I Know There is No God.

Some atheists who are excessively afraid of being like religious people are afraid of saying they believe there are no gods because that’s what religious people do. Supposedly the mistake theists make is having any belief or knowledge claims that are not scientific or that are not certain. So a lot of atheists claim not to believe or, even, know anything that is not scientifically proven or certain.

In an act of massively disproportionate overcorrection these atheists equate all scientifically unproven beliefs with faith beliefs and claim that they refuse any such beliefs. With an incredibly crude (and, frankly silly) theory of knowledge, at the extremes atheists like this talk as though there are only two categories: scientifically proven knowledge and faith. And all mere “beliefs” are faith beliefs. So, on the question of gods, the excessively scrupulous atheist trying to avoid resembling religious people at all costs, by supposedly not having any “beliefs” at all, declares that he does not believe there are no gods. He simply refrains from all belief and defaults to non-belief by merely lacking belief in gods.

We should call people like this “agnostic atheists”. They are atheists because, they lack all belief in gods and don’t live as though there are gods, and so are “without gods” or “atheist”. The adjective “agnostic” here designates that they think the issue of gods is, either in principle or at least for the time being, not a matter for knowledge.

Agnostic atheists tend to assert one of a couple things. Either at present there is no scientific evidence for the existence of gods but it theoretically could come about in the future, so for the time the only rational and properly skeptical thing to do is withhold from believing in gods. As a gesture of their scientific open mindedness, many of them assert that since there could, in principle, be evidence for gods in the future, they do not want to preemptively rule out that possibility by believing there are no gods. They are just holding off on affirming one way or another and for the time being just being atheists i.e., those who lack beliefs in gods and live and think as though there aren’t any.

Other agnostic atheists, who see the question of gods not as one to be answered by science but as a metaphysical sort of one, are closer to Thomas Huxley (who originally) coined the word “agnostic”. They think that all fundamental metaphysical principles, including “God”, are simply unknowable or unintelligible to try to think or talk about. So they refrain from any beliefs about metaphysics, including belief that there is or that there isn’t a God since such beliefs would be baseless presumption. So, again, like the more scientifically arguing agnostic atheist, they default to non-belief in gods that makes no knowledge claims about the matter; i.e. agnostic atheism.

A third kind of agnostic atheist could be like either of the other two. She reasons that “God” is so poorly defined a concept, whether scientifically or metaphysically, as to be incapable of being clearly assessed and amounts to a kind of incomprehensible nonsense. It might be incomprehensible because the concept has no specifiable verifiable or falsifiable features, or because it is riddled with apparent contradictions or because what people mean when they refer to it is always so vague and amorphous. Such an agnostic sometimes claims to be open to scientifically, or maybe even metaphysically, thinking about the concept if it can ever be coherently formulated. But for the time being, they think it hasn’t been and so they lack any beliefs for or against God because there is nothing clear enough to either affirm belief in or affirm disbelief in at present.

While I think these views are off the mark overcorrections driven by an excessive reaction against the non-scientific character of religious beliefs, I think they’re impressively sophisticated stances motivated by a fair amount of (misguided) scrupulousness.

The problem with these insistences on only having non-belief in matters of gods and metaphysics is that it is absurd and unlivable to only affirm “proven science” as knowledge and never affirm any beliefs that are the slightest bit uncertain. This fails, right off the bat, for a reason atheists know very well: science itself is never certain. It is just, at its best, rationally justified to a very high degree that merits the designation of knowledge.

So, when I hear atheists say (and they do) that they are 99.99999% sure there is no God but they can’t rule it out so they only lack belief, I have to chuckle. If 99.99999% certainty is not cause for a knowledge claim but only cause to refrain from beliefs, then there can be no scientific knowledge either. And all affirmations of knowledge in science, because of whatever tiny margins of error, are dreaded belief claims! And if all belief claims are tantamount to wholly specious, arbitrary faith claims, then oh no! All beliefs generated by science are just as bad as religious faith beliefs!

And, further, the vast majority of our perfectly good knowledge beliefs are not scientific in character. Our knowledge of mathematical truths is even more certain than scientific beliefs and it is not empirically derived. We also have knowledge of an enormous amount of “unscientific” knowledge that comes through our senses, our memories, and ordinary every day inferences that have nothing to do whatsoever with rigorous scientific methodology.

I know for a fact that right now I am sitting on my bed. This has not been confirmed by any scientific journals but it’s true! It is not even a scientific kind of belief. It’s not one that relates to general patterns in nature, which are the province of science to investigate. If the enormous raft of everyday beliefs we have are “not knowledge” then science itself would be sunk since all those carefully constructed experiments require people’s sense beliefs, memories, mathematical skills, and basic ordinary inferences in order even to generate the sophisticated kind of data that affords more precise and tested inferences worthy of being called “scientific”.

We can also have knowledge that is not even a matter of abstract beliefs but an implicit familiarity and practice at doing something, a “know-how” that is involved in skills and crafts and an enormous number of everyday behaviors, even where the most skilled at them could hardly give a theoretical account of what their minds and bodies implicitly know about what to do.

Finally we can have knowledge related to formal conceptual distinctions and logical relationships between formal concepts (sometimes independent of empirical observations). We can, for example, grasp logical relationships about things that are not scientifically shown to be the case but would theoretically could be or would have been under different circumstances. We can know the implications of abstract conceptual models without always knowing if those models fit reality. We can think about many philosophical concepts with at least some degree of knowledge. We can even, I would argue, have various kinds of moral knowledge. But there’s no room (or need) to prove that last point here. The other kinds of knowledge will suffice.

Now the huge raft of beliefs we have that don’t have scientific precision are not all simply “faith”. They’re certainly not “lacks of beliefs”. When I say I’m sitting on my bed, I don’t technically mean, “I lack belief that I’m not sitting on my bed”. And I don’t mean, “I have faith that I’m sitting on my bed”. I mean “I know I’m sitting on my bed”. Now, I could be wrong. I could be dreaming, hallucinating, in a matrix, etc., etc. It’s not infallible knowledge. But not all knowledge has to be infallible.

Contemporary epistemologists generally agree on what is called “externalism” and what is called “reliablism”. A belief can count as knowledge if it was formed through a reliable belief forming mechanism and if it is true in the world. So, all the beliefs we form through reliable means and for which we carefully apportion our strength and degree of belief to the strength and degree of the evidence, we should call knowledge.

“But!” the objection is raised, “Sometimes you will only think you’ll know but you won’t actually! Your belief will really be false!” Yes. That’s true. Say out of every 1000 of my beliefs 1 is false. (Which actually sounds like a high false rate to me, considering the enormous volume of reliable sense perception based beliefs that I have simply by taking a glance at my room!) So, yes, when I claim to know those 1,000 things are true, I am wrong in one instance. So what? I am not infallible. In the 999/1000 times I claim I have knowledge, I am right. The world really is (essentially enough) the way I think it is for all practical purposes.

Why should I undercut that and just because sometimes I am wrong conflate all my beliefs that are even a tiny degree uncertain with faith beliefs? Paradigmatic faith beliefs are not just “uncertain” and “non-scientific”. They’re immensely unlikely and irrational! Yes, when I think I’m sitting on my bed, I could be wrong. But when someone says a cracker’s essence turns into that of a Middle Eastern godman who died two thousand years ago, they are nearly certainly wrong. Those two affirmations are not just “both faith beliefs” for not being “certain” or “scientific”. The belief I’m sitting on my bed is grounded in the evidence brought to me by reliable belief forming processes. The belief in the godman cracker flies in the teeth of all evidence and has no basis in reality.

