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Author Topic:   An Exploration Into"Agnosticism"
Straggler
Member (Idle past 16 days)
Posts: 10285
From: London England
Joined: 09-30-2006


(1)
Message 1 of 179 (553543)
04-03-2010 8:33 PM


Agnosticism - What is it? What do people mean when they say they are "agnostic"? Does simply lacking absolute certainty constitute agnosticism? If this is the case then are we not all pretty much agnostic towards pretty much everything? Up to (and possibly including) our own existence? My favourite Bertrand Russel quote:

Bertrand Russel writes:

"To my mind the essential thing is that one should base one's arguments upon the kind of grounds that are accepted in science, and one should not regard anything that one accepts as quite certain, but only as probable in a greater or a less degree. Not to be absolutely certain is, I think, one of the essential things in rationality".

If we accept a degree of uncertainty as rationally implicit in any conclusion then I guess we are all technically "agnostic" (possibly excluding those who claim to KNOW on the basis of irrational faith).

But when someone actually says that they are an "agnostic" what do they mean? What do they mean beyond the lack of absolute certainty that atheists and even many theists would be happy to accept?

Do they mean that the question towards which they are agnostic (e.g. but not exclusively the existence of god) is 50-50 either way? Do they mean that the thing in question is so unknowable as to make any probability estimate impossible? If so how do they know that this unknowable entity is unknowable in this way? That seems contradictory - No?

What constitutes "agnosticism" in the sense of actually claiming to be "agnostic" (as opposed to simply lacking absolute certainty) towards a particular question?

Also - Are there different types of agnosticism? PAP (permanently agnostic in principle) and TAP (temporarily agnostic in practise) as defined by Dawkins are the obvious examples. What is meant by each and are the distinctions valid?


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Message 2 of 179 (553601)
04-04-2010 5:12 AM


Thread Copied from Proposed New Topics Forum
Thread copied here from the An Exploration Into"Agnosticism" thread in the Proposed New Topics forum.

  
bluegenes
Member (Idle past 863 days)
Posts: 3119
From: U.K.
Joined: 01-24-2007


Message 3 of 179 (553616)
04-04-2010 8:03 AM
Reply to: Message 1 by Straggler
04-03-2010 8:33 PM


Agnosticism - What is it?

We cannot know.


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Replies to this message:
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AZPaul3
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Posts: 4805
From: Phoenix
Joined: 11-06-2006
Member Rating: 5.7


Message 4 of 179 (553628)
04-04-2010 11:21 AM
Reply to: Message 1 by Straggler
04-03-2010 8:33 PM


Onto the Continuum.
Agnosticism, to me, is the inability to know if there is a correct answer, not out of ignorance (unaware of existing evidence), but out of a lack of sufficient evidence to have confidence in any answer.

We know in science that all conclusions are tentative pending additional evidence. This, falsely imo, leads some to posit that the only position proper for science is agnosticism. Many then exacerbate the error by extending this to mean the only proper position in philosophy is to be agnostic in all things whether the subject be gods, unicorns or aliens.

The error being committed here is to not account for the strength of evidence that is available and thus in the confidence level of the conclusion.

The Germ Theory of Disease has an extensive body of evidence supporting its conclusions. This evidence is so strong the confidence level in the theory's conclusions are taken as a reality of our world. No one on this planet except the ignorant and the religious demon-possession dillusionists deny the efficacy of this theory.

Some argue that the Germ Theory must be subject to an agnostic view. Within a straight-jacket definition of agnosticism and the philosophy of science this may be true. But on the continuum of the confidence scale there is a point, subjective to a degree and different to each subject being considered, where the evidence becomes so strong that reasonable people, unfettered by superstition and obstinacy, can no longer deny the reality of the conclusions. At this point agnosticism, imo, whithers away. It is not replaced by faith in the subject or conclusion but by the acknowledgment of the reality we have seen.

Edited by AZPaul3, : clarity

Edited by AZPaul3, : spelin


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DC85
Member (Idle past 150 days)
Posts: 876
From: Richmond, Virginia USA
Joined: 05-06-2003


Message 5 of 179 (553636)
04-04-2010 12:18 PM


agnostics confuse me to be honest
Sometimes I think agnostics claim to be agnostic based on a false or skewed definition of atheist.

As an atheist I view the concept of a god as illogical I also see that I cannot know a god doesn't exist. I never claimed to know god doesn't exist I simply do not have belief one does.

atheist : one who lacks belief in a deity

I was not aware I had to know a god doesn't exist in order to be atheist.

Edited by DC85, : No reason given.

Edited by DC85, : No reason given.


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RAZD
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Posts: 20480
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Message 6 of 179 (553643)
04-04-2010 1:03 PM
Reply to: Message 4 by AZPaul3
04-04-2010 11:21 AM


Onto the Continuum of Relative Tentativity
Hi AZPaul3,

Agnosticism, to me, is the inability to know if there is a correct answer, not out of ignorance (unaware of existing evidence), but out of a lack of sufficient evidence to have confidence in any answer.

We know in science that all conclusions are tentative pending additional evidence. This, falsely imo, leads some to posit that the only position proper for science is agnosticism. Many then exacerbate the error by extending this to mean the only proper position in philosophy is to be agnostic in all things whether the subject be gods, unicorns or aliens.

Or out of a lack of ability to obtain the evidence necessary. Thus one needs to wait to make a rational decision based on evidence.

I would also add that agnosticism would embody skepticism of both sides of the answers and an open mind to consider either possibilities.

And where we get into a spectrum of the ability to have confidence in any answer is the degree to which the existing evidence represents a measurable portion of the possibilities. Where the proportion is small, then confidence is small, and where the proportion is large the confidence is large.

Some argue that the Germ Theory must be subject to an agnostic view. Within a straight-jacket definition of agnosticism and the philosophy of science this may be true. But on the continuum of the confidence scale there is a point, subjective to a degree and different to each subject being considered, where the evidence becomes so strong that reasonable people, unfettered by superstition and obstinacy, can no longer deny the reality of the conclusions. At this point agnosticism, imo, whithers away. It is not replaced by faith in the subject or conclusion but by the acknowledgment of the reality we have seen.

Agnosticism fades with knowledge based on sufficient evidence to reduce tentativity to a minimum.

Enjoy.


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by our ability to understand
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AZPaul3
Member
Posts: 4805
From: Phoenix
Joined: 11-06-2006
Member Rating: 5.7


Message 7 of 179 (553647)
04-04-2010 1:43 PM
Reply to: Message 6 by RAZD
04-04-2010 1:03 PM


Re: Onto the Continuum of Relative Tentativity
Maybe this will be seen as a symatical quibble. If so, please feel free to slap me around.

And where we get into a spectrum of the ability to have confidence in any answer is the degree to which the existing evidence represents a measurable portion of the possibilities.

(bold mine)

I would prefer

“ … to which the existing evidence negates a measurable portion of the possibilities.”

The more the evidence negates other possibilities the more confident we would be in the efficacy of the conclusion.

But I agree with your overall treatment.


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Hyroglyphx
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Posts: 5892
From: Austin, TX
Joined: 05-03-2006
Member Rating: 3.0


(1)
Message 8 of 179 (553827)
04-05-2010 10:07 AM
Reply to: Message 1 by Straggler
04-03-2010 8:33 PM


What constitutes "agnosticism" in the sense of actually claiming to be "agnostic" (as opposed to simply lacking absolute certainty) towards a particular question?

Agnosticism means many things to different people. Agnostics in general feel that proving or disproving is God is an impossible endeavor by the nature of it. For me it is about being an open-minded skeptic, of which I am.


"Political correctness is tyranny with manners." -- Charlton Heston

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hooah212002
Member
Posts: 3183
Joined: 08-12-2009


Message 9 of 179 (554036)
04-06-2010 3:50 AM
Reply to: Message 1 by Straggler
04-03-2010 8:33 PM


I consider myself an agnostic. To me, it means that I cannot rule out the possibility of a supreme being/master of the universe (not He-Man), but all the ones proposed as of yet i see as mere myths used to explain the wonderful natural world around us. I don't feel comfortable saying there IS a god type thing, but I also feel uncomfortable saying there is NOT a god type thing.


"Some people think God is an outsized, light-skinned male with a long white beard, sitting on a throne somewhere up there in the sky, busily tallying the fall of every sparrow. Others—for example Baruch Spinoza and Albert Einstein—considered God to be essentially the sum total of the physical laws which describe the universe. I do not know of any compelling evidence for anthropomorphic patriarchs controlling human destiny from some hidden celestial vantage point, but it would be madness to deny the existence of physical laws."-Carl Sagan

"Show me where Christ said "Love thy fellow man, except for the gay ones." Gay people, too, are made in my God's image. I would never worship a homophobic God." -Desmond Tutu


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Jumped Up Chimpanzee
Member (Idle past 3328 days)
Posts: 572
From: UK
Joined: 10-22-2009


Message 10 of 179 (554040)
04-06-2010 6:01 AM
Reply to: Message 1 by Straggler
04-03-2010 8:33 PM


Would the following people be classified as agnostics?

