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Atheist or Agnostic?
Posted: 10 March 2006 10:27 AM   [ Ignore ]
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I’ve seen it mentioned a few times here already: some who say that there is no evidence for God, indeed all the evidence is against there being a God, and yet they are only "agnostic" because one can’t ever be sure.

Hmmm ... this confuses me.

Let’s take more normal cases. I believe in the Eiffel Tower, because I have seen it and been on it, seen photos, read the history of its construction, and so on.

I don’t believe in the Tooth Fairy, because all evidence is that there are no creatures that can make teeth change into money under a child’s pillow.

I am agnostic about the possibility for life on some other planet in our solar system, because the evidence really doesn’t cut either way yet. There are a variety of locations on which there [i:64e27cf9fb]could[/i:64e27cf9fb] be life (like the moon Europa), but as of yet there is no direct evidence of it.

OK, where does God fit into on this trio? Looks to me like the second one. All evidence is that there is no perfectly good, all powerful, all knowing person who is in charge of the universe.

Could I be wrong about that? Well, yes. But come to think of it, I could be wrong about the Tooth Fairy, too. Perhaps there [i:64e27cf9fb]are[/i:64e27cf9fb] some sorts of odd alien creatures that can change teeth into money. But the mere possibility isn’t enough to make me [i:64e27cf9fb]suspend judgment[/i:64e27cf9fb] about them. If and when I get evidence for their existence, then I will change my opinion, but not until then. For now, I am a "Tooth Fairy atheist".

Is God a sort of "separate case" here? Why do we see so many people willing to say they are agnostics when they claim that all evidence is against there being a God? I don’t get it.

My guess is that the word "atheist" just has such a bad connotation in our culture that many people who would otherwise be normal atheists just shy away from the term.

:?

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Posted: 10 March 2006 10:27 AM   [ Ignore ]   [ # 1 ]
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Atheist or Agnostic?

I’ve seen it mentioned a few times here already: some who say that there is no evidence for God, indeed all the evidence is against there being a God, and yet they are only “agnostic” because one can’t ever be sure.

Hmmm ... this confuses me.

Let’s take more normal cases. I believe in the Eiffel Tower, because I have seen it and been on it, seen photos, read the history of its construction, and so on.

I don’t believe in the Tooth Fairy, because all evidence is that there are no creatures that can make teeth change into money under a child’s pillow.

I am agnostic about the possibility for life on some other planet in our solar system, because the evidence really doesn’t cut either way yet. There are a variety of locations on which there could be life (like the moon Europa), but as of yet there is no direct evidence of it.

OK, where does God fit into on this trio? Looks to me like the second one. All evidence is that there is no perfectly good, all powerful, all knowing person who is in charge of the universe.

Could I be wrong about that? Well, yes. But come to think of it, I could be wrong about the Tooth Fairy, too. Perhaps there are some sorts of odd alien creatures that can change teeth into money. But the mere possibility isn’t enough to make me suspend judgment about them. If and when I get evidence for their existence, then I will change my opinion, but not until then. For now, I am a “Tooth Fairy atheist”.

Is God a sort of “separate case” here? Why do we see so many people willing to say they are agnostics when they claim that all evidence is against there being a God? I don’t get it.

My guess is that the word “atheist” just has such a bad connotation in our culture that many people who would otherwise be normal atheists just shy away from the term.

:?

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Posted: 10 March 2006 04:41 PM   [ Ignore ]   [ # 2 ]
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Re: Atheist or Agnostic?

Doug wrote
“Is God a sort of “separate case” here? Why do we see so many people willing to say they are agnostics when they claim that all evidence is against there being a God? I don’t get it.

My guess is that the word “atheist” just has such a bad connotation in our culture that many people who would otherwise be normal atheists just shy away from the term.”

Doug,
That’s a good guess.
Bob

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Posted: 10 March 2006 08:41 PM   [ Ignore ]   [ # 3 ]
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Doug - that was a great way to put the argument!  I concur.

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Posted: 16 March 2006 01:28 PM   [ Ignore ]   [ # 4 ]
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Sounds about right.

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Fighting the evil belief that there is a god(s).

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Posted: 19 March 2006 07:43 AM   [ Ignore ]   [ # 5 ]
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"Fight the evil belief that there is a god"

What a judgmental signature. I think you overestimate religion. Even without a belief in God, most people will remain opinionated and perform outrageous acts for some illogical cause. Look at naziism. Some would say communism is another example.

There are also many people who do great things in the name of their deity. Look at the many sacrifices of various christian organizations in 3rd world countries.

What is your problem with people believing in God? Perhaps your answer to this question will show you that it is not the belief in God itself, but some other questionable behavior that bothers you. Hopefully, you are not just an intolerant reactionary atheist.

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Posted: 10 April 2006 04:31 AM   [ Ignore ]   [ # 6 ]
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Doug, I do not really understand the whole “agnostic” thing either. I suspect, however, that “agnostic” is really an attempt to not offend.

