Atheists Who Believe Atheism is Knowledge

For decades we have been told that an atheist is someone who simply lacks God-belief. That is, an atheist is one who merely observes there is no evidence for God and thus belief in God is not intellectually justified. This definition has served the atheist community well by allowing them to posture as if they are objective observers and judges. As if they are a disinterested party. The way it has been set up, we theists are supposed to come before them and justify ourselves, pleading our cases with our “evidence” in hand. And if we cannot make our case to their satisfaction, then that means we are mentally ill, infected with brain viruses, and a danger to society.

Over the years, I have shown that this set-up is rigged and intellectually dishonest. There are no objective observers and judges. And what is supposed to count as “evidence” is a matter of opinion. Those who demand evidence are usually closed-minded people who insist we appear in their kangaroo courts (this why the issue of whether or not atheists are closed-minded is of central importance).

We now have new evidence that the whole definition of atheism has been rigged. For it would seem there are many atheists who do not really view atheism as a mere lack of God belief because of a lack of evidence. They instead insist there is no God. They don’t just lack God belief, they think they know God does not exist. They think they have knowledge; they think atheism is knowledge.

We’ve just seen this posturing from Louise Antony, a professor of philosophy at the University of Massachusetts at Amherst. Well, it turns out that Antony’s “I know there is no God (!)” posture led to outbursts of cheering among the New Atheists.

Over at “The Friendly Atheist” activist blog, Antony’s words are highlighted:

Antony: I’m not sure what you mean by saying that I’ve taken a “strong stand as an atheist.” I don’t consider myself an agnostic; I claim to know that God doesn’t exist, if that’s what you mean.

And The Friendly Atheists responds:

Boom. Gotcha, Gutting. And well put, Antony.

More words from Antony are highlighted:


Because the question has been settled to my satisfaction. I say “there is no God” with the same confidence I say “there are no ghosts” or “there is no magic.” The main issue is supernaturalism — I deny that there are beings or phenomena outside the scope of natural law.

The response? More cheerleading:

BRB, I’m going to go fangirl all over Antony. Well put all around. It’s not that what she’s saying is new to most of the readers of this blog. There’s just something about how matter-of-factly she puts things which I find particularly appealing.

Hmmmm. It’s not that what she’s saying is new to most of the readers of that blog.

So the atheists at The Friendly Atheist believe they know God does not exist.

Then, we can turn our attention to activist Jerry Coyne’s blog (perhaps the most popular atheist blog out there). Coyne joins in on the cheerleading:

In the interview “Arguments against God,” Antony pulls no punches, claiming that she’s an atheist because she “claims to know that God doesn’t exist.” That’s a strong statement, but by “know” she doesn’t mean she has “absolute” knowledge, but rather sees sufficient evidence to conclude that God doesn’t exist—in the same sense that she concludes there are no ghosts.

When I started the interview, Antony was so cogent that I thought, “Wow! A new Horseman.” (I guess the correct word is “Horseperson”.) But things began to get a bit fuzzy and convoluted toward the end of the interview, so my enthusiasm was tempered a bit. Nevertheless, Antony is an articulate spokesperson for nonbelief and deserves a wider audience.

So Coyne, one of the leaders in the New Atheist movement, approves and endorses her “I know there is no God” stance with a “Wow!”. He even informs us that she “is an articulate spokesperson for nonbelief and deserves a wider audience.” Endorsement noted and filed.

I agree she deserves a wider audience and happy to do my small part. Thanks to the New Atheist reception, we are no longer under any intellectual obligation to treat atheism as a mere lack of God belief. It should no longer be considered the default definition. Apparently, there are a large number of atheists who think atheism is much more than a lack of belief; they believe atheism is knowledge and think they know God does not exist. Until the atheists are able to use the power of their Reason to arrive at a consensus definition for atheism, at the very least, we ought not let the “I know there is no God (!)” belief sneak under the radar.

And this raises a very ironic situation. Atheist activist Peter Boghossian is out there misleading and misinforming the public by imposing his idiosyncratic definition of faith on other people: pretending to know what you don’t know. He even insists on the following definition for atheism: “A person who doesn’t pretend to know things he doesn’t know with regard to the creator of the universe.”

But in reality, the only people who seem to be pretending to know are a significant fraction of the atheist community, including some of its most vocal leaders.

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16 Responses to Atheists Who Believe Atheism is Knowledge

  1. This post makes some great points!

    And I have found that atheists are as unreasonable and impervious to proofs and reason as any of the so-called religious fanatics they complain about.

