Here's my take on it.
Agnosticism is illogical and refutes itself. Agnosticism and agnostics characterize God as unknowable, ineffable, incomprehensible to all attempts to understand him. This doctrine is self-refuting. The agnostic is making a knowledge claim about what he/she claims is unknowable. How do agnostics know that God is unknowable if he is unknowable ? How do they even know that God's existence cannot be disproved if God is unknowable, or that God even exists if he is unknowable ? To claim any attribute for God is knowledge and claims to know this unknowable God possesses certain attributes. That's a logical contradiction, and any being containing two incompatible attributes cannot possibly exist. So one need not resort to agnosticism. He/she would be justified in not believing in that God if the concept of it contradicts itself in any way. One is justified in accepting and adopting the atheist position.
"“[There is] a widespread approach to ideas which Objectivism repudiates altogether: agnosticism. I mean this term in a sense which applies to the question of God, but to many other issues also, such as extra-sensory perception or the claim that the stars influence man’s destiny. In regard to all such claims, the agnostic is the type who says, “I can’t prove these claims are true, but you can’t prove they are false, so the only proper conclusion is: I don’t know; no one knows; no one can know one way or the other.”
The agnostic viewpoint poses as fair, impartial, and balanced. See how many fallacies you can find in it. Here are a few obvious ones: First, the agnostic allows the arbitrary into the realm of human cognition. He treats arbitrary claims as ideas proper to consider, discuss, evaluate—and then he regretfully says, “I don’t know,” instead of dismissing the arbitrary out of hand. Second, the onus-of-proof issue: the agnostic demands proof of a negative in a context where there is no evidence for the positive. “It’s up to you,” he says, “to prove that the fourth moon of Jupiter did not cause your sex life and that it was not a result of your previous incarnation as the Pharaoh of Egypt.” Third, the agnostic says, “Maybe these things will one day be proved.” In other words, he asserts possibilities or hypotheses with no jot of evidential basis.
The agnostic miscalculates. He thinks he is avoiding any position that will antagonize anybody. In fact, he is taking a position which is much more irrational than that of a man who takes a definite but mistaken stand on a given issue, because the agnostic treats arbitrary claims as meriting cognitive consideration and epistemological respect. He treats the arbitrary as on a par with the rational and evidentially supported. So he is the ultimate epistemological egalitarian: he equates the groundless and the proved. As such, he is an epistemological destroyer. The agnostic thinks that he is not taking any stand at all and therefore that he is safe, secure, invulnerable to attack. The fact is that his view is one of the falsest—and most cowardly—stands there can be.” [Leonard Peikoff].
The agnostic thinks that he is not taking any stand at all and therefore that he is safe, secure, invulnerable to attack. The fact is that his view is one of the falsest—and most cowardly—stands there can be.”
In essence, a straw man argument. Peikoff attributes to agnostics any number of things they may not hold. For example, the agnostic may simply say that "Here and now I find no way to obtain evidence of ____." Peikoff converts this into an expectation that such evidence will appear in the future and damns the agnostic for something he has not said and may not believe.
Agnosticism is recognition of the readily apparent limits of knowledge, not a position of arbitrary neutrality on every conceivable question.
"Agnosticism is recognition of the readily apparent limits of knowledge, not a position of arbitrary neutrality on every conceivable question."
Bingo. This entire thread involves too much emphasis on half-correct deliberations on the very meaning of the word.
I should have added that from my point of view the fault of the agnostic is less obvious and is located in his implicit acceptance of the statement God exists as a cognitively meaningful assertion about the state of the world.
Gee, I get all mixed up in the words but I think I get the meaning. Let me see if I am saying the same as Peikoff ...
As to claims of god, extra-sensory perception or the claim that the stars influence man’s destiny" the agnostic says, “I can’t prove these claims are true, but you can’t prove they are false, so the only proper conclusion is: I don’t know; no one knows; no one can know one way or the other.”
This is exactly the problem with religion. What cannot be proved, has not been proved and has a high probability of not being proved, is comparing unproved ideas with proven ones; therefore a fallacy. Furthermore, any attempt to find a provable answer does not occur, thereby insuring no proof will be found. Abraham said, Moses claimed, Jesus reported and popes and religious echo those words of sheep herders when the only tools they had were wheel and water wheels. Not good enough for a thinking person.
