On Agnosticism

Christopher Lane has a fascinating history of agnosticism in the New Humanist, an ode to doubt. :

Then [in the Victorian era] as now, doubt requires strength – it is not an easy or straightforward position to maintain.

The impact of such doubt grew on both sides of the Atlantic, with subscription rates for freethinking journals rising substantially and a growing number of articles appearing on the topic. … The idea that doubt was a sin and a moral failing, still widely held in the 1850s, gave way to a new and different emphasis: doubt was instead an intellectual obligation, even an ethical necessity. It represented a principled position. It was not a sign of emotional weakness or a moral failing, but exactly the reverse. …

Yet it was Thomas Huxley, Darwin’s staunchest defender (and so-called bulldog), who not only coined the adjective “agnostic” in 1869, but argued strenuously for a seemingly oxymoronic “agnostic faith”. Huxley stated his rationale and advice clearly: “In matters of the intellect, follow your reason as far as it will take you. [But] do not pretend that conclusions are certain which are not demonstrated or demonstrable.”

The whole essay is worth reading, and I look forward to getting my hands on Lane’s book The Age of Doubt, of which this essay is an excerpt.

Comments

  1. #1 TB
    May 6, 2011

    “Then [in the Victorian era] as now, doubt requires strength ….”

    Agnostics are the Vin Diesels of philosophical positions.

  2. #2 Riman Butterbur
    May 6, 2011

    Lane does a pretty good job of knocking down — again — the strawman that there is a popular misconception of “agnosticism” as implying an obsessive hand-wringing over whether God exists or not.

    Every self-styled agnostic I have ever read, including Josh, has said something to the effect of “I am not an atheist, I am an agnostic; I think…” and then proceeds to describe himself as an atheist.

    He doesn’t do as well in dispelling the companion misconception of “atheism”. In fact, he doesn’t even try:

    Huxley did not embrace full-blown atheism. He acknowledged “a pretty strong conviction that the problem [of existence] was insoluble”

    Right on pattern.

  3. #3 Jon
    May 6, 2011

    Agnosticism, ie, not having a false sense of precision about what you know, is the heart of the matter. It’s about not mistaking your philosophical assumptions for scientific ones. It’s amazing how closely the new atheism debate tracks to the older rift between analytic and continental philosophy. Check out the first two episodes of this interview with Charles Taylor. It’s interesting that with his background in French Quebec, the techtonic plates of continental and the British tradition rub up against each other as a matter of every day occurrence. I think he sounds tons more sensible than Daniel Dennett ever does on a good day:

    http://www.cbc.ca/ideas/episodes/2011/04/11/the-malaise-of-modernity-part-1—5/

  4. #4 Brian
    May 7, 2011

    I’m an atheist. Do I know that there is no god? Hell no. It’s unkowable. Why then am I an atheist? For the same reason that I don’t believe in unicorns. Just so long as the concept isn’t self-refuting then it’s all probability, and the probability of minds without bodies, give the evidence is zilch.

    If you want me to say that I have concluded that no god of no possible decription exits, well, I’m a finite being so I can’t do that. You can call me agnostic if that is your measure.

  5. #5 Brian
    May 7, 2011

    Jon:
    I think he sounds tons more sensible than Daniel Dennett ever does on a good day:
    And I think I detect personal preference. As some wag said, show me the man and I’ll show you his philosophy.

    Now, arguments. They’re more interesting.

  6. #6 Jon
    May 7, 2011

    Yes, actual philosophical arguments are more interesting than snarky one-paragraph drive-bys in a blog comments section.

    Which is why I posted that link as a public service.

  7. #7 Antiochus Epiphanes
    May 7, 2011

    I don’t see how the entertainment of incoherent belief is intellectually courageous. If one is agnostic regarding the existence of god, one should logically remain agnostic about the existence of all such poorly defined entities.

  8. #8 Riman Butterbur
    May 7, 2011

    Jen,

    What philosophical arguments are you referring to? I tried to stay awake thru those two audios you recommended, and never heard the guy say a thing.

    Are you sure you got the right links?

  9. #9 Anthony McCarthy
    May 7, 2011

    Thank you for the link, Jon.

    Here’s one to the lectures, Absence of Mind: The Dispelling of Inwardness from the Modern Myth of the Self by Marilynne Robinson
    .

    http://www.yale.edu/terrylecture/robinson

  10. #10 Jon
    May 7, 2011

    I could try to explain things in terms of Taylor’s vs. Dennett’s take on Descartes, and valuing a strong distinction between the natural sciences and other forms of knowledge (and not only knowledge, but praxis). But my experience on this site is that the dialog doesn’t go anywhere. If you don’t go with the agreed on line here, everyone just tries to show off to each other with the best one liners, esoteric scientific pedantry, etc. So anyway, I’m just offering the link above as a public service. If you’re curious about what someone like Charles Taylor sounds like, what arguments he makes, fine. If not–if you’re more interested on spending all your time writing one liners on blogs and impressing everyone with how much science you know–then don’t click the link.

  11. #11 Anthony McCarthy
    May 7, 2011

    I thought the first parts of the Charles Taylor program were excellent and am looking forward to listening to the rest of them. I haven’t read any of his books but he’s on my list now.

    In the revised form of logic that the NAs use “that’s soooo boooorrrringgg” is considered to be a flat refutation.

  12. #12 randyextry
    May 8, 2011

    Maybe I’m late to the party, but I mean this sincerely – Can one of the agnostics in the crowd explain to me why you are agnostic about god, but not about the tooth fairy, santa claus, unicorns, etc. If you’re agnostic about all of them, the word becomes useless because it applies to everything. If not, it suggests you consider there to be some evidence for the existence of god. But I never hear agnostics talk about the evidence for god. Instead, the argument is usually a variation of “you can’t prove god doesn’t exist, so you should be agnostic.” I can’t prove the tooth fairy doesn’t exist either, should I be agnostic about that too, or am I allowed to say “I don’t believe in the tooth fairy.”

  13. #13 Anthony McCarthy
    May 8, 2011

    the tooth fairy, santa claus, unicorns, etc.

    I’d like one of the Brights in the audience to tell me why anyone takes a would be movement that argues at that level to be an intellectual effort made by smart people.

  14. #14 Jon
    May 8, 2011

    “Why aren’t you agnostic about the tooth fairy?”

    Har har. Makes a good one liner, doesn’t it? On to the next blog…

  15. #15 TB
    May 8, 2011

    @ randyextry: The first step in understanding would be to realize that science doesn’t put unicorns etc. in the same category as religion.

  16. #16 randyextry
    May 8, 2011

    Really? That’s the best you can do? Laugh and walk away? I guess you don’t have an answer. And TB, what do you mean by “science doesn’t put unicorns and religion in the same category?” Does is put unicorns and god in the same category? I think it does.

  17. #17 TB
    May 8, 2011

    So you didn’t intend to be serious? OK. And you “think” it does? So when it’s convenient, you’re fine with disregarding sciences that study religion like anthropology and sociology in order to take a cheap shot in blog comments? Why should I waste time with someone who clearly disregards science in favor of their own personal beliefs?

  18. #18 Anthony McCarthy
    May 8, 2011

    Does is put unicorns and god in the same category? randyextry

    Only if the “scientist” doing so was especially dense. Unicorns were supposed to be actual animals in the physical world, God certainly isn’t supposed to be an actual animal in the physical world. Though Richard Dawkins, who I suspect is the ultimate source of your short list, apparently doesn’t quite get that kind of thing.

    I’m really kind of interested in what part of science you think deals in a question like that.

    I think it does.

    Call me unshocked.

  19. #19 randyextry
    May 8, 2011

    I was/am trying to be serious. TB, I still don’t follow you. I was trying to make the point that one can study religion scientifically, but that doesn’t have any bearing on the existence of god. Unicorns and religion may “not be in the same category,” but that was never my question. I don’t dispute that religion exists.
    Anthony, ok, unicorns were supposed to be real, physical entities, so they are not a valid comparison. Does that work for everything? I guess that’s really my question. Is the argument that all other mythological/supernatural beings were supposed to exist within the laws of nature, but god never was?

  20. #20 Anton Mates
    May 8, 2011

    randyextry,

    Maybe I’m late to the party, but I mean this sincerely – Can one of the agnostics in the crowd explain to me why you are agnostic about god, but not about the tooth fairy, santa claus, unicorns, etc.

    Sure. Unicorns, as traditionally conceived, are concrete, limited and predictable beings. It’s not terribly difficult to test whether there’s a one-horned ungulate of some sort that lives in European forests and is attracted by maidens; you can photograph them, track their hoofprints, hunt them and bring home a carcass. The evidence you’d expect is lacking, so I’m not agnostic about them.

    Santa Claus and the tooth fairy are trickier, because their abilities are less well-defined, but they do (traditionally) have some predictable behavior. If the tooth fairy exists, teeth under pillows should regularly disappear overnight, leaving money in their place, without the involvement of parents. This doesn’t seem to happen, so the tooth fairy probably doesn’t exist–no agnosticism needed. Ditto for Santa.

    Of course, it’s possible to reinterpret such characters so that they’re harder to test. For instance, Santa Claus in modern pop culture is often depicted as a sort of minor god, capable of working miracles in all sorts of subtle and indirect ways (sure, your mom actually bought your Christmas present, but Santa made sure she could get to the store before it was sold out!), and opposed to any scientific attempt to test his existence. For that sort of Santa, I’d be agnostic, as I am about other powerful and vague deities who move in mysterious ways.

    If you’re agnostic about all of them, the word becomes useless because it applies to everything.

    That doesn’t follow; the word can still be useful provided it doesn’t apply to everyone. Global skepticism applies to everything, but it still makes sense to distinguish between people who are global skeptics and people who aren’t.

    But of course most people who are agnostic aren’t agnostic about everything, for reasons such as we gave above.

    I can’t prove the tooth fairy doesn’t exist

    either, should I be agnostic about that too, or am I allowed to say “I don’t believe in the tooth fairy.”

