole's mind about anything. Trying to find common ground with someone else and steer them in your direction is much more satisfying, and you can even make friends along the way, even if you disagree with them. If you don't care about any of that, so be it. Feel free to peruse my comment history and point out any tactical flaws you find, constructive criticism is always useful :)

          • Krakerjak

            I hope you have a sense of humor, and keep up the good work.

        • I share your frustrations about the "no evidence for God" claim. I think many atheists (and theists, for that matter) make the claim out of a misunderstanding of what evidence is.

          The purpose of my comment is to emphasise that different people will reach different conclusions on the arguments presented here and elsewhere, because of prior probabilities they may assign to God and because of how persuasive they find the arguments.

          None of the arguments and evidence I've seen on Strange Notions have affected much how likely I think God's existence is. Being here has changed the way I think about the arguments and those who make them, in a mostly positive way. Conversations here have also revealed to me serious weaknesses in my own beliefs and arguments, weaknesses I am presently confronting.

      • William Davis

        Confirmation bias, and a different set of underlying premises for understanding the nature of truth :) Everyone should take a class in meta-cognition/critical thinking or read a book at least once. Recognizing flaws in our cognition helps us overcome them (though we can never really get rid of them, they are built in).

        • I suspect that, for some of the arguments for God's existence, fine tuning for example,. since my prior probability for God's existence is either very low or inscrutible, it is difficult to say whether the evidence has substantially changed anything.

          • William Davis

            Fine tuning is an interesting and compelling example. I leave room in my mind for a Deistic God. It is often useful to think of the universe as designed when engaging in physics, but that of course does not mean it is of course. I think it is hard for us to imagine things working out elegantly, as they often do in physics, without their being intent, since intent is so fundamental to the human experience. Any way of looking at it, there are still great voids in our knowledge. One comical fact in physics is that, best we can tell, 96% of the universe is dark matter and energy. What is dark matter? No one has a clue, but we can measure its gravity and some of its effects. Therefore one can safely say we only understand 4% of the universe, and we only partially understand that. I think it is much easier to prove that "divine revelation" is man-made than it is to prove/disprove God. God as the prime mover behind the internal workings of reality is possible even within a fully scientific and rational framework of reality, at least with our current knowledge. We understand so little it is really hard to judge. Let's call this God the Ensteinian God, not to be confused with the personal gods of religions. Intellectual greats like Ben Franklin and Thomas Jefferson also held this view.

    • Mack The Mike

      Atheism is the positive belief that no good reason exists to believe in God. Thus the theist and atheist are similarly situated. Both are making positive assertions that require argumentation, niether party has a special burden to prove his position to the other.

      • Robert Caponi

        A clarifying point to the needlessly muddied issue concerning burdens of proof as it applies to atheists and theists: We incur a burden of proof not by virtue of what we believe, but rather by virtue of what we assert to be true. In a debate, the person demanding evidence for a theist's assertions may well be another theist, and the person demanding evidence for an atheist's assertions may well be another atheist. The burden still applies even when playing devil's advocate. The atheist and the theist may both avoid incurring immodest burdens of proof simply by making more modest claims.

      • Michael Murray

        Atheism is the positive belief that no good reason exists to believe in God.

        An atheist is a person who holds no beliefs in gods. As Oxford dictionaries puts it

        late 16th century: from French athéisme, from Greek atheos, from a- 'without' + theos 'god'.

        PS: I lower case deliberately, not to be offensive but to make the point that it is not only the Catholic God I hold no belief in. It's all of the thousands of them.

        • Mack The Mike

          "An atheist is a person who holds no beliefs in gods."

          This definition has the absurd implication that new born infants are atheists. The greek roots of a word and the meaning of a word are two different things.

          • Michael Murray

            If you want to look for absurdities you can find them in any definition. You can of course be a little more precise if you wish. Perhaps ...

            "An atheist is a sentient being of sufficient mental capacity to hold a belief in gods who does not hold a belief in gods."

            Or modify as you wish.

            The central point is that not believing and disbelieving are different things.

            Sometimes these two options are called weak and strong atheism or negative and positive atheism. See for example

            http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Negative_and_positive_atheism

            The Oxford Dictionary actually rolls the two of them together and defines an atheist as

            "A person who disbelieves or lacks belief in the existence of God or gods:"

            Of course some of us are igtheists but they are never mentioned on these pages

            http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Ignosticism

          • Mack The Mike

            "An atheist is a sentient being of sufficient mental capacity to hold a belief in gods who does not hold a belief in gods."

            That doesn't work either. Take, for example, a curious young person who has been raised in non-believing household. He or she has decided to investigate the broad questions of spirituality and religion and is actively reading about, and talking to members of, various faiths. This person has no belief in God or gods at the present time, but is actively open to the possibilities thereof. She or he is NOT an atheist as the term is commonly used.

          • Michael Murray

            She or he is an atheist according to the Oxford Dictionaries. She or he is is an atheist as many people I know commonly use the term. Maybe you need to get out and meet some more atheists?

            I could also point out that someone who thinks God is the ground of all being is not a theist as any of my Catholic relatives understand the term. Are they wrong ? Is the ground of all being believer wrong ?

          • Mack The Mike

            "She or he is an atheist according to the Oxford Dictionaries. "
            The quote of OE gave two definitions, only one of which applies to the seeker in my example.

            "Maybe you need to get out and meet some more atheists?"

            In fact I have met a person in just the situation I described, and no, he didn't describe himself as an atheist.

            It just doesn't make any sense to call a lack of belief an "-ism" All -isms are sets of ideas, not sets of the absence of ideas. Monetarism, Calvanism, Racism, Reganism -- you name it. They are all sets of ideas. Atheism is an idea as well: the idea that there's no good reason to believe in God.

          • Michael Murray

            The quote of OE gave two definitions, only one of which applies to the seeker in my example.

            Sure. They are two alternative definitions. One of them describes your seeker so she or he is an atheist by that definition.

            One person doesn't contradict what I am saying. I'm not claiming universality.

