Agnosticism - a valid standpoint?
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14-04-2015, 02:00 PM (This post was last modified: 14-04-2015 02:20 PM by rezider.)
RE: Agnosticism - a valid standpoint?
I found a nice little brake down with the guy using a definition of atheism as a positive claim: (here is the link)
'We could define the four possible options as follows:

Gnostic Theist: Believes that there is at least one god and that it is possible to know this.
Gnostic Atheist: Believes that there are no gods and that it is possible to know this.
Agnostic Theist: Believes that there is at least one god and that it is impossible to know this.
Agnostic Atheist: Believes that there are no gods and that it is impossible to know this.
The idea behind dividing the positions like this is to allow for differences in opinions as to whether divine entities exist, but also differences in opinions as to whether or not it is possible to know whether divine entities exist.

The main problem with this typology is that it contains a contradiction, a tautology, and a false premise. The contradiction is to assert a belief while simultaneously asserting that there is no reason to accept this belief as true. I should clarify that this is more of a pragmatic contradiction, in that while it may be formally possible to assert ‘I believe that P’ while also asserting ‘I believe there there is no reason to believe that P’, almost nobody would do this. Rather, the vast majority of people are likely to claim that they have a justification for every belief — that there is a reason to think that their beliefs are true.

Thus 1 and 2 are trivial, while 3 and 4 are contradictions, because basically everyone who makes a claim about the world believes that this claim can be justified and if someone didn’t, they’d appear pretty irrational.

Of course, the reason why this typology looks so broken because a core premise itself is false.

The false premise is that ‘(a)gnosticism’, as the possibility of knowing/not-knowing, can condition atheism in the way outlined above. Rather, let us for a moment instead say that (a)gnosticism refers to the degree of certainty that one has in their belief. Almost everyone is capable of meta-cognition, of looking at some belief P and coming up with an answer to the question, ‘how confident am I that P is true?’ This necessarily admits that it is possible for P to be true, but also that there are conditions, more or less likely, under which P would also be false.

This gives us a different range of possibilities:

Gnostic Theist: Believes that there is at least one god, with high confidence.
Gnostic Atheist: Believes that there are no gods, with high confidence.
Agnostic Theist: Believes that there is at least one god, with low confidence.
Agnostic Atheist: Believes that there are no gods, with low confidence.
However, this excludes one important position: the position that no justification exists for any belief about the divine. Hence:

Theism (T): (it is warranted to claim that) at least one god exists
Atheism (A): (it is warranted to claim that) no god exists
Agnosticism (X): (it is warranted to claim that) no belief about the existence of gods can be justified*
As we can see, 3 is not simply a matter of knowing or not knowing that T/A, but is a substantively different proposition. One in which we can have more or less confidence. That is, we could believe that ‘agnosticism is true’ but with low confidence. So if we’re going to propose a typology, I propose this one:

Theist, high confidence (by definition, ‘gnostic’ aka not-agnostic)
Atheist, high confidence (by definition, ‘gnostic’ aka not agnostic)
Theist, low confidence
tends towards agnosticism
tends towards atheism
Atheist, low confidence
tends towards agnosticism
tends towards theism
Agnostic, high confidence
Agnostic, low confidence
tends towards theism
tends towards atheism
Besides all of this, though, there is another method. One that is a bit less complicated. That is, while I have just outlined what I think is the most logical way to break down the question, this is not necessarily a description of what actually is the case. Thus I advance two empirical hypotheses:

H1: There is often a significant practical difference between how people who would identify as theists or as atheists live their life, in terms of regular attendance at a place of worship, rituals such as prayer, or justifying fatalism or lack thereof in terms of God’s will.

H2: There is often very little practical difference between how people who would identify as agnostics or as atheists live their life, in that both will not attend places of worship, church, not engage in prayer, or refer to divine will in any way.

