2nd debate, Atheism and Morality, 4th Round, Atheist's Post
Fourth Round: Chad's Post
Note: the ">" signifies an earlier post
>Matt3: For the sake of keeping our posts down to a
>reasonable length (which is proving difficult to do), I have
>removed some of the older material in this post so that we can
>focus more easily instead of getting sidetracked into so many
Sounds good. I'll try to be brief as well.
>Matt3: That is fine with me. Then we agree that "Atheism is
>lack of belief in God or gods, and/or denial of the existence
>of God or gods, due to perceived lack of sufficient evidence
>supporting the existence of any God or gods.
>Matt3: That is a sufficient definition for atheism. Because
>of some recent posts here on the atheism board, I would like
>to clarify that the reason it is important to define atheism
>is because you and I need to be speaking about the same thing.
> Since I'm discussing atheism with you, an atheist, it makes
>sense that I should understand what you think atheism is so
>that I can adapt my arguments accordingly.
I agree. I've replied to a few of the people who thought we were wasting time saying much the same thing as you've said here.
>Chad3: If you ask, I bet you would find that 99% of atheists
>who define atheism as "lack of belief in God" would also say
>that they have looked at the objective evidence and concluded
>that it is not strong enough to merit belief in any God or
>Matt3: Since there are countless people who have looked at
>the evidence and concluded that there is a God, we can deduce
>that how someone views evidence would be worth a serious
>discussion since some looked at the same evidence and believe
>in God, and others disbelieve.
Agreed. I don't want to get into it here (since it's a serious discussion) but one important point is that I referred to objective evidence. While I think people do look at objective evidence and reach different conclusions, I also think that most theists have subjective evidence that I do not, e.g. personal experience with the divine.
Evidence would be a fascinating discussion for another time.
>Chad3: The whole "lack belief" thing is not, IMO, a dodge --
>it is a description of where the atheism comes from, i.e. a
>lack of evidence that would cause belief in X, rather than
>contrary evidence that would cause belief in ~X. "No Gods
>exists" is thus a working assumption based on the lack of
>perceived evidence that any Gods do exist rather than a
>conclusion drawn from evidence that no Gods exist.
>>Second, would you say that actions flow out of disbelief or
>Chad3: I think you're committing a fallacy of false dichotomy
>here, by ignoring things other than belief/disbelief as cause
>of actions. I'll explain below what I mean.
>Matt3: I do not see how it is a false dichotomy since you
>either believe or don't believe in God. Lack of belief and
>being undecided fit in the latter category since they are both
They would, but that doesn't mean that it's meaningless to distinguish between "not believing X" and "believing ~X".
Moreover, the false dichotomy is not whether "belief or non-belief" is MECE, but rather whether belief and non-belief are the only things we can look to as causes of actions. You raised the Martian issue as an example of something none of us make a big deal about and claimed this shows that atheists must have a stronger, or active belief that God does not exist in order to explain our actions.
My reply points out that there is nothing inconsistent with someone who lacks belief in Martians and lacks belief in God still spending much more time and energy on the "God question" because there are so many people who believe in God and so many practical consequences of their belief to me.
A simple example: today I attended the wedding of two close friends. Many people on CARM, yourself included, do not think their marriage should be sanctioned by the state -- and the reasons given for this position are primarily derived from your beliefs about God.
If there was a large Martianist group in the US that could actually affect my life I would be quite likely to spend time on, as I think someone put it, MARM.
>Matt3: We must be careful here not to violate the law of
>excluded middle. Let me clarify. First, the law of identity
>states that something is what it is (that which exists has a
>specific nature). Second, the law of non-contradiction states
>that something cannot be itself and not itself at the same
>time (something cannot be both true and false at the same
>time). Third, the law of excluded middle says that a statement
>is either true or false. Therefore, it is either true or
>false that you believe in God. There is no middle option. If
>you say that you are undecided, then it is true that you do
>not believe in God. If you say that you lack belief in God,
>then it is true that you do not believe in God. Therefore, it
>is logical to conclude that you do not believe in God and that
>your actions follow. Obviously, atheists do not believe in
>God and their not believing is represented by their actions.
