Can someone truly be an agnostic/undecided?
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15-04-2011, 07:37 PM (This post was last modified: 15-04-2011 07:45 PM by Buddy Christ.)
Can someone truly be an agnostic/undecided?
Setting aside for the moment that "agnostic" is constantly misused to mean "undecided" or "on the fence" in belief about god(s) when it actually refers to whether or not that knowledge can be attained... is it possible for someone to be a true non-atheist AND non-theist AND non-polytheist AND... alright fine let's just call them agnostics.

The way I see it, you either believe that there is a god (or gods) or you don't believe. People I debate with constantly cop out by saying they're agnostic and think arguing religion is stupid. And when I try to tell them that they are in fact agnostic atheists, they freak out in denial because "atheist" is akin to "satanist" or "communist" in our society.

They say that there isn't enough evidence one way or the other so they are agnostic in that there "might be a god and there might not be." But consider this: someone asks me whether or not I believe that invisible, undetectable alien spirit lifeforms inhabit us and are the cause of all our fears, emotions, and worries (Scientology anyone?)

I respond that there isn't enough evidence supporting or denying that claim and that we will never be able to test for this, so I am suspending my acceptance of such claims until further evidence can be provided, aka I am agnostic towards Scientology.

But look at what I am saying. By suspending acceptance of a positive claim, I am embracing the negative until convinced otherwise. My mental state remains in the Default position, which is the assertion that there is nothing outside of my five senses that make up my reality, until sufficient proof forces me to embrace reality outside my perceptions.

I guess this is all just a convoluted conjecture of the old claim that "we are born atheists and must be taught otherwise."

Thoughts?

"Ain't got no last words to say, yellow streak right up my spine. The gun in my mouth was real and the taste blew my mind."

"We see you cry. We turn your head. Then we slap your face. We see you try. We see you fail. Some things never change."
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15-04-2011, 09:26 PM (This post was last modified: 15-04-2011 09:31 PM by Efrx86.)
RE: Can someone truly be an agnostic/undecided?
I don't think belief in god is such a black-and-white topic. Dawkins proposed a spectrum of a person's opinion on the probability of the existence of god:

http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Spectrum_of...robability

One could say there are different types of agnosticism too. There's the hard-line type that refuses to yield to any reasoning "we as humans will never be able to answer the question of God's existence", and then there are those who simply reserve judgment until they believe there is valid evidence "right now I haven't seen anything so far that proves or disproves God's existence".

I, for example, don't have a stance on contemporary global warming. I'm not sure if it's man-made, if it's a naturally occurring phenomenon of even if it's happening at all. Perhaps it's because I haven't taken much interest in the subject, which may be a little irresponsible from my part especially when taking into account the humongous amount of tax money that many countries spend to fight it. Regardless, if I'm in the middle of a conversation and the topic of global warming pops up, I simply state that I honestly don't have a stance on global warming, because I don't know enough about the subject. Perhaps agnostics are like this, they simply prefer not to talk about the subject or take sides because... they seriously haven't taken a side.

I know that to atheists like you and me belief in god is akin to belief in alien souls inhabiting our bodies or in a flying spaghetti monster, but considering that the god hypothesis is something that gets shoved into most of our throats from an early age as a universal truth, lots of people have no choice but to ponder about it. Therefore I avoid patronizing people who take an agnostic approach to the existence of a higher power. I don't believe there is anything wrong about reserving judgment if there's no hard evidence debunking one side or the other. Personally, I didn't jump into the atheist bandwagon immediately. I was an agnostic for about a year, although not of the hard-line type. I've met people with all types of opinions on god's existence, and when someone is a hard-line agnostic that prefers not to talk about religion, I simply say "that's cool" and we switch topics, like I would with a hard-line theist.

If agnostics were like apatheists, who don't care at all about the existence of a god, then you could say they're technically atheists. But here's the catch: they DO care. They're not nonchalant about it. The unyielding agnostics will either avoid debate altogether or stand by their belief that we don't have an answer for such a complicated question.

But of course, there are those who do lean toward atheism and prefer to keep calling themselves agnostic and defending hard-line agnostic points of view because of the stigma behind the word "atheist". So what? Closet atheists are everywhere. Many of them also claim to fully believe in God, or just pretend leaning toward the existence of one. They will come out whenever, and if ever, they decide to do so. But I don't find that there is no such thing as being truly agnostic. It can happen just as belief in alien souls inhabiting our bodies happens, despite how ridiculous it may seem.

The God excuse: the last refuge of a man with no answers and no argument. "God did it." Anything we can't describe must have come from God. - George Carlin

Whenever I'm asked "What if you're wrong?", I always show the asker this video: http://youtu.be/iClejS8vWjo Screw Pascal's wager.
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15-04-2011, 10:52 PM
RE: Can someone truly be an agnostic/undecided?
I feel like you were switching back and forth between "addressing the original question while defining agnosticism"... and "using the term agnostic as a given, universal term and saying we shouldn't make them label themselves atheists." But then again, I am tired so I may be misreading.

What I was getting at is that atheism is the lack of belief in a god or gods. So a self-proclaimed agnostic is actually an atheist since he currently lacks that belief, regardless of reason (haven't really studied much theology, evidence so far is inconclusive, etc) or level of conviction.

I'm not going to use these conclusions to force those "agnostics" to call themselves atheists or anything, I would just like confirmation of my assertions.

And most people think the categories go Theist - Agnostic - Atheist as far as monotheism goes. But modern philosophers and thinkers have clarified the categories into:

(Gnostic Theist) - (Agnostic Theist) - (Agnostic Atheist) - (Gnostic Atheist)


with Gnostics (people who think that the deity's existence can be known and therefore proven or disproven) being generally described as Hard Theists or Hard Atheists and the agnostics being Soft, since they lack the definite certainty and always maintain a probability of possibility (regardless of how small they consider that possibility).

"Ain't got no last words to say, yellow streak right up my spine. The gun in my mouth was real and the taste blew my mind."

"We see you cry. We turn your head. Then we slap your face. We see you try. We see you fail. Some things never change."
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15-04-2011, 10:53 PM (This post was last modified: 15-04-2011 11:32 PM by daemonowner.)
RE: Can someone truly be an agnostic/undecided?
(15-04-2011 07:37 PM)Buddy Christ Wrote:  Setting aside for the moment that "agnostic" is constantly misused to mean "undecided" or "on the fence" in belief about god(s) when it actually refers to whether or not that knowledge can be attained... is it possible for someone to be a true non-atheist AND non-theist AND non-polytheist AND... alright fine let's just call them agnostics.

I try not to say that other people are misusing the term agnostic, and I am the one using it in the right way, because it's just their definition of agnostic versus ours - I do use it in the way you do, though. The way I define 'atheist' (The dictionary sense that PZ Myers hates!), you either believe or you don't and if you don't believe then you are an atheist - including if you are not sure that a god exists and don't believe. I am not sure there is no god. I don't say I know to any degree of certainty there isn't one, and in that sense I am an agnostic atheist. As I define it, you can't call yourself simply an agnostic, because you aren't adressing the question.

(15-04-2011 07:37 PM)Buddy Christ Wrote:  They say that there isn't enough evidence one way or the other so they are agnostic in that there "might be a god and there might not be." But consider this: someone asks me whether or not I believe that invisible, undetectable alien spirit lifeforms inhabit us and are the cause of all our fears, emotions, and worries (Scientology anyone?)

As I previously said, I don't say I know to any degree of certainty that a god exists, and yet I call myself an atheist. It seems we are drawing lines and arguing amongst ourselves when we actually have, for the most part, the same beliefs but different ways of defining terms. Also, if someone asks you why you don't believe in undetectable entities, then just say they are unfalsifiable and therefore you can't discriminate between them existing and not existing. Unfalsifiable claims should not be believed by default. And of course, we have actual evidence for what causes emotions and feelings and how we evolved them, and the evidence does not point towards undectable aliens.

(15-04-2011 07:37 PM)Buddy Christ Wrote:  I respond that there isn't enough evidence supporting or denying that claim and that we will never be able to test for this, so I am suspending my acceptance of such claims until further evidence can be provided, aka I am agnostic towards Scientology.

If we can never test for it, then it should not be believed, and no evidence will ever be forthcoming if it cannot be tested for. As I define it, you are an agnostic and an 'a-scientologist', in that you don't know whether the claim is true or false, and you don't believe it.

(15-04-2011 07:37 PM)Buddy Christ Wrote:  But look at what I am saying. By suspending acceptance of a positive claim, I am embracing the negative until convinced otherwise. My mental state remains in the Default position, which is the assertion that there is nothing outside of my five senses that make up my reality, until sufficient proof forces me to embrace reality outside my perceptions.

You aren't accepting the negative, you are accepting the default which is 'agnostic atheism' towards the claim. The negative would be that scientology is false, which you don't know (presumably). The default position is not necessarily that reality is only what you can sense, at least I think so... (correct me if I am mistaking what you mean...) I could 'sense' the evidence for scientology, but not have come into contact with it, and therefore as I had not experienced it, I shouldn't believe the claims it makes.

