The Raving Theist

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Evangelical Agnosticism

February 15, 2006 | 57 Comments

Agnosticism, I have argued, is philosophically inferior to either atheism or theism. Its flaws are magnified when it takes the form of evangelical agnosticism, a somewhat schizophrenic religion popular across the blogosphere. Evangelical agnosticism is frequently characterized by (1) a tendency to attack the “arrogance” of evangelical atheists, (2) a near-complete, but unexpressed, acceptance of atheism, (3) the elevation of “arrogance” to the worst of all possible moral failings, (4) expressions of respect and sympathy for religious people, (5) a barely-veiled contempt for the intelligence of religious people, (6) a refusal to engage in actual philosophical debate over theology, (7) the adoption of weak theological arguments that no religion actually employs, and (8) a rejection of agnostic principles as applied to any subject matter other than theology. I recently stumbled across this post (from last March) which illustrates of some of these tenets:

Religious faith is stupid. That’s why I’m so certain there’s no God.

Anyone who’s lived in a Blue State has probably encountered the problem of the Evangelical Atheist . . . the person who has discovered the Void and considers it their bounden duty to share their newfound joy with everyone around them, through force if necessary. Having lived in the born again Christian wing of my freshman dorm, I find that EA’s, not fundamentalists, seem to be the undisputed champions of arrogant, intolerant, pig-headed religious boorishness. The fundamentalists who so earnestly tried to bring me into the fold were, after all, just trying to save me from an awful eternity in hell. The EA’s are trying to save people from wasting two hours on Sunday morning. And no fundamentalist I’ve ever met has ever been so thoroughly oblivious to the possibility that they might be wrong.

Other than the suggestion that it’s somehow impossible to be certain about anything, the author doesn’t explain why she believes either side is in error, or to what degree. But it’s clear that her intellectual sympathy is with the atheist view: the notion of an eternity in hell is a joke to her. She takes it no more seriously than she would the theory of a crackpot who told her that upon rounding the corner the Earth would part and she’d be sucked into the Land of Oz. And yet she condemns the atheist is arrogant, intolerant and pig-headed for expressing the same degree of certainty as she. It seems to me that the theist view in this case — the promotion of an afterlife scenario unsupported by a shred of evidence and contradicted by every thing we’ve observed about death — is far more arrogant. Just as person promoting sugar water as a treatment for diabetes would be the more arrogant participant in a debate over the merits of insulin, notwithstanding the certainty or obnoxiousness of the doctor presenting the opposing view.

Note also the tacit assumption that the fundamentalists should be shielded from challenge or mockery because of their earnestness and sincerity. The notion here is that atheists shouldn’t bully theists because believers are stupid baby sheeple incapable a comprehending the simplest logical argument. Yet in a later post she endorses the idea that the citizenry should submit alternative “creation stories” (think: Flying Spaghetti Monster) to combat the intrusion of creationism into the public school curriculum. That project is no less offensive to the religious than calling them stupid to their faces.

Later in the original post she gives an “amen” to a passage from another blog’s post criticizing atheistic arrogance. It illustrates the last two listed evangelical agnostic principles:

I wonder if this has anything to do with the fact that socialism and atheism seem to go hand in hand? There must be a certain humility in believing there is a higher power than you, at least when you believe you do not know for sure what that higher power’s purpose is for you, or even if it has one. Certainly some people believe that God talks to them and only to them. However, it takes a special kind of arrogance to believe that you (or any human for that matter) can direct an economy. This is the same kind of arrogance that allows one to say with certainty “there is no God” and that others should join the “reality-based community.”

There is no religion I have heard of that is based upon a deity that doesn’t have (or won’t reveal) its purposes or desires — much less a religion which holds that humility flows from ignorance of God’s will. The standard model is of a God that has revealed very clearly what it wants, and humbles us by threatening to wield His power to punish us for disobedience. The certainty and arrogance in such cases is just as strong as that of the most evangelical atheist. But the issue isn’t humility or arrogance, but who is correct. And the agnostic who asserts theism and atheism are equally plausible is both arrogant and wrong.

I won’t address the bizarre equation of atheism and socialism (see here for that), but will note that no economist — even one who is evangelically agnostic with respect to religion — would tolerate agnosticism with respect to his own area of expertise. I might believe that the economy could be fixed, and poverty eliminated, by printing up a billion dollars for each and every person, but if I attempted to argue the point at any length I’d rightfully be called stupid. No one would accuse the economist of arrogant, intolerant pig-headedness for judging me as such, or of expressing certainty regarding the superiority of his view over mine.

Comments

57 Responses to “Evangelical Agnosticism”

  1. Mookie
    February 15th, 2006 @ 6:34 pm

    Good post RA, glad you finally got your head out of your ass.

    Agnosticism is wishy-washy, spineless, and useless. I wonder if there are hundreds of three-eyed invisible monsters working on hundreds of extra-dimensional calculators in my CPU. I have no positive proof of their existence, so cannot claim that they exist. But, considering there may still be as yet unfound evidence, I will conclude that these creatures may still exist, so my position remains open. Just like with Elvis, UFO abductions, the Loch Ness monster, and all sorts of other absurdities, belief in the possibility of supernatural deities is pointless and retarded. It represents a small tear with reality that could expand into a chasm, leaving the person as spineless and confused as their thinking.

  2. Seth
    February 15th, 2006 @ 6:45 pm

    Ha, she said that fundamentalists are humble. How delightfully depressing.

