Monday, October 17, 2011

Review of Rosenberg

My review of Alex Rosenberg’s new book The Atheist’s Guide to Reality appears in the November issue of First Things.  (Unfortunately, the review is behind a pay wall, or I’d link to it.)  If you want a sense of what the book is like, first consider all the ludicrous implications that I argue follow from scientism in chapters 5 and 6 of The Last Superstition; and then consider someone taking (at least some of) those implications, not as a reductio ad absurdum of scientism, but as a set of surprising consequences that every atheist should happily embrace.   Whatever else one could say about him, Rosenberg is more consistent than other naturalists.  For that reason the book deserves a wide readership.  Those beholden to scientism should know that they are committing themselves to a position that is absolutely bizarre, and indeed utterly incoherent. 

We have had reason to discuss Rosenberg’s ideas before (here, here, and here), when considering an essay of his that first sketched out the themes he now develops at greater length in the book.  We will have reason to consider them further, for I intend in a series of future posts to analyze the book in greater detail than I had space for in the review.  Stay tuned.

50 comments:

david d said...

obviously i havent read it yet but, just looking at the table of contents on amazon, it seems he's going to argue that materialism entails moral and existential nihilism and also that the brain as a material object does all its own causal work and reasons play no role (which is what people like lewis, plantinga, reppert have been arguing materialism implies for years).. definitely have to read!

DNW said...

Seconding the former commenter, this book is one I'd like to read more about as well.

The more blatant and un-hedged the better.


"The Atheist's Guide to Reality: Enjoying Life without Illusions"

Nice title. For many, it seems the implied method of doing so is through securing a taxpayer funded niche.

"How to have your cake and eat it too: the Geek's guide to nihilism on the other guy's dime."

Anonymous said...

Does he talk a good deal about naturalists who try to secure things like morality, free will, meaning, and purpose (e.g., Dawkins, Harris, and Hitchens)?

Felix said...

Whether or not he mentions Dawkins et al, it'll still be an implcit blow to their Soviet/Nazi style agitprop campaign. I've only read Prof Feser's post on Rosenberg, and if that's anything to go by, then there is no such thing as "rationality" or "morality" however defined.

Anonymous said...

Listen to Rosenberg's incoherent ramblings here:
http://www.philostv.com/owen-flanagan-and-alex-rosenberg/

The guy is a hoot, at least he tries to look nice for the camera.

Aquinas3000 said...

I wonder how he explains why it should be nice nihilism and not, well, un-nice nihilism. He's not all the way there yet. As Nietzsche said "why good? why not no good?" One could say "why nice? why not no nice?"

Anonymous said...

Very good review, I really enjoyed it. Honestly, I don't know why someone like that writes a book in the first place. If nothing matters and nothing beyond the material is real, then there is no point in writing a book, there is no "person" to write one, and there are no "other people" to read it.

Why in the world would someone's nerves and firing neurons compel him to write a book -- or read one? Sadly for Rosenberg and his publisher, my neurons compel me to NOT buy a copy. Nothing personal, you understand. I can't help myself.

Gail Finke

E.H. Munro said...

You know, I've said something similar for years:

"I've often wondered why people that profess a strict beleif in biological determinism waste their time trying to convince me that they're right. If you believe in your own non-existence, why would you expect me to believe in your existence enough to consider the arguments that you're not making because you don't really exist?"

Brian said...

Hey, Dr. Feser. Can you please weigh in on what atheism actually MEANS? I get really confused when all of these different definitions are thrown around.

BeingItself said...

Brian,

Words do not have inherent meanings.

If you hear or read a person use the word 'atheism', and you don't understand, then just ask for a clarification of what they mean in that context.

Edward Feser in no authority on the meaning of words. No person is.

(Although a person can be an authority on word usage.)

Anonymous said...

Brian:

---

"‘Atheism’ means the negation of theism, the denial of the existence of God." - Stanford Encyclopedia of Philosophy, 2004

"Atheism, from the Greek a-theos ("no-god"), is the philosophical position that God doesn't exist." - Academic American Encyclopedia

"Atheism (from the Greek a-, not, and theos, god) is the view that there are no gods. A widely used sense denotes merely not believing in God and is consistent with agnosticism. A stricter sense denotes a belief that there is no God, the use has become the standard one." - Cambridge Dictionary of Philosophy, 1995

"Atheism is the doctrine that there is no God. Some atheists support this claim by arguments, but these arguments are usually directed against the Christian concept of God, and are largely irrelevant to other possible gods." - Oxford Companion to Philosophy, 1995

