Today I’ll be posting the first in a series of short videos aimed at providing an approachable, reasonable, and generally friendly introduction to critical thinking. It will probably be redundant for some people, but I hope it will be beneficial to theists trying to understand atheists, and to people who might be questioning their own beliefs and looking for some way to get traction on the issues.


Transcript below:
Episode #1: Why should I care about language?
    Hello, dear viewer. Thank you for giving me a bit of your time. In the interest of of avoiding wasting any of it, I will simply say: let’s begin.
    First, a bit on language. There are many languages, about seven thousand at the moment. Depending on how you define them, there might even be thousands or tens of thousands more, but the thing we have to understand about what we call a “language” is that it all boils down to this: a language is a pseudo-fixed reference point by which we can communicate by reference to shared meanings.
    So to communicate about quite literally anything, we absolutely must share definitions to as close to perfectly as we can. In the interest of ensuring that you understand what I am trying to communicate, I am going to do my best to lay out the definition of some terms that are commonly used. Please be aware that as a person with an English Literature degree, language is what I do, I value it and I value communication immensely. So I will be making reference to dictionaries, which are the physical representation of our shared meanings.
    If by any chance you feel that my definition does not match yours, that is perfectly fine, but remember that if you want to communicate with me, or anyone else, you are obligated to provide a definition for the terms you use if it varies in any degree from the “standard”.  That isn’t to say that the standard is the end-all be-all–deviation from the standard is fine so long as you explain exactly how you differ from it so we can all communicate effectively.
    In short, if a spade is a spade, but by “spade” you mean “milkshake” it is your responsibility to tell everyone else, “hey when I say the word spade, I mean what you think of as a milkshake”.

Now to definitions of some basic terms:
Atheist — An atheist is a person who holds no positive belief in a god or gods. That is all the word means. You can expand and get more detail by asking whether they hold the “strong” or “weak” atheist position.
    Weak Atheist — Also called “negative” or “soft” atheism.
    This position, shared by the majority of atheists, is that while an absence of evidence is not evidence of absence, neither is it evidence of presence. In other words, if you make a claim and show me no evidence, I am simply choosing NOT to believe. It can never be said that the weak atheist position requires faith because it is literally the negation of faith–it is the ‘default’ position. No weak atheist claims to be able to prove a God or gods or transcendent magical sky fairies do not, in fact, exist–a weak atheist simply says they choose to act as though these things do not exist until a preponderance of evidence can be produced to show that they most likely do.
    Strong Atheist — Also called “positive” or “hard” atheism.
    This rare and bizarre position is that a god or gods do not exist and that this is definite. Virtually no atheist holds this position. Let me say it again: virtually no atheist holds this position, because it is also a position that requires belief. Curiously, for some reason most religious folks seem to think that this position is what all atheists ‘believe’. For the obvious reason, the vast majority of atheists do not hold this position because it is a position that is not based on evidence. It cannot be emphasized enough that saying that all atheists hold this position is outright untrue and on par with saying that all black people are thugs, all white people are Nazis, all Americans are obese, or all French people are cowards. It simply is not true.

Agnostic — Where “atheist” deals with belief in a god or gods, agnostic is a word that deals with knowledge. So it is quite possible to be an agnostic atheist, and in fact the majority of atheists are in fact agnostic atheists: they readily admit that they simply do not possess the knowledge to claim that a God or gods exist or do not exist. The problem that this term creates is that the religious often claim that they DO know and will try to get weak atheists to admit that it’s possible a god or gods exist, then try to put a probability on it.
    This is silly for a couple of reasons: first, it is essentially a category error. Because the supernatural is by definition not accessible by humans since we are part of the natural world, trying to put a probability on the existence of a being that we cannot have any knowledge of is like trying to assign a probability to whether love is blue. It is possible to state in words, but the proposition is meaningless. The set of things we know absolutely nothing about and can know nothing about is not capable of having the property of being probable or improbable. It simply is not possible–it could be that God is the noses of undetectable duck-billed platypuses–but we cannot really assign it a probability.
    Second, even if we could assign a probability, the incredibly vast preponderance of evidence is that no supernatural force intervenes in the natural world. So any probability we assign would be vanishingly low. I’ll talk more about this in a future episode.

Deist — I include this for completeness. A Deist is a person who believes in a god, but is agnostic about that god. In other words, while they believe that a supernatural force created reality, they do not believe that they can know anything about that force. This absolutely rules out any Abrahamic tradition like Judaism, Christianity, Islam, etc. and also rules out Shiva, Zeus, Thor, so on, so forth. Nothing whatsoever can be known about the attributes of the supernatural creator if you want to qualify as a Deist. This is not to say they can have no beliefs, but they admit that they cannot know it as an absolute truth.

That’s all for today from your friendly neighborhood Contrapologist. Thanks for listening.