  3. Jeff Guinn
    February 15th, 2006 @ 9:23 pm

    Mookie:

    I disagree. To be an agnostic is to conclude the question of some supreme being’s existence is simply unanswerable.

    Nothing wishy washy about that.

    And every reason not to buy anyone’s line of nonsense on this issue.

  4. Tenspace
    February 15th, 2006 @ 9:39 pm

    Jeff, isn’t concluding that the question of a supreme being’s existence unanswerable the same as accepting that one could exist? In other words, by leaving the question of a deity’s existence open, you are also leaving all the tenets, dogma, ritual and such that goes with religion unchallenged.

    That’s where the atheist and agnostic differ, and that’s why the atheist sees you as a fence-sitter.

  5. Mookie
    February 15th, 2006 @ 9:47 pm

    Jeff,

    “To be an agnostic is to conclude the question of some supreme being’s existence is simply unanswerable.”

    If you think humans should seriously consider the existence of ill-defined supernatural deities, then we should also investigate those invisible monsters that inhabit my CPU, proving a negative can’t be all that hard. You could say the same thing for any unprovable thing, which is why agnosticism is useless. Not all claims deserve consideration, which is why agnosticism is wishy washy. Some people label themselves agnostic because it is less offensive to people than being an atheist, which is why agnosticism is spineless.

    Some people require a bit more than outrageous claims before they apply brainpower to figuring things out.

  6. Choobus
    February 15th, 2006 @ 10:23 pm

    agnostics are just atheists without balls.

  7. Marcus
    February 16th, 2006 @ 12:24 am

    Good post. This issue comes up all the time. I wrote an article in my law school paper on the ridiculousness of these arguments, which is up here.

    My take:

    Yet, despite the fact that these defenses would find universal ridicule behind any idea not labeled “religion,” the real need to object arises only with the intense politicization of religion in America. In addition to the incalculable impact of religion on nearly every political issue, which the faithful gladly add that they cannot conscionably be asked to stifle, the Bush administration and its allies are currently declaring the official end to the very doctrine of church-state separation.

  8. Kate
    February 16th, 2006 @ 8:24 am

    Choobus said: “agnostics are just atheists without balls.”

    Hey! Don’t be calling ME ‘agnostic’!!

  9. jahrta
    February 16th, 2006 @ 9:47 am

    Kate

    you are just too cute ;)

  10. Kate
    February 16th, 2006 @ 9:49 am

    Thanks, Jahrta. Guess I’m going to have to look around and find me a set of balls. Maybe some brass balls. Or some ben wa balls. Off to Google…..

  11. Dada Saves
    February 16th, 2006 @ 10:41 am

    Tenspace wrote: “Jeff, isn’t concluding that the question of a supreme being’s existence unanswerable the same as accepting that one could exist?”

    Tenspace: Don’t YOU accept the possibility — however slight — that a supreme being could exist? If not, perhaps you should flesh out a proof and share it with the world. It will distinguish you from every human who’s ever lived.

    Sorry, folks: you’re ALL agnostics — from TRA to the fucking Pope. Until you can definitely prove or disprove the existence of You-Know-Who, you’re agnostic — and you can bray all you like about wishy-washy fence-straddlers. At least they’re intellectually honest.

  12. Michael Bains
    February 16th, 2006 @ 10:58 am

    Dada S, I’m not agnostic. I believe there is no god. That “belief” is mostly just a basis for discussion though. More practically, I simply don’t believe there is a god. I’ve no reason to go there because I’ve studied the tenets of every religion I’ve stumbled ‘crost and they’re all quite um, well, I’ll be nice. They’re all quite silly.

    Whether there is a Sentient and Deliberating Creator or not is impossible to determine at this juncture of our evolution as a species. Maybe someday via a material methodology, humans, or someone (heheh,) will know how to ask and be able to test the relevant questions/hypotheses.

    No one has to date, so, I’m atheist. I don’t believe in gods or any other supernaturalities.

  13. Mookie
    February 16th, 2006 @ 11:24 am

    Dada,

    “Until you can definitely prove or disprove the existence of You-Know-Who…”

    If you think humans should seriously consider the existence of ill-defined supernatural deities, then we should also investigate those invisible monsters that inhabit my CPU, proving a negative can’t be all that hard. You could say the same thing for any unprovable thing, which is why agnosticism is useless. Not all claims deserve consideration, which is why agnosticism is wishy washy. Some people label themselves agnostic because it is less offensive to people than being an atheist, which is why agnosticism is spineless.

    Some people require a bit more than outrageous claims before they apply brainpower to figuring things out.

    Atheism is not necessarily about DENYING the existence of gods, it is simply not even considering the question. If you want to understand the universe in terms of possibilities, meaning that things have chances of being true or events occuring, that’s fine, too. But what are the odds of a supernatural deity existing? We wouldn’t even know where to begin, mainly because we don’t even have a working definition. If it turns out the definition is something silly monkeys came up, we can imagine it is somewhat related to how we experience the world. Convenient that an all-powerful force resembles the creatures that ponder its existence. I would only admit that, based on a universe of pure chance (where all events had some possibility of occuring), there is an extremely slight chance of supernatural entities existing, but I would grant it such a small possibility, that we may as well not even consider it. I would say my chances of eating the moon would be much higher. I prefer being an atheist because it suggests I am not overwhelmed or troubled by the ridiculous claims of ignorant people.

  14. Tenspace
    February 16th, 2006 @ 12:54 pm

    Dada, the point is not whether there is a supreme being, the point is whether I choose to live my life on a foundation of old, superstitious writings about a supreme being. I stand firmly in the position that however God has been defined by man, it is just a fabrication of man’s mind. There is no god. Therefore I am an atheist.