So the problem is not that “only scientifically proven things can be known” and everything else is just beliefs and that we should all scrupulously “not believe” what is not scientifically shown and not certain. The problem with faith beliefs is that they result from willful commitments to disregard evidence and believe more strongly and/or to a greater degree than evidence warrants.

But we can believe lots of things that are uncertain, so long as we are careful to only believe to the degree, and with the strength, that our most scrupulous reasoning tools merit. Weighing evidence, being careful in our conceptual distinctions, being logically rigorous, taking into account the deliverances of well-developed and tested scientific frameworks, etc., we can affirm that we tentatively believe some things, say, with a rough estimate of 60% confidence that makes it worth proceeding with cautious inferences that guide our lives as though it were true but taking care that there is still a 40% chance it might not be. That’s perfectly rational. It’s not believing by faith. Believing by faith would be saying, “What’s that? A 1% chance? Let me commit 100% to that!”

And given the extraordinary failure of supernatural entities to show themselves in the world under modern conditions for verifying and falsifying beliefs, the likelihood of supernatural entities actually existing is extremely low. Well well below 1%. With hundreds of millions of people walking around with camera phones now we still have no photographic evidence or films of supernatural agencies that are not laughably easy to debunk? Double blind tests have been done on prayer. It doesn’t work. Etc., etc. And now that we have seen the power of naturalistic explanations to make astounding counter-intuitive but true predictions about the world, we have every reason to think that the only agencies in the world are natural ones that adhere to the seemingly binding natural laws of the universe.

SO, in that context, I feel quite confident in saying that I believe there are no personal gods intervening in the world. Better yet, the degree of evidence is so overwhelming against the gods hypothesis, that I have no hesitation in saying I know there are no gods. Just as everyone readily says there is no Aquaman and nearly every contemporary person says there is no Zeus, it should be just as easy for everyone (and especially atheists) to say there the God of the Judeo-Christian-Islamic tradition simply doesn’t exist. It is only cultural conditioning that makes people hesitate and treat that as a harder question than those of Zeus and Aquaman when, evidence-wise, it’s plainly not. Well, cultural conditioning, and this irrational fear that if they disbelieve in God they’ll somehow be just as much a faith-believer as believers in God. Which is bunk.

Finally, the other reason atheists might hesitate to say they know there is no God is because of a long standing, deeply confusing, and insidious equivocation the major monotheisms have foisted on us for centuries. They conflate the metaphysical concept of a “ground of all being” principle with the personal, interventionist gods of their religious traditions. Now a metaphysical principle that explains why everything exists might be intelligible and defensible and so I am agnostic about that. But even if such a thing exists, it is incoherent to think of it as a personal being given everything we have ever experienced about personality, which shows it clearly to be a spatio-temporal experience of complex organisms and not at all the kind of thing that can exist outside of space and time. In fact the problems with talking about God as personal were known all the way back to the ancients and have always been known and acknowledged by the most sophisticated theistic philosophers, even as the latter have engaged in all sorts of unconvincing ad hoc explanations about how the impersonal god of philosophy can somehow be reconciled with their faith traditions’ baseless and anthropomorphic beliefs about gods who act in history.

It’s as absurd to say that the “ground of all being”, if it is an intelligible thing at all, is personal as it is to say “gravity” is personal. It’s sheer confusion. And an impersonal ground of all being is so profoundly irrelevant to all the things that people want from a “god” that if that’s all you mean by the kind of “God” that could exist, and if you know a personal God can’t? You essentially are an atheist who knows there is no God of the only socially relevant kind.

So just join me already in calling yourself a gnostic atheist, an atheist who knows there is no God.

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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.

  • Steve Zara

    Absolutely. I fully agree. I have been trying to make this point for years – I am also a gnostic atheist. I think A.C.Grayling is too.

    • Metaphoenix42

      From what I’ve seen, most atheist philosophers of religion are gnostic.

  • Metaphoenix42

    I am an atheist. I know there is no God.

    Excellent article!

  • Sean Sherman

    Thanks. I’ve ran into this argument before, you pretty summed up what I think is wrong with it.

  • eamonknight

    Yes. I’m rather annoyed by the “only 99% certain, therefore agnosticism” argument, coming either from non-believers, or from theists wishing to score “gotcha” points.

    I can’t *know* anything with mathematical certainty (except, perhaps, math — though even there my deductions and calculations could be mistaken). But when the uncertainty in “God doesn’t exist” is down in the epistemic noise with “The sun will rise tomorrow”, it’s absurd not to go ahead and assert it forthrightly. Yet only god-propositions seem to get this over-scrupulous disclaiming.

    • Tjaart Blignaut

      How do you calculate the 99%? There is no basis to even calculate it. I always say that if I had to take a bet I would bet that there are no gods. In essence that is a belief claim, but with the qualifier that I could be wrong. The 99% claim is really just a personal statement of belief that excludes the absolute certainty that theists believe in.

  • GCBill

    “In fact the problems with talking about God as personal were known all the way back to the ancients and have always been known and acknowledged by the most sophisticated theistic philosophers, even as the latter have engaged in all sorts of unconvincing ad hoc explanations about how the impersonal god of philosophy can somehow be reconciled with their faith traditions’ baseless and anthropomorphic beliefs about gods who act in history.”

    This EXACT problem (with regard to Christianity) was keeping me awake the other night. God is changeless, yet He became human. God has no parts, yet exists as three persons. God is fully human and fully divine, yet God cannot change and humans *must* change. It’s precisely *because* the metaphysical “ground of all being” is the most probable “God” that the personal gods of these sorts *almost certainly* don’t exist. Because they are logically-impossible given the metaphysics that’s normally used to defend them.

    • Michael Bennion

      I am a theist. I believe that we are created in God’s image. I believe that God is an anthropomorphic being, with body, parts and passions. I believe that unity in the three members of the Godhead has to do with purpose, knowledge and understanding, not with substance. I believe that as man is, God once was. I believe that as God is man may become. In essence, I reject many of the metaphysical arguments that you cite as problematic. I have experiences such as the author’s “sitting on the bed” analogy that lead me to certainty about God’s existence as complete as that described by him.

    • Cylon

      Ooh, a Mormon! I used to be one myself. Joseph Smith actually did come up with some innovative solutions to the theological problems of his time. It’s a shame he was killed when he was, towards the end of his life was when he came up with a lot of the more off-the-wall ideas, who knows what else he would have come up with if he had lived?

      It’s too bad he made so many claims about things that could be (eventually) empirically tested and disproven. Ancient Israelites as the progenitors of the Native Americans and Egyptian funeral scrolls as the writings of Abraham don’t stand the test of time too well.

