On the difference between atheists, antitheists, Evangelicals and fundamentalists

Deustche Version:Vom Unterschied zwischen Atheisten, Antitheisten, Evangelikalen und Fundamentalisten.

Youtube version.

Definition do matters. Many political and philosophical disagreements simply stem from the different meaning of the words people engaged in a debate use.

Given that, I am going to define some important words I have used and will use on my blog.

A Christian is someone believing that God showed us His true face through the life, death and resurrection of Jesus of Nazareth. 

    An Evangelical Christian is someone believing that the Bible is our only infallible authority. 

         A Conservative Evangelical believes that everything a Biblical writer intended to convey is true. 

               A fundamentalist is a Conservative Evangelical believing that those not agreeing with that are second-class                                                       Christians or no Christians at all.

      A progressive Evangelical believes that God may have intended to include erroneous writings in His Canon to teach us some                 lessons.

An agnostic is someone who does not know (within reasonable margins of uncertainties) if there is a God or not.

Now comes the most controversial part of my post, namely the definition of an atheist.
The French dictionary Larousse reflects well the historical understanding of the word as it states:

  • Doctrine qui nie l’existence de Dieu. (Cette position philosophique ne se confond ni avec l’agnosticisme, qui est le refus de prendre parti dans les débats métaphysiques, ni avec le panthéisme, qui implique que Dieu puisse exister partout dans l’univers et se confondre avec lui.)
  • Doctrine which negates God’s existence. (This philosophical position is not to be confused with either agnosticism, which is the refusal to take part in metaphysical debates, or with pantheism, which involves that God can exist everywhere in the universe and be identical with him.)

Modern (English-speaking) atheists don’t like too much that definition because it goes hand in hand with a burden of proof to explain why there is NO God.

As a consequence, they have redefined the word as meaning “lacking a belief in God” (making it compatible with being an agnostic) while under other circumstances they act as if it meant “believing God’s existence to be extremely unlikely”.

Being an old-school boy, I like to stick to the historical meaning of things. So in my entire blog I will abide by the following definitions:

An atheist is someone who sees God’s existence as being very implausible.

An ANTItheist (or New Atheist, militant atheist, atheistic fundamentalist…) is an atheist believing that all religions ought to disappear and that it is morally permissible (if not mandatory) to use ridicule, mockery and emotional bullying to destroy the faith of all religious believers.

A fascistic atheist is an antitheist believing that it is good for the state to introduce laws which would quicken the demise of all religions. A modern example is Richard Dawkins and his suggestion to forbid all kinds of religious educations, even for liberal and progressive religious parents. .

Image

Of course, the former Soviet Union where countless priests and religious persons were slaughtered or sent to lunatic asylums is another example of fascistic atheism.
Frankly speaking, if the New Atheists were to obtain full political power in the Western world, I would not be stunned if they ended up introducing the same kind of laws an in the Soviet Union.

Image

As antitheists themselves constantly remind us, beliefs (especially irrational ones) can really have dreadful consequences.
If one really views all religions the way they do, namely as one of the most horrendous evils plaguing mankind, it is a very small step to conclude that the end justifies the means.

Image

 

Advertisements

30 thoughts on “On the difference between atheists, antitheists, Evangelicals and fundamentalists

  1. “Modern (English-speaking) atheists don’t like too much that definition because it goes hand in hand with a burden of proof to explain why there is NO God.

    As a consequence, they have redefined the word as meaning “lacking a belief in God” (making it compatible with being an agnostic) while under other circumstances they act as if it meant “believing God’s existence to be extremely unlikely”.”
    – Wrong. The words have always been ambiguous, and distinguishing on the two axes “gnostic / agnostic” and “theist / atheist” simply makes much more sense. An agnostic theist would be a theist who believes in a deity but doesn´t believe that the existence of a deity can be proven or disproven. A gnostic atheist believes that there are no deities whatsoever and that this CAN be proven.
    Re burden of proof, since the word “God” is infinitely malleable and since it would be trivial to define “God” in such a way that its existence cannot be disproven, not even in principle, I wouldn´t call myself a “gnostic atheist”.
    You can simply define “God” as a being who does care about humans and occasionally interacts with the world, but these interactions are never a miracle in the strong sense (a violation of the laws of nature) and also never follow detectable patterns. This definition of God is very close to what many liberal Christians actually do believe in, and it is completely impossible to disprove the existence of such a being – no conceivable observation is NOT compatible with this God.
    And I´ve never heard anything even beginning to resemble a reasonable argument for why I should have the burden of proof to show that such a being cannot exist (which is impossible to do, it is by definition irrefutable) before I can reasonably not believe that it exists.

    “An ANTItheist (or New Atheist, militant atheist, atheistic fundamentalist…) is an atheist believing that all religions ought to disappear and that it is morally permissible (if not mandatory) to use ridicule, mockery and emotional bullying to destroy the faith of all religious believers.”
    – Do you, or do you not, believe that ALL ridicule and mockery is automatically “emotional bullying” and thus CATEGORICALLY wrong? (and by implication, do you believe that satire, ANY form of satire, is morally evil?) Why is that so hard to answer? It really seems as if you simply want to make Christianity exempt from any criticism while being totally ok with mockery + ridicule when it comes to politics or sports or astrology or whatever else anyone might believe in except for Christianity.
    Is this “emotional bullying”:

    ? If not, then please give a specific example where a Christian was “emotionally bullied” by an atheist.

    “A fascistic atheist is an antitheist believing that it is good for the state to introduce laws which would quicken the demise of all religions. A modern example is Richard Dawkins and his suggestion to forbid all kinds of religious educations, even for liberal and progressive religious parents.”
    – I´d really strongly recommend to not go down this road. First of all, you are trivializing the suffering of the victims of actual fascism, and second, you invite a response that is equally hyperbolic – there are plenty of Christians who support legislation that promotes Religion in general and sectarian religion (for example Christianity over all other faiths) as well. Do you think it is acceptable to call these people Nazis who are just a few inches away from putting everyone who believes differently then they do in concentration camps?
    Also, where did Dawkins ever say anything like that, it´s possible that he did, but I´ve never heard anything even remotely resembling what you accuse him of here.
    Where did Dawkins call for legislation that would not only limit the freedom of religious expression, but would even go as far as making religious education illegal?

    • Hallo Andy, ich vergesse dich natürlich. Aber du hast so viele gültige Fragen aufgeworfen, dass ich ein bischen Zeit brauche, bevor ich eine würdige Antwort darauf schreibe 🙂

      Beste Wünsche (wie man ja oft in England sagt).

    • Wrong. The words have always been ambiguous

      Dictionaries didn’t seem to have a problem for a long, long time.

      You can simply define “God” as a being who does care about humans and occasionally interacts with the world, but these interactions are never a miracle in the strong sense (a violation of the laws of nature) and also never follow detectable patterns.

      Who defines miracles as ‘a violation of the laws of nature’? What ARE the laws of nature? And you can’t point at science, since those laws are incomplete and, at absolute best, provisional knowledge.

      It really seems as if you simply want to make Christianity exempt from any criticism while being totally ok with mockery + ridicule when it comes to politics or sports or astrology or whatever else anyone might believe in except for Christianity.

      How is he doing this? Where is he exempting ‘politics’, or anything else?

      there are plenty of Christians who support legislation that promotes Religion in general and sectarian religion (for example Christianity over all other faiths) as well.

      Such as who? Where? In what ways?

      Where did Dawkins call for legislation that would not only limit the freedom of religious expression, but would even go as far as making religious education illegal?

      Most recently, he happily endorsed Peter Boghossian’s writings, who explicitly calls for religious belief to be treated as a literal ‘mind virus’ added to the DSM-V that scientists can experiment on, and which it’s in the interests of public health to ‘contain and eradicate’.

      • Dictionaries didn’t seem to have a problem for a long, long time.

        I just checked if there are some old dictionary editions available online and according to Webster’s Revised Unabridged Dictionary of 1828, “Atheism” means:
        “A”THEISM, n. The disbelief of the existence of a God, or Supreme intelligent Being.”
        The 1913 version says:
        A”the*ism (#), n. [Cf. F. athéisme. See Atheist.]
        1. The disbelief or denial of the existence of a God, or supreme intelligent Being.
        2. Godlessness.

        The 1828 version shows the ambiguity I mentioned, for it doesn´t distinguish between gnostic and agnostic atheism. The 1913 version is slightly better, because this distinction is at least somewhat implied by “disbelief OR denial”.

        Who defines miracles as ‘a violation of the laws of nature’?

        Another word that is ambiguous, because “miracle” is commonly used to refer to events that are very unlikely (or would have been very unlikely without divine intervention). But most of the stuff that YECs and OECs believe in for example is not unlikely, it is impossible – it could only happen by a supernatural intervention that suspends the natural order of things instead of working within them.

        What ARE the laws of nature? And you can’t point at science, since those laws are incomplete and, at absolute best, provisional knowledge.

        Technically, all knowledge is “provisional”, as the Münchhausen trilemma shows. Pragmatically, there is plenty of knowledge that might be technically “provisional”, but is so close to absolute certainty that it doesn´t make any difference. Strictly speaking, you cannot be certain that the moon is not made out of green cheese and that the earth does not have the shape of a flat disc – with enough ad hoc assumptions, you could reconcile both of those claims with our current scientific knowledge. Both claims can still be considered to be absolutely false pragmatically, 100% certainty or 99.999999% certainty doesn´t really make that much of a difference in practice.
        Asimov explained very well how “incomplete” and “provisional” are best understood in the context of scientific progress:
        http://chem.tufts.edu/answersinscience/relativityofwrong.htm

        How is he doing this? Where is he exempting ‘politics’, or anything else?

        It´s well possible that he doesn´t do it. That´s why I asked the questions in the part before the one you quoted.

        Such as who? Where? In what ways?

        For one of the most extreme examples, you could check out the guy who provided most of the funding for the Discovery Institute in the first years of its existence (Howard Ahmanson).
        Other examples would be religious privilegs when it comes to taxation (see the recent case that ruled the parish exemption to be unconstitutional). Or the issue of whether a teacher should be allowed to force an entire class to pray with him, no matter what the kids do, or do not, believe in (This matter has been settled for 50 years, and republicans who want to score points with the religious right still can´t let it go – at least two of the republican presidential candidates (Perry + Bachmann) talked about how horrible it is that “our kids can no longer pray in school!!11!”).

        Most recently, he happily endorsed Peter Boghossian’s writings, who explicitly calls for religious belief to be treated as a literal ‘mind virus’ added to the DSM-V that scientists can experiment on, and which it’s in the interests of public health to ‘contain and eradicate’.

        I haven´t read Boghossian´s book, and I´m not going to since I´ve heard one of his presentations and didn´t find his approach to be interesting.
        I have just googled this particular issue and apparently, this is what he wrote:
        “The Diagnostic and Statistical Manual of Mental Disorders (DSM), published by the American Psychiatric Association (APA), is the single most important text used by clinicians. It is the diagnostic rulebook. Currently, the DSM grants religious delusions an exemption from classification as a mental illness. The following is the DSM-IV’s definition of delusion:

        “A false belief based on incorrect inference about external reality that is firmly sustained despite what almost everyone else believes and despite what constitutes incontrovertible and obvious proof or evidence to the contrary. The belief is not one ordinarily accepted by other members of the person’s culture or subculture (e.g. it is not an article of religious faith).””
        => I´m not sure if he means that he wants ANY religious belief to be classified as a delusion, or whether he just wants to get rid of that particular exemption. And I do find this exemption to be rather problematic, because “ordinarily accepted by other members of the person’s culture or subculture” is way to vague (especially by including the “or subculture”). As an example, consider the cases of parents who let their children die because they consider visits to a doctor to be morally evil (because it shows that they have no trust in God) and rather rely exclusively on “faith healing” – do you think it is ok that these beliefs cannot be classified as “deluded” because they are accepted by other members “in this persons culture or subculture” (this would be debatable though if at the least the part “or subculture” would be removed).

      • The 1828 version shows the ambiguity I mentioned, for it doesn´t distinguish between gnostic and agnostic atheism.

        Because ‘atheism’ didn’t and doesn’t cover the distinguishing factor you wish to deal with. Mere lack of belief is not ‘atheism’, historically. And frankly, very few modern atheists, at least those of note, ‘merely lack belief’.

        But most of the stuff that YECs and OECs believe in for example is not unlikely, it is impossible – it could only happen by a supernatural intervention that suspends the natural order of things instead of working within them.

        Suspensions aren’t violations, and in either case – the alternative is that our understand of ‘natural laws’ are incomplete, even in error. Which is not at all a new situation, even putting ‘miracles’ entirely aside.

        You’d have more of a case that ‘miracle’ is ambiguous in the relevant sense, because it’s not as if it was exhaustively defined 2000 years ago. But of course that would undercut atheist claims against miracles, so that’s an ambiguity they can’t abide.

        Technically, all knowledge is “provisional”, as the Münchhausen trilemma shows.

        Nope. ‘I am experiencing looking at a monitor right now.’ That’s not provisional.

        Strictly speaking, you cannot be certain that the moon is not made out of green cheese and that the earth does not have the shape of a flat disc – with enough ad hoc assumptions, you could reconcile both of those claims with our current scientific knowledge. Both claims can still be considered to be absolutely false pragmatically, 100% certainty or 99.999999% certainty doesn´t really make that much of a difference in practice.

        100% and/or 99.9% certainty, based on provisional current scientific knowledge, provisional assumptions, and what else? Do you think knowledge claims become more certain just because you pulled a (provisional!) number out of the air? Come on.

        Asimov explained very well how “incomplete” and “provisional” are best understood in the context of scientific progress

        The science fiction author?

        I haven´t read Boghossian´s book, and I´m not going to since I´ve heard one of his presentations and didn´t find his approach to be interesting.

        It would be my pleasure to introduce you to what he’s had to say:

        It is crucial that the religious exemption for delusion be removed from the DSM. Once religious delusions are integrated into the DSM, entirely new categories of research and treatment into the problem of faith can be created. These will include removal of existing ethical barriers, changing treatments covered by insurance, including faith-based special education programs in schools, helping children who have been indoctrinated into a faith tradition, and legitimizing interventions designed to rid subjects of the faith affliction.

        Removing the exemption that classifies a phenomenon as an officially recognized psychiatric disorder legitimizes research designed to cure the disorder. These classifications also enable researchers to assess their treatments and to continue to build upon what works. Of course there will be institutional and social barriers discouraging research into controversial areas, but with this one change THE major barrier – receiving approval from the IRB to disabuse human subjects of faith – would be INSTANTLY overcome.

        There is perhaps no greater contribution one could make to contain and perhaps even cure faith than removing the exemption that prohibits classifying religious delusions as mental illness. The removal of religious exemptions from the DSM would enable academicians and clinicians to bring considerable resources to bear on the problem of treating faith, as well as on the ethical issues surrounding these faith-based interventions. In the long term, once these treatments and this body of research is refined, results could then be used to inform public health policies designed to contain and ultimately eradicate faith.

        This is the man who has Dawkins’ endorsement. We saw this bull with Mao and the Soviets.

        You are looking for ‘blockquote’ and ‘/blockquote’.

      • Because ‘atheism’ didn’t and doesn’t cover the distinguishing factor you wish to deal with. Mere lack of belief is not ‘atheism’, historically. And frankly, very few modern atheists, at least those of note, ‘merely lack belief’.

        Do you apply that consistently and refer to all Christians, Muslims and Jews who do not believe that the existence of the God they believe in can be stricly proven or disproven, not as “theists”, but rather as “agnostics”?

        Suspensions aren’t violations, and in either case – the alternative is that our understand of ‘natural laws’ are incomplete, even in error. Which is not at all a new situation, even putting ‘miracles’ entirely aside.

        Re “suspensions aren´t violations”, that is a distinction without a difference. And I already addressed your alternative, if a dude lost his legs in a car accident, prays for new ones, and actually gets a new pair of healthy legs, then you *could* say “well, maybe that´s perfectly natural and our understanding of natural laws is just incomplete” – just as you *could* say “well, maybe all of science is completely wrong and the moon actually is made out of green cheese”.

        You’d have more of a case that ‘miracle’ is ambiguous in the relevant sense, because it’s not as if it was exhaustively defined 2000 years ago. But of course that would undercut atheist claims against miracles, so that’s an ambiguity they can’t abide.

        If you say so, then it simply must be true.

        Nope. ‘I am experiencing looking at a monitor right now.’ That’s not provisional.

        Nope, that´s just a provisional assessment of a fallible introspection process.

        100% and/or 99.9% certainty, based on provisional current scientific knowledge, provisional assumptions, and what else? Do you think knowledge claims become more certain just because you pulled a (provisional!) number out of the air? Come on.

        Alright, so, in your opinion, this: “the moon could totally be made out of green cheese, that the moon is not made out of green cheese is just based on provisional current scientific knowledge and provisional assumptions” is a perfectly reasonable thing to say and not a strictly true, but still completely misleading usage of the word “provisional”?

        • I will adress the healing of a amputee in a future post.

          I believe that God’s intervention (and existence) is not the only possible explanation.

          1) In an infinite universe, every physical event (not matter how unlikely) is going to happen.

          2) we live in the computer simulation of aliens whose purposes we do not understand.

          3) the devil found it boring to torture people and thought this would be a nice diversion.

      • Do you apply that consistently and refer to all Christians, Muslims and Jews who do not believe that the existence of the God they believe in can be stricly proven or disproven, not as “theists”, but rather as “agnostics”?

        That’s a category error. A theist doesn’t have to ‘believe God can be strictly proven or disproven’, they believe God exists. ‘Strictly proven’ is another question.

        Re “suspensions aren´t violations”, that is a distinction without a difference.

        Intellectually, there’s a difference. And neither a ‘suspension’ nor a ‘violation’ is necessary.

        And I already addressed your alternative, if a dude lost his legs in a car accident, prays for new ones, and actually gets a new pair of healthy legs, then you *could* say “well, maybe that´s perfectly natural and our understanding of natural laws is just incomplete” – just as you *could* say “well, maybe all of science is completely wrong and the moon actually is made out of green cheese”.

        Invalid comparison.

        First, it wouldn’t be ‘all of science’. It’s not as if all past discoveries and models had to be completely thrown out – certain beliefs about the universality of such and such laws would be thrown out, or our knowledge of those laws would have to be changed. Again: so what? We’ve done this constantly, and we believe we’ll do it in the future even in the normal course of research.