"Atheism (Greek, a- [private prefix] + theos, god) is the view that there is no divine being, no God." - Dictionary of Philosophy, Thomas Mautner, 1996

"Atheism is the belief that God doesn't exist." - The World Book Encyclopedia, 1991

"Atheism, commonly speaking, is the denial of God. Theism (from the Greek theos, God) is belief in or conceptualization of God, atheism is the rejection of such belief or conceptualization." - Encyclopedia Americana, 1990

"Atheism is the doctrine that God does not exist, that belief in the existence of God is a false belief. The word God here refers to a divine being regarded as the independent creator of the world, a being superlatively powerful, wise and good." - Encyclopedia of Religion, 1987

"According to the most usual definition, an atheist is a person who maintains that there is no god..." - The Encyclopedia of Philosophy, 1967

"Atheism (Greek and Roman): Atheism is a dogmatic creed, consisting in the denial of every kind of supernatural power." - Encyclopedia of Religion and Ethics, Vol II

"Atheism denies the existence of deity." - Funk and Wagnall's New Encyclopedia, Vol I

----



Notice that atheism is not merely a "lack of belief" in the existence of God. It is not just *disbelief* in the proposition "God exists," but is rather the outright *denial* or negation of that proposition.

Notice that I didn't peddle definitions from wikipedia, dictionary.com, or some popular-level, anti-religious screed a la The God Delusion.

Notice that I consulted scholarly reference works, especially works in academic philosophy. "Atheism" is a strictly philosophical term denoting a strictly philosophical position, and therefore reference works in academic philosophy are the ultimate reference point as to what the word actually means, in much the same way as medical dictionaries and encyclopedias supersede lay, ordinary dictionaries and encyclopedias on issues pertaining to medicine.

And notice that there is no mention of "strong atheism," "weak atheism," "agnostic atheist," "agnostic theist," or any other such contemptible, unscholarly, linguistically unsightly piffle.



Also, while am at it, I must say something to any modern, so-called "atheist" who happen across this post:

If the above definitions of "atheism" do not characterize anything within your mental network, you are simply not an atheist, and therefore should not style yourself as such. Do us all a favor and give up the label "atheist" so that the contemporary philosophical and religious debates can have a much-needed increased measure of clarity.

Josh said...

Also, while am at it, I must say something to any modern, so-called "atheist" who happen across this post:

If the above definitions of "atheism" do not characterize anything within your mental network, you are simply not an atheist, and therefore should not style yourself as such. Do us all a favor and give up the label "atheist" so that the contemporary philosophical and religious debates can have a much-needed increased measure of clarity.


Hear freaking hear. An agnostic claiming to be an atheist is a coward who wants all the benefits of the house name but won't fight to earn them.

Brian said...

Anon @ 4:38PM

What confuses me about the the "new" definition of atheism is that it really does not propose anything about the existence of God but rather about a person's "mental state," for lack of a better term. The person neither believes in the existence of God, nor does he believe that God does not exist. He has no belief. He lacks belief. An immediate question about this definition is how such a "mental state" is really possible. How can anyone, besides those unable to think due to lack of development, disorder, or injury, not have a belief about the existence of God? Is that really possible?

Since you seem to have some experience, Anon, on this, I would like to know your answers to the following questions:

1) What are the reasons that atheists have for offering this definition?

2) Are these reasons any good?

3) Can the definitions of words change? If so, does that mean that our complaint is moot?

4) Is this semantical argument really worth having? Should we just concede the definition?

Anyone else can answer, of course.

Brian said...

BeingItself, why did you bother responding? If words do not have inherent meaning, how could you expect me to understand you?

BenYachov said...

As Prof Bill Vallicella points out the whole problem with New Atheists dogmatically and exclusively defining Atheism in terms of negative Atheism (i.e. I lack God-belief) is Theists can pull the same crap.

There is no reason why we can't define Theism as lack of "No God" belief & thus claim we don't have to prove or assert anything since our belief is solely in the negative.

What is sauce for the Gnu Goose is sauce for the Theistic Gander.

BenYachov said...

>Words do not have inherent meanings.

Then neither do the words above these words have any meaning.

>Edward Feser in no authority on the meaning of words.

Ditto!

You know my friends I think BeingItself has just vindicated Feser's critique of Rosenberg with his brief post?

Thought I doubt that was his intention.;-)

Classic!!!!

