2 of 11
2
agnostic vs atheist
Posted: 20 April 2010 12:36 PM   [ Ignore ]   [ # 16 ]
Jr. Member
Avatar
RankRankRank
Total Posts:  71
Joined  2009-02-28

The thing about belief is, while it might be measured on a scale from, say, 50-100 (50 being the lowest one can go without dropping the belief, 100 being certainty) you either believe something or you don’t.

Profile
 
 
Posted: 20 April 2010 12:39 PM   [ Ignore ]   [ # 17 ]
Administrator
Avatar
RankRankRankRankRankRankRankRankRankRank
Total Posts:  15395
Joined  2006-02-14
Michael De Dora - 20 April 2010 12:31 PM

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).

So am I, in that I agree with your take here. But the problem is that this involves a minor equivocation on the word “know”. When you say you’re an agnostic, you’re saying that it’s because you can’t “definitely know”, and yet when you say you’re an atheist you’re saying you know that God doesn’t exist—you’re using “know” in the ordinary sense of the term.

So you’re using a stronger sense of “know” (“know” in the sense of logical proof) with the agnosticism than with the atheism.

But I think we ought to be using words like “know” in their everyday senses. So in that sense it’s not proper to say that one is both an agnostic and an atheist, at least not with respect to the same interpretation of the word “God”. That way we’re clearer about what we think: e.g., that we know God doesn’t exist, in the same way we know that the Yeti doesn’t exist, and that leprechauns don’t exist.

One can, of course, say that one is an atheist with respect to the theistic God of traditional Christianity and an agnostic with respect to some form of Deistic god.

 Signature 

Doug

-:- -:—:- -:—:- -:—:- -:—:- -:—:-

El sueño de la razón produce monstruos

Profile
 
 
Posted: 20 April 2010 12:42 PM   [ Ignore ]   [ # 18 ]
Sr. Member
Avatar
RankRankRankRankRankRankRankRankRankRank
Total Posts:  9301
Joined  2006-08-29
Michael De Dora - 20 April 2010 12:36 PM

The thing about belief is, while it might be measured on a scale from, say, 50-100 (50 being the lowest one can go without dropping the belief, 100 being certainty) you either believe something or you don’t.

Well, I don’t know about that. I kind of (say, 95%) believe that our universe was created out of nothing, for example.

Profile
 
 
Posted: 20 April 2010 12:44 PM   [ Ignore ]   [ # 19 ]
Administrator
Avatar
RankRankRankRankRankRankRankRankRankRank
Total Posts:  15395
Joined  2006-02-14
Michael De Dora - 20 April 2010 12:36 PM

The thing about belief is, while it might be measured on a scale from, say, 50-100 (50 being the lowest one can go without dropping the belief, 100 being certainty) you either believe something or you don’t.

Well, I think of belief as something like a mapping of a more detailed epistemic continuum onto a binary predicate. People will figure out where on that continuum they decide that they’re going to say “I believe ...”

Will it be when they have more than 60% likelihood? 75%?

Think of a series of games of chance. When will you say, “I believe I’ll win this round.” When your chances of winning are 55%? 75%?

Statistically, certainty is at 95% in that anything more likely than that is considered to have been proven statistically certain.

 Signature 

Doug

-:- -:—:- -:—:- -:—:- -:—:- -:—:-

El sueño de la razón produce monstruos

Profile
 
 
Posted: 20 April 2010 10:32 PM   [ Ignore ]   [ # 20 ]
Jr. Member
Avatar
RankRankRank
Total Posts:  71
Joined  2009-02-28
dougsmith - 20 April 2010 12:39 PM
Michael De Dora - 20 April 2010 12:31 PM

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).

So am I, in that I agree with your take here. But the problem is that this involves a minor equivocation on the word “know”. When you say you’re an agnostic, you’re saying that it’s because you can’t “definitely know”, and yet when you say you’re an atheist you’re saying you know that God doesn’t exist—you’re using “know” in the ordinary sense of the term.