            I agree there is a lack of consistency with the other isms. But you will have to take that up with Oxford dictionary and all the other atheists (besides me) who use the word this way.

          • Mack The Mike

            "I agree there is a lack of consistency with the other isms. But you will have to take that up with Oxford dictionary and all the other atheists (besides me) who use the word this way."

            I deny that you or anyone else really uses 'atheism' to refer to the position of seekers such as the one I described, or of infants. Oh sure, you *define* 'atheism' that way, but you don't *use* 'atheism' that way. I'll wager that no group of self-described atheist activists includes any seekers.

            As for the OED, I think they are just incorrect on this.

          • Michael Murray

            I deny that you or anyone else really uses 'atheism' to refer to the position of seekers such as the one I described, or of infants. Oh sure, you *define* 'atheism' that way, but you don't *use* 'atheism' that way. I'll wager that no group of self-described atheist activists includes any seekers.

            So I must just be a liar. That ends the conversation for me. You might like this seeker's blog

            http://www.patheos.com/blogs/yearwithoutgod/

            I'm done.

          • Mack The Mike

            I don't think you are a liar. I think you are mistaken.

            Thanks for the link. Interesting piece. I think it supports my point. The author is a seeker, but in the reverse direction from the example I gave. In his introductory post he writes:

            "It’s important to make the distinction that I am not an atheist."

            So, no, seekers are not atheists.

          • Loreen Lee

            Would this mean that 'scient-ism', or the belief in value/existence of materialism/naturalism, over some kind of rationalism, is therefore merely another form of 'pagan-ism'. >???

          • Mack The Mike

            Loreen, I'm afraid I don't follow. I suppose a materialist could be a polytheist as long as the gods of the pantheon were purely material, but I don't think I've ever heard of a polythiestic materialism in reality.

          • Loreen Lee

            I am often a bit ironic. I was referring not to a form of polytheism, (indeed Christianity with its triune god and the plethora of saints has also been regarded by some as polytheistic) which is only one characteristic attributed to paganism. I was referring to another criteria:: i.e. that the material world, naturalism, the cosmos takes priority to Mind. Empiricism over rationalism. Or to be more brief: Body assumes the priority in value to Mind, within the mind body distinction. Hope this fills out the comment enough.

            That's all.

        • Robert Caponi

          "An atheist is a person who holds no beliefs in gods. As Oxford dictionaries puts it"

          One sense of the word, at least. It is at least preferable to having a "lack of a belief in God" as the sufficient condition for atheism, which would leave raccoons and tree stumps as atheists.

          But I suspect "a person who holds no beliefs in gods" is not really the definition most self-identified atheists would be satisfied with, since by that definition, the atheist does not necessarily think the theist is erroneous or unjustified in their belief. A person identifying as an atheist would simply be describing their own mental state, not making a claim about the world outside themselves.

          "late 16th century: from French athéisme, from Greek atheos, from a- 'without' + theos 'god'"

          Yes, atheism is is belief that there is no God. It is important to note that "theist" is in fact the back-formation of "atheist", coined only in the 17th Century. Properly speaking, atheism is the "-ism" of atheos, not the "a-" of theism.

          "PS: I lower case deliberately, not to be offensive but to make the point that it is not only the Catholic God I hold no belief in. It's all of the thousands of them."

          The Egyptians worshipped cats as gods, you know.

          • Michael Murray

            A person identifying as an atheist would simply be describing their own mental state, not making a claim about the world outside themselves.

            I don't see the problem with that. Atheists will differ in the degree to which they disbelieve in gods and why the disbelieve in gods. That can be discussed and I don't see a need to load it all into a definition. What unites them all is their lack of belief in gods.

          • Robert Caponi

            Question: This morning, while making breakfast, I was so engrossed by the task of scrambling eggs that I momentarily forgot to think about God's existence. For that moment, was I, too, an atheist?

          • Michael Murray

            Dunno. Do you have to think about something all the time to believe in it ?

            When I say I don't believe in God I mean something really simple like if you ask me "do you believe in God" I would say "no".

          • Michael Murray

            Actually I guess depending on the circumstances I might also say "define God". But that is my igtheism coming to the surface.

          • Robert Caponi

            You agreed earlier that atheism is a mental state- the mental state of "lacking a belief in God"- something shared by you and people who positively affirm God's non-existence and children raised by wolves who have never even heard of God- rather than an affirmative statement about the world-out-there. Now it's a self-indentification? A mendacious Christian might give the same "no" response to the question, and a wolf child would ask me "What's God?" if they were to say anything at all. Even more ineffectual than atheism as a self-description of a mental state along the lines of "I'm happy" or "I'm thinking of a polar bear", atheism is now simply how you would *report* that mental state? Atheism seems to be getting more vacuous by the minute.

          • Michael Murray

            So for you a belief has to be something you hold in your awareness at all times? Even while scrambling eggs ?

          • Robert Caponi

            "So for you a belief has to be something you hold in your awareness at all times? Even while scrambling eggs ?"

            No, of course not, which is why a meaningful distinction has to be drawn between the Christian who may not actively be believing in God while making scrambled eggs, and the child raised in a Christian home who then has a crisis of faith and decides they're an atheist or an agnostic. Both may "lack a belief" in the sense of not actively believing in God at a particular time, but only one does so while affirming something beyond their own mental state. For that matter, I walk around with wolf-child-consciousness most of the day, and the wolf child would be as little inclined to say they "lack a belief in God" as I do.

            I think a good definition of atheist is, "A person who thinks God does not, or probably does not, exist." It makes proper allowances for agnotic atheists, agnostic theists, and doesn't lasso together tree stumps with people who believe God definitely doesn't exist under the same insipid rubric.

          • Michael Murray

            "A person who thinks God does not, or probably does not, exist.

            But that requires you to define God.

          • Robert Caponi

            "But that requires you to define God."

            That is no more of an issue for "A person who thinks God does not, or probably does not, exist." than for "A person who lacks a belief in God", since- in the latter case- atheists are simply defined to the exclusion of people who *have* a belief in God. That God is a defined term is assumed in both cases.

