Author Topic: Agnosticism - lending validity to religion?  (Read 809 times)

donkeyhoty

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Agnosticism - lending validity to religion?
« on: July 24, 2007, 09:41:22 PM »
Here's an query I'd like to hear some opinions on:  Does agnosticism give weight to the concept of a god(whichever one you prefer)?


Here's my position:  Take any of the imaginary, thought experiment deities, e.g. Invisible Pink Unicorn, Flying Spaghetti Monster, and I'd presume that no one is agnostic in their case.  Is this because you know from the outset that these are imaginary, created deities?  I believe so.  

Now take the Abrahamic God, are agnostics using faulty logic in accepting the position of a lack of proof/knowledge for or against this God?
To explain further, I feel the concept of a god is so culturally omnipresent that agnostics accept the idea of a god based on numbers alone.  In essence, agnostics are making a tacit admission of the possibility of a god because of the number of people that believe in a god, not because the case against a god is lacking.


To agnostics:  Yes, we are without full knowledge of the universe, but the IPU is just as imaginary as the Abrahamic God.  Are you taking the agnostic position for all gods? If not, which ones and why?


To atheists:  Does this all make sense?  Are agnostics tacitly accepting the idea of a god by saying we're without proof/knowledge, when we, as atheists, find all the deities to be imaginary?   And, is it simply because of the omnipresent cultural weight of religious belief that allows for the position of agnosticism?

I'm using agnostic to mean without proof/knowledge for or against god(s), and atheist to mean there are no god(s).  If you'd like to further elucidate either of those, go ahead as long as there's an explanation.
« Last Edit: January 01, 1970, 01:00:00 AM by donkeyhoty »
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MikeyV

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« Reply #1 on: July 24, 2007, 11:15:10 PM »
I believe that these are good points. This point is the one that tipped me off of the agnostic fence.

I felt that I was lending credence to the Abrahamic god. When I looked at that position a little more critically, I found that I'd have to be agnostic to ALL gods that mankind has dreamed up.

Zeus may have fallen out of favor, but no one has proven that he doesn't exist. So the argument that religionists use (You can't prove that YHWH DOESN'T exist!) extends to defunct gods as well. But I don't see them taking an agnostic stance on the existance of non-Abrahamic gods. Quite the contrary, they are hard atheists when it comes to other gods.

Once I saw that, I just extended it to the Abrahamic god as well.

Does agnosticism have to extend to all things supernatural? I don't believe that it does. I don't believe in ghosts, but I have never seen evidence disproving them either. Atheism/skepticism is just a default position for me.

That's just my opinion/observation. Your milage may vary.
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pjkeeley

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« Reply #2 on: July 25, 2007, 12:09:19 PM »
Agreed. Agnostics are often pretty generous when it comes to the Abrahamic God, in comparison to His many rivals. I'd say the majority of self-defined agnostics though are probably like I was, ie. they are agonostic about a sort of generic deist version of God. The rest are probably just undecided about which religion to follow, if at all.
« Last Edit: January 01, 1970, 01:00:00 AM by pjkeeley »

Whitney

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« Reply #3 on: July 26, 2007, 01:37:02 AM »
Most self described agnostics I've talked to are fairly turned off by religion yet still entertain the possibility of a god.
« Last Edit: January 01, 1970, 01:00:00 AM by Whitney »

SteveS

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« Reply #4 on: July 26, 2007, 02:51:11 AM »
Good topic!  A case in point, my brother calls himself agnostic.  However, he doesn't believe in the Abrahamic god one shred, and will positively state that this particular god is not real.  Make the god more generic, though, and he feels content to say he has no knowledge as to whether there are or are not gods (note, however, that by taking this stance he's asserting that all religious "knowledge" is bunk --- it's not really any knowledge at all).

It's a really subtle difference, I think, between a "true" agnostic and any atheist who doesn't profess to be a so-called "strong atheist".

Quote from: "donkeyhoty"
To atheists: Does this all make sense? Are agnostics tacitly accepting the idea of a god by saying we're without proof/knowledge, when we, as atheists, find all the deities to be imaginary?

This seems very, very close to my own personal opinion in the matter.  My assertion that there is no god is primarily motivated by the fact that the god ideas of man seem so completely made up, so completely baseless.