  2. Ilíon says:

    Well, you know, God-deniers, like leftists and DarwinDefenders (to the extent that there is any difference in the personnel of the three belief-systems), tend to be intellectually dishonest. So, of course, they’re going to assert both ‘A’ and ‘not-A’, as the need of the moment allows.

  3. Kevin says:

    The hypocrisy of New Atheists and their stunning blindness to that hypocrisy has provided endless entertainment.

  4. Michael says:

    Kevin,
    I don’t think they are blind to it. I think they just don’t care. Ends justify the means. And besides, if atheism is true, does truth really matter anymore?

  5. phillip lightweis-goff says:

    “For decades we have been told that an atheist is someone who simply lacks God-belief. That is, an atheist is one who merely observes there is no evidence for God and thus belief in God is not intellectually justified.”

    —Not really… it’s just ‘a person who disbelieves or lacks belief in the existence of God or gods’ (Oxford Dictionaries).

    “This definition has served the atheist community well by allowing them to posture as if they are objective observers and judges.”

    —When everybody knows its actually you, right? 😉

    “The way it has been set up, we theists are supposed to come before them and justify ourselves, pleading our cases with our “evidence” in hand.”

    —You are the claimants… however, not everyone things evidence is possible to define/provide for such claims. And you…

    “And what is supposed to count as “evidence” is a matter of opinion.”

    —… seem to agree. So agnosticism’s the way to go?

    “Those who demand evidence are usually closed-minded people who insist we appear in their kangaroo courts (this why the issue of whether or not atheists are closed-minded is of central importance).”

    —What does ‘closed-minded’ mean here, and why should one consider it ‘important’?

    “(Coyne) In the interview “Arguments against God,” Antony pulls no punches, claiming that she’s an atheist because she “claims to know that God doesn’t exist.” That’s a strong statement, but by “know” she doesn’t mean she has “absolute” knowledge, but rather sees sufficient evidence to conclude that God doesn’t exist—in the same sense that she concludes there are no ghosts.”

    —So it’s a provisional judgement on phenomena… still has problems, but it still isn’t ‘strong atheism’.

    “Thanks to the New Atheist reception, we are no longer under any intellectual obligation to treat atheism as a mere lack of God belief.”

    —Composition fallacy at best.

    “It should no longer be considered the default definition.”

    —It’s still the reasonable default… you care about that, right?

    “He even insists on the following definition for atheism: “A person who doesn’t pretend to know things he doesn’t know with regard to the creator of the universe.””

    —Sounds like the beginnings of a great definition for an agnostic: ‘A person who doesn’t pretend to know things no one can know in regard to creator(s) of the universe.’

  6. John K says:

    I just don’t have any reson to believe in any god. Just like I don’t have any reason to believe that you are 30 foot tall and purple poke-a-dotted. You could be, but until I have some actual evidence I am going to assume that your appearance falls into the general category of human. I am also going to assume that the word god and the whole god concept should be put in my mental box where I store all of the other things that I have no evidence for…. Like unicorns and ghost, and ESP, Bigfoot and all similar concepts that lack evidence. If at some time in the future some actual evidence for any of these things becomes known to me then I will remove that concept from that mental box.

  7. stcordova says:

    phillip lightweis-goff ,

    “This definition has served the atheist community well by allowing them to posture as if they are objective observers and judges.”

    —When everybody knows its actually you, right?

    Do you think the New Atheists are objective and impartial judges? Do you think they are open or closed minded? The assertion was the NA’s are posturing. Do you agree or disagree.

    Michael’s assertion had no assertion to make about Michael, so you really didn’t agree or disagree, it just ends up being a derailment of the discussion. If you think NA’s a biased, fine. If you think they are closed minded, fine. If you think the are posturing, fine. You surely give the impression you think:

    1. they are objective
    2. they are open minded
    3. they are not posturing

    Instead you take a swipe at Michael rather than add anything substantive to the topic he presented. You can agree or disagree, but derailing is bad manners.

  8. John K,

    If you don’t believe in the one true God, the Creator, then you must believe that everything happened all by itself.

    Even if the existence of God were not reasonable it makes a lot more sense to believe in a Creator than in everything happened all by itself.

  9. Michael says:

    If at some time in the future some actual evidence for any of these things becomes known to me then I will remove that concept from that mental box.

    And what data would count as such “actual evidence” of God?

  10. Michael says:

    —Not really… it’s just ‘a person who disbelieves or lacks belief in the existence of God or gods’ (Oxford Dictionaries).

    It depends on the atheist. My blog entry documents where people think atheism is knowing no God exists.

    —When everybody knows its actually you, right?

    Never said it was. Are you still suckling from the nipple of your stereotypes?

    —You are the claimants…

    As we can from my blog entry, many atheists claim to know no God exists.

