Who am I? Why am I here?


#1

Who am I? Why am I here?*

Greetings! I’m PLP of Ask the Atheist fame (or notoriety). I want to start off this series of essays with a discussion of what atheism is and is not, why I call myself an atheist, and why I’m posting here.

“God” is a complex term. Many different people have meant many different things, from the purely mystical to the metaphysical to the metaphorical to concrete beings as physically real as you or me. Ideas about God (or Gods) are myriad, from Spinoza’s rational pantheism and Spong’s postmodernist panentheism to Catholicism, Protestant Fundamentalism and Islam; from animism and polytheism to monotheism to Deism. Thousands of Gods have been proposed.

Everyone has a set of nuanced and varied beliefs about God, simply because the word applies to so many concepts. Even Catholics, Protestants, Muslims, and Jews all believe very different things about God, and they all say they’re talking about the same God. Throw Deists, pantheists, Buddhists, New Agers, “Cafeteria Christians”, cultists and a few complete lunatics into the mix and the situation becomes even more complex. Just sampling the milennial contradictory dialog between mystics, philosophers, theologians is enough to make the most profound scholar’s eyeballs spin.

No single word is ever going to capture every nuance of what any individual believes and why he or she believes it. I would venture to guess that however narrowly you define any particular religion, you will never find two people who believe exactly the same thing for exactly the same reasons. At best you can infer from the label they self-apply only a broad overview of their beliefs.

The same characteristic is true of someone such as myself who self-identifies as an atheist. Atheism literally means a-(without) theism (belief in God). In other words, whatever a theist “essentially” is, an atheist isn’t. It’s a broad term. If you want to know specifically what and why an atheist does or does not believe, you’ll have to ask him; you can’t draw any detailed conclusions from just the label.

The precise terminology and taxonomy of non-belief in God is a very contentious topic within the community of people who do not profess belief. All the various labels, weak atheist, strong atheist, agnostic, apatheist, carry not only denotative meanings but connotations, both emotional and political. About the only agreement in terminology you’ll find is that “nontheist” uncontroversially covers everyone who doesn’t believe in a specific, particular conception of a God. It’s my opinion that this contention is irrelevant. Call yourself what you wish and if anyone wants to know the details, they can ask.

Bear in mind whenever I discuss people in terms of these labels, “atheist”, “agnostic”, “theist”, “Christian”, “Muslim”, I am talking exclusively about self-identification. So far as I’m concerned, if you call yourself a “Christian”, you’re a Christian; if you call yourself an “atheist”, you’re an atheist. I might draw some broad tentative conclusions about your beliefs from your self-chosen label, but, because the labels are purely self-applied, I draw no conclusions with analytical certainty.

So, of course, it behooves me to explain in more detail what I personally mean by calling myself a “strong atheist”.

I restrict the application of “atheist” to conceptions of “God” which specify a personal being, i.e. an identifiable entity which is conscious, intelligent and purposeful. I don’t apply the label to conceptions of “God” which are entirely metaphorical, such as Einstein’s metaphorical use of God to discuss the laws of physics. I certainly believe there are actually laws of physics (or, more precisely, regularities in the way the universe behaves which can be effectively labeled and described). If someone applies “God” to the collection of these laws, I’m not going to disbelieve in the laws of physics just to preserve my label of atheism, but neither am I going to abandon the label which is so useful in describing at least the broad outline of my position on a personal God.

(continued)

*Bonus points if you can name the source of the quotation


#2

So far as a personal god goes, I describe myself as a strong atheist: I assert (in general) that I have rational justification for believing that no God (i.e. no personal God) actually exists. This is in contrast to someone who describes himself as a “weak” atheist, someone who simply refuses to assert a true/false position on the general concept of “God”.

(As an aside, one of the most contentious terms in the nontheist community is the word “agnostic”. Literally, it means “without knowledge”. But “knowledge” being a complicated word in itself. Simply saying that one “lacks knowledge” is equivocal: One person might assert or believe that the existence of God is inherently unknowable, another might assert that the concept is knowable in principle, there is not enough information to come to any particular conclusion, and a third might assert that they don’t even know whether the concept is or is not inherently knowable (a meta-agnostic?).)

(Unfortunately, “agnostic” has also come to have the connotation of “indecisive”. This connotation has unfortnate side effects: Many atheists consider agnostics to be weak-minded or cowardly, hiding their disbelief behind a facade of ignorance. Many theists consider agnostics to be prime targets for conversion, hoping their information might tip the balance. Of course, not everyone has these connotations or draws these conclusions; I think it’s dumb on both sides to do so.)

