3 AM Philosophy

My far too lengthy response to Mr. Ra’s Pathos blog about Mr. Agnostic.

Response to : Is an Agnostic also Atheist?
(JUNE 21, 2019 BY ARON RA) 

I had an associate who is a self-described philosopher, active in the atheist community.”

What a very odd way to open a blog to Mr. Agnostic as I don’t recall Mr. Agnostic ever referring to himself as being a self-described philosopher, nor what could be reasonably construed as being active in any atheist community and has on multiple occasions explicitly affirmed that he did not wish to be held to any ideology or agenda of any specific community or group.

“However, he likes to antagonize other unbelievers by saying that he’s never believed in any god but that he was was <sic> never atheist; he’s an agnostic.”

Antagonize? Another odd use of phrasing as I am quite sure Mr. Agnostic would much rather have polite civil discourse with someone than raise their ire and have them become hostile to him. Mr. Agnostic’s statement of “he’s never believed in any God, but he was never <an> atheist” isn’t something that I can ever imagine Mr. Agnostic ever saying as Mr. Agnostic was baptized Mormon in 1987 and did in fact believe God existed. However, the second part of that statement is in fact a true statement, as indeed Mr. Agnostic was never an atheist. It would seem this bizarre attribution to Mr. Agnostic is what I would call a half-truth as only half of the supposed attributed statement to Mr. Agnostic is correct.

“From here on, I will refer to him as Mr. Agnostic because he has made that his identity as well as the most unreasonable and annoying aspect of his character.”

You mean much like the hundreds of atheists online with the word “Godless”, “Heretic”, “Atheist” or more specifically even professional atheists whose lives are pretty much dedicated to the promotion of atheism? Again, I don’t recall Mr. Agnostic ever promoting agnosticism to anyone nor having any agenda to convert anyone for philosophical nor any political reasons to agnosticism. Having a particular specific logical and rational stance of agnosticism is now somehow an “unreasonable” position? According to whom exactly? And why? If agnosticism is the position that one does not hold a God exists nor holds that a God does not exist then if that is unreasonable then using that same line of reasoning then any atheist who merely lacks a belief in God is being “unreasonable” as it is logically the same position, just under a different label. So is now not adopting a specific label considered to be “unreasonable”?

“I and myriad others have repeatedly pointed out that dictionaries typically say that “atheist refers to someone who does not believe in the existence of a god or any gods, and agnostic refers to someone who doesn’t know whether there is a god, or even if such a thing is knowable.””

This sounds to me a lot like a Young Earth Creationist defending the use of a dictionary to maintain that a ‘theory’ is merely a ‘guess’. Mr. Agnostic has repeated explained to these “myriad” of others, none of which to the best of his recollection has any background or education in epistemology, that dictionaries are descriptive, not prescriptive. This means that most modern dictionaries do not tell you how to use a word, nor actually define a word…but merely tell you synchronically how a word is being used at one point in time without regard to its historical usage. Dictionaries relate a generalized concept of something to some specific word, not provide a word and prescribe how that word must be used. You will only generally find prescriptive definitions in mathematics, such as a triangle is prescriptively defined to be a geometric polygon with three edges and three vertices. While a descriptive dictionary can say that a vehicular mode of transportation with 4 wheels can be called a ‘car’…but clearly not all vehicles with 4 wheels are cars. No reputable scholar would bring a dictionary to discuss biological terms, chemistry terms, physics terms as words often have very specific usages in these fields and philosophy is no different. As myriads of experts have explain to Mr. Ra atheism is most commonly held to be the belief God or Gods do not exist. Mr. Ra seems to balk at this understanding of the term and prefers the usage that groups like American Atheist uses or the Atheist Community of Austin…and he is welcome to do so, however that does not change material fact on how the word is understood by people not members of those organizations an as well as in the academic literature.

Mr. Ra also makes a similar strange assertion about agnosticism being “who doesn’t know whether there is a god, or even if such a thing is knowable.” which is known as the epistemological proposition of agnosticism, but agnosticism itself is most commonly understood to be psychological state of being an agnostic” with ‘agnostic’ being a person who has entertained the proposition that there is a God but believes neither that it is true nor that it is false.” This is the difference between going to a colloquial dictionary and going to an actual academic source to understand the underlying concepts which unfortunately it seems Mr. Ra does not have a foundational understanding of the difference between agnosticism as a normative epistemic principle, epistemological proposition, or as a psychological state even though Mr. Agnostic has written extensively on the difference of these usages on my occasions. See: https://greatdebatecommunity.com/2019/01/21/agnosticism-in-3-ways/

Clearly then, “agnostic” answers a different question.”

Clearly to whom exactly? If the Stanford Encyclopedia of Philosophy says that an agnostic is “a person who has entertained the proposition that there is a God but believes neither that it is true nor that it is false.” where is Mr. Ra exactly seeing anything relating to answering a different question? This merely is a conflation between an epistemological proposition of agnosticism with the psychological stance of agnosticism which is the state of being agnostic on a proposition. Any proposition. Given any p you have 3 epistemic statuses:

1) Believe p
2) Disbelieve p (or Believes ~p)
3) Believes neither p nor ~p (Suspends judgement or ~Bp ^ ~B~p)

Here 3) is still within the realm of a doxastic stance, albeit a second order one (Malpass), but having absolutely nothing to do with knowledge whatsoever here.

Saying that you don’t know whether any god exists doesn’t tell me whether or not you believe there is one. “

The phrase “I don’t know” here is not one of epistemic knowledge, but of ordinary doubt when the question of “Does God exist?” is asked. Since theism and atheism are contradictories (Oppy) then as SEP notes this gives very simple direct responses of ‘Yes’ which would mean someone is a theist and ‘No’ which would make someone an atheist…both of which are doxastic (belief) positions. For someone to answer indirectly “I don’t know” they are merely expressing a form of ordinary doubt or inability to decide if God exists (theist) or does not exist (atheist). It is not expressing anything in regards to not having knowledge of God existing or having a predication of knowledge for the proposition of God existing which would be expressed as Kp (Knows God exists) or K~p (Knows God does not exist). But the question “Does God exist?” is not asking someone if they know if God exists or does not exist, it is merely asking if one believes if God exists or does not exists.