            If you "lack a belief in God", but don't believe God definitely does not exist, then you obviously believe there is a non-zero probability that God exists. Let's say you think there's a 1% chance that God exists… you're an atheist, right? Now what if you think there's a 2% chance God exists… you still "lack a belief in God", correct? At what point do we draw the threshold before reaching the absurdity of an atheist who "lacks a belief in God", but believes there's a 90% chance God exists?

          • Michael Murray

            That is no more of an issue for "A person who thinks God does not, or probably does not, exist." than for "A person who lacks a belief in God",

            Yes it is because I didn't say "A person who lacks a belief God" I said "a person who holds no beliefs in gods". So I don't need a definition of God.

            I'll let you take the probabilistic definition up with Dawkin's who popularised it. I don't like it personally because again it doesn't define what it is you have the percentage belief or disbelief in.

            But if you want a threshold though I would take "believe enough in god X for it to affect the way I live my life" or "disbelieve enough in god X for it not to affect the way I live my life". That is the practical issue for most people.

          • Mack The Mike

            "Personally I would rather one catch all word to describe the general position of not believing in gods."

            Agreed. But your definition of atheism as the lack of belief in God doesn't describe a position at all. It describes the absence of a position. The correct definition of atheism as the doctirne that there is no good reason to believe in God does describe a position -- one that includes strong atheists, agnostics, igtheists, and some apatheists.

          • Michael Murray

            So here is an idea. You tell me what you think atheism means. Taking care to define all your terms.

          • Ignatius Reilly

            You could say that about any belief. I haven't thought about the roundness of the earth for a few days now. Does that mean I don't believe that the earth is round?

          • Michael Murray

            The Egyptians worshipped cats as gods, you know.

            Indeed. They are of course. At least in their own eyes.

          • Vicq Ruiz

            One may demonstrate by deductive reasoning the existence of a god. There have been dozens of articles at SN which purport to do so.

            But I don't think it's possible to determine by purely deductive methods that said god is concerned with and intervenes in the affairs of humans. (As I asked in response to an earlier article, "Why is 'Unconditioned Reality' concerned with my buying a box of condoms?") And if that is not determinable, then it follows that:

            - whether or not god does so intervene is a matter of induction and observation, not deduction. The accounts of such interventions have yet to satisfy me.

            - whether or not the existence of an impersonal god can be deduced need have no bearing upon our daily lives. This is why I personally find the discussion of the purely deductive proofs for god to be lacking in any real value.

      • David Hennessey

        Actually, the Christian and Jewish theists agree that there is no good reason to believe in God, that's the whole point of faith.

    • GCBill

      I agree with you with regard to the "no evidence" claim. I generally take "evidence" for a to mean anything that should alter my confidence in the truth of a claim under discussion. One very easy way for something to count as "evidence" is if we should more strongly expect that thing given one claim than given a competing claim or claims. In this case, the degree to which a fact counts as evidence for C1 over C2 is proportional to the difference in prediction strength between C1 and C2.

      Atheist though I am, I find it hard to imagine that there are no facts within the entire universe that we should more strongly expect to be true if God exists. Yet, on one common conception of evidence, that's exactly what would have to be true for there to be "no evidence for God." I happen to think the evidence for atheism is actually pretty strong, but there is evidence for theism. My decision hinges on the perceived balance of the evidence, not on whether or not it exists. This seems to be a much more robust position, because in its modesty it resists falsification by a single counterexample.

      You might be interested in the Reasonable Doubts Podcast's take on evidential reasoning in PoR, which is better-informed than much of the discussion which occurs in internet comboxes. They cover some of the same ground as my comment, although they're more knowledgeable in this area than I am, so you might benefit to hear it from them as well.

      • Robert Caponi

        Thank you for the intelligent, sane response. The strangenotions combox is vastly, vastly, vastly better informed than the YouTube discussions I'm used to. What's "PoR"? The link doesn't take me anywhere.

        • GCBill

          PoR = Philosophy of Religion

          The link is fixed (I forgot to paste the URL into the hyperlink tag...oops).

    • Bob

      "There is no evidence for God,"

      "there can be no evidence for God"

      You realize that you have straw-manned your own hypothetical here, right?

      • Robert Caponi

        I was following up to what Doug Beaumont said in the article about proving universal negatives. Discounting the possibility that the nonexistence of evidence for God could be proven by an exhaustive, brute-force search, your only recourse would be to prove the nonexistence of such evidence a priori, in the same way we can prove the nonexistence of married bachelors. Sounds confusing? Well it is. I'm not saying such a thing is impossible, but I'm not smart enough to see how it could be possible.

        • Bob

          I think you missed my point.

          Do you not see an important distinction between the two snippets I identified?

          • Robert Caponi

            Yes, the distinction between something there being no evidence for God, and there *necessarily* being no evidence for God, which I addressed in my post.

    • William Davis

      "Of course, as any reader of this website knows, there is pleny of evidence to support the existence of God, and as any reader of this website similarly knows, most atheists are determined to reject any such evidence no matter its merits."
      That goes both ways. The problem is that most of the evidence is ambiguous, and purely philosophical in nature. Reason doesn't take you very far if its premises are flawed, so lofty philosophical proofs don't hold up that well to many because they are so divorced from measurable reality. It is better to say that an honest atheist interprets the "evidence differently". There are always those who dismiss any "evidence" out of hand, but many of us genuinely believe we are correct, and continue to reevaluate their position. I think there needs to be a clear distinction between dogmatic, and non-dogmatic atheist. I do the same for dogmatic and non-dogmatic believers.
      I was raised protestant, but was always skeptical, even as a child. This fact may have been related to my profound interest in the sciences. Long studies in science have shown that many complex and fascinatingly well reasoned theories have turned out to be flat out wrong when actually tested. The scientific mind, of necessity, is highly skeptical of the ability of reason alone to find truth. Just because something makes sense, doesn't mean it is true.
      I really enjoy this site, and honest apologists who genuinely believe and want to convince someone of their ideas. This environment attracts a different kind of atheist than many news sites. Many atheists are simply vindictive after being bombarded with John 3:16 billboards and implication from tv preachers that they are inherently evil because of their worldview. I'm not trying to excuse their vitriol, but many forces in the world are reactionary, it is just the way society operates.
      For the record, I'm an agnostic/atheist (I cannot know there is know God, but I believe I can be certain that human religion does not come from God, at least in the form of revelation and miracles) who believes in God at the same time. We created him, he exists in our minds, and I think that on a fundamental level, many of us need him, whether or not he exists in objective reality. Neurologists have been studying spirituality over the past decade, and in some sense there seems to be a psychological happiness and contentment that can only be achieved through some form of spirituality. I practice meditation myself, but sometimes I still pray. It really doesn't matter if God is my imaginary friend, I can still talk to him. I think we are headed to a place where we can keep all of the goods things about religion and recognize the mythology for what it is. The core problem we face (and have faced since the beginning of civilization) is where does moral authority come from.

