On Preachers Who Don't Believe in God

As a counterpoint to the infamous posts on atheists who believe in God, I offer Dennett and LaScola’s work on preachers who don’t believe in God.

Here is a Dennett and LaScola paper and here is their forthcoming website called The Clergy Project.

But wait!  Surely no atheist would believe in God!  And surely no preacher would deny God!

Well, no true atheist would believe in God, and no true preacher would deny God — just like no true Scotsman . . .

Thanks to Steve Schuler for the no true Scotsman suggestion.

Life is messy.  Religion is messy too.

Happy new year!

About Daniel Fincke

Dr. Daniel Fincke  has his PhD in philosophy from Fordham University and spent 11 years teaching in college classrooms. He wrote his dissertation on Ethics and the philosophy of Friedrich Nietzsche. On Camels With Hammers, the careful philosophy blog he writes for a popular audience, Dan argues for atheism and develops a humanistic ethical theory he calls “Empowerment Ethics”. Dan also teaches affordable, non-matriculated, video-conferencing philosophy classes on ethics, Nietzsche, historical philosophy, and philosophy for atheists that anyone around the world can sign up for. (You can learn more about Dan’s online classes here.) Dan is an APPA  (American Philosophical Practitioners Association) certified philosophical counselor who offers philosophical advice services to help people work through the philosophical aspects of their practical problems or to work out their views on philosophical issues. (You can read examples of Dan’s advice here.) Through his blogging, his online teaching, and his philosophical advice services each, Dan specializes in helping people who have recently left a religious tradition work out their constructive answers to questions of ethics, metaphysics, the meaning of life, etc. as part of their process of radical worldview change.

  • http://freethoughtblogs.com/camelswithhammers Daniel Fincke

    Sigh. Those are preachers who, as I understand the project, are stuck in careers they no longer believe in. Unless you have some who went into the religion business cynically or patronizingly to give people noble lies either for personal profit or the parishioners’ “own good”. In either case, this is not really the variety of religious experiences on display.

    Now, an explicitly atheistic Christian is possible and some have argued for it. You can have atheists who enjoy the Christian religion or find a symbolic power in it despite not believing in God, etc.

    But strictly speaking atheism as a philosophical position or as a simple lack of belief is logically mutually exclusive with a literal belief in a personal God (even if, as a matter of semantics, it can be compatible with the impersonal god concepts of Spinozism or some forms of deism).

    And it’s not a “No True Scotsman” to call an atheist that believes in a theistic God “not a real atheist” if you say that, then you’re saying we cannot make any robust distinctions about what counts as a coherent or an incoherent metaphysics or epistemology, and you cut out your own legs as one who wants to argue that such better accounts are possible and that your own ontologies are not just pulled out of the air arbitrarily but are objectively truer accounts of things.

    • http://www.ericsteinhart.com Eric Steinhart

      So you’re telling me that people are consistent?

      Enjoy yr next orbit around the sun!

    • John Morales

      [OT]

      Eric, my anniversarial calendrical origin for orbits around the local star is the 5th day of November; I’m well into this current orbit.

      (Your pre-conceived ideology about the true meaning of ‘new year’ notwithstanding)

    • http://www.ericsteinhart.com Eric Steinhart

      No true November Fiver ….

      Well, then, enjoy the rest of your orbit!

    • http://www.ericsteinhart.com Eric Steinhart

      And btw, it’s perfectly consistent for an atheist or even one of the preachers in The Clergy Project to say “I know that God does not exist, but I believe that God exists”. Or something even weirder. How about: “I know that God does not exist, but I constantly feel the presence of God”. People are notorious for being self-inconsistent and self-deceived, for radical compartmentalizations of their beliefs, for splitting belief/knowledge/hope, etc.

    • John Morales

      “I know that God does not exist, but I believe that God exists”

      How can such a logical contradiction be consistent?

      (Isn’t knowledge a type of belief?)

    • http://freethoughtblogs.com/camelswithhammers Daniel Fincke

      No, I’m not telling you people are consistent, I’m saying that you shouldn’t charge people who make a reasonable normative conceptual claim with committing a “No True Scotsman Fallacy” for ruling out inconsistent people as qualifying under their own well-developed, consistent normative categorizations.

