A friend sent me a message as follows:

"I have a question for you:
As a scientist, how is it that you are an atheist and not agnostic?"

I thought it was an interesting question. Should I, as a scientist who is intimately familiar with the limits of our current knowledge and understanding, be more open to the idea that we just don't or can't know the answer to the God Question?

This was my response:

"This may not be true for everyone, but from my perspective an agnostic believes that there's probably SOMETHING going on in terms of a God or
Spirit or Universal Energy or What-have-you, but we don't or can't know
for sure. For a while I described myself by saying 'I think I'm
agnostic.'

An atheist doesn't rule out the possibility that there is SOMETHING going on, but they haven't seen any evidence that
convinces them to believe in said SOMETHING. If I do encounter some
convincing evidence of a higher power, I'll change my mind. For now,
the available data supports the hypothesis that there is no such thing,
so that's the theory I'm working with. It feels pretty scientific to
me"

What about you?

Tags: Agnosticism, Atheism, Scientific, Thinking

Views: 44

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Your welcome! It's nice to be appreciated.
Atheism is all about applying the scientific principle of the null hypothesis to the proposition of the existence of a god.
BacteriaWrangler: An atheist doesn't rule out the possibility that there is SOMETHING going on, but they haven't seen any evidence that convinces them to believe in said SOMETHING. If I do encounter some convincing evidence of a higher power, I'll change my mind. For now, the available data supports the hypothesis that there is no such thing, so that's the theory I'm working with. It feels pretty scientific to
me


Got it in one. Thank you. You have actually thought it through, unlike the gazillions before you that have posted on this topic. Here is a great vid that formalises what you said in very digestible terms -


Another way of looking at the atheist/agnostic difference is that there are only two possible things that can prevent you from accepting the null hypothesis -

1) Evidence that negates it, or

2) Faith

This is the key difference - agnostics have faith, though they may go blue in the face denying it. Atheists do not.
Thank you, I like that thought. It's a good way to express the difference.
These words mean different things for different people. Here is a blog post I wrote about what they mean to me, and what I think they mean to people who take epistemology seriously.

http://www.atheistnexus.org/profiles/blogs/you-are-agnostic
I was unaware that the technical meaning of the word 'agnostic' was that different from the colloquial meaning. Thank you.
Atheism means "without God". It encompasses all positions that mean the holder has no belief in God. That can include someone who denies God's existence. Or it can include someone who, like the OP, is unconvinced by the evidence
and so simply has no belief in God.
The majority of atheists (me, for example) actually fall into that second category. The idea that atheism is nothing more than the denial of God is myth spread by theists because that form of atheism is quite easy to refute, since
you can't prove a negative. But it's an inaccurate definition of atheism.
Agnosticism is something else again - the idea that God is ultimately unknowable and unable to be apprehended via reason or argument. It's often misused to mean "unsure" or "sitting on the fence" which is not what its inventor,
Thomas Huxley, meant when he came up with the term.

So you're pretty close, really.
Or pics of pin-up girls hanging on barracks walls, or in truck cabins.
Woo is nothing more than sharing your personal fantasies with others.
[Huxley] probably would have seen the error of his ways and embraced the null hypothesis.

Ahem. Huxley's position (essentially, it's philosophical agnosticism + Occam's razor) is actually perfectly compatible with the null hypothesis (which is, basically, "if you have no evidence for it, assume it doesn't exist"). Much more so than the strong version of atheism.

Language changes. Millions accept the term agnosticism to mean doubt about the existance of an Abrahamic god.

Too true, and it's where it becomes weird. Atheism is the clear antithesis of theism, but (in common usage) agnosticism is totally unrelated to gnosticism. That's why I've decided to stay away from most of these atheism/agnosticism 'philosophical' debates, where 9 people out of 10 use an academic definition for a term and a colloquial definition for the other. If you're not comparing these positions on equal philosophical grounds, the debate becomes pointless.
Phil and Fred,

I agree with you both in that the word agnosticism is probably too commonly misused to still insist on the correct, philosophical usage as defined by Huxley. I used to do that, but I've long given up.
That said, defining agnosticism as "having doubts" is a philosophically bankrupt definition, which is why it's not used in academic circles. Real philosophers still use the word agnosticism as "the position that God is instrinsically unknowable and unapprehendable". So I only share the academic definition so that when people hear philosophers using the word, they know what it means in that context.
So while "millions" definitely use the term that way, people who actually know what the words mean (philosophers or people with a little background in philosophy) still use them the correct way. Which, ironically, means that the word will never be redefined to conform to the public's understanding: philosophers don't see the point in that.

In that sense, I rarely insist on labels on the internet (because it's absolutely hopeless) although I might do it a little bit more in private. When somebody asks me if I'm agnostic I usually just ask "The colloquial or philosophical definition?" and quickly explain the difference.

I rarely ever refer to myself as an agnostic atheist, because I die a little inside every time I say it.
I'm not sure that's entirely reasonable. There are certain positions where agnosticism (philosophers don't use it simply for the God question, you see) is a reasonable position, because the answer to a question really is unknowable. I don't think this applies to the God question (which is why I don't think of myself as an agnostic) but to other questions it might.

One of those questions might be: "Is your perception of the colour green the exact same as my perception of the colour green?" I think that this is an unknowable question; I feel quite secure in saying that we will never be able to project what I am consciously seeing onto a screen, and project what you are consciously seeing onto a screen, and then compare the two. I don't think that is going to happen, and so I am agnostic about that.

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