The Reconquista Initiative
Atheists are Just Bullshitting Agnostics
In the essay “Lack-of-Belief Atheism is Bullshit”, it was argued that, based on the experience of a number of individuals, as well as the testimony of certain atheists, it is reasonable to believe that so-called ‘lack-of-belief atheism’, or negative-atheism, is little more than a shell-game meant to give atheists cover for avoiding the burden of proof for their unbelief. And in that essay, a particular quote from atheist Luke Muehlhauser, the author of the website ‘commonsenseatheism.com’, which was very popular during New Atheism’s heyday, stood out. And that quote, which was in Muehlhauser’s 23rd of February 2009 article “Atheism and the Burden of Proof”, and which was accessed on the 8th of August 2016, was the following:
[QUOTE] But most intellectually-inclined atheists I know do not merely “lack” a belief in God – as, say, my dog lacks a belief in God. Atheists like to avoid the burden of proof during debates, so they say they merely “lack” a belief in God. But this is not what their writings usually suggest. No, most intellectual atheists positively believe that God does not exist. In fact, most of them will say – at least to other atheists – that it’s “obvious” there is no God, or that they “know” – as well as we can “know” anything – that God does not exist. Thus, if the atheist wants to defend what he really believes, then he, too, has a burden of proof. He should give reasons for why he thinks that God almost certainly doesn’t exist. [UNQUOTE, bold emphasis added, http://commonsenseatheism.com/?p=597]
Now, for this essay, the idea that shall be focused on is Muehlhauser’s interesting and salient point that, as he says, intellectually-inclined, and thus self-aware and self-described atheists do not lack a belief in God (meaning both God and gods) in the same sense that other things, like his dog, do. Indeed, there is an obvious and categorical difference between the alleged lack-of-belief about God which the self-aware and self-described negative-atheist has and the lack-of-belief that a dog has. And since such atheists are also not like molecules, or moss, or mice, or monkeys, all of which also literally lack a belief in God and yet which we would never call ‘atheistic’ in any meaningful sense, then there is a difference here as well. And so, there is obviously something less than straightforward in the type of lack-of-belief that the self-aware and self-described negative-atheist allegedly possesses given that all the aforementioned things—dogs, mice, moss, and so on—clearly and literally lack a belief in God as well, and yet it would be absurd to deem any of these things to be atheistic in any way.
At the same time, it is also interesting to note that self-aware and self-described negative-atheists are not even like infants or toddlers or utterly ignorant adults in their lack of God belief, for infants and toddlers and ignorant adults lack a belief in God’s existence because they have not yet entertained the question and are therefore genuinely and completely ignorant of it. By contrast, self-aware and self-described atheists—by virtue of being self-aware and consciously describing themselves as atheists—have obviously contemplated the question of God’s existence and thus they are not ignorant of the God concept. After all, atheists are atheists, they are not what could best be described as ignorant-theists, or ‘ignotheists’ (which would be a person, like an infant, who is truly and wholly ignorant of the idea of God and thus genuinely and literally lacks any belief about a deity given that that person has never even contemplated the God concept to begin with). And so again, there is a clear difference between the lack-of-belief concerning God that an infant or toddler or mentally handicapped person has, and the lack-of-belief that a self-aware and self-described negative-atheist alleged has.
But also note that there is even a difference between the negative-atheist’s lack of belief in God and the lack of belief in God that other non-ignorant adults in particular situations might have. For example, it would be laughable to think that we would call a sleeping Pope or a dozing clergyman a lack-of-belief atheist even though they actually do happen to literally lack a belief in God at the time of their slumbers. Indeed, for while the Pope truly does lack a belief in God while sleeping, it is absurd to think that the Pope should be labeled a lack-of-belief atheist when he naps but that he then transforms back into a Catholic God-believer upon waking. Furthermore, it is doubly-absurd to think that a fully awake and conscious religious monk, while in a mind-clearing meditation that seeks to put him in a contemplative state-of-mind, should be called a lack-of-belief atheist in that moment simply because he happens to lack a belief about God at the time of his most important religious practice.
And so, given all the above points, it begins to become evident that the alleged lack-of-belief which the negative-atheist claims he has is suspiciously dissimilar from the common-sense and literal understanding of what we normally take a ‘lack’ of something to entail; indeed, we begin to see that if so-called ‘lack-of-belief atheism’ is understood in a straightforward sense—namely, as a literal lack of belief about God’s existence—then the very idea that a self-aware and self-described atheist is simply a person who lacks a belief about God is, to put it charitably, immediately questionable both in its veracity and in its coherence. But then this raises the key question: namely, if the self-described and self-aware negative-atheist does not lack a belief about God in the literal and straight-forward sense of the term, then what kind of lack-of-belief does such an atheist actually have?
The fact is that only if a person has never thought about the God concept can he maintain a position where he lacks a belief about God’s existence in the genuine sense of literally possessing no belief one way or the other about the matter. After all, before writing this passage, I had never contemplated the issue of whether there was silver on the planet Pluto, and so I genuinely lacked a belief about that issue given that I had absolutely no belief one way or the other about that topic. But now that I have contemplated this question, I no longer literally lack a belief about the matter; rather, I now have the positive belief that I have insufficient evidence to either affirm or deny the existence of silver on the planet Pluto, and I thus hold a position of uncertainty about this question, thereby meaning that I am ultimately an agnostic about this issue. And the same holds true for the God-question, for the minute that we hear of the God-issue, and understand it, and contemplate it, we then unavoidably adopt a position along the spectrum of theistic belief, which ranges from certain-atheism on one end, to certain-theism on the other end, and with pure agnosticism in the neutral middle (and theistic non-cognitivism would be there as well). But at no point do we merely continue to lack a belief in God’s existence in the same literal way that we did before we even contemplated the concept of God. Instead, we hold a position where we either view God’s existence as more probable than not, or less probable than not, or we come to hold the purely agnostic point-of-view. But again, what we do not have is a ‘lack of belief’ in a literal sense.
But now consider that self-aware and self-described negative-atheists are individuals who have indeed already thought about God’s existence and are thus not actually ignorant about this matter. What this means is that the self-aware negative-atheist cannot lack a belief about God’s existence in the literal and straightforward sense, like an infant does, but rather he can only lack a belief in the sense that the agnostic lacks a belief: namely, by being uncertain about the issue of God’s existence and thus neither affirming God’s existence nor denying it (and see the essay ‘Atheism, Agnosticism, and Bullshit’ for support of this definition of agnosticism). Consequently, and as mentioned, the idea that a self-aware unbeliever can lack a belief in God in the literal sense is, at best, a seriously questionable concept, and it is, at worst, outright false. And yet if ‘lack-of-belief atheism’ does not describe an unbeliever who lacks a belief in God’s existence in the literal sense, but rather it merely describes an unbeliever who is uncertain and uncommitted one way or the other about God’s existence, then lack-of-belief atheism appears to be nothing more than agnosticism by another name. So either lack-of-belief atheism is an inappropriate label for most self-aware and self-described negative-atheists given that such atheists do not genuinely nor literally lack a belief in God’s existence like a wholly ignorant person does, or else lack-of-belief atheism is just another label for agnosticism about God. Either way, this whole issue of lack-of-belief atheism is problematic for the unbeliever given its appearance of intellectual dishonesty, and so it is a problem that unbelievers should address.
Now, if a self-aware and self-described atheist does not see this problem, then this points towards ignorance of the issue, which is its own concern. And yet if such an atheist does see this problem, but he continues to promote and use lack-of-belief atheism anyway even though it is an inappropriate label for him and if he simply uses it as a concealed synonym for agnosticism, then, once again, this fact serves as some evidence towards the view that intellectual bullshit is afoot, for it provides some evidence that such an atheist, through his use of the ‘lack-of-belief’ shtick, wants to gain the rhetorical benefits of calling himself an “atheist” while at the same time reaping the burden-avoiding properties of agnosticism. In essence, such an atheist want to gain the perceived prestige that comes with proudly and boldly labelling himself an ‘atheist’ rather than a wishy-washy agnostic, but he also wants to avoid any burden for justifying his unbelief, which is why what such an atheist has done is merely to repackage what most people understand as agnosticism into a new box called ‘lack-of-belief atheism’.
So either the self-described and self-aware atheist is ignorant of the problems that labeling himself as a lack-of-belief atheist poses, or else he is aware of these problems, but he disingenuously continues to label himself as a lack-of-belief atheist anyway. And since atheists are intelligent people, it is reasonable to suspect that the latter is the case, which is precisely why this point again serves as some evidence that lack-of-belief atheism, when used by self-described and self-aware negative-atheists, is indeed just a bullshit maneuver meant to give such atheists a rhetorical upper-hand against theists, even though their so-called negative-atheism is indistinguishable from agnosticism.
And so, the long and short of it is this: it seems that the old adage that ‘an agnostic is just a cowardly atheist’, while possibly true, is not the only adage that we now need to consider, for it also appears that we can now just as readily say that ‘an atheist is actually little more than just a bullshitting agnostic’.
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Anno Domini 2017 01 17
Non nobis Domine, non nobis, sed nomini tuo da gloriam