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← What are you agnostic about?

What are you agnostic about? - Comments

C.Wood's Avatar Comment 1 by C.Wood

Life on other planets.

I guess that would be my agnosticism. Probabilities say it is likely to exist life somewhere else, and while we haven't found any real evidence, I keep the optimism. :)

Other than that, I don't think I'm agnostic about anything else. I'm always ready to hear arguments, examine evidence and change my mind when they are convincing. It's harder to do than to say, we all have some convictions which are somewhat unshakable, but I do my best to let them crumble to the ground, when the facts call for it.

Mon, 14 Nov 2011 13:32:16 UTC | #890031

bendigeidfran's Avatar Comment 2 by bendigeidfran

I used to be agnostic about the possibility of a grand unifying theory for physics, until I realised it was beyond the reach of science.

Mon, 14 Nov 2011 13:36:41 UTC | #890034

78rpm's Avatar Comment 3 by 78rpm

Very good question for this forum, but only for this forum, which is for the greatest part used by clear thinkers; however, the people I know who describe themselves as agnostic will weasel out by saying that they are agnostic about the god of the bible. If questioned further they will tell me that they are adamantly a-unicornist and a-tooth fairyist. Then they say, "But there must be a higher power." Those are the ones who exasperate me.

Mon, 14 Nov 2011 13:41:32 UTC | #890036

Jay G's Avatar Comment 4 by Jay G

I'm agnostic about the Cubs winning a World Series.

I'm agnostic about the possibility of humans ever building a society that satisfies the needs of all it's citizens.

Mon, 14 Nov 2011 13:42:16 UTC | #890037

MilitantApatheist's Avatar Comment 5 by MilitantApatheist

I'm agnostic about nuclear holocaust. We came so close in the Cold War, and many evil regimes currently have nuclear weapons or the capability to build them. I think its likely in the next 1,000 years or so. It almost certainly will happen eventually. If there is only a 1 in 1000 chance for a nuclear holocaust in a given year, then the chances that it will happen at least once in the next 1000 years is 63%.

Mon, 14 Nov 2011 13:51:49 UTC | #890040

Sudipta Modak's Avatar Comment 6 by Sudipta Modak

Comment Removed by Author

Mon, 14 Nov 2011 14:35:46 UTC | #890065

Sudipta Modak's Avatar Comment 7 by Sudipta Modak

Agnosticism isn't only about uncertainty, although it may seem like it is. To be agnostic is to be open to possibilities, to accept that reality may not be the way you believe it is. It's also more.

You sound like David Eagleman.

Mon, 14 Nov 2011 14:40:17 UTC | #890066

Steve Zara's Avatar Comment 8 by Steve Zara

My apologies. I should have refined the question. What I mean to ask was....

If you are agnostic about theism, what is it that you are agnostic about? What is the possibility that you are open to?

Mon, 14 Nov 2011 14:50:03 UTC | #890070

QuestioningKat's Avatar Comment 9 by QuestioningKat

I don't know anymore. The more I hang around these types of sites, the more each uncertainty becomes clearer that they have a natural origin.

I'm trying to write about one agnostic view, but as I write it I realize that it is absurd so I deleted it. My mind automatically jumps to the reason why this cannot be so.

Those few years or so ago when I decided that I needed a slap of reality and decided to turn to the atheists, has proven to be a worthwhile idea. I cannot tell you how I see the world differently now, but it makes a lot more sense.

Yes, I'd like to be wrong. I'd like for reincarnation to exist. I'm nearing 50 and I've lost decades due to poor decisions and inaction. I'd like that time back - another chance to make things right, but I can only move forward. Even if I am wrong, I realize that I only have right now.

Mon, 14 Nov 2011 15:23:42 UTC | #890080

JuJu's Avatar Comment 10 by JuJu

Some people may call themselves agnostic even though they surely don't believe any gods exist. They may think its the politically correct stance and therefore nobody will look down on them from either side, it may even give them a false sense of holding the most rational position.

There are also people who call themselves agnostic who are actually theist for the same reasons as above.

These are the same people who say that if there are two sides to an issue the truth probably lies somewhere in between. The funny thing though is that they only seem to think this way on certain issues, like religion or the supernatural. Where claiming agnosticism might make them accepted by both sides.

New Age woo'ers like to claim agnosticism when it comes to supernatural beliefs, because it helps to legitimize the mental gymnastic they have to go through, they hope that others will be at least agnostic about their beliefs because it gives them at least a slim feeling of possibly being right.

Claiming agnosticism may equal a desire to be accepted.

Mon, 14 Nov 2011 16:04:27 UTC | #890089

ZenDruid's Avatar Comment 11 by ZenDruid

I'm agnostic about humanity's future.

Mon, 14 Nov 2011 16:12:23 UTC | #890092

PatW's Avatar Comment 12 by PatW

My philosophy is that everything is possible until proved impossible. At the same time, I don't engage in faith believing anything just because possibility may exist. I've always thought of the word agnostic as indifference to Gnosticism. Yet, my philosophy far exceeds that highly limited definition. I have a definite aversion to labels which don’t aptly describe the essence/substance underlying the label.

Mon, 14 Nov 2011 16:14:49 UTC | #890094

PrayForMe's Avatar Comment 13 by PrayForMe

If the question can be interpreted to mean: 'when considering any given list of ideas that have no evidence, why is it defensible to be agnostic about some and not others?', the answer is that it is not defensible, and barely reasonable.

It's considered by some that agnosticism about gods is more reasonable than agnosticism about, say, fairies. This is because more people believe in a god. But not the same one. Religious people are not agnostic about the existence of any gods, yet agnostics are agnostic about all gods. If the idea that most people believe in a god is to be used as evidence, we must reject all the contradictory bits until we are left with the definition of god as 'some kind of higher power'. The definition is then so vague as to be useless. Nobody agrees on what that means, and so to he agnostic about 'some kind of higher power' is just as meaningless.

This leads me to conclude that it is easy to deny unicorns because we have a concrete definition of what they are. Conversely, to be agnostic about gods is easy because we don't have a definition of what they are. We may as well conclude that we are agnostic about xaleriots.

Mon, 14 Nov 2011 17:29:37 UTC | #890124

Schrodinger's Cat's Avatar Comment 14 by Schrodinger's Cat

Agnosticism isn't only about uncertainty, although it may seem like it is. To be agnostic is to be open to possibilities, to accept that reality may not be the way you believe it is

An atheist doesn't believe. An agnostic doesn't know. But.....when you stop and think about it....the fundamental reason why an atheist does not believe is that he does not know. The only real difference between atheism and agnosticism is whether the emphasis is 'believe' or 'know'.

It's not that agnosticism is 'weak'.....but that atheists try to palm off 'not believing' as some sort of proactive action and 'not knowing' as somehow indecisive. However, there is fundamentally NO difference between the atheist's 'not knowing' and the agnostic's 'not knowing'. And as that lack of knowing ( evidence ) is the entire basis for either belief......its hard to see where the proactive aspect of atheism actually comes from.

How do you actively 'not believe' something ? I don't simply mean such as actions of anti-theism......but what actions do you have to actually take to 'not believe' ?

Mon, 14 Nov 2011 17:51:20 UTC | #890135

ollipehkonen's Avatar Comment 15 by ollipehkonen

Comment 8 by Steve Zara :

If you are agnostic about theism, what is it that you are agnostic about? What is the possibility that you are open to?

Brought up christian, I used to be agnostic in my teens, in the sense that I really didn't know whether or not I believed in god anymore. After I started to see great inconsistencies between the doctrine and the real world, I was still open to finding a nice way to reconsile the inconsistencies. My (self-described) agnosticism only lasted a few years until I found the intellectual courage to abandon the faith of every family member, and think that I might know better, and that there was no reconsiliation.

Mon, 14 Nov 2011 17:53:44 UTC | #890136

Nunbeliever's Avatar Comment 16 by Nunbeliever

Yes, taken to the extreme one can argue that we are all agnostics about everything. But, as you point out that is not a very meaningful definition. In my opinion an agnostic is really a person who has chosen not to hold a certain position. In practice I think it's really most of the time a cop-out out of convenience or ignorance.

I am for example an agnostic with regard to many things. But, in these cases it is mostly due to ignorance. I can't truelly say whether I support string theory or not. I really can't say whether a certain experimental treatment for cancer is better than an other. If I would choose to read more about these topics I would perhaps not stay agnostic anymore. I would find one alternative more probable than the other. I think it's in practice impossible to be deeply interested in something but still remain agnostic in the true sense of the word. Yes, one might superficially hold such a position. But, from a deeper subjective perspective I don't think it's possible.

I don't think physicists who work on string theory are agnostics even though one could possibly argue that agnosticism is the intellctually most honest position in this regard (that is if you ignore the form of agnosticism that is based upon our inability to absolutely prove anything). I mean, why would a theoretical physicist devote his/her whole career on an idea that is neither more or less probable than other ideas? Óf course some might be opportunists who choose a less mainstream alternative in order to get more publicity or not disappear among thousands of other highly competent scientists. Still, I wonder whether a person who has devoted his/her life to exploring a certain idea or hypothesis can be truelly agnostic about their idea or hypothesis. I think the answer is no.

So I got two questions I would like to ask all of you:

1) Is it possible to be passionate about something but still be an agnostic? Or is agnosticism really in practice just another way of saying "I don't really care that deeply about this topic. Not enough to choose side"

2) When (if ever) do you think agnosticism is the intellectually most honest position to hold? When the probability is exactly 50/50? What about 40/50? Does such a relation still reflect enough uncertainty to justify agnosticism? If your answer is yes, then where do you draw the line? What probality is enough to justify one position over another?

Mon, 14 Nov 2011 22:40:08 UTC | #890201

Alan4discussion's Avatar Comment 17 by Alan4discussion

Comment 10 by JuJu

Some people may call themselves agnostic even though they surely don't believe any gods exist. They may think its the politically correct stance and therefore nobody will look down on them from either side, it may even give them a false sense of holding the most rational position.

There are also people who call themselves agnostic who are actually theist for the same reasons as above.

I very much agree with this!
I am sure many of us have met lazy thinkers, who simply take two extreme viewpoints, or two sides presented as an argument, and then, without critically investigating the evidence or merits of the claims, take (as they see it) "a fudged compromise, middle position", which they then claim is the most reasonable view.

Comment 1 by C.Wood - Life on other planets.

While I try to be well informed, I am agnostic on this in regard to the possibility of some life on some planets in the galaxies, but fairly certain about the unlikely odds for life on the majority of types of planet.

That does not mean I am uncertain in dismissing the "aliens" interpretation of a multitude of UFO sightings, allegedly buzzing around Earth's atmosphere on a regular basis!

Mon, 14 Nov 2011 22:53:18 UTC | #890204

PatW's Avatar Comment 18 by PatW

When I encounter the word agnostic, I immediately look at people preferring to avoid this commonly presented logical fallacy when arguing what can't be proved or disproved - argumentum ex silentio/appeal to ignorance. That's why I define the word agnostic as indifference to Gnosticism, and define the word atheist as indifference to theisms.

Mon, 14 Nov 2011 23:01:33 UTC | #890205

Steve Zara's Avatar Comment 19 by Steve Zara

I don't believe an agnostic is just someone who wants to avoid being categorised.

An agnostic has some concept of god, and their agnosticism means that they believe that that god is at least possible in some way.

That is why I am really interested to know what people think they are agnostic about - what do they think about gods is possible?

Tue, 15 Nov 2011 00:27:22 UTC | #890228

JuJu's Avatar Comment 20 by JuJu

Comment 19 by Steve Zara

I don't believe an agnostic is just someone who wants to avoid being categorised.

Of course it doesn't fit the definition and no one is saying that all agnostics fit into that category, but its clear to me based on conversations with people claiming to be agnostic that some of them do indeed want to be seen as rational by both sides.

I've also had them flip flop over to claiming atheism within seconds when their fallacies are pointed out. I suppose knowing that they were in a conversion with an atheist, they didn't feel the need to carry on the charade.

I forgot to add:

I was agnostic about the Aquatic Ape Hypothesis, but after researching all I could on it, I've came to the conclusion that it bogus.

Tue, 15 Nov 2011 01:33:03 UTC | #890235

I'm_not's Avatar Comment 21 by I'm_not

To be fair Steve being agnostic about every deity ever posited would be bloody hard work.

Tue, 15 Nov 2011 01:51:52 UTC | #890240

Steve Zara's Avatar Comment 22 by Steve Zara

Comment 21 by I'm_not

To be fair Steve being agnostic about every deity ever posited would be bloody hard work.

Indeed. That is why I believe that agnosticism must be specific.

Tue, 15 Nov 2011 01:58:29 UTC | #890244

Steve Zara's Avatar Comment 23 by Steve Zara

Comment 19 by Steve Zara

Of course it doesn't fit the definition and no one is saying that all agnostics fit into that category, but its clear to me based on conversations with people claiming to be agnostic that some of them do indeed want to be seen as rational by both sides.

Oh yes, I'm sure that is true. What I'm trying to find a way to do is to highlight that agnosticism is not a rational position; it's a psychological position, a political position, but not a scientifically or logically valid position when it comes to theism.

The reason I'm trying to do this is because I believe that agnosticism can be a form of... well, not quite belief in belief, but tolerance of nonsensical belief.

Tue, 15 Nov 2011 02:03:07 UTC | #890247

PatW's Avatar Comment 24 by PatW

I suppose I'll just settle on the Oxford definition of the word agnostic:

http://oald8.oxfordlearnersdictionaries.com/dictionary/agnostic

"a person who believes that it is not possible to know whether God exists or not"

Tue, 15 Nov 2011 04:05:34 UTC | #890260

Schrodinger's Cat's Avatar Comment 25 by Schrodinger's Cat

Comment 19 & 23 by Steve Zara

That is why I am really interested to know what people think they are agnostic about - what do they think about gods is possible?

You keep twisting and changing the definition. One minute it is agnosticism about a theistic god.....the next it is gods in general.....any conceivable god at all.

That is why I am really interested to know what people think they are agnostic about - what do they think about gods is possible?

I find this line of reasoning disingenuous. If I were to turn it round and ask...'what about gods is impossible ?', you'd immediately argue that God is impossible because 'the supernatural' is impossible. But what about a pantheistic god ? Or does he/she/it not count as a god ? What about the script kiddie from the year 89346 who's running our entire multiverse on his home PC ?

Richard Dawkins makes the excellent argument that an 'agent' of any sort has to have evolved by natural selection. But given that the multiverse may well be infinitely old, how do we know that hasn't already happened ? There is even a scientific theory....Cosmological natural selection...which argues that universes may arise from black holes that carry information from their predecessors. The creator of the theory....physicist Lee Smolin....is an atheist.

The problem I have is that your objection ( and mine too ) to a parochial supernatural bully doesn't even begin to cover all the permutations.

I thus find it entirely rational to leave out the word 'impossible'. Not least because the grand master of physics himself......Stephen Hawking.....himself now espouses ' I don't know' in the form of model dependent reality. Hawking has effectively thrown the word 'know' out of the window.

All one can really say is that there exists no evidence that any god does exist.

Oh yes, I'm sure that is true. What I'm trying to find a way to do is to highlight that agnosticism is not a rational position

What is irrational about 'I don't know' ? I don't.....and neither do you.

Tue, 15 Nov 2011 04:11:24 UTC | #890261

Steve Zara's Avatar Comment 26 by Steve Zara

Comment 25 by Schrodinger's Cat

You keep twisting and changing the definition. One minute it is agnosticism about a theistic god.....the next it is gods in general.....any conceivable god at all.

I'm not changing anything. I'm asking people who define themselves as agnostic what they are agnostic about. If you say that there is a possibility that you could be convinced that X exists, then surely you must have some idea what X is!

What is irrational about 'I don't know' ? I don't.....and neither do you.

Because agnosticism isn't a full 'I don't know', it's an 'I don't know about X'. I would say that it is irrational to claim you can say that you are somewhere between belief and disbelief about an X if you can't say what X is.

Atheism is not having a belief about X. That's fine because if you have no belief you don't need to have any concept of X. (Of course, some people are atheists because they do have a concept of X, and they reject it, but this is not necessary for atheism).

By contrast, consistent agnosticism must involve having a belief about X. It is that X has some possibility, but you are not convinced. Agnosticism gives X some ontological credibility. It insists that there is a some possibility value that can be assigned to the existence of X, at least in principle.

What I want to know is what it is that agnostics think is possible. There may be a different answer for each agnostic for all I know, but it is, I believe, a valid and useful question.

Tue, 15 Nov 2011 04:44:24 UTC | #890266

besleybean's Avatar Comment 27 by besleybean

I define myself as atheist, in that I don't believe there is a god. But I am aware of the possibility of a god one day being scientifically proved. But I live my life as if that will never happen.

Tue, 15 Nov 2011 06:45:14 UTC | #890269

susanlatimer's Avatar Comment 28 by susanlatimer

Comment 25 by Schrodinger's Cat

...'what about gods is impossible ?',

I find that in so many discussions, I get tangled up in definitions. The trickiest part about gods is that it can mean so many things. So, I don't see the value of using the word "god". It enters the conversation in one form and so often morphs into another when its original definition is found wanting.

If by "god", you mean a vastly superior creature in another dimension, or an alien from a species so technologically advanced that we might not understand it for another thousand years (if ever), then why call it "god"? "Gods" have traditionally been things humans have made up. Things that are utterly inconsistent with the nature that our best minds and methods observe.

I'm not agnostic about any god that humans assert. They do not literally exist. I'm quite willing to say that there's so much we don't know and that we may never know. "God" is a dangerous term to apply to anything. It won't get us anywhere. It relies on the "supernatural" and the "immaterial", terms that have never been shown to have any meaning.

Name your god but don't call it "god" and then let's investigate. It's either ruled out by evidence by now, possible but beyond our ability to evaluate for now or in the foreseeable future, or can be stated in a testable hypothesis. Letting the word "god" get involved doesn't help things at all.

Tue, 15 Nov 2011 07:43:26 UTC | #890273

Nunbeliever's Avatar Comment 29 by Nunbeliever

To Steve Zara:

I don't believe an agnostic is just someone who wants to avoid being categorised. An agnostic has some concept of god, and their agnosticism means that they believe that that god is at least possible in some way.

But, do you think a person can be a devout believer and still be agnostic? To me that sounds quite absurd. Why would an agnostic have to lack any concept of god??? Yes, of course an agnostic has to believe the hypothesis in question is possible. You can't be an agnostic if you regard something is impossible.

I talked about ignorance (which does not necessarily mean complete ignorance) AND convenience. I hold many agnostic positions due to ignorance... not so many due to convenience. But, if a topic is taboo or controversial a person might choose to not choose sides out of convenience.

Hence, I presented two questions that I think highlight this dilemma.

1) Is it all about convenience or ignorance? Or in other words, can a person truelly be agnostic about a phenomenon if that person is truelly passionate about this phenomenon? And if you say yes... do you think this is common? Even if one can hypothetically imagine that such a person exist (although I think it's really impossible to know how that person feels on a deeper subjective level) I still think agnostics in general are people "who wants to avoid being categorised", either due to ignorance or convenience.

2) If you think that agnosticism can be an intellectually honest position. Then, what probability justifies agnosticism? 50/50? 50/49? 50/45? 50/40? 50/35?...

Tue, 15 Nov 2011 07:54:35 UTC | #890274

Schrodinger's Cat's Avatar Comment 30 by Schrodinger's Cat

Comment 26 by Steve Zara

I'm not changing anything. I'm asking people who define themselves as agnostic what they are agnostic about. If you say that there is a possibility that you could be convinced that X exists, then surely you must have some idea what X is!

An absurd argument against agnosticism......as it equally as well applies to atheism. Please define the god you 'don't believe in'.....before I define the god I 'don't know exists'.

Because agnosticism isn't a full 'I don't know', it's an 'I don't know about X'. I would say that it is irrational to claim you can say that you are somewhere between belief and disbelief about an X if you can't say what X is.

It's no different to atheism. The only way you can say 'I dont believe in X' is to have defined X. The minute you define X you limit it.......which then leaves open the possibility that there is a variant of X you simply hadn't thought of. Agnostics don't have that problem.

Atheism is not having a belief about X. That's fine because if you have no belief you don't need to have any concept of X.

That's ridiculous. I could equally as well ask......how can you not believe in something, yet have no idea what it is that you don't believe in ?

By contrast, consistent agnosticism must involve having a belief about X. It is that X has some possibility, but you are not convinced. Agnosticism gives X some ontological credibility. It insists that there is a some possibility value that can be assigned to the existence of X, at least in principle.

It is entirely possible for me to 'not know' if alien life exists......without having to express any sentiment of belief in whether it exists, or belief in the probability of it existing. The notion that not knowing hides some underling 'belief' is just plain nonsense.

An agnostic isn't simply saying ' I don't know if god exists'.....he is saying...

1) I do not know if god exists

2) I do not know what the probability is of god existing.

Where does any of that involve belief ?

Tue, 15 Nov 2011 08:33:46 UTC | #890277