Bad Atheist Arguments: “Atheism Isn’t a Claim”

Andy Bannister The Atheist Who Didn’t Exist bookThis is part 2 of a critique of The Atheist Who Didn’t Exist: The Dreadful Consequences of Bad Arguments (2015) by Andy Bannister (part 1). The book promises to critique a number of atheist arguments.

Chapter 2: The Scandinavian Skeptic

Each chapter begins with a silly story to illustrate the problem. In today’s episode, Fred is a friend of the author who disbelieves in Sweden. When our hero asks for evidence, Fred says, “You think that my denial of Sweden is an actual claim of some kind, that it’s a belief. But it isn’t. It’s a non-belief. There’s nothing I need to explain—rather, I’m talking about something I lack, namely a belief in Sweden, so I don’t need to give any evidence for it.” He says he doesn’t have to give evidence for his nonbelief in Atlantis, either.

Who has the burden of proof?

Bannister is annoyed by people who similarly say, “Atheism isn’t a claim. It’s just a non-belief in the claim ‘There is a god.’” Avoiding the burden of proof in this way may be a smart rhetorical move, he says, but it won’t work. “The first problem is that the statement ‘Atheism is just non-belief in God’ proves too much.” Cats have a non-belief in God—does that make them atheists? How about potatoes? Rocks? The color green?

This isn’t necessarily a ridiculous definition. Babies are atheists by this thinking, and that can make some sense. They begin with no god belief as a default, and they can evaluate and choose (or get indoctrinated into) a religion when they’re able to understand.

Another definition is that atheism is simply a “No” to the question, “Do you believe in gods?”

My own approach is that I’ll take a stand. I think that the evidence points to no gods, and I’ll make a positive argument for atheism. There are dozens of posts at this blog that do just that. But I shouldn’t have to since I’m not making the extraordinary claim—that’s the asymmetry that Bannister ignores. In the case of an extraordinary claim (and “There is a god” is certainly one), the default position is the denial of that claim: “There is a god” vs. “there isn’t.”

“Humans have been medically probed by aliens in spaceships” vs. “didn’t happen.”

“The Loch Ness monster exists” (or Atlantis or unicorns or leprechauns) vs. “nope.”

If the extraordinary claim isn’t supported with extraordinary evidence, I’m obliged to return to the default position. My position (no gods) is the default one, and it is my option to get its benefits. I don’t have to make a positive case. If you don’t like the asymmetry of our positions, don’t embrace an extraordinary claim.

And why is the Christian making a big deal about this? He’s characterizing the burden of proof as a burden. If he demands reciprocity before he will make his case, he’s missing an opportunity. Does he want me to earn the right to hear the Good News? Why not say that he will gladly make his case and simply hope that the atheist follows his lead?

I think it’s because his defense of Christianity is weak, and he wants to improve his overall argument by having something to attack as well. But never mind, Bannister is adamant that he doesn’t want to be the only one having to defend his worldview. “If my atheist friends wish to join the conversation sensibly—and I believe that atheism deserves its seat at the table of discussion as much as any other world view—then they must recognize their belief for what it is and engage accordingly.”

This refusal to be the only one defending his worldview is a popular view within apologetics circles, but it’s still indefensible. As another example, I respond to Greg Koukl’s version here.

True vs. false? Ordinary vs. extraordinary? No—beliefs are active vs. passive.

Bannister says that we’re categorizing beliefs wrong. We should use active vs. passive.

There are a near-infinite number of things I passively don’t believe in, if you were to press me: everything from floating celestial teapots to unicycling unicorns. . . . On the other hand, there are plenty of things I actively disbelieve: for example, I do not believe that George Mallory and Andrew Irvine made it to the summit of Everest in June 1924, beating Edmund Hillary and Tenzing Norgay by some thirty years. . . . For our active non-beliefs, disbeliefs that consume our time and energy, for those, yes, we do need to give reasons.

I’m seeing three categories of beliefs:

  • A, beliefs that are true (Sweden exists)
  • B, beliefs that are false (Atlantis exists)
  • C, things you could have a belief about but don’t (Bannister’s example: whether there are hippos in the bathroom).

He wants to call A an active belief, ignore B and hope no one asks him about it, and call C a passive belief. I want to focus instead on A (true beliefs) and B (false beliefs) and ignore C, since we’re both in agreement that no one cares about C.

Another useful way is to re-sort categories A and B into two different categories, extraordinary beliefs and mundane beliefs. Bannister doesn’t like either approach (true/false or extraordinary/mundane) because it doesn’t get him what he wants, parity with atheism.

He would come closer by dropping the demand that “atheism is a belief” and instead push for “atheism is a worldview.” Yes, maybe atheism is more correctly “the lack of a religious worldview,” but at least he would be closer.

Atheism leads to nihilism?

What follows from atheism? He quotes atheist Friedrich Nietzsche: “When one gives up the Christian faith, one pulls the right to Christian morality out from under one’s feet. This morality is by no means self-evident.”

What “Christian morality”? Do you mean “Western morality”? Do you mean the innate human morality that Christianity pretends to give back to us? What is unique about Christian morality that you don’t find in other cultures? Yes, there is non-self-evidence morality that is unique to Christianity (or Abrahamic religions), but that part sucks. Don’t get me started about the crazy immorality God condones in the Old Testament.

And then there’s the nihilism. He quotes an atheist:

[The atheist] must be bold to weave a bower of “endless night” upon the very edge of the abyss of abysses. This precarious cat’s-cradle he must make his intellectual habitation. It is not only belief in God that must be abandoned, not only all hope of life after death, but all trust in an ordained moral order . . .

and blah, blah, blah. You also have no belief in Norse religion and must abandon all hope of Valhalla. Oh my gosh! How can you go on??

I can appreciate that reality is daunting for some people. Perhaps it’s hard being part of the generation that’s supposed to be in charge. But as for me and my house, we follow the evidence.

Atheism a religion?

He seems especially desperate at chapter’s end when he quotes an atheist: “Atheism is a religion of sorts, or can be.” And then a sociologist who said that religion is “a unified system of beliefs and practices relative to sacred things.”

Doesn’t “worldview” work well enough? Why try to shoehorn atheism into the Religion category? Is it that misery loves company? Whenever I see this argument, it always sounds like, “Don’t tell me that I’m stupid for believing a religion! You’re just as stupid, since you’ve got a religion, too!” Casting a net this wide would capture many sports fans as well. And perhaps I’m just old fashioned, but I won’t call something a religion if it doesn’t have supernatural beliefs.

This is just another attempt to deny the asymmetry. You are the one making the incredible claim. Prove it.

Continue to part 3.

Too often we enjoy the comfort of opinion

without the discomfort of thought.
— John F. Kennedy

Image credit: Arild, flickr, CC

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What Are Your Thoughts?leave a comment
  • busterggi

    IKEA!

    • Kevin K

      IKEA, like cake, is a lie.

      • Jim Jones

        Isn’t IKEA in Guangdong Province?

        “Where they put lead in everything — except your pencil”.

      • busterggi

        No its not, I’ve been there. They have delicious cookies.

    • Joe

      Also, proof that Hell exists.

  • Kevin K

    “Sweden doesn’t exist” — Let’s go to Sweden, then. You can talk with the Swedes about their non-existent country.

    “God doesn’t exist” — .

    That’s the difference. One can be overcome with evidence and the other can’t be (or hasn’t been in the several thousands of years of trying to demonstrate the existence of a dizzying array of gods, goddesses, sprites, demons, angels, etc.)

  • The Bofa on the Sofa

    If we say that a theist is a person who believes in god. then an atheist is one who doesn’t. That in itself rules out dogs and rocks as atheists. Although I have no problem saying a rock is atheistic. Similarly, it is secular.

  • Jim Jones

    > one pulls the right to Christian morality out …

    Where can I find this “Christian morality”? There are (some) Christians who are moral. My judgment is that they would be no worse without Christianity – and might be better.

  • MNb

    “who disbelieves in Sweden”
    And Bannister’s false analogy is why I decided to maintain that I don’t believe anything. To me belief means defending a statement for which no evidence is possible. Bannister believes there is a god without evidence and I am convinced due to evidence there is a country names Sweden. The difference is crucial.
    As for the worldview thing: for me atheism is part of my worldview, but my worldview is much more. It contains all kinds of philosophical and political ideas. “There is no god” makes my worldview an atheist one, but there are quite some more atheist worldviews – from marxist ones to conservative ones.
    That said I don’t think the asymmetry as strong as BobS suggests here. I think agnosticism the null-hypothesis.

    • Halbe

      No, the null hypothesis is that supernatural beings do not exist, but that there could be things in the _natural_ world that resemble what some people currently call “gods”. Invoking the supernatural as a (scientific) hypothesis really makes no sense; admitting that we have a lot left to discover about the natural universe makes a lot of sense.

      • MNb

        You just saying no doesn’t amount to anything but: shrug.

        “Invoking the supernatural as a (scientific) hypothesis really makes no sense.”
        Where did I talk about science? The synonym of the scientific method is methodological naturalism, remember? If invoking a supernatural reality (ie accepting dualism) makes sense is a claim that has to be argued for or against. Fortunately it’s not difficult to do the latter. By definition you can’t use science for it.
        Hence here applies the same. There is asymmetry (mainly thanks to Ockham), but it’s not particularly strong.

  • Herald Newman

    I think you have a typo in your post Bob:

    “and I believe that atheism deserves its seat at the [t]able of discussion as much as any other world view”

    • http://www.patheos.com/blogs/crossexamined Bob Seidensticker

      Thanks. Fixed.

  • llamaspit

    2 things:

    1) Religious believers are offended by those who are non-believers because it makes them doubt their own admittedly unprovable beliefs, when others do not share them. If they can convince themselves that non-believers have a religion of sorts as well, it makes them feel better about their own choice.

    2) Religious believers often also believe that their acceptance of religious rules and structure is the glue that binds them to right acting. They fear that non-belief in religion equals having no morality. They fear their own ability to control their own impulses without the tamping effect of the fear of god’s punishment. So they distrust and fear those who do not choose the same structure to order their life and values.

    In the end, religion is not about love, but rather about fear. Fear of death, fear of one’s own instincts, fear of the other and the outsider, fear of punishment, fear of failure, fear of aloneness.

    • adam

      “. Fear of death, fear of one’s own instincts, fear of the other and the
      outsider, fear of punishment, fear of failure, fear of aloneness.”

      And the ultimate result of that fear, as demonstrated by history:

      https://uploads.disquscdn.com/images/eafe4502493500dea4e6452065e545ef602f7a21889d0ad499f2c769484b11c2.gif

    • Pofarmer

      In the end, religion is not about love, but rather about fear. Fear of
      death, fear of one’s own instincts, fear of the other and the outsider,
      fear of punishment, fear of failure, fear of aloneness.

      This.

      At it’s base Christianity is fear. It distorts everything it touches. Religion Poisons Everything.

    • MNb

      Fear for having to think for yourself and taking responsibility for what you think and the behaviour you base on that thinking.

    • TheNuszAbides

      In the end, religion is not about love, but rather about fear.

      exactly, plus it only becomes more insidious when love/community/altruism are blurred into it, falsely attributed to The Higher Power and/or Its Profound Instruction, contingent on unquestioning obedience, and so on.

  • Tony D’Arcy

    Antartica might be a better example. I’ve never been there, but I have no difficulty believing that it’s bloody cold, has Emperor penguins wintering on the ice, and also has a few human settlements of sorts. Ice going back nearly 1 million years, and life in the lakes under the ice cap. Oh and don’t forget the leopard seals waiting to pick off a penguin as they venture into the sea. OK back to Sweden which has the oldest known tree in the universe at some 11,000 years old. Archbishop James Ussher would be a wee bit embarrassed to find out that his dating of the start of the universe, according to his Biblical dating method, would mean a tree in Sweden was some 5000 years older than the creation of the universe !

    • Michael Neville

      Archbishop James Ussher would be a wee bit embarrassed to find out that his dating of the start of the universe, according to his Biblical dating method, would mean a tree in Sweden was some 5000 years older than the creation of the universe !

      That’s like the Onion story: Sumerians Look On In Confusion As God Creates World.

      • TheNuszAbides

        “Everything is here already,” the pictograph continues. “We do not need more stars.”

    • Rudy R

      The devil put that seemingly 11,000 year old tree on Earth after the creation of the 5,000 year old world, just to trick people. And god let the devil play out his ruse, just to test our faith. Checkmate, atheists!