    • Michael Bennion

      I spent a good deal of time looking into both the DNA issues and the Abraham writings and find that there is empirical evidence that is at least as strong as that fielded by detractors. I find that many of the detractors and supporters make claims that the Book of Mormon and Joseph Smith did not make. I spent a number of years in a graduate program and found that my studies strengthened, rather than weakened my beliefs. Since the Book of Mormon does not make the claim that every person who lived in the time period covered by the book came with the Jaredites the Nephites or the Mulekites, the DNA situation is much more complicated than has been asserted. Besides, many of the studies rely on Mitochondrial DNA which is dependent on knowing the genetic make-up of the female line. Nowhere does the Book of Mormon tell us what nationality or racial type comprise the women who came with any of these groups. A number of studies have been published about this and I am acquainted with those that assert pro and con.

      Similarly, the Book of Abraham materials that are still extant give some interesting details about the Egyptian way of preparing for death which have very interesting parallels with LDS ceremonies. Also, the account of the scrolls that were mentioned in primary accounts indicate that there were considerably more scrolls than are currently known to now exist. The descriptions state that the scrolls were in a good state of preservation (which the current ones are not and indications are that they were in similar condition in Joseph Smith’s day. There is also a question of why the description includes reference to “red” rubrics on the scrolls which are not on the existing documents.

      I could go on, but this should be sufficient to let you know that I have taken time to study out the issues. In my experience, life is about walking a line between belief and disbelief and using agency to decide what is truth. This allows us to make up our own mind without God trying to force the issue.

      All the things I have mentioned are not the primary reason why I am more and more convinced that what I believe is true. You are free to think differently, but my experiences have been and continue to be as real as knowing that I am sitting in my favorite recliner as I write this.

      Have a lovely evening.

    • Pofarmer

      ” Also, the account of the scrolls that were mentioned in primary accounts indicate that there were considerably more scrolls than are currently known to now exist.”

      Sooooo, what happened to em?

      “The descriptions state that the scrolls were in a good state of preservation (which the current ones are not and indications are that they were in similar condition in Joseph Smith’s day. There is also a question of why the description includes reference to “red” rubrics on the scrolls which are not on the existing documents. ”

      You seem to be taking a lack of something, and using it as evidence for something. That is-odd. The easiest explanation would be that the missing thing was made up.

    • Michael Bennion

      Here are some sources to look over: They may be found at this URL:

      http://www.jefflindsay.com/LDSFAQ/FQ_Abraham.shtml#point1

      Eyewitnesses from the Nauvoo period (1839–1844) describe “a quantity of
      records, written on papyrus, in Egyptian hieroglyphics,” including (1)
      some papyri “preserved under glass,” described as “a number of glazed
      slides, like picture frames, containing sheets of papyrus, with Egyptian
      inscriptions and hieroglyphics”; (2) “a long roll of manuscript” that
      contained the Book of Abraham; (3) “another roll”; (4) and “two or three
      other small pieces of papyrus with astronomical calculations, epitaphs,
      &c.” Only the mounted fragments ended up in the Metropolitan Museum
      of Art and thence were given back to the Church of Jesus Christ. When
      eyewitnesses described the vignettes as being of the mounted fragments,
      they can be matched with the fragments from the Metropolitan Museum of
      Art; but when the vignettes described are on the rolls, the descriptions
      do not match any of the fragments from the Met. Gustavus Seyffarth’s
      1856 catalog of the Wood Museum indicates that some of the papyri were
      there. Those papyri went to Chicago and were burned in the Great Chicago
      Fire in 1871. Whatever we might imagine their contents to be is only
      conjecture. Both Mormon and non-Mormon eyewitnesses from the nineteenth
      century agree that it was a “roll of papyrus from which our prophet
      translated the Book of Abraham,” meaning the “long roll of manuscript”
      and not one of the mounted fragments that eventually ended up in the
      Metropolitan Museum of Art.

      [References cited by Gee have been omitted in this excerpt - see Gee's paper for those.]

      There is a great deal more about the records at the link I posted, with updates to 2013, demonstrating the fairness and thorough nature of the person who assembled this information.

      So while to you “The easiest explanation would be that the missing thing was made up,” the primary documentation from Mormon and non-Mormon sources makes a decent case for the existence of additional papyri which are not part of what we currently have.

      My point: To assume that Mormons blithely make assumptions without any research to back up their conclusions is unwarranted.

    • Pofarmer

      O.K. then, I’m convinced.

  • Russell Wain Glasser

    I’ll tell you why I find it useful to explicitly take the agnostic atheist position. Yes, it’s true that colloquially we can say we “know” things when we are “99.999% certain” of them. So if I say “I know that objects fall down towards earth because of gravity,” there’s an unspoken qualifier, i.e., “…Although the state of my knowledge allows for the possibility that it could be overturned by extraordinarily good competing evidence, resulting in the need for a new theoretical model of how that works, and this happens frequently in science.”

    You know that. I know that. I don’t have to waste my time arguing about it with you.

    Here’s the problem: In most cases, a theist does not know that. This affects more than their opinions about God. I think you’d find that they are fundamentally unclear on the philosophy of science, and don’t get that “truth” is accepted conditionally with a high (but not infinite) degree of certainty. When a theist talks about knowledge, it’s likely that he is thinking of the variety that does involve absolute, unwavering certainty, with no possibility of doubt, and possibly eternal punishment to follow if you even think about questioning. The kind of certainty that (they would imagine) comes from direct divine revelation.

    That kind of certainty doesn’t exist in science. But, this is an unfamiliar concept in a lot of these discussions. And very often debates about atheism hinge on some fundamental misunderstanding of a word being used, such as “faith” or “religion” or “universe,” etc.

    So when they ask you “Do you KNOW that God doesn’t exist?” what they mean is the absolute, unflappable, divine revelation sort of knowledge. I have no problem saying “no” to that, because the fact that this kind of knowledge doesn’t really exist is, in itself, a discussion worth having. And in my opinion, just answering “Yes I do know” will lead you into the weeds of those philosophical discussions about what knowledge really means ANYWAY, but you’ll be starting from a position of appearing unreasonable.

    • Metaphoenix42

      In my experience, it’s atheists more often than theists that misunderstand what it means to know something. Although, my sample may be biased by the fact that I actively seek out educated theists, while (being an atheist myself) I often just happen upon uneducated atheists.

      Although, I find it odd that you would just grant the point regarding knowledge when talking to these theists who misunderstand. Why not instead explain and defend the view you *actually* hold – that knowledge doesn’t require absolute certainty?

    • emlyn

      With a life now spent on three continents, I can claim with reliable certainty that the proportion of intelligent to unintelligent theists is small. No overt insult is meant here, of course, but this trend is borne out with predictable accuracy.

    • Metaphoenix42

      I think your certainty is unwarranted, for two reasons. First, most theists are going to be of average intelligence – by definition. Individuals which deviate from the average are going to be less common. Intelligence is a bell curve.

      Second, even though you’ve spent time on three continents, your sample size is probably pretty small, and thus not very representative of the general theist population.

    • emlyn

      You’ve contradicted your own point. You said yourself “in my experience…” We simply have different experiences of the same theist population.

    • Metaphoenix42

      I also admitted that my sample may be biased.

    • emlyn

      Of _course_ it’s biased (benefit of the doubt again, see?); our whole experience is biased and, thus, so will our arguments be.

      This recent article put some of it in perspective for my own experience of theists’ intelligence:
      http://rt.com/news/atheists-more-intelligent-religious-433/

      Actually, this was the original source:
      http://www.washingtonpost.com/blogs/on-faith/wp/2013/09/03/are-atheists-smarter-and-humbler/

    • Metaphoenix42

      and FTR, I never said that your claim is false. I said your certainty is unwarranted.