  • John Morales

    Eric:

    Well, no true atheist would believe in God, and no true preacher would deny God — just like no true Scotsman . . .

    Poor comparison; you should employ a parallel form.

    Since a preacher is someone who preaches, the comparison would be ‘no true preacher would not preach’.

    (And yes, no true Scotsman would be not a Scot. Duh.)

    PS Since you consider deists and pantheists to be atheists, do you have a term for people who do not believe in the reality of any type of deity-concept?

    • http://www.ericsteinhart.com Eric Steinhart

      None of these “theism” terms are any good; they were all formulated in earlier times when Xianity was dominant. A new vocabulary is needed, but it will have to develop organically.

      I’ve seen the term adevism used for denial of all gods/goddesses/deities etc. But it’s a rarely used term. It’s yours if you want it.

    • John Morales

      Thanks!

      (I do like to expand my lexicon)

  • http://www.ericsteinhart.com Eric Steinhart

    People can be self-deceived or in denial.

    Thus: “I know that God does not exist but I believe he does” is in parallel with “I know my wife is cheating but I believe she isn’t” or “I know my husband is dying but I believe he isn’t”. These sorts of self-delusion probably occur in politics all the time (e.g. “I know that lowering taxes increases the deficit but I don’t believe it”).

    Knowledge and belief can be different states; e.g. I might know that P but refuse to assent to P. If belief is assent, then I don’t believe P. Some say knowledge entails belief, others deny that. I think “I know that P but I don’ t believe that P” is pretty common.

  • Josh, Official SpokesGay

    I refuse to believe that you, Eric, believe that objecting to the claim that an atheist can believe in God constitutes a ‘no true Scotsman’ fallacy. If that were so, then so would be objecting to someone who said she was a Communist but she believed in unregulated capitalism and private property as the best system of economics. It’s just nonsensical, and it isn’t that difficult a concept to grasp. We can’t have any conversations if you stubbornly persist in pretending that words don’t mean anything. Black is not white, and freezing cold is not blazing hot. This isn’t unreasonable, but your refusal to countenance it certainly is.

    • http://www.ericsteinhart.com Eric Steinhart

      Some Mormons and Muslims drink alcohol; some Catholics practice birth control; this list just goes on and on. People are messy and irrational and self-deceiving and self-contradicting and full of all sorts of denial. Surely you wouldn’t deny that. And one of our best logicians, Graham Priest, says that there are true contradictions. And there are plenty of paradoxes.

      But you’re right: this whole thing bores me to tears. What I can’t figure out is why nobody is talking about all those atheists in the survey who believe in all the woo.

      Or maybe I should’t be bored: maybe there’s something interesting about the brains of certain pure atheists that differs from non-atheist brains or even the brains of impure atheists. Ordinary people believe contradictions, lots of them. Evidence for that is all around us. Why is it that so many commenters find that hard to believe?

      That there are atheists who believe in a personal God entails that there are atheists who contradict themselves. Or is that the real issue: no true atheist contradicts himself or herself.

      The list of Atheist Commandments includes the Law of Non-Contradiction; does it include the Law of the Excluded Middle? Fine with me on both cases. Now, what about the Principle of Sufficient Reason? I love that one too. How long does this list go?

  • http://www.ericsteinhart.com Eric Steinhart

    @Dan — I think that Nietzsche guy wrote something about the commandment: Thou shalt not deceive thyself.

  • Josh, Official SpokesGay

    Oh lord, but you’re being silly, Eric. Yeah, it’s totally dogmatic of anyone to claim that “a person who doesn’t believe in a personified God” means “a person who doesn’t believe in a personified God.” And that it’s clearer to find other, more suited words to describe people who don’t fit that category. Totes conformist and dogmatic.

    • http://www.ericsteinhart.com Eric Steinhart

      Seriously? You think this is about the meanings of words? I thought my reply made it clear that this is about human psychology. It’s entirely possible that Bob insists that he is an atheist and Bob knows what the word atheism means and (thus contradicting himself) Bob affirms that God exists. Bob is self-inconsistent. Or do you think that’s impossible?

    • Josh, Official SpokesGay

      Of course not. But Bob may insist on anything and that doesn’t mean he’s actually an atheist. Just as he can say he’s slender when he’s actually morbidly obese. Jesus, this isn’t that hard.

