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.
Well, I have to say that I'll choose Vulcan logic (IDIC) over the Jedi ways of the Force, as much a fan of Bionic Dance as I am. ;) I once identified as pagan (culturally, I still do to a point). I retained the reverence of nature and tossed out the ritual and belief in gods. Any sort of being that would reveal itself to be a god would be under severe scrutiny from me. I'd think it'd be something or someone that had either evolved in a different way or obtained extremely advanced technology (and even this is highly improbable). --What does god need with a starship, after all?
I do sense a connection to everyone and to our world and the vast soup of stars it swims in. I don't claim it's a supernatural or metaphysical connection. It could just be instinct or possibly an effect of being part of the universe and being made of the same stuff as everything else. Who knows? The conclusion I came to was--at the end of the day, the woo stuff is just extra and a bit unnecessary in the big picture of things. What's important is making life better for those around you as well as yourself. Keeping this rock full of life (and maybe curbing the human pie piece of that life)--all that good stuff.
I understand where you're coming from, though. I was a bit disappointed and frustrated with one of my brothers, when I visited him last xmas. He still professes publicly to be xian, but affirmed to me that he's an agnostic deist. I don't know why he doesn't take that next step. It's his life, though, and I'll love him, all the same.
But for me, mine was a long and winding road. Most ex-xian atheists just deconvert (monotheist-deist-atheist, or thereabouts)... I went from monotheist to polytheist to animist to panentheist to pantheist/atheist. There was awhile there where I wasn't sure if I was on the deist or atheist side.. Then I realized that the way I define divinity is not supernatural anymore. It's just.. life... experience... relationships and interrelationships. I can still get into my old headspace, if I need to see the other side's position, but it gets harder and harder for me to make any sort of sense of it.
(Thanks, by the way.) For me, there may be frustration involved, but I also know that every person has to make their own choices (and live by the results) and leaving the g-man behind completely is very difficult for a lot of people. I think Dawkins has it right that there will be a certain threshold where more and more people will come out as atheist.
Damn, if I wasn't already so busy with schoolwork and tired I'd try to give you a better reply. I like the conclusions you've reached, especially as to how we relate to others and the world. That was sure some mind-walk you took to get there! I don't even know what half of those positions entail. That is, I have a general understanding of what animism is, I have no idea what a panentheist is, and polytheist? Which kind? There were so many. It's good that you can understand where others are coming from though, and I completely agree with your definition of divinity. I think Dawkins is right too, and it can't happen soon enough as far as I'm concerned. I'm pessimistic on that, I think theists will make us pry their delusions from their cold dead fingers.
We had very different routes to get where we are. I was raised Jewish and was an atheist by the time of my Bar-Mitzvhah. None of that deism/polytheism stuff for me! But I suppose Christianity has got much closer ties to paganism and animism than Judaism does, so that probably kick-started your journey. I mean, just look at Easter! That is trippy from the outside, let me tell you. Ah religion, what a trip down the rabbit-hole you are! Good talkin' to ya Nerdlass. Hope to bump into you here again soon!
Yeah that's why I think the agnostic is, in many or most circumstances, a sham position. It's really disguised theism. On the one hand, they know that they can't defend theism, that reason and evidence suggests that their beliefs are bupkis, but on the other hand, they can't shake themselves free of whatever it is that people find appealing: a love of god, a fear of god, the prospect of heaven, the fear of hell, the public castigation of not believing what everyone else believes, the feeling of being loved and valued by the most powerful force in the universe and beyond even when nobody else seems to love you or really appreciate what a wonderful person you really think you are. But none of these are rational beliefs, so on the one hand they accept reason, and on the other hand they reject it, or at least do not embrace it. They want to have their cake and eat it too.
I think there's the other side, some of the agnostic atheists who deny the atheism part--that's a cultural thing. They don't like the burrs and thorns that come with being an atheist, but a rose by any other name would not smell as sweet, IMHO. ;)
We are, I think, justified in attacking theists or agnostics when they unleash a virulent antagonism against atheism, belittling atheism as being obtuse or immoral. Then it’s fair game to stridently point out the intellectual flaws of basing one’s system of ethics, episteme and self-conduct on recourse to the “supernatural” (theism), or selective forms of such recourse (some flavors of agnosticism). But otherwise, why pick a fight? Every fool is entitled to his foolishness, provided that the foolishness remains harmless.
That said, agnostics are not all of one stripe. Any deviation from complete confidence in one’s assertions is a form of agnosticism. By that token, nearly all atheists are agnostics. At the opposite extreme, any deviation from doctrinaire espousal of some “revealed” necessity for faith is also a form of agnosticism. Some agnostics yearn for a religious heaven without wanting to be bothered to labor under the religious burdens. These, we can probably say, are the cowards and hypocrites. Others disavow religion to the point where appeal to supernatural explanations strikes them as being utterly inane, and yet they can not offer self-evident proof that their viewpoint is necessarily correct. Do we call them hypocrites as well?
The great cancer of religion is that it enforces conformity, vilifying anyone who refuses to conform. Let’s not fall into the same trap ourselves!
I'm not out to vilify anyone, so let me first make that clear. Nor am I picking a fight with anyone, just preparing for the inevitable one which occurs every day in philosophical and theological discussions. I do expect people to conform to the truth however. There is a truth about whether the world is round or flat, are you advocating that we should embrace a multitude of opinions in that regard? I would hope not. So it is no different to say that I don't want a belief in deities floating around out there, any more than I do the belief in the possibility of deities.
You seem to be arguing that agnosticism is the vast middle ground between the polar extremes of dogmatic certitude concerning the possibility of the existence of supernatural beings. My argument is that, when it comes to having a rational point of view, there are some things you shouldn't sit on the fence about. By your argument, then, most people are justified in taking a skeptical point of view regarding the roundness or flatness of the earth, and those of us who are sure of what we believe are just being dogmatic. This is the position I am arguing against. My argument is that the belief in the possibility of supernatural beings is just as ridiculous as any other false belief from the perspective of the informed. There are a lot of things I am completely uninformed on and ignorant of. For example, I do not know the causes of cancer. For me, I remain ignorant of whether, for example, cell phone use can lead to cancer or not. In this regard, I am taking an "agnostic", skeptical perspective which suits my level of understanding. But I am not claiming that there isn't a truth of the matter. The agnostics who claim that nobody can be sure of whether there is a god or not are just not well-informed. it is not that they are taking a sophisticated position - quite the opposite, they take that position out of ignorance. if they knew better, they would have the proper set of convictions.
As to your last question, the people who "disavow religion to the point where appeal to supernatural explanations strikes them as being utterly inane, [but who] can not offer self-evident proof that their viewpoint is necessarily correct" are not necessarily hypocrites, but they have work to do. And perhaps that includes myself as well. What is self-evident to some is not to others, so if I can't offer up evidence which can convince the most ardent believer then this does not make me a hypocrite, it just means that some people are immune to reason. Because it is something I care deeply about, I strive to get educated so that I have the evidence ready to present when pressed for it, but that doesn't mean I need to devote my life to convincing those who will never be convinced. I would like to become the world's foremost expert on atheism, but that's not likely to happen. But it needn't go even that far, there is more than enough evidence out there for the relative layperson to work out an atheistic perspective all on their own, so agnosticism is becoming less and less a defensible position to take. You are either aware that there is a fact of the matter, or you are ignorant, or (most likely) you are really a disguised theist hoping to sneak past us atheists the fact that what you really believe is completely indefensible. What you can't do anymore is claim that we can never really know whether there are gods or not, any more than you can claim that we really don't know if there are leprechauns hiding under your bed or invisible FSMs following you around wherever you go. There is no substantial difference to these claims.
Well we are all psychological duelists, but only some subset thereof are psychological dualists. :-)
I would contest whether "most" people here are dualists, but I have no way to make that argument. Informal polls wouldn't get us very far. But it's not important.
