Wednesday, May 8, 2013

How to make an atheist into an agnostic in five seconds.

Remind him that atheists have a burden of proof.


Heuristics said...

Reply: But it's impossible to prove a negative so I could not possibly have a burden of proof!

Counter Reply1: It is perfectly possible to prove a negative by showing a conflict in the definition or by highlighting something that would be expected to be true given the definition but isnt. Example: A square circle cannot exist because something cannot both be square and circular at the same time. The statement "there are no people in France" can be shown to be false by showing that there indeed are people in France.

Counter Reply2: If it indeed was the case that it was impossible to prove a negative that still would not mean that you would escape a burden of proof with regards to the statement that God does not exist. It would simply mean that you are unable to provide such evidence and your position on the matter is irrational.

Crude said...

Alright, perhaps five seconds was an understatement. Never underestimate the determined. ;)

But my own experience is that 'I call myself an atheist but technically I'm an agnostic - I don't believe God doesn't exist, I lack God-belief!' is supremely popular as a reply.

Following up with, 'Oh, so people who believe God doesn't exist are irrational, then?' is a great way to get someone's teeth grinding.

Crude said...

That said, I do like your counter-replies. Especially number two. I've also run into people who think that, if it's impossible to prove atheism or to even supply very good evidence for it, they somehow are able to hold the belief and everything is okay.

Heuristics said...

Yeah, the thing is that I have never come across a new atheist in real life. These replies are just typically what I have to write on internet forums again and again (it's basically algorithmic at this point). On the internet you cannot go to any website at all without them being thick as flies in a swamp. I suspect that if you run into them irl they might very well choose to not be so adamant, they might actually be a little bit more reasonable.

I find me never running into them irl to be very strange actually. Currently I work in a research group at a hospital so my coworkers are all phd students and professors and when I started working there I expected to find a high castle of atheism (based on what the new atheists claim, doubly so since this is sweden). But what I found was that there were more christians, theists and jews collected there then I have ever seen anywhere else. The head professor even once cursed Richard Dawkins publicly. Interestingly enough the only 'atheist' I have met there called herself godless instead of an atheist, I thought that was a good way to escape the burden of proof. I don't care much for the redefinition of atheism into weak-atheism.

Crude said...

Yeah, the thing is that I have never come across a new atheist in real life.

Well, the Cult of Gnu's main identifying aspect is assholish behavior - and everyone is nicer within swinging distance.

Really though, they're a subset of a subset at the end of the day. I think most people, if they're not religious, tend to be merely irreligious - and irreligion is not atheism. I agree about the weak atheism move - it's pretty transparent.

Interesting to hear about your research group experiences. Then again I recall that doctors and nurses are supposed to be more theistic than most other scientifically orientated professions - maybe that plays a role?

malcolmthecynic said...

Your post inspired mine. Hat tip to Heuristics for helping out.

grodrigues said...


" But it's impossible to prove a negative so I could not possibly have a burden of proof!"

False as false can be. Lots of counter-examples could be give, one suffices: mathematicians prove (existential) negatives on a daily basis.

grodrigues said...

@Heuristics (and myself):

Did not read till the end and hit the send button too soon, appologies.