You can’t drink “not coffee” (atheism)

Not coffee isn’t a beverage. I suppose “not coffee” could describe everything that isn’t coffee but it isn’t a helpful description.

So if the Concise OED defines atheism as the theory or belief that God does not exist then what do us atheists believe in? Apart from Not God.
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  • I used to talk about not stamp collecting, but not coffee works as well. It connects to the burden of proof. If you actively assert that there are no gods, the burden is yours. If you simply lack a belief in gods, it's not. This used to be called strong and weak atheism, terms which seem to have died out.

    There is also the distinction between thinking gods are possible, but seeing no evidence, and thinking they are impossible, I think the latter view is rarer. I suppose flute-playing mermaids on Jupiter are possible, who cares. There is also the view that it's not interesting, my dad was like that.
  • LeRocLeRoc Shipmate
    I suppose flute-playing mermaids on Jupiter are possible, who cares.
    They're mostly out of tune anyway.

  • stetsonstetson Shipmate
    Not coffee isn’t a beverage. I suppose “not coffee” could describe everything that isn’t coffee but it isn’t a helpful description.

    So if the Concise OED defines atheism as the theory or belief that God does not exist then what do us atheists believe in? Apart from Not God.

    I think the Not God thing is a red herring.

    Smith: Do you believe in unicorns?

    Jones: No.

    Once Jones answers the question in the negative, I don't think he's obligated to ponder the meaning of "Not unicorn", or reflect on how "Not unicorn" isn't a real animal, or what belief-substitute he will come up with in lieu of unicorns. Presumably, he can just get on with believing in all the other things that he DOES believe in(eg. squirrels, love, solar energy, Paris as the capital of France), and acting on those beliefs to whatever degree he deems neccessary.

  • stetsonstetson Shipmate
    And I think there is a useful distinction to be drawn here between "believe in" and "believe that". A theist believes in God; an atheist doesn't believe in atheism, so much as be believes that there is no God.

    (^ A pre-buttal to what I think is going to be an appeal back to the OED's use of the word "belief" to justify positing the alleged paradox.)
  • stetsonstetson Shipmate
    edited March 13
    ^^

    Oh, and in the two posts above, I'm using "believe in" to mean "think that something is real", not "have confience or faith in something".
  • stetson wrote: »
    And I think there is a useful distinction to be drawn here between "believe in" and "believe that". A theist believes in God; an atheist doesn't believe in atheism, so much as be believes that there is no God.

    (^ A pre-buttal to what I think is going to be an appeal back to the OED's use of the word "belief" to justify positing the alleged paradox.)

    Some atheists believe there is no god, but some lack a belief. These are often called agnostic atheists, meaning they don't know there are no gods, but lack belief.
  • LandlubberLandlubber Shipmate
    stetson wrote: »
    Not coffee isn’t a beverage. I suppose “not coffee” could describe everything that isn’t coffee but it isn’t a helpful description.

    So if the Concise OED defines atheism as the theory or belief that God does not exist then what do us atheists believe in? Apart from Not God.

    I think the Not God thing is a red herring.

    Smith: Do you believe in unicorns?

    Jones: No.

    Once Jones answers the question in the negative, I don't think he's obligated to ponder the meaning of "Not unicorn", or reflect on how "Not unicorn" isn't a real animal, or what belief-substitute he will come up with in lieu of unicorns. Presumably, he can just get on with believing in all the other things that he DOES believe in(eg. squirrels, love, solar energy, Paris as the capital of France), and acting on those beliefs to whatever degree he deems neccessary.
    In the same way, I can be "not a coffee-drinker" and and still be a drinker of tea or beer or anything which is "not coffee" (the one thing which I do not drink).
  • mousethiefmousethief Shipmate
    Atheists believe in whatever each one believes in. Goodness, selfishness, Objectivism, whatever. Just because you don't believe in God doesn't mean you believe in not-God. That's a logical fallacy.
  • I used to talk about not stamp collecting, but not coffee works as well. It connects to the burden of proof. If you actively assert that there are no gods, the burden is yours. If you simply lack a belief in gods, it's not. This used to be called strong and weak atheism, terms which seem to have died out.