Of course I don't believe in God. I lack belief in the statement, "God exists". That is because my non-belief in God is based on lack of evidence (as I see it) and on God being what I consider an extraordinary claim. If it were based on evidence against the existence of God, I would say that I have positive belief that no gods exist.
>Since the atheist's work so hard to disprove God's existence,
>then it is logical to conclude that they do not believe in God
>and work to continue their disbelief.
What do you mean by "work to continue their disbelief"? Are you suggesting that we are arguing in order to maintain disbelief?
Whether or not you want
>to call this "a lack of belief" does not change the fact that
>they do not believe in God and behave accordingly. Therefore,
>my dichotomy stands and their actions are a result of what
>they believe; that the evidence for God is insufficient and
>that not believing in God is warranted.
It may be that I misunderstood you. I thought your argument was that atheists must not merely lack belief, but to me, "lack belief" fits perfectly with "the evidence is insufficient and thus belief is not warranted".
Remember, that along with the lack of belief is the working assumption that no gods exist.
>>Is it more reasonable to state that actions are the
>>result of beliefs or that they are the result of lack of
>>beliefs? I would say that actions follow beliefs rather than
>>lack of beliefs and that it is irrational to act based on a
>>belief that a person claims he does not have. Therefore, I
>>think it is logical to conclude that a lack of belief in
>>something results in lack of action concerning it. For
>>example. I don't believe there are Martians. Therefore, I
>>don't defend my not believing in Martians, nor do I promote
>>non-believing in Martians. But, if I actively believed there
>>were no Martians, I am more likely to present arguments
>>supporting my belief that there are no Martians and I would
>>attempt to refute evidences for Martians. My actions would
>>reveal my beliefs; namely, that there are no Martians.
>Chad3: Let's assume that you "lack belief" in Martians
>because you have looked at the evidence that they exist and
>find it lacking. However, let us also assume the following:
>Matt3: If I lacked belief in Martians, it would not be
>because of looking at evidence or the lack of it. To me,
>lacking belief in something is what I do before I am aware of
>something. Once I am aware of the it, I categorize it . In
>the case of Martians, I categorize them as nonexistent.
>Therefore, not only do I lack belief in them but more
>accurately, I believe they do not exist.
This may be the source of some of our confusion then. I categorize Martians (and gods) as nonexistent too, but only as a working assumption based on a lack of any reason to believe they exist. That is quite different than my categorization of the statement "Chad's wife did not give birth to their daughter Jade" as false, since I have quite reliable evidence to the contrary (having been there at the birth).
It seems that when we say "lack of belief" you hear something more like "lack of opinion" as though we are pretending to have no view on the subject. That's not what we're saying, however; rather, we are making a distinction between a working assumption that X does not exist (we lack belief in X) and a positive belief that X does not exist (we believe in ~X based on evidence that ~X).
>Matt3: It is my contention that "lacking belief" is more
>consistent with the lack of awareness of a concept. Once you
>are aware of the concept, you invariably categorize it in your
>mind: true (accept), false (reject), or undecided (not
>accepted or rejected).
I think it is more nuanced than this. True/false/undecided seems to leave everything between 1 and -1 in the undecided camp, which doesn't reflect human thinking and experience very well.
Moreover, I have to point out that your current position is quite different from what you originally wrote. The Martian discussion began with you saying:
I would say that actions follow beliefs rather than lack of beliefs and that it is irrational to act based on a belief that a person claims he does not have. Therefore, I think it is logical to conclude that a lack of belief in something results in lack of action concerning it. For example. I don't believe there are Martians. Therefore, I don't defend my not believing in Martians, nor do I promote my non-believing in Martians. But, if I actively believed there were no Martians, I am more likely to present arguments supporting my belief that there are no Martians and I would attempt to refute evidences for Martians. My actions would reveal my beliefs; namely, that there are no Martians.
