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Agnosticism and its relation to religion


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By Mattias Lehman

 

Often I hear people claim that they are 'Agnostic.' However, this is a misnomer, due to misunderstanding of Agnosticism. What such people mean to claim, is that they are weak atheists, or negative atheists, who lack belief in god. Such a description applies to babies, or people who have never heard of the idea of a god. Some would argue that it applies to people who simply don't know what they believe yet. However, not knowing implies a lack of conviction. A belief is a conviction in some thing's truth. If they lack that conviction in the existence of god, that means that they are at least an implicit atheist. Furthermore, that claim of simply lacking a belief in a god, does not take somewhat of a middle ground. The fact that they lack belief in all gods they know of, means that they have rejected all the gods possible, which is a position of strong atheism, or disbelief, at least of all gods they know of. Therefore, all people who have no specific belief in god are strong atheists, at least towards the deities they know of. Thus, the only people who are complete weak atheists are babies, or people with no knowledge of any supposed deities.

 

Agnostic, being an epistemological belief, does NOT refer to belief in god. As the coiner of the word, Thomas Huxley, emphasized, it deals with KNOWLEDGE of god, and is opposed to the "Gnostics", who claimed knowledge of the divine (and also limited it to their initiates/acolytes). It is not a medium between Atheism and Theism. The problem with this misunderstanding of Agnosticism is mainly due to this common scenario. Somebody asks 'do you believe in god?' and receives the answer 'I'm agnostic', meant 'I don't know'. However, the original question was not about knowledge, but about belief. However, as to the question 'is there a god?' I can remain agnostic. I cannot know of every possible god, and thus cannot know that one does not exist. However, I still do not believe in that god, making me an atheist in respect to it. Should I be asked if I believe in a specific God, then I can say 'I'm an atheist', as I have my own reasons for believing that such deities do not exist, but furthermore, my atheism can be Gnostic(given I can provide evidence for why I lack such belief, and show how it contradicts itself, or creates a paradox/impossibility).

 

Agnosticism has two general meanings. One is that knowledge of the divine is impossible. This definition is not to be mistaken with an alternative to atheism. Atheism and theism deal with belief, agnosticism and Gnosticism deal with the basis for such belief. For example, Agnostic Atheism holds that knowledge of the divine is impossible (or currently unavailable) and thus belief in God is unjustified and illogical. On the other hand, have you ever heard a theist say 'just have faith'? That is an agnostic position, as they are admitting that they have no knowledge of whether God exists, and yet still believe despite their lack of such knowledge. Gnostic atheism and theism are pretty much self-explanatory given that the definition of Gnostic to be 'believing that knowledge of the existence or nonexistence of the divine is possible or currently held'.

 

On the other hand, Agnosticism can be also used in a general sense, in which case it refers to not believing in something without evidence. For example, I am agnostic about the existence of invisible immaterial pink leprechauns inside my computer, causing it to work. I have no evidence that they do not exist, yet nobody would call me presumptuous for assuming they don't exist. As there is no evidence for them, the logical answer is that they don't exist. The amount of things I am agnostic about is infinite, including the infinite possibilities of extraneous things I have yet to even think of. Yet, dis-believing in such things would clearly be considered logical, while dogmatically believing in things that are without evidence, yet possible, would usually be considered illogical. Thus too, is belief in a god bounded. Unless strict and clear evidence is provided, non-belief is not illogical, in fact, it is the default logical choice

 

The Agnostic Theist position is an especially ironic stance. Many religious people condemn Agnosticism, but when those same people admonish others to "just have faith", they are unwittingly making a declaration of agnosticism.

 

link

 

http://exchristian.net/exchristian/2006/11...elation-to.html

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I think this is just another tap dance in the attempt to rationalize the "atheism is disbelief in God therefore I have no position on the existence of God to defend" contradictory position--and in the process turns just about everything on its head.

 

One can hold a belief without the conviction to knowledge as long as it is acknowledged as such. If it is necessary to totally undermine any use of the word agnostic, then we need another word for any degree of belief short of a claim of certain knowledge, in either direction. But since coining new words from scratch is almost impossible, the anarchists will continue to use their primary tactic, undermining the dictionary.

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I guess that I just don't understand this...

However, not knowing implies a lack of conviction. A belief is a conviction in some thing's truth.
Conviction doesn't equal knowledge/truth. And a belief is merely a conviction. One can be convinced of something that is completely untrue. Therefore, the statement, "A belief is a conviction of some thing's truth." is mostly false.

 

Either that, or I need to lay off the crack for a while and start eating my veggies. :Hmm:

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I guess that I just don't understand this...

However, not knowing implies a lack of conviction. A belief is a conviction in some thing's truth.
Conviction doesn't equal knowledge/truth. And a belief is merely a conviction. One can be convinced of something that is completely untrue. Therefore, the statement, "A belief is a conviction of some thing's truth." is mostly false.

 

Either that, or I need to lay off the crack for a while and start eating my veggies. :Hmm:

 

Well, I read it as 'belief is the conviction of the truth of something', which is fairly accurate to the definition given it omits 'not immediately susceptible to rigorous proof'. And you're absolutely right, someone can believe something pantently false, like the flatness of the world. The idea here is that belief is synonymous to faith or opinion, and isn't the result of fact or observable evidence. So they can believe something is true, but that doesn't mean it is...and the way he's phrased it is a little misleading.

 

One can hold a belief without the conviction to knowledge as long as it is acknowledged as such. If it is necessary to totally undermine any use of the word agnostic, then we need another word for any degree of belief short of a claim of certain knowledge, in either direction. But since coining new words from scratch is almost impossible, the anarchists will continue to use their primary tactic, undermining the dictionary.

 

This tactic used by JP Holding et. all is really what upset me about the article. Language is too important to allow it to be undermined. Agnostic is the perfect word to describe the idea it encapsulates, there's no reason to look for a new term. The only problem is getting people to use it correctly. Summing it up to mean 'I don't know' is as absurd as the rest of that article.

 

I'm sorry if it's distasteful to suggest that atheism is a form of belief, but to deny the possibility of god in any shape or form, without the benefit of absolute knowledge of everything in existence, is necessarily a belief. It's not something that is possible to 'know', and we've already established what a conviction in the absence of proof is.

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By Mattias Lehman

 

 

Agnosticism has two general meanings. One is that knowledge of the divine is impossible. This definition is not to be mistaken with an alternative to atheism. Atheism and theism deal with belief, agnosticism and Gnosticism deal with the basis for such belief. For example, Agnostic Atheism holds that knowledge of the divine is impossible (or currently unavailable) and thus belief in God is unjustified and illogical. On the other hand, have you ever heard a theist say 'just have faith'? That is an agnostic position, as they are admitting that they have no knowledge of whether God exists, and yet still believe despite their lack of such knowledge. Gnostic atheism and theism are pretty much self-explanatory given that the definition of Gnostic to be 'believing that knowledge of the existence or nonexistence of the divine is possible or currently held'.

 

You make a leap in logic here. In Christian theology, "Faith" is not intellectual belief, as in "I believe the 49ers are going all the way this year" - it is "true and certain knowledge" given to the "select" by God. It's akin to the idea of transubstantiation - a supernatural phenomenon. When the theists in your argument (I think you mean "Christians") state, "just have faith," they are saying, "Just accept the gift of faith, and stop fighting it with your intellect."

 

Pure agnosticism is an intellectual belief system (as in, "I choose to believe..."), while pure Christianity is based on Faith given by the Christian god: The substance of things hoped for, the evidence of things unseen, Hebrews 11.) This idea of faith as proof of the existence of God makes it a waste of time to intellectually debate a devout Christian about religion. Even if you win the debate (due to superior logic and research, let's say), you lose the argument, because the devout Christian builds his argument on Faith, which is not only a gift from God, but is in fact, in the final analysis, at odds with intellectualism. If you try to argue that the type of Faith they claim to have (a supernatural gift from God) is nothing more than intellelectual dishonesty, they will shake their heads and pray for you.