I am saying that I cannot “know” whether God or exists or not, but that I can still lack belief.

dougsmith - 20 April 2010 12:39 PM

But I think we ought to be using words like “know” in their everyday senses. So in that sense it’s not proper to say that one is both an agnostic and an atheist, at least not with respect to the same interpretation of the word “God”. That way we’re clearer about what we think: e.g., that we know God doesn’t exist, in the same way we know that the Yeti doesn’t exist, and that leprechauns don’t exist.

I am going to have to digest this argument.

Profile
 
 
Posted: 20 April 2010 10:35 PM   [ Ignore ]   [ # 21 ]
Sr. Member
Avatar
RankRankRankRankRankRankRankRankRankRank
Total Posts:  7684
Joined  2008-04-11

I haven’t seen anything to change my self description from atheist. I am open to compelling evidence of a supernatural being, I have never seen any, and I don’t think that makes me agnostic.

 Signature 

Church; where sheep congregate to worship a zombie on a stick that turns into a cracker on Sundays…

Profile
 
 
Posted: 20 April 2010 10:37 PM   [ Ignore ]   [ # 22 ]
Jr. Member
Avatar
RankRankRank
Total Posts:  71
Joined  2009-02-28
asanta - 20 April 2010 10:35 PM

I haven’t seen anything to change my self description from atheist. I am open to compelling evidence of a supernatural being, I have never seen any, and I don’t think that makes me agnostic.

See, my stance has been that anyone not a 7 (or 6.5 to hedge bets based on the above) on Dawkins’ scale is technically agnostic. But I’ll rethink this now due to what Doug said.

Profile
 
 
Posted: 20 April 2010 11:05 PM   [ Ignore ]   [ # 23 ]
Sr. Member
Avatar
RankRankRankRankRankRankRankRankRankRank
Total Posts:  698
Joined  2007-10-14
asanta - 20 April 2010 10:35 PM

I haven’t seen anything to change my self description from atheist. I am open to compelling evidence of a supernatural being, I have never seen any, and I don’t think that makes me agnostic.


`
Ditto. 

To me, one potential yardstick is:  does a person live their life as if there is a ‘God’ or do they live their life as if there isn’t?  To me, if it’s the former, then they could be described as theist and if they don’t, they could be described as atheist. 

I realize that many people will have an ‘issue’ with this….....and the ultimate bottom line lies with the individual, who (as we know) will choose whatever ‘label’ for themselves they feel most comfortable with, based on a number of factors (one of which is how a term is ‘generally received’ by the general public)

Methinks there will be arguments on this specific subject for yeeeeaaarssssss to come :)  Given all of the current conversations/arguments about these terms, I think we’ll be seeing more numerous definitions for each term in future dictionaries)

`

 Signature 

‘we are so fundamentally constituted of desire that we go on hearing music…...even though we know the band is gone and the stage is silent’

Profile
 
 
Posted: 21 April 2010 04:38 AM   [ Ignore ]   [ # 24 ]
Administrator
Avatar
RankRankRankRankRankRankRankRankRankRank
Total Posts:  15395
Joined  2006-02-14
Michael De Dora - 20 April 2010 10:32 PM

I am saying that I cannot “know” whether God or exists or not, but that I can still lack belief.

Well, there are two ways I can interpret this statement.

(1) Re. the question, “Does God exist?” your belief is somewhere around the middle of the continuum I referenced, above. That is, you’re unsure. It may even be that you’re so unsure that you don’t know where to begin to assess a probability. Those are what I‘d call the classic agnostic positions.

It’s basically the sense of agnosticism in which I’m agnostic about microbial life in our solar system, ex-Earth. Or in which I’m agnostic about whether string theory is correct. I have no idea.

(2) Re. the question “Does God exist?” you believe that God doesn’t exist in the same way you believe that Bismarck is the capital of North Dakota, that objects fall in Earth gravity at 9.8 m/s^2, that the Yeti does not exist, that there are no teapots in orbit around Mars, etc.

But that’s the sort of “belief” that in daily life we call “knowledge”. If the teacher asks in class, “Who knows what the capital of North Dakota is?” and someone says, “I know! It’s Bismarck!” Nobody would respond, “Well, you don’t know that, since it’s logically possible that you don’t have all the evidence.”

If we don’t say that when it comes to more everyday questions, then we shouldn’t say it when it comes to God, either. It becomes a case of special pleading.

 Signature 

Doug

-:- -:—:- -:—:- -:—:- -:—:- -:—:-

El sueño de la razón produce monstruos

Profile
 
 
Posted: 21 April 2010 08:46 AM   [ Ignore ]   [ # 25 ]
Sr. Member
RankRankRankRankRankRankRankRankRankRank
Total Posts:  6166
Joined  2006-12-20
George - 20 April 2010 12:42 PM

Well, I don’t know about that. I kind of (say, 95%) believe that our universe was created out of nothing, for example.

I guess this for another thread but I don’t even understand the concept of something being created out of nothing, let alone think there is evidence for it, so I do wonder why a person who generally believes in taking a skeptical approach would believe that? Unless you don’t literally mean nothing?

Stephen

Profile
 
 
Posted: 21 April 2010 09:05 AM   [ Ignore ]   [ # 26 ]
Sr. Member
Avatar
RankRankRankRankRankRankRankRankRankRank
Total Posts:  9301
Joined  2006-08-29

I don’t understand it either, Stephen, and that is why I neither believe it or disbelieve it.

Profile
 
 
Posted: 21 April 2010 09:24 AM   [ Ignore ]   [ # 27 ]
Moderator
Avatar
RankRankRankRankRankRankRankRankRankRank
Total Posts:  4095
Joined  2006-11-28

Doug,

But isn’t God a special case by definition? After all, the idea is that the thing is the creator of the universe and an entity to whom the regular rules of the universe don’t apply. So it doesn’t seem accurate to say that claiming some degree of uncertainty about whether such a thing exists and its properties is the same as claiming some uncertainty about whether or not there is a teapot circling Mars. I’m agnostic about string theory not only because I haven’t investigated the subject deeply, but also because I am fairly sure I am not capable of understanding the arguments for and against it as they are mathematical arguments well beyond my ability to understand. Similarly, it seems unjustified to assume that I can confidently rule out the possibility of a deity given that it is fairly certain I would not be able to understand the nature of such a thing.

Granted, of course, I can (and do) make judgements about empirically testable claims about such a being, which makes it possible to dismiss most of the “evidence” presented in support of the idea. That leaves the sort of deistic concept or some unknowable other construct, and I agree that believing in either of those doesn’t seem worth the trouble given their inscrutability and lack of relevance to daily life. Still, I don’t know that it’s fair to dismiss the issue of uncertainty about God by analogizing to fundamentally different phenomena like teapots and deliberate fictions like Santa.

 Signature 

The SkeptVet Blog
You cannot reason a person out of a position he did not reason himself into in the first place. 
Johnathan Swift

Profile
 
 
Posted: 21 April 2010 09:41 AM   [ Ignore ]   [ # 28 ]
Administrator
Avatar
RankRankRankRankRankRankRankRankRankRank
Total Posts:  15395
Joined  2006-02-14
mckenzievmd - 21 April 2010 09:24 AM

But isn’t God a special case by definition? After all, the idea is that the thing is the creator of the universe and an entity to whom the regular rules of the universe don’t apply. So it doesn’t seem accurate to say that claiming some degree of uncertainty about whether such a thing exists and its properties is the same as claiming some uncertainty about whether or not there is a teapot circling Mars. I’m agnostic about string theory not only because I haven’t investigated the subject deeply, but also because I am fairly sure I am not capable of understanding the arguments for and against it as they are mathematical arguments well beyond my ability to understand. Similarly, it seems unjustified to assume that I can confidently rule out the possibility of a deity given that it is fairly certain I would not be able to understand the nature of such a thing.

