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Just What Does The Word Atheist Mean


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Hmmn

If something is "untouchable" in effect it does not respond to cause and effect. If that is the case, then it may well exist, but then it may as well not exist, because it is irrelevant.

 

Here I am using "touch" in its broadest sense.

 

Maybe we don't understand cause and effect well enough and maybe there could be something that is untouchable, not properly understood by us in our current state, that does 'enter/participate' into this world.

 

Just going with the 'typical' understanding of God - a entity or energy, outside of our known physical realm, that interferes or influence this realm, somehow.

 

I'm not trying to debate whether or not that thing actually exists, I'm just saying that we know that we don't know everything, so maybe we don't know what we don't know - i.e. God?

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Maybe we don't understand cause and effect well enough and maybe there could be something that is untouchable, not properly understood by us in our current state, that does 'enter/participate' into this world.

 

I am sure we don't ... but we just need to understand there is cause and effect. If that poorly understood thing enters this world to any significant degree would invalidate the first law of thermodynamics. (As does free will).

 

Just going with the 'typical' understanding of God - a entity or energy, outside of our known physical realm, that interferes or influence this realm, somehow.

 

This I think is far from typical in my experience. Again the laws of thermodynamics don't countenance this point of view.

I'm not trying to debate whether or not that thing actually exists, I'm just saying that we know that we don't know everything, so maybe we don't know what we don't know - i.e. God?

As an agnostic I don't know anything never mind everything. But then I can't know pink fluffy unicorns inhabit my workshop when I am not there. But they would explain the dust bunnies. By saying I actively disbelieve in pink fluffy unicorns, am I being closed minded? I don't think so. I would give a strong atheist the same wriggle room.

 

Of course some might argue fluffy pink unicorns are a man made concept. But I could argue not ... our concept of unicorns are fluffy pink unicorn inspired.

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Rom,

 

The law of thermodynamics is simply man's way of understanding the science around such things. What of the things we don't know? How can we say with 100% certainty that there isn't something we don't know about the law of thermodynamics? Maybe the universe isn't a closed system as such thus allowing something to come into it from 'elsewhere'. Although I don't believe it to be so or expect it to ever be demonstrated as such, I cannot say 100% that it is impossible.

 

I do think the opposite is what many strong atheists would say concerning - God does not nor ever can, exist. So that's where I was asking Jim who self-identifies as an atheist, where he stood on that point. As it seems neither you or I are calling ourselves atheist, I was simply asking what soembody who does call themselves such thinks about this.

 

Like you, I can't know that pink fluffy unicorns don't exist, although I highly suspect it is not so. Similarly, I actively disbelieve in dust bunnies. But this does not mean I say "they cannot and 100% do not, exist". If I were to say that I am 100% right that dust bunnies or fluffy pink unicorns do not and can not ever exist, then am I open to accepting information that might point towards their existence. I don't think so.

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I think that atheists like others come from and have a variety of backgrounds and beliefs and convictions. But as a writer on American atheists points out ....

 

"The only common thread that ties all atheists together is a lack of belief in gods and supernatural beings. "

 

If that statement is true then..... lack of belief doesn't in my view mean close-minded although it seems to me there are close-minded people in all persuasions.

 

Since i don't see God as traditionally defined by those taking the recorded literalist view of the Bible, i would think many from my background would also consider me Atheist. As Jim pointed out in his post, i also think that the question " Do you believe in God?" at least when posed to me by many is meaningless. There are too many conflicting definitions/concepts of God among those who profess to believe for there to be real meaning in a simple Yes/No answer. And to me, i find no need at this moment to even believe or disbelieve as God to me is not a question of belief but rather an undisputed ever-present reality, existence, creation and evolution itself as one, to say the least. Now if "I" was my mind (as in the brain that perishes) i would agree to being close-minded on the issue. :)

 

Joseph

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Rom,

 

The law of thermodynamics is simply man's way of understanding the science around such things. What of the things we don't know? How can we say with 100% certainty that there isn't something we don't know about the law of thermodynamics? Maybe the universe isn't a closed system as such thus allowing something to come into it from 'elsewhere'. Although I don't believe it to be so or expect it to ever be demonstrated as such, I cannot say 100% that it is impossible.

 

I do think the opposite is what many strong atheists would say concerning - God does not nor ever can, exist. So that's where I was asking Jim who self-identifies as an atheist, where he stood on that point. As it seems neither you or I are calling ourselves atheist, I was simply asking what soembody who does call themselves such thinks about this.

