Atheism vs Agnosticism

Discussion in 'Religion Archives' started by rodereve, Jan 22, 2013.

  1. gmilam Valued Senior Member

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    And an atheist is one who does not believe. I would think that if you don't know, odds are you don't believe. There may be a few oddballs who acknowledge they don't "know" but believe anyway.
     
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  3. spidergoat Valued Senior Member

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    I don't know with absolute certainty, since a God could keep themselves hidden. But I don't believe because of many reasons, mostly having to do with evidence.
     
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  5. Balerion Banned Banned

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    Who needs absolute certainty? Why is that a requirement?
     
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  7. James R Just this guy, you know? Staff Member

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  8. Pithikos Registered Member

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  9. James R Just this guy, you know? Staff Member

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    Yes. It's just a source of information.
     
  10. spidergoat Valued Senior Member

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    It's only required to remove the agnostic label, and substitute gnostic.
     
  11. Nature-Guy Registered Member

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    Perhaps it's helpful to make a distinction between what we might call "soft agnostics" and "hard agnostics"?

    The soft agnostic might be defined as someone within the theism/atheism system, who isn't sure yet where they belong within that system. The soft agnostic might sometimes be fairly labeled a fence sitter.

    The hard agnostic applies the same test to both theism and atheism, feels that both points of view fail the test, and is thus outside of the theism/atheism system. They aren't fence sitters, because they reject the theist/atheist system that created the fence.

    Some hard agnostics will conclude that nobody knows, and from that conclusion decide to drop what they now perceive to be a pointless discussion. This type of hard agnostic accepts the theist/atheist assumption that the creation of a "knowing" is the point of the inquiry. If no "knowing" is possible, this hard agnostic packs up their gear and goes home.

    Other hard agnostics will conclude that nobody knows, accept what they see as a real world fact, and continue the inquiry based upon this information.
     
  12. Yazata Valued Senior Member

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    I'm an agnostic. The reason why I gravitate towards that position is because I don't know how human beings can acquire knowledge of what are supposed to be transcendental matters. I don't know how I can learn anything about hypothetical beings that not only are said to exist outside the space-time-matter universe, but are also sometimes said to be infinite, omniscient, omnipotent, and so on. (How can any finite experience justify my saying it's an experience of an infinite object?)

    Yes, definitely. I'm an agnostic atheist, at least when it comes to what appear to me to be mythical deities like Yahweh, Allah and Vishnu. I'm reasonably certain that none of these supposedly divine persons exists in actuality. But I take a more non-committal view when it comes to functions attributed to the 'god of the philosophers' -- first cause, ultimate ground of being and so on. I basically don't have a clue what, if anything, performs those functions.

    And yes, agnostic theists are probably more common than most people think. One often encounters them among religious mystics. These people are confident that God exists and the mystic may indeed believe that he or she has enjoyed some kind of religious experience of this God, but they also believe that the experience completely overflows and exceeds human words and concepts. So it isn't really a matter of knowledge at all, certainly not knowledge of the propositional sort that can be spoken of or recorded in a book.
     
  13. Yazata Valued Senior Member

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    Hi Nature Guy, welcome to the board.

    I'm inclined to call that person a theist or an atheist, whose faith and/or certainty is weak or wavering. The only way I can see for somebody to drop out of the theism/atheism system entirely is for them to simply say 'I have no opinion about the existence of God'. That seems to me to be pretty unusual. It might work in an abstract sense when it comes to our statements about religious belief, but it's harder for me to imagine how somebody would behave in accordance with it. (If somebody ignores the God-issue, then wouldn't he or she be behaving as if God doesn't exist?)

    Some atheists and some theists (sometimes atheists and theists can be very similar to one another) will denounce agnostics as 'fence-sitters' and 'wishy-washy', because the agnostics question the sort of knowledge that (supposedly) justifies the theist's and the atheist's dogmatic certainty. In other words, it's often the gnostic 'true-believer' sort of theists and atheists that don't think very highly of agnostics. But yeah, the more epistemologically modest kind of theists and atheists may indeed see a little agnostic in themselves.

    I think that what puts a person inside the theism/atheism system is having a view on whether 'God' (however that word is being used, which often isn't clear) most likely exists or doesn't exist. In other words, theism/atheism is an ontological issue, about the existence or non-existence of something. Gnosticism/agnosticism is is an epistemological issue about knowledge, about whether we possess knowledge of God and about whether God is the sort of thing that's knowable. The thing is, the existence-question and the knowledge-question seem to pretty much be independent variables. So we get (at least) four basic permutations:

    It's possible to believe that God exists and that humans have at least some knowledge of God - gnostic theist. Traditional religious believers who accept divine revelation seem to belong here.

    It's possible to believe that God exists, but that God isn't the sort of thing that's knowable by humans (at least in the same conceptual way that we know earthly things, because of God's supposed holiness and transcendence) - agnostic theist. This one shows up in the traditions of apophatic or 'negative' theology.

    It's also possible to believe that God doesn't exist and that humans can have knowledge of God's non-existence - gnostic atheist. Many of the more dogmatic atheists seem to belong here.

    And it's possible to believe that religion's familiar depictions of God most likely don't have any existing referrant, but that more broadly speaking, humans can never really know about the existence or non-existence of supposedly transcendental things - agnostic atheist. (I'd include myself in this category.)

    I make a distinction between what I call 'strong' and 'weak' agnosticism.

    A weak agnostic thinks that while he or she personally lacks knowledge, it's possible that somebody else does possess it. Or more broadly, even if nobody currently possesses the knowledge, it's possible that somebody might acquire it in the future, if the proper inquiries are undertaken. Regarding religious knowledge, weak agnosticism would seem to characterize the religious seeker.

    Strong agnostics believe that not only do they personally lack knowledge, they think that the kind of knowledge in question is probably impossible for human beings to ever possess. I tend to lean towards strong agnosticism, though maybe there's still a little something of the religious seeker in me too.
     
    Last edited: Feb 22, 2013
  14. Nature-Guy Registered Member

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    Thanks Yazata!

    From the perspective of a strong agnostic, what would be the point of having an opinion about the existence of God? What's the point in having an opinion about an unanswerable question?

    The other way to drop out is to just not care or think about the subject at all. Such a person doesn't get to the point of saying they have no opinion, because they don't think about it long enough to even make that statement. Perhaps we should call this person an Apathetic.

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    Ah, good question. I see two types of strong agnostics.

    1) One type of strong agnostic accepts the idea shared by both theists and atheists that the point of the inquiry is to come to an answer. If an answer appears impossible, this strong agnostic loses interest in the inquiry, drops the subject, and moves on to something else.

    2) Another type of strong agnostic is willing to follow the trail where ever it leads. Seeing that neither theism or atheism can come to a credible answer, despite centuries of effort by some of the best minds on Earth, this agnostic looks for some flaw common to both approaches. Seeing that both theism and atheism share the goal of seeking a "knowing", this fundamental premise may become suspect. If seeking a knowing is the wrong way to approach this subject, then the faster theists and atheists peddle their bicycles, the behinder they will get.

    Indeed. I propose that this is because theism and atheism are fundamentally the same thing, the pursuit of fantasy knowings via the use of unproven authorities. In either case, what often happens is that a self flattering personal identity is created out of the fantasy knowings, and then the inquiry is basically over, because the appealing personal identity becomes an addiction which has to be defended.

    Yes, that sounds good.

    Excellent! I look forward to many fine conversations with you. I might be a Fundamentalist Agnostic myself. I'm absolutely certain there is no certainty!!

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