        Second, the comparisons differ gravely. In the first case you’re describing something that ‘actually happens’. In the second, you’re describing what could be the case. If you found out tomorrow the moon was, in fact, made of green cheese, you’d be jettison a good share of science and updating things as needed. Science would be wrong in that case.

        Why is ‘science is wrong’ unthinkable, especially when scientific knowledge is expressly provisional?

        If you say so, then it simply must be true.

        I think I’m doing more than saying it. I’m demonstrating it part in this very conversation.

        Nope, that´s just a provisional assessment of a fallible introspection process.

        I’m afraid it’s not. There’s nothing fallible about it. I can be fallible about a lot of things – my experience, what seems to be the case to me at the given moment, isn’t fallible. If I look at a black wall and think I’m seeing a red wall, I am, in fact, having the experience of seeing a red wall. I could be wrong about the wall’s color, but not about my experience then and there.

        Alright, so, in your opinion, this: “the moon could totally be made out of green cheese, that the moon is not made out of green cheese is just based on provisional current scientific knowledge and provisional assumptions” is a perfectly reasonable thing to say and not a strictly true, but still completely misleading usage of the word “provisional”?

        Sure it’s reasonable, so long as we’re talking about in principle possibilities. It’s not as if I’m saying it’s a 50-50 shot. Scientific knowledge is provisional, and that’s what happens with provisional knowledge. We recognize the possibility of being wrong, the provisional nature of our knowledge, and proceed from there.

        What alternative are you after here? Getting to throw out numbers like ‘99.9999%!’ as if they have meaning when they don’t? I imagine once upon a time physicists would have been willing to say it’s 99.9% likely we live in a classical universe. Then along came quantum physics. Were the odds ever 99.9%? Or was that an odds calculation some fallible guys would have assigned that basically wasn’t an objective calculation at all but a statement of, at best, their feelings on the matter?

        • “What alternative are you after here? Getting to throw out numbers like ’99.9999%!’ as if they have meaning when they don’t?

          You capture very well the nature of my disagreement with Bayesianism 🙂

          Though in the case of the moon being made of cheese, frequentist probabilities are meaningful, and we can know it is astronamically unlikely that the moon is something other than rock (provided of course we are not brains in vats).

      • That’s a category error. A theist doesn’t have to ‘believe God can be strictly proven or disproven’, they believe God exists. ‘Strictly proven’ is another question.

        So… mere belief is all that is needed to be a “theist”, but if you call yourself an “atheist” for mere DISbelief, then you *obviously* just want to shift the burden of proof. Makes sense, no double standard at all.

        Intellectually, there’s a difference.

        Which would be?

        And neither a ‘suspension’ nor a ‘violation’ is necessary.

        Depends on the miracle.

        Why is ‘science is wrong’ unthinkable, especially when scientific knowledge is expressly provisional?

        When people believed the earth was flat, they were wrong. When scholars corrected that view to a spherical shape, they were wrong as well. When scientists corrected that view to the shape of an oblate spheroid, they were still wrong. And when scientists corrected that view again to an oblate spheroid with one of the poles being very slightly closer to the center than the other, they are also still wrong.
        That´s what “provisional” means in science. It means that explanations are gradually refined. “Provisional” doesn´t mean that we could discover tomorrow that none of those gradual refinements of a scientific model were actually a refinement at all, and that the people who thought the earth is flat were right all along. That cannot be logically ruled out, but that is most emphatically not what scientists mean by “provisional”.

        Invalid comparison.

        First, it wouldn’t be ‘all of science’. It’s not as if all past discoveries and models had to be completely thrown out – certain beliefs about the universality of such and such laws would be thrown out, or our knowledge of those laws would have to be changed. Again: so what? We’ve done this constantly, and we believe we’ll do it in the future even in the normal course of research.

        “Throwing stuff out” virtually never happens when it comes to scientific theories, they are gradually refined, if a theory were *completely* wrong, it would never have become a scientific theory in the first place.
        Something even remotely resembling the discovery that the moon is actually made out of green cheese has never happened in the history of science.

        I think I’m doing more than saying it. I’m demonstrating it part in this very conversation.

        Then you are a master at masquerading mere assertions as demonstrations.

        I’m afraid it’s not. There’s nothing fallible about it. I can be fallible about a lot of things – my experience, what seems to be the case to me at the given moment, isn’t fallible.

        Actually, it is. I´d recommend this article:
        http://www.sciencemag.org/content/321/5892/1046.long if you can access it + references therein. Even for something as mundane as finding woman A more attractive than woman B, your brain can easily fool you into believing that you actually experienced the exact opposite and found woman B more attractive than woman A. Quote:
        ” In one study, for example, researchers showed participants photographs of two women and asked them to choose the one they found more attractive (12). The experimenter then showed people the photograph they preferred and asked them to explain the reasons for their choice. On some trials, through sleight of hand, the experimenter actually showed people the photograph they found less attractive. It might seem that people would immediately see through this ruse, but surprisingly, they noticed the switch only about a quarter of the time. Even more surprisingly, in the 75% of the trials in which they did not notice the switch, participants had no problem coming up with plausible reasons for their choice. ”

        What alternative are you after here? Getting to throw out numbers like ’99.9999%!’ as if they have meaning when they don’t? I imagine once upon a time physicists would have been willing to say it’s 99.9% likely we live in a classical universe. Then along came quantum physics. Were the odds ever 99.9%? Or was that an odds calculation some fallible guys would have assigned that basically wasn’t an objective calculation at all but a statement of, at best, their feelings on the matter?

        Well, actually, we kind of do live in a “classical universe” – we are far larger, than an electron, much smaller than a star and we move much slower than the speed of light – the classical newtonian equations do arise as a special case of the Schrödinger equation under these conditions. That´s why classical mechanics is still not only taught, but also *applied*. Newton wasn´t wrong, only if by “wrong” you mean “not 100% accurate” – but such a standard would be scientifically completely irrelevant.
        If you were looking for an example from the history of science that comes anywhere near the hypothetical discovery that the moon is actually made out of green cheese, this was pretty much the worst one you could have picked.

      • So… mere belief is all that is needed to be a “theist”, but if you call yourself an “atheist” for mere DISbelief, then you *obviously* just want to shift the burden of proof. Makes sense, no double standard at all.