 

Like you, I can't know that pink fluffy unicorns don't exist, although I highly suspect it is not so. Similarly, I actively disbelieve in dust bunnies. But this does not mean I say "they cannot and 100% do not, exist". If I were to say that I am 100% right that dust bunnies or fluffy pink unicorns do not and can not ever exist, then am I open to accepting information that might point towards their existence. I don't think so.

 

There is much I don't 'know'. Does not mean I should give any the stuff I don't know about much credence. At least not without out a little bit of evidence.

 

Now I don't much about Jim's views; just from the one relevant line he could be a strong atheist. That's fine. But I would not go about suggesting people are closed minded. Eventually someone will suggest, there is no point being so open minded our brains fall out. At that point the conversation tends to get lost.

 

I firmly believe in dust bunnies. it could be one of those North American phrases. :) Hence I could argue for the existence of pink fluffy unicorns.

 

I live my life without pink fluffy unicorns, aliens walking amongst us, gods, God and much else. Is that being open minded. I consider myself agnostic not so much I think there is any reasonable chance of god, but more in the sense I don't call myself an aphilatelist. Though I will admit to being a lapsed numismatician.

 

Remember the term atheist is quite often used as a term of disparagement ... even JS Spong has been accused of being an atheist bishop. take a look at Joseph's post above. I am not sure whether he is pointing to a panentheistic or a pantheistic type of god. for me the latter is more atheistic than the former. But then again so what?

 

Are you a strong atheist with respect to Norse, Greek and Roman gods Paul?

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I take both your points (Joseph & Rom) and agree that labelling people this or that doesn't always work. A strong atheist may be close-minded, or maybe they're not. Similarity for a less-strong atheist. Same for a PC, non-PC, a fundy, or an agnostic. Labels provide an indication for ease of categorising things (humans love to categorise).

 

If at all necessary, maybe I could say that somebody who says that there is absolutely no chance of a God or Gods existing, even in a fashion we don't yet understand, and subsequently they won't even entertain the possibility or perhaps potential evidence that may confirm such, as being close-minded in this instance. It's just that atheist is so much shorter! :)

 

As for North American dust bunnies, I hadn't heard that phrase before or indeed been provided any evidence to confirm their existence, but in my open-minded state I now believe and accept that dust bunnies do exist! :)

 

Finally Rom, I think I am agnostic for all those Gods you raise. I doubt they exist, but one can never say never!

Edited by PaulS
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Jim,

 

Going back to what kicked this off then - would you say you are open-minded to there being a God/s or some type of supernatural entity that we don't yet understand, or are you closed-minded so to speak believing that the concept of God is 'impossible'. Not a loaded question, just asking as you are self-identifying as an atheist and this goes to the core of what started this discussion.

 

Cheers

Paul

First wow, don't look at the board for two days and there is over a dozen more post on this thread, that is a good thing.

 

Paul, it is hard to make a complicated point in the space provided. I did not say that God is meaningless, I said that the question do you believe in God is meaning less. There is a difference. I'll put it this way and God that needs me to believe in him is no God but an idol. I need to delve into some thought experiments to explain and Newtonian mathematics. He is the first person to put down on paper that zero and the infinity are reciprocals, this is the basis for all calculus and higher mathematics. They are two sides of the same coin, one is the infinitely small and the other is the infinitely large. Another this is that no number exists apart from being applied to something. The number one is just a concept and does not exist, but one apple exists. On the other side zero apples do not exist. Now you can have half an apple, a quarter of an apple, an eighth of an apple and so on till you get to the point where it is so small that for all intense and purposes it is almost zero apples. On the other side an infinite amount of apples would fill the universe and very other possible universe with apples and still have apples to spare. It reminds me of a story of a boy who finds a jeanie who grants him one wish. The boy likes apples so he wishes for apples, poof, the world starts to fill up with apples and destroys all existence. Somebody hit the restart button and do the big bang all over again.

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Hi Jim,

 

Yes, some threads strike a chord and generate more discussions than others between some members. It can be a bit daunting sometimes catching up on dozens of threads/posts. of course other times it can be very, very quiet here too.

 

I realise you didn't say God is meaningless and I fully understand the difference you explain. I have no doubt that the word God means something different to every single person - small ways between some, chasms for others. I too cannot imagine a God that requires belief in said God. To me, that sounds much more like a man-made concept.

