Atheism Isn’t Skepticism

Atheism Isn’t Skepticism November 16, 2014

A recent IO9 article indicated that more people in Britain believe in ghosts and aliens than in God. IO9 also highlighted a science experiment that might offer an explanation of why people see/feel ghosts (which Smithsonian also reported on), talked about spirituality and pseudoscience in science fiction, and shared an infographic of misconceptions which are widespread, and which include both religious and non-religious erroneous views. A post at Atheist Revolution talked about ancient aliens ideas as a “secular God of the gaps.” The Washington Post had a piece about widespread views that most critical thinkers and skeptics would say have little or no supporting evidence, including religious ones but also things like Bigfoot and astrology.

As several atheist bloggers have noted, sometimes even specifically religious beliefs – ones that seem incompatible with atheism – are held by atheists. But even if such anomalies are excluded, there is clear evidence that atheists can fall prey to conspiracy theories, pseudoscience, and pseudohistory.

This is important to mention, because there are those who speak as though atheism is equivalent to skepticism and critical thinking. But the two are not the same. A Deist who is skeptical of miracles is probably more of a skeptic than an atheist who thinks that aliens sometimes cause them. And a pantheist who believes that positive thoughts have a real impact on people’s lives is probably no less of a critical thinker than an atheist who thinks the same.

Facile identifications between one’s own preferred ideology and “critical thinking,” “intelligence,” or “skepticism” are an indication that one has fallen victim to shoddy thinking, rather than evidence of having avoided it. Even among young-earth creationists, while its proponents are demonstrably wrong, it is not the case that all people who hold to that view are stupid or insane. I am better informed now than I was as a teen, and hope that I have better honed my skills in critical thinking and information literacy. But I am not persuaded that my transition from being a young-earth creationist to recognizing that as a pseudoscientific hoax was a transition from stupidity to smartness or from insanity to sanity.

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  • “Even among young-earth creationists, while its proponents are demonstrably wrong, it is not the case that all people who hold to that view are stupid or insane.”

    “all” <- I see what you did there. 😉

    • heterodox

      I’d argue that even with the use of the word “all,” the statement is false.

      • Except, in my subsequent post, I explained exactly why the statement is true.

        • heterodox

          I still disagree. You were stupid, then you stopped being stupid.

          • “You were stupid, then you stopped being stupid.”

            Which shows that you did not read what I wrote.

          • Kris Rhodes

            Define stupid. I would not think someone can fairly be characterized as “stupid” who is acting in good faith drawing reasonable conclusions from false information provided by people he trusts. But maybe you would call that stupid?

  • “I am better informed now than I was as a teen, and hope that I have better honed my skills in critical thinking and information literacy. But I am not persuaded that my transition from being a young-earth creationist to recognizing that as a pseudoscientific hoax was a transition from stupidity to smartness or from insanity to sanity.”

    I’m a former young earth creationist myself, and I can testify to the fact that it had to do with my particular religious upbringing and the widespread promotion of YEC pseudoscience misinformation. I’d begun to have doubts about it during high school, but it was while taking an astronomy course my freshman year in university that I realized that young earth creationism was just plain wrong. The universe had been around far, far longer than any mere 6,000 years, and this was not mere “uniformitarian conjecture” but a matter of observational facts. It was the realization of how unequivocal this was that led me to rejecting my belief in young earth creationism.

    Indeed, there is good evidence from religious survey data that rejection of young earth creationism is one of the major factors causing young people to leave the churches they grew up in. (I’m not saying they become atheists; I think most of them just leave fundamentalist/evangelical religion and find their religious home in more “liberal” Christian denominations.)

    So, understanding that context, we can’t say that “all” young earth creationists are “stupid” or “insane”. However, the vast majority of the young earth creationists we encounter on the internet in discussion forums (i.e., those fundamentalist religious believers who are promoting their young earth creationism belief) routinely demonstrate themselves to be (1) generally scientifically illiterate (and certainly quite ignorant of the relevant details of the science that they are making their YEC-motivated pseudoscience proclamations about), (2) incompetent to comprehend the relevant details of the science when you point them out and explain them to them, (3) have inordinate difficulty comprehending basic logic when you point out and explain the fallacious nature of some particular argument they have used that doesn’t really make logical sense, and (4) (this one is the kicker in my opinion) are adamantly defiant against acknowledging and correcting even the most obvious factual errors which are pointed out to them in the statements they make, and these factual errors don’t necessarily even have anything to do with the pseudoscience promotion itself but can be just simple factual mistakes they’ve made in their rhetoric (thus displaying a deep-seated lack of honesty because they are so utterly devoted to their personal belief that they cannot bring themselves to admit they’ve screwed up in any way, not even in the slightest detail).

  • Christopher R Weiss

    What I don’t see in this essay is the percentage of atheists who hold this otherwise silly beliefs. No, being a skeptic is not a necessary and sufficient condition for being an atheist.

    It is true that not all atheists are truly skeptical in all of their thinking. The fact that many Buddhists also claim to be atheists proves this point because while they do not believe in a deity, they certainly do have mystical, unsupportable beliefs.

    I would like to see a cross referenced data set that showed the percentage of atheists who also hold beliefs such as astrology and big foot.

    • aldrisang .