To flesh this thought out, Carl Sagan famously said "Absence of evidence is not evidence of absence", and while this is ultimately correct (and probably speaks to the agnostics), I think you can go further than just stating "there is no evidence".  I think you can legitimately question a proponents reasons for making a claim.  A person can make a claim and have no evidence to back it up, but if you found evidence that they lied or just made up their claim then you'd have a situation that is far worse than simple lack of supporting evidence --- you would have positive evidence that the assertion is without rational grounds and can (therefore) be safely ignored.  Such, I believe, is the case against there being any gods.
« Last Edit: January 01, 1970, 01:00:00 AM by SteveS »

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« Reply #5 on: July 27, 2007, 01:39:34 AM »
SteveS, I sometimes say "absence of evidence may not be evidence of absence but it is a pretty damn good reason not to believe."  Theists like that Sagan quote too...which is why I came up with the above.
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« Reply #6 on: July 27, 2007, 02:59:50 AM »
Does anyone happen to know what work that phrase appears in?  I don't recall running across it but I may just not remember.  I'm just big on context in which quotes are used.
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MikeyV

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« Reply #7 on: July 27, 2007, 06:36:07 AM »
Well, IMDB says it's from Cosmos. There isn't any context on the site...just the quote.

Wiki, in its unsourced section says:

  • Absence of evidence is not evidence of absence.

    • Common scientific aphorism. Out of context. Sagan took just the opposite view of this statement. This phrase was Sagan's summation of the attitude of many who continue to believe something even when they know there's no evidence to support their belief or claims. He was criticizing what is known as "An Appeal to Ignorance". See Sagan's "Baloney Detection Kit". During the Iraq War, Donald Rumsfeld used that very phrase to defend the notion of WMD, not understanding how foolish he looked then, nor that history would demonstrate just what a foolish position it is to take, let alone to literally use the words in an intellectual argument.

I'm not quite sure what this means...did some theist make that up and attribute it to Dr. Sagan? The way he felt about it was the same as his invisible, floating, heat less flame dragon. To him, the absence of evidence and something not existing were functionally the same.

I guess I just muddied the waters :P

By the by, my two favorite Sagan quotes:

"Extraordinary claims require extraordinary evidence." - Cosmos

"Credulity kills." - The Demon-Haunted World
« Last Edit: January 01, 1970, 01:00:00 AM by MikeyV »
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« Reply #8 on: July 27, 2007, 07:20:05 PM »
The reason I wanted to know the context is that so many god-proponents will spout that phrase out and tack Sagan's name to it.  Of all the work of his I've read, of all the documentaries I watched, lectures he's given, and so on.  I cannot see Carl Sagan using that phrase in the way in which they do.

I think the overwhelming need for context in my case comes from dealing with the often used tactic of quote-mining by creationists.
« Last Edit: January 01, 1970, 01:00:00 AM by Squid »

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« Reply #9 on: July 27, 2007, 07:23:17 PM »
Very interesting thread...

Hi gang - sorry I've been absent.  Long story, maybe later.

As an Agnostic Theist, I'd say that Agnosticism is used by both sides to prove the other wrong.

From my perspective, there is no fence.

It's not a matter of god must exist, or must not exist.

It should be perfectly valid to say "I don't know".

As for one god or another, they're all in the same boat for me.
God, Buddha, FSM, IPU, Santa - unknown.
Which is why I don't waste much time thinking about them.

If you want to create a new "unknown deity" right now, that's fine.

Just wake me up when someone finds one...

JoeActor
« Last Edit: January 01, 1970, 01:00:00 AM by joeactor »

SteveS

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« Reply #10 on: July 28, 2007, 04:09:21 AM »
Quote from: "laetusatheos"
I sometimes say "absence of evidence may not be evidence of absence but it is a pretty damn good reason not to believe."
Haha!  Exactly correct, of course!  Seriously, theists trying to hide behind this idea seems absurd to me.  Absence of evidence is pretty bad for an idea.

Which brings me to my next point: Maybe I've become confused over this quote.  Can you guys read this over and help set me straight?  MikeyV's post correctly identified the source as the "Baloney Detection Kit", which is specifically Chapter 12, "The Fine Art of Baloney Detection" in the "The Demon-Haunted World".  The line in question appears on page 213 of my copy which is the Ballantine paperback, and appears in the section that is describing logically fallacies.  The full context is:

Quote from: "Carl Sagan"
appeal to ignorance - the claim that whatever has not been proved false must be true, and vice versa (e.g., There is no compelling evidence that UFOs are not visiting the Earth; therefore UFOs exist - and there is intelligent life elsewhere in the Universe. Or: There may be seventy kazillion other worlds, but not one is known to have the moral advancement of the Earth, so we're still central to the Universe.)  This impatience with ambiguity can be criticized in the phrase: absence of evidence is not evidence of absence.

