In the previous post on blue-sky thinking, Alex Black (hereafter AB), raised several objections with regards to religious beliefs and belief in an eternal God, and very specifically about whether or not God as described in the Torah could be called genuinely good (while ignoring their own disbelief in the reality of good). Though, even by the first or second message it’s definitions which have been more thoroughly than anything else discussed, as a consequence it’s only natural round two would continue down the very same path. So, let’s define terms, and as you’ll find in the upcoming (albeit brief) exchange, it’s the believing camp who’re carrying on the fine tradition of classical atheism, whereas modern “atheists” appear to be caught up in semantics so as to both claim God doesn’t exist, while yet providing nothing by which to defend their knowledge claim. Firstly however, as is my habit, let’s revisit the previous points for those of us interested.
[AB] The discrepancy between the God of the Old and New Testament. . .
[AB] The wholesale slaughter of women and children commanded in the Old Testament. . .
[OSC] “I think, therefore I am” (properly basic beliefs). . .
[OSC] Proving the non-existence of a thing. . .
[OSC] Craig Keener’s king of Siam. . .
[OSC] Count Tolstoy: “The most difficult subjects can be explained to the most slow-witted man”. . .
[OSC] Fry’s condemnation of God . . .
[OSC] “My argument against God was that the universe seemed so cruel and unjust.”. . .
[OSC] Alvin Plantinga’s Knowledge and Christian belief. . .
[OSC] Paul Copan vs. Norman Bacrac on the topic “Is God a Moral Monster”. . .
[AB] There’s no “credible” evidence for any God. . .
[AB] An inability to relate to someone you cannot see, hear or touch. . .
[AB] Could anything convince you God doesn’t exist?. . .
[OSC] “Dear friends, do not believe every spirit” (1 John 4). . .
[OSC] Redefinition of an evil God as a Zeus or half-god. . .
[OSC] The butterfly effect. . .
[OSC] Sliding doors. . .
[OSC] China, Ethiopia, El Salvador, where suffering is at it’s worst. . .
[OSC] Who has ever heard of safety and prosperity causing people to leave their country . . .
[OSC] Merely to hold the belief means you believe you’re right. . .
[OSC] Atheists losing the ability to comprehend the Bible. . .
[OSC] The things Christians believe. . .
[AB] There’s no objective morality. . .
[AB] Is God killing baby Hitler moral?. . .
[OSC] Laws are for criminals, prisons for criminals, judges for supposed criminals. . .
[OSC] The impossibility of God defying His own character. . .
[OSC] Killing isn’t murder. . .
[OSC] The destruction of the Anakites (Joshua 11:21). . .
[OSC] Westboro baptist church vs the church of England. . .
[OSC] The incoherence both not being able to disprove any gods while discounting every god. . .
[AB] Differentiating an evil god from good god. . .
[AB] Double standards between human behavior and God’s. . .
[AB] Not interested. . .
[AB] Defining atheism. . .
[OSC] Defining atheism (rightly this time!). . .
[OSC] Theism, atheism and agnosticism defined. . .
[OSC] God being utterly unlike man. . .
[OSC] Voluntarism outlined. . .
[OSC] God’s essential virtues. . .
[OSC] AB’s point “rendered moot” either way. . .
[OSC] Hyperbole explained. . .
[OSC] I’m not interested (and why it’s not interesting). . .
[OSC] Lewis: “There is no need to be worried by facetious people who try to make the Christian hope of Heaven ridiculous. . .”. . .
[OSC] Lewis: “It is no good asking for a simple religion. After all, real things are not simple. . .”. . .
[OSC] Thugs as pacifists and savages as vegetarians. . .
[OSC] Reconciling the God of the Torah with Christianity by Jesus Christ. . .
[OSC] Christ confirming the entire Torah . . .
Alex Black: Language changes all the time. The meanings of words are not determined by dictionaries, but by the way they are used. Once a usage of a word has become common, then it makes it into a dictionary. There is no “right” way to define any word. There is only the way it is used. And by far the most common definition I see atheists use for “atheist” is “one who does not believe in any gods”. So, it would make sense to assume that someone who self-identifies as an atheist lacks belief in any gods, and then ask them questions if you want to know more specifics about their position.*
Generally, I care a lot more about arguing with the positions people actually hold rather than arguing over definitions of words, but I frequently see non-atheists trying to redefine atheism in a way that makes the position easier to argue against. This can range from the assertion that an atheist is “one who believes in the non-existence of gods” (implies that faith is involved) to “one who denies the existence of God” (implies that atheists are wrong, and know they are wrong, deep down) to “one who has searched every nook and cranny of the universe in order to be able to know there isn’t a god” (implies that there is no such thing as an atheist by demanding a completely unreasonable burden of proof before accepting that someone is truly an atheist). Relatedly, there are people who flat out deny that atheists exist, frequently by citing Romans 1:18-21.
