Ive noticed quite a few agnostics becoming quite vocal and opinionated recently with statements like "I dont know...and neither do you!". To me, agnosticism is exactly like any religion, twisting and rationalizing excuses for religion to be a viable alternative to reason, albeit with agnosticism a "live and let live" seems to more be the idea. What really gets me, though is that insipid argument in which they state that atheism requires as much faith as religion, and that Agnosticism is the only non-faith movement. Its BULLSHIT, of course. We are all atheists about the flying spaghetti monster and a celestial teapot, and yet we do not have "Faith" those things do not exist. Faith is a positive action where you believe in something that clearly does not exist. (the more clear it is that something exists, the less faith is required)

Anyway, I am as passionately anti agnostic as I am anti theist, because I see agnosticism as a gateway drug to religious delusion, and it only aids religion by turning a blind eye to it.

Thoughts? Am I alone in this? Should we ridicule agnostics on A/N until they leave or change their minds?

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Gary, I see what you're saying. At this point, I'm so allergic to the word "faith", that I try to avoid it. In the sense you mean it, I prefer to use the word "confidence". I don't believe that we accept that the scientific method is trustworthy on faith, or that there is an objective reality on faith. Rather, I believe that our confidence in the scientific method has been bolstered by its successes over the years to the point that it appears to be the only reliable way of finding out anything, and the fact of an objective reality that follows certain rules has been so repeatedly verified that faith in such a thing is simply not required.

To me, having been brought up in a faith tradition, faith is how you ground your beliefs in the absence of any reason or evidence. I regard it as a something of a dirty word, intellectually lazy at best, and dishonest at worst. People are so insistent on believing things that they frequently take logically impermissible shortcuts to claim "knowledge". I don't understand why they prefer to believe something they can't know. I'm actually pretty comfortable with admitting when I don't know something and with suspending belief until I do.
Don, I know we differ on this from past conversations (about the word theory, I think, which, IMHO, never was particularly useful in its scientific definition). Language changes, not always for good reasons. I think certain words have become polluted to the point of uselessness, or at the very least tainted and therefore suspect.

Feel free to continue to fight the good fight, but I'd rather use words that get my ideas across immediately, rather than have to waste a lot of breath defending my usage. In my experience, when the ignorant insist on pushing degenerate definitions of words like theory, faith, spirit, belief, etc, it does little good to challenge their usage. You're just fighting on their turf when you do that. Why let them steer the debate? Better to sidestep their muleheadedness.
Kid, I agree that it's at least a little weaselly to use the language of religion in non-religious contexts. It may be poetic, but it really does provide fuel to the religious. Einstein didn't do us any favors by talking about his "religious" feelings, and Stephen Jay Gould was tactically mistaken to continually quote the Bible when discussing evolution (not to mention strategically mistaken to cede morality to religion with his NOMA madness). That's exactly the sort of confusion I want to avoid by steering clear of certain terms.

Don, as you note, those terms are part of our language and heritage. It does bother me that we can't trust others to read what we write in the sense that we mean it, but then again, it is the writer's responsibility to be clear.

BTW, I really like the word "skunked" to refer to the phenomenon we're talking about. I admire skunks; I think they're handsome and have a very clever defense mechanism. But the word is appropriate. Sometimes you just can't get the smell out. If you've ever seen a dog rubbing his nose in the dirt for days after tangling with a skunk, well, it's a very vivid image.
Jason brought up another point I think is worth addressing. He observed that "the scientific method" has been the most fruitful technique we've ever had for achieving material goals, and has remained amazingly successful for a long time. This is absolutely true, the scientific concept of knowledge as a result of understanding rather than by authority greatly changed the course of human development.

However, this success in no way at all proves that it is valid! Consider that if I were to say that "all sheep are white" it would not matter a wit if together we examined 1,000,000 sheep and found them all to be white, if the 1,000,001st sheep was black. No amount of positive results proves a theory, it takes only a single failure to completely invalidate it. This is why it's often said that to be considered a scientific hypothesis, a claim must be disprovable (a different way of stating "the Null hypothesis").

Ptolomy's theory of Epicycles was considered a law of nature for 1400 years, during which it perfectly predicted all observable planetary and lunar phenomena. It was completely wrong.

Newton's Law of Motion and Gravitation are the bedrock of classical physics. They are synonymous with the concept of "the scientific method" and work incredibly well. They are wrong, being in fact just a subset of Einstein's Relativity as it appears at at low velocity.

We now can suspect that Relativity is wrong, being just a subset of some "GUT" (Grand Universal Theory" or "TOE" (Theory of Everything) that would explain both macro and quantum phenomena._

So, the best we can do is to act based on our best beliefs right now, and to keep examining those beliefs to expose their flaws.

BTW, I'd not known of Jason's the Martin Luther quote. Luther must have been an impressive man, he certainly was insightful.
Gary, I have a different take on your points. I know what you're getting at with the idea of the null hypothesis and the impossibility of perfect proof of empirical truth claims, but I don't think very many scientists would make a statement like, "All sheep are white" in regard to most phenomena. Perhaps you've just chosen an inapt example, but most scientific pronouncements are along the lines of, "The sheep we've seen are some shade of white." Scientists don't usually preclude the possibility of change in something as malleable as a species. Perhaps a more fundamental example would lean more in the direction you're suggesting, like, "All electrons carry a negative charge." Of course, that's one of the things that defines an electron, so that may not be quite right either. Still, I don't think scientists go around making categorical statements like that. It goes against the principle of provisional thinking and hypothesis testing, as you note. By the time scientists are working in their field, those concepts tend to be fairly baked in. It's hard to get a peer-reviewed paper published without couching things in provisional terms.

More generally, however, it's not correct to say that Newton's Laws are wrong. They are correct to a certain level of precision within certain parameters. At relativistic speeds, you have to make adjustments, but to get from here to the moon and back, they work perfectly well. In fact, it's an all-too-common argument amongst science detractors that scientific revolutions happen "all the time" and "fundamentally shake up our understanding of the universe". That's really not the case. Fundamental scientific revolutions happen rarely, as in the case of Copernicus and Darwin. More often, radical new findings in science are really refinements, taking us into new areas of understanding (and questions) or new levels of precision. A Theory of Everything will not overturn Einstein's work. Quantum Chromodynamics did not overturn the periodic table.

In any case, my point was really about the fact that faith is simply not required when it comes to science itself. You don't need faith in the scientific method. Scientific findings stand or fall on their own, based on evidence and reason, and the scientific process can be trusted with high confidence because it has repeatedly been shown to work fairly well in the first instance, and is self-correcting over time. I know it works because it is continually demostrated to produce reliable results, even though it sometimes goes astray and requires time to self-correct. This is in stark contrast to faith claims, which are assumed to work despite a complete lack of evidentiary support, or more often, powerful evidence to the contrary, ie, a long track record of utter failure to produce the expected results. Individual scientific results should not be believed at face value (taken on faith), but the scientific method doesn't require faith at all in order to work. Theists are fond of claiming that science is just another faith-based endeavor, and this century's science is next century's superstition. This is not correct.
Nerd: On a more official (read: from a website moderator) note, we will not tolerate all-out class warfare against agnostics in this community.

Listen missy, this comes on the heels of a series of atheist bashing posts where this tripe kept being repeated -

I consider militant atheism (ie., I believe there's definitely no god, and if you disagree then you're either a closet theist or a yellow fence-sitter) to be intellectual laziness on par with theists who believe just the opposite.
To state unequivocally "There is no god" with perfect conviction that one is right is to express what is essentially an article of faith. That is, something held as a belief without evidence of its veracity.
We should be no more inclined to letting Atheists off the hook for the mental slacking inherent in the proclamation of unexamined (and unprovable) beliefs than we are willing to grant to theists.

