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Author Topic:   An Exploration Into"Agnosticism"
Straggler
Member (Idle past 196 days)
Posts: 10332
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?


Replies to this message:
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 Message 4 by AZPaul3, posted 04-04-2010 11:21 AM Straggler has replied
 Message 8 by Hyroglyphx, posted 04-05-2010 10:07 AM Straggler has replied
 Message 9 by hooah212002, posted 04-06-2010 3:50 AM Straggler has replied
 Message 10 by Jumped Up Chimpanzee, posted 04-06-2010 6:01 AM Straggler has replied

  
Straggler
Member (Idle past 196 days)
Posts: 10332
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.


This message is a reply to:
 Message 8 by Hyroglyphx, posted 04-05-2010 10:07 AM Hyroglyphx has replied

Replies to this message:
 Message 44 by Hyroglyphx, posted 04-08-2010 4:59 PM Straggler has replied

  
Straggler
Member (Idle past 196 days)
Posts: 10332
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?


This message is a reply to:
 Message 9 by hooah212002, posted 04-06-2010 3:50 AM hooah212002 has replied

Replies to this message:
 Message 21 by hooah212002, posted 04-06-2010 4:20 PM Straggler has replied

  
Straggler
Member (Idle past 196 days)
Posts: 10332
From: London England
Joined: 09-30-2006


(1)
Message 16 of 179 (554113)
04-06-2010 2:15 PM
Reply to: Message 5 by DC85
04-04-2010 12:18 PM


Re: agnostics confuse me to be honest
I was not aware I had to know a god doesn't exist in order to be atheist.

I don't know any atheists that would disagree. The question here is what do those who call themselves agnostics actually mean? Do they just use a different word to mean exactly as you and I do (i.e. that we don't claim to know but don't believe for whatever reason). Or do they mean something else?

That is the question here.


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Straggler
Member (Idle past 196 days)
Posts: 10332
From: London England
Joined: 09-30-2006


(1)
Message 17 of 179 (554116)
04-06-2010 2:28 PM
Reply to: Message 10 by Jumped Up Chimpanzee
04-06-2010 6:01 AM


Unknowables
Would the following people be classified as agnostics?

Yes.

But I am more interested in those who have considered a particular question and actually concluded that they are agnostic on the issue.

There are many questions on which agnosticism is a perfectly legitimate and sensible position. Do you subjectively perceive the colour red as I do? For example. How can I ever know or have subjective insight into the mind of another without my own subjectivity standing in the way?

But - (to move discussion on a bit) I would say that you have to be agnostic about something defined. As we discovered in an earlier discussion the question "Do you believe X exists?" is entirely meaningless unless we know what X is.

Which brings us to the problem with the "unknowable". If we don't know what the concept in question is then how can we be agnostic towards it's existence? If we do know something about this "unknowable" concept then where did this knowledge come from?


This message is a reply to:
 Message 10 by Jumped Up Chimpanzee, posted 04-06-2010 6:01 AM Jumped Up Chimpanzee has replied

Replies to this message:
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Straggler
Member (Idle past 196 days)
Posts: 10332
From: London England
Joined: 09-30-2006


(1)
Message 18 of 179 (554117)
04-06-2010 2:32 PM
Reply to: Message 13 by Jumped Up Chimpanzee
04-06-2010 11:51 AM


Re: What about the Dawkins spectrum?
What do you think of these definitions.

They are a useful starting point for discussions.

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.

Dawkins includes the 7 largely for for completeness regardless of the fact that he does not label himself that or claim to know any one who does.

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!

The question here is what do agnostics base their position on? Aside from the lack of certainty that we all seem to agree upon anyway.


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Straggler
Member (Idle past 196 days)
Posts: 10332
From: London England
Joined: 09-30-2006


(1)
Message 19 of 179 (554120)
04-06-2010 2:44 PM
Reply to: Message 3 by bluegenes
04-04-2010 8:03 AM


PAP and TAP Agnosticism
Stragler writes:

Agnosticism - What is it?

BG writes:

We cannot know.

Hey Bluegenes
I am hoping somebody can explain the PAP and TAP agnosticism to me and you seem like a likely candidate (based on your prior participation in these issues).

TAP (Temporarily Agnostic in Practise): As I understand it questions like the existence of god are, according to Dawkins, TAP because god could in principle reveal himself and answer the question. Thus we can use the Dawkins scale of belief to describe our degree of confidence. Because a conclusion can be made on evidence at least in principle.

PAP (Permanently Agnostic in Principle): Things like whether or not you and I perceive the colour red in the same way are not even answerable in principle. Thus they are PAP and not able to be placed on the scale of belief.

All well and good. But where I don't get it is this - If I claim that an omnipotent IPU created the universe we can all go about happily placing our belief in this claim on the Dawkins scale. However if I say that the IPU in question is not omnipotent and having created the universe can never interract with it or give any clue to his existence whatsoever then we must declare ourselves as PAP.

Is that your understanding of the two terms? Because the difference between an omnipotent IPU that chooses not to reveal itself and a non-omnipotent one that cannot seems a fairly poor and rather convuluted basis on which to make such a distinction.

I can honestly say that I am equally atheistic to either. So is Dawkins distinction silly? Have I got the wrong end of the stick? Or is the distinction wholly legitimate and it is me who cannot see why?

Edited by Straggler, : No reason given.


This message is a reply to:
 Message 3 by bluegenes, posted 04-04-2010 8:03 AM bluegenes has replied

Replies to this message:
 Message 23 by bluegenes, posted 04-06-2010 10:57 PM Straggler has replied

  
Straggler
Member (Idle past 196 days)
Posts: 10332
From: London England
Joined: 09-30-2006


(1)
Message 20 of 179 (554122)
04-06-2010 2:50 PM
Reply to: Message 4 by AZPaul3
04-04-2010 11:21 AM


Re: Onto the Continuum.
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.

Absolutely.

As applied to the supernatural or "unknowable" I would say that the evidence favouring such concepts being the product of the human mind is sufficiently strong to warrant such a conclusion.


This message is a reply to:
 Message 4 by AZPaul3, posted 04-04-2010 11:21 AM AZPaul3 has replied

Replies to this message:
 Message 22 by AZPaul3, posted 04-06-2010 8:41 PM Straggler has replied

  
Straggler
Member (Idle past 196 days)
Posts: 10332
From: London England
Joined: 09-30-2006


(1)
Message 31 of 179 (554328)
04-07-2010 1:23 PM
Reply to: Message 21 by hooah212002
04-06-2010 4:20 PM


Re: Are We All "Agnostics"?
Or do we need some better terminology here to define the position you are taking?

Yes. We can call it rational.

What is rational? Saying we don't know for certain but that this doesn't stop us being rationally very skeptical. Or something else?

When you say you are "agnostic" what exactly do you mean? Is it different from what I mean when I (and others) say I am an atheist who lacks certainty?


This message is a reply to:
 Message 21 by hooah212002, posted 04-06-2010 4:20 PM hooah212002 has replied

Replies to this message:
 Message 35 by hooah212002, posted 04-07-2010 3:23 PM Straggler has replied

  
Straggler
Member (Idle past 196 days)
Posts: 10332
From: London England
Joined: 09-30-2006


(1)
Message 32 of 179 (554329)
04-07-2010 1:30 PM
Reply to: Message 23 by bluegenes
04-06-2010 10:57 PM


Re: PAP and TAP Agnosticism
I think that Dawkins is probably a "TAP" agnostic because he is considering the theoretical possibility that the complete nature of the universe could be explained by science in the future, and that the explanation would answer the creator god question. If the universe is demonstrated to be something that does not have a beginning as we understand it, or is self-creating, then all IPUs go out the window, including your suggestion.

I am inclined to agree.

It would seem to me that agnosticism would really be "TAP" by its nature, and I think that the self-described agnostics here might agree. Are they going to claim knowledge of permanent unknowability?

Indeed. That would be contradictory.

BTW, my first post on the thread was just a not very good joke due to slight inebriation.

Well I am glad that I am not alone in doing that.

An example of being agnostic about strong agnosticism is my point that we cannot actually claim to know that others cannot know that there's a god.

Hmmm. Now that is enough to make ones head spin. Which means I will probably attempt a fuller reply when I am next inebriated and on line.

I think it was Oni who said he quite liked the idea that despite some of the pseudo-intellectual postering that goes on here we are at root mostly just a bunch of drunks with laptops. Something like that anyway.


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Straggler
Member (Idle past 196 days)
Posts: 10332
From: London England
Joined: 09-30-2006


(1)
Message 33 of 179 (554330)
04-07-2010 1:39 PM
Reply to: Message 22 by AZPaul3
04-06-2010 8:41 PM


Re: Onto the Continuum.
If the Invisible Pink Unicorn has the option to reveal her sacred pinkness but has not chosen to do so then this is TAP solely on the outside possibility that she may at some time somewhere change her mind. There is still the vanishingly slim possibility that some kind of evidence can be had at anytime in the future. Thus the scale of belief (from 2 to 6 anyway) can be useful.