Someone who has no knowledge or awareness of the proposed entity/hypothesis (so has not yet had the opportunity to form any opinion).

Someone who is at least vaguely aware of the proposed entity/hypothesis, but is completely disinterested and has given no thought whatsoever to whether or not it is true.

Someone who is aware of the proposed entity/hypothesis, and has given some thought to it, but doesn't have either the mental ability or resources to form their own opinion.


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bluegenes
Member (Idle past 863 days)
Posts: 3119
From: U.K.
Joined: 01-24-2007


Message 11 of 179 (554082)
04-06-2010 11:22 AM
Reply to: Message 10 by Jumped Up Chimpanzee
04-06-2010 6:01 AM


JUChimpanzee writes:

Would the following people be classified as agnostics?

Someone who has no knowledge or awareness of the proposed entity/hypothesis (so has not yet had the opportunity to form any opinion).

Someone who is at least vaguely aware of the proposed entity/hypothesis, but is completely disinterested and has given no thought whatsoever to whether or not it is true.

Someone who is aware of the proposed entity/hypothesis, and has given some thought to it, but doesn't have either the mental ability or resources to form their own opinion.

Yes, all three. None of them claim to know the existential status of the entity, or the truth status of the hypothesis.

In relation to a god or a goddit hypothesis, they could also all fit the definition of atheists, as well (and the first one is automatically an implicit atheist). They do not know whether there are gods or not (agnostic), and they do not believe in any (atheistic).

The way in which the term agnostic relates to knowledge, and the terms theist and atheist relate to belief, often causes confusion. Many explicit atheists and theists will agree with the strong agnostic view that we cannot, at least at present, know whether or not there are gods (and therefore automatically with the weak agnostic position that they themselves do not know).

To further complicate matters, the strong agnostic position is actually a belief that cannot be conclusively proved, because we must surely be agnostic on the hypothesis that, for example, there is some old sage in China who knows the secrets of the universe. Attempting to be rigorously agnostic on everything can easily end up in "reality is an illusion" territory, as Straggler hints in the O.P.

If we want a strict definition of who can be described as agnostic in relation to the existence of gods, it's probably "all those who do not claim to know the answer."

However, the word is often used casually to mean "completely uncommitted" or "neutral" on a question. Because it's used that way, it's a valid usage, but a different one. This is where atheists start to amuse themselves by asking the self-described "neutral" agnostic his or her opinion on a wide variety of ridiculous sounding "god" propositions, and great fun is had by all as the completely uncommitted agnostic declares him/herself completely neutral on the proposition that the universe was created accidentally by 147 goddesses when they were trying to bake a five dimensional cake, etc.

So, the word agnostic, both as adjective and noun, has more than one meaning, like so many words.


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nwr
Member
Posts: 5590
From: Geneva, Illinois
Joined: 08-08-2005


(2)
Message 12 of 179 (554084)
04-06-2010 11:50 AM


Is that a fact?
We get our meanings for words based on the way that he hear or see others using those words. The word "agnosticism" is not in common use in ordinary discussions, so we don't actually have a good way of determining a meaning. We mostly see the term in philosophical discussions, though not necessarily by professional philosophers. Even in philosophical discussions, people are all over the map on how they use the word.

For that matter, as I browse through this thread, I see that people are all over the map here.

I'll add that I don't really know what "agnosticism" means, partly for the reasons just given above. I also don't use it much, as I generally prefer to keep my own religious views private, so not part of any public dialogue. But I won't let that prevent me from exploring the question.

Consider the following hypothetical conversation:

Is it raining right now?

I don't know, and I don't care.

This actually sounds rather ordinary. People do talk that way.

How about:

Is it raining right now?

I'm agnostic about that.


To me, that seems rather odd, even bizarre. People do not talk that way.

I am inclined to think that we do not use "agnostic" with respect to what we ordinarily think of as factual questions.

Now try this one:

Is there a god?

I don't know, and I don't care.


I am inclined to consider that respondent to be an atheist, not an agnostic.

Or try this one:

Is there a god?

Although that poses as a question of fact, it is not actually such a question at all.
I will not respond "I don't know and I don't care" because that gives credence to the mistaken idea that the question is a factual one.
The question is really a proxy for the social-cultural question "Are you a member, or will you become a member of the club that is characterized by its members ritualistically chanting 'I believe in God.'" I choose not to join any of the theist clubs, nor to join any of the atheist clubs.