That is an exact copy from the thread I saved.

What you won't "tolerate" could fill a library and you are extremely selective as to what you choose to pay attention to and what you choose to ignore [*]. This is quite evident here.

Moderation that is driven by ideology is no longer moderation. It is censorship. Is anybody keeping a record of your arbitrary post deletions yet ? I doubt it. It would make interesting reading. You enjoy your uniform way too much and it sours this site to the point where some folks have actually left.

[*] - Was it because it wasn't written by a man ? The fact that you never so much as cautioned Jacqueline Homan, yet nitpick everything else to death, speaks volumes.
I like the way the Rational Response Squad puts it:

"A good deal of people consider themselves to be 'agnostics'. By this they mean to identify themselves as doubters on the question of a 'god's' existence. They usually hold to this position of doubt because reason compels them to doubt the existence of any 'god', yet they resist calling themselves atheists because they also want to hold to their disbelief tentatively. Their expressed reason for this is clear: while their reason leads them to doubt the claims of theism, reason also demands that they keep an open mind on the question of 'god'. If you are one such person then it might interest you to know that your doubt actually makes you an atheist, not an agnostic. Why is this so? Because the word 'theism' simply implies a belief in a god. Therefore, if you find yourself identifying yourself primarily as a doubter of the existence of a 'god', then you are an a-theist... someone who does not hold to a belief in a 'god', someone who does not accept the claims of theists. That's all the term means - a position of non acceptance, a position of non belief.

It is the fallback position, the position one holds to when a claim is unsupported or unproven. Yet, you might feel that the word 'atheist' still implies more than what you actually hold to. A common response to hearing that one is an 'atheist' is to say: "But I don't disbelieve, I just don't believe!" But take a look at those words carefully: if you literally "don't disbelieve" - then, by double negation, you'd believe! Not disbelieving is believing. But you are not identifying yourself as a theist with doubts, right? You're identifying yourself as a doubter... period. That is atheism.

But you still seek some sort of middle ground, right? Something between theism and rejection of theism. Well relax, because the atheism IS your middle ground. "A-theism"' implies everything that a rational doubter means when he declares himself an 'agnostic', for while it's a common misperception that atheism implies a denial or rejection or active disbelief in the very possibility of a god, this is not so. In fact, we require a special term for those those who hold to such beliefs: "Strong Atheism". The rest of us doubters simply don't hold the belief... we're all atheists, whether we are doubters or outright rejectors of theism. So the missing 'middle ground' that you are looking for, rational tentativeness, is already included within the term 'atheism'.

So what does the word "agnostic" actually mean and how ought we use it? Notice the 'a' in front. 'Agnosticism' is a position counter to gnosticism. And what is gnosticism? It's the belief that a human being can possess knowledge about a god. It's an epistemological term - about the possibility of knowledge in regard to 'god' claims - and not a statement about matters of belief. 'Agnostics' hold to the epistemological position that human beings can't actually know anything about something beyond nature, something theists call 'supernatural'. So they believe that there's no way for a human to know anything about a 'god'. But there are many theists who agree!

Theists can be be agnostics! In fact, many theists say that they hold to their god belief on faith because they agree that we humans can't know things about the supernatural, or 'god'. Some very famous theologians have agreed that man is limited and that this means that man cannot have 'god knowledge". The list of theologians would include people like Martin Luther or Soren Kierkegaard. So when one says that they are an 'agnostic' and they mean a 'doubter', they are really saying that they are agnostic atheists. So if you find that this describes your own 'agnosticism', welcome to atheism!"

(Taken from rationalresponders.com)
One cannot be a theist and an agnostic at the same time. Literally, agnosticism is to be without belief; whereas theism specifically implies belief. A person can be an agnostic leaning toward theism or deism, but I cannot see how a person can be a theistic agnostic. Theism implies a positive claim, and agnosticism is the refusal to do so. Now I admit that agnosticism is a kind of cop-out position, that is usually a transitional step between theism and atheism (at least it was for me); in fact I even have a podcast call the Agnostic Salvation Hour even though I no longer consider myself an agnostic (just too lazy to change the name).

My suggestion is that we don't berate or demean agnostics who appear on this site lest we risk halting their transition. Having said that, any agnostic feeling it necessary to start fights about the topic here on A/N deserves the treatment he'll likely receive.
Here's the thing: that's not what agnosticism actually means. I mean, you can of course define it that way, but it renders the word essentially vacuous and it messes up all the definitions.
We already have the word for "the refusal to make a positive claim regarding the existence of God". That position is called (weak) atheism.
What agnosticism means (as defined by Huxley) is essentially the position that evidence regarding the claim is fundamentally unattainable, in other words rendering the question unanswerable.
In that sense, an agnostic atheist would be someone who regards the question of God to be unanswerable, and for that reason thinks believing in it would be a waste of time. An agnostic theist would be someone who regards the question of God unanswerable, but still believes it regardless of that fact, and justifies his lack of evidence with the claim that evidence is unattainable anyway.

That's how you reconcile theism and agnosticism; and that's how it's usually done in an academic context.

Feel free to use the terms however you want though; I know they're often used wrongly, and ultimately the point of a label is to give a synopsis of what you believe.
We're not really disagreeing on anything major here, but for the record here's the actual definition of the word as it applies to religion(according to Merriam-Webster):
Main Entry: 1ag·nos·tic
1 : a person who holds the view that any ultimate reality (as God) is unknown and probably unknowable; broadly : one who is not committed to believing in either the existence or the nonexistence of God or a god

Here's their definition of theism:
belief in the existence of a god or gods; specifically : belief in the existence of one God viewed as the creative source of the human race and the world who transcends yet is immanent in the world

If you use the words as they are actually defined, then it is logically impossible to be a person who specifically beliefs in a god while at the same time having no knowledge/opinion about the existence of a god. This doesn't mean that there aren't people out there who consider themselves to be agnostic-theists, but it does mean that in doing so they have adopted a label that is inconsistent with itself.
Yeah, well, unfortunately dictionairies are not of much use here: they list the way words are most commonly used or misused, not always what their correct technical definition is. For example look up atheism in the dictionairy and you'll find very different definitions; that's because the word is misused a lot.

The reason philosophers use agnosticism in the context I used above is this: it is a set of definitions that encompasses all existing philosophical positions regarding God. The Merriam-Webster definition you propose, on the other hand ("a person who holds the view that any ultimate reality (as God) is unknown and probably unknowable; broadly : one who is not committed to believing in either the existence or the nonexistence of God or a god") links two positions together: (i) believing that God is unknowable and (ii) not believing in either the existence or nonexistence of God.
The problem is, if we call the people above "agnostics", what do we call the people who believe that God is unknowable but who still believe that he exists? Or that he doesn't exist? See the problem? It's not a practical definition since it links two aspects together: one of epistomology and one of belief.

Most philosophers classify beliefs as follows:

First the basic dichotomy of belief versus non-belief:
Theism: positive belief in God
Atheism: no positive belief in God
And then various terms detailing that position, for example:
Agnosticism: belief that knowledge about God is impossible

Believing in God in conjunction with believing that he is unknowable, then becomes agnostic theism.
Not believing in God in conjunction with believing that he is unknowable, becomes agnostic atheism.

That way you cover all beliefs.
There is certainly a categorical difference between a person who believes that a god exists without having specific knowledge about it and a person who does not know if a god exists. Using a single word describe each leads to confusion and does not enhance understanding. Unless I'm taking a philosophy class, when I'm using the word 'agnostic' I'm using the dictionary definition of the word.

So what should we call a person who believe that God is unknowable but who still believe that he exists? I'm not sure I have to provide an effective term for this individual to understand that this person does not meet the dictionary (or common) definition of the word agnostic.




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