    • emlyn

      OK, straw man has officially arrived.

      Certainty for *myself*. I’m not claiming certainty for *you*.

      Done.

    • Metaphoenix42

      You said, “I can claim with reliable certainty…”
      I said, “Your certainty is unwarranted…”

      What strawman?

    • Tjaart Blignaut

      How do these atheists misunderstand knowledge. Your comment would be more useful if you had stated that instead of just saying that there is a misunderstanding.

    • http://camelswithhammers.com/ Dan Fincke Camels With Hammers

      Russell, eventually their whole conception of knowledge has to be challenged, so I don’t see the point of speaking on their terms. When I say I know there is no God, I’m happy to let their eyes bug out uncomprehendingly, because now we can have the whole conversation about what knowledge is without me conceding their bogus definition and playing on their terms. And, if we’re just being tactical here, in a negotiation, you start out confident and far from where they want to end up. You don’t go in tripping over yourself to prove you live down to their standard of atheists never being allowed to be so arrogant as to say they know there is no god while they run around say they know there is one when they flatly don’t.

    • http://www.secularview.com/ Dirty_Nerdy

      I agree with both of you! OH GOD WHAT DO I DO NOW??

      (not really freaking out, just thinking about it more)

    • Russell Wain Glasser

      “eventually their whole conception of knowledge has to be challenged, so I don’t see the point of speaking on their terms”

      Yes, but if their whole conception of knowledge has to be challenged “eventually,” then why not just go ahead and skip to that part directly? To me that’s the interesting stuff, more so then the ultimate question of whether the thing exists.

      The virtue of this approach is that theists often work from a script, and the particular script being used here is “Atheism is just a competing religion that I must defeat.” Anything you can do to kick them off the script with an answer they genuinely didn’t expect, is a way of gaining the upper hand in the conversation. They really are expecting you to say “Yes, I know for certain there is no God” and then they can say “Dogma! Dogma!” So if you say no, they’re left saying “Do– wait, what?”

      The only answer attempt I ever hear in response is the Ray Comfortesque, “Well, you see, that’s the difference between your position and mine, because I do know.” And that’s an easy one: “No you don’t.”

    • http://camelswithhammers.com/ Dan Fincke Camels With Hammers

      But I wouldn’t fit their script by saying “I’m certain”. I say, “I know.” They say, “How can you be so certain!” And I say, that’s not what knowledge is… and we’re down the prim rose path with what I actually think with the ground shifted to the real question; how should we determine what is believable and to what extent. It’s then that I talk about proportioning beliefs and the problem with faith and put them on defensive that they hold beliefs deliberately knowing they run contrary to reason. Either they own up to that and it’s easy to attack their arbitrariness or they insist they’re rational and then I start plugging away at their beliefs they have no good reason for and insisting they stay rational and not pull a faith card.

      And on and on. My dance moves have multiple steps worked out too ;)

    • Russell Wain Glasser

      Dan, it’s entirely possible that our dances are the same dance; it’s just that you prefer to call that “99%” concept knowledge, and I prefer not to. It’s possible that this is simply a stylistic difference.

      Like I said before, equivocation fallacies abound in theist/atheist dialogues. Hence I’ve always said that the specific words and labels you pick are less important than taking the opportunity to clarify those words. As long as we’re both having that discussion about how we “know” things and what that means, I’d say it’s all good.

    • Metaphoenix42

      To be fair, atheists often work from a script as well. Consider:

      - I merely lack belief.
      - What if *you’re* wrong about Allah and Vishnu?
      - Flying Spaghetti Monster.
      - Morality is relative.
      - God behaved immorally in the bible.
      - lol, talking snakes.
      - Burden of proof is on the theist.
      - You can’t prove a negative.
      - There’s no evidence for God.

      I hear these talking points over and over and over and over.

    • Russell Wain Glasser

      Metaphoenix42, I’m not really gonna say that you’re wrong. In my opinion, there’s nothing wrong with using talking points per se. Having a good arsenal of accessible analogies can be very helpful in bypassing the standard stuff. Like in chess, many good players (and programs) have memorized a lot of standard openings that work in a variety of situations. It frees up mental energy for dealing with the midgame.

      The real issue is how flexible you can be as a speaker. Some people learn the talking points and think that’s ALL they need to do. This is the kind of person who can be weeded out by thinking about how to kick them off script. And yes, that advice applies in both directions.

    • Forky Witherspoon

      They make sense though, they bible goofs “points” do not.

  • ZenDruid

    I managed to sidestep this problem with the simple statement that my worldview doesn’t include gods or demons. My native sense of wonder is intact, as well as my aesthetic sense, and I kill/rape/cheat/steal precisely as much as I want to, which is not at all.

  • Bugmaster

    It sounds like you’re basically saying, “we should use the word ‘know’ when our estimated probability of a belief being true is above some fairly high threshold”. I see nothing wrong with that, but it’s just a change in nomenclature from the colloquial use of the word, which means something like, “the probability of this belief being true is 1.0 exactly”. I don’t see why this is such a big deal. If you are engaged in a debate, you can simply alert the other side about your preferred nomenclature, then move on to more interesting matters.

    • http://www.skepticink.com/incredulous Edward Clint

      Actually, the colloquial use of the word never means the probability is 1.0. That definition applies to nothing other than abstract symbolic logic. People say things that are not absolutely true (the way that “the figure with four sides is not a triangle” is true) such as “I know these cigs cause Cancer, but I’m addicted” or “People used to think Zeus was hurling lightning, but of course today we *know* it is merely physical phenomena.” There is a non-zero chance both of these are wrong, but we still use the word “know” in such cases.

    • Bugmaster

      Russell Glasser (above) said it better than I could. Most people are simply unaware of anything like the Bayes rule or scientific epistemology in general. Thus, when they say stuff like “I know God exists”, it’s likely that they mean the “absolute, unflappable, divine revelation sort of knowledge”, as Russell said. It is also likely that they mean something very similar when they say, “I know cigs cause cancer”. They are not aware — at least, not explicitly — that it is possible to assign a probability to a belief and yet use such a belief to make practical decisions.

    • http://www.skepticink.com/incredulous Edward Clint

      Which is a particular connotation in the usage of the word. However, the existence of one connotation does not preclude the fair use of others in a word, even on the same subject.

      And really, this should not be about the word “know” but about the concept “to know”. This phrase does not contain the word know, but it does entail the meaning: There is no god.

  • Sneezeguard

    I don’t consider my atheistic belief to be 99% sure. I’m certainly sure I’m achristian, amuslim, ajewish, and so on and so forth for every religion that mankind has founded so far, but I can conceive not only of deities that could be true, but even interventionist deities we might not have encountered yet (or found the proof for yet.)

    I find it interesting that you mention gravity, because it’s part of what shapes my feelings on this. We graduated as a species from believing that heavier objects fall faster, to an universal gravity, to space time curvature in general relativity, to all the complexities of quantum gravity (which I won’t even pretend to understand.) If I had to be sure of anything, it’s that I’d bet that while we have a very good working approximation of gravity, we are far from answering all its mysteries yet, and we’ll be learning a lot lot more as we investigate it.

