Monthly Archives: May 2012

A Naïve Look at Basics of Theism, Atheism, Agnosticism, & Burden of Proof

by Juan Bernal

Statements of fact:

There is a great variety of belief in G-d.  There isn’t any general consensus on the claim that G-d is real.

There is a great variety of non-belief in G-d.  There isn’t any general consensus on the claim that G-d is fiction or non-existent.

In short, these are facts that do not require supporting argument.


On the question – Does G-d exist?  -  there are three general orientations:

1  Neutral view         -    Who knows?  He might or might not.

2  Affirmative view  -   Yes, G-d exists.

3  Negative view      -   No, likely He does not exist.

1 – Neutral View    Generally, this is the attitude that a deity may or may not exist; often this is associates with an attitude of not caring or worrying about it one way or another.

(It can be a mere psychological state without a theory of reality.)

This can be the position that does not imply any theory of reality, i.e., a metaphysics.

Sometimes this is the agnostic view:  we simply don’t know whether a deity exists and don’t have any rational grounds for the belief that G-d exists.

Example:  Jack omits belief in G-d, i.e., Jack stays neutral and simply does not think about G-d.  Jack does not commit to a theory of reality, i.e., a metaphysics.

Non-Neutral Positions

But if you opt to take a position on the issue of a deity, then there are two alternatives.

2 – An Affirmative View  -   One affirms that G-d exists.   This general view comes in several versions:  for example,

Cases in which .  . .

a)      …Enrique affirms that G-d is objectively real (i.e., there really is a G-d).  He has the burden of making a positive case (argument) for G-d’s existence.

b)  ..Jill believes in G-d.  Jill proceeds as if there was a G-d (she has faith in or personal reason for believing in G-d.)

c)…Teresa claims that G-d’s reality is a unique reality, not subject to proof or disproof. G-d is a reality of faith, a mystical reality.

3 – A Negative View  -   One doubts or denies that G-d exists. This view has several versions, and in some cases is compatible with agnosticism:    For example, cases in which . .

d)…Thomas asserts that there is no G-d, i.e., there is no such objective reality.  He has the burden of making a case for his conclusion: There is no G-d.

e) …Jeronimo does not belief in G-d, i.e., Jeronimo proceeds as if there were no G-d (He may think about the possibility of G-d, but does not believe in a G-d.)

f)…Lorenzo holds that the proposition that G-d exists does not have a clear, unequivocal meaning, and that the whole business of trying to prove or disprove G-d’s existence is a questionable enterprise.


Sometimes people take on the philosophical burden of making a good case for G-d’s reality.

Sometimes others take on the philosophical burden of making a good case for G-d’s nonexistence.

Some versions of positions 2 and 3 call for argument, i.e., have a philosophical “burden of proof”

With Enrique (a) and Thomas (d) there definitely is a “burden of proof.”  To make good on their respective views, each would have to present arguments or evidence to support his view.

In some cases, Jeronimo’s view (e) may not require that he argue against the reality of a deity, although he might occasionally take up the cause against deity.  He could also be an agnostic, emphasizing that nobody knows that G-d exists.  Likewise, Jill’s faith (b) does not require that she try to make a good, rational case for the existence of G-d, although she might take up the cause of arguing for G-d’s existence.

In short, certain varieties of belief or non-belief in deity may have a philosophical  “burden of proof.”

Others do not.

For both Lorenzo (f) and Teresa (c) there is no rational test for G-d’s existence, since they explicitly rule out the relevance of argument for or against the reality ‘G-d’.


When we attempt to show either that G-d exists or the contrary, that G-d does not exist we might think of ‘proving’ our proposition in terms of one of these analogies.

  • Proof in logic or mathematics:   Logically prove your conclusion
  • A Hypothesis in science:   Pose your hypothesis and attempt to confirm it
  •  Police Detective work: Seek evidence for concluding that E did or did not happen.
  •  Court of law:  Work out a good case, by legal argument, for a legal client
  •  Ordinary Experience:  I say that X is true and try to show reasons why others should concur.

Question: When you try to show that G-d exists or the contrary, that G-d does not exist, which type of ‘proof’ do you have in mind?

