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Agnostic or Atheist??
Posted: 10 March 2011 05:36 AM   [ Ignore ]  
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I would like some comments on this question.

I believe I read in Richard Dawkins’ book “The God Delusion” that to claim to be an agnostic was like straddling the fence, rather than admitting that you don’t believe in a god.  Dr. Bart Ehrman, the bible scholar, claims to have lost his belief and is now an agnostic.

There are many situations where we may not have all the facts but we still come to a conclusion or final belief, for example, in a criminal trial.  Maybe the question of the existence of god is a different matter.

Anyway, I think Richard Dawkins also said something like - I don’t know if there is a god, but based on the facts, I think his existence is very improbable. And I choose to live my life accordingly.

Excuse my rambling, but any comments on the appropriateness of “agnostic” versus “atheist”?

Thank you.

[ Edited: 16 December 2011 03:21 AM by Nhoj Morley]
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Posted: 10 March 2011 07:37 AM   [ Ignore ]   [ # 1 ]  
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TruthSeekerGA - 10 March 2011 10:36 AM

Excuse my rambling, but any comments on the appropriateness of “agnostic” versus “atheist”?


Likely many.

The disagreement is usually more about how we understand the terms than the quality of what we’re using them to describe, but certainly not always.

To my thinking ... :
Agnosticism is almost a function of intellectual honesty because we can’t know about gods, by definition, since they’re defined as existing outside the realm of even our theoretical perception (i.e. supernatural), and gods that aren’t defined that way are almost always just arbitrary relabelings of other things—nature, love, the cosmos, all that is good and right, etc (so far that’s simply always the case in my own experience and conceptualization). “God” is almost always an incoherent or impossible concept. So we’re all agnostic, whether we accept it or not.

Agnostics can be either theists or atheists. The inability to really know about some alleged god doesn’t preclude believing it exists, obviously, though it doesn’t make a lot of sense under even a fairly cursory analysis, if that analysis isn’t hog tied by social programming (socialization) and/or religious faith (the choice to proactively “believe” what’s not warranted by valid epistemology—it’s certainly arguable that this kind of “belief” is more pretense than actual).

The biggest actual (rather than purely semantic) problem I see leading to conflict on this one is that many “agnostics” are really atheists who are just giving theism the special treatment we’re all heavily socialized to give it in most societies. The demand for 100% certitude is just not rational, much less reasonable. We don’t demand that of pretty much any other paradigm in order to claim some particular conceptual territory, it’s a religion/god exclusive. When we recognize we’re treating religion as a rather extreme special case and come to terms with that, our need to impose this kind of agnosticism on reality dissipates into the aether where it belongs, and we can then drive on to find the next piece of dysfunctional and/or self-deceptive socialization we need to analyze and correct (none of us are terribly liable to run out of them any time soon, but of course some are far more consequential than others).

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Posted: 10 March 2011 12:53 PM   [ Ignore ]   [ # 2 ]  
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When somebody chooses to refer to themselves as an atheist they are indeed making a choice based on the evidence for God’s nonexistence and the lack of evidence for his existence. I do not understand the agnostic point of view that we just cannot know for sure. To me that stance gives credence to the idea that there are good reasons for God’s existence. I have not found a single one, and if I ask a believer they simply point toward the bible. Also if we cannot know because God is supernatural and beyond comprehension then the point is irrelevant from both sides. If we cannot know then what’s to know? Personally however I take the stance that labels like atheist and agnostic are unnecessary and possibly harmful to non-believers because it makes being a believers the default position. They are the ones making the claim, not me. They should wear the label, not me.

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Posted: 11 March 2011 07:56 AM   [ Ignore ]   [ # 3 ]  
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Amani - 10 March 2011 05:53 PM

I do not understand the agnostic point of view that we just cannot know for sure. To me that stance gives credence to the idea that there are good reasons for God’s existence.


I think that’s often what’s going on, but my point is that it’s in fact the opposite.

Gods are defined, almost always, so they may as well state in the definition that they cannot be known to exist. That would defeat the purpose, but that doesn’t stop the vast majority from coming as close to stating it outright as possible. They conceive of a god that’s impossible to perceive, much less know or understand at all, by definition, and then the vast majority of them immediately proceed to share how they “know” it and we should as well, along with all sorts of details regarding its alleged attitudes and behavior characteristics and such.

But my main point is that when something is defined such that we must be agnostic about it (such as if we can’t even perceive it because it’s, say, outside of nature) it’s effectively defined out of existence by blatant implication. It’s a “tell” that the imperceptible the thing in question must be made up. It has to be a pure fabrication. There’s no way to derive any property of such a thing, including its existence, from any perception, and we have no other means by which to derive information from reality, even with the most advanced mechanical assistance, not even in theory ... again, by definition.

This gets us to what Russell’s Teapot is all about. I like to say Russell protoactively stole that one from me, by the way (same with Hume’s Maxim on miracles and some others—it both sucks and is validating to find your “new” and promising idea is actually a well established philosophical maxim), but my “teapot” is a spaceship that looks just like a football, containing the totality of a tiny alien species which controls the minds of all humans, and is in orbit around Neptune.

...

Mine’s better.

cool smile

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Posted: 03 April 2011 09:16 AM   [ Ignore ]   [ # 4 ]  
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My position has always been very simple. I really think atheism and agnosticism are one-and-the-same. Dawkins rated himself a 6.5 out of 7, with 7 being hard, convinced, no possibility of god, atheist. Dawkins position was, no compelling evidence for the proposition of a god, therefore there almost certainly isn’t. Asimov wrote: “No, I’m not sure, but I’m sure enough that I don’t waste any more time thinking about it.”

I try to leave certitude to the religious, and certainly live my life, as Dawkins said, as though god does not exist. I think too many non-believers waste too much time concerned what to call themselves, when we have a country that’s falling apart, and the first casualty appears to be our First Amendment protections. We fiddle over “Gnu atheism, “Accommodationism,” Agnosticism,” and other internal rifts that mean nothing to the outside world. Sagan wrote: “The differences between the Abrahamic religions pale before their similarities,” and that’s how the religious world sees us, as all the same, no matter how we see ourselves.

I think the only chance civilization has is to replace the social acceptance of belief in nonsense without evidence with belief in reason and evidence, and we can only do that by continuing to attract the under 30 generation in vast numbers as we are doing now. Creating false rifts in our organizations is going to make the task much harder. When I joined this forum in 2004, non-believers were 2 to 3% of the population. Now we are at least 18% and climbing rapidly. Some say that 35%of the under-thirties are non-believers. If we don’t screw it up with continued petty differences that philosophically mean nothing, we may have a European-style religious landscape within the next twenty years.

IMHO, that’s where the focus needs to be. The church/state issues will take care of themselves as long as we hang together.

Pete

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Posted: 03 April 2011 02:26 PM   [ Ignore ]   [ # 5 ]  
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The discussion about atheism versus agnosticism is an artificial one about an artificial problem. IMHO it stems from the need to categorize oneself and other people in pretty labeled containers with no other purpose than to rearrange the universe in understandable building blocks. In the act of this pursuit it often derails in all but peace of mind. Far worse than believers discussing the demarcation between atheism and agnosticism are the non-believers discussing this. Discussions about how weak an atheists must be to be called an agnostic or about this divide constituting some kind of difference between believing and knowing. After endless discussions it often seems that all that is relevant, is how one is labeled by others.
 
All this can be circumvented by putting in plain text what you believe or not without reference to these much abused labels. Personally, I have no belief in supernatural beings, now you decide what you call it. We do not really need a word for not believing in fairies or santa claus, why should we need these for gods?


But if you really feel the urge to participate in that strange hobby of non-believers than why stop at the rather crude labels of atheism and agnosticism? Why not be a theological non-cognitivist, i.e. a person that holds the view that none of the god concepts around have a proper definition. I happen to like this view because it focuses on what is the real problem here. Not the definition of labels for non-believers but the lack of proper definition of what the belief is supposed to be about.

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Posted: 14 April 2011 05:09 PM   [ Ignore ]   [ # 6 ]  
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I prefer to say that I am atheist, although I never really categorized myself as this until adulthood when I went out in the world and the opinions of those that are highly religious were pressed upon me.  Before then I never really thought much about it.  I didn’t believe in God and that was that, I didn’t think I needed to categorize my beliefs.
I truly believe that I am a scientist. I look at empirical evidence, and base my opinions and my mind set on the results from empirical studies and objective facts.  Currently, there is evidence indicating that there is no God, and there is no evidence indicating that there is (empirical evidence anyway). As a scientist, I change my mind set to coincide with the facts and evidence, I do not change the facts or the way information is presented to fit my mindset (as I believe most religious people are guilty of doing).  If some day there is empirical data that suggest or prove that there is a God, I will have to seriously consider changing my view point.  Until then, I will consider myself an atheist. 
When one says that they are “agnostic” they are claiming that they just don’t know if God exists.  Well I don’t KNOW that the Earth is round, but from evidence that I have seen I would say it is sufficient to say that it is.  I have not seen the process of evolution, yet through scientific research, I believe that this theory is truth. To say that you’re not sure if you believe something that has no scientific evidence to back it up completely degrades the hard work and countless billions of dollars spent yearly to give us the empirical evidence that should be helping every citizen of the world to make the most crucial conclusions about life.

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Posted: 15 April 2011 01:26 PM   [ Ignore ]   [ # 7 ]  
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Although I rarely label myself, I have on occasion been labeled by others as Atheist, but I really don’t know what I am. I’m reasonably sure that my views are a combination of, residual influence from my religious upbringing, a philosophy grounded in moral realism, critical thinking, and the fact that I am still in the process of sorting it all out.

I wont bore you with the entire list but here are some highlights;

1. I have a strong intuition that there is some larger purpose to the existence of the universe.

2. I believe there is a good possibility that other intelligent life exists somewhere, along with the possibility that there could be a higher intelligence than us.

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

4. There is no higher intelligence that I would worship or label as God, regardless how much more powerful it was.

5.. I have absolutely no doubt that all human religions are simply evolved superstitions.

6. In this sentence, “There was nothing before the Big Bang”, I believe “There was nothing” should read, “we don’t know what was”.

So, what am I?

[ Edited: 15 April 2011 01:30 PM by Rhyfelur]
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Posted: 15 April 2011 02:22 PM   [ Ignore ]   [ # 8 ]  
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Rhyfelur - 15 April 2011 05:26 PM

  ...I am still in the process of sorting it all out.

So, what am I?

Free.

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Delude responsibly.

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Posted: 27 April 2011 10:09 AM   [ Ignore ]   [ # 9 ]  
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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.

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Posted: 27 April 2011 04:37 PM   [ Ignore ]   [ # 10 ]  
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Rather a negative and a positive.
The atheist is positive that his negative is correct.
The agnostic is positive about the negative might not be correct.
So one had decided that they do not believe in God.
The other cannot decide if God exists or not.

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Posted: 28 April 2011 05:47 PM   [ Ignore ]   [ # 11 ]  
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Tintin is right, A/theism and A/gnosticism really are different because one is about believing, the other is about knowing.  I find neither gnostic theism nor gnostic atheism to be tenable positions (these are Dawkins’ 1 and 7 positions on his sliding scale, respectively) since there is no genuine evidence.  Agnostic theism, acknowledging that you don’t know, but are willing to go through the motions of belief anyway to hedge your bets, seems a sort of wishy-washy Pascal’s Wager position that assumes the god in question either can’t tell you have doubts or at least doesn’t care as long as you genuflect in his direction, and in either event, such a god cares nothing for your intellectual integrity.  Agnostic atheism is really the only intellectually honest position because it acknowledges that while you can’t logically prove a negative, genuine evidence of a positive is still a requirement for an assertion to be worthwhile.  Since no such evidence of any sort of god has been brought forward, there’s no good reason to be anything other than an agnostic atheist.

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Posted: 04 May 2011 11:40 AM   [ Ignore ]   [ # 12 ]  
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If you are agnostic you are straddling the fence between mysticism and reason.  It means you are open to the idea that something exists that contradicts all scientific knowledge up to this point in time.  There is no rational reason to believe in the traditional supernatural God until some proof or evidence is discovered.  As a rule, I’ve met very few rational, reason-based so-called ‘atheists.’  Most people that I meet claiming to be atheists usually harbor all sorts of other types of crazy, mystical beliefs.  To turn from the new impending dark age, we must really stick to the facts in 2011… for our sanity’s sake and for our very lives.

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Posted: 04 May 2011 04:00 PM   [ Ignore ]   [ # 13 ]  
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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.

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Posted: 04 May 2011 06:31 PM   [ Ignore ]   [ # 14 ]  
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Stuarte - 04 May 2011 08:00 PM

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.

Stuarte - 04 May 2011 08:00 PM

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.

Except that “god” can’t be rationally defined. That’s why, scientifically speaking, it means as much to say “we can’t disprove the existence of God, therefore we don’t know” as to say “we can’t disprove the existence of Batman, therefore we don’t know.”

 

Stuarte - 04 May 2011 08:00 PM

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

How’d you get there from your original Greek analysis? You could “emphatically” choose to live without God because you’re keenly aware that we can’t know if such a thing exists, or because you recognize the concept is nonsensical. You can also be an atheist if you want to believe a god exists, but have too much intellectual integrity to pull off the required degree of self-deception. Etc, etc, etc ...

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Posted: 05 May 2011 01:03 AM   [ Ignore ]   [ # 15 ]  
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@ agnostic

I don’t know for sure that god can’t be rationally defined in a way that is completely beyond dispute. 

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

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”.

@ atheist

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”.

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