    —… seem to agree. So agnosticism’s the way to go?

    Why would it be? Are we back to your Fear of Being Wrong? I told you that I don’t share your fear.

    —What does ‘closed-minded’ mean here, and why should one consider it ‘important’?

    Closed-minded means being unwilling to change your mind because you think you know the truth already. If someone wants to posture as a judge, it’s important to know if they are qualified to judge. Closed-minded activists are not qualified.

    —So it’s a provisional judgement on phenomena… still has problems, but it still isn’t ‘strong atheism’.

    Life lesson – when someone claims to “know” something, they’ve thrown out the provisional dimension.

    —Composition fallacy at best.

    Why am I under some obligation to treat atheism as a mere lack of God belief when many atheists view atheism as having knowledge that God does not exist?

    Philip, don’t agnostics lack God belief? So what’s the difference between a New Atheist and an agnostic?

  11. Kevin says:

    If at some time in the future some actual evidence for any of these things becomes known to me then I will remove that concept from that mental box.

    What would actual evidence be? Not God-of-the-gaps arguments, surely.

  12. phillip lightweis-goff says:

    Michael says:
    —Not really… it’s just ‘a person who disbelieves or lacks belief in the existence of God or gods’ (Oxford Dictionaries).

    “It depends on the atheist. My blog entry documents where people think atheism is knowing no God exists.”

    —And they represent a small subset of atheists who differ on a few particulars; the generalized definition still applies. (note the “or”)

    “Never said it was. Are you still suckling from the nipple of your stereotypes?”

    —Projector, refer to your previous comment and know thyself.

    “As we can from my blog entry, many atheists claim to know no God exists.”

    —SOME atheists do… and even then, the qualifications show it to be less than absolute.

    “Why would it be? Are we back to your Fear of Being Wrong?”

    —I do not fear being wrong… There’s simply no justification or need to be right when it comes to the infinite # of unverifiable and unnecessary metaphysical possibilities out there. Tis wise to be humble here… rather than engage in arrogant foolishness.

    “Closed-minded means being unwilling to change your mind because you think you know the truth already.”

    —Pretty vague…

    “If someone wants to posture as a judge, it’s important to know if they are qualified to judge. Closed-minded activists are not qualified.”

    —… are you talking about yourself?

    “Life lesson – when someone claims to “know” something, they’ve thrown out the provisional dimension.”

    —Rubbish: truth is conventional. 2+2=4 is true due to the specific formation rules of mathematics, “It is snowing outside” is true due to various contingent empirical verifications, etc. I’m surprised you’re playing naive here.

    “Why am I under some obligation to treat atheism as a mere lack of God belief when many atheists view atheism as having knowledge that God does not exist?”

    —“Many” isn’t most, and it still does not change the overarching definition.

    “Philip, don’t agnostics lack God belief? So what’s the difference between a New Atheist and an agnostic?”

    —You claim NA’s engage in metaphysical certainty (whereas agnostics typically do not); I’m not sure NA’s certainty counts as metaphysical positions, but rather conventional ones that dismiss metaphysics off the cuff. I think that’s a mistake… the “off the cuff” part, not the dismissal itself.

    stcordova says:
    “Michael’s assertion had no assertion to make about Michael, so you really didn’t agree or disagree, it just ends up being a derailment of the discussion.”

    —If michael’s assertions are ill-founded/framed/formed, then that is certainly germane to the discussion.

    “You surely give the impression you think:

    1. they are objective
    2. they are open minded
    3. they are not posturing”

    —I side with them in many respects (ex. their work defending science education), and I differ with them on others (ex. their leanings towards metaphysical certainty). Unfortunately, Michael’s framing of these matters is unproductive, and frankly little more than ad hom. Is this “impolite” to point out?

  13. TFBW says:

    Folks, I think we’ve given phillip lightweight-scoff enough attention. It’s been clear for some time now that his mind is closed tighter than a bear trap around the idea that theism is a vacuous concept, and, as a consequence, he’s just going to respond to challenges by returning fire with comments that have all the substance of “I know you are but what am I?” filtered through a superiority complex — the result of which looks like the following.

    Projector, refer to your previous comment and know thyself.

    It’s about time we reined the conversation in — not just here, but in all topics where he’s commenting: keep the focus narrow and on topic. It’s easy enough for me to skip over his posts once I’ve realised (about two lines in) that it’s more of the usual blather, but I’m much more reluctant to pass over comments from some of the other participants here. Unfortunately, a quality response to a waste of time is also pretty much a waste of time, despite the quality, because it’s a foregone conclusion that the counter-response is going to be more of the same old cheap shots.