    • Ignorant Amos

      I once had a whiskey on the rocks with ice from a core sample taken from the Antarctica. It was an unofficial guest onboard the British Antarctic Survey Ship HMS Endurance in 1982 while in the Falkland Islands. I couldn’t tell ya how old the ice was, but I was assured it was well into the tens of thousands of years old, perhaps a bit older. I can’t say the ice made a difference to the taste, but it felt like it did and the experience was a bit thought provoking. Especially as that ice was older than Adam & Eve….very much older.

      • TheNuszAbides

        i hadn’t really thought through the phrase “old as water” until just now.

  • Joe

    I’m glad Bob has saved us the trouble of reading this book. These are the same terrible arguments that I see from theists on FaceBook and in the Disqus comments section on a daily basis.

    • http://www.patheos.com/blogs/crossexamined Bob Seidensticker

      No, no! It’s the atheists who have the bad arguments!

      • Joe

        Well, as a result of this book, I’ve stopped using the “argumentum ad Swedenum”.

        • ZenDruid

          I’d say, one ‘argumentum ab rectum’ deserves another.

    • Pofarmer

      It’s all they got man. Ain’t no good arguments.

  • KarlUdy

    But I shouldn’t have to since I’m not making the extraordinary claim

    In my experience any atheist is making an extraordinary claim, usually either that the universe is eternal, or that a multiverse exists.

    • Michael Neville

      Your experience doesn’t match mine. I’ve heard, and have said myself, that the multiverse could exist. The only people claiming the universe is eternal are the discredited Steady State cosmologists, the late Fred Hoyle being the most famous. What atheists say, following the lead of cosmologists, is that the universe is 13.72 billion years old ±21 million years. This number is the result of various measurements of the cooling rate of the universe, its expansion, microwave background radiation measurements, and the like.

      As to a multiverse or how the universe came about, atheists and cosmologists give a resounding “we don’t know”.

      • http://www.patheos.com/blogs/crossexamined Bob Seidensticker

        Yeah, I’m not sure what Karl is concerned about. The multiverse is a prediction of Inflation, and Inflation is very well evidenced.

        Many Christians would prefer to imagine that atheists pulled the multiverse out of their collective asses, not because there’s evidence pointing that way but just because Christianity has painted us into a corner. We don’t mind a completely nutty and unfounded hypothesis, as long as it’s our completely nutty hypothesis rather than the Christians’.

        • Brad Feaker

          But the problem with multiverse hypotheses is they, like string theory, may prove to be un-falsifiable. So as a description of reality – they are useless. And string theory has already been struck a near mortal blow when experiments at the LHC have shown that super symmetry does not exist.

        • http://www.patheos.com/blogs/crossexamined Bob Seidensticker

          That could be, though another century or so of scientific cleverness might give some surprises in that area.

        • Brad Feaker

          I would hope so but the energy levels required to probe matter at that level are freaking enormous. Maybe if we can build a Dyson sphere we can explore that realm!

        • Greg G.

          Is a multiverse hypothesis less falsifiable than a universe hypothesis? A universe is evidence that universes can come into existence but a universe with the property of preventing other universes from coming into existence within their own space-time continuums would be more complex, and thus less likely, than one without that property. That would make a multiverse hypothesis the default position.

        • Brad Feaker

          Perhaps so, but proving it is another matter entirely. Yes – we know that a universe exists…ours. but we have a sample size of one. And there is no tangible empirical evidence that any other universes exist, so it cannot be the null hypotheses. Both string theory and inflation imply that the multiverse exists but until we have direct evidence of them we must remain open to the possibility that ours is the only universe.

          Cheers…

        • Greg G.

          Right. With a sample size of one, we can only say that at least one universe exists.

        • Brad Feaker

          True dat :)

        • http://www.patheos.com/blogs/crossexamined Bob Seidensticker

          And this is a small thing, but perhaps relevant: there is not one of anything. There isn’t one proton, there are many; there isn’t one black hole, there are many; there isn’t one star or planet or quasar, etc.

          You can fret about the infinite regress problem and say that you will eventually get back to one of something (though that’s stated without evidence), but it might be odd if there were only 1 universe.

        • Greg G.

          There isn’t one proton, there are many;

          Are we sure? See One-electron universe. It’s a short article.

          Perhaps it is one sub-quantum particle going forward and backward in time throughout the multiverse.

        • http://www.patheos.com/blogs/crossexamined Bob Seidensticker

          That would be just like quantum mechanics, wouldn’t it? Going to all sorts of effort just to mess with us.

        • Unhiddenness

          I’m not sure if you can say either position is the default in this case. There’s no real evidence for a multiverse, but thinking that our world is the only one seems small-minded.

        • Greg G.

          I said in a followup that all we can really say is there is at least one universe.

          But when the conditions are right to make something, it can be easier to make a lot of them rather than exactly one. If you have soap, water, air, and agitation, it is easier to make many bubbles than to make just one bubble. The limitation is which ingredient you run out of first.

          It is my vague understanding of some hypotheses of physics, and I may be way off, that if two equal and opposite forces spontaneously separate, space is created and the distance between the forces multiplied by the strength of the forces yields potential energy, which can be converted to kinetic energy which can be converted to matter by E=mc^2, so that space is equal in magnitude but opposite in sign to the energy, so it is a free lunch and many free lunches add up to a universe. So, there is no running out of ingredients.

      • KarlUdy

        As I replied elsewhere, I received this reply to my statement on this blog that the evidence was against an eternal universe: http://disq.us/p/yqf9k0

        • Michael Neville

          I’ve just read the link you gave. That’s one guy’s opinion and, in my opinion, he’s incorrect. According to the Big Bang theory, the universe had a specific starting point, which makes it non-eternal. There is a massive amount of evidence supporting the Big Bang (a term originated by Fred Hoyle, a Steady Stater). So I agree with you and disagree with LinCA that the universe is not eternal.

      • TheMarsCydonia

        I have no issue claiming the universe is eternal as a possibility and not an absolute claim, with multiple caveats:

        – By the eternal, I would not mean the christian “eternal” (which is something that exists for 0 seconds and in 0 space).

        Our universe could be eternal because of the effect of gravity. As anyone that has seen Interstellar knows, gravity affects time. The further back we would go to the singurality (if we could make such an observation directly), the slower time would pass due to the concentrated density and thus gravity, with a “second” perhaps stretching eternally. So the big bang would both be the beginning and infinitely old.

        – It also depends on what is meant by Universe, christian theologians usually go with a philosophical “nothing” as to what was before the “universe” but was there ever such a philosophical “nothing”? Physicists do not appear to think so, there was always “something” and if there was always “something” and the universe is “something”, then the universe always was. It really depends on the boundaries you define the universe as having.

        And again, I see these as possibilites, not as absolute claims of facts. I have to go with my understanding of what physicists present: “we don’t know but it could be this, based on our current understanding”

    • Joe

      You must only know atheist cosmologists then. Try mixing in less rarefied circles.

    • Rudy R

      Another strawman argument. Many atheists don’t make a claim that the universe is eternal or that multiverses exist. This atheist makes a claim of, I don’t know.
      Can theists make the same claim of, I don’t know?

    • Pofarmer

      KarlUdy. If you actually care about having any credibility here, which I doubt, could you refrain from soundbite stupidity such as that?

    • Brad Feaker

      Name this atheist. I have never heard that particular argument. There are unproven hypotheses that a multiverse might exist. It is a consequence that rises from the equations of string theory.

      Most atheists I know, when asked what came before the Big Bang, simply reply…”I don’t know”.

      Which is a perfectly fine answer. We may never know – and we may find out in the next year. You have erected a strawman.

      • MNb

        Fred Hoyle! Hahaha! He defended the eternal universe because the Big Bang proves god! Hahaha!
        Never mind that he has been dead for one and a half decade and hardly has been taken seriously anymore several decades before. Fred Hoyle proves that any atheist makes an extraordinary claim.
        Checkmate, evil communist marxist fascist materialist darwinist atheist. Karl Udy wins. In his own mind.

      • KarlUdy

        Most atheists I know, when asked what came before the Big Bang, simply reply…”I don’t know”.

        I just hope you’re not the following type of atheist then.

        Theist: Where did the universe come from?
        Atheist: I don’t know
        Theist: Could it be God?
        Atheist: No
        Theist: Why not?
        Atheist: Because you can’t tell me where God came from?
        Theist: ?!

        • Joe

          I hope you aren’t one of those theists who answers with ‘?!’

        • Brad Feaker

          No I am not…

          Theist: Where did the universe come from?
          Atheist: I don’t know. We may never know.
          Theist: Could it be God?.
          Atheist: It could be but I seriously doubt it.
          Theist: Why?
          Atheist: Because I see no evidence whatsoever for this being you call ‘God’
          Theist: But the Bible, natural theology, can’t prove God doesn’t exist, etc….
          Atheist: Uh – nope. Call me when you have some actual evidence.

        • Rudy R

          Lets try this another way.

          Atheist: Where did the universe come from?
          Theist: From God
          Atheist: Couldn’t it be from natural causes?
          Theist: No
          Atheist: Why not?
          Theist: Because God exists
          Atheist: ?

          Doesn’t get us any further in the discussion, no?

        • Kevin K

          Theist: Where did the universe come from?
          Atheist: I don’t know, and neither do you.

          FIFY. Stop inserting woo woo where the science is less than certain. I’m sure Laplace would thank you.

        • adam

          I just hope you’re not the following type of atheist then.

          Theist: Where did the universe come from?
          Atheist: I don’t know
          Theist: Could it be Flying Pink Invisible Unicorns farting glitter?
          Atheist: No
          Theist: Why not?
          Atheist: Because no such thing has been demonstrate and is frankly silly due to the NEED for MAGIC?
          Theist: ?!

        • Donalbain

          Could it be god?

          I would say no.

          Why.

          Because of a lack of evidence for this proposed god.

        • Giauz Ragnarock

          What’s God?

    • John Fargo

      You are at the wrong place if you think “I don’t know so gawd did it” is going to have any weight in a discussion. Go back under your bridge little xtian troll and let the grown ups talk.

    • Susan

      In my experience any atheist is making an extraordinary claim, usually either that the universe is eternal, or that a multiverse exists.

      And here you are, engaging with plenty of them who aren’t making that claim. Can you name one person here in this discussion who has made that claim?

      I don’t imagine you’re going to support that statement.

      • KarlUdy

        Actually in an earlier discussion on this blog I made a comment that the preponderance of evidence for physics and cosmology is that the universe is not eternal. And it was countered by LinCA with this comment: http://disq.us/p/yqf9k0

        So there’s at least one commenter on this blog who defends an eternal universe. I distinctly remember because I was quite surprised.

        I will add that another common extraordinary claim that atheists might make instead of the two mentioned would be that the universe either spontaneously came into being or was its own cause for being. Still, extraordinary claims no matter which way you turn.

        • Susan

          in an earlier discussion on this blog I made a comment that the preponderance of evidence for physics and cosmology is that the universe is not eternal.

          Sure. Define “eternal”.

          And it was countered by LinCA with this comment:

          In which LinCA simply said that “There is no universe that the universe is not eternal. There is evidence that it is.” and provided a link. You haven’t responded to that link.

          Please make a better effort to support your statement that

          In my experience any atheist is making an extraordinary claim, usually either that the universe is eternal, or that a multiverse exists

          Even better, what are youclaiming and how do you support it?

          Why is that so difficult for you?

          You spend all your time looking for motes despite the myriad beams, and it seems to be strategically aimed at doing anything but defining your terms and supporting them.

        • KarlUdy

          I thought you were asking me to name one atheist here who made the extraordinary claim either that the universe is eternal, or that the multiverse exists. ( Actually it was more of a challenge that I wouldn’t be able to name one who did.)

          I gave the name of one who claims that the universe is eternal.

          There are plenty of others here who have put their own hand up as claiming the existence of the multiverse.

        • Pofarmer

          There are models with an eternal Universe, like the paper you were linked to. There are models that do not have a finite Universe. There are models that have a multiverse. There are no models that revert to a deity. Fer Petes sake.

        • Susan

          I thought you were asking me to name one atheist here who made the extraordinary claim either that the universe is eternal, or that the multiverse exists.

          I was and you haven’t. I explained why. You should ask that atheist if yourself if they are making that claim. They haven’t indicated that they are.

          I also asked you to support your statement that “In my experience, every atheist is making an extraordinary claim, either that the universe is eternal or that (sic) the mutiverse exists.

          You haven’t provided one clear example, let alone backed up your original statement.

        • Joe

          You really aren’t grasping points made, or you are woefully ignorant of the cosmology behind the naturalistic (not atheistic as you insist) viewpoint.

          I can explain, but I feel you are deliberately trying to change the focus of this post.

        • KarlUdy

          As I said right at the beginning – in my experience every atheist is making an extraordinary claim.

        • Joe

          Every atheist? Or just the ones that care to turn their thoughts to cosmology?

        • KarlUdy

          Every one I’ve ever had a conversation with, or read the thoughts of, anyway.

        • Joe

          Well, like I said, you need to hang out with us common-or-garden atheists, not professor Lawrence Krauss or Steven Hawking.

        • KarlUdy

          So, why do you deny an eternal God as the cause of the universe?

        • Joe

          Because there’s no evidence for such a god. There’s no need for such a god, and there are more plausible explanations.

          It’s all about probability really. Still, kind of off topic.

        • MNb

          I already wrote that above, Dishonest Karl. I don’t mind if you call these scientific claims (calling them atheist puts you in the same category as YEC’s like Ken Ham – how telling that you take over his cheapo’s) extraordinary. The thing is that even those extraordinary claims are backed up with evidence. Your eternal god even can’t by definition.
          Or are you going full creationist? Now that would make my day.

        • Brad Feaker

          Who created God then Karl? Or are you just going to say God has always existed? Where did he exist before the Big Bang? The multiverse? Somewhere else?

        • adam

          MAGIC

        • Donalbain

          Lack of evidence.

        • epeeist

          So, why do you deny an eternal God as the cause of the universe?

          Have you stopped beating your wife as yet?

          Have you demonstrated that your god actually exists? No.

          Have you demonstrated that the universe was created? No.

          In other words, fallacy of the complex question.

        • Giauz Ragnarock

          If God is something like a human that can talk to us, they are free to propose such a theory of they were the cause of the universe. Perhaps God is an invalid cryptid?

        • Argus

          lack of evidence….next
          Why would you deny the Great Green Arkleseizure?

        • Susan

          you need to hang out with us common-or-garden atheists, not professor Lawrence Krauss or Steven Hawking.

          I don’t see where Lawrence Krauss or Steven Hawking make such a “claim” either. They simply provide plausible models based on the evidence.

          They don’t claim those models necessarily describe reality.

        • adam

          What is extraordinary about a disbelief in your deity?

          Don’t you have disbelief in every other deity?

        • Giauz Ragnarock

          Such deities necessarily include their creation myths, no mention of Christian/Jewish gods unless they are completely new characters only there because of cultural apropriation (it’s really strange how Christians can repeat the meme that no religions can ignore Jesus in one moment and rail against syncretism in a directly adjacent moment), and numerous phenomena they all claim to be the sole authority of.

        • Cluebyfour

          As I said right at the beginning – in my experience every atheist is making an extraordinary claim.

          ‘The most common sort of lie is that by which a man deceives himself; the deception of others is a relatively rare offense.’

        • Argus

          anecdote is not the singular of data.

        • MNb

          Let me ignore the point that LinCA (it’s the first time I meet him/her) isn’t exactly a regular, so should be called the exception that confirms the rule.
          You definitely have become dishonest, Karl.
          Yeah, LinCA made an extraordinary claim. LinCA also backed it up with evidence, something you never do – you never get any further than “waste your money on this 800 pages book if you want to understand where I’m coming from”.

        • http://musingsfromacorneroftheuniverse.blogspot.com/ Michael

          God being self-caused or eternal are standard, and thus also extraordinary claims by your criteria. What makes something an extraordinary claim?

        • gusbovona

          Extraordinary claims and extraordinary evidence are crucial concepts, but they are easily misunderstood and mis-applied. The only way I’m aware of that they make sense is as a lay, non-technical way of expressing Bayes’ Theorem (hat top to Richard Carrier):

          An extraordinary claim is one in which we have little or no background knowledge. Carrier cites claims similar to (I’m working from bad memory here):

          • I drove my car to the store.
          • I drove a jet plane to the store.
          • I drove a tank to the store.
          • I drove an interstellar spaceship to the store.

          Those claims are arranged in increasing order of extraordinariness: our background knowledge tells us that

          • cars exist, and people own them, and drive them
          • jet planes exist, but few people own them
          • tanks exist but no one owns them (like a car)
          • interstellar spaceships don’t exist

          When background knowledge fails to confirm part of a larger claim, the larger claim is more extraordinary because that part of the claim has to be established on its own, in addition to the rest of the claim.

        • busterggi

          Edit out the lines about tanks & you’ll be fine. There aren’t many out there but there are a few.

        • http://www.patheos.com/blogs/crossexamined Bob Seidensticker

          My version of Carrier’s sequence of incredibleness is here:
          http://www.patheos.com/blogs/crossexamined/2015/09/christian-claims-beyond-extraordinary/

        • http://musingsfromacorneroftheuniverse.blogspot.com/ Michael

          Very good illustration. That holds with how I have thought of things, with similar examples.

        • Zeropoint

          Given that people can and do own tanks, and that in some countries it’s perfectly legal to drive them on the roads, I’d put the tank claim quite a bit above the jet claim. :)

        • Argus
        • Argus

          “another common extraordinary claim that atheists might make instead of the two mentioned would be that the universe either spontaneously came into being or was its own cause for being.”

          Have you got some kind of evidence that this is a common claim. Not in my circles. The most common response I hear to these cosmological questions is WE DO NOT KNOW and let’s get a drink.

    • MNb

      Since 1964, when the Big Bang was confirmed by Penzias and Wilson, hardly an atheist defends an eternal universe anymore. It seems that you read too much about resurrections and too little about modern physics – you’re more than 50 years behind.
      Indeed the multiverse is an extraordinary claim. Unfortunately for you it is backed up:

      http://science.howstuffworks.com/10-reasons-multiverse-is-real-possibility.htm

      http://www.space.com/18811-multiple-universes-5-theories.html

      The christian proposal “goddiddid” has nothing even remotely comparable. So smart apologists – apparently not you – already argue that a multiverse is compatible with “goddiddid” by for instance adapting the Cosmological Argument.

      • Argus

        As an atheist…I revel in my blissful ignorance concerning cosmology. If we ever sort it out, I’ll read a popularization book about it and move on.

    • http://www.patheos.com/blogs/crossexamined Bob Seidensticker

      And don’t get Karl started on the “there’s insufficient evidence for the god hypothesis”! You will get an earful if you bring up that bullshit claim.

    • Kevin K

      “Atheists”? Seems to me you’re conflating “cosmology” with “atheism”.

      What concern is it of a theist if the current space-time continuum we call “the universe” had its inception in a prior space-time? Or if the multi-verse model proposed by some (but not all) cosmologists is correct?

      Seems to me you’re trying to insert theology into a scientific pursuit. As an atheist, I have no particular ax to grind one way or another with regard to the origins of the universe. As a science communicator and a fan of science in general, I find the discussions interesting, even if I don’t understand all the math.

      If you’re going to propose a different model from what cosmologists are currently working with, however, you ARE going to have to start with the math. Myths drawn from books written by people who did not know where the sun went at night won’t cut it.

      • adam

        “Seems to me you’re trying to insert theology into a scientific pursuit.”

        Well of course, Karl is going to be dishonest.

        You are denying his holey books claims of creation by a MAGICAL Sky Daddy.

        • Kevin K

          I don’t interact with him enough to know whether he believes in such things as inerrancy or literalism, so I don’t know if he believes that an invisible fairy poofed the universe into existence all at once with magic words. But even if he takes the creation myths at the beginning of the Big Book of Myths as metaphorical, it doesn’t inform the scientific debate.

          If he does believe in myth-as-fact … well … science has shown that particular myth is wrong no further than 10 words in. It’s not useful to even bring it into the discussion of cosmology. Might as well invoke unicorns and rainbow farts.

        • adam

          ” Might as well invoke unicorns and rainbow farts.”

          Which is why I do invoke those.

        • al kimeea

          why are we here? Yahweh had gas.

      • Michael Neville

        you ARE going to have to start with the math. Myths drawn from books written by people who did not know where the sun went at night won’t cut it.

        The same people who thought π = 3.

        • MNb

          That’s questionable. It rather seems to me that someone who thinks it important to tell both the diameter and circumference has no clue about pi – ie doesn’t realize that the ratio is a constant.

        • Michael Neville

          You know that and I know that but the people who had to give both diameter and circumference didn’t know that. Plus one or other or both dimensions given is wrong.

        • Erp

          Not wrong just not very precise if you consider rounding (and there will always be rounding if both numbers given are rational).

        • Michael Neville

          Personally I have no problem with the description of the “molten sea” in 1 Kings 7:23 and 2 Chr 4:2. It tells me that a bunch of Hebrew priests in Babylon in the 6th Century BCE weren’t as knowledgeable as their Egyptian and Greek contemporaries. But professional godbotherers have never concerned themselves with the real world unless money and power were involved.

        • martin_exp(pi*sqrt(163))

          it’s interesting that euclid actually never proved that this ratio is the same for all circles. he did prove that “Circles are to one another as the squares on their diameters.” (book XII, proposition 2), which implies that the ratio of the area to the square of the diameter is a constant (pi/4). to explicitly relate area and circumference was apparently left to archimedes.

    • Cluebyfour

      In my experience any atheist is making an extraordinary claim…

      In other words, you don’t get out much.

    • Herald Newman

      Depends on what they mean by “eternal universe”. Present evidence suggests there was never a time when the universe didn’t exist. In that sense the universe is eternal.

      • http://www.patheos.com/blogs/crossexamined Bob Seidensticker

        That’s an interesting angle, thanks.

      • Kevin K

        Theists of a certain stripe count “eternal” as existing both forward and backward in time eternally.

        Since the Big Bang can be marked as having happened 14.7 billion years or so ago, the “before” the BB is non-existent. Therefore, the universe is not backwards “eternal”.

        Of course, moving forward, we still haven’t decided whether the universe will end in a Big Crunch or a Big Fade. Only the latter would constitute “eternal”…but in that scenario, eventually every atom, atomic and subatomic particle in the universe ends up being eternally whizzing away from every other atom, atomic and subatomic particle in the universe. In other words, a very cold, very dark, very lonely universe. Most physicists these days consider the latter scenario the more likely.

        Why this should matter to the theist, I cannot say.

        • TheMarsCydonia

          In my experience, theists trying to argue for the existence through the cosmological argument count “eternal” as existing for 0 seconds.

          Which is somewhat puzzling to me as how this counts as existence.

      • Argus
    • TheMarsCydonia

      How would these claims be extraordinary?

      And are they claimed as facts or as possibilities?

    • Argus

      This atheists makes neither claim….i have no idea about these topics. All I can say is that the universe is and that it seems to have expanded suddenly from a hot dense states about 13 billion years ago.

      Beyond that..I plead ignorance. My lack of knowledge about cosmological physics has nothing to do with my credulity concerning all the god claims I have so far seen.

  • DanD

    If atheism makes a claim, then any given religion (except possibly the UUs) makes the same claim. If I claim that no gods exist, and Christians claim that no god but God exists, then they have just as much burden to disprove the existence of N gods as I do N+1.

  • katiehippie

    “Don’t tell me that I’m stupid for believing a religion! You’re just as stupid, since you’ve got a religion, too!”
    This one I will never understand. They try to make it a religion too because it loses credibility that way? They want us to be stupid like them?

    • http://www.patheos.com/blogs/crossexamined Bob Seidensticker

      And they make the analogous argument about faith. “Don’t wag your finger at me! I may be an idiot for having a faith position, but … but you believe stuff on faith, too! So who’s the idiot now??”

    • http://musingsfromacorneroftheuniverse.blogspot.com/ Michael

      It’s more “I know you are, but what am I?” it seems to me. Or the accusation of hypocrisy and possibly a tu quoque fallacy.

  • Cozmo the Magician

    I actively believe that anyone who calls atheism a religion is a complete twit. (;

  • http://musingsfromacorneroftheuniverse.blogspot.com/ Michael

    The burden of proof applies to someone making a claim. It doesn’t when they aren’t actually trying to convince someone. So our hypothetical disbeliever in Sweden doesn’t have to defend it, but someone else can just dismiss it (“that which can be asserted without evidence can be dismissed without evidence”). The same goes for belief in god(s). Many people simply say they believe, but don’t attempt to convince anyone else. Well, fine then. I do think that disbelief can be a claim in some cases though, if someone says there is no evidence for something, or it has been disproven. Thus it depends on the circumstances.

