Friday, February 18, 2011

Agnosticism revisited (blog response)

Why Agnosticism Is Not An Option In Our Time | Indian Atheists

My response to the above blog entry:

You seem to be only arguing against some weakly, non-intellectual usage of the term agnosticism which has been misappropriated. So you aren't arguing against Agnosticism (the noun) but being agnostic (the poorly conceived, more modern adjective).

As Michael Martin writes in "Atheism: A Philosophical Justification":

Putting aside the current popular sense of the term, "Agnosticism" was coined by T. H. Huxley in 1869. According to Huxley, "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, follow your reason as far as it can carry you without other considerations. And negatively, in matters of the intellect, do not pretend conclusions are certain that are not demonstrated or demonstrable. It is wrong for a man to say he is certain of the objective truth of a proposition unless he can produce evidence which logically justifies that certainty."
[see also my blog: ]

Do you have a problem with valuing reason?

Do you have a problem with demanding evidence in support of a proposition?

Those are the two foundational, POSITIVE beliefs that make up Agnosticism. ANY other claims made by an Agnostic should flow from those two positions.

On the other hand, Positive Atheism asserts that there ARE NO gods, period. Which is a position that Agnostics would reject because #1 we don't have a valid definition for "gods" we can agree on and #2 we do not have evidence that there are NONE of those things. Assuming 'god' is, at a minimum something that existed prior to our universe and was, in some fashion, responsible for the creation of it we can't really know what that means. And if someone tries to assert AGENCY as a property of that thing then I would smack them down because they have no reason or evidence to claim such a thing (so-called cosmological arguments (including Kalam) are a complete mental masturbation that neither prove nor demonstrates anything about the actual universe).

But most Atheists these days only claim, that they don't believe in a god and a few more strongly assert that it seems unlikely gods actually exist at all. Those are fine positions to hold, the second one isn't demonstrated but is not an unreasonable working assumption (as you argue in your paper). But, that's new atheism -- Agnosticism was founded during a time when Atheists asserted that they essentially knew for a fact there were no gods and Huxley felt that our ability to know things is fairly sketchy epistemologically speaking.

As an Agnostic I am PERFECTLY willing to say that the Christian religion is BULLSHIT, it is a fraud and a sham. There is EVIDENCE to support this and absolutely NO evidence to support their claims. I see no evidence Islam is any better off although I admit that I have not studied it nearly as in depth but to the point that it draws from Judaism and Christianity before it it is equally a fraud.

But the question of how the universe came into existence is unknown by either science or any human. It IS a reasonable working assumption that this is a subject we can investigate and come to understand but it's also possible that this is a truly unknowable question because there are hints that it lies across physical boundaries that sufficient information cannot cross for us to make informed decisions.

That doesn't mean that I accept anyones claims about a specific god that they claim to magically know the mind of. It doesn't mean that I accept all claims as True by default (exactly the opposite).

So I would like to know exactly who's version of 'Agnosticism' you are arguing against because your point seems to be a bit of a strawman.

Your subject is "Why Agnosticism Is Not An Option" and then you don't even define what you mean by Agnosticism and you really never even mention it -- you just make points about how we live longer and know more now.

If the title was "Why modern religions are a complete sham" your arguments would be more on point.

To sum up -- I'm an Agnostic because I:
#1 value reason
#2 value evidence or demonstrations of claims
#3 believe that our ability to know truth is very weak epistemologically speaking, but falsification is on much sounder grounds

Those with a keen wit will probably see that this aligns very strongly with the scientific method.

And finally -- I don't like the idea of forming my position as only being in opposition to some other position. I do NOT grant the Theists the default position and stand in opposition to it.

And that's why I identify as Huxley-Agnostic and not Atheist (although I still speak out very strongly against religions and superstitious beliefs). But Atheists don't make me uncomfortable EXCEPT when they try to redefine Agnosticism :)


  1. Will hope that Arvind Iyer gives us a reply. I can see both sides of this issue so do I dare say I am an agnostic on agnosticism? Sorry, I could not help myself.

  2. The kind of philosophy one chooses depends upon what kind of person one is. ~ J.G. Fichte

    Some have tried to argue that this Agnosticism merely equals skepticism. I don't believe this is true because skepticism is merely a doubting attitude -- which is a good thing, but too much doubt leads you down the path of Pyrrho saying that nothing definite can be known about how things really are (which every child learns playing the "Why" game). But Agnosticism prescribes reason and evidence as the antidote (granted those are presuppositions).

    I'm willing to be convinced otherwise if someone can demonstrate the necessity of reason and evidence in the context of skepticism without making a no true Scotsman fallacy argument to exclude all the theists who also claim to be skeptics.

    One question to ponder is this: What would you identify yourself as if all god-propositions were unequivocally demonstrated to be false?

    But hey, nothing else seems to get the ire of the Theists up like the word 'atheist'. I think that's the main reason people like it :)