      I’m one of the atheist Buddhists without any mystical, unsupportable beliefs… but only because I’m foremost a Skeptic. Skepticism makes all the difference, and skepticism is the reason I’ve never been religious. I took up Buddhism in the same way many other “secular Buddhists” did, as a tool and not a religion.

      The point where many Buddhists do believe in something unsupportable is when they believe in literal multiple-lifetime rebirth. Once you cross that line into believing something just because it’s written down, seems reasonable, or appeals to your sense of self-preservation, you’re no longer practicing skepticism.

      • My understanding – which, I grant, is quite limited – of Buddhism is that one impetus for it in the beginning was to shed a lot of the religious aspects of Hinduism and just keep “the good parts” – i.e., an early “liberalization” of Hinduism.

        • aldrisang .

          Hinduism teaches that the highest reality is Atman/Self and, I believe, union with Brahman. Buddhism teaches that the highest reality is Emptiness (Non-Self, Interdependence) and is focused on the cessation of suffering. It’s more a rejection than a liberalization. Siddhartha Gautama taught in the same time period as Hinduism was forming, so Buddhism shares some of the same lingo. Not the same teachings, though.

          • Christopher R Weiss

            So… the mind can somehow achieve “union with Brahman?” This is not skepticism. It is unjustified belief in completely unsupportable “mental powers.”

          • aldrisang .

            That reply was to Steve Greene and was for the purpose of comparing Hinduism and Buddhism (which he thinks is just liberalized Hinduism). I am not a Hindu and don’t believe that stuff. Gotta read more carefully bud. =)

          • Kris Rhodes

            What “mental powers” are implied by “union with Brahman?”

          • Christopher Toft

            The mind already is Brahman, to use the Hindu terminology. The idea is that humans are crazy, which is why they do not see reality as it really is.. No magic, just lots of therapy.

      • A skeptic who believes in reincarnation despite there being zero evidence for it Aldrisang? Perhaps you should look up the meaning of Skeptic. Buddha was just a fat idiot who talked nonsense.

        • aldrisang .

          WTF you talking about? A true Skeptic certainly would not believe in reincarnation. I don’t. And you don’t know shite about Buddha if you think he was fat, so I’m done talking to you, ignoramous. =)

        • Would I be right to guess that you have no idea what the Buddha is supposed to have taught? Of course, you can now proceed to Google it and try to prove otherwise. But however much one may find Buddhist ideas helpful or unhelpful, I would be very surprised if someone who actually knows what they are could say they are “nonsense.”

      • Christopher R Weiss

        Do you believe the mind and body are separate and that the “mind” can continue beyond the body? If so, you have some “silly” beliefs. If you are just in it for the meditation, then good for you, and you were not the people I was referring to.

        • aldrisang .

          No, I don’t believe the mind and body are separate, nor does an individual mind survive death. “Mind” is just energetic activity of the body and its correlating subjective experience. Energy and matter are really two sides of the same coin.

          I wouldn’t say I’m in it just for the meditation, though. Some people meditate just to find their “center” and calm down for a while. Buddhists use meditation to see reality more clearly and stop creating problems for themselves, but it’s not the only thing Buddhists do.

        • aldrisang .

          I agree with you that many Buddhists have “silly” beliefs. I talk to those people every day on internet forums, and some are even reasonable enough to doubt themselves. Though many are skeptical when it comes to other religions, few are skeptical about Buddhism, meaning I’m in the minority and often in disagreement with others about such things as rebirth and the meaning of Nirvana.

        • arcseconds

          Do you believe there is a “you” (a self, or an ego) that persists over time? If so, you have a silly belief, according to Buddhism.

          • Christopher R Weiss

            Thanks for the pointless response.

          • arcseconds

            I suppose it might be a bit pointless to assume that there’s a high probability that you hold silly beliefs, and try to draw your attention to those things.

            But that’s exactly what you did to aldrisang. So why do you engage in such a practice, if you view it as pointless?

            Or is it only pointless when you’re on the receiving end?

          • Christopher R Weiss

            I don’t hold Buddhism to be a valid point of view beyond things like stress management through meditation. Doesn’t that clear things up simply? Please move on.

          • Straw Man

            arcseconds’s point appears to have whooshed over your head.

          • Christopher R Weiss

            No, I got it as a matter of perspective. Debating Buddhist concepts of self and consciousness is a waste of time.

          • Straw Man

            But you did precisely that–and badly: you asked whether aldrisang whether he believes “the mind and body are separate and that the ‘mind’ can continue beyond the body,” or whether he’s “just in it for the meditation.”

            Had you read aldrisang’s earlier posts, you wouldn’t have needed to answer the question; you’d already know that the answer was “No.” But your question assumes that Buddhists believe in mind-body dualism, which they don’t. In fact (as arcseconds gently tried to point out), they don’t even believe in an entity identifiable as a “self,” so there is in effect nothing to separate from the body. The suttas explicitly refuse to affirm anything like this idea of “mind and body” being “separate.”

            So your rather belligerent question is akin to walking up to a bunch of neo-pagans and asking whether they *really* believe that Satan is Lord. Uh, neo-pagans don’t believe in Satan in the first place; that’s a Christian construction commonly imposed on their religion. The question is wrong-headed and demeaning.