    • Ignatius Reilly

      However, in defending the supposed superior rationality of "lacking a
      belief in God"- or more precisely the active deferral of such a belief-
      they can't help but stumble into a universal neagtive of the exact same
      form— "There is no evidence for God," which has become, in my opinion,
      the foundational dumbness of contemporary atheism.

      Usually atheists will say either

      a) The definition of the Abrahamic God is inconsistent with the world we observe
      or

      b) They have not found any evidence for God, therefore they are justified in not holding a belief in God.
      or
      c) The God claim is an extraordinary claim which requires extraordinary evidence. We have not yet found evidence sufficient to believe in the God claim.

    • Kip

      "as any reader of this website knows, there is plenty of evidence to support the existence of God"
      Like what?

    • Doug Shaver

      Of course, as any reader of this website knows, there is pleny of evidence to support the existence of God, and as any reader of this website similarly knows, most atheists are determined to reject any such evidence no matter its merits.

      As any reader of this website knows, there is insufficient evidence to support the existence of God, and as any reader of this website similarly knows, most Christians are determined to deny this fact no matter how obvious it is.

      • Lazarus

        Hold on with the "most Christians", Doug. Who finds it "obvious" that the evidence is "insufficient "? The evidence is not convincing to you. Don't extrapolate vast hordes of supporters from that.

        • Doug Shaver

          Who finds it "obvious" that the evidence is "insufficient "?

          Every atheist posting to this forum.

          The evidence is not convincing to you.

          And it is convincing to you.

          Don't extrapolate vast hordes of supporters from that.

          I said nothing about how many people we're talking about. You're the one who said something about "any reader of this website."

          • Lazarus

            No, one Robert Caponi said that. A year ago.

          • Doug Shaver

            I was inattentive to the authorship of that post. My apologies.

          • Lazarus

            Pffft. Minor detail.

  • I think the most common error on both sides of
    the philosophical argument of theism vs atheism is believing one can start with
    a definition of God. ‘God exists’, as a premise, cannot be proven. The existence of things is typically a matter
    of experience not a matter of a reasoned conclusion. However, God is nothing within our experience. Therefore, the existence of God cannot be
    known within the normal course of human experiential knowledge. Also, the nature of things is apprehended
    through experience. Since God is not
    within our experience his nature cannot be apprehended in the usual way. We cannot have a proper definition of a
    nature, which we do not know.
    Consequently, ‘God exists’ cannot be an initiating premise to be proven
    because God, in an initiating premise, is undefined. For the same reason, ‘God does not exist’ cannot
    be an initiating premise to be proven. The valid argument starts with the
    observation that no entity within our experience explains its own existence and
    consequently cannot explain the existence of anything else.

    • Krakerjak

      Thanks Bob for injecting a modicum of diplomatic wisdom into the discussion.

    • Robert Caponi

      "However, God is nothing within our experience. Therefore, the existence of God cannot be known within the normal course of human experiential knowledge."

      You seem to be skirting negative theology here, which to me always seems a take-it-or-leave-it premise. Direct experience with the Holy Spirit- or at at least the possibility of such direct experience- is foundational to most all flavors of Christianity.

      "Also, the natures of things are apprehended through experience. Since God is not within our experience his nature cannot be apprehended in the usual way."

      I see this as more a quantitative rather than qualitative distinction. I can apprehend a cow as a more or less provisional aggregate of predicates. Perhaps this aggregate of predicates will need revision further down the line, and perhaps the most important thing to know about cows is that they are in fact the virtual reality avatars of an alien race, but for the present moment I feel fairly secure in my illusion that, for the most part, I know what makes a cow a cow.

      With God, I know I am only grasping at the hem, but I can apprehend God, and I can know God, even if I know that I am apprehending and knowing a small part of the whole.

      "Consequently, ‘God exists’ cannot be an initiating premise to be proven because God, in an initiating premise, is undefined."

      God can be arbitrarily defined, and still be provable in principle.

      • Bob

        "God can be arbitrarily defined, and still be provable in principle."

        So could anything else one could possibly imagine.

      • A unicorn is arbitrarily defined as a cut and paste image, not as a potential entity. Agreed we cannot know the full nature of God. However, we also cannot know the full nature of any entity within our experience. Consequently any cut and paste image or any inventive definition cannot be that of a real entity. As I understand it, the discussion is confined to philosophical knowledge, thereby excluding theology.

    • Mack The Mike

      "The existence of things is typically a matter of experience not a matter of a reasoned conclusion."

      God isn't a "thing" in the relevant sense, so this point doesn't apply. Prime numbers are real (in the non-mathmatical sense) but we don't apprehend their nature through experience.

      • Michael Murray

        What does prime numbers are real in the non-mathematical sense mean ?

        • Gigahoo

          I would imagine it means that in the real world you can amass or identify a finite set of whole numbers that meet the definition of a prime number. However, I understand computers have been used to prove famous theorems regarding prime numbers, therefore the first sentence may be a minimal characterization.
          However, in agreement with Mack the Mike, higher mathematics exposes properties of primes that are beyond the ken of any real world experience. I think it is similar with God. As with Mathematics, debate about the existence of God can only be fruitful if the thinking is rigorous and disciplined.