Granted, of course, I can (and do) make judgements about empirically testable claims about such a being, which makes it possible to dismiss most of the “evidence” presented in support of the idea. That leaves the sort of deistic concept or some unknowable other construct, and I agree that believing in either of those doesn’t seem worth the trouble given their inscrutability and lack of relevance to daily life. Still, I don’t know that it’s fair to dismiss the issue of uncertainty about God by analogizing to fundamentally different phenomena like teapots and deliberate fictions like Santa.

Well, I see what you’re saying. My response would be, like a good philosopher, “Yes and no.”

The problem with deciding whether or not God exists is that the word means so many things to so many people. We’ve had a discussion on here recently about the question as to whether or not there was some “higher power”, and there’s certainly a sense in which I have no earthly idea as to what the right answer is, since the question is so unformed as to be unanswerable.

Same with questions like, “What’s the meaning of life?” I can hazard some general responses, but there’s a sense in which the question is meaningless.

That said, there are some really pretty well formed ideas of God in amongst the dross. There is the traditional God of Christianity, who answers prayers, who created the world, who in some sense was responsible for the Bible, who judges the saved and the damned (at the very least sending the former to heaven), and who is all knowing, all powerful and perfectly good. I’d submit that there’s no fundamental sort of uncertainty with this notion of God that would make us unable to have a reasoned guess as to whether or not he exists.

There’s all kinds of evidence that biology is not consistent with a perfect creator of all living things. There’s all kinds of evidence that the evil in the world is too great to be accounted for by the desires of a morally perfect being. There’s all kinds of evidence contradicting the theory of a soul as distinct from the body. Etc.

Now, this is the kind of God that most people mean when they talk about whether or not God exists, at least in our culture. So I don’t find it at all problematic to simply assume that I’m denying the existence of such a being when I claim to be an atheist.

There may be other more abstract or Deistic sorts of god to which my opinion would be more measured, perhaps agnostic. But one can’t take on all comers at once, and I’m concerned here also about a bait-and-switch. You know the kind: there’s no evidence that a Deistic god doesn’t exist, so that provides evidence that my Christian God exists. Well, no it doesn’t. And since the thin god of Deism is of no religious import (it doesn’t or can’t care about us or respond to prayer, etc.), it really should be beside the point when discussing atheism in the context of any actual religion that people hold.

And re. the general point, I do think that there is a kind of special pleading around religious topics in general and God in particular, in our culture. A sense in which “there one cannot go”. And it’s that sense that leads me to want to re-emphasize all this.

 Signature 

Doug

-:- -:—:- -:—:- -:—:- -:—:- -:—:-

El sueño de la razón produce monstruos

Profile
 
 
Posted: 21 April 2010 10:11 AM   [ Ignore ]   [ # 29 ]
Moderator
Avatar
RankRankRankRankRankRankRankRankRankRank
Total Posts:  4095
Joined  2006-11-28

Sure, and I don’t disagree with any of what you’re saying. I am a bit of an oddity around here in that, while I don’t have much use for religion, I don’t find the subject very compelling or have much interest in it. I tend to focus more on the “skeptic” side of our community’s effort, trying to help people see the world in ways less likely to lead them into erroneous conclusions. So I place more emphasis on the unreliability of human knowledge because I spend my days trying to convince people they don’t really know what they think they know. Still, I certainly include the sorts of well-defined and pretty clearly mistaken concepts of God you’re talking about, and which most people mean by the term, in my category of erroneous conclusions, and I agree that there is little reason to be agnostic towards that.

 Signature 

The SkeptVet Blog
You cannot reason a person out of a position he did not reason himself into in the first place. 
Johnathan Swift

Profile
 
 
Posted: 21 April 2010 10:40 AM   [ Ignore ]   [ # 30 ]
Sr. Member
Avatar
RankRankRankRankRankRankRankRankRankRank
Total Posts:  9301
Joined  2006-08-29

I still haven’t heard one satisfactory definition of a Deistic god. A god who “designed” or “created” with a “purpose” (I imagine) the universe still sounds to me like some kind of a super-human, since “designing with a purpose” seems to me clearly a human domain. Agnostics, just like believers, have a lot of explaining to do. What kind of god are they exactly agnostic about?

Profile
 
 
   
2 of 11
2