    The moment someone provides evidentiary proof of an afterlife, supernatural actions, real magic, resurrection, virgin birth, omniscience, talking snakes, self-immolating bushes, alchemy, and a host of other fantasies, I will consider the reality of a manmade god, and you can call me agnostic.

  15. a different tim
    February 16th, 2006 @ 1:12 pm

    We’ve had this before, and Dada Saves’ argument was answered by Bertrand Russell some years ago.

    Is Dada Saves “agnostic” about the tooth fairy, the FSM, and the CPU monsters? If so, at least he’s consistent, I suppose.

    Good post though.

  16. "Q" the Enchanter
    February 16th, 2006 @ 2:42 pm

    Spot on.

  17. "Q" the Enchanter
    February 16th, 2006 @ 2:42 pm

    Spot on.

  18. "Q" the Enchanter
    February 16th, 2006 @ 2:42 pm

    Spot on.

  19. Washington Syndrome
    February 16th, 2006 @ 5:09 pm

    Evangelical Agnosticism

    The RA has some things to say. Agnosticism, I have argued, is philosophically inferior to either atheism or theism. Its flaws are magnified when it takes the form of evangelical agnosticism, a somewhat schizophrenic religion popular across the blogosph…

  20. WickedPlacebo
    February 16th, 2006 @ 7:22 pm

    Agnostic/gnostic and atheist/theist address different areas. I consider myself both an atheist, as well as an agnostic, and I break it down as follows:

    Agnosticism deals with knowledge. Since I can’t KNOW whether there is or isn’t a god, I’m agnostic.

    Atheism deals with beliefs. Since I don’t BELIEVE in a god, I am an atheist.

    I still don’t have to consider ridiculous claims like god, Elvis, etc, but I can be intellectually honest in admitting that I can’t prove there is NO deity. So you can have agnostic atheists like myself, and even agnostic theists (who may admit they can’t prove god exists, but who decide to believe in one anyways). Basically everyone will fall into either the atheist or theist category, and agnosticism/gnosticism is another category altogether.

    Thoughts on this approach?

  21. noah nywno
    February 16th, 2006 @ 10:38 pm

    Hi, I’m new.

    The problem is that these terms (agnostic/atheist) like many abstract concepts differ depending on which dictionary one cunsults.

    For example, the one in front of me now (Merriam-Webster 1997) defines atheist as “one who denies the existence of God” notice the capitol “G” which I always thought refered to the God of Abraham. (I may be wrong, so I apreciate corrections.)

    If this definition is correct, and if my interpretation is correct, than I think I could easily call myself an atheist due to the fact that I find the God of Abraham to be both logically incosistant with reality and the Bible itself. But that only deals with the God of Abraham.

    So, I say we try to come up with clear definitions for these words. Here are my suggestions:

    Atheist: One who lacks belief in supernatural deitys.

    Agnostic: One who believes ultimate reality is unknowable.

    Whadaya think?

  22. Lucy Muff
    February 16th, 2006 @ 11:11 pm

    I gots new definations for yous all. Atheist is person what don’t know the truth and is probably all on way to hell anyways. Agnostic is person what is honest that god exist but too scared to believe because they do bad things and will burn in hell if they are believer and are doing these things. Theist is person what knows loveof God and is at peace with universe bewcause of love of Jesus Christ (Jesus is Lord). All you argue argue about what is agnostic and atheists is just bumfoolery because both is goign to hell becvause none has had good sense and acept Jesus! even retard know this. Why is you to skared to ask for Jesus love? Jesus is love and will forgive all you evil doigns if you acept Him. What is it about eternal life what you don’t understand? yous all needs to get with picture that is big and see the Lord.

    Jesus is Lord

  23. a different tim
    February 17th, 2006 @ 8:00 am

    Lucy, I think everyone on the site now knows that you’re taking the piss with these posts.

    What I don’t get is why, knowing this, you continue to do it.

    Is it because you think we’re too ready to understimate theists and are so contemptuous that we’ll assume the most obvious bullshit is sincere, as long as it purports to be from a theist? But there actually are theists out there who are as dumb as you pretend to be (if you’re in doubt, go on the forums and search “Carico”).

    Is it because you think we are pretentious assholes who need a dose of subversive pranksterism? But how subversive is it when it’s indistinguishable from the real thing? And..hello…it’s fundies who wield political power at the moment, not us. There are better targets for this kind of thing than atheist blogs. And why not just leave us to our pretentious assholery anyway?

    Is it to take the piss out of theists? If so, why do it here? Why not on one of the many dumbass theist sites?

    I mean, why bother? Nobody replies any more (except me, now, and I don’t think I’ll bother after this). Nobody cares any more. You made your point (such as it was) some time ago.

  24. Tenspace
    February 17th, 2006 @ 10:11 am

    I’ll reply, Tim. Lucy serves as an example of the worst that religion brings out in people. She needs her false sense of superiority to make sense of her life. It’s like a deranged motherhood complex.

    Lucy, do you do… oh, nevermind. :)

  25. twyg
    February 17th, 2006 @ 2:27 pm

    I, for one, love lucys muff! we spent the weekend together in the bahamas and i can answer with certainty that she is sincere and in answer to your query tenspace yes, she does.