I actually don't have a problem with the agnostics who aren't philosophically serious and are just looking for a word which brings a frankly very complicated set of beliefs and feelings under one label. My problem is with the agnostics who think it's a philosophically sophisticated position. It isn't. If believing that there just might be Jertains in the curtains (yes I'm pulling these all out of Dr. Seuss' "There's a Wocket in my Pocket") is a philosophically serious position, then really, we're all lost and there is no hope of a triumph of reason over believing whatever one wants to believe.
I'm glad you appreciated it!
I studied psych, sociology and philosophy as an undergrad, so if she is anything like me she is trying to understand herself and the world on a deep level and she has the same powerful spirit and love of yourself and life that you lament losing. Cynicism is a dark road indeed, but an understandable one given the culture we live in I think. I have personally gone down many dark roads, lost heart, lost hope, not cared about much of anything anymore, before I managed to find my way again, and again. I think it's so important that we do find ourselves, that we do manage to access our inner spirit, our deepest sense of motivation for life, our "happy place", whatever you want to call it, because once you lose that, you are diminished as a person. Your life-force wanes. Whatever. I love talking about this stuff, this is what I mean by thumos, having heart, being motivated, spirited, etc.. I know what you mean about reading crap philosophy, I just saw Deepak Chopra on Dylan Ratigan AGAIN, nothing makes me lose my respect for DR faster than when he has that fraud on the show (otherwise I think the guy's great). And I haven't seen much from Dawkins or Singer that was particularly deep on an existential level either. So I've been forced to pretty much go it alone and develop my own understanding of human worth, values, and moral theory. And the basic point is just that: the prime directive, the basic value we should all strive for above all else is to be motivated - call it what you want; spirit, heart, thumos, will, pride, ego, self-esteem, emotional strength, passion, life-force, etc. - if we lose our inner joy, our desire to live forcefully and with conviction, our ability to face the world with determination and purpose and meaning, then, well, we've really lost the most important part of ourselves.
Glad to have struck up a conversation with you again btw, John D.
Hah, yeah I know what you mean. Well kind of. I get pissed off too, and downright miserable, and frustrated, and very unhappy, but I can also have moments of great joy too. But I don't call myself a cynic. I'm a realist (and yes, a monist as well). I guess we just have a semantic problem here. Getting angry at stuff that pisses me off can be great, it can give me focus and resolve, it can be cathartic, all that good stuff. But I'm not disillusioned, well, not really. I never really thought much of people to begin with, and actually I've been pleasantly surprised in many cases, especially as of late. Cynicism to me means that you have given up in some way. Like when people lament the current political climate (not gonna go there with you though, no worries!), and they say "well, that's just the way things are and nothing's ever going to change", that to me is cynicism. What you just described just sounds like regular old spiritedness. That's the good stuff. The warrior spirit, like a Klingon. Can't live like Vulcans, with no goddam passion. We're supposed to get angry at stuff that should make us angry. I'm just waiting for the day DR realizes DC is full of shit and says, "hey, wait a minute, nothing you have ever said made any sense, EVER!" Now THAT'S an episode of the DR show I don't want to miss!
I don't like that definition, not least because there is already a term for that. It's called "egoism", and that's the position that Libertarianism is founded on. My understanding of the word "cynical" is based on "the modern understanding of cynicism as 'an attitude of scornful or jaded negativity', especially a general distrust of the integrity or professed motives of others." -Wikipedia
Although if you look at how Cynicism began as a branch of moral philosophy in ancient Greece, originally it was quite a beautiful position. But now the modern use has supplanted it. As it stands, believing that people act selfishly can be seen as either a good or a bad thing, depending on how you understand what it means to be "selfish". We'd have to play the semantics game a lot, but I could give you an understanding of "selfishness" which can be quite beautiful and which looks at people's motivations in a much better light (with still plenty of darkness to go around of course). But I don't use the word "selfish", because that is what egoism is all about (I am not an egoist), and because I do not take such a negative outlook on people's motivations like the cynical position does.
Point of confusion: So what IS the real, working definition of Agnostisism these days?
When i was growing up, my whole family were labeled "agnostic" because we believe that there is a degree of uncertainty to ALL facts. But now i'm told we're simply called atheist scientists or something.
So maybe i can give you insight into this, or maybe i can't. But on the offhand chance that we are still agnostic according the the latest lingo, maybe this'll help clarify...
What my family and i feel: That i am standing here is not totally knowable. That i had oatmeal for breakfast is not totally knowable. But i can feel reasonably confident/certain that i am standing here and had oatmeal and i'm confident moving forward with those assumptions for now. If i get some new evidence latter that tells me i'm actually sitting or really had cream-o-wheat then i can update my probabilities and proceed on with that new assumption at that point in time.
Somehow my family and i get through life quite successfully without having 100% certainty in anything. We have convictions we act on just like anyone else. We do plenty of activism, speak up for our beliefs, proceed confidently in our endeavors. Many of us teach and so even pass on to others what we suspect to be true.
Likewise, if there is some kind of intangible meta-consiousness acting as a creative force in the universe, fuck if we know, but it sure seems fairly improbable -- especially regarding the specific visions of this meta-consiousness that are often described!! We are all very happy to proceed with confidence that there is no such being.
Yes I agree the definition of agnosticism is nebulous, and includes more than just one type. For the record, I am only concerned with the type who make a specific epistemological claim that we cannot be reasonably sure that there are no gods. We can. And you and your family agree with me here. What you are saying is that there is no such thing as absolute proof or knowledge of anything. I agree. I do not have an epistemology which requires absolute certainty to say that I have knowledge; if I did, I wouldn't be able to say that I know anything. So when you say you don't "totally" know whether you exist, or have two hands, or are not a brain in a vat, or are not dreaming, or are not in the matrix, etc., you are saying you don't have absolutely perfect knowledge that these things aren't true. I agree. But that doesn't mean that we can't rationally rule them out, at least until such a time as some evidence rules them back in. But at some point, it is irrational to believe that any such evidence will be forthcoming. Here is a good example I heard from one of my philosophy professors: Suppose someone is flipping a coin, and you watch as it turns up heads a few times in a row. Nothing completely out of the ordinary, but you might suppose that tails has got to start showing up soon or something fishy is going on here. But after a dozen or so more throws, only heads still. Now you start thinking the coin is probably double-headed, that it might really be a rigged game and that it can't possibly turn up tails in this case. But you are willing to suspend your judgment for a while longer still, you've got some time to kill. After a few hundred throws you have lost all interest. You have settled in on the conviction that the coin has two heads, it won't come up tails and that's the end of it. But supposing this is still not quite enough, and you are somehow capable of watching as the coin turns up heads trillions of times, and never comes up tails, not once. According to statistical probabilities, the chance of the next coin toss being tails is effectively 0%. If it came up tails at this point, it would be the mother of all outliers. At this point all we can say is that it is absurd, or outlandish, or incomprehensible, to believe that the coin will turn up tails. But is it unreasonable? I think you have to say yes, or you abandon all conceivable notions of what rationality means. If we cannot base our beliefs about the future based upon what has happened in the past, then we truly know nothing and all we have is beliefs and imagination, and no one belief is any better than another. This is the position of the skeptic and the type of agnostic I accuse of standing for nothing. As it turns out, this world where the coin always turns up heads is just the kind of world we live in. We are just now discovering that quantum particles can suddenly pop into existence, so whatever that means for our conception of reality, well I just don't know. But I do know a person can't suddenly pop fully-formed into existence. There may be a lot of weirdness going on on the quantum level, but on any level which we are capable of perceiving without the most fantastically high-tech equipment, things are pretty much as they appear, they are what they are, and nothing more. If we start suddenly to believe that whole realms of beings with some glaringly-bizarre features (like looking pretty much like us, only immortal??) and some glaringly-bizarre powers (invisibility, flight, thunderbolts from their fists???) could somehow coexist in the same world that we do, we may as well throw up our hands and despair of ever having a rational conversation with anyone again, including ourselves. We'd all belong in the looney bin.
So my short response is that you are effectively atheists, you have the convictions of atheists and even the skeptical attitude of atheists. I think you should stop calling yourself agnostics, you are justified in your rational beliefs that there is no such thing as deities or fairies or any other such preposterous creatures that men have come to imagine, and then mistake for reality!