3 AM Philosophy

Matt Dillahunty tells a caller he is wrong about “disbelief”…when the caller was right.

Recently Matt Dillahunty told a caller he was wrong, when the caller actually was correct.
At about 2 min Matt tells a caller he is wrong about how “disbelief” is used in philosophy. Matt tells the caller “disbelief” is merely “not assuming you’re right”. This is in stark contrast with the literature.
“Is Atheism a lie? https://www.youtube.com/watch?time_continue=116&v=MWqVzwvL5zQ ”

G.E. Moore’s AEL2 (autoepistemic logic) has 3 epistemic positions: Acceptance, rejection, and lack of decision (suspension of judgment.) (Gomolińska,”On the Logic of Acceptance and Rejection”, 1998). ). To disbelieve is to reject and reject means to affirm negation not just merely to “not accept’. This is congruent with Rutgers:
“Disbelief: If you conclude a proposition is false, then the appropriate attitude towards that proposition is disbelief.”

To deny p, reject p or disbelieve p is most commonly understood in the literature as “to affirm negation”, however to “deny” can mean merely not to accept. However Frege and Geach seem to argue for denying to mean assert negation as “orthodoxical”.

“There is also an operation on contents themselves, taking one content to another, that has long been thought to be importantly related to denial and rejection: negation. For example, both Frege (1960) and Geach (1965) famously argue that denial and rejection should be understood in terms of negation, along with assertion and belief. For them, to deny a content just is to assert its negation, and to reject a content just is to believe its negation. If there is an orthodox position in philosophy today about the relation between denial, rejection, and negation, this is it.”

“To a certain extent, it may seem that there are just three doxastic attitudes to adopt regarding the truth of a claim: believe it’s true, believe it’s false (i.e., disbelieve it), and suspend judgment on it. ”

The confusion comes in when using a common dictionary which has disbelief as merely not believing as dictionaries often give the broadest (sensu lato) interpretation of a word. With specificity one can see that ‘disbelief” is not believing *because* it is held to be affirming the negation (believing the negation is true). This is why “not believing” would be considered to be a necessary, but not sufficient condition for “disbelief”.
A practical application here would be citing Edward Craig.-Routledge Encyclopedia of Philosophy:
” an agnostic is someone who neither believes nor disbelieves in God”
using Matt’s usage of “disbelief” this would translate to:
“an agnostic is someone who neither believes (Bp) nor does not believe in God ( ~Bp)”
This of course within the confines of classical logic would be a clear violation of the Law of Excluded Middle (LEM) as it would be Bp V ~Bp and there would be “no room” for agnosticism here to be neither Bp nor ~Bp. (In actuality agnostics would fall under ~Bp here)
However, by using the more common understanding found in the literature as “disbelief” as negation:
“an agnostic is someone who neither believes God exists (Bp) nor believes God does not exist (B~p)”

Which is exactly in line with the epistemic status of “suspending judgment” which is logically ~Bp ^ ~B~p.

Matt seems to be conflating “unbelief” and “disbelief which are two different terms:



disbelief (n.)

“positive unbelief, mental rejection of a statement or assertion for which credence is demanded,” 1670s; see dis-belief. A Latin-Germanic hybrid.

Disbelief is more commonly used to express an active mental opposition which does not imply a blameworthy disregard of evidence. Unbelief may be a simple failure to believe from lack of evidence or knowledge; but its theological use has given it also the force of willful opposition to the truth. [Century Dictionary, 1897]

“Disbelief is a case of belief; to believe a sentence false is to believe the negation of the sentence true. We disbelieve that there are ghosts; we believe that there are none. Nonbelief is the state of suspended judgment: neither believing the sentence true nor believing it false.” -Burgess-Jackson, K. (2017). Rethinking the presumption of atheism. International Journal for Philosophy of Religion, 84(1), 93–111.doi:10.1007/s11153-017-9637-y

This is the issue with using a more privated language as it leads to confusion and inability to properly read much of the literature in context…and to telling callers that they are wrong, when they are not.

Ironically, American Atheist own “about” page says “To be clear: Atheism is not a disbelief in gods or a denial of gods; it is a lack of belief in gods.”

So if “disbelief”  means “not assuming you’re right” as Matt claimed to the caller, then is American atheist wrong? Are they saying Atheism is “not assuming you’re right”?

If “disbelief” is merely “lack of belief” then American Atheist would be ostensibly saying: “Atheism is not the a lack of belief in gods”. Somehow, I doubt even Matt would think that is what they are saying…as clearly they must be using “disbelief” to be “believes p is false” or “believes God does not exist”.

Matt was simply wrong here.



  1. Godless

    This is a typical tactic we see from people like Matt Dillahunty. Matt Dillahunty is being purposefully obtuse in order to shy away from providing support for his disbelief (here used correctly) in God. A quick search on the origins of disbelief as well as the way the word is used in common parlance shows that the word used to denote a state of “…active mental opposition…” according to https://www.etymonline.com/word/disbelief.

    That’s what the word means, that’s how it’s used in every day life and that’s how it’s used even in the literature that Steve provided citations for. It’s a classic bait and switch. You say you disbelieve a proposition baiting your opponent to ask for justification for that disbelief, then change the meaning of disbelief and switch the burden onto your opponent in order to make your opponent the faulty party. It’s just a sleezy tactic.

    But even if I allow for that redefinition, what follows is the standard reductios of that kind of gerrymandering. We see that on Dillahunty’s redefinition, absurdities follow like rocks disbelieving in things. Now it’s fine if rocks simply have no beliefs about some proposition, but his view commits him to saying rocks disbelieve in propositions.

    It’s ludicrous nonsense and the type of intellectual dishonesty you get when people like Dillahunty can’t defend their worldviews.

  2. lreadlResurrected

    Yeah, Steve. Go get him. Damned heretic. Thank you ever so much for your prolific pedantry on a subject of absolutely no importance or consequence.

    Your diligence is astounding. Let’s “debate”.

    What is it exactly about which you withhold judgment? A deist’s (ie. undefined) god? The Christian God? The God of the Jews? Allah? Some other named god? How about “the supernatural”? Does it exist?

    Since knowledge is not at issue, what, exactly would it take for you to tip your perfectly (!) balanced scale? There seems to me to be more psychological underpinning to your stance than academic.

    But I’m just a poorly read, confused, idiot. You know, an atheist. There is no form of theism I accept. There is no form of theism I will ever accept without good and sufficient evidence that the claims inherent in the concept of theism are true.


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