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3 AM Philosophy

“Agnostic atheism” is either nonsensical or superfluous: Presented in three cases.

It would seem some greater elucidation is required to explain more specifically why the phrase “agnostic atheist” in the weak case is nonsensical (and superfluous in the strong case). I am going assume a tabula rasa approach and start from the ground up in the most cogent step by step way I possibly can. If at any checkpoint you can not accept the argument and must STOP then feel free to message me and tell me why it is you can’t continue.

Defining of terms strictly for sake of this argument:

Weak atheism (weak case): Atheism defined as merely not having a belief in God. (“I do not believe God exist.”)
Strong atheism (Strong case): Atheism defined as believing or asserting that God does not exist. (“I believe God does not exist.”)
Agnostic: An epistemic modifier defined to be “I do not know”

Checkpoint #1: Review stipulative defining of terms for the purpose of this entry. If you accept them then continue on, If you do not accept them then STOP.

Assumptions:

God should be inferred to also include the plural form “Gods” (without any loss of generality)
Acceptance of belief condition in weak form: ~(Kap → Cap) ^ (Kap → Bap). (To be understood as knowledge does not entail certainty and knowledge entails belief
Belief does not entail knowledge: (Bap →/ Kap) (“I believe p is true” does not mean “I know p is true)
Juxtaposing two words, the first word is modifying the second word, and that the whole term is a subset (not a proper subset as will see in case #3) of the second term. i.e. Agnostic atheist means agnostic modifies atheist and “agnostic atheist” is a subset of “atheist”.

Checkpoint #2: Review assumptions. If you accept them then continue on to Case #1, If you do not accept them then STOP.

Case #1 -(Literal interpretation)

Assume: Weak atheism

Agnostic atheist would be an weak atheist with the epistemic modifier of agnostic modifying the word “atheist”.

“I do not know” + “I do not believe God exist”= “I do not know I do not believe God exist”

Which is nonsensical as you certainty would know if you do or do not believe God exist.

Checkpoint #3: Review Case #1. If you accept “agnostic atheist” is nonsensical (in the weak case) you can continue to Case #2 if you do not accept it as nonsensical then STOP.

Case #2

Assume: Weak atheism

p1) Atheism in the weak case is not a belief position as defined as “I do not believe God exists”.
p2) Knowledge is a subset of belief (from the belief condition in the weak form)
c)  If atheism in the weak case is not a belief position then it follows that it can not be modified by knowledge (from p2) (it is nonsensical)

Example: Fords are a subset of cars. You can not modify a non-car with “Ford” as you first have to have a car before you can say what type of car it is, as “Ford” is a subset of “car”.

Checkpoint #4: Review Case #2. If you accept “agnostic atheist” is nonsensical (in the weak case) you can continue on to Case #3. If you do not accept Case #2 as nonsensical then STOP.

Case #3 – (As epistemic modifier/non-literal interpretation)

Assume: Strong Atheism

p1) Atheism in the strong case: “I believe God does not exist.”
p2) Agnostic: “I do not know”
p3) Atheism in the strong case makes no statement about knowledge (from the belief condition in the weak form)
p4) Agnostic atheism: “I believe God does not exist and I do not know” (As epistemic modifier/non-literal interpretation)
C1) Agnostic atheism infers “I believe does not exist, but not making a statement about knowledge” (from p3-p4)
P5) Atheism in the strong case infers: “I believe God does not exist, but not making a statement about knowledge” (from p1&p3)
C) Atheism in the strong case infers the same thing as “agnostic atheist”. (“Agnostic” in “agnostic atheist” is therefore superfluous)

Checkpoint #5: Review Case #3. If you accept “agnostic atheist” is superfluous (in the strong case) you can continue on.  If you do not accept Case #3 and that “agnostic atheist” is superfluous (in the strong case) then STOP.

I have presented 3 arguments, two of which show conclusively that “agnostic atheist” in the weak case is nonsensical and one showing conclusively that “agnostic atheist” in the strong case is superfluous. If you have agreed with any or all of these cases please let me know, and if you have not agreed please give specifics as to what premise you reject and why.

5 comments
  1. Kris Mann
    Kris Mann

    I, Kris Mann, Patreon supporter of Steve McRae, will put forward a view in opposition to Steve’s here. I will show how the graphic he crossed out above could actually represent a coherent position that is neither nonsensical nor superfluous. This is a continuation of my efforts to convince him that started with my first appearance on The NonSequitur Show on YouTube, as documented in my Twitter feed @hiiroppoi in March 2019.

