Wintery Knight

…integrating Christian faith and knowledge in the public square

Is the definition of atheism “a lack of belief in God”?

First, let’s see check with the Stanford University Encyclopedia of Philosophy.

Excerpt:

‘Atheism’ means the negation of theism, the denial of the existence of God.

Stanford University is one of the top 5 universities in the United States, so that’s a solid definition. To be an atheist is to be a person who makes the claim that, as a matter of FACT, there is no intelligent agent who created the universe. Atheists think that there is no God, and theists think that there is a God. Both claims are objective claims about the way the world is out there, and so both sides must furnish forth arguments and evidence as to how they are able to know what they are each claiming.

Philosopher William Lane Craig has some thoughts on atheism, atheists and lacking belief in God in this reply to a questioner.

Question:

In my discussions with atheists, they  are using the term that they “lack belief in God”. They claim that this is different from not believing in God or from saying that God does not exist. I’m not sure how to respond to this. It seems to me that its a silly word-play and is logically the same as saying that you do not believe in God.
What would be a good response to this?
Thank you for your time,

Steven

And here is Dr. Craig’s full response:

Your atheist friends are right that there is an important logical difference between believing that there is no God and not believing that there is a God.  Compare my saying, “I believe that there is no gold on Mars” with my saying “I do not believe that there is gold on Mars.”   If I have no opinion on the matter, then I do not believe that there is gold on Mars, and I do not believe that there is no gold on Mars.  There’s a difference between saying, “I do not believe (p)” and “I believe (not-p).”   Logically where you place the negation makes a world of difference.

But where your atheist friends err is in claiming that atheism involves only not believing that there is a God rather than believing that there is no God.

There’s a history behind this.  Certain atheists in the mid-twentieth century were promoting the so-called “presumption of atheism.” At face value, this would appear to be the claim that in the absence of evidence for the existence of God, we should presume that God does not exist.  Atheism is a sort of default position, and the theist bears a special burden of proof with regard to his belief that God exists.

So understood, such an alleged presumption is clearly mistaken.  For the assertion that “There is no God” is just as much a claim to knowledge as is the assertion that “There is a God.”  Therefore, the former assertion requires justification just as the latter does.  It is the agnostic who makes no knowledge claim at all with respect to God’s existence.  He confesses that he doesn’t know whether there is a God or whether there is no God.

But when you look more closely at how protagonists of the presumption of atheism used the term “atheist,” you discover that they were defining the word in a non-standard way, synonymous with “non-theist.”  So understood the term would encompass agnostics and traditional atheists, along with those who think the question meaningless (verificationists).  As Antony Flew confesses,

the word ‘atheist’ has in the present context to be construed in an unusual way.  Nowadays it is normally taken to mean someone who explicitly denies the existence . . . of God . . . But here it has to be understood not positively but negatively, with the originally Greek prefix ‘a-’ being read in this same way in ‘atheist’ as it customarily is in . . . words as ‘amoral’ . . . . In this interpretation an atheist becomes not someone who positively asserts the non-existence of God, but someone who is simply not a theist. (A Companion to Philosophy of Religion, ed. Philip Quinn and Charles Taliaferro [Oxford:  Blackwell, 1997], s.v. “The Presumption of Atheism,” by Antony Flew)

Such a re-definition of the word “atheist” trivializes the claim of the presumption of atheism, for on this definition, atheism ceases to be a view.  It is merely a psychological state which is shared by people who hold various views or no view at all.  On this re-definition, even babies, who hold no opinion at all on the matter, count as atheists!  In fact, our cat Muff counts as an atheist on this definition, since she has (to my knowledge) no belief in God.

One would still require justification in order to know either that God exists or that He does not exist, which is the question we’re really interested in.

So why, you might wonder, would atheists be anxious to so trivialize their position?  Here I agree with you that a deceptive game is being played by many atheists.  If atheism is taken to be a view, namely the view that there is no God, then atheists must shoulder their share of the burden of proof to support this view.  But many atheists admit freely that they cannot sustain such a burden of proof.  So they try to shirk their epistemic responsibility by re-defining atheism so that it is no longer a view but just a psychological condition which as such makes no assertions.  They are really closet agnostics who want to claim the mantle of atheism without shouldering its responsibilities.

This is disingenuous and still leaves us asking, “So is there a God or not?”

So there you have it. We are interested in what both sides know and what reasons and evidence they have to justify their claim to know. We are interested in talking to people who make claims about objective reality, not about themselves, and who then go on to give reasons and evidence to support their claims about objective reality. There are atheists out there that do make an objective claim that God does not exist, and then support that claim with arguments and evidence. Those are good atheists, and we should engage in rational conversations with them. But clearly there are some atheists who are not like that. How should we deal with these “subjective atheists”?

Dealing with subjective atheists

How should theists respond to people who just want to talk about their psychological state? Well, my advice is to avoid them. They are approaching religion irrationally and non-cognitively – like the person who enters a physics class and says “I lack a belief in the gravitational force!”.  When you engage in serious discussions with people about God’s existence, you only care about what people know and what they can show to be true. We don’t care about a person’s psychology.

Dealing with persistent subjective atheists

What happens when you explain all of that to a subjective atheist who continues to insist that you listen to them repeat over and over “I lack a belief in God, I lack a belief in God”? What if you tell them to make the claim that God does not exist, and then support it with arguments and evidence, but instead they keep leaving comments on your blog telling you again and again about their subjective state of mind: “I lack a belief in cupcakes! I lack a belief in icebergs!” What if they keep e-mailing you and threatening to expose you on Twitter for refusing to listen to them, or denounce you via skywriting: “Wintery Knight won’t listen to me! I lack a belief in crickets!”. I think at this point you have to give up and stop talking to such a person.

And that’s why I moderate and filter comments on this blog. There are uneducated people out there with access to the Internet who want attention, but I am not obligated to give it to them. And neither are you. We are not obligated to listen to abusive people who don’t know what they are talking about. I do post comments from objective atheists who make factual claims about the objective world, and who support those claims with arguments and evidence. I am not obligated to post comments from people who refuse to make objective claims or who refuse to support objective claims with arguments and evidence. And I’m not obligated to engage in discussions with them, either.

Related posts

Filed under: Polemics, , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , ,

What is the “unforgiveable sin” in Mark 3 and Matthew 12?

Take a look at these two puzzling passages from the New Testament.

Mark 3:28-29:

28 Truly I tell you, people can be forgiven all their sins and every slander they utter,

29 but whoever blasphemes against the Holy Spirit will never be forgiven; they are guilty of an eternal sin.”

Matthew 12:30-32:

30 “Whoever is not with me is against me, and whoever does not gather with me scatters.

31 And so I tell you, every kind of sin and slander can be forgiven, but blasphemy against the Spirit will not be forgiven.

32 Anyone who speaks a word against the Son of Man will be forgiven, but anyone who speaks against the Holy Spirit will not be forgiven, either in this age or in the age to come.

What can it mean?

Well, here’s a post by Dr. Paul Gould to shed some light on it.

Excerpt:

Taken in isolation, it is hard to make sense of this passage—how is it that all kinds of sins can be forgiven but one sin will not be forgiven? What is going on here? Well, here is a principle of sound biblical interpretation:

Principle #1: In order to correctly understand a passage, we must always look at it within its context.

And what is the passages context? The broader context can be found in Matthew 12:22-32. In this broader context we read of Jesus performing a miracle (he performs an exorcism and heals a blind and mute man), we read of the crowd’s amazement and wonderment over the identity of Jesus (“Could this be the Son of David?”), we find the slanderous (and murderous) charge of the Pharisees, and we find Jesus’ response to the Pharisees charge (both his reasoned response to their explicit charge that he drives out demons by Satan’s power as well as his warning to the Pharisees if they continue to attribute to Satan what is in fact the work of God’s Spirit).

After looking at this passage in context, we find that the “unforgivable sin” is (basically) attributing what is in fact the work of God’s Spirit to His ultimate enemy, Satan.

Fair enough, you say, but there are other problems passages that talk about the unforgivable sin—Hebrews 6, 1 John 5, and Hebrews 10 come to mind. What about those passages? Well, here is our second principle of biblical interpretation:

Principle #2: Always interpret unclear passages in light of the clear teachings of Scripture (as a whole).

