« Outstapundit | Main | El Gran Clasico »

April 03, 2004

Comments

Abiola Lapite

Maybe I'm just slandering agnostics here, but theirs strikes me as a way of having one's cake and eating it too: they can dispense with the "God" stuff without exposing themselves to the venom that declared atheists are routinely exposed to.

If one truly believes that there is a chance a God of the sort in the Bible exists, it would make a great deal of sense to abide by the reasoning set out in Pascal's wager; the expected payoff of worshipping this being would far outweigh any inconvenience one would have to put up with in this life. That most agnostics (and a lot of self-avowed "Christians", while we're at it) don't go to the trouble of faithfully adhering to the prescriptions of the Bible tells me that they don't really take the possibility of God's existence at all seriously, whatever they may say about their "open-mindedness" on the issue.

razib

abiola, if you haven't seen it, i suggest the atheism web's comment on problems with the wager. in michael martin's atheism: a philosophical justification, he presents a cost vs. benefit matrix which shows how being an atheist is the most optimal position....

razib

also, if you look at the dictionary.com definition of agnostic you'll see that the first is:

One who believes that it is impossible to know whether there is a God.

thomas huxley was the modern day coiner of the timer, and his intention was less the colloquial meaning (one who doubts) than an epistemological-god is by definition simply beyond empirical refutation, so one can never know god through the methods of science or scholarship. this more precise definition means that one can be an agnostic and a theist, a fideistic theist like soren kierkegaard, who asserts that god-belief is not amenable to rational or empirical verification or support, but by faith alone.

another point to consider is that if you consider theism = A and atheism !A, you can bedeviled by the fact that "A" is actually multiple sets that do not perfectly over-lap, and as "!A" is contingent upon it, atheism is always moving in response to the definition of religion.

let me be more specific: on the point on whether sai babba is a god, i would say no, i think to my satisfaction i have refuted that question. i believe sai babba is not a god, i am a positive atheist in reference to sai babbaism.

on the other hand, when it comes the god-of-the-gaps, rationally i am a negative atheist, i lack belief in this god, but i don't have a specific logical or (lesser extent) empirical objection. to its logical extreme, these vague, amorphous beings are open to the tag of agnosticism, because their very definition renders them beyond examination.

operationally, i tell people i'm an atheist, as i am a positive or negative atheist on >80% of god(s) espoused by the public, though i suppose i am an agnostic when the concept of god gets so vague i barely know what someone is talking about.

when someone makes god identity with something i believe in, well, it becomes meaningless. if a hindu tells me i am god, well, i exist, so god exists? this is ridiculous.

in the end of course, god or !god is often emotional for most people, so these are irrelevant, but, if one attacks you with the tools of rationality, it behoves one to turn them and eviscerate those who would attemp to hoist their black flag over reason's white castle....

Jason Malloy

Michael Martin's book had a big impact on me, esp. the simultaneous deductive and inductive positions that 'god' is factually meaningless and doesn't exist, that I repeat in the thread. Makes sense to me.

Abiola Lapite

An implicit assumption I made when putting forward Pascal's wager as a reasonable choice was that there were only two options available - the God of the Bible or no God at all. I'm well aware that once one begins to consider the infinitude of logical alternatives the wager no longer works out, but most people don't think that far. How else can one explain the implicit acceptance by most people of creationists' arguments that theirs is the sole alternative to teaching evolution?

Frank McGahon

Abiola:

I agree that "agnostics" want to have their cake and eat it but this isn't only because they wish to deflect the opprobrium directed at atheists, it is also because they haven't quite filled that "god shaped" hole and hanker after some sort of supernaturalism. You can see this trend in the growth of all sorts of superstitious cults and quackery. This, I submit, makes them more superstitious than "ordinary" theists who have simply accepted the dogma in which they were instructed.

You are quite right that Pascal's wager exposes the true depth of agnostics' "open-minded-ness" on this issue but that is a key characteristic of agnosticism - on this issue at least, they crave "muddle".

Razib:

I think you have also fallen into the trap when you write:

to its logical extreme, these vague, amorphous beings are open to the tag of agnosticism, because their very definition renders them beyond examination

..which could be said of anything unprovable, such as "quantum fairies" for example. It is incumbent on the agnostic to demonstrate why we must "doubt" any perfectly reasonable proposition in favour of an unprovable hypothesis, and not the other way around. My point here, alongside attacking agnosticism as a superstitious cop-out is to also refute the notion that agnosticism represents the side of reason and scepticism.

Jason:

Thanks for the link to the Michael Martin* book.

*unfortunately a namesake of one of Ireland's most bossy technocrats - "genius" behind the workplace smoking ban

razib

How else can one explain the implicit acceptance by most people of creationists' arguments that theirs is the sole alternative to teaching evolution?

well, here you have the binary typological fallacy. reminds me of ibn warraq (the muslim apostate) being told by a devout muslim friend of his about how good why i am not a christian was a great book. the man could not conceive that the arguments used by russell map well to refuting islam, or, more properly, islam & christianity were just a subset of more general beliefs.

additionally, pascal did not obviously want his "wager" to be used in the naive manner that people use it today.

My point here, alongside attacking agnosticism as a superstitious cop-out is to also refute the notion that agnosticism represents the side of reason and scepticism.

someone has been reading George H. Smith's Atheism: the case against God? i recommend Kai Nielsen's work if you haven't run into it....

Frank McGahon

Razib:

That Pascal's "wager" proves more useful to ends other than those he envisaged is neither here nor there. It is hardly naive to hold that its logic compels self-declared agnostics towards religious observance.

I haven't read (or heard of) either Smith or Nielsen, Agnosticism has annoyed me for quite a while. I posted a bit on this before following on from a Colby Cosh piece.

razib

smith was an acolyte of ayn rand (and had the inevitable falling out). he makes a strong case that "skepticism" is the first step toward theism. nielsen is a bit more digestable to michael martin (kind of reminds me of antony flew & "the pressumption of atheism").

The comments to this entry are closed.

March 2008

Sun Mon Tue Wed Thu Fri Sat
            1
2 3 4 5 6 7 8
9 10 11 12 13 14 15
16 17 18 19 20 21 22
23 24 25 26 27 28 29
30 31          
Blog powered by Typepad