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Demarcations in Atheism

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In this entry I will discuss my belief in Atheism, not in much detail, but focusing particularly in the reasons of why I am a theoretical Agnostic Atheist and a practical Atheist, rather than an Atheist in both rationales.First, for those who thought that when one says I am an atheist, there is no difference in what you do in your life and your justification for being so (an atheist); there is actually a division on Atheism, practice and theory, and one can, peculiarly enough, be a theist or a believer in God in theory but an Atheist in practice.A quote from Diderot can illustrate this:It is very important not to mistake Hemlock for Parsley; but not at all so to believe or not in God.He seems to be remarking that whether one cares for God existence or not, it is unimportant and carries no consequences in life.Wikipedia says that in pragmatic Atheism,The existence of gods is not denied, but may be designated unnecessary or useless; gods neither provide purpose to life, nor influence everyday life, according to this view.Methodological Naturalism, a epistemological and metaphysical position that science assumes, is a good example of pragmatic atheism, because God is not used or is deemed irrelevant for studies and discoveries in the natural world. Many scientists could be called pragmatic atheists, although they are not in theory like, perhaps, Kenneth Miller.Now, theoretical Atheism is based on arguments and evidence, like refuting proofs that theists give for God existence (cosmological argument, fine-tuning, ontological argument, etc.) or giving reasons to show that it is very unlikely that a deity might exist (problem of evil, materialism, contradictory qualities, etc.).There can be a direct causal-relation between these two of course, pragmatic and theoretical atheism, for example some theoretical atheists might be atheists also in practice, because somebody that find more reason (maybe he is convinced that the problem of evil is indefensible or a contradiction to the existence of a God) to be an atheist than a theist, will hardly be a theist in everyday life.I am an atheist in practice because I am simply indifferent to a deity/ies (whether be the christian God or the Hindu pantheon or Allah, etc.). I do my meals and readings and art without paying atention to the possibility that a god might exist or not. I do though, sometimes, feel curiosity, some sympathy for those deeply emotional religious people ,and see it as an scholastic game to think about God and his attributes, etc. But I feel no reverence or desire to know about him/her/ whatever.Perhaps it is because of my theoretical position, that of agnostic atheism, that I have so big lack of interest for the deity ,which says that the person does not believe in god but does not know if she/he exist or not.I suppose I should explain why, in theory, I am not an atheist instead of an agnostic-atheist. I have two reasons for that, one conceptual (having to do with meaning or to what it refers) and the other epistemological (having to do with knowledge limitations). This two reasons are related, in the sense that depending on the paricular conception of God I might propose, there can be a higher limitation to come to know about him/her (in arguments, or empirical data, etc.).The conceptual reason is based on the different ideas of what the word God means, just to cite a few examples:Pantheism (is the view that the Universe/Nature and God are identical), Panentheism (belief system which posits that God exists and interpenetrates every part of nature, and timelessly extends beyond as well.), Polytheism (the belief in and/or worship of multiple deities), Monotheism (the belief that only one God exists), Deism (the belief that God exists, created the universe but does not interfere). All of these beliefs are different.And that is not all, there is also the following conceptions of what a God could or can be, if we deem only necessary to posit something as God if he/she merely created the universe or life on earth:A highly intelligent and advanced civilization, which is someting Nick Bostrom speaks about in his Simulation Argument (A simplified version), i. It is possible that an advanced civilization could create a computer simulation which contains individuals with artificial intelligence (AI). ii. Such a civilization would likely run many, billions for example, of these simulations (just for fun, for research or any other permutation of possible reasons.) iii. A simulated individual inside the simulation wouldn’t necessarily know that it is inside a simulation — it is just going about its daily business in what it considers to be the "real world." Then the ultimate question is — if one accepts that the above premises are at least possible— which of the following is more likely? a. We are the one civilization which develops AI simulations and happens not to be in one itself? b. We are one of the many (billions) of simulations that has run? (Remember point iii.)Can that, if it existed, civilization or the one that pressed the button to start the simulation, be a kind of deity/ies?Today, if one pays enough attention to much of current debate and criticism to religion, it is usually the Christian God that gets attacked, especially with the problem of evil. But what if the Christian idea of God is mistaken? Maybe God is just incompetent, or lazy, or evil. Mill at the end of his Three Essays on Religion says the following:So we can conclude that there is no basis in natural theology for attributing intelligence or personality to the obstacles that partially thwart what seem to be God’s purposes. Two other possible sources of the limitation of his power are more probable. (1) They result from the qualities of the material: the substances and forces of which the universe is composed don’t admit of any arrangements by which his purposes could be more completely fulfilled. (2) God’s purposes could have been more fully attained, but he didn’t know how to do it: his creative skill, wonderful as it is, wasn’t perfect enough to accomplish his purposes more thoroughly.andConsider the idea that this Being, not being omnipotent, may have produced a machinery that falls short of what he aimed at, so that he sometimes has to intervene •to make corrections•. This is in itself neither absurd nor impossible, though in none of the cases in which God is thought to have intervened is the evidence anywhere near conclusive.So it is a possible idea of God this bad architect and it can avoid the problem of evil.Other thing to have in mind is Aliens, can they qualify as Gods if they planted a seed of life as Francis Crick and L. G. Orgel suggest in their paper Directed Panspermia (abstract):It now seems unlikely that extraterrestrial living organisms could have reached the earth either as spores driven by the radiation pressure from another star or as living organisms imbedded in a meteorite. As an alternative to these nineteenth-century mechanisms, we have considered Directed Panspermia, the theory that organisms were deliberately transmitted to the earth by intelligent beings on another planet. We conclude that it is possible that life reached the earth in this way, but that the scientific evidence is inadequate at the present time to say anything about the probability. We draw attention to the kinds of evidence that might throw additional light on the topic.The Raelians at least seem to take this idea very seriously, Raëlism, or The Raëlian movement, is a UFO which teaches that all life on Earth was created by humanoid extraterrestrials called Elohim, which was the word used for God in many ancient writings.My Epistemological reason is simple. It is imposible to know with absolute certainty if God exist or not (whatever conception of God I include here), it will always be probabilistic. Someone could tell me that it is not necessary to be 100% sure, and I agree. Most, if not all, of our behavior and beliefs do not require 100% certainty. The problem of Induction is a good proof of this.I have no rational proof, or there is no logical inconsistency, for supposing that tomorrow the sun will not rise, although we know that it will, yet we cannot prove it rationally. Why? Because we use past experiences to explain a future event. It is true that the sun has risen 100.000 times already, yet is this a proof that it will rise tomorrow? Russell in his book The Problems of Philosophy says:Do any number of cases of a law being fulfilled in the past afford evidence that it will be fulfilled in the future? If not, it becomes plain that we have no ground whatever for expecting the sun to rise to-morrow, or for expecting the bread we shall eat at our next meal not to poison us, or for any of the other scarcely conscious expectations that control our daily lives. It is to be observed that all such expectations are only probable; thus we have not to seek for a proof that they must be fulfilled, but only for some reason in favour of the view that they are likely to be fulfilled. Things which we see become associated, by habit, with certain tactile sensations which we expect if we touch them; one of the horrors of a ghost (in many ghost-stories) is that it fails to give us any sensations of touch. Uneducated people who go abroad for the first time are so surprised as to be incredulous when they find their native language not understood. And this kind of association is not confined to men; in animals also it is very strong. A horse which has been often driven along a certain road resists the attempt to drive him in a different direction. Domestic animals expect food when they see the person who feeds them. We know that all these rather crude expectations of uniformity are liable to be misleading. The man who has fed the chicken every day throughout its life at last wrings its neck instead, showing that more refined views as to the uniformity of nature would have been useful to the chicken.So our knowledge of most, if not all, things it is either an habit, probabilistic, or a mix of the two.To conclude, I hope I explained why I am not an Atheist in theory (I think the conceptual part is more relevant, since the episitemological one is probabilistic and we could say that, based on all the evidence we have, we can, not with certainty, but with high probability, assume that God does not exist) but one in practice.Maybe in some other entry I will critic arguments for theism and atheism. This entry was mostly to explain my personal belief.


