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February 11, 2012


I am an anaturalist.

Is a conversion from atheism to theism merely a lack of disbelief?


If I were having a discussion with someone that called themselves an atheist, and the person told me “Atheism is just a lack of belief in God,” perhaps I should respond as follows.

Since you are the master of your own words, you may use them as you please or stipulate. However, if you use the term “atheist” in that fashion, you are departing from its conventional use, which is to describe someone who believes there is no God, not someone who fails to believe that there is a God. But let us proceed to abuse terms as you are evidently inclined to do. Let us hereby stipulate that when you say, “I am an atheist” you mean only “I lack belief in God.” If that is what you are claiming, then the only proper reply on my part is, “Thank you for that biographical report.” After all, to say “I lack a belief in God” is to answer the question “Does God exist?” in neither the affirmative or the negative; that is, it is not to answer the question at all. It is merely to report on your own mental states, and since you have privileged access to your own mental states, I can’t very well disagree with you that you lack belief in God. Furthermore, if your claim really is merely a biographical report, then your claim is neither identical to nor entails nor even provides strong evidence for any of the following: God does not exist; no one knows that God exists; no one rationally believes that God exists; some folks know that God does not exist; some folks rationally believe that God does not exist; no one can know either way whether God exists or not; the only rational stance to the proposition God exists is suspension of judgment.

Perhaps you are more interested in your biographical reports than in substantive philosophical discussion. That would be unfortunate, but perhaps not nearly as unfortunate as being so confused as to be unable to discern between mundane biographical reports and substantive philosophical claims.

I don't disagree with any of Tom Gilson's points.

And don't really see the big deal...

As to the retort: "Ya but IDEAS HAVE CONSEQUENCES!"


so if the idea was true, and had bad consequences, that would make it false?

frankly, i dont care if the idea has consequences.

i just care if its true or false.

I lack belief in lack of belief.

I think Gilson's point is that atheist ideas have false consequences, not that they have bad consequences.

Suppose, for example, that a logical consequence of atheism is that moral knowledge is impossible. Well, moral knowledge is possible. I know, for example, that it is wrong to skin a normal, conscious, adult human just for the fun of watching it suffer.

So, if Gilson is right, atheism logically implies something false. That fact, in turn, implies that atheism itself is false.

Hi Malebranche,
Good comment. Better said, but my sentiments exactly.

I think too much time gets spent in debates over the meaning of the word "atheist." Words are defined by their use, and if a person who calls himself an atheist means he has a mere lack of belief in God, then fine. What's the point in arguing over a word? We should be more interested in the substance of what they believe (or don't believe) than in the word they use to codify it.

There are much better ways to get to the bottom of things with a person who claims he has a lack of belief in God. You can ask, "Do you think the statement, 'God exists,' is true or false? Or do you have any opinion on it at all?" Or, you can ask, "Do you also have a lack of belief that God does NOT exist? In other words, do you have no opinion on the subject at all?"

Thank you for that very encouraging word, Amy. It might be enough even to carry through my next great task of the day, which is to bang my head and scrape my knuckles while replacing our kitchen sink faucet. (Seriously, I do appreciate it.)

In response to this issue of consequences, ToNy: no, I do not think bad consequences would make a true proposition false. If a statement is true it's true.

I brought up consequences here because the commenter I was responding to had said,

Being an Atheist does not mean that you are a murderer, thief, rapist, devil worshiper, or anything else. It simply means that you don’t believe in God.

I agree that being an atheist does not mean you are a murderer, thief, rapist, or devil worshiper. I don't agree that it doesn't mean "anything else." I gave a partial explanation on this blog post; there is more on the linked page.

WisdomLover, I agree that if a belief has false implications following from it necessarily, then the idea is false. That's an important point and I agree with your application of it. Here, though, I really was talking about bad consequences, because that was the context in which this came up that day.

Well, let's not forget why the typical atheist interlocutor tries to frame the issue that way. If he simply has no belief, then he can claim that he has no burden of proof, since he isn't trying to prove anything. Thus he can just turn around and say that the burden is on the theist. He can then also attempt to ground his presupposition of naturalism in his nonbelief in God, and thus demand, in effect, material proof of a nonmaterial being, or else he'll just scoff like the Comic Book Guy.

