In a couple of recent posts, James pointed out that the logical positivist position that statements about God are meaningless applies equally to statements that God does not exist. Some commenters suggested that this only applies to hard atheism, the assertion that God does not exist. It does not, however, apply to soft atheism, which simply means that one lacks any belief in God. See here and here including the comments.
I don't understand exactly what is meant by lacking a belief. For myself, I find my belief or disbelief isn't a simple matter, but works on a scale or field so that I believe some things more strongly or weakly than others and the same holds for things I disbelieve. In the middle area is indecision or agnosticism, where I neither believe nor disbelieve, although even here there is often a leaning towards belief or disbelief. Presumably it would be incumbent upon me to explain why I place a particular claim where it is in the scale. This is obviously a simplification, as the border areas are fuzzy, and a weakly-held belief can have some positive characteristics that a strongly-held belief lacks. Yet nowhere in this spectrum do I find anything I could accurately call "lacking a belief."
However, outside of the spectrum I do find something like this. Were someone to ask me if I believe some random concept I hadn't heard or thought of before -- like whether there is an advanced civilization of penguins on the fourth planet orbiting Sirius -- I would place my belief in this somewhere in the spectrum. But prior to having this concept presented to me, it wouldn't be true to say I disbelieved it or was agnostic about it, much less that I believed it. Here I could accurately say I lacked a belief in this concept. But to make the point clearer, once I heard the idea I could no longer claim to lack a belief in it. I either believe it, disbelieve it, or am agnostic about it.
So this is why I'm confused by people who say they lack a belief in God. They have clearly heard of the idea; they're actively discussing it. Yet they specifically distinguish themselves from agnostics who say that they neither believe nor disbelieve in God, as well as from hard atheists who simply disbelieve. So, again, I don't understand exactly what they mean by this. I find no room in myself to say I lack a belief in something I have heard of. I have to agree with James: soft atheism looks like an attempt to disbelieve in God without having to go through all the rigamarole of having any reasons for it. It looks like an insistence to believe and disbelieve whatever you want regardless of the way things actually are.
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