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.
A good suggestion changing "anything" to "everything". I would rather just change the whole sentence in that case to mean something more like, "agnostics are just too sure that we cannot know that there are no such things as deities". In any case, I appreciate your position and your response.
The point I'd like to make is that absolutism is a dead end street. Yeah, if we were taking bets I'd bet against a theistic worldview every time. Even if I were not 100% certain of my stance, I think that theism has proven so harmful, and has been so well refuted by the overwhelming mass of evidence, that I'm comfortable with taking a firm and outspoken stand at "gods do not exist". I don't even feel a need to include the softener "probably", though it's implied.
I also think that absolutes are convenient fictions, and those too can be harmful and are as well unsupported by evidence. What we treat as certain for all practical purposes is just an accumulation of evidence or lack thereof. We don't really know many things at all, but at some point we must live as if we do. Theists do the same but with a different, and to me insufficient, threshold of acceptance. The very hard core Bible thumpers admit no breach of their understanding, and the very hard core atheist do exactly the same.
It's not a weakness of stance to admit that although we're pretty damn sure, we could be wrong. And saying that there's a possibility that we're wrong is not the same as saying that any other view is as worthy in our opinion. I can reject a position that I see as ridiculous without need for total abrogation. Again, certainty is a dead end street, and on it science cannot function and knowlege cannot progress. Absolutes are probably :) imaginary.
Right, well, like I said, I appreciate your position. I'm as convinced there are no deities as I am that I have two hands and that I'm presently sitting down at my computer and using those two hands to type these very words. But, I could be wrong! It would take some pretty wild evidence to show me how I might be so, but I always keep a healthy degree of skepticism around in all of my beliefs. Perhaps I am really a hand-less brain in a vat travelling in a spaceship between worlds I've never heard of, and my beliefs that I am really me are being put into my brain by alien scientists. Or perhaps even this would seem silly to beings who made me think of such fantastical things as "spaceships" or "scientists". Perhaps a lot of things. So yeah, there is always a lingering suspicion that things are not exactly as they seem, but the odds of what I imagine being true over what I experience as being true are generally so low that it is not reasonable to put them on anything like equal ground.
By the by, if anyone who reads this thinks that we really are "living" on "spaceships" and is willing to put their money where their mouth is, I will gladly exchange all of my possessions on the spaceship for all of your possessions in this "real" world. Care for a trade?
Do you find that the general public is more accepting and forgiving of agnosticism than atheism and would be a reason to be an agnostic? (or at least say you were one.)
It is obviously the case that "the general public is more accepting and forgiving of agnosticism than atheism"; certainly this is not at all a good reason for being an agnostic. As for saying you were one to be more accepted, I guess it depends on your situation. Certainly in some places of the world, and this may or may not include places in the US, you had better keep your atheism to yourself if you value your life. You should also probably try to escape from those places so you can be who you really are. What kind of life can one live where one is ever unable to be who they really are?
The reason there are agnostics at all is because of the way we word our questions about the existence of a supreme being.
It is easy to understand why “I don’t know” is the best answer to the question: “Is there a god?”
Knowledge of, or certainty about, god’s existence (or non existence) is a question that cannot be answered by anybody because god is an object of faith.
Knowledge/knowing or being certain one way or another is, of course, irrelevant to an object of faith.
Now, were the question: “Do you possess FAITH in the existence of a supreme being(s)?” there wouldn’t be any agnostics.
If the answer is “I don’t know” then clearly that person is an atheist, as “I don’t know” is an admission of a lack of faith.
Everybody KNOWS whether or not they have faith in the existence of a supreme being.
An interesting distinction, but I'm not entirely convinced.
I’m curious, Jedi, if you are still following this thread, to what distinction are you referring?
You drew the distinction between whether we believe we know whether there is a god or not and whether we believe we have faith that there is a god or not. But these are separate questions. I agree with you that everyone knows what they believe, but the problem I am addressing is whether we can demonstrate knowledge that there are no gods, not whether we can demonstrate by simple proclamation whether we believe in them or not. I.e., saying you don't believe in gods is one thing, and demonstrating that you are justified in this belief is very much a separate issue. The agnostic atheist doesn't feel the need to justify their lack of faith, they prefer to put the burden of evidence on the believer. The gnostic atheist, on the other hand, must be able to demonstrate how their belief constitutes knowledge - no easy thing!
""You drew the distinction between whether we believe we know whether there is a god or not and whether we believe we have faith that there is a god or not."
Well, I can’t get any further without drawing another distinction: I am of the opinion that there is a distinction between the words "Belief" and "Faith". . . especially on this web site where we are devoted to talking about this very thing. How about this:
FAITH: belief without evidence
BELIEF: that which causes you to move your foot when you drop a brick.
There is a profound difference between belief and faith, and that difference should be recognized, especially on a web site that is dedicated to dealing with that very subject.
If this distinction can not, or will not, be recognized then we will continue to talk past each other.
"But these are separate questions. I agree with you that everyone knows what they believe, but the problem I am addressing is whether we can demonstrate knowledge that there are no gods, . . ."
Simple answer: If god is an object of faith, you can not demonstrate (much less have) knowledge about the existence or non existence of that object of faith. An atheist simply can not “know” one way or another. . . .any more than the theist can. How absurd we think the theist is when he says: “I KNOW there is a God”, yet, think that when someone says: “I KNOW there is no god” it’s somehow a valid claim.
" . . . not whether we can demonstrate by simple proclamation whether we believe in them or not."
Saying that “I do not posses faith in the existence of a supreme being” demands nothing beyond that statement. It is simply an inarguable statement of fact.
"I.e., saying you don't believe in gods is one thing, and demonstrating that you are justified in this belief is very much a separate issue."
only if you think you can demonstrate something that is not demonstrable.
"The agnostic atheist . . ."
(There is no such thing if you accept the definition of an atheist as a person who simply does not possess faith in the existence of a god.)
". . . doesn't feel the need to justify their lack of faith, they prefer to put the burden of evidence on the believer."
An atheist can not reasonably expect any “evidence” from a theist who simply proclaims a faith in the existence of a god.
However, an atheist is certainly within the bounds of appropriateness if he inquires about, or questions the nature of that faith.
"The gnostic atheist, on the other hand, must be able to demonstrate how their belief constitutes knowledge - no easy thing!"
No, belief constitutes knowledge that can be demonstrated.
Faith, or lack of it, on the other hand, can not be reasonably expected to be demonstrated, or proven, or known or have any characteristic of certainty.
So, do you accept the distinction between the words faith and belief?
I do accept the distinction between faith and belief, although I would draw it specifically as faith being belief without justification whereas belief can be had with or without justification. I.e. faith is a kind of belief, specifically, the worst, most unreasonable kind. But again, I do not buy your argument that this is the only distinction which needs to be made to settle the entire question of whether we can or cannot know whether there are gods or not. My argument has been laid out in one of the other responses, there's no need to relitigate it.
"I do accept the distinction between faith and belief, although I would draw it specifically as faith being belief without justification whereas belief can be had with or without justification."
But...But, just you contradicted yourself.
Belief without “justification” (your word. Apparently “evidence” is, for some reason, not acceptable to you) is what I defined as faith and you just agreed . . . or did you? Or do you feel yourself obliged to argue with everything?
"I.e. faith is a kind of belief,"
No it isn’t!!!. They are two entirely different things!!
There is nothing like faith.
Belief is a result of evidence.
Faith is engaged when there is no evidence.
"specifically, the worst, most unreasonable kind. But again, I do not buy your argument that this is the only distinction which needs to be made to settle the entire question of whether we can or cannot know whether there are gods or not."
Did you not read my post??
You can’t "know" whether there is a god(s) or not!! Because god(s) is an object of faith.
Knowing or not knowing has nothing to do with, and is totally irrelevant to, an object of Faith.
You can’t “know” there is no god, any more than a theist can “know” that there is a god. Both claims are equally absurd.
" My argument has been laid out in one of the other responses, there's no need to relitigate it."
Hey, this ain’t some deep philosophical litigation, it is a simple idea.
Why can’t you get this??
Atheism is not a result of any deep abstract thinking that needs multi paragraphs of BS to explain it.
Atheism is a simple, simple, simple concept and it doesn’t need theists, or people like you, trying to hang all sorts of philosophical ornamentation onto it.