          • Christopher R Weiss

            The core of the Buddhist belief is a dualist belief that the mind and the body is separate. Regardless of how anyone wants to twist it, this is consistent. If Aldisang wishes to put a different spin, then he is not what I have been exposed to in the non-theistic version of Buddhism.

          • arcseconds

            If you think that Buddhism is just reincarnation and meditation, you don’t know a damn thing about Buddhism, therefore you’re not in a position to know whether it’s a valid point of view or not.

            You might want to reflect a little on what believing in reincarnation might mean for someone who doesn’t believe in a self.

          • Christopher R Weiss

            Nice straw man. Where did I say reincarnation?

            The Buddhist claims about the self, etc., and framing perspectives on the relationship of the mind to reality is just dualist mumbo jumbo.

          • Straw Man

            Buddhists are not dualists. You DO clearly know nothing about the subject.

          • Christopher R Weiss

            Hmmm…One word: Dharmakirti

            Google it.

          • arcseconds

            You said “and that the “mind” can continue beyond the body? ”

            OK, so admittedly I made an assumption here.

            What do you understand to be the Buddhist claims about the self, and why do you find them to be inadequate?

          • arcseconds

            And what did you mean by the mind continuing beyond the body, if it wasn’t reincarnation?

          • Guest
  • Looks like a really badly designed survey, with plenty of scope for respondents to interpret vaguely worded questions however they want: what on earth does “influence the world via positive thought mean” – Sending out psychic energy, or just self-motivation? What counts as an advanced civilization – Ancient Greece or Rome? Victorian Brtiain?

    • btao

      For instance, I believe in aliens. I’m here, right? I’m an alien to the seemingly infinite expanse of the universe. The odds of us being “alone” are just a tick above zero, so yea, I believe in aliens. I don’t think they abduct people to probe their buts though. That would be illogical, and the magnitude of the physics required for travel between habitable bodies is currently impossible. Check out interstellar for some general details on why.

      • Yep, I think the problem with these kind of surveys is that they don’t really reveal what the respondents really mean by “I believe in aliens (God, bigfoot, etc…)”

        The question on aliens “some UFOs are probably spaceships” is rubbish. Not only would it be easy to read as a tautology, but man-made spacecraft and satellites really are responsible for some UFO sightings, so the statement is true!

    • arcseconds

      A society that can design surveys well?

  • heterodox

    It’s absolutely true: Atheism is not “equivalent to skepticism and critical thinking”. But at least it can be. Religion never is.

    • I would offer the historic Deists and the liberal Protestants who pioneered historical criticism of the Bible as counter-evidence to your final assertion.

    • MattB

      You don’t believe that Philosophers of Religion, for example, haven’t looked at good reasons for thinking God to exist rather than not?

      • While I don’t completely agree with heterodox’s statement, I’m not sure that your response makes better sense. Are you assuming that all those who practice philosophy of religion are religious, and that it is their religion that makes them good philosophers of religion?

        There are atheist philosophers of religion; and most philosophers of religion who are religious would not want other academics to think that their philosophy is biased by their religion (there are a few infamous exceptions to this).

        Unfortunately, a recent study does appear to be documenting bias in the field:

        https://www.academia.edu/4366213/Diagnosing_Bias_in_Philosophy_of_Religion_with_Paul_Draper

        It’s not just a polemical article. Philosophers of religion (religious and otherwise) are taking the article and it’s suggestions seriously.

        • MattB

          “While I don’t completely agree with heterodox’s statement, I’m not sure that your response makes better sense. Are you assuming that all those who practice philosophy of religion are religious, and that it is their religion that makes them good philosophers of religion?”

          No. What I’m saying is that if most philosophers, who specialize in one field, agree on something, that ought to tell you something about the arguments they are proposing.

          “There are atheist philosophers of religion; and most philosophers of religion who are religious would not want other academics to think that their philosophy is biased by their religion (there are a few infamous exceptions to this).”

          I don’t think I would agree with this because the field of philosophy of religion seeks to examine claims made by comparing each religion, even Paul Draper, whom you cited in your link below, admits this: http://philosophyofreligion.org/?p=14582

          “https://www.academia.edu/43662…

          It’s not just a polemical article. Philosophers of religion (religious and otherwise) are taking the article and it’s suggestions seriously.”

          BQ, I would probably be skeptical of such claims made in this article. I don’t think almost any philosopher of religion(atheist, agnostic, theist,etc.) would say that they have come to their beliefs because of emotional reasons(however, there are few that I am sure would say that). All one has to do is read mainstream scholarship on the issue, and you will find that philosophers of religion-atheist and theist will give arguments for or against the existence of God on the basis of evidence and reason.

          • Hi MattB

            Noone would argue that part of philosophy of religion is the examination of religious claims by a variety of religions. That’s a fact, not something to “admit”. I’m not quite sure why you think this makes philosophers of religion unconcerned about the bias of their own religion.

            I find your skepticism about the article a bit humorous, considering that philosophers of religion are taking the study seriously. The article isn’t calling for an end to philosophy of religion. On the contrary, it is making suggestions for guarding against bias.