    There is also the distinction between thinking gods are possible, but seeing no evidence, and thinking they are impossible, I think the latter view is rarer. I suppose flute-playing mermaids on Jupiter are possible, who cares. There is also the view that it's not interesting, my dad was like that.

    I think "weak atheism" has now merged with agnosticism.

    I was hoping to explore what atheists believe in as opposed to what the declare not to believe in.

    For example, with me it would be the scientific method as the measure of all things.
  • I don't think atheists have ideas in common really. For example, the emphasis on science is not shared by Buddhist atheists, or other religions which are not theistic, e.g., advaita, Jainism.
  • mousethiefmousethief Shipmate
    There is no one thing all atheists believe in.
  • stetson wrote: »

    I think the Not God thing is a red herring.

    Smith: Do you believe in unicorns?

    Jones: No.

    Once Jones answers the question in the negative, I don't think he's obligated to ponder the meaning of "Not unicorn", or reflect on how "Not unicorn" isn't a real animal, or what belief-substitute he will come up with in lieu of unicorns. Presumably, he can just get on with believing in all the other things that he DOES believe in(eg. squirrels, love, solar energy, Paris as the capital of France), and acting on those beliefs to whatever degree he deems neccessary.

    Ah, I didn't mean we ought to ponder what not God means, so much as what we believe in apart from not God. Your list includes some things that do not require belief because the demonstrably exist (squirrels) whereas 'love' is a trickier thing to believe in because it's hard to make a clear distinction between the love between, say, husband and wife, and that between a pair of swans. Can we say that swans can experience love? And if not then how is the love humans can experience different?
  • mousethief wrote: »
    There is no one thing all atheists believe in.

    agreed.
  • I don't think atheists have ideas in common really. For example, the emphasis on science is not shared by Buddhist atheists, or other religions which are not theistic, e.g., advaita, Jainism.

    Agreed. I was interested in exploring the range of things atheists believe in.
  • mousethief wrote: »
    There is no one thing all atheists believe in.

    Bit like Brexiteers, really. It's much easier to dispute a belief than to assert one.
  • What I was trying to get at is what do atheists believe in where belief has the same meaning as it has when Christians believe in God.

    For example: from my perspective, belief in God appears to require a suspension of disbelief or a reliance on subjective experience ("I feel this to be true") over objective and testable evidence. I, on the other hand, tend to reject subjective experience in favour of that which can be rationally proven.
  • Eutychus wrote: »
    mousethief wrote: »
    There is no one thing all atheists believe in.

    It's much easier to dispute a belief than to assert one.

    Exactly. That's why I find describing myself as an atheist to be a wee bit absurd.

  • stetson wrote: »
    And I think there is a useful distinction to be drawn here between "believe in" and "believe that". A theist believes in God; an atheist doesn't believe in atheism, so much as be believes that there is no God.

    Agreed. One wouldn't write "I believe in Zebras" but one would write "I believe that zebras are from Africa."

    Much of what an atheist might believe would be written as "believe that", as in, "I believe that the scientific method is the only reliable means of understanding the world" but it isn't quite the same as saying "I believe in the scientific method".
  • stetsonstetson Shipmate
    Eutychus wrote: »
    mousethief wrote: »
    There is no one thing all atheists believe in.

    It's much easier to dispute a belief than to assert one.

    Exactly. That's why I find describing myself as an atheist to be a wee bit absurd.

    I would think that, if you are an atheist, the only reason you'd bring it up is if someone were to inquire as to your belief or lack thereof in God, or you thought it was relevant to bring it up yourself.

    But that could occur in a lot of different sort of conversations, especially if you like engaging in religious discussions. But it would never become something that you try to construct an alternative belief-system upon.

  • Colin SmithColin Smith Shipmate
    edited March 13
    stetson wrote: »

    I would think that, if you are an atheist, the only reason you'd bring it up is if someone were to inquire as to your belief or lack thereof in God, or you thought it was relevant to bring it up yourself.