    I don’t think atheism is a worldview either. Part of many worldviews, surely, but not itself enough for one. This could be said of theism as well. A belief in god(s) can be part of many different worldviews. I notice the definition of religion “a unified system of beliefs and practices relative to sacred things.” simply blatantly contradicts atheism too, whether defined as belief there are no gods, or merely lack of belief in them. Again this applies to theism too. How is it he can’t notice this?

    • http://www.patheos.com/blogs/crossexamined Bob Seidensticker

      You raise a good point about whether atheism worldview or not, though I wonder if the same question hangs of Christianity as a worldview. You can be a Christian, but your political affiliation might be another part of your worldview. Or your hobbies or job.

      Christianity as a partial worldview is certainly wider than atheism, I’ll grant you.

      • http://musingsfromacorneroftheuniverse.blogspot.com/ Michael

        I think Christianity would qualify as a worldview, though it can also be a part of one. Of course it’s going to differ by person. Atheism can be part of a worldview (Marxism, Objectivism and Secular Humanism would be three examples) but I don’t think it’s sufficient itself. Nor theism.

        • epeeist

          You could add flavours of Buddhism and “New Age” beliefs to that. To be atheist is not necessarily to be rational or to have a naturalistic outlook.

        • http://musingsfromacorneroftheuniverse.blogspot.com/ Michael

          That’s true. It astonished me to encounter atheists who were philosophical idealists (believing all is mind) and bought ideas from What the Bleep Do We Know? and The Secret. How they justify that I don’t know.

        • Clint W. (Thought2Much)

          Yup. I know at least a couple of atheists that share posts about astrological signs on Facebook. Lack of a belief in gods certainly doesn’t stop people from believing all kinds of other (equally ridiculous) woo.

  • Albionic American

    I don’t see what atheism has to do with progressive utopianism. A man who likes his atheism straight can logically and parsimoniously accept the tragedy of the human condition: God doesn’t exist; but then “social progress” doesn’t exist, either, because man’s nature doesn’t mysteriously change in The Current Year.

    Instead we see all these “atheists” on this site who think “atheism” means promoting a whole list of woo-woo beliefs about women, nonwhite people and people with broken sexuality that they would question and reject in other contexts.

    • Herald Newman

      Atheism is a single position to a single question. It says nothing about how rational you are about other topics.

      • Argus

        Yup..I think even Scientologists are generally atheists…right?

        Hail, Xenu!

        • busterggi

          Ah, they’re a bunch of Xenu-phobes.

    • Kevin K

      God doesn’t exist; but then “social progress” doesn’t exist, either, because man’s nature doesn’t mysteriously change in The Current Year.

      Word salad.

      1. God doesn’t exist. A true statement. Prove otherwise.

      2. Social progress exists. The Inquisition doesn’t burn atheists at the stake anymore (as much as some would like them to). Nor is slavery considered a moral good. Even the Muslim world decries the human rights horror that is Daesh.

      3. Man’s nature doesn’t mysteriously change at any time. Humans have slowly, slowly, s l o w l y become more enlightened, more informed … and there have been and will continue to be the inevitable backslides into tribalism and fear. Because in-group protection is pretty much hard-wired into us as an instinctual behavior. Without it, we’d probably be a band of naked apes roaming the savanna, getting picked off by the cheetahs.

    • adam

      “I don’t see what atheism has to do with progressive utopianism.”

      Good
      Where does it claim to?

      “A man who likes his atheism straight can logically and parsimoniously
      accept the tragedy of the human condition: God doesn’t exist;”

      Yeah, OK

      “but then “social progress” doesn’t exist, ”

      History demonstrates that it does.

      “Instead we see all these “atheists” on this site who think “atheism”
      means promoting a whole list of woo-woo beliefs about women, nonwhite
      people and people with broken sexuality that they would question and
      reject in other contexts.”

      REFERENCE and LINK needed.

      Atheism means a disbelief in deity.

      That’s it.

      No woo-woo beliefs about women like theism:

      https://uploads.disquscdn.com/images/04e5ae761fe126105b4d80b68041c49653909ef1043f9de201675c854345be9a.jpg

      ” nonwhite people ”

      https://uploads.disquscdn.com/images/9a05fc018943ff4012d88f3d3563c9c93e3d481581dfe175190d77dcac7fee81.jpg You mean like Jesus?

      “people with broken sexuality”

      You mean like theists? https://uploads.disquscdn.com/images/f488e0c02baa291ceffcdb8e4f96261951bf94043a0dbb44de063d7e59a97715.jpg

    • http://www.patheos.com/blogs/crossexamined Bob Seidensticker

      As has been noted by others, atheism is just a “No” to the question, “Do you believe in gods?” Atheists do tend to share other beliefs, but that’s just correlation. I confess that I haven’t thought much about causation.

      • Robert, not Bob

        I think there’s partial causation. Atheism removes one of the biggest restraints on people’s moral reasoning, allowing many people to follow a course they might otherwise be prevented from taking. Not a direct cause, but it stretches the odds.

        • Ignorant Amos

          What a loada asinine ballix.

        • MNb

          Then I’d like you to explain how comes that atheists are underrepresented in prison.

          http://www.patheos.com/blogs/friendlyatheist/2013/07/16/what-percentage-of-prisoners-are-atheists-its-a-lot-smaller-than-we-ever-imagined/

          Until then what IA wrote underneath. Afterwards probably as well.

        • Clint W. (Thought2Much)

          Maybe atheists actually are smarter, so they don’t get caught when they commit crimes like all of the dumb believers?

          Or, atheists secretly rule the world, so whenever an atheist is caught committing a crime, all they have to do is show they’re an atheist by making the secret hand gesture, and the atheists in charge of the system just let them go.

        • Richard Cranium

          Maybe professing a religious belief is a handy way to say you’ve been rehabilitated.

        • Argus

          In many prisons it is indeed true that jailhouse converts get special treatment if the warden is religious.

          On the other hand….

          https://i.imgflip.com/k1gkl.jpg

        • dala

          Probably because there are benefits to being perceived as religious in prison. Things like additional recreational activities, a better chance at finding a group to belong to, and looking good to parole boards.

        • Giauz Ragnarock

          “Atheism removes one of the biggest restraints on people’s moral reasoning”

          How? If so, would you rate that as better or worse depending on the claimed deity?

        • Argus

          I would have to personally disagree. I was a Christian for 18 years — atheist for 13 years and counting. I cannot imagine anyone who knows me saying I have followed this imagined “course otherwise prevented from taking..”

          In fact, I would say that now, I am more active in my community and charitable activities as a rotten, morally depraved atheist :)

          Atheism does not address morality..full stop..it is one position on one claim.

        • Ignorant Amos

          Atheism does not address morality..full stop..it is one position on one claim.

          Something that the knuckleheads are really struggling to grasp.

  • Ficino

    The burden of proof on someone making an assertive claim, either positive or negative, is greater than the burden of doubt about someone else’s assertive claim.

    Someone who says, it’s the case that P, and someone who says, it’s the case that not-P, both make assertive claims. They have a burden of providing grounds for the truth of their assertions. The speech act conditions and logical structure are the same.

    The person who doubts either claim has the lesser burden of showing why the assertive claim might not be true. The burden of doubt will increase, the closer the doubted claim comes to an analytic proposition. If I say that the triangle has three sides, you’re performing a faulty speech act if you reply, “Well, I doubt that,” since you’ll be annihilating all discourse. If I say that event X happened in the distant past, I may be able to give solid evidence for this, but you’ll be justified in doubting my claim until I show that the evidence is persuasive. [lots of questions about antiquity never get solved conclusively, of course.]

    • Herald Newman

      > The burden of proof on someone making an assertive claim is
      > greater than the burden of doubt about someone else’s
      > assertive claim.

      First, what exactly is this “burden of doubt”? I’m not aware of such a position.

      The burden of proof lies with anyone trying to overcome the default position. Nobody has a problem with people who believing that there are no ghosts, vampires, UFO abductions, or other hooey, all of which are unprovable positions. “There are no gods” is a very reasonable default position on theism.

      > If I say that the triangle has three sides, you’re performing a faulty
      > speech act if you reply, “Well, I doubt that,” since you’ll be
      > annihilating all discourse.

      Not really. What you’re doing is disputing a definition. If we cannot agree what terms mean then we cannot have a meeting of the minds, or a rational discourse about X. That doesn’t mean we cannot have a conversation about definitions.

      • Ficino

        The distinction between burden of proof of an assertive claim and the lesser, negative burden of casting doubt was made by Douglas N. Walton in his article, “Burden of Proof,” Argumentation 2 (1988) 233-254. I find it a useful distinction, and I also like Walton’s point that “it is the case that not-P” is an assertive claim.

        Re triangles: I think yes, really. Do you think someone can rationally propose a different definition of the triangle without creating a private language? That’s why I gave this as an example of an analytic proposition. But I agree that we can dispute heaps of definitions of various terms. Basically I was trying to think of cases where we may think one can’t rationally raise doubt about an assertive claim.

        • Greg G.

          “it is the case that not-P” is an assertive claim.

          But “I don’t think P is the case” is an expression of doubt, not an assertive claim. “I do not think gods exist” is a declaration of doubt but it is a different claim than “there are no gods.”

        • Ficino

          Exactly. That’s the sort of difference Walton was highlighting in his article.

        • Herald Newman

          So here’s my question. What makes “there are no gods” so fundamentally different from “there are no vampires” (or insert any arbitrary extraordinary claim that cannot be demonstrated false)?

          There are an awful lot of people who will tell me that my belief that there are no gods is a faith position (it isn’t), and that strong atheism is a religion, but then seem to have no problem agreeing with me that vampires aren’t real.

          From an outsiders position god claims are all just as absurd as the claim that vampires exist. The only difference I see is that god believe is still commonplace.

        • Ficino

          I agree with your paragraphs 2 and 3. I think a lot of religious apologists equivocate on “belief/believe” or are confused about how faith is a subset of belief (at least I think it is). Then there is faith as in trust in someone’s word or reliability and faith as a theological virtue. I think arguments are dishonest when they try to say that we make an act of faith when we decline to believe in god/s.

          I’m not sure I can give a good answer to your q in paragraph 1. From the classical theist POV, the person who says “there is no God/god” bites off much more than the person who says there are no vampires. The theistic apologist usually defines God as metaphysically necessary, so that s/he thinks the unbeliever cannot account for why anything exists, why there is logic, etc. The denier of vampires pays no such cognitive price. The theist thinks that God is so special that it’s not special pleading to do without evidence. In fact, some sophisticated apologists deny in principle that there can be “evidence” for claims that God exists, because, they say, that’s a metaphysical question, not a question to which sense data are pertinent. God can’t be perceived, so no “evidence” should be sought; instead, you should do metaphysical analysis of “being.”

          I think apologists like those I try to describe usually wind up begging the question.

          Well, that’s the best I can think of.

        • adam

          “From an outsiders position god claims are all just as absurd as the
          claim that vampires exist. The only difference I see is that god
          believe is still commonplace.”

          https://uploads.disquscdn.com/images/8a1d48c6ea9ae94abc4986173c1c9496602e6dc86fef2062e9417b9a7f4f213b.jpg

    • gusbovona

      But that fails to draw the distinction between “You have not made a sufficient case for P” and “It is the case that not-P.” The burden of proof is still on those holding P when someone claims “You have not met your burden of proof for P.” Adjudicating the lesser claim “You have not met your burden of proof for P” just equates to adjudicating the original claim, P. Not-P is nowhere to be seen.

      So, when the burden of proof for P is not met, we don’t assert P. And, that has nothing to do with asserting not-P. It’s the old “atheism is a lack of belief” stated in slightly more formal terms.

      • Ficino

        Exactly. See below.

    • http://www.patheos.com/blogs/crossexamined Bob Seidensticker

      how does the extraordinary-ness of the claim enter in? Is there no default assumption that doesn’t need to be defended?

      • Ficino

        Hi Bob, I’m glad I discovered your blog recently. Where was I all this time?

        I don’t think I know enough to give a concise answer. In your questions, I think the idea of a default assumption that “doesn’t need to be defended” will be challenged in an actual discussion with a Christian apologist. Unless you’re in a debate before judges, there won’t be a third party to determine how “extraordinary” must be the evidence to support an “extraordinary claim.” I am hearing in my mind Christian apologists, perhaps Calvinistic presuppositionalists, replying that default assumptions will be system-dependent, so that the naturalist rules out miracles out the outset. They’re already thereby engaging in a burden-shifting strategy. So while you and I may agree on default assumptions, the Christian might not. Then we go around in the circles that we all go around.

