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Agnosticism Is For Sissies
I’m not an agnostic. Saying I'm agnostic about the existence of god would be like saying I’m agnostic about the existence of flying carpets on the LA freeways today. Sure, there could be a flying carpet exiting right now at Robertson. But, until I see proof of it — and proof isn’t lots of people believing in it; that’s just peer pressure — I’m going to be, not just atheistic, but a-flyingcarpet-istic as well.

Posted by aalkon at December 29, 2005 10:55 AM

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Thank you Amy.
I've been saying the exact thing for years.
agnosticism is nonsense, a half way measure like being somewhat pregnant. But it's a halfway-safe measure so many gutless people take it. It's just amother part of the problem. Not only are people idiots, but they are cowards as well. Agnostics, I guess you could call half cowards.

Posted by: everybody hates chris at December 29, 2005 7:30 AM

I think some people are scared of saying "I'm an atheist" and some worry that it's rude. I don't hate religion, I just don't believe. But any time spent with organized atheists makes my head hurt--some many are just rude, argumentative and shrill. Can't we disbelieve in peace?

And then there are those who claim to be spiritual. They're not sure what they believe, but they like the idea of a Life Force or Spirit of Good or Great Mother or something drifty, garbed in light or at least tie-dye. Electric meat--that's what I am, and I'm proud.

Posted by: KateCoe at December 29, 2005 8:45 AM

I'd have to agree, though I probably wouldn't say it as harshly. Agnostics are the true faithless, and where there is no faith there is no life.

Posted by: Paul Hrissikopoulos at December 29, 2005 8:45 AM

Cults have a tendency to put those who don't clearly label themselves "Friend" or "Enemy" into an even more low-down, reviled category -- so probably not, KateCoe. You'll always get shot at by both sides for taking your own path. But, hey, sticks & stones.

Posted by: Paul Hrissikopoulos at December 29, 2005 9:05 AM

If I say to myself "I am an atheist" I feel a tiny fear that must come from social programming.... (My mother was a flaming Catholic). I want, therefore, I believe. So far I like the drifty, tie-dyed, we-are-one rendition of Eastern religions. But I feel a bit foolish for even that. Am I an agnostic?

Posted by: Diana at December 29, 2005 10:14 AM

I don't know...that's a question for you to answer, but like a ring left by a coffee mug on the dining room table, it's pretty hard to entirely erase all vestiges of childhood programming.

Posted by: Amy Alkon at December 29, 2005 11:05 AM

Agnosticism was invented, if I remember correctly, as a description for the view that it is impossible to know whether or not there is a God. Technically, therefore, it is distinguishable from Atheism, which is a belief that there is no God. The word Agnostic seems to have slid into a more nebulous usage, meaning a lack of belief without philosophical basis. For some, it has even come to represent a lack of interest. I find that a more diplomatic way of putting things is to describe oneself as nonreligious, or not religious. It stopped cold a suggestion that we recite the pledge of allegiance at neighborhood council meetings.

I think it is defensible to reject Agnosticism as a philosophy by way of the flying carpet analogy. You don't experience them in real life, don't know anyone who even claims to have experienced them, and therefore make a probabilistic argument that they do not exist.

Posted by: Bob at December 29, 2005 12:10 PM

I agree there is no white bearded guy in the sky looking out for us. And I don't think this non-existent white bearded fellow had a set of blueprints just for the planet earth, which I am sure we can all agree is just a bit of cosmic dust spinning around a lonely sun in the vastness of infinite (or at least mind-bogglingly enormous) space. I think people who say they're agnostic are, for the most part, atheists who feel they need to be polite about it which is silly since it is rarely necessary to apologize simply for having a point of view.

I got into a long argument re: the existence of God (or lack thereof) on Buzzmachine a little while back. Talk about banging your head against a brick wall! It's amazing what people are willing to believe in the face of all reason.

Posted by: Noel Guinane at December 29, 2005 1:42 PM

I'm hardly a tie-dye Birkenstock-wearer, but I sure don't subscribe to any organized religion and I do have "beliefs" I won't bore anyone with.

I'm also the biggest arguer against the existence of God in the normal, classical, mainstream sense.

heh. "sense".

Arguing religion is either fun, or it's for suckers. There's never any middle ground.

Posted by: Deirdre B. at December 29, 2005 2:55 PM

> Agnosticism Is For Sissies

So is insisting that the world's choices be simple and tidy and clean! Especially in the closest hearts of others, where we have so little to say about what goes on anyway.

> those who claim to be spiritual...
> like the idea of a Life Force
> or Spirit of Good or Great
> Mother or something drifty

Egg-fucking-zacktly.

> don't subscribe to any
> organized religion...

That's the only kind! People who think they can compose a meaningful cosmology without relying on deeper, older and more courageous thinkers than themselves are playing tennis without a net. Why should anyone be impressed?

Posted by: Crid at December 30, 2005 1:23 AM

> Why should anyone be impressed?

Because composing any sort of cosmology by relying on other thinkers - or, in a lot of cases, "thinkers" - means watching others play tennis with - or, in a lot of cases, without - a net. There's nothing wrong with reading what other thinkers of all centuries have brought to the intellectual bottle party, but the actual thinking is something I prefer to do for myself, thank you very much. If you know how to find out whether other thinkers are right or wrong without having to think it through for yourself, well, congratulations, and please explain.

For the record: I consider myself an agnostic. Of course I've never seen a flying carpet/a god/the tooth fairy, and very, very probably I never will. But saying there is none puts me almost on a par with all those self-righteous types who demand it must exist in a temple, in a church or in a mosque.

As an extra, I get much more fun out of any debate with believers, since they instantly demand that you prove to them that there isn't a single flying carpet in the entire universe. (I always remember that it's their knee-jerk reflex to feel entitled to do that if you're an atheist.) As an agnostic, however, I never relieve them from having to prove that carpets actually can fly. Doesn't impress them in the least, of course, as they are believers, which makes them right by default; sometimes, though, it gets an innocent bystander to think for him- or herself, as the believer fumbles for reasonable explanations in favor of the existence of a god. This wonderful thing never happens when the theist/atheist dispute arrives at "Yes, there is a flying carpet! No, there isn't!" after about ten seconds.

Just my two cents.

Posted by: Rainer at December 30, 2005 9:22 AM

From Crid:

>> don't subscribe to any
>> organized religion...

>That's the only kind! People who think they can compose a >meaningful cosmology without relying on deeper, older and >more courageous thinkers than themselves are playing tennis >without a net. Why should anyone be impressed?
_____
My Reply:

Jesus--Who's looking to impress anyone?
That's the LAST thing on my mind.
I apologize if I appeared to brag.

I simply don't subscribe to organized religion. I don't attend any church or believe wholly in any mainstream tenets. I do "rely" on other older cosmological notions to explain what's going on when I am pressed to do so, but saying it's "the only kind" is like saying we're all relying on the constitution of the United States to describe lunch with the mayor.

Posted by: Deirdre B. at December 30, 2005 2:29 PM

>saying it's "the only kind" is like
>saying we're all relying on the
>constitution of the United States
>to describe lunch with the mayor.

Huh?

>Who's looking to impress anyone?

The existence of God is a binary and winner-take-all argument. When people boast of their singular insight it comes off as Elvis-style posturing: 'I'm a REBEL! I play by my OWN RULES, babe! Some people can't handle my daring and innovative logic! But I gotta ramble... I can't let the little people slow me down! And I gotta get a distinctive tattoo of a firebird over my ass, and some piercings, just like every other doorknob who graduated high school in the last ten years....'

The brightest people who've ever lived have thought about God, and some have come down on each side. And the need to take strength and direction from the company of others is one of the best-ever reasons to go to church. The term "organized religion", surrounded by smirking air quotes, is no less a cathcphrase than "23 skidoo," and will soon sound just as corny.

Posted by: Crid at December 30, 2005 4:06 PM

"Agnosticism was invented, if I remember correctly, as a description for the view that it is impossible to know whether or not there is a God. Technically, therefore, it is distinguishable from Atheism, which is a belief that there is no God." - Bob

Actually, atheism, as atheists define it, is simply the absence of belief in God/gods. It is a broad term. The belief there is no God is a form of atheism, commonly called positive atheism. But indecision about God's existence, or the belief that the question cannot be resolved at all, are forms of atheism as well, known as negative atheism. This broad conception has been traced back to the 18th century, before the word agnostic was invented. So to say "I'm not an atheist, I'm an agnostic," as people often do, is like saying "I'm not a Christian, I'm a Baptist."

A good dictionary will support this, as will the vast majority of books written by atheists over the years. For more on the history of the term, see George H. Smith's overview.

I find it hard to respect agnosticism. Nearly all the agnostics I've known have misrepresented atheism in order to deny being atheists, as did Huxley and Russell. It most cases this is due to ignorance, but I don't see that as an excuse today. If they are really freethinkers, they should at least Google up some information about atheism before they start criticizing it.

Another thing about agnosticism that makes me uncomfortable is that it involves a very bold knowledge claim - that God is unknowable. To make that fly, they have to prove that no one, anywhere, knows anything about the subject. And they have to do it without spiraling into skeptical nihilism, and without falling back on discredited dodges like "you can't prove a negative." Some agnostics take a softer stance, and claim only that they personally do not know. But since this is indistinguishable from traditional negative atheism, the absurdity of claiming not to be atheists seems even more striking.

There are exceptions, of course. I know a man who describes himself accurately as an "agnostic atheist." I have no problem with thoughtful, honest agnostics like him. I just find them to be rare.

All the best,
Charles

Posted by: GodlessRose at December 30, 2005 5:47 PM

>The existence of God is a binary and winner-take-all argument.


As I said before-- Arguing religion is either fun, or it's for suckers.

Posted by: Deirdre B. at December 30, 2005 11:37 PM

I think the big question is not whether G exists, but why belief is important. Unless G is like one of Peter Pan's fairies, either it exists or it doesn't, irrespective of how many people believe.


From my atheist perspective I find it hard to understand why G is so fixated on belief, to the extent of using it as the basis of judgement leading to infinite reward or punishment. Is there any other entity so hung up on belief in its own existence? Attributing this behaviour to G is, however, consistent with the idea that G is an invention of the priesthood, since their power undoubtedly depends on the number of believers.

Posted by: Norman at December 31, 2005 10:58 AM

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