I believe these hypotheses are largely true, and I believe, therefore, that the main difference between atheists and agnostics is, practically, how much they care about beliefs about the divine and whether or not they, within the context of their community, really want to be associated with other people who call themselves atheists – something seems to matter a lot, actually, in places where declaring oneself to be an atheist can lead to marginalisation or punishment.'


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And yet again we get to that fragile point where people define words differently - in this case, the word that's being defined by us is 'agnosticism'. And the discussion lead to its application to 'atheism'; is there any point in using it with atheism. (Same thing with the definition of 'atheism' as a belief that no gods exist, like the guy I quoted is stating. All we are doing is defining and redefining words. Again and again.)

I could be wrong for stating that the two terms are oxymorons, but nevertheless, if I hold a position that 'agnosticism' means 'One who is skeptical about the existence of God but does not profess true atheism.' (the dictionary), it looks like 'agnostic atheist' is similar to 'agnostic'.

And I will say again: why put another word infront of 'atheist'? Fear that it might be strawmanned against you? The same way 'agnosticism' is claimed to be atheism? Atheism stands on its own - a lack of belief in god, nothing more, nothing less. Adding 'agnostic' infront of it for a 'more accurate description' is unneeded. You can simply use 'atheism' as it is and if someone tries to strawman, just explain to him (we all know where that is going to lead with theists but still).

In the end, we are all choosing for ourselves.

Quote:
Quote:rezider Wrote:
Using this logic (that they can be looked at 100% seperately) I can say, 'I know that I am wrong, but I believe that I am right.' There is nothing wrong with the sentence, it is not even contradicting itself. But in reality there is something awfully disturbing in it as a whole.

This is a strawman as well. An agnostic atheist doesn't know that he's wrong in his atheism, but clings to it anyway; he holds his atheism while admitting that he might be wrong about it.

It is very misleading. Apologies!

Quote:
Quote:rezider Wrote:
But if you wish to claim that there is no god with certainty, then you can add something like strong, positive, hard or say anti-theist etc.

Why is that permissible, yet adding "agnostic" isn't?

Because deriving from what I've said 'atheism' is simply the lack of belief and does not require anything to accompany it, while saying 'strong atheism' means that one is making a positive assertion.

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14-04-2015, 02:17 PM
RE: Agnosticism - a valid standpoint?
i believe the validity of the label "agnostic" depends on the user's definition of "knowledge" and it also depends on the god in question. i am ultimately agnostic when it comes to god in general, but in terms of the version of god i grew up believing, i am a gnostic atheist.
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14-04-2015, 02:28 PM
RE: Agnosticism - a valid standpoint?
The word you're having trouble with is not agnosticism, it is atheism.

Quote:The main problem with this typology is that it contains a contradiction, a tautology, and a false premise. The contradiction is to assert a belief while simultaneously asserting that there is no reason to accept this belief as true. I should clarify that this is more of a pragmatic contradiction, in that while it may be formally possible to assert ‘I believe that P’ while also asserting ‘I believe there there is no reason to believe that P’, almost nobody would do this. Rather, the vast majority of people are likely to claim that they have a justification for every belief — that there is a reason to think that their beliefs are true.

The premise of the quoted paragraph is untrue. "The contradiction is to assert a belief while simultaneously asserting there is no reason to accept this belief as true."

That is not a contradiction. That is a flawed argument. A belief is an expression of your confidence level in whatever it is you're asserting. It is NOT "certainty," and you CAN believe things you're not 100 percent certain of. I believe my team will perform well this season. I'm not certain. I can assert my belief that my team will perform well while simultaneously asserting the possibility that I am wrong.

It is also false to the point of lying for that person to use a term like "there is no reason" to accept the belief as true. There's PLENTY of reason to accept the belief "there is no God" as true. There is simply no rock-solid, 100 percent CERTAINTY about it.