We can assign various conceptions of “God” to epistemological categories, categories based on how one does or might know the truth of the particular conception.

[list=1]
*]God is inherently unknowable
*]God is inherently knowable, but there is no good evidence or argument either way as to its truth
*]God is inherently knowable, and there is actual good evidence or arguments on both sides which is approximately equal
*]God is inherently knowable, and the actual evidence or arguments favors its truth or falsity
[/list]Towards (1), I am in-principle agnostic; furthermore, I consider these conceptions either ontologically meaningless (e.g. God with no specified properties) or epistemologically meaningless (God with unfalsifisable properties).

Towards (2), I am in-practice agnostic; furthermore, I consider these conceptions to be practically irrelevant. I just don’t care much about a God if it’s going to hide behind the couch.

Towards (3), I have never seen good evidence or argument (i.e. evidence or argument that stands “on its own” but might not be conclusive it itself) for any such god. All the arguments or evidence I’ve seen for the existence of a God fail directly, and not just in opposition to other arguments or evidence.

Twoards (4), I believe that the actual evidence and arguments favors the falsity of the existence of God.

I do not believe anything to be true or false with certainty. Everything which I believe to be true or believe to be false is subject to revision on a new argument or new evidence. Contrawise, the metaphysical ideas that I have which are not subject to revision by argument or evidence I do not believe to be either true or false; they are opinions. I’ll touch on this concept in greater length in its own thread.

In closing, let me explain why I’m posting here on Catholic Forums.

I’m not out to convert anyone, I’m not out to make trouble. I’m here only to discuss profound and important ideas with smart, good-willed people who have a very different outlook than my own.

I enjoy ideas for their own sake, and I enjoy discussing ideas. It’s my hobby. I also believe I have an ethical duty to seek the truth. Discussions about God touch on all areas of philosophy: metaphysics, epistemology (knowlege), ontology (existence), ethics, even aesthetics. While I’m no Hegelian, the concept of thesis-antithesis-synthesis is appealing: Discussion is at its most vigorous and enlightening when an idea is considered in light of its opposite. I’m entirely confident that however the discussion goes, I will learn more learn more about the truth, learn more about myself and my own ideas by discussing them with the members of this forum.

I hope the participants and the readers of our conversations will find the same value as I do, whatever the outcome.


#3

Welcome to the boards. I hope you find what you’re looking for here. I think this is one of the most polite religious board out there, so I’m sure you’ll be able to have some really good discussions.

I can’t really contribute, though. I can defend Catholicism all day to other Chirstians, but when I talk to my atheist/agnostic friends, there’s nothing I can really say to them to describe my point of view. The whole point of “faith” is to accept what can not be proven.


#4

Greetings! I’m BlindSheep of Ask the Acaninist fame (or notoriety). I want to start off this series of essays with a discussion of what acaninism is and is not, why I call myself an acaninist, and why I’m posting here.

“Dog” is a complex term. Many different people have meant many different things, from the purely genetic to the to the metaphorical to concrete beings as physically real as you or me. Ideas about Dog (or Dogs) are myriad, from the species names Canis Familiaris and Canis Lupus to varieties such as Rottweiler and Chow, to cartoons and drawings such as Snoopy and “Dogs playing Poker”, to ugly women or dirty-minded men Thousands of dogs have been proposed.

Everyone has a set of nuanced and varied beliefs about dogs, simply because the word applies to so many concepts. Even dog breeders, zoologists, pet owners, and caniphobics (those who fear dogs) all believe very different things about dogs, and they all say they’re talking about the same “dog”. Throw cartoonists, Muslims (dogs are devils), zoophiles, linguists, historians, toy companies and a few complete lunatics into the mix and the situation becomes even more complex. Just sampling the pit bull contradictory dialog between dog show judges, pet owners, and lawmakers is enough to make the most profound scholar’s eyeballs spin.

No single word is ever going to capture every nuance of what any individual believes and why he or she believes it. I would venture to guess that however narrowly you define any particular dog, you will never find two people who believe exactly the same thing for exactly the same reasons. At best you can infer from the label they self-apply only a broad overview of their beliefs.

The same characteristic is true of someone such as myself who self-identifies as an acaninist. Acaninism literally means a-(without) caninism (belief in dogs). In other words, whatever a caninist “essentially” is, an acaninist isn’t. It’s a broad term. If you want to know specifically what and why an acaninist does or does not believe, you’ll have to ask him; you can’t draw any detailed conclusions from just the label.

