Science and Other Drugs

….maybe a little less wrong….

Precisely simple

Definitions can be tricky things. Words have wildly divergent meanings depending on who is using them and why. So nailing down concrete definitions is a good thing to do any time you get the chance.


I’m sure I’m appropriating this from somewhere, but oh well.

Atheist: a person who finds it improbable that an agent cause brought about our reality.

Theist: a person who finds it probable that an agent cause brought about our reality.

Agnostic: anybody else.

This is the bottom line. All other definitions are just rhetorical posturing.


22 responses to “Precisely simple

  1. john zande 2013/04/17 at 07:34

    Agnostics are like alcohol-free beer.

    • physicsandwhiskey 2013/04/17 at 07:43

      Or, worse, alcohol-free vodka.

    • physicsandwhiskey 2013/04/17 at 07:53

      If agnostics are alcohol-free beer, who’s club soda?

    • holly 2013/04/18 at 07:18

      meanies…. ๐Ÿ˜‰
      I ended up going with an agnostic atheist, because here in the states anyway atheism has so many definitions but to the fundy…it simply means…”person who hates god” or “person who foolishly and proudly proclaims There IS no God and i ain’t afraid to SAY it!”
      and I feel adding to the “label” allows me to redefine at my leisure….:D
      (that may have been also why as a former christian i felt the need to label myself “christian humanist” )
      Also, for good measure, the term “agnostic” has lost some of its “alcohol-free beer’ ishness
      when Neil deGrasse Tyson labeled himself as such, reminding us the importance of embracing the mysteries yet ahead of us, and continuing the push for learning.
      I find this definition of atheism hard to disagree with, (though of course subdivisions under that would naturally follow)
      I had previously heard the term theist to mean belief in god and atheist to mean -without belief in god, but then one does have to explain “not enough evidence to find justification for belief in god” etc as people always get so nitpicky ….
      would the theist definition fall under deist instead? or is deist a specific type of theist position..i suppose it is…
      So as a general top label I think your definitions work…. ๐Ÿ™‚

  2. john zande 2013/04/17 at 07:35

    And i just realised i wasn’t following your blog by email…. problem now seen to!

    You need to have the Follow widget more prominent.

  3. violetwisp 2013/04/17 at 12:26

    Am I missing something? Or was there nothing else to get?

    • physicsandwhiskey 2013/04/17 at 12:46

      Oh, it’s just a way of saying enough with all the labels and clever remonstrances about faith vs reason and so forth.

      It’s also a test to see how well this definition set holds up — whether there’s any ambiguity or uncertainty.

      • violetwisp 2013/04/17 at 12:47

        I’m not sure it’s accurate. ‘somewhere between probable and certain’ for atheists and theists.
        (You ‘liked’ askthebigot’s abortion post????)

      • physicsandwhiskey 2013/04/17 at 13:08

        Absolute certainty is obviously impossible; you can generate an ad hoc explanation for anything. So that’s not really my concern. Too much bother with what’s “possible” or “impossible”; I much prefer to think in terms of probabilities.

        You could certainly refine my definitions to include “highly improbable” and “highly probable” while introducing “doubting atheist” and “doubting theist” categories, but that would just be an elaboration on what I’ve already got here.

        Yeah, I “liked” that. I don’t agree with her in general, but she had a few points there I appreciated.

  4. violetwisp 2013/04/17 at 13:16

    If someone believes they’re certain, they’re certain. While it may be somehow philosophically impossible, it’s a genuine state of mind.

    When I read such an emotionally charged diversion, using criminal behaviour and linking it to something that is legal and a necessary choice for women, it makes me sick. And linking it to the holocaust? Even more sickening. Painting women who choose to have abortions as murderers is inexcusable and so cruel. People who care about people should be fighting for an end to the ignorant attitudes that lead to so many unwanted pregnancies – it’s only sensible action. Outlawing abortion only leads to more unscrupulous butchers on the loose.

  5. Persto 2013/04/17 at 14:02

    Well, this seems, on the surface, to be an accurate portrayal of atheists in general because all atheists, to my knowledge, do find the existence of god or gods improbable. However, most ‘New Atheists’ are not the sort of atheists of your definition, which they would have to be for your definition to be accurate. Of course, they find the existence of god or gods improbable, but, where they distinguish themselves from the rest of the atheist pack, is by *denying* the existence of all gods or of a specific god or gods.

    The atheists of your definition are, most likely, not making a claim about the world and that sort of atheism doesn’t, in my opinion, seem to be a belief itself. On the other hand, atheists–shall we call them strong or gnostic atheists–do make a claim about the world and their sort of atheism is clearly a belief itself. So, strong atheism, as a belief, can immediately impact and give grounds for thought and action, whereas your sort of atheism, or at least your definition of atheism, cannot. The ‘new atheists’ and their ilk have a burden of proof because they are making claims about the world, while agnostic atheists–the atheist of your definition–do not have that burden of proof.

    Quickly, my challenge to your definition of atheism is more than just rhetorical posturing because determining which kind of atheist someone is assists in deciding what claims she can make about her position and the theist’s position.


    • physicsandwhiskey 2013/04/17 at 14:36

      Hey, thanks for commenting.

      My definition isn’t intended as an exhaustive description of all types of atheists, but rather as a starting point. If you want to define a sub-category of atheists, have at it!

      The kind of “rhetorical posturing” I’m talking about is saying that atheists “believe they are their own god” or saying that theists “make an irrational leap over the probabilities” or stuff like that.

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in: Logo

You are commenting using your account. Log Out /  Change )

Google+ photo

You are commenting using your Google+ account. Log Out /  Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )


Connecting to %s

%d bloggers like this: