Just a word about terminology...


I have a sociobiological allergy to sweeping generalizations and slanderous categorizations...so I need to blather a bit about the terms 'skeptic', 'freethinker', 'atheism', 'agnostic' etc...
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Important Ic's, Ism's, and Spasm's:

Atheism
The Cambridge Dictionary of Philosophy [Robert Audi, gen. Ed.; Cambridge:1995] has this entry under "Atheism":
"the view that there are no gods. A widely used sense denotes merely not believing in God and is consistent with agnosticism. A stricter sense denotes a belief that there is no God; this use has become the standard one. In the Apology Socrates is accused of atheism for not believing in the official Athenian gods. Some distinguish between theoretical atheism and practical atheism. A theoretical atheist is one who self-consciously denies the existence of a supreme being, whereas a practical atheist may believe that a supreme being exists but lives as though there were no god."
Atheism comes in several forms, two of which are: ontological (the concept "God" makes senses, but such a One does not exist anywhere; and conceptual (the concept "God" doesn't make any sense--like 'square circles'--, so questions of 'existence' are irrelevant).

Form One attempts to take the position that there is no compelling argument FOR God's existence, so why believe? They place the burden of proof on the theist, who makes the positive assertion "God exists" and in so doing, incurs the burden of proof. The theist normally takes two approaches here: they cite the 'irruption' of God into history in Judeo-Christian revelation; and they construct philosophical arguments for God's existence. (There are other appeals, such as to mysticism, but in the public arena these two approaches are offered first.) Sometimes the atheist will go beyond the 'no reason to believe God exists' to 'there is evidence that God CANNOT exist (e.g. problem of evil)".

Form Two is a bit more technical, but somehow all the proponents 'disappear conceptually' as soon as we require a logically consistent articulation of the concept of 'person', 'consciousness', 'predicator' or 'self'...but more on this later.

Agnostic
Actually, a very, very reasonable position to hold today, albeit fatally incomplete IMO. Says that we cannot know if there is a God...that our human/finite reason can never 'reach out' that far into infinity to 'search out God'...at least not conclusively...

I agree with glee! I am personally convinced that the natural data in the universe has enough ambiguity in it to make high-levels of certainty infeasible--if we are left to our own reason, discovery, etc.--WITHOUT hermeneutical paradigm-like clues.

But this position is incomplete...it does not deal with the possibility that a GOD might break into history and disclose information about him/her/itself! I agree that we cannot 'force God to talk' by our own devices, but I maintain that such a God COULD THEORETICALLY HAVE to ability and desire to share self-information with us, under the right circumstances. We are completely dependent upon this disclosure--if we are to know ANYTHING AT ALL about God, at high certainty levels. (The first part of the Global Sunday School deals with developing this position.)

FreeThought
I have found FreeThought to be a strange mixture of folk. Historically they occupy a modest segment of history in the early 1800's to early 1900's. It was an essentially polemical movement against the Fundamentalism of its day, but its works are still being cited today!

I recently obtained a copy of one of these books, and the sympathetic forward had this to say:

This, like so many Freethought books of the time, is essentially the work of a small-town philosopher, full of courage, wit, and shrewd common sense, but lacking the perspective of scholarship or the disciplines of mysticism--more intent on winning simple arguments than in discovering the great secret of the meaning of life. Like so much of Freethought literature, it is polemical and essentially destructive. It embodies the naive idea that liberal truth may be established simply by demolishing Fundamentalism. (Kersey Graves, The World's Sixteen Crucified Saviors, University Books, 1971...forward by Leslie Shepard...first pubd in 1875)
Most of these works are written before the major advances of our day, and are subject to the limitations of dated materials. But they can be quite powerful in their polemic, and I find some of their exorbitant claims to objectivity to be hilarious! (Not all of them, of course, are so limited. Some of the classic arguments of Thomas Paine, for example, are still important issues to work through.)

Although most of the FreeThought works are being put up on the Web(!), a handy collection of some of the more influential and popular pieces can be had in Classics of Free Thought, ed. by Paul Blanshard, Prometheus Books, 1977. Selections include essays from Paine, Jefferson, Russell, John Stuart Mill. Good starter work for understanding the paradigms and argument weighting systems they adopt.

Skeptic, Skepticism
THIS is the one I want to fight over! I WANT this title for us Christians!

Consider the definition of "skeptic" -- "a person who questions the validity or authenticity of something purporting to be factual"!!!!! The Second link and third link in this Web page-set argue in obsessive detail that the Biblical position is for a loving, but rigorously skeptical attitude toward truth-claims!

But...I can't have what I always want...so, I have to give the word up to the movement that carries it now--Skepticism. As it is used now it refers to "a person who doubts the truth of a religion, esp. Christianity"

Mind you, this is not Philosophical Skepticism (an epistemological position)--these skeptics claim to know massive amounts of 'true facts' (all of which are advanced as data to demonstrate that Christianity is false--in its core and in its details). This is specifically Religious Skepticism, and socio-metrically tends to be aligned with either atheism or brands of humanism. They are somewhat selective in the kinds of things they doubt, but are very conscientious in their methodology.

Strangely enough, they have all the cultural marks of a religion per se (and as proof, they protest violently at this association!). Although I am generally in favor of careful thinking, I have a major problem with some of their writers, in what I consider to be their rather dogmatic and presumptive methods and criteria...sorta like a two-dimensional approach to a three-dimensional problem. But this will have to wait...

One important note: it is important to evaluate each argument on its own weight and merit--irrespective of its source. Ad Hominum arguments have very little value in these types of discussions. Because someone calls himself a 'skeptic' is almost NO predictor of position! (just like denominational labels today in the church).

On the other hand (men...de)...

The Skeptic is no better or worse than we...but they often are both more committed and more consistent...
The Christian ThinkTank...[http://www.Christian-thinktank.com] (Reference Abbreviations)