A Strange and Confused View of New Atheism

By Juan Bernal

An acquaintance, call him Bradley, argued along these lines:

I have found that many atheists today subscribe to a new definition of atheism and have rejected the historical and classical definition.  This newer definition goes something like this,

“Atheism simply means that a person lacks a belief in any god.”

This new definition actually weakens the atheist’s position, making it virtually impossible for the atheist to engage in any philosophical discussion regarding reality from his atheistic position.


Bradley then stated that according to the new definition of atheism,  “atheism” simply means that a person lacks a belief in gods; atheism has no theory of reality.   Then he stated that   given this new definition, the “atheist” is making no statements about reality, but a statement about his subjective beliefs; it is a statement about his present psychological make-up. This is a passive statement. The person holding to the new definition of atheism is not discussing the nature of reality, but merely sharing his subjective thoughts, his lack of a belief in any god.

.  .  .  .

He summarizes this case concerning the new definition of atheism:

  • It does not negate the primary claim of theism concerning reality.
  • It does not make any claims about reality.
  • It does share with us part of the person’s psychological make-up and that is all.

The new definition of atheism has taken a once robust opponent of theism and drained it of its vigor. It has ripped it from the arena of ideas and placed firmly on the psychologists couch.




The core of Bradley’s critique of atheism (a version of ‘atheism’) is contained in the following:

“Atheism simply means that a person lacks a belief in gods; atheism has no theory of reality.”

.. This is because, given this new definition, the “atheist” is making no statements about reality, but a statement about his subjective beliefs; it is a statement about his present psychological make-up. This is a passive statement. The person holding to the new definition of atheism is not discussing the nature of reality, but merely sharing his subjective thoughts, his lack of a belief in any god

If we agree that the proposition that ‘atheism has no theory of reality’ follows from the stated definition that ‘atheism simply means that one lacks belief in God,’ then we must accept Bradley’s characterization of the definition as restricting itself to a statement of the psychological state of the atheist, and nothing else.

I  contend that the statement of one’s lack of belief in a God (a supernatural being) does not have to be understood as merely stating what one’s psychological state is, although it may do that in addition to doing more.

I don’t see why we should deny that one way of stating my view of reality is merely to say “I lack belief in God or any god.” I’m not just telling you what my psychological state is or giving you my preference in psychological states. I am telling you that, insofar as I have a theory of reality, my idea of reality omits all putative supernatural beings. As far as I can tell there are no such beings found in the world that I occupy (nor do I find any viable grounds for claiming some kind of supernatural or transcendent contact with that world).

There is no convincing reason for asserting (as Bradley does) that the statement “my view of things omits belief in God” does not imply a basic view of reality. The statement is a qualified statement of what the person takes as reality, without his making the full-blown metaphysical declaration that the non-existence of God can be proven. Both the theistic declaration and the qualified a-theistic statement are statements about reality; one is simply more modest than the other. The statements that God exists and the contrary one that God does not exist (strong a-theism) are less modest. But we surely do not have to understand my statement of omission as one that merely describes a subjective psychological state, as if I were merely telling you that I feel an itch in my middle, upper back.


Suppose we’re discussing rumors of teenage predators roaming our neighborhood at night and I tell you that I don’t believe there are any such intruders at all, that it is just a rumor made up by nervous people. I have said that my thinking omits such a belief. But here I have surely told you what my view (‘theory’) of the night time, neighborhood situation is: there aren’t any such predators. I have not simply described my subjective state of mind to you.

Now suppose that, in reference to the same rumor, I said that I was not at all worried about that possibility (that teenage predators are out there at night). Here we could say that what I have done is merely describe my subjective state to you, namely, that I don’t experience any worry about such things. My tranquil state of mind (no worries at all) is consistent both with the actual presence of the predators or their absence. In other words, my tranquil state of mind (and my report of that state of mind) does not affirm anything about the actual situation that exists in our neighborhood at night. We could say, my lack of worry does not affirm any ‘theory’ of the neighborhood situation at night.

