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Wednesday, February 25, 2009


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Am I to understand that your conclusion then is that we cannot know in any rationally compelling way either that God exists or doesn't exist. Further that any attempt to prove such from either side will (when faced with a competent opponent) lead inexorably to dogmatic assertions. Then other than necessary creator what can properly be said about any God. I see no reason why the tag 'necessary creator' cannot logically be assinged to a lunicorn, a celestial teapot or indeed a flying spaghetti monster with the result that that being whatever its character becomes God.

The ordinary position of the theist I would suggest is not simply that God exists. It is that God exists and has the following characteristics....

To my mind the argument then should not be whether there is a God or not, beacuse, as has rightly been shown here, we cannot know that. Instead it should be whether in light of this it is proper to attribite to a God anything at all aside from the status of necessary creator which I am prepared to allow is actually a part of the definition of any God. If the answer to this is no then why believe at all? As Wittegnstein suggested: "A nothing is as good as a something about which nothing can be said."


have you taken a look at some of the new research in religion? Scott Atran in particular?

When the new atheists refer to the ol' teapot, i wonder if they are being intellectual dishonest, because i know for a fact they are familiar with his work. none of them have even come close to making a claim against his findings and criticisms, yet they persist in statements they know are problematic. its sad, but i wonder...

anyway, your thoughts?

"Pace the doctor angelicus, one cannot rigorously prove the existence of God. One can argue for the existence of God, but not prove the existence of God."

To be honest, I don't think the Angelic Doctor holds this position. He attempts many times to prove the existence of God by a logical demonstration a posteriori. He makes the distinction, famously, between preambles to faith which are able to be known and demonstrated by natural reason (immortality of the soul, existence of God, etc.) and articles of faith in ST I, Q2, A2. Are you referencing something I'm not familiar with?
Similarly, I'm not sure what it would mean to "argue" for God's existence if no proof was possible. Does that imply an inductive argument? There are certain things which somehow increase the probability that God exists? Sure, I suppose, but these both seem to presuppose that God is something like a special object or particular entity, whereas He is the ontological cause of all existing things and omnipresent to all entities.

St Michael,

I'm afraid you don't know the Latin word pace as used above. It means 'with all due respect to,' 'with due deference to,' 'with no offence to,' and the like. From pax, pacis = peace.

My position is that there are good deductive args for the ex of God but no proofs. But I use 'proof' strictly. This is a large topic I can't address now.


Thanks for the Scott Atran link. I just now read some of his work. I would have to read a lotmore to have an opinion of it.

DA writes, "The ordinary position of the theist I would suggest is not simply that God exists. It is that God exists and has the following characteristics...."

But who has ever denied that?

One thing I've noticed is that when you query man (but not all) atheists about their own beliefs they are quite similar to the classic Deist position. It seem to me what many object to isn't God but a personal God. Yet the discourse usually isn't so narrowed.

Almost without exception, atheists will claim that atheism does not involve any opinion or assertion or belief of any sort: merely that atheism is the absence of a particular belief, that is, belief in God or Gods. So, strictly speaking, if this is true, there is no use debating with atheists, because apparently they hold no views or opinions that make them what they are. We can't even call this a "property". Is the absence of the color blue a property? Can we say that carrots and pumpkins are "ablue"? Neither can we call it a privation because then atheism would be the absence of a belief that should be there -- and the atheist would deny this. So maybe I'll just call it a "property" in quotes, for lack of a better term.

Now, it so happens that cabbages share exactly the same "property" with atheists. That is, the very "property" that makes an atheist what he is, is a "property" shared with cabbages. This may sound stupid but atheists have assured me that cabbages are atheists in exactly the same way that, say, Dawkins and Grayling are atheists, albeit they sometimes add that it's a "trivial case". Trivial or not, it seems that whatever this "thing" or "property" that Dawkings and Grayling have, it is what drives them to write their books, and it is something they share with cabbages and lawn-chairs.

