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agnostic vs atheist
Posted: 20 April 2010 02:30 AM   [ Ignore ]
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I’m sure that for everyone involved in this forum this is a weak topic, but still I would love to hear some responses to this question which I have had for quite some time. As far as my understanding goes being agnostic means that you don’t believe you are capable of understanding the universe, while atheism is in a way claiming an understanding, that there is no god. But what does that mean? Does believing there is no god mean you believe in no higher power? Is that even what atheism means? I feel like everything I read is too simplified and I would love to hear the opinions of real people.

[ Edited: 20 April 2010 02:40 AM by Koko ]
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Posted: 20 April 2010 04:28 AM   [ Ignore ]   [ # 1 ]
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Of a Tuesday evening, before our second beer at the pub, I would concede the philosophical possibility of a deity, that is the possibility that some day some evidence might pop up suggesting a deity, so I would be slightly agnostic.  A 6 on Dawkins’s 7 point scale. 

However I do not understand your statement

being agnostic means that you don’t believe you are capable of understanding the universe

.  Believing in a deity would actually mean you can give up understanding the universe - if there is anything that’s sort of puzzling, all you have to do is say “goddidit”. 

Of a Friday evening, after our second beer, I would say “Balderdash!  What is this mindless speculation with nary an iota of evidence?  There is no reason to consider an idea like this.”  I would be an outright atheist.  A 7 on the Dawkins scale. cool smile

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Posted: 20 April 2010 04:29 AM   [ Ignore ]   [ # 2 ]
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Koko - 20 April 2010 02:30 AM

I’m sure that for everyone involved in this forum this is a weak topic, but still I would love to hear some responses to this question which I have had for quite some time. As far as my understanding goes being agnostic means that you don’t believe you are capable of understanding the universe, while atheism is in a way claiming an understanding, that there is no god.

Unfortunately this is a topic that generates a lot of heat and little light. Basically, that’s because it seems as though everyone has their own private definition of what they mean by the terms. FWIW, the definitions I’ve always heard while I was doing philosophy (and before I got into these circles) are quite simple:

An atheist believes (or: says that he knows) that there is no God.

An agnostic neither believes nor disbelieves in God. He is not sure, or believes that the evidence is too limited to claim knowledge. (As Endiku says, though, this does not imply that the agnostic lacks knowledge of the universe).

Koko - 20 April 2010 02:30 AM

But what does that mean? Does believing there is no god mean you believe in no higher power? Is that even what atheism means? I feel like everything I read is too simplified and I would love to hear the opinions of real people.

The problem is that we have to start with words, which are often too imprecise to do the job we need. For example, what does it mean to talk about a “higher power”? Let’s take an example. Every atheist I know believes in the existence of stars, and stars are much more powerful than humans. So every atheist I know does believe in “higher powers”.

I believe that you are asking a different question, however the problem for me (as an atheist) is to know what precisely you are after when you are asking whether or not there is a “higher power”. Certainly, there are objects much more powerful than humans in the universe. But we have no evidence for supernatural powers of any kind, so it follows that we have no evidence for supernatural “higher powers”. Nor do we have evidence for any other thinking beings other than ourselves, so no evidence of “higher powers” with minds.

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Posted: 20 April 2010 07:00 AM   [ Ignore ]   [ # 3 ]
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As Dioug says, this topic can go around and around without getting anywhere very easily. I’ve come to feel that the choice of one label or another has more to do with what one chooses to emphasize rather than strictly what one believes. I call myself an agnostic because I choose to emphasize the limitations and uncertainties of human knowledge and becaue I think excessive dogmatic certainties cause more harm than a more tentative, provisional approach to knowledge. I’m also a 6 on Dawkins’ scale in that I see no credible evidence for a deity and suspect the existence of one very, very unlikely. Still, I spend a lot of my time as a skeptic trying to convince believers in nonsense of all sorts that their certainties and confidence in their intuitiions or judgements are unreliable, and I want to be careful to apply the same standard to myself. I cannot prove beyond a shadow of a doubt that there is no God, so I tend to avoid the label “atheist.” For practical purposes, anyone who spends five minutes talking with me on the subject, though, tends to conclude that I really am an atheist because they don’t find the careful epistemological distinction as important as I do.

Others seem to feel that if there’s no good reason to believe in a god, then the honest thing to do is assert there is no such thing, and the tiny chance of their being wrong is right up there with the tiny chance that the sun really won’t rise tomorrow—real, perhaps, but not worth bothering about. These folks tend to seem more focused on the harm done by false beliefs than by excessive confidence in one’s beliefs, so they place the emphasis diffeerently by choosing “atheist.”

There are other reasons for choosing one label or another, of course, including the social statement one wishes to make and so on. But I think the difference is probably smaller and more one of taste than most people imagine.

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Posted: 20 April 2010 07:13 AM   [ Ignore ]   [ # 4 ]
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mckenzievmd - 20 April 2010 07:00 AM

As Dioug says

Dioug. How about that for a nickname, Doug? I am just not sure how to pronounce it.  LOL

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Posted: 20 April 2010 09:01 AM   [ Ignore ]   [ # 5 ]
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Well, it does emphasize his godlike wisdom, sharing a root with dios and the like. grin

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Posted: 20 April 2010 10:58 AM   [ Ignore ]   [ # 6 ]
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Simplistically: I am an agnostic by reason, but an atheist by faith.

I believe this fits within Doug’s descriptions and definitions.

Occam

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Posted: 20 April 2010 11:08 AM   [ Ignore ]   [ # 7 ]
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Are you an a-teapot-ist or a-santa-ist by faith as well? I wouldn’t say so.

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Posted: 20 April 2010 11:15 AM   [ Ignore ]   [ # 8 ]
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Well…..  I don’t get the reference to a-teapot-ist.  Could you explain what you mean by that one?

The problem with Santa Claus is that people haven’t worked hard enough to come up with weaselly ways of avoiding negative evidence.  So, the evidence against S.C.‘s existence is pretty conclusive.  Unfortunately, a few thousand years of misguided but bright guys have managed to define a god in a manner that blocks clear disproof.  As such, while I know it’s all a gimmick, I can’t logically reject it based on proof. 

Occam

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Posted: 20 April 2010 11:22 AM   [ Ignore ]   [ # 9 ]
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Occam - 20 April 2010 11:15 AM

Well…..  I don’t get the reference to a-teapot-ist.  Could you explain what you mean by that one?

The problem with Santa Claus is that people haven’t worked hard enough to come up with weaselly ways of avoiding negative evidence.  So, the evidence against S.C.‘s existence is pretty conclusive.  Unfortunately, a few thousand years of misguided but bright guys have managed to define a god in a manner that blocks clear disproof.  As such, while I know it’s all a gimmick, I can’t logically reject it based on proof. 

A-teapot-ist—you know, the old example from Bertrand Russell: there could be a teapot in orbit around Mars, but I don’t have to go looking to know that there isn’t.

As we’ve discussed before, I don’t think that the word “knowledge” has anything to do with logical proof. E.g., I know that it’s sunny outside my window, but I don’t have any logical proof to that effect. (I could, after all, be dreaming!) I know that Washington, DC is the capital of the US, but again, I lack logical proof. I’m just going on some pretty good evidence. So too the nonexistence of bigfoot ...

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Posted: 20 April 2010 11:37 AM   [ Ignore ]   [ # 10 ]
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Just playing devil’s advocate here, but isn’t the problem with the teapot argument that we know the qualities of a teapot as well as the technological capabilities of our civilization - thus we can conclude that it is extremely unlikely that a teapot could make it to orbit around Mars. God, on the other hand, has certain qualities that we can’t really comprehend, therefore we really can’t say anything about him?

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Posted: 20 April 2010 11:42 AM   [ Ignore ]   [ # 11 ]
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Occam - 20 April 2010 10:58 AM

Simplistically: I am an agnostic by reason, but an atheist by faith.

I believe this fits within Doug’s descriptions and definitions.

Occam

I suspect I’m the opposite,  an atheist by reason and an agnostic by faith, although I like to think there is reason for my agnosticism.

Stephen

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Posted: 20 April 2010 12:07 PM   [ Ignore ]   [ # 12 ]
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domokato - 20 April 2010 11:37 AM

Just playing devil’s advocate here, but isn’t the problem with the teapot argument that we know the qualities of a teapot as well as the technological capabilities of our civilization - thus we can conclude that it is extremely unlikely that a teapot could make it to orbit around Mars. God, on the other hand, has certain qualities that we can’t really comprehend, therefore we really can’t say anything about him?

Well, it isn’t the case that something has to be made by humans in order to look like a teapot. It’s possible that one just spontaneously arose from material around the early sun. So it can’t be discounted on logical grounds. (Of course, neither is the possibility that some human managed to get up into space—perhaps by UFOs?—and left it there).

Re. the claim that we can’t comprehend God’s qualities: I think that’s a different argument. If I can’t comprehend the qualities of something, or say anything about it, then it’s impossible for me to assert meaningfully that it exists. It’s also not something I can care about or be interested in.

The God I’m talking about is as comprehensible as any defined entity. He’s perfectly good, all powerful and all knowing.

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Posted: 20 April 2010 12:20 PM   [ Ignore ]   [ # 13 ]
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I take the multi-axis view of the two words. I find this aligns well with most peoples’ definitions of the two words.  More explanation here:  http://www.centerforinquiry.net/forums/viewthread/6242/

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Posted: 20 April 2010 12:31 PM   [ Ignore ]   [ # 14 ]
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The way I see it is this: I am both an agnostic (in that I believe we cannot definitely know either way) but also an atheist (in that I see no good evidence for the claims so I lack belief in them).

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Posted: 20 April 2010 12:33 PM   [ Ignore ]   [ # 15 ]
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KurtJ - 20 April 2010 12:20 PM

I take the multi-axis view of the two words. I find this aligns well with most peoples’ definitions of the two words.  More explanation here:  http://www.centerforinquiry.net/forums/viewthread/6242/

Yeah, I’ve heard of something like this before (there’s a long thread about it somewhere, only with “knowledge” on one axis and “belief” on the other). I don’t find it convincing. Belief itself exists along a continuum from certainty at one end to complete uncertainty at the other. (Or, if you include the negative, the uncertainty is at the axis and the other end stretches to complete certainty of the negation of the original belief).

<————————————————-x———————————————————>
Certain               Believe           Uncertain             Believe               Certain
Not-Y                 Not-Y             Y or Not-Y                 Y                       Y
100%                75%              50%-50%              75%                  100%

So I don’t see how this is on two axes.

[Sorry if the graphic doesn’t come out quite right. It’s difficult to make this look good].

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