The contrast between these two situations (I “don’t know X” and I “don’t worry about X”) illustrates the confusionn behind Bradley’s thesis with respect to his version of the new definition of “atheism.” The statement that I don’t believe in God (or that such belief is omitted from my view of things) surely affirms a ”theory’ of reality, one that does not include a deity. However, Bradley has confused “I don”t know X” with “I don’t worry about X.” Had I said that I don’t worry about a putative God, I would just describe my mental state, and such mental state is consistent both with the existence and the non-existence of a deity. The ‘don’t worry’ statement can be understood as not affirming a ‘metaphysics’; but the “don’t believe” statement does. It seems that these kinds of contrasting statements have been overlooked by Bradley in his argument concerning the “new atheism.”


Suppose that I admit, as many non-believers do, that I cannot be completely certain that God does not exist because I cannot prove that God’s existence is logically impossible. It surely does not follow that I admit that God’s existence is probable (has a reasonably high probability). In other words, we can consistently admit that we cannot logically disprove God’s existence while arguing on the basis of evidence available that mostly likely there is no God. The logical possibility of God is consistent with a metaphysics or view of reality which omits God or any deity. As far as I can determine, this is the view of many so-called “new atheists” (such as Richard Dawkins, Christopher Hitchens, Victor Stenger,  Daniel Dennett and others).

Contrary to what Bradley argues, the new atheists and those who subscribe to a philosophy of naturalism do not define atheism so that God is a real possibility, even highly probable. Such non-theists, which include many humanists, hold that the God of Christian theism and theology is highly improbable. Even saying this much allows that the concept is a coherent, clear concept as applied to a putative real being who has some interaction with human history and human society. Some non-believers, such as myself, will even argue contra that premise; but that is a subject for another discussion.

Presently, I will just emphasize that Bradley’s tactic (in line with Medieval theology) of defining God as either a necessary being or an impossible being (after ruling out the alternative of contingency); and then inferring that, in as much as the atheist does not rule out the possibility of God, he must admit to the necessity of God — simply will not work. It does not show any real implications of the new atheists’ position; it merely shows what follows logically from the adoption of a specific concept of deity, one that rules out contingency and any arguments contra God’s existence based on our contingent human conditons. This is a mere game-playing with logic, artificial definitions and concepts, a tactic best left in the Middle Ages.

Re. Bradley’s “new” definition of atheism: It is strange to hold that a person who considers himself an atheist would assert an ‘atheism’ that turns out to be only a report of his subjective, mental state and that he would admit that an existent deity is a real possibility. Besides being a rather bizarre view of atheism, one is left really puzzled as to which atheists take such a view. Richard Dawkins certainly does not. After all, Dawkins takes the view that God is a delusion.


Generally, statement of belief makes reference to the object of belief, which is not a mere psychological state.  Although belief often involves some state of mind, the object of most of our beliefs is something other than our psychological state of mind.  For example, when I tell you that I don’t believe that our water will last another hour, I may say something about my state of mind (worry); but I surely say something about an objective state of affairs; namely, our water supply is low and will not last another hour.

More Mad Men Ideas, or is it philosophy?

By Juan Bernal

Either the following show

Momentary Madness or surprising philosophical Confusion.

1 – Belief – When anyone states that he believes X he is just describing his subjective state of mind and not saying anything about X. Hence, when Joe states that he does not believe in God (that he omits such belief), he only describes his subject state but says nothing about his view of reality.

2 – Experiences  -  In each and every perceptual experience, we only have our perceptions. Any affirmation about things behind those perceptions is just a questionable inference.

3 – Agency –   When we ascribe human agency (say that a person does something) we presuppose that the agent is an inner self (soul, ego, Cartesian subject, ghost-in-the-machine, etc.).  Hence, when science denies the reality of this inner self, we must deny human agency.

4 – Control –  Admitting that humans are causally determined in all their actions implies the consequence that they are never in control of their actions.

5 – All or Nothing  –  Either we are in full control or we have no control whatsoever.  Either we are fully autonomous or we have no autonomy at all.  Either we enjoy absolute freedom or we have no freedom at all.

6 – Scientific Theory —  Theories in science differ from confabulation only in matter of degree; hence, scientific theories ultimately are just a form of confabulation.

7 – Knowledge & Truth  –   In so far as naturalism asserts that evolution is unguided evolution, naturalism implies that human sense faculties are unreliable.  The evolutionary fact that our sense faculties are adaptations that enable us to survive and negotiate our environment says nothing about the capability of those faculties to apprehend truth.  Our sense faculties do not often result in true beliefs.

