The Pope Invites Agnostics to Assisi

The National Catholic Register has the full text of a recent speech given by Pope Benedict XVI. It includes this:

In addition to the two phenomena of religion and anti-religion, a further basic orientation is found in the growing world of agnosticism: people to whom the gift of faith has not been given, but who are nevertheless on the lookout for truth, searching for God. Such people do not simply assert: “There is no God”. They suffer from his absence and yet are inwardly making their way towards him, inasmuch as they seek truth and goodness. They are “pilgrims of truth, pilgrims of peace”. They ask questions of both sides. They take away from militant atheists the false certainty by which these claim to know that there is no God and they invite them to leave polemics aside and to become seekers who do not give up hope in the existence of truth and in the possibility and necessity of living by it. But they also challenge the followers of religions not to consider God as their own property, as if he belonged to them, in such a way that they feel vindicated in using force against others. These people are seeking the truth, they are seeking the true God, whose image is frequently concealed in the religions because of the ways in which they are often practised. Their inability to find God is partly the responsibility of believers with a limited or even falsified image of God. So all their struggling and questioning is in part an appeal to believers to purify their faith, so that God, the true God, becomes accessible. Therefore I have consciously invited delegates of this third group to our meeting in Assisi, which does not simply bring together representatives of religious institutions. Rather it is a case of being together on a journey towards truth, a case of taking a decisive stand for human dignity and a case of common engagement for peace against every form of destructive force. Finally I would like to assure you that the Catholic Church will not let up in her fight against violence, in her commitment for peace in the world. We are animated by the common desire to be “pilgrims of truth, pilgrims of peace”.

I don’t think very many agnostics will recognize themselves in the Pope’s description.

There’s rather a lot wrong with the Pope’s statement. If the measure of an atheist is his willingness to stand up and say, as though it were a proven fact, “There is no God!” then Richard Dawkins is not an atheist. I had really thought this particular caricature was the exclusive domain of silly religious demagogues, and had no role in the discourse of those masquerading as serious thinkers. The distinction between an atheist and an agnostic has nothing to do with one being dogmatic and the other being open-minded. It has to do instead with epistemological claims about what is knowable and what is not. Atheists tend to say things like, “There is no good reason for believing that any sort of supernatural deity exists, and with respect to the Christian God specifically there is strong evidence against His existence.” Agnostics prefer statements like, “The question of whether or not there is a God is not the sort of thing about which we can reasonably gather evidence one way or the other, so it is best not to take a position either way.”

But we have barely scratched the surface of all that is wrong with the Pope’s statement. The Pope, of course, does not believe that God’s existence is an open question. In his view the agnostics might be searching for truth, but he, and his church, have already found it. So his praise for the agnostic’s search for truth should be seen as arrogant condescension, and not as praise for a skeptical attitude. Moreover, the implication that atheists are not seeking truth is pretty offensive, not to mention ridiculous. We are atheists precisely because we are seeking the truth. Our best understanding of the available evidence just points us strongly away from belief in God.

I also wonder how many agnostics would agree that they are suffering for their lack of faith. It is true that some nonbelievers might wish they had religious faith, while others feel a sense of loss for no longer having the faith they once possessed. But many others see leaving religion as a moment of liberation, or of coming from darkness into light. The Pope’s overgeneralization is just more puffery.

After more repetition of hoary caricatures we come to something truly jaw-dropping. If you were drinking water while reading the Pope’s statement, I’m sure you spit it out when you saw him praising agnostics for warning the religious against thinking of God as their own property. The nerve of this guy! The Pope is the leader of a church that claims an exclusive right to hold forth on the meaning of scripture. As they see it, if your interpretation differs from theirs then you are wrong and that is it. They hold up their body of traditional teaching as a source of knowledge that is equal to that of revelation itself. For heaven’s sake, the Pope claims to be able to speak infallibly at least some of the time. How is any of that consistent with not thinking that He is in a privileged position with respect to God?

Now, in fairness to the Pope, if we take his statement literally it’s not so much thinking you have special access to God that is the problem, but using that belief to justify violence. Earlier in his speech the Pope says this:

As a Christian I want to say at this point: yes, it is true, in the course of history, force has also been used in the name of the Christian faith. We acknowledge it with great shame. But it is utterly clear that this was an abuse of the Christian faith, one that evidently contradicts its true nature. The God in whom we Christians believe is the Creator and Father of all, and from him all people are brothers and sisters and form one single family.

I’m delighted that he is ashamed, but this is just empty rhetoric. In the centuries during which the Catholic Church had unparalleled power in Europe, the period during which they had ample opportunity to show everyone how it’s done, they behaved instead no differently from any other purely human institution with too much power. Where was their praise for ecumenism and a doubting nature during the Inquisition and the Crusades? Where was it during all the time they spent policing the bounds of acceptable knowledge and passing judgment on which books were fit to be read, and threatening elderly scientists with torture and imprisonment for suggesting that maybe the authorities had it wrong when they said the Earth is fixed and the Sun moved? When the Church was strong their behavior was appalling and, yes, frequently violent. Now that they are weak they come grovelling back, pretending that such things were just a centuries-long aberration from the true faith. Charming.

So I’m not impressed by the Pope’s speech. But I’m even less impressed with some of the reaction I’ve seen to it. I found the text of the speech by following a link from this post by Andrew Sullivan. Sullivan titled his post, “The Pope Embraces Doubt.” I’m sure that caused you to spit out any remaining water you had in your mouth. No, I’m sorry, but the Pope most definitely has not embraced doubt. He remains the poster child for false certainty and dogmatic arrogance, as we have already discussed.