It also seems odd Mr. Ra notes that saying “I do not believe” does not tell someone if one believes God exists or not…If someone says they do not know, meaning they don’t know how to answer the question by affirming God exists (YES) or disaffirming God exist (No) it most certainly does tell someone that they do not believe God exists as you either believe God exists (Bp) or you do not believe God exists (~Bp). Should someone fail to answer ‘Yes’ that does convey enough information to one can deductively infer one does not believe in God as it is a dichotomy. If someone was to write this more of a computer code form it would be expressed as: If ‘Yes’ then ‘theist’ else “not theist”.

I’ve heard a few people say that “well, I believe there’s something“, implying that it might be a god.”

For someone to justify the claim that Gods are not possible they would have to logically show that Gods can not exist in any modal possible world. This Mr. Agnostic believes would be a very, if not practically impossible, difficult bar to reach. If something is impossible it means it can not exist in any possible world. For example a ‘square circle’ is logically incoherent and as such is a logical impossibility and can not exist in any possible world. Me however sprouting wings and being able to fly around the city is not a logical impossibility…in fact it is very conceivable, which means that in at least one possible world I exist flying around in the city with majestic wings like an Eagle. I should note these are merely ‘possible worlds’ and to a modal anti-realist they do not have any actual ontology. So I would think most logical people would have to conceded that if a God is not logically impossible (such as Anslem’s omni God) then it is according to possible world semantics, possible that God exists in some possible world…including ours which we call the actual world.

 Theism is a religious belief in some form of deity. Most theists are “gnostic” in the sense that they confuse belief with knowledge, claiming that they “know for a fact that God is real”, even though there’s no way anyone can honestly claim to know that.”

What? I have personally talked to many many theists and overwhelmingly to me at least they express that they believe God exists, but very few in my personal experience claim they “know” God exists. While this is completely anecdotal I am wondering where “most” comes from exactly here. While I agree claiming knowledge God exists or does not exist is dutiable it raises the question if Mr. Ra would equally chastise someone in the atheist community for claiming they know God does not exist?

But faith is pretending to know things you don’t know.”

This idiom to me seems mostly just rhetorical in nature and tends to conflates epistemic knowledge with “information” such that Mr. Ra is more implying a person who claims to believe God exists does so with insufficient information and is merely pretending that they do have sufficient information to make an informed justified decision. Epistemic knowledge, or to ‘know that p’, requires a very specific set of conditions to be met in order to justify saying one knows p is True or knows that p is false. The most simplistic theory of knowledge is “Justified True Belief” which has a tripartite set of conditions to know that p:

1) p is true
2) S believes p
3) S is justified to believe p

It doesn’t seem to me that the expression But faith is pretending to know things you don’t know. is referring to epistemic knowledge, and would not make much sense if it did as faith as most commonly held by theists that I know would say they if they knew God exist then they would no longer have faith or mere belief, but would have “knowledge” thus negating the what they would consider to be a faith based belief.

They’re really just asserting how they believe that very strongly. Agnostic theists are the minority, saying they believe in one or more gods, but who is to say what God it is? Or even what a god is? Atheists tend to be the opposite distribution, with the majority being agnostic. “

Again, what? There are two things at play here Mr. Ra seems to be indiscriminately commingling. One is if they are convinced or not (they believe p or they do not believe p) with the strength or conviction of how strongly they believe p or do not believe p. For sample if Mr. Agnostic is convinced enough to say that he believes that extraterrestrial life exists in the universe and he bases that upon a number of factors which he weighed in his ontology which has convinced him that the likelihood of alien life is fairly strong. However, he in not convinced enough to say that he has a strong belief of this, quite to the contrary. Mr. Agnostic believes aliens exist, but only does so with a weak degree of conviction.

In my experience what Mr. Ra refers to as ‘agnostic theists’ are quite the majority if one is using it to describe a theist who is not asserting their belief as a knowledge claim. If this is the use of the phrase agnostic theist’ then I see no distinction between that and merely the word ‘theist’ an adding an epistemic modifier of ‘agnostic’ merely becomes superfluous. 

Thomas Huxley invented the word, “agnostic” in 1869. He said, “It simply means that a man shall not say he knows or believes that which he has no scientific grounds for professing to know or believe”. Note that this does not allow an agnostic to deny that lacking belief in a god means they are actually atheist.”

This is whats known as the now archaic meaning of agnosticism which was a normative epistemic principle similar to logical positivism and evidentialism. This is not how the word is understood to be used for over the last hundred years. This is akin to arguing that evolution means “A series of things unrolled or unfolded “ as that is how the word was used in the 1800’s rather than how the word is most commonly understood in biology as a change in allelic frequency in a given population of species from one generation to the next generation over time. Once again Mr. Ra is quite exactly arguing how a Young Earth Creationist would argue here.

“The reason Huxley invented that word was that he was irritated with theists saying that they knew that God existed and atheists countering with equal conviction that “no, he doesn’t”.

This is quite the jejune explanation of why Huxley coined the term “agnosticism” as he was “irritated” with both theists and atheists in that he felt neither had sufficient justificatory reasons to say that God existed or did not exist. He, in his own words, also felt that he was a ‘fox without a tail’ as no label adequately descriptive his epistemological position on the question of the existence of God. As Robert Flint noted in his book “Agnosticism” (1903) Huxley coined the term “agnosticism” from the root “gnos” to mean the “illusion” of having knowledge, not a lack of knowledge.

Huxley wanted to invent a middle-of-the-road position on the fence between them.”

Huxley did not “invent” the middle of the road position, he just gave it label. The position naturally exists in classical logic given Bp (theism), B~p (atheism) and a person who does not accept either position would then be ~Bp ^ ~B~p (read as does not believe p is true and does not believe p is false).

But the fact is that you’re either convinced there is a god or you’re not convinced of that. There is no possible middle-ground between those two. So there is no way to disassociate from both sides and pretend to be superior to either one, the way so many centrists want to do.