Thus, at first you said that you didn't actively believe there to be no Martians but simply didn't believe there were any. According to you, this explains why you don't expend energy either defending your non-belief or promoting it. But now you say that you categorize the existence of Martians as false.
Which is it?
Either position is a category of
>judgment. If you want to equate "lack of belief" with being
>undecided, then you have essentially excluded the category of
>belief. Unless you want to violate the law of excluded
>middle, then you either do or do not believe God exists.
Yes, but within the "do not believe" category there can still be more than one coherent possibility. Just as the law of excluded middle says that you either consider me your best friend or you don't...but within "Chad is not my best friend" there is still room for "Chad's a friend" and "Chad's a big jerkface".
>of belief falls under the denial-of-God's-existence category.
>Therefore, the actions of atheists can be categorized in one
>of two categories: believing God exists or disbelieving God
>exists. Since atheists, by definition, disbelieve God exists,
>all their actions must logically be construed as emanating
>from that position. (Remember, logically, "lack of belief" is
>disbelief and a denial of God's existence, since it is not an
>affirmation of God's existence).
I do not accept this at all. It seems to me that you are unwilling to address the clearly presented difference between not believing in something because of a lack of positive reason to believe and disbelieving in something because of positive reasons to believe it is not true.
I don't believe there is an invisible ghost in the room with me because I have no reason to believe such a ghost exists. But I also have absolute not reason to believe that it doesn't. My lack of belief, and my working assumption that there are no such ghosts, is based on lack of reason to believe and the extraordinary nature of the claim "ghosts exist".
I don't believe there is a glowing purple ghost in the room with me because if there was I would see it. Thus, I have specific evidence that no such being is in my room, in addition to the above considerations.
The difference is real, whether you accept it or not.
>Chad3: 1. The vast majority of people believe that Martians
>exist. 2. Some of them want to impose laws on you based on a
>moral code they think was handed down by the Martians. 3. Your
>children will be told to pledge allegiance to, "one nation,
>under Martians" when they are old enough to go to school. 4.
>You're going to a wedding today that most Martian believers
>want to make illegal, based on beliefs deriving from the
>supposed existence of Martians. 5. Martian organizations get
>favorable tax status. 6. Martian believers actively try to
>convert you and tell you you're a bad person because you deny
>the Martians. 7. Many Martian believers think that you and
>your wife and many of your close friends have committed crimes
>for things you do not consider criminal at all. Some even
>think you should be put to death for these crimes...and these
>people vote. 8. Public schools are under pressure to teach
>things you (and the vast majority of scientists) consider junk
>science by people who believe, for example, that planetary
>orbits are not caused by "macro-gravity" but rather by Martian
>Matt3: You are trying to demonstrate that atheists who lack
>belief in God can exhibit multitudenous amounts of actions
>based on passive "lack of belief of God", rather than the
>active "believe there is no God."
No, I'm demonstrating that there are more possible explanations for level of action than simply "belief vs. lack of belief vs. disbelief".
Do you dispute that Christians (among other theists) have a major impact on my life?
At this point, neither one
>of us are going to get through to the other. In my opinion,
>you cannot and will not grant me the logical conclusion that
>actions follow beliefs.
I have no problem agreeing that actions follow beliefs...only with the implicit and unstated assumption that actions only follow beliefs.
Whether you call it lack of belief, disbelief or belief in the contrary, my "position" on God is identical to my "position" on ghosts. But the God question is far more interesting and relevant to me because of you and because of the billions of theists in the world...people whose beliefs have a large and multi-faceted impact on my life.
If you did, this would mean that
>atheists actively believed there is no God. Yet, you are
>required to defend the "lack of belief" in God as a sufficient
>motivator for atheist actions.