        An atheist believes there is no God. A theist believes there is a God. ‘Mere belief’, that’s the typical definition – why change it?

        And it’s pretty obvious to tell when people are trying to shift a burden of proof: watch what happens if they make a claim, then have it pointed out to them that the one making the claim has a burden, and negative claims are still claims.

        Which would be?

        Violation of law implies struggling against them as an opposing force. Suspension of law implies the laws simply not holding for a period of time, with no force in opposition.

        Depends on the miracle.

        Not really. Definition of miracle maybe, but no particular miracle requires a violation or even a suspension of natural laws. What the natural laws actually are is radically wide open.

        That´s what “provisional” means in science. It means that explanations are gradually refined. “Provisional” doesn´t mean that we could discover tomorrow that none of those gradual refinements of a scientific model were actually a refinement at all, and that the people who thought the earth is flat were right all along. That cannot be logically ruled out, but that is most emphatically not what scientists mean by “provisional”.

        So? It’s still provisional in exactly the sense described. Want to hear Jerry Coyne on this?

        All scientific truth is provisional, subject to modification in light of new evidence. There is no alarm bell that goes off to tell scientists that they’ve finally hit on the ultimate, unchangeable truths about nature. As we’ll see, it is possible that despite thousands of observations that support Darwinism, new data might show it to be wrong. I think this is unlikely, but scientists, unlike zealots, can’t afford to become arrogant about what they accept as true.

        Forget for a moment that he’s a hypocrite and not the sharpest tack. Those are his words, and they stand in opposition to the picture you’re painting.

        “Throwing stuff out” virtually never happens when it comes to scientific theories, they are gradually refined, if a theory were *completely* wrong, it would never have become a scientific theory in the first place.

        Now there’s a definition that smells rotten.

        There was no ‘gradual refinement’ in the case of quantum physics, and various other theories. It turned out that, oops, a given theory (actually, quite a lot of theories and more) was wrong. Hell, the very definition of ‘matter’ was tossed out multiple times.

        You can stretch things and insist that each and every theory probably, hopefully always gets things at least a little bit right. But once you qualify that much you’re not really opposing what I’m saying anyway.

        Something even remotely resembling the discovery that the moon is actually made out of green cheese has never happened in the history of science.

        Sure has. Look at the concepts of matter before and after quantum physics. Hell, just look at the atomic theory. Here we have the most basic, fundamental building blocks of matter! Oops, turns out we can split them. And that’s just the tip of the iceberg in that area.

        Even for something as mundane as finding woman A more attractive than woman B, your brain can easily fool you into believing that you actually experienced the exact opposite and found woman B more attractive than woman A.

        As I said: I cannot be wrong about having an experience of looking at a red wall, even if the wall is actually black. Even if the wall isn’t there at all. Even if the ‘wall’ is a duck. Your article doesn’t contradict me on this point – you can be mistaken about quite a lot of things, but when you come to experience itself, you don’t have a theory. You have data.

        Well, actually, we kind of do live in a “classical universe”

        ‘Kind of’ in the sense that we can make use of predictive models where fundamental intellectual accuracy isn’t the key interest, but practical use. You may as well be telling me, after discovering that the moon is in fact made out of green cheese, that this isn’t a big deal because it still weighs as much as we previously thought, it still follows the same orbiting patterns, it takes up largely similar estimated volume, etc. “Nothing to see here, move along!”

        It was a tremendous shift, and a fundamental one. It wasn’t the only one. It may not (hell, probably will not) be the last one.

      • An atheist believes there is no God. A theist believes there is a God. ‘Mere belief’, that’s the typical definition – why change it?

        Ah, I thought you agreed with lotharson´s claim “As a consequence, they have redefined the word as meaning “lacking a belief in God”” – but apparently, you do not.

        Violation of law implies struggling against them as an opposing force. Suspension of law implies the laws simply not holding for a period of time, with no force in opposition.

        I don´t see why that is an important “intellectual difference” in this context but what the hell.

        Not really. Definition of miracle maybe, but no particular miracle requires a violation or even a suspension of natural laws.

        Assuming that a “natural law” would be “objects of type x can never turn into objects of type y” – how do you propose to accomplish the feat of turning an object of type x into an object of type y without violating / suspending the law that says that prohibits this from happening?

        Forget for a moment that he’s a hypocrite and not the sharpest tack. Those are his words, and they stand in opposition to the picture you’re painting.

        Seriously? “You are wrong because this dude who is a hypocrite and not the sharpest tack disagrees with you”?

        As I said: I cannot be wrong about having an experience of looking at a red wall, even if the wall is actually black. Even if the wall isn’t there at all. Even if the ‘wall’ is a duck. Your article doesn’t contradict me on this point – you can be mistaken about quite a lot of things, but when you come to experience itself, you don’t have a theory. You have data.

        The article summarizes plenty of research, including the part I quoted, that demonstrates that this “data” you think you have can in fact be false. And not false in the sense that you looked at a red wall but mistook it for a duck, but rather in the sense that your introspection tells you that you experienced looking at a red wall although you did not actually experience that.

        There was no ‘gradual refinement’ in the case of quantum physics, and various other theories. It turned out that, oops, a given theory (actually, quite a lot of theories and more) was wrong.

        ‘Kind of’ in the sense that we can make use of predictive models where fundamental intellectual accuracy isn’t the key interest, but practical use. You may as well be telling me, after discovering that the moon is in fact made out of green cheese, that this isn’t a big deal because it still weighs as much as we previously thought, it still follows the same orbiting patterns, it takes up largely similar estimated volume, etc. “Nothing to see here, move along!”

        1. That it isn´t a “big deal” does not follow from what I said at all. You are engaging in projection. Since you can only think in binary categories about scientific theories, to the degree that the transition from classical to quantum mechanics is on the same level as the hypothetical discovery that the moon is made out of green cheese, you assume that I can also only think in extremes and thus simply subscribe to the opposite extreme of your view.
        I don´t.
        2. Re volume, orbiting patterns etc. – that is a completely different question compared to what it is made of. It being made of green cheese means that the current scientific understanding of what it is made of is completely false. The transition from classical to quantum mechanics analogous if classical mechanics is completely false and only yielded correct predictions because of a series of lucky accidents.