The precise terminology and taxonomy of non-belief in dogs is a very contentious topic within the community of people who do not profess belief. All the various labels, weak acaninist, strong acaninist, canine-agnostic, canine-apatheist, carry not only denotative meanings but connotations, both emotional and political. About the only agreement in terminology you’ll find is that “noncaninist” uncontroversially covers everyone who doesn’t believe in a specific, particular conception of an animal known as a dog. It’s my opinion that this contention is irrelevant. Call yourself what you wish and if anyone wants to know the details, they can ask.

Bear in mind whenever I discuss people in terms of these labels, “acaninist”, “canine-agnostic”, “caninist”, “zoologist”, “dog show judge”, I am talking exclusively about self-identification. So far as I’m concerned, if you call yourself a “dog show judge”, you’re a dog show judge; if you call yourself an “acaninist”, you’re an acaninist. I might draw some broad tentative conclusions about your beliefs from your self-chosen label, but, because the labels are purely self-applied, I draw no conclusions with analytical certainty.

So, of course, it behooves me to explain in more detail what I personally mean by calling myself a “strong acaninist”.

I restrict the application of “acaninist” to conceptions of “dog” which specify a type of animal, i.e. an identifiable entity which is concrete and specific. I don’t apply the label to conceptions of “dog” which are entirely metaphorical, such as the metaphorical use of dog to discuss human behavior. I certainly believe there is actually human behavior (or, more precisely, regularities in the way humans behaves which can be effectively labeled and described). If someone applies “dog” to the collection of these behaviors, I’m not going to disbelieve in human behavior just to preserve my label of acaninism, but neither am I going to abandon the label which is so useful in describing at least the broad outline of my position on the entity “dog”…


#5

Welcome! I have a few questions.

What sort of “proof” would you accept to change your position? Normally discussion between theists and atheists revolve around scientific and/or logical proof. Logical proof can only give circumstantial evidence. Scientific proof would require a repeatable experiment.

To be proven, do you require evidence beyond a shadow of a doubt or evidence beyond a reasonable doubt? In a court of law the burden of proof only requires reason and may come to a conclusion using circumstantial evidence.

Do you understand the theory of free will and how evidence beyond a shadow of a doubt would affect free will?

Would you be willing to discuss theism and atheism and reserve discussing the differences between theistic beliefs only when the conversion moves beyond and accepts (for purpose of the conversation) the existence of a creator that exists outside the universe?


#6

[quote=PLP]Towards (3), I have never seen good evidence or argument (i.e. evidence or argument that stands “on its own” but might not be conclusive it itself) for any such god. All the arguments or evidence I’ve seen for the existence of a God fail directly, and not just in opposition to other arguments or evidence.
[/quote]

Hi PLP.

I haven’t gotten in on your Water Cooler thread, but this statement intrigues me. Would you care to comment on how the principle arguments classically presented by theists (argument from necessity, etc.) fail directly without opposition? I’m not here to debate you, I’m just trying to see where you are coming from.

I’ve held a variety of theistic positions over the years but have never come remotely close to subscribing to atheism. I’m always curious as to what makes atheists tick.


#7

Hey gang,

PLP, I am an atheist as well, and subscribe completely to your initial post. So I would love to be your wingman in a sense in this thread. It will be interesting to see where we might have differences of opinion, or come at theistic questions from a different experience. I’m a little tired of first cause type arguments so I may bail on those. I am quite interested in evolutionary psychology…questions of morality, ethics, emotions, etc. and their evolutionary origins. Personally, I am also not here to convert anyone to atheism, though I have no problem if that is the effect. I am more concerned about the anti-intellectual effect that belief in dogma has on people, to the detriment of our society. Specifically, many will reject science, and elect a President who is waiting for the rapture, thinks dinosaurs played with Adam and Eve, and communes with the likes of “kill’em all” Pat Robertson.

Love to hear from you guys.


#8

[quote=Sparetherod]Hey gang,

PLP, I am an atheist as well, and subscribe completely to your initial post. So I would love to be your wingman in a sense in this thread. It will be interesting to see where we might have differences of opinion, or come at theistic questions from a different experience. I’m a little tired of first cause type arguments so I may bail on those. I am quite interested in evolutionary psychology…questions of morality, ethics, emotions, etc. and their evolutionary origins. Personally, I am also not here to convert anyone to atheism, though I have no problem if that is the effect. I am more concerned about the anti-intellectual effect that belief in dogma has on people, to the detriment of our society. Specifically, many will reject science, and elect a President who is waiting for the rapture, thinks dinosaurs played with Adam and Eve, and communes with the likes of “kill’em all” Pat Robertson.