With respect, when you start telling me that the reason I'm arguing a position is because I can't afford not to it doesn't feel much to me like we're having a respectful discussion.
As you say, attack the argument, not the person. Ad hominem attacks aren't limited to insults.
I have written on carm
>concerning this and given my analysis of this here in our
>thread, and I am convinced that atheists behave more
>consistently with an active denial of God, rather than a
>passive "lack of belief" in God.
Who says "lack of belief" is passive? As I've said multiple times, it is combined with a working assumption that extraordinary claims (including, "the Christian God exists") are false until demonstrated to be true.
>Matt3: It is perfectly logical to state that a person's
>actions are the result of what he believes. Atheist's claim
>the lack of belief in God, yet they perform a great many
>actions supporting that lack of belief. Though they say one
>thing (they lack belief), they behave in a manner consistent
>with denial of the existence of God. In other words, they try
>to disprove what they claim they lack belief in. Such actions
>among in my opinion, reveal beliefs, not lack of beliefs.
I have never tried to disprove the existence of God. Nor have I ever, to my knowledge, tried to deconvert a theist. What I do is:
1. Argue against specific arguments for God as invalid.
2. Attempt to help theists understand atheists and atheism.
Neither of these, IMO, implies the sort of active denial you insist on ascribing to me.
>Chad3: Even if you thought there was no specific evidence
>that Martians don't exist -- only a lack of evidence that they
>do -- you might be moved to action from the above.
>Alternately, suppose that the Martian believers had come up
>with a range of fascinating (but in your opinion logically
>flawed) arguments "proving" the existence of Martians, and you
>found that you enjoyed debating these proofs. That might also
>cause you to spend more effort on the Martian question than
>you do now.
>Matt3: Then you would be supporting your position that you
>believe that Martians do not exist. As I said before, actions
>follow beliefs and you are helping to prove my assertion.
As noted, you said that you don't push your non-belief in Martians because it is only non-belief. Do you seriously contend that you might not become a bit more actively "amartianist" if the people who did believe in Martians were having a major impact on your life?
>Chad3: This is the fallacy I believe you've committed. By
>limiting the choice to "belief vs. lack of belief" you're
>ignoring the many things other than belief that might cause a
>person to spend energy on the question of God's existence.
>Matt3: I do not think your analogy disproves the idea that
>people's actions are the result of what they believe.
What I've shown is that they are not exclusively the result of what they believe.
I don't believe in ghosts...and "do ghosts exist" is not a question I have much reason to spend time on. I don't believe in God...but "does God exist" is a very important question to me because billions of people think the answer is 'yes' and some of them want to tell me how to live based on that belief.
>said you "believe" I've committed a logical fallacy, but you
>have not demonstrated that. Besides, all of your other
>reasons that might cause a person to spend energy in the
>question of God's existence ultimately fall into one of two
>categories: belief in God, or disbelief in God.
We may be going in circles here. My point remains that the set of non-belief in God is not merely one thing but multiple coherent, different things.
>>Third: The actions of atheists reveal their position. Since
>>basically every atheist I've ever encountered expends energy
>>trying to refute theistic arguments and defending atheism, I
>>would say they are behaving in a manner consistent with
>>position. The stronger the actions, the stronger the
>>position. If you have no position concerning God (lack of
>>belief), then it seems to me that refuting theistic
>>is inconsistent with that position.
>Chad3: As noted above, this is not necessarily true.
>Moreover, as noted above, lack of belief in God does not mean
>no position regarding the evidence for God. I believe quite
>strongly, for example, that the various ontological arguments
>are unsound; thus, I hold a clear position on the ontological
>arguments. For me to spend energy explaining to someone why a
>given OA is unsound is reasonable regardless of my beliefs
>about God. (I even know a few Christians who will spend energy
>refuting OAs and other arguments they consider unsound.)