It's precious, but about as logically coherent as me saying that "As a presupposition, I only believe in astronomy as a real science. Therefore, unless I see some evidence that you're a heavenly body of some sort, I don't believe you really exist."

"But I'm right here. You can see me. You can see stuff I move around. You can hear me."

"Whatever. Not the kind of evidence I believe in. Astronomy is the only real source of knowledge."

"You're being obstinate. I exist."

"You can't prove that. And until you can offer astronomical proof for your ridiculous claim in a non-heavenly entity, then I have no belief."

"But can you prove I don't exist?"


Annnnd scene.

I think too much time gets spent arguing over who has the burden of proof as well.


But you have to prove your statements. But no nihilist is ever consistent, they open their mouths more than most any other type of person that exists arguing against everything except something, and thinking they are not being hypocrites at the same time. If nihilists wanted to be consistent they would just keep their mouth's shut their entire lives, because even opening it is a contradiction to their beliefs if they would actually follow them.

Ok, So what would you call someone who doesn't believe in Santa Claus or unicorns?

Do you simply lack belief in Santa?

No, you do not have to prove your non-belief, unless.......



Now, are you asking what I'd call someone who believes those things don't exist, or someone who has no beliefs at all regarding Santa or unicorns?

"Do you simply lack belief in Santa?"

If I don't believing in santa and lacking belief in santa. isn't that the same thing? This whole thing feels like word games from both sides.

Bennett, I can't "believe" those thing don't exist because the burden of proof is on the person who postulates such things, right?
The default position is a negative one. It shouldn't require faith unless I say: I KNOW that Santa does not exist.

Now just replace God with santa and you have my position. But before you think I performed some trick I would ask if you think that is what an atheist is? (someone who doesn't believe in gods(s) I'm not sure. I think a true atheist take the faith position. I will say that I have some faith in the position that the Judeo-Christian God does not exist. It was very hard thought out mind you. I didn't jump into it the way I did with Christianity.

Enough rambling, thoughts?


I actually can't tell from your answer what your response to the question would be.

When we talk about someone who lacks belief in Santa, that is not the same as someone who believes he doesn't exist. It is not a word trick.

I, for example, believe there is not a full-grown stegosaurus in my living room. However, I lack belief as to whether or not there is a dust mite crawling on the carpet, too tiny for me to see without a microscope.

One is unbelief on the basis of lacking necessary evidence, the other is not forming an opinion on the absence of sufficient evidence. It's very significant.

So, what would I call someone who *lacks* belief in Santa? Ignorant. Not in a judgemental way, they just don't know who or what Santa is.

What do I call someone who believes there is no Santa? Correct.

What do I call someone who is asked whether there is a Santa and produces an answer which is not "Yes" "No" or "Maybe", but just goes "Derp"? Nothing nice.

So, if someone says their atheism is responding to "Is there a God?" with "Derp" and not "No" or "Maybe", then I consider them to either be disingenuous or else on an intellectual level with my dogs, who respond about the same way.

Actually, come to think on re-reading that, I don't "lack belief" about the dust mite. I say "Maybe", so I admit a belief that it could or couldn't be, and I don't know for sure. What I would lack belief about is the existence of, say, some completely unknown creature too tiny to see, that has never been discovered or analysed. It wouldn't even cross my mind to wonder about such a thing, so I literally have zero belief in that case.

The OP quotes a source that says it’s ridiculous for atheists to claim that atheism is nothing but a lack of belief in God.

Is there something 'ridiculous' about a jury finding a defendent 'not guilty'?



There's something ridiculous about a jury coming back with "Could you repeat the question?"

When a jury says "Not guilty" they mean exactly that. They judged the guilt not to exist. They didn't just say "We can't tell whether he's guilty, so let him off." That's known as a "hung jury" and still represents a position--that of being completely unsure.

And you'd still have to go one step further to say they have "no belief" at all. To have "no belief" in whether someone was guilty, I'd have to never have been on the jury (or at the trial) at all. But that isn't saying "not guilty" that's just me not being aware.

"When we talk about someone who lacks belief in Santa, that is not the same as someone who believes he doesn't exist. It is not a word trick."

I thought's what I just said. Sorry for the confusion.

"One is unbelief on the basis of lacking necessary evidence, the other is not forming an opinion on the absence of sufficient evidence. It's very significant."