        You can stretch things and insist that each and every theory probably, hopefully always gets things at least a little bit right. But once you qualify that much you’re not really opposing what I’m saying anyway.

        It is conceptually possible that a scientific theory is indeed completely wrong and all the experimental observations that seemed to support it were nothing but a series of lucky accidents. That cannot be logically ruled out. This has never happened however, and given the vast amount of lucky accidents that would be required for this to be possible, it is unlikely that it ever will happen. Pragmatically, one can be certain that we will not find out tomorrow that the people who believed that the earth is actually a flat disc were right all along or that the moon is made out of green cheese, even though absolute certainty is not logically possible. And I doubt that you seriously disagree with that, every time you drive a car or fly on an airplane, you bet your life on one of the “oops, wrong” theories “hopefully, getting it at least a little bit right”.

    • Fair enough Andy. Historically (and even nowadays) people not knowing if there is a God or not would almost never be viewed as atheists in France (though this might be changing through the sad influence of the American culture everywhere).
      To the best of my knowledge, this was also the historically dominant view in Germany, a t least in all the older books I have read about philosophy and theology.

      As for mockery and ridicule I think it is only permissible in situations where someone with repugnant beliefs is himself rude, arrogant, mean or nasty.

      If I confronted a nice person strongly believing in astrology (on the Internet or in the real world) it would be immoral for me to mock her . It would also be immoral to mock her belief in front of her for she would most often feel hurt.
      Rather I would point out that astrology has been refuted by countless studies beyond any reasonable doubt AND that stars and planets are nothing more than inert matter, unable to exert any kind of intelligent influence on the life of very complex beings such as ourselves.

      I spend a great deal of my time exposing fascist Christians wherever I find them.
      If a Christian wants to use the state for imposing Christianity everywhere, he is a FASCIST.
      If a Christian wants to use the state for imposing atheism everywhere, he is a FASCIST.

      If Dawkins really believe that religious education is child abuse, it stands to reason he would prohibit it if he could.
      I personally would certainly forbid practice I am convinced to be harmful for children.

      I hope that helps 🙂

      • Lother,

        Dawkins has taken the bizarre position that a religious upbringing is equivalent to or worse than child abuse, but that he would not seek to outlaw it (though, given his endorsement of Bog, he apparently would allow having it ‘treated’ by doctors a la the soviets.)

        Which, I suppose, cashes out to Dawkins believing that child abuse should be legal.

    • Ah, I thought you agreed with lotharson´s claim “As a consequence, they have redefined the word as meaning “lacking a belief in God”” – but apparently, you do not.

      I agree that they have. I think the ‘lacking a belief’ thing is transparently tactical and hard to take seriously.

      Assuming that a “natural law” would be “objects of type x can never turn into objects of type y” – how do you propose to accomplish the feat of turning an object of type x into an object of type y without violating / suspending the law that says that prohibits this from happening?

      You’re making the mistake of thinking that we know what these ‘natural laws’ are, and thus when something fails to adhere to the laws as our current science describes, that there must have been a violation of natural laws. But the alternative is that our laws were incomplete – and that alone is enough to make any ‘miracle’ entirely consistent with the laws of nature.

      Seriously? “You are wrong because this dude who is a hypocrite and not the sharpest tack disagrees with you”?

      More like “Here is Jerry Coyne, prominent atheist hero and scientist. He disagrees with your view on how scientists regard provisionality in science.”

      The article summarizes plenty of research, including the part I quoted, that demonstrates that this “data” you think you have can in fact be false. And not false in the sense that you looked at a red wall but mistook it for a duck, but rather in the sense that your introspection tells you that you experienced looking at a red wall although you did not actually experience that.

      No, it summarizes – at best – that my memory of a particular event could be incorrect. But that’s not immediate experience being questioned, but memory.

      1. That it isn´t a “big deal” does not follow from what I said at all. You are engaging in projection. Since you can only think in binary categories about scientific theories, to the degree that the transition from classical to quantum mechanics is on the same level as the hypothetical discovery that the moon is made out of green cheese, you assume that I can also only think in extremes and thus simply subscribe to the opposite extreme of your view.

      You probably don’t want to walk down the road of amateur armchair psychoanalysis with me. I may respond in kind, and the results will not be pretty.

      I am summarizing your reply to me, which I think can fairly be presented as ‘Well since our classical back-of-the-envelope calculations are still accurate enough, then the discoveries to our fundamental theories must not be a big deal.’ And I’m illustrating that quite a lot of how we treat the moon could still stay in place even if, lo and behold, it turned out to be made of green cheese. Volume, rotation pattern, etc. So yeah, I think they’re obviously directly comparable.

      Gotta emphasize something you just said here.

      2. Re volume, orbiting patterns etc. – that is a completely different question compared to what it is made of. It being made of green cheese means that the current scientific understanding of what it is made of is completely false. The transition from classical to quantum mechanics analogous if classical mechanics is completely false and only yielded correct predictions because of a series of lucky accidents.

      Part of the transition from the classical to the quantum world involved us realizing that everything was ‘made of’ something radically different than we believed it to be previously, right down to different properties. In fact it’s arguably more radical than ‘the moon is made out of green cheese’, since you’re just swapping one type of atom for another in that case. In the classical to quantum case, we (among other things) had to radically redefine what an atom or a particle even is.

      No ‘lucky accidents’ required.

      It is conceptually possible that a scientific theory is indeed completely wrong and all the experimental observations that seemed to support it were nothing but a series of lucky accidents. That cannot be logically ruled out. This has never happened however,

      1) ‘Lucky accidents’ are not required. A theory can make accurate predictions while still having the explanations about why the results they’re getting be largely wrong.
      2) Plenty of scientific theories turned out to be radically wrong. We were wrong about geocentrism, wrong about heliocentrism, wrong about what ‘matter’ even is, wrong about the atoms being unsplittable, wrong about action at a distance, wrong about quasicrystals, and likely wrong about a lot more than that. What else are we wrong about, and in what ways? Good question.

      Pragmatically, one can be certain that

      Pragmatic certainty isn’t really the question here. I’m willing to take for granted a wide, wide variety of things, any number of which I can be wrong about, or which I’m even uninformed of. Chances are you are too.

      And I doubt that you seriously disagree with that, every time you drive a car or fly on an airplane, you bet your life on one of the “oops, wrong” theories “hopefully, getting it at least a little bit right”.