    But that could occur in a lot of different sort of conversations, especially if you like engaging in religious discussions. But it would never become something that you try to construct an alternative belief-system upon.

    The "I'm an atheist line" or "I'm a sceptic" is coming up a lot since my move to Glastonbury a few months ago. Having a few through-the-looking-glass conversations where the apparently normal person I'm talking to suddenly asserts or references something very 'out there' as though they expect me to immediately accept or understand what they're saying. Such as, "I'm researching events in the late 80s at the time of the Harmonic Convergence" which I heard yesterday. She didn't mean the Maastricht Treaty.
  • DafydDafyd Shipmate
    stetson wrote: »
    [Once Jones answers the question in the negative, I don't think he's obligated to ponder the meaning of "Not unicorn", or reflect on how "Not unicorn" isn't a real animal, or what belief-substitute he will come up with in lieu of unicorns.
    The thing is that belief in God (or belief that God exists) is not logically equivalent to the belief that unicorns or zebras exist. One can get on with one's life believing that there are or aren't zebras without it much affecting the rest of what one believes.

    Religion says the anthropologist Clifford Geertz is a set of symbolic actions that connect the way the word is empirically with what one thinks is morally the case. Now since morality means nothing if it isn't the way that you behave empirically I think you have to have some attitude to that gap between what one ought to do and how one thinks things are. It might not be articulate, it might certainly not have any symbolic actions attached, it might be an attitude of outright defiance (the world is not moral). But to say that because an atheist doesn't have a religion to bridge that gap they therefore don't have any attitude to that gap is like saying that because drinking tea is drinking not coffee, drinking tea is the same as not drinking anything.

  • DafydDafyd Shipmate
    edited March 13
    If you actively assert that there are no gods, the burden is yours. If you simply lack a belief in gods, it's not. This used to be called strong and weak atheism, terms which seem to have died out.
    They always struck me as forced, there to try to head off an argument about burden of proof rather than because they reflected any genuine engagement with how people think.
    (I continue to think that the concept of burden of proof is misapplied outside the context of a law court.)

  • I quite like ignostic, i.e., I haven't got a clue what you are on about. Certainly true of much Glastonbury talk, less so with various religions, where I have a vague clue.
  • Colin SmithColin Smith Shipmate
    edited March 13
    Dafyd wrote: »
    The thing is that belief in God (or belief that God exists) is not logically equivalent to the belief that unicorns or zebras exist. One can get on with one's life believing that there are or aren't zebras without it much affecting the rest of what one believes.

    Religion says the anthropologist Clifford Geertz is a set of symbolic actions that connect the way the word is empirically with what one thinks is morally the case. Now since morality means nothing if it isn't the way that you behave empirically I think you have to have some attitude to that gap between what one ought to do and how one thinks things are. It might not be articulate, it might certainly not have any symbolic actions attached, it might be an attitude of outright defiance (the world is not moral). But to say that because an atheist doesn't have a religion to bridge that gap they therefore don't have any attitude to that gap is like saying that because drinking tea is drinking not coffee, drinking tea is the same as not drinking anything.

    You're touching on an accusation made against atheists by some of the more... (not sure what the word is annoying will do) Christians* that because all morality derives from God atheists cannot be moral, or have no fixed morality.

    That is clearly nonsense but it does mean a thinking atheist has to figure out a response because it's not immediately obvious where morality does come from.

    My own answer is human morality is a more complex version of reciprocal altruism which is found in many (perhaps all) social animals and would appear to be a form of evolved behaviour essential for individuals to cooperate with each other for mutual benefit.

    *Happily, none of those Christians appear to be aboard the ship.
  • I quite like ignostic, i.e., I haven't got a clue what you are on about. Certainly true of much Glastonbury talk, less so with various religions, where I have a vague clue.

    I like ignostic.
  • OhherOhher Shipmate
    mousethief wrote: »
    Atheists believe in whatever each one believes in. Goodness, selfishness, Objectivism, whatever. Just because you don't believe in God doesn't mean you believe in not-God. That's a logical fallacy.

