bookmark_borderUnapologetic Review – Part 9: Analysis of Reason #9

A KEY PASSAGE FROM PART 2 OF THIS SERIES:
It appears to me that just as Chapter 5 is the heart of the book, and that the 10 Reasons are the heart of Chapter 5, so also I believe that Reason #9 (which concerns opposition to “faith-based claims”) for ending philosophy of religion is at the heart of the 10 Reasons.
If I can shove a sharp dagger into Reason #9, then I believe that will kill the beast, and stop the beating of the heart of Loftus’ case against the philosophy of religion.
Here is a diagram illustrating my high-level view of Unapologetic  (for a clearer view of the diagram, click on the image below):
Unapologetic - Venn Diagram
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
Conversely, if I cannot manage to demolish or seriously damage Reason #9, then that will be a good indication that Loftus has made a strong case for his conclusion, even if some of the other points (e.g. the theme about PoR being “parochial” in nature) are weak and inadequate reasons.
Christian apologists are fond of saying that “Christianity stands or falls with the resurrection of Jesus”, and I think a similar kind of point applies here:
Loftus’ case against the philosophy of religion stands or falls with Reason #9.
Thus, a very good place to start an evaluation of this book, is on page 135, where Loftus spells out Reason #9.
 
ANALYSIS OF THE ARGUMENT GIVEN AS REASON #9
The core argument at the heart of the book Unapologetic can be reconstructed from a single sentence:
If PoR is using reason to examine the claims of religion, and if religion is based on faith, then philosophy of religion must end.  (Unapologetic, p.135)
The basic logical structure of this argument is a modus ponens:

IF P, THEN Q.

P

THEREFORE 

Q

Main Argument – Initial version:

IF philosophy of religion is using reason to examine the claims of religion and religion is based on faith, THEN philosophy of religion must end.

Philosophy of religion is using reason to examine the claims of religion and religion is based on faith.

THEREFORE 

Philosophy of religion must end.

For clarity of analysis, let’s separate the conjunction in the second premise into two separate claims.
Main Argument – Revision 1:

1..IF philosophy of religion is using reason to examine the claims of religion and religion is based on faith, THEN philosophy of religion must end.

2. Philosophy of religion is using reason to examine the claims of religion.

3. Religion is based on faith.

THEREFORE 

4. Philosophy of religion must end.

The subject of premise (3) is a bit vague, but based on the content of premise (2) as well as other statements Loftus makes in presenting this argument, it is clear that it is “the claims of religion” that Loftus believes are “based on faith”:
Main Argument – Revision 2:

1a..IF philosophy of religion is using reason to examine the claims of religion and the claims of religion are based on faith, THEN philosophy of religion must end.

2. Philosophy of religion is using reason to examine the claims of religion.

3a. The claims of religion are based on faith.

THEREFORE 

4. Philosophy of religion must end.

Premise (3a) is an improvement over the initial premise (3), but it still has a problem of unclarity, specifically in terms of QUANTIFICATION.  I am going to interpret (3a) as asserting a universal generalization to ensure that the logic of this argument is deductively valid.  If the universal generalization turns out to be false, then (at that point) we can consider weaker versions of this generalization.
Main Argument – Revision 3:

1b..IF philosophy of religion is using reason to examine the claims of religion and ALL of the claims of ALL religions are based on faith, THEN philosophy of religion must end.

2. Philosophy of religion is using reason to examine the claims of religion.

3b. ALL of the claims of ALL religions are based on faith.

THEREFORE 

4. Philosophy of religion must end.

A key point in Loftus’ reasoning is the idea that ALL of the claims examined in the philosophy of religion are based on faith.  If this universal generalization is false, then that would open the door to separating the non-faith-based issues in philosophy of religion from the faith-based issues, and thus potentially leave philosophy of religion standing, just with a smaller scope of relevant issues.  In order to ensure the universal generalization that ALL of the claims examined in the philosophy of religion are based on faith, the scope of philosophy of religion must be restricted to examination of ONLY “the claims of religion”.
Main Argument – Revision 4:

1c..IF philosophy of religion is using reason to examine ONLY the claims of religion and ALL of the claims of ALL religions are based on faith, THEN philosophy of religion must end.

2a. Philosophy of religion is using reason to examine ONLY the claims of religion.

3b. ALL of the claims of ALL religions are based on faith.

THEREFORE 

4. Philosophy of religion must end.

Some key bits of reasoning given in support of premise (1c) are these:
A reasonable faith does not exist, nor can faith be a guide for reasoning to any objective conclusion.  The claims of religious faith via PoR cannot be reasonably defended. (Unapologetic, p.135)
There are some things philosophers should not take seriously to remain as serious intellectuals.  A faith-based claim is one of them. (Unapologetic, p.135)
From these comments by Loftus, I infer that one of his assumptions is this:
5. ANY claim that is based on faith cannot be reasonably defended.
I also infer that one of his conclusions that is based on (5) is this:
6. Philosophers ought NOT recognize and participate in an alleged sub-discipline of philosophy that uses reason to examine ONLY claims that are based on faith.
If I am correct about (5) and (6) being important assumptions in Loftus’ reasoning here, then this indicates a way to further clarify premise (1c) as well as the conclusion of the argument.
Main Argument – Revision 5:

1d..IF philosophy of religion is using reason to examine ONLY the claims of religion and ALL of the claims of ALL religions are based on faith, THEN philosophers ought NOT recognize and participate in the philosophy of religion (as an alleged sub-discipline of philosophy).

2a. Philosophy of religion is using reason to examine ONLY the claims of religion.

3b. ALL of the claims of ALL religions are based on faith.

THEREFORE 

4a. Philosophers ought NOT recognize and participate in the philosophy of religion (as an alleged sub-discipline of philosophy).

Premise (5) is a reason in support of premise (6), and premise (6) is a reason in support of premise (1d).  Premises (1d), (2a), and (3b) work together to form a valid deductive argument for the conclusion (4a).  Here is an argument diagram showing the logic of the main argument in Unapologetic with the conclusion of the argument at the top, and the supporting premises beneath the conclusion (for a clearer view of the diagram, click on the image below):
Reason #9 - Later Analysis
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
In the next post in this series I will evaluate this argument.

bookmark_borderUnapologetic Review – Part 4: More Effort Required

“Communication is Hard”
My wife is a very intelligent woman.  I enjoy discussing religion, politics, and philosophy with her.  When I lay out an argument, either for my own viewpoint or (as the devil’s advocate) for some alternative viewpoint, she almost always raises one or two sharp objections to the argument.  She is also a person of good common sense and practical wisdom.   One of her bits of wisdom that comes up often is this:
“Communication is hard.” 
This little mantra has a couple of important implications.  First, even between people who know each other very well, miscommunications and misunderstandings are to be expected from time to time; they are inevitable.  Second, good communication requires work, effort, attention, and care.
So, when she is talking to me in the morning, in order to have a better chance of good communication,  I need to set the newspaper down for a moment, look her in the eyes, and actually focus my attention on the words coming out of her mouth.  Like most people, I’m not so good at multi-tasking.  Looking her in the eyes gives her some assurance that I’m listening, and setting the paper down helps me to focus my mind on what she is saying.  Good communication requires work, effort, attention, and care.
“What We Have Here is a Failure to Communicate”
In Part 3 of this series, I harshly criticized Mr. Loftus for problems of UNCLARITY in his presentation of what I take to be the central argument of his book Unapologetic, namely Reason #9 in Chapter 5, an argument for the conclusion “Philosophy of religion must end.”  I stand by this criticism, at least the basic idea that Mr. Loftus’ presentation of this argument is seriously flawed because it is UNCLEAR.
However, in his responses to my criticisms,  Loftus has raised a point that stings a bit; he raises an objection to my critique which has some merit.  Although I don’t think he realized this, one of his comments basically turned my own critique around, and pointed it in my direction, with some justice:
“As to some working definitions of these words goes, with a little research you could find what I say of them.”
Mr. Loftus wants a big “mea culpa” apology from me, and he is not going to get that. However, I will admit to a degree of inaccuracy and unfairness in my criticism of Unapologetic in Part 3 of this series, and I will also admit to a bit of hypocrisy, but I will attempt to do better in this post.
In short, there is a failure of communication between Loftus and me concerning Reason #9 in support of his view that “Philosophy of Religion must end.”  That failure of communication is partly because Loftus FAILED to properly clarify the meanings of some key words and phrases in this central argument of his book.  However, the failure of communication is also partly because I FAILED to put in sufficient work, effort, attention, and care as a reader and interpreter of Unapologetic.
Work, Effort, Attention, Care, and Hypocrisy
Good communication requires work, effort, atention, and care.  Because Reason #9 consists of an argument involving the words “faith” and “reason” and “philosophy” and “religion”, as well as the phrases “philosophy of religion” and “faith in X”, and because these words and phrases are vague, ambiguous, and unclear,  Loftus ought to provide in this book: (a) clear definitions of each of these unclear words, and (b) some reasons and evidence in support of the proposed defintions.
Ideally, he ought to provide an entire chapter focused on defining and clarifying the meaning of the word “faith” and an entire chapter focused on defining and clarifying the meaning of the word “religion”, and an entire chapter focused on defining and clarifying the meaning of the phrase “philosophy of religion”.  He did not do this.
A less than ideal, but perhaps adequate, approach would be to provide one chapter clarifying all three of these terms, writing a subsection of about ten pages defining and clarifying each term.   Loftus did not do this.  So,  Loftus FAILED to provide adequate clarification of the key terms of his central argument,  terms that are OBVIOUSLY and NOTORIOUSLY unclear.   I justifiably pointed out in Part 3 of this series that there was a serious problem of UNCLARITY in Loftus’ presentation of Reason #9.
However,  my irritation with Loftus, as with Norman Geisler, and as with William Craig, is based on an expectation of a certain level of “work, effort, attention, and care” on the part of a philosopher or intellectual in presenting an argument or a case for a point of view.  I tend to use words like “lazy” and “sloppy” and “careless” and “not a serious effort”.  Clearly, I don’t like intellectual sloth in philosophers and intellectuals.
But in that case,  I need to apply this same value and standard to my own thinking and writing, and I’m afraid that my critique of Loftus in Part 3 falls a bit short on this important standard.   Good communication also requires “work, effort, attention, and care” on the part of readers and interpreters, not just on authors and writers, and I fell short on this requirement.  I threw in the towel too quickly, and I did not work hard enough to find clues that would clarify what Loftus was trying to say.
To be a good example of the intellectual values and standards that I use to criticize other thinkers, I need to make a greater effort to understand what Loftus is saying in Reason #9.   Loftus had a responsiblity to be provide more clarification of the key words and phrases in his central argument, but I also have a responsibility to make a greater effort to figure out what he means, especially to understand Reason #9, the key argument found on page 135 of Unapologetic.   I intend to get back into the ring, and make a more serious effort to arrive at a clear understanding of this argument.
Reason #9 is an interesting and significant argument about an important question.  So,  I should be willing to put in a significant degree of work, effort, attention, and care to try to understand that argument.
One critical comment that I made in Part 3 , I now regret:
His failure to provide any definition or analysis of the meaning of any of the key words and phrases in his central argument suggests that he does not have a clear idea of what those words mean.
This criticism is not accurate and is unfair to Loftus.   I had no intention of deceiving anyone, or of making a false statement about Unapologetic, but this criticism is exaggerated and inaccurate, and I would not have made this criticism if I had made a greater effort to figure out what Loftus’ means, and to find clues in Unapologetic that would help to clarify Reason #9.
Although I am clearly unhappy with the amount and degree of clarification that Loftus provides about the key terms in his central argument,  he does provide some statements in Unapologetic that appear to be definitions of “faith” and he does provide at least one statement that appears to be a defintion of “philosophy of religion”, and there are other clues in the book that should be considered in trying to understand what Loftus means when he talks about “faith” and “religion” and “philosophy of religion”.  I will now pay more attention to those statements and clues, to try to figure out the meaning of the argument constituting Reason #9.
“Philosophy of Religion” means…?
There is a discussion of “philosophy of religion” on page 114 of Unapologetic that sheds some light on what Loftus means by this phrase.  Here are are a couple of key statements from that discussion:
PoR is a discipline that has traditionally concerned itself with the claims and arguments of religion. 
…PoR seeks to understand the claims of religion (if possible) and examine the arguments put forth both pro and con by the canons of reason and evidence.  This is how PoR has historically been understood among Western philosophers.
I don’t think this is a great definition, nor do I think this is an appropriate level of clarification for the most important concept in the whole book, but it is something, and it might be enough to help me to figure out and understand Reason #9.
Loftus contrasts this understanding of “philosophy of religion” with how the discipline is actually carried out:
In practice, however, this is not the case.  Philosophers of religion are dealing with religion in religious, creedal, and confessional ways.  (Unapologetic, p.114)
This contrast between the ideal conception of “philosophy of religion” and how the discipline is actually carried out in practice makes a legitimate point of criticism about the discipline.  It also introduces ambiguity into the meaning of the phrase “philosophy of relgion”.
However, it seems fairly clear to me that in Reason #9, Loftus makes use of the ideal conception of “philosophy of religion”, at least in the premises of the argument:
2.  If PoR is using reason to examine the claims of religion, and if religion is based on faith, then philosophy of religion must end. 
This explicit premise suggests another unstated premise:
A. Philosophy of religion uses reason to examine the claims of religion.
This is close to the statement about the ideal conception of “philosophy of religion”.  So, I think we can expand and clarify this unstated premise by substituting the apparent defintion of “philosophy of religion” from page 114 in place of this unstated premise.  Loftus appears to be invoking the ideal conception of “philosophy of religion” in Reason #9.
“Faith” means…?
Although I’m not happy with the degree of effort by Loftus to clarify the meaning of the word “faith”,  a more careful reading of Unapolgetic reveals some statements that appear to be brief definitions of this word, as well as a couple of other passages which shed some light on what Loftus means when he uses this word:
Faith is a cognitive bias that causes believers to overestimate any confirming evidence and underestimate any disconfirming evidence.  (p. 55)
…faith is always about that which lacks sufficient evidence or even no evidence at all.  I consider faith to be an unrecognized-as-yet cognitive bias that gives believers permission to pretend what they believe is true, even if there is no objective evidence at all… (p. 92)
Just consider what’s wrong with Islam, Judaism, Mormonism, Jehovah’s Witnesses….  Faith.  The adherents of these religions do not believe based on sufficient evidence, because faith is an irrational leap over the probabilities.  If they thought exclusively in terms of the probabilities by proportioning their belief to the evidence (per David Hume), they would not believe at all.  (p.125)
Faith should one day be labeled a cognitive bias.  It keeps one’s cognitive faculties from functioning properly.  Faith is an irrational, unevidenced, or misplaced trust in something or someone. (p.152)
In addition to these brief definition-like statements about the meaning of “faith” Loftus has a couple of other passages that shed some light on how he understands this idea (on pages 57 and 160).
Although these definitions seem inadequate and problematic to me, they do provide some good clues as to what Loftus means by the word “faith”, and with a bit of effort on my part, this might well be enough information for me to figure out and understand the meaning of the argument constituting Reason #9.  So, I’m going to go back to work on that task, and when I have a clearer understanding and interpretation of Reason #9,  I will share that here in Part 5 of this series of posts.
 

