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← Atheism shall make you free

Fishpeddler's Avatar Jump to comment 32 by Fishpeddler

The agnosticism v atheism issue comes up so often that I feel like I should print-up a pamphlet I can hand out rather than having to waste time discussing it. Pamela Bone, like so many, is working from the false impression that atheism and theism represent 100% certainty in the non-existence or existence of god, and agnosticism covers everything in between (i.e., the reasonable position). Atheism is the disbelief or denial in the existence of god or gods. The term says nothing about the level of certainty of that disbelief, so there is no good reason to consider agnosticism a more appropriate label in the absence of certainty.

Perhaps the problem is with the word 'belief' itself. People like this piece's author may be interpreting a profession of belief to imply a profession of certainty as well. The more reasonable interpretation, though, is that belief in a proposition simply means that you consider it more likely than its opposite to be true.

I think Descartes more or less got it right when he suggested that the only thing of which we can be absolutely certain is our own existence as a conscience entity. If you couple Bone's argument with Descartes, you would be forced to conclude that we have to be 'agnostic' about every other fact of our existence. While this is logically correct, this is not how we represent our beliefs to one another about any other matter. For example, last night I introduced a friend to my mother. I did not give a long explanation about how I was actually 'agnostic' about whether or not she was my mother because there could have been a mix-up of babies at the hospital, I could be adopted and never told, or my real mother could have had an identical twin that murdered her and took her place. No, I just said, "This is my mom." Not at all intellectually dishonest, despite the lack of disclaimers.

This is simply how we relate to the world. Otherwise, every statement we ever make, about any subject, would have to be concluded with "... to the best of my knowledge." It would be silly to have to elaborate on our intellectual openness or uncertainty every time we make any claim of fact or belief, and this includes our discussions about our belief in god(s). When I call myself an atheist, I am saying, "To the best of my knowledge, no god exists." If you insist on calling that agnosticism, so be it, but that so extravagantly expands the meaning of the word -- while simultaneously contracting the word 'atheist' -- that the terms lose almost all their utility in our language.

I prefer it the way the terms are generally used now: If you believe in god(s) you're a 'theist', if you don't you're an 'atheist', and if you truly have no clue one way or the other you're an 'agnostic'.

Sat, 02 Jun 2007 06:55:00 UTC | #44044