And what is the clear teaching of Scripture related to sin and forgiveness? It is this:

Forgiveness of sins is a consequence of man’s repentance, and repentance is a consequence of the activity of the Holy Spirit in our hearts. So in the end, it seems that blasphemy against the Holy Spirit is nothing more or less than the unrelenting rejection of His advances.

So, the only unforgiveable sin is the sin of deliberately rejecting God’s efforts to draw you into a saving relationship with him. What does this mean for you? It means that if you are a Christian and you believe the essentials of the faith, then you aren’t going to be able to lose your salvation by performing sinful actions. You can’t sin your way out of God’s forgiveness, because if you accept Jesus’ death as payment for your sins, then it covers all your sins. I do think that the Bible is very clear that you can lose your salvation by “the unrelenting rejection” of God’s advances. But that’s not a description of any Christians, it’s a description of someone who does not believe in Jesus.

Filed under: Commentary, , , , , , , , ,

Western media silent as Muslims eject Christians from Mosul

From Investors Business Daily.

Excerpt:

The fanatical Islamist group torches an 1,800-year-old church built before the founding of Islam and forces the Christian residents of Mosul to convert, pay a tax, leave or face execution.

[...]A photo released by Ammon News on Saturday showed a 1,800-year-old church that was set on fire by ISIL militants in Mosul, Iraq’s second-largest city.

It was part of a campaign against Christians there, and the destruction of their property was reminiscent of Nazi Germany’s Kristallnacht, often referred to as the “Night of Broken Glass,” a series of violent anti-Jewish pogroms that took place on November 9 and 10, 1938.

Thousands of Christians in Mosul began fleeing the city after ISIL issued an ultimatum on Friday to Iraqi Christians living in Mosul that by Saturday at noon (5 a.m. ET), they must convert to Islam, pay a fine or face “death by the sword.”

[...]On Monday, normally payday for municipal workers in Mosul, state workers were ordered not to pay the Christian employees. ISIL also forbade food to be distributed to Christian or Shiite families.

One state employee told the Arabic news outlet Ankawa that he was “warned that if he gives rations to Christians and Shiites, he will be charged and prosecuted according to Shariah law.”

From Nigeria to Egypt to Afghanistan and back, this story of Christian persecution continues without much notice from the White House.

The big question for me is, why isn’t this a big story in the mainstream media? I guess the victims are wrong. If it was trees or polar bears, then there would be a story. But it’s Christians, so there’s no story.

Filed under: News, , , ,

Report: UK woman had four abortions before age 16 – the age of consent

From the UK Daily Mail.

Excerpt:

A British schoolgirl had four abortions before her 16th birthday, new figures today revealed.

The unnamed teenager, who underwent her fourth termination in 2012, is among more than 200 under-16s to have had repeat abortions in the past three years.

Shockingly, a further five of these girls had three abortions

It comes amid concern that terminations are being used by teenagers as an alternative form of contraception.

In 2011, a total of 84 under-16s had abortions for a second time or more, according to the Department of Health figures obtained by The Sun.

The total rose to 89 out of 2,925 under-16s to have abortions in 2012, but fell to 68 of 2,538 girls last year.

Last night, Norman Wells, of the Family Education Trust, said too many teenagers were having sex without thinking about the consequences.

‘Too many are being taught that they have a right to sex without consequences and are free to dispose of any unborn child that threatens their lifestyle,’ he said.

Last year, 185,331 British women of all age groups had terminations. Of these, 50 were treated for a staggering nine abortions of more.

This is a good story to send to the safe, legal and rare crowd. How exactly do you make something rare when you make it safe, legal and free? When you force other people to subsidize it.

Filed under: News, ,

New study: self-control more likely to lead to happiness than indulgence

From the liberal New York magazine of all places.

Excerpt:

It’s tempting to pity the people who go to bed early, who are very careful with their money, who eat kale. So much self-denial! Is that any way to live? Actually — yes, suggests some recent research, which will be published in next month’s Journal of Personality. People with higher self-control also tend to lead happier lives.

Giving into life’s little temptations feels pretty great in the moment, but even the smallest sabotages to your long-term goals can add up, subsequently wreaking some emotional havoc over time. “The cost to those indulgences are large, and the costs that are incurred from turning down the indulgences and turning one’s back on tempting options are really not so big compared to the cost that come about from over-indulging,” Kathleen Vohs, a University of Minnesota marketing professor and one of the study’s co-authors, explained to Science of Us.

Vohs and her colleagues did a series of three studies to reach their conclusions: In the first, they gave 414 adults an online survey. A second study involved loaner Blackberries for all 288 adult participants, who were sent seven texts a day asking whether they’d experienced a desire to have or do something, how they reacted to the desire, and how happy they were currently feeling. And for the last study, 234 adults were given that survey measuring self-control; they then identified their top three goals, and told the researchers how strictly their actions in the past week were in keeping with those goals — and how happy they were with their effort.

In all three studies, the researchers found a link between self-control and happiness. The findings may be correlational and self-reported (which can always mean people may exaggerate the good stuff and minimize the bad), but the results still feel very true to life. “For me, I’ve actually found it to be quite an eye-opener,” Vohs said. “Because the lesson that should be taken away from this paper is that the best way for people to live healthy and happy lives is to avoid temptations in the first place.” Happiness is about more than living in the moment; it’s important to keep the future in mind, too.

I want to relate this to the topic of how Christians decide on what they are going to do with their lives to serve God. Which approach is better – self-control or no self-control?

Look at this post by a male reader of The Thinking Housewife blog.

Excerpt:

Since I wrote you last, I have decided to sign up for a few online dating sites, mostly out of curiosity. I could not imagine finding a serious mate on, say, OKCupid, but anything is possible. In poring over many hundreds of profiles in the past few days, a few things stand out to me.

  • I have not seen any woman make her desire for children, or even marriage, the central focus of her profile. Even though I filter profiles based on the “wants kids?” question (which is, surprisingly, often answered “yes”), nothing in the written profile suggests it is important to them. (This is occasionally not the case for Asian women)
  • The emphasis is instead on career, activities, hobbies, favourite movies/books/music, travel, and political inclinations (always to the left, sometimes the feminist left)
  • The surpreme goal of women my age appears to be to start an NGO in a Third World country.
  • Every woman my age has read Eat, Pray, Love.
  • Most are doing (or have done) advanced degrees, often in education or healthcare.
  • It is rare that a woman expresses interest in cooking, though most express interest in restaurants and food.
  • I have never seen a woman mention that she desires a good home, a place to call her own, or that she is otherwise domestically inclined.

I suspect these line up with your readers’ experiences too. That said, it may be that women view these traits as being desired by men, and they may be at odds with more deeply held needs.

In fact, The Thinking Housewife says these characteristics are also common in Christian circles:

Right now, in this country, there are many children growing up in single-mother homes. Growing up without a father and with a mother who is usually not at home and who may bring strange men into your life is a desolating experience that has been proven to damage many people. I have a friend who is a teacher in a white working-class neighborhood. Many of the children there are growing up in homes of never-married or divorced mothers. These children are hungry for attention and love. Their situation portends further social chaos. Do you think the young Evangelical women you mention would brag about helping these white children? Would volunteer work with them have the same cachet?

I suggest to you that it would not.

I understand that people in Third World countries are materially poorer than these white children I mention. But in the Christian view, the immaterial is foremost and thespiritual conditions of these white children are nothing less than dire and probably worse than that of most children in the Third World. They are being raised by nihilistic popular culture.

[...]Christianity will not flourish in the Third World if it is dying in the West. We need these idealistic women to do their work at home, and that work includes becoming wives and mothers themselves.

The idealism of these women is not wrong, but the direction it has taken is. Volunteering in the Third World has become a status symbol for Christians.

In the past, I’ve offered Dan Barker as an example of someone who lost his faith because of this emotional “God will save me no matter how irrational my plan is” view. I think we need to exercise self-control when deciding how to make an impact for Christ. The plan that is quick and immediate may not be the best over the long-term.

Filed under: News, , , , , ,

Wintery Tweets

Click to see recent visitors

  Visitors Online Now

Page views since 1/30/09

  • 4,202,939 hits

Enter your email address to follow this blog and receive notifications of new posts by email.

Join 1,955 other followers

Archives

Follow

Get every new post delivered to your Inbox.

Join 1,955 other followers

%d bloggers like this: