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Reason as the Leading Motive

Richard Dawkins is not an Atheist

Posted by Jerry on September 11, 2007

Richard Dawkins would make such a good atheist. No, he isn’t one already. Dawkins, by his own admission, cannot properly lay claim to the label of “atheist.”

In The God Delusion, Dawkins places his brand of de facto atheism at number 6 along a scale of 1 to 7, where 1 is “strong theist” and 7 is “strong atheist.”

“I am an agnostic,” Dawkins says, “only to the extent that I am agnostic about fairies at the bottom of the garden.”

Dawkins asserts that strong atheism (of the magnitude of 7 on his belief scale) is not possible because “reason alone could not propel one to the conviction that anything definitely does not exist. [Hence,] I count myself in category 6”, where 6 represents:

Very low probability [of God existing], but short of zero. De facto atheist. “I cannot know for certain but I think God is very improbable, and I live my life on the assumption that he is not there.”

This is why I said earlier that Richard Dawkins needs Objectivism. Being primarily a scientist, Dawkins finds himself constrained by the compulsion to be empirical in his claims, according to which absolute certainty is equated with or close to being dogmatic, and skepticism is touted as the hallmark of free thought.

This intellectual impediment imputed by the philosophies of empiricism and skepticism is the result of several flawed premises. Absolute certainty is considered impossible because the human means of gaining knowledge is regarded as inherently biased or frail. The premise of this complaint is that omniscience is the ideal epistemological standard and the absence of an organ of consciousness (i.e., a vacuum) is the ideal method of awareness. Consequently, the notion of “absolute certainty” arises from these flawed premises–“absolute” means a-contextual and a result of omniscient awareness and human knowledge is flawed because it is obtained by our faculty of consciousness. 

Objectivism identifies the fact that all human knowledge is contextual and relational, i.e., all knowledge is necessarily internally related within and across specific domains; every bit of knowledge relates in some manner with every other. This epistemological principle is a direct reflection of the metaphysical fact of existence: there is only one reality, and no aspect of existence can exist wholly independent of everything else.

Given that all knowledge is contextual, the notion of absolute certainty, too, can only be meaningful within a specific context. There can be no absolutes that has no relation with any other bit of knowledge–and by derivation–independent of all reality. To hold such a notion of “absolute certainty” is to contradict the unified nature of both the epistemological and metaphysical domains.

An important implication of the above, therefore, is that once absolute certainty is achieved within a specific context, no future information pertaining to and arising within that context can contradict the prior certain knowledge. All properly contextualized truth is absolute. For example, therefore, once the absolute validity of the primacy of existence is grasped, all claims to the primacy of consciousness can be rejected absolutely. Further, since all knowledge is related, the primacy of existence bears important relations with other premises, viz. the identity of existents, the nature of consciousness, the law of causality, the absence of randomness, etc.

Thus, Objectivism rejects the claim that man must have omniscient knowledge to achieve certainty or reject the existence of god, fairies, demons, etc. For example, one does not need to draw every possible square and every possible circle of different parameters to conclude that a squared-circle is an impossible figure. The concepts “square” and “circle” preclude such a possibility. Concepts–like the rest of knowledge–are relational; they are formed by the human consciousness in a specific context related to reality.

Therefore, if knowledge and concepts in man’s mind are relational, then they cannot have internal contradictions–they have to remain in internal harmony. Hence, the method of conceptual cognition that reflects the harmonious nature of non-contradictory knowledge in man’s mind is logic, i.e., the method of non-contradictory identification.

Thus, Objectivism reveals to us the powerful mechanism of logical identification that we can use to achieve certainty. Using this method of logical identification, Objectivists like myself, Diana Hsieh, and Greg Perkins have tackled the specific God-concepts (in the context of the nature of existence) and revealed its inherent logical contradictions–with the same force of rational conviction by which we say that a squared-circle is impossible. Insofar as God is defined as an intelligent, supernatural being, God’s existence is not just highly improbable, but impossible. Other definitions of God–such as God is energy, God is nature, etc.–are at best meaningless. If you wish to claim that the energy of a burning cake of cow dung is god, then you are delusional, your god is useless and not worthy of attention, and I am the incarnation of Batman. If God is nature, then the Indians defecating and urinating by the roadside must surely be going to hell! 🙂

Thus, while Richard Dawkins likes to exploit his image of being one of the foremost atheistic scientist to sell his books and remain in the center of religious debate, by his own admission and by his own philosophy, he is unable to fully embrace the pure certainty of atheism.

And no, atheism cannot merely be defined as “unbelief” or “lack of belief” in god. Definitions–to be meaningful–have to be precise. To define atheism merely as “unbelief” is to render the concept so broad as to be meaningless, because by such a definition most of us would be atheists–the retarded, the uneducated, and little children; in sum, anyone who has no belief in god for reasons like impeded intellect, lack of education, and being too young to know anything is an atheist.

Atheism has to be defined as an assertive statement of knowledge–not belief–that the existence of god and any supernatural being is false and impossible.

____________

A reader commented below that atheism should indeed be defined as a broad term and not specific. I realize I did not provide an explicit argument for my position in the post; I felt it was unnecessary and self-evident. Since I am obviously mistaken in assuming, I provide my response to the commentor here to explicate the reason behind why I insist on a specific definition of atheism:

To appreciate the reason why atheism needs to have a specific denotation and not a broad and vague connotation, one has to understand that atheism is a *subset* of a type of ideological position, namely, the ideological position pertaining to metaphysics and spiritual belief. In that context, your analogy of atheism and liquid is false. The concept “liquid” is intended to denote a particular atomic/molecular state and contrast it with the atomic/molecular state of solids and gases. A proper analogy would be to compare the conceptual level of “liquid” with the concept of “ideology” or “belief”.

Just as water is subsumed under the concept “liquid” (i.e., it is in the subset of liquids), atheism is subsumed under the concept “ideology” or “belief.” Therefore, just as water is particularly specific in denotation, atheism must also be particularly specific in denotation.

Since atheism is a subset of “belief”, it must necessarily denote an ideological position adopted by the believer. Therefore, a retarded person or an infant cannot be properly called an atheist (under a proper definition of atheism) because they do not possess the faculties necessary to adopt any particular ideological belief. It would be as nonsensical as calling all new born babies followers of Zoroastrianism! Just as you wouldn’t give a specific ideological label to babies (of Scientology, say), you wouldn’t properly give them the ideological label of “atheism.”

Any ideological position has to be consciously adopted by a thinking being. An acceptance of an ideology denotes an acceptance of a truth; all truth resides only within the minds of conceptual beings. Therefore, the label atheism–as an ideological position pertaining to metaphysics–must reside in the minds of conceptual beings and must be defined as a positive knowledge or grasp of a metaphysical fact. If you don’t have that grasp, then you are either defined as an agnostic or a theist.

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62 Responses to “Richard Dawkins is not an Atheist”

  1. mahendrap said

    Terrific post, Ergo! It feels like a great sumptuous dessert just after our recent discussion 🙂

    BTW, you’re featured on the WordPress homepage – congratulations!

  2. Omg, I just saw that, too! Featured on the WordPress HOMEPAGE! Woah.
    I’m glad for you!

  3. imtheotherdave said

    anti-thiest is the way Christopher Hitchens terms it. As with much of the religion debate, however, tis all about semantics and the boundaries of the language what we speak. Not that I claim to know what I’m talking about.

  4. Tim Kurek said

    Great post… Dawkins has it right. There is really no such thing as a true atheist because unless one has been to every square inch of the entire universe and knows God does not exist, one is speculating as to the existence of a God. So we have a lot of agnostics running around.

    http://UriahMinistries.wordpress.com

    tim kurek

  5. Great article/review. Nicely written, informative and intersting debate. I would agree with your definition of Atheist but also wonder if it truly exist. If someone can really be 100%. Not believing in anything… oh well.

  6. rambodoc said

    Ergo,
    This is the Hawt Post now. I don’t know what it exactly means, but surely means it is a remarkable post. Congrats for a great article!

  7. David said

    I do not understand how the conclusion “Insofar as God is defined as an intelligent, supernatural being, God’s existence is not just highly improbable, but impossible.” follows from what you said previously. Could you explain?

    David

  8. David said

    Respectfully, what a load of fallacious twaddle! I’m sure it would be possible to pick holes in what you seem to assume is the watertight, infallible (?) logic of your post: the logic of most linguistically mediated argument can always be questioned and relativised.

    Any logical argument of this sort inevitably makes assumptions about and imposes restrictions on the meaning of particular terms and the hierarchy of their relations. Your basic assumption, it seems to me, is that ‘God’ is a concept. He is not; God can’t be encapsulated or made dependent on human reason, intellect or language. Your post actually made me have more respect for Dawkins’ intellectual honesty, even if his equation of empirically observable fact with truth is also a form of blindness. He’s blinded by science; you’re blinded by logic.

  9. imtheotherdave said

    What are you blinded by, David? God is a product of human reason and understanding, therefore he is a concept. Do you ‘know’ god? How did you learn about god, from what sources, etc…

  10. David said

    Response to ‘Imtheotherdave’: Well, that’s the whole point, isn’t it? Knowledge of God is not a product of reason and understanding but of faith. And faith is an actual experience of God, internal to one’s being and consciousness not an external and objectified form of knowledge.

    You’re assuming that God is a concept because you don’t recognise anything as philosophically / scientifically valid for which one can’t produce a rational account. You might come back to me and say that I’m assuming that what I think is a real experience of God in faith is just what I think – although that would be making me out to be a bit Cartesian, which I’m not. In any case, I see your perspective as circular; and you’d doubtless see mine as similarly (or differently) circular. And the difference is faith. Once you have that, all the circular, self-validating ratiocinations crumble as dust.

  11. I’m sorry, but even though I consider myself an atheist, I cannot agree with your Objectivism. Empirical research continually reveals that there are further levels of granularity both downward and upward. Simply because you claim that you can conceive that that a square circle is impossible, I can equally conceive that a square circle is possible. It is simply a matter of changing the context of Euclidean space to another form of space. For example, in Einstein’s universe parallel lines can meet.

    The existence of god is a matter of conscience, not a matter of science.

  12. articulture said

    Its always seemed to me common sense and very clear cut that god is a human invention. Everything to do with the subject points to that being true, I can’t see where the doubt comes from.

    Spoken by a “true” atheist 🙂

  13. As an Objectivist myself, I’m ashamed of your blatantly sensationalist choice of title for this post.

    Richard Dawkins is one of the best friends free thinkers have right now. I hope you enjoy the publicity you get for further fueling the fire for the religious fools who have already perfected quoting Dawkins out of context.

    Fool.

  14. Jeff said

    hmm… I think all logically rational atheists hold out a non-zero possibility of deities or deity like beings existing, just as there is a nonzero chance of my stapler falling through my desk due to quantum effects improbably manifesting on a large scale. Without further proof, most rationalists will stick to the side of the equation that is the almost certain bet rather than the side of the equation that is so close to zero that for all practical purpose is zero.

  15. Alex Smith said

    You say: “To define atheism merely as “unbelief” is to render the concept so broad as to be meaningless, because by such a definition most of us would be atheists–the retarded, the uneducated, and little children; in sum, anyone who has no belief in god for reasons like impeded intellect, lack of education, and being too young to know anything is an atheist.

    Atheism has to be defined as an assertive statement of knowledge–not belief–that the existence of god and any supernatural being is false and impossible.”

    The word atheist is not an assertive statement, unless qualified as such.

    The retarded, the uneducated, they ARE by definition atheists, because that is the definition of atheist. So what if it’s broad? They know of no god, and do not believe in god. Atheism is not always a CHOICE. Dawkins himself says (in a stretch) that Catholics are atheists in regards to Shiva, Vishnu, Thor. They merely do not have that belief, and thus know what it feels like to be atheists.

    You seem to be leaning towards atheism as a belief. Rather, the definition of the word does not mean a CATEGORICAL ACTIVE CHOICE to not believe. Rather, it means, simply, to not believe. I am not sure exactly why you find it a necessity to add these qualifiers. Perhaps another, lengthier post, is worthwhile.

  16. Cafe dog said

    As an agnostic would agree with grant C, but add state that the existence of god is a matter of experential feel rather than science. The scientific need of testing has yet to provide a lab for god’s existence,nature, or lack there of. Any scientific or rational aproach to god thus far, without test, is mere hypothesis or just plain philosophy.

  17. jodegoodridge said

    I am absolutely certain that Dawkins has sold more books than you.

    I dont see the usefulness in agressively NOT believing in something, seems kind of nihilistic. I think that almost all people in the world would agree that there is a higher order that goes beyond the human individual, the fact that we have attributed human qualities to that higher order has proven useful, although I think we are ready to move on now. Man created god in his own image…

    I think Dawkins point, which I wholeheartedly agree with, is that the offensive quality of religion is fundamentalism. To expect someone to believe something without question is quite offensive to me, and I agree that indoctrinating children into this belief system is a fairly ignorant and quite harmful thing to do.

  18. nakedthoughts said

    in this entire article I do not see a specific definition of “athiest”. What is your definition?

    How about this for a start: An individual who actively believes in the non-existence of any god

    Does that cover everybody?

  19. imtheotherdave said

    In response to David- We could have the same argument about whether a circle is a circle. I see a circle, you see a circle, yet we both disagree on what a circle is.

  20. David said

    In response to Imtheotherdave: No chance of squaring the circles of our opposing points of view, then?! But I don’t accept that I’m in a circle; nor would it be fair for me to categorically assert that you are in one, too. More of a journey or a search on both parts – but one where it’s important to separate the wood from the trees if you’re to find the path ahead.

  21. John Kim said

    Dawkins is a skeptic as is pretty much every non-Objectivist atheist. Rand’s epistemological discoveries are so new they are unknown to the mainstream. Once a person rejects theism, without the benefit of Rand, they really can’t become anything other than a mild skeptic at best or a raving subjectivist at worst. Still I think it is a good sign that there are all these pro-atheism, anti-god books on the market. Even if they are not perfect it is a good thing to see books with the title “The God Delusion” or “God Is Not Great” or “The End Of Faith” prominently featured at the local book store.

  22. John Kim said

    “It is simply a matter of changing the context of Euclidean space to another form of space. For example, in Einstein’s universe parallel lines can meet.”

    You’ve answered the question yourself. Once you change the context, new rules apply. This was one of the points of Ergo’s post, namely to show Ayn Rand’s approach to absolutes; the concept of contextual absolutes.

    I can’t speak for Einstein but if parallel lines meet then they are by definition *NOT* parallel lines. They are some other type of phenomenon.

  23. David said

    Call me a sceptic, but is this objectivism malarkey anything other than a re-hashing of logical positivism? Contextual absolutes are asserted as if they were intrinsic absolutes within the only context that that assertion recognises as valid for defining absolutes: self-validating circularity making supposedly objective statements about the world that are in fact just self-referential statements about language, logic and meaning.

  24. John Kim said

    “Contextual absolutes are asserted as if they were intrinsic absolutes within the only context that that assertion recognises as valid for defining absolutes: self-validating circularity making supposedly objective statements about the world that are in fact just self-referential statements about language, logic and meaning.”

    No.

    Objectivism is not about manipulating language and “self-referential statements.” In Objectivism, all propositions ultimately have to be grounded in reality; ie all truth must be reduced to perceptual concretes. Nothing on earth (or in philosophy) could be further from Objectivism than Logical Positivism.

  25. David said

    Depends how you define reality, I suppose.

  26. Ergo said

    I agree with everything John Kim has said here. To his last comment, I’ll add that according to Objectivism, truth is not a matter of propositions; it is not the proposition that is labeled “true” or “false” but the relationship of the content/proposition in a person’s mind with the corresponding fact of reality. Only a conscious mind can have true or false statements, a statement as such cannot be regarded true or false without relation to a conceptual mind. In this most fundamental sense, logical positivism and Objectivism are radically different.

    Jeff said: “I think all logically rational atheists hold out a non-zero possibility of deities or deity like beings existing, just as there is a nonzero chance of my stapler falling through my desk due to quantum effects improbably manifesting on a large scale.”

    That’s the problem directly arising from the flawed premises of skepticism–and derivatively, from empiricism. In such a view, one can never be sure about existence, the behavior of entities, the nature of their actions, the nature of causes and effects. One feels helpless because one’s philosophical position of denying the possibility of any absolute certainty within any context results in having to leave room for even the wildest arbitrary hypotheses!

    It is only logical, therefore, that skeptics and empiricists can never *properly* make the statement that a supernatural entity such as God does not exist. The best that they can claim is “there is a very, very high *likelihood* that a supernatural entity like God does not exist.”

    My post directly responds to this position: in actual existence a green rhino would never materialize next to my chair right now because that would violate the principle that all facts of existence are internally related non-contradictorily and act according to their specific identities; and actually, in common sense, most of us are very confident of this fact.

    However, the philosophies of skepticism and empiricism demand that we doubt (common sense and) the total impossibility of a rhino appearing, on the standard of omniscience and a-contextual absoluteness (which are mystical–supernatural–qualities), thereby insisting that human cognitive uncertainty is inescapable, and severing the harmonious correspondence of our human cognitive method from the reality that gave rise to conscious cognition.

    It is only the human mind that can conjure up the possibility of a green rhino materializing out of the blue; and such a mind is engaged in a-contextual fantasizing of arbitrary hypotheses that have no relation with (or contradict) the facts of reality.

  27. David said

    In such a view, how can you justify the supposed objective certainty of statements such as ‘God does not exist’ when the / an accepted definition of God is that he / it is not a reality or ‘perceptual concrete’, in your terms. All you can say with certainty is that, according to your epistemological method, you can’t state with certainty that God such as he / it is posited by believers exists or does not exist – which seems in essence Dawkins’ position. Of course, if you set God up as merely a concept, this enables you – in a circular fashion – to claim that he does not exist / correspond to observable reality.

    To compare the degree of likelihood of God’s existence with, say, the likelihood of a green rhino materialising is also absurd for the same reasons: the latter is a material fantasy, the former is a (posited) immaterial reality. For the same reason, even Dawkins’ position is absurd: how can you state that there is a very, very high likelihood that something referred to as God does not exist? All he can say with consistency is that his method and epistemology does not enable him to reach any conclusions about something outside its domain.

  28. My issue isn’t the self-referential attempt to demonstrate that certainly within a limited context lead inexorably to certainty in an unlimited context, my issue is this: you claim that you, Diana Hsieh, and Greg Perkins have ‘debunked’ certain concepts of God.

    This is not so. Diana’s linked article only addresses one legitimate argument for the existence of God and mis-states it so badly it is obvious she doesn’t understand the argument, let alone refute it. Perkins makes the exact same error, showing that neither of them even understand the concept of contingent and necessary in logic.Perkins goes on to totally wiff on the nature of the Moral argument. Indeed, Hsieh and Perkins both echo a series of arguments that I have never heard a theologian or philosopher make with the exception of the Cosmological argument – which they patently don’t understand.

    Your awn attempt at the Ontological argument looks to Anselm (the originator)… but ignores 900 years of scholarship on the subject – a quick google would have helped you realize that your objections were answered long before the 20th Century.

  29. Nate T. said

    “Aquinas Dad”

    I don’t feel like arguing the point, and I don’t expect you to respond, but I feel compelled to bring to your attention that Objectivism rejects the analytic/synthetic dichotomy, along with any distinction between necessary and contingent truths (c.f. “The Analytic/Synthetic Dichotomy” by Peikoff in Introduction to Objectivist Epistemology, 2nd ed.) Accordingly, Diana Hsieh, et. al., know the necessary/contingent distinction so well they know not to make it, nor to accept any arguments based on it.

  30. Ergo said

    Aquinas Dad,

    I’ll respond first to the issue that you *don’t* have with your ill-understood concept of contextual certainty: there is no such thing as “certainty in an unlimited context”. By definition, if you use the word “context”, you cannot use the word “unlimited.” Moreover, since all knowledge is relational and there is only one totality of all existents, facts, and relationships, every achieved certainty in any context inexorably leads to implications in other contexts; and assuming the totality of all things as one context necessarily leads to certain truths applicable to the totality of all things, i.e., truths applicable to existence. If God had to exist, he would be subsumed into the totality of all things existing, in which case, His existence would have to be in harmony with everything else in existence, since all facts of existence are relational.

    Given your poor understanding of my own article–a short, brief, and a rather simple article–I have grave doubts about your ability to understand Diana and Greg’s lengthy and sophisticated arguments on atheism in their papers. Therefore, the rest of your comment has little credibility, specifically in the light of your remark on contingent versus necessary truths. This remark reveals your lack of any fundamental understanding of the principles from which the relevant Objectivist arguments against God are made. Perhaps, once you have expanded your philosophical horizons beyond the traditional frameworks, you might be able to better appreciate the Objectivist argument.

    Regarding my arguments *against* Anselm’s Ontological proof, I don’t need the recourse of Google’s searches. I have specifically dealt with the proof–its many variations and refutations–in several academic courses in Philosophy and Theology. My own arguments follow along similar lines as that of Kant. I assume you are not familiar with Kant’s argument, which would explain why you thought I was unaware of “900 years of scholarship.”

  31. Ergo said

    Incidentally, I just found out that “Aquinas Dad” is a trained theologian. Dawkins’ book has made me wonder what it even means to be a theologian? Is their domain of expertise the supernatural? Their methods of acquiring knowledge about the supernatural is what now? And how do they test and validate their knowledge of the supernatural to ensure that their knowledge is true? What instruments, methods, and tools do they use? How do you know you have achieved a demonstrable level of expertise and skill in Theology? And if Theology is the study of religious texts, then how is it different from what the historians, anthropologists, literary experts, archeologists, astronomers, etc., do when they study religious texts??

  32. Nate T.,
    If Ms. hsieh, etc., understand the necessary/contingent relationship so well, why cannot they restate the Cosmological Argument in a coherent manner?

    Ergo,
    I am capable of determining rather quickly from this piece that you wish to claim that omniscience is not needed to have absolute certainty since the epistemology of Objectivism is so correct that the relationship between the rational Objectivist’s mind and reality encompasses all of physical existence as its context. Ergo, your claims of certainty extend throughout physicality, do they not?

    And if you wish to know what theologians study, how they study, etc. I recommend, say, Google. The Wikipedia entries are notoriously light in actual content on this subject, but the Catholic Encyclopedia is pretty thorough. Or, you could ask.

    As a Catholic systematic theologian I am attempting to continue in the line of Aristotle and St. Thomas Aquinas – to use reason to determine the nature of Man, thought, ethics, etc.

