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Thread: The definition of atheist...an in depth look

  1. #1 The definition of atheist...an in depth look 
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    Stemming from the "shouldn't we all be agnostic" thread...

    My argument is that we aren't born atheist, because for us to be atheist, we have to know the God concept. When we are born, we cannot profess any beliefs; rather, we are a blank slate. After we've been exposed to things, such as religion and politics, we decide for ourselves what we believe in. Thus, we can only say we are born ignorant of the God concept.

    Let's look at the most commonly argued definitions of 'atheist':

    1. Atheism is a disbelief in God.

    In order to have a disbelief, there has to be a belief. A baby cannot say "I don't believe in God" (obviously they literally can't say so), because they don't even KNOW what God is. I cannot say "I don't believe in the Invisible Pink Unicorn" if I don't even know what the heck it is; if I've never even heard of the thing! To believe otherwise is just plain illogical. It's like speaking Spanish without even hearing a word of it!

    2. Atheism is the belief that God doesn't exist.

    This one is obvious. You can't have a belief when you're just born.

    3. Atheism is the absence of a belief in God.

    This one is tricky. The 'absence of a belief in God' could mean "Ignorant of God" or "don't have a belief in God (which is essentially a disbelief in God)". Many atheists love to use this definition because they claim that atheism isn't a belief. Let's look at the word 'atheist', from the Greek 'atheos', meaning 'without God, or Godless'. Atheos comes from theos, meaning "God". The 'a' in 'atheos' is simply to negate 'theos'. The truth of this statement cannot be denied. Clearly, then, there needs to be a 'theos' for there to be an 'atheos'. This seems to beg the question that God exists; however, by this, I mean that there has to be a God concept for it to be negated. Similarly, theism (the belief in God) is negated by the 'a' in 'atheism'. The truth of this cannot be denied, either. Thus, there has to be theism for atheism to exist. There has to be a 'belief in God' for there to be a negation (a disbelief in God); it's simple logic. Thus, a baby needs to know what theism is in order to negate it; since a baby does not know what theism is, the baby cannot negate theism, and thus cannot put the 'a' in atheism, and thus cannot be atheist.

    Questions? Comments? Insults? G'head, post a reply! 8)


    Whence comes this logic: no evidence = false?

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    WYSIWYG Moderator marnixR's Avatar
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    since atheism isn't an organised religion, i'm sure that there's as many types of atheism as there are atheists

    i could add another type : "who is this 'god' person you're talking about?"
    admittedly this type of atheist would have to live on Mars


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    Forum Ph.D. Cat1981(England)'s Avatar
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    So if "we aren't born atheist" nor are we born as theist, what are we born as ? Some people in extreme circumstances do grow well into their teenage years before they are introduce to the idea of a god, what do you call person who is not an atheist, agnostic or theist ? (apart from intelligent)
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    WYSIWYG Moderator marnixR's Avatar
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    Quote Originally Posted by Cat1981(England)
    So if "we aren't born atheist" nor are we born as theist, what are we born as ? Some people in extreme circumstances do grow well into their teenage years before they are introduce to the idea of a god, what do you call person who is not an atheist, agnostic or theist ? (apart from intelligent)
    anti-theist ?
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  6. #5 Re: The definition of atheist...an in depth look 
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    Quote Originally Posted by scientstphilosophertheist
    3. Atheism is the absence of a belief in God.

