What's the difference?

Discussion in 'Linguistics' started by StrangerInAStrangeLand, May 28, 2015.

  1. StrangerInAStrangeLand SubQuantum Mechanic Valued Senior Member

    Have a stroll thru the rye?

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  3. StrangerInAStrangeLand SubQuantum Mechanic Valued Senior Member

    1 - I could care less.

    2 - I couldn't care less.
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  5. Fraggle Rocker Staff Member

    I have read your posts several times, and I still find the difference between "I do not believe in God" and "I believe that there is no God" to be entirely syntactical/rhetorical. If I were called on to explain this dispute to a member of one of the few remaining Paleolithic tribes, or to a Vulcan (who, by the way, may exist but I'm not betting on it), or to a human who was raised in a compound of militant atheists who deliberately refrained from teaching their children about religion and other fairy tales, I cannot imagine any way that I could distinguish between your two ways of stating--what to me are--the same statement, differing only in style.

    Indeed, one stresses the issue of belief, while the other stresses the issue of the existence of an invisible, illogical supernatural universe full of preposterous forces and creatures that have the ability to occasionally travel into our universe, apparently for the sole reason of fucking up its operation. But belief or disbelief in something is just the flip side of the issue of its existence or non-existence.

    So once again: yes, there is a rhetorical or syntactical difference in the two statements, but their information content is identical.
    I've never encountered anyone who claimed to be a weak atheist, unless you want to count my friend Charles who sits in a wheelchair. The discussions I find on the internet are ridiculous, and as an editor I would have sent them back for a rewrite.

    The best I can dig out of them is that a weak atheist is someone who does not believe in the existence of gods, but in order to avoid insulting his church-going friends, he prefers to say "I don't believe in gods," rather than saying "I don't believe that gods exist."
    I've been hanging out with atheists for most of my 71 years and I have never heard anyone say anything so ridiculous.

    When you ask these people, "What is the subtle difference between these two nearly identical statements?" do they reply with a coherent answer?
    So if I say, "My dog will remain faithful to me until he dies," that's different from saying, "I believe my dog will remain faithful to me until he dies"? Is this the sad state of 21st century scholarship?
    Talk about "preposterous!" Both Holden and Caulfield are relatively common English surnames. People have always given their children surnames as first names, as a nod of respect to an ancestor. I wouldn't be surprised if there were an American named Holden Caulfield living right now. (Or Caulfield Holden, for that matter!)

    Furthermore, we live in an era in which people bestow literary names on their children. Mr. and Mrs. Caulfield might very well have named their son (or daughter!) "Holden" just because they liked the book.

    I tried looking for living people with that name, but "Catcher in the Rye" is such a popular and important book, that the first 500 hits all seem to be about the fictional character.
    In America we have a word for that kind of cowardice: "chickenshit."
    That is certainly not what any member of my family, going back three generations, means/meant when they say/said that.
    Indeed. I called it rhetoric or syntax, but "nuance" is the same thing.

    My wife just came and looked over my shoulder. She agrees with the people who say the two statements are different. She tells me that when she says, "I believe X," she's holding out the possibility that she could be wrong.

    I don't. If I think I could be wrong, I simply say so: "No human has ever lived 130 years. But I'm not an expert in demography, so I could be wrong."

    Of course, my wife doesn't make a living as a writer.

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  7. sideshowbob Sorry, wrong number. Valued Senior Member

    Talk about missing the point.

    I said that I have no belief that a person named Holden Caulfield exists. I could probably surmise that a person named Holden Caulfield exists but a surmise is different from a belief. Lack of belief is not the same as negative belief. belief is more positive than surmise.
  8. StrangerInAStrangeLand SubQuantum Mechanic Valued Senior Member

    They cannot be the same for me since 1 is true & 2 is not. I do not believe there is a god & I do not believe there is not a god. I do not have either belief.
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  9. StrangerInAStrangeLand SubQuantum Mechanic Valued Senior Member

    1 - I do not know there is no Bigfoot.

    2 - I know there is a Bigfoot.

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  10. Daecon Kiwi fruit Valued Senior Member

    In another thread you said:
    To actively declare that you believe x doesn't exist, requires thought and reasoning. To say that you don't believe is, quite rightly, the default position that doesn't require either.
  11. Sarkus Hippomonstrosesquippedalo phobe Valued Senior Member

    Then you would be in error.
    Imagine I have flipped a coin: do you honestly believe it true that it has landed on heads?
    If not then by your thinking you must believe honestly it true that it has landed on tails.
    Or would you rationally conclude that you can not know which it has landed on?

    If you believe that it has landed on tails, or if you conclude that you can not know, then it would be a true statement to say that you do not believe that it has landed on heads.
    No, disbelief is also to not have a positive belief at all, and "I believe in the non-existence..." is a positive belief in the non-existence.
    Then I would suggest you visit the religion forum more often, given that the vast majority of atheists who debate on there are of the "weak" atheism variety, and only one or two ardent "strong" atheists.
    The term atheism seems to have developed and widened since you stuck it in your vocabulary.
    While most atheists I know wouldn't say what you suggest, the vast majority I know are also agnostic, and their agnosticism means that they are unable to give a position of belief in either the existence or nonexistence of God, and hence it is true for them to say that they do not believe in the existence of God, yet they an not say that they believe in the non-existence of God.
    As others have explained, one would be true, the other not. Because their IS informational difference between the two.
    As has been shown in hue heir explanations to you, yes they reply with a coherent answer, although one can never stipulate for every person to be able to comprehend it.
    No. Clearly. And your use of identical sentences is a false analogy.
    No, it is the simple state of being able to grasp the difference between the two sentences, and also a rather important distinction in the philosophical area of epistemology and ontology.
    Just because you're struggling to grasp what others can is no excuse to dismiss the difference as the result of some deterioration in scholarship. To do so smacks of elitism and does you no favours.
    For someone who clearly considers himself of superior education, you suffer from a distinct lack grace and humility.
    To dismiss others' philosophical position in such a manner is also simply insulting.
    If only everything we learnt came from the past three generations of our families rather than any broader reach.

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    But my family also didn't/don't see any difference. Until I explained it to them. Now some do understand the difference. Others, who are stuck in their ways, don't.
    And that invalidates her view, or means she is definitely wrong?
    You may make a living as a writer, but in this matter you seem incapable of seeing a significant difference in the sentences that others can.
  12. StrangerInAStrangeLand SubQuantum Mechanic Valued Senior Member

    Declaring that you believe X does not exist should require thought & reasoning.
  13. Hipparchia Registered Senior Member

    I agree with each point Sarkus has made. Here are a couple of other points and perhaps some of the same points from a slightly different perspective.
    Yet several independent people have no difficulty at all in stating that they see a difference in the meaning of the sentences and - when we compare those discerned meanings - we find that they are the same.

    I realize the following remark is implicitly rude, but unfortunately it seems to be accurate. Your position seems little different from the creationist, conspiracy theorist, or Big Bang denier, who discounts something because they cannot see, or imagine it. I am not well schooled in logical fallacies, but that seems something like Argument from Incredulity, or Argument from Ignorance.

    Either way, the upshot of your statement is that you think others are wrong because you cannot see what they see.

    Is this another logical fallacy? I don't know, but it looks like the one I have heard called the Strawman Fallacy. I too do not think I could explain the difference to the groups/individuals you name, but:
    1. I don't rule out the possibility that someone else might be able to do it.
    2. Of more importance, there are many concepts that we would all readily agree on that could not be conveyed to these people, because their culture, philosophy, etc. lack the terminology and the perspectives to grasp them.

    What seems to me - and I may be completely wrong - is that militant atheism has clouded your ability to look at the structure of the example sentences and required you to focus on their content. I am confident that something is clouding your judgement.

    And why should I not count Charles, just because he is disabled? Does his inability to walk invalidate his opinion?

    I used to call myself an agnostic, but after reading many discussions on several forums, I realised I was what is called, by what appears to be a majority of individuals and authorities, a weak atheist.