I consider myself an atheist - there is no evidence that has led me to a belief in a supernatural being. This isn’t to say that there could be some evidence in the future that would change my understanding, or lead me to be a theist.  The way I understand it, agnosticism is rather dishonest. Does the agnostic approach the question of the Tooth Fairy with agnosticism? No, he/she is “atheistic” when it comes to the supernatural being that is the Tooth Fairy.  And, of course any honest critical thinker is open evidence that may prove the existence of the Tooth Fairy.

It just so happens, however, that there is an equal amount of evidence proving the existence of the Tooth Fairy and god.

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Posted: 10 April 2006 04:55 AM   [ Ignore ]   [ # 7 ]
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[quote author=“tom_g”]I suspect, however, that “agnostic” is really an attempt to not offend.

Hi tom_g,

You may be right, but if so, I don’t understand it.

[quote author=“tom_g”]I consider myself an atheist - there is no evidence that has led me to a belief in a supernatural being. This isn’t to say that there could be some evidence in the future that would change my understanding, or lead me to be a theist.  The way I understand it, agnosticism is rather dishonest. Does the agnostic approach the question of the Tooth Fairy with agnosticism? No, he/she is “atheistic” when it comes to the supernatural being that is the Tooth Fairy.  And, of course any honest critical thinker is open evidence that may prove the existence of the Tooth Fairy.

I think there is room for an honest agnosticism, that is for someone who really isn’t sure if God exists or not. And also it depends on what you mean by “God”. If you are sufficiently expansive in what you’ll allow, then maybe I’m an agnostic too.

So: best to be precise when talking about God. The standard definition is that God is a person who created the universe, is perfectly good, who knows everything and is all-powerful. The last three we can jumble together with the words “omnicompetent”. Now, from my point of view, it’s a lot harder to be agnostic about the existence of such a fully-described creature. I am sure that some people may still be honest agnostics, but my guess is that the majority of people calling themselves “agnostic” are timid atheists.

Living in a thoroughly religion-infused culture as ours, I can understand the timidity ... especially for those living in smaller towns or communities, or in more frankly backward regions.

... what I’m saying is that I understand the desire to want to lay-low in areas where having different opinions can have bad consequences with friends, neighbors and co-workers. But there is another sense in which I don’t see why my being an atheist should be offensive to anyone. It’s really quite absurd.

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Posted: 10 April 2006 05:21 AM   [ Ignore ]   [ # 8 ]
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Agnosticism

dougsmith said,
“Living in a thoroughly religion-infused culture as ours, I can understand the timidity ... especially for those living in smaller towns or communities, or in more frankly backward regions.”

doug,
That is so.
However, one can be an agnostic about any number of things. UFOs, whether or not there is a Tooth Fairy or whether or not there are dinosaurs living in Africa (people have acutually claimed to have seen them). When it comes to claims that are not easily substantiated I think it’s best to say, “I don’t know” or “I’m not sure” or “I prefer to suspend judgement”.
I think Thomas Huxley said it best when he said that because there is insuffient evidence either way he felt that the only honorable position when it came to the question of God’s existence was to suspend judgement. I think he coined the term “agnostic”. I don’t think he took the agnostic position out of timidity. Okay?
Bob

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Posted: 10 April 2006 05:36 AM   [ Ignore ]   [ # 9 ]
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Re: Agnosticism

[quote author=“Bob”]I think Thomas Huxley said it best when he said that because there is insuffient evidence either way he felt that the only honorable position when it came to the question of God’s existence was to suspend judgement. I think he coined the term “agnostic”. I don’t think he took the agnostic position out of timidity. Okay?
Bob

Absolutely. I agree that there are many agnostics who honestly claim not to know whether God exists or not. Well and good. I was rather commenting on (what appears to me to be) the large number of agnostics who are atheists in disguise ...

As for me, I am an atheist about the Tooth Fairy, UFOs, dinosaurs in Africa and God. I simply don’t believe that anything with those properties exists, and nobody has come up with credible evidence that they do.

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Posted: 10 April 2006 03:46 PM   [ Ignore ]   [ # 10 ]
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Re: Agnosticism

[quote author=“dougsmith”][quote author=“Bob”]I think Thomas Huxley said it best when he said that because there is insuffient evidence either way he felt that the only honorable position when it came to the question of God’s existence was to suspend judgement. I think he coined the term “agnostic”. I don’t think he took the agnostic position out of timidity. Okay?
Bob

doug wrote
“Absolutely. I agree that there are many agnostics who honestly claim not to know whether God exists or not. Well and good. I was rather commenting on (what appears to me to be) the large number of agnostics who are atheists in disguise ...”

doug,
No doubt. They’re probably all over the place. Humans lie, prevaricate, delude themselves, try to be something they’re not—in short, they’re dishonest—with others and with themselves. Why are so many people that way? For the answer to that we would have to study each and every one of their minds.

doug wrote
“As for me, I am an atheist about the Tooth Fairy, UFOs, dinosaurs in Africa and God. I simply don’t believe that anything with those properties exists, and nobody has come up with credible evidence that they do.”

doug,
Of course. I don’t believe in any of the above either. As for Atheism, Paul Kurtz has said we shouldn’t be dogmatic about our atheism—and I agree with him. We shouldn’t be dogmatic about our atheism in the way that so many theists are dogmatic about their belief in God. Paul Kurtz said that there are believers who are so convinced that God exists that no amount of evidence to the contrary can shake their belief. We, as atheists, wouldn’t want to be like them.
Bob

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Posted: 10 April 2006 04:11 PM   [ Ignore ]   [ # 11 ]
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To me, agnostic means there is no way to know if there is a god or not; ie, it’s unprovable and unfalsifyable.

I had always taken that stance for myself, as I thought atheist meant that I believed that god did not exist.  I’ve been enlightened by my fellow forumites that atheist means “without a deity”, which to me just means that a god is not required.  So I suppose I’m both.

David Dennett posed it well.  Answer the following statements:

1. I believe in God.  Yes ___ No ___ I don’t know ___
2. God exists.        Yes ___ No ___ I don’t know ___

I answered ‘No’ for #1, therefore I must be an atheist.  I answered ‘I don’t know’ for #2 (although I doubt that God exists), due to lack of evidence.  Therefore, I must be agnostic.

Simplistic and probably incorrect and/or incomplete, but it works for my simple mind.

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Posted: 10 April 2006 04:35 PM   [ Ignore ]   [ # 12 ]
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Atheists and agnostics

[quote author=“Jayhox”]To me, agnostic means there is no way to know if there is a god or not; ie, it’s unprovable and unfalsifyable.

I had always taken that stance for myself, as I thought atheist meant that I believed that god did not exist.  I’ve been enlightened by my fellow forumites that atheist means “without a deity”, which to me just means that a god is not required.  So I suppose I’m both.

David Dennett posed it well.  Answer the following statements

1. I believe in God.  Yes ___ No ___ I don’t know ___
2. God exists.        Yes ___ No ___ I don’t know ___

I answered ‘No’ for #1, therefore I must be an atheist.  I answered ‘I don’t know’ for #2 (although I doubt that God exists), due to lack of evidence.  Therefore, I must be agnostic.

Simplistic and probably incorrect and/or incomplete, but it works for my simple mind.

Jayhox,
That works for me too. And as the expression goes “If something works don’t try to fix it”.
I am also an atheist and an agnostic.
Bob

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Posted: 11 April 2006 12:15 AM   [ Ignore ]   [ # 13 ]
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The whole Dennet 2 question thing is great. However, what I find fascinating is whether or these questions would elicit a different response:

1. I believe in the Tooth Fairy. Yes ___ No ___ I don’t know ___
2. The Tooth Fairy exists. Yes ___ No ___ I don’t know ___

I suspect that self-described agnostics would answer “No” for #1. But I’m not sure how they would respond to #2.

If agnostics answer “No” to #2, then what is it about god that makes it different from the Tooth Fairy or the infinite number of possible absurdities?
If agnostics answer “I don’t know” to #2, I see this as more consistent.

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Posted: 11 April 2006 01:24 AM   [ Ignore ]   [ # 14 ]
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Re: Agnosticism

[quote author=“Bob”]doug,
Of course. I don’t believe in any of the above either. As for Atheism, Paul Kurtz has said we shouldn’t be dogmatic about our atheism—and I agree with him. We shouldn’t be dogmatic about our atheism in the way that so many theists are dogmatic about their belief in God. Paul Kurtz said that there are believers who are so convinced that God exists that no amount of evidence to the contrary can shake their belief. We, as atheists, wouldn’t want to be like them.
Bob

I certainly agree that we shouldn’t be “dogmatic” in the sense that we shouldn’t be nasty about it, or pressuring people, or not hiring them because they are theists, et cetera. But certainly Tom Flynn and others have said very eloquently that atheists need to be more open about their beliefs—up until now there has been the notion that atheism is almost nonexistent, and that atheists are strange, unethical people. In order to combat that notion we need to be more open and, yes, “dogmatic”, in a sense, about our beliefs. That is to say, when given the chance we should try not to be too shy about saying what we think is true—while doing so in a respectful and reasonable manner, of course.

Of course, being open, direct and respectful is important; so too is knowing the right time and place.

smile

[quote author=“Jayhox”]David Dennett posed it well. Answer the following statements:

1. I believe in God. Yes ___ No ___ I don’t know ___
2. God exists. Yes ___ No ___ I don’t know ___

With all due respect here, this doesn’t make any sense. To say “I believe in God” is just to say “I believe God exists”. There is no difference between (1) and (2).

You will have to explain how someone can say “No” to (1) and “I don’t know” to (2) without contradiction.

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Posted: 11 April 2006 12:23 PM   [ Ignore ]   [ # 15 ]
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Hi Doug,

I think there is a subtle but significant difference in the way the questions are posed.


Onc could hypothetically believe God exists and not believe “in” God.  I believe David Hasselhof exists, but I don’t particularly believe in him!

On the other hand, many if not most atheists would answer “I don’t know” if God exists (absence of evidence does not equal evidence of absence) while not believing in God.

It’s a mind poser to get you to think more than actual serious questions, but it is useful.

Hope this helps and doesn’t utterly confuse the situation!

Jay

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