          • Michael Murray

            You might be right. I thought perhaps it was some kind of statement about where mathematical ideas live.

            But taking up your second point you have put your finger on exactly my complaint about theology. As a mathematician I find that the level of rigour in theological discussions far less than what would be required in mathematics. Things are not defined, relations between things are not defined and reasoning is sloppy. For example what is God, what does it mean for Got to be infinite, what is the ordering when w say God is largest this or largest that etc ...

            Mind you even if you could get these things right you have to then connect these theoretical constructs with the real world we all seem to live in. Unless there is some notion of pure theologian like a pure mathematician.

          • Mike
          • Ignatius Reilly

            I find that the level of rigour in theological discussions far less than
            what would be required in mathematics. Things are not defined,
            relations between things are not defined and reasoning is sloppy. For
            example what is God, what does it mean for Got to be infinite, what is
            the ordering when w say God is largest this or largest that etc

            This a thousand times. I usually have found that the most interesting thinkers on theology (at least the ones that I have personally met/talked to) were either mathematicians or physicists who happened to be Jesuits.

          • “But taking up your second point you have put your finger
            on exactly my complaint about theology. As a mathematician I find that the level of rigour in theological discussions far less than what would be required in mathematics.”
            I agree, the integrity of thought in logic and math does appear to us to be more rigorous than the integrity of thought in the philosophy of being. However, this is a paradox. It is a paradox because the intellectual integrity of logic and math are a reflection of the inherent intellectual integrity of reality and not vice versa. Plato couldn’t reconcile thought and material reality, so he placed intelligibility in a universe of its own. Aristotle reconciled the two with the realization that material entities are composites of a principle of intelligibility and a principle of particularity. The modern philosophers, most notably, Descartes, once again divorced human thought from reality.

        • Mack The Mike

          To be real usually means to be objectively part of the all-that-there-is. However in mathmatics, the term has a technical meaning when applied to numbers. (what it boils down to is that real numbers can be uniquely placed on a numberline along with rational numbers, which are also real).

          Or, to put it another way, something is real if it is part of that hypothetical model of all experience towards which an unlimited inquiry by rational beings would asymtotically approach.

          • No one objects to the use of the word, real, as opposed to imaginary in mathematics. However, that has nothing to do with existence of entities. Mathematics is a logical construct. From such no conclusion of existence or non-existence can be drawn. We know the natures of entities, which exist outside of our minds, through experience, but we do not know their natures fully. We know through experience the nature of a cat, but not fully. There is no such thing as a unicorn because it is a mental construct. We cannot mentally conceive the full nature of anything.

  • Michael Murray

    So this sounds like the old "you can't prove there isn't a god"? Whereas for us poor limited humans the only question of relevance is "is there enough evidence for gods for it to affect the way we live our lives".

    Thanks anyway for withdrawing that one. A few more to go. Even atheists can live in hope !

  • It might be worth noting some of the issues with respect to inductive and deductive arguments, and the strength of arguments rather than validity.

    A deductive argument:

    If God exists, God's nature is such that he would never allow any human to suffer unnecessarily.

    Humans suffer unnecessarily.

    Therefore God doesn't exist.

    This is a valid argument but it is not 100% strong, because the premises cannot be proven deductively. Even the fact that humans suffer can only be known inductively, it is an empirical claim which is subject to global skepticism, the problem of solipsism. Whether god would allow it could be an empirical claim, but in this case it is definitional. Theists generally don't believe premise one so it is a not a terribly persuasive argument.

    The inductive form is:

    If God exists, he would not allow any unnecessary suffering.

    Unnecessary suffering seems happen.

    Therefore God does not exist.

    Premise one here is generally acceptable to theists who believe God is maximally benevolent and powerful. The question is whether it is reasonable to accept that some suffering is unnecessary. I think it is, but again we can't be sure.

    In ANY argument, at least one of the premises will require some empirical claim which makes it then an inductive claim. However, if the premises are accepted as true, then there can be no disputing the conclusion of a deductive argument. When it is framed as inductive, you can accept the premises without the accepting the conclusion is true, but you would not be reasonable to dispute the truth of the conclusion.

    In other words, if you accept that unnecessary suffering seems to exist, an all good god might exist and have unknown reasons for the suffering to happen, but you have accepted that it seems this is not the case. To continue to believe in the god as defined is not reasonable.

  • Another approach to inference considers it irreducibly trialogical such that it completes a hermeneutic cycle of abduction, deduction and induction, each inferential form integral to the others in a triadic phenomenology of possibilities, actualities and probabilities (metaphysical presuppositions).

    I sometimes refer to an abductive-deductive dialectic to describe certain metaphysical musings but that shorthand is incomplete. Charles Sanders Peirce explores three aspects or stages of inductive inference 1) classificatory - somewhat of an exercise in experimental design, mapping general putative categories, e.g. causation, onto specific known properties, e.g. unexplained effects, toward the end of making predictions 2) probative - the actual testing or controlled experimentation, variously in/formal 3) sentential - somewhat akin to tabulating results and drawing conclusions.

    Now, while all inference remains irreducibly trialogical and phenomenology triadic, Peirce draws a distinction between the formulation of an argument and the process of argumentation. The former successfully cycles through abduction, deduction and classificatory induction. The latter proceeds with its probabilistic probative and sentential induction. The decision to stop at classificatory induction, of course, isn't arbitrary but comes from various sticks being poked through our inferential wheels. Whether a given stick happens to be some methodological constraint, which might get overcome, or from some ontological occulting, which would, in principle, be permanent, we often would not a priori know.

    Paying careful attention to our God-talk, as sufficiently nuanced by various univocal, analogical, equivocal, apophatic, kataphatic and other conceptual predications and to the realities (primal realities and ultimate concerns) toward which it still aspires to better vaguely refer, much less ever successfully describe, they, in principle and by definition, propose a certain ontological occulting, in fact, open our ontology to a new modal category, necessity.

