1. Religion & Spirituality

Discuss in my forum

Austin Cline

Brendan Patrick Keane Misleads About Atheism & Christopher Hitchens

By August 13, 2010

Follow me on:

Christopher Hitchens, if you didn't already know, is dying of cancer. Because so many dishonest Christians make false claims about deathbed confessions by famous people, Hitchens has made a point of stating his real beliefs before he dies. Even that isn't enough for some. Perhaps it's just too much to imagine anyone dying as an atheist? I'm sure Brendan Patrick Keane won't be the last to tell something like "fibs" about atheism and Christopher Hitchens in order to pretend that he isn't an atheist.
As he deals with the awful burden of esophagal cancer spreading through his lymph nodes, he is concerned about rumors of a death bed confession. He is trying to make clear to us what he believes before he is incapable of doing so later-on.

Despite that over-arching political concern, Hitchens' first real philosophical assumption is that the universe exceeds in complexity, full human understanding. And so, uncertainty is inescapable. He did not discover the principle, he must concede to it. He also concedes the possibility of a prime mover.

Atheism is too certain a position for Hitchens, author of the badly titled book God is Not Great. Badly, because it is too declarative, and certain. Where God is a wide-open term used to short-hand the ineffably complex universe, calling it "not great" is the equivalent of saying life is a half-empty glass. He just does not have access to enough information to make that determination.

Source: Irish Central

Here we find a number of popular falsehoods from Brendan Patrick Keane, like that atheism requires certainty and that atheism and agnosticism are mutually exclusive. Refutations of these myths are easy enough to find for anyone who spends more than a few seconds researching them. So either Keane didn't bother because he assumed he knew all he needed or he did the research and is deliberately misleading his readers. Both reflect very badly on him.

The quality of Keane's reasoning is revealed by his objections to the title of Christopher Hitchens' book God is Not Great. Keane's complaint is based on the premise that there really is a "God" which Hitchens was writing about but which we can't know much about -- a premise which Hitchens, an atheist, obviously doesn't share. From Hitchens' perspective, he was writing about a fictional character and we have more than enough information from all the stories to make a declarative, certain conclusion about the nature of that character: it is not Great.

Keane could have avoided all his errors if he had simply done a little bit of research on the subject -- and since the nature of atheism is absolutely central to an article about whether or not a person is an atheist, there's just no excuse for not doing that research. At the very least, he should have been expected to double-check some basic facts; by not doing so, he expresses what I consider to be a callous disregard for the truth. When you stop caring about what is true or false and just go with whatever is most convenient or whatever is most consistent with your preferred ideology, your statements should be treated as lies rather than mere mistakes.

Brendan Patrick Keane is described as "a writer and illustrator" who is "passionate about the Irish heritage of NYC." It's a pity that he also isn't equally passionate about the truth and getting his facts straight.

Comments
August 13, 2010 at 1:19 pm
(1) Yahzi says:

“Keane’s complaint is based on the premise that there really is a “God” which Hitchens was writing about but which we can’t know much about”

If we can’t know much about this god, then how great can he be?

I kind of thought “great” and “well-known” went together. I mean, would we call him Alexander the Great if he hadn’t conquered the Western World – and conversely, once he did conquer the West, how could we have not heard of him?

If God is indeed great, than it seems hard to believe we wouldn’t know enough about him to assert his greatness. If we don’t even know that much, then it doesn’t seem unreasonable to conclude maybe there’s nothing there to know.

August 13, 2010 at 3:18 pm
(2) Mark Barratt says:

The tendency of theists (who, by necessity, must believe in a specific god with specific characteristics in order for their beliefs to mean anything) to take refuge in vague, undefined godishness when pressed has always been one of their most callow characteristics.

It is, however, usually alluded to in very oblique language, and it’s rare to see a theist state so baldly that they use the ridiculously broad meaning that has been given to the g-word (by theists who have spent generations blurring the meaning), in order to allow the maximum possible level of equivocation when necessary.

God is only such a wide-open term because getting theists to say exactly what they mean by it is like trying to wrestle a soapy eel. And what they mean by it changes depending on who they are talking to at the time.

Also, it’s possible that the body of Hitchens’ book does go some way to clarifying what he is using the g-word to mean, at least. If only we had some sort of concise aphorism about forming opinions of the contents of a book based on what’s written on the front of it.

August 13, 2010 at 3:19 pm
(3) BrendanPKeane says:

Brendan Patrick Keane defines atheism as “no god.” In order for you to be correct about atheism, you would have to define it as “maybe god.” Atheism is declarative in its a priori, that there is “a-thei,” or “no-god.” The Uncertainty Principle does not allow for such a stance to be proven.