Why is this so difficult? An atheist does not believe in any God. It is assertion of belief, not knowledge. No matter how many times you re-articulate this to make atheism a knowledge claim, it is not a knowledge claim. Until you abandon that identification, this argument will continue. When a person says he is an atheist, he is not making a knowledge claim. It is not a knowledge claim. Saying, yeah but it's a knowledge claim" doesn't suddenly make it one. Repeating it in the next post in different words doesn't make it a knowledge claim.

The term "agnostic atheist" is needed TO STOP YOU FROM REPEATING THE INCORRECT ASSERTION THAT IT IS A KNOWLEDGE CLAIM. If you stopped treating "atheist" as a knowledge claim, it would be less necessary to stick a modifier in front of "atheist," because you would get it. Get it?

A "high confidence" atheist can still be agnostic. Confidence and knowledge are not the same thing. I am a high confidence atheist. VERY high confidence. But I don't claim to know with 100 percent certainty that every conceivable god doesn't exist. I am still open to evidence. But I'm an atheist. "High confidence" does NOT equal "gnostic." It actually refutes "gnostic."

I don't have a high confidence that George Washington existed. I know it. I don't have a high confidence that he was the first president of the United States. I know it. That is a knowledge claim.

Why is this hard?

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14-04-2015, 02:45 PM
RE: Agnosticism - a valid standpoint?
(14-04-2015 02:00 PM)rezider Wrote:  The contradiction is to assert a belief while simultaneously asserting that there is no reason to accept this belief as true. I should clarify that this is more of a pragmatic contradiction, in that while it may be formally possible to assert ‘I believe that P’ while also asserting ‘I believe there there is no reason to believe that P’, almost nobody would do this. Rather, the vast majority of people are likely to claim that they have a justification for every belief — that there is a reason to think that their beliefs are true.

As I've already pointed out, this misrepresents what it is to be agnostic. Agnostics don't assert "no good reason to believe", they assert "I don't know". Some atheists assert "there is no god", while others assert "there is no good reason to believe in god".

You're restating your point without addressing criticism of it, already given.

(14-04-2015 02:00 PM)rezider Wrote:  Thus 1 and 2 are trivial, while 3 and 4 are contradictions, because basically everyone who makes a claim about the world believes that this claim can be justified and if someone didn’t, they’d appear pretty irrational.

Again, you're restating your point without addressing criticism of it. Please answer the pints laid to you.

(14-04-2015 02:00 PM)rezider Wrote:  So if we’re going to propose a typology, I propose this one:

Theist, high confidence (by definition, ‘gnostic’ aka not-agnostic)
Atheist, high confidence (by definition, ‘gnostic’ aka not agnostic)
Theist, low confidence
tends towards agnosticism
tends towards atheism
Atheist, low confidence
tends towards agnosticism
tends towards theism
Agnostic, high confidence
Agnostic, low confidence
tends towards theism
tends towards atheism

Or better yet, just listen to people as they tell what their views are on the matter, rather than trying to shoehorn them into your approved categories.

(14-04-2015 02:00 PM)rezider Wrote:  I believe these hypotheses are largely true, and I believe, therefore, that the main difference between atheists and agnostics is, practically, how much they care about beliefs about the divine and whether or not they, within the context of their community, really want to be associated with other people who call themselves atheists – something seems to matter a lot, actually, in places where declaring oneself to be an atheist can lead to marginalisation or punishment.'[/i]

Fair enough.

(14-04-2015 02:00 PM)rezider Wrote:  I could be wrong for stating that the two terms are oxymorons, but nevertheless, if I hold a position that 'agnosticism' means 'One who is skeptical about the existence of God but does not profess true atheism.' (the dictionary), it looks like 'agnostic atheist' is similar to 'agnostic'.

You still haven't defined "true atheism". If you mean "the lack of belief in god(s)", then agnostics can be atheists, and thus agnostic atheist is a sensible term, for reasons given above.