There is no god, no stars influencing human destiny, no angel, no devil, no heaven or hell. Period.
If proof appears that god exists, I will jump on board in a gnat's eyebrow. I do not hold my breath nor do I change my value system based on that highly improbable event occurring.
The good news, learning about biology, physics, astronomy, sociology, music, art, imagination, and innovation is so much fun, finding a god would be a real let-down. A bummer of the first order.
Proof is a rare commodity and often unavailable, and while the absence of proof may require abandoning claims of knowledge, that does not require the agnostic to remain in a neutral position with respect to belief.
We—at least most of us—no longer believe in witches and demons, but that change did not come about because their existence was disproved. It came about because of a shift in our notions of how the world works and the acquisition of alternate explanations that are more consistent with that world view. We put aside superstition in favor of science and naturalism.
The agnostic is not required to accept astrology as a potential explanation for events just because he cannot disprove it. He is perfectly free to reject it because it not longer fits a scientific world view. Astrology provides no mechanism for its supposed effects and the interpretation of astrological charts varies from one astrologer to another. That's enough.
When it comes to God, I also think it's impossible to be agnostic.
Being agnostic, in regards to God, is similar to trying to answer the following question: "Define what you can not know?".
I have to take Dr Allan H Clark's noncognitivist's point of view, or the post-theist point of view.
But I wouldn't mind discussing agnosticism a little more:
We are all born atheists, that is, not believing in God, atheism is the default position.
As soon as we hear about God, or any other fictional story like Santa Claus, is being agnostic the only rational stance that should be taken?
The idea that you cannot prove a negative is not true logic as understood by actual logicians and philosophers. It is folk logic. Here are two links on the subject of proving a negative, one from Psychology Today.
I think it only strengthens the position that agnosticism is untenable.
It's an oversimplification of a question about existential and universal quantifiers. The claim is not that any negative is non-provable, but that negative existential statements are non-provable. However, this is false. The correct statement should be: there are negative existential statements which are unprovable as a practical matter.
The usual example offered of an unprovable negative existential statement is something such as there are no black swans. The idea was that to prove such a statement you would need to examine all swans in existence and such a task would be impractical. However that would depend on how many swans did, in fact, exist, and if there were only 100 and they were all located in Utah, it would be quite possible. (Then the question would become how do you know there are only 100.)
There is nothing intrinsically unprovable about a negative existential statement. To give a mathematical example, the statement, there is no rational number whose square is 2, might seem impossible to prove. Checking each rational number would be an infinite task, and impossible, but of course the proof is by contradiction—if you assume some rational number has square 2, you can draw an easy contradiction.
I can't see how this makes agnosticism untenable since no valid proofs or disproofs of the statement there exists a god seem to be known.
Gould also allowed that science and theology were non-overlapping magesteria, that they covered separate domains of knowledge and that they try to avoid each other's territory. He probably said it so as not to alienate religious individuals since science is funded in large part by money from the religious.
But his claim that science and theology seek to avoid each other's domain is not supported by the facts, as evidenced by such specialties (if one can call it that) as creation science and Intelligent Design science, again science. Religion does, indeed, intrude into science's domain. Dawkins, Stenger, Harris, and Harrison think likewise that if there is a supernatural entity responsible for the creation of the universe, it should be empirically verifiable, no way around it. Science can measure miracles, but apparently there are no miracles to be verified.
I believe it might have been Dawkins or Stenger who has said that it is not impossible for a statue to wave its arm according to the laws of physics, if all the atoms in the arm just randomly began moving in a way to cause the arm to wave. It's not impossible, but highly unlikely. If one saw something like that it's apt to be taken as a miracle, though it is really just a random fluctuation of atoms. Any apparent miracles can be naturally explained or dismissed as hoax or fiction.
Good post btw. I'd have to agree.
By the way, Huxley would have disagreed with Gould and sided with Dawkins, et al. on this point. For example, Huxley thought the question of what Jesus did and said was open to historical analysis, at the very least in principle, no matter how difficult it could be in fact to definitively resolve it.
By that definition, the non-existence of gods is a fact.
It's not hard to imagine that a particular concept of gods could be disconfirmed, but how would the non-existence of a generic god be confirmed? What test would allow you to rule out all possibility of the supernatural, which is what we would like?
Another question. Gould says "…it would be perverse to withhold provisional consent." Why only provisional consent?