It may sound odd to say that the absence of a property causes things to happen or makes things be what they are. Can we say that a carrot is what it is because it is ablue and ametallic and so on? Carrots, and people too, lack an infinite number of properties. Nevertheless, this is how the atheist logic goes, or rather, the absence thereof.

Can you supply me with a quotation in which Dawkins or Grayling states that their atheism is not an assertion of the nonexistence of God? Do they anywhere flatly state that atheism is the mere absence of belief that God exists?

"Can you supply me with a quotation in which Dawkins or Grayling states that their atheism is not an assertion of the nonexistence of God? Do they anywhere flatly state that atheism is the mere absence of belief that God exists?"

No, but almost every atheist I've ever had an exchange with has said that atheism is simply "the lack of belief in God(s)", nothing more. Anything more is misrepresentation, apparently. Even the ones who say "God does not exist" claim to be atheists by virtue of absence of belief in God(s). So, if that's true, if that's what an atheist is (and why should I doubt it?), then Dawkins and Grayling are atheists in the same sense that a cabbage or lawn-chair is an atheist, despite whatever else they may or may not have said.

You may find this interesting:

RichardDawkins.net, Definition of Atheism.


"Lack of belief in existence of God" 78%
"Positive belief that God does not exist" 22%

Also, "Investigating Atheism"

"Perhaps the most obvious meaning to many people now is
the absence or rejection of a belief in a God, or gods."

And then there are a million other such pages, and also
the vast majority of posts in alt.atheism side with
"lack of belief in Gods(s)."

I would like to see a quotation from some atheist, then. Otherwise your criticisms of them lack 'traction.' Note that when I criticize Grayling and Dennett and Ayn Rand and all the rest I am always careful to quote accurately their actual words.

"I would like to see a quotation from some atheist, then."

Surely "lack of belief in God(s)" is ubiquitous enough: "atheism+lack+belief" = 4 million hits. Eg,

Austin Cline
"the entire attempt to deny the definition of atheism as simply a "lack of belief in gods" is an attempt by religious theists to avoid facing and defending their own theistic position."

Aside from what can be gleaned from atheist websites, there are thousands of pertinent quotes available from hundreds, if not thousands of atheists in alt.atheism. Here are a few:

"All that defines atheism at the smallest is the lack of belief."

"One thing we do have in common is that we lack belief in any gods"

"It really makes no difference if one is a "strong atheist" or a "weak atheist"; all lack a belief in a god."

"Again, you miss the point that atheism is a lack of belief in a god"

"Rather, the word atheism means to an atheist "lack of belief in the existence of a God or gods"

"Now let me stop and remind you of something you may have forgotten; atheism is merely lack of belief in a deity,"

The Investigating Atheism link is to the point. Thanks. A cabbage is a negative atheist.

I'm sorry to refer so often to my reviews, but I discuss the defintion of atheism as the absence of belief in God here: http://mises.org/journals/jls/10_2/10_2_6.pdf

Does the atheist believe that "belief in the existence of God is a false belief"?


If a negative atheist is one who merely lacks the belief that God exists, then presumably such a person would also lack the belief that the belief that God exists is a false belief. If a positive atheist is one who believes that God does not exist, then presumably such a person would also believe that the belief that God exists is a false belief.

David Gordon,

I always appreciate links to your work. The one you have just provided is especially useful and relevant to present concerns. I am happy to have you as a reader.

[BV writes] "A cabbage is a negative atheist."

It's also common to hear it referred to as "weak atheism".