    I don’t believe in God, so I consider myself an atheist. But I also consider myself agnostic in the sense that I think there is always value in questioning the knowledge that we have. I suppose I could label myself an agnostic everything by that vein, but I find it a helpful label to append to my atheism for the same reason that a Christian would call himself Catholic, Baptist, Lutheran, or so on and so forth. The further clarification doesn’t erase the original base intent, it simply helps to clarify to others some more of what you believe. (Or, in our case, don’t believe.)

    I don’t see the problem with being an agnostic atheist, a gnostic atheist, or even an apathetic atheist.

    After all, if religions can have different ways of approaching and understanding their belief, why can’t we have different ways of approaching and understanding our non-belief? There’s far more that unites us than divides us.

    I worry that if we start trying to clarify to our fellow atheists, agnostics, humanists, and so on how they should not believe, then we are more emulating the worst parts of religion than avoiding them.

    • Liralen

      Absolutely. When I was an agnostic, it used to really tick me off when atheists tried to tell me what I really believed and all the “gutless atheists” crap. As if Christians would treat agnostics any better than they did atheists. Or as if an agnostic would be any less of an ally in the separation between church and state fights.

      However, if their goal was to eliminate religion entirely, they were right not to consider me an ally, and they are no better than fundamentalist Christians who consider us liberal/progressive Christians an enemy.

  • JohnH2

    Thank you for this; I quite disagree about the existence of God but I quite like the post.

  • James Howell

    It’s interesting that you acknowledge Tillich’s contribution in reconciling traditions of Christian theology to post-industrial modernity. He goes quite a bit more into how that “ground” is at once personal and impersonal in his “Systematic Theology.” By neglecting the power that this kind of reconciliation can hold for someone striving to reconcile a faith tradition — and its components that seem ontologically true in the light of personal experience — you’re skirting over a population of non-theistic people who still find truth in their religious knowledge and who have also retained meaningful identities within their faiths… people who can be non-theists and also remain Christian.

    To throw a bunch of abstractions out there at once: Reconciling polar oppositions as correlating complements under a broader ontological enclosure — and experiencing that enclosure as deeply personal, even personalized — is not necessarily cognitive dissonance. If I’m understanding Tillich right, the personal aspect of what he calls the “ground” or “abyss” is implied in its impersonality. This relies upon correlating the ideas to each other rather than expecting a person to smash their use of “either-or” distinctions for the sake of a religious belief.

    So, no, not every one who is not a theist is an atheist. This blurs over distinctions that matter on a personal level, perhaps the same personal level that you deny the concept of a “ground” as satisfying. There’s a space here where one can reject theism as a meaningful or reliable understanding of godhood — while also *not* affirming “there is no God.”

    I’m not in a position right now to engage a discussion on the matter, unfortunately, but I did want to stick this out there in the hopes that it promotes a greater sense of diversity. I enjoy your blog very much! :D

    • Cylon

      That either went completely over my head, or it actually is nonsensical. Whatever floats your boat, I guess.

    • killer4hire

      I understand how you can be a Christian and an atheist by following Christ but not recognizing his divinity.
      I understand how you can reject all religions and be a theist.
      But I cannot understand how you can be a non-theist but not an atheist unless you are referring to something like deism.

    • James Howell

      I can address that last point briefly. This is part a summary of Tillich, part an expression of my own faith. It’s incomplete, so I do stress that it is a summary.

      To my understanding, deism rejects revelation and looks to the natural world for evidence of divine being. A non-theistic Christian can accept revelation as a communication with the eternal divine and as an entrance into communion with the mystery of being. A non-theistic Christian can assess experiences of revelation using tools from phenomenology, which means that those experiences are conditioned by specific situations such as personal disposition and historical context.

      Theistic descriptions of God work as provisional symbols to express aspects of encounters with the divine. For a non-theistic Christian, these symbols become tyrannical when they lose their provisional nature and are assumed to be concrete, sufficient descriptions of the divine. (In traditional theological parlance, this is called “idolatry.”) This simply can’t be sustained, as there is no invisible hand forcing either the terrible or good events that happen in our lives.

      This abstract definition can apply to many different religious contexts, of course. As it relates to Christianity, the process and experience of revelation is contextualized in the unique Hebrew prophetic tradition preceding Christ and culminating in Christ.

      Language becomes a problem here because concepts such as “revelation” have obtained fixed, limited meanings in public discourse. Usually, these fixed meanings trend toward the supernaturalistic communication of gnostic insights and “factual” knowledge such as literal records of unverifiable events (such as the Creation story in Genesis). This understanding of revelation is not merely bad science; it’s also bad theology, I think.

      Unfortunately, I’ve hit the limit of time I have available, so I can’t get too far into this. In short form, though: When I use the word “revelation,” I am not referring to the communication of gnostic insights or “factual” knowledge that can (and should) be apprehended as an overworked imagination or a mental/chemical imbalance. “Revelation” in this context can be better defined as “participation in the mystery of being, arising from the context of a person’s life” but even that’s an inadequate reduction.

      Hope this helps!

  • Palindrome

    I have to admit that I identify as an agnostic atheist at this point, but that’s because I’m a relatively new atheist. The more I learn about science and philosophy, the more I realize how ignorant I am and how much more I have to learn. Personally, I feel like I don’t know enough about metaphysics, ethics, and the arguments for and against theism to come down strongly on either side, though I definitely lean towards atheism.

    I was discussing radiometric dating with a young-earth creationist friend not too long ago, and while I think that an old earth and evolution seem MUCH more supported by the evidence, I sometimes feel unsure at how justified I am in insisting they’re true given my very, very non-technical understanding of the science. My friend claimed that since there is a lot I don’t know about science and since I trust scientific experts as much as he trusts theologians, then at least some of my positions are faith-based. I wasn’t quite sure how to address that.

    I guess my question is this: How much does one have to study a particular subject/topic before one is justified in being more than agnostic on it?

    • 3lemenope

      How much does one have to study a particular subject/topic before one is justified in being more than agnostic on it?

      The $64,000 question!

      I’d propose a Turing-like test. If you can talk to an expert in the field about the field for, say, fifteen minutes without them realizing you aren’t a credentialed expert in the field, you are justified in putting more weight behind your opinions in that field. It doesn’t by any means indicate that you *are* an expert in the field–don’t let me be misunderstood on this point!–but it is a good armchair test for being conversant in the outstanding issues of the field enough to have an informed notion.

    • Palindrome

      You might be right about that, but maybe that’s setting the bar a little too high. I suspect that it would take a lot of detailed reading to convince an actual expert, and most people probably wouldn’t meet that standard. Maybe people don’t necessarily need to have studied a topic extensively and exhaustively to make knowledge claims — though, of course, it’s a good idea to do so, and the more familiar one is with a topic, the more confident they can be — but they should probably understand the gists of arguments and proportion their beliefs accordingly.

      For example, I mentioned above that I am not an expert when it comes to geology, evolutionary biology, and other topics relevant to the creation-evolution debate, but at the same time, I wouldn’t say that I’m 50/50 on whether the earth is six thousand years old or billions of years old. I accept the possibility that I could be wrong, and I’m open to new, opposing evidence, but despite not being anywhere close to being an expert, I feel comfortable in saying that the evidence certainly does appear to support evolution over young-earth creationism based on what I’ve read from both sides so far.