Okay, so now "impatience with ambiguity" is an excellent description - I get that immediately.  But it's the meaning of the final sentence (which is the quote in question) that I'm after.  Look at his second example of the "appeal to ignorance" fallacy, where the proponent claims that since we're aware of no other world with the "moral advancement of Earth", we must be central to the universe.  Doesn't his quote "absence of evidence is not evidence of absence" apply directly, as stated, to this case?  The absence of evidence regarding another world with the "moral advancement of Earth" does not constitute evidence that such a world is absent.  Am I reading this right?

I think Carl Sagan was just being very "fair", and proposing this idea as justification for investigating claims even though they may seem absurd at first.  Or at least, preventing us from rejecting claims off-hand just because they seem incredible.

Here's a decent wiki paragraph that also references the quote with some explanation:

http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Argument_from_ignorance#Argument_from_ignorance

If I've got all this right, then although I hear Sagan's point, I don't think he would ever have intentioned this to mean we should believe in things that lack evidence.  One thing that seems to come through over and over again in his message is that belief requires evidence.  For example, from the 'Dragon analogy', which is page 171 of my book:

Quote from: "Carl Sagan"
Claims that cannot be tested, assertions immune to disproof are veridically worthless, whatever value they may have in inspiring us or in exciting our sense of wonder.  What I'm asking you to do comes down to believing, in the absence of evidence, on my say-so.
Seems clear that he is very specifically calling out "absence of evidence" as being utterly insufficient grounds for believing a claim.  I think maybe the confusion is that Sagan does not, I think, consider "absence of evidence" sufficient to disprove a claim.

For clarification, here's another quote that I think displays his ideas together.  This one is from "The Varieties of Scientific Experience", published by Penguin (ISBN 1-59420-107-2), page 251 (which is a transcription of some of the Q&A after his lectures - the entire book is a collection of his 1985 Gifford Lectures):

Quote
Questioner: As a scientist, would you deny the possibility of water having been changed into wine in the Bible?

CS: Deny the possibility?  Certainly not.  I would not deny any such possibility.  But I would, of course, not spend a moment on it unless there was some evidence for it.

So, basically, I think everyone's right.  I think the theists would argue (correctly) that Sagan doesn't feel that lack of evidence for god makes god disproved.  However, if they feel this means Sagan is endorsing belief in god on this basis, or even simply excusing it, I think they are sadly mistaken and are guilty of misinterpreting his words.

What say you?
« Last Edit: January 01, 1970, 01:00:00 AM by SteveS »

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« Reply #11 on: July 28, 2007, 06:49:39 AM »
I do personally see it as a cop out with a high cost. Agnostics outweigh atheists by quite a bit, and the fact that they keep up the "I believe in something"  line ringing in everyone's ear, which DOES tend to lend validity to theism....as it IS theism, though. That's the point. An agnostic is still a theist. They aren't misrepresenting atheism (unless you're an idiot, the type that thinks atheists worship satan, and who cares what they think?), they're representing weak theism.

We can't chop them down, though. At least I can't. I commend them for being on the same path a lot of atheists, myself included, once took. I was once an agnostic. It was that philosophical wiggle room that allowed me to develop into what I see as a more reasonable, well rounded human being. I no longer walk around with the Jesus shackles. Agnostic people are at least aware of the shackles.
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« Reply #12 on: July 28, 2007, 04:00:36 PM »
Quote from: "Willravel"
I do personally see it as a cop out with a high cost. Agnostics outweigh atheists by quite a bit, and the fact that they keep up the "I believe in something"  line ringing in everyone's ear, which DOES tend to lend validity to theism....as it IS theism, though. That's the point. An agnostic is still a theist. They aren't misrepresenting atheism (unless you're an idiot, the type that thinks atheists worship satan, and who cares what they think?), they're representing weak theism.
We can't chop them down, though. At least I can't. I commend them for being on the same path a lot of atheists, myself included, once took. I was once an agnostic. It was that philosophical wiggle room that allowed me to develop into what I see as a more reasonable, well rounded human being. I no longer walk around with the Jesus shackles. Agnostic people are at least aware of the shackles.

I'm gonna have to disagree with you on this one.

Agnostic/Gnostic refers to Knowledge.

Atheist/Theist refers to Belief.

And ne'er the twain shall meet.

I'm an Agnostic Theist, and quite comfortable with "Not Knowing" and "Believing", since they are two different realms.

There are also Agnostic Atheists, and plain Agnostics (ie. I don't know, and don't care about belief).

Not to stir up any feathers, but from my thinking Theists and Atheists are in the same "Belief Boat".  Both positions rely on the unprovable.  If Belief were provable, it'd be Knowledge...