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Posted

Excellent post, Paulus, and thank you. Running with a thought, do you think the following is possible, or is it merely a babble of words? The nega-atheist says to you, "I do not believe in god." And the posi-atheist says, "I do not believe in god's existence." Is it possible to accept both positions? To 'believe in god' and yet, at the same time, to 'not believe in god's existence' and/or visa versa? Another ponderment. Imagine someone says to you, 'I know god exists' and then another fellow says, 'I know god doesn't exist.' And you ask them for proof and neither can satisfy your demands. The truth, you discover, is that neither really know. Could you then say to the believer and non-beliver alike, "if being ignorant of god's existence is to be agnostic, then it appears that until we know otherwise, you the believer and you the non-believer are both agnostic!"?Just some fun to run with....

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Posted

Excellent post, Paulus, and thank you. Running with a thought, do you think the following is possible, or is it merely a babble of words? The nega-atheist says to you, "I do not believe in god." And the posi-atheist says, "I do not believe in god's existence." Is it possible to accept both positions? To 'believe in god' and yet, at the same time, to 'not believe in god's existence' and/or visa versa? Just some fun to run with....
It would be interesting to see Paulus' response to this.Speaking for myself, one can make a distinction between belief in god and belief in the existence of god. In the first instance, one can take god as something mind-dependent, such as an idea or even (pushing past the 'fictional entity' status) an abstract entity. In the second instance, one can take god as something concrete and go from there.Hence, the nega-atheist would, presumably, deny the very idea of God, whereas the posi-atheist would deny that there is an entity, which we call 'god', and this entity is non-existent.

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I will respond soon enough!I just noticed that I had comments! Also I modified a bit the post I think... I have to check this one and compare it with the entry on my other blog.

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Paulus,In case you are not already aware, one can receive notification of new comments (via email) by clicking the link above the right-hand side of the Reply box.

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Thanks for the reply Beast, my thinking was able to make very much the same distinction and with more or less the same kind of thought process offered. Absence of belief, and the belief in absence. If the distinction is coherent, it seems possible that one could argue that they believe in god, but just don't believe in god's existence, which as trivial as this seems, appears to add another - too often overlooked - tweak to religious debate and atheism in particular.

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Paulus,You say that "one can, peculiarly enough, be a theist or a believer in God in theory but an Atheist in practice." Practical (or pragmatic) atheism you associate with the Wikipedia description which says that "The existence of gods is not denied, but may be designated unnecessary or useless; gods neither provide purpose to life, nor influence everyday life ..." I would be interested in how you might describe practical or pragmatic theism.Michael

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