Here again, Mr. Ra does not seem to understand the logic involved here. He is, as usual, conflating the dichotomy of Bp v ~Bp (Believes p or does not believe p) with being on the fence ‘middle-of-the-road” position of Bp v B~p which is believes p is true or believes p is false which is not a dichotomy. Dr. Malpass’s view #2 from his useofreason blog has a very good illustration on how logically this is actually represented:

Mr. Ra is merely asserting that there is no middle ground between Bp V ~Bp which I know of no one who would disagree on that, but that isn’t what agnosticism represents. Agnosticism represents the ‘middle ground’ between Bp V B~p where the theist believes p is true and the atheist believes p is false, shown in Dr. Malpass’s illustration as ~Bp ^ ~B~p. I honestly think Mr. Ra would do himself a massive favor by enrolling in a community college and at least taking a very intro level course in propositional and predicate logic as this is an error he has repeated time and time again and is an unbelievably simple error to recognize, yet he constantly fails recognize every time he has tried to pontificate upon this topic. 

UNLESS you pretend that atheism only means the belief or knowledge that no gods exist, which Mr. Agnostic does.“

I happen to know Mr. Agnostic fairly well, in fact better than anyone else on the planet. I can safely say without reservation that Mr. Agnostic has never held to such pretense nor pretended atheism ‘only’ means any specific thing and has in fact given at least 7 or 8 possible ways atheism can be defined by various usages…none of which involves any type of knowledge claim. I would say this statement is not only grossly incorrect, it is so demonstrably wrong as to make Mr. Agnostic severely wonder if Mr. Ra has ever understood a single thing Mr. Agnostic has ever told him. Ever.  

“He says he doesn’t have a belief in a god, but that he doesn’t have a belief that there’s not a god either; as if that creates a different category apart from atheist. “

There is term used for this. It’s called: Agnostic

In fact, it is pretty much explicitly what SEP uses as the definition for “agnostic”:
an agnostic is a person who has entertained the proposition that there is a God but believes neither that it is true nor that it is false. “

So let’s change person to “Mr. Agnostic” shall we?

‘Mr. Agnostic has entertained the proposition that there is a God but believes neither that it is true nor that it is false. “ where is the problem here exactly? This is how the word “agnostic” is actually understood by SEP and in epistemology, yet Mr. Ra thinks I am somehow personally creating some type of “different category”? Doesn’t that seem just a little bizarre to anyone? 

“Now, I don’t care what he wants to say about himself. What matters is how he is trying to redefine the rest of our identities. “

Where exactly has Mr. Agnostic ever done this? I happen to know he has hundreds and hundreds of videos and a laypersons blog on philosophy and I don’t recall at any time him trying to redefine someone’s “identity”. Perhaps Mr. Ra can actually give some evidence to this accusation? Or does he expect his readers merely to accept this on faith?

“He insists that a lack of belief in God is agnostic, not atheist. “

And again, where specifically does Mr. Agnostic ever do this? This is just such a peculiar claim by Mr. Ra as BOTH agnostics and atheist would “lack a belief” given that B~p entails ~Bp and agnostic being ~Bp ^ ~B~p also entails ~Bp. (SImply put, if one believes p is false they do not believe p is true. So if someone believes God does not exist (B~p), it would entail by necessity that they do not believe God exists (~Bp).

Or that those who lack belief in gods should be called “non-theists”, as if that means something different from atheist.”

And once *again*, where does Mr. Agnostic do this? Mr. Agnostic has on numerous occasions said “nontheist” is a very vague and nondescript term and doesn’t recommend using it a label as it conveys very little information other than someone is not a theist. Nontheist and atheist are not directly interchangeable terms and doing so I can produce intensionality problems as all atheist are nontheist, but not all nontheist are atheist. I am not sure why Mr. Ra doesn’t understand basic set theory here that given theism as A you have an automatic A’ set of all things not theist. If x is an element of A then it can not be an element of A’ as A and A’ are mutually exclusive and jointly exhaustive sets…meaning that all possible elements must be in one or the other set, but can not exist in both sets. So if you have theist (A) and nontheist (A’), and under nontheism you have a proper subset of atheism along with other proper subsets such as agnosticism, igetheism or ietsism,

“It doesn’t. They both mean exactly the same thing.”

Citation please? Where does Mr. Ra get this assertion from? Mr. Agnostic has done a bit of reading on this topic and has never seen any evidence for this claim. Again, what evidence does Mr. Ra have to support this claim exactly? As before, does Mr. Ra expect people to take this claim on faith? Set theory doesn’t seem to support his assertion, nor does any academic literature that at least that Mr. Agnostic can find.

“But he wants it to be that atheists must have a belief that there is no deity, and that consequently they must also meet the burden of proof to justify that belief. “

While Mr. Agnostic would prefer a more rigorous approach to terminology any position has a burden of proof to be rational. Why someone would willfully try to avoid an epistemological burden of proof seems counterproductive if one is trying to promote things like critical thinking or rational thought. Mr. Ra seems to be indicating he would prefer atheist not have a Burden of Proof and thus not have a rational position.

Why does this matter?

I’m part of the “atheist out” program, trying to raise our political influence as a demographic, by countering this very propaganda that we used to hear only from religious apologists. It was designed to prevent any reasonable person from identifying as atheist. The problem is that hearing such distortion for decades has worked. Most atheists don’t identify as such, because they don’t realize what that label really means.”

Least Mr. Ra acknowledges that his position is grounding in political agenda and not specifically logic nor reason, however what does Mr. Ra man by what that label (of atheism) “really means”? As a ‘myriad’ of people have noted to Mr. Ra words do not have intrinsic meaning, they have usages. So if words have usages, then what exactly does he mean when he says “really mean”?

“Mr. Agnostic has a small following, and they are hurting us as a movement by helping the apologists keep our numbers reported much lower than they really are. “

Talk about poisoning the well. How does actually explaining epistemology and basic logic properly help apologists? And how does artificially inflating numbers by merely assigning “label” by forcing agnostics to accept a label that is simply not applicable to them. How is that any different than a theist claiming everyone believes in God, but merely ‘suppressing the truth in their unrighteousness.’. Another example of Mr. Ra doing the exact same thing he is condemning theists for doing. 

“If Mr. Agnostic was right, (and he’s not)”

Where does Mr. Ra actually demonstrate Mr. Agnostic is not right? Mr. Ra’s puerile understanding of epistemology and philosophy does not constitute any actual demonstration that Mr. Agnostic is wrong. I would challenge Mr. Ra to produce his evidence to qualified experts in the field and have them gauge the merit of his claims as opposed to that of Mr. Agnostic’s. Mr. Agnostic’s claims have citational references and support from dozens of contemporary philosophers, some of which know Mr. Ra…none of which agree with him. If Mr. Ra has a contemporary philosopher who does who is published on this topic I invite him to present him to the academic community at large as he would be quite in the minority here. 

“I would admit it and take the damage of course, but it would undermine virtually all of our concerted efforts to correct this issue over the last couple decades; because the vast majority of atheists would think they’re only agnostics, with no support base against the Religious Rights’ infringements against them. That, and some of our national organizations would have to change their names, like to American Non-theists.”

This is merely an appeal to consequence fallacy and to me rather absurd. It also makes it sound as if agnostic is some sort of pejorative rather than a respectable position on the proposition of God exists. Logically same position what Mr. Ra would call “lack of belief atheism” in fact. As Shakepear said: “What’s in a name? That which we call a rose by any other name would smell as sweet”. It would seem to me Mr. Ra is more interested in people merely having the label of “atheist” regardless if it is their actual position or not.

“That, and Mr. Agnostic is disrupting the community. My friend, Matt Dillahunty made a public announcement that if Mr. Agnostic felt so strongly about atheists being wrong about what we think we are, then he should call into the Atheist Experience TV show and discuss it live on the air. Instead of taking that invitation, Mr. Agnostic tweeted—without any apparent justification—that Dillahunty was dishonest. That’s when and why I blocked Mr. Agnostic on Twitter.”

Disrupting the community? By again, explaining how things are taught nearly universally at the university level, a correct understanding of the logic and epistemological concepts…that is now a “disruption”? This is very reminiscent to Mr. Agnostic of Scientology’s term of a “Suppressive Person”. Since when are ideas, especially those back by overwhelming evidence, a “disruption”?

Why should Mr. Agnostic all into to an atheist show to explain things? If Mr. Dillahunty or Mr. Ra actually felt Mr. Agnostic was wrong, why not go on a neutral platform where both sides can actually present academic citations and evidence in support of their positions. I have it on very good authority that Mr. Agnostic has done this a number of times with a number of atheist on a number of channels and has not to date ever been shown evidence that he is incorrect in his explanations of the topic. I would go so far to say that maybe even he is recognized as a pretty knowledgeable layperson from those who actually do study these topics.

Mr. Agnostic has no recall of saying Mr. Dillahunty was dishonest. There may have been some accusations of “intellectual dishonesty”, but that is often common when someone is going by faith and mere accutations something is true rather than evidence and facts that is true is it not? Mr. Agnostic has quite a bit of respect for both Mr. Dillahunty and Mr. Ra, but can actually show to others they both are simply not giving their audience all of the facts. That is why my “small following” has grown substantially over the years with more and more atheist messaging me and thanking me for explaining to them these concepts in a way that makes sense.

“Because of so many people growing up with this misrepresented misinformation, it seems that most atheists identify as Methodist, or “non-denominational” or “secular” or even “Unitarian”. Some even say, “just because I don’t believe in God doesn’t make me atheist”, but yeah, it definitely does. That is actually the only criteria. It doesn’t matter whether you also have a belief that there is no god. Because that still means you don’t believe there is one.”

I’m convinced that the only “misrepresented information” here is coming from Mr. Ra as apparent by the gross inaccuracies and astronomically poor understanding of epistemology in this single blog post. Did Mr. Ra have any actual philosopher review it before he posted it? If so, can I possibly have their name so I can inquire as to what the hell they were thinking?  Mr. Ra continue to make bare assertions that anyone who does not believe in God is “definitely” an atheist…and again, where is his evidence for this claim? I have yet to see one contemporary philosopher have any published paper making this claim and if they did, I would love to see how they try to argue that when it is self-evident that they would be wrong as again all atheists are nontheist, but not all nontheist are atheist. This is again basic set theory. Mr. Ra seems to once again be asking his followers to take his assertions on faith.

“Even Carl Sagan once denied being atheist because he was duped by the same lie that I was, thinking that “an atheist knows there is no God. An atheist knows more than I do”. According to a mutual friend, James Randi, Sagan eventually understood what atheism really means, and that it actually did apply to him after all. Sagan’s student, Neil deGrasse Tyson also objects to the atheist label, but for different reasons. He knows it applies to him, but he told me that he just doesn’t want to be associated with certain YouTube atheists; and no, I don’t think he’s talking about me, nor anyone I associate with.”

How is all of sudden is Mr. Ra moving from the realm of doxastic disposition to the epistemic claim of “knowledge”? Mr. Agnostic does not recall talking to any atheist nor theist who asserts that an atheist is someone who must hold that they know God does not exist. Nor does he recall ever reading this charge in any of the literature. Is this a complete red herring by Mr. Ra? And once again Mr. Ra seems to assert that the word “atheism” has something that it “really means”, even though as noted prior, words have usages, not intrinsic meanings. 

“The etymology of atheism is that the prefix “a” means “without” or “lack of”. So “atheism” means “the absence of theism”. Some complain that this would mean that a table, a rock or a baby is atheist, since they lack theism. Yeah, that’s true. A rock can be a-theist just as a rock can be a-morphous, a-political, a-biotic or a-sexual. Babies are born atheist, because what criteria do you have to meet before we can say that you STILL never believed in God?Contrary to some false impressions, one doesn’t have to hear, consider and subsequently reject the claims of theism to already have no theism. If a society developed—perhaps on an alien world—that had never even heard of any gods, that society would be without a god belief, which is all atheist means.”

This would be what is called an etymological fallacy. Mr. Ra assumes without sufficient warrant that the greek alpha privative “a” must be understood as “without” or “lack of”. This is in stark contrast to atheist philosopher Dr. Paul Draper’s explicitly stating “The “a-” in “atheism” must be understood as negation instead of absence, as “not” instead of “without”. Therefore, in philosophy at least, atheism should be construed as the proposition that God does not exist (or, more broadly, the proposition that there are no gods).” (SEP).