8 – Probability & God  —   Some very intelligent people have advanced arguments that show high probability calculations for God’s existence.  Hence, the skeptic has the burden of showing what is wrong with those arguments,  otherwise his skepticism cannot be rational skepticism.

Attempts to Remedy:

R – 1   Belief.  Although belief often involves some state of mind, the object of most of our beliefs is something other than our psychological state of mind.  For example, when I tell you that I don’t believe that our water will last another hour, I may say something about my state of mind (worry); but I surely say something about an objective state of affairs; namely, our water supply is low and will not last another hour.

R – 2   Perceptual Experience -  It is only in terms of a specific model of perceptual experience that one would affirm that we only have our perceptions. But that model of perceptual experience in which the subject only receives signals from outside is just the result of an analysis of the brain processes that underlie perception.  This analysis does not demonstrate that we only see our seeing or hear our hearing, or touch our touching and so on.   Although sometimes we might say correctly that have visions only subjective in nature or hear phantom sounds (in our head), the ordinary situation is one in which we see things out in the world (trees, dogs, other persons) and hear sounds coming from sources out there in the world (the ocean waves, music by an orchestra, words spoken by our fellows).  It is false that we “have only our perceptions.”

R – 3  Agency – Science and critical philosophy have long shown that there is no ghost in the machine, i.e., no internal self, soul, ego, or Cartesian subject.  But it surely does not follow that the person is not an agent capable of doing many things.  As I can ride a bike or hike five miles, I can also write a poem or analyze an argument.  I can do all these things and affirm that I am the person who does these things without assuming that a small agent exists inside my head who is is the real agent who does the doing.  The inference from denial of the ghost in the machine to denial of agency is simply a gross conceptual confusion.

R – 4   Control  -  Human beings, like all entities existing in a natural and social environment, have a variety of causal conditions that limit what they can and cannot do. Much of what we are and do is causally conditioned.  But this fact does not imply that we have no control over what we can do.  We most often do control a good part of what we do, within the context of many conditions that we don’t control.  It was only a remnant of the old doctrine of a soul not affected by material causation that led some people to the false conclusion that lack of control results from being subjected to a variety of causal conditions.

R – 5   All or Nothing Dichotomies:   They’re all false.  Surely the freedom we enjoy is subject to degrees of freedom, as is the control that we exert on our actions.  That we have limited freedom and limited control does not imply that we lack all control and have no freedom at all.  Personal autonomy does not imply absolute autonomy; it implies only that we have a measure of autonomy, but a measure sufficient for assigning responsibility and credit for our actions.  Nobody ever demonstrated that this required absolute autonomy.

R – 6   Scientific Theory:   Confabulation is a made-up story to cover up something we don’t know or cannot recall.  Scientific theory may be a hypothesis that directs initial investigation or an established theory that unifies evidence and information that our investigation discovers.  In neither case do we have any reason for saying that responsible, informed theorizing is just a form of confabulation.

R – 7   Naturalism undermines knowledge:   The argument showing that naturalism is not consistent with reliable human sense faculties is unsound.  It proceeds on the questionable assumption that adaptations resulting from natural evolution do not result in true beliefs or hardly ever do so.  No argument or reasonable grounds are ever given for this assumption.  It is a false assumption.

R-8    Probability & God:   A number of contemporary philosophers resort to some version Bayes’ Theorem to develop probability arguments regarding traditional religious and historical issues.   The problem is that such probability arguments can be developed by both those who attempt to prove God’s existence and those who work to show the contrary: namely, disprove God’s existence.  Odds are that the skeptical arguments do as much, likely more, than the positive ones.  The fact that very intelligent people are at work is a completely irrelevant fact.  The proof is in the pudding; and the pudding favors those who argue on the basis of real, not imagined, probabilities.

Some Remarks on the “GOD” Belief

by Juan Bernal (a half-hearted a-theist)

 From a perspective of morality, the important question is not ‘Do you believe in God?’  Rather the questions to ask are: ‘How do you conduct your life?’  ‘How do you treat other people?’  ‘What values do you try to express and put into action?’