      All that being said, I’m still not totally sure if I know the answer to the question I posed in my previous post. I guess people should just try to be conscientious about proportioning their beliefs to the evidence and to try to stay open-minded when it comes to opposing arguments and evidence. That’s the best I’ve got.

    • Beth Clarkson

      I find that the more I study a particular subject or topic, the more likely I am to be agnostic about it because I am more aware of the underlying assumptions made in the area and the uncertainties regarding those assumptions.

    • Liralen

      I agree with 3lemenope – good question!

      It really all depends upon what claims you want to make based upon science. For the reasons stated by Beth Clarkson, I get really tired of people who “believe” that science has proven anything with respect to God’s existence. “Believe” in quotes since I lack the html skills to emphasize it. It’s a false belief asserted by people who don’t understand science at all.

      Google “the big bang theory” for example, and you’ll find that it was a term coined to mock the priest who believed Einstein was in error for believing in a static universe rather than an expanding one. You may need to add “physics” to the search to get results not related to the TV show, or better yet, “inflation” to get a better sense of the state of the knowledge, or better still, “new physics” or “superstring theory”.

      None of this proves the existence of God, but rather illustrates the danger of believing claims that science has proven God does not exist.

    • Kevin Osborne

      Everyone has a plan till he’s punched in the mouth-Joe Lewis
      Why decide? Know what you know.

    • Kevin Osborne

      Understanding, or seeing, from present awareness and deciding a permanency on that awareness, is a nice box. Seeing more is seeing more and isn’t so nice a box but is more. There Is always more.

  • http://wateringgoodseeds.tumblr.com/ Shira Coffee

    Thank you for, near the end of the post, getting to (what seems to me to be) the main problem with gods: the fact that they are psychologically human. It’s important for several reasons. For one thing, failing to make that distinction tends to make arguments about the existence of god(s) totally incoherent. The theist jumps back and forth between “ground of being” arguments and Biblical arguments without noticing any contradictions, and the atheist usually fails to call the theist on the contradictions.

    But more importantly, the fact that humans’ gods have human psyches is the source of most of the actual harm, modern and historical, wrought by religions. People project their own favorite concerns into the mind of god(s), magnifying the social power of some ideas and some ways of relating to the world at the expense of others. This can work for good, but not usually, and not for long.

    • Pofarmer

      “magnifying the social power of some ideas and some ways of relating to
      the world at the expense of others. This can work for good, but not
      usually, and not for long.”

      And you can demonstrate to theists over and over that this kind of thinking inevitably leads to bad outcomes, and you get the “but it’s not that way here” or it’s not that way anymore. As if Rwanda and Kosovo were 1000 years ago.

  • http://www.synapses.co.za/ Jacques Rousseau

    On the level of epistemology, I agree with you entirely, Dan. But many folk don’t understand that regular scientific knowledge is only justified to an incredibly high level (if we’re lucky), and that this is what we mean by “true” – they instead believe in logical certainty.

    My disbelief in gods is like my belief in some scientific proposition being true, yes – but I nevertheless call myself an agnostic atheist to make the political point that I reject a dogmatic assertion of certainty – just like I would do in matters of science.

    The tone of conversations with some atheists I encounter sometimes leads me to think that they fully understand the contingent, probabilistic nature of many scientific beliefs, but that they can somehow be certain of the falsity of metaphysical beliefs – the idea of agnosticism is a corrective to that.

    • emlyn

      Only the falsity of metaphysical beliefs thus far proposed by the venerable scriptures borne from the minds of men–and distant ancestors, at that.

      If aliens landed on earth tomorrow, thereby being necessarily technologically–and, it follows, intellectually–advanced, I might put a great deal more stock in any metaphysical belief system they proposed.

      But I just don’t trust silly humans. The scientific method, as it is of this writing, is the best idea we’ve come up with, so far, for explaining things.

    • Kevin Osborne

      What if you used the scientific method and no one believed it?

    • emlyn

      The conclusions–and the logic they imply–yielded by the scientific method exist independent of belief: gravitation DOES operate on mass whether we “believe” it or not; light IS refracted whether we “believe” it or not.

      The author, Steven Pinker, writes:

      “…the defining practices of science, including open debate, peer review, and double-blind methods, are explicitly designed to circumvent the errors and sins to which scientists, being human, are vulnerable. Scientism does not mean that all current scientific hypotheses are true; most new ones are not, since the cycle of conjecture and refutation is the lifeblood of science.”

      Religious dogma, by contrast, is subject to no such scrutiny.

    • Kevin Osborne

      If you understand relativity it must become pretty clear that one’s individual understanding of this place is what counts. I agree, therefore on dogma, whether religious or scientific. All is subject to scrutiny, to the degree the individual wishes to so inspect.

    • emlyn

      Utterly wrong.

    • Kevin Osborne

      “Life is so unfair.”
      Pee Wee Herman

    • emlyn

      “Eat the apple.”
      Talking Snake

  • Laurent Weppe

    I KNOW there is no God. I don’t just lack belief in gods. I know they don’t exist.

    Does that statement sound too extreme a statement for you?

    It sounds like lying. It sounds as sincere as a fundamentalist leader saying that God made him Emperor of the Universe, or as a white guy saying the the moral and intellectual superiority of his ethnicity has been scientifically demonstrated.

    As a rule, I keep a pretty strong wall between what I believe to be true and what I know to be true: beliefs, whether religious, philosophical, political, etc… are subjective and can be argued about or against. Knowledge is non-negociable, knowledge is not to be argued: any debate needs to be built upon a foundation of commonly aknowledged information: rejection of knowledge is a bully’s trick: it’s knowing that one’s ideas are likely or even certain to be beaten in a fair contest and therefore trashing the metaphorical set before said contest can even begin. But likewise, presenting one’s conviction, even extremely strongly held as knowledge is also an attempt to kill debate, as it posit from the get go that the answer to the debate’s question is already established and what’s left is to edify the ignorant audience and crush the dissenters’ deceit.

    • Metaphoenix42

      I wish people would be more hesitant to accuse others of lying. You disagree with him? You think what he’s written is completely stupid? Fine, you’re entitled. But saying he’s lying is accusing him of deliberately saying something false. It’s an accusation of malice.

    • Kevin Osborne

      Malice a foot thought. You could cripple that auto industry with such accusations.

  • 9B9K9999

    Well happy with that Dan. Some time back I concluded to myself that no proposed/publicised God had the slightest credibility, and that if such an entity existed, we humans had definitely not yet been properly informed; and given that humanity’s long intense efforts had not thus far produced hard truth, but lots of smarmy lies, every generation’s non-finding of evidence, instead discoveries of contradictions lies, added in Bayesian fashion to the conclusion no god existed: not now, not ever, not likely, and all the time diminishing in likelihood. Tautology for emphasis.

    • killer4hire

      It is possible that a creator god once existed and somehow came to an end while leaving her creation intact. This would not be a classical omni god off course.

    • Kevin Osborne

      And after that, Roller Derby!

  • emlyn

    The caterwauling theists would no doubt claim that this entire essay is only made possible by “God” and that our own reasoning and _ability_ to reason all this out is “God-given”, therefore “God” exists blah blah. Their cognitive dissonance is so deep-rooted and embedded in their cognitive processes that they are quite as certain of our delusion.