    I like the quality of conversation here: this is just my plea to maintain it despite those who try to lower it.

  14. Michael says:

    —And they represent a small subset of atheists who differ on a few particulars; the generalized definition still applies. (note the “or”)

    We have no idea about the size of the subset. What we do know is that when Antony clarified that she thought she knew God did not exist, very popular Gnu blogs cheered and held her up.

    As for the “few particulars,” they are nothing less than a) lacking a belief vs. b) having a belief that is sold as knowledge.

    —Projector, refer to your previous comment and know thyself.

    You are not making any sense. I wrote, “This definition has served the atheist community well by allowing them to posture as if they are objective observers and judges.” You responded with an ad hominem, ignoring my point, and implying I was holding myself up as an objective observer and judge. I was and am not.

    —SOME atheists do… and even then, the qualifications show it to be less than absolute.

    I’m glad you acknowledge that some do. So, are we supposed to ignore their existence? As for the “less than absolute” qualifier, that is much too vague to be useful. For example, it could turn out that such atheists would insist that aren’t 100% certain, only 99.99% certain (as they do with Dawkins scale). If that was the case, the qualifier would be sophistry.

    —I do not fear being wrong… There’s simply no justification or need to be right when it comes to the infinite # of unverifiable and unnecessary metaphysical possibilities out there. Tis wise to be humble here… rather than engage in arrogant foolishness.

    I agree about not needing to be right. As for your personal sense of certainty about there being “simply no justification” for my God belief, that’s your opinion.

    —Rubbish: truth is conventional. 2+2=4 is true due to the specific formation rules of mathematics, “It is snowing outside” is true due to various contingent empirical verifications, etc. I’m surprised you’re playing naive here.

    Huh? When I look outside and see it is snowing, I do know it is snowing. There is no provisional element anymore. And yes, I would happily admit that my mind would be closed to the possibility that it was not really snowing. If someone thinks they know that God does not exist, they have long ago abandoned the provisional element. They have reached the point where they think they know. They believe their atheism is knowledge. And that explains why they dismiss theists as being either being stupid, dishonest, or mentally ill. How else would you explain someone who denies “knowledge?”

    —”Many” isn’t most, and it still does not change the overarching definition.

    This never really answers my question – Why am I under some obligation to treat atheism as a mere lack of God belief when many atheists view atheism as having knowledge that God does not exist?”

    —You claim NA’s engage in metaphysical certainty (whereas agnostics typically do not); I’m not sure NA’s certainty counts as metaphysical positions,

    Er, no. I did not claim the Gnu’s engage in “metaphysical certainty” (although the question is re-opened by Antony’s position and the NA cheerleading). I claimed that Gnu’s like to posture as if they are objective observers and judges and that this posture is an illusion. For some reason, that bothers you when I make this claim.

    – but rather conventional ones that dismiss metaphysics off the cuff. I think that’s a mistake… the “off the cuff” part, not the dismissal itself.

    Whoa. If you admit that NA’s dismiss God’s existence “off the cuff,” care to explain how that is so mightily different from being closed-minded?

  15. Michael says:

    Folks, I think we’ve given phillip lightweight-scoff enough attention…..It’s about time we reined the conversation in — not just here, but in all topics where he’s commenting: keep the focus narrow and on topic.

    Agreed. I just noticed his reply to stcordova, where he is back to accusing me of name-calling for noticing that the New Atheists posture as observers and objective judges. Yet he himself admits the NA’s dismiss the existence of God “off the cuff.”

    I noticed also today that Coyne has updated his blog rules to include the following:

    Finally, do not cry “censorship” if I don’t post your comment. I reserve the right to trash comments that are hyperreligious, hyper-creationist, uncivil, trollish in nature, or otherwise inappropriate. There is no “right” to have every comment you make published on this site. I try to use as light a hand as I can consistent with keeping an atmosphere of civility and rationality.

    I will borrow that approach with some slight modifications:

    Finally, do not cry “censorship” if I don’t post your comment. I reserve the right to trash comments that are hyperskeptical, hyper-atheist, uncivil, trollish in nature, or otherwise inappropriate. There is no “right” to have every comment you make published on this site. I try to use as light a hand as I can consistent with keeping an atmosphere of civility and rationality.

  16. Kevin says:

    Finally, do not cry “censorship” if I don’t post your comment. I reserve the right to trash comments that are hyperskeptical, hyper-atheist, uncivil, trollish in nature, or otherwise inappropriate.

    Since making Coyne look like a complete fool is remarkably easy, it is to his benefit that he censor comments he can’t answer. I would agree with your censorship of obvious troll comments, but it is to our advantage to allow as many ridiculous comments from atheists as possible.

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