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CFI Portland Meetup Group Message Board General › What atheism really means; why not identify as an atheistic philosopical nat

What atheism really means; why not identify as an atheistic philosopical naturalist?

A former member
Post #: 2,197
I would like to see more people come out as atheists (by that I mean the kind who believes there is no god, rather than merely lacking belief in the existence of a god), including those who are Secular Humanists. This post is directed to those who consider themselves to be Secular Humanists, and non-theists, and methodological naturalists, but not also atheists (in the some defined above) and metaphysical/philosophical naturalists.

Some non-atheistic non-theists rightly said that atheistic philosophical naturalism makes a prediction, but that they are personally uncomfortable making such a prediction since it would go beyond what can be proven with complete certainty. They accept methodological naturalism but they are not fully willing to say they accept atheistic philosophical naturalism), since they don't want to make the mistake of having faith in something (or being perceived as having faith in something). They don't want to make the same mistake that supernaturalists have made. However in everyday life we all consider to be true a large number of concepts that we can not prove 100%, so why should a Secular Humanist be any different regarding atheism and philosophical naturalism? I don't think they should be any different regarding such. For example you and I believe in (consider to be true) that all species on our planet have evolved from one or more other species. Yet we don't have 100% proof for each individual case, and yet we don't consider our conviction in evolution as entailing leaps of faith. You likely correctly believe that evolution theory makes predictions and you likely are not uncomfortable with such predictions (except for those you disagree with), so why are you uncomfortable with the predictions of atheistic philosophical naturalism? So what if possibly in the feature the predictions of atheistic philosophical naturalism are shown to be incorrect? Why not deal with them the same way we deal with various failed predictions of various branches of science (not just of evolutionary theory). We simply admit our error in formerly considering to be true the various predictions that have now been disproven, and we more on.

The page at this link has an article/post called “How and why I became an atheist” by Michael Nugent on December 3, 2011. In it he addresses the view that theists often have, namely that in order to be an atheist (instead of merely an agnostic) one must be 100% convinced that no god exists and the claim that such conviction is irrational. I agree with Mr. Nugent’s statements about what being an atheist really means, except that I disagree with two of his statements. I disagree with the statement that people don't even know they exist. However if he simply means people don’t know if they exist in the form that they appear to have, then I agree (for example theoretically we could be a brain in a jar, that has the illusion of having arms and legs). I also disagree on another point of his, for I am 100% certain that a god does not exist, as far dealings with humanity and our universe is concerned. That is partly because I now define the god of modern deism as not really qualifying as a god to me, though (if it exists) it does qualify as creator being to me. That is because my definition of the word "god" is that one of the requirements of being a god is wanting to receive worship. A being that creates the universe and humanity but that does not reveal his/her/its existence (including his/her/its personality) to his/her/its creation and who thus does not attempt to receive worship from his/her/its creation and who thus apparently is not wanting worship, is thus not a god as far as I am concerned. Thus as far as I am now concerned someone can be an atheist and still believe that a creator being of our universe might exist and even that such a being has full power over our universe, provided the atheist does not believe the possible creator being wants his/her/its creation to worship it.

Mr. Nugent says the following:

“But it also seemed almost infinitely more likely that there were no gods than that there were gods. And yet I could not, with 100 percent certainty, discount the possibility. The dilemma seemed irresolvable, until I realised that I was applying different standards to my beliefs about gods than to my beliefs about anything else.”

“Strictly speaking, we cannot be certain about anything, even that we exist. What appears to be consciousness might be an illusion, and reality may be nothing like it appears. And so, in order to function sanely, we assume that reality is broadly as it appears, based on applying reason to the apparent evidence of our senses. And the best way to test this is the scientific method: make an educated guess, conduct unbiased experiments to see how that guess matches up to the evidence, and then reject or refine your idea based on the outcome of the experiments.”

“When we do that, we realise there is no need to invent gods in order to explain either reality or morality. Every generation, the scientific method teaches us more about how the universe operates. Every generation, religious people describe the bits that we don’t yet understand by saying that “God did that.” Every generation, we patiently move more and more answers from the “God did that” category into the “we now understand how it happens naturally” category. And we never move any answers in the opposite direction.”

“Crucially, the scientific method never claims to be 100 percent certain about anything. All it says is that, based on the best currently available evidence, this is what seems to be the case so reliably that, in practical day-to-day terms, we describe it as being true beyond reasonable doubt. However, if we ever get any new evidence that shows that we are mistaken, then we accept that we were mistaken and revise our ideas to match the new evidence.”