Sullivan describes the Pope’s argument in the opening quotation of this post as “powerful” and specifically praises Benedict as a theologian. I found that amusing given the pathetic caricatures of atheism and agnosticism of which the Pope availed himself. Atheists are constantly lectured about being insufficiently respectful of Christian theology. At the moment, though, I am not seeing much respect coming the other way.

In fairness to Sullivan, though, he does come to his senses later in the post. He writes:

But it is equally clear, is it not, that the project of mere assertion of papal authoritah, the purging of Catholics with doubts and questions, the doubling down on a theory of natural law that simply does not reflect what modernity knows of nature (and therefore refutes itself), the profound corruption that allowed for the rape and abuse of countless innocents across the world, the scandal of the Legion of Christ … these have led to an even steeper collapse of the church in the West where its fate as a living truth still lies.

Even more astonishing is this post from Michael Potemra, writing at National Review:

The pluralism of belief is, in some mysterious way, part of God’s plan for mankind; Pope Benedict today offered a helpful analysis of one aspect of that plan. Faith and doubt are both gifts of God, and agnostics therefore have their own special calling, their role to play. And of course, there is no very strict dichotomy here: In believers, there is an element of doubt, and in agnostics, there is an element of faith. Each person has his or her own particular gifts in this regard, and each carries his or her own individualized responsibilities.

Doubt is a gift? Really? Because according to Christian theology it’s a gift that will get you consigned to Hell in the afterlife. Worst. Gift. Ever.

Potemra continues:

In my own case, I used to fault God for not giving me more religious faith — and then I came to realize how unreasonable I was being. I have many atheist friends who are more loving, do more for other people, than I; my complaint to God therefore amounted to a declaration that You see how poorly I am doing in meeting my current responsibilities. You are therefore greatly to blame for not giving me more responsibilities. God gives His gifts on His own schedule, in accord with His own inscrutable designs, and the basic attitude we should cultivate is to trust that He knows what He’s doing.

But, again, according to Catholic theology those charitable atheist friends of his are going to burn in Hell for all eternity. Potemra might be impressed by their good deeds, but God, apparently, is not.

This is the part where I reiterate my bafflement that anyone finds anything worthwhile in the ravings of religion. If you think peace and tolerance and ecumenism are worthwhile things, and I certainly hope you do, then live accordingly. But don’t pretend that religious authorities like the Pope have any special insight into such things. And please don’t pretend, as Sullivan and Potemra both do, that the Pope’s speech represents some moment of clarity or a contribution to theology. In reality the Pope offers nothing but standard, insincere boilerplate, here paired with entirely unwarranted denigration of atheists.

Comments

  1. #1 Daniel Duquenal
    October 29, 2011

    I am afraid that you are seeing more than what it is to it in the Pope’s speech. I did not find it as offensive as you put it, though it certainly would not be enough for me to accept the invitation (though with a paid business class ticket and at least 4 stars accommodations in beautiful Assisi I would be willing to put up with a few speeches).

    There are the atheist, the methodological atheist and the agnostic. As a scientist it is natural for me that I evolved toward agnosticism even though some of my friends consider me a methodological atheist which I do not agree as I see it as “atheist by default”. But I digress.

    When you write:

    I also wonder how many agnostics would agree that they are suffering for their lack of faith. It is true that some nonbelievers might wish they had religious faith, while others feel a sense of loss for no longer having the faith they once possessed. But many others see leaving religion as a moment of liberation, or of coming from darkness into light. The Pope’s overgeneralization is just more puffery.

    I can only read the words of an atheist, one convinced of his own faith. I do not know you enough to state that this is true for you, but this is how I read it. Because there you seem to confuse religion and faith, as the belief in a deity. Agnostics in my experience never make such a confusion. I would go as far as saying that it is true that for us leaving religion was liberating, a new birth if you will. Even that religion will never see us again. But we never experience liberation from the idea of a deity otherwise we would be atheist.

    Because agnostics retain the possibility that one day there might be a proof of deity, it is what stops us from being atheist, no matter how deep in the molecular cell we have dipped (in my case, in the stars for astronomers, set your own image [here]). True, over time, in a sort of hypocrite way, in practice most of us if not all of us give up that search and learn to live comfortably ignoring the possibility of a deity, and cursing religion as needed. From an outside point of view we may appear like atheists, or methodological ones as my colleagues told me, but when pressed we will not negate ourselves the possibility of a deity.

    And I am afraid that one needs to be an agnostic to understand that :)

  2. #2 SLC
    October 29, 2011

    If the measure of an atheist is his willingness to stand up and say, as though it were a proven fact, “There is no God!” then Richard Dawkins is not an atheist.

    Let’s be clear on what Dr. Dawkins position is relative to the existence of god. He takes the position that the existence of god is a scientific proposition which, therefore, must be subject to scientific investigation. Thus far, he has seen no scientific evidence for the existence of god and has concluded that, in the absence of such evidence, it is fair to posit that god does not exist. However, his mind is open to the possibility, however remote, that such evidence might be found in the future and thus would be willing to revise his conclusions accordingly. This is rather different then the position of PZ Myers, for instance, who claims that such evidence does not exist and can not exist. In that regard, Dr. Dawkins can be considered a smidgen agnostic on this issue.

  3. #3 brian t
    October 29, 2011

    I have sympathy for both Dawkins’ and Myers’ positions, and think both are valid depending on how you define your terms. If you define “God” as something inherently, absolutely supernatural, then evidence for “God” would be an impossibility, since evidence is by definition natural (i.e. it would exist in our known universe). Something that is outside our universe, and has no impact on it at all, may as well not exist for all its relevance to us.