It seems to me that the last respondent is somebody who could properly be described as agnostic.

  
Jumped Up Chimpanzee
Member (Idle past 3328 days)
Posts: 572
From: UK
Joined: 10-22-2009


Message 13 of 179 (554085)
04-06-2010 11:51 AM
Reply to: Message 11 by bluegenes
04-06-2010 11:22 AM


What about the Dawkins spectrum?
I guess you've probably seen or heard of the Dawkins spectrum on this subject, as follows (copied from Wikipedia):

1. Strong theist. 100 per cent probability of God. In the words of C.G. Jung, 'I do not believe, I know.'
2. Very high probability but short of 100 per cent. De facto theist. 'I cannot know for certain, but I strongly believe in God and live my life on the assumption that he is there.'
3. Higher than 50 per cent but not very high. Technically agnostic but leaning towards theism. 'I am very uncertain, but I am inclined to believe in God.'
4. Exactly 50 per cent. Completely impartial agnostic. 'God's existence and non-existence are exactly equiprobable.'
5. Lower than 50 per cent but not very low. Technically agnostic but leaning towards atheism. 'I do not know whether God exists but I'm inclined to be sceptical.'
6. Very low probability, but short of zero. De facto atheist. 'I cannot know for certain but I think God is very improbable, and I live my life on the assumption that he is not there.'
7. Strong atheist. 'I know there is no God, with the same conviction as Jung "knows" there is one.'

What do you think of these definitions.

Personally, I find this spectrum unsatisfactory for 2 reasons.

Firstly, the fact that "strong theist" is rated at "1" and "strong atheist" is listed at "7" seems to imply that you have to work from being a strong theist towards being a strong atheist. I don't agree with that and I'm sure Dawkins wouldn't have intended that! I don't know if everyone sees it that way around.

Secondly, I don't think you can have a gradual scale from atheist, to agnostic, to theist. Those positions simply do not share the same spectrum. For one thing, as I mentioned before, there will be some people who have no knowledge or interest in the particular entity in question. Where do they fit on the scale? And I think it is fair to say that atheists reach their conclusion via a different mechanism to theists. Atheists base their position on empirical evidence and logic; theists base their position on something else...it's not really for me to say what!


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Straggler
Member (Idle past 16 days)
Posts: 10285
From: London England
Joined: 09-30-2006


(1)
Message 14 of 179 (554111)
04-06-2010 2:10 PM
Reply to: Message 8 by Hyroglyphx
04-05-2010 10:07 AM


We Are All "Agnostics" But Some re More Agnostic Than Others
Agnostics in general feel that proving or disproving is God is an impossible endeavor by the nature of it.

In this sense I suspect all here (bar a few of unwavering faith in their religion) are "agnostics". But I don't think this accurately describes what is actually believed. I have never seen even the most evangelical or resolute atheist claim that they can disprove the existence of God (or any other such entity). But are they really "agnostic"? The term becomes meaningless if it applies to pretty much everyones belief about pretty much everything.

Does the unknowable exist? Or is there more evidence in favour of another explanation as to why humans so readily invoke the unknowable? If something cannot be empirically experienced then how can expereince of such, and resulting belief, be anything but the result of the internal workings of the human mind? How can widespread belief in such things not tell us more about the commonality of human psychology than it does the actual existence of the "unknowable"?

For me it is about being an open-minded skeptic, of which I am.

No doubt we all think we are. But those who claim to be agnostic on this basis seem to have an inconsistent obsession with disproving or refuting some things but not others.

Edited by Straggler, : No reason given.


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Straggler
Member (Idle past 16 days)
Posts: 10285
From: London England
Joined: 09-30-2006


(1)
Message 15 of 179 (554112)
04-06-2010 2:12 PM
Reply to: Message 9 by hooah212002
04-06-2010 3:50 AM


Are We All "Agnostics"?
I consider myself an agnostic. To me, it means that I cannot rule out the possibility of a supreme being/master of the universe (not He-Man), but all the ones proposed as of yet i see as mere myths used to explain the wonderful natural world around us. I don't feel comfortable saying there IS a god type thing, but I also feel uncomfortable saying there is NOT a god type thing.

And if you remove proclamations of certainty which nobody (No - Not even them likes of Dawkins and other such "militant" atheists) are making.........?

Then where does that leave us? Are we all agnostics? Or do we need some better terminology here to define the position you are taking?


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