How the stamp collecting analogy fails

In my recent discussions with atheists in recent times many have responded that 'atheism is not a faith'. They are trying to suggest that atheism doesn't bring with it a kind of 'worldview' that the Christian faith brings with it. They then use the stamp collecting analogy to attempt to demonstrate that a negative or non-belief is not a belief system. Hence the analogy goes, 'not believing in a god as some kind of belief system is like not collecting stamps is a hobby.'

I think it's an interesting move, and it has prompted me to think carefully about this issue, yet I would like to suggest that the stamp collecting analogy fails. I suggest it fails because 'Not collecting stamps is a hobby'. I can, 'not collect' stamps and still be engaged in a hobby. I could collect cloth badges, model railways or pencils, and these are all alternative hobbies. Hence the analogy fails because 'not collecting stamps IS still a hobby'.

But more seriously the analogy fails because it isn't a proper analogy. The analogy is based on a truism and hence it only proves what is assumes. If you change the analogy by inserting other words, you realise this, e.g. 'is like not drinking water is drinking' or 'is like not eating sandwiches is lunch'. 'Hobbies' and 'stamp collecting' (and eating and drinking) are different to 'believing' and 'belief systems'. 'Belief' is a matter of a commitment to certain facts of the world which are often unprovable, whereas stamp collecting is a pastime and can be proved (as can drinking, or eating etc).

Hence, to summarise, Christians believe that there is a God, we can't prove it but we act on 'faith' that it is true. Atheists believe that there is no god, they can't prove it, but they act on 'faith' that it is true. Therefore atheism must be some kind of 'faith' commitment. This is different from stamp collecting because we can 'prove' that stamp collecting exists.

This 'analogy' may appear to offer explanatory power, but in the end, I think, it fails. Can any atheists further explain the stamp collecting analogy, or am I missing something?

Comments

Hi Robert,

An atheist friend of mine also rejects the ‘stamp collecting’ analogy.

He asserts that his atheism is the result of an approach to the world that is different from the religious believer.

My friend accepts what is supported by some evidence. Propositions that are not so supported, remain on the ‘pending’ list. Meanwhile, fiction as fiction can be good entertainment.

Christians vary from the highly trusting; to those who pride themselves on finding evidence for their beliefs. The latter group is often to be found playing around with the meaning of “faith”. Sometimes they make bold assertions such as that the disappearance of Christ’s body could be established under modern Courtroom procedure.

However such exercises do not alter the fact that at the end of the day, such people believe much because they are prepared to ‘take the other guy’s word for it’. Eg Christ being born of a virgin; eg the divine authority vested in the utterings of Paul.

Whether they are accepting the words of a preacher, or an assertion from the Bible that can never be made out, a Christian is taking the other guy’s word for it, in a way that the atheist need not do about anything. It is not the same as when an atheist provisionally accepts the word of a scientist, or a journalist, knowing that a busybody can check.

Martin Hadley

Martin,

Thanks very much for your comment and congratulations on being the first to comment in our new-look website and brand new Blog.

You are certainly right in suggesting that Christians vary in their approaches to how much evidence will convince them. I also think you're right in that at the end of the day people believe because they are prepared to 'take the other guy's word for it'. This is true, but there is nothing intrinsically wrong about this, unless the 'other guy' is untrustworthy. This is particularly pertinent in the area of any historical recording, in many cases there is no other avenue open to us other than to 'trust the other guy's word'. Hence I think this is the key to working out whether or not to trust 'the other guy's word'. Are they trustworthy or not?

I'd also suggest that atheism is an exercise in trust as it doesn't 'take the other guy's word for it', even if there may be good reasons to suggest that the 'other guy' is in fact trustworthy.

Thanks again for your comment. I hope this is further food for thought.

Robert

"I'd also suggest that atheism is an exercise in trust as it doesn't 'take the other guy's word for it', even if there may be good reasons to suggest that the 'other guy' is in fact trustworthy."

ಠ_ಠ What on Earth are you talking about?

I am saying that atheism fails to trust the authors of the Bible i.e. it fails to take the other people's (the Bible's authors) word for it. I would contend that the authors of the New Testament are historically reliable and there are good reasons to believe this. Yet atheists disagree. This disagreement is an exercise of faith.

Having a bad day at the office? Are there thoughts ravaging your mind that you desperately need answers? Have you dropped the questions believing that you cannot find the answers? Here’s your chance. Ask the saint. http://askswaami.blogspot.in/2013/09/ask-saint.html

My answer to this tends to be along the lines of "It depends"

Atheism as in "believe not" - certainly is as faith based - def more blind faith than Christianity, I don't really ever get many arguments against this from my atheist friends..

What does cause discussion...
Atheism as in "not believe" - removes all arguments… It is a null view.

So, depending on the type of atheism, depends on whether or not it brings a 'world view'. 'believe not' is certainly a world view - 'not believing' something is a null state of affairs. There is nothing else to be said.

This is where the atheist argument falls down… If the atheist is claiming a null state of 'not believe' - then what are they doing arguing so forcefully against?

Some people collect stamps, others don't. There is no right or wrong with this. Hence the 'not believes' should just be accepting of the fact that some people believe, others don't…. In the null state of belief, there is no right or wrong answer…

But of course - people like to have a view/opinion don't they? - A view/opinion requires faith of some sort….

Bill,

Thanks for your comment and yes, there is a subtle distinction between the two types of atheist views, i.e. believe (know?) 'no' god exists and believe 'no gods exist'.

I think that perhaps the distinction is more over 'certainty' of belief or non-belief. Some atheists claim to 'know' no gods exist and others claim to be more agnostic.Yet I would suggest that both views still bring a certain worldview into play and either view requires a type of faith because it can't be proved.

Thanks for your comment and thoughts.

Robert

"Atheists believe that there is no god, they can't prove it, but they act on 'faith' that it is true. "

Sorry Robert but you strike out here. You are constructing a false dichotomy, insisting that it is Christianity vs. atheism.

It's not, it's Christianity vs not-Christianity since we're disputing the faith. The atheist position is simply "I don't know and neither do you."

You're conflating two positions into one and it's intellectually dishonest of you.

Q. Do you know any gods exist?
A. No.
Q. Do you believe in any gods?
A. No.
Q. Do you believe gods must not exist?
A. No.

Soft atheism is the majority position of atheists. However the null hypothesis also applies, since god's an unfalsifiable notion, one out believe they do not exist until proven otherwise. Not many atheists argue for that.

As for is atheism a world view? No, it's an answer to a question, "Do you believe in god or gods?". Not a faith.
Atheists' world view is an individuality thing, where, since atheism is not a world view, each individual draws on different philosophies to construct a world view, one ultimately unrelated to their atheism. Some are still religious remember, many Buddhists are atheistic.

Most of us drawn on belief in the power of science and humanistic philosophy.

*one ought believe they do not exist*

You are right, 'hard' atheism is being certain that there are no gods, 'soft' atheism is being pretty sure, but acting as if there is not one (pragmatic atheism).

Yet, in the conception that you use, the terminology becomes confusing. You slip between genuine agnosticism (not knowing) and atheism. I disagree that the atheist position is 'I don't know', that is agnosticism. Hence if this is your position, it is less confusing to be labeled an 'atheist', agnostic would be more appropriate.

With this said, it is still an act of faith to not believe something and this is where the stamp collecting analogy fails because it doesn't draw a parallel between two 'beliefs'.

"Yet, in the conception that you use, the terminology becomes confusing. You slip between genuine agnosticism (not knowing) and atheism. I disagree that the atheist position is 'I don't know', that is agnosticism. Hence if this is your position, it is less confusing to be labeled an 'atheist', agnostic would be more appropriate."

No because "agnostic" and "atheist" are answers to different questions.

Agnostic: Do you know gods to or not to exist?
- No.

Atheist: Do you believe in any god or gods?
- No.

99% of people who identify as atheists are ALSO agnostic. There is no exclusivity in the terms.

Hi Mike K,

Your argument brings up an interesting area… That is the assumption brought up by many atheists - slightly off topic, but quite valid to approach here I think…

I apologise in advance if I have mistaken you arguments as pro-atheist, they just appear to be from the way I have read your reply.

"I don't know and neither do you"

Well, actually - I do know that there is a God. An specifically, God is as described by Christians. This is based on reasonable faith (not blind). Just because is is based on a "faith" judgement doesn't make it false.

For example: While many people take Newton's Laws of Motion on reasonable faith (they haven't personally performed repeatable experiments to demonstrate them) - doesn't mean that they (the laws) are by default "wrong".

In addition, you have just said that you don't know. This is a position of agnostic, not atheism of any type…

With Robert's comment of 'soft' acting like an atheist, but with less conviction - An Agnostic hardly acts as if there is a God do they? - For example, is it possible to be an Agnostic Christian? - of course not. (Just using Christianity as an example, could insert many other religions.) So, for the general layman on this - Atheist has, and always will mean a rejection of the notion of God and Agnostic means undecided.

So for the general person in the street, Atheism is a (blind? - someone bite… :) ) faith, and hence forms an appropriate world view. Agnostic is the null, undecided view, while technically being atheistic in nature (as in no firm God belief).

In regards to if Atheism (hard) is a world view - it certainly is… Rejecting the notion of God implies certain acceptances. For example, many atheistic views accept that there is no known cause for the Universe or our being. "It just is". If this isn't the formation of a world view, then what is?

Your argument appears to be trying to have cake and eat it. (again, if you weren't arguing pro-atheism apologies..) - It is as I mentioned earlier - Atheism as being a null (simple rejection of a single idea), yet at the same time an attempt at justifying atheism over a theism. IF atheism is a null, then there is absolutely nothing else to be discussed. This is a null, no-world view perspective - I collect stamps, you don't. End of story.

I do totally agree with you that there is no overarching atheistic world-view. And this is one of the huge arguments against atheism in terms of morals and the view of right and wrong. - but that is another can worms, I'm sure is/will be discussed elsewhere…..

"Just because is is based on a "faith" judgement doesn't make it false."

No but it does make it explicitly NOT knowledge. When I say "I don't know, and neither do you." That's not a refutation of your faith, your faith is irrelevant- we wouldn't call it faith if it were knowledge.

"For example: While many people take Newton's Laws of Motion on reasonable faith (they haven't personally performed repeatable experiments to demonstrate them) - doesn't mean that they (the laws) are by default "wrong"."

Maybe you've just chosen a bad example. Newton's Laws of Motion are wrong, as demonstrated by Einstein. Furthermore, not many people go around claiming anymore than trust/faith in the scientific conclusions thus far about gravity. What we do claim to know is that, as a phenomenon, gravity exists. Such a demonstration remains to be made of your faith.

"In addition, you have just said that you don't know. This is a position of agnostic, not atheism of any type…"

These terms overlap since they're answers to different questions.
Agnosticism is a stance on KNOWLEDGE.
Atheism is a stance of BELIEF.
I do not know, but I doubt.

"Your argument appears to be trying to have cake and eat it. (again, if you weren't arguing pro-atheism apologies..) - It is as I mentioned earlier - Atheism as being a null (simple rejection of a single idea), yet at the same time an attempt at justifying atheism over a theism. IF atheism is a null, then there is absolutely nothing else to be discussed. This is a null, no-world view perspective - I collect stamps, you don't. End of story."

Atheism is a null. Until the first person put forward the idea of a god, everyone would have been atheist. Theism is a claim about reality, and you don't actually have to know something about the reality to think someone's claim is unfounded. Let me elaborate.

Say someone came to you and told you about a china teapot that to this moment you had seen no evidence of existing. The problem arises when the person explains where this teapot is supposed to exist - in orbit around the sun between Earth and Mars. The instant question that dawns is "How do you know this?" The person says "I have faith." When asked for evidence of this teapot, the claimant explains that since it's too far away and too small, no telescopes can yet show it in the sky. You do not know the entire contents in orbit around the sun between Earth and Mars but you realise that without that knowledge, this person cannot reasonably claim it to be true. The null hypothesis is to reject the unfounded assertion until it satisfies a reasonable level of evidence.

According to you, rejecting the belief in the cosmic teapot is a faith position and one is obligated to make arguments against the things existence. This is a violation of burden of proof. YOU claim the god exists, it's YOUR responsibility to prove YOUR claim.
Atheism in response is the position that you have not satisfied this requirement.

Here is a simple flowchart of how these labels work. Advise though that it was made to be directed at those who call themselves 'agnostics' apparently failing to understand 'atheist'
http://imgur.com/8z1vc

Or, more clearly, this one;
http://imgur.com/J9mXf

Enjoy.

Firstly, apologies for the absence..

You haven't really approached answering the questions - Regards to the Laws of Motion (which are true enough to send man to the moon etc - yes, for very very small and very very large bodies they require modification) - Unless one has performed the experiments yourself, you take it on reasonable faith. I very much doubt that you have seen or experienced a black hole, yet you are very likely to accept that they exist based on reasonable faith.

Reasonable Faith is all we know - it is our day to day Knowledge.

Which is it?
1) Atheism is a stance of BELIEF.
2) Atheism is a null.

According to me, rejecting a faith is perfectly valid - It is where to go after that is where I have the issues with your argument - which you haven't addressed, and are the topic for this discussion. I'm not overwhelmingly interested in your apparent beliefs/non-beliefs.

IF you have a null view, then why are you discussing any further?
If you have a view, then so what? - your view is as valid/invalid as any other. It just is.

You need further justification that Atheism is the 'default'.... Just by saying it, doesn't make it so....

The Concept of "God" - or something bigger out in the universe - is very well documented through out human history. This can be identified by the smallest amount of research.

In world views such as Christianity, the default is for theism - Remembering that God made man in his own image? It is through the fall of Adam and Eve that introduced the "Godless" concept.

[Unless one has performed the experiments yourself, you take it on reasonable faith.]

I do not take on faith that gravity as a natural phenomenon exists. I do not have to.
I also do not take the current theories of gravity on faith either. I don't remotely understand them so it's hard to form a belief, a faith - reasonable or otherwise - out of them. Regardless, scientific theories can be demonstrated and are demonstrated all the time so you don't need faith anyway.

To my knowledge, no one's demonstrated Christianity to be necessarily true.

What I do have reasonable faith in is the method of science.

[Which is it?
1) Atheism is a stance of BELIEF.
2) Atheism is a null.]

It's both. It's the null hypothesis for gods.

[IF you have a null view, then why are you discussing any further?]

I don't believe in the supernatural because I'm a skeptic. The reason for discussing it is because you guys don't understand atheism, and as an anti-theist, I feel you should be corrected.

[You need further justification that Atheism is the 'default'.... Just by saying it, doesn't make it so....

The Concept of "God" - or something bigger out in the universe - is very well documented through out human history. This can be identified by the smallest amount of research.]

The majority of white people on the planet at one time or another believed in Santa Claus. This is a belief we take on authority, but no child starts out believing in Santa Claus.

Part of being a sane person is not believing every conceivable idea until one by one, most of them are proven wrong. Many ideas one could believe in are mutually contradictory but also some beliefs are dangerous. We wait till we're convinced before accepting something.

This is why atheism is the default. Yes, belief in gods is common in human society, but the claim of the existence of gods is something everyone encounters and then accepts or rejects. Atheists today charge that theists haven't actually made a reasonable case for the existence of god yet so we should all automatically default to atheism, not accepting the premise that gods exist.

[It is through the fall of Adam and Eve that introduced the "Godless" concept.]

This is circular reasoning.

Your analysis of the stamp collecting analogy fails.

"I can, 'not collect' stamps and still be engaged in a hobby."

The hobby you would be engaged in here isn't the hobby of "not collecting stamps". Define the hobby of "not collecting stamps". All you did was list a number of alternative hobbies and said that those aren't stamp collecting, but you haven't demonstrated that the absence of a hobby is itself a hobby.

Which comes back to one of the fundamental points that atheists espouse: the rejection of your beliefs for being baseless and logically inconsistent is not itself a belief, it's the rejection of a belief, the criticism of a belief, an opinion about the soundness of your belief.

Imagine a person who has, for some reason, never been introduced to the concepts of god before. Could you say that this person holds a belief that there is no god? No. The only difference is that most of us have been bombarded with the concept of god from childhood, and have to come to reject it as we grow older and are better able to evaluate its many logical inconsistencies and complete lack of evidence.

What I see here is an attempt to put the rejection of theistic belief and theistic belief on a level playing field. From there, you can call them both "just beliefs", and conclude that it is perfectly reasonable to choose theism on nothing but faith.

Very Amusing, I can not "believe" people swallow this sort of callisthenics with words. No matter how you try and spin it from generation to generation you can not escape that you have no "facts" just assertions. A fact is something we can all agree on and can be tested to be true. To claim a fact is known but can not be proved is admitting it is not actually a fact. I think you summery came close, "Hence, to summarise, Christians believe that there is a God, we can't prove it but we act on 'faith' that it is true" however note faith is not "true" it is defined as belief without evidence. The FACT you have to twist things redefine words and create the good old straw man of what Atheism is only belays the weakness of your position and the "fact' that for several centuries now theology has produced library's full of books desperately defending their case, which if it held any water or credibility would not be necessary .

Be quite clear Atheism is a single position on a single subject, the claim a god or gods exist is rejected for lack of evidence or reasoned argument, everything else is something else.
Remember thou shall not tell lies....!!!!!! It is not just you can not give me reasons to believe it is you keep piling up reasons not to.!

Thanks for your comment Neil. But I think you've misunderstood what Christians say about the evidence for God. Christians say, "there are good reasons to believe God is real and he has revealed himself in the person and works of Jesus and we act on 'faith' to live our lives based on this reasonable revelation'.

I can give you plenty of reasons to believe. What would convince you?

Atheism isn't a faith commitment. It's a lack thereof