  26. Anonymous
    February 17th, 2006 @ 5:35 pm

    I agree that Lucy’s pathetic, adt, but I have to admit it was funny when she posed as me one night and traded ad hominems with a woman who’d had an abortion. When I woke up the next day and saw that those two morons had spent the whole night hurling venom at each other I laughed until I almost cried. I still think of it sometimes and laugh.

  27. Lily
    February 17th, 2006 @ 6:11 pm

    What you all don’t get is that you are hearing unadulterated truth from Lucy unmediated through soothing words and comfortable metaphors. She is not a native speaker of English, which means she can’t soften the plain meaning of her words in ways that soften their impact and make them more palatable.

    I know whereof I speak, having lived and studied in Germany for two years. At least German is an indo european language expressed in the roman alphabet! And even though my German is quite good, I would have a hard time being nearly as witty or, when I want to be, as subtle in German as I am in English.

    Listen to Lucy. She has you pegged quite accurately.

    What is it about eternal life what you don’t understand?

  28. a different tim
    February 17th, 2006 @ 6:37 pm

    Lily, she’s a troll. She admitted it a few months ago. She’s taking the piss.

  29. Lily
    February 17th, 2006 @ 8:25 pm

    Tim: What does taking the piss mean? Is that one of them danged anglicisms that no patriotic red stater would possibly know?

    Actually, how does her being a troll exclude all else from being true? I get told on every leftwing or proabortion blog I read that I am a troll which appears to be moonbat speak for “holds contrary opinion”. Lucy is good, if she is making up her fractured English which I quite enjoy. Do tell. I have no institutional blog memory to help me out here.

  30. EclecticGuru
    February 18th, 2006 @ 3:36 am

    I guess this vindicates Lucy, doesn’t it?

    Who would have thought it.

  31. Anonymous
    February 18th, 2006 @ 4:14 am

    A troll is someone who makes statements which either have little real argumentative content or do not represent the commenter’s true opinion, solely for the purpose of inciting a response. It’s a bit like a baby crying.

  32. MBains
    February 18th, 2006 @ 5:41 am

    It’s a bit like a baby crying.

    Or a neo-con talking.

  33. Jeff Guinn
    February 18th, 2006 @ 6:21 am

    People need to get their definitions straight.

    Atheism is the inverse of theism. Both claim to possess some objective Truth about the existence of a supreme being.

    An agnostic insists both atheists and theists are completely wrong. There is an objectively true Yes/No answer to the existence question, but it is impossible for us (at this moment) to make a conclusion either way that doesn’t contradict itself before even putting on its shoes.

    Further, it seems many atheists are really attacking religion. The Bible’s description of God is only that, a description. It is not God. So it is perfectly possible, indeed astonishingly easy, to find any religion completely ridiculous. In fact, all religionists do that all the time. They just happen to find one fewer religion ridiculous than does an areligionist.

    But having decided, on readily available evidence, that all religions are baseless has absolutely no bearing on the Existence question.

    The answer is either Yes or No. Theists claim with absolute certainty they know the answer to be Yes. Atheists claim with absolute certainty they know the answer to be No.

    In this particular case, the Atheist position is the weaker. After all, it is singularly odd that Atheists base their position on perceivable evidence, then come to a certain conclusion despite the complete absence of evidence. The irony of concluding No to the Existence question, based upon what is functionally a God-of-the-gaps argument should be readily apparent.

    The only intellectually honest position is agnosticism. If the question is unanswerable based on available evidence, the only proper answer is: I Don’t Know.

    Being an agnostic has no bearing on deciding which, if any, religions are worthy of support. That question is open to analysis.

  34. Tenspace
    February 18th, 2006 @ 9:37 am

    Jeff, is that true for all the thousands of gods currently being worshipped? Is it true for new age spirituality? What about the childhood stories we are told? Are you agnostic with regard to ancestral spirits of the Fang people? What about the convoluted beliefs of the Mormons. Do you accept the prophecies of Joseph Smith as unanswerable?

  35. Jeff Guinn
    February 18th, 2006 @ 10:29 am

    Tenspace:

    You are making a category mistake. Religious belief is not God. Atheism makes an absolute statement about God’s existence — that is, is it possible to ascertain with certainty that the question as to whether God exists is answerable, and the answer is No.

    That is the Existence question.

    All the things to which you refer are secondary to the Existence question, in that in those adherents have not only concluded the answer to the Existence question is Yes, but they can go beyond that to imputing characteristics, motives, and desires to their particular God.

    Therefore, the only intellectually honest answer to the Existence question is “profoundly unknowable.” Presuming certainty where none exists serves only to weaken the areligionist position. Saying I’m right and You’re wrong to a question religionists use faith to answer is practically self-defeating. Far better to say, “I don’t know, and you don’t, either.” It is no panacea, but since the “I don’t know” position is far easier to defend, it puts any religionist in the difficult position of imposing their beliefs in the face of uncertainty.

    Because the Existence question is fundamentally unanswerable, all assertions deriving from Yes are worthless. Consequently, the only way any revealed religion can make any claim to objective truth is by appeal to sheer accident. Considering the number of assertions about God in any revealed religion, the chances of even a small number, never mind the whole baroque enterprise, being corresponding to an unknowable objective reality are essentially nil.

    Ironically, that turns the Intelligent Design argument of Irreducible Complexity right on its head.

    As I noted above Being an agnostic has no bearing on deciding which, if any, religions are worthy of support. That question is open to analysis.

    In fact, sequencing the human genome has holed Mormon assertions about the lost tribes of Israel below the water line.