    On the other hand: if you define “God” or gods in terms of certain god-like attributes, and you found evidence for something with those attributes, you could then examine the evidence in a scientific way. This is in keeping with the way science has consistently displaced religion, by providing natural explanations for phenomena that people used to think of as supernatural. If you make a claim that your god produces effects in the natural world – as most religions do – those claims can be examined scientifically.

    Lightning would be an example: how many pious Christians died while ringing church bells during storms? It was supposed to prevent lightning strikes on the church by appealing to “God”, but it didn’t work. These days, every church (mosque, temple etc.) with a tall tower will have a lightning conductor: a simple strip of metal that manages, without any fuss, to do what thousands of years of prayer failed to achieve. There’s a decent possibility that most (if not all) of the current “supernatural” mysteries will disappear in a comparable way. That’s not hubris, it’s just a reasonable expectation based on past performance.

  4. #4 Steven Carr
    October 29, 2011

    ‘ So all their struggling and questioning is in part an appeal to believers to purify their faith, so that God, the true God, becomes accessible.’

    Poor god. He might be omnipotent, but sadly he can’t beome accessible until believers stop messing him around in his attempts to become accessible.

    God would just love to become accessible, but sadly for him, he is powerless to become accessible until believers have purified their faith.

    That’s one of the problem of being all-powerful. It is so easy to have your plans thwarted by Mrs. Walcinszki of Poland who has not purified her faith.

    What a puny god the Pope worships. This god is as powerful as the childhood monsters who were banished by the simple tactic of pulling the bedclothes over you so that they could not harm you.

  5. #5 Petter Häggholm
    October 29, 2011

    I’m not sure that Dawkins and PZ take positions that are all that different. I suspect that both of them would agree that in principle, the existance of God is an empirically answerable question. Dawkins takes the position of politely acknowledging that hypothetically speaking, evidence could come up that would convince him. PZ, it seems to me, just takes the position that (enough of) the evidence is already in. Of course I might be putting words in people’s mouths, here, but personally I sympathise with both positions, whether real or not. With regards to creationism, for example, the evidence is obviously in and creationism is clearly false. Even Haldane’s pre-Cambrian rabbits would only convince me that something very odd is going on, not that all of evolutionary biology should be abandoned! In principle it could be an empirically open question, though — but in practice the only evidence I’d find convincing would be a truly stupendous mass of strong evidence that the already-momentous evidence for evolution is false or fraudulent.

  6. #6 H.H.
    October 29, 2011

    In that regard, Dr. Dawkins can be considered a smidgen agnostic on this issue.

    But only if, like the pope, one is confused about the definition of agnostic.

  7. #7 harrync
    October 29, 2011

    Not exactly on topic, but I thought your readers might be interested in this email I got from the White House:

    Religion in the Public Square   
    By Joshua DuBois, Executive Director of the Office of Faith-Based and Neighborhood Partnerships

    Thank you for signing the petition “Remove “In God We Trust” from currency.” We appreciate your participation in the We the People platform on WhiteHouse.gov.

    The separation of church and state outlined in the First Amendment to the United States Constitution is an important founding principle of our nation. Our nation’s Bill of Rights guarantees not only that the government cannot establish an official religion, but also guarantees citizens’ rights to practice the religion of their choosing or no religion at all.
    Throughout our history, people of all faiths – as well as secular Americans – have played an important role in public life. And a robust dialogue about the role of religion in public life is an important part of our public discourse.
    While the President strongly supports every American’s right to religious freedom and the separation of church and state, that does not mean there’s no role for religion in the public square.

    When he was a Senator from Illinois, President Obama gave a keynote address at the Call to Renewal conference where he spoke about the important role religion plays in politics and in public life.  

    A sense of proportion should also guide those who police the boundaries between church and state. Not every mention of God in public is a breach to the wall of separation – context matters.

    That’s why President Obama supports the use of the words “under God” in our Pledge of Allegiance and “In God we Trust” on our currency. These phrases represent the important role religion plays in American public life, while we continue to recognize and protect the rights of secular Americans. As the President said in his inaugural address, “We are a nation of Christians and Muslims, Jews and Hindus, and non-believers.” We’re proud of that heritage, and the strength it brings to our great country.

  8. #8 JimV
    October 29, 2011

    For years I’ve thought of myself as an agnostic atheist. As I’ve explained many times before, to me, “agnostic” means “I don’t know”, and “atheist” means I am not a theist. I don’t believe in any of the hundreds of gods which humans have made up fables about, but I don’t know, for example, that this universe wasn’t the result of some lab experiment by higher-level entities. I wouldn’t bet that way, but I don’t know. So the Pope’s definition annoyed me also.

    I am much more comfortable with Dawkins’ position than Myers’. I know there are nuances, such as what do we mean by a god, but I dislike having our side sound dogmatic and closed-minded.

  9. #9 Tom
    October 30, 2011

    The problem with “evidence for god” is that there is no coherent, generally accepted model for God that we could then make a testable claim about. The “God Hypothesis” is incoherent, “not even wrong” and therefore evidence does not yet come into the equation. I suspect that is true for individual believers conception of god. You have no chance of getting a coherent concept of god across the total population of believers.

  10. #10 PhillyChief
    October 30, 2011

    Consider the following claim: the universe is filled with blrbles, but blrbles are impossible to detect.