Given Mr. Ra’s prior misunderstanding of negation as he once was convinced that ~B~p was a “double negation” (Hint: It’s not) I find it odd that he seems to wish to speak from an authoritative position when not just Stanford, but Cambridge also explicitly states that “a” in atheism is “not” as in negation. Negation here being the negation of the proposition. Given p=”God exists” then ~p would be “God does not exist”. Predicate that with belief you have Bp (theist- Believes God exists) and B~p (atheist- Believes God does not exist). What qualifications exactly does Mr. Ra have to put his assertions over that of a peer reviewed source? Would he be so cavalier in biology if a creationist made some biological claims that actual biologist demonstrated to be incorrect the peer reviewed literature? The complete double standard Mr. Ra has here is simply utterly remarkable.

“Most of those who lack theism say they’re open to the possibility that there could be a god, because it’s hard to prove that something does NOT exist, especially when it’s supposed to have the power to conceal itself from any means of detection, especially under the definitional cloak of metaphysics, but lacking any reason to believe in such a thing, they are not convinced that an actual deity really does exist.”

It is logically possible that a flying unicorn can spring out of existence from my butt and start singing Ave Maria while riding a unicycle…being possible doesn’t really mean a whole heck of a lot. Bertrand Russell referred to things like this as “bare possibilities”. Being open to the fact that if something is logically possible it must exist in some possible world has nothing to do with atheism but has to do possible world semantics ..and being open to the possibility of something fallus under virtue epistemology and the epistemic virtue of being open-minded. That merely means a person is willing to change their mind given sufficient reason to do so. Mr. Ra seems to also here have a rather pejorative view of metaphysics. Metaphysics is a vast branch of philosophy that deals with existence, beliefs, knowledge, time, consciousness, it isn’t some “definitional cloak” theists try to hide a deity in as Mr. Ra makes it out to be. 

“This was my position for at least fifteen years. Though I didn’t call myself atheist. I called myself an “agnostic pagan for Christ” because I didn’t know any better. Later, after I discarded the last of my supernatural beliefs, I called myself an agnostic atheist for another fifteen years, until I eventually realized that it’s not just that I don’t have any reason to justify belief in God, and thus have no belief; I also have good reasons to justify having a belief that there is no god. One example of that is Hitchens’ Razor, that “what is asserted without evidence may be dismissed without evidence”. 

It is rather notable that Mr. Ra quotes “Hitchen’s Razor” but fails to note by that very same razor everyone of his claims so far in this blog can be dismissed for the very same reason. How many academic citations has Mr. Ra provided so far, yet he is quick to ask a creationist for one if they make a claim about biology that is incorrect. Double standard perhaps?

“There is also the fact that God is defined by his miraculous nature, and miracles are defined as defying the laws of physics, meaning that they are physically impossible, and thus God is physically impossible by definition. Then of course, if he exists outside our reality, then he does not exist in reality. If he is beyond time and created time, then at no time did he create anything. I could list many other much better examples too, depending on specifics.”

This is quite literally one of the worst atheist arguments that think Mr. Agnostic has ever seen…and he have seen a number of them. Mr. Ra has on prior occasions accused theist of trying to define God into existence, and yet here Mr. Ra is trying to define God out of existence. His argument essentially boils down to almost a Matt Slick level of argumentation of Gods don’t exist, because Gods don’t exist (by definition). His argument goes something like this:

  1. If God exists, then he can do miracles.
  2. If God can do miracles, then God can defy the laws of physics.
  3. God can not defy the laws of physics (by Mr. Ra’s definition)
  4. So, if God exists, then God can defy the laws of physics (1,2 by hypothetical syllogism).
  5. So, it is not the case that God exists (3,4 by modus tollens).

My head spins that Mr. Ra thinks that this is actually a good argument. Let’s assume we grant p1 and p2. What evidence does Mr. Ra have for p3 given if God is posited as a being who can change the laws of physics if he desired to. It entirely begs the question as he is merely saying God doesn’t exist because God can not to miracles…by assuming God can not defy the laws of physics (p3). Or essentially: Laws of physics can not be broken, miracles break the laws of physics, miracles can not exist and therefore a God that can do miracles can not exist. The whole point of them being miracles if they did exist, would be that they do defy the laws of physics and Mr. Ra just somehow by fiat says they can not exist by assuming God can not defy the laws of physics by producing a miracle. The entire argument is one big question begging fallacy as Mr. Ra assumes what he trying to prove. Mr. Ra is doing exactly what he claims theist are do by defining God into existence, he is merely defining God out of existence. 

“I know that gods don’t exist in the same way, for the same reasons and to the same degree that I know that leprechauns don’t exist, and Christians are comfortable saying that leprechauns don’t exist simply because there is no evidence of them. So my ruling against God is fair even by their standards. This makes me a “gnostic” atheist, although that term doesn’t really make sense that way. Huxley didn’t make his word to be the opposite of the Gnostics. So most unbelievers would describe people like me as “strong” atheists instead.”

Wait…wait. Just wait. Mr. Ra is explicitly stating here that he “knows” gods do not exist? That is not just merely lacking a belief, or making a doxastic claim. He is quite explicitly claiming he has the epistemic position of K~p or “Knows p is false”. This not only has a burden of proof, but one much higher than merely that of a belief claim. Does Mr. Ra deny making a claim about having knowledge gods do not exist requires a burden of proof? I would very much like to see Mr. Ra provide his epistemic reasoning for this especially on such flimsy warrant as a claim their being no evidence of gods. Supposed arguendo that is the case and there is absolutely no evidence for any gods…how does that provide sufficient justification to warrant a knowledge position by my Ra? I know very few atheists who hold this position, which isn’t “strong atheism” as Mr. Ra suggests. “Strong atheism” is B~p or the belief that God does not exist. It is an epistemic disposition towards a proposition, not a measure of strength of conviction or degree of belief. 