          • MattB

            Hello BQ,

            “Noone would argue that part of philosophy of religion is the examination of religious claims by a variety of religions. That’s a fact, not something to “admit”. I’m not quite sure why you think this makes philosophers of religion unconcerned about the bias of their own religion.”

            But this isn’t true. The field of philosophy seeks to find the foundational truths of things. In order for philosophers of religion to ask questions about God, they must work with comparing the claims of each religion to see what they say about God. That’s not the only thing they do, but it is a starting point.

            http://www.philosophyofreligion.info/

            “I find your skepticism about the article a bit humorous, considering that philosophers of religion are taking the study seriously. The article isn’t calling for an end to philosophy of religion. On the contrary, it is making suggestions for guarding against bias.”

            Being skeptical of something does not mean that I am not taking it seriously. I am simply saying that having a bias does not mean that one is wrong. Every field of inquiry, whether Science, Math, Theology, Philosophy, History,etc. has bias. The problem is that one or two of these academics think that this bias is based on emotional reasons and not evidence. However, this is not true because anyone can read up on mainstream scholarship on the PoR and see what, not only Theists say about God, but Atheists as well, and you will find that both give arguments and evidence for/against God.

          • Matt

            What is not true? I don’t see anything particularly objectionable in your reply, but nothing you’ve said contradicts what I’ve said.

          • MattB

            So I guess we’re on the same page then?

          • On the subject of philosophy of religion? Probably not.

          • MattB

            But you said that you see nothing objectionable in my previous comment, unless I misread that.

          • Yes, but that doesn’t mean I agree with your other comments or with your generally idealized view of the lack of bias in the field.

          • MattB

            But there’s bias in every field of philosophy. I am simply saying that this bias isn’t really a big deal in terms of the arguments being made.

          • I definitely disagree there; the article I referenced makes this case quite well that confirmation bias is real problem in philosophy of religion. And whether you agree or not, philosophers of religion are taking the article, and it’s suggestions, seriously.

          • MattB

            But I’m simply saying that you can read what mainstream PoR write, and you will see that they are giving arguments for and against God using philosophical inquiry. I don’t disagree that some philosophers of religion are taking this seriously. All I am simply saying is that when most experts agree on something, then there is usually good reason for doing so. Whether or not people become PoR because of their upbringing or whether they are biased should not be a reason to a priori rule out PoR as field of apologetics when that’s not what PoR use to do their work.

          • Arguments for or against God is minuscule part of what philosophers of religion do.

            And it’s very telling that the vast majority of philosophy scholars don’t find these arguments compelling.

          • MattB

            “Arguments for or against God is minuscule part of what philosophers of religion do.”

            True. I would agree that this is one of the jobs of PoR, but there are other aspects of PoR that are investigated concerning religion.

            “And it’s very telling that the vast majority of philosophy scholars don’t find these arguments compelling.”

            Philosophers who are working outside of the PoR will probably know next to nothing about the arguments for/against God. And so it is important to consult specialists(PoR) for this and not those working outside of the field, which most would claim are theist. Even though most are Christian philosophers, other philosophers of religion who have different religious backgrounds or no background at all are theist. In other words, there are non-christian theists in the field who agree with the arguments for God’s existence.

          • Why on earth would you think that “philosophers working outside of the PoR will probably know next to nothing about the arguments for/against God”? Undergraduate philosophy majors are introduced to arguments for/against God.

            I really can’t take you seriously when you make silly statements like this.

      • heterodox

        I had in mind not simply a belief in the existence of God, but specifically, organized religion.

  • The Eh’theist

    I wish more Christians would take the time to think along these lines. Any belief can be adopted or rejected for good or bad reasons, and skepticism is simply an mindset that encourages the use of various tools to test the soundness of beliefs and the reasons for adopting them. This means engaging in self-criticism and adjusting one’s beliefs as necessary. While there used to be more of this reflection under the heading “taking every thought captive unto Christ” and the “whatsoever” list of thoughts, the pendulum seems to have shifted for many to believing no matter what (cf. Duck Dynasty).

    I agree that most often it isn’t lack of intelligence that leads us to adopt poor beliefs, but misplaced belief in the reliability of a source or a belief appearing to be rational in light of a previously accepted belief. I often ask atheists who make a big show of being skeptics if they’ve gotten the results back from the DNA tests of their parents. 🙂

    Thanks for a good read.

    • MattB

      Eh’theist, you seem to make a good point. However, I as a Christian, spend almost everyday questioning things about my faith. I guess I am just wired to doubt things, but eventually, it is the evidence that draws me to Christ rather than away from Christ. I ultimately can’t see reality livable under the atheist worldview. I ultimately see atheism as being merely impossible to live out. I also don’t think atheism can explain reality as we live in. I often challenge atheists, to challenge their beliefs as well because many of them are naive and false.

      • The Eh’theist

        That’s great that you ask questions. That’s how we learn and develop in our thinking.

        I think it’s important to note that there isn’t really an atheist worldview. Atheism is simply one belief, that there isn’t sufficient evidence of a god or gods to believe. From there, I do need explanations for things in life that others explain through their belief in God, but there’s no requirement that another atheist adopt the same set of explanations and beliefs as the ones I have. So depending on the question 3 atheists may have totally different explanations, just like Christians can differ on theories of the Atonement.

