Posted: Dec 18, 2011 7:30 pm
by Moonwatcher
jlowder wrote:
Moonwatcher wrote:I don't disagree with what you're saying except in the sense that when discussing the issue with a theist and that theist is allowed to define me as having a belief (because not believing something without evidence is a belief), he is setting the core of the discussion right there, his beliefs vs. my "beliefs". But it's not. I'm not asserting that "God" or even his specific god doesn't exist or that the events of his religion didn't happen. I'm saying there is no evidence for them unless he produces evidence I don't know about.

I find this extremely interesting and I understand what you mean. I wonder, however, if there is another way to look at it. I'm inclined to think that a more likely explanation is that we have a situation where two people who speak English and use the same words (belief, God, atheism, etc.) are effectively speaking two different languages. You and the theist may even think you have a disagreement because superficially it seems you are speaking the same language, but you're not. Because you're not speaking the same language, we must distinguish the labels we assign to various positions from the positions themselves.


Imagine the following conversation:

Moonwatcher: I'm an atheist.
Theist: Oh, so you believe that God does not exist. What's your evidence for the nonexistence of God?
Moonwatcher: No, I lack the belief that God exists. The lack of belief that God exists does not require any justification unless we first are given some reason to hold that belief.
Theist: No, you're re-defining words. Atheism is the belief God does not exist.

Rather than continue beating a dead horse, you then try this approach:

Moonwatcher: We're using the same words in different ways. Based on how YOU define the word atheist, then I'm not an atheist; I'm an agnostic. Based on how *I* define the word atheist, however, I am an atheist. If we're going to have real dialogue rather than just the illusion of communication, we're going to have to agree on a set of terminology for the discussion.
Theist: [at this point the theist will either insist on his terminology or be willing to adopt yours; either way, the difference in terminology will be explicitly acknowledged by both sides and real communication will be possible.]

Absolutely it is true that people talk all the time and talk right by each other because the words and the concepts don't mean the same thing to both of them.

Also, in real life, I've not had a discussion that got seriously bogged down in mincing definitions. I've had ones that got bogged down in circular arguments to be sure. In fact, I'm okay with someone starting with the premise that God exists and demanding I provide evidence that God doesn't exist. I'm fine with that as long as the other person will define what his god is. For example, is it the Christian god? Let's say it is. Okay, how literal are his beliefs regarding the Bible? 100%. Okay, we have something to work with, specific things that are empirically verifiable and should be there. Not 100% literal? Okay, then he needs to define what he does and does not take literally. If the person just keeps moving his god more and more into the gaps, moving the goalposts, or if his god was completely in the gaps to begin with, then there's no point in discussing it.

But when a person tends to believe things for which there is no supporting evidence to begin with and continues to believe them against evidence, it is a pointless discussion because it is not evidence against evidence but evidence against belief.