BeingItself said...

Brian,

You understood me because words acquire meaning(s) by how they were used.

You and Ben are both confused.

I did not say words do not have meaning.

Of course words have meaning.

I said words do not have inherent meaning. The meanings of words can change over time and across contexts.

StoneTop said...

‘Atheism’ means the negation of theism, the denial of the existence of God." - Stanford Encyclopedia of Philosophy, 2004

Then isn't afairyism the denial of the existence of faries?

"Atheism is the doctrine that there is no God. Some atheists support this claim by arguments, but these arguments are usually directed against the Christian concept of God, and are largely irrelevant to other possible gods." - Oxford Companion to Philosophy, 1995

Sure... as the term "god" is quite ambiguous. The Romans believed for a time that their emperors were deities... and I don't know of anyone who denies that the Roman emperors existed (the same goes for those who believe that the sun or the moon are gods).

"Atheism, commonly speaking, is the denial of God. Theism (from the Greek theos, God) is belief in or conceptualization of God, atheism is the rejection of such belief or conceptualization." - Encyclopedia Americana, 1990

Again the curious use of the term "denial"... though the second part does have some merit.

"Atheism (Greek and Roman): Atheism is a dogmatic creed, consisting in the denial of every kind of supernatural power." - Encyclopedia of Religion and Ethics, Vol II

Which dogma is that? All atheism requires is that one not believe in an deities.

Notice that atheism is not merely a "lack of belief" in the existence of God. It is not just *disbelief* in the proposition "God exists," but is rather the outright *denial* or negation of that proposition.

That is really a rather odd way to put it... how does the *disbelief* in the proposition differ from the negation of the proposition?

in much the same way as medical dictionaries and encyclopedias supersede lay, ordinary dictionaries and encyclopedias on issues pertaining to medicine.

eh, not as such... a Medical dictionary may give the medically accepted definition for something, but such definitions are grounded in objective fact, while Philosophy has no such ground to fall back on.

And notice that there is no mention of "strong atheism," "weak atheism," "agnostic atheist," "agnostic theist," or any other such contemptible, unscholarly, linguistically unsightly piffle.

Which is why I find your offered definitions to be rather weak... atheism, being the lack of belief in the existence of deities, is as broad a topic as theism.

If the above definitions of "atheism" do not characterize anything within your mental network, you are simply not an atheist, and therefore should not style yourself as such.

Or your cherry-picked definitions build up a strawman view of atheism, one that hardly represents such a diverse grouping.

With the simple question being: what term would you use to describe someone who does not believe in any deities?

Brian said...

Hey, StoneTop, how old are you? Just curious.

Anonymous said...

"...... how does the *disbelief* in the proposition differ from the negation of the proposition?"

A: "I currently don't hold a belief that aliens exist."

A: "I deny that aliens exist."


Hope you can see the difference.

BenYachov said...

>I said words do not have inherent meaning. The meanings of words can change over time and across contexts.

I would not disagree with that but then what is your point if any?

BenYachov said...

>Or your cherry-picked definitions build up a strawman view of atheism,

Of course you have never done that with theism now have you Tops?;-)

Ah Gnu'Atheist hypocrisy got to love it!

>but such definitions are grounded in objective fact, while Philosophy has no such ground to fall back on.

Nonsense it is an objectively grounded fact Aquinas understood the term "motus" to refer to a potency becoming actual and not physical movement per say.

Stone Tops you are not educated. I doubt you graduated High School much less college. Stop pretending you know what you are talking about. You are not fooling or persuading any of us who do.

James said...

My perfect happiness, at least with respect to the subject of atheism and its definitions, would be obtained if only atheists (considered as a loose community) could settle on what it means to be atheist. I have read claims that atheism implies (1) a mere lack of belief in any deity; (2) a probabilistic belief that it is very likely no deity exists; (3) a positive denial that any deity exists; (4) not a belief at all but rather a broad outlook that concerns denial of, not merely gods, but supernatural claims generally.

I have participated in message board discussions in which multiple individuals, communicating concurrently, relied on multiple definitions of atheism. This can be terribly confusing. Thus I resign myself to the fact that, if modifiers like strong v. weak catch on, at the very least it will remove an impediment to communication.

On the other hand, it seems counterproductive to claim — steadfastly — that only those who positively deny the existence of all deities should self-identify as atheistic. The gulf between an individual who believes that no gods exist, and an individual who just thinks it unlikely, is rather small in the scheme of things, particularly when their goals coincide (e.g. engaging in apologetics against particular religious views).