        I don’t know how to do Richard Carrier-style Bayesian probability calculations, nor do I know how widely their results are accepted.

        It may be best if I link Walton’s article, which I mentioned earlier down the thread.

        https://pdfs.semanticscholar.org/e7e9/e902e7fe7a1a0cfd0871a69e17078a1d52c9.pdf

        I hope the link will work.

        Here are a few excerpts:

        “In examining any particular text of argumentative discourse, the question may (and should) be asked: what strength of evidence is required to persuade?”

        “In a particular type of persuasion dialogue called a dispute, the thesis of the one participant must be the opposite (negation) of the thesis of the other participant. Not all reasoned dialogues are persuasion dialogues. And not all persuasion dialogues are disputes. In some dialogues, the goal of one side is to prove a particular thesis while the goal of the other side is merely to throw doubt on the first side’s attempted proofs.”

        Since Walton works on the pragmatics of debate, his focus is on what one side does to try to shift burden of proof by using moves that normally are fallacies but, in the context of a particular discussion, might not be so.

        I’m guessing the above may not be very helpful. Maybe you or others can pitch in with corrections or further ideas.

        Later, F

        • http://www.patheos.com/blogs/crossexamined Bob Seidensticker

          Hi Bob, I’m glad I discovered your blog recently. Where was I all this time?

          That’s what I was asking! Well, don’t beat yourself up. Here you are, you’ve mended your ways, and that’s all that matters.

          In your questions, I think the idea of a default assumption that “doesn’t need to be defended” will be challenged in an actual discussion with a Christian apologist.

          That’s true, but I think it’s without justification.

          If you say, “I believe Atlantis exists as a populated city today, under the ocean” and I reject that hypothesis, I would have no burden of proof.

          Unless you’re in a debate before judges, there won’t be a third party to determine how “extraordinary” must be the evidence to support an “extraordinary claim.”

          True, and that’s unfortunate. A Christian could make any claim and simply deny that he’s making an extraordinary claim. As a thought experiment, though, the imaginary (or real) third party will help us decide what’s extraordinary and what’s default.

          default assumptions will be system-dependent, so that the naturalist rules out miracles out the outset.

          That doesn’t describe me. I’m happy to consider evidence for miracles. I’m even happy to change my mind and agree. But you will have had to show me a mountain of evidence. (And who would apologize for that stance?)

          while you and I may agree on default assumptions, the Christian might not. Then we go around in the circles that we all go around.

          Yes, it can become a fruitless exercise.

          I don’t know how to do Richard Carrier-style Bayesian probability calculations, nor do I know how widely their results are accepted.

          Pessimist viewpoint: that wouldn’t matter. The Christians listening wouldn’t be convinced by that.

          It may be best if I link Walton’s article, which I mentioned earlier down the thread.

          Thanks for the excerpts.

          If you have any critique of the Christian “I won’t take the burden of proof solely” demand, I’d like to read it.

        • Ficino

          “If you say, “I believe Atlantis exists as a populated city today, under the ocean” and I reject that hypothesis, I would have no burden of proof.”

          Under Walton’s distinction of kinds of burdens in argument, you would have a burden of proof only if you made an assertion of the contradictory, that it is not the case that Atlantis exists etc. You could give strong reasons but perhaps could not conclusively demonstrate this negative assertion, for the interlocutor could bring in all sorts of dumb auxiliary assumptions like – Underwater Angels! or whatever. I don’t know whether “Geddoudaheah” would count as a negative proof, exactly, heh heh.

          On the other hand, if you were only voicing doubt that the interlocutor’s claim is true, then you’d have no burden of proof. You’d only have the lighter burden of casting doubt on the claim. Rejection of the claim would count as a strong expression of doubt in my book, not as an assertive claim unless you so phrased it.

          So if the Christian tries to reframe a burden of casting doubt as though it is a burden of proving an assertive claim, such a move needs to be resisted right away.

        • Ignorant Amos

          I don’t know how to do Richard Carrier-style Bayesian probability calculations, nor do I know how widely their results are accepted.

          Have you read Carrier’s “Proving History” in which he goes into detail on the application of Bayes Theorem as a method in pursuit of historical probability and the problems and pitfalls with the current methods used in the academy of bible studies.

          http://vridar.org/2012/04/10/richard-carriers-proving-history-bayess-theorem-and-the-quest-for-the-historical-jesus-chapter-1-a-review/

        • Ficino

          Thanks. I’ve heard Carrier in various videos and have read some of his articles and parts of books, but not this one. I don’t think I can get to it any time soon.

        • Ignorant Amos

          If, or when you do get around to it, “Proving History: Bayes’s Theorem and the Quest for the Historical Jesus” should be read as the forerunner to the much larger and more detailed “On the Historicity of Jesus: Why We Might Have Reason for Doubt” as they a two part volume.

          https://www.bibleinterp.com/PDFs/Bayes.pdf

      • Ficino

        Here’s an example about the resurrection. Bodies that are actually dead don’t come back to life after a day and a half, as far as we know. On the other hand, do people undergo torture for refusing to recant what they know is a lie? Not usually, but some might under some conditions, and the hidden assumptions here need to be challenged: that the apostles were in fact martyred as later traditions say; that if they were, they were martyred for religion and not sedition or the like; that they were given a chance to recant; etc. So I think the “bodies don’t come back to life” assumption is a good default, but it needs back-up, since the rival assumption about the apostles’ veracity has to be unpacked.

        • Kodie

          How much does it really need to be unpacked? Are you willing to die rather than recant for what you know sounds kind of kooky, for which you weren’t an eyewitness to, because you believe the story that others were eyewitnesses and died because they knew it was true? I mean, how sure are you of that, that you would die rather than admit you have doubts?

          I’m not asking you because I think you would cave. Lots of people don’t cave. The story claims they know for sure, which we don’t know, and then further goes on to emphasize for effect that they were martyred, which is two different things. We know some people can be so convinced of something that isn’t true, could not be true, and voluntarily die over their refusal to recant. You know this because it doesn’t just happen over Christianity. How much of a leap are you willing to make that the apostles were actually dying from knowledge that something was true vs. they just fell for the same story you did, only much earlier?

          18 years after Waco, Davidians believe Koresh was God

        • Ficino

          I’m not sure what you’re objecting to. Your first paragraph isn’t about people dying for what they know is a lie, which is what Christian apologists say the skeptic has to postulate in the case of the apostles – i.e. the so-called Twelve and James and Paul or whoever. And your second paragraph offers reasons to disagree with the Christian apologist. Aren’t you unpacking the apologist’s Who Moved the Stone? argument? I think we’re pretty much agreeing.

          When I had just gotten saved, I read Frank Morison’s book, Who Moved the Stone? I thought it was very convincing when it argued that the apostles would not have lied about Jesus’ resurrection because later on they were martyred for preaching it. It was only much later, after some unpacking, that I realized how weak Morison’s case is. I haven’t read N.T. Wright’s book defending the resurrection, reported to be 800 pages, so I don’t plan to. I’m guessing it’s largely the same stuff as Morison argued decades ago.

        • Greg G.

          Robert M. Price reviewed Wright’s tome at http://www.robertmprice.mindvendor.com/rev_ntwrong.htm

          One might save a lot of time and money by finding a copy of George Eldon Ladd’s I Believe in the Resurrection of Jesus (Eerdmans, 1975), which used most of the same arguments at a fraction of the length, and without skimping. The arguments have not gotten any better. They are the same old stale fundamentalist apologetics we got in Ladd, essentially the same old stuff we used to read in Josh McDowell and John Warwick Montgomery.

        • Ficino

          Lots of good points and info here from Price, thanks for linking.

        • Argus

          Thus saith, the Bible Geek….

        • Ignorant Amos

          Well, is he off on any point? Have you read the ballix a mean?

        • Argus

          Robert Price does a podcast called The Bible Geek.

        • Ignorant Amos

          Yeah, I know he does, I’ve read Price…it was the “thus saith” bit that made me curious. Like he was just preaching, or was saying something that was inaccurate due to your having a reading differently in Wright’s tome…that’s all.

        • Argus

          oh no….just a silly jest on my part…often on the podcast…some listener will write a question and say: “What saith the Geek..” I think Price has a tendency to give equal credence to some pretty out there hypotheses but I love his enthusiasm and knowledge. I own his Pre-Nicene New Testament.

        • Ignorant Amos

          Ah…right, I see, cool.

        • Kodie

          I am not unpacking anything. I don’t have to follow the apologists’ line of reasoning, because it’s not a reasonable way to go. I don’t have to contend with martyrs dying for something they “know is a lie.” I am not dumbfounded and confused and utterly without any other options to explain it. It’s not something to chew on or “unpack.”

        • Ficino

          Not everyone who comes onto blogs like Bob S’s has achieved certainty. There are usually lurkers who are hoping to learn something from discussion of arguments that they hear from apologists. I think it’s worthwhile to “unpack” some of those apologetic arguments and try to expose what is wrong with them.

        • Kodie

          Instead of “unpack,” I prefer to think of it as unbrainwashing.

        • Pofarmer

          Yep, and work by scholars such as Candida Moss indicates that most of the early persecution is legend, or far overblown, at any rate. There is just as much evidence for the twelve disciples as there is for Jesus, as in, none. There is “evidence” in the form of churches named after them, but that is the end of it, as far as I know. The entire thing looks to be made up. There isn’t even any evidence that there was a “Peter” who was first Bishop of Rome, other than Catholic legend.

        • Argus

          One wonders if there were 12 apostles to represent the 12 tribes of Israel…the numbering seems rather conveeenient (not to mention that their names vary across the Gospels).

          As far as their deaths…pure legend (maaaybe James the Just has some validity).

        • Pofarmer

          12 signs of the zodiac. 12 hours in the day, 12 hours in the night. 12 nations of Israel. 12 disciples.

        • Argus

          Yep..if we go back further into Sumerian and Mesopatamian (screw spelling) I’m confident that teh zodiac influenced all that…

        • Pofarmer

          Christians like to act like all this existed in a vacuum. But, especially considering the finds of Jewish temples with Zodiacs and other signs on the temple floors, that’s clearly not the case.

        • Argus

          Every religion stands on the shoulder of its forebears (if no one else ever said that quote, I claim it)

        • Greg G.

          No, they don’t. Every religion stand on the toes of its forebears.

        • Argus

          I have my metaphor. You have yours. Peace.

        • Kodie

          Every religion steals the pants of its forebears.

        • adam

          Taurus the Bull golden calf?
          Aries the Ram – shofar and the Jews
          Pieces the Fishes – fishes and Jesus

          Is it any more than old fashion time keeping?

        • Pofarmer

          “Taurus the Bull golden calf?’

          Had never occured to me.

          “Pieces the Fishes – fishes and Jesus”

          Another myth is that an egg fell into the Euphrates river. It was then
          rolled to the shore by fish. Doves sat on the egg until it hatched, out
          from which came Aphrodite.

          https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Pisces_(astrology)

          And Doves. Seem to be a lot of common tropes.

          Well Fuck.

          The age of Pisces began c. 1 AD and will end c. 2150 AD.[b] With the story of the birth of Christ coinciding with this date,[28] many Christian symbols for Christ use the astrological symbol for Pisces,[29] the fishes.[30] The figure Christ himself bears many of the temperaments and personality traits of a Pisces,[31] and is thus considered an archetype of the Piscean.[32] Moreover, the twelve apostles
          were called the “fishers of men,” early Christians called themselves
          “little fishes,” and a code word for Jesus was the Greek word for fish,
          “Ikhthus.”[30] With this, the start of the age, or the “Great Month of Pisces” is regarded as the beginning of the Christian religion.[33] Saint Peter is recognized as the apostle of the Piscean sign.[34]

          Pisces has been called the “dying god,” where its sign opposite in the night sky is Virgo, or, the Virgin Mary.[35] When Jesus was asked by his disciples where the next Passover would be, he replied to them:

          Behold, when ye are entered into the city, there shall a man meet you
          bearing a pitcher of water… follow him into the house where he
          entereth in.

          — Jesus, Luke 22:10

          This coincides with the changing of the ages, into the Age of Aquarius,[36] as the personification of the constellation of Aquarius is a man carrying a pitcher of water.

        • adam

          Mythology IS important, it is just that people long ago dismissed the time telling aspect of it, and made assumptions that the metaphors of mythology were true.

        • Pofarmer
        • adam

          I had found an article on wine concentrates from around Jesus time, seems it was fairly common to reduce the shipping weight, and to add water at the destination.

          So Jesus ‘turning’ water into wine, could have easily been one of these stories where someone added water to a wine concentrate to make ‘wine’.