Well that is how I originally read it too. But are we really any less atheistic towards an IPU that chooses not to reveal itself than we are to an IPU that cannot? And yet this would seem to suggest that Dawkins thinks that it is OK to place oneself as a 6 on his scale with regard to the first but invalid to demonstrate our skepticism by doing exactly the same in placing ourselves on the scale with regard to the second.

This distinction in this context seems silly and I am inclined to agree with Bluegenes answer above.

If the poor dear is unable to reveal herself then this is PAP. No chance, none, nada, totally impossible that there will ever be any evidence, any conclusion is impossible to achieve and a scale of belief is meaningless.

Remember that what Richard was doing was justifying placing the concept of the Abrahamic god, indeed all gods, in the TAP category thus subject to scientific evidence of the type in your quote above.

But are we really any less atheistic towards an IPU that is unable to reveal itself than we are to one that suposedly chooses not to? Why is that 6 on scale skepticism rational regarding one but not the other?

If the concept of gods were PAP (which they are under a different definition of the word pap, but I stray) then no level of inquiry, even theological, is possible.

Which seems to be a sort of deistic "gods are unknowable" approach.

Edited by Straggler, : No reason given.


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Straggler
Member (Idle past 196 days)
Posts: 10332
From: London England
Joined: 09-30-2006


(1)
Message 34 of 179 (554332)
04-07-2010 1:50 PM
Reply to: Message 26 by Jumped Up Chimpanzee
04-07-2010 4:42 AM


Re: Unknowables
I think this discussion highlights the absurdity of "god". But I think it is precisely because god is undefined and unknowable that is why it is so successful. You cannot disprove something that is undefined. It is unbeatable in that sense.

Aha - Ignosticism!! A very valid position indeed if the concept of "god" in question remains utterly undefined.

ignostic (plural ignostics)

1. one who holds to ignosticism.
2. one who requires a definition of the term God or Gods as without sensible definition they find theism incoherent and thus non-cognitive.

http://en.wiktionary.org/wiki/ignostic

From Message 453

You cannot disprove something that is undefined. It is unbeatable in that sense.

Indeed. And immunising oneself from being demonstrably wrong seems to be a rather innate human desire when it comes to protecting ones deeply held beliefs. Hence the gradual retreat of "god" into the ever more irrefutable and vague as knowledge progresses.


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Straggler
Member (Idle past 196 days)
Posts: 10332
From: London England
Joined: 09-30-2006


(1)
Message 45 of 179 (554513)
04-08-2010 5:34 PM
Reply to: Message 35 by hooah212002
04-07-2010 3:23 PM


Re: Are We All "Agnostics"?
When you say you are "agnostic" what exactly do you mean?

I mean I can't be certain one way or the other.

OK. But we all agree that certainty is rationally impossible anyway. So that point is all but irrelevant to this discussion.

However, there are areas/things that happen, that cannot yet be explained naturally, lending credence to the possibility of divine intervention.

OK. So then the obvious question is what do you mean by "divine intervention"? Are you agnostic towards Christ as the son of God and as your saviour on Earth? Are you agnostic towards the Hindu god Vishnu? Are you agnostic towards an Immaterial Pink Unicorn that created the universe and which provides the morla framework for intelligent beings but which plays no other role in the universe? Are you agnostic towards a "god" (whatver you mean by that) who created the universe but who is now "off doing other things" Aas RAZD once phrased it)?

What are you agnostic towards? All unknowable irrefutable concepts? Just some? Which ones and on what basis?

Is it different from what I mean when I (and others) say I am an atheist who lacks certainty?

Almost definitely yes. I have no problem being labeled as an atheist.

If you basically do not believe but at the same time do not claim certainty then you are very much as much an atheist as all those here who call themselves such. Including myself.

But that is the point of this thread - What do those who call themselves "agnostics" really mean beyond simply citing the same uncertainty that we all rationally accept anyway.


This message is a reply to:
 Message 35 by hooah212002, posted 04-07-2010 3:23 PM hooah212002 has replied

Replies to this message:
 Message 46 by hooah212002, posted 04-08-2010 5:43 PM Straggler has replied

  
Straggler
Member (Idle past 196 days)
Posts: 10332
From: London England
Joined: 09-30-2006


(1)
Message 47 of 179 (554519)
04-08-2010 5:50 PM
Reply to: Message 44 by Hyroglyphx
04-08-2010 4:59 PM


Re: We Are All "Agnostics" But Some re More Agnostic Than Others
Straggler writes:

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.