August 13, 2010 at 3:28 pm
(4) Brendan Patrick Keane says:

Austin Cline’s mistake is to confuse atheism with skepticism. Atheism is quite literally the stance that there is “a-theos” or “no-god.” Skepticism doubts there is a god. The uncertainty principle disallows a declaration about primal causes as atheism inherently makes. Cline is attracted to the aesthetic of “atheism,” but has replaced its “no god” with “maybe god.” That is intellectually cheap.

August 13, 2010 at 4:30 pm
(5) Edmond says:

Austin, Christopher Hitchens is NOT “dying” of cancer. He HAS cancer, but having cancer is NOT a death sentence. He may die of it, or he may very well survive. Let’s wait and see how treatment goes before declaring him a lost cause.

August 13, 2010 at 5:35 pm
(6) Austin Cline says:

Austin Cline’s mistake is to confuse atheism with skepticism.

Since I’m actually defining atheism correctly, I’m not making a mistake.

Atheism is quite literally the stance that there is “a-theos” or “no-god.”

I hate to break the news to you, but the prefix “a” means “lack of, absence of, privation of.” As I already said, if you had bothered to do just a little research you wouldn’t be making so many basic mistakes.

Skepticism doubts there is a god.

No, skepticism is a methodology that is applied widely to all manner of issues and questions. It’s not, in any way, shape, or form, limited to just the question of gods. That’s a worse mistake than your misrepresentation of atheism.

The uncertainty principle disallows a declaration about primal causes as atheism inherently makes.

Atheism makes no declarations about anything, never mind any “primal causes.” Atheism is just the absence of belief in gods.

Cline is attracted to the aesthetic of “atheism,” but has replaced its “no god” with “maybe god.” That is intellectually cheap.

I’ve made no replacements, I’ve simply used the correct definition of the term. If you wish to discuss intellectual cheapness, perhaps you should first look into the mirror and ask yourself why you feel such a need to make your own declarations about subjects you haven’t bothered to research?

August 13, 2010 at 5:37 pm
(7) Austin Cline says:

Brendan Patrick Keane defines atheism as “no god.”

Why are you talking about yourself in the third person? Is this a habit?

In order for you to be correct about atheism, you would have to define it as “maybe god.”

No, I simply define it correctly: the absence of belief in gods. This definition is attested to in most comprehensive, unabridged dictionaries, and specialized references. It was used by early freethinkers and continues to be used by most contemporary atheist writers

Atheism is declarative in its a priori, that there is “a-thei,” or “no-god.”

Atheism isn’t a declaration of any sort; it is, instead, just an absence of a particular belief. It’s not “a-theos,” but “a-theism” – the absence of theism, the lack of theism, the privation of theism.

August 13, 2010 at 9:02 pm
(8) Keoni says:

Brendan Patrick Keane says: “Austin Cline’s mistake is to confuse atheism with skepticism. Atheism is quite literally the stance that there is “a-theos” or “no-god.” Skepticism doubts there is a god. The uncertainty principle disallows a declaration about primal causes as atheism inherently makes. Cline is attracted to the aesthetic of “atheism,” but has replaced its “no god” with “maybe god.” That is intellectually cheap.”

Yeah, just like people who are apolitical believe there are “no politics.” What a self serving moron.

August 14, 2010 at 12:20 pm
(9) Bob Carroll says:

Keane seems to think that agnosticism is the only intellectually honest position to take with regard to gods. According to this viewpoint, theism and atheism are arrogant affirmations of being certain about something that is intrinsically unknowable. It is true, of course, that it is possible there is some unknowable being or entity who creates universes, has unimaginable powers, and is like nothing we have any experience of. No atheist that I know of has ever denied such a possibility, nor have we denied the possibility of an unknowable Easter Bunny who lays eggs on Saturn. So what? Atheists and theists, i.e., non-agnostics, do not concern themselves with epistemic impossibilities, but with gods about whom stories have been told for millennia. The more we learn about the universe, the less reason there is for believing that any of these gods were not created in human imaginations. Agnosticism regarding Zeus or Abraham’s god is not an intellectually honest position, as it can be maintained only by a fatuous and dishonest treatment of the available evidence. That evidence shows beyond a reasonable doubt that all gods fashioned thus far in the minds of men, including famous philosophers, are highly improbable. Agnosticism regarding unimaginable, unknowable beings is redundant. Requiring atheists to prove the non-existence of an unimaginable, unknowable being is absurd.

August 14, 2010 at 3:39 pm
(10) Brendan Patrick Keane says:

There’s no reason to describe God as a creature. Confusing the concept of God with specific attributes (like hair, or a name, or a species class) is the work of religionists. God as a philosophical problem is the absolute abstraction on issues of causality (cause of cause) and of time (what pre-dates time?). These are philosophical problems. Saying there is no Easter Bunny is not analogous to saying there is no God, because we know full well the eggs came from chickens, but we do not know where the universe came from. God is the expression of that puzzle.

August 14, 2010 at 3:44 pm
(11) Brendan Patrick Keane says:

If we alter the English language to suit Cline’s tastes, then he is right to discredit a rather standard definition of atheism.

Atheism is not so doubtful as Cline, however. It is certain on the matter of ultimate causality: no god, no prime mover.

Hitchens does not hold to that position, preferring uncertainty. It is the only logical position.

http://www.irishcentral.com/story/ent/the_keane_edge/atheism-site-slanders-me-for-my-analysis-of-christopher-hitchens-stance-on-god-100645519.html

August 14, 2010 at 3:53 pm
(12) ChuckA says:

I just noticed…after spending a lot of time writing this…that quite a few excellent comments have been added since I started.
Oh well…for what it’s worth:

From the Mirriam-Webster’s Collegiate Dictionary:
athe•ism \”a-the-’i-zem\ noun
[MF atheisme, fr. athee atheist, fr. Gk atheos godless, fr. a- + theos god] (1546)

[My Note: "a" , actually, has the meaning of "without"...as in "without god"...
NOT stating: "No God"; which, indeed, takes a more actual denial stance.]

1 archaic : ungodliness, wickedness
[Yeah...i.e...the totally brainwashed pre-Enlightenment crowd of "Inquisitional" godbotherers.]
2 a : a disbelief in the existence of deity
b : the doctrine that there is no deity

In other words, it’s a choice as to WHICH definition one subscribes to. For the overwhelming number of ACTUAL atheists…the term atheism simply means the NON-BELIEF in any gods.
Only some “hard” atheists might go further, as in ‘b’ (above); with a more definite denial stance.

Sooo…IMO…it’s the old Philosophical ‘mantra’:
“FIRST…before going any further (or farther?)…
define your terms!”

For this somewhat older atheist…and, I might opine, most probably for Hitchens…certainly as far as I can determine from having closely followed a great many of his YouTube debates and, as he puts it: his “moneymaking, god-bashing book”…the title of which, incidentally, I think he actually intended as a direct, LITERAL, assault on the famous (IMO, rather dumb-a$$) Muslim religious slogan! (“Allahu Akbar!”)…
atheism is, indeed, nothing more than the non-belief in ANY gods.
It’s not a belief system…certainly not a religion…nor even a Philosophy. There are no temples, scriptures, doctrines, dogmas, rituals…arm band insignias…
magic underwear…etcetera, etcetera. (etc., etc.)

[NOT, regarding that latter shtick...like I keep hearing those (even high profile "Professional" media type people) who obviously never studied any Ancient Latin, pronouncing the word as more like:
"ex(c)etera"...
Huh?...WTF? Which, I'm guessing, they think is abbreviated:
ex. or ect.?
Sorry (NOT?), for bringing up that little rather anal pet peeve of mine! Has anyone else (who's old enough) noticed that little, increasingly more common, linguistic "faux pas"?] ;)

August 14, 2010 at 5:07 pm
(13) Austin Cline says:

God as a philosophical problem is the absolute abstraction on issues of causality (cause of cause) and of time (what pre-dates time?).

That’s your personal opinion. This does not appear accurately reflect the claims and beliefs of theists — the people who believe in the existence of a being or beings they call “god” or “gods”.

Saying there is no Easter Bunny is not analogous to saying there is no God,

If we are talking about the sort of “god” believed in and claimed by theists in America, the analogy doesn’t appear to be too problematic.

because we know full well the eggs came from chickens, but we do not know where the universe came from.

Your statement presumes that existence of a place “from which” the universe can originate.

God is the expression of that puzzle.

According to whom?

If we alter the English language to suit Cline’s tastes, then he is right to discredit a rather standard definition of atheism.

I’m using the term “atheism” as it is defined in standard, unabridged dictionaries. If you know how atheism is defined in standard, unabridged dictionaries — and you should know it, since I provided you with the links — then saying that I am trying to “alter the English language” is false. If you don’t know, then you don’t know enough about the subject to have anything approaching an informed opinion about it. So which is it?

Atheism is not so doubtful as Cline, however. It is certain on the matter of ultimate causality: no god, no prime mover.

Atheism is the absence of belief in gods; as such it makes no claims about anything, causality or otherwise.

If you’re going to accuse me of a “slanderous attack,” you should be willing to back that up. In your new article, you write things that I have already responded to but you don’t acknoowledge those responses. That isn’t very honest, is it?

I defend my analysis from the starting point that atheism means “no god.”

Correction, you start from the idea that “atheism is the belief that God (prime mover) does not exist.” This was disproven when I pointed you to how atheism is defined. You would have disproven it to yourself had you done any research on the subject and it was your failure to do such research which is the primary topic in my piece above: you demonstrate so little knowledge of atheism that it just isn’t plausible that you have spent enough time researching the key topics to justify writing about them.

Cline must prove that I am incorrect: a) in defining atheism as the belief that there is “no god”

I did. I provided the links. For some reason, though, you refrained from responding to that — then wrote a new article without referencing this in any way, shape, or form… as if you hadn’t been provided a detailed correction with multiple citations. Why is that? Does that really strike you as entirely honest?

This is semantics, and is not the basis of an intelligent debate.

It is a question of “sematics,” but only because the definition of atheism lies at the heart of your original article. More specifically, your failure to define “atheism” correctly lies at the heart of why you got just about everything in that original article wrong.

Cline says nothing except to accuse me of “errors,” and “lies” and all kinds of unsavory things.

Well, in fact I have done much more. In the above blog post, I link to refutations of two of myths you repeat in your original article. In comment #6 I provide a link to detailed information about what atheism is, what it is not, the difference between atheism and agnosticism, and much more basic information besides. I also describe what skepticism really is. In comment #7 I provide you with links to how atheism is defined in a number of different sources.

So when you say that I do nothing except accuse you of errors and lies, that’s not the truth, is it? If you’ve read my original post as well as my comments, then you know that that’s not the truth. So what do you call it when a person asserts something as truth which they know to be false? I know what word I’d use here, but I’d like to hear from you what you’d choose.

August 14, 2010 at 10:04 pm
(14) P Smith says:

So Keane is keen on starting another Lady Whore myth…I mean, Lady Hope. The religious always lie and try to refute those of their own sort (the Nazis, the KKK, etc.), and they lie and try to claim false perversions after death. Austin’s phrase “dishonest Christians” is almost always a redundancy.

Edmond said, “Let’s wait and see how treatment goes before declaring [Hitchens] a lost cause.”

Actually, Hitchens already is a lost cause. He advocated and supported the illegal wars in Iraq and Afghanistan and continues to support the current round of empire building and economic fraud/disaster by the US. Hitchens is to the neo-convict ideology what Tom Metzger is to white supremacist stupidity: a lone atheist amongst, and supporting, religious zealots.

I’m not wishing Hitchens dead, but I don’t listen to him anymore and never want to hear him again. He still writes convincingly, but in public speaking, he’s a drunkard and a foul mouthed boor. I don’t agree much with this particular atheist’s opinions (i.e. she wishes him dead), but she’s right about Hitchens’s selling out of his credibility and humanity.

No doubt someone will refer to Hitchens’s carcass after he dies, the way he referred to Falwell’s. When other atheists and humanists have died in recent years (e.g. Katherine Hepburn, Kurt Vonnegut), FAUX and other fascist media have taken the opportunity to attack them when they could no longer defend themselves (and usually, because the fascist media were afraid of them; such people could defend themselves very well when they were alive). Unlike these other people who were victims of cowardly character assassination, I won’t be bothered in the least if the media attacks/belittles/demeans Hitchens for his views or for being a corpulent and porcine drunkard.

.

August 14, 2010 at 11:25 pm
(15) Mickey D says:

“Brendan Patrick Keane”?? *never* heard of him, honestly

August 15, 2010 at 2:53 am
(16) The Sojourner says:

I looked up the link and the writer Sabina Becker (who hates Hitchens) and found she is not an atheist. According to her own profile she’s a Wiccan who follows Jesus. I’m not sure what that makes her, but it certainly isn’t atheism. Where did P. Smith get that idea? Or does he consider anyone not fundie to be an atheist?

I can’t fathom why she is so vindictive and hateful toward Hitchens. Same for Mr. Smith here. Her politics are more left than right by a long shot, so she’s not a conservative, in fact she says she’s an ex-conservative. I can see her objecting to his political stance. I don’t agree with a lot of Hitchens’ world views either. It almost seems as though she has some grudge or issue, hidden deep within. Perhaps she just hates atheists, many do. I really don’t understand the reasons for her animosity towards him.

I can understand a disagreement with his politics, etc., but her hatefulness, insults, ad hominems, etc. are way beyond the pale of merely disagreeing with someone.

