The world is divided, runs the old joke (which I heard when it wasn’t so old), into two kinds: those who divided the world into two kinds, and those who don’t. [There’s actually an interesting feature of the history of logic here that… never mind. Later.]
We all, or very nearly all, like to divide the world into those who are like-minded to us and those who are not. It is not just a matter of religion, but of sport, music, politics, ethnicity, and tastes in literature. And although we do not express it out loud, we think that we have chosen the best of all these alternatives. Of course we do, or else we wouldn’t believe/accept/adopt that choice, would we? As philosopher Hilary Putnam once said in another context, I should believe somebody else’s beliefs?
Except I don’t. I’m not much of a one for joining. I never was all that settled when I was religious, and I never followed (and still don’t) sports, or keep to a musical style, or literature. And as for ethnicity, I don’t know if “vanilla” counts. I have some Irish in me, for what it’s worth.
I am moved to comment on this from a comment made to a comment I made to a blog entry that commented on one of my blog entries [stops and counts on fingers…. OK… draws breath], when I laid out my agnostic view. The rather nice DarwinCatholic blogger wondered how, if I restrict knowledge claims to empirical claims, I could have any moral views. I responded, basically, that morality wasn’t a matter of empirical knowledge, or indeed of knowledge at all (another long story), but he said in the post:
Maybe I’m unduly narrow in what I tend to consider “empirical” (indeed, it seems to me essential to science to be pretty restrictive with the term) but I can certainly see why (for all of Wilkins’ rigor as a thinking) this is not an appealing worldview to most people. Indeed, I can’t help wondering if it’s even a livable worldview for life as a whole (as opposed for one’s specifically scientific activities).
And here is the nub of it. It is a fine balancing act, taking an agnostic position. Those who are religious want to claim you as a potential member of their agnostic theist faith (that’s not silly – Cusa was such a person), while, while those who claim atheism as their commitment want you in as well. But I just cannot accept either view, and so I find myself lacking a community of like-minded folk on just about everything.
And community is indeed why our beliefs matter, along with our external behaviours, accents, vocabulary, allegiance to a sporting team, and tastes in music. It’s how you get laid, spend time together with friends, and all the things that go along with shared experiences. And so this is why I sit here late on a Sunday night (well, early Monday morning) on my own, typing…
So Larry, PZ, and all the others who have a firm atheism – good luck to you. Same to you religious folk. I wish I could compromise my views enough to join one of you, but I can’t. So I’ll fall back on chocolate until only alcohol will suffice (hey, I’m a philosopher, OK? We drink) while you all have nice families, friends with common views, and attend events and parties. Don’t mind me here in the dark, and I won’t keep insisting you are in the dark as well as me. It’s not easy being an agnostic. Pass the whisky…