bookmark_borderUnapologetic Review – Part 3: The Main Argument

I cannot recommend the book Unapologetic by John Loftus, because I have not carefully read the whole book yet.  But I have read Chapter 5, which I take to be the heart of the book, and I can recommend reading Chapter 5 of Unapologetic.  It is an interesting, informative, and thought-provoking chapter about the philosophy of religion.  I disagree with the main conclusion for which Loftus argues, but there are plenty of interesting ideas to ponder in Chapter 5, including the summary of ten reasons for his view that the discipline of philosophy of religion should be discontinued.
Chapter 5 is flawed and imperfect, but it is well worth reading, if one is interested in the philosophy of religion.  Loftus presents the views of various contemporary philosophers of religion about the present state of the philosophy of religion, and then Loftus comments on the points made by these philosophers.  This is a good approach to clarifying his own views, plus it provides the reader with ideas and alternative ways of looking at this subject, which is interesting and informative.
Loftus tries to cover points and ideas from too many different philosophers in just one chapter, so his comments are generally too skimpy and superficial.  He should have either written multiple chapters covering the material in Chapter 5, or else focused in on just two or three philosophers and put more effort into explaining and clarifying his own views in contrast to those two or three philosophers.
However, he does cover three philosophers in moderate depth: Graham Oppy (p.117-118), Paul Draper (p.121-125), and Kevin Schilbrak (p.126-129). There is also about a full page devoted to Timothy Knepper’s views of philosophy of religion (p.129-130). Gregory Dawes gets nearly about 2/3 of a page for a long quotation (p.120-121).   Linda Zagzebski gets about 1/2 of a page, as does Nick Trakakis (p.115-116).  There are a couple of quotations from our own Keith Parsons (p.117, 118-119), and one quote from Jeff Lowder, who is referred to as “One other Secular Outpost author”, and who gets identified by name only in the end note (quoted on p.117, end note on p.136).
[/RANT ON]  
I often criticize Christian philosophers and apologists for their UNCLARITY and lack of sufficient argumentation, which is usually due to the fact that they are too skimpy in their writing.  For example, William Craig tries to prove that Jesus really died on the cross in just three and one-half pages in The Son Rises (p.36-40).  Craig fails to offer even one bit of actual legitimate historical evidence, and so his case is complete crap.  I am currently critically examining Norman Geisler’s case for God in When Skeptics Ask.   His entire case for God is given in just 18 pages, and 2.5 pages of that are taken up with historical side notes and a diagram.  So, his actual writing is only about 15 pages.
I have covered most of the arguments in those 15 pages and concluded that they were a “hot steaming pile of dog shit.”  I’m not sure that Geisler could do any better if he used 150 pages to present his case for God, but if he presented a more lengthy case, he would certainly need to provide more details and would have more opportunity to clarify his key concepts and claims and inferences.  Geisler’s arguments are filled with vagueness and ambiguities.  He fails to define the word “God” and repeatedly misuses this word, even though the conclusion for which he is arguing is that “God exists.”
The main problem with Chapter 5 is primarily that it is UNCLEAR because it is TOO SKIMPY; it has the same problem that I see in the writing of most Christian apologists.  It is a problem that one expects in the writing of undergraduate students of philosophy, but which should not be nearly so common in the writing of philosophers and intellectuals.  It is to be expected that an undergraduate student of philosophy would try to make a case for the existence of God in a short five or ten page essay.  But no professional philosopher should be so stupid as to think that it is possible to make a clear and persuasive case for God in just five or ten pages.
Richard Swinburne’s case for God is presented in three books: (1) The Coherence of Theism (308 pages), (2) The Existence of God (342 pages), and (3) The Resurrection of God Incarnate (203 pages).  Swinburne’s case for the existence of God is thus 853 pages long.   There are lots of philosophical details and arguments in these books that are not essential to his case, so 853 pages is a bit of overkill.
But even Swinburne’s popular case for God for general audiences (Is There a God?) is 137 pages, and this does not include his capstone argument for God, which concerns the alleged resurrection of Jesus.  So, even a popular presentation of Swinburne’s case for God would run over 200 pages, if it included his argument based on the alleged resurrection of Jesus.  Geisler’s feeble attempt to make a case for God in just 15 pages is nothing more than a pathetic joke.
[/RANT OFF]
OK.  Back to Reason #9, which I take to be the central argument for the view that we ought to put an end to the discipline of philosophy of religion.  Chapter 5 opens with some clarifications of the conclusion for which Loftus is arguing, so before I get into any further analysis of his main argument, let’s review some points of clarification and qualification from the opening of Chapter 5:
…I’m not saying philosophy proper is stupid or dead or unnecessary… (p. 111)
…I’m not saying that atheist philosophers…should dismiss religions out of hand or ridicule them.  (p.111)
…I’m not even saying that atheist philosophers should cease writing books on philosophy of religion (PoR) or that they should cease all lectures or classes on such topics in secular universities.   (p.112)
He adds this point at the end of his comments about “what I’m not proposing”:
Keep in mind, however, that if they [“atheist philosophers and intellectuals”] do PoR correctly it will no longer be considered the philosophy of religion as defined today, but something else. (p.112)
In the section called “What I am Proposing” (on pages 112 through 115), Loftus provides clarification about what he IS proposing:
It [Loftus’ proposal] follows the same pattern as Hector Avalos’ call to end biblical studies as we know it… (p.112)
It’s also something Peter Boghossian proposed in his provocative book, A Manual for Creating Atheists (p.112)
[Boghossian’s advice to educators]: “…Do not take faith claims seriously.  Let the utterer know that faith is not an acceptable basis from which to draw a conclusion that can be relied upon.”  (p.112)
The fourth paragraph is probably the most important one in this section, so I will quote the entire paragraph here:
I am primarily calling for the end of PoR as a separate subdiscipline under philosophy in secular universities.  Further, whenever there is a PoR class, it should be taught correctly, if it’s to be done at all.  Like all other subjects in secular universities, PoR classes must be taught in a secular way by treating all faith-based claims equally and privileging none, if they are taught at all.  If PoR is successfully taught in this bold and honest manner, the instructors themselves will help end the PoR and religion along with it.  Philosophers of religion should go about the task of putting themselves out of a job by telling their students the truth–that faith is an unreliable way to gain objective knowledge about matters of fact such as the nature of nature, its workings, and its origins.  It is also an unreliable way to decide which religion is true, if there is one. (Unapologetic, p.112-113)
Loftus provides another two pages or so of comments explaining what he is proposing, but this paragraph is sufficient clarification of his conclusion for now.
I want to return now to Reason #9, and to a careful analysis of the reasoning present in the two paragraphs in which Loftus presents Reason #9 (on page 135).  I am going to re-number the main claims made in those two paragraphs as follows:
Key Claims from 1st Paragraph
1.  …faith-based reasoning must end.
2.  If PoR is using reason to examine the claims of religion, and if religion is based on faith, then philosophy of religion must end.
3.  …faith has no justification, nor merit, nor warrant. 
4.  A reasonable faith does not exist, nor can faith be a guide for reasoning to any objective conclusion.
5.  The claims of religious faith via PoR cannot be reasonably defended.
 
Key Claims from 2nd Paragraph
6. Religion is indeed based on faith in supernatural forces or entities.
7. Faith is indeed an unreliable way to gain objective knowledge about the world.
8. …faith-based reasoning cannot justify any claim concerning matters of fact…
9. …philosophy of religion is reasoning about that which is unreasonable.
10.  It [philosophy of religion] takes the utterly unwarranted conclusions of faith seriously.
11. …the very first principle of religion is faith.
 
The logic of the core argument is clearer than I previously thought.  Premise (2) indicates the basic logical structure of the argument:

IF X and Y, THEN Z.

X

 Y

THEREFORE:

Z

Premise (2) is the conditional statement, and premise (6) asserts one of the conjuncts in the antecedent of (2), so to complete the argument, we only need the other conjunct in the antecedent of (2), and the conclusion is the consequent of (2):
Core Argument in Reason #9

2.  If PoR is using reason to examine the claims of religion, and if religion is based on faith, then philosophy of religion must end.

6. Religion is indeed based on faith in supernatural forces or entities.

A.  PoR is using reason to examine the claims of religion.

THEREFORE:

PoRME: Philosophy of Religion must end.

Given this basic logical structure, the other statements are presumably either support for one of the three premises, or clarification of one of the three premises, or clarification of the conclusion.
Before I make an attempt to reconstruct further details of Loftus’ argument constituting Reason #9, I must confess that I don’t think I will be able to “demolish” this argument, or to stab a sharp dagger into the heart of the beast (i.e. Reason #9).   But my failure to “demolish” this argument is NOT because the argument is a good and solid argument.  The reason I don’t think I will be able to “demolish” this argument is because it is very UNCLEAR, and there is little hope that Loftus will be willing and able to make it CLEAR.
Consider premise (6), for example.
6. Religion is indeed based on faith in supernatural forces or entities.
The subject of this statement is “religion”.  This word is notoriously UNCLEAR.  It is an ambiguous word.  It is a vague word.  It is a controversial word.  Supposed experts on “religion” cannot come to a general agreement about what this word means.  So, unless and until Loftus provides a clear definition of “religion” any person who is a critical thinker ought to DOUBT the truth of premise (6).
The word “faith” is also notoriously UNCLEAR.  It is an ambiguous word.  It is a vague word.  It is a controversial word.  Supposed experts on “religion” cannot come to a general agreement about what this word means.  So, unless and until Loftus provides a clear definition of “faith” any person who is a critical thinker ought to DOUBT the truth of premise (6).
The phrase “X is based on faith in Y” is perhaps a bit less unclear than the word “faith” considered by itself.  But this phrase does inherit some unclarity from the problematic word “faith” and it has the additional issue of the unclarity of the phrase “X is based on…”  This phrase is vague and unclear.  So, unless and until Loftus provides a clear definition of the phrase “X is based on faith in Y”, any person who is a critical thinker ought to DOUBT the truth of premise (6).
The word “supernatural” is notoriously UNCLEAR.  It is an ambiguous word.  It is a vague word.  It is a controversial word.  Supposed experts on “religion” and “philosophy” cannot come to a general agreement about what this word means.  So, unless and until Loftus provides a clear definition of the word “supernatural” any person who is a critical thinker ought to DOUBT the truth of premise (6).
The key argument at the heart of Unapologetic is very UNCLEAR.  This key argument makes use of words and phrases that are notoriously unclear, so this argument should be rejected by any person who is a critical thinker unless and until Loftus provides clear definitions of the key terms and phrases in this argument.
Here are some of the key words and phrases that are in need of clarification or definition:
“religion”
“faith” 
“X is based on faith”
“faith in Y”
“X is based on faith in Y”
“using reason”
“philosophy” 
“philosophy of religion”
“supernatural”
“supernatural forces and entities”
Loftus fails to define ANY of these UNCLEAR and problematic words and phrases in Chapter 5.  I have also scanned through Chapters 1 through 4 looking for clear definitions of these words and phrases and have come up empty handed.  I have no idea whether this central argument of Loftus’ book Unapologetic is a GOOD argument or a BAD argument, and I suspect that I never will know, because I don’t believe that Loftus has a clear idea of what “religion” means, nor of what “faith” means, nor of what “reason” means.  If he had a clear idea of what these words mean, then he would have no problem defining what they mean or providing significant clarification about what these words mean, but he never does this.
Loftus does make a very brief attempt at defining “faith”, but the definition is unclear, and he makes no effort to explain or defend his definition, and he never uses or refers to the definition when presenting his central arguments in Chapter 5.  The definition is found in Chapter 4:
I consider faith to be an unrecognized-as-yet cognitive bias that gives believers permission to pretend what they believe is true, even if there is no objective evidence at all … (Unapologetic, p.92)
Because Loftus provides no additional explanation or defense of this definition, and does not refer to or make use of this definition in presenting his key arguments in Chapter 5, I am not going to waste my time analyzing and evaluating this definition.  It appears to be tossed off the top of his head with little thought behind it.
As it stands, the central argument of Unapologetic reminds me of Geisler’s arguments for God in When Skeptics Ask.  Geisler never bothers to define the key word “God”, and he clearly misuses the word “God”, and commits the fallacy of equivocation more than once because of his sloppy and ambiguous use of the word “God”.  In general, Geisler’s case for God is a steaming pile of dog shit, and it is so mainly because it is filled with UNCLEAR and AMBIGUOUS words and phrases that Geisler never bothers to clarify or define.  The central argument in Unapologetic is also a steaming pile of dog shit, just like Geisler’s case for God, because it uses several UNCLEAR words and phrases and because Loftus makes no serious intellectual effort to define or clarify the meanings of those words and phrases.
Because there is no serious effort to provide definitions of key words and phrases in the central argument of Unapologetic, I doubt that Loftus has a clear idea of what those key words and phrases mean.
Furthermore, there are indications in a couple of passages in the book, that Loftus has an intellectual or ideological resistance to defining key words and phrases.  In my view, that means that Loftus has an intellectual or ideological resistance to thinking critically, because the first and most fundamental principle of critical thinking is this:

  • Don’t criticize what you don’t understand.

Another very basic principle of critical thinking is this:

  • CLARITY is a gateway standard of thinking.

If a statement or argument is UNCLEAR, then we cannot rationally and objectively evaluate that statement or argument.
The first passage that indicates Loftus has a problem with definitions is in Chapter 1:
Which brings me to the value of philosophy.  Over the last decade I have found that one bastion for Christian apologists has been philosophy, especially the philosophy of religion.  The scholars have honed their definitional apologetics in such a fine-tuned manner that when engaging them in this discipline, it’s like trying to catch a greased pig.  Or, to switch metaphors, trying to chase them down the rabbit’s hole in an endless and ultimately fruitless quest for definitions.  What’s an extraordinary claim?  What constitutes evidence?  What’s the definition of supernatural?  What’s the scientific method?  What’s a miracle?  What’s a basic belief?  What’s a veridical religious experience?  What’s evil? …  (Unapologetic, p.28, emphasis added)
This strikes me as a fundamentally anti-intellectual statement by Loftus.  Definitions are an important tool of philosophy, critical thinking, of science, and of scholarship in general.  But Loftus appears to be taking an anti-definition stance here.  That, in my view, is a position against critical thinking and rationality.
But perhaps that was just a bit of overblown whining by Loftus about Christian apologists, and it does not represent a general antipathy towards definitions and conceptual analysis.  However, when we read the exchange between Peter Boghossian and Keith Parsons in Chapter 4, it becomes clear that Bogghosian, who is a leading light for Loftus’ view of religion and philosophy of religion, has a very negative view of definitions and conceptual analysis.
Parsons’ initial critique of Boghossian indicates a concern about the clarity of a key claim made by Boghossian:

  1. Evolution occurred.
  2. Faith is a malaise.

(1) is an established scientific fact.  (2) is Professor Boghossian’s  opinion.  It may be an informed opinion, but it is an opinion.  For the sake of argument, let’s suppose that (2) is true in whatever sense Prof. Boghossian intends.(Unapologetic, p.89)
Parsons’ is being a bit too subtle here, but he is hinting at the fact that the key statement (2) is UNCLEAR, and it’s meaning is in need of clarification by Boghossian.  Boghossian appears to have missed the subtle hint, because his response does not provide any clarification or definition of “faith” (at least in what Loftus quotes of his response).
In Keith Parsons’ reply to Boghossian’s response, he points out the problem of the need for clarity and definition more firmly and straightforwardly:
Of course, if one interprets “faith” to mean only “wishful thinking” then certainly it is an unreliable belief-forming process.  However, I think we need to be clear that in attacking “faith” we are attacking it only in this rather trivialized sense, and not in a more sophisticated and nuanced sense.  (Unapologetic, p.90)
The only reasonable response to this objection by Parsons would be for Boghossian to clarify and define what he means by the word “faith”.  If Boghossian has a clear understanding of the meaning of the word “faith” (or even just of his own use of the word “faith” in this context), then he ought to have no trouble providing a definition or analysis of the meaning of this word, but that is NOT what Boghossian does.  Instead, he seems to attack the idea of trying to define or clarify the meaning of this word:
Second, the histories of philosophy and theology are replete with people trying to define faith.  Anselm’s definition is floral mumbo-jumbo.
[…]
One can talk about “a more sophisticated or nuanced sense” of the word “faith”, but this does not change the fact that faith claims are knowledge claims.  It also does not change the fact that certain processes of reasoning are unreliable.  Faith is not a reliable process of reasoning. … (Unapologetic, p.91)
So, Boghossian appears to think that the efforts of philosophers and theologians to clarify the meaning of the word “faith” is a hopeless task, and he offers no definition or clarification of the word “faith” and then he just plows ahead and continues making UNCLEAR claims about faith: “Faith is not a reliable process of reasoning.”
He does this after Parsons has directly and plainly challenged him to clarify what he means by the word “faith”.  Given Boghossian’s FAILURE to provide a definition or clarification of the meaning of “faith”, and given his derogatory comments about the efforts of philosophers and theologians to CLARIFY the meaning of this word, it appears fairly certain that Boghossian has some sort of intellectual or ideological resistance to providing definitions or analyses of the meanings of key words or phrases.
Parsons makes one final effort to drive the point about CLARITY home to Boghossian:
(2) Faith is not a reliable belief-forming process.
[…]
…I would assert (2) to a class but would be very careful to say just what I meant by “faith.”  I would make it abundantly clear that what I was attacking was something like “faith” in the sense defined by Ambrose Bierce: “Belief without evidence in what is told by one who speaks without knowledge, of things without parallel.”  “Faith” is a vague term, and to attack it without proper and careful qualification would be perceived  as an attack on religious belief per se…  (Unapologetic, p.92)
It is not clear whether Boghossian finally got the OBVIOUS point that Keith Parsons repeatedly attempted to communicate to him. Loftus does not provide us with further comments by Boghossian in response to this point by Parsons.
But I seriously doubt that Boghossian responded to Parsons with a definition or analysis of what he meant by the word “faith”.  First, there is good reason to believe that Boghossian has some sort of intellectual or ideological opposition to providing definitions of key concepts, which I take to be an intellectual or ideological opposition to some basic principles of critical thinking.  Second,  if Boghossian had provided a definition or analysis of the meaning of the word “faith” I would expect Loftus to pass that on to readers here, because Loftus looks up to Boghossian as a leading light on this subject.  Loftus’ failure to provide us with a definition of “faith” from Boghossian in this passage is evidence that no such definition was offered by Boghossian (in this exchange between Boghossian and Parsons).
So, for three reasons I doubt that Loftus will ever provide us with a clear argument against the philosophy of religion:

  1. His failure to provide any definition or analysis of the meaning of any of the key words and phrases in his central argument suggests that he does not have a clear idea of what those words mean.
  2. The passage on page 28 indicates that Loftus has some sort of intellectual or ideological resistance to defining or analyzing the meanings of key words and phrases (at least relating to philosophy, religion, and theology).
  3. The exchange between Boghossian and Parsons (on pages 88 to 92) indicates that Boghossian has some sort of intellectual or ideological resistance to defining or analyzing the meanings of key words and phrases (at least relating to philosophy, religion, and theology), and Loftus looks up to Boghossian as a leading light on this subject.

Thus, the central argument of Unapologetic is very UNCLEAR, and I have little hope that Loftus will ever provide definitions or analyses of the meanings of the key words and phrases in that argument, so I have little hope that I will ever be able to rationally and objectively evaluate that argument.
I could, of course, provide my own definitions of the key words and phrases, but then Loftus would very likely reply to any objections that I raise to the clarified argument, that I had misunderstood or misinterpreted his meaning, and was committing a Straw Man fallacy against the argument that constitutes Reason #9, the most central and important reason that he has given in support of the conclusion that “Philosophy of religion must end.”  This is the same sort of BS that Christian apologists like to pull.  They put forward CRAPPY and UNCLEAR arguments (such as those of Norman Geisler) and then complain about being misinterpreted when skeptics attempt to clarify their argument enough to make the arguments subject to rational and objective evaluation.
In 2014, Boghossian took a swipe at philosophy of religion that impressed Loftus:
“Being published in the philosophy of religion should disqualify one from sitting at the adult table.” (Unapologetic, p. 33)
Here is my own swipe back at Boghossian and Loftus:
Being published in a book or article that attacks “faith” or “religion” without providing a clear definition or analysis of the meaning of the word “faith” or “religion” should disqualify one from sitting at the adult table.
Any person who does this sort of anti-intellectual and anti-critical-thinking bullshit does NOT deserve to be treated seriously as a philosopher or intellectual.

bookmark_borderUnapologetic Review – Part 2: The Heart of the Book

A couple of the comments on my previous post (see Unapologetic Review – Part 1) were critical about my provision of details about the general physical characteristics of John Loftus’ new book Unapologetic.  The commenters did not explain WHY this was objectionable, but I suspect it is a matter of childish impatience on the part of the commenters.  I think if they had been more honest and straightforward their objections would have gone something like this:
 What about the key ideas and the main arguments? Hurry up and get to the good stuff!  Don’t waste time on trivial and insignificant details about the layout of the book.
I don’t accept this objection to Part 1 of my review, but I understand the sentiment.  For others who also feel a bit impatient about getting to the good stuff, I promise that in this post I will not only get to some of the good stuff, but will quickly go from zero-to-sixty, and I will, in just a moment, go right to the heart of the matter.
First, I have just a little bit more to say about the layout of the book.  I previously stated that each of the nine chapters was preceeded by a blank page.  That is not accurate.  Chapters 4 and 6 are preceeded by pages with end notes from the previous chapter, and there is a bit of end notes from the previous chapter just prior to Chapters 2 and 8.  So, instead of nine blank pages, there are actually 6.5 blank pages in the main body of the text.
Here are the titles of the chapters in Unapologetic:

  1. My Intellectual Journey
  2. Anselm and Philosophy of Religion
  3. Case Studies in Theistic Philosophy of Religion
  4. Case Studies in Atheistic Philosophy of Religion
  5. Why Philosophy of Religion Must End
  6. How to Effectively Deal with Faith-Based Claims
  7. Answering Objections and Other Practical Concerns
  8. It’s Enough to Be Right!
  9. On Justifying Ridicule, Mockery, and Satire