August 15, 2010 at 12:32 pm
(17) Bob Carroll says:

I forgot to mention that the unknowable Easter Bunny who lays eggs on Saturn lays invisible magical eggs, not chicken eggs. If you utter certain incantations over these invisible magical eggs, all kinds of interesting things can happen. You can make them up as you go along.

August 15, 2010 at 3:25 pm
(18) Brendan Patrick Keane says:

What is shocking is how fundamentally Cline misunderstands the very definition of the term atheism.

I will sue him for slander just to reveal this fact of his misunderstanding.

He defines atheism as “absence of belief in gods.” Atheism means in fact “belief in no god.”

Where theism resolves the prime mover problem with “God” according to belief, not reason, atheism also resolves this problem with an equally unfathomable concept called “no God” or “nothing.”

It is unreasonable, because nihil ex nihilo, “nothing” or “no God” is not resolution of the problem what caused the so-called Big Bang.

Because Cline is so stubbornly resolved to define atheism as “absence of belief” rather than what it means “belief in no God,” the argument goes no where.

Until Cline learns to define atheism accurately, he is not the person with whom to have this debate.

August 15, 2010 at 5:13 pm
(19) Austin Cline says:

What is shocking is how fundamentally Cline misunderstands the very definition of the term atheism.

I provided you links to the definition.

Because Cline is so stubbornly resolved to define atheism as “absence of belief” rather than what it means “belief in no God,” the argument goes no where.

It’s “stubborn” to use the standard definition of a word?

August 15, 2010 at 8:09 pm
(20) Reggie Rock says:

We have no frame of reference for creation. A watch is not created, it is built from previously existing parts. We cannot rationally conceive of the creation of matter, the creation of existence.

There is no puzzle of origin. Our search for a creator is due to equivocation of watchmaking with actual creation. There is no need for a beginning. There are no beginnings in nature. Humans have no concept of a beginning, no experience with beginnings. We see only reorganization.

There is no origin. There is simply existence.

Even if there were some source of existence it would need a source for it’s existence. Existence does not answer to causality. Existence is not the watch, it is not teleological, it has no beginning to answer for nor an end to achieve.

And threatening to sue someone over a contentious definition is simply juvenile.

August 16, 2010 at 8:55 am
(21) P Smith says:

Okay, Sojourner, I screwed up and assumed things about her and her bio.

That doesn’t detract from the fact that much of what she said it valid.

August 16, 2010 at 4:03 pm
(22) The Sojourner says:

@P Smith:

There is a strong difference, as I said between disagreeing and being insulting and vicious. Whatever you may think of Hitchens is valid only to you or someone who shares the opinion. Others may not see it your way, that’s what opinions are. “I hate liver” is an opinion; so is “I love liver”. So who’s opinion is most valid? It depends on whether you like liver or not.

To me saying “I disagree with Hitchens on his politics” is not the same as calling him a “porcine drunkard”, or wishing him ill. That’s the difference, especially when your adding ad hominems.

By the way, wasn’t it Falwell who was blaming Katrina on the gays and 9/11 on America for turning away from his (Falwell’s) God? That doesn’t sound like a humanist to me. In fact most of Falwell’s pronouncements were anti everything and everyone that didn’t agree with his world view. Talk about attacking and demeaning , Falwell was a master.

I don’t agree with the way Hitchens handled Falwell’s death, but that doesn’t mean that it’s OK to attack Hitchens. Two wrongs don’t make a right as they say.

August 16, 2010 at 4:21 pm
(23) Dean says:

Brendan Patrick Keane will sue Cline for slander, for not agreeing on the definition of a word. That would be rich, if he was actually going to do it. Brendan, on the off chance you can somehow get a court to rule on the definition of atheism, I promise to chip in fifty bucks to help defray your losses.

August 18, 2010 at 6:32 am
(24) Peter Stroke says:

Atheism cannot “a-theism.” The word atheism existed in English about a hundred years before theism.

August 18, 2010 at 12:36 pm
(25) mobathome says:

(24) Peter Stroke says:

Atheism cannot “a-theism.” The word atheism existed in English about a hundred years before theism.

I’m so not impressed by your ridiculous argument. Did it just occur to you when you saw the words’ dates of first occurrence in English writing? Bother yourself to read the word’s current usage before you embarrass yourself again next time.

August 18, 2010 at 8:19 pm
(26) P Smith says:

Sojourner: “To me saying ‘I disagree with Hitchens on his politics” is not the same as calling him a “porcine drunkard’, or wishing him ill.”

First, I used the word porcine in reference to him being morbidly obese. Or do you consider him to be svelte?

Second, Hitchens, by his own admission in his own articles, consumes a bottle of whisky per day and has on numerous occasions shown up drunk at public speaking engagements, including his own book signings. If he admits it himself, it’s not “ad hominem” to mention it.

(By the by, there have been suggested links between illnesses – including cancer – and expensive whiskies because of the type of wooden barrels used.)

Third, why are you lying, claiming that I “wished him ill”? I did no such thing. Or do you enjoy making false accusations? I doubt you’ll have the decency to re-read post 14 and apologize.

.

August 19, 2010 at 4:49 am
(27) The Sojourner says:

@P Smith:

I still maintain that your remarks are needlessly insulting to Hitchens. I further add that I didn’t accuse you of wishing him ill. That was a rhetorical general comment. As for your obvious distaste and dislike for him, I still say you were needlessly insulting (is that a redundancy?), to say the least; I won’t apologize for that.

The actual definition of porcine is “of, relating to, or suggesting swine”, that isn’t an insult to anyone? If you aren’t trying to be nasty, why not just use corpulent and leave it at that? Santa Claus is corpulent, Porky pig is porcine. It seems as though there’s a lot more than mere disagreement between the lines. Animosity perhaps? Why?

Would it please you to have people attack/ demean/belittle or otherwise denigrate Hitchens in the first place? You sound much more angry than anything else. What has he done to you that you cannot at least give him some shred of respect rather than demeaning his person?

As I said I can absolutely disagree with his politics or world views, without needing to add nastiness to my opinions.

Edgar Allan Poe was an drug addict and an alcoholic, I hear them calling him a great author, not “that drunk”. They didn’t call Pavorotti a porcine tenor, he was considered a great opera singer. Many of our finest authors and composers, even painters were “different”. No one calls Michaelangelo the gay master sculptor and painter.

I’m not putting Hitchens in the master category, but he is one person who has vociferously defended atheists and atheism. He has refused to compromise, even if he is despised for his books on Mother Teresa, why God isn’t Great and other books of that ilk. I’ve seen several of his talks and interviews and guest shots, I have never seen him incoherently drunk. He has been a voice in the wilderness for we atheists, can you at least give him that? Too much to ask?

August 19, 2010 at 8:18 am
(28) Peter Stroke says:

mobathome,

I incorrectly assumed the context was sufficient to provide the necessary qualification for my statement. Therefore, allow me to restate it.

From an etymological standpoint, the notion of atheism being “a-theism” is indefensible.

August 19, 2010 at 12:22 pm
(29) mobathome says:

(28) Peter Stroke says:

From an etymological standpoint, the notion of atheism being “a-theism” is indefensible.

Please support your claim.

August 20, 2010 at 9:20 am
(30) Peter Stroke says:

mobathome,

Short answer. Atheism is not the addition of the prefix “a-” to theism. Theism is a backformation of atheism.

August 20, 2010 at 4:20 pm
(31) George says:

I realized a while ago that, regardless of definition, that calling myself an atheist was a no go because of theocratic, political, cultural and other considerations and because I won’t call myself much of anything other than just another guy on the planet. The evidence is obvious in the way B P Keane, and others, willfully misinterpret the word. Since atheist, in a nonatheist’s language, is almost always a pejorative expression any attempt to argue the point of “no god” is bound to get off to a disadvantageous start. I simply prefer “I’m a non believer” and then let the other person lay bare their preconceptions.

The other night I caught the last part of the Hitchen’s interview with Charlie Rose. The part where he talks of his unbelief and the outlook of the closing future. No excuses and no failures of courage. But does one really need courage to face the Angry God of Hell if one knows such a thing CANNOT exist? I think courage, of a sort, is needed when you face the cessation of your own life. After all few lives seem to end quietly anymore and one must face up to that stress. Anyway that night I cracked a bottle of Cabernet, took a chair out to the lawn, looked up at the clear cool sky, watched the Perseid meteor shower and looked up into the depths of the Galaxy. It was for celebration of a man who has taken a great public stand, warts and all, and stood up for the truth. A great galactic truth. Hitchens was sad that he would have to leave the party and that the party would go on without him and I, personally, would rather suffer that sadness than to live the diminished life of godfaith.

August 20, 2010 at 7:45 pm
(32) believer says:

no.comment
but
be sure there.s no god
&
BP is an ordinary l i a r

August 20, 2010 at 7:54 pm
(33) mobathome says:

(30) Peter Stroke says:

Short answer. Atheism is not the addition of the prefix “a-” to theism. Theism is a backformation of atheism.

This is an elaboration of your unsupported claim into more unsupported claims. Again, please show your support for these claims.

You claimed etymology supports your claims. Can you then show the etymological evidence that supports your claims?

Perhaps you should start with the Online Etymology Dictionary? It attributes the 1670s use of “theism” to the 1660s use of “theist”, which it claims comes from the Greek “theos” with the suffix “-ist” spliced in. So they don’t agree with your unsupported guess at the origin of the word. If you do the same for “atheism” you might be surprised by what you find out.

Fortunately, on the web site’s entrance they provide a link to their print sources, their support. You can find those books and start to do some real research of your own.

By the way, the above is only about the words themselves, and not how their meaning changed over time, something also covered by etymology. The modern situation seems to be that the antonym of “theism” is now “atheism”.

August 20, 2010 at 10:10 pm
(34) Peter Stroke says:

mobathome,

Long answer.

The Online Etymology Dictionary is quite consistent about labeling derivatives (c.f., abolitionist, novelist, fundamentalist, dentist). Thus, it does not make sense to read theism as being a suggested derivative of theist. Though, rather than weed through their sources, I have a better suggestion. Let’s point to the source.

Cudworth, Ralph. (1678). The True Intellectual System of the Universe: Wherein All the Reason and Philosophy of Atheism is Confuted and Its Impossibility Demonstrated.

To Cudworth, atheism and theism are “intellectual systems” rather than mere belief and disbelief. His goal was to establish the “true intellectual system.” And given his desire to “confute” and “demonstrate the impossibility of atheism,” the most likely explanation for theism is that Cudworth coined the term as a backformation of atheism to demonstrate the contrast between the two systems.

Thus, theism is a derivative (via backformation) of atheism, not theist.

I will agree some atheists prefer atheism as “a-theism.” This seems to be an increasingly common usage amongst atheists, and they are free to define a word anyway they see fit. Still, this does not make “a-theism” etymologically defensible.

August 21, 2010 at 12:07 am
(35) George says:

@32 believer
“no.comment
but
be sure there.s no god
&
BP is an ordinary l i a r”

Aren’t we all liars?
If you believe god is all good then how do you explain Gen 3:18:
“Now the man is become as one of us to know both good and evil…?”

August 21, 2010 at 2:33 am
(36) Tim Lister says:

If Brendan Patrick Keane conceded that there could be a valid concept of the universe in which no “god” or “prime mover” was even mentioned or considered then he would instantly make all of his work on this topic redundant. So the answer as to why he refuses to acknowledge reality in this case is simple, and in fact is just a simple three-letter word: ego. Luckily for him I have a feeling that he’s already familiar with that particular definition.

August 21, 2010 at 3:43 am
(37) The Sojourner says:

@George:

I saw the whole Rose interview. We recorded it. There may be a cessation of his (Hitchen’s) voice altogether, in the not too distant future. I hope he is put in a very long remission or cured, if possible.

I would sorely miss one of the few atheists who will not yield to the naysayers. I don’t know if anyone can fill his position as a champion of atheist causes as well as he can. There are other atheists voices around, but none so adamant and totally unyielding.

I was touched by your “salute” to him. I know there are many who do appreciate him. Say what you will, his grace in the face of enormous odds can’t be denigrated. Like our fallen comrade George Carlin, Hitchens is unique. We atheists need as many prominent and intelligent voices as we can get.

August 21, 2010 at 12:13 pm
(38) mobathome says:

(34) Peter Stroke says:

The Online Etymology Dictionary is quite consistent about labeling derivatives (c.f., abolitionist, novelist, fundamentalist, dentist). Thus, it does not make sense to read theism as being a suggested derivative of theist.

Please support this claim. In the meantime, I’ve emailed the author to find out how he indicates derivations, and in particular what relationship he meant to imply by saying “see theist” at “theism”.

Let’s point to the source.

Cudworth, Ralph. (1678). The True Intellectual System of the Universe: Wherein All the Reason and Philosophy of Atheism is Confuted and Its Impossibility Demonstrated.

Please support that Cudworth is indeed “the source” of the word “theism”. His book may be is the earliest known usage in print of the word, but as the Online Dictionary of Etymology reminds us, “… a word may have been used in conversation for hundreds of years before it turns up in a manuscript that has had the good fortune to survive the centuries.”

In fact, a Google Books search of the 1837 American edition of Cudworth’s text reveal 20 uses of the word “theism” by him, always capitalized and never explained, even in contrast with “atheism”. This supports the claim that Cudworth expects his reader to be so familiar with the word “theism” that he needn’t explain its meaning, and so fatally undermines both your claim that he coined it and also undermines your subordinate claim of “theism”‘s back-formation from “atheism”.