    The discussions I have seen have contained some nonsense (it is the internet), but those describing the differences between strong and weak atheism have contained many sound arguments.

    You are arguing that because you have not seen such a discussion, and you have not met any weak atheists, apart from Charles, and you cannot discern a difference between the two sentences, and you couldn't explain a difference to someone from an entirely different culture, that therefore any one who thinks otherwise is wrong. Do you see the problem with that approach? Self confidence is a wonderful thing. Intractable belief based on personal opinion is less attractive.

    There we go with the personal incredulity thing again. There are more things Horatio........

    What is sad is that someone who purports to be an expert in these matters seems to base his position on what he can understand, upon what he has experienced directly, on what he can imagine as possible and ignores what others have told him can be understood, has been experienced and is possible.

    I wasn't clear exactly what you were calling cowardice, but it appeared to be directed at anyone who was afraid to hold doubts and then actually express these. You seemed to be referring to weak atheists, whom you doubt exist, unless they are in wheelchairs. You mistakenly think they avoid declaring their atheism in order not to offend.

    You have made your mind up as to what constitutes cowardice and as professional writer, making their living from the craft, and being assured that you cannot imagine anyone being serious about such ridiculous ideas, and not having met anyone - other than Charles - who actually exhibits this pathology, then you can safely conclude we are all wrong.

    I bet she and Charles get on pretty well, given you discount their opinions, since they are not those of a professional writer who is unable to discern differences others can see, and are based on things they have imagined, or experienced that you cannot imagine and have not experienced.

    FR, I do appreciate you returning to the thread to explain why you said what you said. I thank you for that. However, the explanation places you in a bad light, as someone so confident of their own position that they view anyone with a contrary view as a fool. Since you seem determined not to be persuaded it would likely be fruitless of me to contribute further to this thread. I do remain open to persuasion that I am mistaken on all this, but it will have to be achieved by something other than "I'm an expert, so there."

    Thank you again for your time.
  14. StrangerInAStrangeLand SubQuantum Mechanic Valued Senior Member

    1 - I do not believe the defendant is guilty.

    2 - I believe the defendant is innocent.

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  15. Sarkus Hippomonstrosesquippedalo phobe Valued Senior Member

    Hipparchia, just a quick clarification on FR's mention of Charles as a "weak atheist"...
    FR was meaning that Charles is an atheist like all his other friends, but can be considered "weak" because he is physically weak and in a wheelchair.
    FR is not saying that Charles is a philosophical "weak" atheist but can be dismissed due to being in a wheelchair, but that Charles is an atheist who is weak (physically).
  16. Hipparchia Registered Senior Member

    That one went completely over my head. Thank you for correcting me. It does explain what otherwise seemed a very peculiar statement.
  17. Fraggle Rocker Staff Member

    And you amateurs think your language skills are better than mine.

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  18. sideshowbob Sorry, wrong number. Valued Senior Member

    Maybe it would help if you would comment on the differences and/or similarities between disbelief, unbelief and non-belief.
  19. StrangerInAStrangeLand SubQuantum Mechanic Valued Senior Member

    Which amateur said that?

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  20. Daecon Kiwi fruit Valued Senior Member

    It's discouraging that you appear to be avoiding the discussion and ignoring the points that several of us have raised regarding the difference between no belief and negative belief.
  21. Daecon Kiwi fruit Valued Senior Member

    Last edited: Jun 14, 2015
  22. James R Just this guy, you know? Staff Member

    I think Sarkus's coin-toss example is a good one. I toss a coin, but don't show you the result. Now you say:

    1. I believe the coin does not show heads.


    2. I do not believe the coin shows heads.

    Are these statements equivalent, or not?

    In case (1), it seems to me that I must conclude that you believe that the coin shows tails.
    In case (2), I can conclude either that you believe that the coin shows tails or that you don't know whether it is heads or tails (but perhaps you guess it might be tails).

    And how about this statement:

    3. I do not believe the coin shows heads and I do not believe that it shows tails.

    Is it possible to make such a statement, or nonsensical? (Note: I'm assuming the coin can't land on its edge or something like that.)

    And compare (3) to:

    4. I do not believe that the coin shows heads or tails.


    5. I believe that the coin shows neither heads nor tails.

    Are (4) and (5) equivalent? Is their meaning the same as (3)?
  23. Fraggle Rocker Staff Member

    No disrespect is intended. As I have said several times, I find no substantive difference between the two terms. Your examples were, presumably, crafted so as to make the difference obvious, yet as I noted at least once before, I find absolutely no substantive difference, either obvious or subtle. The only difference I see is in style or rhetoric.

    I don't know what else to say. If I were your composition professor and you submitted a paper with that sentence, I would send it back for correction. If it was the basis of your argument, I would point out that your argument stands unsupported.
    The three words are not quite on the same spectrum of meaning, so comparing them is awkward. In addition, they have multiple interpretations.
    • A belief is a conviction, an opinion--but it's also the thing you believe in. Yet it's also used to express faith or confidence in something whose veracity is difficult or impossible to test. So from the scientific perspective we (hopefully) adopt on SciForums, this makes the word rather useless. If I say "I believe that the veterinarian will cure my dog's ailment and he'll be strong and healthy and will come home next week," unless you know me very well, you have no idea whether, from consultations with the vet, I see no reason why my dog won't be okay; or, on the other hand, I'm just hoping for the best.
    • Disbelief is usually used (at least here in the USA) to mean astonishment (I stared in disbelief at the seven police cars surrounding Mr. Jones as he slowly headed for the supermarket in his wheel chair) or simply skepticism (the President's assurance that there will be no American deaths in the conflict in Crapistan was met with almost unanimous disbelief by the reporters in the room).
    • Unbelief is an awkward word, seldom heard in my country except when it means skepticism or sheer dismissal of religious claims.
    This appears to be a position crafted by non-scientists. Every scientist knows that one of the basic rules of the Scientific Method is that it is never necessary to prove a negative. If the supernaturalists can provide no evidence to support their claim (only the tortilla, out of millions fried every year, with a scorch mark said to be the image of a biblical figure of whom no portraits exist against which to compare it), then we are not only welcome, but urged to ignore their assertions.

    And of course, let's never forget another cornerstone of the Scientific Method, the Rule of Laplace: extraordinary assertions must be supported by extraordinary evidence before we are obliged to treat them with respect.

    Atheism is simply the rational response to the unsubstantiated, extraordinary claims of the theists: absolutely no respect!
    Again, this passage could not have been written by a scientist. It is not necessary to prove a negative. The burden of proof falls on the looney-bird religionist with his worthless degree from Ambassador College to provide the evidence to support his preposterous assertions.
    Obviously yet another wacky offshoot of philosophy that earns no respect from us scientists.
    Indeed. The need for evidence falls on the one who makes a positive assertion.

    If this were not true, if we were obliged to test every crackpot hypothesis that is brought to the gates of the academy with no respectable evidence, then the academy would exhaust its entire annual budget in two days and there'd be no resources left to test the proper, scientific hypotheses.
    This is unnecessary. Until a theist finally walks into the academy with evidence of the existence of supernatural creatures and events, the only statement we have to make is: "Your hypothesis will not be tested until you provide supporting evidence. Since your hypothesis is remarkable, your evidence had also better be remarkable. Don't bother saving that tortilla."

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    The "strong atheists" who are quoted here are obviously not scientists. They don't seem to understand that there is no requirement to disprove an assertion that is presented without evidence.
    Well sure, if we want to spend the time to play that game.
    • The word "universe" means "everything that exists."
    • If God has the abilities required to create a universe, then he must surely exist.
    • If God exists, then he is part of the universe.
    • Then God must have created himself.
    • This is an obvious fallacy.
    • Therefore the premise that God created the universe is false.
    I see the strong and weak atheists having an interesting discussion, but it doesn't clear the air on the original question about the various ways to express the atheist position.

    This was an interesting post to compose. Nonetheless, I find nothing related to our original argument: Is there a difference in meaning (rather than subtext) between the statements "I believe that God does not exist" and "God does not exist"?

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