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agnostic vs atheist
Posted: 21 April 2010 10:49 AM   [ Ignore ]   [ # 31 ]
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A central problem with any attempt to assess the probability that a god exists, and with many of the other philosophical arguments on this topic, is that we have no framework with which to assess them. So for me, nearly all the arguments on this point, and on theism-atheism generally, shed light only on how we look at things.

A story about Einstein sums it up best, perhaps. He was language delayed as a child. Commenting on this as an adult, he said that his delayed development helped him become a better scientist because it allowed him to observe the world on its own terms for a longer time, without being misguided or confined by the arbitrary restrictions imposed by language. In many ways, we would be better off not assuming that “agnostic vs atheist” necessarily means anything.

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Posted: 21 April 2010 11:40 AM   [ Ignore ]   [ # 32 ]
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What kind of god are they exactly agnostic about?

The whole point of my sort of “weak” agnosticism is that I don’t assume that I am capable of imagining or defining everthing that could possibly exist. I am agnostic about the possibility that something might exist that could have intent and power over the structure or nature of the universe, a creator of some sort, that we might label God if we we aware of it or understood anyting about it. I don’t have to be agnostic about the god of the Bible because I can evaluate claims about him in a rational and empirical way. But can I evaluate the very idea of a creator or an organizing force/Prime Mover, etc? Can I presume that I can imagine all possible forms such a thing might take and then evaluate the evidence for or against them? I doubt it.

As you are fond of pointing out, we are very much creatures of our evolutionary history and genetic blueprints, and just as we can’t see infrared or echolocate or (in my case) understand the mathematics of string theory, so there are likely to be many phenomena in the universe we can’t imagine and couldn’t recognize or understand if they bit us in the bahookie. Wouldn’t the creator of the universe likely be such a phenomenon?

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Posted: 21 April 2010 12:00 PM   [ Ignore ]   [ # 33 ]
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mckenzievmd - 21 April 2010 11:40 AM

What kind of god are they exactly agnostic about?

The whole point of my sort of “weak” agnosticism is that I don’t assume that I am capable of imagining or defining everthing that could possibly exist. I am agnostic about the possibility that something might exist that could have intent and power over the structure or nature of the universe, a creator of some sort, that we might label God if we we aware of it or understood anyting about it. I don’t have to be agnostic about the god of the Bible because I can evaluate claims about him in a rational and empirical way. But can I evaluate the very idea of a creator or an organizing force/Prime Mover, etc? Can I presume that I can imagine all possible forms such a thing might take and then evaluate the evidence for or against them? I doubt it.

As you are fond of pointing out, we are very much creatures of our evolutionary history and genetic blueprints, and just as we can’t see infrared or echolocate or (in my case) understand the mathematics of string theory, so there are likely to be many phenomena in the universe we can’t imagine and couldn’t recognize or understand if they bit us in the bahookie. Wouldn’t the creator of the universe likely be such a phenomenon?

The problem I have is that I can’t imagine what type of a phenomenon god would be. Therefore, no phenomenon. Once again, I see no point speculating if a god that “could have intent,” may exist since the only beings that I know have “intents” are us, and we have those intents because they were designed by evolution. Any god who has intents doesn’t differ much from the Biblical god. So what is there left to be agnostic about? A “prime” being before the existence of time? How could he be “prime” if there was no time? A prime “mover”? How could he move if there was no space?

Tell me what kind of god you are agnostic about and I am sure we can find out that such a god probably doesn’t exist.

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Posted: 21 April 2010 12:17 PM   [ Ignore ]   [ # 34 ]
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Also, Brennen, since you are agnostic about the existence of god you must also be agnostic about morality. You just don’t know, do you? Why would you assume that the moral law is relative if you don’t know if a god exists?

[ Edited: 21 April 2010 12:19 PM by George ]
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Posted: 21 April 2010 03:18 PM   [ Ignore ]   [ # 35 ]
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Well, as I said, the fact that you can’t imagine something is not evidence for or against it, so agnositicism towards the unimaginable is the most appropriate stance. Granted, such a thing has little impact on daily life, but I’ve already tipulated that.