    That’s a false dichotomy; you can do both. I’m agnostic about God’s existence, and I don’t believe in God. Neither do most agnostics, so far as I know. There are agnostics who do believe in the thing they’re agnostic about–agnostic theists, for instance–but I think they’re a minority among people who actually use the “agnostic” label.

    You can even, if you like, be an agnostic strong atheist (or strong a-toothfairyist). That would be the position, “I actively believe that God does not exist, but the truth of that belief is unknown or unknowable.”

    And TB, what do you mean by “science doesn’t put unicorns and religion in the same category?” Does is put unicorns and god in the same category? I think it does.

    Nope. Science has considered the existence of unicorns to be empirically testable since at least the 1700s; God, not so much.

  21. #21 Anton Mates
    May 8, 2011

    Is the argument that all other mythological/supernatural beings were supposed to exist within the laws of nature, but god never was?

    Rather, I’d say, that there are varying degrees of supernaturalness. Some beings from mythology/legends/religion are completely natural animals or people. Others have some supernatural elements, but also some natural elements through which you can still investigate their existence. Still others are so completely beyond nature that it’s pretty much impossible to go looking for them even in principle. I’d say that most of the supreme beings in modern religions are of that sort.

  22. #22 TB
    May 8, 2011

    This isn’t a very clever – or new – challenge, randyextry. Your question implies that you’re starting with a conclusion – that belief in god should be taken as seriously as belief in unicorns or the tooth fairy. That god and unicorns and tooth fairies are in the same category and can be used in comparisons.

    Are your assumptions true? Anthropology and sociology study the human belief systems where those concepts you’ve listed – unicorns and god – reside. Those sciences don’t categorize them together, so why should we? It’s likely most theologians don;t group those ideas together either. Neither science or religion seem to support your premise.

    You asked, “why you are agnostic about god, but not about the tooth fairy, santa claus, unicorns, etc.” As far as I can tell, based on information from science and religion, those things are not the same and so your premise is flawed – you’re comparing apples to oranges.

    Whatever belief there is in things like unicorns or tooth fairies, that belief hasn’t risen to a level of importance or influence in human society that belief in god has, and that seems to be reflected, for instance, by the sciences that study society.

    So, if you’re listing tooth fairies and unicorns along with a more complex concept like god, then it’s either an error in category (which should answer your question) or meant as a pejorative (which doesn’t deserve this long an answer).

  23. #23 TB
    May 8, 2011

    And Anton takes the time to explain WHY the error in category should answer your question.

  24. #24 Wowbagger
    May 8, 2011

    Anton Mates wrote:

    Still others are so completely beyond nature that it’s pretty much impossible to go looking for them even in principle. I’d say that most of the supreme beings in modern religions are of that sort.

    Anthony McCarthy have already discussed this, but my (continuing) problem with this idea is that no-one’s ever demonstrated how they know that gods are indiscernible. But it’s an easy thing to simply claim that and say ‘case closed; you can’t prove an indiscernible god doesn’t exist, and I, can’t prove it does because I’ve already said it’s indiscernible so stop asking’.

    Which leads, of course, to the suggestion that determining the existence of gods only became an impossible proposition when it became fairly clear that, despite the advances made by all the different sciences, no evidence (to support the existence of gods; evidence to suggest the contrary for certain kinds of gods, of course, became plentiful) appeared to be forthcoming.

    There’s also the idea that, if a god is indiscernible, how is this god able to communicate anything to us about his/her/its wishes? Really, such an argument is only appropriate for true deists, rather than those who wish to apply the qualities of a deist god when it suits them.

    This reimagining of the Christian gods’ qualities seems somewhat likely, given we have the old testament of the Christian bible, where the god of the Israelites is described as interacting with people in observable ways all the time; this suggests he’s only been retconned into being indiscernible in recent times.

    However, there are always people who believe they should be allowed to both have their cake and eat it, too.

  25. #25 Wowbagger
    May 8, 2011

    Gah. Apologies for typos. That first paragraph should go:

    Anthony McCarthy and I have already discussed this, but my (continuing) problem with this idea is that no-one’s ever demonstrated how they know that gods are indiscernible. But it’s an easy thing to simply claim that they do and say ‘case closed; you can’t prove an indiscernible god doesn’t exist, and I can’t prove it does because, as I’ve already said, it’s indiscernible - so stop asking.’

  26. #26 Markita Lynda: Healthcare is a damn right
    May 9, 2011

    Unicorns, leprechauns, Santa Claus, and gods are all in the category of magical beings. It’s not so far-fetched to lump them together, since the Old Testament god walked in the garden and his “hinder parts” were once seen by an O.T. prophet. Science has taken away more and more of his responsibilities: lightning strikes, diseases, infestations, woodenheadedness (as when he hardens men’s hearts to defy them so he can punish them), and so on. As he has become responsible for fewer things, he has become vaguer and further away.

    However, a closer analogy would be the Christian/Jewish/Muslim god and other gods. Why not believe in Ganesh or Shiva or Thor? The only reason we think of our particular god as possible and others as mythical is that we’ve not been indoctrinated from childhood to believe in the others. Childhood is when pronouncements from authority figures can most easily leak through a reality filter that is still weak and take root in our minds as “Truth.”

  27. #27 Markita Lynda: Healthcare is a damn right
    May 9, 2011

    … to defy them him….

  28. #28 Anton Mates
    May 9, 2011

    Wowbagger,

    Anthony McCarthy have already discussed this, but my (continuing) problem with this idea is that no-one’s ever demonstrated how they know that gods are indiscernible.

    I don’t know that, in many cases, but that doesn’t bother me; my agnosticism can be provisional. What I know is that I can’t figure out how to discern many hypothetical deities. Perhaps someday some brilliant person will devise a test, and then I won’t be agnostic about those particular gods anymore.

    That said, I think there are strong logical arguments that the generic monotheist god is indiscernible. It’s bodiless, so you can’t look for it directly; it has incomprehensible motivations and is infinitely intelligent and powerful, so you can’t look for it indirectly by predicting how it would affect the observable world. (The classic attempt to make such a prediction produces the Argument from Evil, but I think the counterarguments to that amply illustrate the above pitfalls.)

    To top it all off, this god is frequently characterized as “not to be tested,” and obviously an omni-god who doesn’t want to be successfully tested can make sure that doesn’t happen.

    Which leads, of course, to the suggestion that determining the existence of gods only became an impossible proposition when it became fairly clear that, despite the advances made by all the different sciences, no evidence (to support the existence of gods; evidence to suggest the contrary for certain kinds of gods, of course, became plentiful) appeared to be forthcoming.

    This may be the case, as far as popular Abrahamic belief goes (though it’s clearly not the case for Greco-Roman paganism or Buddhism, since philosophers within those traditions were arguing for agnosticism long before anything resembling modern science.) Of course, there’s the alternative suggestion that advances in mathematics and logic revealed that the gods in question had never been testable, whatever earlier generations may have believed on that point.
    In any case, the historical motivations for the rise of agnosticism are independent of the question of its validity.

    There’s also the idea that, if a god is indiscernible, how is this god able to communicate anything to us about his/her/its wishes?

    Quite easily, I should think. There’s lots of ways in which a god could arrange for desired mortals to hold particular beliefs about its wishes, ranging from direct tweaking of their brains to indirectly engineering the appropriate religious texts and dogmas. Provided these beliefs are true but not justified (in a logical or empirical sense), the god has successfully communicated its wishes while remaining indiscernible.

    This reimagining of the Christian gods’ qualities seems somewhat likely, given we have the old testament of the Christian bible, where the god of the Israelites is described as interacting with people in observable ways all the time; this suggests he’s only been retconned into being indiscernible in recent times.

    I would disagree with your premise. The god of the Old Testament doesn’t interact with people in observable ways all the time; rather, he interacts with special people at fairly infrequent times, usually set well in the author’s past. The fact that God had spoken to Moses out of a burning bush hardly implied that God would speak to the average “modern” Israelite a few centuries later.

    Indeed, the Old Testament contains plenty of texts–look to the Psalms in particular–where people lament the apparent absence of any hint of God’s existence.

  29. #29 Wowbagger
    May 9, 2011

    Anton Mates wrote:

    That said, I think there are strong logical arguments that the generic monotheist god is indiscernible. It’s bodiless, so you can’t look for it directly; it has incomprehensible motivations and is infinitely intelligent and powerful, so you can’t look for it indirectly by predicting how it would affect the observable world. (The classic attempt to make such a prediction produces the Argument from Evil, but I think the counterarguments to that amply illustrate the above pitfalls.)

    Thing is, I don’t understand how that’s ‘logical’ (in the purest sense) – other than in that you can reach that point when, after you first assume a god exists, you can come up with reasons that might justify why we can’t find any evidence of him/her/it. And that appears (to me) to be assuming your conclusion and then justifying it, rather than starting with acknowledging there’s no evidence and determining what that might mean – including, of course, the option that it means there’s no god out there, indiscernible or otherwise.

    Unfortunately, relying on what ‘special people’ tell us they’ve been told by their god(s) hits a brick wall when, as we are faced courtesy of the so-called ‘revealed’ religions today, there are any number of ‘special people’ who make very different (to the point of being not only contradictory but mutually exclusive) claims – which of them has the ‘right’ message, and how do we tell?

    Using the same defences it’s just as ‘reasonable’ to assume that an indiscernible god wants us to be atheists because he/she/it deliberately made all these religions (and the rationalisations for adhering to them) so awkward and clumsy and unsatisfying as a means to turn us away from it.

  30. #30 Anthony McCarthy
    May 9, 2011

    God, or gods, for that matter, are believed to be anything from infinite in duration and all encompassing in their abilities to at least exceeding the human capacities in those areas by a great deal. I would guess, but can’t know, due to there being no record, that the modern philosophical implications of that weren’t immediately grasped by the first beings in our line to articulate those ideas. One of those which is quite a big more than just an implication is that human abilities to even conceive a complete view of any of those is almost entirely inadequate.