“Mr. Agnostic ignores dictionary definitions, saying they only give common usage, which he is also ignoring. He says that it’s not the common usage, but it is. I am a former President of Atheist Alliance of America. I am now an official representative of American Atheists, and I’m on the Board of Directors. I’ve been to multiple annual conventions of both national groups that were quite extravagant with hundreds of members and celebrities in attendance. Here’s how the atheist movement defines themselves:”

I do believe in Mr. Agnostic’s last presentation and last few debates on this topic he specifically gave dictionary definitions as possible ways of describing atheism. I was there, and he did. Being a member of a political group whose state agenda is to have definitions changed to reflect their stipulative use by those groups isn’t really exactly an exceptional argument here. If someone is not a member of those groups, they are simply not beholden to use their preferred of philosophical terminology. What is next, Mr. Ra having members sign a statement of faith that people must use these terms the way American Atheist does? Mr. Agnostic thinks that he has seen other organizations do something similar…Answers in Genesis perhaps? Or Institute for Creationist Research? 

“Atheism is one thing: A lack of belief in gods.

Atheism is not an affirmative belief that there is no god nor does it answer any other question about what a person believes. It is simply a rejection of the assertion that there are gods. Atheism is too often defined incorrectly as a belief system. To be clear: Atheism is not a disbelief in gods or a denial of gods; it is a lack of belief in gods.

So the dictionary definitions match that of the movement itself, proving that the way atheists define themselves *is* the correct usage.”

Mr. Ra forgets the ever important caveat of “according to American atheist as they choose to define atheism” which is in stark contrast to how atheism is used outside of their microcosm of members. I’m sorry, but Americian Atheist doesn’t speak for the philosophical community nor do they have any say how the word ‘atheism’ is used in academia or any of the published literature. This is simply their preferred usage. It would seem Mr. Ra is attempting to force his preferred label on to others…you know who else does that? Let me give you a hint: Romans I anyone?

“Of course Mr. Agnostic objected to this too. If I remember correctly, it was because of the line that “Atheism is not an affirmative belief that there is no god”. He refused to accept that atheism is not DEFINED as a belief that there is no god, but that of course strong atheists like myself would be included as a subset of the parent definition of those who don’t believe in a god, because we don’t.”

What would you call someone who affirms belief there is no god? Mr. Agnostic thinks that meets both the necessary and sufficient conditions to be called “atheist”. Atheism is defined in many places as the belief that God does not exist, so not sure what Mr. Ra is trying to say here. Stanford, Cambridge, Oxford, Blackwell, Rowe, Rutledge, Rutgers, P.K. Moser, Malik, Burgess-Jackson, J.J.C Smart, Merrium Webster (learners) and a number of other sources has atheism as the belief that God does not exist. I have it on good authority that Mr. agnostic accepts there are many ways to define atheism, including merely a lack of belief…but it seems Mr. Ra is the one totally ignoring any definition that doesn’t represent that of his politically motivated group of American Atheism.

“Mr. Agnostic says he only accepts the philosophical definition of atheism, which is contrasted with agnosticism. “

When has Mr. Agnostic said this? I do believe he has said, multiple times, on multiple platforms that he himself uses more rigorous philosophical or sensu stricto definitions, but accept other people may choose to use less precise sensu lato definitions. He merely argues that by doing so they have to accept the baggage that goes along with having a more broad definition such as it leading to category errors and absurdities.

But he refuses to admit that even according to his own source, atheism is polysemous, with two equally valid definitions even in philosophy; one of which being the common one that he refuses to admit always applied to him.”

Again, it is like Mr. Ra has never once actually bothered to listen to a damn thing Mr. Agnostic has ever told him as Mr. Agnostic has for years argued that atheism is polysemous with multiple ways of being defined…however the normative and most commonly held understanding in philosophy is in fact the belief that God does not exist. Mr. Ra is the one consistently maintaining throughout his blog that there is *only one* way to define atheism: Atheism is one thing: A lack of belief in gods.”. Mr. Ra seems to be not only projecting, but has a contradiction. Is it that atheism is “one thing” or is it “polysemous” as Mr. Ra can not have it both ways.

“It’s also the only distinction that matters. Atheists are the simply <sic> the only ones who don’t have any theistic beliefs and thus are the only ones not playing the game of make-believe that others call faith. According to all the religions of Abrahamic monotheism, we are not judged on whether we were good or bad, we are saved or damned primarily over whether we believed.

Did you believe in God?

Yes (theist) = possible forgiveness.
No (atheist) = eternal damnation.”

This is demonstrably false. Any nontheist does not have any “theistic beliefs” as again, someone needs to sit Mr. Ra down and really explain to him some basic logical concepts in that it is logically a fact that all atheist are nontheist, but not all nontheist are atheist as not all accept his assertion that nontheist=atheist, thus logically it must hold by necessity that not all nontheist are atheist. I challenge any reader of this to find a logician who would tell you otherwise. Mr. Agnostic is fairly confident Mr. Ra knows of none who tells him his logic is correct in any of this. 

Mr. Agnostic has no idea the relevancy of any of this relating to eternal damnation. He himself does not believe in God, and also does not believe in some eternal fiery damnation either.

Nobody’s religion offers a third category for those who didn’t believe in God but didn’t have a belief in not-God either. So there’s no point or purpose or value in that position.

Mr. Agnostic’s philosophy source is based on the inclusion of Huxley’s “agnosticism”. But Huxley only made up a new word that has no practical value. He did not change the pre-existing definition of atheism.”

Atheism during huxley’s time was the disbelief God exists which is the belief that God does not exist the same as it is in modernity:

Webster’s dictionary 1829-


A’THEISM, noun The disbelief of the existence of a God, or Supreme intelligent Being.”

Disbelief is the epistemic status of holding that p is false. This definition in proper context is to be read as “The belief of the non-existence of God, or Supreme intelligent Being”. American atheist is the organization trying to argue that “Atheism is not a disbelief in gods or a denial of gods;” so if Mr.Ra is arguing from a dictionary would then he have to say that American atheist is wrong? Again, he can’t have it both ways.