Science, by definition, deals with all aspects of nature.

OK. So? What exactly are you saying? That the supernatural might exist? Nobody disputes that. I simply suggest that the evidence suggests that such notions are more likely the product of human invention. On what basis might we conclude that they are anything else?

It is not equipped to deal with the supernatural, if there is such a thing.

Well it might explain why such a thing as the concept of the supernatural even arises. Which is something that I have never heard a theist (or even an agnostic) give a credible explanation for. "Subjective experiences" are most commonly cited in this context and these fall foul to all the problems of Immaterial "Evidence"

When somebody says, "but then the FSM falls in to this category, so why aren't you agnostic about that?" My answer is one in the same. I can't disprove the existence or non-existence of the FSM either. And to be perfectly honest, I could care less about that, especially since it's an reductio ad ridiculum argument.

The point of the FSM, IPU and other such "absurd" entities is to demonstrate that the the argument that "you cannot refute god" is logically irrelevant. There are an infinite multitude of irrefutable entities. Yet nearly all are considered absurd. So irrefutability alone is not a criteria upon which rational agnosticism can be justified.

If you elevate some irrefutable entities over others on the basis of genuine belief you are doing nothing other than citing belief as evidence upon which to justify belief. And that is a circular argument.

So with regard to your stated agnosticism. What exactly do you mean? - Are you agnostic towards Christ as the son of God and as your saviour on Earth? Are you agnostic towards the Hindu god Vishnu? Are you agnostic towards an Immaterial Pink Unicorn that created the universe and which provides the moral framework for intelligent beings but which plays no other role in the universe? Are you agnostic towards a "god" (whatever you mean by that) who created the universe but who is now "off doing other things" As RAZD once phrased it)?

When you say you are "agnostic" what do you mean exactly? What are you agnostic towards exactly?

That is the question here.

Edited by Straggler, : No reason given.


This message is a reply to:
 Message 44 by Hyroglyphx, posted 04-08-2010 4:59 PM Hyroglyphx has replied

Replies to this message:
 Message 57 by New Cat's Eye, posted 04-08-2010 7:32 PM Straggler has replied
 Message 63 by Hyroglyphx, posted 04-09-2010 9:06 AM Straggler has replied

  
Straggler
Member (Idle past 196 days)
Posts: 10332
From: London England
Joined: 09-30-2006


(1)
Message 48 of 179 (554523)
04-08-2010 6:06 PM
Reply to: Message 46 by hooah212002
04-08-2010 5:43 PM


Re: Are We All "Agnostics"?
I'm agnostic towards anything supernatural. If it can't be verified emperically, I take no particular stand on it. I don't hold any one god above any other. the FSM, IPU, Jesus, YHWH, etc., are all equally fairy-tales to me.

Well describing the aforementioned as "fairytales" suggests something beyond taking "no particular stand on it". It suggests a degree of atheistic disbelief.

For comparison let me make the following statement on which you can pass your agnostic/atheistic judgement - Your subjective perception of red is the same as mine. Now is that a "fairytale"? Or is it perfectly possible but entirely unknowable? Do you see the difference here?

What else is there? I mean, there are atheists who themselves are certain..........

So it keeps being claimed by those who it suits to claim such a position of their opponents. But who are these atheists and where do they hang out? Because I have yet to see an EvC member who describes themselves as an atheist who is not an agnostic by your definition.

As an agnostic, I take no stance either direction.

Except to describe gods as "fairytales".

I'll bow out now because I really don't know what the hell you are looking for as a response.

But you are exactly who this thread is aimed at. Because you seem no more or no less atheistic towards any concept of god that I have ever heard of than I do and yet you describe yourself as an "agnostic" because you lack the exact same certainty that I advocate as rationally necessary.

So I am an atheist and you are an agnostic but we seem equally skeptical towards all conceivable gods. Tell me where I am wrong here?

Edited by Straggler, : No reason given.


This message is a reply to:
 Message 46 by hooah212002, posted 04-08-2010 5:43 PM hooah212002 has replied

Replies to this message:
 Message 50 by hooah212002, posted 04-08-2010 6:33 PM Straggler has replied
 Message 52 by New Cat's Eye, posted 04-08-2010 6:47 PM Straggler has replied

  
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