Note the title of Chapter 5: “Why Philosophy of Religion Must End”.  This Chapter title is the same as the subtitle of the book:  Unapologetic: Why Philosophy of Religion Must End.   So, it is reasonable to infer that Chapter 5 is the heart of this book.
Furthermore, in flipping through Chapter 5, I see that Loftus has titled a sub-section of this chapter as “Why Philosophy of Religion Must End”, and in that sub-section of Chapter 5, he has provided a summary of his reasons for believing that philosophy of religion must end (on pages 131-135).   So, those five pages appear to be the heart of Chapter 5.
I plan to start my critique of the case presented by Loftus by analyzing and evaluating the reasons that Loftus presents in those five pages.  My evaluation will, of course, be somewhat tentative, because to be fair to Loftus I need to read the rest of Chapter 5, as well as the other eight Chapters of the book, before I can be confident that my initial responses and criticisms to the reasons given in those five pages are fair, and to be confident that Loftus has not anticipated some or all of my initial criticisms and objections, in other chapters of the book.
In the five pages where Loftus summarizes his reasons for believing that philosophy of religion must end, he numbers sub-sections 1 through 10, so he apparently has ten different reasons to give in support of his main conclusion.  In reading through these ten points, I see that there is a degree of redundance and overlap between the points.  There are clearly some themes here that come up repeatedly.
The two main themes are: (a) his opposition to “faith-based claims” and (b) his opposition to a “parochial” approach to religion.  I have some sympathy to both of these ideas or themes, but I am not convinced that any of the points relating to those two themes provides an adequate justification for the conclusion that philosophy of religion must come to an end.
I agree, to some extent, that philosophy of religion is often taught in a parochial manner and that this is a legitimate criticsm of how philosophy of religion is generally taught.  However, putting an end to philosophy of religion as a discipline amounts to throwing the baby out with the bathwater.  An obviously better approach would be to work at reforming philosophy of religion so that it was generally taught in a non-parochial (or less parochial) manner.  So, the “parochial” objections are based on fact and reality, and represent legitimate criticism of the field of philosophy of religion, but the prescription of ending the discipline is not adequately justified by those reasons.
The other main theme in Loftus’ list of reasons is his opposition to “faith-based claims”.  This theme appears in Reasons #2, #4, #5, #6, #7, #9, and #10.  So, if there is a problem with one of these objections that is based on opposition to “faith-based claims”, then that problem might well infect his whole case and undermine most of his 10 Reasons for ending philosophy of religion.
It appears to me that just as Chapter 5 is the heart of the book, and that the 10 Reasons are the heart of Chapter 5, so also I believe that Reason #9 (which concerns opposition to “faith-based claims”) for ending philosophy of religion is at the heart of the 10 Reasons.
If I can shove a sharp dagger into Reason #9, then I believe that will kill the beast, and stop the beating of the heart of Loftus’ case against the philosophy of religion.
Here is a diagram illustrating my high-level view of Unapologetic:
Unapologetic - Venn Diagram
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
Conversely, if I cannot manage to demolish or seriously damage Reason #9, then that will be a good indication that Loftus has made a strong case for his conclusion, even if some of the other points (e.g. the theme about PoR being “parochial” in nature) are weak and inadequate reasons.
Christian apologists are fond of saying that “Christianity stands or falls with the resurrection of Jesus”, and I think a similar kind of point applies here:
Loftus’ case against the philosophy of religion stands or falls with Reason #9.
Thus, a very good place to start an evaluation of this book, is on page 135, where Loftus spells out Reason #9.
I have a suspiscion that every one of the ten points in the list of reasons for ending PoR involves DOING philosophy of religion.  If so, then it seems to me that the whole case is SELF-REFUTING or SELF-UNDERMINING.  But, I do not plan to try to show that all ten points involve Loftus in DOING philosophy of religion.
However, there are three points in the list where it seems fairly obvious that Loftus is DOING philosophy of religion: Reason #1, Reason #8, and Reason #9.  Because Reason #9 appears to be the central and most important of the ten reasons, I will focus in on that reason first, objecting that it is a SELF-REFUTING or SELF-UNDERMINING reason.  Later, I will raise this sort of objection against Reason #1 and Reason #8.
It seems, at the very least, HYPOCRITICAL to DO philosophy of religion in order to argue for ending philosophy of religion.  But the problem might be more serious than that.  If DOING philosophy of religion is necessary to make the case against philosophy of religion, then the very act of building a case AGAINST the philosophy of religion demonstrates the VALUE of philosophy of religion.
The question of whether the philosophy of religion ought to be continued as a discipline or taught in courses at secular colleges and universities is clearly an important question, so if the philosophy of religion is needed to answer this question, then it follows that the philosophy of religion is needed in order to answer at least ONE important question.   This casts doubt on the conclusion that we ought to end the discipline of philosophy of religion.  Furthermore, if DOING the philosophy of religion is required in order to answer ONE important question, then how can we be sure it is not useful to answer OTHER important questions?
OK.  So, one potential problem with Reason #9, is that it is a SELF-REFUTING or SELF-UNDERMINING objection to the philosophy of religion.  Let’s take a closer look at Reason #9, to see if it does indeed involve Loftus in DOING philosophy of religion:
9. Because faith-based reasoning must end.  If PoR is using reason to examine the claims of religion, and if religion is based on faith, then philosophy of religion must end.  For faith has no justification, nor merit, nor warrant.  A reasonable faith does not exist, nor can faith be a guide for reasoning to any objective conclusion.  The claims of religious faith via PoR cannot be reasonably defended. … (Unapologetic, p.135)
There are only two paragraphs in Reason #9.  The above quote represents about 2/3 of the first paragraph.  Loftus makes several assertions in the above passage, but the main premise appears to be the very first statement, so in it’s simplest form, his argument is this:
1.Faith-based reasoning must end.
THEREFORE:
2. Philosophy of religion must end.
But to understand Loftus’ reasoning we need to figure out how the other assertions are being used to support premise (1) or to form a logical connection between premise (1) and the conclusion (2).
It is not clear how to reconstruct the logic of this argument.  Here are the other key premises:
3. Philosophy of religion uses reason to examine the claims of religion.
4. Religion is based on faith.
5. Faith has no justification, nor merit, nor warrant.
6. Faith cannot be a guide for reasoning to any objective conclusion.
7. A reasonable faith does not exist.
8. The claims of religious faith cannot be reasonably defended.
Premise (5) appears to be the most basic reason for Loftus’ opposition to “faith-based claims”.  Premise (6) is also a reason for opposing “faith-based claims”, but seems less basic than (5), so I take premise (5) to be a reason supporting premise (6), and (6) appears to be a reason supporting premise (1) which is a prescriptive assertion that is based on a negative evaluation of faith.
(5)–>(6)–>(1)
Premise (4) asserts a logical or conceptual connection between “religion” and “faith”; this means that the negative evaluation of faith is transferred to religion, or at least this appears to be how Loftus justifies a negative evaluation of religion.  Premises (7) and (8) appear to be negative conclusions about religion that are based on a combination of (4) and (6),  based on both the connection between religion and faith in premise (4), and the negative evaluation of faith in premise (6).  Premises (7) and (8) are closely related in meaning, but (8) seems a bit clearer, so I think we can drop (7) and just use premise (8) in the analysis of Loftus’ argument:
(4) + (6)–>(8)
Given the above analysis, we can do an initial reconstruction the logic of this argument constituting Reason #9 (click on image below for a clearer view of the diagram):
Reason #9 - Initial Analysis
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
Consider some of the basic premises of this argument:
4. Religion is based on faith.
5. Faith has no justification, nor merit, nor warrant.
6. Faith cannot be a guide for reasoning to any objective conclusion.
In order to know that premise (4) is true, one must first know what “religion” means, and what “faith” means.
Loftus could simply stipulate definitions of these words, but then the question arises:  Are Loftus’ definitions unclear or idiosyncratic or do they reflect the ordinary meanings of these words?  If his definitions are unclear or idiosyncratic, then this argument might well be irrelevant to the real world, irrelevant to “religion” and “faith” as these words are understood by educated speakers of the English language.
The word “religion” is a problematic and unclear, but very important, word.  Trying to get clear about the meaning of the word “religion” is a basic task of the philosophy of religion, so in order for Loftus to properly justify premise (4), he must provide a clear and well-supported analysis of the word “religion”, and that means that he must DO philosophy of religion in order to rationally justify premise (4).
The same is true of the word “faith”.  The word “faith” is a problematic and unclear, but very important, word. Trying to get clear about the meaning of the word “faith” is a basic task of the philosophy of religion, so in order for Loftus to properly justify premise (4), premise (5), and premise (6), he must provide a clear and well-supported analysis of the meaning of the word “faith”, and that means that he must DO philosophy of religion in order to rationally justify premises (4), (5), and (6).
Premise (6) is a normative epistemological claim involving the concept of “faith”.  So, arguments for and against (6) fall within the scope of the philosophy of religion.  To provide a rational justification for (6), one must analyze and evaluate various philosophical arguments for and against (6),  so one must DO some philosophy of religion, namely epistemology of religious belief, in order to rationally justify or rationally evaluate claim (6).
The sub-argument that Loftus provides in support of premise (8) is clearly an argument in the philosophy of religion.  In order to rationally justify premise (8), Loftus provides us with a philosophical argument, an argument that falls in the scope of philosophy of religion.  Once again, Reason #9 requires that Loftus DO some philosophy of religion, and rational evaluation of Reason #9 requires that we DO some philosophy of religion.
If  this sub-argument by Loftus is successful, then that means that Loftus has established a very important philosophical claim by DOING some philosophy of religion.  But if he can establish ONE important philosophical claim by DOING philosophy of religion, then why should we believe that philosophy of religion has no chance of revealing OTHER important philosophical truths?
It seems clear to me that in order to rationally justify Reason #9, Loftus MUST DO some philosophy of religion.  He must provide clear and well-supported analyses of the meanings of the words “religion” and “faith” and of the phrase “philosophy of religion”.  He must also provide solid philosophical arguments that fall within the scope of philosophy of religion.
Furthermore, those of us who wish to rationally evaluate the analyses and arguments presented by Loftus in supporting Reason #9 MUST DO some philosophy of religion ourselves.  So, in presenting his case against philosophy of religion Loftus assumes the value of philosophy of religion, and in rationally evaluating his case, we must also assume the value of philosophy of religion.  
There is no purely scientific or mathematical way to defend these claims and arguments, nor to test and evaluate these claims and arguments.  This is philosophy, and rational justification of these philosophical claims and arguments about “faith” and “religion” constitutes a paradigm case of DOING philosophy of religion.  Thus, Reason #9 is a SELF-REFUTING or SELF-UNDERMINING argument.
The next thing that occurs to me in reading this paragraph, is that Loftus fails to recognize the distinction between the logic of discovery and the logic of proof.  The short version of this distinction is that there is no such thing as “the logic of discovery”, because how ideas and theories arise or originate is largely irrelevant to the testing and evaluation of ideas and theories.  Good ideas can come from “bad” or irrational  or unreliable sources.
That is a bit of an overstatement, because we do need to have some ways to filter out bad or stupid ideas prior to investing time and energy in testing and evaluating ideas and theories.  But there can be levels and degrees here.  We have some quick-and-dirty high-level ways to filter out obviously bad ideas, but those filters allow a lot of crap through,  so there are some quick and simple tests and evaluations that we can use on the crap that gets through the intial intellectual filters, in order to quickly assess the potential truth or falsehood of the flood of ideas and theories that make it through the initial filtering, and then, perhaps, we have narrowed the candidates down enough to make it reasonable to invest more time and energy on testing and evaluation of the ideas and theories that made it past the initial filters and the initial testing.
It does not matter how the ideas of “God” or “eternal life” or “the soul” or “divine judgment” or “faith” arose or originated.  What matters is how these ideas and theories do when we critically and objectively assess and evaluate them.  If all of the key ideas and theories produced by the religions of the world turn out to be FALSE or UNREASONABLE, then we will have good reason to doubt future ideas and theories that come from religions.  But surely Loftus would not make the extreme claim that ALL of the key ideas and theories produced by the religions of the world are FALSE or UNREASONBLE.  I doubt that Loftus has written about ALL of the key ideas and theories of Christianity, let alone of Buddhism, Islam, Hinduism, Daoism, Judaism, and Confucianism.
If a religion can produce SOME ideas or theories that are TRUE or REASONABLE, then it makes sense to attempt to make an effort to objectively and critically evaluate key ideas and theories that originate from the religions of the world.
As an atheist and a skeptic I would be inclined to agree that MOST of the key ideas and theories of Christianity are FALSE or UNREASONABLE, so perhaps I would agree that the Christian religion is an unreliable source of ideas and theories.  But this conclusion is based, in large part, on my thinking in the area of philosophy of religion.  I have attempted to critically and objectively evaluate various ideas and theories that come from the Christian religion, and as a result of the time and energy that I put into such testing and evaluation, I have a rational basis for drawing the conclusion that much of Christianity is BS.
I suppose that if I were to teach a course in Philosophy of Religion, I could start the course with the following bit of skeptical advice:
I have spent several years attempting to objectively and critically evaluate the key ideas and theories of the Christian religion, and I have concluded that MOST of these ideas and theories are bullshit.  So, if you are looking for truth, then my advice would be to ignore the Christian religion and look elsewhere, because the Christian religion is an UNRELIABLE source of ideas and theories.
But, it seems to me, if I were to give such advice to college students, this advice would be BASED ON work I had done in the philosophy of religion, so I think it would be both hypocritical and illogical to go on to advise these students to drop the course on philosophy of religion, and to never take a course on philosophy or religion, and to never read a book on philosophy of religion.  That would be undermining the very basis for my negative assessment of the reliability of the Christian religion.
It is important to avoid FALSE beliefs, but as William James pointed out, it is also important to obtain TRUE beliefs.  The absence of false beliefs is not sufficient to lead a good life.  We also need to have some TRUE beliefs, or at least some well-founded, rationally-justified beliefs.  So, even if MOST of the ideas and theories of religions were false or unreasonable, it might still be worth looking for some of the TRUE or REASONABLE beliefs put forward by religions, the good ideas that are scattered among the bad ones.
Let’s suppose, for the sake of argument, that EVERY key idea and theory of EVERY religion is either FALSE or UNREASONABLE.  If that was so, wouldn’t that be an important generalization for people to learn about?  If all religions were large piles of false and unreasonable beliefs, then getting most people to recognize this important aspect of reality could be a great benefit for the human species.  But how could we bring about this awareness?  We could simply indoctrinate all students into the belief that religions were just large piles of false and unreasonable beliefs, but then brainwashing students into some atheistic or secular ideology seems just as irrational and opposed to critical thinking as indoctrinating students into some particular religion or religious ideology.
If it were the case that EVERY key idea and theory of EVERY religion was either FALSE or UNREASONABLE, then that would be an excellent reason for promoting the philosophy of religion, because that would, it seems to me, be the best way to help lots of people to begin to objectively and critically evaluate the key ideas and theories of various religions.  Then they could learn for themselves that religions were a highly unreliable source of ideas and theories.
This discussion of whether ALL or MOST religious beliefs are false or unreasonable reminds me that unclear quantification is a common problem with arguments in the philosophy of religion, and it seems to me that the argument presented in Reason #9 suffers from this problem, so in the next post of this series I will take a closer look at the argument constituting Reason #9, and I will pay close attention to any unclarity in it concerning quantification.
 