Webster’s- :The disbelief of the existence of a God”

American Atheist- “Atheism is not a disbelief in gods or a denial of gods”

Assuming “disbelief” is used the same way here, as Mr. Agnostic believes it is, to avoid any equivocation issues then Webster’s is saying that atheism is the belief that God does not exist while American Atheists are saying it is not the belief that God does not exist. (Sarcasm on) Is Mr. Ra willfully ignoring a dictionary? (/Saracism off)

“I’ll make up a new word myself to illustrate this; nosossary. It means exactly the same thing that “unnecessary” already did, (something that isn’t needed) but my word also means that it doesn’t need to be eliminated either. We know that unnecessary already meant that too, but it’s not spelled out in the definition. So knowledge of my new word might prompt philosophers to treat “unnecessary” as though it meant.  “something that must be eliminated”. That’s what “agnostic” does, tries to redefine atheism through association with a new word that only leads to a misuse of the old word.”

Effectively very single shred of evidence from a consilience of numerous academic sources shows that it is groups like American Atheist seeking to “redefine” atheism to subsume agnostics by promoting what Antony Flew argued in his paper “The Presumption of Atheism” (1972) that atheism should be redefined in the negative (merely lacking a belief) than the normative positive case of being the belief that God does not exist. Flew explicitly makes it clear this was his argument as he said “Whereas nowadays the usual meaning of ‘atheist’ in English is ‘someone who asserts that there is no such being as God’, I want the word to be understood not positively but negatively.

Mr. Agnostic thinks that Mr. Ra has it 180 degrees backwards of who is trying to “redefine” things here. David Silverman, who used to be head of American Atheist, specifically wrote and discussed his agenda to have the word “atheist” changed to reflect their preferred usage (Fighting God, 2015) and in various online Google Hangouts. 

“Mr. Agnostic says the reason I don’t agree with him is because of my ignorance, as if I’m dishonest too, and simply refuse to admit when I’m wrong. He also lied about me in a couple of public videos wherein he repeated that as the reason why I eventually blocked him on Facebook too.”

If anyone knows any philosopher who thinks Mr. Ra is not ignorant of philosophy, epistemology and basic logic can you have them contact Mr. Agnostic ASAP please. Mr. Agnostic does not think Mr. Ra is dishonest as he is convinced Mr. Ra actually believes what he says is 100% true, but again you know who else does that? (Hint: Creationists maybe?). Mr. Ra is making accusations that Mr. Agnostic has “lied” about him without providing a shred of evidence to support this charge. Is this the new skeptic standard? Make accusations and provide no evidence whatsoever to support them? And again it seems like Mr. Ra would like his readers to accept what he says on blind faith rather than on any actual tangible evidence to be evaluated. 

“I told him, I may not be interested in philosophy, (because of people like him) but I know a number of atheist philosophers, including some famous ones who don’t agree with Mr. Agnostic, and I don’t think it’s because he knows something that none of them do. Having heard from a few of them, Mr. Agnostic thinks it’s the other way around. Of course that wasn’t good enough for Mr. Agnostic. So I had to prove it.”

Well, where is this proof? I am sure one can cite someone like Dr. Peter Bogossian, but he has no academic papers that support anything Mr. Ra is claiming. So what “atheist philosophers” is Mr. Ra referring to? Quite notable not a single name was given here nor academic paper for a citation. Mr. Agnostic has provided the names of at least a dozen reputable Phd’s in this field which supports his position, including Dr. Graham Oppy, Dr. Alex Malpass, Dr. Burgess-Jackson, Dr. J.J.C. Smart, Dr. Paul Draper, Dr. Matt McCormick and a number of others. Mr. Agnostic does not recall a single citation given by Mr. Ra of any contemporary (1900- ) philosopher that does not support everything Mr. Agnostic has been trying to explain to Mr. Ra over the years on this topic. If Mr. Ra knows of any extant contemporary philosopher who disagrees with Mr. Agnostic I am sure Mr. Agnostic would be more than willing to reach out to them to have a discussion with them. If someone can ask Mr. Ra their names and relay that information to Mr. Agnostic that would be just swell. 

“Mr. Agnostic seemed to believe that the modern atheist movement has redefined atheism from its original meaning, which he thought was a positive belief in no-god, rather than a lack of belief in God; the claim of gnostic atheism that Huxley seemed to object to. So I looked up how atheism was defined in Webster’s 1828 dictionary.

A’THEIST, noun [Gr. of a priv. and God.]

One who disbelieves the existence of a God, or Supreme intelligent Being.”

This is why some experts in philosophy have recommend to Mr. Ra he go take some actual philosophical courses to understand what he reads. “One who disbelieves the existence of a God” in epistemology is read as “One who believes the proposition of God existing is false”. (Rugers philo 101):

“So we didn’t redefine this. The way the word is still defined today is the same as it was already defined decades before Huxley made up his word.”

Yes, which is the belief that the proposition of theism is false. As rutgers notes: “If you *conclude* that a proposition is false, then the appropriate attitude towards that proposition is disbelief.” Mr. Ra simply does not have the fundamentals of philosophy and epistemic statuses to properly understand what he is reading here. Worse is that he fails to recognize, even after Mr. Agnostic pointed it out to him, that his 1829 dictionary citation is exactly opposite of what American Atheists claim. Mr. Ra is just an epistemological quagmire of confusion and contradiction here.  

“Mr. Agnostic accepted the 1828 definition as representing the common usage of that time, but he objected to my interpretation of it. He argued that the way philosophers interpret “disbelief” is as a belief in the negative. That may be, but this is a dictionary, so we can see that what Webster meant by “disbelief” was not what philosophers mean today. In 1828, it meant “Refusal of credit or faith; denial of belief”; not denial of the claim, but denial of belief in the claim, That’s important. It also proves again that I’m right and he is wrong.”

So what Webster meant by “disbelief” is not what philosophers mean today? Again Mr. Ra is simply vastly confused here.
Webster’s 1828 dictionary-

DISBELIEF, noun [dis and belief.] Refusal of credit or faith; denial of belief.

Our belief or disbelief of a thing does not alter the nature of the thing.

That is quite different than what Mr. Ra is asserting. “Denial” of a proposition is understood to be the acceptance of negation. To deny p means to accept ~p. Again if Mr. Ra had looked up “denial” in the 1829 dictionary he would have discovered:


DENY, verb transitive

  1. To contradict; to gainsay; to declare a statement or position not to be true. We deny what another says, or we deny a proposition. We deny the truth of an assertion, or the assertion itself. The sense of this verb is often expressed by no or nay.

