We all know how frustrating arguing with a theist can be. They are just really bad at reasoning through an argument, or sometimes, they are actually so good at it that it defies our ability to understand why they can't (in general, don't want to) see the force of our arguments. But the agnostic can be especially frustrating in their own way. They generally do not argue for any particular position, they simply stand back and pick apart everyone else's arguments. In this way they set themselves up as the "rational" party, the one's who "just demand a higher degree of evidence" or certitude before they grant us the pleasure of their consent. With the theist, at least, we know where they stand, and we can condemn them for their willing ignorance or their obviously bad arguments, but be satisfied afterwards that we have a clear advantage over them in clarity and coherence of our own viewpoint (that of the truth!). But the agnostic is particularly infuriating because they take skepticism and run with it. They argue that truth is something which is hard to come by (true enough), and in the case of deities there simply isn't enough evidence to back up the claim that they do or do not exist. Wrong! Belief in deities is just as silly and absurd as belief in any other hypothetical nonsense, like trolls or fairies or hobgoblins, unicorns, leprechauns, ghosts, superheroes/supervillians, dwarves, elves, Nasgul, orcs, Cauldron-born, talking animals, ogres, witches, wizards, warlocks, dementors, etc., ad nauseum. The entire realm of magical and supernatural beings and their "powers" falls into the same class, and no specific deity is granted some special privilege or right to a degree of doubt about their non-existence as any other. If you rule one in, you rule them ALL in. And let's not forget that Yahweh has a host of angels in his "kingly court" as well, not least of which was Satan. There seems to be no single reason why we should entertain the idea of creator-deities and their prophets, nor distinguish "ours" (Yahweh/Jehova) from any of the other ones which have existed in the minds of men throughout history. Why not Uranus and Gaia, or Tiamat and Marduk, or Enlil the "father of the gods" in the epic of Gilgamesh, or Amon-Ra? So here's the thing, agnostics: shit or get off the pot. If you don't know what to believe, then have the courage to settle the matter for yourselves, because agnosticism is not a mature position to take. It is a resting point on the road to having some actual convictions about the way the world really is, and what it means to be rational or not. Do you think it is rational to believe that there could really be a Zamp in the lamp, or a Woset in the closet? What is the substantial difference between the whole host of supernatural beings and the Wocket in my pocket?
It is really easy to sit back and remain uncommitted to any particular belief, but at some point we all have to decide whether to believe in evolution, or global warming, or what our own sexual orientation is, or a million other things that are relevant to how we decide to live our lives. If you approach a topic of which you are ignorant, then just say you really aren't sure, you don't know all the arguments, you don't have all the information. You're still trying to figure it all out, still trying to make sense of things. But don't sit there and say that suspending judgment is really the only rational conclusion we can reach about what kinds of things are real and what kinds of things are fantastical and imaginary. It's not sophisticated to claim that there is any merit to looking at the world from a supernatural perspective, it's just annoying, and in my opinion, cowardly.
At least the theists stand for something. Agnostics only stand up for the idea that we can't know anything. Skepticism is great, but only up to a point. After that, it means you have no convictions.
So you say they are infuriating because they "sit on the fence" so to speak and you would like for them to make a conviction either way.
That's the short version I guess! :-) But I think it's more than just that they are fence-sitters, it is that they take their position on the fence as a third option, as if maybe there is no fact of the matter, or even if there is, that there simply isn't enough information to go on for any of us to make an informed, rational, justified decision.
Actually it's two things. 1. It's their entire skeptical position that we cannot know things of this nature. Really? We can't know that I'm not at this very minute riding an invisible talking unicorn? There isn't any way of justifying my countervailing belief here? On this point, we disagree as to what reason consists of.
2. It's the fact that by setting themselves up as outsiders looking in and pretending to take some kind of epistemological high ground, they are really occupying a third position which deserves as much of an attack as does the position of the theists. Why should we atheists attack the theist and leave the agnostic alone? Either we really can know that there are not Bofas under the sofas, or we are wrong and we should all be agnostics. But that argument should make us all very uncomfortable, not least because it sets up a smokescreen to allow just enough faith to creep back in that it gives religious beliefs some justification. Oh, maybe there are no such things as gods, but then again, maybe there are!! Whooooooo, spooky! <eyes rolling>
Well I guess I would agree with you then .. they aren't taking a stand.
supernatural perspective.. .LOL sigh... so supernatural this internet vs. the theocracies thing aye?
poor Egypt.. no hot mamas coming outta there anytime soon (and imho they got em'!)
Oh aye, RB, I'm with ya there. Spent a lot of time in the middle east, it's a crying shame really... What were we talking about again? Oh yeah, agnostics. ;-)
my ex-husband was agnostic and it was extremely frustrating. I think he liked sitting on the fence to aggravate me lol. He liked to tell me there were no facts and that there was an energy to the world, blah blah blah. There is no telling what he really believes..
My parents are also agnostic but they refuse to let go of that "higher power" bs. They will agree with my atheist views but I cannot get them to deny the possibility of a deity. I find it frustrating because they are so close to the "truth" but refuse to give me the satisfaction (selfish much) of saying they agree with me completely.
get with the game agnostics :)
Ugh, I just had somebody give me that "higher power" bs today. Man I was so disappointed, the last time we had talked she said she knew the religions were nothing but stories. I had such high hopes! Argh, agnostics!
Higher power... that's the power lines that run above the streets, right?
What about the stance of the agnostic/gnostic grid?
Agnostic Atheist | Gnostic Atheist
Agnostic Theist | Gnostic Theist
Oh, thanks for that Nerdlass! I would have to redraw this though. Obviously I am displeasured with either group of theist. But there might have to be a line through the middle of the agnostic atheist group. On one hand, there are those who tend not to believe in deities, but haven't gained enough confidence to say they have solid convictions yet. I'm cool with these types. On the other hand are those who don't have theistic beliefs but don't want to have atheistic beliefs either. These are the ones who think it's somehow enlightened to take a purely skeptical perspective on the matter, as if it is irrational to be atheist. These are the ones I have a problem with.
I'm unsure where I fall, myself. I consider myself a pantheist. By my own nature, I lean towards having "wooish" feelings. However, I investigate life rationally. I envoke the woo where it is appropriate, in my awe of nature. However, deities don't make sense to me. I find them highly unrealistic and see them as being conceptual social memeplexes. Highly complex beings found in science fiction have more likelihood than man's traditional definition of god or gods.
So where does that put me?
Well I can appreciate your position. I have a very rational friend who, until he had a conversation with me anyway, believed much as you do, that there is some sort of power in or of the universe that perhaps we can somehow tap or get in touch with. Suffice to say I do not agree, I don't think it is at all meaningful or helpful to entertain such beliefs, and the stuff which gives rise to these beliefs is understood properly as just our "spirits". By this I essentially just mean our motivations, there is nothing spooky to it, but to experience life is to experience a great sense of power which drives us and gives us all the kinds of things which we value the most in the world - heart, passion, awe, will, determination, spirit, life-force, etc., and which give rise to our sense of purpose and meaning in life. One can do excellent existentialism and be just as “spiritual” as you please, and have as profound a depth of experience as can be had, by looking within us to find the source of those things which we are so amazed at and in awe of in our experience of existence. So I see no need for the pantheist route, or anything of the supernatural or mystical which appeals to our imaginations and our spirits but make no rational sense.
In any case, my point is that your position is intuitively correct; that is, I think to behold the mysteries of life and desire a profound connection to the universe and all, these are all such wonderful things and entirely good and necessary to live well, and so you are on to a deep truth about our existence. I should say, about our experience of existence, which is ultimately what matters. But there is nothing ontologically or metaphysically true about such beliefs.
So where does this put you? Kind of in a class all your own, I think. It's not an agnostic perspective per se, but it has a lot in common with theism, agnosticism, and atheism. And really that's the whole point. We all believe in essentially the same thing, which is this deep power within us that moves us and breathes life into our experiences, but the theists explain it in a grotesque way, the atheists are all too often too quick to dismiss it, and the agnostics don't know what the fuck to make of it. :-) So I don't have a moral problem with your position at all, I don't think you are being cowardly in any way or smug or any of that. I just think your position is imprecise and somewhat irrational. :-) But you're still cool in my book!
Just came across this tidbit, and thought it was appropriate and might help somewhat as an adendum to some of the things I have said so far in this discussion regarding "spirit":
"The physis, or physical nature which Thales sought to understand by linking it with water was regarded as a living substance, a kind of magic fluid which contains and imparts life and power. It is, in other words, a mana concept and is said to be a projection of the feeling of the corporate social body. Physis is related to the universe as a human soul is to its body. It is moving, vital, and in man, perhaps in other things, conscious. It is the source in the world of such effects as movement, growth, perception. Thus, the movement of fire or water, growth and activity, thought , all are related to or contain physis. But physis is not merely an uncontrolled daemonic energy. It has a structure; it is presided over by the Moira or Fates who hold it within its limits and organize it into kinds which are manifested, for example, in air, earth, fire, water. The primitive problem is to learn to control this physis in order to satisfy human needs. Magic and religion provided the first techniques. The early philosophers, being the first men who seem to have been aware of the intellectual need, sought to identify it and to use this notion to explain the visible world."
THE SUBJECT-MATTER OF PHILOSOPHY
Edward G. Ballard
Tulane Studies in Philosophy
vol. 7, pages 5 - 26, 1958