    I know I would first ask how the claimant knows of these blrbles if they’re impossible to detect. If no answer given is satisfactory, then I reject the claim. I’m willing to accept that there may be blrbles, but I have no reason at this time to accept that there are blrbles; therefore, I reject the claim since there’s no current warrant to accept it. To say one is Blrble agnostic makes no sense. If you’re agnostic because you find it definitionally impossible to know if there are blrbles, then you should either reject the claim outright for being definitionally self defeating or you look at the claimant’s evidence and decide whether it warrants acceptance. Retaining the possibility that there might be proof of blrbles is an admission that currently there is no proof of blrbles and if there is no proof of blrbles, then you don’t accept the claim that blrbles exist and thus, you don’t believe in blrbles.

    If your rationale for being blrble agnostic is a difficulty to accept that you don’t currently believe in blrbles, then I suggest you examine what’s at the heart of that difficulty. Do you wish there were blrbles? Did you once believe in blrbles but now realize such belief is unwarranted but still hold out hope that there are blrbles? Do you find faith distasteful and wish to distance yourself from the blrble believers but yet can’t bring yourself to admit or label yourself as one who currently doesn’t believe in blrbles? Do you see non-belief in blrbles as squashing the hope that blrble’s exist? Do you see all blrble non-belief as faith based just like blrble belief? If you’re reason for being blrble agnostic is the last point, then you’re just confused about blrble non-belief for blrble non-belief does not require faith, as I showed earlier. If you’re blrble agnostic for any of the other reasons I listed, then your agnosticism is simply irrational.

  11. #11 JimR
    October 30, 2011

    “These people are seeking the truth, they are seeking the true God, whose image is frequently concealed in the religions because of the ways in which they are often practised.”

    I believe Joseph Campbell noted that religion stands between the individual and a religious experience. The above quote from the Pope is correct, I have faith he did not mean to include his religious version.

    I also think that when you have recovered from “Religious Need Syndrome”, you no longer “search” for a god as that is an inefficient use of energy and time. For me that was the wonderful liberation of conversion from religion. Also I don’t see agnostics expending any energy searching; they wait to be smacked in the face with proof, but until then continue their lives without the anchor of religion dragging their forward progress. That is the joy of freedom from religion.

  12. #12 386sx
    October 30, 2011

    Wow, how did that guy ever get to be pope? He sounds like a two-bit dime store philosopher. (Yes it’s a rhetorical question, lol.)

  13. #13 SLC
    October 30, 2011

    Re brian t @ #3

    I would have to disagree with PZ Myers’ position. I would posit the following would constitute evidence for the existence of god.

    The Hebrew scriptures claim that Joshua, working through god, got the sun to stand still in the sky for a day. Clearly, such an event would violate the laws of physics as we know them so that some sort of supernatural intervention would seem to be required. Thus far, there is no evidence that such an event occurred. In fact, there is considerable evidence that it did not occur, based on the fact that other civilizations in existence at the time recorded no such event. However, if evidence did surface suggesting that such an event indeed did occur, that would constitute evidence of supernatural intervention and hence the existence of some sort of supernatural being, not necessarily the god of the Hebrew, Christian, or Islamic scriptures.

  14. #14 daedalus2u
    October 30, 2011

    I disagree with your characterization of PZ’s position. He was discussing an apologist who said he believed because there was no evidence and if there was evidence then the idea of God would be less believable. To which PZ replied that if a ten mile tall bearded figure came down out of the sky with angels and seraphim singing His praises and blasphemers disappearing in puffs of flame, that even PZ would start to question his disbelief.

  15. #15 Jason S.
    October 30, 2011

    The pope seems to be taking the position that doubt is not the opposite of faith, certainty is.

    I’m no fan of the pope or the catholic church, but, as an agnostic who bristles at the certainty of believers and non-believers, I welcome the sentiment.

  16. #16 Daniel Duquenal
    October 30, 2011

    Philly Chief

    I presume that even if my name does not appear in your comment, this one is addressed to me.

    First there is such thing as blrbles in the universe, and people are actively searching for it: it is called dark matter.

    Second, your definition or rationality is not very convincing. There are religious people that are very rational and atheist that are totally loony. Rationality has more to do with how you manage the values that you accept, not whether those values are accurate.

    Third, you do not seem to understand what agnosticism is all about on a day to day existence. I suggest that you consider why agnostics are never preaching whereas atheists like you have a nice preacher tone. Agnosticism is always a personal position that cannot be transmitted as it is a self acknowledgement of weakness, that there is something in our life that we cannot decide and for which we are some what ashamed, if you wish, if it makes you think you won the point. Real agnostics are on their own and are thus, like all loners, perceived as a threat, either to the Pope or to you.

  17. #17 James Sweet
    October 30, 2011

    I couldn’t bring myself to read past “militant atheists”. Any time somebody uses the word “militant” to refer to non-violent groups, it’s like a loud buzzing noise in my head and I have to immediately stop listening.

  18. #18 Reginald Selkirk
    October 30, 2011

    They take away from militant atheists the false certainty by which these claim to know that there is no God and they invite them to leave polemics aside and to become seekers who do not give up hope in the existence of truth and in the possibility and necessity of living by it.

    Not believing in God means not believing in the existence of truth? What an arrogant fuckwad.

    We acknowledge it with great shame. But it is utterly clear that this was an abuse of the Christian faith, one that evidently contradicts its true nature.

    I wonder if he was wearing a kilt when he said that.

    Sullivan … specifically praises Benedict as a theologian.

    I’m guessing that was a reference to the restoration of the practice of indulgences.

  19. #19 brian faux
    October 30, 2011

    SLC
    I don`t see how making the earth stand still would be a proof of god. It would certainly be a proof of a very sophisticated and powerful technology. We know that Air Force personell appeared `as gods` to some south Sea islanders as late as 1944. Harmlessly defusing all the inertia of a spinning Earth would be some trick, but flying through the air in a big silver bird is quite spiffy too.

  20. #20 PhillyChief
    October 30, 2011

    First there is such thing as blrbles in the universe, and people are actively searching for it: it is called dark matter.

    And as I had said, “I know I would first ask how the claimant knows of these blrbles”. There are indicators which point to the existence of Dark Matter, are there not? The indicators for a deity are…?

    Second, your definition or rationality is not very convincing.

    That’s because, like above, you’re not fully reading what I’m writing. Yes, rationality is about means or the manner in which you arrive at your position and not solely about whether that position is correct so we’re actually in agreement on rationality. I specifically said you need to examine why, if you admit there is no warrant for accepting that a deity exists, why you can’t call yourself an atheist. It seems clear it’s either a confusion over what atheism means or irrationality.

    I did not claim theists are all irrational all the time nor that all atheists are rational all the time. I said there are faith-based atheists, but not all atheists are faith-based as you allege. That’s incorrect.

    I suggest that you consider why agnostics are never preaching whereas atheists like you have a nice preacher tone.

    So first, you’re simply saying you don’t care for atheists so you’re calling yourself an agnostic. That has nothing to do with the issue. That’s an emotional response and one I outlined as an example of irrationality in the blrble analogy.

    Second, how can you claim you’re not preaching when you pontificate such naked assertions as “[t]here are the atheist, the methodological atheist and the agnostic”, atheism is a faith based position or the condescending jab, “I am afraid that one needs to be an agnostic to understand that”? Please.

    In your conclusion you seem unwilling to accept that atheism is not an assertion of knowledge and that we share the same belief, that it’s currently unknowable whether there are any deities. There are plenty of atheists, including the “four horsemen” who have said, to varying degrees, that they accept that there may be a deity but at this time there’s no warrant for accepting that there is one. Atheism then, like other positions in science, are not entrenchments but rather the best and most rational position given the information currently available. THAT is exactly your position as you’ve described it. The only question is why you can’t call yourself an atheist then, and saying you don’t care for atheists is, I’m sorry, not exactly a solid, rational response.

  21. #21 Martin
    October 30, 2011

    @Daniel Duquenal:
    There is quite a difference between “birbles” and “dark matter”.
    Birbles, by Philly Chief’s definition, are undetectable. Dark matter is detectable by its gravitational effects. Sufficient evidence (e.g. galaxy rotation, gravity lensing, galaxy collision* [Bullett Cluster]) exists to support the dark matter hypothesis. Less evidence is available for the dark energy hypotheses…but to some extent they too are supported.

    You, like the pope, seem to say that faith, agnosticism, and atheism are on one scale of belief. I, and many others, would disagree and put belief on one scale from theism to atheism, and knowledge on an orthogonal scale from gnosticism to agnosticism.

    Thus, I *believe* no god exists…I’m an atheist. I *know* that most gods (Odin, Jove, Osiris, Shiva, YHWH, Allah, God &c.) do not exist…for those I am a gnostic. I *don’t know* about the gods of deists, pantheists, and panentheists…for those I am an agnostic.

    So…Daniel, do you believe in the existence of any god? “I don’t know” is not a valid answer.

    *The Abell 520 cluster collisions is casting some doubts on the hypothesised behaviour of dark matter.

  22. #22 Daniel Duquenal
    October 30, 2011

    Martin

    Sarcasm seems lost on you. Even Philly sort of sensed it.

    Greetings.

  23. #23 Daniel Duquenal
    October 30, 2011

    Philly chief

    “That’s because, like above, you’re not fully reading what I’m writing.”

    Which is reflecting exactly my feeling. So, is this worth pursuing?

    But so as not to look as a complete cope out I will at least reply to one of yours:

    “So first, you’re simply saying you don’t care for atheists so you’re calling yourself an agnostic.”

    Do not put words in my key board. I do not care for militant atheists as I do not care for the Pope or any established religion. Militants are not about religion or atheism, they are about righteousness.

    Heck! Another one for the sake of it:

    “Atheism then, like other positions in science, are not entrenchments but rather the best and most rational position given the information currently available. THAT is exactly your position as you’ve described it. The only question is why you can’t call yourself an atheist then, and saying you don’t care for atheists is, I’m sorry, not exactly a solid, rational response.”

    Which is kind of what I mean by methodological atheist. Thank you for stating it.

  24. #24 Tony P
    October 30, 2011

    I think the pope knows that they are losing adherents to Catholicism because of the scandals that have rocked the church for the past twenty years.

    So a lot of people are on the fence about organized religion. A good friend of mine is as agnostic as it gets and does all but admit there is no god.

    Me, I proudly state there is no god. The god I learned of in my studies, versus the god we see or fail to see? That god does not exist.

  25. #25 Widemouth
    October 30, 2011

    Have No Fear of God? http://www.squidoo.com/fear-of-god

  26. #26 SLC
    October 30, 2011

    Re brian faux @ 19

    Not only would the earth have to ceased its rotation but it would also have to cease its revolution around the sun for a day. The notion that this could be done without any of the effects predicted by the laws of physics by sentient beings is unlikely in the extreme. I would consider evidence that this event happened to be, at the least, a positive affirmation of of supernatural intervention.

  27. #27 Michael Kremer
    October 30, 2011

    Just about the heading of this post.

    The Pope invited A.C. Grayling to Assisi. Grayling declined, though his reasons were quite confused, actually.

    But anyway I would say that is the Pope inviting an atheist to Assisi, not merely an agnostic.

  28. #28 Wow
    October 31, 2011

    “I can only read the words of an atheist, one convinced of his own faith.”

    Because when you have a hammer, everything is a nail.

    It’s most patently obvious for the RCC but a big thing with that religion is that you MUST ALWAYS FEEL GUILTY.

    Losing that religion will cause that unevidenced guilt to be discarded. This will make someone feel much better.

    Atheism is no faith, just like bald is not a hair colour.

  29. #29 Carlos Vidal
    October 31, 2011

    God is the beginning-less source of everything that is.

    So, if you exist, from the big-bang, it is because the energy that produced you contains the information that made it possible.

  30. #30 Wow
    October 31, 2011

    Care to say something that’s actually coherent, Carlos?

    Best I can get out of it is that you’re defining God as whatever the source of everything is. Which is at best a deist god: one that has no compunction, no drive, not wishes, no freedom, no self.

    I mean, for most people’s perception of what “God” means, you might as well have said “Coleslaw is the beginning-less source of everything that is”.

    The second bit has nothing to do with God, but is a fairly woo-like way of saying that everything in the universe came from the Big Bang.

  31. #31 Jeff Binder
    October 31, 2011

    It seems like the problem is that the Pope is defining agnosticism in terms of an actually-existing God, which is an idea that he can’t get away from even as he tries to reach out and understand others who don’t share his belief. So: a theist is someone with a strong relationship to God as an agnostic is someone with an ambiguous relationship to God, and as an atheist is someone with no relationship to God. I’m sure that these definitions all make perfect sense within the Pope’s conceptual scheme. But I doubt he’ll have much success reaching out to agnostics if that’s what he thinks they are.

  32. #32 Dan L.
    October 31, 2011

    @Daniel Duquenal:

    Please stop telling atheists what they believe. I know you’re not the first or the only one; in fact, I feel like I see three or four articles every week purporting to explain what atheists believe without the author actually having taken the time to talk to any atheists. But please: you as an individual can choose to be more fair-minded and not leap to conclusions and pigeon-hole everyone.

    First there is such thing as blrbles in the universe, and people are actively searching for it: it is called dark matter.

    I’m really sick of people who don’t know anything about dark matter using it as an example of something undetectable. Of course dark matter is detectable — we wouldn’t talk about it if we hadn’t detected it! “Dark matter” is simply a label for an empirical fact: that there’s about 150% more gravity in the universe than we expect to find. Again, dark matter is empirical fact, not a weird undemonstrable theory.

    Third, you do not seem to understand what agnosticism is all about on a day to day existence. I suggest that you consider why agnostics are never preaching whereas atheists like you have a nice preacher tone. Agnosticism is always a personal position that cannot be transmitted as it is a self acknowledgement of weakness, that there is something in our life that we cannot decide and for which we are some what ashamed, if you wish, if it makes you think you won the point. Real agnostics are on their own and are thus, like all loners, perceived as a threat, either to the Pope or to you.

    Wow, of all the totalizing nonsense I’ve read today.

    I’ve seen plenty of preachy agnostics. In fact, that’s exactly what I’d call you. All this nonsense about how we can’t “really know” and how “militant atheists” have all this “dogmatic certainty.” Agnostics are quite often dogmatists with respect to how dogmatic other people are, exactly as you’ve been on this thread. And it’s not as though we haven’t tried to help — to explain that many of us identify as both agnostics and atheists, that we don’t dogmatically assume that God doesn’t exist.

    It doesn’t seem to do any good. You dogmatically assume that we are dogmatic no matter how much we explain ourselves that our beliefs about God’s nonexistence are hard-won from experience and the use of reason.

    And you’re so goddamned full of yourself. “Real agnostics are on their own and are thus, like all loners, perceived as a threat, either to the Pope or to you.” Seriously? Get over yourself. You’re not threatening, you’re merely annoying.

  33. #33 Dan L.
    October 31, 2011

    If Daniel Duquenal is done explaining to us what we believe, here’s a little cheat sheet for him:

    agnostic: one who doesn’t know whether or not there is a God or gods

    atheist: one who doesn’t believe there is a God or gods

    Note that they’re not logically mutually exclusive. I can believe OR fail to believe in a God or gods without actually knowing whether such things exist.

    Also note, I can believe things without dogmatically assuming them. My belief that the Patriots will not make the Superbowl this year is not based on some dogmatic belief that New England teams always lose (such a belief would be untenable after the last decade) — it’s based on positive knowledge about the team’s strengths and weaknesses relative to other teams. Similarly, I don’t disbelieve in God because it makes me happy to assume there’s no God or some such. I subject the idea of “God” to the same filter I apply to all ideas about how the world works and it comes up wanting, the same as homeopathy, quantum consciousness, and a thousand other species of wishful thinking.

  34. #34 Dan L.
    October 31, 2011

    Oh, and the next time you use the word “militant” try to use it to describe someone who actually uses guns and explosives as opposed to wordpress, huh?

  35. #35 Carlos Vidal
    October 31, 2011

    Wow:

    “coleslaw” came into being is because the process that made it possible contained the informational-resources that made it. And so the very existence of “Wow”.

    So, I say it again god is the beginning-less source and origin of the information that drives the process that made “coleslaw” and “Waw”.