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Pure agnosticism is an intellectual belief system (as in, "I choose to believe...")

 

I still contend that 'belief' in any shape or form shouldn't be included in a definition of agnosticism. The whole point of the agnostic argument is to eliminate 'belief' in either direction in favor of the scientific method of understanding.

 

And 'just have faith' as an agnostic position...is nigh retarded. That quote is one of the least intelligent things he wrote, and again illustrates that he doesn't understand the term he's attacking. How anyone could say it was a well written article is beyond me, but I should be interested in an explanation.

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I guess that I just don't understand this...
However, not knowing implies a lack of conviction. A belief is a conviction in some thing's truth.
Conviction doesn't equal knowledge/truth. And a belief is merely a conviction. One can be convinced of something that is completely untrue. Therefore, the statement, "A belief is a conviction of some thing's truth." is mostly false.

 

Either that, or I need to lay off the crack for a while and start eating my veggies. :Hmm:

Well, I read it as 'belief is the conviction of the truth of something', which is fairly accurate to the definition given it omits 'not immediately susceptible to rigorous proof'. And you're absolutely right, someone can believe something pantently false, like the flatness of the world. The idea here is that belief is synonymous to faith or opinion, and isn't the result of fact or observable evidence. So they can believe something is true, but that doesn't mean it is...and the way he's phrased it is a little misleading.
If something is true, does it even need to be believed? Does it even require belief?

 

No.

 

I don't see where it does, anyway.

 

One need not be convinced of the car sitting in my driveway since it actually is in my driveway. That can be known. That is true.

 

However, it requires conviction and belief that my car can fly, by itself, to another Universe and return with a different color of paint.

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If something is true, does it even need to be believed? Does it even require belief?

 

No.

 

I don't see where it does, anyway.

 

One need not be convinced of the car sitting in my driveway since it actually is in my driveway. That can be known. That is true.

 

However, it requires conviction and belief that my car can fly, by itself, to another Universe and return with a different color of paint.

 

You're arguing semantics here. If something is shown true or factual, then remains so until disproven, and is 'known' until then. But that's not what's in question. The actuality of the 'truth' in question in our case is totally inconsequential, what we are examining is the basis for holding it as such. The basis for holding something true without discernable evidence or proof is belief...this doesn't make it true, it just makes it a belief. Whereas something that is testable, observable, measurable, predictable etc. is held as true or a fact, until otherwise disproven...we call the basis for holding it as such 'knowledge'.

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You're arguing semantics here. If something is shown true or factual, then remains so until disproven, and is 'known' until then. But that's not what's in question. The actuality of the 'truth' in question in our case is totally inconsequential, what we are examining is the basis for holding it as such. The basis for holding something true without discernable evidence or proof is belief...this doesn't make it true, it just makes it a belief. Whereas something that is testable, observable, measurable, predictable etc. is held as true or a fact, until otherwise disproven...we call the basis for holding it as such 'knowledge'.

 

Well, yeah...

 

That, too. :HaHa:

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Great article!

 

Anyone care to expand on this sentiment?

 

I'd really like to understand how it can be viewed as a good article.

 

-It isn't good in that it's well written.

-It isn't good in that it's informative, because it shows a lack of comprehension for every term used.

-It isn’t good in that it’s a cogent thesis, where he sets out to undermine what agnosticism is, he instead spends the entire article attacking common misconceptions of agnosticism, and generating his own.

 

The only subjectively ‘good’ thing I perceive is the pat on the head it gives to atheism as the more studied, and reasoned position. Flattery is nice, but if there’s more to this article being ‘good’ than that then I’d like to hear it.

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It seems to me that the main beef with agnostics is that they are spineless fence sitters. If someone claims "there is a God" then the agnostic doesn't say "yes, praise God" or "no, there is no god" they say "maybe."

 

I think there are legitimate claims for which to reserve a "maybe" answer. Is there intelligent life elsewhere in the universe? Maybe.

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It seems to me that the main beef with agnostics is that they are spineless fence sitters. If someone claims "there is a God" then the agnostic doesn't say "yes, praise God" or "no, there is no god" they say "maybe."

 

I think there are legitimate claims for which to reserve a "maybe" answer. Is there intelligent life elsewhere in the universe? Maybe.

 

The beef then is with the misuse of the term. I'm sure there's a list around here somewhere of the poorest excuses for calling one's self 'Christian', such as the 'hedging my bets' argument. But we hardly attribute that reason blindly to all Christians everywhere.

 

As for fence sitting...Science across the boards has adopted the humble position that things only remain true only until they are disproven. They allow for the possibility that human understanding may change over time through discovery and learning, that may require a revision of proven precepts. This is very responsible, it's saying this is currently our best understading. Gravity for example is not 'proven' in the strictest meaning of the word, neither is Evolution for that matter, this doesn't mean it's bad science, it doesn't mean there isn't a mountain of tested and proven evidence to support them, it just means the possiblity that new understanding could require their modification.

 

It is the same idea that is orginally behind the agnostic position, however misused it is. Allowing for the possibility of god, shouldn't be taken as a degree of probablity. I give it the probablity of 0^2. But I cannot prove that there is no possibility of god, because it would require total comprehension of everything in existence. So it is impossible to make such a claim. Such a claim requires belief, because it transcends available evidence.

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Great article!

 

Anyone care to expand on this sentiment?

 

I'd really like to understand how it can be viewed as a good article.

 

-It isn't good in that it's well written.

-It isn't good in that it's informative, because it shows a lack of comprehension for every term used.

-It isn’t good in that it’s a cogent thesis, where he sets out to undermine what agnosticism is, he instead spends the entire article attacking common misconceptions of agnosticism, and generating his own.

 

The only subjectively ‘good’ thing I perceive is the pat on the head it gives to atheism as the more studied, and reasoned position. Flattery is nice, but if there’s more to this article being ‘good’ than that then I’d like to hear it.

 

I see your point. It made perfect since to me an hour earlier but as I read through your argument against it I find myself agreeing with you.

 

This is the first time I've ever heard the definition of the word Agnostic before so the article seemed informative at the time.

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I see your point. It made perfect since to me an hour earlier but as I read through your argument against it I find myself agreeing with you.

 

This is the first time I've ever heard the definition of the word Agnostic before so the article seemed informative at the time.

 

I'm starting to see that the major contention is the poor usage of the term. And I wholeheartedly agree, and contest that people who use the term those ways are not agnostic. To say they have no opinion, or to leave it at 'maybe' is simply an admission of ignorance, and nothing more.

 

The other thing I haven't really addressed in full is what allowing for the posibility of god means. The term god is first and foremost an abstract idea. This is what the agnostic allows for. To start to quantify 'A God' is to make positive claims about that god. A God is much easier to dismiss because every positive claim that creates it's personification rests on an unproven premise...the existence of god. You can't fill a suit with empty space, the clothes just fall to the floor.

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Science across the boards has adopted the humble position that things only remain true only until they are disproven.

 

I disagree. It seems to me that science has, by and large, relinquished any claims to truth. They are in the model building business. They attempt to build or discover accurate models of various phenomena. Also it seems to me that scientists are a rather more skeptical lot than you paint them here. Are you saying that a scientist would maintain the claim that there are unicorns as true until it is disproven?

 

It is the same idea that is orginally behind the agnostic position, however misused it is. Allowing for the possibility of god, shouldn't be taken as a degree of probablity. I give it the probablity of 0^2. But I cannot prove that there is no possibility of god, because it would require total comprehension of everything in existence. So it is impossible to make such a claim. Such a claim requires belief, because it transcends available evidence.

 

I believe that I understand this. My understanding is that atheists maintain that there is no reason to believe in a god unless credible evidence is provided to the contrary.

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Belief is just the acceptance of the truth of a proposition. I believe that I'm sitting at my computer typing right now. I believe that this is a hot cup of coffee on my desk. These are beliefs. As it happens, I have very good reasons for these beliefs. I can see, taste, touch, smell, and hear both these things. As beliefs go, these about as solid as they get.

 

Let's not forget that the classic philosophical definition for knowledge is "justified true belief."

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Science across the boards has adopted the humble position that things only remain true only until they are disproven.

 

It seems to me that science has, by and large, relinquished any claims to truth. They are in the model building business. They attempt to build or discover accurate models of various phenomena.

 

If you look closely, that's what I've said. I use 'truth' to be consistent with former argument here, but 'factual' is actual word we're looking for here.

 

Are you saying that a scientist would maintain the claim that there are unicorns as true until it is disproven?

 

Only if you show them a unicorn, and allow them to test, and measure that it exists first. You cannot disprove that which is not proven in the first place. That's a logical fallacy. Yes, we apply this rule of reason everyday, but only when applied to theology does it become agnosticism.

 

It is the same idea that is orginally behind the agnostic position, however misused it is. Allowing for the possibility of god, shouldn't be taken as a degree of probablity. I give it the probablity of 0^2. But I cannot prove that there is no possibility of god, because it would require total comprehension of everything in existence. So it is impossible to make such a claim. Such a claim requires belief, because it transcends available evidence.

 

I believe that I understand this. My understanding is that atheists maintain that there is no reason to believe in a god unless credible evidence is provided to the contrary.

 

Unfortunately 9 out of 10 dictionary's define atheism as a doctrine of belief. Which stands to reason, because it is the denial of the possibility of the existence of god or gods, which transcends available evidence and as such is inherently a 'belief'. What you have you defined on the other hand, is agnosticism.

 

How these words are used is another matter...what the language inherently means is what we're discussing.

 

Belief is just the acceptance of the truth of a proposition. I believe that I'm sitting at my computer typing right now. I believe that this is a hot cup of coffee on my desk. These are beliefs. As it happens, I have very good reasons for these beliefs. I can see, taste, touch, smell, and hear both these things. As beliefs go, these about as solid as they get.

 

You're wrong..it's the basis for the acceptance of the truth of a proposition. You 'know' you're sitting at your computer right now, you can prove it, you can test it, you can have it objectively tested over time. You know, not believe it. I surmise, guess, speculate, and hypothesize that you are not lying about it...but I don't 'believe' that you're not.

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How these words are used is another matter...what the language inherently means is what we're discussing.

Then I am an atheist or an agnostic depending on how the person I'm speaking with uses the terms. I have only recently tried to become accustomed to the label "atheist." I know what I intend, however language can be a tricky thing.

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Then I am an atheist or an agnostic depending on how the person I'm speaking with uses the terms. I have only recently tried to become accustomed to the label "atheist." I know what I intend, however language can be a tricky thing.

 

Perfectly understandable.

 

My real beef was the implication that agnosticism is a lazy man's atheism. As if I could only arrive at this position because I can't be bothered with research. That anyone with an IQ above 58 and can voice the words 'I don't know' are by default agnostic. It is just as arrogant as when Christians come here and clearly speak to us as if 'none of us know better, like we haven't been there and done that, that the only reason we're non-Christian is because we haven't really experience Christianity'. Pisses me the fuck off.

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It is just as arrogant as when Christians come here and clearly speak to us as if 'none of us know better, like we haven't been there and done that, that the only reason we're non-Christian is because we haven't really experience Christianity'.

I'm with you on this one. Some can't seem to get the fact that many, if not most, of us here once believed. They seem to think that we must never have been Christians to begin with. It seems somewhat surreal to me to hear them preach to us like we haven't heard it all before, or even said such things ourselves.

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