        That’s why I find it important to critique my thinking and beliefs, because they may need improvement and that doesn’t often happen without investing some time and effort.

        • MattB

          I would have to disagree with you. First, what you are describing is Agnosticism. Agnostics withhold belief in God. They are neither here nor there. An atheist is someone who says that there is no God or that the claim “God exists” is false. If you agree with the proposition that God exists is false, then you are an atheist or if you don’t believe in God, you are an atheist.

          • aldrisang .

            Agnosticism’s a con invented to escape persecution by Christians for being a non-believer. You can be an agnostic atheist or an agnostic theist, but there’s no true agnostic.

            Agnostic Atheist: Doesn’t believe in any gods, but doesn’t claim that there are no gods. If anything would make the claim there’s insufficient evidence to believe any particular gods worshiped by humans exist.

            Gnostic Atheist: Doesn’t believe in any gods, and claims none exist. Would have supporting evidence against the existence of gods. Few go this route, most are agnostic atheists.

          • MattB

            “Agnosticism’s a con invented to escape persecution by Christians for being a non-believer. You can be an agnostic atheist or an agnostic theist, but there’s no true agnostic.”

            What on earth are you talking about? The term “Agnostic” was coined by a biologist by the name of Thomas Huxley and other earlier writers from greek periods.

            “Agnostic Atheist: Doesn’t believe in any gods, but doesn’t claim that there are no gods. If anything would make the claim there’s insufficient evidence to believe any particular gods worshiped by humans exist.”

            That’s still agnosticsm because you are withholding belief in God until evidence is produced. If you have a non-belief in God, then obviously you have reason for thinking God doesn’t exist.

            “Gnostic Atheist: Doesn’t believe in any gods, and claims none exist. Would have supporting evidence against the existence of gods. Few go this route, most are agnostic atheists.”

            Again, this makes no sense. How can you claim that God doesn’t exist, and yet not believe in him? There must be some reason for not believing in his existence.

          • Bethany

            I believe the distinction being made is the difference between belief and knowledge, with the atheist/theist distinction being about belief and the agnostic/gnostic distinction being about knowledge (gnosis).

            According to this set of definitions, an agnostic atheist doesn’t believe in God, but doesn’t claim to know that is no God. An agnostic theist does believe in God, but doesn’t claim to know that God exists.

            Similarly a gnostic theist/atheist would claim that not only do they believe that God does/doesn’t exist, they would claim they know that God does/doesn’t exist.

            This isn’t the only way these terms are used, obviously, but it’s a set of distinctions I’ve seen others make.

          • MattB
          • evenminded

            Why would you try to support your arguments with someone that is so ignorant of what atheism and agnosticism are? You only need to get 2 minutes in before his unsupported rhetoric becomes ridiculous.

          • MattB

            right…. It’s not like he has a PhD in philosophy of religion or is a very honorable philosopher in his field.

          • evenminded

            Arguments from authority are for all intents and purposes worthless. This talk is clearly “preacher-esque” and intended for an audience of the already converted. He is very good at setting up straw men and knocking them down.

          • MattB

            This is not an argument from authority. An argument from authority is arguing from someone who is claimed to be an authority on a particular subject but really is not. Appealing to actual experts bypasses this fallacy because while experts can be wrong, it is more than likely they are right.

          • evenminded

            Arguments from authority are fine in courts of law or when the party involved is disinterested. WLC is clearly not a disinterested party. He himself admits that any arguments he makes or research that he does must lead to the same conclusions. Hardly disinterested. If all it takes is a number of PhD philosophers to refute WLC then those names can be provided. Otherwise, it’s really the argument that matters isn’t it?

          • MattB

            WLC is an expert in the philosophy of religion. Craig cites mainstream scholarship in most of his arguments. Dawkins is not a philosopher of religion or any field related to theology. This ought to tell you something about his arguments.

          • evenminded

            Again, the discussion is about the existence of an entity. If you think science has nothing to say on the matter then that is fine. Otherwise, scientists are just as qualified, and even more so, to offer opinions on the matter. And yet again, if you want PhD philosophers that oppose WLC I can give you some names. But again, why does it matter who is delivering the message? It’s the argument that counts.

          • MattB

            Science can’t prove or disprove God’s existence. That is not an opinion but a fact. You can’t put God in a test tube and run him through an experiment.

            The arguments do count, but so does the person’s credentials.

          • evenminded

            Science also cannot disprove the existence of pink unicorns. However, given a proper definition, scientific methods could certainly provide evidence for gods if they exist. If something has an interaction with the natural world, then it can be studied using scientific methods. If that something does not interact with the natural world then how can one claim that there is evidence for it?

          • MattB

            You use other methods of inquiry. I think the problem is you are pushing science beyond what it can do. There are plenty of things science can’t prove that you believe in without using the scientific method.

            Science can’t prove other minds other than your own.
            Science can’t prove that one moral system is better than another.
            Science can’t prove mathematical and logical truths.
            Science can’t prove what the meaning of life is.
            Science can’t prove existential truths.
            Science can’t prove Historical Truths.

          • evenminded

            You and I agree. Science cannot prove any of these things. Nor can any other method of inquiry (aside from mathematical proofs based upon prior unprovable axioms).