  33. Tim R said

    Just read your article and it’s the first time I’ve been to this blog site.
    As a young scientist I found the discussion about knowing absolutes quite interesting and will have to think about the article. I don’t think Jeff’s comment about particles jumping potential energy walls is applicable. I see quantum mechanics equations as a means of knowing reality, not proof reality is unknowable. It’s also probable that quantum mechanics equations may need more development.

    Personally I’m an atheist and considered myself a Dawkins level 7, but now I think I was probably a level 6 without knowing.
    Before reading this article I did think God was an impossibility, however my fundamental argument was, it doesn’t make sense for God to set up conditions whereby people using the power of consciousness and thought he “gave” us (awareness and logic) would come to the conclusion he doesn’t exist. Conversely: why would he reward the lazy non thinking approach of faith, something that usualy gets people into trouble.
    In addition I also think it is impossible for God to be good based on scripture the existence of natural rights. (ie: If scripture is correct, God’s a meglomaniac)

    But you tackle the issue of atheism at a fundamental level and your post has given me something to think about especially in regards to does the objectivist primacy of existence principle imply non contradictory reality and knowing absolutely?

  34. Ergo said

    Tim R,

    I’m glad my post has given you something to think about, and hopefully, nudge you back to the Dawkins 7 that you left behind. 🙂

    I do wish to point out that the Objectivist primacy of existence–or rather, the factual primacy of existence–implies knowing absolutely only if by “absolutely” you *don’t* mean a-contextually or omnisciently.

  35. evanescent said

    I disagree. Atheism does not have to be a positive statement of knowledge, and the definition of atheism as it stands will do quite nicely. It quite simply means “one who doesn’t believe in god.”

    You might be an atheist and also actively deny god. You might be a child or retarded and have no idea of “god”; yup, you’re an atheist too!

    Imagine the expression “asanta” for someone who doesn’t believe in Santa Claus. It just means you don’t believe; it’s as simple as that.

    To define atheism merely as “unbelief” is to render the concept so broad as to be meaningless, because by such a definition most of us would be atheists–the retarded, the uneducated, and little children; in sum, anyone who has no belief in god for reasons like impeded intellect, lack of education, and being too young to know anything is an atheist.

    This begs the question; it is like you start off with the assumption that atheism must be defined a certain way, and that certain people cannot be given that label, but I see no argument for that, just circular reasoning.

    Atheist means one who doesn’t believe in god. There are varying degrees of it, ok. One might be an atheist and also an agnostic, or an anti-theist. The term is intentionally that broad! I see nothing to suggest that makes it insufficient for definition though. ‘Liquid’ is a very broad term; do you mean water or acid or solution or suspension? Either way it’s still liquid and the definition still holds; if you say “liquid” people still know what you’re talking about.

    What you say here: “anyone who has no belief in god for reasons like impeded intellect, lack of education, and being too young to know anything is an atheist.” is actually true. I fail to see how you use this as an argument against defining atheist in the way above!

  36. Ergo said

    Evanescent,

    I try to avoid spelling out every logical connection in my posts to let my readers meet me halfway on some of the critical thinking required.

    The reason why atheism needs to have a specific denotation and not a broad and vague connotation is because it is a *subset* of a type of ideological position, namely, the ideological position pertaining to metaphysics and spiritual belief. In that context, your analogy of atheism and liquid is false. The concept “liquid” is intended to denote a particular atomic/molecular state and contrast it with the atomic/molecular state of solids and gases. A proper analogy would be to compare the conceptual level of “liquid” with the concept of “ideology” or “belief”.

    Just as water is subsumed under the concept “liquid” (i.e., it is in the subset of liquids), atheism is subsumed under the concept “ideology” or “belief.” Therefore, just as water is particularly specific in denotation, atheism must also be particularly specific in denotation.

    Since atheism is a subset of “belief”, it must necessarily denote an ideological position adopted by the believer. Therefore, a retarded person or an infant cannot be properly called an atheist (under a proper definition of atheism) because they do not possess the faculties necessary to adopt any particular ideological belief. It would be as nonsensical as calling all new born babies followers of Zoroastrianism! Just as you wouldn’t give a specific ideological label to babies (of Scientology, say), you wouldn’t properly give them the ideological label of “atheism.”

    Any ideological position has to be consciously adopted by a thinking being. An acceptance of an ideology denotes an acceptance of a truth; all truth resides only within the minds of conceptual beings. Therefore, the label atheism–as an ideological position pertaining to metaphysics–must reside in the minds of conceptual beings and must be defined as a positive knowledge or grasp of a metaphysical fact. If you don’t have that grasp, then you are either defined as an agnostic or a theist.

    This is how definitions work. I have now spelled it out for you; hope it’s clear. 🙂

  37. evanescent said

    Hi Ergo,

    Actually, you have spelled it out very nicely, thanks. And what you said above makes a lot of sense, thanks for explaining it.

    Would you not draw a distinction between implicit or explicit atheism however? I can certainly agree with you that an ideological or metaphysical position applies to explicit atheism; the positive position of disbelieving in god(s), fully cognisant of what “god(s)” are. But what about the word “atheist” referring to one who has no knowledge and therefore no belief of “god(s)”? This might be better illustrated if we substitute “god” for something that may or may not exist but which one has no current knowledge of and therefore no possible belief. We can call it “zorg” if you like.

    Pretending that “atheist” means “lack of belief in zorg” for example, would you say that agnosticism with regard to “zorg” is the correct definition, or atheism is? Would it not be right to call one an implicit atheist with regard to zorg, without it being a positive position?

    I hope I’ve explained myself sufficiently!

  38. Ergo said

    If you have absolutely no knowledge of something, then you properly have no grounds for disbelieving it. Unless you are provided with some working definition of a given concept, you cannot evaluate its merits or demerits against the basis of everything else you know about reality. For example, given the working definition of God, I can provide my evaluation of the concept and reach a conclusion. Given the working definition of “zorg”, I can do the same. But if I have no knowledge whatsoever of a thing, on what grounds am I going to begin attempting an evaluation?