  36. Dada Saves
    February 18th, 2006 @ 2:20 pm

    Michael Bains writes: “Dada S, I’m not agnostic. I believe there is no god.”

    Michael — I am agnostic. And like you, I believe there is no god. (See Wicked Placebo’s post — I think he’s got it about right.) And when you say, “Whether there is a Sentient and Deliberating Creator or not is impossible to determine at this juncture of our evolution as a species” — you are defining yourself quite clearly as agnostic. Welcome aboard.

    Tenspace — I’m an atheist too, and an agnostic; see above. You have rejected every silly god-concept you’ve ever heard (and rightly so). But that’s an indictment of human imagination, if anything, not a ‘proof.’ Think about where human evolution is right now — can you say with certainty that we’ve learned more than a fraction of what there is to know about the universe?

    Mookie — I don’t give two shits about offending theists. I think their beliefs are laughable, and I’m happy to tell them so. If they think agnosticism is some sort of ‘opening’ to show me their god, they are quickly disabused of that notion when I have them define it, then heap scorn, derision, and logic all over it like ranch dressing on romaine.

  37. SBW
    February 18th, 2006 @ 11:04 pm

    ////Lily said: I get told on every…….. proabortion blog I read that I am a troll which appears to be moonbat speak for “holds contrary opinion”. ///

    Same here Lily. Usually they don’t put it into such nice words though.

    Agnostics are just atheists that aren’t as egotistical as to believe that they know everything and are self-assured enough to admit it. Maybe gods exist in one of those alternate universes that Stephen Hawking is always talking about.

    As far as evangelicism goes…..everyone likes to have other people think the same things that they do. Atheists call theists an assortment of lewd names, Christians tell atheists and agnostics they’re going to hell, and agnostics say everyone else should be wary of their beliefs and as open to the possibilities as they are. We feel like our beliefs are validated when we can get others to believe the same things as we do.

  38. WickedPlacebo
    February 19th, 2006 @ 11:20 am

    Atheism makes an absolute statement about God’s existence

    I disagree. Theism is a belief in god. There are two forms of atheism: 1) weak atheism, which is simply a lack of belief in a god, and 2) strong atheism, which is a belief that there is no god.

    I happen to subscribe to the weak brand of atheism, which is compatible with agnosticism, and I would argue, is what most agnostics are as well. This is because everyone must fall into one of the only two options: atheist or theist

    To say that we can’t know of a god does not answer the question as to whether you believe in a god. Most agnostics would say that they don’t currently believe in a deity, which would make them weak atheists, as well as agnostics.

    Most theists are gnostic theists, claiming they can know, and believing in a god at the same time. Some theists are agnostic theists, knowing they can’t prove god, but who still believes in one anyways. some atheists are gnostic atheists, who say they can know whether there’s a god, and who believe there is no god. Then there are agnostic atheists like me who admit we can’t know a god exists (making us agnostic also), but who lack belief in any god(s).

    Everyone has to choose one of the two 1) atheism or 2) theism – even agnostics.

  39. noah nywno
    February 19th, 2006 @ 3:13 pm

    All trolling aside, it apears as though we are getting somewhere.

    Question to WickedPlacebo (or anyone who cares to answer): How is “weak atheism” fundamentaly diferent from “agnosticisim”?

    Question to Jeff Guinn: If theism can take a variety of forms, why can’t atheism?

    These are ment to be sarcastic questions, btw, just seeking clarity.

    Noah

  40. WickedPlacebo
    February 19th, 2006 @ 8:23 pm

    How is “weak atheism” fundamentaly diferent from “agnosticisim”?

    I would say the only difference is that agnosticism does not imply an answer to the question of whether one believes in a god, or does not.

    Now that I think about it, weak atheism kind of implies agnosticism, as you wouldn’t expect to find a gnostic weak atheist (someone who claims they KNOW whether there is/isn’t a god and who simply lacks a belief in god, but doesn’t believe there are no god(s) at all). But I don’t think that agnosticism implies atheism (due to the example of agnostic theists).

  41. hermesten
    February 20th, 2006 @ 10:28 am

    Lily: “Lucy is good, if she is making up her fractured English which I quite enjoy.”

    With this remark, your idiot status is officially confirmed. If you believe Lucy is anything other than a male atheist troll it’s no wonder you’re a theist and a Chimp lover.

    Lily: “Tim: What does taking the piss mean? Is that one of them danged anglicisms that no patriotic red stater would possibly know?”

    Parochial and ignorant too. “Taking a piss” is a British slang term, and the meaning is rather obvious. Did it ever occur to you that everyone posting on the WORLDwideweb isn’t from the US? Maybe you should exit your protective little cocoon every once and awhile.

  42. Jeff Guinn
    February 20th, 2006 @ 5:18 pm

    Wicked Placebo:

    I think you are confusing your opinion on what you think is the most likely outcome of the Existence question should it become answerable, vs. the present decidability of the question itself. Atheism is a decision about the outcome of the Existence question. Agnosticism is a statement about the question itself. It is almost a non-sequitor to compare the two.

    The first is an expectation, the latter is a fact. The Existence question is undecidable, because no matter whether you choose yes or no, the answer is self contradicting.

    Your “strong” and “weak” categories of atheism nearly deprive the term of meaning. By your explanation, even the most rabid Christian Reconstructionist is a weak atheist. After all, such a person is absolutely convinced that all other versions of God besides that person’s chosen version don’t exist.

    According to you, then, a Christian Reconstructionist is a weak atheist, just one God version separable from you.

