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"If there was no God, there would be no atheists." G.K. Chesterton


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"These are the days when the Christian is expected to praise every creed except his own." G.K.Chesterton

"You cannot grow a beard in a moment of passion." G.K.Chesterton

"As you perhaps know, I haven't always been a Christian. I didn't go to religion to make me happy. I always knew a bottle of Port would do that."C. S. Lewis

"I blog, therefore I am." Anon

Sunday, January 30, 2005

investigating the fourth option

I have written many posts on this blog about the ridiculousness (philosophically linguistically and etymologically) of the new definition of atheism (which atheist philosopher Tony Pasquarello calls "natheism") and about the foolishness and irrationality with which many of its vocal defenders passionately and cluelessly argue in favour of this unwieldy beast. At last it seems some atheist thinkers are waking up to the topsy-turvy, Alice in Wonderland world of "weak" atheism.

There is a lot that the following authors and tertius would disagree on but the proper defintion of atheism is not one of them. We all agree on the standard definition of atheism, in preference to the new in-house sleight-of-hand cop-out definition bandied around in cyberspace like "holy writ". It is refreshing to read these writers' comments upon the terminology of atheism but I fear it will fall on deaf ears...

Jeffrey Jay Lowder is one of the more reflective atheists on the Net. He attempts to defend his philosophical position through civil discourse and well-reasoned points. Sadly he is a role model that few of his fellow atheists seek to emulate. Their preferred approach is that of the "mad dog" school of agressive vitriol.

Lowder notes in A Brief Survey of Evidential Arguments for Atheism:
...I think it would be useful to define some terms. In doing so I will adopt the definitions put forth by Professor Theodore M. Drange in his excellent essay, Atheism, Agnosticism, Noncognitivism. Consider the sentence, "God exists." Do you think that sentence is meaningful? In other words, do you think that sentence is either true or false? If you think the sentence, "God exists" is a bunch of meaningless nonsense, you are a noncognitivist with respect to God-talk. (However, I don't recommend using that word at cocktail parties!) If you do think the sentence is meaningful, then ask yourself a follow-up question: is that sentence true or false? If you think that sentence is true or probably true you are a theist. (I discuss the arguments for theism elsewhere.) If you think that sentence is false or probably false you are an atheist. Finally, if you do not have a position on whether the sentence is true or false then you are an agnostic.

By defining terms in the above manner, I am rejecting the definition of terms used by many atheists, where atheism is defined as simply the lack of theistic belief. Indeed, I used to also passionately defend that definition of atheism on Usenet. The only problem with that definition, however, is that nobody outside of nontheistic circles ever uses it. When the average "person on the street" uses the word "atheist," they mean someone who holds the belief that God does not exist. Thus, when nontheists use the word "atheism" in a nonstandard way, it makes communication with the general public difficult. And while it might be possible to persuade the general public to use the 'correct' definition of atheism, it would hardly be worth the effort. The primary dispute between theists and nontheists is whether God exists; we should focus our energy on that issue.

What Lowder recognises as "not worth the effort" is unfortunately the primary focus of much atheist hand-wringing and a favourite atheist sound bite used when trolling Christian discussion sites. All sorts of loud and ignorant assertions are thrown out about the definition, semantics, etymology of the words atheism and atheist by persons who haven't got a clue about that which they pontificate.

The terms theist and atheist are in themselves meaningless and pointless distractors from the central question concerning the existence of theos -god.

"Does God exist?"

How a person responds to this question is the central issue. One either answers Yes, No, or, I don't know - the responses of standard theism, atheism and agnosticism respectively. If one really thinks there is a serious intellectual fourth option - I don't have any opinion- then one is merely demonstrating his own lack of serious deep thinking. Pretending that his mind is a tabula rasa with respect to God is an exercise in either philosophical shallowness or mental deficiency.

1:52:00 am