    I most seriously doubt that even a billion years of the duration of evolutionary change on Earth, something really big and really detailed, is entirely within the human ability to grasp more than a small part of it. Any single human being could certainly not encompass more than a little of the information that could include. I fully believe in evolution, though I certainly can’t know it directly, not being able to see its actual occurrence, knowing it only in the analysis of small parts of it. But that’s all in the purely physical phenomena that comprise that available evidence. It doesn’t tell very much, if anything, about those parts of evolution which are lost or which never left a physical trace, even less about those too ineffable to be discerned by human beings, NOTE, I fully believe there are aspects of the physical universe that are too subtle or too enormous to be captured by human skill and pluck, and very likely those which our science isn’t even able to include, though that’s not an idea that can be a part of science which is supposed to deal only in the evidence it can discern. Anything for which we can’t get evidence can’t enter into it.

    All of which is about as useful as evolutionary biology can be to thinking on the idea of the existence of God. Which is about as useful to thinking of the existence of God as any branch of the very humanly limited field of science is, since God is spirit and must be thought about in spirit. Which is an idea that has some precedence, though, perhaps, not thought of in those terms by whoever it was who wrote John 4:24.

  31. #31 TB
    May 9, 2011

    Lynda: “Unicorns, leprechauns, Santa Claus, and gods are all in the category of magical beings.”

    Can you show me where it says that in the pertinent scientific literature? Anyone can make up categories too, and with the intent of denigrating one of the subjects of that category through the comparison.

    But just because someone can do that doesn’t means I have to take them seriously.

  32. #32 Anthony McCarthy
    May 9, 2011

    Santa Claus is a folk version of an historical person, Nicholas, the bishop of Myra, in Turkey, in the 4th century. As such, history would be a far better discipline to use to try to find out anything about him. Though his reputed bones have been studied scientifically.

    The many fantastic stories told about him are a good example of how a real being can become part of folklore, mixing nonsense in with accurate information. Look at how even recent, solidly documented historical personages get accretions of made up stuff attached to them. Abraham Lincoln, Charles Darwin… None of whom have been talked about nearly as long as or by as many people as God has.

  33. #33 Wowbagger
    May 9, 2011

    Anthony McCarthy wrote:

    Which is about as useful to thinking of the existence of God as any branch of the very humanly limited field of science is, since God is spirit and must be thought about in spirit. Which is an idea that has some precedence, though, perhaps, not thought of in those terms by whoever it was who wrote John 4:24.

    But that should also apply to those who claim to understand ‘their’ god’s purpose, shouldn’t it? Either this being is wholly outside our comprehension or he/she/it isn’t.

    To claim that a god is so profoundly esoteric as to be completely beyond science yet proffer the bible or the Qur’an as this god’s holy book containing his commands or instructions or guidelines contradicts that; like I remarked earlier, it falls into the category of having the cake and eating it too.

  34. #34 Anthony McCarthy
    May 9, 2011

    Well, I’m not a scriptural fundamentalist. Many if not most people aren’t, almost none are when it comes to what’s actually done instead of what’s merely professed. How many alleged followers of Jesus have sold everything they had and given the money to the poor, someone who won’t pay it back. Not even the ones who claim to believe Jesus is God and his every command one from God. I’ve never said that fundamentalism was more than an, at best, extremely naive view of scriptures, sometimes quite dishonest.

    If God can’t be contained in a human mind or a collection of human minds, not even in a human life that is finite and limited. God can’t be encompassed in a book that isn’t alive. That it would be extremely difficult to try to live up to what you experience of God isn’t surprising.

    Science, with its necessary, self-imposed limits in what is considered and how it is considered certainly can’t contain even as much as an anthology like The Bible might. And look at how science with all its great specificity is abused. Is it any surprise that something as imprecise and metaphorical as The Bible can be is abused?

  35. #35 Anthony McCarthy
    May 9, 2011

    And, J.J.R. that little snippet you link to leaves out most of the story, including that as soon as Rawlins saw the “challenge” that Kurtz, Abell and Zelen issued to Gauquelin, he knew the incompetence of it would result in confirmation of Gauquelin’s findings instead of their refutation. He went through quite a bit of angst trying to get them to own up to the original challenge having been incompetently framed before the rest of the hilarious catastrophe for the “science” side of things happened.

    This is the best source I’ve seen on the original scandal, Rawlins’ sTARBABY account, Phil Klass’s incompetent hatchet job, “Crybaby” and the eventual fall out of it that still resonates through the criticism of pseudo-skepticism.

    http://www.discord.org/~lippard/kammann.html

    Of the CSICOPs involved in it, all of them proved to be incompetent except Rawlins and he’s the one who got booted out. He’s a pretty obnoxious, anti-religious bigot but his science is competent. Jerry Coyne has a lot in common with him, except I can’t imagine him bucking the “skeptical” establishment.

  36. #36 Antiochus Epiphanes
    May 9, 2011

    Anthony McCarthy

    God certainly isn’t supposed to be an actual animal in the physical world.

    Right. “God” is defined as something completely apart from the real world; in other words, not defined at all. God has no real properties. The term “God” has no meaning in terms of any other real thing.

    How is this different than saying that “God” isn’t real?

    When we say that something “exists”, we use this term to mean something. Things that exist are part of the real world. They have properties. Your conception of “God” fits the description in the banner at the top of this page quoted from Twain.

    *Quotes around “God” denote a particular conception of him by sophisticated theologists.

  37. #37 Anthony McCartny
    May 9, 2011

    A.E. was it you who I quoted Bertrand Russell to, as saying that talking about believing in God was extremely complex, mostly because the question of existence and what it means to say that something exists is hardly a simple concept, though, perhaps somewhat less complicated when considering matter and other things that can be measured. To talk about human consciousness is very far from simple and no one who believes in God believes that God is as limited as human consciousness.

    There’s a big difference between your accepting that God isn’t like anything you can sense in the physical world or like people and being able to dispense with that idea. You don’t have to like the idea but don’t be surprised when people don’t accept that you’ve disposed of the God they believe in.

    I’d also recommend A. S. Eddington’s lecture, The Concept of Existence, the tenth in The Philosophy of Physical Science. That would be the context in which I’d discuss the issue about things in the physical universe. I really don’t think that could tell you anything about God, though. You either believe in God or you don’t believe in God. All I’m interested in here is showing that the dismissal of people who believe in God as superstitious, ignorant, fearfully credulous, etc. is horse feathers. I don’t care if you don’t believe.

  38. #38 Antiochus Epiphanes
    May 9, 2011

    All I’m interested in here is showing that the dismissal of people who believe in God as superstitious, ignorant, fearfully credulous, etc. is horse feathers.

    No need. I know many people who believe that are not any of these things. But discussing beliefs is much more interesting than discussing people.

    There’s a big difference between your accepting that God isn’t like anything you can sense in the physical world or like people and being able to dispense with that idea.

    Not so much. It seems unproductive to claim belief in things that are largely unknowable; why not dispense with those beliefs altogether? What do we need them for? What do they explain? At the very least, such beliefs should hold much less water than beliefs that can be examined objectively.

    I’m curious though. Given your position, how much must you know about an amorphous incomprehensible character to ascribe belief it? Is anything so poorly defined worthy of belief?

  39. #39 Anton Mates
    May 9, 2011

    Wowbagger,

    Thing is, I don’t understand how that’s ‘logical’ (in the purest sense) – other than in that you can reach that point when, after you first assume a god exists, you can come up with reasons that might justify why we can’t find any evidence of him/her/it.

    But that’s how logical arguments work, no? You start with premises (“If there exists a god of the following description…”) and derive a conclusion (“…then any conceivable observation could occur.”) The question of whether you should accept the premises in the first place doesn’t really matter when you’re judging the logical validity of the argument.

    And that appears (to me) to be assuming your conclusion and then justifying it, rather than starting with acknowledging there’s no evidence and determining what that might mean – including, of course, the option that it means there’s no god out there, indiscernible or otherwise.

    I think one should distinguish between assuming a position for the purposes of argument, and assuming it for good. If you want to logically or empirically investigate a claim, you pretty much have to assume it temporarily, so you can figure out what its consequences are.

    Likewise, if someone argues (as in the Argument from Evil) that certain features of the observable universe are incompatible with a certain type of god, then the first thing you have to ask is: “Assuming there was such a god, is it true that the universe would not have such features?” If the answer is no, and the Argument from Evil fails, then of course you haven’t demonstrated that there is such a god. But you have knocked down a positive argument that there isn’t.

    Unfortunately, relying on what ‘special people’ tell us they’ve been told by their god(s) hits a brick wall when, as we are faced courtesy of the so-called ‘revealed’ religions today, there are any number of ‘special people’ who make very different (to the point of being not only contradictory but mutually exclusive) claims – which of them has the ‘right’ message, and how do we tell?

    If you’re asking me, or the average agnostic, I think the obvious answer is: we can’t. Any of them could be right, or they could all be wrong because the True God sent a completely different message, or they could all be wrong because there is no god. Hence, I’m going to stop worrying about it and ignore them all.

    However, the fact that we can’t tell which prophet is most likely to be right doesn’t mean we should conclude that they’re definitely all wrong. That would be the same error in reasoning that the creationist makes when he says, “Scientists keep finding these fossil fish with legs, but they can’t tell us which fish species was ancestral to humanity, so none of them were.”

    Using the same defences it’s just as ‘reasonable’ to assume that an indiscernible god wants us to be atheists because he/she/it deliberately made all these religions (and the rationalizations for adhering to them) so awkward and clumsy and unsatisfying as a means to turn us away from it.

    Hey, sure. And I’m just as agnostic about that particular god.

    (Although, depending on exactly how you conceive of it, this god might be vulnerable to a problem-of-evil-style argument. That is, there cannot be an omnipotent, omniscient god with an overriding desire for us to be atheists, because most of us aren’t atheists.)

  40. #40 Anthony McCarthy
    May 9, 2011

    I’m curious though. Given your position, how much must you know about an amorphous incomprehensible character to ascribe belief it? Is anything so poorly defined worthy of belief? A.E.