    For the sake of this argument, I will grant as many of Steve’s definitions as I can, starting with his definitions of weak and strong atheism. His definition of agnostic (“I do not know”) is clearly missing the relevant proposition, however. I’ll define an agnostic here as “a person who doesn’t have knowledge about god’s existence/nonexistence”.

    Next are his views that “knowledge does not entail certainty and knowledge entails belief” and “belief does not entail knowledge”. It seems clear to me that he is using the definitions of these words that are used in academic philosophy. His views make sense if “knowledge” is defined as “justified, true belief”. I, however, will use different definitions such that you can claim to believe god exists while claiming to have knowledge about god’s existence/nonexistence, or you can claim to not believe god exists while claiming to have knowledge about god’s existence/nonexistence.

    There are two separate yes/no questions that could be asked using these definitions. Q1: Do you believe god exists? Q2: Do you have knowledge about god’s existence/nonexistence? There are 4 possible outcomes. Gnostic theists answer yes and yes, agnostic theists answer yes and no, gnostic atheists answer no and yes, and agnostic atheists answer no and no. Perhaps this will be less confusing to Steve if he stops thinking of gnostic and agnostic only as modifiers. An agnostic atheist is an atheist and an agnostic (=“atheist agnostic”), and a gnostic theist is a theist and a gnostic (=“theist gnostic”).

    If properly understood using the definitions I put forward above, the position I expressed is neither nonsensical (as claimed in Case #1 and #2), nor superfluous (as claimed in Case #3). I understand that Steve prefers to use the definitions more often used in academic philosophy, but I (as someone who believes academic philosophy is not necessarily useful) will not necessarily prefer to use the definitions more often used in academic philosophy.

    1. Avatar
      Steve McRae

      My response to Kristopher Mann’s “rebuttal” (I use that term very very loosely here)
      Steve McRae – April 30, 2019
      https://greatdebatecommunity.com/2019/04/30/my-response-to-kristopher-manns-rebuttal-i-use-that-term-very-very-loosely-here/

      Kristopher Mann proudly posted on my Facebook page that had provided a rebuttal to one of my blog posts: https://greatdebatecommunity.com/2018/11/21/agnostic-atheism-is-either-nonsensical-or-superfluous-presented-in-three-cases/

      To which I promptly replied: “I *HIGHLY* doubt you have rebuked anything…but I will look over your work and critique it.”

      And of course, my doubts were justified. To say he gave a rebuttal to anything I wrote would be utterly a falsehood. For some very odd reason, he thinks by merely changing definitions and arguing a completely different schema (one I have addressed in other blog posts) that he somehow rebuked the post he was supposedly rebuking? How exactly does that work?

      After his introduction to his “rebuttal” his response went like this:

      “For the sake of this argument, I will grant as many of Steve’s definitions as I can, starting with his definitions of weak and strong atheism. His definition of agnostic (“I do not know”) is clearly missing the relevant proposition, however. I’ll define an agnostic here as “a person who doesn’t have knowledge about god’s existence/nonexistence”.”

      Wait…what? You don’t get to define terms here on my argument. By you “defining” it very differently than I do, you are essentially changing the entire argument. That isn’t a counter to my case’s when you say “Oh, I am just going to use my own usage of a word to show it makes sense!”

      “Next are his views that “knowledge does not entail certainty and knowledge entails belief” and “belief does not entail knowledge”. It seems clear to me that he is using the definitions of these words that are used in academic philosophy. ‘

      Yes, this is the most common understanding of knowledge in the literature.

      “His views make sense if “knowledge” is defined as “justified, true belief”. I, however, will use different definitions such that you can claim to believe god exists while claiming to have knowledge about god’s existence/nonexistence, or you can claim to not believe god exists while claiming to have knowledge about god’s existence/nonexistence.”

      JTB is just *one* of many theories of knowledge. Again, you can’t just use different definitions to try to show my argument to be wrong here! I have other blog post that show different usages, this is 3 cases…you need to address them AS WRITTEN.

      You are merely just conflating ontology with epistemology as I have written about in other blog posts.

      “There are two separate yes/no questions that could be asked using these definitions. Q1: Do you believe god exists? Q2: Do you have knowledge about god’s existence/nonexistence? There are 4 possible outcomes. Gnostic theists answer yes and yes, agnostic theists answer yes and no, gnostic atheists answer no and yes, and agnostic atheists answer no and no. Perhaps this will be less confusing to Steve if he stops thinking of gnostic and agnostic only as modifiers. An agnostic atheist is an atheist and an agnostic (=“atheist agnostic”), and a gnostic theist is a theist and a gnostic (=“theist gnostic”).”

