Summary of relevant material facts for brief explanation.
1) Effectively to deny p = To reject p = To disbelieve p = To believe p is false = To accept p is false = To accept ~p as true
The confusion is that people use these terms differently and rather indiscriminately leading to confusion. But as best more commonly and normatively under a Frege/Geach rejectionism approach “to reject” God exists means to accept God does not exist, not merely to not accept. The classical view is R(Φ) = ~A(Φ).
“At least since Frege (1960) and Geach (1965), there has been some consensus about the relation between negation, the speech act of denial, and the attitude of rejection: a denial, the consensus has had it, is the assertion of a negation, and a rejection is a belief in a negation.” *(See note at end)
– Negation, Denial, and Rejection
David RipleyPublished 2011
2) The question “Do you believe in God?” would be *properly* and *normatively* enumerated by:
Yes = Theist
No = Non Theist
I have no belief either way and suspend judgement = Agnostic
If one does not believe in God you can not possibly by deductive reasoning conclude by necessity that person is an atheist.
If however the question is: “Does God exist?”
Yes = Theist
No = Atheist
As then the question is asking about ontology, while still one’s belief it is a direct answer to the position that God does not exist, rather than to the question does one have a belief that God does not exist. Answering no here means “I believe God does not exist”. This is why in deflationary theories “I believe p” is merely the assertion of the propositional content. “My name is Steve” and “I believe my name is Steve” to me seem to be saying the same thing. There is some question in speech act theory perhaps of what constitutes a statement with assertoric force on this however…as maybe someone is merely giving someone some type of autobiographical assessment on this. This is just my view, and other views may differ like Ozy or Steven Hoyt who I am curious if would agree or disagree here.
3) All positions to be rational require a burden of proof (aka burden of justification). This is for anyone who has a belief, claim, position with respect to a proposition, but may be a first order (Theism/Atheism) or second order (Agnosticism) justifications. If you do not accept p that too has a burden of proof as it requires reasons to why someone is justified not to accept the proposition.
p=” I exist”
if you merely not accept p as in ~Bp (I do not believe p)…to hold that position as rational that requires reasons as normatively it would be odd for someone to just say they do not think I exist. So clearly here holding to the mere “I do not believe p” would be rather obvious that it requires a burden of proof to warrant holding such a non-normative view. Same with the God question. If you do not accept p, to be rational not to accept requires a burden of proof which is usually a second order justification such as agnosticism. (Matt Dillahunty does not agree with this, but has yet, to the best of my knowledge, to find a Phd in philosophy who agrees with him while I have several).
Hope that helps.
(* Just for clarification in the Frege/Geach rejectionism approach and speech act theory: to deny p would be to assert the negation “I assert p is false” while to reject p would be “I believe the negation is false”. The distinction being *as I understand it* is that “I believe the negation is true” does not carry the same assertoric force as “I assert p is false” as an utterance, as “I believe the negation is true” can be a self-assessment or autobiographical statement while “I assert p is false” is not merely autobiographical in that it has assertoric force.)
Ozy’s well thought up response:
A sentence of the form, ‘Gods don’t exist.’, is flatly an ontological claim; a claim about what exists (or, more exactly, what isn’t a part of existence, namely, gods).
By contrast, the sentence, ‘I don’t believe in the existence of gods.’, when construed completely literally, is an autobiographical statement. It is a description of one’s doxastic state, namely that a belief in the existence of gods is not to be found in one’s belief set. But the story doesn’t end there. The referrent of the sentence ‘I don’t believe in the existence of gods.’ is one’s doxastic state, but the specific content of that state (the state of not believing gods exist) is ambiguous when expressed that way. The person might be describing the mere absence of a belief (mere non-theism) in gods, but it’s equally likely that content of the person’s psychological state might be indecision or inconclusiveness about god’s existence (i.e. agnosticism of one form or another) or, just as probably, the person’s doxastic state might be one of thinking gods don’t exist (i.e. atheism, as traditionally defined).
So, ‘I don’t believe in the existence of gods.’ is autobiographical because it has, as it’s referrent, some fact about the person’s beliefs with respect to the existence of gods, but it’s ambiguous about what specific position the person holds.
Expressions such as ‘I don’t believe that.’, or ‘I reject that.’ or ‘I don’t think that’s true.’ are all strictly autobiographical (being about the person’s doxastic states), but they are all ambiguous because, depending on the context, we will sometimes use such an expression to merely describe the absence of a belief and at other times to describe one’s affirmation of the contrary. For instance, if Steve walks up to me and says, ‘Ozy, did you hear? Donald Trump just took an IQ test and scored higher than anyone ever!’, my reply would likely be, ‘I don’t believe that for a second.’ Now, that is an autobiographical statement – a statement about me. But would you infer I’m merely lacking a belief here, or that I’m on the fence about Trump’s alleged brilliance? Or would you not, instead, infer what I clearly meant by those words, namely that I think the statement is false. The expressions ‘I don’t believe…’, ‘I don’t accept…’, I reject that…’, etc are biographical (statements about me), but they are not ONLY statements about me, but they also express the CONTENT of what I believe, namely that I think Trump is no genius. And this same is true for sentences such as ‘I don’t believe in gods.’. Such a sentence might be merely describing a belief that I don’t hold, but most of the time, when people utter such sentences, they are expressing that they think the sentence is false, and hence expressing something they think is true – that gods don’t exist.
One can try to be very lawyerly and literal-minded here and insist that, because the person has uttered a sentence using an autobiographical formulation, that it cannot be used to express a belief or that one should not infer that the person is affirming a positive belief, but that is to ignore that such biographical utterances are routinely and conventionally used to express not just incredulity, but a belief in the opposite. This is why, if I were to say, ‘Pfft, I don’t believe Trump is a genius’, you would be correct to infer that I think ‘Trump is not a genius.’ is true.
We must keep in mind that our speech acts are governed by conventions and the specific intended content can go well beyond a simple literalistic reading. Consider the following example: You walk up to me and say, ‘Ozy, do you know the time?’ Now, are you REALLY asking me a biographical question? What if I replied with, ‘Yes, yes I do know the time.’ and walked away? You would think I was either being a smartass or or else I clearly failed to recognize that what superficially appears to be a biographical question, is actually a request for me to tell you the time. The expression ‘Do you know the time?’ is not really (much less exclusively) a question about my psychological state, but rather means ‘Please tell me what time it is.’
When people insist that expressions such as ‘I reject…’, ‘I don’t believe…’, ‘I don’t accept…’ are MERELY autobiographical statements and are not or should not be construed as affirming beliefs, they are ignoring that such expressions are autobiographical statements which, most of the time, have as their intended content the affirmation or assertion of the opposite view.
Hope this helps,