    On this basis, therefore, there’s no such thing as an implicit atheist. If atheism denotes an ideological position, then it must require that the person holding this belief has arrived at it after a process of evaluation and cognition.

    To illustrate: if a bagel were toasted in such a way that out of some freak chance, there appeared a series of burnt marks resembling the words “I am an atheist.” Would you regard the bagel therefore to be an atheist or to have accepted an ideological position of belief? No. Any such ideological positions necessarily require a conceptual consciousness capable of a process of cognition and evaluation. If you dismiss this criteria, then it would be tantamount to saying that bagels can be atheists, albeit implicit atheists.

    This is why Richard Dawkins is not an atheist; just an agnostic tending towards atheism–much like what he admits in his book.

  39. evanescent said

    But there is another “dilemma” with the term atheist though, Ergo. There are many definitions of gods.

    I, like Dawkins, would consider myself a strong agnostic leaning towards atheism, or what he calls de facto atheist. I cannot say for certain that A GOD does or doesn’t exist but I would lean heavily against it.

    However, this depends on how you define god. If we’re talking about any old deity, almost all self-professed atheists might consider themselves agnostics because it is impossible to 100% rule out any divine being. (Just like teapots and Flying Spaghetti Monsters.)

    But, if we’re talking about Yahweh, Zeus, Thor etc: particular definitions of gods, Dawkins is most definitely an atheist, as am I (and you I assume). We all completely reject their existence or possibility thereof.

    Do you not think it’s necessary to draw a distinction between one who is agnostic and sceptical of the general idea of god(s) and one who actively positively disbelieves in a specific God (like Allah)? In much the same way one can be agnostic with regard to wizards yet positively disbelieve that Gandalf exists.

  40. Ergo said

    Evanescent,

    Any kind of proposition positing the existence of whatever fancy entity–be it a teapot hanging in the sky, the FSM, or Thor–should be dismissed outright if it violates the existing body of principles and the fundamental axioms. No new knowledge can contradict or invalidate existing truths or facts. New knowledge can hone, sharpen, and add specificity to our truths, but cannot wholly invalidate them. Remember, omniscience is not a valid standard of certainty and a-contextual absolutism is impossible.

    Now, I’d agree that some people are just not inclined to think fundamentally of such metaphysical issues as atheism; not all are introspective thinkers. Many admirable people are just doers. They’re pretty much atheist although they might not be able to trace out all the philosophical roots of their position. To them, I’d say that insofar as they have some reasons for holding that belief based on their assessment of facts (however extensive or brief their assessment), or if the belief is derived from an honest evaluation of someone else’s analyses, and that it’s not accepted on faith, then their ideological position of atheism is valid.

    Those not inclined to such thinking and not interested in seeking the answers should properly remain agnostic, skeptics, or uninterested, not claim to be atheists.

  41. Cafedog said

    this much is true about doers.
    A do-er uses his full experience as a test for hypothesis, and theory. it is not perfect. a good agnostic will attest to that. but Atheism resides in philosophy. far more problematic testing ground. and
    (no one should tell what others should remain…
    when he does not have there experience. to test that theory)

  42. […] own definitions for words. This is why folks like Leitmotif’s Ergo Sum believe that the term ‘contextual absolute’ is something other than an oxymoron. Lietmotif is also an easy place to mine for the Objectivist […]

  43. Atheism is not a philosophical system. It simply means rejection of God (on either rational or irrational grounds.)

    For example, an Objectivist will reject God because it’s an arbitrary concept which:
    1. has no referent(s) in reality and hence cannot be reduced to the perceptual level,
    2. has no place in a conceptual hierarchy and hence cannot be integrated to the rest of Man’s knowledge.

    Since the arbitrary has no relation to both physical evidence and mental content, none of the concepts formed to describe human knowledge, e.g. true, false, possible, probable, certain, can be applied to it.

    In contrast, a skeptic will reject God because he’s “certain” nobody can be certain of anything. In other words, he’s an atheist because he rejects intrinsic dogmas for subjective whims.

    Since atheism is a negative, i.e. non-belief in a non-existent, it leaves wide open what existents (facts and values) one really believes in.

  44. Cafedog said

    Ramesh, Atheism may be too lose a term to be described as a system, but i have taught and read time and time , That Atheism is a philosophical doctrine or philsophical view.
    heres wikis take:
    http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Atheism

    Issue is that Dawkins continuesly tries to use science to maintain that Theism is a metaphorical Virus. (he seems to to always forget that Athiest like Stalin were as violent as many extremist Theist).

    Dawkins is like many “Thinkers” who are pathologically searching Truth who make the observor’s error by turning science into a self fulfilling statement.

    If one has decided he has found ” Truth” he will inevitability decide what is not truth. you end up right back into Zoorasters philosophy.

    I do know if there is a god or not, it is irrelevant. what matters is whats Real and within my existential phenomenological experience….if God is in ones experience so be it.

    but nobody has answered the God question for everybody, no one will.

    hoping to offend all “thinkers” and know-ers.

    Ramesh your site is very nice. I hope it grows.

