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I've been reading a conversation between two individuals - A claiming to be atheist and B asking him to prove it, since B does not believe that A is saying the truth and can't be sure if A is really an atheist as A claims.

So I was wondering - is this even a valid argument B has there - to say that B does not believe what A claims since "many people claim a lot of things that aren't really true".

How can A convince B that A is really an atheist?

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What if I don't believe that he doesn't believe that the other guy really is an atheist? –  commando Jun 8 '12 at 16:15
    
@commando - Yeah exactly - but he said he would believe if he can give him an actual proof. I guess he's playing St.Thomas here - don't believe until you see. –  easwee Jun 8 '12 at 16:26
    
Can you label the individuals A and B? I got lost in the second paragraph trying to figure out who he is. –  Jon Ericson Jun 8 '12 at 18:04
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@Benjamin - please keep the Bible out of this question since it has nothing to do with it. The question could be addressed to anything else that involves personal claims - for example "how to prove I'm a real racist" or "how to prove I'm homosexual". While noone can know for sure people still want you to prove it. –  easwee Jun 11 '12 at 9:17
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Just a Note: The fact that B does not believe that A is an atheist does not imply that A is not an atheist. –  Amr Mar 28 '13 at 10:12

12 Answers 12

up vote 5 down vote accepted

As written, the B's argument seems an invalid red herring

Assuming the question is:

Is atheism true or false?

whether either party believes the premise that it is true is simply irrelevant to the argument. There are many things that are true, but which nobody believes. For instance, it's very likely a supernova has occurred which is not yet visible on Earth. A question about the existence of supernova should focus on astronomy, not psychology.

Obviously, we prefer that people who make claims actually believe them, but usually, we can just trust that what they say they believe is true. If A says they don't believe in God, there's nothing to be gained by claiming they are mistaken in their own beliefs.

Was there more to the argument? How did it get to that point?

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Actually, this answer could be called a red herring. It is true they are two different topics. It is a good point, but it does not answer the question as asked. –  Benjamin Jun 10 '12 at 2:05
    
The whole topic was a question about why atheists try to discredit gods (which is kinda already a dumb question to try to discredit something you don't believe in) and it obviously got into a religion vs. atheism fight. At one point a commenter replied to an atheist with the question "Prove me you are na atheist". I guess he was trying to discredit atheism with it but is it the correct way to start? –  easwee Jun 11 '12 at 11:37
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Despite all answers having atleast one good argument, I'm gonna choose this one as an answer since it answers my question about the validity of the argument, which was my main concern. Thanks to all for good answers - upvoted all. –  easwee Jun 20 '12 at 14:24

Its not possible. There is never a way to "prove" that you think this or that. You could always lie. The question is: Why should a person lie about that in such a discussion?

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We're looking for long answers that provide some explanation and context. Don't just give a one-line answer; explain why your answer is right, ideally with citations. Answers that don't include explanations may be removed.

    
I agree it would be good to tell the person why you think they are dishonest. For example, their claim of atheism could conflict with a more trusted source of information such as the Bible. –  Benjamin Jun 10 '12 at 2:11
    
@Benjamin: How could a claim of a belief (say atheism) possibly conflict with the Christian Bible, however trusted? Does that Bible say what an arbitrary individual believes? –  Mitch Jun 12 '12 at 2:39
    
@Mitch Yes in Romans chapter 1 specifically verses 18 through 32 and other passages - worldebible.com/romans/1.htm –  Benjamin Jun 12 '12 at 3:55
    
The Bible cannot be used as an argument. First because it has no authority whatsoever unless you "believe" what it says has any truth in it at all. Second because it's a pile of crap. –  Alexandre P. Levasseur Oct 20 '12 at 14:44

Atheism is by its very definition a statement that you are not a theist. So before saying, "I am an atheist" I must have been confronted with the concept of theism in order to distance myself from that particular group.

(That by itself is no proof of any theism though, just like the concept of a unicorn does not bring actual unicorns into existence.)

Just like words like health only make sense when there is an concept of sickness to begin with. If people would not become sick, we would not have a word for non-sickness, as it would be conveyed by default whenever we used the term human. Just as baldness only becomes meaningful when people have the ability to grow hair.

This should also avoid the typical counter argument that this definition would make rocks atheist, as those lack the ability to be theists in the first place. Even though one could describe their external features as atheistic, but that's quite a trivial thing to say.