Sorry, but that ship has already sailed. Exchanges of the pattern “No, you’re really an agnostic!” “Nuh-uh, I’m an atheist!” only make the underlying definitional problem more severe.

Josh said...

James,

When there is shown a substantial difference between a "weak" atheist and a "strong" agnostic, one that merits the division of terms, I'll agree to your thoughts on obscurantism.

StoneTop said...

Hey, StoneTop, how old are you? Just curious.

The grand olde age of 32.

Of course you have never done that with theism now have you Tops?;-)

Have I ever claimed to define all of theism?

Nonsense it is an objectively grounded fact Aquinas understood the term "motus" to refer to a potency becoming actual and not physical movement per say.

So the assumption of arbitrary axioms without any grounding in observed reality?

StoneTop said...

The gulf between an individual who believes that no gods exist, and an individual who just thinks it unlikely, is rather small in the scheme of things, particularly when their goals coincide (e.g. engaging in apologetics against particular religious views).

Aren't those two closely related? Someone who thinks it is highly unlikely that any deities exist is also quite unlikely to believe in one of those deities (it would be like saying that you believe in Santa Claus and think it is highly unlikely that Santa Claus exists).

BenYachov said...

>Have I ever claimed to define all of theism?

The implied accusation is that it is you who cherry-picked definitions build up a strawman view of Theism or more specifically the God of philosophy.

Wow you can't even remember what you write? Thus indicates you have nothing serious to say here.

At this point I vote Tops be treated like djindra.

Ignore him. He is a troll.

>So the assumption of arbitrary axioms without any grounding in observed reality?

Funny as hell & ironic to boot.

smell ya later Gnu.

Martin said...

Stone Top,

Then isn't afairyism the denial of the existence of faries?

I do deny the existence of fairies and I would argue that you do too. We know from evolutionary history and the fossil record that there is no support for small winged humans. I would be more than happy taking the position that fairies do not exist.

djindra said...

StoneTop,

"So the assumption of arbitrary axioms without any grounding in observed reality?"

Yes, that's about it. And it's why they can never come close to settling matters.

Verbose Stoic said...

Josh,

"When there is shown a substantial difference between a "weak" atheist and a "strong" agnostic, one that merits the division of terms, I'll agree to your thoughts on obscurantism."

Well, since the term "agnostic" and "atheist" actually apply to two completely different positions, that should be easy to show.

Agnostism applies to a position on the epistemic status of the proposition, in this case "God exists". Agnostics thinks that it is at least currently unknowable whether the proposition is true. Strong agnostics go further and claim that it is unknowable in principle.

Atheism apples to a position on the TRUTH VALUE of the proposition; do you think it true or false? Atheists do not think it true. Strong atheists go one step further and think it false.

I, personally, am indeed one of those piffley agnostic theists, and that breaks down to:

a) Strong agnostic: I think the truth value of the proposition is unknowable in principle.

b) Weak theist: Thus, I do not claim knowledge, but still maintain belief (ie I think it true).

djindra said...

Anonymous,

"‘Atheism’ means the negation of theism, the denial of the existence of God." - Stanford Encyclopedia of Philosophy, 2004

If you read the article it hedges. Besides, the article was written by J. J. C. Smart -- it's the opinion of one man. There is no definition of atheism that fits all, just like there's no definition of Christian that fits all.

Josh said...

Verbose Stoic,

I would think strong agnosticism implies weak atheism...so I'll accept your outline of terms. But in everyday parlance, I still hold it's an abuse of language, and atheists get to "straddle the fence" so to speak.

Given your beliefs, what does that make you? A fideist?

jack bodie said...

Verbose Stoic,

Interesting thoughts, but I think your own examples show perhaps Josh has the better of it.

In particular doesn't the law of the excluded middle make what you say about strong vs weak atheism a distinction without a difference?

Also, for consistency where you've written "(ie I think it true)" with respect to weak theism shouldn't you have written (ie I do not think it false)?

Perhaps strong / weak modifiers apply to agnosticism but certainly not to atheism?

Josh said...

Verbose,

I went and had a think. With respect to the truth claim of the proposition "God exists," couldn't one say true, false, or unknown/unknowable? And the positions relative to these answers would be theism, atheism, and agnosticism?

jack bodie said...

Verbose Stoic,

(Just re-read my comment): I hope I didn't come across as merely some pedant trying to tell you how to write!