  45. […] scale. Sorry to disturb your black and white over-simplification, but your faith is not pure. Richard Dawkins is not an Atheist Leitmotif In The God Delusion, Dawkins places his brand of de facto atheism at number 6 along a scale of 1 […]

  46. […] the job. At best, empiricists can only reach approximations of certainty–and can claim, like Richard Dawkins does, that they have a very high degree of certainty that god does not […]

  47. […] a Libertarian site mourns the fact that Richard Dawkins isn’t atheist […]

  48. […] Atheism has to be defined as an assertive statement of knowledge–not belief–that the existence of god and any supernatural being is false and impossible. [Richard Dawkins is not an atheist – says Ergo] […]

  49. mike brown said

    David, it is refreshing to see a well thought atheist. I believe your absolutely correct that atheism is an assertion. If I claim to “lack belief” in underwater faries or “lack belief” in nuclear submarines I am clearly asserting that I do not believe in their existance. Your use of objectivism is refreshing. However, I have some questions concerning Ayn Rand’s use of reason and experience to arrive at a universe that is “reasonable” and therefor understood.
    Can you help me understand how a rational non a-priori approach to the external universe allows for the creation of a rational existance one is capable of subsuming. For example; by observing the outside world there is nothing that would even hint that the universe is ruled by reason and therefor can even be properly understood rationally. In many cultures reason is not the driving force but dualism. This dualism makes sense upon examination of the apparent randomness of the universe. (ie the norse version of the universe is chaos verse order. Or the oriental Yin and Yan) Without a-prior knowledge that the universe IS rational and that man CAN peer through what only “appears” to be randomness into the pattern of rational understanding how is such an ability possible?

    History tells us clearly that not every culture views reason as the highest order. If this is the case and our preception is merely extended sense perception why is it that nearly 10k years of human existance was unable to discover this until the last 500 years? More over if perspective is extended sense perception why do we not see things the same way? It is true we have different experiences however these experience are not divergent enough explane the divergence in perspective. If our senses provide us reasonable acess to the objective world our Reason should order those experiences in similar order creating a unified perspective. Unless our Reason is flawed… If our reasoning is flawed and Reason is the central guiding focuse than is it truely fair to say we know the world through sense perception? Is it reasonable to say that sense perception is central to our knowledge when in reality it is Reason that must “temper” this experience? Wouldn’t that make an objectivist more of a Platonist? Of course one could say that Reason and experience work in tandem creating a symbiotic relationship; however, how does this differ from Aristotle? Bottom line is with out a-prior knowledge I struggle to see how an objectivist can claim sense perception as epistomology yet cling to Reason as the arbitor of that experience. To me objectivism seems like existentionalism dressed up as 17th century Elightenment clarity. Can you help me understand.

  50. winston obrien said

    Hi,

    This was a well written argument against Dawkin’s percieved athiesm. But I have one problem with your essay. In the last paragraph you mention that “all truth resides only within the minds of conceptual beings.” This statement is a blatant contradiction to everything objectivism represents. Objectivism supports the idea of an external reality independent of human faculties but you clearly support the relativist notion of reality. Considering that you claim to be an objectivist can you explain this to me? Thanks

  51. Ergo said

    Hi Winston,
    Truths are the epistemic equivalent of facts. I am merely pointing out the difference of categories that Rand herself drew between truth and facts. Facts just are–metaphysically. Truths are our conscious grasp of the facts. Hence, an accidental formation of clouds in the shape of 2 + 2 = 4 cannot be regarded as a statement of truth, even though it is factual.

  52. […] of mine (you know who you are) sent me a link to another WordPress blog, to an article entitled Richard Dawkins is NOT an Atheist, which happened to be written by an Objectivist, Ergo. My very first words were “I disagree.” […]

  53. Shaun said

    That was an incredible post. And this was pretty much the best line I have read in years:

    “If you wish to claim that the energy of a burning cake of cow dung is god, then you are delusional, your god is useless and not worthy of attention, and I am the incarnation of Batman.”

  54. Your argument is interesting, however I have to concur with Dawkins. Our reality excludes perfection. This is not a premise, this is an observation. We have simply been unable to come up with a complete explanation of reality and have not yet observed a perfect circle or a perfect square. We have yet to achieve a level of granularity where the construct doesn’t fail. This was not only Goedel’s conclusion, but the ancient Greeks’ as well.

    The truth is, absolutes, like your argument for objectivism are as flawed as the argument for theism.

  55. Ergo said

    “Our reality excludes perfection. This is not a premise, this is an observation.”

    I assume you think that’s a perfect and factually true observation. Interesting.

  56. snetiger said

    Great article. 🙂

  57. snetiger said

    Since atheism is also defined more broadly as an absence of belief in deities, it is the belief of many agnostics that agnosticism is not coherent with the generally acknowledged form of atheism, where one believes in the affirmation of the nonexistence of gods or the rejection of theism. In that sense being an agnostic is about choice. You choose the position, where you simply do not take a stand on being neither a theist nor an atheist. It is often put forth by atheists, that if you do not choose, then you are an atheist by default (absence of belief), but then a theist could justly argue, that you could as well be a theist, if you do not take a stand – you simply don’t realize it. Now here comes the tricky part. If you choose not to take a stand on something, there is a time-dimension added (e.g. I have not taken a stand on whether I will go training, but I may – may not tomorrow). Now by choosing not to take a stand on the subject theism – atheism, I have not chosen not to be a theist, and yet mysteriously I am an atheist by default (abscence of belief). It would be as obscene as to believe that by choosing not to take a stand, I would have chosen not to be an atheist, and yet mysteriously I am a theist by default. If you choose not to take a stand you are either both by default or none by default, or you have the potential in time to be either. I believe that subconsciously you can actually believe something, and yet it doesn’t appear in your conscious mind, but if we keep to the conscious level, it does not make much sense to say, that you are both a theist and an atheist, so that leaves us with the point, that if you do choose not to take a stand on the subject of theism – atheism, then you are neither by default. What is left then? – agnosticism.

    You can read more here: http://snetiger.wordpress.com/2008/11/07/what-is-agnosticism/

  58. If I showed you a shape that you cannot identify, you would be well able to point out that it was not a square. Even if you could not see the entire shape, just a tiny part of it, you would be able (assuming what you can see is conducive to the deduction) to deduce that the entire shape cannot be a square. If on the other hand I tell you there is a shape but never let you see it, I only make bold claims about it. You cannot say for sure the shape does not exist. You can still say with reasonable certainty that it is not a square.