"I do not feel obliged to believe that the same God who has endowed us with sense, reason and intellect has intended us to forego their use." - Galileo

"Every man is guilty of all the good he did not do." - Voltaire
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15-04-2011, 11:01 PM (This post was last modified: 15-04-2011 11:05 PM by Ghost.)
RE: Can someone truly be an agnostic/undecided?
Hey, Buddy.

Good thread.

In the end, this is really a question for neurologists. It’s a question of the capability of the human brain. But neurologists don't know enough about the structures of the brain to really answer whether or not humans have the capacity to be “true” Agnostics. My guess would be that we do, because I seem to be one. But that of course is biased.

For me, the crux of this is the anthropological notions of emic and etic. From Wikipedia:
Quote:-An "emic" account is a description of behavior or a belief in terms meaningful (consciously or unconsciously) to the actor; that is, an emic account comes from a person within the culture. Almost anything from within a culture can provide an emic account.

-An "etic" account is a description of a behavior or belief by an observer, in terms that can be applied to other cultures; that is, an etic account attempts to be 'culturally neutral'....

Some researchers use "etic" to refer to objective or outsider accounts, and "emic" to refer to subjective or insider accounts.

It's always struck me as looking at a culture other than your own in your terms or on their terms.

So looking at the question from your perspective, the answer is no. Because as you see it, it's an either or question. This idea is very heavily reinforced by your personal cultural context (or at least, so goes my assessment of you. Could be wrong).

Then there's the term Atheist. It's commonly viewed amongst Atheists that all it means is not-Theist. The thing is, it's my experience that only self-identifying Atheists seem to think this way. But that observation aside, if the true definition is not-Theist, then again, it's an either or question, which automatically disqualifies a third option. You're either a Theist or an Atheist.

But the man who coined the term Agnostic, Thomas Henry Huxley, distanced himself not only from Theists, but from Atheists as well.

Quote:When I reached intellectual maturity and began to ask myself whether I was an atheist, a theist, or a pantheist; a materialist or an idealist; Christian or a freethinker; I found that the more I learned and reflected, the less ready was the answer; until, at last, I came to the conclusion that I had neither art nor part with any of these denominations, except the last. The one thing in which most of these good people were agreed was the one thing in which I differed from them. They were quite sure they had attained a certain "gnosis,"–had, more or less successfully, solved the problem of existence; while I was quite sure I had not, and had a pretty strong conviction that the problem was insoluble.

So I took thought, and invented what I conceived to be the appropriate title of "agnostic." -SOURCE

Some modern Christian apologists consider Huxley the father of atheistic evangelism, though he himself maintained that he was an agnostic, not an atheist. -SOURCE

Agnosticism is not a creed but a method, the essence of which lies in the vigorous application of a single principle... Positively the principle may be expressed as in matters of intellect, do not pretend conclusions are certain that are not demonstrated or demonstrable. -SOURCE

If the definition of Atheist is not-Theist, then Huxley is an Atheist. End of story.

But I believe that Huxley himself saw himself as something other than Atheist and used the word Agnostic not as a compliment to Theist and Atheist, but to define that difference. I believe the reason he chose the term Agnostic was because he believed that both Theists and Atheists had achieved “gnosis”, that they knew, while he did not.

My interpretation is that the reason he saw himself as something different than an Atheist was because he didn’t believe that Atheism simply meant not-Theist. His position was that Atheists believed that God does not exist and that that was a belief in an indemonstrable idea.

I've also spoken to very intelligent theologists (I know some people here think that's an oxymoron but that is neither my belief nor my experience) who consider the idea of Agnostic/Gnostic as a compliment to, or a prefix for, Atheism and Theism to be utter rubbish. I mention that to demonstrate that the notion that Agnostic and Gnostic are simply prefixes to Theist and Atheist is not in fact a universally accepted idea.

In terms of your idea of embracing the negative, or the default position, I believe that Huxley would argue strongly against that as evidenced by the third quote. What you are doing is pretending, "conclusions are certain that are not demonstrated or demonstrable." I believe that Huxley would argue that you shouldn't embrace anything until proven otherwise.

Now I have very clearly outlined why, as far as I'm concerned, Agnostics are/can be different than Atheists, so for me it's not a question of "can someone be a pure Agnostics" because I AM one. So for me, the only answer is yes.

I also posted some stuff a while ago about how cultural systems are resistant to invasion. So we all look at things outside of our belief system through the lens of our system. We can become locked into a construction. So in that sense, you can't see how it's possible because your belief system won't allow you to. Again, we come back to etic and emic.

I think that the most important thing in all of this is not, is it possible, but rather, do people believe? A person's beliefs are what affect their behaviour. Where that belief comes from is irrelevant.

So if you're after the big T "Truth", you have a complex answer. If you're trying to understand the behaviour of others unlike yourself, or to understand their beliefs, you have a choice. You can see it through their eyes, or through your own.

I personally believe that the notion that Atheism simply means not-Theist and is not a belief, just the lack of one, is a cop out. I think that humans don't work that way. So I do think that Atheism is dogmatic and that it is a system and that that system is just as resistant to invasion as any Theistic system. I think that ‘just not-Theist’ and ‘means you don't believe in God’ are incompatible. I think they contradict one another. I think that Atheists exploit an intellectual loop hole to their great advantage and that the only way they can defend it is by defending definitions rather than substance. I think that the reason Agnosticism and Atheism are incompatible is that Atheism does not mean not-Theist, but that it means an indemonstrable belief that God doesn’t exist. I also think that I not only want to distance myself from the dogma that I see, but that I know that I honestly believe that God both exists and doesn't exist. I view myself as an Agnostic as separate from both Theists and Atheists. So I can accept that I'm an Atheist in the not-Theist sense, I just don't accept that dichotomy. I accept that many Atheists believe in that dichotomy, because not believing that they do doesn’t help me understand or communicate with them.

Then there's the case for Agnostics who just want to say, leave me the fuck out of it. I can understand where they come from. We can just say, you are what we say you are, or we can say, I accept that you aren't involved. That's just a quick thought. I ain't married to it. But I think that when a person is told that they are something that it's reasonable for them to say, "You do not define me. I define me." I think that a system that disallows that is a poor system. I also think that forcing someone to accept the way you see things is unacceptable and dangerous.

I think a fundamental truth for me is that the notion that the truth was just there and we're just finding it is at best simplistic. Aside from my convictions as a subjectivist that if objective truth exists, we can't know it, it is clear to me, beyond the shadow of doubt, that humans have at least in part constructed our truths. So whether the percentage of constructed truths is partial or 100%, it is there. So the notion that it's just this way and that's the end of the debate seems silly to me. We created these categories of Atheist, Theist, Agnostic and all the rest and it's reasonable to believe that they just might not accurately correspond to reality.

So I think it's possible for a person to be a true non-Atheist and non-Theist, but I also think that the very notion of true is imperfect. I also think that in terms of the dichotomy of Theist/Not-Theist, there is no room for a third category. I also think it's possible for a person to think that something simultaneously exists and not exists, or that something may or may not exist. I also think it’s possible to not have an opinion either as a consequence of apathy or of choice. I also think that people have the right to self-define and that if an Agnostic wants to say I am what I say I am, not what you define me as, or a transgender male wants to call herself she, then she has the right. Most importantly, I think that it's complex and that there's no simple answer and that we're better served with trying to understand and reconcile a plurality than we are trying to enforce homogeneity in the face of protest.

Peace and Love and Empathy,

Matt
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15-04-2011, 11:11 PM
RE: Can someone truly be an agnostic/undecided?
(15-04-2011 10:53 PM)daemonowner Wrote:  I could 'sense' the evidence for scientology, but not have come into contact with it, and therefore as I had no experienced it, and so I shouldn't believe the claims it makes.

No no, I was talking specifically about the five senses of the body, not that "Spidey Sense" feeling people get when it comes to discussing spirituality or body energies or karma. "I just FEEL it."

Reality is that what we hear, see, taste, touch, and smell as presented to us in a contextual manner through our brains. You can conjure up something in your brain that you've never experienced through your senses, but to embrace that thought as reality is the definition of insanity.

For instance, a person born blind, deaf, and mute has a completely different reality than you or I since they've never experienced color or sound. (I think I had had a class on this once... something about a girl who was born and raised in a room without the color red and never exposed to red her entire life... who is then taught every thing possible about the color Red; the hue, the luminance, the specific other color combinations that make up red. But does she really KNOW red until she sees it?)

There are countries and planets we've never seen or experienced personally, but other humans have and so we hear the details and read specifics and trust in our own kind enough to accept these things as reality.

Wow. I really don't know where I'm going with this. I've been awake so long I've got tunnel vision. Going to bed before I make a fool of myself. Discuss.