    To repeat: agnosticism is an statement that the Existence question is unanswerable. Atheism and Theism are beliefs about the answer to the Existence question, regardless of its decidability. Mixing those terms as you have doesn’t take that distinction into account.

    Noah:

    The reason theism can take many forms while atheism can’t is subtle. Atheism, by definition, means that the entire concept of God is a nullity. There are simply no varieties of a nullity.

    In contrast, having decided that the answer to the existence question is “Yes,” though, and it’s Katy bar the door, because the religionists’ eschatological fantasies, running completely open loop, will multiply like tenement cockroaches.

  43. WickedPlacebo
    February 21st, 2006 @ 3:57 pm

    The Existence question is undecidable, because no matter whether you choose yes or no, the answer is self contradicting.

    I agree that the existence question is unknowable, but that says nothing about what one believes (regardless of the fact that you can’t prove it). So although I am agnostic because I don’t think we can truly answer the question of whether or not there is a deity out there somewhere, I also lack a belief in a god, which makes me an atheist (A.K.A. not a theist).

    By your explanation, even the most rabid Christian Reconstructionist is a weak atheist. After all, such a person is absolutely convinced that all other versions of God besides that person’s chosen version don’t exist.

    If someone has a belief in a god, they’re a theist, and not an atheist. So this Christian Reconstructionist would have a belief in a god, and so would be a theist. You don’t have to believe that there is no god to be an atheist, you simply need to lack a belief in a god (theism = belief, atheism = lack of). Some atheists do make the claim that there is no god, and that is where the distinction between strong and weak comes in.

    Atheism and Theism are beliefs about the answer to the Existence question

    Not in the case of the weak atheist. This position claims no answer to whether there is or isn’t a god, but simply implies that the person lacks a belief in a god (theism). For instance, someone who had never been introduced to the idea of gods (if a person like this exists) would be a weak atheist, since they don’t possess a belief in a god. They would need to learn what gods are, and believe that one could not possibly exist to become a strong atheist.

    To demonstrate I’d like to ask you Jeff, do you currently believe in a god? If you do, you’re a theist, and if you don’t, you’re an atheist. Regardless of whether you think the question can ultimately be answered beyond a doubt.

  44. Choobus
    February 21st, 2006 @ 4:19 pm

    Herm,

    for the record it is “taking the piss”. As far as I know, “taking a piss” means the same in the US and the UK.

  45. Jeff Guinn
    February 21st, 2006 @ 6:04 pm

    Wicked Placebo:

    Do I believe in a god?

    That you can formulate the question does not mean it is answerable. There is an alternative to Yes or No: null. That is the only intellectually consistent answer to the question — no glimmer of an answer is possible.

    Asserting that a question is unanswerable is an entirely different matter than concluding a matter of faith that no/a god exists. The terms “atheist” and “theist” are empty without that volition.

  46. WickedPlacebo
    February 21st, 2006 @ 8:26 pm

    That you can formulate the question does not mean it is answerable. There is an alternative to Yes or No: null

    I am not asking whether you have an answer that is absolute truth, I am just asking if you currently believe in a god, or not. There is no 3rd option available in this yes or no question. Either you do believe in a god of some sort, or you don’t believe in any gods. Again, I’m not asking you to provide a proven answer on if you KNOW a god exists or not, just whether you currently BELIEVE in one.

    Much like if I asked you whether you believe in aliens from outer space (not if you can prove they exist). You either do, or you don’t, but you cannot answer “null”.

  47. Jeff Guinn
    February 21st, 2006 @ 8:46 pm

    Wicked Placebo:

    I understand what you are asking me. I’m telling you I am not going to make a conclusion from ignorance.

    Why? Because no matter which answer you give the question of whether a god exists, the answer is self contradicting. Yes is wrong, No is wrong, because both completely throw up their hands when faced with the simple fact of our existence. Atheism simply fails to answer it, while Theism presents a fiction posing as an answer.

    What’s more, your analogy to space aliens is faulty, because neither answer to that question is self contradicting.

    There is one way both questions are alike, though. As we speak, well, type, any answer is equally worthless. I’m just as agnostic about space aliens as the existence of God.

    In terms of truth value, there is nothing to tell between Yes and No. Hence the null answer, because there is absolutely no basis for belief either way.

  48. WickedPlacebo
    February 22nd, 2006 @ 9:39 am

    I understand what you are asking me. I’m telling you I am not going to make a conclusion from ignorance.

    It doesn’t seem like you know what I’m asking, as you are still presuming that an answer to whether a person BELIEVES in a god, is also an answer to whether we can KNOW if one exists or not. They are two separate questions. If you do not answer “yes” to whether you believe in god, then the only remaining answer is “no”. The question of whether we can know if a god exists or not, is another question all together, and also has only a yes or no answer. There is no null option. You can say “I don’t know” if you don’t know what you believe, but that is really equivalent to a “no” (because if you don’t know if you believe in a god, then you’re not actively believing in one).

    because there is absolutely no basis for belief either way.

    You are still clinging to the idea that atheism requires a denial of all deities, which it does not. Weak atheism is simply a lack of a belief in gods, not a belief that no gods exist or could exist. Why would this position not be considered atheism (A.K.A. not theism)? How would you categorize the example I provided earlier (the person who had never been exposed to idea of gods, and so who lacks any beliefs in them)? They can’t be a theist or an agnostic, so what are they?

  49. Jeff Guinn
    February 22nd, 2006 @ 9:06 pm

    If you do not answer “yes” to whether you believe in god, then the only remaining answer is “no”.