Not sure I follwo you with regard to morality. I’ve explained at length elsewhere what I think morality is and how it is relative, but none of that has anything to do with whether or not there is a god. I don’t “assume” moral laws are relative, I’ve come to believe they are through considering about where they come from and how they work within and across cultures, and such tings. How is this related to agnosticism in terms of god?

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Posted: 21 April 2010 03:54 PM   [ Ignore ]   [ # 36 ]
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dougsmith - 20 April 2010 12:33 PM

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%

I sort of agree with that.

<————————————————-x——————————————————>
Believe               suspect       don’t know/care           Suspect               Believe
Not-Y                   Not-Y             Y or Not-Y                   Y                         Y
0%                      25%                  50%                      75%                    100%

I decided I was an agnostic at 12.  But a dictionary I had at the time said: agnostic == a person the believes it is impossible to know whether or not there is a God.

I must have read that definition 50 times and though about it for weeks.  I decided the definition was stupid.  For me agnostic simply meant that I did not know at that time.  I think it is ridiculous to put labels on yourself that restrict your thought processes.  How many people reject information which might be correct and verifiable if they would only investigate?  But because they have decided on an intellectual position which would be contradicted by that information they don’t investigate.

People don’t use the word suspect very much.  If someone admits to a 75% suspicion then they admit a 25% chance of being wrong.  On that graph 0% is no chance of their being a God and 100% is some theist position.

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Posted: 21 April 2010 04:28 PM   [ Ignore ]   [ # 37 ]
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If you get into agnosticism, you will have to be agnostic about each and every form of theism, not just the ‘christian’ deity. You cannot ‘know’, then for certain, that Zeus, Zenu or Krishna don’t exist. Nor for that matter, dragons, leprechauns, fairies, bigfoot, the Loch Ness ‘monster’ or any of the other millions of fantastical beings people believe in. I believe none of these exist, without proof otherwise, I am a-dragon, leprechaun and and any other supernatural entity dreamed by mankind.

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Posted: 21 April 2010 05:38 PM   [ Ignore ]   [ # 38 ]
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mckenzievmd - 21 April 2010 03:18 PM

Not sure I follwo you with regard to morality. I’ve explained at length elsewhere what I think morality is and how it is relative, but none of that has anything to do with whether or not there is a god. I don’t “assume” moral laws are relative, I’ve come to believe they are through considering about where they come from and how they work within and across cultures, and such tings. How is this related to agnosticism in terms of god?

I imagine that moral relativism designed by natural selection compared to moral relativism designed by God through natural selection would be fundamentally different. The reason why they would have to be different is because moral relativism designed by God was intended to be that way, it was designed for a purpose. Kind of like tripping over a can of paint and making a mess compared to kicking a can of paint à la Jackson Pollock to create art through mess.

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Posted: 21 April 2010 06:05 PM   [ Ignore ]   [ # 39 ]
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George - 21 April 2010 10:40 AM

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?


Excellent point! I guess we can all say were agnostic about rumors too. But then rumors have far more basis in fact than the contrived and almost evolutionary traceable concept of god(s).
Really agnostics are saying: “I heard this through the grapevine, I doubt it’s true, but I’m keeping an open mind.”
Geez, I would hope most sensible agnostics aren’t postulating that there may be a god because of some evidenciary moment in there lives, some unexplained phenomenon that they reasoned could have been the doings of some deity..
Then, when we discuss keeping an open mind, this usually pertains to rumors we hope are true. So maybe agnostics really can’t cope(subliminally at least) with the end of life issues that theism so wonderfully intertwines itself around.
Maybe cope is a fighting word in this context…but what the heck!
Remember, what George said above. What exactly is someone being agnostic about?

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Posted: 21 April 2010 06:08 PM   [ Ignore ]   [ # 40 ]
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VYAZMA - 21 April 2010 06:05 PM

Really agnostics are saying: “I heard this through the grapevine, I doubt it’s true, but I’m keeping an open mind.”

More like through the child’s game of telephone, over 3000+ years.

[ Edited: 22 April 2010 08:25 AM by asanta ]
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Posted: 21 April 2010 07:12 PM   [ Ignore ]   [ # 41 ]
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VYAZMA - 21 April 2010 06:05 PM
George - 21 April 2010 10:40 AM

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?


Excellent point! I guess we can all say were agnostic about rumors too. But then rumors have far more basis in fact than the contrived and almost evolutionary traceable concept of god(s).
Really agnostics are saying: “I heard this through the grapevine, I doubt it’s true, but I’m keeping an open mind.”

I think the problem here is that atheists assume that agnostics give as much of a damn about religion as atheists do.

I do not concern myself with how many different things are false.  Unless I have reason to suspect something is true or find it interesting for some reason I just don’t pay attention or give a damn about it.  You talk as though every idea under the sun has to be classified in a true or false box.  Most things aren’t important enough to pay attention to.  If someone wants to believe in Zeus that is fine with me.  I am not going to try to change his mind.  It is like atheists need to proselytize like Christians. 

All of the members of the Church of Apatheism must be heretics because the fact that they bothered to join the church is proof that they are not sufficiently apathetic.

http://www.wunderland.com/WTS/Ginohn/cetera/apatheism.html

But the atheists are stuck with the problem that there might be a God that no human being has conceptualized yet.  Isn’t science about exploring the UNKNOWN?  How can you say what unknown ain’t there?    LOL

There was a time when Black Holes were unknown. Doesn’t that mean scienctists admit there are things they don’t know.  Did they not exist because no one knew about them.  Einstein’s ideas were not tested until the 1919 eclipse.  Did that mean they should have been classified as FALSE from 1905 to 1919?  Maybe atheism is inherently unscientific.

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Posted: 21 April 2010 07:28 PM   [ Ignore ]   [ # 42 ]
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Hmmm…. Well, I think most theists would say moral relativism couldn’t have been designed by God because it is a moral system that has no absolute standards external to human beliefs and desires. If I thought there was a god like the Christian God who had a clear set of rules in mind for all people, I couldn’t very well be a moral relativist. Anyway, still not sure how this relates to the agnostic/atheist thing.

As for the question of what kind of god is it reasonable to be agnostic about, I’ve answered that but haven’t seen any reaction to the answer. Certainly, the deist notion of a god which established the universe than left it to its own devices is pretty hard to prove impossible. I agree with Doug that it’s also not a very interesting or useful concept, but that’s different from saying it is one we can confidently assert is not true. And the idea that being agnostic about the possibility of there being some supernatural entity or creator our limited brains aren’t capable of imagining or understanding isn’t really the same thing as being agnostic about the existence of deliberate fictions (e.g. Easter Bunny) or characters in myths/legends/religious stories which are described as having specific characteristics or even historical deeds that we can evaluate on the basis of reasonable evidence. As I said before, after spending so much of my time trying to convince people that what they are so certain of in medicine actually isn’t true, I am acutely aware of how easy it is to be certain of things we don’t really know.

I don’t have any strong objection to the term atheist, and in casual conversation I often use it rather than agnostic if I am trying to make the point that I don’t find a belief in god necessary to living my life. But I am surprised by how vehemently atheists seem to object to the term agnostic, as if it were some kind of betrayal of principle or sign of cowardice rather than a subtle but reasonable philosophical point.

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Posted: 21 April 2010 07:38 PM   [ Ignore ]   [ # 43 ]
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mckenzievmd - 21 April 2010 07:28 PM

But I am surprised by how vehemently atheists seem to object to the term agnostic, as if it were some kind of betrayal of principle or sign of cowardice rather than a subtle but reasonable philosophical point.

We are supposed to be on their side in the war against the theists.

They are just like George W. Bush.

Either you are with us or you are with the terr.. uh, theists.  LOL

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Posted: 21 April 2010 07:49 PM   [ Ignore ]   [ # 44 ]
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A betrayal of principle? Hmm, it gets my goat because I don’t think it makes sense. I actually find agnosticism more silly than theism.

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Posted: 21 April 2010 08:45 PM   [ Ignore ]   [ # 45 ]
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All this arguing/debating over agnosticism vs. atheism is nothing less than intellectual masturbation. We all agree none of the gods mankind has invented exists. Now we can get back to work figuring out what actually happened when the Universe went “boom!”

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