bookmark_borderWhat is Christianity? Part 6

Evangelical Christians buy T-shirts and bumper stickers that proclaim this slogan:
Christianity is not a religion; it is a relationship with Jesus Christ.
http://www.christianapparelshop.com/p-526-christianity-is-not-a-religion-christian-t-shirt.aspx?
The problem with this slogan is that a relationship is NOT the sort of thing that can be true (or false):
1. If Christianity is a relationship, then Christianity is true only if a relationship is the sort of thing that can be true (or false).
2. A relationship is NOT the sort of thing that can be true (or false).
Therefore:
3. If Christianity is a relationship, then it is NOT the case that Christianity is true.
But the Evangelical Christians who buy T-shirts and bumper stickers proclaiming that “Christianity is a relationship” are ALSO going around proclaiming that “Christianity is true”.  These claims are logically incompatible.  If one accepts the view that “Christianity is a relationship”, then one must also REJECT the view that “Christianity is true”.  Thus, the T-shirt and bumper sticker buyers are (surprise, surprise) asserting logically contradictory claims.
The Christian apologist James Sire is more sophisticated than these T-shirt and bumper sticker buying Evangelical morons, but he, nevertheless, falls into a very similar self contradiction.  Sire asserts that the Christian worldview is true, but then he defines “a worldview” in a way that makes this impossible:
A worldview is a commitment…  (Naming the Elephant, p.122)
The same sort of objection applies to Sire’s proposed definition of “a worldview”:
1A.  If the Christian world view is a commitment, then the Christian worldview is true only if a commitment is the sort of thing that can be true (or false).
2A. A commitment is NOT the sort of thing that can be true (or false).
Therefore:
3A.  If the Christian worldview is a commitment, then it is NOT the case that the Christian worldview is true.
But Sire, like virtually all Christian apologists, asserts that “Christianity is true.” and that “The Christian worldview is true.” Thus, just like the morons who buy the T-shirts and bumper stickers, Sire contradicts himself by asserting that the Christian worldview “is a commitment”.
Religious experience is another thing that some Christians would like to identify with Christianity or the Christian worldview, but this is just another example of the sort of category mistake made by moronic T-shirt buyers and by James Sire:
1B.  If Christianity is an experience, then Christianity is true only if an experience is the sort of thing that can be true (or false).
2B.  An experience is NOT the sort of thing that can be true (or false).
Therefore:
3B. If Christianity is an experience, then it is NOT the case that Christianity is true.
If someone wants to claim that “Christianity is an experience”, then he/she will have to give up the widely held belief (among Christians) that “Christianity is true”.
People are free to define “Christianity” or “the Christian worldview” however they wish, but people are not free to define “Christianity” and “the Christian worldview” in a way that contradicts some other statement that they wish to proclaim to the world.  So, if Christians want to stop proclaiming that “Christianity is true”, then I have no problem with them re-defining “Christianity” to mean whatever they want it to mean.
However, if they decide to use the word “Christianity” to refer to a feeling, an experience, a commitment, or a relationship, I will then respond: I couldn’t care less about your feelings, experiences, commitments, and relationships; I’m interested in truth and knowledge, so please go away and don’t bother me with insignificant blather about your feelings, experiences, commitments, or relationships.  Don’t talk to me unless you have some (alleged) bit of truth or knowledge to share with me.
Wear the stupid T-shirt if you wish, but don’t wear the stupid T-shirt and then try to convince me that “Christianity is true”; just wear the T-shirt and shut your ignorant pie hole.

bookmark_borderWhat is Christianity? Part 2

One objection to my cognitivist view of religion and Christianity is this popular little bit of stupidity:
“Christianity is not a religion; it is a relationship with Jesus Christ.”
I have three initial responses to this statement: (1) read your freaking bible, (2) read your freaking dictionary, and (3) use your freaking brain.
1. READ YOUR BIBLE
In Chapter 26 of Acts, the apostle Paul defends himself before King Agrippa and speaks of “our religion”:
1  Agrippa said to Paul, “You have permission to speak for yourself.” Then Paul stretched out his hand and began to defend himself:
2 “I consider myself fortunate that it is before you, King Agrippa, I am to make my defense today against all the accusations of the Jews,
3 because you are especially familiar with all the customs and controversies of the Jews; therefore I beg of you to listen to me patiently.
4 “All the Jews know my way of life from my youth, a life spent from the beginning among my own people and in Jerusalem.
5 They have known for a long time, if they are willing to testify, that I have belonged to the strictest sect of our religion and lived as a Pharisee.
(Acts 26:1-5  New Revised Standard Version)
Clearly, the phrase “our religion” in this passage refers to the religion of the Jews, which we now call “Judaism”.
But in a letter that is attributed to Paul, and that is also part of the Christian scriptures, the phrase “our religion” is used to refer to something else:
15 if I am delayed, you may know how one ought to behave in the household of God, which is the church of the living God, the pillar and bulwark of the truth.
16 Without any doubt, the mystery of our religion is great:
He was revealed in flesh,
vindicated in spirit,
seen by angels,
proclaimed among Gentiles,
believed in throughout the world,
taken up in glory.
(1 Timothy 3:15-16 New Revised Standard Version)
The pronoun “He” in this passage clearly refers to Jesus.  So, the “religion” that Paul (or whoever the author of this letter was) refers to here is clearly NOT the religion of the Jews, because the Jewish religion did not include any beliefs about the life and (alleged) divine mission of Jesus.
What “religion” does include beliefs about the life and (alleged)  divine mission of Jesus?  Not Judaism. Not Hinduism.  Not Buddhism.  Not Confucianism.  Not Zoroastrianism. Not Taoism.
Islam, however, does say something about the life and (alleged) divine mission of Jesus, but Islam did not yet exist at the time that the New Testament was composed, so this is clearly NOT a reference to Islam.  The reference of the word “religion” here is obvious: it is referring to CHRISTIANITY.  Thus, according to a letter that is part of the sacred scriptures that Christians believe were inspired by God, CHRISTIANITY is a RELIGION.
The biblical case for viewing Christianity as a “religion” is not actually as clear and straightforward as the above comparison of passages from Acts and 1 Timothy makes it seem.  The New Testament was written in Greek, not English, and the English word “religion” did not exist when Acts and 1 Timothy were composed. The English language itself did not yet exist at that time.
Furthermore, the Greek word translated as “religion” in Acts 26:5 is different than the Greek word translated as “religion” in 1 Timothy 3:16.  Most translations of Acts 26:5 translate the Greek word θρησκείας in that verse as “religion”, which makes a lot of sense given the context.  However, a number of translations of 1 Timothy 3:16 do not translate the relevant Greek word εύσεβείας in that verse as “religion”.  For example, here is how the New American Standard Bible translates the initial phrase of 1 Timothy 3:16:
 Beyond all question, the mystery from which true godliness springs is great:
Nevertheless, one can argue that “religion” is a better translation of the Greek word εύσεβείας than “true godliness”, based on the context of this particular passage.  The general context of this passage is Paul’s concern about Christian believers being fooled into accepting false teachings or doctrines.  Part of his solution is to emphasize the use of memorable creeds, such as the one quoted in the rest of this verse.
The Oxford Bible Commentary on 1 Timothy 3:16 supports understanding this passage to be about the Christian religion:
The ‘mystery of our religion’ is described in the quoted formula which follows.  For similar passages, see 1 TIM 2:5-6.  The word translated ‘religion’ is eusebeia; normally in the Pastorals eusebeia and its cognates  denote piety or godliness, here it carries a sense of the system of belief that inspires piety.  (Oxford Bible Commentary, p.1225, emphasis added)
Because the context is a concern about Christians being tempted to accept false doctrines, and because the key phrase relates to a brief creed that reinforces what Paul (or the author of 1 Timothy) believed to be true and important Christian doctrines, it makes good sense to translate the Greek word εύσεβείας as “religion” in 1 Timothy 3:16, rather than to translate it as “true godliness”.  Thus, the New Testament does provide Christians, who view the N.T. as sacred scripture, with a good reason to believe that CHRISTIANITY is a RELIGION.
2. READ YOUR DICTIONARY
Let’s start simple.  At Cambridge Dictionaries Online, you get a single definition of “Christianity”:
the ​Christian ​faith, a ​religion ​based on the ​belief in one ​God and on the ​teachings of ​Jesus ​Christ, as set ​forth in the ​Bible
(Definition of Christianity from the Cambridge Academic Content Dictionary © Cambridge University Press)
http://dictionary.cambridge.org/us/dictionary/english/christianity?q=Christianity
What sort of a thing is “Christianity”?  According to the Cambridge Academic Content Dictionary, it is “a religion”.  This definition says nothing about “Christianity” being some sort of “relationship”.
If we turn to the online Merriam-Webster Dictionary, we get a “simple definition” of “Christianity”, which is similar to the above definition:
the religion that is based on the teachings of Jesus Christ
What sort of a thing is “Christianity” according to the Merriam-Webster Dictionary?  It is a “religion”, not a “relationship”.
The online Merriam-Webster Dictionary also provides three different definitions:
Full Definition of Christianity
1: the religion derived from Jesus Christ, based on the Bible as sacred scripture, and professed by Eastern, Roman Catholic, and Protestant bodies
2: conformity to the Christian religion
3: the practice of Christianity
http://www.merriam-webster.com/dictionary/Christianity
What sort of a thing is “Christianity” according to these Merriam-Webster Dictionary definitions?  Definition (1) tells us that it is a “religion”, not a relationship.  Definition (2) speaks about “conformity” to a “religion”, namely “the Christian religion”.  Thus, although the second sense refers to some sort of “conformity” (which might be either intellectual conformity or conformity of actions); the specific sort of conformity is qualified in relation to a “religion” not to a “relationship”.
Definition (3) is, strictly speaking, circular since it uses the word “Christianity” to define the word “Christianity”, but in the context of definition (2), one naturally reads the word “Christianity” here as meaning “the Christian religion” thus making definition (3) parallel to definition (2).  So, definition (3) refers to a specific sort of “conformity”, namely conformity of one’s actions to a “religion”, namely to “the Christian religion”.  Definition (3) refers to a set of actions that have a certain character, namely the character of conforming to “the Christian religion”.
An even fuller set of definitions of “Christianity” can be found at Dictionary.com:
1. the Christian religion, including the Catholic, Protestant, and Eastern Orthodox churches.
2. Christian beliefs or practices; Christian quality or character:
Christianity mixed with pagan elements; the Christianity of Augustine’s thought.
3. a particular Christian religious system:
She followed fundamentalist Christianity.
4. the state of being a Christian.
5. Christendom.
6. conformity to the Christian religion or to its beliefs or practices.
http://dictionary.reference.com/browse/christianity?s=t
Definitions (1), (2), and (3) support the view that Christianity is a religion and not a relationship.  Definition (5) is consistent with Christianity being a religion, and does not fit well with the idea of Christianity being a relationship.  Definition (6) is similar to previous definitions we looked at from the Merriam-Webster Dictionary, and it is logically tied to the concept of “the Christian religion”.
Definition (4) is the ONLY definition here that could possibly be connected to the idea of having a relationship with Jesus Christ.
Many Protestants have the view that conversion to Christianity puts one into a “state” in which one has a permanently good relationship with God and Jesus Christ.  From a Catholic point of view, conversion to Christianity puts one temporarily into a “state” in which one has a good relationship with God and Jesus Christ, but that positive “state” can be damaged or destroyed by sin, especially by serious (i.e. mortal) sins.  From a Catholic point of view, one must be in a good “state” or good relationship with God when one dies in order to obtain eternal life in heaven.
I think that the Catholic view could reasonably be stated this way:  “A Christian believer can die and go to hell for eternity, if that Christian believer commits a mortal sin and dies before repenting and returning to a state in which he/she is in a good relationship with God and Jesus Christ.”  In other words, being a Christian, accepting Christianity or the Christian religion is not sufficient for salvation and eternal life.  If this is an accurate representation of the Catholic point of view, then from this point of view the “state of being a Christian” is not sufficient for salvation and eternal life from a Catholic point of view.  What matters is the state of being in a good relationship with God and Jesus Christ, particularly at the moment of death.
In this case “Christianity” does NOT mean “being in a good relationship with God and Jesus Christ”.  However, since from a Catholic point of view what matters MOST is whether one is in a state of having a good relationship with God and Jesus Christ at the moment one dies, from a Catholic point of view CHRISTIANITY or the Christian religion teaches that what matters MOST is whether one is in a state of having a good relationship with God and Jesus Christ at the moment one dies.  Thus, for Catholics, there is a close connection between Christianity and having a good relationship with God and Jesus Christ, but being a Christian, accepting Christianity, is something different from being in that good relationship with God and Jesus Christ.
What about Protestants who believe that salvation is a once-for-all-times event?  For such a Protestant being a Christian or accepting Christianity, entails being in a state in which one is, and always will be, in a good relationship with God and Jesus.  This makes it harder to distinguish between the “state of being a Christian” and the state of being in a good relationship with God and Jesus, because such Protestants believe that the two states always exist together.
However, from a Protestant point of view, one state is the result of the other state.  Accepting Christianity is both a necessary and a sufficient condition for being in a good relationship with God and Jesus Christ.  Thus because there is a relation of dependency between the “state of being a Christian” (or of accepting Christianity) and the state of being in a good relationship with God and Jesus Christ, these must be considered to be two different and distinguishable states.  Therefore, although “Christianity” in sense (4) has a causal or logical connection with having a good relationship with God and Jesus Christ, “Christianity” in sense (4) is something that is different and distinguishable from the state of having a good relationship with God and Jesus Christ.
Thus, from a Catholic point of view as well as from a common Protestant point of view “Christianity” in the sense of “the state of being a Christian” is NOT equivalent to the idea of “the state of being in a good relationship with God and Jesus Christ”.
Furthermore, for both Protestants and Catholics, their views about the connection between “the state of being a Christian” and “the state of being in a good relationship with God and Jesus Christ” is spelled out in central Christian doctrine, is spelled out in their understanding of the Christian faith or “Christianity”.  The religion or theological doctrines that they accept provide them with a point of view about the relationship between these two states.  Catholics and Protestants, obviously, have differing views about the relationship between these two states.  Nevertheless, from a Catholic as well as from a common Protestant point of view, “Christianity” even in sense (4) is directly connected to a religion, and only indirectly connected to a relationship.
No matter what definition of “Christianity” we look at, all definitions in respected dictionaries point to the view that CHRISTIANITY is a RELIGION, and not a relationship.
In the next post, I will cover my third point:
3. USE YOUR BRAIN
 

bookmark_borderWhat is Atheism? – Part 2

Levels of Analysis

I’m going to make a second attempt to clarify and define the word “atheism”.  This time, I will emphasize that the analysis and definitions exist at different levels.  Swinburne’s clarification and analysis of “God exists” makes use of different levels of definition or analysis:
Level 0:  “God exists.”
Level 1:  God exists IF AND ONLY IF exactly one divine person exists.
Level 2:  X is a divine person IF AND ONLY IF X is a spirit who is eternally omnipotent, eternally omniscient, eternally perfectly morally good, the creator of the universe, and a source of moral obligations for human beings.
 
Level 3: X is a spirit IF AND ONLY IF X is a bodiless person.
Level 3:  Person P is a perfectly morally good person IF AND ONLY IF  P is so constituted that P always chooses to do the best action when there is a best action, or one equal best action when there are  two or more equal best actions available, or a good action when there is no best or equal best action, and P never chooses to do a bad action.
Level 3:  X is eternally Y IF AND ONLY IF  X has characteristic Y at every moment in the past, and X has characteristic Y now, and X has characteristic Y at every moment in the future.
In Level 1, Swinburne clarifies or defines the words or phrases in Level 0.  In Level 2, Swinburne clarifies or defines the words used in the definition in Level 1.  In Level 3, Swinburne clarifies or defines the words used in the definitions in Level 2, and so on…
I am not saying that this is a good or correct analysis of “God exists” , just that I think it is a good idea or strategy to analyze complex ideas this way, with levels of definition or analysis.  One advantage is that we might be able to arrive at agreement more easily at the lower levels (such as at Level 1 or Level 2) than at the higher levels (such as Level 3 or higher), and that would still be progress worth making.
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Atheism is Opposition to Theism

Etymology does NOT determine the meaning or use of a word.  However, in the case of the word “atheism”, etymology does reflect the basic logic of the word.  Atheism is in opposition to theism.  Roughly speaking, an atheist is someone who REJECTS or DENIES theism.  The concept of atheism is logically dependent on the concpet of theism.  One can know what “atheism” means only if one knows what “theism” means.
Just as theism is an intellectual position, so atheism is an intellectual position.  It is a common mistake to think that “atheism” refers to the lack or absence of theistic belief.  Newborn babies lack theistic belief, but that does not mean that newborn babies are atheists.  Newborn babies are neither thesits nor atheists nor agnostics.  Newborn babies do not have an intellectual position about the existence of “God” or about the existence of “gods”.
Cats and dogs lack theistic belief, but neither cats nor dogs are atheists.  Cats and dogs have no intellectual position on the question “Does God exist?” nor on the question “Do any gods exist?”   Cats and dogs are neither theists, nor atheists, nor agnostics.  Rocks and trees lack theistic belief, but rocks and trees are NOT atheists.  Rocks and trees do not have an intellectual position on the question of the existence of God, or gods.  Rocks and trees are neither theists, nor atheists, nor agnostics.
==============

The Ambiguity of the Word “Theism”

But the word “theism” is somewhat unclear and problematic, which in turn makes the word “atheism” somewhat unclear and problematic.   First of all, “theism” is an ambiguous word:

theism

n. Belief in the existence of a god or gods, esp. belief in a personal God as creator and ruler of the world.
(The American Heritage Dictionary, 2nd College Edition)
Sometimes “theism” is used in a broader sense that refers to belief in any sort of god or gods.   Sometimes the word “theism” is used in a narrow sense that refers to traditional western theism (the dictionary speaks of belief in “a personal God as creator…”).  To be clear about which of these senses one intends, we can use adjectives to qualify the term “theism”.
traditional western theism – the belief that God exists (where this belief is understood in keeping with the  traditional concept of God found in the three major western religions).
general theism – the belief that one or more gods exist.
Because there are two differnent senses of the word “theism”, there are two different senses of the word “atheism” that correspond to those two senses of “theism”:
weak atheism – the rejection of traditional western theism.
strong atheism – the rejection of general theism.
If one rejects general theism, then this implies that one ought to also reject traditional western theism.  If one rejects the claim that “There is at least one god”, then one ought to also reject the claim “God exists”, because “God exists” logically implies that “There is at least one god.”  Therefore, if one accepts strong atheism, then one ought also to accept weak atheism, because strong atheism logically implies weak atheism.
But one can reject traditional western theism without rejecting general theism.  One could, for example, reject the claim “God exists” because one believes that the concept of “God” contains a contradiction (say, between the divine attribute of omniscience and the divine attribute of perfect goodness), but have no similar objection to the concept of a “god”, and thus not reject general theism.  Thus it is possible to accept weak atheism without accepting strong atheism.
Given the disambiguation of “theism” and the corresponding disambiguation of “atheism”, it follows that one can be both a theist and an atheist without self-contradiction.  One could accept weak atheism (and thus reject traditional western theism) while also accepting general theism, by believing in the existence of one or more (finite) gods.  For example, if a person believes that Zeus exists, then that person believes that “There is at least one god” (namely Zeus), but that person might also REJECT traditional western theism, and thus reject the claim that “God exists”.  Such a person would accept weak atheism and also accept general theism.  Therefore, such a person would be both an atheist (in accepting weak atheism) and also a theist (in accepting general theism).
Here are some general advantages to the above proposed terminology:
1. It  encompasses the insight that  atheism is an intellectual position, and avoids the common mistake of viewing atheism as being merely the lack or absence of a particular belief.
2. It recognizes the ambiguity of the word “theism” and avoids confusion and equivocation by the use of adjectives to clarify which of the two senses of the word is intended.
3. It recognizes the logical dependency of the concept of  “atheism” on the concept of “theism” by creating a set of two categories of “atheism” corresponding to the two categories of “theism”.
4. The use of the word “rejection” (as opposed to “denial” or “negation” or “false”) allows the term “atheism” to include skeptics who deny that the claim “God exists” makes a statement that could be true or false.  Some skeptical philosophers assert that the sentence “God exists” does not express a true statement, and also does not express a false statement.  But such a view can be understood as a “rejection” of traditional western theism.  This also allows for atheists who reject the claim “God exists” not because they are convinced that the claim is false, but because they are not convinced that it is true.  Many atheists assert that the evidence for the claim “God exists” is too weak to justify acceptance of this belief.  Such atheists admit that the claim “God exists” might turn out to be true, but that we ought to reject this claim unless and until someone provides solid evidence for the truth of the claim.
5. Distinguishing different forms of “atheism” would be useful for making the point that everyone, or nearly every sane adult, is an atheist, in the sense that nearly every sane adult rejects belief in one or more gods.  Christians, for example, generally reject belief in Zeus and in the other gods of the Greek and Roman pantheons.  These Greek and Roman gods lack the infinite and unlimited characteristics of the God of traditional western theism.  So, we could define a specific category of theism in which a person believes in one or more finite gods, gods who lack one of more of the following attributes:  (a) eternally omnipotent, (b) eternally omniscient, (c) eternally perfectly morally good, (d) the creator of the universe, (e) a source of moral obligations for human beings.  Let’s call this “finite theism”.  Christians reject finite theism, and thus Christians could be categorized as holding the position of “finite atheism” – the rejection of finite theism.
=================

Varieties of Unbelief

I have previously focused in on two varieties of unbelief:
1. Belief that “God exists” makes a false statement.
2. Belief that “God exists” does not make a true statement and does not make a false statement (because it does not make any statement at all).
But there are various sorts of unbelief/atheism.  Some atheists say that the belief that “God exists” should be rejected because…

  • it is certainly false
  • it is can be proven to be false
  • it can be proven that it does not make any sort of statement
  • it is probably false
  • it probably does not make any sort of statement
  • it has not been proven to be true
  • it is not provable
  • it is not a scientifically testable belief
  • it is not subject to empirical confirmation or disconfirmation
  • the evidence for it is too weak to justify belief 
  • the word “God” is too unclear and ambiguous to allow for a rational evaluation of this claim

There are a wide variety of reasons for rejecting the belief that “God exists”, but so long as one is aware of the view or belief that “God exists” and one chooses to not accept that view or belief, then that constitutes REJECTION of the belief and thus is a form of atheism.
==================

Levels of Analysis of Atheism

Level 0:  Person P holds the intellectual position of weak atheism.
Level 0: Person P holds the intellectual position of strong atheism.
 