    Wrong. If there is no way to distinguish between Yes and No to the existence question, than positing a belief about the answer one way or the other is the very height of folly. Perhaps I should put it another way: I have utterly no opinion whatsoever about whether God exists, because the sheer pointlessnes of any answer makes the whole excercise folly.

    That is entirely different than whether the Existence question is answerable. I say it is not, meaning that any answer to the Existence question, or anything deriving from that answer is simply an empty exercise.

    When you refer to “strong” or “weak” atheism, it sounds very much like you are combining the rejection of all religions’conceptualizations of God with the affirmative denying of the existence of God itself.

    How would you categorize the example I provided earlier (the person who had never been exposed to idea of gods, and so who lacks any beliefs in them)? They can’t be a theist or an agnostic, so what are they?

    Ignorant. How would you classify someone who has never seen an airplane?

  50. WickedPlacebo
    February 23rd, 2006 @ 12:12 pm

    Perhaps I should put it another way: I have utterly no opinion whatsoever about whether God exists, because the sheer pointlessnes of any answer makes the whole excercise folly.

    But that is not the question I asked. I asked whether you currently believe in a god, not whether you have an opinion about if one exists or not. In the example I gave (the person who had never been exposed to idea of gods, and so who lacks any beliefs in them), they also have no opinion about whether god exists, because they don’t even know what gods are. But the point is that they don’t currently believe in a god, making them an atheist (because they certainly aren’t a theist, or an agnostic).

    How would you classify someone who has never seen an airplane?

    I would classify them as someone who doesn’t currently believe in airplanes (an a-airplanist?). They don’t deny that airplanes might possibly exist, because they don’t even know what they are. But the point I’m making is that they don’t currently believe in airplanes, as I suspect you (and most agnostics) don’t currently believe in any gods (regardless of the position that we can’t KNOW if gods exist).

  51. Jeff Guinn
    February 23rd, 2006 @ 9:42 pm

    WickedPlacebo:

    Clearly you suspect most agnostics don’t believe in any Gods.

    But it seems just as clear you are conflating belief in religious instantiations of god with the Existence question. It is perfectly possible to find the gods of religions laughably ridiculous without even touching the Existence question. In that regard, then, one really needs two terms: one referring to the Existence question, and another to the religion question.

    It is possible to find any particular notion of god baseless, while still concluding religion is a positive good to society. Such a person would be an agnostic religionist.

    Perhaps my hypothetical could be better. Presume you are asked to decide, Yes or No, whether life on Earth originated on Earth, or came from somewhere else in the universe.

    That question has a Yes or No answer (and is even easier than the Existence question, since neither is self contradicting). But it is impossible to, with any intellectual integrity, to provide either Yes or No as an answer. At this point, there is simply no rational basis for concluding one way or the other.

    Presuming you would say the questionl, while posable, is unanswerable, then you are agnostic on the question of life’s origins.

  52. WickedPlacebo
    February 23rd, 2006 @ 10:27 pm

    It is possible to find any particular notion of god baseless, while still concluding religion is a positive good to society. Such a person would be an agnostic religionist.

    I completely agree. I hold the existence question separate from any religious versions of gods. I gave the example earlier of an agnostic theist, who acknowledges we cannot know whether god exists, but who still decides to believe in one for whatever reasons. Though if that person simply supported/followed religion but didn’t actually believe in god, I would still consider them an agnostic atheist, since they don’t believe in god.

    Yes or No, whether life on Earth originated on Earth, or came from somewhere else in the universe….But it is impossible to, with any intellectual integrity, to provide either Yes or No as an answer.

    You are still conflating whether someone can intellectually backup a belief, with whether someone does or does not have one. If I say I don’t believe life originated somewhere else in the universe, that does not imply that I am claiming to KNOW that it could not possibly have happened. It just means I don’t currently believe that it did. Much like if I say I don’t believe in a god, that does not imply that I am claiming to KNOW that one could not possibly exist. It just means I don’t currently believe in one. It does not involve a claim of knowledge towards either side.

    In the line of questioning I have been attempting, I am only concerned with whether one believes in a god or not, regardless of whether they can intellectually back up the existence question. Either you currently believe a deity exists, or you don’t believe it. You can say you don’t KNOW for certain either way, but that is an answer to a different question.

    Are we the only ones left in this comment thread now :-)

  53. Jeff Guinn
    February 24th, 2006 @ 10:52 pm

    WickedPlacebo:

    We are undoubtedly the only ones left.

    I think your phrasing gives you away: “… whether one believes in a god or not …” That sounds a lot to me like assenting, or not, to a particular religious instance of a supreme being.

    I’m using the term “agnostic” rigorously. It has nothing to do with whether I KNOW for certain, but rather with whether the question is decidable.

    I assert the question is undecidable — that makes me an agnostic. Your, or my opinion on what we perceive to be the likely outcome should it suddenly become decidable is completely irrelevant.

    So if you agree the question is undecidable, then you are an agnostic. Should you come to a conclusion despite that, then you are arriving at a conclusion from ignorance.

  54. WickedPlacebo
    February 25th, 2006 @ 2:20 pm

    think your phrasing gives you away: “… whether one believes in a god or not …” That sounds a lot to me like assenting, or not, to a particular religious instance of a supreme being.

    I am not referring to a particular religious instance, as this phrasing incorporates those who believe in a single god, as well as those who believe in multiple gods, regardless of the properties given to the god(s). Either way that person would believe in a god, since even polytheists would answer yes to whether they believe in a god. For example, if someone believed in all the ancient greek gods, they would still believe in a god, as well as many other gods. They certainly would not answer no to the question of whether they believe in a god.

