22 October 2019

Do you believe in God(s): Yes, No, or Other?

"Do you believe in God (however you choose to define that entity or those entities)?" 

A dichotomous version of this question would allow only "Yes" or "No" as responses. 
But doesn't this create a false dichotomy?

In particular, if I respond "No", someone might respond, "Ah, so you are an atheist, you believe there is no god".  

But that's not what I'm saying at all. I'm merely saying that I do not hold a belief in God. That is not the same as saying I hold a belief that there are no gods.

There is some ambiguity in the original version of the question "Do you believe in a god?"

One version is "Do you hold (or have) a belief in God?" To which I can legitimately respond, "Yes" or "No".
The other version is: "Does God exist?" To which a more nuanced response may be justified.
  • There is a god (affirmative)
  • There is no god (atheist)
  • I don't know (or "idk" online) (agnostic)
  • I don't care (apathetic)
The first version of the disambiguated question ("do you hold a belief in God") really hinges around the issue of whether a belief exists in me or not. And it seems self-evident that I should know whether I hold a belief or not. And that the truth of whether I hold a belief or not is for me to know, and for you to find out if and only if I tell you!
The second version ("does God exist?") hinges around whether God exists or not. And that can lead to a long and interesting discussion where the truth might never be plumbed.
Seeing the ambiguity better by changing the object
The ambiguity of the original question - and of the correct response - is important to a large degree because of the object: "God".
Consider another question in which I change the object to something like say a number that could be a phone number:
"Do you believe that +61 449 904 499 is a phone number (defined as a currently connected and operational Australian phone number)?"
What's your answer? (No dialling - what is your response without any evidence?).
In this question with a fairly trivial object (a possible phone number instead of a possible deity), you may feel inclined to respond "I don't know" or "Who cares?"
The respondent is saying that they have no belief either way.
So in the case of a non-trivial object such as God, the question could be about whether God exists or whether I hold a belief about God's existence.
And the disambiguation is important because many end up in arguments with others, not because they hold different beliefs per se, but because of a misunderstanding of what a "No" response means. 
"Do you believe in God?"
Are you asking me about the existence of my belief or the existence of God?
My response to the first is "No, I do not hold a belief about God(s)." 
My response to the second is "I don't know whether God(s) exists."
I do not believe in God and I am not an atheist
-- Albert Camus
I want to say to an agnostic, what's your best guess then?
Ricky Gervais making the case that you cannot be agnostic about God (7'40"-8'35")

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