So when I as a child confronted with theisms, like Christianity and Greek mythology I treated those stories as fairy tales. So I realized "I was not a Christiian", and I was also not a believer in Greek gods, and more and more I learned about all the religions on this planet I realized that I could not identify with anything they claimed to be true (even though not all of them were necessarily theistic, so I also may be better described as non-religious).

The most broadest definition, I can boil theism/deism down to, is the positive claim that one or many divine beings necessarily exist.

And I do not claim that. Hence I am not a theist. Hence I am an atheist.

It may be that B's theism may not fall under this definition, though I do not think of it as likely or a useful thing to do.

Yet in order for me to "prove" my atheism to B's particular religion I would ask him to tell me what his branch of theism entails, and tell him if I agree with it. If I say: "I do not subscribe to the presented claims" it is really all the proof you can take, good reasons approach if you will, even though I may be lying and a believer anyway.

But why would I do such thing? Of course, there are quite a few ad-hoc rationalizations (denial of a god, being angry to a certain god, etc. pp.) and even though I can not stop B from raising them, it would be the point for me to stop the discussion as futile though.

For now, I feel quite rational enough in my polyatheism of all the theisms I have yet encountered, and am quite biased in remaining an atheist of all the theisms I have yet to encounter, due to the huge lack of evidence any religion has yet to be presented and the scientific discoveries concerning the underlying principle of all religions. Yet I could be wrong.

Also I like to point out that I also start to consider myself as an atheist retrospectively once I learned to ascribe that term to myself. Just as I think of myself as always being a boy even though I only learn the difference as a small child.

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This presupposes any religion is right, therefore to disbelieve all religions is to be athiest. This is not so of course, one can believe in divinity, a God, without subscribing to a religion. The belief can be simple, and thus as impossible to convince another of as it would be to disprove it to that believer. You have merely proved (to some degree) that you do not believe in the religions as put to you. Also, there are more than 2 states - there is the third option of not knowing/caring (agnostic), so to not claim devine beings is not to necessarily claim they do not exist either. –  Wolf5370 Jun 16 '12 at 22:43
    
@Wolf5370 Religions do not need divine beings. Hence one can be an atheist but still be religious. I said so. Furthermore, atheism is not the claim that divine beings do not exist. All it takes is not claiming their existence. About your third position: The fence is too small to sit on. Either you identify as an theist. Or you don't. It's binary. Once you don't, you are an atheist by definition. IMO Atheism includes agnosticism as a subset. And it is of no concern that one does not identify oneself as an atheist. As long as you don't identify as a theist it makes you an atheist. –  k0pernikus Jun 21 '12 at 13:14
    
You kind-of turned around my statement there I think. Religions may not require a devinity (I guess that depends on your definition of religion - to me one can believe in pure science or the universe, but that's not a religion - even if one were to set up a belief system and ecourage members it would be more of a sect that a religion, but that's all for dictionaries to bash out). What I said though was that one can believe in divinity without being religious (i.e. following a religion). I also think a whole new thread would be needed to answer binary or ternary idea. Does not agree = disagree? –  Wolf5370 Jun 25 '12 at 20:00
    
@k0pernikus agnosticism is a question of knowledge--one could be agnostic (not be certain that god exists) but have faith that god exists, just as one could be agnostic and simply not believe. –  philosodad Jul 5 '12 at 19:23
    
@Wolf5370: while it's true that true science is not a religion, science can become someone's "religion" if they took the wrong approach to it. –  Lie Ryan Jul 8 '12 at 15:00

It's a clever tactic. Atheists may often presents themselves as believing in nothing without proof. Thus, such an atheist, to be consistent needs to prove that they are an atheist, otherwise, they are inconsistent in believing it.

I believe a more educated end goal for this tack is to point out how hard it is to prove something, and that we often go on things like confidences and convictions or even inductive conclusions, where they present themselves.

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While it's true that you cannot prove nor disprove Atheism, you don't need a proof to belief in Atheism. A belief is just that, a belief; while it's true some may call out inconsistency if a belief turns out to be false, but in case where the thing you believe in is neither provable nor disprovable, then it is not inconsistent to believe it without a proof. –  Lie Ryan Jun 8 '12 at 22:00
    
@LieRyan, the inconsistency comes from the claim that one does not (or ought not) believe something without proof and lacking proof for something you maintain. Not between Atheism and believing in something without proof. The leverage is against a naive sense of the word "proof". The full effect of this leverage can only be judged by the context of the full argument. –  Axeman Jun 8 '12 at 23:57
    
A may need to prove to themselves that they are an atheist--indeed, they must have or they would not believe it--but in order for Anne to believe that she is an atheist she is not required to prove it to the satisfaction of Betty, so the argument is pretty weak. –  philosodad Jul 5 '12 at 19:17
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@Axeman: That depends how you define being an atheist. Some will define it as believing there is no God/superpower (whatever you want to call it) while others like myself will rather say it is an absence of belief in such a power because there is no need for it and also no proof of it whatsoever. This shifts the burden of the proof on the theist side and makes much more sense since they are making a positive claim that something exists, not the other way around (atheists making a negative claim). –  Alexandre P. Levasseur Oct 20 '12 at 16:02
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@Alexandre - Exactly; the burden of proof in any rational epistemology rests with the believers, not the disbelievers. To suggest otherwise is comically nonsensical. –  stoicfury Oct 20 '12 at 20:39

Theism:

The most important, crucial and the core of theism is, we believe that there is something could be considered as the root of all powers and having consistent ability (power) to give us hope at the highest level than others.

Whether we have religion or not, as long as we believe there is something could be considered as the root of all powers and having consistent ability (power) to give us hope at the highest level than others, then we have God, whoever it is.

Atheism:

Whether we have religion or not, as long as we disbelieve there is something could be considered as the root of all powers and having consistent ability (power) to give us hope at the highest level than others, then we have no God, whoever it is.

Related to God, we need hope. It asserts we believe there is relation could be provided in between us and God, even for the slightest possibility. There is no ignorance here.

Issues:

  • "Someone may believe on the existence of God as a creator but someone disbelieve this God has super power". It asserts there is no relation for the purpose that could be provided in between me and God. It's neglected.

    If there is a hope we could count on something, it asserts there is quality of getting help from something, and that what makes something could be involved to our consideration.

    But when we assert that something should be neglected, then, something could be considered as no quality to make a relation for any purpose.

    Whether we believe God has a purpose to something or God has no purpose to something, or God has to interact or God has no interact with us, but when God is neglected with confidence by us (because we consider there is no any kind of relations to God), then this kind of God is meaningless to our life.

    If we consider a galaxy far away from planet earth has no any special relation even for the slightest for us, then we have no concern at all to this galaxy. It asserts no degree that could lift up something (that already being neglected with strong confidence) to a degree as God.

    I consider this issue is an example of wrong perspective, wrong to qualifying,

    it's neglected and it's meaningless to our own purpose.

    It's because there is nothing special about something that could be considered as (God)

  • "Polytheism believes multiple Gods, there is no "root" of power per se, but instead Gods are beings of supreme power"

    "The Root of All" asserts There is God as THE UNCAUSED CAUSE**

    An axiom about distance that, there are two possibilities: it's no distance in between of things or there is a distance in between of things.

    If there is no distance then all Gods is as one God. But if there is a distance, then between one Uncaused Cause (God) to another God (another Uncaused Cause) of Gods is separated.

    There are several assertions related to God, as mentioned above (about the distance and God as The Root of all):

    • Someone lives within God (The Root of All, The Uncaused Cause), and it's possible
    • God (The Root of all, The Uncaused Cause, as The set) lives within someone (the proper subset is within "the set as The Uncaused Cause"), and it's impossible

    • Someone and God are living side by side (there is a distance),

    God is The Root of all (The Uncaused Cause), therefore if there are Gods as more than one The Uncaused Cause(s), then one of The Uncaused Cause is not coming from another The Uncaused Cause. It asserts there is separation in between Gods (The Uncaused Cause(s)).

    And it has consequence, we could only live within just one of The Uncaused Cause(s), and there is no any kind of interactions nor there is no any kind of relations in between us with another God(s) that placed outside our God (The Uncaused Cause).

    Therefore there is only one choice, it's someone is living within God. It asserts the issue (Polytheism believes multiple Gods, there is no "root" of power per se, but instead Gods are beings of supreme power") is simply wrong reasoning. Because there are no Gods as The Uncaused Cause(s) within an Uncaused Cause, and we could only deal with one of The Uncaused Cause(s).

The points are:

  • When we disbelieve God has supreme power, it asserts that there is no hope for us to God. Or, whether we need no hope at all to something, and whether we consider there is no purpose nor interaction from God to us or the opposite, then we don't have hope and we couldn't get help whatsoever to this God, therefore there is no obligation for us to qualify it as something as high as God, because it's meaningless to our needs.