    Why is it so difficult for you to grasp that the information in the energy that produced every thing has a source, and this un-caused and beginning-less source is what is called God.

  36. #36 Alex SL
    November 1, 2011

    Agnosticism has always puzzled me. As far as I see it, the difference is this:

    Atheist says, “I have not seen sufficient evidence to convince me of the existence of gods”;

    Agnostic says, “I really, really, really want to stress that you cannot prove a negative, but I have not seen sufficient evidence to convince me of the existence of gods”.

    That being said, strong atheists do exist. They are a minority, but they are not entirely straw men. PZ Myers comes to mind. The argument seems to be that omnipotent beings are logically impossible, and everything that is not omnipotent would not deserve to be called god, as it would be indistinguishable from hyper-advanced aliens.

  37. #37 Deepak Shetty
    November 1, 2011

    I don’t think very many agnostics will recognize themselves in the Pope’s description.
    I dont.

    @Alex SL
    As far as I see it, the difference is this
    As far as I can tell the majority of agnostics these days are apathetic (like me!). The question of God is such an incoherent one (lets ignore the religious God’s who have been thoroughly disproved) that you cant really say what counts or what doesn’t count. If there is a being outside of our universe what would you expect or not expect? What test would you think of? How would you know how such a being thinks/acts/doesnt think / doesnt act?

    which all lead to , why bother? Our world goes on whether or not said being exists and it certainly doesn’t look like that this being interacts with our universe.

    The argument seems to be that omnipotent beings are logically impossible, and everything that is not omnipotent would not deserve to be called god
    This claim is usually made by people with a judeo-christian-islamic background. The eastern religions usually don’t have this as a requirement (nor did the romans or greeks). If a being could prove that it created our universe I would think he/she/it could claim to be God.

  38. #38 Wow
    November 1, 2011

    “If there is a being outside of our universe”

    What does “a being” mean “outside of our universe”?

    It’s like saying “someone standing north of the North Pole”. It’s inherently meaningless.

    This is why “there is no God” is still accurate for those who ascribe to agnosticism. When someone is talking about God, or hears the name God, they have a meaning of the word that CAN be proven to be wrong unless they’re

    a) pretending that they don’t mean *God*god

    b) have no idea what they do mean

    c) would like there to be one, but can’t find anything to fill the plot

  39. #39 Wow
    November 1, 2011

    “”coleslaw” came into being is because the process that made it possible contained the informational-resources that made it.”

    Coleslaw is also as much what people are thinking when you call something “God” as your version of it.

    Your god is called into being because you want something to be called god and have crafted it to contain the information that you have to have it have to remain not disproved.

    Why is it so difficult for you to make any sense? Your repetition of your woomancering isn’t god any more than coleslaw is.

  40. #40 Carlos Vidal
    November 1, 2011

    “Wow” (Who ever you are):

    Do not you see that a “coleslaw” is a product? and is a product of the energy and information (laws), contained in process that made it possible.

    What we call God is the source of energy and information that made every thing that is possible.

    Is your phobia for your concept of god clouding your mind?

  41. #41 Wow
    November 1, 2011

    “Do not you see that a “coleslaw” is a product? ”

    Do you not see that it has as much to do with what people mean when they say “God” as your assertion?

    No, you don’t.

    You may as well call coleslaw the timeless being at the start of creation.

    After all, you’ve never lived during a time when coleslaw was not in existence, so how do you know it isn’t timeless?

  42. #42 Dan L.
    November 1, 2011

    @Carlos Vidal:

    You seem to assert that all “information” in the universe was created at the moment of the big bang (or whatever).

    More information means more entropy and vice versa — highly entropic systems require a great deal of information to specify their states. Furthermore, SLoT implies entropy always increases. Since entropy always increases, information content must always increase. The universe at the big bang was low entropy relative to today — there is more information in the universe now than there was at the moment of the big bang.

    And because of SLoT, there is more all the time. So you’re wrong — the information content of the universe necessarily increases, it is not constant. You’re talking about things you don’t understand.

  43. #43 Carlos Vidal
    November 1, 2011

    Dan L:

    I by no means I asserted that the information (Laws) that produced a “coleslaw” and “Wow” began at the Big bang.

    Nothing comes from nothing, if nothing had existed, we would not be here. If the Big Bang Theory is true, something that preexisted it originated it.

    The beginning-less being that is the origin of everything is God.

  44. #44 Addicting
    November 1, 2011

    Hi all

    from the big-bang, it is because the energy that produced you contains the information that made it possible. thanks…

  45. #45 Y8
    November 1, 2011

    Merhaba…

    Selamlar cokdandır bu yazınızı arıyordum gercekden cok faydalı oldu benım ıcın sonsuz tsklerımı bır borc bilirim sagolun arkadaslar..

  46. #46 Deepak Shetty
    November 1, 2011

    What does “a being” mean “outside of our universe”?
    It’s like saying “someone standing north of the North Pole”. It’s inherently meaningless.

    Are there multiple parallel universes – as some quantum theories imply? Is is the concept inherently meaningless?

  47. #47 hoary puccoon
    November 2, 2011

    For the record, I’m not an agnostic because I’m “searching for God;” I’m an agnostic because I get too bored by theology to work out the argument for definitive atheism.

    Why is it supposed to by *my* job to go “searching for God?” What kind of Supreme Ruler of The Universe can’t get in touch with me on his own hook, when people who want to call me at dinner time to offer me a great deal on aluminum siding have no trouble at all?

  48. #48 Wow
    November 2, 2011

    “Are there multiple parallel universes – as some quantum theories imply? Is is the concept inherently meaningless? ”

    No, since there is a definition of it.