      And I think you’re mistaking scientific theories with rather non-scientific things, like engineering, common experience, etc. If I know everyone in town has been eating a particular burger with no ill effects and decide to eat one, I’m having more faith in their common experience than I am in some hypothetical nutritionist’s seal of endorsement on the thing.

      • I agree that they have. I think the ‘lacking a belief’ thing is transparently tactical and hard to take seriously.

        So… on the one hand you do believe that mere belief or disbelief is the correct definition and you see no reason
        to change it, but you also believe that mere disbelief is a tactical redefinition that is hard to take seriously.
        Well, it´s nothing unusual for people to hold on to beliefs that mutually contradict each other, but I´ve rarely
        seen that expressed to blatantly.

        You’re making the mistake of thinking that we know what these ‘natural laws’ are, and thus when something
        fails to adhere to the laws as our current science describes, that there must have been a violation of natural laws.
        But the alternative is that our laws were incomplete – and that alone is enough to make any ‘miracle’ entirely consistent
        with the laws of nature.

        Lets contrast an alleged miracle with an instance where the laws of nature, as we understood them, turned out to be incomplete.
        The double-split experiment produced results that were inexplicable given the laws of nature as they had been understood
        when it was first conducted. This experiment was reproducible and it didn´t depend in any way on who carried it out or where
        it was carried out – all that was required was the experimental setup to measure the results, and the results were always obtained when
        the experiment was conducted, it was not a curious one-time observation, it apparently simply just was an observation that reflects
        the way things are.
        Contrast that to the alleged resurrected of Jesus. That dead people will stay dead was the default assumption at the time, for the
        simple reason that no one knew anyone that died and came back from the dead. And further observations since this time would only have
        made the case that dead people will stay dead stronger – because now we not only have an inductive argument for why dead people
        don´t come back from the dead, we also have a deductive one based on an understanding of human physiology and why dying involves
        processes that are irreversible.
        In principle, one could say that if Jesus actually had been resurrected from the dead, it was not due to a supernatural intervention that
        made it possible, but rather due to natural processes that we simply don´t understand yet (which, if true, obviously also means that any human
        could theoretically be resurrected from the dead – Jesus was nothing special in this regard). In principle, one could say that, but no
        one does, because every relevant observation indicates that the alleged resurrection of Jesus is not a reproducible phenomenon
        that is simply inexplicable given the laws of nature as we understand them – it is, if it did happen, a one-time *exception*.
        It seems to be obvious to anyone that saying that the resurrection of Jesus could simply be a natural event because we have observed
        other instances of the laws of nature being incomplete, like the double split experiment, would be fallacious – the resurrection of Jesus
        and the double-split experiment (or any other experiment that proved that the laws of nature as they were understood at the time
        are incomplete) are not analogous.

        No, it summarizes – at best – that my memory of a particular event could be incorrect. But that’s not immediate
        experience being questioned, but memory.

        First of all, your conscious experience of the present moment is in many way already a memory – your body needs longer to process
        some kinds of perceptions than it does for others (if you would be stuck by a needle into one of your toes and one of your fingers
        – the former takes longer to process than the latter does), and your brain merely synchronizes and filters all this information to
        give the illusion that all of your perceptions correspond to the present moment, but they don´t. Your conscious experience of the
        now is, in many ways, already a memory, and it is influenced by many of the cognitive biases that affect your memories.
        Second, your point was, that some knowledge is not provisional – but your objection here is no counter to that, even if your
        conscious experience of the present moment would not be “provisional knowledge” (which it is), as soon as you would report this
        knowledge to others, or act on this knowledge yourself, the *immediate* experience is already over, and you are dealing with memories.
        So, as I said in the beginning, strictly speaking, there is no knowledge that is not provisional.

        And I’m illustrating that quite a lot of how we treat the moon could still stay in place even if, lo and behold, it
        turned out to be made of green cheese. Volume, rotation pattern, etc. So yeah, I think they’re obviously directly comparable.

        Science is not a set of facts – it is a set of facts + explanations of these facts and predictions / retrodictions for new
        facts. Think it through what it would mean if we actually would find out tomorrow that the moon is indeed made out of green cheese, even
        if some facts like Volume etc. would be unchanged, none of those facts could be explained in any way, the models we have right now
        would be spectacularly wrong in every conceivable way. And not just our models of the nature of the moon, there are few scientific disciplines
        that would NOT be affected. Biochemistry as we understand it right now for example, would make no sense whatsoever – long polymers
        of amino acids (like the milk protein casein) cannot *spontaneously* assemble, and even if they could, the assembly of only one particular
        polymer (and never one of the ~10^320 other polymers of the same length (and that is only counting the 20 biogenic amino acids, if we
        would count all naturally occuring amino acids, the number would be MUCH higher)) would not be possible without a very specific synthesis
        pathway (that cannot possibly exist in a chemical background of “green cheese”), and even if that also were possible, proteins are only
        marginally stable, and if they are bombarded with cosmic background radiation, they decay even faster – if the moon is actually made
        out of green cheese however, our biochemical knowledge wrong, not merely slightly wrong, completely wrong (and that would just be one
        example, think what it would mean for our current understanding of gravity if a large object like the moon could be completely homogenously
        made of green cheese instead of the heavier elements being enriched in the center).
        Those scenarios are not comparable.

        Part of the transition from the classical to the quantum world involved us realizing that everything was ‘made of’ something
        radically different than we believed it to be previously, right down to different properties. In fact it’s arguably more radical
        than ‘the moon is made out of green cheese’, since you’re just swapping one type of atom for another in that case. In the
        classical to quantum case, we (among other things) had to radically redefine what an atom or a particle even is.

        It would be analogous if we would discover a second “moon”, that is a trillion times smaller, and made out of a green cheese like
        substance, and then we would figure out that the larger moon is actually made out of the same stuff, but that for objects of this size, the green-cheese
        like nature does not become apparent and does not need to be considered at all (due to “green-cheese decoherence”), and that our current
        scientific models are correct for the moon, but not for the smaller “moon”, because our current scientific models are obtained as a special case
        for green-cheese like objects of the size of the moon.

        1) ‘Lucky accidents’ are not required. A theory can make accurate predictions while still having the explanations about
        why the results they’re getting be largely wrong.
        2) Plenty of scientific theories turned out to be radically wrong. We were wrong about geocentrism, wrong
        about heliocentrism, wrong about what ‘matter’ even is, wrong about the atoms being unsplittable, wrong about action at
        a distance, wrong about quasicrystals, and likely wrong about a lot more than that. What else are we wrong about, and
        in what ways?

        Again, “wrong” is relative – geocentrism is “largey wrong”, but it isn´t “radically wrong” in the sense that it really didn´t get
        anything right. It wouldn´t have survived that long if it were completely wrong, and if it would have been completely wrong, then all
        correct predictions it made would indeed have been due to a series of lucky accidents.

        Pragmatic certainty isn’t really the question here. I’m willing to take for granted a wide, wide variety of
        things, any number of which I can be wrong about, or which I’m even uninformed of. Chances are you are too.

        As I already said, “absolute certainty” cannot be rationally justified, but if you are
        certain enough to bet your life on a given set of beliefs being true without even thinking about it,
        then what difference does it make? Everyone of us bets our lives on a rather large set of beliefs being true (or at the very least
        being *very* close to “truth”) every time we go to a doctor or fly on an airplane or drive a car and so on and so forth – theoretically,
        those beliefs could be false, but no one cares, no one makes this distinction between “pragmatic certainty” and “absolute certainty” in
        everyday life.

        And I think you’re mistaking scientific theories with rather non-scientific things, like engineering, common
        experience, etc. If I know everyone in town has been eating a particular burger with no ill effects and decide to eat one,
        I’m having more faith in their common experience than I am in some hypothetical nutritionist’s seal of endorsement on the thing.

        Engineering is *applied* science, designing an airplane is based on scientific theories (and those engineers assume that Newton was
        actually completely right btw (at least for everything except for the board computers etc.)), and those theories are just as provisional
        as every other scientific theory. But no one cares about this provisional nature of the scientific theories underlying airplane
        design – it is a case where pragmatic certainty and absolute certainty become indistinguishable.

  2. I was interested in your title because so many people can’t tell the difference between an evangelical and a fundamentalist. I like your definitions for the most part, but as a progressive evangelical I think your definition of progressive evangelical is quite narrow:

    “A progressive Evangelical believes that God may have intended to include erroneous writings in His Canon to teach us some lessons.”

    I don’t know any progressive evangelicals who believe that. Unless this was meant as a humorous definition, I would suggest something more like: A progressive evangelical recognizes the Bible, though important, is not meant to be taken as the inerrant words of God.

    • Hello Tim!

      Randal Rauser, for a long time Peter Enns, Scot McKnight and other folks use this definition.
      So I was not being humorous.

      Rauser for example argues that God included evil psalms or genocidal accounts in His canon to show us an example NOT to follow.
      Why it is perhaps acceptable for the psalms, it is much harder to accept it for the conquest stories, since there is no indication whatsoever that it was not willed by God.

      I don’t believe that God inspired the author to write the story, but I do believe that God can use it (as well many other religious books outside the Bible) to teach us a lesson.
      So I partially agree with folks like Randal Rauser, but I don’t single out the Bible as being always more inspired than non-Biblical books.
      C.S. Lewis’s insights were not less profound than those of Paul.

      I hope not to disappoint you, but I have to say you are not a progressive Evangelical but a liberal Protestant 🙂

      Yet to lift up a bit your (now) depressed mood, I want to add this: since in Germany “evangelisch” means “Protestant”, you could be called a “progressiver evangelischer Christ” 😉

      Best wishes from the UK.

      • Hi Lothar, I am aware that Evangelical refers to Protestants in Germany, but I believe it is specifically used of Lutherans as opposed to Calvinists or Anabaptists and such.

        It was also the term used for the remarkably developing and energized movement in America and to some extent in Great Britain (Keswick, for example) in the last third of the 19th century.

        Progressive Evangelicalism, like many theological labels, has broad application and not all would describe themselves in the same way. I am not a liberal protestant because I do not identify with historic liberal protestant emphases and I do not participate in liberal protestant communities, with the exception of subscribing to Martin Marty’s blog.

        My views do not represent all progressive evangelicals, in the same way that Scot McKnight or Tony Jones do not. But my evangelical roots feed my perspective, even as they feed my dissent. Liberal Protestantism does not.

        However, you may classify me as you wish. Labels are not important to me; they only serve to locate me somewhat in the theological discussion. I enjoyed your blog post.

  3. A progressive Evangelical believes that God may have intended to include erroneous writings in His Canon to teach us some lessons.

    I have a question: is F = ma ‘erroneous’ by your definition? Much hangs on this, because I think the only way we learn about reality, other people, and God is through successive approximation. I wrote a relevant Phil.SE answer you might find interesting.

  4. Funny, for 70 years I’ve thought an atheist was a person who BELIEVED, usually very fervently, that there is no God. I’ve had this belief affirmed by many people I’ve known who called themselves atheists. On the other hand, I consider myself an agnostic, and I’ve always believed that meant that after many years of seriously examining the question I’ve come to the belief that the existence or non-existence of God is an axiom. That it is like the axioms of Euclidian geometry. The matter cannot be determined by reason, any more than the parallel postulate can be. Actually the parallel postulate is a good example because by choosing one of three alternative postulates you get three different but completely consistent systems of geometry. It’s not that I can’t make up my mind, it’s that there is no rational way to make the choice. My solution? Simple (for me anyway). I’ve just opted out of the debating society and refuse to be consistent. I pray to give thanks to a power greater than me, and I try to do it on a daily basis. I know there are powers in this universe greater than me, but that does not mean they care about me or want my attention. I find Calvinism utterly morally repugnant, and see its effects widespread in the United States now. We used to be better. I can’t accept all the precepts of Arminianism, but it’s a lot more congenial to me. I believe in the existence of evil, but I think it resides in men’s hearts. I think that the Four Noble Truths of Buddhism are true, although only the first one is obviously undeniable. I think the Eightfold Path is a good way to live and reduces our suffering in this life, but suffering is, of course, inevitable (if nothing else, “…death is suffering.”).

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in:

WordPress.com Logo

You are commenting using your WordPress.com account. Log Out / Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out / Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out / Change )

Google+ photo

You are commenting using your Google+ account. Log Out / Change )

Connecting to %s