Level 1:  Person P holds the intellectual position of weak atheism IF AND ONLY IF person P rejects traditional western theism.
Level 1: Person P holds the intelletual position of strong atheism IF AND ONLY IF person P rejects general theism.
 
Level 2: Person P rejects view V IF AND ONLY IF person P is aware of veiw V and P has chosen to not accept view V.
Level 2: Person P accepts traditional western theism IF AND ONLY IF person P believes that God exists, where this belief is understood in keeping with the traditional concept of God as found in the three major western religions (i.e. Judaism, Christianity, and Islam).
Level 2: Person P accepts general theism IF AND ONLY IF person P believes that one or more gods exist.
 
Level 3:  Person P believes that God exists, where this belief is understood in keeping with the traditional concept of God as found in the three major western religions (i.e. Judaism, Christianity, and Islam) IF AND ONLY IF person P believes that there is exactly one divine person.
 
Level 4:  Person P believes that there is exactly one divine person IF AND ONLY IF person P believes that there is exacly one spirit who is eternally omnipotent, eternally omniscient, eternally perfectly morally good, the creator of the universe, and a source of moral obligations for human beings.
 
Level 5:  X is a spirit IF AND ONLY IF X is a bodiless person.
Level 5:  X is eternally Y IF AND ONLY IF  X has characteristic Y at every moment in the past, and X has characteristic Y now, and X has characteristic Y at every moment in the future.
We do not have to arrive at agreement at Level 4 or Level 5 in order to make intellectual progress on clarification and analysis of “atheism”.
If we can arrive at agreement at Level 2 or Level 3, that will still be some significant intellectual progress.
==========================

Counterexamples to My Previously Proposed Definitions

My previous proposals have run into a couple of powerful counterexamples.  Here are the definitions that I originally proposed:

DEF4A

Person P accepts WEAK ATHEISM if and only if P believes that the sentence “God exists” does NOT express a true statement.

DEF4B

Person P accepts STRONG ATHEISM if and only if P believes that the sentence “One or more gods exist” does NOT express a true statement.

 One counterexample stems from the fact that I am pointing to sentences in the English language.  But there are atheists who do not speak or understand the English language.  Some atheists might only understand French or German or Spanish.  Such a person would presumably have no opinion about whether the sentence “God exists” expresses a true statement, or even whether it expresses any statement at all.
Another counterexample stems from the fact that people can have a mistaken understanding or interpretation of a particular sentence in English, even if that person has a general understanding of the English language.  Suppose that someone who understood English had very limited exposure to western religions and interpreted the sentence “God exists” to mean “there is life after death”.  If this person believed there was no such thing as life after death, then this person would believe that the sentence “God exists” does  NOT express a true statement.  Yet this person might well believe that God exists while denying that there is life after death.  In that case, this person would NOT be correctly categorized as a “weak atheist”.

bookmark_borderWhat is Atheism?

I know this is a well-worn topic, but I think it is worth hashing over this old question one more time.
First, some obvious points that many ignorant, bible-thumping, knuckle-dragging bigots are unable to grasp:
1. ATHEISM is not the same as MATERIALISM (not all atheists are materialists).
2. ATHEISM is not the same as MARXISM (not all atheists are Marxists).
3. ATHEISM is not the same as HUMANISM (not all atheists are Humanists).
4. ATHEISM is not the same as AGNOSTICISM (not all atheists are agnostics).
5. ATHEISM is not the same as SKEPTICISM (not all atheists are skeptics).
6. ATHEISM is not the same as NATURALISM (not all atheists are naturalists).
7. ATHEISM is not the same as EXISTENTIALISM (not all atheists are Existentialists).
If you don’t understand these basic and obvious points, then please stop reading this post now, and go back to your cave or to your church’s para-military compound in Arkansas or Alabama.
Now for something a bit more sophisticated.   Consider the following initial, rough definition of “atheism”:
DEF1
Person P accepts ATHEISM if and only if P believes that “There is no God.”
There are a couple of problems with this definition.  First of all, (DEF1) is compatible with someone being a polytheist.  One can both believe that “There is no God” and at the same time (without any contradiction) believe that “There are many gods”.  To believe that “There is no God” is to believe that there is no god who is the one-and-only all-powerful, all-knowing, eternal creator of the universe.
But denying that there is a god who has infinite power, infinite knowledge, and infinite duration is NOT the same as denying that there is any god whatsoever.  One could deny the existence of an all-powerful, all-knowing, eternal god and yet believe that there are many gods who have finite power, and finite knowledge, and/or who are of finite duration.  In other words, one can reject traditional western theism (the belief in God found in the western religious traditions of Judaism, Christianity, and Islam) and yet be a polytheist and believe in the existence of many finite gods.
A second problem with (DEF1) is that it does not make room for atheists who claim that the concept of “God” is incoherent.  A.J. Ayer, Antony Flew, and Kai Nielsen were all atheist philosophers, but they all believe that the sentence “God exists” is incoherent.  They believe that the sentence “God exists” is neither true nor false.  So, they also believe that the negation or denial of this sentence is also incoherent.  Thus, none of these atheist philosophers believed that the sentence “There is no God” makes a true statement.  On the basis of (DEF1) none of these atheist philosophers would be categorized as being an “atheist”.
The best solution to the first problem, is to draw a distinction between strong and weak atheism.  Weak atheism is the denial of traditional western theism.  Strong atheism is the denial of the existence of any and all gods.
DEF2A
Person P accepts WEAK ATHEISM if and only if P believes that “There is no God.”
DEF2B
Person P accepts STRONG ATHEISM if and only if P believes that “There are no gods.”
On these definitions, strong atheism implies weak atheism, but weak atheism does not imply strong atheism.  Someone who believes that “There are no gods” must also believe (to be logically consistent) that “There is no God”.  But some one who believes “There is no God” could believe that “There are some gods” (i.e. gods who are finite in power, knowledge, or duration).
These definitions, however, do not get around the second objection, concening atheists who believe that the sentence “God exists” fails to make a coherent statement.  One way to get around the second objection would be to characterize atheism not as a belief, but as the absence of a belief:
DEF3A
Person P accepts WEAK ATHEISM if and only if P does NOT believe that “God exists.”
DEF3B
Person P accepts STRONG ATHEISM if and only if P does NOT believe that “One or more gods exist.”
But while these definitions might get around both the first and second objections, they are still problematic, because we think of atheism as being an intellectual position or stance.  The lack of a belief, however, is not an intellectual position.  Presumably, ALL BABIES lack the belief that “God exists”, but it is absurd and counterintuitive to say that ALL BABIES are atheists.  Babies simply don’t have any position on the question of the existence of God, and they certainly do not have a position on whether the sentence “God exists” expresses a coherent statement.
I propose an alternative way to deal with the second objection, a way that preserves the view that atheism is an intellectual position or stance, and that avoids the counterintuitive implication that ALL BABIES are atheists:
DEF4A
Person P accepts WEAK ATHEISM if and only if P believes that the sentence “God exists” does NOT express a true statement.
DEF4B
Person P accepts STRONG ATHEISM if and only if P believes that the sentence “One or more gods exist” does NOT express a true statement.
As far as I can see, these defintions get around the two main objections that we have been considering, and they do so while preserving the intuition that atheism is an intellectual position or stance, a belief that we cannot ascribe to ALL BABIES.
Some who accept weak atheism believe the sentence “God exists” expresses a statement that is false, while others who accept weak atheism believe the sentence “God exists” does not express a coherent statement at all.  Both sorts of atheists are encompased by (DEF4A).
Some who accept strong atheism believe the sentence “One or more gods exist” expresses a coherent statement that is false, while others who accept strong atheism believe the sentence “One or more gods exist” does not express a coherent statement at all.
One final point, which is probably the most controversial point I have to make on this topic.  Although atheism is an intellectual position or stance, it is NOT a point of view.  At least, it is NOT a worldview, and it is NOT an ideology, and it is NOT a philosophy, and it is NOT a religion.  In short, atheism is the rejection of a specific religious belief or a religious “assertion”.  Weak atheism is basically the rejection of traditional western theism.  Strong atheism is basically the rejection of any sort of theism, including belief in one or more finite gods.
That is why the first seven statements at the beginning of this article are true.  Atheism is the rejection of a particular religious belief or religious “assertion”.  Atheism is NOT the assertion of a general point of view or philosophy or worldview.  Furthermore, atheists do not necessarily agree on WHY we ought to reject a particular religious belief or assertion.
Some atheists reject the assertion that “God exists” because they think it is FALSE.  Other atheists reject the assertion “God exists” because they think it is INCOHERENT.  The atheists who think “God exists” makes a FALSE statement have different reasons and arguments for thinking this statement is false.  So, atheists do not necessarily agree with each other about WHY we ought to reject the assertion that “God exists” or that “One or more gods exist”.
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Update (10/5/15):
Angra Mainyu suggested a counterexample to my proposed definition 4A:
c. What if Alice is silent on whether God exists on your definition, but she believes that “there is an omnipotent, omniscient, morally perfect being” is not true …? 
The classification you propose does not cover a case like that.
I also came up with a similar objection to 4A.  What about a person who does not understand English?  A person who speaks French, German, Italian, Spanish, Chinese, or Japanese but does not understand English will in most cases NOT have an opinion about the truth or the coherence of the sentence “God exists.”  because he/she will not understand the meaning of this sentence.
I can get around my objection and perhaps Angra Mainyu’s objection as well by revising the proposed definition a bit:
5A. Person P accepts WEAK ATHEISM if and only if P believes that a sentence S does NOT express a true statement, and sentence S has the same meaning as the English sentence “God exists.”

There is a difficulty with this defintion, however. It appears to imply that the sentence “God exists” is a meaningful sentence, which begs an important question.

However, it does NOT assume that the sentence “God exists” expresses a coherent statement.  The sentence, “This is a four-sided triangle.” is a meaningful sentence, and it can be translated into other languages, but it is an incoherent sentence in that it contains a logical contradiction.  So, 5A leaves open the question as to whether the sentence “God exists” contains a logical contradiction, but does assume that this sentence has a meaning, at least enough meaning for it to be possible to translate the sentence into another language.

Personally, I don’t mind begging the question as to whether “God exists” is a meaningful sentence.  It seems obvious to me that it is a meaningful sentence, and one reason for thinking this is that it is obvious that this sentence can be translated into other languages.  How could a meaningless sentence be translated correctly into another language?  So, I’m OK with begging this particular question.