    God arguments cannot be robustly inductive, only very inchoately so, of logical necessity stopping before complete inferential cycling. Peirce formulated his own God argument, but he derisively labeled God-argumentation a fetish.

    If one thinks in terms of the old scholastic notation, where each day's notes distinguished between those propositions that were: possible plausible probable certain uncertain improbable implausible impossible -
    God is eminently possible and God arguments have been decisively determined as logically valid, philosophically, including in several modal logics (not that dissenters don't remain but the possibility of God generates little controversy except among the sophomoric).

    Beyond the logical arguments, of course, there is evidential argumention. Some facilely refer to same as induction, which, in principle, cannot proceed for a host of epistemic criteria. These arguments, however, are necessarily abductive-deductive and unavoidably halt before probative induction. They traffic in the scholastic notations of the plausible and implausible, in the intuitive and counterintuitive. It's not that abductive reasoning is not essentially probabilistic, though, but that abduction is so weakly inferential that, for all practical reasons, it cannot settle ontological disputes. So, the term plausibility refers to very weak probabilities.

    Finally, what makes certain God-concepts immune to parody are their apophatic predications, whereas leprechauns and unicorns, ha ha ha ... (cf Christopher McHugh's debate at infidels.org).

    Good article. I agreed with your thrust and hoped to introduce further distinctions.

    • Loreen Lee

      Some of my remarks that I mistakenly put in the com boxes above were intended to be made directly to you. Anyway thanks.

  • Loreen Lee

    I truly want to thank everyone for contributing to this discussion. I am viewing it as more than coincidence that on running into 'communication' problems over the last few posts (i.e. questioning my ability) I decided to drop out, to study for awhile. (now I understand that my identification of having a problem with categories is (at least) related to an aspect needed in inferential reasoning.. Even looking up definitions of words used in this post is going to keep me busy over the weekend. But may I say, that the only limitation I find, is that, within the dichotomy of thinking and being, most arguments for the existence of God strike me as 'pure epistemology'. Thus my difficulty with previous arguments based on Aristotelean logic, which I identify with an understanding of the transcendental God, but which seems to be somehow too 'static'. And this, with respect to my intuition, poses some limitation on the need for 'recognizing'? what is perhaps something 'dynamic' when it comes to either the concept or Being of God. Here again, I suspect I am expressing again the problematic I 'originally' spoke of" my limited training and my lack of ability. :Yet somehow I 'believe' 'living and thinking' (epistemology and ontology), are intimately related (in some way). . Thanks again for your patience..

    • Loreen Lee

      Quote: I don’t think it has a name, but the idea is that in order for someone
      to know that there is no God, one would have to have to be God

      Actually, I was musing before or attempting to fall asleep, and I thought, well wasn't that what Hegel attempted, and even though he had achieved: that is with the announcement that God is dead, and its parallel thought that mankind had actually achieved the 'Spirit' or German Geist within the state.

      Well, without going into the history of the 20th century, and indeed I believe these thought were not initiated or completed in Hegel, perhaps it would be helpful to consider his Dialectical Logic: which begins with Being, Nothing and Becoming, goes through states of empirical experience, or sensation and even through a dialectic of mathematics, of which of course I had no understanding and was in fact incapable of reading. But you mathematicians might be able to get something out of it, hopefully. Because the premise I am putting forth here is that these logical arguments, and indeed mathematics can be regarded as 'fitting' into a larger whole.

      And is that not what God is 'conceived' if not proven to be: a larger whole, even though a consideration of Unity, (a mathematical concept in Kant's categories) is not even being considered in either the necessity, the simplicity or the uniqueness, (as I have just reconsidered) in the on-going Monday series.

      Anyway, just a thought. I'll leave the rest to your more brilliant minds, and I'm not being satirical or sarcastic in this statement.

      Oh, that this idea also holds for the sinners that Jesus took on as friends might also be considered.. Because rather than the possibility that mathematical proof or logical proof of God, is not, and can never be complete, it may also be related to the concept of 'becoming God', an accomplishment which is within some orthodox thought mused upon and I believe considered and questioned with regard to its possibility. Perhaps this is not a closed issue. But I believe, with a little thought this could relate also be related to the topic at hand. Some thoughts that might produce either arrogance or humility, within one's being are possible in this case, and consideration that this issue can possibly be related both to the grandiosity of some thought, but also to prayer: contemplation, meditation............Just a thought that hopefully is consisted with the critique of the critique which is the subject of this post. Thank you.

      • Loreen Lee

        Just a correction. What I called Hegel's Dialectical Logic, (which is a true description) is actually referred to as his 'Scientific Logic' in my copy. Note the term - scientific. As I said I gave up when the book reached such concepts as Quanta, etc. Wish I had the energy and capacity to pick it up again. But I did read his Phenomenology of Mind, several times, so I believe I have the gist of it. Especially the great dichotomy that followed between the "Idealists' and the 'Marxists': the left and right wings that continue to this day. Just believe that getting a grip on this thought could throw some light on today's discussion. Kierkegaard and Nietzsche were some of the perspectives that followed as you know. What can I call it? The 'temporalizing' of philosophy?

        • Loreen Lee

          Thank you for this. Learned many new words, and now feel that I can say I 'understand' it.
          With respect to occulting, in another combox I referred to the concepts prayer, contemplation and meditation. I feel I could make a triadic relationship between these and the triads found in Christianity and Kant's trilogy. But what I wonder about, even when I think of my experience with Buddhism, is the (another triad) concepts of thought word and deed, and thus can put the Buddhist definition of enlightenment within this context.
          Also reviewed (that is read again) Hegel' description of the relation of Being to Nothingness: that is that they are the same: another way of expressing the concept of a 'contained contradiction'. I know I am vague, but also that I can indeed find a reference to some of these concepts within my own experience. Thank you.

  • Guest

    ...