    And when this God is meaningless for us, then this God could be neglected and this God could be considered as nothing (to any possible relations for us). Therefore we believe to nothing (something is meaningless in any possible ways for us) in this case, and this asserts there is no (need) to believe in God. There is no any possible relevance to us.

  • We can only deal with a God as one of The Uncaused Cause(s), therefore "multiple Gods" is wrong

    Meaning, The Root of all is not God(s)

Concluded

Disbelieving Minimum Requirement for theism (root of all & there is relevant to us as consistent ability that couldn't be neglected by us because there is hope we can count on it) could be considered as atheism.

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I think it's more than just that, some would define God as a Creator, but do not believe that they have supreme powers. Also, since Polytheism believes multiple Gods, there is no "root" of power per se, but instead Gods are beings of supreme power. –  Lie Ryan Jun 14 '12 at 16:03
    
Hi, an additional assertion already added, please refresh –  Seremonia Jun 15 '12 at 8:17
    
Sorry I can't make heads or tails of your argument, I sensed a circular argument (you're trying to prove that God is the root of power, but presumed the conclusion while trying to prove that God does not live within someone) and also introduced multiple controversial premises without asserting their truth: not everyone would agree that God necessarily need to have a purpose, nor that God necessarily have to interact with us, nor that distance makes it impossible for God to interact with us. Also I don't follow how your axiom of distance relates to anything discussed so far. –  Lie Ryan Jun 15 '12 at 11:29
    
Hi, i edited, and additional assertions already added without making any changing to the essence, please refresh –  Seremonia Jun 15 '12 at 22:59
    
Atheism simplified: From my point of view, to this point in human history, no one has made a sufficient argument for the existence of a particular god, or for the necessity that some god exists. –  philosodad Jul 5 '12 at 19:20

You can't prove or disprove atheism, just as you can't prove or disprove God, while science shows that God is unnecessary, it does not rule out the possibility that God exists.

However, whether a person subscribes to the belief of Atheism or Theism, only that person knows. Someone may not truly belief in God, but then because of circumstances (e.g. families, etc), they may say that they belief in God. The other situation where someone claim that they're an Atheist but truly believes in God, is much, much rarer, although you can't rule out the possibility.

For an external observer however, whatever a person claims to be their belief is the best proof of that person's belief. Nobody can claim the right to say that the person is a liar.

one claiming to be atheist and the other one asking him to prove it, since he does not believe that he is saying the truth and can't be sure that he is really an atheist just by his claims.

To say it in the most civilised manner as anyone could possibly do, that person is an idiot.

to say that B does not believe what A claims since "many people claim a lot of things that aren't really true".

is a strawman, and only someone truly ignorant of basic logic would say otherwise.

This looks to me quite similar as trying to prove that god exists - or am I missing something?

it isn't similar at all, far from it.

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Thanks for confirming, I was thinking the same, just wanted a third opinion. –  easwee Jun 8 '12 at 16:48
    
The claim of belief is the strongest evidence for belief? Can you prove you don't believe that "actions speak louder than words"? –  Benjamin Jun 10 '12 at 2:07
    
@Benjamin: let me amend: "... in absence of any other contradicting evidences". In any case, actions can lie as well, for example, if someone things against their belief which they later regretted. In any case, there is no way to really tell definitively, the only person who have the slightest chance of actually knowing what you believe is you yourself (and even then, you can lie to yourself); but others can only speculate. –  Lie Ryan Jun 10 '12 at 9:38
    
@LieRyan someone could have greater insight into human nature than 'A' and know that 'A' was fooling himself. –  Benjamin Jun 12 '12 at 4:23
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@Benjamin if Betty is convinced that it is impossible for anyone not to believe in God, and convinced of this because Paul of Tarsus said so, then Betty cannot be convinced of anything outside of her own narrow world view and no proof can possibly be sufficient. This makes any discussion of philosophy or religion with Betty a complete waste of Anne's time, and she should just walk away. –  philosodad Jul 5 '12 at 19:28

How to prove you are an athiest? Why should I have to prove that I am an athiest? How should I claim; that I should not be other wise. My own consciousness should let me know that I am a athiest. I am an individual, the conceptual use of my mind should be clear of any enforced belief. The earth is flat, as we all know this was a common belief at a point in history. I am mortal, a common belief today. But can I be immortal? Technology is very close to being able too make us immortal or extened our life for hundreds of years. Should I accept the belief of life after death? Only with proof of existence there of. To prove I am an athiest, I only have to live by it.