          • Avenger

            We should also remember that God is not an entity within the Universe. We can’t detect God as we might detect a distant galaxy. But since God is the ground of all being, we can detect God simply by noting that we are alive in the first place.

          • Isn’t that akin to defining the ether as the medium through which electromagnetic waves travel and claiming we detect it by detecting electromagnetic waves.

          • Avenger

            The existence of the ether was ruled out by observations that were made within the Universe.

          • I don’t think the ether was ruled out so much as found unnecessary.

          • Avenger
          • I am familiar with the experiment, but I would still maintain that the failure to detect something isn’t the same as ruling out its existence. I do not take my failure to confirm God’s existence as proof of God’s non-existence.

          • Avenger

            If the Rain God is defined as the being which causes rain when a rain dance is performed then the failure of rain dances to have any effect on the rain may be said to rule out the existence of the Rain God.

            You could replace your ether analogy with an analogy to, say, an electric field. An electric field may simply be defined as whatever it is that has a certain effect on a charged particle. The idea of the ether was discarded because it didn’t have the observable effects that it was supposed to have. So God would be more comparable to an electric field than the ether if God is defined as whatever it is that allows the Universe to exist at all.

          • evenminded

            Defining god as “whatever it is that allows the universe to exist” is begging the question. It assumes that there is something that is needed to “allow” existence. What “allowed” the existence of that something?

          • Avenger

            I’m not claiming to have proved that something *is* needed to ground the continuing existence of the Universe; I regard it more as a reasonable speculation. In fact, it is a speculation in which even atheists can indulge. Consider the idea that our universe is a computer simulation. So there is nothing unreasonable in the notion that our reality is underlain by a something else.

            BTW, my comment wasn’t a challenge to atheists, with whom I find debates unfruitful; it was an observation shared with a fellow theist.

          • evenminded

            Right, because it’s turtles all the way down. One infinite regress replaced by another.

          • Avenger

            No, the turtle is capable of levitation 🙂

          • MattB

            True and I believe in the resurrection of Jesus as well.

          • evenminded

            And you could view this after the video that MattB posted.

            https://www.youtube.com/playlist?list=PL_37cu0LXR1OH65o6rZox9ocFiagiDi0f

          • aldrisang .

            “How can you claim that God doesn’t exist, and yet not believe in him?”

            I don’t. Most atheists don’t. We claim there’s insufficient evidence to say God exists, and therefore we don’t believe God exists. Same as with unicorns. There’s no definitive evidence that unicorns, or Bigfoot, do *not* exist… but we don’t believe in them, do we? Do you? It’s no different for your god.

          • MattB

            To be honest aldrisang, I find your answer to be deeply troubling.

            For one, it is a typical response from new atheists. It totally misunderstands the ontological argument for God’s existence. You’re simply an agnostic who wants to bear the name atheist. You simply withhold belief until evidence is produced.

          • aldrisang .

            I’ll make it more simple for you, since I’ve been an agnostic atheist my entire life. We feel the same way about your God as you feel about Hinduism’s gods (or any other of the thousands of gods humans have worshiped). Same way. Think about it. That’s what most atheists are like… no different than you in not believing, except we go one god further because the indoctrination didn’t take (or was later overcome). And yes, “You simply withhold belief until evidence is produced.” does describe me because I’m a Skeptic.

            You can no more disprove Shiva and Vishnu and all the others… than you can prove the existence of your own deity. And you don’t even try to disprove them. Why should we be tasked with disproving any non-existent entities? The most you can do is try and make “God” a logical necessity, but I’ve seen all of those arguments and they’re all flawed. Even if they weren’t, they wouldn’t necessarily point to the Christian deity… so you’re full of it.

          • evenminded

            You really have no clue about what most atheists believe do you? Let me ask you this, is Richard Dawkins an atheist or an agnostic?

          • MattB

            atheist

          • evenminded

            OK. Yet he does not claim that he is certain that gods do not exist. So, by your definition, wouldn’t that make him an agnostic? There is a difference between belief, or lack of a belief – (a)theism, and knowledge – (a)gnosticism.

          • MattB

            As I’ve said before, and I will say it again: Certainty is a property of belief. It is not necessary for one to hold absolute certainty(which is impossible). What we are asking is what is more probable, which is what Craig was saying. Dawkins, who is not a philosopher of religion, has made bus-ads with things like “There certainly is no God; stop worrying and enjoy life.” By saying that God is not probable, Dawkins is claiming that he has knowledge of his non-existence. THis is regardless of how certain he is.

          • evenminded

            What does being a philosopher of religion have to do with anything? Such a title does not lend credence to one’s arguments, nor does it detract if you do not have such a title. If you care about getting your facts straight, the bus ad campaign that Dawkins was attached to read “There’s probably no god. Now stop worrying and enjoy your life.” So, no, Dawkins is not claiming knowledge of the non-existence of gods any more than he is claiming knowledge of the non-existence of yetis. Dawkins has stated that he would be a convert given credible evidence of god(s). Craig on the other hand has stated that he will not change his faith no matter what the evidence points to.

          • MattB

            “What does being a philosopher of religion have to do with anything? Such a title does not lend credence to one’s arguments, nor does it detract if you do not have such a title.”