"Ain't got no last words to say, yellow streak right up my spine. The gun in my mouth was real and the taste blew my mind."

"We see you cry. We turn your head. Then we slap your face. We see you try. We see you fail. Some things never change."
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15-04-2011, 11:21 PM
RE: Can someone truly be an agnostic/undecided?
@Ghost You identify as an agnostic, so simply put, how are you defining agnosticism? And what does it mean to be a 'true' agnostic?

"I do not feel obliged to believe that the same God who has endowed us with sense, reason and intellect has intended us to forego their use." - Galileo

"Every man is guilty of all the good he did not do." - Voltaire
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15-04-2011, 11:21 PM
RE: Can someone truly be an agnostic/undecided?
Quote:I feel like you were switching back and forth between "addressing the original question while defining agnosticism"... and "using the term agnostic as a given, universal term and saying we shouldn't make them label themselves atheists." But then again, I am tired so I may be misreading.

Yeah, I was switching back and forth. Sorry if it was confusing, I did intend to address both points.

Quote:What I was getting at is that atheism is the lack of belief in a god or gods. So a self-proclaimed agnostic is actually an atheist since he currently lacks that belief, regardless of reason (haven't really studied much theology, evidence so far is inconclusive, etc) or level of conviction.

To me an agnostic seems more like someone who is unsure whether to believe in a god or gods. Now the question is, has the agnostic in question rejected the belief that there is a god, or is he simply questioning it? If he has rejected such a belief, then yeah, he's pretty much an atheist. If he doubts it, he's just being skeptical, but it doesn't necessarily mean he's embraced the other side.

Though when I think of it, one could also say that hard-line agnostics are atheist towards all gods known to mankind because they don't believe human beings are capable of determining if there's a god or not, thus invalidating all religious claims to any particular god, but they could still believe there's a chance that a higher power exists (like a "first cause"), even if it's not a god as defined by people.

Quote:And most people think the categories go Theist - Agnostic - Atheist as far as monotheism goes. But modern philosophers and thinkers have clarified the categories into:

(Gnostic Theist) - (Agnostic Theist) - (Agnostic Atheist) - (Gnostic Atheist)

with Gnostics (people who think that the deity's existence can be known and therefore proven or disproven) being generally described as Hard Theists or Hard Atheists and the agnostics being Soft, since they lack the definite certainty and always maintain a probability of possibility (regardless of how small they consider that possibility).

I read about it on the freethinker.co.uk website a few months ago, still got the link bookmarked: http://freethinker.co.uk/2009/09/25/8419/
Dunno if that theory originally came from that article but the author doesn't cite sources so it might've.

Personally I prefer Dawkins's spectrum of theistic probability, I find it more reasonable, but that's just me...

The God excuse: the last refuge of a man with no answers and no argument. "God did it." Anything we can't describe must have come from God. - George Carlin

Whenever I'm asked "What if you're wrong?", I always show the asker this video: http://youtu.be/iClejS8vWjo Screw Pascal's wager.
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15-04-2011, 11:37 PM
RE: Can someone truly be an agnostic/undecided?
(15-04-2011 11:11 PM)Buddy Christ Wrote:  No no, I was talking specifically about the five senses of the body, not that "Spidey Sense" feeling people get when it comes to discussing spirituality or body energies or karma. "I just FEEL it."

I know, I was using 'sense' as the 5 senses with which we perceive reality - not a spidey sense. perhaps a better synonym would be 'experience'. I could be able to experience the evidence for scientology - it could exist but I may not have found it - but as I hadn't found it, I shouldn't believe the claims of scientology.

"I do not feel obliged to believe that the same God who has endowed us with sense, reason and intellect has intended us to forego their use." - Galileo

"Every man is guilty of all the good he did not do." - Voltaire
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16-04-2011, 12:56 AM
RE: Can someone truly be an agnostic/undecided?
Hey, Daemonowner.

Well I think Huxley's definition is pretty strong. I self-define as an Agnostic because I see the God question as unanswerable both positively and negatively. For me, a true Agnostic neither believes in God's existence nor in God's non-existence. However that manifests accounts for the variation within Agnosticism, ie, don't care, don't wanna risk it, no thanks I gave at the office, it's illogical to pick, can't know, haven't decided, exists and doesn't exist simultaneously, or I just don't know man, OK, so just stop with all the pressure! Basically, believe in the demonstrable, and make no assumptions one way or the other about the undemonstrated and the indemonstrable.

Peace and Love and Empathy,

Matt
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