    • Metaphoenix42

      That’s the view held specifically by Christian presuppositionalists. Most theists don’t take this view at all. While it can be tempting to paint all theists with the “ignorant” brush, it’s simply not the case.

    • emlyn

      Let’s agree to give each other the benefit of the doubt when posting; that nothing we say is intended to create the illusion of easy stereotypes where that intent wasn’t meant. Let’s respect each others’ intellect.

      So in that light, I wasn’t suggesting that “all theists” argue this way, only that those who _do_ (of which there are many) would use it here.

      Nor do I think “all theists” are ignorant; I think “all theists” are indoctrinated and have neither realized nor internalized the necessity of applying ruthless critical thinking and honest scrutiny to a matter so utterly contradicted by experience of reality.

    • Metaphoenix42

      Well, unfortunately I’ve seen people try to create easy stereotypes over and over. If you’re not doing that – good!

    • emlyn

      Ah, so you’re stereotyping us. Just kidding!

      Stereotyping is damaging, there is no doubt, but I will confess that in this single, particular area of human endeavor–religion–I have no strong urge to discount the stereotypers nor to pussyfoot around the gargantuan inventors-perpetrators-disseminators of god myths.

      There may indeed have been a time in our very distant past when religion had some social usefulness, but we quickly approach a threshold whereafter such blatant and flagrant flouting of physical laws, natural processes and verifiable origins becomes a mockery of our species.

    • Joseph O Polanco

      If your assessment is accurate, why do so many scientists believe in God’s necessary existence?

      “Our body is made up of trillions of microscopic cells. Practically all of them must die and be replaced. Each type of cell has a different life span; some are replaced every few weeks, and others every few years. Our body’s system of programmed cell death has to be highly controlled to maintain the delicate balance between cell death and cell formation.

      Some studies indicate that when cells fail to die as they should, rheumatoid arthritis or cancer may result. On the other hand, when cells die before they should, it could cause Parkinson’s disease or Alzheimer’s disease. My research is linked to finding ways to treat these diseases.

      The complexity of the whole process is mind-boggling, yet its elegance displays exceptional wisdom. I believe it’s the wisdom of God. I use powerful microscopes to study the many complex mechanisms that regulate the process. Some mechanisms can trigger the destruction process within seconds if need be. The cells participate in their own self-destruction. The process is so well-designed that it’s absolutely awe-inspiring.” -Dr. Paola Chiozzi, former atheist (http://bit.ly/1bgG30d)

      “My work as a biochemist involved studying the design of certain molecules found in ocean-dwelling cyanobacteria, which are microorganisms that don’t depend on other living things for food. Some researchers think that these organisms were the first living things on our planet. Using energy from sunlight, the microbes use an extremely complex chemical process, which is still not fully understood, to convert water and carbon dioxide into food. I was also amazed at how cyanobacteria can harvest light with incredible efficiency.

      The deeper you go in the sea, the less light you find. So the cyanobacteria that live there must capture every scrap of light energy that comes their way, and they do this by means of highly sophisticated antennae. The collected energy is transmitted to food-producing centers with nearly 100 percent efficiency. The design of this light-harvesting machinery has even attracted the interest of solar-panel manufacturers. Of course, manufactured solar cells are nowhere near as efficient as the systems found in bacteria.

      I thought about engineers trying to imitate the marvelous mechanisms found in living things, and I came to the conclusion that life must have been designed by God. But my faith was not based solely on what I studied in science. It was also based on a careful study of the Bible.

      One of the many things that convinced me was the detailed fulfillment of Bible prophecies. For example, centuries in advance Isaiah described in abundant detail the death and burial of Jesus. We know this prophecy was written before Jesus’ death because the Isaiah Scroll, found at Qumran, was copied about a hundred years before Jesus was born.

      That prophecy says: “He will make his burial place even with the wicked ones, and with the rich class in his death.” (Isaiah 53:9, 12) Remarkably, Jesus was executed with criminals but was buried in the tomb of a wealthy family. This is just one example of the many fulfilled prophecies that convinced me that the Bible is inspired of God. (2 Timothy 3:16) In time, I became one of Jehovah’s Witnesses.” -Dr. Davey Loos, former atheist (http://bit.ly/16DSMSi)

  • Rational_Feminist

    There is a whole group of hypersceptics that should read this…they probably won’t though.

    • Metaphoenix42

      Are you referring to “radical skepticism” – the view that knowledge is impossible to obtain?

    • Agni Ashwin

      What knowledge?

    • Metaphoenix42

      Any knowledge at all.

  • http://polyskeptic.com/ Shaun McGonigal

    I also identify as an agnostic atheist, and do so for very similar reasons that Russell Glasser gave earlier. When having conversations with theists (or atheists in some cases) about agnosticism I try and emphasize that scientific “knowledge” is probabilistic, and so when we say we know something from an empirical source there is always the caveat of “I might be wrong, but probably not.”

    But I want to comment because your third usage of agnosticism seems similar to what is called, by some, ignosticism. Tristan D. Vick has written about this perspective for a while now, and has actually written a book about it.

    http://advocatusatheist.blogspot.com/2013/07/ignosticism-my-new-book.html

    I thought I would point you to it just in case you were unfamiliar. I have not yet read it, but I find much of his argument, from earlier blog posts, compelling.

    Bottom line; I agree with you, Dan, in the sense that I know there are no gods (especially well-defined ones), but I am open to the possibility of being wrong. Thus, when I’m talking with theists I identify as an agnostic because it allows me to avoid most of the meta-epistemological conversation I want to avoid and allows me to focus on the fact that they don’t have sufficient evidence to believe in their god.

    • Joseph O Polanco

      Sure we do –

      “It [] dawned on me that I had accepted evolution without really questioning it. For example, I had assumed that evolution was well supported by the fossil record. But it is not. Indeed, the more I examined evolution, the more I became convinced that the theory is more bluster than fact.

      Then I thought about my work with robots. Whose designs was I imitating? I could never design a robot capable of catching a ball as we can. A robot can be programmed to catch a ball, but only in precisely controlled conditions. It cannot do so in circumstances for which it has not been programmed. Our ability to learn is vastly superior to that of a machine—and mere machines have makers! This fact is just one of many that led me to conclude that we must have had a Designer.

      I became deeply interested in the many prophecies, or predictions, in the Bible. My study of those convinced me that the Bible really is from God. In 1992, Barbara and I were baptized as Jehovah’s Witnesses.” -Professor Massimo Tistarelli, former atheist (http://bit.ly/15xtINp) (Bracket mine.)

      “I had a deep respect for our body’s sophisticated design. For example, the way our kidneys control the amount of red cells in our blood is awe-inspiring. As you may know, red blood cells transport oxygen. If you lose a lot of blood or if you go to a high altitude, your body will lack oxygen. Our kidneys have oxygen sensors. When they detect an oxygen shortage in the blood, they activate the production of EPO, and the level of EPO in the blood may rise as much as a thousandfold. The EPO stimulates the bone marrow to produce more red cells, which in turn transport more oxygen. It’s wonderful! Strangely, I studied this process for ten years before it struck me that only God could design such an elegant system.