    Thank you.
    What I was trying to get at is what do atheists believe in where belief has the same meaning as it has when Christians believe in God.

    I think you may be assuming a false dilemma. You seem to be suggesting that a belief in God fills a sort of pre-existing conceptual space which, when that belief is absent, must be filled by some other, roughly equivalent, notion. This turns "belief-in" into a necessity. As one who might be (but would prefer not to be) described as "ignostic," I consider "belief-in" to be an "add-on" concept, not an essential one.

    As to "ignostic," it sounds pejorative to me: too close to "ignoramus."

  • Ohher wrote: »

    I think you may be assuming a false dilemma. You seem to be suggesting that a belief in God fills a sort of pre-existing conceptual space which, when that belief is absent, must be filled by some other, roughly equivalent, notion. This turns "belief-in" into a necessity. As one who might be (but would prefer not to be) described as "ignostic," I consider "belief-in" to be an "add-on" concept, not an essential one.

    As to "ignostic," it sounds pejorative to me: too close to "ignoramus."

    Not exactly.

    'God' answers a lot of human needs and questions so I was wondering what do all of us atheists believe in that answers those questions.
  • Some people use "noncognitivist", which I suppose asks if there is something comprehensible to not believe in. Well, no, it doesn't ask, it declares, I think.
  • Baptist TrainfanBaptist Trainfan Shipmate
    edited March 13
    LeRoc wrote: »
    I suppose flute-playing mermaids on Jupiter are possible, who cares.
    They're mostly out of tune anyway.
    It's the atmosphere, coupled with the powerful gravity. But I take the point that the question of their existence is totally irrelevant to my life, except as a rather abstruse intellectual exercise.

    It is always hard to prove the non-existence of anything (eg the Loch Ness Monster). I might assert that there are no rhinoceroses in Bedfordshire; up to a point that's true as no-one has ever seen one in the wild ... but I then can point them to the exception which is Whipsnade Zoo. So (a) there are definitely some rhinos in the county; (b) there are ones in the zoo which have been brought there intentionally; (c) there might be ones lurking elsewhere that have managed to camouflage themselves so effectively that they've never been spotted.

  • OhherOhher Shipmate
    Ohher wrote: »

    I think you may be assuming a false dilemma. You seem to be suggesting that a belief in God fills a sort of pre-existing conceptual space which, when that belief is absent, must be filled by some other, roughly equivalent, notion. This turns "belief-in" into a necessity. As one who might be (but would prefer not to be) described as "ignostic," I consider "belief-in" to be an "add-on" concept, not an essential one.

    As to "ignostic," it sounds pejorative to me: too close to "ignoramus."

    Not exactly.

    'God' answers a lot of human needs and questions so I was wondering what do all of us atheists believe in that answers those questions.

    Really? How does 'God' perform this miracle (answering human needs and questions) where there is no 'God?' Can you name a specific human need or question which 'God' -- and 'God' alone -- definitively responds to?

  • Ohher wrote: »

    I think you may be assuming a false dilemma. You seem to be suggesting that a belief in God fills a sort of pre-existing conceptual space which, when that belief is absent, must be filled by some other, roughly equivalent, notion. This turns "belief-in" into a necessity. As one who might be (but would prefer not to be) described as "ignostic," I consider "belief-in" to be an "add-on" concept, not an essential one.

    As to "ignostic," it sounds pejorative to me: too close to "ignoramus."

    Not exactly.

    'God' answers a lot of human needs and questions so I was wondering what do all of us atheists believe in that answers those questions.

    It doesn't follow. You don't have to believe in anything, or maybe the power of love, or your local football club. I remember in Zen, the questions shrivel up and die.
  • Colin SmithColin Smith Shipmate
    edited March 13
    Ohher wrote: »

    Really? How does 'God' perform this miracle (answering human needs and questions) where there is no 'God?' Can you name a specific human need or question which 'God' -- and 'God' alone -- definitively responds to?

    My bad. I meant belief in God or faith in something. 'God' to me is a concept rather than a 'thing'.
  • stetsonstetson Shipmate

    The "I'm an atheist line" or "I'm a sceptic" is coming up a lot since my move to Glastonbury a few months ago. Having a few through-the-looking-glass conversations where the apparently normal person I'm talking to suddenly asserts or references something very 'out there' as though they expect me to immediately accept or understand what they're saying. Such as, "I'm researching events in the late 80s at the time of the Harmonic Convergence" which I heard yesterday. She didn't mean the Maastricht Treaty.

    Hey, I remember that Harmonic Convergence! Though I honestly can't remember what exactly people did, beyond that it was being talked about in the media a bit that summer.

  • mousethiefmousethief Shipmate
    Eutychus wrote: »
    mousethief wrote: »
    There is no one thing all atheists believe in.

    Bit like Brexiteers, really. It's much easier to dispute a belief than to assert one.

    Except no. All Brexiteers agree that Britain should leave the EU.
  • Colin SmithColin Smith Shipmate
    edited March 13
    stetson wrote: »
    Hey, I remember that Harmonic Convergence! Though I honestly can't remember what exactly people did, beyond that it was being talked about in the media a bit that summer.

    Ha! Have you considered moving to Glastonbury :smiley:
  • LeRoc wrote: »
    I suppose flute-playing mermaids on Jupiter are possible, who cares.
    They're mostly out of tune anyway.
    It's the atmosphere, coupled with the powerful gravity. But I take the point that the question of their existence is totally irrelevant to my life, except as a rather abstruse intellectual exercise.

    It is always hard to prove the non-existence of anything (eg the Loch Ness Monster). I might assert that there are no rhinoceroses in Bedfordshire; up to a point that's true as no-one has ever seen one in the wild ... but I then can point them to the exception which is Whipsnade Zoo. So (a) there are definitely some rhinos in the county; (b) there are ones in the zoo which have been brought there intentionally; (c) there might be ones lurking elsewhere that have managed to camouflage themselves so effectively that they've never been spotted.

    This seems close to various ideas, such as the negative proof fallacy, and Russell's teapot. An interesting question here about falsifiability.

    I think many atheists have been wary of asserting that there are no gods, although I have come across a few. You do get the assertion that the various omnis render the Christian God contradictory, however let's not dwell on that!

    Agnostic atheist is hence a cautious position, viz., I cannot know that there is no god, but lack belief in such. Ignostic is I suppose rather aggressive, theism makes no sense. Then what does?
  • LeRocLeRoc Shipmate
    You do get the assertion that the various omnis render the Christian God contradictory
    She likes it that way.


  • I think many atheists have been wary of asserting that there are no gods...

    Agnostic atheist is hence a cautious position, viz., I cannot know that there is no god, but lack belief in such. Ignostic is I suppose rather aggressive, theism makes no sense. Then what does?

    Interesting. That relates to something I've experienced where a Christian I am discussing with assumes my atheism stands in opposition to their God and there is no other possible position I do believe there is no God or gods in any shape or form but don't rule out supernatural elements as I have sympathy for numenism.
  • Martin54Martin54 Shipmate
    What a splendid thread. Om a total Glauconian-Humean-Darwinian on morality me.
  • An Om as well, ecumenical.
  • Martin54Martin54 Shipmate
    stetson wrote: »
    Hey, I remember that Harmonic Convergence! Though I honestly can't remember what exactly people did, beyond that it was being talked about in the media a bit that summer.

    Ha! Have you considered moving to Glastonbury :smiley:

    Glastonbury is at its very best when you're all alone there. Not another soul as far as you can see. No nutters. Well just one.

  • I think many atheists have been wary of asserting that there are no gods...

    Agnostic atheist is hence a cautious position, viz., I cannot know that there is no god, but lack belief in such. Ignostic is I suppose rather aggressive, theism makes no sense. Then what does?