  • Daryl K. Sauerwald

    Bullshit all an atheist is,is someone who dose not feel there is a God' because he sees nothing and feels nothing that tell him a god or any supernatural thing exist. Prove him wrong; you can't an never will. If god exist an whats the atheist to know he exist he will make sure the atheist knows. There really is nothing to debate,is god such a loser he needs mere human beings to intercede for him?This is not about theism v atheism its about religion v beliefs that contrary to that religion, including other religions.

    • Krakerjak

      I hear/feel your frustration friend!

      • Daryl K. Sauerwald

        Hay! and Im not even an atheist! But what I feel is not proof,and I can totally see the atheist point of view but part of the problems with these type of debate is they over simplify the problem as though it all about atheist v theist forgetting that religions have just as much problems with each other. If I believe in God but its not the why christian,( or what ever group),nothing is solved your still going to hell and your still a danger to society. So like proving God exist dose not make you right about what gad wants. It is really only meaningful to folks who want to dominate society.

    • Jim Dailey

      You say that nothing tells an atheist God exists. It seems to me there are plenty of people around you willing to tell you God exists.....

      Sorry for finding your frustration funny, but you remind me of the Seinfeld episode where there is 3D artwork with a "picture inside the picture" and only some people can see it and Elaine's boss Mr. Pitt gets furious he cannot see it. I think it was in season 6.

      • Daryl K. Sauerwald

        Classic logical fallacy. Your comment is not valid because your basing the logic of your argument on what people say. Your comment " there are plenty of people willing to tell you God exists" so what if plenty of people tell me Islam is true? What if plenty of people tell me God dose not exist?What if plenty of people tell me I don't really have a right to arms? What if plenty of people eat cat shit and tell me it is good for me?What if most people say having sex with children is what God wants? What you think was a snappy,logical comeback is total bullshit.You need to do why better then that.

        • Jim Dailey

          I really was not going for a logical response. Especially since you already declared that you already found all logical arguments for the existence of God were lacking. Pretty sure I am not going to out-do Thomas Aquinas.

          So I thought I would go for a little light humor. Seinfeld and the episode with the 3-D painting and Elaine's boss Mr. Pitts (Season 6 "The Gymnast") are a pretty good parody of why it is silly to try to argue someone into seeing something they can not see. I thought you might enjoy it. Maybe not though.

          As far as Christians telling you to eat cat shit, well, I really don't blame you for being angry about that.

          • Daryl K. Sauerwald

            You said " i really was't going for a logical response" I say bullshit, you got caught with your pant down and now your making lame excuses.

  • Jon DeRienzo

    , Unfortunatley, the author is confused about the definition of the term atheist. He states: “An Atheist Says He Knows There Is No God”. Ooops WRONG! Atheists do NOT make that claim. That is a claim made by an anti-theist. Ive grown so weary of people touting this ignorant perception about the atheist's position regarding the existence of gods. Here's what the term atheist ACTUALLY means:

    a·the·ist
    ˈāTHēəst/
    noun

    a person who disbelieves or lacks belief in the existence of God or gods.

    You're welcome. : D

  • David Hennessey

    In order to assert that God exists, you must know what a God is, is God a person, is God inside or outside the Universe, is God matter, energy or thought? For Christians, they assert that Jehovah exists, the specific entity mentioned in their scriptures.

    Atheist: So, does any other God exist besides Jehovah?
    Christian: Of course not.
    Atheist: So, if I can prove Jehovah was not God, we will both be atheists?
    Christian: Well, that's logical.
    Atheist: Is God all powerful?
    Christian: Of course.
    Atheist: Jehovah couldn't drive out the inhabitants of the valley because they had chariots of iron, your document, he wasn't God.

    If Jehovah wasn't God and the Christian accepts the proposition that no other entity is God, there is no God.

    That is where the fallacy lies, before a court case you must establish what each side agrees on, the ground rules and the definitions. If there were a pure Deist who believed in no particular God, just a theoretical God, that imaginary Deist might almost have a point.

    Almost,except that a theoretical God is no God at all, case closed.

  • KNH777

    **
    1 - Nothing exists if No-Maximality is exemplified

    2 - Maximal greatness is possible only if Maximality is exemplified.

    3 - Without Maximality, then Maximal Greatness is impossible!

    4 - Since Maximality exists, ONLY those who are made in the image of Maximality can achieve the highest possible Maximum Greatness in the image of Maximality!

    5 - Those who are made in the image of Maximality achieve Maximum Greatness by an ever present goal within themselves, and set before themselves ever reaching for their Maximum Greatness with standards reflective of the image of Maximality!

    6 - The goal to achieve Maximum Greatness can never achieved if Maximality is altered by a lesser image of Maximality in any and every possible world!

    7 - Maximum Greatness is achieved by reaching it's Maximum Potential in it's Maximum Purpose through achieving it's highest possible likeness to an unaltered image of Maximality.
    **

  • KNH777

    What would it be like if God didn't really exist, if there was no Maximality and no Maximum Greatness Potential?
    Without any basis of standard of Maximality qualities?

    If there is no basis for Conscience without a Maximality to define and establish a standard of conscience, then how does conscience exist, and an even more disturbing question, why is it exclusive to 1 species? So then why would conscience exist among humanity, yet not exist in any other living thing produced in the same possible world?
    Wouldn't it make sense that if conscience was evolved, that there would be further samplings of conscience in the same possible world?

  • This argument fails because it misrepresents what an atheist is. Atheism is the lack of belief that a god or gods exists. That is not the same as making a claim that god does not exist.
    If you tell me you met Elvis yesterday and I say I dont believe you, its not up to me to prove that you didn't meet him. You're the one making a claim, not me. Therefore the burden of proof falls on you, not me.

    • Atheism is not the "lack" of anything. It is a REFUSAL to believe, based on a lack of evidence. Belief is " Choosing to Believe ... 'Alternative Facts' " , the title of the latest post in my blog (blindfaithblindfolly.wordpress.com).

      • Doug Shaver

        It is a REFUSAL to believe, based on a lack of evidence.

        That might be your atheism. It is not mine.