    For example, those extra universes are at the moment a hypothesis as the result of what falls out of what currently works. They’re not created to BE a multiverse, but are a result of what currently works.

    And they aren’t “beings”.

  49. #49 Wow
    November 2, 2011

    “Nothing comes from nothing,”

    Wrong.

    http://scienceblogs.com/startswithabang/2011/02/can_you_get_something_for_noth.php

    Even if it were true, then God would have been something. Who cannot come from nothing.

    “If the Big Bang Theory is true, something that preexisted it originated it.”

    No, if the theory is true, then our universe began at a time some distance past. It doesn’t mean anything preexisted it, since time started then. And before time start doesn’t exist. Just like North of the North Pole doesn’t exist: it’s definitionally meaningless.

  50. #50 Richard
    November 2, 2011

    Fantastic post I very much enjoyed it, keep up the good work.

  51. #51 Richard
    November 2, 2011

    Fantastic post I very much enjoyed it, keep up the good work.

  52. #52 Carlos Vidal
    November 2, 2011

    Deepak:

    “Being” is a mode of existence. And a Human “Being” (Deepack)capable of rationality, is asking questions for the purpose of understanding the meaning of “being” outside the Universe.

    Now we can see that the Rationality that the universe produced is a fact in the human being,and that the universe is intelligible. So, if the universe produced it, it is because it can, and is capable of producing it because the information it contains made it possible.

  53. #53 Deepak Shetty
    November 2, 2011

    @Wow
    No, since there is a definition of it.
    That doesn’t answer the question. What do we know of these “universes” ? who is in them? are there variations from us?

    And they aren’t “beings”.
    Umm aren’t there copies of you in these hypothesized universes?

    I also agreed that the logical consequence of this is “why bother” (for non scientists and besides intellectual curiosity of course).(and that most concepts of God are incoherent)

  54. #54 Carlos Vidal
    November 2, 2011

    “Nothing comes from Nothing”

    Wow, you attempted to disprove the above by showing some laboratory experiments. Do not you see that the experimenter existed before the experiment.

    “nothing” means “nothing”

  55. #55 Wow
    November 2, 2011

    “Wow, you attempted to disprove the above by showing some laboratory experiments.”

    And an explanation.

    Which shows that you can get nothing from nothing.

    Sorry, did you want proof that God was nothing?

  56. #56 Wow
    November 2, 2011

    “What do we know of these “universes” ?”

    We know what one is. That is called “a definition of a universe”.

    “Now we can see that the Rationality that the universe produced is a fact in the human being”

    No, we didn’t create the universe. Sorry.

    “So, if the universe produced it”

    What “it”?

    “it is because it can, and is capable of producing it because the information it contains made it possible.”

    Information is a woomancer phrase. Sorry. Physical laws define this universe. They’re not “information”, they’re only information when we look at them and try to sort them out.

    And if you want to say God is the Physical Laws, then you may as well say God is Coleslaw. It’s no sort of law that anyone other than a deist would acknowledge as their understanding of God.

  57. #57 Wow
    November 2, 2011

    “Umm aren’t there copies of you in these hypothesized universes?”

    Why would there be?

    Best guess would be “No, there aren’t”.

    “and that most concepts of God are incoherent”

    They’re not even defined, let alone incoherent. What is answered depends on how long you’ve been asking them what God is.

  58. #58 Carlos Vidal
    November 2, 2011

    “Wow”

    For once you were right, the Universe also produced irrationality, and you are living proof of it. Therefore your Un-God does exist.

  59. #59 Raging Bee
    November 2, 2011

    I don’t think very many agnostics will recognize themselves in the Pope’s description.

    The pope’s description is the sort of rambling, incoherent, paragraph-challenged word-salad I’d expect from loony cranks on blogs like this one.

    And like most dishonest evangelists who really have nothing to offer beneath all their caterwauling, this pope is avoiding the people who already have clear ideas in their heads, and trying instead to take advantage of people who are (allegedly) weak, uncertain, and “suffering” from some emptiness that can only be filled by his snake-oil, and thus (he hopes) less likely to stand up and call the pope out on his BS.

    It’s pretty sad, and disgusting, to see this Pope sinking to the level of Jed Smock and other two-bit carny-barkers.

  60. #60 Raging Bee
    November 2, 2011

    I had really thought this particular caricature was the exclusive domain of silly religious demagogues…

    That’s all this Pope is — a silly religious demagogue. This is the guy whose first official act was to accuse his critics of “relativism,” and who soon afterword blamed “neo-paganism” for the Holocaust.

  61. #61 Carlos Vidal
    November 2, 2011

    Some of you guys demand definitions for every thing, definitions did not give you birth, star dust did. What a marvel it is that star dust produced the ones that are asking for definitions. Rationality exists because it is built in the dust-energy that made every thing.

    We know god created, how God created is for science to find out, and for us to be in awe of God. Evolution and catholicism are not at adds.

  62. #62 Wow
    November 3, 2011

    “definitions did not give you birth, star dust did”

    No, my mammy gave birth to me. No star did. It would have burned the hospital down.

    “We know god created”

    No, we know there’s no need for god. That hypothesis has never been required.

  63. #63 Wow
    November 3, 2011

    “the Universe also produced irrationality, and you are living proof of it”

    Rather ironic when carlos is irrationally deifying star dust and calling rationality a product of star dust-energy (whatever THAT means)…

    Carlos, you’re defining irrationality as “doesn’t believe in god”.

    Rationally, you’d have to show that one exists.