    This one is tricky. The 'absence of a belief in God' could mean "Ignorant of God" or "don't have a belief in God (which is essentially a disbelief in God)". Many atheists love to use this definition because they claim that atheism isn't a belief. Let's look at the word 'atheist', from the Greek 'atheos', meaning 'without God, or Godless'. Atheos comes from theos, meaning "God". The 'a' in 'atheos' is simply to negate 'theos'. The truth of this statement cannot be denied. Clearly, then, there needs to be a 'theos' for there to be an 'atheos'. This seems to beg the question that God exists; however, by this, I mean that there has to be a God concept for it to be negated. Similarly, theism (the belief in God) is negated by the 'a' in 'atheism'. The truth of this cannot be denied, either. Thus, there has to be theism for atheism to exist. There has to be a 'belief in God' for there to be a negation (a disbelief in God); it's simple logic. Thus, a baby needs to know what theism is in order to negate it; since a baby does not know what theism is, the baby cannot negate theism, and thus cannot put the 'a' in atheism, and thus cannot be atheist.
    This is very silly. The "a" prefix simply implies that whatever follows it is lacking, missing, or not present. A person who has never heard of god is an atheist because he does not believe in god - his belief in god is missing, lacking, or not present. There is absolutely nothing about the "a" prefix that implies a necessity for the person (or whatever) to be familiar with whatever follows it in order for it to apply. It does not have to be a belief that exists and was negated, it merely has to be a belief that is lacking. It doesn't matter why it's lacking.
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    Quote Originally Posted by marnixR
    Quote Originally Posted by Cat1981(England)
    So if "we aren't born atheist" nor are we born as theist, what are we born as ? Some people in extreme circumstances do grow well into their teenage years before they are introduce to the idea of a god, what do you call person who is not an atheist, agnostic or theist ? (apart from intelligent)
    anti-theist ?

    now that sound fine to me

    why do certain theist's seem to have an issue with people saying they are athiests? This sin't the first time this has come up this week, they seem to want to label them as agnostics at every opportunity, is this to make them closer to theists in standing?
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    Forum Ph.D. Wolf's Avatar
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    Quote Originally Posted by Cat1981(England)
    So if "we aren't born atheist" nor are we born as theist, what are we born as ? Some people in extreme circumstances do grow well into their teenage years before they are introduce to the idea of a god, what do you call person who is not an atheist, agnostic or theist ? (apart from intelligent)
    Like a blank canvas, we are born to be what we are born to be.
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    Quote Originally Posted by marnixR
    i could add another type : "who is this 'god' person you're talking about?"
    admittedly this type of atheist would have to live on Mars
    so, if I follow your reasoning we have, at last, an opportunity to prove or disprove the existence of God.
    If we find life on Mars there is no God.
    If we do not find life on Mars there is a God.

    Excellent. 8)
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    WYSIWYG Moderator marnixR's Avatar
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    does it have to be intelligent life ? or will any type of life do ?
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  11. #10  
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    If we define an athiest as one who has no opinion about God (doesn't believe in favour of, but also doesn't believe against his/her/its existence) , then we're left with no word to describe those who specifically believe he/she/it doesn't exist.

    We have multiple concepts here, but only three words: thiest, athiest, and agnostic.

    Agnostics supposedly believe nobody can know.

    Our concepts are :

    1) - People who believe in god.

    2) - People who have no opinion about god, but think it's possible to rationally form an opinion.

    3) - People who have no opinion about god, and don't think it's possible to rationally form an opinion

    4) - People who have no opinion about god, and no opinion about whether it's possible to rationally form an opinion.

    5) - People who are of the opinion that there is no god.


    There may be other belief options here. So the question is......... what words do we want to assign to what options?
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    Forum Ph.D. Wolf's Avatar
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    Quote Originally Posted by Scifor Refugee
    This is very silly. The "a" prefix simply implies that whatever follows it is lacking, missing, or not present. A person who has never heard of god is an atheist because he does not believe in god - his belief in god is missing, lacking, or not present. There is absolutely nothing about the "a" prefix that implies a necessity for the person (or whatever) to be familiar with whatever follows it in order for it to apply. It does not have to be a belief that exists and was negated, it merely has to be a belief that is lacking. It doesn't matter why it's lacking.
    Good point. Declaring someone an "atheist" is, in that fashion, a lot like declaring someone "alive because they are not dead." They can be said to be alive, without having had to have experienced being dead, too.

    Quote Originally Posted by Ophiolite
    If we find life on Mars there is no God.
    If we do not find life on Mars there is a God.
    Excellent. 8)
    Wait..........WHAT?? :?

    Quote Originally Posted by kojax
    5) - People who are of the opinion that there is no god.
    If it's an "opinion" it's subjective to the experiences of that person's life, isn't it? What happens then? Curious...

