Wednesday, 24 September 2014

Most Atheists Are Actually Agnostics

This rough conversation (or parts of it) happens far too often...

Believer: What would you call yourself?
Non-believer: I'm an atheist.
Believer: A strong atheist or weak atheist?
Non-believer: What's the difference?
Believer: A strong atheist says they know that there is no god with 100% certainty. A weak atheist believes there is no god but there's room for doubt.
Non-believer: I'm a strong atheist.
Believer: Really? How do you know for certain there's no god?
Non-believer: There's no evidence for it.
Believer: You mean you haven't seen any evidence. There could be some hidden under a rock on Pluto. Have you checked there?
Non-believer: No.

Believer: Then you can't know there's no evidence. You'd have to check everywhere in the universe and probably stick your head outside of it for a while to make sure there's none at all anywhere. Have you done that?
Non-believer: No.
Believer: So you could be wrong?
Non-believer: I suppose so.
Believer: If you could be wrong, then you don't know with 100% certainty.
Non-believer: OK. So there is some room for doubt. I'm a weak atheist then, but I'm 99.9% sure he doesn't exist.
Believer: What makes you so sure? If you haven't seen any evidence for something, that doesn't mean it doesn't exist. Surely there's a reason why you would think that the claim 'God does not exist' is true.
Non-believer: There's no evidence.
Believer: We've been over that. Absence of evidence is not evidence of absence. You need a reason to say "I know suchandsuch, therefore 'God probably does not exist'".
Non-believer: OK. We have evolution. We don't need God for that.
Believer: What's evolution got to do with anything? It's completely compatible with intelligent design or divine creation. It's a non-issue. Try again.
Non-believer: But the Bible says the world was created in six days. Evolution disproves that.
Believer: Firstly, I'm only talking about God right now, not Christianity. Second, it only disproves it if you take Genesis literally in its English translation. The original Hebrew describes six periods of time, not six days. Evolution is not an issue. So are there any other reasons to believe the truth of the claim 'God does not exist'?
Non-believer: If God is real, then why does he allow so much suffering and evil in the world?
Believer: Well, that's not really an issue when all we're trying to establish is whether or not he exists. He could exist and be evil. His personality isn't the question here. I just want to know why you think he doesn't even exist. I'll tell you about how evil actually is evidence for his existence another time, but I just want to find out why you think he isn't real.
Non-believer: Well, he could be real.
Believer: Right.
Non-believer: But until I see some evidence, I'm not going to believe it.
Believer: That's OK. Reasonable. But not accepting something because you don't see the evidence isn't the same as making the claim 'it does not exist'. You can sit on the fence. Unless, you have any other reasons for thinking God isn't real?
Non-believer: I can't think of any.
Believer: All right. So you're not an atheist at all. You're an agnostic non-theist. That's a completely reasonable and intellectually honest position to take... as long as you admit it and don't go around saying you're an atheist.