An agnostic opening post and my rebuttal. The debate can be found here.

Opening post:

“I was a Christian only as a young teenager. Eventually I left the faith, but since that time the issues of religion have always been of importance to me. I became increasingly interested in comparative religious studies, and in philosophy, science, and history insofar as they related to questions about God, right and wrong, etc. I gradually became very comfortable as an atheist and then later as a naturalist. But over the last year I’ve pulled back and my position is much less declarative than it used to be.

To this day I do not feel uncomfortable saying with a very strong degree of conviction that none of the gods of contemporary organized religion exist. I still view all Abrahamic religions as false. But what I no longer believe is that we can show that atheism is true – atheism defined as the position that there is no such thing as a god. I know plenty of people on these forums do not define atheism that way; instead, they define atheism as ‘lack of belief in a god’. I don’t want this discussion to turn into a debate over semantics, so let me just say that if you so strongly object to me defining atheism as “the position that there is no such thing as a god”, then just reinterpret it to say “strong atheism” or “positive atheism” or whatever term you use to signify that position.

The reason for why I no longer believe that atheism is a rationally warranted position is because I think that there are conceptions of God that are not in any sense as anthropomorphic as the God of Abraham, and as such these conceptions of God aren’t shown to be false by arguments from evil or divine hiddenness (or other traditional arguments), since these arguments depend upon the idea that God has a certain set of desires that we do not necessarily have to suppose that God actually has. These arguments for atheism show, in my opinion, that “God” as imagined from the perspective of Christianity or Islam does not exist. But what if we understood God differently?

God: a being responsible for the creation of the universe not bound by natural law, who belongs to an ontological category that is distinct from the “natural” – i.e. this being is “supernatural”.

Here, we have a God who has no concern for human affairs, who interacts either very, very little or not at all with our universe. I do not think that the arguments meant to demonstrate that atheism is true have shown that we should suppose that a God defined in the above way does not exist.

We can suggest other possible characteristics for this being – such as, maybe, the idea that it has always existed – that it is infinitely old, that things like “birth” and “death” do not apply to it in the way that such things apply to us and the world around us. But at the same time, this need not be the case. It’s sufficient that this being is supernatural in origin and responsible for the creation of our universe. If tomorrow we woke up and scientists in some way discovered that this was true, I imagine that everyone who was a self-described atheist would feel that they had been very much mistaken about things.

So, again, my concern is that traditional atheistic arguments amount to a failure. They do not demonstrate that there is no such thing as god, even though they may give us a very strong degree of conviction in the idea that a god as envisioned by traditional organized religion isn’t real.

Thoughts?”

My rebuttal:

“Hi Deschain,

Intro
I think your argument is interesting but fallacious. Since you did not do so, I will request that you try to formalize the argument for two reasons: 1) to establish validity, and 2) to add clarity. Seemingly good and sound arguments sometimes rest on a hidden confusion.

Your take is that positive atheism is the affirmation of at least one the propositions below:

PA. All concepts of ‘god’ are non-existent.
PA’. All possible concepts of ‘god’ are non-existent.

The above is not what I understand by positive atheism, but I don’t want to discuss the semantics in here per your request.

The problem is that you seem to think that any stipulative definition of ‘god’ ought to be accepted and, therefore, if someone stipulatively defines ‘god’ as ‘a tomato’ PA and PA’ would be false.

I don’t think anyone holds this position. There are two ways out of this:

1. Don’t hold universal atheism

Hidden Text:

(I prefer to call this view positive panatheism. Alternative positive omniatheism, but because ‘pan-‘ and ‘atheism’ are greek rather than latin as ‘omni-‘ is. I think we ought to avoid bilingual conjunction words)

2. Don’t accept all definitions of ‘god’.

I take the first way. I don’t hold that all concepts or all possible (infinite amount) concepts of ‘god’ are non-existent. I only claim that some god concepts are non-existent e.g. the Abrahamic and your deistic one above. I can give arguments for this position if you wish.

The second route is to not accept any definition of ‘god’. Some people think that one always ought to accept a definition, but I don’t. I think that all people have prima facie reason to accept any definition. A prima facie reason is a justification that is strong enough to imply that one is justified in holding whatever attitude it justifies, but not enough if there is any reason against the position. I think there is reason against accepting all concepts of ‘god’. The word ‘god’ already has a meaning (as any other established word) even though that meaning is vague, it is certainly not ‘a tomato’, so I can reject that definition. I think that the necessarily condition of god concepts is that of ‘a supreme being’ which is intentionally vague. This implies, e.g., that I don’t accept pantheistic definitions of ‘god’.”

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