What is an Atheist?

I have some trouble with the commonly held belief that being an atheist is simply the lack of belief in a god.  I have waffled on this for a while, and I may have even made a blog post about this already that contradicts what I am about to say, but I have become more secure in my position and have decided I need to say something about it.

What is Belief?

We have many things we believe in.  Some of the things we believe, we say we know, and some of them we don’t, but for almost everything we think we understand, there is some level of simply believing.

You believe you are reading the words of some other person in some other part of the world than you are in right now.  You may think you know it, but do you really?  Can you be absolutely sure that the words you are reading aren’t simply an active part of your mind deluding you into believing these words aren’t your own?  The truth is, you can’t.

Belief and knowledge can be the same thing, but almost always it is simply when your beliefs happen to coincide with reality that you actually have knowledge, not that you can prove things to be 100% true.

I think that our level of knowledge can be broken down to some of what Descartes said, and not much more.  I can know I exist because I am thinking about it.  I can know I am a thinking thing because I am thinking about it.  Beyond that, I can only know that I think the things I think and I experience what I think to be things outside my mind through my senses.

What is a Theist?

We atheists think it’s simple to explain what a theist is.  I haven’t really talked to many atheists that have ever really thought about it much.

We tend to say it’s someone that believes in a personal god, but is that really the extent of it?  Do theists believe 100% that there is a god, or is it some fraction of that?  Is someone that believes that the chances of a god existing are greater than 50% a theist?  What about if they only give it 50%?  Is there a level of belief where someone is agnostic, or does that only speak to whether or not someone feels it can be “known” whether or not a god exists?

I tend to not like the word agnostic.  I think the word is relatively meaningless, since nobody can really know 100% either way.  I think it should be relegated to use only in cases where a person has not ever given the subject any serious thought, so doesn’t really care one way or the other.

Having said this, I think someone is a theist if they believe that it’s more than 50% probable that a god exists.

What is an Atheist?

Now that I have explained what a theist is, I think that it is only appropriate that an atheist would be someone that believes the chances of a god existing are less than 50%.  Saying you lack belief says one of two things.  Either you have never considered the matter, or you believe the chances are 0% that a god exists.

If you had no opinion on the matter, that means you haven’t really given it any thought whatsoever.  That can’t be true of those that call themselves atheists though.  We hear arguments for the existence of god, and we give them a probability assessment.  I would say that I almost always find the probability to be 0%, but never find the probability to be any appreciable amount greater than 0%.

Whenever we determine whether an argument or evidence holds water, we are making an assessment about the existence of a deity.  It can’t be helped.

I know that people really get scared to admit that they believe things, but nobody can get away from it.

I would never consider you an atheist unless you held some belief on the matter, and that belief was that the probability of a god existing was less than 50%.

This especially goes for theists.  They often talk about how they were atheists, but when you probe them, the truth is, they had never thought of it in the first place.  When they finally did, their probability assessment almost always went from no assessment made to somewhere over 50% instantaneously.  That is not an atheist.

Comments on this entry are closed.

  • John

    “I would never consider you an atheist unless you held some belief on the matter, and that belief was that the probability of a god existing was less than 50%.”

    Wouldn’t any probability, even 1 in a million, be an acceptance that God exists due to the fact that eventually the probability rate would give the desired result? Isn’t basing the possibility of God existing on the probability of God existing (other than absolute 0%) admitting that you know that the existence of God is possible?


    • http://godlessons.com Godlessons

      Well, there is a 1 in a whatever chance that I am sending you this message from the top of Mount Everest. Does that mean that you believe I am there. I could be after all.

      If you believe I am or don’t depends on some level of belief. That level is what makes you firm in it. The extreme unlikelihood of it being true, given internet availability, the few number of people that take that trek, and whatever else would weigh the scales in favor of it being bullshit, but the fact is, you probably believe that the chances are much less than 50% that I am on Everest.

      It’s not like these things are constantly being reproduced. I am either on Everest right now, or I am not. If I am not, there isn’t another shot at it. I’m not eventually going to be on Everest right now, as now is now, and the eventually is in the future.

      • John

        Your argument is riddled with logical fallacy. There are little to no restraints to your argument. I find it quite common that atheists throw out vague comments that sound good initially, but once you’ve stepped back and put some thought to it – they’re absurd.

        Here’s what I mean, the idea that probability increases with a level of belief is incorrect. Probability is not relative to your belief, in regards to science or religion. Just because someone wants to believe that something is higher than 50% it is simply not true. Take for instance, the development of the earth and it’s ability to sustain life – the probability is extremely low. We know it happened based on the simple fact that we’re here, however by your “logic” if we believed that it happened that way and are convinced that the probability is >50% we should also see ~50% of other planets in the universe sustain life.

        Also, “It’s not like these things are constantly being reproduced. I am either on Everest right now, or I am not. If I am not, there isn’t another shot at it.” This statement assumes that probability is limited to the very second it happens and when it doesn’t happen the probability drops to 0. It’s simply not true. An equivalently absurd statement would go something like this, “Every time you hold a fork you’re eating.” – It’s simply not true that if you aren’t eating while holding a fork, the probability of you eating while holding a fork is 0.

  • http://tris.uphero.com/blog/ Tris Stock @Tris_Stock

    No matter how you pretty up your argument to suit your purposes, the end result will always be the same. An atheist is someone that lacks a belief in the existence of a god or gods. A theist is someone that has a belief in the existence of a god or gods.

    If you make a claim that you believe in the existence of a god or gods, the onus is on you to present the evidence for why you believe this to be true. If your arguments are unconvincing to some, there will be people that lack that belief given the evidence presented, and if your arguments are convincing, there will be people do believe given the evidence presented.

    The problem lies in the fact that no objective evidence has ever been presented. As such, there will be more people that lack the belief you have than those that do.