Love to hear from you guys.
[/quote]

sparetherod, you state you love discussions of ethics and morality:

Im wondering how ethics or morality could exist without a universal principle or form that transcends the individual. How does an atheist for example defend against an appeal to a universal moral form? An example: if there was no source or form of Justice how could there be justice? Philosophers like Plato, Berkeley and Descartes appealed that God was the true source, form and embodiment of these things like Truth, Love, Justice, and they argued that apart from this Source, there exists no truth, love or justice in this corporeal, temporal world.

Sparetherod and PLP I havea question for you both that I would like you to really consider and answer if you would. Do you believe there are such things as truth, love or justice?


#9

Maranatha, OK, I’ll bite.

What sort of “proof” would you accept to change your position? Normally discussion between theists and atheists revolve around scientific and/or logical proof. Logical proof can only give circumstantial evidence. Scientific proof would require a repeatable experiment.

Well, assuming that I’m not psychotic at the time, if Jesus appeared at midfield of a full stadium and healed all the amputees in the stands…I would believe. I’ve always wondered why god hates amputees, since he never seems to answer their prayers. Actually, just one obvious interaction with my world might convince me, you name it.

Do you understand the theory of free will and how evidence beyond a shadow of a doubt would affect free will?

Evidence forces me to believe something until better evidence forces me to change my mind. Can I really choose to believe something contrary to the evidence? Is this what you’re talking about here?

Would you be willing to discuss theism and atheism and reserve discussing the differences between theistic beliefs only when the conversion moves beyond and accepts (for purpose of the conversation) the existence of a creator that exists outside the universe?

Could you restate the question?

Later.


#10

Welcome to the forums, as atheist you will find quite a different bunch here on the Catholic Answers forums.

I believe in a logical faith that demands some submission to things I do not understand, as I am just a man. This doesn’t mean I can’t question and there is a good reason this website is called Catholic Answers.

From some of the comments atheists have posted there seems to be something that must be said. Catholics are way different from fundamentalist’s Christians and are not to be classified in the rapture is coming, Pat Robertson, “all the cliche” type stuff about common American Protestantism.

So feel free to ask us questions and keep an open mind as we do also and we will have some good dialogue. You are not always right and we are not also, but if there is truth it can be understood and it doesn’t change, regardless of our beliefs.

There is a difference between belief and truth, and we need to be aware of that because many beliefs can be formed out of opinion not on fact. This is what we should be discussing here on the forums.

You are to be commended though as atheist’s I think you have more honest minds than some Christians, I know as they will follow even the most absurd preaching based not on fact but on emotion. Unless you are atheist’s out of pride, or fear of changing then I invite you to question that.
So again welcome to the forums.

In Christ
Scylla


#11

Just to throw out my two cents, I am also a strong atheist, in that I believe the following things:

For any well-defined entity that can be reasonably called God, there are no good reasons to believe that such an entity exists, and good reasons to believe that such an entity does not exist.

More specifically, I think that, as PLP stated, that all arguments in favor of the existence of God fail directly (they are just bad arguments as opposed to being outweighed by other arguments). Additionally, there are good positive arguments against certain kinds of gods (notably good and loving ones). Barring that sort of argument, parsimony provides strong reasons to reject the sort of God that has no positive support.

I’m here on this discussion board for much the same reasons as PLP: I both enjoy discussion and feel it is a useful way to seek out truth.


#12

[quote=EnterTheBowser]Just to throw out my two cents, I am also a strong atheist, in that I believe the following things:

For any well-defined entity that can be reasonably called God, there are no good reasons to believe that such an entity exists, and good reasons to believe that such an entity does not exist.

More specifically, I think that, as PLP stated, that all arguments in favor of the existence of God fail directly (they are just bad arguments as opposed to being outweighed by other arguments). Additionally, there are good positive arguments against certain kinds of gods (notably good and loving ones). Barring that sort of argument, parsimony provides strong reasons to reject the sort of God that has no positive support.

I’m here on this discussion board for much the same reasons as PLP: I both enjoy discussion and feel it is a useful way to seek out truth.
[/quote]

I disagree vehemently
I dont understand how one could lead even a psychologically healthy life without faith…


#13

[quote=Anonymous_1]…

I dont understand how one could lead even a psychologically healthy life without faith…
[/quote]

Why is that?


#14

[quote=PLP]I do not believe anything to be true or false with certainty.
[/quote]

You’ve explained your views concerning theism and atheism well. I am curious about another question as well:

In addition to considering yourself an atheist, are you also a materialist?

That is, do you believe that everything that is, is composed of matter/energy/space/time? Do you believe that there can be anything real that is not composed of these basic elements of the material universe?

Is your own consciousness, for example, a result of material interactions? Your decisions? Your ideas?