It seems like we are arguing in circles about the goodness of the Christian god. It seems like you are defining him to be good, while I am looking at various things attributed to God and thinking “How is this good?”*
I’m not interested in discussing which parts of the Bible are literal and which are hyperbole or whatever because different people say different parts are literal, and there isn’t any consensus. To me, the whole thing looks like fiction, and people picking a part and saying “this bit here is hyperbole while this other bit here is literal” sounds like cherry-picking to me. I don’t have any stake in saying which bits are meant to be literal or not. It doesn’t matter to me one way or the other, since I don’t believe in any of it anyway (to compare, would you be interested in discussing which bits of Qur’an are meant to be literal? or the Gospel of the Flying Spagetti Monster?). The only use I see in discussing the matter is listening to which bits a particular individual thinks are literal or not, so that I can talk to that person while keeping their actual position in mind. And since you don’t believe that your god literally ordered his followers to murder children, my original objection of “How can a god who orders his followers to murder children be good?” becomes moot.*
Perhaps “people who are commonly called Christians” would be a better category than “people who call themselves Christians”. Regardless, that’s a different concept from who is a “true” Christian. I literally have no metric by which to tell who is a “true” Christian from who is a “fake” Christian. From the outside looking in, I see people from different denominations all holding different positions about who is a “true” Christian, from those that say Catholics aren’t “true” Christians to those that say only Catholics are “true” Christians to those that say only those belonging to some specific, small denomination (e.g. Jehovah’s Witnesses) are “true” Christians, or those who say only those who follow a specific set of teachings are “true” Christians. There are literally thousands of different denominations of Christianity. To me, they all look like different ways of people believing in different things that aren’t real, and there’s no consensus on who is a “true” Christian, so I have absolutely no base from which to say that one person is a “true” Christian while another is not.
But I do still sometimes find it necessary to refer to people who are commonly called Christians as a group.
OldSchoolContemporary: There’s so much to interact with with regards to definition that I’m going to have to dismantle this to your satisfaction and mine before continuing into a thoroughly, definitive definition of God’s goodness. In addition to defining the good itself. So, let’s begin first by way of your reply: “Language changes all the time. The meanings of words are not determined by dictionaries, but by the way they are used. Once a usage of a word has become common, then it makes it into a dictionary.”
Indubitably! Moreover, Christians, Jews, Muslims, agnostic people and everybody else you might find commonly define atheism as to deny the existence of God. Even classical atheists defined themselves as the above, so when you write that non-atheists are “redefining” atheism, they’re simply correcting a modern movement who themselves can’t (or won’t) preserve clear definitions which we do have. For what reason are modern unbelievers so hung up on rocking the boat however, why’s the long standing definition of atheism suddenly so hot a potato?
Sophisticated skeptics, people like Bertrand Russell (whose History of Western Philosophy yet sits upon my bookshelf)*, affirmed how there wasn’t any evidence of God’s absence, only people who said their expectations weren’t met sufficiently, thus it follows there’s no evidence for atheism outside of the subjective. This leads to many atheists writing “You can’t prove a negative” (as you believe), or more specifically, “You can’t prove a universal negative”, yet as already stated and agreed upon by both you and I, you can certainly prove a universal negative, nonetheless, atheists usually insist you can’t prove a universal negative, yet, if it’s indeed true that you cannot prove universal negatives, and atheism is itself a claim supposing to prove some universal negative, then there’s no saving atheism from itself! (Herein lies a problem).
How do people solve the above problem, because atheism historically hasn’t had an ambiguous meaning, everybody knows the long standing definition is as I’ve already described (belief in the reality of our universe without any god/gods). Well, the idea is to revise the definition of atheism, with which it’s no longer the viewpoint “God does not exist”, rather it’s merely an absence of belief in God (how you claimed and thus far believe). Therefore, anybody who lacks belief in a God automatically becomes an atheist by the above definition, for which we must than enter into your careful investigation into where upon the spectrum of unbelief they’ve landed. Now, nobody (at least not myself) rejects your redefinition because they’d sooner trap atheists or make atheism less attractive, they’re dismissing the redefinition because it’s hopelessly muddled.
The redefinition is attempting to change atheism from a viewpoint into a description of someone’s psychological state, “namely, the state of lacking belief in God.” Let’s imagine who else is an atheist if your definition of absence of belief is being used: Worms are atheists, babies are atheists, bacteria are atheists, soft agnostic people are atheists! etc etc.* Wouldn’t people rightly decide the infidel community’s attempted redefinition being both indiscriminate and totally unworkable.
‘There is no “right” way to define any word.’
Which means you can’t possibly be right in the definition you’re arguing for.*
“Generally, I care a lot more about arguing with the positions people actually hold rather than arguing over definitions of words,”*
You can’t argue a position without first understanding the actual definition of the position you’re arguing about. The above reminds me of a humorous banner found at the daily atheist quotations site, which read: “Beliefs don’t make good people, actions do.” But actions are directly informed and prompted by beliefs! So, if a person believed whites were superior by virtue of their color and nothing more, then they’re very likely to behave in a racist way.
“I frequently see non-atheists trying to redefine atheism in a way that makes the position easier to argue against.”
I frequently see atheists trying to redefine atheism out of its long held traditional meaning in a way that makes the position not a position but a psychological state, and therefore easier to defend against criticism (How you and I can read above!). Even atheists.org explained: “Older dictionaries define atheism as a belief that there is no God.” Meaning, neither you nor I can be in any doubt as to which community is playing the redefinition game. Although you could complain that believers were redefining your redefinition back into its original definition (Oh my!).*
Now, you wouldn’t blame a person for thinking you naive, would you, Alex? In your estimation there’s a horde of marauding believers out there trying to undermine your broad brush use and redefinition of the word atheism, and you’re dissatisfied with these people for not passively allowing a section of unbelievers to have their way when they try and move the goal posts of what words commonly mean (which they’re doing for totally pure reasons of course). Surely our skepticism isn’t switched from on to off just because it’s atheists/unbelievers who want to befoul the waters of their own belief. You continued wrestling through definitions nevertheless:
‘And by far the most common definition I see atheists use for “atheist” is “one who does not believe in any gods”.’ Adding furthermore: “So, it would make sense to assume that someone who self-identifies as an atheist lacks belief in any gods.”
Having expanded your notions, there’s this idea that atheists, rather than merely being able to self-identify in a certain way, ought to also define words which pertain to themselves. Yet as you’d readily agree you’ve had your fingers burnt by imagining everybody is how they self-identify or define themselves to be in our previous exchange of ideas:
You’re disinterested in defining who is and isn’t a Christian, yet you’ve also already adopted an indiscriminate form of defining in which you’re compelled to dub everybody who self identifies as a Christian Christian. Therefore, you’d be content to call a society of violent thugs a society of pacifists, and a tribe of savages who ate each other raw you would name vegetarians, just as long as they believed they were indeed vegetarian enough.
As assuredly as it’s a cold January here in London, you wouldn’t be content to call a society of violent thugs a society of pacifists, nor would you believe a tribe of savages who ate each other raw deserved being named vegetarians (who would?!). So, in an effort to clarify your position or avoid the above criticism, a criticism you must imagine to be of value, you’ve amended the original method whereby you judged an actual Christian person from a nominal Christian:
‘Perhaps “people who are commonly called Christians” would be a better category than “people who call themselves Christians”.’ Meaning, you don’t have a better method by which to discern who to describe as Christian then who people commonly name as Christian. Allow for me to unpack your idea:
(1) Atheism (the belief that there are no gods) should be redefined by people who don’t necessarily qualify to be atheists by the definition of the word so that they may then change the definition of the word into “people who lack belief in gods.” (Thus becoming atheists by their redefinition).
(2) Who’s Christian is to be defined not by “people who call themselves Christians” (meaning no self-identity, because allowing for such would lead you into affirming absurdities like cannibal vegetarians), but rather Christians are to be defined by an uninvited group of non-Christian people, although we have yet to design a working definition to know who’s indeed a non-Christian, who “commonly called” (rightly or wrongly) other people Christian (So yourself?!).*
To write plainly, without being able (or interested) in defining who is and isn’t a Christian you imagine to hand the burden of deciding who is Christian to a popular culture you assume aren’t Christian (because to allow people to self-identify as Christian would land you in a wealth of absurdities). However, then you deny allowing for the culture at large to define atheism or defend its long standing definition of what it means to be an atheist because a select group of unbelieving people, people who may or may not be atheists, want to redefine the word for reasons that are surely less than savory.
Firstly, you’re clearly a very sophisticated and studied atheist whose points deserve care and deliberation (hence my careful reply), however, you yourself should be able to read the above material you’ve presented as a master class in double standards.
AB never gets around to overturning my criticisms of their view, instead taking to their own blog they write an interesting article with regards to how nobody (me presumably included) can dismiss another person’s Christianity, their Islam or even Satanism because they’d then be committing a fallacy known as the “No true Scotsman” fallacy, how interesting! They write “Outside of fallacious reasoning, I often find arguments over who is a “true” adherent of a religion to be simply absurd. There are people who say that no one who supports gay rights is a “true” Christian, and there are those who say that no one who does not support gay rights is a “true” Christian.” Explaining furthermore: “All of this infighting within religions about who is or isn’t a “real” religionist is frankly ridiculous. It is, at times, petty, fallacious, absurd, disingenuous, utterly confusing, hypocritical, contradictory, or incredibly arrogant.”
Wow, absurd, ridiculous, petty, contradictory and utterly confusing, such strong condemnation, considering their passion AB’s surely going to provide some sensible, genuine, utterly plain answers in my upcoming rebuttal, which takes place on their own Midori Skies blog. Thus far, though being unable to justify their use of atheism, Christian (and as a consequence Christianity), AB hasn’t shown any sign of rethinking their views, which leads me to believe they are about to turn our entire conversation upon its head, showing once and for all how my views and method are (“at times”) everything they claimed in the above (i.e absurd), and if you believe that . . . then I’ve got a bridge I’d like to sell you.*
― T. C. M