Subject: Atheism/Agnosticism (was Re: Myth is an empirical necessity) Keywords: religion a

---
Master Index Current Directory Index Go to SkepticTank Go to Human Rights activist Keith Henson Go to Scientology cult

Skeptic Tank!

Path: ncsuvm!ncsuvx!mephisto!tut.cis.ohio-state.edu!mailrus!iuvax!rutgers!columbia!cs!tait From: tait@cs.columbia.edu (Carl Tait) Newsgroups: sci.skeptic Subject: Atheism/Agnosticism (was Re: Myth is an empirical necessity) Keywords: religion atheism Message-ID: <551@cs.columbia.edu> Date: 13 Dec 89 03:14:19 GMT References: <6531@pbhyf.PacBell.COM> <5690@uhccux.uhcc.hawaii.edu> <6669@tank.uchicago.edu> <543@cs.columbia.edu> <12116@phoenix.Pri Reply-To: tait@cs.columbia.edu (Carl Tait) Followup-To: sci.skeptic Organization: Columbia University Department of Computer Science Lines: 89 In article <12138@phoenix.Princeton.EDU> mfterman@phoenix.Princeton.EDU (Mutant for Hire) writes: >Maybe we should take this to alt.conspiracy? An organization of theistic >dictionary writers trying to brainwash all of us..... :) > As amusing (or horrifying?) as a conspiratorial clique of fundamentalist dictionary writers might be, I think the problem here is lack of knowledge, not purposeful deception. Dictionaries are great at defining words with simple, precise meanings, but they are often pretty bad at describing technical or philosophical concepts. "Algorithm: (n. Math.) A mechanical or recursive computational procedure." - American Heritage Dictionary So all recursive procedures are algorithms? And no mechanical procedure can be recursive (exclusive-OR is strongly implied here)? This definition is not entirely wrong, but it's inaccurate enough to irritate any computer scientist. >Well, when you throw out dictionary definitions, you are forced to create >your personal definitions, which can be anything you want. Besides, I include >myself among the ranks of atheists, and I believe in the nonexistance of >God/Gods of any type. > If the dictionary definition is plainly wrong, as judged by people in a position to know, then it should certainly be abandoned. Atheists have been around a lot longer than dictionaries, and as I said, I don't know any of them (except maybe you!) who agree with the "denial of God" definition. Actually, the AHD is a little better than many dictionaries: it defines atheism as "disbelief in or denial of the existence of God." Webster's New Universal is bottom of the barrel - it goes so far as to add the insulting quotation, "A little philosophy inclineth men's minds to atheism, but depth in philosophy bringeth men's minds to religion." Hmm, that conspiracy theory is starting to sound pretty good.... :-) >Actually, what I think you're trying to get at is the distinction between >the statements "I refuse to believe or not believe in X" as opposed to >"I believe X is false" It seems like you're trying to say that you refuse to >be committed to the stance that God exists without saying that God doesn't >exist, which means that you refuse to make a stance in either direction. This >is agnosticism. > To "believe" something is to accept that it is true. Belief can be based on either evidence or faith. It is therefore definitely contradictory to say "I believe X" AND "I believe NOT X." Curiously enough, however, one may consistently say "I do not believe X" AND "I do not believe NOT X." All this second pair of statements means is that you don't have enough evidence to believe X; you don't have enough to believe NOT X; and you're not willing to accept either the statement or its negation on faith. Consider a mathematical illiterate who has never heard of pi. This person can truthfully say both "I do not believe that pi = 3" AND "I do not believe that pi != 3." No contradiction at all - this person has insufficient information to believe either statement. (Unless, of course, the person believes that the Bible is literally true, in which case 1 Kings 7:23 leads to the conclusion that pi = 3. Really!) Atheists don't "believe" either of these statements: 1) "Some god or gods exist" 2) "No god or gods exist" It is their considered opinion, however, based on available information, that statement (2) is almost certainly true. This is NOT, repeat NOT, a dogmatic assertion or statement of faith. If some bearded guy shows up tomorrow who can repeatedly violate the law of conservation of energy under controlled conditions just by waving his hands, atheists will certainly have to revise their opinion. But there's absolutely no reason to believe that such a magical event will occur. Please read Chris Stewart's posting on Atheism/Agnosticism for an excellent description of agnosticism. It's almost certainly not what you think it is. And since "agnosticism" is a relatively recent (1869) and well-documented concept, it's fairly easy to show that our friends at the dictionary companies are way off base on this one. One final note, to tie this back into the theme of this newsgroup. Suppose someone showed you a scientific theory that violated half a dozen well-established laws of nature and had absolutely no evidence to support it. You would almost certainly (and quite justifiably) laugh in his face. "But you can't prove it's FALSE!" the offended "scientist" might shriek. So what? The burden of proof lies with the scientist to provide evidence supporting his theory. The rest of us have no obligation to prove him wrong. If we abandon this principle, we must unskeptically accept the validity of astrology, ESP, the Easter Bunny, Quetzalcoatl - and, of course, the Judeo-Christian God. Carl Tait

---

E-Mail Fredric L. Rice / The Skeptic Tank