Re: Why atheism beats agnosticism (Was: Re: Contacting God)

T0Morrow (
Thu, 23 Apr 1998 17:49:52 EDT

Max writes:

> "Atheism" = a-theism. Since "theism" means a belief in a god, "atheism" is
> the absence of belief in a god. In that sense, I am an atheist. An atheist
> *may* actively deny that there is a god of any particular description, and
> may even claim that they can prove that there is no god. However, that is
> not the essence of atheism. The essence is simply the absence of belief.

Let's try a little experiment. I'm about to ask you a question about the
existence of some thing, X. At the moment, you have no belief about X's
existence, since I have not named it. And yet it would seem *very* odd to say
that your "simpl[e] absence of belief" qualifies you as an "atheist" with
regard to X. (Oh, here's that question I promised: Is there such a thing as

Hence my conclusion that atheists do more than simply not believe in
gods--they affirmatively disbelieve in them. To judge from later comments, I
think that you would embrace that description of *your* atheism, Max. You

> I know there is no such being,

which certainly seems to imply that you have some sort of proof. Perhaps you
are one of those extraordinary atheists (I'd expect nothing less!) who go
above and beyond what you call the "essence" of the doctrine, to offer proofs
of nonexistence and to make affirmative claims. Well and good--but what is
the "essence" of atheism if more than mere lack of belief and less than a
claim of proof? I think that, in fact, your sort of atheism is the only sort
that makes sense: You claim to have a proof that "no such being" exists.

> I would take the same position if someone claimed that an invisible,
> intangible elf lived on top of the Empire State Building, where it
> controlled the minds of the heads of state. Since there is zero evidence
> for such a belief, and any predictions such a beliefs makes are going to be
> either unfalsifiable or plain wrong, I would reject that belief. I would be
> an atheist (or an a-elfist) not an agnostic (or ag-elfist)! That doesn't
> mean I claim that I can definitely prove that there is no such elf.

I would reject elfism, too, as utterly useless for anything but amusement. I
suppose the question for me, then, is, "Are you an agelfist?" It would sound
strange, I admit, to say that I do not affirmatively disbelieve in the empire
(sitting *and* directing) elf that you describe. But it would be logically
consistent for me to claim agnosticism with regard to that and all other such
nonfalsiable claims--and I long ago decided to opt for logical consistency
over strangeness. Heh.

Let me offer an alternative and somewhat risky response, though: I regard
some gods as more plausible than the empire (but not empirical!) elf. I can
imagine one of us eventually attaining something quite like the powers that
some religions attribute to gods (granted that omniscience/omnipotence looks
tricky by any measure; I'm talking about lower-case gods, here). Who of us
would assume the elf's form? Nobody with taste, to be sure. But Jupiter
brains and nano-clouds sound quite stylish, and would certainly evoke
religious awe from most humans.

Upper-case theism remains problematic, I admit. But I cannot solve every age-
old problem while typing on company time.