        • Sorry, Doug (and Tristan). To say that "atheism is a LACK of belief" is to suggest that it is a deficiency, something we should have or need to have. Webster's New World Dictionary states : " 'Lack' implies an absence or insufficiency of something essential or desired (e.g. 'she lacks experience')". Believers have cunningly succeeded in conning atheists into saying they "lack" belief in God. No sir ! They might feel the need; I don't. Define your atheism as you see fit. But don't call it a "lack". It is a refusal.

          • Doug Shaver

            To say that "atheism is a LACK of belief" is to suggest that it is a deficiency, something we should have or need to have.

            It can do that. It doesn't have to do that.

            Webster's New World Dictionary states . . . .

            That's proof-texting. It isn't how dictionaries are supposed to be used.

            " 'Lack' implies an absence or insufficiency of something essential or desired (e.g. 'she lacks experience')"

            Do you know what the word or means? If the statement "X is A or B" is true, then "X is A" is a true statement even if "X is B" is a falsehood.

            Believers have cunningly succeeded in conning atheists into saying they "lack" belief in God.

            No, they have not. I used to believe that I had to deny God's existence to be an atheist, but it was from theists that I got that idea. It took another atheist to show me that I was mistaken.

            .

          • Sample1

            To be without or to lack what theists throw down with is an honest description of an atheist's point of view, is it not?

            Calling it a refusal could imply knowing what exactly a theist purports to be and, as is commonly shown here on SN and elsewhere, virtually every believer is an island unto themselves regarding their theological/spiritual opinions.

            A personal favorite is being faith-free.

            Mike, faith-free.

          • Ignatius Reilly

            Or as the saying goes: Three theists and four opinions.

          • Michael Murray

            Four ? Shouldn't the rule of the Trinity mean 3 = 3 x 1 = 3 x 3 = 9 ? I always have trouble with advanced Catholithmetic.

          • Ignatius Reilly

            Possibly, but since 2=0 there are other options. 9 = 9+0= 9+2 = 11 and so on and so forth. You can even get an irrational amount of opinions, because sqrt(0) = sqrt(2). Careful with the Catholic math - It is all very fungible.

          • Using the word "refusal" is incorrect if you intend to use it as part of a blanket definition of the word. If I was unaware of the idea of a god or divine being, I would be an atheist by default. A refusal takes active participation. While that may be the type of atheist you or some others are, it is not a requirement of the term.
            And "lack of belief" does mean there's a deficiency in your belief of a supreme. You have to remember the word atheism comes from theism so of course the definition is going to explain that it is the opposite that. That isn't a judgment call. It's just an explanation that it is the opposite of the origin of the word.
            An example of this would be saying that I have a lack of desire to inflict pain on others. Obviously inflicting pain on others isn't viewed as a desirable characteristic by most people so this would probably be viewed as a positive statement.

          • If an individual is lucky enough to have lived totally "unaware of the idea of a god or divine being" or - more likely, more realistically - to have remained immune to such a belief of people around him (unless we are talking of an isolated tribe in the Amazon, totally devoid of religious beliefs - an unlikely possibility in 2017), then such an individual could be called an "a-theist", though he would have, by definition, no idea what the word meant ...
            Apart from this exceptional circumstance, there ARE people "unaware of the idea of a god or divine being". We call them "infants" ! If they are born into an atheist environment, they may remain atheists. In reality, they will inevitably be exposed, sooner or later, to religious belief. They may accept it or refuse it, but they will have to decide. In the modern world it is inconceivable that one could remain "unaware" - except, maybe, in the example of the Amazon, where the choice does not exist. This exception, in fact, proves the rule. With this one, hypothetical, exception, atheism IS a refusal.

            As for the "lack of belief" : Health is not, unfortunately, a universally and equally shared attribute. But if it is not the norm, it is at least the state we prefer. Sickness is "ill-health", a lack of health, "a-health". The negative word "atheism", "not theism", "un-belief", makes belief sound like a state of normality, the norm. Not-believing therefore is perceived as a ... lack. It is, in reality, our primordial, pristine state of mind. Hence my preference, in my Blog (blindfaithblindfolly.wordpress.com), for calling believers "non-atheists" : it is normal, not a lack, not to believe in God.
            Sapienti sat. Finis coronat opus. That's all, folks !

          • Lazarus

            So, it is normal not to believe in God.

            And yet, by your own admission this is not what we find. How did this abnormality come about? How did the non-atheists accomplish this deviation from our "primordial, pristine state of mind"? Why would they even seek to do such a heinous thing if it is actually "lucky" to live unaware of the idea of a god?

          • "Quod scripsi, scripsi". Take it or leave it. I did conclude my last comment with "That's All, Folks !"

          • Sample1

            Concluding with a Looney Tunes epithet?

            Mike

          • Phil

            Hey Frank, I know your were ducking out, but wanted to make a few quick comments.

            While one can claim that there is not evidence for God, most when you get down to it don't believe in God out of "blind faith", but rather do have good evidence for believing in God.

            In regards to people naturally coming to believe in a god of some sort, history shows that humanity does seem to have a natural tendency towards god(s). I am no history buff, but I'm actually not aware of any societies that didn't have a natural tendency towards mono/polytheism. Most examples of societies that were generally atheistic seemed to have not naturally arisen, but it was an atheism forced upon the people in some way. I could be wrong of course.

          • Lazarus

            Quia putabant se magis esse

          • Negative prefixes only serve as being the opposite of an affirmative statement. Affirmative has nothing to with right/wrong or good/bad. Their meaning is solely contingent on the word they modify.
            Here's a few examples off the top of my head: unburden, impenetrable, nonconformist, uneventful, impartial, nonporous, intangible, anti-establishment, anti-venom and unrestrained.
            By your logic, these words are all negative. The anti-venom saved my life. Facing an uneventful night, she slept soundly. My jacket is nonporous so I stayed dry in the rain etc. etc. etc.
            Instead of relying on whatever internal logic you seem to be pulling this stuff from, take a minute and Google "negative prefix" and then post whatever info you find that says I'm wrong.