            Actually it does. If someone, who has not training or expertise in the field of philosophical inquiry on religion and is merely a biologist who makes claims about religious belief, then obviously, while their arguments may be true, it is more likely that they aren’t true.

            “If you care about getting your facts straight, the bus ad campaign that Dawkins was attached to read “There’s probably no god. Now stop worrying and enjoy your life.” So, no, Dawkins is not claiming knowledge of the non-existence of gods any more than he is claiming knowledge of the non-existence of yetis. Dawkins has stated that he would be a convert given credible evidence of god(s). Craig on the other hand has stated that he will not change his faith no matter what the evidence points to.”

            Well if, Dawkins is really agnostic, then he shouldn’t be posting banners and signs that seem to differ with his opinion. By saying “there probably is no God” you are basically saying that God’s existence is more than likely not probable. Yet, Dawkins criticizes religious beliefs and has a strong disbelief towards God’s existence. I don’t know where you got the idea of what Craig said.

          • evenminded

            Dawkins claims are on the existence of the supernatural. He is just as “qualified” as a philosophy PhD to offer opinions on the matter. Again, the qualifications are essentially meaningless, it’s the arguments that are important.

            Yet again your last statements demonstrate ignorance of the difference between (a)theism and (a)gnosticism. “By saying “there probably is no God” you are basically saying that God’s existence is more than likely not probable.” Yes, that is exactly what Dawkins is saying. I would imagine that Dawkins would also criticize folks that claim they were abducted by aliens if those beliefs started to diffuse into our political and educational systems. As for what Craig said, you can find that here

            https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=S-fDyPU3wlQ

          • MattB

            “Dawkins claims are on the existence of the supernatural. He is just as “qualified” as a philosophy PhD to offer opinions on the matter. Again, the qualifications are essentially meaningless, it’s the arguments that are important.”

            I beg to differ. If someone is claiming that they know about a topic that they have no expertise in, then while that isn’t proof that they’re wrong, it is proof that their conclusions are more than likely going to be extremely problematic. Suppose I cited Craig as an authority on evolution. Craig has no expertise in biology. Now Craig is open to evolutionary theory but does not yet accept it. Would it be fair to cite him as an authority on the issue? No. Why? Because while Craig’s reasons for not leaning toward evolution one way or the other might be true, it is more likely false given mainstream scientists who have good reasons for thinking that evolution happened. Once you see that Dawkins makes childish arguments against God, then you will see why most philosophers of religion don’t find his arguments persuasive.

            “Yet again your last statements demonstrate ignorance of the difference between (a)theism and (a)gnosticism. “By saying “there probably is no God” you are basically saying that God’s existence is more than likely not probable.” Yes, that is exactly what Dawkins is saying. I would imagine that Dawkins would also criticize folks that claim they were abducted by aliens if those beliefs started to diffuse into our political and educational systems. As for what Craig said, you can find that here”

            I’m confused, if you agree that I am representing Dawkins views correctly, then how can I be demonstrating ignroance? Dawkins merely presupposes that belief in God is equal to alien abductions and other things. He has yet to give a good argument for thinking there is no God and is hopelessly out of touch with mainstream scholarship in PoR,natural theology, and Philosophical theology.

            As for Craig’s argument. I would simply disagree with him here, but let me suggest to you that this is merely cherry-picking what Craig actually holds to. Craig does agree that there is good evidence for God’s existence. What Craig is merely trying to say is that, apart from the evidence, the Christian and or Theist is justified in believing in God based on his/her’s experience. In other words, this would be like a plan B to if there were no evidence.

          • evenminded

            Yes you are confused. You seem to be attached to the notion that atheism and agnosticism are two mutually exclusive things. But at least now we finally get down to brass tacks. “Craig does agree that there is good evidence for God’s existence.” What is this good evidence for God’s existence that is not just special pleading?

          • MattB

            Arguments from Evil. The Resurrection of Jesus. Argument from Miracles. The meaning of life. Fine-Tuning.

          • evenminded

            Which one would you like to discuss first?

          • MattB

            I didn’t know you wanted to discuss this. What about you?

          • evenminded

            You are the one claiming that there is some credible evidence in these bullet points. I am always happy to learn more, so go ahead and pick the line that you feel has the most credibility and we can go from there. I am not interested in chasing a Gish gallop though.

          • Avenger

            I would be interested to hear more about your views on agnosticism. I think that a good example of something with regard to which agnosticism is appropriate is the existence of life elsewhere in the galaxy. We are agnostic because we are not in a position to check the evidence. aldrisang mentioned the example of Bigfoot. The possible existence of Bigfoot is different from that of alien life because in the former case we are in a position to check the evidence. It is unlikely that a creature of Bigfoot’s size could escape detection, therefore we may reasonably assume that no such creature exists.

            So our ability to check the evidence may decide whether or not we should be agnostic. Presumably, the question of God’s existence is different. When you referred to the ontological argument for God, I assume you were implying that this isn’t just a question of evaluating evidence. God’s existence may be demonstrated without considering the evidence. Have I got that right?

          • MattB

            I like the way that WLC explains it. Basically there are positions in agnosticism: strong and weak:

            https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=dqnq_DnuW6w

          • The Eh’theist

            It’s simply an acknowledgement that I can’t know with certainty that there is no God. I don’t believe in a god or gods because I don’t have any evidence that compels me to do so. I don’t like the label agnostic because I believe it could be possible to know there is a God, but thus far nothing even remotely close to sufficient evidence has been offered.