Returning to your question "Does the Atheist Deny What the Theist Affirms?", you say: "People like Ryan, Russell, Dawkins, and Dennett who compare God to a celestial teapot betray by so doing a failure to understand, and engage, the very sense of the theist's assertions." And there seems to be some interesting history to this, going back to Ernst Haeckel and the Monists. Wasmann S.J. writes:

"Haeckel had such an idea of God, when he said that he
could think of the personality of God only in bodily form
as a gaseous vertebrate. Dr. Plotz, too, had a similar idea,
when he spoke of God as an organism. This erroneous idea has
spread unfortunately very widely in so-called educated circles,
as a consequence of the publication of Haeckel's Weltratsel
[Riddle of the Universe] and similar books. People believe
that the Personal God of Christianity must be imagined as
a sort of higher mammal, and as an illustration I may quote
a letter written in Berlin, which seriously propounds the
following objection to the theistic conception of God:
"To imagine a personal Creator as the first living being
is probably impossible, for the question arises
involuntarily: "Whence does this highly developed being
suddenly come?" He must as such consist of an organic mass,
composed of cells. But, to quote Virchow's saying, with
which you probably concur, omnis cellula ex cellula, it is
obvious that this being must have been evolved from some
primitive cell. The assumption that the first being was
a simple mass like a cell, is far more likely to be correct,
and is more simple than your assumption that there was in the
beginning a highly organised Creator."

See here for the context behind this:


Does that not sound very much like the argument Dawkins presents in The God Delusion? Ernst Haeckel's Riddle was an immensely popular best-seller in Germany. It was translated into a dozen languages and promoted all over the world by the Rationalist Press Association (of which Haeckel was a member.) It is thus interesting to see where the "new atheism" derives its intellectual vigour.

You can get Haeckel's Riddle here:


Perhaps further clues as to the origins of the "new atheism" can be discovered by perusing The Monist Journal (Carus, Hegeler.)

[BV writes] "This is a fairly standard atheist response. Since I picked up the use of 'boilerplate' in philosophical contexts from Jim, I hope he won't be offended if I refer to the quoted passage as atheist boilerplate."

Here is a boilerplate schema for the sort of theist-atheist exchange leading up to the teapot or flying spaghetti monster.

Atheist: It is absurd to believe things that can't be proved. The existence of God can't be proved, so theists are absurd.

Theist: If that is so, then atheists are also absurd, because they cannot prove that God does not exist.

Somehow the atheist draws an unspoken and erroneous inference from this.

(1) The only reason why a theist believes in God, is because nobody can prove that God does not exist.

I think that no theist in history ever held (1), but atheists seem to think that (1) is universally true. And the proof of this is in how the rest of the boilerplate schema plays out. After drawing the non-sequiter (1), the atheist concludes that it gives him the license to substitute P for "God", P being something which supposedly cannot be proven to not exist. Then, by virtue of (1) he will claim that a theist is being inconsistent if he does not believe in P as well as God. So, by virtue of hidden presupposition (1), the atheist launches into the following formulaic boilerplate:

Atheist: Ok, imagine this. Woody the magic woodchuck god lives in your garden. You can't see him because every time you look he hides. It's Woody that makes your plants grow. Woody sleeps in your chimney at night and in the morning he laces millions of little dew-drops all over and tricks you into thinking it's real dew. Now. PROVE THAT WOODY DOES NOT EXIST!! See? You can't do it!

The absurdity of this is evident once you consider that we have, above, a written admission on the part of the author of the Woody story. In effect it testifies that Woody is an intentionally ridiculous character invented for hypothetical purposes. And yet, as if this proof was not good enough or obvious enough, the atheist not only demands that it be "proved" that Woody does not exist, but he also asserts that it can't be done.

We can liken this to a man who goes out into a wheat field with a hundred witnesses, and makes some very cool looking geometrical crop-circles. He films himself doing it too. There is a lawyer present who takes a sworn affidavit from the man that he indeed is the fellow who made these crop circles. The man then brings the film, the testimony of the witnesses, and the sworn affidavit to the public. He then challenges them to prove that the crop circles were not made by aliens. "See! You can't do it!" he says. And he continues playing this act in the media, and on web forums, and in books, not for a week, but for twenty years.

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