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.
with pleasure, my petulant little Jedi.
Here is my take on all of this, and along with, my justification for being an unrepentant atheist:
The concept of god was invented without the substance of god. From that point, the people who wanted god to be real basically used The Big Lie to promote and secure their position. They've had a lot of time to do so - several thousand years - so the idea of god is well-established in multiple cultures, represented by multiple systems of belief. Despite that, Not ONE System Can Objectively DEMONSTRATE ITS GOD.
The mind of man can imagine an uncountable number of things. Some of those imaginings have physical representation in the real world, some are variations and mutations of those themes, and some are pure imagination, without external substance or referent. I mentioned a "left-handed zindlefinger" as being something I don't believe in as an example of a personal invention of my own, which has no hard representation (that I know of!) in the real world. All it amounts to is an invention of my own, used to make a point. The likelihood of finding my left-handed zindlefinger is right up there with the likelihood of finding anything else that doesn't exist - ZERO.
If something exists within reasonable access of man's frame of reference, man will probably discover that "something" at some point or other. Even if it once existed and is now gone, traces of whatever it was remain for man to unearth, examine, analyze and perhaps fit into a greater overall scheme of things. If the land masses of the Western Hemisphere didn't exist, Chris Columbus might possibly have found his short route to India, as the stories suggest, instead of finding El Salvador. He found what he found because it was there to find. In all his journeys, though, Upper Whatchacallistan would remain undiscovered ... because it doesn't exist.
God is a supposition, used back when to explain phenomena which were not understood in an age of ignorance. God is not found, mostly because there's nothing to find. And all at once, I recall Sharon McLonergan's last line from the musical, Finian's Rainbow. As Finian is headed off to Oak Ridge, Tennessee and declares to his friends, "I'll see you all some day in Glocca Morra," Woody asks Sharon where Glocca Morra is. Her answer:
"There is no such place, Woody. It's all in me father's head."
Another thought is for those who have really been indoctrinated into theism from an early age, would it not be easier to transition first to agnosticism and then to atheism? Might all of this take some time?
Yeah, sure Lillie, I have no problem whatsoever with people working out their beliefs on their own time-frame. It's not agnosticism per se that I have a problem with. It is the position of the strong agnostic, mentioned in a previous response, that says that agnosticism is the only rational conclusion one can reach that I have a problem with. As a position on the road from theism to atheism, or from ignorance to enlightenment, agnosticism is perfectly fine. But when someone says that atheists are wrong for being atheists because the arguments for both sides are similarly convincing, that's when I strenuously object. When one learns the full depth of the arguments for atheism, as really everyone should do as a part of their education on clearly one of the most important issues a person can be educated on, well, the only comparisons I can think of are: comparing flat-earthers to round-earthers, creationists to people who believe in evolution, alchemists to chemists, people who believe in magic to people who believe in science, etc. In other words, there just is no comparison.
That engineer apparently never heard of an "error budget," or even the more common usage:
That's close enough for government work!
Nota Bene: THIS engineer HAS!
Yeah I think we are in perfect agreement (see what I did there? :-D). I'm not saying that either we are on equal ground or one of us is absolutely right and one of us is absolutely wrong, but rather that the mindset of the theist is that if they can introduce even a sparkle of doubt into atheism (which we already admit to!), then they think that this demonstrates that since there is doubt both ways, they are entirely justified in sneaking in agnosticism and believing whatever they choose to believe. That's what my whole point has been about - we are NOT on anything like equal ground. The degree of doubt the skeptic has in his reasonably-held and justified beliefs is moderate to low, just enough for him to keep asking questions and never accept that he has reached an absolute truth. The degree of doubt he has in beliefs he considers outrageously dubious and completely without justification is much higher. Sure, it may seem like the point at which a belief changes from insufficiently-justified to sufficiently-justified seems arbitrary, but I'd be interested in investigating whether this is really the case or not. My intuition tells me that there's probably some justification for drawing the lines the way they probably should be drawn. :-)
Also, it's a nice parable, thanks. You know, halfway from an arms length away is a half arms length away. Then a quarter. Then about a hands length away. And so on! The architect gave up way too soon. ;-)
Well now we're talking strategy, and I agree that you have to take a stand somewhere. I try to remind myself that my stand is based on solid probability and not imagined absolutes. And who said that the architect gave up? :D
If someone who labels him/herself an Agnostic claims that there is not evidence to back up a claim that "a god" does or does not exist then I would not grant that person the "fence sitter" position. In reality, if such person does not believe in any deity, then that person is an Atheist. Keep in mind that many of of us who call ourselves Atheists do not make any claims that god does not exist. We simply don't believe in any gods because there is not enough evidence to do so.
Yes, there are people (myself included) that consider the possibility of the existence of a given "deity" to be close to, if not zero; for example the Judeo-Christian god. But in order to get to that point, we need a clear definition of the deity in question.
If a self-proclaimed Agnostic presents his case as a "third position" I would just simply point out that his/her lack of belief in deities makes him/her and Atheist already without going any further.
It is my understanding that Agnosticism is a position regarding knowledge where Atheism is a position regarding belief. So we can have Gnostic Atheists or Agnostic Atheists. Atheism and Agnosticism are ortogonal concepts. But then again, I might be wrong...
It may boil down to semantics, I think. You say, Alfredo R., that you'd point out to the agnostic his/her lack of belief. By definition, the agnostic or "fence-sitter" doesn't necessarily believe nor disbelieve, so what exactly is there to point out? The agnostic doesn't say that they believe nor that they disbelieve, that is the point of fence-sitting. So, I don't think this makes an agnostic a "coward," as the spectrum of evidence that we've explored so far which most atheists base their atheism on is next to nil. We haven't explored not even 1% of our universe, let alone the supposed multiverse, and this is what we're calling "lack of evidence"?
Niel deGrasse Tyson had his take that you may or may not agree with concerning this whole atheism/agnostic thing. Here's the link:
I appreciate the link. There seems to be two "kinds" of atheists, one who bases their atheism in the fact that science does a far better job of explaining the universe than religion does, and another who takes a more comprehensive, philosophical approach. Both can lead to agnosticism, but I think if you take the more strictly scientific approach, then this limits your ability to argue against a belief in deities. Certainly, as you explain, from a purely scientific perspective, we can rule nothing out. If this is as far as your reasoning takes you, then you probably should be an agnostic and no more. As I have explained my reasoning elsewhere, there are many arguments which can be made which make such a belief not only silly and absurd but make it beyond a reasonable doubt that there are no such things as deities. Even if there were something "beyond", whatever that is even supposed to mean, it surely would be nothing like the absurd notions of deities people have imagined. But in all probability, saying that there is some transcendent something beyond the natural, physical universe is a meaningless assertion.
You'll have to excuse my being deliberately provocative with my discussion post's title, I find I get more responses that way. ;-)
It's funny you mention that there is "some transcendent something beyond the natural, physical universe," because some physicists will sometimes equate the 11-dimensional hyperspace of M-Theory to a concept like Brahman which is, in a certain sense, a "transcendent something beyond the physical universe." The concept of Brahman in Hinduism is synonymous with what is called in Zen Buddhism "sunyata." And although these things have come to be named, although things like Hinduism and Buddhism are regarded as religions, the adherents of these religions will always explain that whatever this transcendent something is, it's truly nameless, but if you will notice, that most of the scriptures in eastern religion are in the nature of a dialogue, usually between a disciple and a guru or between two or more spiritual masters, and this dialogue is always in a dialectic form of these supposed transcendent realms.
So, for the purposes of these discussions, they have come to be named things like "sunyata, Brahman, non-duality, etc.," but in essence, they are really without names. The point being that having the label of "religion" muddies the way people think about these things, and so people might have the misconception that because something like Christianity and Buddhism are each labelled as a "religion", then they must be similar in some ways, which is not the case at all. Brahman is not God in the western sense of the word God, although Brahman may have some attributes that we may apply to the God of Christianity, such as eternality, absoluteness, etc., it is thought of entirely antipodal in comparison to the Christian God.
So, even some language I've used here, such as "spiritual master," is misleading. "Teacher" might be a better word. And this realm they talk about is better described as "ultimate reality" rather than using a term such as "divine" in the "divine plateau" to describe this "ultimate reality" or "the Self," because the word "divine" has certain connotations and is also misleading. If you've ever been to India, it's funny the way the so-called gurus will approach people who will seek them. The goal, you see, of the guru is to remove any foundation you've place your beliefs on or disbeliefs for that matter. So, it's sort of like the guru has start out from the position saying, "If you believe in God, I don't, if you don't believe in God, I do," but they won't let you in on that secret. Eventually, they will aim to dissolve both the theist and atheist perspectives into this "ultimate reality," where in which you will find there was no guru or teacher or disciple, both of you are equal on a certain plane so that no one holds a inferior or superior perspective, you can also view this as the dissolution of ego. Well, I'm being all quite brief here, but if you're interested, here's a link on that:
Buddhism is sometimes referred to as "the religion of no religion" for the reasons I've tried to point out. But anyway, as Alan Watts said, you don't understand Buddhism by reading about it or studying scriptures so on and so forth, because the ultimate goal of this religion is an experience in which this sense of "the Self" or "ultimate reality" is directly intuit. Another suggestion:
I suppose the point of all that is because there is a position called Perennial Philosophy in which this is also emphasized. That the source behind all religion is essentially this experience, but it transcends all religion because it's ultimately a phenomenon in consciousness, and religion is sort of a by-product of this experience when individuals attempt to transduce it into language. It's an experience of the "ineffable," nevertheless people always attempt to describe it, and so you have the various religions and their languages in attempt to describe this one thing.
And here's a talk on Perennial Philosophy, if you're interested in that: