Friday, July 20, 2007

In Nebo-Sarsekim We Trust

Over at Scriptorium Daily Greg Peters has restrained his enthusiasm over a recent story in the London Times entitled, “Museum’s tablet lends new weight to Biblical truth.”

Monday, July 9, 2007


Recently I've had conversations with people who label themselves atheists while insisting that means they "do not believe God exists" but not, heaven forbid, that they "believe God does not exist". They say the two are very different claims. Honestly, in those conversations I may have muddied the waters in attempting to make a case that the two statements are indistinguishable for all practical purposes. In my defense, I have always understood how they differ. Of course they are not logically identical. Stating "I believe there is no [whatever]" is a positive claim to knowledge, while stating "I don't believe there is a [whatever]" is a negative claim to knowledge. My assertion remains that a proper atheist is one who makes the positive claim. And I'm not alone. Anthony Flew (when he was still an atheist) wrote,

"the word 'atheist' has, in the present context, to be construed in an unusual way. Nowadays it is normally taken to mean someone who explicitly denies the existence...of God.... But here it has to be understood not positively but negatively, with the originally Greek prefix ‘a-’ being read [the] same way in ‘atheist’ as it customarily is in...words as ‘amoral’.... In this interpretation an atheist becomes not someone who positively asserts the non-existence of God, but someone who is simply not a theist.

The Presumption of Atheism (emphasis mine)

If this "unusual way" of defining the word 'atheist' is accepted—despite the fact that such a definition is otherwise engaged—we need:

1) a new term for a person with sufficient philosophical fortitude to make the positive claim, and
2) a new definition for the word 'agnostic'.

After we come to agreement on terms, we can then address why those atheists who have retreated to the meeker agnostic position still want to retain the bolder label? I think William Lane Craig has the answer:

"If atheism is taken to be a view, namely the view that there is no God, then atheists must shoulder their share of the burden of proof to support this view. But many atheists admit freely that they cannot sustain such a burden of proof. So they try to shirk their epistemic responsibility by re-defining atheism so that it is no longer a view but just a psychological condition which as such makes no assertions. They are really closet agnostics who want to claim the mantle of atheism without shouldering its responsibilities."

So is there a God or not? Theists answer yes. Atheists answer no. Those who defer are agnostic. Which are you? Why say one thing when you mean another?