One reason I ask is that the Catholic conception of God is that He is an entirely non-material entity, having no parts, and occupying no time or space.

Others who consider themselves atheists may respond as well.
I’m just wondering whether or not materialism is an essential component of atheism.

I do think that a true theist cannot be a strict materialst, because a material God cannot stand.


#15

[quote=Sparetherod]Evidence forces me to believe something until better evidence forces me to change my mind. Can I really choose to believe something contrary to the evidence? Is this what you’re talking about here.
[/quote]

Sparetherod,

I think what’s being asked here is if you understand that if you are given logically undeniable proof beyond any rational questioning, free will has been removed. For example: do you believe in the Sun? Why? Because there is logically undeniable proof of its existance. Questioning the existance of the Sun is unreasonable, and therefore you don’t have a proper “choice”. Free will has effectively been removed.

Here’s another question: Do you believe that no two snow flakes are alike? Why? Do you have proof to support your conclusion? Do you have free will to choose to believe as you would like? Yes, because you have no logically undeniable proof either way.

BTW, I noticed that your tone seems condescending. You may want to dial that back a notch, as those who attempt to belittle or demean those who hold the Catholic faith tend not to be long on a Catholic discussion forum. The questions are fine, but the tone seems off. Just my two cents - I could certainly be (and hope I am) wrong.

God Bless,
RyanL


#16

[quote=EnterTheBowser] there are no good reasons to believe that such an entity exists, and good reasons to believe that such an entity does not exist. (emphasis added)
[/quote]

This seems like an awfully dogmatic statement. Are you willing to concede that you are the dogmatist here?

all arguments in favor of the existence of God fail directly (they are just bad arguments as opposed to being outweighed by other arguments).

Same comment.

Additionally, there are good positive arguments against certain kinds of gods (notably good and loving ones).

I have never seen this demonstrated successfully - I have only seen shallow reasoning and childish arguments. I look forward to seeing what you bring to the table, and hope it’s not of the same caliber.

Barring that sort of argument, parsimony provides strong reasons to reject the sort of God that has no positive support.

Pascal would disagree with you for similar reasons.

I’m here on this discussion board for much the same reasons as PLP: I both enjoy discussion and feel it is a useful way to seek out truth.

Welcome!

God Bless,
RyanL


#17

because humans have an inherent need to believe they are generally good, and worth something…

to discount the existence of life or existence here after, or a Creator who created me and loves me is to say that life and my life is merley a flash of light seperating the eternity before my first breath and that proceding my last. It is to say everything I do is essentially meaningless, and that I as a human being have no inherrent worth. Good for the self esteem.(sarcasm intended)

I can go on…i have work…maybe later


#18

EntertheBowser,
What is truth, how do you define it? Is it not an immaterial thing, PLP has stated that he does not hold to any set standard of truth and basically truth is what we make it.
My opposition to this is best described as follows:
You bring me a piece of bread and ask me what it is. I say it is a car tire. You do eveything possible to explain and show me why it is not. I in turn deny it through my own reasoning, even though the rest of the worlds views to what it is are different than mine and conforming to yours. Then when one day, I’m out driving the inevitable happens I get a flat and attempt to place the piece of bread on my axle as a replacement. Now I stand on the side of the road dumbfounded as to why everyone is passing me.
This may seem a really odd thing to discuss, but in light of the fact that we all will die and go from this material world to nothingness as you, I assume, suppose then it may be you who are on the side watching as others pass you by into that which has been revealed to us, that same revelation which you assume to be a myth. You and I will die and the dirt will be our only reality, according to the flesh. Death is the great reality and the only one we can be sure will occur in the life of everything that lives. We exit the womb and shed tears for that which we are inevitable bound, that place which we will spend more time in than in any other place, Our Grave.
Truth is Truth, even if noone believes it. Just as bread is bread, even if I deny it.


#19

Side question: Does anyone self-identify as a “Weak Atheist”?!?

God Bless,
RyanL


#20

BTW, I noticed that your tone seems condescending. You may want to dial that back a notch, as those who attempt to belittle or demean those who hold the Catholic faith tend not to be long on a Catholic discussion forum. The questions are fine, but the tone seems off. Just my two cents - I could certainly be (and hope I am) wrong.

God Bless,
RyanL

First off, I really do want to be civil and engage everybody. I will admit one of my personal habits is to fall into sarcasm, mostly trying to be funny as opposed to irritating. That doesn’t always come across well, at least with my writing. Call me on it at any time…I apologize in advance to all except those here who will inevitably start telling me my life is an evil joke…ring any bells, tdandh26?

The posts are coming fast and furious…I got to get started on answers. Thanks.


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