Among believers (in a god) you find both morally conscientious people and immoral or amoral people; likewise among non-believers. A person’s moral character seems to come before his particular religious perspective. (There’s a sense in which belief in God is transparent.)

By including the commandment requiring belief in the one God, the Ten Commandments include more than we need as a set of moral/ethical imperatives.  For in many cases (maybe most cases), a person’s belief or lack of belief in a deity is separate from his moral behavior.  Only persons with immature ethical mentality behave in a morally good way only because “God” demands it and will punish them if they do what’s wrong (in a moral sense of “wrong”).

With regard to personal interaction, likely there is not much difference between persons who believe in a god and non-theists (atheists, agnostics, humanists). They all share the same world; most interact peacefully and count as morally decent people. They can all be good citizens (of earth, of our nation, of our community) and can all contribute positively to common, social goals.

Each in his/her way can work to express his vision of moral good, truth, and beauty.  They can all be godly people.

From a historical and philosophical perspective. belief in or lack of belief in a god seems irrelevant to the issue of good and evil in the world. Many good and excellent people have believed in a god. However, many good and excellent people have not believed in any god. The same can be said for people who have been predators, exploiters, oppressors and murderers.

Of course, many people in our society claim a consciousness, even awareness, of a god. They might say “There is some(one) or some(thing) that I talk to and pray to in times of need. This is what I mean by “God.”  Such persons may go on to add that “the reality of God is one that is psychologically undeniable; it is a reality that comprises the background of all my thoughts and actions; it is the basis for any significance I find in my existence.”

[Note: in many cases this perspective is a personal, private matter that may have little or nothing in common with the theological doctrines of established religions.]

Another thought is that ‘God’ or any benevolent power that may be found in the universe is big enough to accept all human views on question of a ‘god’ or ‘gods’:  believers and non-believers – theists, atheists, agnostics, humanists.

The theism in question could be very personal: “my God understands, even has empathy for agnostics and secular humanists. This deity has such an intellect and such a moral character that he/she would never condemn heresy or atheism, and certainly would never dream up anything as morally primitive as a hell of eternal torment (for nonbelievers).”

[Note: That G is an undeniable ‘reality’ for a subset of human beings by itself is not evidence for the objective reality of G.  For example, my claim that Yeshu is an undeniable reality in my existence says more about my mind (my values, assumptions, ideas, attitudes) than it says about objective reality. It tells you much about me, but cannot reasonably be seen as evidence for the actual existence of Yeshu. It says much about how I see the world  or what I believe is the nature of reality, and establishes nothing about the nature of the world that exists independently of the way I see it. Here we’re referring to values and a person’s perspective on the world.]

Consciousness of God or belief in God is a matter of spiritual orientation, but it is not an awareness of objective truth. It is a personal, moral and spiritual orientation. It should have nothing to do with a reach for power, greed, exclusivity, claims to special knowledge or privileged access.  It is a way of looking at certain aspects of existence.

Historically, much misery and suffering could have been avoided if people had recognized that the nobler forms of religion deal with values and spirituality, not with doctrines or dogma about objective reality, and not with a supernatural being who includes certain groups and excludes, even condemns, other groups.

[Belief in a god should not be a crutch (an excuse for lack of initiative or effort on our part), nor a bully club (an excuse for excluding and oppressing others who do not share the belief), nor a skyhook (an ad hoc or “deus ex machinus” type explanation of existence).]

Sometimes belief in a god takes on the tone of mystery:  Belief in a god is sometimes an acknowledgment that there is much that is beyond the scope of our intellect, much mystery,  wonder and terror. There are powers, forces, realities, etc. that are vast and incredibly greater than we are. There is something greater than humans and the world of disclosed by human faculties. This is not necessarily a claim about supernatural reality, but could simply be a statement of awe and wonder in the face of the power and vastness of the universe.  Maybe others such as Plato (his talk of the “Good”), or the Buddha (his search for Nirvana), or Spinoza (his intellectual love of God), or the mystics (who find an inexpressible, profound union with …..) are getting at something akin to this godliness.  Some may find it in the Great Spirit of Native Americans or the nameless, hidden God of reform Judaism.