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3 AM Philosophy

Matt Dillahunty keeps repeating a logically incorrect statement

“If you’re convinced a god exists, you’re a theist, if not, you’re an atheist” – Matt Dillahunty
 
LOGIC. Logic doesn’t care about semantic meanings of words, but of the proposition:
 
∀x(Ax -> Lx)
Ǝx(Lx -> ~Ax)

Translated:  For all x’s that are atheist all x’s lack of belief
and there exist at least one x who lacks a belief that is not atheist.” 
 
The mere fact there ARE other viable and completely valid definitions makes his proposition false.
 
People need to call him out on this more I think…that he is literally trying to tell people there is only one meaning of a word and that you must hold to that and that not a theist means that you must be an atheist. That is NOT logically true and he has been explained to him before this by many people.
 
There are two ontological possibilities:
(assume God = Gods for argument)
 
God exist or God does not exist
This is called a dichotomy. There are no other possibilities. Logically this gives us:
 
A V ~A (Law of Excluded middle)
Theist or not theist (instantiation)
 
But beliefs ABOUT those ontological states are not dichotomous. One can believe God exist (theist), believe God does not exist (atheist), believe all God talk is meaningless (igtheist), believe the proposition of God existing is not truth apt. (theological noncognitivist). believe one doesn’t even care one way or another (apathest), believe one doesn’t have enough information either way to form a position (evidential agnosticism)…and many others.
 
What Matt seeks to do is to place all those nuanced beliefs under not theist and then simply by his decree by fiat that means that they are all atheist using his sensu lato definition of atheism merely being a lack of belief. This prevents anyone from using more formal stricter definitions (sensu stricto) because as David Silverman and Pam Whissel the editor-in-chef for American atheist have said…their goal is politically motivated and is to get as many people under that name “atheist”, regardless of it being philosophically incorrect or not.
 
To me that is rather Machiavellian (ends justify the means approach) and intellectually dishonest as it nullifies and effectively eliminates any fine grain structure in our ontology and belief systems. Matt will acknowledge words do not have any intrinsic meaning and he is correct, words have usages…but on this blind spot he fails to apply his own statement that “words have no meaning” as he seems to insists that atheism *must* only mean someone who does not believe in God when he continually asserts the proposition of “If you’re convinced a god exists, you’re a theist, if not, you’re an atheist.” even after being told by experts in philosophy that is simply a false proposition. 
 
The fact is Matt is just wrong here. He can be be shown to be wrong by the logic since so long as there are formal definitions one can use which are acceptable academically, his statement is demonstrably FALSE and a fallacy of ambiguity.
3 comments
  1. Avatar
    Pleasure of Doubt

    Hey Steve,

    I understand the point you’re trying to make here but this is something I was trying to express on twitter a week or two ago: you’ve presented it as both a semantic and a logic problem but really I think it’s just a semantic problem – namely that there is more than one definition of atheism.

    When we say “All X are Y” we have to keep the same X throughout. So if all apples are round I don’t think we’d have a problem saying that we have to only look at apples and we can’t look at bananas.

    I would argue that each definition of atheism has to be taken on its own as well. If we’re looking at a logical argument involving atheism I would think we would have to stick to ONE definition at a time, otherwise we’re mixing apples and bananas together.

    In other words: when Matt says “Anyone who is not a theist is an atheist” we have to read in “according to the lack of belief definition of atheism”. The fact that there are other definitions doesn’t make his statement logically incorrect as his argument isn’t meant to apply to that.

    The main critique of Matt’s statement is that he doesn’t clarify there are other definitions. But I don’t think it’s a logic problem. He’s logically correct for the particular definition of atheism he’s using. Any other definition is a banana and should be treated separately.

    Interested in your thoughts.

    1. Avatar
      Walker

      Well said.
      Many words are polysemous.
      You always need to state your frame of reference.
      It helps to stick with the common parlance until otherwise specified though, or you risk in engaging in a private language argument.

  2. Avatar
    Steve McRae

    I don’t think there is any problem of running into the private language argument here as the usages for the terms I use are ubiquitous and pretty standard in philosophy. I think the issue is more that Matt Dillahunty and American Atheist never really talk about how these words are used in philosophy and in the philosophical literature. While Matt acknowledges words are polysemous, he is on the board of American Atheist and American Atheist asserts that atheism only has one meaning which is clearly incorrect and I believe disingenuous for them to claim given they are aware of the usages of these terms in academia, peer reviewed papers, and philosophy.

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