    Amorphous. No, I don’t think God is amorphous but as present as experience.

    Incomprehensible. Well, that is to be expected, I’m a single person, I could hardly hope to comprehend something infinite, omnipotent and omniscient. I also don’t comprehend the physical universe or evolution. I wouldn’t be surprised if there are subtle aspects of even our own evolution that we won’t ever understand, maybe some as odd as physics. Feynman said that no one understood quantum mechanics.

    Worthy of belief. What makes you think worthiness has anything to do with it. Is time worthy of belief? Or gravity?

  41. #41 Antiochus Epiphanes
    May 9, 2011

    Is time worthy of belief? Or gravity?

    Yes. Your turn.

  42. #42 Antiochus Epiphanes
    May 9, 2011

    That would be the same error in reasoning that the creationist makes when he says, “Scientists keep finding these fossil fish with legs, but they can’t tell us which fish species was ancestral to humanity, so none of them were.”

    Not remotely. Evolutionary theory requires that humans ahre an ancestor with other vertebrates. No theory requires the existence of a deity.

  43. #43 Antiochus Epiphanes
    May 9, 2011

    In my language, “ahre” means “have”.

  44. #44 randyextry
    May 9, 2011

    I’m still trying to make sense of this. Is there ever a distinction made between different specific ideas about god, when staking an agnostic position? For example, would someone ever say “I’m agnostic about a deist god, but I certainly don’t believe in the god of Abraham”? I ask for two reasons. First, the point about unicorns not being a fair comparison because people used to think they were real, doesn’t work against a literalist christianity or judaism, in which god interacted with people directly, jesus was god and existed on earth, miracles are performed, prayers answered, etc. Can that type of god be dismissed as unicorns are? Second, someone above made a point about respecting religious beliefs. If you’re agnostic about this undefinable being which exists outside of space and time, does it follow that you should then respect the idea that this being loved us so much he gave his only son?

  45. #45 Anton Mates
    May 10, 2011

    Not remotely. Evolutionary theory requires that humans ahre an ancestor with other vertebrates. No theory requires the existence of a deity.

    That has nothing to do with the error in reasoning I was talking about. Theories often require something that turns out to be false; that’s usually how they’re refuted.

  46. #46 Anton Mates
    May 10, 2011

    Is there ever a distinction made between different specific ideas about god, when staking an agnostic position?

    Sure. For instance, some Pentecostal Christians believe in a God who consistently permits the faithful to handle poisonous snakes without injury. Since these believers are often injured or killed by snake bites, I’m pretty confident that this particular God doesn’t exist; no agnosticism necessary.

    OTOH, Rastafarians worship Ethiopian Emperor Haile Selassie I as a god, and I’m pretty sure he does exist. Did, anyway.

  47. #47 Anthony McCarthy
    May 10, 2011

    Why would anyone think that some people being mistaken about something is evidence, even proof, of its non-existence? Scientists frequently have wrong ideas about the universe, often with very sciency reasons to lead them that way. People frequently have wrong ideas about everything. If you’re going to make that the ultimate measure of existence, prepare to not believe in anything. Which would make your life incredibly limited. It would very quickly stop any intellectual activity you’re engaged in, since there’s hardly an aspect of that which isn’t based in something people have had wrong ideas about. You’d first have to root out all that previous wrongness.

    I’m fairly confident that the humanists believe that man is the measure of all things, in fact if not in explicit declaration. I’m fairly confident that man has got the measure of a relatively few things and that those things are only guaranteed to be measured in human terms, not in any kind of objective way that is guaranteed to make sense to any other species, not even intelligent ones. Yet I still accept the legitimacy of those measurements when they can be shown to work, at least in human terms. Though I think our scientifically killing off our biosphere is a pretty good indication that those human terms don’t contain sufficient information and are sufficiently biased so they don’t address anything like an ultimate reality in any meaningful way. They may end up in our extinction. What could be a more conclusive proof of their limitations?

    I’m pretty confident that the idea that we have anything like an absolute and objective view of the universe that we are certain would be the same as that of another intelligent species is a delusion, one that is also the fervent belief of materialists. I am certain human beings don’t have that bizarrely conceived of, spookily disembodied, view that is independent of the entirely human sensory mechanisms and minds with which they are viewed. Nor that even the analysis of any raw sensory information is independent of our peculiar experience. I think to pretend that all of our thoughts, from start to finish, are not fundamentally mitigated by our particular points of view, as well, is the very conceit of both philosophical materialism and scientism. Something bizarrely Victorian, today, something that should have gone out by the 1930s.

    That doesn’t mean I don’t see the value in quite a bit of science and that much of it, when it’s not done for the purposes of self-enrichment, self-aggrandizement or in an ideological panic, is good. I just don’t believe it’s the last word in everything, as the true believers of scientism believe it to be.

  48. #48 Antiochus Epiphanes
    May 10, 2011

    I’m fairly confident that the humanists believe that man is the measure of all things, in fact if not in explicit declaration.

    WTF does that even mean? This doesn’t appear anywhere in the Humanist Handbook (though I must admit that I haven’t advanced beyond intermediate humanist yet).

    I’m pretty confident that the idea that we have anything like an absolute and objective view of the universe that we are certain would be the same as that of another intelligent species is a delusion, one that is also the fervent belief of materialists.

    OK…that one is right from the Materialist Handbook, Chapter 7 “Intelligent Life”, Section 6 “They Agree With Us”, Article 1, I quote: “We have an objective and absolute view of the universe. So do intelligent aliens. Further, their view agrees with ours, or they are not intelligent.” with the footnote, “See Section 9: Ferengi”

    That doesn’t mean I don’t see the value in quite a bit of science and that much of it, when it’s not done for the purposes of self-enrichment, self-aggrandizement or in an ideological panic, is good. I just don’t believe it’s the last word in everything, as the true believers of scientism believe it to be.

    I hate self-enrichment myself. Also ideological panics. Take a deep ideological breath, I always say. Also, I concur that science shouldn’t have the last word on everything, especially when people with murky opinions that they obtained from the back of a cereal box are willing and able to share those opinions via the interwebs. Let’s get their take on things, I always say.

  49. #49 Anthony McCarthy
    May 10, 2011

    This doesn’t appear anywhere in the Humanist Handbook A.E.

    You really should read a bit more widely than what you’ll find in the Prometheus catalog. Humanism is an intellectual movement that goes quite far back in the history of Western culture, I would say that the “Humanism” most people talk about on these blogs is is a minor, commercial, quirk.

    Here, read what Austin Cline, one of Paul Kurtz’ boys, a “secular humanist” with whom I’ve had major disagreements, says. You might get the reference I made from him.

    http://atheism.about.com/od/abouthumanism/a/ancientgreece.htm

    (though I must admit that I haven’t advanced beyond intermediate humanist yet) A.E.

    You make it sound like Rosicrucianism. The rest of your comment is silliness substituting for refutation or even argument. My guess is that kind of stuff might come from an ideological panic attack.

  50. #50 Antiochus Epiphanes
    May 10, 2011

    The rest of your comment is silliness substituting for refutation or even argument.

    Wrong again. The entire comment was silliness. From your post at #47, I thought that’s what we were doing here.

    Anyway, whenever I find myself in the throes of ideological panic, I like to meditate on this quotation from one of my favorite Materialsts*.

    “Hokey religions and ancient weapons are no match for a good blaster at your side.”

    *Who was also (coincidentally) well-connected with intelligent aliens.

  51. #51 Anthony McCarthy
    May 10, 2011

    A. E., again, dismissal with an attempt at clever sarcasm isn’t a refutation or even an argument. I’m not surprised that a fundamentalist materialist wouldn’t like what I said but, really, making believe that humans can perceive of things and think of them in anything but a human manner – or even a number of different human manners – being in direct contact with an absolutely objectively understood universe is playing pretend as much as someone who believes Genesis 1 is natural history.

  52. #52 Antiochus Epiphanes
    May 10, 2011

    Anthony: Why is it OK for you to be silly, but not others?

    I mean, parse this:

    making believe that humans can perceive of things and think of them in anything but a human manner – or even a number of different human manners – being in direct contact with an absolutely objectively understood universe is playing pretend as much as someone who believes Genesis 1 is natural history.

    Is there a serious argument in there?

  53. #53 Anthony McCarthy
    May 10, 2011

    There is no absolute view of the universe available to human beings which can escape the fact that it is human beings observing them with human senses and human minds and analyzing those and understanding those in consultation with human experience. What we see isn’t the naked universe. It’s only seen through that human filter. Pretending that we can have a direct perception of the universe unmitigated by that inescapable truth is something that should have been given up in the early 20th century just as the fundamentalist belief in Genesis 1: should have been given up by c. 1680, considering the speed of modern communication.

  54. #54 Antiochus Epiphanes
    May 10, 2011

    Ummm…ignoring much of that word salad*, it seems that you are saying that our experience of the universe is limited to what we sense, right?

    I agree.

    But what does this have to do with anything?

    *”unmitigated by that inescapable truth” and so on.

  55. #55 Wowbagger
    May 10, 2011

    AE asked (of Anthony McCarthy):

    Ummm…ignoring much of that word salad, it seems that you are saying that our experience of the universe is limited to what we sense, right?
    But what does this have to do with anything?

    Because if there are things we can’t sense then there exists a place where a god or gods can hide.

    Which, as I’ve said before, is fine for a deist; however, anyone who subscribes to this theory and believes the otherwise super-secretive and elusive god(s) perform(s) miracles, answer(s) prayers, appear(s) in human form and so forth has to try and reconcile this.

    Sadly, the most common response to this is ‘Because god(s) can do that’, followed shortly after by, ‘and because I’ve asserted god(s) can do that, you can’t prove god(s) can’t, so stop trying.’

  56. #56 Anthony McCarthy
    May 10, 2011

    “word salad”

    That seems to be new atheist for “that’s too hard to read”.

    “Eighteen years ago I was responsible for a remark which has often been quoted:

    It is one thing for the human mind to extract from the phenomena of nature the laws which it has itself put into them; it may be a far harder thing to extract laws over which it has had no control It is even possible that laws which have not their origin in the mind may be irrational and we can never succeed in formulating them.

    This seems to be coming true, though not in the way that then suggested itself. I had in mind the phenomena of quanta and atomic physics, which at that time completely baffled our efforts to formulate a rational system of law. It was already apparent that the principle laws of molar physics were mind-made — the result of the sensory and intellectual equipment through which we derive our observational knowledge — and were not laws of governance of the objective universe. The suggestion was that in quantum theory we for the first time came up against the true laws of governance of the objective universe. If so, the task was presumably much more difficult than merely rediscovering our own frame of thought”.

    Since then microscopic physics has made great progress, and its laws have turned out to be comprehensible to the mind; but, as I have endeavored to show, it also turns out that they have been imposed by the mind — by our forms of thought — in the same way that the molar laws are imposed…
    A. S. Eddington The Physical Universe: The Philosophy of Physical Science

  57. #57 Anthony McCarthy
    May 10, 2011

    ” It is not only in the investigation of human society that the truth is sometimes unavailable. Natural scientists, in their overweening pride, have come to believe that everything about the material world is knowable and that eventually everything we want to know will be known. But that is not true. For some things there is simply not world enough and time. It may be, given the necessary constraints on time and resources available to the natural sciences, that we will never have more than a rudimentary understanding of the central nervous system. For other things, especially in biology where so many of the multitude of forces operating are individually so weak, no conceivable technique of observation can measure them. In evolutionary biology, for example, there is no possibility of measuring the selective forces operating on most genes because those forces are so weak, yet the eventual evolution of the organisms is governed by them. Worse, there is no way to confirm or reject stories about the selective forces that operated in the past to bring traits to their present state, no matter how strong those forces were. Over and over, in the essays reproduced here, I have tried to give an impression of the limitations on the possibility of our knowledge. Science is a social activity carried out by a remarkable, but by no means omnipotent, species. Even the Olympians were limited in their powers.”

    Richard Lewontin: introduction to It Ain’t Necessarily So: The Dream of the Human Genome and Other Illusions

  58. #58 Antiochus Epiphanes
    May 10, 2011

    That seems to be new atheist for “that’s too hard to read”.

    No, no. It means that it is too poorly written to read. The quoted passage in #56 is one such example of verbigeration.

    Nonetheless, these quotations are somewhat more manageable than what you have written above. Yet, we are no further along. They seem to say that our experience of the universe is limited to what we sense, right?

    I agree.

    But what does this have to do with anything?

    If what Wowbagger wrote is what you mean to say,

    Because if there are things we can’t sense then there exists a place where a god or gods can hide.

    then just say that.

  59. #59 Anthony McCarthy
    May 10, 2011

    The quoted passage in #56 is one such example of verbigeration.

    Gee, Einstein said that Eddington’s explanation of Relativity was the best one in any language. Guess he should have consulted you first.

    If you can’t figure out that it’s relevant to the point I was making about the limits of what science can do I don’t feel very bad about your unfavorable view of what I wrote. That I wouldn’t be as accomplished a writer, especially in a blog comment, as Eddington and Lewontin, I don’t aspire to compete with them, among the finer thinkers and writers in their fields.

  60. #60 Jon
    May 10, 2011

    On the subject of “elusive God or gods”, check out this book *All Things Shining: Reading the Western Canon to Find Meaning in a Secular Age* (yes, the authors are rigging off Charles Taylor’s book in their title. They apparently got the book idea out of discussions on the subject of polytheism with Taylor himself):

    http://www.powells.com/biblio/95-3330000254623-0

  61. #61 Jon
    May 10, 2011

    Riffing, not “rigging”…

  62. #62 Anthony McCarthy
    May 10, 2011

    I think somewhere above I noted that anyone who believes in a God who created the universe and maintains its operation wouldn’t have the strange idea that virtually every atheist I’ve heard or read discuss it seems to believe, that the universe is somehow either out of the control of or set up in some kind of opposition to God. It goes along with their assumption that the universe, along with the study of it, is their property.

    The belief that God created the universe as it actually is, as opposed to how any person or group of people believes it to be at any time, includes that what we take to be the normal operation of that universe would also be as intentionally created by God as any physical object in it. The idea that some proposed “miracle” would be something God did but that the normal course of things which that “miracle” deviated from, is, somehow not also according to what God intends, is just an indication that they really don’t have the first idea of what religious folks believe.

  63. #63 Antiochus Epiphanes
    May 10, 2011

    Guess he should have consulted you first.

    Or his editor, “laws of governance”, indeed. Not unlike the uniformity of undifferentiated prejudice.

    Your position AFAICT has been correctly identified by Wowbagger. Tap dance around it all you want. Wrapping it up in sophisticated theology does nothing to improve the stink of superstition.

  64. #64 randyextry
    May 10, 2011

    Anthony, you wrote: “Why would anyone think that some people being mistaken about something is evidence, even proof, of its non-existence?” You’re confusing cause and effect here. Being mistaken is not evidence for anything; it is the evidence that convinces us that the idea is mistaken. Taking biblical literalism as the example (which is what I think that was referring to), if you think that position is mistaken, can you admit that that particular concept of god is just wrong? Why don’t you dismiss biblical literalism (and its proponents) with the same ferocity you appear to reserve for atheism and atheists? Would you agree with the statement: Anyone who claims to know for a fact that god exists and that god has left us instructions for how to live a righteous life is as pathetically misguided as anyone who claims to know for a fact that there is no god, and both can be (and should be) ignored when discussing questions about god.

  65. #65 Dave T
    May 11, 2011

    Interesting discussion. I can remember walking with my then 18 year-old daughter past a church and asked her openly what her thoughts were about religion. She confidently asserted that she was an athiest, just as I believed myself to be as a teenager, with my love of science. I gave her what I thought was a piece of sage advice and suggested that she call herself an agnostic, as I thought I’d save her lots of angst over unreasonable rejection (by people who were strong theists).

    My later position, arose through exposure to wider reading, like Buddhist ideas on non-theism, Kantian ideas on the noumenous (the unnameable and unknowable thing-in-itself), as well as his subtle elaboration on the various ‘antinomies’ (like the fact that we can’t say there is a beginning or an end to the universe). Kant also postulated a ‘moral theology’ which I find quite intriguing, as it’s a bit like Buddha’s postulation of the ‘dharma’ (might be termed ‘the moral law within’).

    Glad to see that my (not final at all) position somewhat aligns with Anthony’s. I would say, in keeping with Paul Tillich and F. S. C. Northrup that ‘the ground of being created the universe and maintains its operation’ makes me less agnostic and more theistic when I approach the Deist position.

  66. #66 Anthony McCarthy
    May 11, 2011

    Your position AFAICT has been correctly identified by Wowbagger. A.E.

    Oh, dear. I know this isn’t as easy to grasp as what you’ll read at James Randi’s place but…..

    I don’t know how many times I have to say it, science can’t tell you anything about the existence of God, period. Not even if science had no limits and absolute certainty in what it could tell you about its subject matter, which is the physical universe that can be known through the methods of science. It isn’t able to even tell you about those aspects of the physical universe which are covered by this part of the Eddington passage I quoted:

    It is one thing for the human mind to extract from the phenomena of nature the laws which it has itself put into them; it may be a far harder thing to extract laws over which it has had no control It is even possible that laws which have not their origin in the mind may be irrational and we can never succeed in formulating them.

    It is even possible that laws which have not their origin in the mind may be irrational and we can never succeed in formulating them.

    That is “irrational” in not able to be deduced, not able to be found by the use of reason, but still there and still doing whatever they do, undetected by science. Which is matched by his famous statement ” Not only is the universe stranger than we imagine, it is stranger than we can imagine.”

    The only way my last few comments even impinge on the question of the existence of God is unrelated to that question but points to the typical atheist-creationist misunderstanding that you could find God with science. It can’t be done whether or not God is there. It has nothing to do with whether or not the belief in God is legitimate. Science doesn’t just have to be neutral, if it is honest and honestly used, it has to be even less involved in the question than neutral.

    I’ll add again in these discussions that the phrase “God of the gaps” was invented by Henry Drummond an evangelical preacher and supporter of Evolution a la Darwin who told OTHER RELIGIOUS FOLKS that looking for God in the gaps of science was nonsensical.

    Looking it up just now on the new atheist’s version of The Guiness Book, Wikipedia, I see that if you’d taken the minimal effort with the phrase online, you could read not only that but that the great writer on theology and moral hero, Dietrich Bonhoeffer, said pretty much the same thing.

    I suspect that you guys didn’t get what I was talking about because you assume the new atheist- “Intelligent Design” framework on that matter is a logical necessity when it’s not even one that matches the problem. Which would show you the impossibility of using it to dispose of peoples’ BELIEF in God, because you’ll never touch the God they believe in with it, you’ll only get the one you don’t believe in, which is identical to the one ID proponents think they believe in due to their lack of belief.

  67. #67 Antiochus Epiphanes
    May 11, 2011

    Anthony: Yeah. I get it. God, so imagined, is not amenable to empirical investigation. You define him to be intangible, and therefore he can’t be touched by science. My point is that such an ill-defined entity is worthless for explaining anything. We don’t need it. This isn’t a scientific rejection, but one based on reason. Your God is entiium sine necessitate, and is insulated by sophisticated theology from ever becoming more than that.

  68. #68 Anthony McCarthy
    May 11, 2011

    No, A. E. not as “I have defined God”, as God has been talked about since whatever oral sources the earliest available scriptures were articulated. Well before materialism or modern atheism seem to have been articulated. Well before there seems to have been any felt need to argue against the best arguments of some prehistoric Bertrand Russells.

    such an ill-defined entity is worthless for explaining anything A. E.