          • MattB

            Certainty is just a property of belief, it isn’t necessary in order for you to be one label or another. Nor is it necessary for evidence. I am not trying to pigenhole you into a particular group. I am simply saying that your description fits what an agnostic is: someone who is open to God’s existence but doesn’t know one way or the other.

          • I’m not sure why you persist in this false contrast of atheism and agnosticism. Your definitions are simplistic and ignore the fact that for as long as the term agnostic has existed, it has been used to refer to both agnostic atheists and agnostic theists (among other uses). Atheism and agnosticism are not (and have never been – since the invention of the term “agnostic”) mutually exclusive.

          • MattB

            Such other terms are used as a smoke-screen in conversations to throw the other person off in order to avoid the burden of proof. To re-define terms in order to make atheism a psychological definition just trivializes the matter. Now while the two terms are not completely mutually exclusive, there is a difference in how they should be used. According to the SEP[1], Atheism is “the negation of theism, the denial of the existence of God.”

            [1] http://plato.stanford.edu/entries/atheism-agnosticism/#1

          • MattB,

            Definitions of atheism that one can find in every standard dictionary can hardly be called “smokescreens”.

            Your definition from the Stanford site doesn’t really change the equation, but I’m curious to know if you read the article that you linked to at Stanford. It confirms what I’ve told you about the relationship between atheism and agnosticism. They are not mutually exclusive terms.

            And I can’t help but think you missed the very first paragraph of your link:

            “The main purpose of this article is to explore the differences between atheism and agnosticism, and the relations between them. The task is made more difficult because each of these words are what Wittgenstein called ‘family resemblance’ words. That is, we cannot expect to find a set of necessary and sufficient conditions for their use.”

            In fact, I really think you should read the entire site – it’s not perfect but it provides a far more sophisticated understanding of the terms atheist and agnostic than you do.

  • I don’t know about my atheism, but as I get older, I have certainly become more skeptical of everybody else’s ability to drive.

  • http://www.AtheismParty.com Some religious people still think the Earth is flat. In general Atheists are more grounded and knowledgeable than Theists. Because the average Atheist is better educated than the average Theist. Education opens peoples minds and encourages them to question things. Religious peple are encouraged not to ask questions but instead blindly follow unproven silly scriptures on faith alone. Sure, some Atheists have picked up bizarre unreasonable ideas but far fewer than can be said for religious people who can’t tell the difference between fantasy and reality. Anyone gullible enough to believe in sky fairies, talking snakes and other religious rubbish is already brainwashed by snake oil salesmen.

  • Old_Muley

    My growth and development as a skeptic came first, only later did I find myself an atheist.

  • wbthacker

    “This is important to mention, because there are those who speak as though atheism is equivalent to skepticism and critical thinking.”

    Probably because we speak from personal experience, and not all people are the same.

    Skepticism and critical thinking led me to atheism, even though I was raised as a Christian. But what about people who were raised as atheists (by atheist parents)? They might not have ever developed those skills; they could be as credulous as any theist and be easy prey for conspiracy theories, etc.

    And I think some people actually do become atheists simply as an act of rebellion against religious authorities in their lives. Those people are clearly not displaying any skepticism.

    “Even among young-earth creationists, while its proponents are demonstrably wrong, it is not the case that all people who hold to that view are stupid or insane. ”

    No. Most of them are just dishonest. They realize Creationism is weak and science explains things better, but they’re just too afraid to come out and say that. It might make their pastor mad, or get them shunned by their communities, or God might send them to hell for lack of faith. So they flat out lie about their confidence in their beliefs; where they should say “I choose to believe this even though the evidence is weak”, they claim to be certain their beliefs are true. They mock the very concept of truth.

    These are the ringleaders. Their lies encourage other believers to rally behind ideas like Creationism.

  • Jean B.

    “But I am not persuaded that my transition from being a young-earth creationist to recognizing that as a pseudoscientific hoax was a transition from stupidity to smartness or from insanity to sanity.”

    Your transition has indeed made you a little more smart and a little more sane.

  • Avenger

    Connoisseurs of scepticism will know about the ways in which psychics can distort the facts to make it look as if their predictions had been fulfilled. A psychic may predict that I will marry a hairdresser and then claim success if I become a hairdresser myself.

    A good example of this sort of chicanery comes from Richard Carrier. As Carrier points out, Philo appears to associate the divine Logos with the name Jesus. What Philo actually does is to refer to an OT passage in which the name Jesus is mentioned. He doesn’t actually call the Logos Jesus. This is a classic indirect hit of the kind that psychics make use of.

    • That’s a good example. What Carrier has written also reminds me of precisely the way that conservative Christians read the Old Testament, with Jesus already in mind, and say “look, see, this predicted him!” Skeptical historical criticism, on the other hand, has noted precisely the disconnect between the texts that relate to a future Messiah, and what is said about the New Testament in Jesus, persuading us that it is more likely that the NT authors are trying to force Scripture and a historical individual to fit together, rather than inventing a Messiah starting with Scripture.