          I will see if I can find the reference.

        • http://www.patheos.com/blogs/crossexamined Bob Seidensticker

          That’s surprising. If you evaporate the wine (in the sun or with a fire), the alcohol will come off first, which is certainly not what you’re going for.

        • adam

          I cant find my original link, so perhaps it wasnt wine ‘concentrates’ but non-alcoholic concentrates or just diluted wine, which was more common than not.

          “Yayin and oinos (which in the Septuagint also often translates most of the Hebrew words for alcoholic beverages listed above)[2][84] are commonly translated “wine”, but the two are also rarely, and perhaps figuratively or anticipatorily,[85] used to refer to freshly pressed juice non-alcoholic. For this reason, prohibitionist and some abstentionist Christians object to taking the default meaning to be fermented beverages,[86][87] but there is a broad consensus that the words did ordinarily refer to alcoholic beverages.[6][88][89][90][91][92][93][94]

          While the wines drunk in the times depicted in the Hebrew Bible were not diluted with water, after the conquest of Palestine by Alexander the Great the Hellenistic custom of diluting wine had taken hold such that the author of 2 Maccabees speaks of diluted wine as “a more pleasant drink” and of both undiluted wine and unmixed water as “harmful” or “distasteful.”[95]”https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Alcohol_in_the_Bible

          “Before this, watered-down wine was disparaged, but by the time of the Talmud, wine that did not require dilution with water was considered unfit for consumption.[50]”

          https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Ancient_Israelite_cuisine#Wine

        • Pofarmer

          I knew that the birth of Jesus was essentially “backdated” later on to coincide with a major Astrological event, but didn’t realize it was the changing of the Zodiac. Might also explain why guys like Paul were preaching about a major thing like a messiah that had come and gone. We were now in his sign. I think we’re breathtakingly ignorant about a lot of ancient practices.

        • adam

          It reinforces the Mythology that was intended.

        • Greg G.

          I think the 12 Disciples were Mark’s fiction. The Epistles never mention disciples, only using “apostles”. I think Mark got the idea of the Twelve from 1 Corinthians 15:3-8 where Cephas and James are listed separately from the twelve. Paul doesn’t even specify what they are.

          Perhaps the twelve Paul referred to were Temple officials:

          The Council of the Temple – the high priest and twelve ‘elders of the priests’
          The first century the temple, built by Herod, was guarded by watches made up of Levites and priests. The overseer of all these watches was called “the captain of the temple”.

          The captain of the temple was subordinate to the seven ‘Ammarcalin’: the priests who had the supreme commandover all the temple gates.

          The high priest (in Jesus’ days Caiphas), and/or the so-called ‘second priest’ (Annas), who’s duty it was to replace the high priest if necessary, and who would generally act as his assistant ,the two ‘Katholikin’ (chief treasurers and overseers),the seven ‘Ammarcalin’ (supreme command over all the gates) and the three ‘Gizbarin’ (under-treasurers) constituted the standing Council of the Temple, which members were also called ‘the elders of the priests’ or ‘the counsellors’, and which regulated everything connected with the affairs and services of the sanctuary. It was this “council”, which consisted of
          2 + 7 + 3 = 12 ordinary members and which was presided over by “Caiaphas, the high priest”,

          Paul’s Cephas is Caiphas – Author of 1Peter and Hebrews by A.A.M. van der Hoeven

        • Argus

          Good stuff.

        • TheNuszAbides

          just wait ’til he goes on a tear about how deceptively the NT books are ordered.

        • Ignorant Amos

          When writing to some far away distant folk, it is always gonna help to add some authority to ones report to achieve a wee bit of credibility, “not only did he “appear” to me, but to a couple of big wigs you might have heard of, a crowd of 500…and the committee of the 12…honest”…as opposed to “I had an hallucination that I seen a dead guy”….or “I dreamt god spoke to me in the form of man”.

        • Greg G.

          I don’t think he was making the claim of having a vision. I think he is saying that all of those people had read Isaiah 53 and Hosea 6 and thought they were reading history. In 1 Corinthians 15:3, he says, “Christ died for our sins in accordance with the scriptures,” meaning he read that in Isaiah 53:5. In verse 4, he says, “and that he was buried,” (Isaiah 53:9) and that he was raised on the third day (Hosea 6:2) in accordance with the scriptures.

        • busterggi

          Now that is an intriguing idea – I’ll read that article over the weekend – thanks!

        • Greg G.

          van der Hoeven doesn’t make this argument, but I got to wondering if Cephas might be an alternate spelling of Caiaphas. It is hard to imagine that someone who had been high priest for 18 years would kow tow to James, as Paul reports in Galatians, but Paul may not be reporting the correct interpretation of the incident. Maybe the guys who James sent were friends of Caiaphas or maybe he didn’t like Paul and his company.

        • Ignorant Amos

          Whaaa? Ya say 12…whatabout 13…..or 25….or 70-72? The 72 tribes of Israel….or 70? The 12 seems to come from the Pauline corpus and is a wee bit of symbolism, but after that then it all gets confusing.

          https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Seventy_disciples

        • Argus

          Of course there are variants…nut the apostolic number of 12 seems to run through the new testament just as the 12 tribes run through the OT. Since the NT writers only had the OT for source (what Paul calls “according to the Scriptures”) it is not surprise they would pick 12 apostles when creating their narrative.

        • Ignorant Amos

          Aye…mumbo jumbo works around magic numbers like 12…3 is a religious favourite too…40 is another.

          Friday the 13th—a day thought to be unlucky because of the idea that number 12 is “complete” (think apostles, months of the year, zodiac signs) and 13 is just … odd.

        • Michael Neville

          Taking three as the subject to reason about,
          A convenient number to state,
          We add seven and ten, and then multiply out
          By one thousand diminished by eight.
          The result we proceed to divide, as you see,
          By nine hundred and ninety and two,
          Then subtract seventeen, and the answer must be
          Exactly and perfectly true.

          –Lewis Carroll The Hunting of the Snark

        • Argus

          “one is the loneliest number that you’ve ever seen…”

        • Ignorant Amos

          Apparently the number 39 is to be avoided at all costs in Afghanistan.

        • TheNuszAbides

          the council mentioned up/downthread = 12 officials + high priest = 13 = … coven 😛

        • Pofarmer

          There is a good chance that the 12 is a later interpolation into Paul. There is only one place that it appears, along with the 500.

        • Ignorant Amos

          Wouldn’t doubt it could be.

        • Greg G.

          (maaaybe James the Just has some validity).

          Unless he was just James, son of Damneus, with a scribal interpolation of “the one who was called Christ”.

        • Argus

          I recall reading something like that…but my ancient histories knowledge has been pushed out by movie trivia over these decades.

        • Argus

          Makes one wonder why it would take 800 pages to demonstrate a thing which is supposed to be taken purely on faith.

        • Ignorant Amos

          As far as I’m aware the apostles, if they even existed, were not even offered the chance to recant in the stories.

          The martyrdom’s take the form of many fanciful legends, very much contradictory in most cases, but was there any offer of recanting?

          The only martyrdom mentioned in the NT is that of James in The Acts…

          “Now about that time Herod the king stretched forth his hands to vex certain of the church. And he killed James the brother of John with the sword.”

          At the same time Peter gets scooped and put in chains, but Jesus sends an angel with a supernatural jailbreak in mind, so that was all good….what a loada shite.

          But anyway, no offer of any recanting. So would James have bottled it given the choice?

          It’s a well played out apologetic with little basis in reality.

          In a debate on the Resurrection yarn, William Lane Craig pulled the nonsense our of his arse…

          “The original disciples suddenly came to believe so strongly that God had raised Jesus from the dead that they were willing to die for the truth of that belief.”

          …to which Bart Ehrman replied…

          “I hear that claim a lot, but having read every Christian source from the first five hundred years of Christianity, I’d like him to tell us what the piece of evidence is that the disciples died for their belief in the resurrection.”

          https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=FhT4IENSwac

        • Kodie

          On the one hand, lots of people have died for their sincere beliefs. I’m inclined, at this argument, to go, “so what?” I don’t disagree that some people have sincere beliefs, and go further to accept that, for any reason, the disciples may have had sincere beliefs. I don’t know or care if they died for them or were given a choice and did not recant their beliefs. Christians bypass that option by asserting that the disciples would not have chosen death if they knew what they believed was false, as if this gives them extra solid reasoning to believe. No, it doesn’t. It means those people back then who did sincerely believe whatever they believed, and anyone throughout history who died believing in something they believed in, were merely convinced of it. It doesn’t have the be the disciples, it doesn’t matter who it is. They seem to think disciples were not characters in a story, or men caught up in a cult of the day, but that the story is real, they were really there, they knew what had happened, and if anything other than that had happened, they would have known it, therefore, it was not a lie. If it was a lie, they would not have martyred themselves.

          Fucked up reasoning.

          This is the same type of reasoning with the liar, lunatic, or lord scenario. Handily dismissing “legend” from the list, because of some bullshit they keep believing about how long it takes for legends to become cemented, never mind that it kind of did take a while. As soon as anything happens in our world, there’s a feast of idiocy on the internet diagramming the government conspiracy that traditional journalists don’t dare tell. It really doesn’t take long for propaganda to root, for campfire stories to turn into urban legends that happened to someone whose someone knew someone you know. For that matter, I don’t buy the sifting off of liar or lunatic either, given how cults start and continue to attract followers. It’s the Christians who somehow make themselves an exception, too smart to fall for that kind of shit, too alert and reasonable to allow that kind of gaslighting to happen to them. With this bullshit “who would die for a lie” reason, I mean just point to them how this is dumb, they fell for a dumb reason, but they will double down with their dumb reason with even dumber logic.

        • Ignorant Amos

          Indeed.

          In other news, King Arthur had a Round Table that his 12 knights sat around…or was it 150 knights…fucking legends can be a real pain in the backside when we drill down into the inconvenient details.

          https://simple.wikipedia.org/wiki/Round_Table

          https://simple.wikipedia.org/wiki/Knights_of_the_Round_Table

        • busterggi
        • TheNuszAbides

          King Arthur and his knights
          went out to fly their kites;
          because of too much breeze,
          the kites caught in the trees.

          i wish i knew where to begin unpacking the symbolism!

        • MR

          Tradition is just another word for legend.

      • epeeist

        Is there no default assumption that doesn’t need to be defended?

        Say rather, “No longer needs to be defended” and I think you get closer. However one has to remember that all cases based on experience are provisional, the standard example in logic textbooks used to be “All swans are white”, a statement that supposedly did not need defending until people went to Australia and New Zealand and discovered these:

        https://uploads.disquscdn.com/images/d56004cc04e59ad0d43fa2889e2a6418a03759f59ea570379602ee0e47817d0b.jpg

        If you like this is similar to Nelson Goodman’s new riddle of induction.

        • Greg G.

          But those are not True Scottish Swans.

        • epeeist

          They are just as bloody nasty as the white variety. There are notices on the lake edge telling you not to feed them.

          The picture was taken at Lake Rotarua.

    • epeeist

      I agree with most of your post but I am not sure about “burden of doubt” since, without explanation, it gives the impression of equal burdens. I would prefer to say “strong burden” (for the person making the ontological commitment) and “weak burden” (for the person who doubts the claim but is required to find cogent arguments as to why it is false).

      Someone who says, it’s the case that P, and someone who says, it’s the case that not-P, both make assertive claims.

      Exactly, the person who says “My god exists” and the person who says “Your god does not exist” are both making ontological commitments.

      • Ficino

        Maybe, “burden of raising doubt”? Just as terminology, I like keeping “proof/proving” and some form of “doubt” in the title to specify what action the burden is “of” in the argument.

  • Benny S.

    It has been argued, and I would agree, that Christian apologetics are not designed to reach “non-believers”, but are meant to reassure those who are already members of the tribe, which would seemingly make the whole endeavor a waste of time (except for the authors / apologists who make their financial living off this sort of thing). When will a Christian apologist write a book that non-believers will purchase in droves because of the book’s compelling content?

    • MNb

      When Eastern and Pentecost are celebrated on the same day?

      • TheNuszAbides

        *linguistic technician interruption* seen this more than once now, so realizing it probably wasn’t a typo:
        Easter is the ~special time of year~ celebrating torture, death, resurrection and chocolate rabbits.

        Eastern is the geographical reference. cf. easterly, eastward, etc.

        • MNb

          Thanks. It is a typo (because I know and certainly should know), but a systematical one. Somehow I got the wrong mental picture of the word.