      I’m not talking about moments of doubt or intellectual pondering, or inconsistency over time. Those things are all real and common. I’m talking about how it’s ridiculous to call a person who affirms the existence of God an atheist, not matter what he might want you to call him. How in hell is that useful? I don’t even know how to have a conversation when we can’t agree that terms don’t mean their exact opposite.

    • http://www.ericsteinhart.com Eric Steinhart

      Everybody understands what the words mean. That’s not the issue.

    • Josh, Official SpokesGay

      Then why have you spent so much time castigating people like me who insist that “atheist” means “atheist,” and pulling that no true Scotsman nonsense?

      Yes, it’s interesting and bizarre that people who call themselves atheists believe in the existence of God. There are all sorts of questions I’d like answered about what they mean when they make these claims, why they self-identify the way they do, how the audience to whom they’re speaking influences their choices, what sort of premium they put on their social standing and how it’s bound up with professions of faith and lack thereof. I suspect you think these are the main questions and find them interesting too.

      But acting incredulous when someone says, “um, I don’t think they’re actually atheists” is bizarre and frustrating.

  • http://www.ericsteinhart.com Eric Steinhart

    But acting incredulous when someone says, “um, I don’t think they’re actually atheists” is bizarre and frustrating.

    Ah – you added that little hedge “actually”. How about we say no actual atheist instead of no true atheist, and run the Scotsman like that.

    • Josh, Official SpokesGay

      What? Hedge? They mean the same thing. . .I don’t even know what you’re talking about. This is not a case of that fallacy–you’re just wrong about that!

    • http://www.ericsteinhart.com Eric Steinhart

      Josh – thanks! I’m sure this seems like it’s been a pain, but you’re persistence has raised a really good question, which I would not have seen otherwise. That’s excellent philosophical work! I’ve posted the question on the main site.

  • Steve Schuler

    As a very new visitor to ‘Free Thought Blogs’, I have discovered a great array and variety of ‘atheists’ (and ‘atheisms’) who could, and probably should, be further categorized on the basis of having a variety of concurrent inclinations, attitudes, and beliefs. Of course I was aware of that prior to what I have witnessed here but, by virtue of the numerous comments I have read here, it has expanded my horizon considerably.

    The recent Greta Christina blog article promoting anti-relgious atheism which moved Chris Stedman to write an article published in Huff-PO which in turn inspired at least three other FTB bloggers to write fairly inflamed articles (thanks to John Morales for alerting me to those articles) denouncing Stedman (who ppointed out that ‘atheist’ and ‘anti-religious’ are not synonyms), left me wondering if, in fact, there was not some significant tendency within at least some quadrants of Atheism to establish a variety of orthodoxy. “Impossible!” or “Atheism is nothing more than not beleiving in a God or gods!” are not uncommon responses to the suggestion that any variety of shared beliefs ought not be associated with ‘atheism’ or ‘atheists’. I’ve no problem with somebody who identifies themselves as an atheist and also has some, perhaps loosely held, belief that there exists some sort of ‘impersonal force’ or ‘ultimacy’ within or beyond the physical universe. In some respects, but not entirely, my attitude is similar to the criterion I use to determine whther a person is a Christian or not. If you say you are a Christian then, for my purposes, you are a Christian, although your orthodox (in all of it’s varieties) or unorthodox (similarly manifold) co-religionists may beg to differ. They almost surely hold a different opinion as to what constitutes a “True Scottsman”.

    As Eric said, “Life is messy. Religion is messy too.”

    • John Morales

      As Eric said, “Life is messy. Religion is messy too.”

      I’d be less critical if Eric acknowledged that some of us are just plain irreligious and (ahem) adevist. For real.

      I’ve never had any experience that I could honestly construe as religious or spiritual or mystical. Not that I didn’t try, as an indoctrinated child!

      (Perhaps there’s some sort of faulty mental wiring that’s missing in us)

      [OT]

      …denouncing Stedman (who ppointed out that ‘atheist’ and ‘anti-religious’ are not synonyms)

      You say it like it was some sort of novel concept.

