Wednesday, July 09, 2008

Atheists who willingly defend misleading language are a pox

Two weeks ago, I blogged about the latest Pew Research Poll on American religious beliefs, noting this absurdity, among other things:
Americans are so religiously and metaphysically STUPID, on average, that one out of five Americans who claim to be religiously unaffiliated and atheist claim to also believe in a divinity. Half of agnostics in that group make the same claim. ...

Hey, idiots. If you believe something, you can’t agnostic about it!

But, all is not well in atheist land.

Apparently, some people, some atheists, want to defend the use of misleading language, specifically, the illogical phrase “agnostic theism.” It’s a bad enough phrase in general, but in response to a blog post, and an original story, that both talked about “theism,” “agnosticism” and “atheism” all as belief states, it’s off-putting to say the least.

Said people also either did not read the linked story, or else did not see that “agnosticism” was clearly talking about a belief state, not factual/empirical/evidentiary knowledge.

So, to them, db0, Adrian and Austin, I reply:
I stand by the original post, and I stand by saying that you’re using misleading language. You, too, Austin.

It’s clear that I, and the NYTimes linked story (did YOU ever look at that, db, if we want to talk about following links) were talking about beliefs (or, my alternative phrase, influenced by Dan Dennett, of “metaphysical stances,”) all along, and not knowledge.

So, Austin, I never conflated the two. In a follow-up comment on my blog post, I said, if you can get Bob Carroll of The Skeptic’s Dictionary to prove me wrong, I’d listen.

Well, I went ahead and did my own research:
First, in hardcopy, my “Dictionary of Philosophy and Religion," by William L. Reese, says this under “agnosticism”:
It is usually applied, however, principally, to suspension of belief with respect to God. (Emphasis added.)

Now, Bob Carroll does use the word “knowledge,” but as subordinate to “belief”:
Agnosticism is the position of believing that knowledge of the existence or non-existence of God is impossible.

Note the definition is about belief, again.

Nothing about knowledge, empirical evidence, etc. That’s why I said I’ve never conflated belief and knowledge; in making reference to metaphysical states, I've been referring to belief all the time.

Ditto on the Pew poll.

And, per that definition, let me rephrase my original critique”

Phrases like “agnostic theism” or “theistic agnosticism” in that both the governing noun and the adjective talk about states of belief, or metaphysical stances, to use my phrase ...


You have incompatible belief states being smashed together.

I don't care if “agnostic theism” has 5,000 Google hits, either. I don’t even care if there’s a website called (No, I refuse to give it a hyperlink.)

That’s just further proof of the Pew poll. And, beyond that, neither Reese nor Carroll use either that phrase or “theistic agnosticism.”

And, as I said earlier, Austin, I don’t even care if you’re the atheism “guide” for

Thank doorknob there’s only 5,000 deluded Google hits, too. (Even more fortunately, the equally oxymoronic “theistic agnosticism” has less than 500 hits.)

Next, to tackle this linguistic oxymoron from another angle, let me go to a comment I made on the original post:
Re the Wiki link on agnostic theism that (db0) posts, let’s carefully analyze the English language used here.

“Theism” is the noun. Nouns always take precedence over adjectives like “agnostic.”

For example, you can have simple noun-verb, or N-V, sentences. You cannot have a noun-adjective, or N-Adj, sentence.

The reverse also holds true. You CANNOT be an agnostic, as a primary belief state, and modify it with “theistic,” either.

Let me explain this once more, in terms of color (or colour).

There's a difference between “reddish-orange” and “orangish-red.” And db0 started talking about reddish-orange, then posted a link to orangish-red.

But I will get beyond that

As for db0’s implication that many people in the UK may understand “atheism” to mean “irreligious,” well, then obviously a bunch of people in the UK are as stupid as they are here. Maybe the equivalent of Pew should poll them. And, I’ll call irreligious people in the UK who call themselves “atheists” idiots, too, db0. Give me e-mail addresses, and I'll even e-mail them that.

Ditto for agnostics using misleading language, or atheists who abet them.

And, as for db0 criticising me (spelled the UK way as a grace note), well, instead, he should have taken my article as it read and corrected stupid people on his and Adrian’s side of the pond.

And, per that definition, let me rephrase my original critique of all of you:

Phrases like “agnostic theism” or “theistic agnosticism” in that both the governing noun and the adjective talk about states of belief, or metaphysical stances, to use my phrase ...


Merriam-Webster also agrees with me on the use of “agnosticism.”, especially in its first listed definition, agrees as well.

Wittgenstein would be turning over in his grave, if he could.

If I were dead, and could turn over in my grave, I definitely would, too. Db and Austin, I am still angry at both of you for criticizing my use of agnostic, when both of you are wrong.

Also, as I e-mailed Austin, I stand by my psychological observation that “agnostic theism” is an attempt to give an intellectual gloss to theistic beliefs.

And, Adrian or anyone else who, after accepting the apology I offered to db, still wants to delink my blog because I criticize your use of language?

Be my guest.

And no, I don’t expect any of you gents, nor others who may be reading your blog posts commenting about mine, to apologize, or apologise, for using imprecise, and yes, misleading, language.


Per the old saying, “More’s the pity.”

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