What I meant to point out was that your weak atheism seems to unpack as "I do not think God Exists is true AND I do not think God Exists is false" to differentiate it from strong atheism.

But then I can see no difference in your scheme between a weak atheist and a weak theist! (ie, to consistently differentiate from strong theism, weak theism must unpack as "I do not think God Exists is false AND I do not think God Exists is true")

Or is there some asymmetry between theism and atheism that I'm missing?

Josh said...

I found something interesting from Boedder's Natural Theology, 1891:

"A dogmatic atheist is one who asserts without doubt, 'There is no God;' whereas a sceptical atheist, commonly called an agnostic, maintains only that we can know nothing definite about the First Cause of things...Dogmatic Atheism is not very common now-a-days, at least among men of culture. Agnostics, we know, are wont to protest very strongly against the designation of atheists being applied to them, and the protest, whether reasonable or not, proves at least this much, that in their estimation the intellectual position of one who should claim to have demonstrated the non-existence of God is altogether irrational. Under these circumstances it is not necessary to consider the practical consequences of Dogmatic Atheism, but only those of Agnosticism. This we call Sceptical Atheism, since the name is one that is founded on truth and required by symmetry. The objection that may be raised to it by agnostics may become less if they will observe that the name atheist taken by itself has been defined to mean one who acts as if there were no God."

Intriguing, no?

BenYachov said...

There are different grades of Agnosticism. Those who say we do not know if there is or is not a God vs those who say we can't know etc....

But the conflation of Atheists with Agnostics or more specifically the New Atheist tendency to conflate them is largely a cheap debaters trick.

The Gnu'Atheist who puts on the mantel of an Agnostic simply doesn't want to take on the burden of making a philosophical case against the existence of God or put in any real effort refuting philosophical arguments for him.

They wish to put the entire burden of argument on the Theist.

They just want to retreat to a kneejerk skepticism with an ever moving goal post standard of truth.

BenYachov said...

Like Dr. Feser said in his review of Rosenberg (I bought a copy of FIRST THINGS NOV 2011). Rosenberg outside of his Scientism doesn't really venture any arguments against Theism. He just wants to treat it like it's no worth considering.

djindra said...

BenYachov,

Like it or not, the burden of proof is on the theist. To turn it the other way around is absurd.

BenYachov said...

>Like it or not, the burden of proof is on the theist. To turn it the other way around is absurd.

Rather it is you that has the burden of proof for your Scientism, Reductionist Materialism, Politicism, Metaphysical Natualism etc...

You treat them as defaults which you hold by faith alone.

That is not convincing & it shows how mentally and intellectually inferior the New Atheism has become.

The old guard Atheists at least would make an attempt of course they knew philosophy unlike the ex-fundies turned fundies without god belief.

Matteo said...

"Like it or not, the burden of proof is on the theist. To turn it the other way around is absurd."

Bull. The burden of proof is on those who proclaim incessantly that unlike the vast bulk of humanity, they've woken up from millenia of superstition.

The burden is on those who style themselves as the enlightened ones who've seen through all the priest-craft and hocus-pocus. On those who are supposed to be the vanguard of an Enlightened Humanity. On those who regard all who disagree as "theotards", "IDiots", "bible thumping Neanderthals", etc, etc, ad nauseum.

For if such really is the case, then the burden is absolutely on them to educate their still-benighted brothers into the truth. Yes?

Otherwise, you know, shush.

StoneTop said...

Rather it is you that has the burden of proof for your Scientism, Reductionist Materialism, Politicism, Metaphysical Natualism etc...

Unless you can demonstrate something that has been shown to directly contradict Naturalism then Metaphysical Naturalism / Reductionist Materialism has so far held 'true'.

BenYachov said...

>Unless you can demonstrate something that has been shown to directly contradict Naturalism then Metaphysical Naturalism / Reductionist Materialism has so far held 'true'.

It is as I said treated as defaults which you hold by faith alone.

Without science which is hypocritical, pathetic and ironic.

New Atheism like religious fundamentalism is for the uneducated and mindlessly dogmatic.

Anonymous said...

