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Agnostic or Atheist??
Posted: 05 May 2011 04:17 AM   [ Ignore ]   [ # 16 ]  
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Stuarte - 05 May 2011 05:03 AM

Could one say with certainly: “Everything in the universe/multiverse that can be rationally defined has already been rationally defined.  There is nothing else.”  ?

Nope. But one certainly could say that something that is defined irrationally is irrationally defined.

 

Stuarte - 05 May 2011 05:03 AM

Perhaps I could pursue the issue and seek out arguments that aim to define god rationally, and others that aim to prove that it’s impossible to define god rationally.  I would also have to sharpen my intellectual tools to evaluate the arguments and satisfy myself that I know enough about the issue to say “I know”.

“Supernatural” is an easy place to start. “Outside of nature” is an irrational concept.

 

Stuarte - 05 May 2011 05:03 AM

Going by the etymology it’s pretty simple.  An atheist is simply “without god”, whatever the reason.  In common usage, to describe oneself as an atheist tends to be a strong statement - hence my use of the word “emphatic”.

There’s no connection between “emphatic” and “without”. There’s plenty of socialization baggage that suggests there is in this particular case, but “without” is pretty simple and straightforward and requires no caveats or modifications. So “emphatically without” doesn’t follow. It works, of course (you can certainly be emphatically without and still be without), but it’s about as pertinent as, say, gender or nationality. It’s an arbitrary add-on. “Without” is sufficient, and since we’re talking about the definition of a term, adding impertinent baggage is counterproductive. Definitions are minimum attribute descriptions. That’s why when there are pertinent but not necessary conditions for different usages of a word, we have different usages and different definitions. Each is a minimum attribute description for a given use of a given term.

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Posted: 06 May 2011 04:47 AM   [ Ignore ]   [ # 17 ]  
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Stuarte - 04 May 2011 08:00 PM

Being a linguist by training I tend to come at these things from an etymological angle.

To my knowledge, both words are from Greek and both start with “a”, the familiar prefix meaning “without”.

Theos is god, so the modernist coining “atheist” means “without God” =  having no god.

Gnos comes from the Greek ????? (gnosi) and is about knowing, so “agnostic” means “without knowing” = don’t know.

Bearing in mind that in science, nothing is definitively known, it is just not disproven, then I would have thought that agnostic is the scientific position.  One cannot prove the existence of god, nor disprove it.  Hence a person wanting to take a strictly scientific position would be agnostic.

On the other hand, a person who emphatically chooses to live without god is an atheist.

Atheism does not have one meaning to be adhered to with strictness. Etymology and definition remain closely intertwined in the case of atheism and I think the ancient use of the word still applies today, but other meanings of the word are also in use according to modern dictionaries. For some, atheism implies a fighting spirit (ancient meaning), and for others it simply means lack of theism without any implied struggle or emotion (modern meaning).

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Posted: 06 May 2011 05:02 AM   [ Ignore ]   [ # 18 ]  
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nonverbal - 06 May 2011 08:47 AM

Atheism does not have one meaning to be adhered to with strictness. Etymology and definition remain closely intertwined in the case of atheism and I think the ancient use of the word still applies today, but other meanings of the word are also in use according to modern dictionaries. For some, atheism implies a fighting spirit (ancient meaning), and for others it simply means lack of theism without any implied struggle or emotion (modern meaning).


Yeah, it seems the biggest issue with the term atheism/atheist is the bullshit social baggage from which it’s never been free. Most believers seem to want to force it into a comfortable box. Many refuse to admit a definition that allows the term to be used to describe a rational position on the matter, thus, in their minds apparently, eliminating the potential for rational rejection of the god hypothesis. Others simply see if as irrational or deviant and their understanding of the term is derived from that notion. Most are at least somewhat hostile to the idea in any case, and the term’s popular usage reflects this, compromising the utility of the applied language, unfortunately.

So we inherit all that angst and confusion and denial, basically, in the term that describes us and that largely defines us, since it sets us apart from ~95% of the rest of the population (at least here in the US). This is why such a simple issue as how individuals use a term is so contentious. We can use other terms in slightly or even fairly significantly different ways and, if any issue even arises, it’s usually quickly negotiated and we drive on, but for some terms it doesn’t work that way, and atheism/atheist is one of the biggest sticklers.

Too much baggage/investment ... bottom line.

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“We say, ‘Love your brother…’ We don’t say it really, but… Well we don’t literally say it. We don’t really, literally mean it. No, we don’t believe it either, but… But that message should be clear.”—David St. Hubbins

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Posted: 06 May 2011 05:46 AM   [ Ignore ]   [ # 19 ]  
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Are there any words we use that don’t come with social baggage?

Isn’t “social baggage” another way of referring to the meaning that a word has when used in a given social context?

From experience, I have found that learning foreign languages also involves learning the culture (and hence social baggage) of the language. 

Sooner or later communities and cultures more or less agree on what particular words mean - until somebody comes along and subverts the meaning (cool, gay, Bright etc.)

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Posted: 06 May 2011 07:05 AM   [ Ignore ]   [ # 20 ]  
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Stuarte - 06 May 2011 09:46 AM

Are there any words we use that don’t come with social baggage?

Isn’t “social baggage” another way of referring to the meaning that a word has when used in a given social context?

From experience, I have found that learning foreign languages also involves learning the culture (and hence social baggage) of the language. 

Sooner or later communities and cultures more or less agree on what particular words mean - until somebody comes along and subverts the meaning (cool, gay, Bright etc.)


You’re right, technically, but the social “baggage” connected to all applied usages of words like green or peach or sweet, or even fear is rather clear and more or less non-controversial as compared to those of atheism/atheist, or patriotic, or good and evil, for some obvious examples. It’s enough of a difference to warrant the categorical distinction controversial vs. non-controversial.

That’s kind of like preparing to make a map by leveling out the terrain—removing everything that allowed for far easier reckoning/navigation—stripping the linguistic landscape of any landmarks or features other than that of a flat plane—pretty much the opposite approach to what would be productive in this case.

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“We say, ‘Love your brother…’ We don’t say it really, but… Well we don’t literally say it. We don’t really, literally mean it. No, we don’t believe it either, but… But that message should be clear.”—David St. Hubbins

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Posted: 06 May 2011 07:29 AM   [ Ignore ]   [ # 21 ]  
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I guess words that are associated with more emotionally charged domains of experience are bound to be more controversial.

To take an example from an area that’s emotionally neutral for most people, I have a particular love of Baroque and Early music and I’m not so keen at all on the Classical and Romantic periods, with odd exceptions.  Even so, as far as most people are concerned, what I listen to is “classical” music, and that ticks me off because it’s wrong.  However it’s no use saying anything to most people, because they don’t perceive a significant difference between a piece of Bach keyboard music and a piece of Beethoven - it’s all “classical”. 

In fact “classical” is used as an umbrealla term for most music that’s scored and played by trained musicians.  I’ve even heard film scores played by orchestras referred to as “classical” !

It seems to me that most words in common parlance are vague approximations that serve the function of communicating meaning in a “good enough” way within the prevailing discourse.  Any attempt to define the meaning of common words more precisely and to prescribe specific usage is bound to be caught between learned disputation (as here) and common application, with baggage.

People with a particular interest in specific fields may argue that certain words be used in a strict way (classical, atheist etc.) but the argument is unlikely to make a whit of difference to people who disagree with them, or who are not interested in the field.

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Posted: 08 September 2011 01:28 PM   [ Ignore ]   [ # 22 ]  
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agnostic or atheist?

Both. I do not know, maybe I can never know, and so I do not believe.

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Posted: 11 September 2011 07:31 PM   [ Ignore ]   [ # 23 ]  
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Rhyfelur said,

Nothing can exist as “supernatural”, if it exists, then it is natural.

Exactly.


I don’t know everything.  I know no one else knows everything.  And i don’t believe in any ‘supernatural’ being.  Therefor, i’m an agnostic non-believer.


I’m just sick and tired of the blow-hards who keep insisting that anyone who has the intellectual honesty to call themselves agnostic, and the wit to call bullshit on anyone who claims to ‘know’ the complete nature of the universe, somehow falls into the ‘wishes fairies really existed’ category.  Get the f- over yourself because it just ain’t so.

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Posted: 13 November 2011 01:14 AM   [ Ignore ]   [ # 24 ]  
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tintin - 27 April 2011 02:09 PM

Now I don’t remember who made this point, Maybe Dan Barker,  but it’s stuck with me.

Agnosticism is “not knowing,”
Atheism is “not believing” 

They are very different.  One is simply an admission. The other is a position.


That is certainly my position as well.


The attempt to redefine Atheism to cover all non-belief is a fairly recent development, theological noncognitivism is an honorable position, or, to the extent that it isn’t that is up for the individual to grapple with - at least it shows some effort.


It is interesting that it is exactly with the late 90’s ‘discussion’ between Theodore Drange and Michael Martin that both the recasting of Atheism and the coining of non-cognitivism came to be: see Atheism, Agnosticism, Noncognitivism (1998) which also happens to deal with the ‘appeal to etymology’ tack.


In any case, Richard Dawkins’ opinion on what agnosticism is or isn’t matters like creationist’s opinion on fossils.

[ Edited: 13 November 2011 01:48 AM by Rambler]
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Posted: 13 November 2011 09:41 PM   [ Ignore ]   [ # 25 ]  
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I take Hitchens’s side on this, where I think ‘Agnostic’ doesn’t carry much weight as a stand-alone term anymore. Since any claim of knowledge (whether for God’s existence or non-existence) is silly, the only intellectually honest position is belief that falls short of certainty. For both sides of the debate, “Agnostic” should go without saying.

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Posted: 14 November 2011 03:36 AM   [ Ignore ]   [ # 26 ]  
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BlackLight - 14 November 2011 02:41 AM

For both sides of the debate, “Agnostic” should go without saying.

Sadly I think that this is entirely too generous. There are plenty of people across an array of positions who believe that they represent a “justified true belief” when they are actually representing a “true believer”.

You really think that people who drone on about flying spaghetti monsters and pink unicorns are going “well… you know..”

I would weigh Hitchens even lower than Dawkins when it comes to unclouded appraisals of what agnosticism is or isn’t - remember, this is the guy who prefers to be called an antitheist - presumably well aware of its 1993 roots.

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Posted: 14 November 2011 11:59 PM   [ Ignore ]   [ # 27 ]  
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Oh, I wasn’t suggesting that there aren’t people on both sides of the debate that like to claim they “know” there is/isn’t a God. I’m saying that as a matter of intellectual honesty, neither side can claim this. So for the people willing to dismiss certitude on this question, calling yourself an Agnostic isn’t really saying anything.

For terms like ‘Agnostic Atheist’ or ‘Agnostic Theist,’ the term has some added utility, but only as a matter of comparison with the Gnostic Atheists/Theists, when we’re willing to let them into the game.

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Posted: 25 November 2011 03:33 AM   [ Ignore ]   [ # 28 ]  
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I’m an atheist. When I feel feisty, I call my fellow atheists agnostic. :D

It is not a matter of intellectual honesty, it is a matter of tolerance and compassion. I have no reason to be tolerant because I know what “god” is in human terms. Let me ask you a question: Do you know of “god” that is not defined in human terms?

There is but one. Uncertainty. The foundation of quantum mechanics. So to be agnostic about the functioning of the universe is to state truth; to be agnostic about the functioning of human institutions is to state tolerant compassion and nothing more.

Tolerance is an engineering term. It is good to practice, like an engineer; but to be tolerant is to have a foundation of air.

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Posted: 27 December 2011 08:44 AM   [ Ignore ]   [ # 29 ]  
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Interesting question. I suppose I consider myself an atheist in regards to all mythology, including Hebrew mythology. I do have some nagging questions however about things like consciousness, (even Sam Harris puts that under the category of “miraculous”),  intelligence, and their relationship to matter.


I could be wrong, but I see three logical possibilities. Matter begat intelligence, intelligence begat matter, or, both have always coexisted.  I can get my head around life coming from matter, but life is not intelligence. Intelligence is the grand manipulator of matter in ways that could never happen without it. For example, I seriously doubt you could find plastic anywhere in the cosmos without also discovering it was just matter manipulated by intelligence. Because of the lopsided relationship intelligence and matter have, I find it very difficult to believe that intelligence is somehow a side effect of matter combining in some mysterious way.


I have no problem believing in the possibility of a greater, older, more advanced intelligence then ourselves. It’s actually a short leap when I think about trees that are thousands of years old. It also seems quite possible that if there is an existence after physical death, it might possibly consist of consciousnesses and intelligence. Are we a part of a greater, universal intelligence? Arthur C. Clarke explored this question in his fiction, (2001 A Space Odyssey, is an excellent example).


Is there a “God”... I don’t know, and I’m not sure it even matters, but I cannot for sure say there isn’t.

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Posted: 01 January 2012 10:30 AM   [ Ignore ]   [ # 30 ]  
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I am atheist 100%, there is no doubt about it.

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“If there is a God, atheism must seem to Him as less of an insult than religion.” ? Edmond De Goncourt

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