Randal Rauser doesn’t know how to speak English

Apparently, Randal Rauser doesn’t know how to speak English–how else to explain two of the most recent posts on his blog, arguing first that many people who call themselves atheists should stop because they don’t know what “atheism” is, and then that Mormons are actually atheists. Um… wow. I’m tempted to wonder whehter he’s deliberately obtuse, or whether he’s really that stupid.

In the first post, his complaint is that many atheists, when asked what they mean when they call themselves atheists, say something like “I don’t believe in Yahweh, Thor or Allah…” Which is, I think, an obviously sensible thing to do on the part of atheists. Because this is how words work. Dictionaries are neat and all, but most of the words in our vocabularies aren’t words we learned by being given dictionary definitions. Mostly we learn words through examples of how the words are used, examples of things they apply to.

Not only is this how we usually learn words, it’s very often a better way to learn words than trying to give a dictionary definition. The categories that words stand for tend to be complex and fuzzy, and if you really care about accuracy in definitions you’ll soon find that most dictionary definitions are easy to poke holes in. Rauser’s definition of “god” included, because it has the rather obvious flaw that it incorrectly classifies Zeus, Thor, and the Mormon god as non-gods.

Rauser embraces this absurd conclusion–absurd simply because competent English speakers have long used the word “god” to refer to Zeus, Thor, etc. his is a conclusive argument, because meanings of words are established by how people use and have used them. It can make sense to object to a currently-popular usage as “wrong” because it’s confusing given the traditional usage, but it makes no sense to claim a long-established usage of a word is “wrong.”

Now I have to admit the “deliberately obtuse or stupid” question wasn’t really fair. Of course what’s really going on here is that Rauser is a Christian who, like many Christians, views everything through the lens of Christianity. Therefore he doesn’t even realize that he’s picked a definition of “god” by looking exclusively at Christian theology and ignoring other relevant linguistic evidence. Sigh.

  • http://criticallyskeptic-dckitty.blogspot.com Katherine Lorraine, Chaton de la Mort

    Randal Rauser is Humpty Dumpty?

  • SAWells

    I think he’s confused atheism with a-theism-ism.

  • jamessweet

    As a former Mormon and current atheist, I’d just like to say to Randal Rauser: Fuck off you stupid turd.

  • nemothederv

    Rauser’s definition of “god” included, because it has the rather obvious flaw that it incorrectly classifies Zeus, Thor, and the Mormon god as non-gods.

    He’s right. Zeus and Thor were actually aliens.
    Haven’t you seen that new Thor movie or that Star Trek episode?

    Your problem is you went looking for an education in some place called a “school”(pronounced skool) instead of watching TV like you’re supposed to.

    • http://criticallyskeptic-dckitty.blogspot.com Katherine Lorraine, Chaton de la Mort

      Stargate *nodnod*

  • Patrick

    I had an exchange with him on his antitheism thread that seems appropriate to mention here. This was my final post.

    “You have made two arguments. One is that anti theism is incoherent under the “maximally perfect being” definition of God. Another is that anti theism is “ridiculous.”

    The former does not prove the latter, because maximally perfect being is not the sole trait attributed to God by most religious persons or traditions.

    That’s why I’ve been conceding the incoherence [of antitheism] under the maximally perfect being definition, and then giving you examples of ways that the anti theist position communicates meaningfully and effectively during conversations about religion.

    If you’re going to take such a strong stand on a philosophical analysis of the coherence of an argument, you need to do a better job keeping track of other people’s positions. Live by the quibble, and die by it.”

    He seems absolutely incapable of even understanding why I’d bring this up. Its like he’s some weird sort of linguistic platonist. He seems to believe that words have true essences, and you’re either using them properly or improperly.

    • http://www.facebook.com/profile.php?id=611455454 boselecta

      “He seems to believe that words have true essences, and you’re either using them properly or improperly.”

      You’re telling me. I was sucker enough to join that debate (posting as David Hart) – and he seems to have trouble with the idea that there are two commonly understood definitions of ‘fruit’ – a botanical one under which a tomato, as the seed-bearing part of a plant, and a culinary one under which a tomato, as an edible part of a plant whose flavour is predominantly savoury rather than sweet, is not a fruit but a vegetable; he seems to insist that only the scientific, specialized jargon meaning is valid – and he seem to think that only his specialized jargon meaning of ‘theist’ is valid too.

      But I suspect that he may be just digging up nerdy technical grounds on which to belittle the Mormons. Which you’re allowed to do, of course but if you’re a mainstream Christian and you do it, you’re a bit of a pot calling the kettle black.

  • Aden

    I think it’s amusing that he spends so many words complaining that atheists can’t figure out a good definition for what they don’t believe in… and then concludes by giving a definition of God that, by his own admission, doesn’t apply to most of the gods rejected by atheists. And it’s supposed to be the atheists who are confused here? (Well, I am, but probably not for the reasons Randal is thinking…)

  • F

    No, ”deliberately obtuse or stupid” sounds about right. “Willfully ignorant” is what some call this.

  • http://themidwestatheist.blogspot.com Leo Buzalsky

    This isn’t the first time I’ve seen this. I don’t have the link handy, but I once saw a blog comparing generations of people to each other (it was probably comparing X to Y) and claiming that the newer generation claims they don’t believe in God, but this person went on to say that Y’s do actually believe in God if he defines God as whatever caused the Big Bang.

    Which may be true! But most people don’t define “God” that way! It just seems to be a way for “sophisticated” theologians to defend their unfounded beliefs by confusing people with word salad.

  • Brad

    I recently had a long, pointless exchange with someone on Facebook, which boiled down to he had a definition of atheist that I, the atheist, didn’t agree with. And he would not allow me to define myself. Finally asked him “Okay, so I’ve said what my stance is, if you don’t want me to use the word “atheist”, what word would you like?”
    At this, he declared himself having “won”. I declared I’d wasted enough time.

  • http://obyavi.info/ Claude Cronkite

    “VERY GOOD “

  • gr4tuitou5

    Doing a little bit of online dictionary research, the word theism is generally defined broadly as belief in a god or gods, and then given a more specific definition fairly close to the definition Randal uses. Personally, in being an a-theist, I would subscribe to the general definition because I don’t really care how he or anyone else manifests their god, I find all their definitions unlikely.

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