There is no spoon,
JoeActor
« Last Edit: January 01, 1970, 01:00:00 AM by joeactor »

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« Reply #13 on: July 28, 2007, 07:08:06 PM »
Quote from: "joeactor"
Quote from: "Willravel"
I do personally see it as a cop out with a high cost. Agnostics outweigh atheists by quite a bit, and the fact that they keep up the "I believe in something"  line ringing in everyone's ear, which DOES tend to lend validity to theism....as it IS theism, though. That's the point. An agnostic is still a theist. They aren't misrepresenting atheism (unless you're an idiot, the type that thinks atheists worship satan, and who cares what they think?), they're representing weak theism.
We can't chop them down, though. At least I can't. I commend them for being on the same path a lot of atheists, myself included, once took. I was once an agnostic. It was that philosophical wiggle room that allowed me to develop into what I see as a more reasonable, well rounded human being. I no longer walk around with the Jesus shackles. Agnostic people are at least aware of the shackles.
I'm gonna have to disagree with you on this one.

Agnostic/Gnostic refers to Knowledge.

Atheist/Theist refers to Belief.

And ne'er the twain shall meet.

I'm an Agnostic Theist, and quite comfortable with "Not Knowing" and "Believing", since they are two different realms.

There are also Agnostic Atheists, and plain Agnostics (ie. I don't know, and don't care about belief).

Not to stir up any feathers, but from my thinking Theists and Atheists are in the same "Belief Boat".  Both positions rely on the unprovable.  If Belief were provable, it'd be Knowledge...

There is no spoon,
JoeActor


Thanks for that, Joe. Good point that I was hoping to see come up. I believe you have said it before, in another area. It's a vital distinction.
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« Reply #14 on: July 29, 2007, 03:41:46 AM »
Joe, I can only agree with you partially in your distinction between knowledge and belief; in particular it appears to me that you are presenting the two as entirely disconnected, which seems wrong to me.  Here's the part in question:

Quote from: "joeactor"
Agnostic/Gnostic refers to Knowledge.

Atheist/Theist refers to Belief.

And ne'er the twain shall meet.

I'm an Agnostic Theist, and quite comfortable with "Not Knowing" and "Believing", since they are two different realms.
Okay - I get that belief is different than knowledge.  I will also agree that belief is really only important where knowledge fails us (If I believe something that I also know, then my belief is entirely superfluous).

But to say "ne'er the twain shall meet", "they are two different realms", is, I think, an oversimplification.  I think the two realms interact, and do so heavily.  In particular, I think that to maintain a rational perspective your beliefs have to be derived from your knowledge.  And that as a result knowledge very significantly influences belief.

For example, what if a belief contradicts knowledge?  Suppose a person claims to be a rational person with a particular belief, and that some new scientific discovery produces knowledge that is contradictory with this person's belief.  He must either abandon his belief, or abandon his claim to rationality.

Likewise, suppose my car keys "go missing".  I might remember that I used them to open the door to my house when I got home yesterday, and that I never subsequently left the house.  So I conclude that my keys are somewhere in my home and that my memory has failed me (as it's done in the past), and I can't remember where I put them.  This is rational and stands to reason.  My belief (I've simply misplaced my keys) is compatible with my knowledge.  But, what if I thought a demon had materialized in my home and used a magical spell to banish my keys to the nether world?  This belief differs significantly from the first type of belief, mainly because it is completely incompatible with our current knowledge of reality, what is possible and what is not possible, what is likely to exist and what is not.  On these grounds I would suggest this second belief is irrational.  It is not supported by any knowledge, where the first belief is.

Please note I can't claim to know what has actually happened to my keys.  Perhaps a thief broke in and stole them.  So, I must admit that I don't know, but I still would not equate these two very different beliefs (misplaced vs. demon), and my reason for distinguishing between them would be knowledge.  It would be my sum total of knowledge, not any claimed knowledge of the event in question.

So, in summary,

Quote from: "joeactor"
Not to stir up any feathers, but from my thinking Theists and Atheists are in the same "Belief Boat". Both positions rely on the unprovable. If Belief were provable, it'd be Knowledge...

Fundamentally I agree with you: both positions rely on the unprovable.  But I don't think that fact means that the two beliefs should necessarily be considered equal.  Knowledge, while incomplete, can guide us (I think) toward one or the other.  I think the fact that both positions are unprovable just means that neither belief can be said to be conclusive - we must admit the possibility of being wrong.

For me personally (and to play off my Carl Sagan stuff above), I will not deny the possibility of a god (because I must admit I may be wrong, my case is not provable), but without any evidence in favor I will not believe in a god.  I would argue that my belief is, therefore, directly related to my knowledge (or lack there of, as in this particular case).
« Last Edit: January 01, 1970, 01:00:00 AM by SteveS »