      (Pointing out the bleeding obvious is not that impressive)

    • Steve Schuler

      John Morales

      You, my friend, have a huge Dickhead factor in your personality structure. That’s not some obscure highly technical term that I had to pull out of my ass, say like “applied adaptive heuristics” (what does that mean, Bro?), I’m pretty confident that you do not have psychic powers that afford you particular insight into my mind or motives.

      In short, Go Fuck Yourself, Cuz…

      I’m pretty sure you wouldn’t be quite so mouthy if we were engaged in the ‘meat-world’, at least not for long…

      YER PAL

      STEVE

    • Josh, Official SpokesGay

      Internet guy goes to fistfight implication? Grow up.

    • Steve Schuler

      Whatever.

      Just sayin’, John might not be so boldly obnoxious in my physical proximity.

    • John Morales

      [OT]

      That’s not some obscure highly technical term that I had to pull out of my ass, say like “applied adaptive heuristics” (what does that mean, Bro?)

      Perhaps my felicitous facility with language is alien to you, but that phrase is quite self-explanatory, if you happen to know the meanings of the individual terms.

      In short, Go Fuck Yourself, Cuz…

      I’m pretty sure you wouldn’t be quite so mouthy if we were engaged in the ‘meat-world’, at least not for long…

      YER PAL

      STEVE

      <snicker>

    • Steve Schuler

      Your “felicitous facility with language”? Spare me, Bro. The shallow pretense of your own thought is readily apparent, although it seems to ellude you.

      I ‘danced’ with you once before and the depth of your bullshit became readily apparent in short order.

      This dance is done.

      Peace Out

      Steve

    • grung0r

      Hey Daniel, where’s the admonishment for this dude? I would think that physical threats(no matter how silly or unenforceable) would go WAY beyond calling someone a “dingus” or calling their ideas “stupid” or “muddle-headed”. Is it because this guy was defending Eric instead of criticizing him? That would be consistent with standard accommodationism I suppose, But bad form, if you ask me.

    • Josh, Official SpokesGay

      To be fair, it’s likely Daniel is out celebrating the new year. Not everyone is as pathetic as we are. :)

    • Steve Schuler

      What do you mean, “physical threat”? I thought my meaning should be abundantly clear that in a face to face confrontation I’d “float like a butterfly amd sting like a bee” in the metaphorical sense of whoopin’ his intellectual ass with overpowering reason and inassailable rhetoric!

    • grung0r

      Josh:

      That is very hemisphere-centric of you. Perhaps I live in New Zealand, and it’s already 4 in the afternoon on January 1st! Yeah, that’s it, I’m not pathetic at all, and I am deeply offended you would suggest such a thing.

    • http://freethoughtblogs.com/camelswithhammers Daniel Fincke

      I just got here, trust me, I’m not pleased by Mr. Schuler’s obnoxiousness.

    • http://freethoughtblogs.com/camelswithhammers Daniel Fincke

      Steve, the name calling is rude and uncalled for. John Morales often looks on the negative side of things but that’s his prerogative, he’s never disrespectful to persons or stoops to the kind of obnoxiousness you’re displaying here. Knock it off.

    • Steve Schuler

      This is your house and of course you make the rules. Henceforth I will try to abide by your desires and employ passive aggressive underhanded snipes as the preffered mode of communication over direct confrontation employing coarse language.

    • Steve Schuler

      For what it’s worth, in prior conversation with John he had this to say to me:

      “Yeah, but that’s judging others by your own standards — Greta ain’t either cowardly or inarticulate.”

      Which may, or may not, constitute a display of disrespect directed to a person. I just shined it on at the time as I thought he had no basis for suggesting that I was either cowardly or particularly inarticulate

      In any event, I definitely took it to the next level with my comments to him here. There just may be some truth to the old adage, “You can take the homie out of the ghetto, but you can’t take ghetto out of the homie.”

      In the big scheme of things, all of this amounts to less than zero.

  • Josh, Official SpokesGay

    I’m embarrassed for you, Steve.

    • Steve Schuler

      I reciprocate your sentiment, although for different reasons, I’m sure…

      Dance Over.

      Peace Out

      Steve

  • http://www.google.com Norris Needs

    you may by no means succeed online if you dont know this http://imn4.infothank me later


CLOSE | X

HIDE | X