 

Obviously there's been a fair bit of discussion since your post, so in that context and cutting to the chase, do you consider the question of God existence as closed, or do you leave room for the potential of God? I'm using the term God here in the sense of an entity or entities that exist in a way or on a different plane (e.g. supernatural) thatn our presnet natural world as we understand it. If you do leave room, do you think that fits more under the label of agnostic rather than atheist, or do you think athesim can be open-minded toward God whilst also saying that at this stage they don't believe God exists?

Edited by PaulS
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Finally Rom, I think I am agnostic for all those Gods you raise. I doubt they exist, but one can never say never!

 

You may well be Paul.

 

But do you actively disbelieve those gods described literally exist or have literally ever existed other than as a concept?

 

I am reminded of this Joseph Campbell story:

Campbell recalled that as he emerged from a banquet he was approached by a member of a religious cult who asked, "Do you believe in God?" Campbell replied, "Young man, I don't think you know the implications of that question. I'm acquainted with hundreds of gods. (But) I think I know the one you're talking about. I believe in Him, too."

The cultist then asked, "Sir, are you an atheist?" and Campbell replied, "I don't think you can call a person an atheist who believes in as many gods as I do."

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... The number one is just a concept and does not exist, but one apple exists. On the other side zero apples do not exist. Now you can have half an apple, a quarter of an apple, an eighth of an apple and so on till you get to the point where it is so small that for all intense and purposes it is almost zero apples. ...

 

I have no problem with what you say here.

But by that logic (and I have a sneaking agreement here) trees don't exist either. They can be seen as temporary arrangements of atoms etc. a method of describing patterns.

 

The apple is not made up apple pieces if you like.

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Paul

 

Here is Bertrand Russell on the subject ... the piece I alluded to earlier.

 

Proof of God

Here there comes a practical question which has often troubled me. Whenever I go into a foreign country or a prison or any similar place they always ask me what is my religion.

I never know whether I should say "Agnostic" or whether I should say "Atheist". It is a very difficult question and I daresay that some of you have been troubled by it. As a philosopher, if I were speaking to a purely philosophic audience I should say that I ought to describe myself as an Agnostic, because I do not think that there is a conclusive argument by which one prove that there is not a God.

On the other hand, if I am to convey the right impression to the ordinary man in the street I think I ought to say that I am an Atheist, because when I say that I cannot prove that there is not a God, I ought to add equally that I cannot prove that there are not the Homeric gods.

None of us would seriously consider the possibility that all the gods of homer really exist, and yet if you were to set to work to give a logical demonstration that Zeus, Hera, Poseidon, and the rest of them did not exist you would find it an awful job. You could not get such proof.

Therefore, in regard to the Olympic gods, speaking to a purely philosophical audience, I would say that I am an Agnostic. But speaking popularly, I think that all of us would say in regard to those gods that we were Atheists. In regard to the Christian God, I should, I think, take exactly the same line.

While I might not be sure where I am going in life, I go about as though I am sure.

Edited by romansh
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Paul

 

Here is Bertrand Russell on the subject ... the piece I alluded to earlier.

 

Thanks for the quote, it might be a whole lot of circular logic, but that is Bertrand's point.

While I might not be sure where I am going in life, I go about as though I am sure.

 

One does not need to act as though they are sure of where they are going, all one has to be is joyful in their unknowing. If you wait around for proof, you will never do anything or if you wait around till you are sure of what you're doing, you will never act.

 

I like parsing words and after only a few post I'm sure that you all are convinced of it. I got a little side tracked with the math stuff, but my point was and is that I approach God like a I approach zero and the infinite. While I cannot fully understand the infinite or God, I can use them in real life, in existence, to make my life better.

 

First thing one has to do is like Bertrand accept that you can never prove or disprove God. You can never prove whether the universe is by intelligent design or random chance. Any inquires into these things is a waste of time except to prove to yourself that they can never be answered. Only when you get to this point can you honestly ask the question, how then should I live my life. This is where your concept of God will play out in your life. How you live your life will reveal your concept of God. I don't care if you are a hard line atheist like Richard Dawkins. God is not a thing to be proved or disproved; God is a concept that is for each person is defined by how they live.

 

A little aside, here is a meditative practice of mine. I sit quietly and think about my breathing. With every breath I draw I am thankful for it, every time I exhale I breath the sheer joy of being alive into the world.