      I was intrigued by the way the Bible foretold the year of Jesus’ baptism. It shows exactly how much time would elapse between the 20th year of the reign of the Persian ruler Artaxerxes and the year Jesus would present himself as the Messiah. * I am accustomed to doing research—it is part of my job. So I researched history books to confirm the dates of Artaxerxes’ rule and the dates of Jesus’ ministry. Finally, I concluded that this Bible prophecy had come true on time and that it must have been inspired by God.” -Dr. Céline Granolleras, former atheist (http://bit.ly/1dNnE8I)

  • John Kruger

    I find that most of the “agnostic atheist” labeling is a result of a kind of meta-game for arguing with theists.

    The proving a negative/argument from ignorance gambit is so commonplace with theists that they will predictably ask for absolute certainty, then use the inherent impossibility of absolute certainty to argue that a god is possible. When the atheist just admits up front that zhe does not have absolute certainty, zhe can just skip ahead to why that is not a good basis for belief or how absolute certainty is in fact impossible and a red herring.

    Not doing that generally takes some backtracking and an admission that, “ok, I cannot be absolutely certain”, since if absolute certainty is not addressed by the atheist the theist will surely seize upon it, which can look like the theist scoring points even though it is just due to a completely unreasonable standard set up by the theist. I usually don’t mind using terms flexibly, provided the meanings are clear. If a theist wants to talk in terms of absolute certainty, that is not really a problem for my argument, so I will just clarify and go ahead and use the term how they want to use it. It just helps move things along, and demanding specific meanings of words be excluded can come off as somewhat petty.

  • http://www.dougberger.net Doug B.

    Why is it my job to humor people who hold irrational beliefs? They never “humor” mine.

  • Ryan_Hemenway

    “Doctor, it hurts when I do this!”.
    “So, don’t do that!”.
    I’m confident that if you just stop trying to use the incorrect term “know”, and instead use a more appropriate term to express your certainty, you will find your self-created angst dissapears.

  • redmom71

    “Atheists, Agnostics and Silly Lables” http://wp.me/p3PoLj-7p

  • Doug Littrell

    Boy, this is good!

  • kalimsaki

    Hi Daniel

    What is the purpose of life? How can I prove the existence
    of God?

    I suggest you to read this book:

    The Tenth Word: Resurrection and the Hereafter: from Risalei
    Nur Collection

    http://www.nur.gen.tr/en.html#maincontent=Risale&islem=read&BolumId=8486&KitapId=456&KitapAd=The+Words

    Said Nursi proves the existence of God in his books (Risalei
    Nur Collection):

    Here an example:

    Since man has been created on the most excellent of patterns
    and has been given most comprehensive abilities, he has been cast into an arena
    of trial and examination in which he may rise or fall to stations, ranks, and
    degrees from the lowest of the low to the highest of the high, from the earth
    to the Divine Throne, and from minute particles to the sun. He has been sent to
    this world as a miracle of Divine Power, the result of creation, and a wonder
    of Divine art before whom have been opened two roads leading either to infinite
    ascent or infinite descent. We shall explain the mystery of this awesome
    progress and decline of man’s in five ‘Remarks’.]

    http://www.nur.gen.tr/en.html#maincontent=Risale&islem=read&KitapId=456&BolumId=8520&KitapAd=The+Words&Page=-1

  • Ash Bowie

    I know there is no god. The reticence, I think, to admitting it is cultural politeness. Many can intuit that claiming straight out “There are no gods” violates social norms and would likely provoke anger and/or hurt feelings. In contrast, saying “I know Zeus doesn’t exist” isn’t an issue because no one’s feelings would be hurt by it. All the complex justifications related to agnostic epistemology is just a screen since very few atheists apply that kind of philosophical juggling to any other set of (non)beliefs (i.e. political beliefs or economic beliefs).

    Please note, I don’t think this is necessarily a bad thing. I think it’s fine in many cases to use non-inflammatory language when discussing one’s atheism with a broader audience. But we shouldn’t kid ourselves when we are talking to each other. If theists magically stopped being threatened and insulted when atheists express their non-belief, then this whole agnosticism justification would go away and we’d all place Jehovah right in the same “I know he doesn’t exist” basket as Osiris and Santa Claus.

    • Asemodeus

      The term agnostic was invented by a writer in the mid 19th century because he didn’t want to be associated with the term Atheist. Because back then, being labeled an Atheist could get you killed and/or ostracized from all of the really good parties.

      So yes, it is a fake third option people trot out in order to avoid calling themselves what they actually are.

    • Liralen

      Your conclusions are not only illogical, they are irrelevant.

      There are alternative explanations for coining the term that are consistent with what agnostics of today claim. See for example: http://www.infidels.org/library/modern/reason/agnosticism/agnostic.html

      However, it is not logical to assume that the origins of a term has any bearing at all on the meaning that a word has today. Or that the circumstances that existed when the word was coined has any bearing on motivations to use the term today. For example, my initial motivation when I used to be an agnostic was because I think that it is absurd to define yourself in terms of what you don’t believe. Calling myself “Atheist” would have been like calling myself “Asantaclaus”. I was only 12 years old, and didn’t really know what agnostic meant then, but later I learned it fit well.

      Your opinion that people don’t really believe what they say they believe is irrelevant.

    • Asemodeus

      “There are alternative explanations for coining the term that are
      consistent with what agnostics of today claim. See for example:”

      That’s nice:

      http://www.infidels.org/library/modern/mathew/sn-huxley.html

      Huxley invented the term to get away from Atheism. Plain and simple.

      “However, it is not logical to assume that the origins of a term has any bearing at all on the meaning that a word has today.”

      However, the motivations are the same. People who call themselves agnostic are just atheists too shy to just admit to their atheism.

    • Liralen

      Or not an atheist at all.

      But like I said, your opinion is irrelevant.

    • Sagrav

      “In contrast, saying “I know Zeus doesn’t exist” isn’t an issue because no one’s feelings would be hurt by it.”

      I think there are some polytheists here on Patheos who would beg to differ.

    • Ash Bowie

      I’ve known literally hundreds of neopagans and most understand that their gods don’t exist in any objective way. Deities are generally understood to be metaphorical. The tiny sliver of people who believe in a literal, personified Zeus constitutes such a small number of people (perhaps a few hundred) that it isn’t enough to develop the social pressure to prevent a-zeusians from openly acknowledging that they know that Zeus does not exist.

  • Forky Witherspoon

    Straw man arguments.

    • http://camelswithhammers.com/ Dan Fincke Camels With Hammers

      That’s a conclusion with no argument to justify it.

    • Forky Witherspoon

      Do you know what a straw man argument even is? You sound like someone who has never met an atheist.

  • jfigdor

    Technically this is called Igtheism: http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Ignosticism

    A third kind of agnostic atheist could be like either of the other two. She reasons that “God” is so poorly defined a concept, whether scientifically or metaphysically, as to be incapable of being clearly assessed and amounts to a kind of incomprehensible nonsense. It might be incomprehensible because the concept has no specifiable verifiable or falsifiable features, or because it is riddled with apparent contradictions or because what people mean when they refer to it is always so vague and amorphous. Such an agnostic sometimes claims to be open to scientifically, or maybe even metaphysically, thinking about the concept if it can ever be coherently formulated. But for the time being, they think it hasn’t been and so they lack any beliefs for or against God because there is nothing clear enough to either affirm belief in or affirm disbelief in at present.


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