    Interesting. That relates to something I've experienced where a Christian I am discussing with assumes my atheism stands in opposition to their God and there is no other possible position I do believe there is no God or gods in any shape or form but don't rule out supernatural elements as I have sympathy for numenism.

    There's been quite a discussion about non-theistic supernatural stuff. You could say that tree spirits are like this, and all the rest of them. And obviously, you can have gods without God, some branches of Buddhism seem to. As Martin said, Omm!
  • Martin54Martin54 Shipmate
    God as He (is if He) is seems pretty Buddhist to me.

  • There's been quite a discussion about non-theistic supernatural stuff. You could say that tree spirits are like this, and all the rest of them. And obviously, you can have gods without God, some branches of Buddhism seem to. As Martin said, Omm!

    It's terminology isn't it. For me god(s) have a significant amount of power and, crucially, interact significantly with and even control humans: e.g. Poseidon, and all the rest giving Odysseus a bad time. My atheism seems to be built on the idea that there are no spiritual or supernatural elements involved in my life. Trees might well have spirits but they and I do not interact at any level.
  • Or as an old Zen teacher said, not-God not-is not-like not-Buddha.
  • Or as an old Zen teacher said, not-God not-is not-like not-Buddha.

    I can see that. Even without Buddha the way he showed would still be there.

    The path through the night does not disappear for want of a torch.
  • An even older Zen teacher said, no path. Alternatively, the obstacle is the path. This is not-truth.
  • BoogieBoogie Shipmate

    There's been quite a discussion about non-theistic supernatural stuff. You could say that tree spirits are like this, and all the rest of them. And obviously, you can have gods without God, some branches of Buddhism seem to. As Martin said, Omm!

    It's terminology isn't it. For me god(s) have a significant amount of power and, crucially, interact significantly with and even control humans: e.g. Poseidon, and all the rest giving Odysseus a bad time. My atheism seems to be built on the idea that there are no spiritual or supernatural elements involved in my life. Trees might well have spirits but they and I do not interact at any level.

    And my theism works on the same premise. That nothing is spiritual or supernatural. That God is in and through nature and holds the whole caboodle together. Jesus was a man - nothing more. But a man full of God’s essence, more than any (that we know of) before or since.

  • Boogie wrote: »

    There's been quite a discussion about non-theistic supernatural stuff. You could say that tree spirits are like this, and all the rest of them. And obviously, you can have gods without God, some branches of Buddhism seem to. As Martin said, Omm!

    It's terminology isn't it. For me god(s) have a significant amount of power and, crucially, interact significantly with and even control humans: e.g. Poseidon, and all the rest giving Odysseus a bad time. My atheism seems to be built on the idea that there are no spiritual or supernatural elements involved in my life. Trees might well have spirits but they and I do not interact at any level.

    And my theism works on the same premise. That nothing is spiritual or supernatural. That God is in and through nature and holds the whole caboodle together. Jesus was a man - nothing more. But a man full of God’s essence, more than any (that we know of) before or since.

    Terrific, and very Zen-like. But you also are full of God's essence. I don't think there is more of an essence.
  • DonLogan2DonLogan2 Shipmate
    I quite like ignostic, i.e., I haven't got a clue what you are on about. Certainly true of much Glastonbury talk, less so with various religions, where I have a vague clue.

    I`m sure (some of) the young people I talk to at church on Sunday think the same of my teaching. We looked at creation from a christian and scientific point of view, both of which are closer to bonkers than plausible (which is the scientific method we used; the bonkers/plausible linear scale). Biblical belief in creation from nothing (word) by God is closer to bonkers than plausible, but the scientific idea we looked at an article online at one of the first links we came to, space.com (can`t get a link to work but its here https://www.space.com/16281-big-bang-god-intervention-science.html ).
    "If you would just, in this room, just twist time and space the right way, you might create an entirely new universe. It's not clear you could get into that universe, but you would create it."

    "So it could be that this universe is merely the science fair project of a kid in another universe," Shostak added. "I don't know how that affects your theological leanings, but it is something to consider."

    I`m sure the young people are now ignostic and I am a fairly useless youth worker :smiley:
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