OK! Here it is then. I have unbelief on the basis of lacking necessary evidence that the Judeo-Christian God exists.

I am not forming an opinion on wether or not "A God" exists on the absence of sufficient evidence. Am I an atheist?

Make sense? I may be a little confused here.Which make me that much more suspicious both sides are playing word games. God I hate the English language.


I don't think you're the kind of atheist who plays word games. If I asked you whether there was a God, you'd probably state, frankly, that in your opinion there was not, or at least it was very unlikely.

The kind of statement the OP was talking about is someone who says "I'm an atheist--that means I just don't have a belief." But the trick there is like saying "There's nothing written on the slip of paper in my pocket" which is not the same as "The slip of paper in my pocket says There Is No God."

They'll try this tactic because you don't have to defend not claiming anything, but you do have to defend claiming that there isn't anything.

And really, that isn't even the most culpable kind of nonbelief I can think of. Far worse is someone who "doesn't believe in God" in the way that I "don't believe in child abuse." That is, I know it exists, but I hold it in contempt and approbation. When Christians are exhorted to "believe in God" it's like when the guy in The Godfather "believes in America." The whole factual proposition part is just for starters. A lot of people think there's a "higher power" but don't trust it, love it, or seek it.

I suspect that an earnest, open-hearted unbelief is probably much less damning than an apathy or disdain for what you *do* know or suspect to be true.

Tom Gilson then is yet another dishonest apologist for doctrine, trying to push positions on to people that don't believe the same things he does, in order for it to be easier for him to attack them (or at least his straw man version of them) and pretend that those not making the claim of the existence of something have as much as a "burden of proof" as him.
Isn't it interesting that so many apologists spend so much effort in such tactics, instead of just presenting the evidence that one would suppose they have as it already convinced them?! Could something dodgy be up here?

"the frequently-heard claim, "Atheism is nothing but a lack a belief in God""

Of course this is not correct:
Atheism is nothing but a lack a belief in any gods.
It is the state of not being one of those who does hold a belief in one or more gods. Not just the god you call "God."

"—as if the non-belief in God did not entail many other beliefs about reality."

It doesn't.

"its most common naturalist/materialist form) a lack of belief in:
Transcendent moral values and duties"

No it isn't.

"Ultimate accountability"

No it isn't.

"Knowledge of what is really good and really evil"

No it isn't.

"An explanation for the real, ontological worth and dignity of human beings"

No it isn't.

"Or, atheism in that form entails the belief that
There are no transcendent moral values or duties"

No it doesn't.

"There is no ultimate accountability"

No it doesn't

"There is no knowing what is really good and really evil"

No it doesn't.

"There is no explanation for the real, ontological worth and dignity of human beings, so it’s quite possible that human beings don’t have any special worth or dignity"

No it doesn't.

"These beliefs have consequences."

Yes they do. And I am sure that you will find that many people, many of whom don't believe in the same god that you do, or even no gods at all (gasp!) happen to have opinions on some or all of those topics. BUT there is no need to FORCE those beliefs into the definition of "Atheism." That would be as fallacious and foolish as forcing "belief that Jesus is the messiah" into "theism."

So why do you feel the need to force feed the definition of atheism with extra baggage like that?!

"All the beliefs that go along with an atheist's "lack of belief in God" can be stated positively: "


"The universe is random and purposeless, moral values and duties are illusory, a belief in human exceptionalism is speciesist, we have only instrumental value, human nature is malleable and can (and should) be reshaped and improved by society, etc. These are all positive claims that need to be recognized and defended."

Sure they are. They are NOT however aspects of atheism, even is there are some, many or even all (which is not the case) atheists that happen to share them.

This is nothing more than a cheap tactic of certain religious apologists to attempt to force those not buying their claims to defend a position of their own (by trying to tell them what they believe!) as a means to AVOID addressing their own "burden of proof", of defending the very claim that the atheist is not buying into.

SHAME ON YOU for promoting such a vile cheap tactic!


Thanks for clearing that up. I wasn't quite buying the "No it doesn't" ad infinitum counter-argument, but you got me at the end with the all caps. I'll stop going to church now. Thank God you came and showed me the light.


u r annoying

if you disagree then pick one point and say way

"Ok, So what would you call someone who doesn't believe in Santa Claus or unicorns?
Agnostic unless they believes santa or unicorns don't exist. Athiests who merley say thay have a lack of belief are likewise are taking the postion of an agnostic not an athiest.

