John Wilkins has offered this reply to my criticism of his earlier essay on the subject of agnosticism. Well worth reading, even though I sitll think he’s wrong. He seems to think that in order to be justified in asserting “X does not exist” you must be able to prove that X, indeed, does not exist. This seems like the wrong standard to me.
Biochemist Larry Moran weighs in with these worthy senitments:
John, with all due respect, if you walk like an atheist and talk like an atheist then, to all intents and purposes, you’re a practicing atheist, whether you want to admit it or not. You can be an agnostic atheist in the sense that you act as if there’s no God but still want to be true to your profession. They won’t drum you out of the philosophers’ union if you confess your atheistic lifestyle as long as you make the right noises from time to time. I’ve was with you at a conference of philosophers last year and we met several atheists who were still card-carrying philosophers.
We spent a whole Sunday together and I know you didn’t go to church. You are not a theist. The word that describes that non-believer lifestyle is “atheist,” not “agnostic.” Please join Jason Rosenhouse, Richard Dawkins, and me, and come all the way out of the closet.
Preach it, brother.
P. Z. Myers also weighs in::
My rebuttal, though, is that any atheist who thinks about this stuff feels exactly the same way–we acknowledge the possibilities, leave open the chance that there is some weird cosmic thing-a-ma-jig, and openly admit that we are demanding evidence for it before will give it any credence. Wilkins errs, I think, in asserting that some kind of certainty lies at the heart of any kind of thoughtful atheism. It doesn’t–it’s indistinguishable from what he’s saying about agnosticism.
It’s simpler. I don’t believe in a god, therefore I’m an atheist. Wilkins says he doesn’t believe in a god, but he says he’s not an atheist…but it’s because he’s rejecting a collection of presuppositions he holds about atheists. He’s draping the terms with a lot of philosophical baggage that just doesn’t apply–if you don’t believe, you’re an atheist–and making the mistake of thinking that declaring yourself an atheist immediately closes off serious thinking about what it all means. It doesn’t.