    So if you agree the question is undecidable, then you are an agnostic.

    And that is why I am an agnostic. But because I don’t currently believe in a god (any god(s)), I am also an atheist. I don’t claim to know whether one exists or not. I haven’t arrived at an absolute conclusion as to whether one exists or not. I simply don’t believe in one. You still assume that atheism requires an absolute statement about gods existence, but it does not (I think this is the main point we disagree on). A person who has not been exposed to the idea of gods would be an atheist simply because they don’t currently believe in a god(s). They don’t have to know what gods are, and make an absolute claim that none exist to be an atheist. We are all born atheists, because we are born without a positive belief in the existence of any gods (this is taught by parents/culture/etc). Why is the simple lack of a belief in god (or gods) not considered atheism?

    Theism is when someone possesses a belief in god(s), and atheism is the opposite, which is simply lack of belief in any god(s), though not necessarily the possession of a belief that no god(s) exist. Do you at least see the distinction I am making between the two forms of atheism (regardless of whether you agree they are valid)? If we are to continue without going in circles we should focus on this point of contention.

  55. Jeff Guinn
    February 25th, 2006 @ 4:47 pm

    From Webster’s collegiate dictionary:

    Atheist: one who denies the existencie of God

    Agnostic: one who holds the view that any ultimate reality (as God) is unknown and probably unknowable.

    I have been using both terms precisely in accordance with their dictionary definition. You can’t be both at the same time.

    You can’t be both at the same time. If you are an agnostic, then you can’t even have an opinion as to the answer to the Existence question. I simply do not have an opinion. If you have an opinion, then you are not an agnostic.

    Your analogy to someone who has never been exposed to a belief in gods as an atheist similarly fails to meet the definition. One cannot deny, or affirm, something about which has utterly no knowledge. For someone in that position, their attitude is the null set. An agnostic’s attitude is the empty set. While it may be counterintuitive, a null set is not the same as an empty set.

    We are going around in circles. The best way to square that circle is to hew closely the words’ definitions.

  56. WickedPlacebo
    February 27th, 2006 @ 7:17 pm

    Atheist: one who denies the existencie of God

    Certainly, based on this definition, weak atheism is not technically atheism. However most dictionaries provide a definition that allows for both strong and weak atheism.

    ********************
    According to http://www.infidels.org/news/atheism/sn-definitions.html
    -=-=-=-=-=-=-=-=-
    Here is how the OED defines atheism:

    atheism: Disbelief in, or denial of, the existence of a god.

    disbelieve: 1. trans. Not to believe or credit; to refuse credence to: a. a statement or (alleged) fact: To reject the truth or reality of.
    -=-=-=-=-=-=-=-=-
    Here is Webster’s definition of atheism:

    atheism n 1 a: disbelief in the existence of God or any other deity b: the doctrine that there is neither god nor any other deity–compare AGNOSTICISM 2: godlessness esp. in conduct

    disbelief n: the act of disbelieving : mental refusal to accept (as a statement or proposition) as true

    disbelieve vb vt : to hold not to be true or real : reject or withold belief in vi : to withold or reject belief
    -=-=-=-=-=-=-=-=-
    “In Greek ‘a’ means ‘without’ or ‘not’ and ‘theos’ means ‘god.’ From this standpoint an atheist would simply be someone without a belief in God, not necessarily someone who believes that God does not exist. According to its Greek roots, then, atheism is a negative view, characterized by the absence of belief in God.” Michael Martin

    ********************
    According to http://atheism.about.com/od/definitionofatheism/
    -=-=-=-=-=-=-=-=-
    Yourdictionary.com

    atheism: 1 archaic: ungodliness, wickedness; 2a : a disbelief in the existence of deity 2b: the doctrine that there is no deity.
    agnostic: a person who holds the view that any ultimate reality (as God) is unknown and prob. unknowable; broadly: one who is not committed to believing in either the existence or the nonexistence of God or a god.
    disbelieve: transitive senses: to hold not worthy of belief; not believe. intransitive senses: to withhold or reject belief
    -=-=-=-=-=-=-=-=-
    Dictionary.com

    atheism Disbelief in or denial of the existence of God or gods. The doctrine that there is no God or gods. Godlessness; immorality.
    agnosticOne who believes that it is impossible to know whether there is a God. One who is skeptical about the existence of God but does not profess true atheism.
    disbelieve: tr. To refuse to believe in; reject.; intr. To withhold or reject belief.
    -=-=-=-=-=-=-=-=-
    Dict.org

    atheism The disbelief or denial of the existence of a God, or supreme intelligent Being.
    disbelief: Not to believe; to refuse belief or credence to; to hold not to be true or actual.
    -=-=-=-=-=-=-=-=-
    M-W.com

    atheism 1 archaic: ungodliness, wickedness 2 : a disbelief in the existence of deity b: the doctrine that there is no deity
    disbelieve: transitive senses : to hold not worthy of belief : not believe; intransitive senses : to withhold or reject belief.
    ********************

    So while you can find some dictionary entries of atheism that are limited to the denial of god(s), most (including those above) accomodate both weak and strong forms of atheism.

  57. Peter Windridge
    March 21st, 2010 @ 8:17 am

    @Mookie: “proving a negative can’t be all that hard” — take a look at Godel’s incompleteness theorem http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/G%C3%B6del%27s_incompleteness_theorems

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