Atheists have no burden of proof whatsoever.

You don't need a reason to reject a claim.

You do have a burden if you want me to believe it, as I have no burden to get your approval to believe it myself.

And daron thinks I'm the troll...


"You don't need a reason to reject a claim."

That's a presupposition of the philosophy of skepticism, not an axiomatic truth. You really *do* need reasons to reject a claim, just as you need reasons to accept it. What you don't need a reason for is to simply neither confirm nor deny it, but simply keep it under consideration or in reserve. As Aristotle said, it's the mark of an educated mind to entertain an idea without accepting it. On the other hand, Emerson says that a foolish consistency is the hobgoblin of small minds.

In other words, agnostics have no burden to prove their "I dunno" or "I'm not convinced." Atheists, on the other hand, do. Now, if your belief is a simple "I dunno", then just admit you're an agnostic.

The issue is in claiming to have no belief, and then criticising the belief of others. If you need no reasons to reject a claim, then perhaps you *have* no reasons for it, and then how can you reasonably insist anyone else agree?

A: I'm an Atheist. I choose to use the word "Atheist" to mean "Someone who does not have a belief in God (or gods)"

T: OK. That's a bit odd. If that's what you want to say, it seems like the etymology would favor something like "agnostic" or "apistist" or simply "non-believer", since those say "no-knowledge" or "no-belief"; whereas, "atheist" says "no-God".

A: I've got my rights.

T: Yes. Yes you do. Just don't be surprised when people don't seem to get it.

A: I don't care. It's up to me to name what my position is. Not anyone else.

T: OK. As long as you know. Now, you say that you don't have a belief in God. Why not?

A: It's not up to me to tell you that. If you want me to believe in God, it's up to you to prove that there is such a being.

T: Hmmm... Well, I don't know about that, but let's keep that on ice for now. But on the subject of proof, do you, then believe that theists have never offered proof for the existence of God?

A: No that's never happened.

T: My friend, you are quite mistaken. Go to the library.


A: Well, OK, theists have offered proof.

T: I see. And you don't believe that their proofs are any good.

A: No, of course I don't believe that.

T: Just so that we are clear, is it that you don't have any belief about the quality of theistic proofs, or is it that you actually believe that there is no good theistic proof?

A: I don't have a belief.

T: Really. I recommend further reflection.


A: OK. I believe that all the theistic arguments are bad.

T: I see. So it seems that you do, at last have a belief. Can you tell me why you believe that all the arguments are bad? I assume you have a particular reason for each one rather than a general reason that they are all bad?

A: It's still not up to me to prove anything. Non-existence is the default position. It's up to the one who says that a thing exists to prove that it exists. The one who does not believe that the thing exists needn't prove anything.

T: Yes. Well, that's an interesting hypothesis. But even assuming that it is true, isn't it I who should be saying it to you?

A: What?

T: Yes. I and my fellow theists have provided a number of proofs to you for the existence of God. You have declared each and every one of them to be bad.

When you say that an argument is bad, you are saying that there is something wrong with it. Has it escaped your notice that this is an existence claim? You claim that a flaw exists in each and every theistic argument.

I actually think that there are a number of flawed theistic arguments and I'd be glad to show you the flaws I've found in them. On the other hand there are a number of arguments where I don't believe there are any flaws.

By your principle, it's up to you to prove to me that the flaws exist. The default position is non-existence etc.

T: Oh! Very clever! I see that you are not interested in serious discussion but just want to cram your views down my throat.

A: It would seem, wouldn't it, that when the shoe is on the other foot, all this talk of default positions, and burdens of proof is just a backhanded way of telling your opposition to shut up and fall in line?

If you really want to argue about something, then it would seem the thing to do is argue and not expend a lot of effort complaining that you don't need to argue.



Bravo! Encore! BROADWAY!

Except, a word of clarification to subsequent audiences: the actor's accidentally read each other's lines at the very end.

Yeah, that's the trouble with using just the initials. But hey, now you can say you've produced the first Christian drama with T&A.

First time by your site. Thank you for putting it together and sharing with all of us. -Matt

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