        • TheNuszAbides

          i like how in basically all other languages it’s just the equivalent of ‘Passover’ but in English they had to superimpose a fertility goddess? sloppy, sloppy churchies …

        • jamesparson
        • http://www.patheos.com/blogs/crossexamined Bob Seidensticker

          Yeah, that sounds like a good idea, but I wore one as a necklace, and it wasn’t an hour before it was just an embarrassing stain on my shirt.

          Satan at work, no doubt.

    • http://www.patheos.com/blogs/crossexamined Bob Seidensticker

      I agree that reassuring the sheep is the main purpose of apologetics. I’m guessing that’s not even much of a secret among apologists themselves.

      I’d love to see a study of converts into Christianity. What fraction were argued in through intellectual arguments? Not many, I’m guessing.

      • al kimeea

        six

        • Ignorant Amos

          As many as that? Whoa!

    • Maine_Skeptic

      “When will a Christian apologist write a book that non-believers will purchase in droves because of the book’s compelling content?”

      I’d love to see that myself. Even “former atheists” or “former skeptics” who are Christians seem incapable of evidence-based reasoning. It always comes down to emotional vulnerability and an unwarranted leap of faith.

    • TheNuszAbides

      if some testimonies are to be taken at something close to face-value, it seems there’s also a target audience of fence-sitters and what i might call ‘idle atheists’, people who’ve never been roped into a religious tradition but have also never made anything like a rigorous examination/refutation/rejection of such things. add to that the arguably more vast marketing/publicity expenditure on the part of various churches than on the part of atheism or counter-apologetics …

  • Sophia Sadek

    My favorite kind of false beliefs are those that presuppose a definition that is itself inaccurate. For example, the belief that Atlantis does not exist is based on the assumption that Atlantis is the fabled city of ancient Greek culture as described by Plato. The fabled city may be patterned after an actual city on the coast of the Atlantic Ocean. It may also be an inverse account of the Indo-European invasion as preserved in oral tradition. Also, the fable of Atlantis exists, so the legendary Atlantis is an actual construct in the imagination. Dismissing Atlantis altogether is about as productive as considering alcoholic beverages to be evil spirits.

    • busterggi

      If it wasn’t called Atlantis, didn’t look like Atlantis, didn’t act like Atlantis, wasn’t where Atlantis was supposed to be and didn’t exist at the time Atlantis was supposed to exist then it ain’t Atlantis.

      Might as well say my ’99 Mercury Sable is Cinderella’s coach as they both have four wheels and occassionally mice.

    • http://musingsfromacorneroftheuniverse.blogspot.com/ Michael

      I think even in the Platonic dialogue it’s described as fictional. Perhaps very loosely based on something real, I don’t know.

      • MNb

        Santorini has been suggested.

        https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Santorini

        • http://musingsfromacorneroftheuniverse.blogspot.com/ Michael

          I remember hearing that, yes.

      • Sophia Sadek

        One of the interesting aspects of the Platonic story is that it is quite similar to the invasion of Brennus.

        • http://musingsfromacorneroftheuniverse.blogspot.com/ Michael

          Interesting.

    • al kimeea

      I’ve seen “adults” recoil in fear from a bottle of wine. Granted it was just some plonk, but Wesleyans really, really believe it IS evil.

      • Sophia Sadek

        I have seen people recoil at an empty beer bottle because they have had a horrid experience with alcohol addiction.

        • al kimeea

          That makes more sense than Wesleyan behaviour. Which they also apply to music and dance BTW. My maternal granny thought jazz was the devil’s music when it appeared and she was Presbyterian.

          Happy Christmas.

        • Pofarmer

          OH, yeah, people who have never touched a bottle are convinced it is the most evil thing ever. There was probably never a bottle of alcohol in this house until We moved in here. It was my Grandparents place who were good Methodists and tee totalers.

        • Sgt Carver

          Years ago I was asked to show my future brother in-law, a Methodist who I’d never met before, around Dublin. By lunchtime he was a bit bored and suggested I show him the best pubs in Dublin. A major pub crawl resulted with him drinking me under the table (which takes some doing, I blame his youth and bigger body mass for my failure).

          The next day I got shouted at for leading him astray ! I guess he wasn’t a very good Methodist.

        • Greg G.

          I’ve told this story before about a friend who told me that when she first got her driver’s license, she took her grandmother for a ride. Granny started warning her about the dangers of listening to Beatles music and that she should listen to songs like the one that happened to be playing on the radio at the time – Norwegian Wood. She didn’t have the heart to tell her that song was by the Beatles.

        • Sophia Sadek

          Antipathy towards Jazz was a fascinating phenomenon. The Nazis opposed Jazz as decadent music of the untermenschen. The Soviet Communists opposed Jazz as decadent bourgeois music. Many American fundamentalists associated Jazz with brothels because there were often piano players in brothels who jazzed it up while the working women attended to the desires of the customers.

        • Myna

          It’s opponents shudder because they know subconsciously that Jazz is king.

        • Sophia Sadek

          Which is considered more Blues than Jazz.

        • Myna

          If you say. Benny Goodman incorporated classical training with jazz, so perhaps it is a matter of how one finds it to be.

          http://www.cengage.com/resource_uploads/static_resources/0155062298/12024/ch04_benny_goodman_bio.html

        • Sophia Sadek

          Swing is Jazz adapted to a middle class audience. Here is the Wikipedia page on the song:

          https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Why_Don't_You_Do_Right%3F

        • Myna

          All things incorporate eventually. I don’t get the problem. Spirituals to blues to gospel to blue grass to rag to jazz to swing to rockabilly to rock and roll and on it goes.

          [ed.]

  • macaroonie

    If he suspects someone is shifting the burden of proof, then so what? He should accept it and then do some proving. Big deal. Does he think it’s a playground game or something? “Waaa you shifted the burden of proof, I’m going home, waaaa.”

    • http://www.patheos.com/blogs/crossexamined Bob Seidensticker

      What surprises me is that they’ll talk about the Great Commission, gotta get out there and spread the good news on one hand but then get peevish that they might get slapped around for their stupid arguments on the other hand, so now they’re reluctant.

      • Argus

        The Great Commission only applies to those who do not ask thorny questions. The one’s who do are clearly beyond help and trapped inside Satan’s basement.

    • France

      How can I shift the burden of proof when I had none to begin with? If I’m not claiming that no gods exist, I’m not claiming that no gods exist.

      • http://www.patheos.com/blogs/crossexamined Bob Seidensticker

        Ah, if it were only so obvious to the Christian intellectuals.

  • Laniakea

    Every time an apologist comes along with one of their silly non-arguments against atheism, I am tempted to respond:

    1. Look up the definition of atheism.
    2. Try to understand it. Reading the Quran, the Thora, the Upanishades/the Mahabarata, the Book of Urantia, The Book of Mormon, the Enuma Elish, Dianetics: The Modern Science of Mental Health may help to understand what it means to be an atheist with respect to these other religions (which are only a tiny fraction of the 200+ religions and 3000+ gods people have ever believed to be a reality)
    3. Eventually understand the meaning of atheism.

    Then, and only then we have a basis for a discussion.
    In case you have not at least undergone 1. – 3.:
    Shut the f*** up, take your seat on the kids table and let the grown-ups do their grown-ups stuff.
    Thank you!

    • http://labreuer.wordpress.com Luke Breuer

      Are you under the impression that all atheists define ‘atheism’ in precisely the same way? If not, would you be willing to sketch how variable the definition might actually be?

      • adam
      • Laniakea

        Excuse me, but your question does not even make sense. So let’s use the definition itself and see if it makes more sense then:

        Are you under the impression that all people who do not believe in god or gods define their nonbelief in god or gods in precisely the same way? If not, would you be willing to sketch how variable the nonbelief in god or gods might actually be?

        Uhm…nope.

        It seems that you are exactly one of the people I was addressing :-)

        • http://labreuer.wordpress.com Luke Breuer

          Excuse me, but your question does not even make sense.

          On a strict reading, you are correct; here’s a more precise version of what I said:

          LB‘: Are you under the impression that all people who define themselves as “atheists” define ‘atheism’ in precisely the same way? If not, would you be willing to sketch how variable the definition might actually be?

          Better? I do wonder whether you’d offer the same objection were the term ‘Christian’ instead, or whether you’d be happy to realize that just calling yourself ‘Christian’ doesn’t establish that as a natural kind which automagically lines up with all others who also choose to identify as ‘Christian’.

        • adam

          “I do wonder whether you’d offer the same objection were the term ‘Christian’ instead, or whether you’d be happy to realize that just calling yourself ‘Christian’ doesn’t establish that s a natural kind which automagically lines up with all others who also choose to identify as ‘Christian’.”

          But it does:

          Definition of Christian Merriam Webster

          1 a : one who professes belief in the teachings of Jesus Christ

          https://uploads.disquscdn.com/images/9d7ee14df999fda42f80fd469cecfea2b1418b97f8830dbe4161162ac71813ed.jpg

        • Laniakea

          First of all, I have no idea if ALL atheists define atheism in precisely the same way and I am certainly not under this impression, at least I don’t see how to infer that from my post.

          Even if I were under this impression, it’s not about if atheists define atheism in precisely the same way or not but if the definition is used and understood correctly in the first place, no matter if by atheists or theists.

          For example: If I were to say “I am an atheist because I don’t believe in a personal creator god such as the one of the Abrahamic religions, but I believe that there is a god who created the universe but left its creation on its own since then” I would not be an atheist but a deist. I would have just used the wrong definition.
          (Someone saying “Atheists worship Satan” would be a case of not having understood what atheism means).

          So, if there are atheists who inappropriately put on this label, still would not change the definition of the word or would render the definition itself ‘variable’.
          A definition is the explanation of the meaning of a word.
          If definitions were variable or if anyone could redefine a word as they please, why need definitions anyway?

          “I do wonder whether you’d offer the same objection were the term ‘Christian’ instead”

          Only if the definition of “Christian” were not used and/or understood properly, but this is neither what the main article is about nor my post.

          Better?

        • http://labreuer.wordpress.com Luke Breuer

          First of all, I have no idea if ALL atheists define atheism in precisely the same way and I am certainly not under this impression, at least I don’t see how to infer that from my post.

          Let’s go back and look at what I said, with the responses I expected inserted:

          LB‘: Are you under the impression that all atheists define ‘atheism’ in precisely the same way? [No.] If not, would you be willing to sketch how variable the definition might actually be? [«sketches relatively narrow variety with strong core which allows 1. to make sense»]

          What is under contention is whether you can actually provide said “relatively narrow variety with strong core”. Possibly, those who self-label as ‘atheist’ vary much more than your initial comment would allow.

          Even if I were under this impression, it’s not about if atheists define atheism in precisely the same way or not but if the definition is used and understood correctly in the first place, no matter if by atheists or theists.

          This sounds awfully arrogant: “If only they would understand ‘atheism’ as I do correctly, then things would be dandy!” Pretty much every time I’ve seen a Christian try to pull that stunt with ‘Christian’, the atheist has lashed out, either with No True Scotsman or something like it. Perhaps you yourself never do this; perhaps you always give your Christian interlocutor 100% authority to define ‘Christian’ however [s]he likes? Not likely, given that your use of “properly” would probably 100% defined by you (plus some group to provide social support).

          For example: If I were to say “I am an atheist because I don’t believe in a personal creator god such as the one of the Abrahamic religions, but I believe that there is a god who created the universe but left its creation on its own since then” I would not be an atheist but a deist. I would have just used the wrong definition.

          This is a red herring; there is possible variety in the definition of ‘atheism’ too wide to support your 1. while sufficiently narrow to avoid including anything like the above.

          If definitions were variable or if anyone could redefine a word as they please, why need definitions anyway?

          Ok, which does ‘atheism’ mean:

               (I) lack of belief in a God or gods
              (II) belief there is/are no God/gods

          ? If you’re right, one will be absolutely correct and the other will be absolutely false. If I’m right, then we will find that some people use the term one way and others use it the other way.

          P.S. The defining difference between natural language and formal languages (e.g. programming languages) is that natural language permits significant ambiguity and even some contradiction, while not failing to… “compile”. The more intricate one wishes to get, the more clarity is required from words. And so, one sometimes finds that packaged in one word was actually three distinct meanings, which appeared identical from 30,000 feet, showed possible differences at 10,000 feet, and were clearly different at 10 feet. Ambiguity tolerable at 30,000 feet can be completely unacceptable at 10 feet.