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  • 2 weeks later...

Paul wrote


Just to clarify, I don't think all atheists are close-minded in general, I think that Atheists who take a position that denies any potential existence of God, by that mark they are closing their minds to any potential for God. It seems they have already made their mind up that God cannot exist, so therefore I don't think they would be very open-minded to the potential for God to exist. But I digress simply to clarify, not change the direction of the thread.

 

Paul ... all this is fair enough.

Now I happen to think, as I suspect you do, that we cannot truly know anything.

 

Am I being closed minded to people who claim they know or just merely believe there is no God or god?

They may have a more accurate access to the universe than I do. I have no way of knowing.

 

This all roots back to the free will thread ... if our thoughts are truly a product of what we use physics and chemistry to describe the behaviour of our brains, then for all the personal and psychological descriptions eg the closed mindedness of the some, we should consider the origin of the "chemistry" that created the closed mindedness.

 

We happily talk of one another in terms of their psychological attributes. In reality we are all stuck in our chemical ruts. The strong atheist, the evangelical Christian, agnostics, progressives. Occasionally something bumps us into another chemical rut. I am not using rut as a negative term here.

 

Again this is my opinion, but I am happy to debate it.

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Now I happen to think, as I suspect you do, that we cannot truly know anything.

 

 

 

I know that I exist. To me, it is self evident. Whether you can see me or hear me or agree with me is irrelevant.

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I know that I exist. To me, it is self evident. Whether you can see me or hear me or agree with me is irrelevant.

 

I can introduce to a whole branch of philosophy ... solipsism.

Am I somebody's dream sort of thing.

 

My basic assumption is that I exist in a universe ... I have to assume to make any sense of what I think I observe.

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Rom,

 

To me, it doesn't matter whether this is somebody's dream or not. I am awareness, that knows I have being, whether in a dream or not. I know by awareness that I am, and there is a substrate to this existence or dream or whatever you wish to call it. This substrate i call God and I know God is present through awareness even if this knowing appears secret or hidden from others.To me, this is self-evident, and no proof or belief is required or even necessary. Such is to know. It seems to me, one cannot know God without first knowing Self and Self is more than merely an assumption for convenience of building a world view.

Just musing :)

Joseph

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I agree it does not matter ... But can I know it does not matter?

 

As for awareness ... I am sure it is not what it seems, though I cannot know. Studies indicate awareness is a conglomerate of the last two or three seconds of our brain processes.

 

Again I like pantheism ... it where we come full circle and theism meets atheism.

 

Awaiting insights from God.

:)

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  • 3 months later...

I'm an atheist, so I think perhaps I can clear up a bit of a confusion here. To most self-identified atheists the term means someone who does not believe in one or more gods. This does not mean that we believe that God or gods don't exist. A lack of belief in the positive is not a belief in the negative.

 

A little analogy to illustrate: Sarah goes for a walk with her friend Timothy. They find a jar of jelly beans. Timothy says to Sarah "There is an even number of jelly beans in that jar." Sarah replies "I don't believe that." Timothy says "So you believe in an odd number of jelly beans, then? How can you be certain?"

As you can see, there is a flaw in Timothy's reasoning. Just because Sarah does not accept Timothy's assertion without evidence doesn't mean she is accepting the converse. The only difference between God and the jelly beans is that you can count the jelly beans but you can't find evidence for God.

 

A person can believe in neither God or the lack of gods. In that sense, then, agnostic is not the in between ground between atheists and theist. Most atheists are agnostic as are some theists. To an atheist, though, God is just an unsubstantiated and unfalsifiable hypothesis and so has no bearing on our beliefs or behaviors.

 

Individual descriptions of God/gods can often be shown to be inconsistent with observable evidence though, and in those cases I do believe those gods do not exist in the same sense that I believe I am currently typing on a computer. I believe what can be observed, but I don't believe even that with absolute certainty.

Edited by curiousAtheist
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Hi Curious

The confusion I think arises with strong and weak atheism.

ie a positive belief versus a negative belief (philosophically speaking).

 

While I could be described as a (weak) atheist. I prefer the term agnostic as for me way I see knowledge is far more interesting than my lack of belief in gods. Of course a theistically inclined person could also make the same claim.

 

Here Neil Tyson de Grasse showing his [similar] point of view.

 

I could even find a clip of Dawkins describing himself as an agnostic.

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