    Quote Originally Posted by kojax
    There may be other belief options here. So the question is......... what words do we want to assign to what options?
    I'm not really sure why it matters to define atheism. These arguments feel kinda like communism witch-hunts sometimes...

    I think it could be easily argued that everyone is born an atheist, if by "atheist" we assume it is meant they don't believe a god exists because of lack of information regarding even the term "god."

    Then again, even religion doesn't always claim that newborns and children know of God. It's been often said that "children learn of God through the world." I guess that can be taken either way, though. I'm not even sure it really matters...
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    Forum Cosmic Wizard SkinWalker's Avatar
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    Atheist is simply "without god(s)" from the Greek origin of the word. The same way asexual is "without sex" and amoral is "without moral(s)." The same way achromatic is "without color" and aphasia is "without ability to express or understand language."

    What's interesting among those deluded by various religious cults is the tendency to deny that anyone could *not* believe in a god. They have less difficulty understanding someone not believing in their god!

    I find this frequent argument by the religious to be disingenuous. Rather than accept that someone might not be credulous enough to believe in a god, they project their delusions on the rest of the world by denying that religious delusion is a social construct and we simply aren't born with a belief in gods. If one is without gods (no knowledge of what gods are and how they are alleged by those deluded in their belief to affect mankind), they are atheist. Without god(s).

    Case in point is my 5 year-old daughter. She's a perfect atheist. She has not the faintest belief in any of humanities thousands of gods, both extant and extinct.

    Clearly, then, there needs to be a 'theos' for there to be an 'atheos'. This seems to beg the question that God exists; however, by this, I mean that there has to be a God concept for it to be negated.
    Clearly. The concept of space aliens who abduct people in the middle of the night exists. I don't believe in this any more than I accept the existence of flying unicorns. If someone were to coin a word like aunicornist, I would certainly count myself in their number.

    The religious have a hard time accepting the atheists. This much is evident. It crops up whenever various myths are repeated from those deluded by religious superstition such as "there are no atheists in foxholes." It can be seen in polls that question who Christians trust least among Muslims, homosexuals and atheists. It manifests itself whenever I mention to a theist that I'm an atheist and they ask, "so why don't you just go around killing and raping? What stops you?"

    Never mind that those deluded by Christian mythology are practicing one of humanities briefest religions when compared to cults that existed in history. There are Egyptian cults that lasted thousands of years longer than Christianity has endured to date.
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    True, if you've never heard of a construct, then you can't have an opinion about it, but most athiests are familiar with the concept of a god.

    So, until you've heard of it, you can't have an opinion, but once you have heard of it, you are perfectly guarunteed to have an opinion. Either:

    1) - You think it's likely that it's true.
    2) - You think it's likely that it's false.
    3) - You're not sure.

    So, which situation are we calling an "athiest"?

    1) - A person who has never heard of God, and therefore has no opinion?

    or

    2) - A person who has heard of God, but doesn't believe he/she/it exists?

    These are clearly two very distinct groups.
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    WYSIWYG Moderator marnixR's Avatar
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    chances are that atheist type no.1 is a very select group indeed - very close to an empty class ?
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    Quote Originally Posted by marnixR
    chances are that atheist type no.1 is a very select group indeed - very close to an empty class ?
    It's probably safe to assume we were all of type 1, beginning at birth. Given that, the number of people who fit under 1 is pretty large, actually.
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    Quote Originally Posted by Wolf
    Quote Originally Posted by marnixR
    chances are that atheist type no.1 is a very select group indeed - very close to an empty class ?
    It's probably safe to assume we were all of type 1, beginning at birth. Given that, the number of people who fit under 1 is pretty large, actually.
    i'd say that the word atheist doesn't really apply to children under 2, since they don't really know much about anything else in the world either do they - without being insulting you could describe them as ignorant, and their brand of atheism would be subsumed in their general ignorance
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    Forum Cosmic Wizard SkinWalker's Avatar
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    They are either with or without the knowledge of god(s). Whether or not they are old enough to understand is irrelevant.

    That's the real issue, however, with the term "atheist" among those deluded by the superstitions of religious belief: they refuse to accept that "atheist" is simply a clinical and logical term which describes a state of being. Instead, they want to believe that "atheist" means that one is in denial of gods in spite of "truth" to the contrary. Whatever that "truth" might be.

    We are born atheist. Humanity becomes theistic through the social indoctrination of culture. If this weren't true, children born of Islamic cultures wouldn't generally believe in Allah and the Koran while children born of Baptist cultures wouldn't generally believe in Jesus and the bible. It also wouldn't be true that children born of the Fulani in West Africa had no concept at all of either god or doctrine.

    If children were born theist, then clearly there would be a single god that would have dominated humanity throughout the 100,000 years or so human culture has existed. Instead, the dominate religious cults of modernity are recent and brief additions to the wide variety of religious cults and superstitions that have afflicted humanity.

    If there is a god or gods in the universe, its far more likely that humanity has completely missed the mark in its devotion to it/them and worship the wrong ones than it is that a few got it right.
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    Quote Originally Posted by Ophiolite
    Quote Originally Posted by marnixR
    i could add another type : "who is this 'god' person you're talking about?"
    admittedly this type of atheist would have to live on Mars
    so, if I follow your reasoning we have, at last, an opportunity to prove or disprove the existence of God.
    If we find life on Mars there is no God.
    If we do not find life on Mars there is a God.
    Unfortunately, knowing people, half will decide that if we find life on Mars there is a God and if we don't then there is no God and so no matter what we find we will be back in the same situation that we are now.


    Quote Originally Posted by Scifor Refugee
    This is very silly. The "a" prefix simply implies that whatever follows it is lacking, missing, or not present. A person who has never heard of god is an atheist because he does not believe in god - his belief in god is missing, lacking, or not present. There is absolutely nothing about the "a" prefix that implies a necessity for the person (or whatever) to be familiar with whatever follows it in order for it to apply. It does not have to be a belief that exists and was negated, it merely has to be a belief that is lacking. It doesn't matter why it's lacking.
    I must disagree with both you and scientstphilosophertheist. Although a good many atheists are in fact reactionary to some concept of God, I do not believe that all are and that atheism can in fact be an absense of the belief in God. There does not have to be any negation of any idea of God in the adherence to atheism because even hearing talk about God one can simply feel that one has not heard a meaningful explanation of what God is, and therefore one can feel that there is no cause to believe that this word refers anything that exists. However, theism, atheism and agnosticism are responses to a question and the one cannot respond to the question unless one hears and understand the question in some way, therefore the infant is none of these things. One is no more an atheist by default than one is a theist by default.

    Now the problem is: what exactly is the question we are talking about? Is it, "do you believe in God?" One can believe that God exists but put no faith in him or even hate him, and this is certainly not what most people mean when they call themselves an atheist. Is the question, "do you believe God exists?" This question tends to presume some particular idea of God and one may not believe that particular idea of God and yet believe another idea of God. So how about, "do you believe there is a God?" This is problematic, for what if the God you believe exists is your cat or the force of gravity? Does calling just any old thing "God" make you a theist? In conclusion the question can be any of these or something else and the dispute over details is NOT something only the religious must deal with, but as usual in any philosophical perspective, the are questions and disputes over the definition of terms and the dispostion of details. And whether we are talking about atheists, Christians or pagans, these are generalizations that only make the barest beginning at understanding the people who supposedly belong to these groupings.
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    It'd be interesting what some people would say if you took a child born to Islamic parents, and gave the child to Westerners, and the child grew up to have faith in God/Jesus, not Allah. :?

    Perhaps that's an argument against those who think belief starts at birth.


    That said, just as a child born is considered alive because it is not dead, it is atheist because it is not theist.

    Of course, that could be wrong. We'll only know when we can read the mind of a newborn child.
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    Quote Originally Posted by SkinWalker
    They are either with or without the knowledge of god(s). Whether or not they are old enough to understand is irrelevant.

    That's the real issue, however, with the term "atheist" among those deluded by the superstitions of religious belief: they refuse to accept that "atheist" is simply a clinical and logical term which describes a state of being. Instead, they want to believe that "atheist" means that one is in denial of gods in spite of "truth" to the contrary. Whatever that "truth" might be.

    We are born atheist. Humanity becomes theistic through the social indoctrination of culture. If this weren't true, children born of Islamic cultures wouldn't generally believe in Allah and the Koran while children born of Baptist cultures wouldn't generally believe in Jesus and the bible. It also wouldn't be true that children born of the Fulani in West Africa had no concept at all of either god or doctrine.

    If children were born theist, then clearly there would be a single god that would have dominated humanity throughout the 100,000 years or so human culture has existed. Instead, the dominate religious cults of modernity are recent and brief additions to the wide variety of religious cults and superstitions that have afflicted humanity.

    If there is a god or gods in the universe, its far more likely that humanity has completely missed the mark in its devotion to it/them and worship the wrong ones than it is that a few got it right.
    I had resolved to not post in this thread; just to see how the discussion develops, but I have to respond to this. Apparently you believe that I think that we are born theist; however, if you read my post, you'd see that I'm not saying we are born theist, but rather neutral: ignorant of the ideas of atheism and theism, or any idea for that matter. Sorry if I misread your post, but that's the inference that I made.
    Whence comes this logic: no evidence = false?

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    Forum Ph.D. Wolf's Avatar
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    Is it too late to give last rights and pour some gasoline on this thread? I've got matches. We can end the misery and roast winnies at the same time.

    Win win.
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    Of course atheists have to have heard about the god conept in order to reject it! It is simply a policy of rejecting beliefs in "spirits" in the same way we rejet a belief in Santa Claus and the Tooth Fairy.

    Otherwise, we have nothing in common. We come from all walks of life and, sadly to say, include in our ranks the hedonists who really have no opinion on the subject at all and are focusses primarily just on having a good time.

    I consider theism to be an unfortunate holdover from the past which serves to limit the progress of science because it assumes the existence of some entity that alters the process of natural cause and effect in response to prayers---or just the whims of some "creator."

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    Forum Ph.D. Wolf's Avatar
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    Quote Originally Posted by charles brough
    Of course atheists have to have heard about the god conept in order to reject it!
    If you defined "atheism" as the -rejection- of belief in god, then yes. Although mostly I've seen it defined as a lack of belief, not a rejection.

    Quote Originally Posted by charles brough
    It is simply a policy of rejecting beliefs in "spirits" in the same way we rejet a belief in Santa Claus and the Tooth Fairy.
    Alright, I have to say something about this whole Santa argument that's been going around.

    Folks...the topic of Santa involves two entirely different concepts. Santa Claus, a person who leaves gifts and such, is a real concept that has a long standing tradition and historical background. Do I believe in the existence of a Santa Claus? Hell yes. Every December the world's littered with them! The names aren't always the same though, but the traditional figure is real enough. Just as I know there are policemen out there...although they tend to be less seasonal.

    Do I believe Santa lives at the North Pole with elves and all? Well it makes good fiction and is fun and all, but no. That's a cultural fairytale or story (that's actually very recent in age).

    Quote Originally Posted by charles brough
    I consider theism to be an unfortunate holdover from the past which serves to limit the progress of science because it assumes the existence of some entity that alters the process of natural cause and effect in response to prayers---or just the whims of some "creator."
    Thanks for classifying us all the same, there, bud. If I ever decide to go with faith, my grip on reality ends, right? I'll start flooring my car into brick walls shouting "Jesus will save me!" right?

    BTW, how is it that science always seems to get marked as "innocent" compared to religion?
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  25. #24  
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    Quote Originally Posted by wolf
    It'd be interesting what some people would say if you took a child born to Islamic parents, and gave the child to Westerners, and the child grew up to have faith in God/Jesus, not Allah. Confused

    Perhaps that's an argument against those who think belief starts at birth.


    That said, just as a child born is considered alive because it is not dead, it is atheist because it is not theist.

    Of course, that could be wrong. We'll only know when we can read the mind of a newborn child.
    I would say to be careful of that kind of logic. Reasoning in extremes like this, with only two possibilities leads to frightening statements like : "Those who are not with us are against us."

    There are clearly not only two options. Aside from being Athiest, or Thiest there is at least Agnostic.
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