    You are getting all caught up in the definition of Atheism while ignoring the incredibly vague definition of what constitutes God. The term can mean a thousand things between Omnipotent sky-daddy to energy, not just those things. What exactly is it that an Atheist must know for certain doesn’t exist in order to meet your unnecessarily strict definition of Atheist?

    “All properly contextualized truth is absolute.”
    This is a statement with so many holes in it, you could use it for grating cheese. The sheer amount of presupposition is awesome.

    Properly contextualized. Who or what determines if any particular “truth” is properly contextualized?
    What is truth as you use it here? Are you sidestepping that eons old epistemological quandry?
    Worst of all though. WHY should this be so? Why should any “properly” contextualised truth be absolute?
    Why should “all” properly contextualized truth be absolute?

    Your justification of this assertion….

    “once the absolute validity of the primacy of existence is grasped, all claims to the primacy of consciousness can be rejected absolutely”

    You start off with yet another presupposition. You are presupposing the primacy of existance and one need only grasp it and what do you mean by existence? (and who exactly has ever disagreed about that anyway?)
    Why do you feel the need to pepper everthing you are saying with the word absolute?

    Your conclusions are reached by a series of assertions, each relying on the veracity of the assertion before it. None of which are at all shown to be the case.

    Your philosophy seemed to be based on the dogmatic insistance that certain presuppositions are definitely correct. You should go to church, they love that kind of thinking there 🙂

  59. James said

    Atheist literally means “without theistic belief”. It IS possible to lack acceptance of a theistic belief system without ever having heard of it or having considered it. The term atheist is not so much a statement of a positive belief as it the description of where a person stands in relation to a particular brand of belief, theism.

    I disagree with the widely accepted notion that there is a scale of religiosity that goes:
    “Theistic –> Agnostic –> Atheist”

    The term agnostic refers is a description of the epistemological stance of an individual. An agnostic is somebody literally “without knowledge” and what this means is that someone who describes them as agnostic believes that we cannot know for certain. A gnostic would be someone who claims true knowledge and believes that it is possible to KNOW.

    Based on this literally interpretation of the terms, describing somebody as simply an “agnostic” is meaningless. Everybody falls under one of four categories:
    “Gnostic theist” one who positively believes in a theistic belief system and believes that they know it to be true, or believes it is possible that we can know.
    “Agnostic theist” one who positively believes in a theistic belief system but doesn’t claim certainty. Since their position is making a positive claim of believe then these are those who have faith.
    “Agnostic atheist” one who does not have a positive belief in a theistic belief system, but accepts that it is not possible for them to know for certain. They do not “disbelieve” as that implies denial of theism but rather they are “without belief”, a neutral stance but still an atheistic one if the literal meaning of the word atheist is to be adhered to. This is where Dawkins is, where I am, and where I believe any rational person should be.
    “Gnostic atheist” one who does not have a positive belief in a theistic belief system, however they claim to KNOW it and by that claim of certainty they are the only atheists who actively disbelieve. The author of this post would appear to fall into this category. I believe it is a flawed position.

    Atheism only has to be a specific term if you believe that the word “atheist” means a disbelief in God. The distinction between a lack of belief and disbelief is important. I personally don’t like ANY of these terms, I laid them out as I did because if you are to interpret their meaning literally than that is how people should label themselves. However given the vast breadth of philosophies and views on epistemology they’re generally unhelpful. If someone tells me their an atheist I always have to ask them to describe their position in more detail because people in general seem to have little agreement on what that term entails.

    Most people I meet who call themselves agnostics claim that “they don’t know” or “aren’t sure” or are “undecided”. They cannot therefore have positively accepted theism. They are without theism. They are a-theistic. It is possible to be an atheist without being a 7 on Dawkins scale. He IS an atheist.

    I respect much of the Objectivist philosophy but its apparent acceptance of mans capability to claim certainty baffles me. Objective reality exists. There is an objectively correct answer to the question “Is there a God?”. Can you be justified in the statement that you KNOW for absolute that there is no God? No! Absolutely not. Is it a satisfying conclusion to come to? No, of course not. It feels inconclusive and subjective to make statements like “We cannot state for a fact but it is highly likely that…”. However to be intellectually honest, this is the closest to a statement of fact that a human can make and be justified in making. Given that, you might argue that you cannot state anything for a fact and that scientific empiricism is therefore a system which accepts the subjectivity of reality? No. Science is an iterative process, forever attempting to find greater and greater quantities of evidence. While there is are no answers of objective certitude, there are answers which we can say are the most justified in that they are the most supported by the evidence. This is justified because it allows for the fact that we may be incorrect, we may have incorrect data, we may have made errors. We are after all only human.

    The strongest position of atheism that someone can make whilst still being justified is:
    There is insufficient evidence to warrant the belief in a God/Gods, furthermore everything that we have so far observed about the physical nature of reality would prohibit such a being from existing, therefore it is highly improbable, based on our current evidence and understanding, that such a being/beings exists.

    That’s my position and I’d readily change it if any sufficient evidence in favor of theistic beings ever unearthed itself. If such evidence did come to light (which IS possible), the objectivist stance of certainty would be unable to rationalize it’s position with such new evidence in any other ways than denying that such evidence is genuine or accepting that objectivism is wrong. Neither seems to be something you’d wish to do, how would an Objectivist respond to a theoretical piece of evidence that made the existence of a God highly probable?

  60. Ergo, confusion. said

    What the hell is so complicated? If you’re not a theist, you’re an atheist.

    Dawkins is not a theist, by the way.

  61. efrique said

    You are effectively claiming “only strong atheism is atheism”.

    A large majority of atheists disagree with your definition.

    Atheism, at its most inclusive, is simply a lack of belief in any deity – and Dawkins lacks belief in any deity.

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