Wednesday, September 28, 2016

The incoherency of agnostic (a)theism

"Agnostic atheism" and "agnostic theism" are common, popular terms used to describe a person's beliefs regarding the existence of God(s). It's a relatively recent phenomenon that has picked up in the public sphere thanks to the idiocy of the new atheism movement and their equally or perhaps even more idiotic spokespersons.

Both terms are entirely incoherent. What continues to confound me is why these terms are still being used by people interested or participating in philosophy - perhaps it's the influence of the public sphere or just an inadequate understanding of the philosophy of religion.

The problem with the term "agnostic ___", especially "agnostic atheism", is that is it incoherent in virtue of its contradiction and omission of other valid views.

The terms "theism" and "atheism" are to be used when describing an ontological belief. Theism is the ontological belief that there is a God(s). Atheism is the ontological disbelief in God(s), or the belief that there is no God(s). (From here on I will refer only to God and not the polytheistic plural).

The term "agnosticism" is to be used when a person has no view, one way or another. One is an agnostic when they are neither an atheist or a theist. Typically someone is an agnostic when they feel there is insufficient evidence or justification for either view. Hence, agnosticism is a far more relaxed term that can be used outside of the philosophy of religion.

Bu...but darthbarracuda!, atheism is the null position!

FALSE. The null position is not having a belief. Atheism, just as well as theism, has to justify it's belief. The new atheists characterize their atheism as a reaction to theistic claims ... but the questions theism is attempting to answer are questions about the origins of the world, the meaning of the world, the constitution of the world, etc. Atheism just as much as theism has to answer these questions, and atheists believe that the answers to these questions can be explained without the use of God. The debate between univeralists and nominalists regarding universals is similar in this respect: both have to answer why things are similar regardless. If we rule out universalism, there's still the process of figuring out why things are similar (what kind of nominalism should we adopt). It's just that we're down one potential route.

Bu...but darthbarracuda, I'm an agnostic atheist because I don't know that god does not exist!

INCORRECT. If you believe that god does not exist, then you are an atheist. Plain and simple. You may have very little justification for your atheism. You may doubt your own position. You may believe it is impossible to know whether you are right ... but the important part is that you nevertheless believe that God does not exist. Nobody cares about how strongly you believe/disbelieve in God - they care about what you believe, the content of your beliefs.

We don't call ourselves "agnostic evolutionists" or "agnostic Big-Bang theorists" because of the problem of induction and the possibility of us being wrong. We call ourselves evolutionists and Big-Bang theorists, because we believe in evolution and the Big Bang (as any rational and educated individual should).

But...but darthbarracuda, look at this fancy diagram showing all the theological beliefs you can have! :

BULLSHIT. The main issue with the diagram above (ignoring all the other issues already said) is that it ignores the possibility of not having a belief whatsoever. Proponents of this kind of diagram claim that you have to be an atheist or a theist, and often claim that atheism is the null position (which is question-begging), as if lacking a belief in God suddenly makes you an atheist. Surely a rock cannot be an atheist despite lacking a belief in God in virtue of its lack of mind.

For some crazy reason, people think that the lack of belief in God is equivalent to the disbelief in God. This is incorrect.

When faced with a scientific discovery in which we don't know how to interpret, we don't force ourselves into positions of affirmation. We stay on the sidelines and remain agnostic, remain uncommitted to any position whatsoever.

The reality of the situation is that atheism is a disbelief in god (not just a lack), which is logically accompanied by a lack of belief in god. And theism is the belief in god, which is logically accompanied by a lack of disbelief in god. And agnosticism is the lack of belief in god and the lack of disbelief in god. Atheism and theism are ontological claims. Agnosticism is an epistemological claim that rejects any relevant ontological claims.

I hope you have enjoyed this rant and found it to be educational.

(For the record, I'm an agnostic - I think both theism and atheism are claiming knowledge of something that is completely outside of our ability to know; i.e. there is not enough and will never be enough justification for either position)

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