      Q1: Do you believe God exist?
      Yes= Theist
      No= Not theist
      I don’t know (ordinary doubt) = Agnostic
      I don’t care = Apatheist
      God talk has no meaning = Igtheist

      Q2: Do you have knowledge about god’s existence/nonexistence?

      This is an epistemological question…which again has NOTHING to do with my case above.

      You are juxtaposing two VASTLY different propositions here…one dealing with God’s existence (ontology) and one about if Gods are knowable (epistemology). *IF* you use this multi-axial schema then you have to then accept the baggage that comes along with it, but you can’t ask TWO questions with the same proposition! How do you write what you wrote logically using just p??? You can’t, because there are two different propositions here p and q which I explain in my blog post already which you may want to read: https://greatdebatecommunity.com/2019/02/24/the-logical-ambiguity-of-agnostic-atheist/

      Gnostic theist= Modifies theist with the additional position of knowledge. Modifies Bp to Kp ^ Bp
      Gnostic theist = Modifies theist with the additional position of knowledge. Modifies B!p to K~p ^ B~p
      agnostic theist = Is just theist theism is doxastic and doesn’t make any claims to knowledge, it is superfluous
      agnostic atheist = This is where the main issue comes is it superfluous as “agnostic theist” *or* it is nonsensical if you define atheism in the weak case. You can not epistemically modify a non-doxastic position and “lack of belief” is not a doxastic position as knowledge is a subset of belief as noted.

      “If properly understood using the definitions I put forward above, the position I expressed is neither nonsensical (as claimed in Case #1 and #2), nor superfluous (as claimed in Case #3). “

      Properly understood? There is nothing you are saying that is “proper”…it is ad hoc, ambiguous, epistemically silly and not found as you suggested in any academic literature, so how is it “proper”??????

      At no point have you actually addressed ANY of my cases, but merely asserted your own bizarre case.

      “I understand that Steve prefers to use the definitions more often used in academic philosophy, but I (as someone who believes academic philosophy is not necessarily useful) will not necessarily prefer to use the definitions more often used in academic philosophy.”

      So basically *I* use proper terminology, and give out correct information which *is proper*…and you make shit up.

      Got it. 🙄

      1. Kris Mann
        Kris Mann

        I appreciate you taking the time to write such a thorough response. Judging by your wording, it seems I may have upset you. I hope that’s not the case because I want to have discussions about our disagreements without ad hominem attacks, invectives, insults, disparaging remarks, etc. Hopefully you were just doing what you described in another blog post (https://greatdebatecommunity.com/2018/12/26/my-point-by-point-response-to-matt-dillahunty-social-media-arguments-and-agnosticism/): “Anyone who has ever followed me on any social media should know my posts are often a little controversial or written to elicit a response…that is how many great conversations as well as dumpster fires get started.”

        First, I’d like to address your issue with my word choice. I claimed to give rebuttals to your claims, but you said, “To say he gave a rebuttal to anything I wrote would be utterly a falsehood.” What word should I have used there? If I had said counter-arguments, would you have had the same objection? I’m pretty flexible when it comes to word choice, so I’m quite willing to call it whatever you prefer.

        “You don’t get to define terms here on my argument. By you “defining” it very differently than I do, you are essentially changing the entire argument.” My fundamental argument is that the people who disagree with you on this topic are not necessarily holding incoherent (self-contradictory) views. It is possible their views are coherent because they are using words differently from the way you and the majority of academic philosophers use them. I am merely responding to your many requests for explanations for why people disagree with you.

        “Again, you can’t just use different definitions to try to show my argument to be wrong here!” Please note that I’m not arguing that your syllogisms are incorrect or invalid. I’m arguing that using alternative definitions renders the alternative schema perfectly coherent. Interestingly, when it comes to the coherence of the alternatives, you have already agreed with me. You left a comment under my video to this effect (https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=xmSKt7ufB2k): “”coherent” doesn’t mean much. I never have argued Duke was Incoherent, I said he is inept.”

        Then you said it to me: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=QaXSWpM4AE8
        01:57:40 The way he’s arguing his position, he’s incoherent the way he’s arguing stuff. It’s not that his position [is incoherent]. Let me make this very clear. Atheism and the lack of belief position is not incoherent. Matter of fact, if you go read “Use of Reason” by Alex Malpass, he actually can show that it is a logical thing. You can actually make it a coherent argument. I’m well aware of this.

        However, I have multiple quotes of you from before April 20, 2019 seeming to argue that the alternative positions are incoherent.

        Here you spoke with Godless Aussie [15:20] https://youtu.be/GOM3bZIvb5s?t=920

        SM: so so so let’s go back to where we were cuz you agree that you are basically a philosophical agnostic then
        GA: yes I do yeah basically I say it like this. I’m an agnostic atheist but if people want to define me in one word I would say agnostic in one word um but I only extend it just because some people don’t understand that
        SM: right did you want your position to be coherent
        GA: yes I do
        SM: because this is a big thing with me, coherency, right? And this is this is why so far you’re doing well, but this is where your coherency fails. If you’re gonna accept atheism as a lack of belief and refer to yourself as an atheist you’re more than welcome to do that.

        Here you spoke with The Duke [1:03:40] https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=fQUDgyadARM
        63:40 I want to get into the problems with using his vernacular right because I mean I believe it we should all try to have a coherent framework and there’s some epistemic issues the way he’s using them and I think those are important

        97:51 I like to have a coherent framework I like to be consistent and if I think that atheism is going to be the positions that take the higher epistemic value and to have higher reasoning and better logic and want to actually argue emission of higher rationality which they claim they should have a conservative consistent system and I think that defining things the way that DIF does is inconsistent it reduces obviously category errors I have demonstrated and also produces absurdities like rocks are atheist I don’t find that to be very coherent I like to have a coherent ontology

        Here you spoke with mjdamore [1:13:48] https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=nrUXnTcdOZ4
        73:48 mjdamore: Right. Now you said you wanted to distinguish your position from the guy who you debated today (The Duke) in the sense that you want it to be coherent. Is that what the word you said?

        SM: Mm-hmm.

        mjdamore: You want to be coherent. So if I were to push back on Matt (Dillahunty) and say how do you how do you distinguish your position from the agnostic position, how do you think Matt would respond to that?

        00:06:20 SM: I’m fine with somebody who understands it and disagrees. That’s a whole different ballgame right. And I do know atheists out there that I have the utmost respect for that do understand these things and just happen to disagree and they prefer a different usage. I have really no argument for that right. I mean I could argue from utility which ones, you know, a better way of using things. And that’s fine. That’s a fair discussion. But I can’t debate that they don’t understand the topic, right? And that’s that’s a whole different …

        Thus concludes a short list of the times before April 20 that you seemed to argue the alternative positions are incoherent. Perhaps you had been misspeaking and you started correcting yourself after watching my video. If you really believe the alternative positions can be coherent, then why not update this blog post? And why do you continue to argue there is a category error involving theological non-cognitivists? Dr. Graham Oppy himself argued against your position on this category error at around 30:25 here https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=jVPsehzJz9E

        “You are juxtaposing two VASTLY different propositions here…one dealing with God’s existence (ontology) and one about if Gods are knowable (epistemology).” I know what you are getting at, but what I said was intentional. I did read your other blog posts on this topic. I was not trying to make a syllogism here (though I can turn these into syllogisms if that will help you). Atheist agnostic is being used by some people as the answer to two different questions. I included a clip of David Smalley making this point in my video. Again, all I’m saying is this is a coherent position that you and the majority of academic philosophers don’t prefer to use.

        “You can not epistemically modify a non-doxastic position and “lack of belief” is not a doxastic position as knowledge is a subset of belief as noted.” Here you treated “agnostic” as a modifier instead of a noun again. Try thinking of “agnostic atheist” as “atheist/agnostic” or “atheist+agnostic” and try not to think of knowledge as a subset of belief in order to understand.

        “Properly understood? There is nothing you are saying that is “proper”.” It seems you misunderstood what I meant by “If properly understood using the definitions I put forward above,…”. You seem to think I am claiming the definitions I am using are proper (right) and yours are improper (wrong). All I’m saying is, with these alternative definitions, the alternative positions can be seen to be coherent. Both ways are coherent. We just have different preferences.

        “So basically *I* use proper terminology, and give out correct information which *is proper*…and you make [stuff] up.” I didn’t coin these usages, but even if I did, the alternative positions would still be coherent.

        Feel free to have an academic philosopher read what I wrote. I hope we can disagree while remaining amicable. I still like you when it comes to science.

        1. Avatar
          Steve McRae

          I think you confuse many things, and honestly it is exasperating trying to detangle yours and Duke arguments. I don’t think you nor Duke understand my arguments well enough to critique them, and others who are academic philosophers across the board have noted this as well. If you can convince a single one of them you have a valid criticism against my arguments that isn’t based upon a strawman or quote mining taking things out of context and out of temporal reference when the statement was made then I will address the criticism. Until then feel free to write your responses, and engage with others…but I won’t have much response until at least one person who knows philosophy finds your critiques valid and noteworthy of further discourse. Cheers.

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