>Matt3: I did not state that this was an absolute rule. But
>it is perfectly logical to assume that someone's beliefs lead
>them to actions and that we can discern a person's beliefs
>based upon his actions. There is, after all, a relationship
>which I hope you do not deny. You're concluding statement in
>the above paragraph confirms what I'm saying. You deny the
>sufficiency of ontological arguments (you believe they are
>insufficient); therefore you carry out the action of
>explaining why you believe the ontological arguments are
>unsound. You made my point that actions follow beliefs, not
Again, I do not dispute that actions follow beliefs. But they do not only come from beliefs.
>Chad3: No. A/gnosticism refers to whether knowledge of God is
>possible. A/theism refers to whether belief in God is held. I
>am, for example, an agnostic atheist. I do not believe in God
>(or gods) but consider it impossible for me to know that no
>God (or gods) exist. One could also be an agnostic theist.
>Matt3: I appreciate the clarification. I have heard
>different definitions of agnosticism, but for the sake of this
>discussion, I will accept the one you use.
I appreciate that.
With respect, I'm going to snip the section about insults, etc. I think it's a bit of a tangent and unlikely to be productive. We both agree that insults should be avoided as a rule. As you point out, a "he said-she said" about whether atheists or Christians are ruder isn't going to get us anywhere. If you disagree, let me know and we can continue to discuss it.
>Chad3: As noted above, given the many reasons atheists have
>to take the God question seriously, I think it is a mistake to
>infer an active belief from their strong efforts to refute
>Matt3: I do not think it is a mistake to infer an active
>disbelief by looking at their actions. I think it is
>perfectly fair and perfectly reasonable to draw conclusions
>about a person's beliefs based upon their actions. I also
>think we could logically conclude that the stronger the
>actions, the stronger the belief. If you do not think that
>this is reasonable, then please tell me why it is not.
Because, as noted above, it isn't just about belief but also about the "stakes" as it were. Let me try to explain my point with a story:
A young couple gets married in Las Vegas and decides to do some gambling. As they pass the roulette wheel, the husband becomes convinced that the next spin will be number 7. He tells his wife he's had an incredible vision that the wheel will come up 7, and he's absolutely certain of it. The wife does not find this terribly persuasive.
Now the story splits. In one version, the husband says, "Honey, I'm going to bet $10 on number 7. If it hits, and I know it's going to, I'll take you out for dinner and a show with the winnings." The wife smiles and says, "Sure," even though she sees no reason to think that her husband's vision is reliable.
In the other version, the husband says, "Honey, I'm going to bet $10,000 (roughly their life savings) on number 7. If it hits, we'll be rich!" The wife is horrified and begins to argue with him that his vision isn't something to bet their life savings on.
Do you think her non-belief in his vision is stronger in the latter example? I submit it is identical but the stakes of the question are higher and this is why she argues against trusting his vision whereas she might have just indulged him if he only wanted to bet $10.
>Chad3: I look forward to the discussion of morality and
>atheism. I hope that if I have not persuaded you that "lack of
>belief" is both coherent and more accurate than "active belief
>that there is no God" I have at least explained why I believe
>Matt3: I mean no disrespect to you, but your argumentation
>has not convinced me that a "lack of belief" is more coherent
>than an "active belief that there is no God." It is not
>because I simply choose not to believe it, but because I think
>my reasoning that actions follow beliefs and the stronger the
>actions, the stronger the beliefs, is sound.
Hopefully I've shown that while stronger beliefs can lead to stronger actions, higher stakes can also lead to stronger actions. "Does God exist" is a high-stakes question at the level of human interaction.
>Matt3: I am ready to move closer to the issue of atheism and
>morality if you are. However, I think it is only fair that
>you ask questions of me, if you so desire. You have been very
>polite and patient. So, if you have any questions, please fill
>free to ask. If not, perhaps we can discuss the issue of the
>atheists and morality.
I'm ready to continue.
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