August 21, 2010 at 6:41 pm
(39) Peter Stroke says:

mobathome,

Please support this claim. In the meantime, I’ve emailed the author to find out how he indicates derivations, and in particular what relationship he meant to imply by saying “see theist” at “theism”.

I supported my claim about the Online Etymology Dictionary by providing examples.

Please support that Cudworth is indeed “the source” of the word “theism”. His book may be is the earliest known usage in print of the word, but as the Online Dictionary of Etymology reminds us, “… a word may have been used in conversation for hundreds of years before it turns up in a manuscript that has had the good fortune to survive the centuries.”

It is impossible to prove Cudworth is the source. However, the best evidence available supports the idea of Cudworth as being the source. (First publication of the word in English. Numerous authoritative sources, that is dictionaries, pointing to his publication as the origin.)

In fact, a Google Books search of the 1837 American edition of Cudworth’s text reveal 20 uses of the word “theism” by him, always capitalized and never explained, even in contrast with “atheism”. This supports the claim that Cudworth expects his reader to be so familiar with the word “theism” that he needn’t explain its meaning, and so fatally undermines both your claim that he coined it and also undermines your subordinate claim of “theism”’s back-formation from “atheism”.

It would make sense to use theism as a proper noun for many reasons. It is being contrasted with atheism which is also capitalized. It is describing a system rather than a simple belief. It is describing a system associated with the Judeo-Christian God which is capitalized. Hence, this does nothing to necessarily undermine my claims. Secondly, not all neologisms need to be explained to be understood. Thus, theism could have been seen as being easily understood to his readers without explanation. Again, this does not undermine my claims.

August 21, 2010 at 10:54 pm
(40) mobathome says:

(39) Peter Stroke says:

I supported my claim about the Online Etymology Dictionary by providing examples.

The dictionary’s author wrote back. He said that he was “currently doing a thorough write-through of the site”, and didn’t answer directly as to his consistency in labeling derivations. In answer to my question as to whether “the inference that ‘theism’ is not from ‘theist’ correct,” he replied “But the absence of ‘from’ doesn’t mean ‘not from.’ So you may not infer what you propose to infer simply based on the wording I’ve used.” So this part of your support has fallen.

It is impossible to prove Cudworth is the source.

I didn’t ask you to prove it.

However, the best evidence available supports the idea of Cudworth as being the source. (First publication of the word in English. Numerous authoritative sources, that is dictionaries, pointing to his publication as the origin.)

You claimed Cudworth “coined” the word: that he was the first to use it in English, written or spoken. Your “evidence” is that Cudworth’s text is the first known printed “publication of the word in English,” so you’re not even close.

It would make sense to use theism as a proper noun for many reasons. It is being contrasted with atheism which is also capitalized. It is describing a system rather than a simple belief. It is describing a system associated with the Judeo-Christian God which is capitalized. Hence, this does nothing to necessarily undermine my claims.

The support I provided against your claim had nothing to do with the word’s capitalization.

Secondly, not all neologisms need to be explained to be understood. Thus, theism could have been seen as being easily understood to his readers without explanation. Again, this does not undermine my claims.

Then you can quote from the searchable on-line text to showing that that is the case here: that Cudworth gives meaning to the word “Theism” by contrasting it with “Atheism”. Why haven’t you done so instead of adding to your list of claims in need of support?

August 24, 2010 at 3:31 pm
(41) JAB says:

“There’s no reason to describe God as a creature. Confusing the concept of God with specific attributes (like hair, or a name, or a species class) is the work of religionists. God as a philosophical problem is the absolute abstraction on issues of causality (cause of cause) and of time (what pre-dates time?). These are philosophical problems. Saying there is no Easter Bunny is not analogous to saying there is no God, because we know full well the eggs came from chickens, but we do not know where the universe came from. God is the expression of that puzzle.”

Things that exist have properties. Thus, in order to believe in the existence of a deity, you must be able to define its properties. This babble you just wrote is simply an expression of “God of the gaps” – namely, you can’t explain something (the origin of time and space, the origin of life, whatever it may be) and therefore you conclude that God did it.

It is funny because you look at the question of the universe’s origin and admit that you don’t know. Then you go on to say that, because you don’t know, you must fill in the blanks with God. This is the same thing as saying “I don’t know where the universe came from, therefore I know where it came from (God did it)”.

It’s also important to note that issues like causality and the origin of the universe in NO WAY demand the existence of an omnipotent, benevolent being as commonly described by theists.

Leave a Comment

Line and paragraph breaks are automatic. Some HTML allowed: <a href="" title="">, <b>, <i>, <strike>

©2014 About.com. All rights reserved.