    It’s kind of funny that you seem to think that is also a definitive argument against the reality of God. As I said to you before, time isn’t defined but I think if you cut out all of the instances in which time figures into scientific, and all other, explanations you’d be pretty hard put to find even the first rudiments of science.

    And God was also talked about as being outside of time. I’d love to hear the great expositor of the favorite “ultimate 747 gambit” so impressive to new atheists, deal with the question of how time could have evolved. If not him, then his even more frenzied “natural selection explains the entire universe” pal, Daniel Dennett.

    Just what “sophisticated theology” are you talking about? Names and documents. Because when new atheists start talking about theology and that question is asked they almost immediately demonstrate that they’ve got nothing.

    The intellectual verbuti produced in the irrational attempt to both dispell and find God with science and logic could fill an imaginary universe. But neither have produced anything because neither of them can deal with the belief in God, eternal (outside of time), omnipotent (outside of the limits of causality and the physical universe), omniscient (definitively unlimited as all living beings are) and so ultimately unknowable.

    The inability of the new atheists to face the fact that science and logic can’t do what they and the brightest among atheists haven’t been able to make them do in the past or present, leads me to think that theirs is, at its foundational level, a movement based in emotion and not in reason. They just don’t like it and they resent that they can’t convince people to deny what their own experience tells them.

    The only legitimate public concern about religion is in whether or not it is abused to harass and oppress people not sharing the belief of people who do that. There isn’t any legitimate scientific concern other than it not being inserted in its formal literature and that it not interfere in its public support. Other than that it’s a bunch of snobs with an overreaching view of their perspicacity who think everyone else should kow tow to their personal belief in materialism. Atheism can be used to harass unwilling people too, you see.

  69. #69 Antiochus Epiphanes
    May 11, 2011

    Just what “sophisticated theology” are you talking about? Names and documents.

    This is the kind of thing that I am talking about:

    But neither have produced anything because neither of them can deal with the belief in God, eternal (outside of time), omnipotent (outside of the limits of causality and the physical universe), omniscient (definitively unlimited as all living beings are) and so ultimately unknowable.

    What does this even mean? What does it mean for a thing to exist outside of time, causality, or the physical universe? The word “exist” has meaning, and it doesn’t mean something that is by its very definition not part of the accessible universe and by definition without properties*.

    How do you claim “belief” in such a poorly defined entity? And further, why bother?

    I’m not asking you to abandon your belief. I’m just saying that your belief is irrational.

    *Being outside of time, causality, and the physical universe are non-properties. They say what god isn’t, not what it is.

  70. #70 Anthony McCarthy
    May 11, 2011

    I’m not a theologian, I don’t write theology.

    Well, if you can’t figure out what eternal means, do you have a problem with the idea that the set of counting numbers is infinite?

    Omnipotence and omniscience, well all powerful and all knowing.

    As to those being unknowable, I don’t know more than what they mean, never having encountered them in the universe. But, then, as I said, I don’t know what a billion years of evolution could be like either. Do you?

    If you were restricting yourself to the meaning of “irrational” that Eddington used in that quote, that would be one thing. To imply that someone who holds that belief is not rational, that would be quite a different thing. It’s always so edifying to be told how irrational and even stupid someone like Bohnoffer or Karl Barth or Borden Parker Bowne and now I find Charles Taylor is by the kind of people who think Carl Sagan is a major figure in formal logic, Richard Dawkins is a great figure in the criticism of religion and that James Randi is a major player in things scientific.

    A thing of intellectual rigor and profundity, the new atheism is not. It is a shallow, bigoted cultural fad masquerading as an intellectual movement.

  71. #71 Antiochus Epiphanes
    May 11, 2011

    I’m not a theologian, I don’t write theology.

    If the statement by you that I referenced is not theological, what is it?

    Well, if you can’t figure out what eternal means, do you have a problem with the idea that the set of counting numbers is infinite? .

    Numbers do not have any existence outside of our conceptions of them. If you concede that God has no existence outside of your own mind, I’ll concede that “eternal” is a fine descriptor.

    Omnipotence and omniscience, well all powerful and all knowing.

    Ignoring the fact that it seems logically impossible to be both of these things*, I’ll give you that they at least individually mean something in relation to other things. But a thing comprehensible by only these two (paradoxical) properties is hardly a very well-defined thing.

    As to those being unknowable, I don’t know more than what they mean, never having encountered them in the universe. But, then, as I said, I don’t know what a billion years of evolution could be like either. Do you?

    Actually, we have a very firm idea on what has taken place in evolution over the last billion years. The reason that we have such a good idea is that we have proposed hypotheses and weighed the evidence against them. “Omnipotent and omniscient” hardly resonates in this regard.

    If you were restricting yourself to the meaning of “irrational” that Eddington used in that quote, that would be one thing. To imply that someone who holds that belief is not rational, that would be quite a different thing.

    I have no idea what Eddington means. The word “rational” isn’t applicable to laws of nature.**

    Further, I didn’t imply that people who held such beliefs were irrational. I asserted that the beliefs were irrational. You can mince your words, but please leave mine alone.

    It’s always so edifying to be told how irrational and even stupid someone like Bohnoffer or Karl Barth or Borden Parker Bowne and now I find Charles Taylor is by the kind of people who think Carl Sagan is a major figure in formal logic, Richard Dawkins is a great figure in the criticism of religion and that James Randi is a major player in things scientific.

    Are you conducting a second, invisible discussion? I have no clue what you are talking about. I don’t know who Bohnoffer or Karl Barth or Borden Parker Bowne or Charles Taylor*** are. No one has been called irrational or stupid. Who said anything about Dawkins, Sagan, or Randi?

    A thing of intellectual rigor and profundity, the new atheism is not.

    Who are you, Yoda?

    Your problem is that you confuse fancy semantics, impossible logic, and tap dancing for rigor. Intellectual merit aside, disbelief isn’t intended to be profound. On its face, atheism is simple negation, not a profound truth. It is no great advance intellectually to prefer reason to superstition. The only difference between new atheism and the atheism of Russell, is that gnu atheism is gnu.

    It is a shallow, bigoted cultural fad masquerading as an intellectual movement.

    *Clutches pearls*
    *faints*

    *I don’t need to propose conundrums demonstrating the paradox of these descriptions, I hope.
    **The quote you reference is the worst example of pompous piffle that I have encountered. I don’t care if Eddington could turn invisible at will or could cure cancer with his tears. He needed help from an editor on this one, and was left to dangle.
    ***Didn’t he invent a sneaker?

  72. #72 Anthony McCarthy
    May 11, 2011

    Numbers do not have any existence outside of our conceptions of them A. E.

    How do you explain their “unreasonable effectiveness” in the natural sciences? If you are admitting that mathematics and logic and science are the product of our experience of the physical world, I wonder why you pretended that my addressing that wasn’t understandable. And I wonder how you think that numbers that aren’t really part of the objective, natural world can be more legitimately held to be physically effective in ways that, say, a non-physical mind would.

    If you concede that God has no existence outside of your own mind, I’ll concede that “eternal” is a fine descriptor. A. E.

    I couldn’t concede that because there is no way for me to know that in the way that I can assert that I know, say, that the separation of church and state is a good idea or that that the basic properties of algebra work to construct the set of negative integers. I can only tell you that I believe it, just as you can only tell me you don’t believe it.

    Yoda.

    I know there’s a character in one of the later StarWars movies but as the only one I was ever forced to endure was the first one, I don’t know Yoda from Frodo.

    The only difference between new atheism and the atheism of Russell, is that gnu atheism is gnu. A.E.

    Um, there’s no one in the new atheism who can compare with old Bertie for knowing what he was talking about and credibility to talk for logic, if not western philosophy, in general. I doubt he’d give any of its major figures a second glance. He would have been as skeptical of evo-psy as he was of behaviorism, I’ll bet. Russell could be a pill and he certainly hated religion, but he was quite a few notches above the NAs when it came to intellect.

  73. #73 randyextry
    May 11, 2011

    Antiochus Epiphanes, you’re my new hero. The Han Solo quote was great, but the Yoda comment puts it over the top. Not to mention the fact that you are utterly destroying Anthony in this little debate. The differences in your arguments are telling. AE’s position is based on logic, reason, and empirical evidence. Anthony’s position is based on appeals to authority, numbers, history, and wordsalad (yes, it is an apt description of those quotes).

  74. #74 Anthony McCarthy
    May 11, 2011

    randyextry, oddly, I feel quite intact. I think what you really want to say is that all he’ll need is a Douglas Adams reference before he’s touched all the new atheist bases.

    Really, Yoda. That’s what cuts the mustard for the new atheists. How extremely impressive a bulwark for reason and science this new atheism is. Real intellectual jiujitsu, huh.

  75. #75 Antiochus Epiphanes
    May 11, 2011

    Hey. I’m bringing a jedi master to the table. All you have is a former employee of Converse.

    Anthony: About this we agree*: Few Gnus hold a candle to Bertie. I would be honored to be several notches below that dude. And also, you should check out both Star Wars and LOTR. They are full of magic and whimsy. I think you’d dig them.

    randyextry: Spanks for noticing.

    *No one can say that I don’t play nice.

  76. #76 randyextry
    May 11, 2011

    Anthony, you need to work on your reading comprehension. That part where I wrote, “Not to mention the fact that you are utterly destroying Anthony in this little debate” is your signal that my comments about enjoying the Yoda reference have nothing to do with who I think is making better arguments or why. It was just funny. I did go on to explain who is making better arguments and why, but you chose to ignore that and focus on Yoda (for obvious reasons). And based on some of the quotes you’ve provided above, I think you should lay off the “intellectual jiujitsu” for a while and focus on the “intellectual walking slowly in a straight line.” I’m still wondering, do you hold catholic priests, orthodox jews, mormons, etc in as much disdain as New Atheists? And if not, why not?

  77. #77 Anthony McCarthy
    May 11, 2011

    A.E. No thanks, I saw the first one c. 1977 and hated it.

    randy, I really don’t care if you think that the citations and the arguments made with them are blown away with a couple of deeply minor pop culture references.

    I’m still wondering, do you hold catholic priests, orthodox jews, mormons, etc in as much disdain as New Atheists? And if not, why not?

    You need to wonder no more. It depends on what they’ve done and said but I have no problem being critical of religious people. Religious people have had no problem disagreeing with each other and criticizing others and their own religions throughout history. The often heard line that religion has no internal criticism is one of the more lame brained, ignorance based things that the brightest of the Brites say.

    For example:

    http://echidneofthesnakes.blogspot.com/2011_05_01_archive.html#4651170969599891059

  78. #78 Antiochus Epiphanes
    May 11, 2011

    FWIW: I can’t abide the “Brights” bullshit. Completely elitist garbage.

  79. #79 Ender
    May 12, 2011

    “Not to mention the fact that you are utterly destroying Anthony in this little debate”

    Do you have anything to contribute? Because cheerleading doesn’t enlighten anyone. We now know that you think AE is arguing better than AM…

    Actually I think they’re both doing quite well, I don’t agree totally with either of them though I agree with AM more so I am able to understand what he’s saying where AE seems to fail; but either way neither of them could be described as being “crushed” by the other. I could contribute by evidencing some of this, but I suspect you wouldn’t care to read a long list of people arguing in an alright manner.

  80. #80 Anthony McCarthy
    May 12, 2011

    Ender, I am a bit disappointed that A. E. didn’t object to the point about time in the context of Dennett’s bizarre notion about applying natural selection to, literally, the entire physical universe, an idea that, if Dawkins has criticized it, I’d love to read his criticism. The idea of applying change over time to time itself would be a joy to pick apart. Especially as it would bring up the idea of different kinds of time and what that would do to our ability to have any confidence in any equation that included time as a variable and the resultant, glorious complication of reality as compared to the human capacity to deal with it.

    Certainly I wasn’t trying to demolish someones’ atheism. In order to do that I’d have to give them an alternative experience, one that would convince them that their atheism was wrong and I have no idea of how to do that. I wish that the story I’ve read, that A. J. Ayer had what’s now called a “near death experience”. It’s said to have led him to doubt his confident, rather arrogantly certain atheism. Though I’d only like to know more because it’s entertaining not to use in any argument. That’s the limit of personal experience, it’s personal and the property of the one who experiences it, theirs to interpret in any way that doesn’t impinge on the rights of other people or other beings.

    I’m also disappointed that more wasn’t made of the assertions “human exceptionalism” by many atheists, even as they assert the exact idea that our logic and science give us a special view of, not only the physical universe, but reality itself. Which is why I introduced the very humanistic concept that “Man is the measure of all things”. New atheists believe their faith is quite exceptional among all other faiths, except, when closely looked at, it isn’t. It’s pretty run of the mill.

  81. #81 Antiochus Epiphanes
    May 12, 2011

    AM: Did you make a point about time?
    *scans*

    Ah, yes. If time were a box, god would not be contained in it,

    And some weird question about whether belief in time were justified. I answered “yes” because time is simply a parameter needed to specifiy the location of objects in our universe.

    Why on earth would I have cited Dawkins or Dennett in a discussion of time rather than say a theoretical physicist?

    I’m also disappointed that more wasn’t made of the assertions “human exceptionalism” by many atheists, even as they assert the exact idea that our logic and science give us a special view of, not only the physical universe, but reality itself.

    Why would I make a big deal about something that was merely asserted? Especially given that I don’t quite grok what it is you are asserting.

  82. #82 Anthony McCarthy
    May 12, 2011

    Why on earth would I have cited Dawkins or Dennett in a discussion of time rather than say a theoretical physicist?

    I didn’t say you would, I was saying I’d have liked to poke holes in the extension of ” ‘Darwin’s’ Dangerous Idea ” to an even more absurd degree than Dennett dared make explicit. Though, the idea that the structure of matter is somehow due to his bizarrely ill informed conception of natural selection could hardly escape the implication that time would likely have had to have undergone change over time, depending on how insane the assertion would have gotten. It would have been lots of fun. Of course, “Darwin’s Dangerous Idea” is really Dennett’s Daffy Idea, old Chuck being as innocent of that as the other wacky stuff later ideologues used his innovation for.

    I was sorry to see you didn’t fall into my trap of bringing up the fact that Humanism is inextricably tied to an unstated but basic belief in human exceptionalism. Despite what just about every “Humanist” would assert if pressed. You’d think they’d know that much about their chosen -ism, that the name alone would have tipped off the unsuspecting. That would have been fun too.

    As for Charles Taylor, I’m grateful to Jon @3 for the link to an interesting set of interviews. It’s one thing I’ve noticed about most of the new atheism, it’s so wedded to British thinking. The point about Taylor being bi-lingual and so having access to French thinking, a wider POV makes sense to me. I will be reading his books, now.

  83. #83 randyextry
    May 12, 2011

    Ender, regarding my “contributions,” I’m mainly here to ask questions to try to get a better grasp of the agnostic position. Despite Anthony’s many verbose posts, I’m still convinced agnosticism is superstition. If god is incomprehensible, unmeasurable, undefinable, etc, but can still interact with the physical world, how can you tell someone he’s wrong when he says god told him to fly planes into buildings, or burn someone at the stake? Or can’t you?

  84. #84 Jon
    May 12, 2011

    Anthony–It’s the French (Merleau-Ponty is Taylors’s big influence ) but also the Germans. A breakthrough book for Taylor was his book on Hegel. Also interesting is that Jurgen Habermas has basically taken Taylor’s side that religion is an important phenomenon that can’t be dismissed out of hand the way Dennett and Dawkins do (he doesn’t mention the two by name, but he might as well).

  85. #85 Jon
    May 12, 2011

    A great book if you can get a hold of it is *Continental Philosophy, a Very Short Introduction*. It’s amazing how much sounds like the NA / “accommodationist” debate.

  86. #86 Verbose Stoic
    May 13, 2011

    Antiochus Epiphanes,

    “And some weird question about whether belief in time were justified. I answered “yes” because time is simply a parameter needed to specifiy the location of objects in our universe.”

    Then time wouldn’t exist any more than an x or y or z co-ordinate exists, no? And in that case it would seem that all it means to be “outside of time” is to say that that parameter is uninformative for an object; it doesn’t in any way help in specifying the “location” of an object.

    However, from a common-sense and even philosophical point of view, to say that time helps specify a location is odd. Sure, you’d need to see when it was AT that location, but that doesn’t seem to fit with any idea of what specifying a location really seems to mean. If science is using the concept of time that way, it would seem to be in a very technical sense and one that likely doesn’t address any philosophical or theological argument that discusses time.

    randyextry,

    “Despite Anthony’s many verbose posts, I’m still convinced agnosticism is superstition. If god is incomprehensible, unmeasurable, undefinable, etc, but can still interact with the physical world, how can you tell someone he’s wrong when he says god told him to fly planes into buildings, or burn someone at the stake? Or can’t you?”

    I’m not sure how this argument relates to you claiming that agnosticism is superstition. First, agnosticism simply means “unknowable”; your comment assumes reasons FOR agnosticism that may not be in place. Second, in order for any agnostic to criticize those cases all the agnostic needs to do is say “To justify such strong actions you need to have knowledge, and since knowledge of God is impossible you clearly don’t have it, so it is wrong to take those actions.” This, however, would not apply to, say, going to services or the like since all that would require is belief.

  87. #87 Anthony McCarthy
    May 13, 2011

    Anthony’s many verbose posts

    Alas, I lacked the time to write short ones.

    I’d like to know how you’d deal with the ideas I have in short form. Mostly because I’d love to steal more concise expressions of them.

    I have noticed that new atheists are always complaining about having to read long sentences. I wonder how they can dismiss stuff that’s hard to read if they aren’t willing to read it. But, then, I did plow through Husserl in my youth. Maybe that’s where it comes from.

  88. #88 Ender
    May 13, 2011

    “Ender, regarding my “contributions,” I’m mainly here to ask questions to try to get a better grasp of the agnostic position. Despite Anthony’s many verbose posts, I’m still convinced agnosticism is superstition. If god is incomprehensible, unmeasurable, undefinable, etc, but can still interact with the physical world, how can you tell someone he’s wrong when he says god told him to fly planes into buildings, or burn someone at the stake? Or can’t you?”

    There’s a lot here, so I apologise if my reply is long.

    First of all, agnosticism:

    Before we deal with agnosticism we have to define. This next bit may seem bizarre and silly or obvious and true to you depending on your position on language – but it is true: Words don’t inherently mean anything. They are used to mean lots of different things by different people at different times and in different contexts.

    So, with that, you say you are trying to “better grasp of the agnostic position”. Which agnostic position? Josh’s? A philosophical one based on philosopher X? Because it makes a huge amount of difference.

    Some people use ‘agnostic’ to indicate their own lack of knowledge: “I do not know whether there is a god”
    Other people use it to indicate their belief about whether you can know at the moment: “It is not possible to know whether god exists or not from the evidence we have”
    Others use it to indicate their believe about whether you can know in principle: “It is not possible to know ever, because of…”

    So, to return to your questions: Is agnosticism superstition? No. Superstition involves belief in superstition. By definition all versions of agnosticism do not include belief or superstition.

    “If god is incomprehensible, unmeasurable, undefinable, etc, but can still interact with the physical world, how can you tell someone he’s wrong when he says god told him to fly planes into buildings, or burn someone at the stake? Or can’t you?”

    Just for pedantry’s sake, “If god…” assumes god. The only answer an agnostic can have is always ‘I don’t know about that’

    The first type of agnostic would say: “I don’t know if God exists, let alone said anything.”
    The second “There is no evidence that God does or does not exist, and no evidence whether he said anything to anyone or not. When the evidence comes to light I will make a decision based on that evidence, until that day comes I will admit I do not know”
    The third “What he said, but no one will ever know because…”*

    Look at it this way. My father may or may not be dead. If I tell you that he told me to fly into a building this morning, can you tell me I’m wrong?
    The correct answer, without finding out whether my father exists or not, is “No. I can’t tell you you’re wrong because I don’t know”.
    It is possible for you to find out whether my father exists so for this question the logical position for you to take is agnostic position (1) or (2). You do not know, but you may acquire the evidence eventually.

    *When you say “wrong” you could mean morally. That question would have a very different answer. Agnostics either do not believe in morality, or have a deity-neutral morality. In the former case nothing is wrong so they couldn’t, in the latter it depends whether their agnostic morality says you shouldn’t fly planes into buildings full of innocents. Most agnostic moralities do. So those guys can say it is wrong. The others cannot.

  89. #89 Ender
    May 13, 2011

    “To justify such strong actions you need to have knowledge, and since knowledge of God is impossible you clearly don’t have it, so it is wrong to take those actions.”

    This would be an example of an agnostic type (3) with an agnostic rule/morality that says “To take strong action you must have knowledge” and “God’s existence is unknowable” which leads to the conclusion “It is wrong to take strong action in the name of God.” therefore you must logically say that flying planes into the WTC is wrong.

    Anthony: “I have noticed that new atheists are always complaining about having to read long sentences. I wonder how they can dismiss stuff that’s hard to read if they aren’t willing to read it. But, then, I did plow through Husserl in my youth. Maybe that’s where it comes from.”

    It’s not just New Atheists Anthony, it’s people arguing on the internet. They won’t accept pithy or concise expressions of your argument, as English has such ambiguity that pithy or concise always leaves room for misinterpretation, so you’ll have to deal with them arguing against something you didn’t mean*. But they won’t read anything that’s too long nor engage with anything substantive, because that’s not as fun as pithy put downs.

    *And in the worst case scenarios arguing that you did mean that, even if you say you didn’t, you now say that ‘that’ is stupid and reiterate what you did mean in different language.

  90. #90 Anthony McCarthy
    May 13, 2011

    “If god is incomprehensible, unmeasurable, undefinable, etc, but can still interact with the physical world, how can you tell someone he’s wrong when he says god told him to fly planes into buildings, or burn someone at the stake? Or can’t you?”

    I’m surprised that an atheist wouldn’t know how to use the simple sentence, “I don’t believe you”.

    There’s a large difference between saying that you believe God wants you to do feed the hungry, clothe the naked and do justice and that you believe God wants you to fly airplanes into buildings.

  91. #91 randyextry
    May 13, 2011

    Well, I think we’ve gotten to the root of the problem. First of all, by “if god is” I thought it would be clear that I meant “If there might be a god who is…” Maybe Ender is right about the problem with pithy comments. Sorry for being unclear.

    But the important point here is this, from Anthony – “There’s a large difference between saying that you believe God wants you to do feed the hungry, clothe the naked and do justice and that you believe God wants you to fly airplanes into buildings.” I don’t see it. Obviously, there’s a difference in effect, but there’s no difference in the fact that they are both beliefs which the believer has no good reason to believe. If it were a math test and they were asked to “show their work” they’d fail. That you see a huge difference there and I don’t extends to the question of the existence of god itself. I see no difference between postulating a god and postulating a tooth fairy.

    And regarding Ender’s different types of agnostics, what they all (most?) appear to share is that the most important point is that they do not know. But there are plenty of situations in which you don’t know something for sure, but still give an answer besides “I’m agnostic.” If someone asks, “Will the Mets win the World Series this year?” I (and most people who know anything about baseball) would say, “No.” It is implied that I can’t know this for sure, and that “no” is short for “I can’t be certain, anything’s possible, but it is so overwhelmingly unlikely that I don’t need to hedge; I really, really, really don’t think it’s gonna happen.”

    I guess from my point of view there are two main categories of agnostics. One type feels that the possibility of god’s existence is really a toss-up. It could go either way. There’s not enough evidence for or against to stake a position. The other type thinks that the evidence is clear and overwhelming against, but because you can’t prove a negative, you shouldn’t be an atheist. To them, an atheist is someone with “faith” that there is no god. It seems just as bad/wrong as believing. “You can’t prove it, so you can’t be 100% sure, so you really should be agnostic,” they say. I think I’ve already made clear why I disagree with this. There are plenty of other things I don’t believe in, but can’t disprove, and nobody blinks when I say I don’t believe in them.

    The first group – the ones who think it’s basically a coin toss – are giving near equal weight to the evidence for and the evidence against. There is no evidence for. That’s why I call it superstition.

  92. #92 Anthony McCarthy
    May 13, 2011

    I don’t see it. Obviously, there’s a difference in effect, but there’s no difference in the fact that they are both beliefs which the believer has no good reason to believe. randy…

    First you say you don’t see it, then you say there’s a “difference in effect”. Well, yeah, there’s a difference in effect, the difference between depriving people of all of their rights and providing them with sustenance. If you don’t see that as a more important difference than your qualms about their religion you would seem to miss the most important thing due to your new atheist blinders.

    That difference is all important.

  93. #93 Anton Mates
    May 13, 2011

    randyextry,

    If god is incomprehensible, unmeasurable, undefinable, etc, but can still interact with the physical world, how can you tell someone he’s wrong when he says god told him to fly planes into buildings, or burn someone at the stake?

    1) What does that have to do with whether agnosticism is a valid stance? The appeal to consequences is a logical fallacy; just because agnosticism doesn’t let you make some convenient claim doesn’t mean that it’s false.

    2) As it happens, you can easily tell him he’s wrong, although most agnostics probably wouldn’t. If you’re an agnostic theist, you can even tell him that god told us not to fly planes into buildings. What you can’t do is claim that you’re certain or justified in thinking he’s wrong. But…

    3) …Why would you need to? As a rule, people committing murder on God’s orders aren’t terribly receptive to alternative worldviews. The average medieval inquisitor or al Qaeda member isn’t going to deconvert because some atheist confidently announces that his theology’s wrong. Hence…

    4) You might want to try saying other things, like “Burning people at the stake is wrong because….” or “You know, you’ll go to prison now if you burn someone,” or “Hello, FBI? There’s a crazy person here who’s planning to burn people at the stake.”

    Obviously, there’s a difference in effect, but there’s no difference in the fact that they are both beliefs which the believer has no good reason to believe.

    I think the majority of would agree with both of those points.

    If it were a math test and they were asked to “show their work” they’d fail. That you see a huge difference there and I don’t extends to the question of the existence of god itself. I see no difference between postulating a god and postulating a tooth fairy.

    So you said, and I gave you some potential differences upthread.

    The other type thinks that the evidence is clear and overwhelming against, but because you can’t prove a negative, you shouldn’t be an atheist. To them, an atheist is someone with “faith” that there is no god. It seems just as bad/wrong as believing. “You can’t prove it, so you can’t be 100% sure, so you really should be agnostic,” they say. I think I’ve already made clear why I disagree with this. There are plenty of other things I don’t believe in, but can’t disprove, and nobody blinks when I say I don’t believe in them.

    And that’s terribly hypocritical of these hypothetical agnostics. But I’m not sure any of them actually exist, so I’m not too worried about them.

    The first group – the ones who think it’s basically a coin toss – are giving near equal weight to the evidence for and the evidence against. There is no evidence for.

    And there is no evidence against. I mean, if you want to argue otherwise and provide some evidence, go nuts, but that’s what most agnostics think. Personally, I think even the coin toss analogy is flawed, because we generally presume that coins have some well-defined probability of landing on one side or the other. In the case of God, it has yet to be demonstrated that probability calculations are even meaningful.

    That’s why I call it superstition.

    That doesn’t make sense, as Ender pointed out, since superstition is belief by definition. Even if agnostics suffered from unwarranted skepticism, that wouldn’t be superstition.

  94. #94 Anton Mates
    May 15, 2011

    I think the majority of would agree with both of those points.

    “the majority of agnostics“, that should read.

  95. #95 Ender
    May 16, 2011

    “I guess from my point of view there are two main categories of agnostics.”

    Ok.

    “One type feels that the possibility of god’s existence is really a toss-up. It could go either way. There’s not enough evidence for or against to stake a position.”

    Ok. These ones exist.

    “The other type thinks that the evidence is clear and overwhelming against, but because you can’t prove a negative, you shouldn’t be an atheist. To them, an atheist is someone with “faith” that there is no god.”

    Nope. This type doesn’t exist. This type is defined incoherently by you. You can’t believe ‘the evidence is clear and overwhelming against’ and simultaneously ‘you can’t prove a negative’; To everyone an Atheist who believes there is no god is someone with “faith”

    It seems just as bad/wrong as believing. “You can’t prove it, so you can’t be 100% sure, so you really should be agnostic,” they say. I think I’ve already made clear why I disagree with this. There are plenty of other things I don’t believe in, but can’t disprove, and nobody blinks when I say I don’t believe in them.

    The first group – the ones who think it’s basically a coin toss – are giving near equal weight to the evidence for and the evidence against. There is no evidence for. That’s why I call it superstition.”

    “You can’t prove it, so you can’t be 100% sure, so you really should be agnostic,” they say. I think I’ve already made clear why I disagree with this. There are plenty of other things I don’t believe in, but can’t disprove, and nobody blinks when I say I don’t believe in them.”

    No. No they don’t. Try reading their arguments, not making up your own. And try reading the replies people have written to you. You claim you’re here to learn, but it seems you are more interested in spouting your uninformed opinion.
    It has already been explained to you why it is reasonable to be agnostic about God but not about other things like fairies. If you can’t understand it, then ask. If you keep repeating yourself you only look like you can’t take in new information.

    “The first group – the ones who think it’s basically a coin toss – are giving near equal weight to the evidence for and the evidence against. There is no evidence for. That’s why I call it superstition.”

    No. Why do you say they are giving near equal weight? Who says they are giving weight to either side? Many of them believe there is no evidence either way, not that the evidence is ‘equal’

    It can’t be superstition due to the definition of ‘superstition’, ‘belief’ and ‘agnosticism’ so on that point you are objectively wrong.