Seems that some guy named Steve made a comment on Common Sense Atheism, which according to Rosenberg (who apparently also comments on that blog), looks suspiciously like a part from prof. Feser´s review of Rosenberg´s book. Anyway, Rosenberg doesn´t seem to fancy Feser´s criticism:

Steve: Truth in advertising would require you to acknowledge up-front that your entire post is lifted verbatim from the review of Atheists Guide to REality by a catholic author, Edward Feser, who published it last week as the lead review in the hard copy and on line conservative religious magazine, First Thoughts. The fact that Feser’s critique is a puerile criticism of a very complex argument that he knew perfectly well withstands his silly criticism would not have escaped you if you had bothered to read the book. Posting a silly review as though it were your own thoughts, just makes you look even more superficial than Feser. http://commonsenseatheism.com/?p=16151#comments

Just thought you might want to know...

BenYachov said...

Obviously this Steve person shouldn't go around presenting Feser's criticism as his own without attribution. That is a bonehead move. It's foolish and wrong.

>a puerile criticism of a very complex argument that he knew perfectly well withstands his silly criticism would not have escaped you if you had bothered to read the book.

It would be better if Rosenberg answered a specific critique of Feser's.

(OTOH I didn't read the Blog now did I? I am only responding to the post here. Maybe he has?)

Though after reading Feser's review I do want to read the book.

I want to cite an Atheist philosopher who believes the self doesn't really exists. Free Will doesn't really exist and we have no objective foundation for morals.

I sounds awesome.

BenYachov said...

I just read some of the Post.

The Thomas guy responds to Rosenberg

QUOTE"rosi dear

err… Feser must be spot on; you scientistic slatherers are bereft of subtly, cultural consciousness and irony. Thats what worshipping equations from afar will do for you. “and now for something completely reasonable”… is a take on the (well-known) Monty Python introductory riff to xxxxxxx. Let me spell it out for you dohhh…it was intended as an introduction to the piece, not as my own. too much science maketh the mind only fit for absolute explicitness.

and your take on the piece is just what you would say, now wouldn’t you? but i do detect so much defensiveness that Feser must have hit a few buttons.END QUOTE

Should be interesting drama. I'm going to sit this one out & watch.

Anonymous said...

So Rosenberg shows up to say "Feser sucks. He's Catholic, you know. I'm right, read my book."

Wow, convincing.

Martin said...

Alex responded with a quote from his last book, involving "information" and other intentionality. So I quoted Feser's post on "Misinformation Campaign."

I really want to read this book, now. Right to the top of my wishlist.

Verbose Stoic said...

Josh and jack,

Sorry for not replying earlier; I'd actually forgotten that I'd commented here on it [grin].

"Given your beliefs, what does that make you? A fideist?"

As I said, an agnostic theist: I believe that God exists but think the proposition unknowable. I don't think my position is based on faith, precisely because I don't think I KNOW that God exists.

That, to me, is the difference between a strong and a weak theist as well: strong theists claim to KNOW that God exists, weak theists don't. Which doesn't align well with strong/weak atheist, I know ...

"In particular doesn't the law of the excluded middle make what you say about strong vs weak atheism a distinction without a difference?"

I fail to see how. Weak atheists merely lack belief; strong atheists take it further and believe in lack. That differentiates them from weak theists who believe in and so do not lack belief.

"I went and had a think. With respect to the truth claim of the proposition "God exists," couldn't one say true, false, or unknown/unknowable? And the positions relative to these answers would be theism, atheism, and agnosticism?"

Why can't you say, though "I believe false but do not know false" or "I believe true but do not know true"? If I can do that, then it becomes clear that the terms aren't talking about the same position; agnosticism is about what you (can) know; theism/atheism is about what you believe. You can do what you suggest, then, but it doesn't seem all that helpful or useful.

"But then I can see no difference in your scheme between a weak atheist and a weak theist! (ie, to consistently differentiate from strong theism, weak theism must unpack as "I do not think God Exists is false AND I do not think God Exists is true")"

Well, in that case, as stated, it unpacks as "I believe that God exists is true but do not know that God exists is true". In order to be a theist, you must believe that God exists. But that doesn't mean that you have to claim to know it. You might claim from that that agnosticism and weak theism would always be aligned (as it might be for weak atheism as well) but agnosticism is slightly stronger in that it usually doesn't claim merely "I don't know" but also more of a "I can't know, either based on current data or in principle".

But one clearly does not have to be a strong agnostic to be a weak theist or a weak atheist.

Verbose Stoic said...

"Like it or not, the burden of proof is on the theist. To turn it the other way around is absurd."

The burden of proof is on the person making a claim, so if someone -- say, a strong atheist -- wants to claim that God does not exist they certainly have the burden to prove that if they want anyone else to accept that conclusion or that that is a or the rational conclusion.