        • Michael Neville

          Ok, which does ‘atheism’ mean:

          (I) lack of belief in a God or gods
          (II) belief there is/are no God/gods

          (i) is agnostic or weak atheism, (II) is gnostic or strong atheism. Most atheists are weak atheists but there is a large percentage of strong atheists, including a couple of regulars on this blog.

        • http://labreuer.wordpress.com Luke Breuer

          I have no objections to that. I merely meant to point out that the following—

          L: If definitions were variable or if anyone could redefine a word as they please, why need definitions anyway?

          —happens with the very word under contention. I have seen plenty of instances where atheists argued very stridently that ‘atheism’ must mean “lack of belief” instead of “belief of lack”. When I read @disqus_21hCl76tEU:disqus’s comment, I saw a possible instance of such stridency. I recently got confirmation:

          LB: Ok, which does ‘atheism’ mean:

               (I) lack of belief in a God or gods
              (II) belief there is/are no God/gods

          ?

          L: (I) lack of belief in a God or gods

          It would be much less tedious if people were to merely require a definition to be clear (that is, as clear as the present circumstance requires), than insist that their definition is the only definition.

        • adam

          “It would be much less tedious if people were to merely require a definition to be clear ”

          Coming from you, this is hilarious.

          But still:
          A – without
          theism – deity.

        • Laniakea

          “It would be much less tedious if people were to merely require a definition to be clear”

          I agree on this with you, Luke.

          So who got it right or can we just pick and choose?

          I don’t think so and Michael N was not wrong though, he just distinguished between weak and strong atheism.
          The same distinction can be done for theism, too:

          https://shadowtolight.wordpress.com/2012/06/24/dawkins-7-point-scale/

          To quote David Silverman, President of American Atheists:

          “It’s an unfortunate situation. Even some major sources of information give the wrong – or at least an imperfect – definition of the word ‘atheist’ (…) How do we win a battle with words when the words we use are wrong?(…)

          (Merriam Webster Dictionary: Definition of atheist – one who believes that there is no deity
          https://www.merriam-webster.com/dictionary/atheist)

          The Oxford English Dictionary, thankfully, gets it right: an atheist is “a person who disbelieves or lacks belief in the existence of God or gods”
          https://en.oxforddictionaries.com/definition/atheist

          (…) As stated perfectly at defineatheism.com: “Absence (rather than opposition) is indicated by the ‘a’- prefix, meaning ‘without’, hence ‘atheism’ can be concisely characterized as ‘without theism’ ”

          Theism is consistently defined as “belief in the existence of a god or gods,” which makes it a broad term that has many implications. (…) Atheism is WITHOUT that belief.”
          (David Silverman, Fighting God, Chapter 1, page 5-6)

          Or to put it in other words: If “I believe in a god or gods” is a positive statement of belief, hence theism, and the prefix ‘a’ in atheism already indicates the lack of belief or a negative statement of belief, then it follows that atheism cannot be defined as “the belief that no god or gods exist” because ‘belief in something’ is a positive statement. The negative statement (the opposite of theism = a-theism) would therefore be:
          “I DO NOT believe that god or gods exist”.

          Do you understand it now?

        • http://labreuer.wordpress.com Luke Breuer

          LB: It would be much less tedious if people were to merely require a definition to be clear (that is, as clear as the present circumstance requires), than insist that their definition is the only definition.

          L: I agree on this with you, Luke.

          Do you also agree with what you didn’t quote, which I put in strikethrough? Your use of “the definition” and “the meaning” and “If definitions were variable «disaster happens»” makes it seem like you insist on only definition” and more specifically, your definition. That is, you seem to disagree with what I put in strikethrough.

          So who got it right or can we just pick and choose?

          The right definition depends on context, of course. Here’s an example: Thomas Kuhn wrote an extremely influential philosophy of science book, called The Structure of Scientific Revolutions. In it, he used the word ‘paradigm’ ambiguously, which caused him a good bit of grief (he acknowledges this in later editions of the book). But this didn’t prevent smart people from figuring out a few definitions which made sense in context.

          (…) As stated perfectly at defineatheism.com: “Absence (rather than opposition) is indicated by the ‘a’- prefix, meaning ‘without’, hence ‘atheism’ can be concisely characterized as ‘without theism’ “

          Oh give me a break, that’s like saying phobia necessarily includes “fear of” and therefore homophobia could not possibly exclude “fear of”… except that it can. Some definitions of asocialMerriam-Webster but not dictionary.com—include an “anti-” component. You’re just cherry-picking the “zero-belief” version of ‘atheism’ and pretending it’s “the definition”.

          Do you understand it now?

          I understand what you mean by the term. What you did was “pick and choose” from the dominant uses of the word. This isn’t playing Humpty Dumpty with words, nor is it complete absence of “definitions [which are] variable”. And c’mon, stop lambasting Christians (or: “apologist[s]”) for muddied definitional waters when your own group contributes to the muddying.

        • TheNuszAbides

          and where English predominates, i bet a lot of the imbalance in comprehension can even be attributed to inflection: in broad strokes, people generally think of “isms” as ideologies and “ists” as ideologues, but this is where the convenience of the design/enunciation of the words ‘atheism, atheist’ bite them in the ass to some extent. “a-” addresses “-theism”, but we pronounce atheism more like it’s an “-ism” consisting of “athe-“. of course it isn’t really an ism, but yeah, try telling that to people who think that merely identifying as atheist = ~attacking~ them and/or their immaterial all-powerful superior …

        • http://labreuer.wordpress.com Luke Breuer

          I have seen plenty of instances where atheists argued very stridently that ‘atheism’ must mean “lack of belief” instead of “belief of lack”.

          For a timely example, I just started watching Dave Rubin’s 2016-04-29 episode Atheism Deconstructed (with Dave Rubin, David Silverman, and Paul Provenza) and within the first two minutes, he says:

          This brings me to atheism. The best definition I’ve found for atheism is it is not a denial of gods, it is a lack of belief in gods. This is an incredibly important distinction to make. An atheist isn’t denying that a God or gods exist, an atheist is just asking for evidence of such an incredible claim. All this really means is applying the same standard of belief in pretty much anything else you do in your life, to the biggest questions of the universe.

          Lest someone quibble that the definition I cited

          OED: atheism
          Disbelief or lack of belief in the existence of God or gods.

          —does not actually contain both options, let’s consult this The Secular Web entry:

          Note that the OED definition covers the whole spectrum of atheist belief, from weak atheism (those who do not believe in or credit the existence of one or more gods) to strong atheism (those who assert the contrary position, that a god does not exist).

          This matches perfectly to my (I) & (II). To make things quite clear, I have started using the terms “zero belief” and “one belief”.

        • Ignorant Amos

          One can be a weak atheist on the belief of existence in gods, one might come along c/w evidence at some point though I doubt it, but also be a strong atheist on the belief in the existence of specific gods. YahwehJesus, Zeus, Quetzalcoatl, etc., take your pick from the list below…

          https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Lists_of_deities

          Most theists are strong atheists when considering all the gods other than the god(s) of their own religion.

          That’s the reason for Igtheism. Once the believer starts to define their specific god, things start to unravel quickly into incoherence and without some kind of special pleading, the wheels start to come off their wagon.

        • Laniakea

          “This sounds awfully arrogant: “If only they would understand ‘atheism’ as I do correctly, then things would be dandy!”

          Maybe the problem lies in your reading comprehension or I’m not able to express myself properly. What I was trying to tell you is that it is neither on you or me, or anyone else who uses a particular definition in order to express something, to actually MAKE the definition. If this sounds arrogant to you than I am sorry for you, because I am not responsible for what you will find when consulting a dictionary.

          “there is possible variety in the definition of ‘atheism’ ”

          No, there’s not.
          Someone who says he/she is a ‘gnostic atheist’ for example is still an atheist per definition (lacks a belief in god or gods) but also wants to put emphasis on the notion that he/she is quite sure or even knows that there are no deities. ‘Gnostic’ is an epistemological statement in addition to a statement of belief, ‘atheist’.
          Probably it’s this what you are referring to with ‘variable’.
          But again, terms like agnostic/gnostic atheist, militant/friendly atheist, etc. do not render the basic definition of ‘atheist’.

          “I’ve seen a Christian try to pull that stunt with ‘Christian’, the atheist has lashed out, either with No True Scotsman or something like it.”

          Because the statement made by a Christian “But this is not a true Christian!” IS a True Scotsman Fallacy, if you like it or not and these atheists only point to the obvious:
          http://rationalwiki.org/wiki/No_True_Scotsman

          “Perhaps you yourself never do this; perhaps you always give your Christian interlocutor 100% authority to define ‘Christian’ however [s]he likes?”

          No, as I have already stated: “Only if the definition of “Christian” were not used and/or understood properly”

          Generally, if someone claims to be a Christian I take them at their word. Who am I to claim to know better what they believe???
          Everyone who follows or adheres to Christianity and its teachings and believes in Jesus Christ IS a Christian, no matter of what particular denomination, period.

          “Ok, which does ‘atheism’ mean”:

          (I) lack of belief in a God or gods

          So, and now please show me how many variations of this definition there probably are.

        • http://labreuer.wordpress.com Luke Breuer

          Maybe the problem lies in your reading comprehension or I’m not able to express myself properly. What I was trying to tell you is that it is neither on you or me, or anyone else who uses a particular definition in order to express something, to actually MAKE the definition.

          Who is it “on … to actually MAKE the definition”, then? Surely you know that dictionaries observe how words are used, they don’t dictate meanings? And what is the theist supposed to do if [s]he sees the word used in quite different ways, by people who call themselves ‘atheist’?

          Because the statement made by a Christian “But this is not a true Christian!” IS a True Scotsman Fallacy […]

          That depends on whether the term must cover the entire person and all his/her beliefs and behavior, or whether it can be an abstraction, which only selects part of the person’s beliefs/​behavior, possibly with the person not being a perfect fit to the abstraction. (For legitimation of the latter, see WP: Ideal type.) Most of your complaint about ‘atheism’ probably derives from Christians construing it in a ‘covering’ way when you (and many others) mean it in the ‘abstract’ way. Simultaneously, you deny Christians the right to apply ‘Christian’ in an ‘abstract’ way instead of a ‘covering’ way. I demand symmetry in definitional privilege.

          LB: Ok, which does ‘atheism’ mean:

               (I) lack of belief in a God or gods
              (II) belief there is/are no God/gods

          ?

          L: (I) lack of belief in a God or gods

          So then you disagree with the following dictionary—

          OED: atheism
          Disbelief or lack of belief in the existence of God or gods.

          (more from The Secular Web)—despite the fact that you said “Look up the definition of atheism.” Simultaneously, you lambaste the theist (or: “apologist”) for screwing up.

          So, and now please show me how many variations of this definition there probably are.

          We already have (I) & (II). They split into whether the term ‘God’ is thought to possibly refer to anything/​anyone, or whether the term is thought to be meaningless. (I generally don’t see much disagreement about ‘gods’, perhaps thanks to the Greek pantheon.) For those who think ‘God’ could refer, we have a number of possible definitions of ‘God’, from “grandpa in the sky” to “the ground of being” to “nature with her laws”. Generally the last is associated with naturalism and thus not really ‘God’, but even there one can find ambiguity, such as with Spinoza per commentators such as Dominic Erdozain (in The Soul of Doubt).

          We also have the fact that the “one belief” option of (II) is abstract; how exactly the belief is supported can vary greatly. My impression, from steeping myself in this stuff for many years, is that atheists are not always careful to divorce the concrete way they obtain (II) and the abstract form of (II). That can lead to an explosion of meanings for (II).

          How and when all these nuances actually matter—whether we’re at 30,000 feet, 10 feet, or in between—depends on the particular conversation. Anyone who knows anything about philosophy or science knows that this is just how our attempts to talk about reality works. At the kid’s table, meat has the gristle removed and is carefully carved up into bite-sized pieces. Adults have to do that work themselves.

  • France

    Avoiding the burden of proof in this way may be a smart rhetorical move, he says, but it won’t work.

    If I do not believe that no gods exist, I’m not avoiding anything by honestly stating my position.

    “The first problem is that the statement ‘Atheism is just non-belief in God’ proves too much.” Cats have a non-belief in God—does that make them atheists? How about potatoes? Rocks? The color green?

    All English dictionaries define an atheist as human – someone, or a person. It appears the author of this statement has waded into commenting on a topic without exhibiting the courtesy of taking even the most cursory glance at the accepted definitions in the dictionary. Perhaps the next edition of the Oxford will define atheism correctly as a person, or cat, who disbelieves or lacks belief in the existence of God or gods.?