(14-04-2015 02:00 PM)rezider Wrote:  And I will say again: why put another word infront of 'atheist'? Fear that it might be strawmanned against you?

In online discussions, it happens often enough that the term is useful. "Fear" is an inapt descriptor of the intent, though.

(14-04-2015 02:00 PM)rezider Wrote:  Adding 'agnostic' infront of it for a 'more accurate description' is unneeded. You can simply use 'atheism' as it is and if someone tries to strawman, just explain to him (we all know where that is going to lead with theists but still).

I prefer the more efficient use of two words together, as opposed to going through an argument about what are and aren't my views because I omitted the use of one modifier.
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14-04-2015, 03:31 PM
RE: Agnosticism - a valid standpoint?
(14-04-2015 02:00 PM)rezider Wrote:  Because deriving from what I've said 'atheism' is simply the lack of belief and does not require anything to accompany it, while saying 'strong atheism' means that one is making a positive assertion.

Nobody is saying there is any REQUIREMENT... it's simply a better way to define a an actual position. Single word uses aren't made for every single possible belief spot you could use.

Like a person who said they are a Video Game Collector. You could though draw many ideas of that thinking they collect many types; they may only collect a subset so they could instead say, I'm an Atari Video Game Collector or an NES Video Game Collector which is using an additional label to further define their position more accurately. That's the reason it has value to be used. Defining yourself best upfront is the easiest way to more topics forward. Why would you NOT want to use terms to best label you the most accurately way if you're trying to explain it outwardly with any term?

I still don't get an actual reasoning if you think it so, that strong atheist is fine while the same position which Gnostic Atheism would be some unsettling paired term.

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14-04-2015, 04:18 PM
RE: Agnosticism - a valid standpoint?
(14-04-2015 02:00 PM)rezider Wrote:  And I will say again: why put another word in front of 'atheist'? Fear that it might be strawmanned against you? The same way 'agnosticism' is claimed to be atheism? Atheism stands on its own - a lack of belief in god, nothing more, nothing less. Adding 'agnostic' in front of it for a 'more accurate description' is unneeded.

Adding agnostic helps in two situations:
when talking to another atheist it lets them know where I stand pretty quickly and relatively accurately. We can quibble over the details but he knows immediately that I don't believe but don't claim knowledge.

when talking to a theist it usually stops them in their tracks because they think the words are mutually exclusive. That opens the opportunity to explain things and that's valuable.

You are correct, atheist by itself means lack of belief but that doesn't tell you if the person holds a strong "no gods exist" stance or not. Agnostic atheist is more precise. If the discussion topic is restricted to beliefs only and knowledge is not on the table then atheist is sufficient but that's not a conversation I've run into often.

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14-04-2015, 04:46 PM
RE: Agnosticism - a valid standpoint?
After thoroughly reading everyone's replies I humbly withdraw from my position. If I say so myself, it was helpful. Thank you for clearing things out and I hope I haven't been a complete pain in the ass! I was just extremely curious to see as many arguments against the position as possible. It was never my intention to be so percistently ignorat towards the opposite claim - it was, as I said, curiosity that drove me.

And once again, I apologise for the strawmans! I didn't percieve them as such at the time.

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14-04-2015, 04:58 PM
RE: Agnosticism - a valid standpoint?
(14-04-2015 05:08 AM)Robvalue Wrote:  I agree, you don't have to add anything to atheism. If it came up in conversation, I'd just say I'm an atheist, I wouldn't say agnostic atheist. I mean, being an atheist is a pre-emptive stance against unknown claims anyhow. I don't know what definition of "god" the next person is going to put to me. They may say, "My wife is god. There she is." And I can say, "OK, I believe in your god." So my atheism kind of relies on the fact that most god definitions are going to be supernatural in nature. Otherwise, we're just talking about randomly calling other stuff god, which isn't much of a discussion.