“If we apply the same reasoning to the question of whether gods exist, we can reliably say they do not exist based on the best currently available evidence. This is not a claim of certainty, and it is open to change based on new evidence, but it is a reasonable response to the best currently available evidence, and to centuries of related evidence. There is no good evidence that gods do exist, and lots of good evidence that the idea of gods was invented by human beings. It was realising this that enabled me to feel comfortable describing myself primarily as an atheist rather than an agnostic.”
Dave D.
dcdinucci
Portland, OR
Post #: 76
Gavin,

You are free to use words as you like -- and free to be misunderstood as a result, perhaps -- but neither you nor anyone else can unilaterally (re)define the English language: It's a contract, devised and utilized by lots of people. According to every dictionary I've seen (and by general rules of etymology), the word "atheist" does not represent a belief in anything (such as the belief in no god). It represents the absence of a belief in something -- i.e. a god -- nothing more and nothing less. Some people have used the term "explicit positive (or strong) atheism" to mean what you are trying to define the term "atheism" to mean -- see
http://en.wikipedia.o...­

Moreover, your quoted paragraphs apply to almost everyone I know (including me) who describe ourselves as atheist -- including those who just see no evidence of a god and live their lives in ways that result from that, as well as those who propound that there is no god. So I don't think these quotes do much to support your point that people should be more vocal or specific in stating that there is no god.

I feel like this revisits some discussions we've had here in the past, including perhaps what it means to believe something. Actions can be considered to be a reflection of beliefs, so if I live my life as though there is no god (e.g. don't pray, don't use expectation of an afterlife or supernatural intervention as motivation for my actions), then I can be said to believe that my time is better spent in other ways or guided by different reasoning, regardless of what I say I believe.

So it then comes down to why one would explicitly say what they do or don't believe in. Sure, it's possible that it COULD have an external effect, that some people will be convinced to believe or not believe certain things because they are surrounded by others who say they do or don't. But I think, more likely, that it's lip service: People will say whatever makes their lives easier, which includes minimizing friction with others with whom they interact regularly. In that respect, claiming that "I don't believe in a god" is probably less likely to instill friction than that "I believe there is no god". That is, the latter (i.e. your apparent desire) can bring argument from those who believe there is a god, as well as from those who don't know or care (agnostics, "apatheists"), and those who will want you to define what god you don't believe in. And to what end? I suppose there's a benefit if you just like to argue with people, but some of us like to spend our time somewhat more productively.

I would therefore recommend just the OPPOSITE of what you do. Sure, if you see people ACTING as though they believe in a god -- e.g. wasting their time praying or trying to figure out what God "really wants" from studying the Bible or Koran, or interfering with scientific endeavors based on their unsubstantiated beliefs, or voting in various ways -- and you think you can change that in some (constructive and legal) way, by all means do so. But if people are already acting as though they do not believe in a god (regardless of what they might say), why waste YOUR time trying to get them to make various proclamations (e.g. that they believe there is NO god)?
A former member
Post #: 2,198
Gavin's response to Dave D. :

When I look the definition of atheism in various print edition dictionaries, they all include the meaning "belief there is no god" and usually that definition appears exclusively in place of "disbelief in the existence of a god". When it comes the meaning of the word "atheist" they are even more exclusively in saying it means no god (namely in saying a "person who believes there is no god". For example see the online version of the Merriam-Webster dictionary which says the following are definitions of atheism: "1: archaic : ungodliness, wickedness ; 2: a : a disbelief in the existence of deity; b : the doctrine that there is no deity". Merriam-Webster dictionary defines atheist as: "a person who believes that God does not exist" and "Full Definition of ATHEIST: one who believes that there is no deity" and it gives no other definitions for the word "atheist"! When I tell non-atheists (including those who identify as agnostics) they all interpret me saying "I am an atheist" as me saying "I believe there is no god". When I say that one definition of atheist is someone who simply lacks belief in the existence of a god, but who does not necessarily believe there is no god, the person becomes puzzled by what I said. Most of them then say that sounds like agnosticism to them.
When I told a local southern Baptist minister that I am an atheist, he got upset and said that being an atheist means the person believes there is no god and he said there is way to prove there is no god. I tried to tell him that the word atheist also simply means lack of belief in the existence of a god (and that thus newborn babies are atheists in that sense), but he wouldn't let me state that definition.

When it comes to saying that an atheist is a person who believes there is no god (and that atheism is the belief there is no god), I am simply acknowledging how the general public and the dictionary primarily defines those words and am simply accepting those definitions. When I stopped believing in the biblical god, I called myself a non-theist, but I didn't start also calling myself an atheist until I became convinced well beyond a reasonable doubt that no deistic or any other type of god exists. That is because I knew how the dictionaries define the words "atheist" and "atheism" and more importantly how the vast majority of the general public (including those who call themselves agnostics) define those words.

Dave D. said to Gavin:
Gavin,

You are free to use words as you like -- and free to be misunderstood as a result, perhaps -- but neither you nor anyone else can unilaterally (re)define the English language: It's a contract, devised and utilized by lots of people. According to every dictionary I've seen (and by general rules of etymology), the word "atheist" does not represent a belief in anything (such as the belief in no god). It represents the absence of a belief in something -- i.e. a god -- nothing more and nothing less. Some people have used the term "explicit positive (or strong) atheism" to mean what you are trying to define the term "atheism" to mean -- see
http://en.wikipedia.o...­

Moreover, your quoted paragraphs apply to almost everyone I know (including me) who describe ourselves as atheist -- including those who just see no evidence of a god and live their lives in ways that result from that, as well as those who propound that there is no god. So I don't think these quotes do much to support your point that people should be more vocal or specific in stating that there is no god.

I feel like this revisits some discussions we've had here in the past, including perhaps what it means to believe something. Actions can be considered to be a reflection of beliefs, so if I live my life as though there is no god (e.g. don't pray, don't use expectation of an afterlife or supernatural intervention as motivation for my actions), then I can be said to believe that my time is better spent in other ways or guided by different reasoning, regardless of what I say I believe.

So it then comes down to why one would explicitly say what they do or don't believe in. Sure, it's possible that it COULD have an external effect, that some people will be convinced to believe or not believe certain things because they are surrounded by others who say they do or don't. But I think, more likely, that it's lip service: People will say whatever makes their lives easier, which includes minimizing friction with others with whom they interact regularly. In that respect, claiming that "I don't believe in a god" is probably less likely to instill friction than that "I believe there is no god". That is, the latter (i.e. your apparent desire) can bring argument from those who believe there is a god, as well as from those who don't know or care (agnostics, "apatheists"), and those who will want you to define what god you don't believe in. And to what end? I suppose there's a benefit if you just like to argue with people, but some of us like to spend our time somewhat more productively.

I would therefore recommend just the OPPOSITE of what you do. Sure, if you see people ACTING as though they believe in a god -- e.g. wasting their time praying or trying to figure out what God "really wants" from studying the Bible or Koran, or interfering with scientific endeavors based on their unsubstantiated beliefs, or voting in various ways -- and you think you can change that in some (constructive and legal) way, by all means do so. But if people are already acting as though they do not believe in a god (regardless of what they might say), why waste YOUR time trying to get them to make various proclamations (e.g. that they believe there is NO god)?

A former member
Post #: 2,199
Further when tell people the words "I don't believe in a god" they almost always interpret that as me saying the words "I believe there is no god". They sometimes also get upset when I say the words "I don't believe in god" (and no less angry than when I say "I am an atheist"), even when they say they are agnostic. When I say I didn't tell them "I believe there is no god" and when I explain the differences in the meaning of the two statements, they look puzzled and say that my explanation of the statement "I don't believe in a god" sounds like agnosticism to them instead of atheism.

Gavin's response to Dave D. :

When I look the definition of atheism in various print edition dictionaries, they all include the meaning "belief there is no god" and usually that definition appears exclusively in place of "disbelief in the existence of a god". When it comes the meaning of the word "atheist" they are even more exclusively in saying it means no god (namely in saying a "person who believes there is no god". For example see the online version of the Merriam-Webster dictionary which says the following are definitions of atheism: "1: archaic : ungodliness, wickedness ; 2: a : a disbelief in the existence of deity; b : the doctrine that there is no deity". Merriam-Webster dictionary defines atheist as: "a person who believes that God does not exist" and "Full Definition of ATHEIST: one who believes that there is no deity" and it gives no other definitions for the word "atheist"! When I tell non-atheists (including those who identify as agnostics) they all interpret me saying "I am an atheist" as me saying "I believe there is no god". When I say that one definition of atheist is someone who simply lacks belief in the existence of a god, but who does not necessarily believe there is no god, the person becomes puzzled by what I said. Most of them then say that sounds like agnosticism to them.
When I told a local southern Baptist minister that I am an atheist, he got upset and said that being an atheist means the person believes there is no god and he said there is way to prove there is no god. I tried to tell him that the word atheist also simply means lack of belief in the existence of a god (and that thus newborn babies are atheists in that sense), but he wouldn't let me state that definition.

When it comes to saying that an atheist is a person who believes there is no god (and that atheism is the belief there is no god), I am simply acknowledging how the general public and the dictionary primarily defines those words and am simply accepting those definitions. When I stopped believing in the biblical god, I called myself a non-theist, but I didn't start also calling myself an atheist until I became convinced well beyond a reasonable doubt that no deistic or any other type of god exists. That is because I knew how the dictionaries define the words "atheist" and "atheism" and more importantly how the vast majority of the general public (including those who call themselves agnostics) define those words.

Dave D. said to Gavin:
Gavin,

You are free to use words as you like -- and free to be misunderstood as a result, perhaps -- but neither you nor anyone else can unilaterally (re)define the English language: It's a contract, devised and utilized by lots of people. According to every dictionary I've seen (and by general rules of etymology), the word "atheist" does not represent a belief in anything (such as the belief in no god). It represents the absence of a belief in something -- i.e. a god -- nothing more and nothing less. Some people have used the term "explicit positive (or strong) atheism" to mean what you are trying to define the term "atheism" to mean -- see
http://en.wikipedia.o...­

Moreover, your quoted paragraphs apply to almost everyone I know (including me) who describe ourselves as atheist -- including those who just see no evidence of a god and live their lives in ways that result from that, as well as those who propound that there is no god. So I don't think these quotes do much to support your point that people should be more vocal or specific in stating that there is no god.

I feel like this revisits some discussions we've had here in the past, including perhaps what it means to believe something. Actions can be considered to be a reflection of beliefs, so if I live my life as though there is no god (e.g. don't pray, don't use expectation of an afterlife or supernatural intervention as motivation for my actions), then I can be said to believe that my time is better spent in other ways or guided by different reasoning, regardless of what I say I believe.

So it then comes down to why one would explicitly say what they do or don't believe in. Sure, it's possible that it COULD have an external effect, that some people will be convinced to believe or not believe certain things because they are surrounded by others who say they do or don't. But I think, more likely, that it's lip service: People will say whatever makes their lives easier, which includes minimizing friction with others with whom they interact regularly. In that respect, claiming that "I don't believe in a god" is probably less likely to instill friction than that "I believe there is no god". That is, the latter (i.e. your apparent desire) can bring argument from those who believe there is a god, as well as from those who don't know or care (agnostics, "apatheists"), and those who will want you to define what god you don't believe in. And to what end? I suppose there's a benefit if you just like to argue with people, but some of us like to spend our time somewhat more productively.

I would therefore recommend just the OPPOSITE of what you do. Sure, if you see people ACTING as though they believe in a god -- e.g. wasting their time praying or trying to figure out what God "really wants" from studying the Bible or Koran, or interfering with scientific endeavors based on their unsubstantiated beliefs, or voting in various ways -- and you think you can change that in some (constructive and legal) way, by all means do so. But if people are already acting as though they do not believe in a god (regardless of what they might say), why waste YOUR time trying to get them to make various proclamations (e.g. that they believe there is NO god)?

A former member
Post #: 2,200
Dave D. said to Gavin:

... But if people are already acting as though they do not believe in a god (regardless of what they might say), why waste YOUR time trying to get them to make various proclamations (e.g. that they believe there is NO god)?
Gavin said in reply:

My reason is so that by them coming out of the closet as atheists (even if they do not say there is NO god, as long as they call themselves an "atheist" when speaking to others), is that it will increase the public's awareness of how many people don't believe in the existence of a god. It will also increase the public's awareness of how many people have a naturalistic worldview. I believe that such an awareness will increase the public's acceptance of atheism and of atheists in a similar way that the "God without god" campaign messages hope to achieve. I thus don't think it would be a waste of time.
Dave D.
dcdinucci
Portland, OR
Post #: 78
Then I guess I missed your whole point. My apologies. I thought you said that coming out as atheists (and/or Secular Humanists, virtually all of who also describe themselves as atheists) was not sufficient. I interpreted that you wouldn't be satisfied unless we all declared that we believed there was no god (as opposed to the standard definition of atheist -- i.e. one who does not believe in god).
A former member
Post #: 2,201
Then I guess I missed your whole point. My apologies. I thought you said that coming out as atheists (and/or Secular Humanists, virtually all of who also describe themselves as atheists) was not sufficient. I interpreted that you wouldn't be satisfied unless we all declared that we believed there was no god (as opposed to the standard definition of atheist -- i.e. one who does not believe in god).
I think I now see what you are saying. Yes my initial post was encouraging atheists to begin drawing the conclusion that there is no god and to inform others that such is their view. Coming out as a non-believer in god, even if one does not also believe there is no god, is a good thing, but I also would like atheists to start concluding (beyond a reasonable doubt) that there is no god. That is because I am not just promoting atheism, I am also promoting metaphysical/philosophical naturalism. I want to promote belief in something, not just lack of belief in something. I want to promote belief in philosophical naturalism, not just lack of belief in supernaturalism. But if most atheists don't want to conclude that there is no god, that is their personal choice. Likewise if they don't want to conclude that biological life on Earth got started by a purely natural (and non-supernaturally) directed process that is their choice. Further if they don't want to conclude that biological evolution takes places without any supernatural involvement, that is their choice. But I would prefer that they believe that biological evolution and the origin of biological life took both place by purely non-supernatural processes.
A former member
Post #: 2,225
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