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Not sure if this is a useful post, but I just can't help but mentioning that movie "The seventh seal" (Bergman). How do people react when they face death (last scene)? It seems that their reaction will give away their true values. Of course this is a situation that cannot be 'faked', so there's not a very practical use of the idea. Your belief is put to proof when you have to act on a situation that requires a personal statement on it as a matter.

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I am not sure that such a test is valid anyway (even if it was a true test - i.e. the end of the world). We are wired mentally in layers - from animal instinct right up to the top layer of emotion and self aware reasoning. However, the lower levels of consciousness trigger before the higher ones - with slow things we can override base instinct with reasoning (such as not eating when hungry and on a diet) - but fast things will get a more immediate instinctive response (like blinking if something hits us in the eye - or the well know fight and flight reflex). Fear can cause autonomic reactions. –  Wolf5370 Jul 11 '12 at 13:51
    
@Wolf5370 ok.. if a person is on that "lower level", s/he might react with such a thing as "fight or flight"... but what if s/he prays? I don't consider "praying" a autonomic reaction. –  Tames Jul 11 '12 at 13:56
    
Neither do I. My point was - that as the meteor comes crashing into land (or whatever) NOT praying is NOT a valid proof of NOT believing - whereas I guess praying might be considered as such (or last ditch hope). –  Wolf5370 Jul 11 '12 at 14:16
    
@Wolf5370 I see. It seems to you that in such a situation, people may be reduced to autonomic reactions. I think the opposite may be true - in situations of extreme danger, people will hold stronger to religious beliefs, and even declared atheists may begin to pray. Your statement seems to be close to Hobbes'ideas.. something like "when things go bad, morality and everything else goes down the drain" –  Tames Jul 11 '12 at 14:30
    
As I said - depends how fast it happens - and if they are able to build up enough will to suppress the last minute panic. I believe most people, faithful or not, would panic near the end and their instincts to run and hide would take over. Most people's will to survive is stronger than anything else when it actually comes down to it - of course there are those where the opposite is true (from suicide to terrorist wearing explosive vests prove this is so). –  Wolf5370 Jul 11 '12 at 14:49

The question of how A can prove to B that she is indeed an atheist is quite similar to the problem proposed by the Turing Test, for A to prove to B that she is human. Of course, a clever enough electronic computer can in principle fool B, if he is incautious or not sufficiently sophisticated, that A is human. (Indeed, this has happened already; we just don't take tests involving Eliza, and the people that she can fool, very seriously.) For the same reason, any sufficiently sophisticated theist A can convince an insufficiently skeptic enquirer B that she is an atheist.

Indeed, the Turing Test is in practise a scheme not for testing human-style intelligence, but whether or not the person you're speaking to is in some measure a social peer: whether their behaviour is in accordance to some mental model of someone like you. More generally, it's a scheme for testing whether someone conforms to some mental model that you have of a kind of person or other interactive system. What can be learned from Turing-style tests is whether or not your interlocutor fits a certain mental model for someone who more or less conforms to some standard of behaviour, whether that is human-like or atheist-like.

As with Turing's own position on the Turing Test as applied to intelligence, the question of whether or not A actually has human-style intelligence, or an atheist — which is beside the point — but whether their observable behaviour is close enough to being so, however that behaviour arises, that it is parsimonious to treat them as having human-style intelligence, or as an atheist. This is what we do in everyday life with emotions, political positions, etc. Ultimately, only through their acts can you know them.

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How can A convince B that A is really an atheist?

To ask B to prove he's a theist.

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Is it really that easy? –  iphigenie Nov 28 '12 at 10:20
    
@iphigenie, yes, this is just a short way to show that it's impossible to prove being reasonable/unreasonable, theist/atheist, and so on. In fact, no one ever proved he is a theist, while atheism is meaningless without theism. –  Serg Nov 28 '12 at 20:12

Unless you have the power of telepathy at your bidding you are going to have to take the matter of his atheistic beliefs as a matter of faith. Oh the irony.

You can ask yourself general truth related question. Does the person have a reason to be doubted? Is the person generally honest? Is he an habitual liar? Will the person gain anything from having one view or another? Those type of things but still ultimately you will have to decide if you bleive in him or not (Or at least if you belief in his story or not.)

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The atheist should stick two fingers up to the sky while shouting f*** you god.

A theist would never do this as it would lead to eternal damnation.

I realise this question is old and my answer may sound facetious, but I do seriously believe this is a reasonable answer to the question.

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I think the main difficulty is that you seem to be making up theological requirements for others... –  virmaior May 26 at 2:10

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