To declare a statement or position not to be true” which is logically akin to declaring p is false. If p=”God exists” then denying p is to declare p is false or ~p =”God does not exist “ is true.

This is why Mr. Agnostic implores Mr. Ra to one day take even a rudimentary course in logic and philosophy 101 and Mr. Agnostic believes quite strongly most philosophers in the community would also implore him to do the same. 

“Because Mr. Agnostic has made this his identity, he cannot admit that he is wrong about this and thus undo who he is. So he persisted, as he always does, ruining his own interpersonal connections with many different people over not being willing to drop this topic or let us talk about anything else. He kept me on this subject indefinitely and might have wasted the rest of my life on this had I not eventually lost all patience with him.”

Mr. Agnostic is not defined by labels, agenda, ideology or groupthink. If Mr. Ra can actually provide any actual evidence using logic and citational support that Mr. Agnostic is wrong then he would of course admit he was wrong…this has yet to actually happen. And with the dozens of messages Mr. Agnostic gets from Phds in philosophy telling him that Mr. Ra is effectively inept at logic and philosophy Mr. Agnostic doesn’t think any evidence from Mr. Ra will be forthcoming in any near future. In his blog he had nothing but accusations an assertions with:

1) Zero logical arguments
2) Zero academic citations
3) Zero peer reviewed papers

Mr. Agnostic has not kept Mr. Ra on this topic. Mr. Agnostic has always called out people when they make accusations that they can not support will continue to do so. This is exactly what the skeptic community should be doing and not continuing to give Mr. Ra or other atheist activists a pass merely because they are popular. Again, I know Mr. Agnostic actually does think very highly of Mr. Ra when it comes to what Mr. Ra is good at…he is simply not good at philosophy nor logic and yet continues to act from a position of authority on the topic of atheism. 

“He said that a denial of belief was not to be interpreted as “I don’t believe you”, which is a lack of belief that carries no burden of proof. Instead, he said that denial must be interpreted as a belief in the negative.”

What evidence does Mr. Ra have that “lack of belief” carries no burden of proof? Dr. Michael Martin argued that negative atheism does have a burden of proof, as well as Dr. Malik who in his paper “Defining atheism and the burden of proof” argues any position potentially has a BoP to rationally be able to continue to hold to that position. Mr. Agnostic has spoken with Dr. Malik and Dr. Malik agrees that even a withholding of affirmation to be rational has an implied burden of proof for a second order belief. Dr. Alex Malpass also refers to agnosticism as a belief about a belief which he too refers to as a second order belief. Thus holding to agnosticism which is a lack of belief requires a BoP to be a rational position to take, and if Mr. Ra chooses to call that position “atheism” it simple does not absolve from having sufficient justification to warrant holding to the position of merely not accepting a proposition as true. 

“But again, we see that same dictionary defines denial as merely a contradiction in response to a claim, “An affirmation to the contrary; an assertion that a declaration or fact stated is not true; negation; contradiction, …often expressed by no or not. Yet again, proving that he is wrong.”

Mr. Agnostic is absolutely convinced Mr. Ra simply is utterly incapable of understanding anything about philosophy that he reads and can not facepalm himself hard enough here:

Denial – “An affirmation to the contrary

What exactly does Mr. Ra think that means???? Hint: It means to affirm the negation.

an assertion that a declaration or fact stated is not true” -> means to affirm the negation.

“negation; contradiction,” -> NEGATION of p

Theism and atheism are contradictories for this very reason. If theism is true then atheism is false, or if atheism is true then theism is false. Both can not be true nor can both be false. (Oppy 2018)

“In fact there are four definitions given, all of which support an absence of belief over a belief in absence, but he will never admit any error and will never agree to disagree either. He will argue this until one of us dies—or until I finally block him and get on with my life.”

If an error was pointed out, Mr. Agnostic has yet to see one. Mr. Agnostic knows a number of philosophers, perhaps they can review Mr. Ra’s blog and note to him directly where any error was made. 

“I should also add that the root of the word “atheism” is the Greek ἄθεος (atheos), meaning “without god(s)”. The Romans referred to early Christians as atheists, because the Hellenist gods had centuries of theism and so did the Jews, but Christianity was a brand new and heretical cult with none of that that wasn’t borrowed from both of the other two. Instead of the traditional concept of gods, Christians worshiped a man, some guy the Romans had already reportedly crucified.”

This is true, it was more that “atheos” meant ““without gods; godless; secular; denying or disdaining the gods, “ (Wiki) and were the Chrisitans were without gods *because* they denied the Hellenist gods meaning they believed that they did not exist. If one denies p then one also does not believe p is true, but the converse of not believing p does not necessity by entailment one denies p. 

“So again, atheos means “without gods”; not “with a belief in no gods”. Thus atheism is still a lack of theism.”

Because they believed those gods did not exist (they denied them). Sigh.

“I know that he will go on about this forever, on whatever excuse he can find or make up, valid or not, and for no good reason or benefit to anyone, but he is wrong, and this will be my last word on the matter, so that I need never have this conversation again.”

Mr. Agnostic will continue to explain things as properly as possible to the best of his ability with the support of the philosophical community as a whole, hopefully. While Mr. Ra has recused himself from the dialog, as his prerogative, that does not mean he is no longer responsible for the information he puts out, nor should be given a pass for making philosophical claims he does not seem to properly back up. 

If you are a philosopher or have some philosophical training and think Mr. Agnostic is wrong, say so. Let him know by providing a solid argument with hopefully some type of citational support. If however, you think Mr. Ra is incorrect then please let both Mr. Ra and Mr. Agnostic know by leaving a message to them on Twitter. Since this is Mr. Ra’s last word I can therefore assume Mr. Agnostic can continue to try to educate people unfettered by Mr. Ra? 

Mr. Agnostic still would like to have a few beers with Mr. Ra, and talk about heavy metal and silly creationists.

-Steve McRae

(Pope of agnosticism and someone who knows Mr. Agnostic exceptionally well)


P.S. To the initial question that Mr. Ra poses “Is an Agnostic also Atheist?”

Answer: No



Citational list: https://greatdebatecommunity.com/2018/12/26/list-of-citations/

Aslo check out: https://www.answers-in-reason.com/religion/atheism/has-atheism-become-an-ideology/

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