And depending on the claim, if they pressed me for details, I can tell them more. If they say ,"Oh he created the universe blah blah..." I'd say I can't know anything about such a being or whether that happened. I'm agnostic, if you like. If they say "He's omnipotent, omniscient, omnibenevolent..." I can say no, that's actually impossible because it contradicts reality and logic. So I will gnostic that up, thank you very much.

In terms of our secular knowledge and observation it certainly appears that 'omnipotent, omniscient, omnibenevolent' combined, cannot be sustained.
If however (and I am not making this claim) we were part of some higher process of evolution (say evolution of mind) our logic may not apply to system(s) utilizing higher logic(s). This may sound pretty way out but it is alleged (sorry lost the source) that the renowned logician W.V.O. Quine once claimed, that in some instances 1+1 might not equal 2.
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14-04-2015, 05:16 PM
RE: Agnosticism - a valid standpoint?
(14-04-2015 02:00 PM)rezider Wrote:  Gnostic Theist: Believes that there is at least one god, with high confidence.
Gnostic Atheist: Believes that there are no gods, with high confidence.
Agnostic Theist: Believes that there is at least one god, with low confidence.
Agnostic Atheist: Believes that there are no gods, with low confidence.
The second two definitions would be greatly improved by replacing "with low confidence" with something like "without high confidence" because confidence is a whole continuum and you're leaving out the middle. I believe I am a good and decent person, but acknowledge that I am biased and that "good" and "decent" are subjective judgment calls, so my belief is not buttressed by 100% certitude; nevertheless I wouldn't say I have "low confidence" in my belief. I just have what is known as "epistemological humility". No one will accuse me of arrogance if I state my exact height based on measurements; they will (rightly) accuse me of arrogance if I claim personal goodness without defining it and producing evidence thereof, including the testimony of others.

"Hard" theism or atheism is a claim of absolute certitude. Technically anything less than 100% confidence is not absolute and leaves at least theoretical room for uncertainty. "Hard" or "gnostic" positions are rare. I believe they are even rare on the theist side, fundamentalism notwithstanding. Fundamentalists have a stake in pretending to be 100% certain but their fragility in the face of reason suggests to me that it is but a show. "Methinks the lady doth protest too much." In their heart of hearts (which they are not and cannot be in very good touch with) they aren't 100% sure, but they believe the fiction that their compatriots are, so they should be, too.

It might be said that it takes 100% certainty to make a "hard" knowledge claim but probably somewhere around 75 to 80% certainty is sufficient to make one believe that knowledge represents reality and to behave accordingly.

Where knowledge is lacking one simply withholds belief as a matter of course. Where evidence is inconclusive one hedges one's bets where possible.

Because we tend to keep collecting / considering evidence until we reach a tipping point of belief or unbelief, thus relieving the inherent tension of indecision, people don't hold to many positions "with low confidence" for any length of time.

The problem of course is that in our quest to relieve the tension of uncertainty we tend to use confirmation bias, agency inference, emotional attachments and other such things as a lens to (mis)interpret evidence in favor of our preferences or to ignore evidence or invent it out of whole cloth.

I tend to have more confidence in my atheism than I ever did in my theism precisely because it is contrary to my natural human tendency to choose beliefs which flatter me with delusions of importance, support my immortality projects, and avoid hard choices and tradeoffs in favor of comforting lies.
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14-04-2015, 05:34 PM
RE: Agnosticism - a valid standpoint?
RE the validity of "agnosticism"

Formal logic deals with the truth or validity of premises and claims linked in different ways to form arguments. If the 1st premise:- say Socrates was a man is true, and we argue , all men are mortal/ therefore Socrates must have died, the argument ,via the sentential structure which is valid. As the premises are true, the argument is also true.
Of course things can get very complicated in long obscure statements and arguments,
Logicians utilize 'truth tables' and a system known as 'trees' to unravel such.

As agnosticism, as a general concept is about doubt, logic is relevant: as for metaphysical meanderings the benefits are accordingly limited.
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