Individuals who openly claim to disbelieve in any type of god, afterlife, or other religious dogma are known as atheists. There is also a separate subset of people often grouped with atheists known as agnostics. To classify agnostics with atheists, however, does both groups a disservice.

Before describing why this is so, we must first define exactly what an agnostic is. And to do that we must recognize that there are actually two types of agnostics: religious-leaning agnostics and atheist-leaning agnostics.

The first group, religious-leaning agnostics (also known as agnostic theists), would say they believe in God, but don’t believe there’s enough evidence to say for certain. In other words, they allow for the possibility that there might not be a god, though they themselves believe there is one.

The second group, atheist-leaning agnostics (agnostic atheists), would say they do not believe in God, but likewise don’t believe there’s enough evidence to say for certain. Said another way, they allow for the possibility of a god, though they don’t necessarily believe in such a being themselves.

Many intellectuals take the supposed philosophical high road by refuting both theism and atheism in favor of agnosticism. They believe that since you can neither prove nor disprove the existence of God, you must concede to agnosticism as the only logical alternative. However, this position is usually taken out of fear of intellectual hubris rather than any argument of logic…thus, it’s easy to defeat.

Here’s how:

For anyone who tells you they are agnostic, simply nod knowingly and ask them if they believe in Santa Claus. Don’t allow them to hedge; put the question bluntly: “Do you, as a thinking adult, believe in Santa Claus?”

While the more astute may suspect a trap, they are hard-pressed to cop to any position other than the fact that, of course, they don’t believe in Santa Claus. We can argue the philosophical validity of uncertainty principles until we’re blue in the face, but at the end of the day we’re all adults and no one can possibly believe there’s a fat man by the name of Santa living at the North Pole in a toy factory with mythological creatures known as elves building toys that are delivered to children all over the world over the course of one night at Christmas.

Once they admit to the foregone conclusion of their utter disbelief in Santa Claus, they’ve trapped themselves and you’ve already won the argument. Simply note that there is no more proof for God than there is for Santa. Therefore, how can they be a Santa Claus atheist, but a God agnostic?

Such an assertion would require some amount of proof. Can they do the impossible and provide more evidence for God than Santa Claus? If not, how can they be so certain Santa Claus doesn’t exist, but God might? It’s a fair question, given that agnosticism is all about a philosophical position of evidence-based opinion. Without any evidence for a position of certainty where equal evidence (or lack thereof) exists for a position of uncertainty, the argument falls apart.

One response by the agnostic might be to suggest that the topic of God is somehow special or that everyone “knows” there’s no Santa. However, to retreat to such a shaky position is perhaps the gravest logical error of all. Christians “know” there’s one god, all others are false, and that Jesus was the son of God. Jews “know” that Jesus was not divine and merely a profit. Muslims “know” that Allah and a harem of virgins await them in the afterlife. And none of them have an ounce of proof for any of this certainty.

Despite all the contradiction amongst religions, they do all share one thing in common: they each have nothing more than abstract feel-good platitudes to support their outlandish claims. We’re told it takes faith. And faith, by definition, is belief without proof…and therefore utterly illogical. In fact, we might use “belief without proof” as an alternative definition for insanity. But while the religious are happy with their unsubstantiated clichés, the agnostic is supposedly above such things. That said, there’s no support for the agnostic hypothesis here.

If the avowed agnostic tries to argue that God is beyond logic, simply note that in philosophical circles it is typically agreed on consensus that logic applies to all things; even omnipotent beings are powerless against logic (which is itself a logical contradiction since omnipotence requires power over all things…but such is the mystery of religion).

Finally, an agnostic may resort to the most ridiculous philosophical position of all – that we can never know anything with certainty. While such a position may offer them some academic shelter, it’s a position with little practicality. Out in the real world, if you’re asked if you believe in Santa Claus by anyone other than a small child, you immediately answer “no”.  Uncertainty principles be damned, no one wants to look like a fool.

I mean, are you seriously going to explain to another adult, “I can’t say for certain there’s no Santa Claus because I feel it’s impossible to know with definite certainty that he doesn’t exist”? Somehow, I doubt it.  Men in white coats may show up to assist you.

In the end, it becomes painfully obvious that either theism or atheism is the better choice over agnosticism. You either believe in God or you don’t.  Anything else calls into question your belief in Santa Claus.

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The Flawed Philosophy of Agnosticism — 19 Comments

  1. I am a true agnostic. I don’t lean one way or another. Good for you that you have found an argument that makes you feel superior to others. But the truth is, there is not enough evidence to prove or disprove there is a god of some sort. You use Santa Claus as your vehicle to win your argument. From my point of view, comparing Santa Claus to a god is nothing more than the apples to oranges argument. They truly are not the same thing.

    1) The root of Santa Claus can be traced back to the Turkish priest St. Nicolas. Further more, the image we have of jolly ol’ Santa Claus has an historical beginning that is documented to the mid 1800’s. It is clear that Santa is not real, because we know with certainty where his origins begin. We have scientific FACTS proving it. You might as well ask people if they believe there was a Jedi that lived in galaxy far far away, or that an alien named Alf lived on earth.

    2) Spirituality, and the belief in something greater has no traced beginnings. And people of faith may (or may not) be fooling themselves. But what is for certain is that we do not know when life began, and why. And it is life that has been at the heart of spiritual belief thoughout the history of man. Without knowing for certain the fundamental FACTS of why life exist, then there are a lack of FACTS for atheist to KNOW there is no “god.” Making atheism a sort of twisted theistic belief of its own, since it is nothing more than a belief that there is no god.

    3) Why is there life? Scientifically? What are the elements of “life”? You cannot tell me. Sure you can give me a diatribe about electrons and neutrons, and other scientific explanations of why the universe exist, but what you scientifically cannot do is tell me why life exists. You tell me there is no god, that life exist because of a cosmic accendent. Prove it. Just like theist cannot prove that life exist because there is a god, you cannot prove that life exist despite there not being a god.

    4) So logically, if you’re a person of science, you cannot argue for certain that there is not a god, because a person that strongly adheres to the scientific method could never be an atheist, that would just be insulting to what every child has been taught about the scientific method. So when you talk about the lack of a god, or afterlife, or whatever, please, if you’ are a true man of science, tell people you have a hypothesis that there is not a god, and that it is not a fact.

    5) And you might be right, it might be a better choice to be a theist or atheist. Because, it takes a real backbone to be agnostic. We do not go around beating our chest, proclaiming our position like the theist and atheist. Instead we tend to live and let live. And, every now and then, someone will ask us if we believe in god, and we will say we’re agnostic, and despite what side of the aisle the questioner is on, the out come is always the same. Ignorant disbelief, a disapproving look, and a demand for us to “pick a side.” If Switzerland did not have to, why do we? The only reason I responded to your article is because of the line “this position is usually taken out of fear of intellectual hubris rather than any argument of logic…thus, it’s easy to defeat.” That is beyond insulting, and if anyone is displaying hubris, it is you. You come across as smug, self-important, and arrogant.

    And by the way, if anyone’s argument is easy to defeat, it is yours.

  2. While I appreciate your opinion and perspective, I disagree entirely. As noted, agnosticism is nothing more than a pseudo-intellectual cop out. It really is as simple as that. Allowing doubt for things we should patently understand don’t exist opens a slippery slope for a lack of skepticism in a wide variety of equally ridiculous concepts.

    I further find it incredibly ironic when theists or agnostics insist that since we have no way of knowing where life came from or how the universe organized itself that we should therefore at least allow for the possibility of a divine creator.

    This is ironic because it means that someone claiming to believe in science or scientific method has a problem believing in a universe without an understood or provable beginning, but likewise has no problem with allowing for a magical being that does.

    Your argument: Defeated.

  3. “They believe that since you can neither prove nor disprove the existence of God, you must concede to agnosticism as the only logical alternative.”
    Who says MUST CONCEDE? It’s just a believe of lack of one if that is the case. One is free to believe what ever one wants. I assume this was just a turn of a phrase.

    • Agnostics tend to say you must concede. As I noted, the philosophy of agnosticism is a pseudo-intellectual idea that we can never know for certain whether there really is a god, so, they say, we must therefore concede the possibility of a divine entity. I agree with you that we CAN know for certain just as we know many other aspects of life just as for certain. Believing in fairy tales is never the answer, which is why my opinion is that you are either atheist or theist – that is, you either believe in a god or you don’t – not some mumbo-jumbo in between.

      Thanks for writing in!

  4. Can I disprove Santa is real? Yes. I can easily trace the history of Santa as a legend from where it began and how it started. Additionally I can show how presents appear under the tree and how cookies get eaten without Satan.
    Can I disprove God (or any being that may have intelligently designed the universe or guided it)? No. I can not trace the origin of “gods” because they are present in all of human history. Additionally we don’t have enough information to prove how the universe can spontaneously appear aka we have no method of proving how the universe formed without a god.

    Until a mechanism can be proven of how everything happened spontaneously agnosticism is the only logical position. At such a time that a mechanism is proven you are still left with agnostic atheism because there is unlikely to be a way to prove an absolute “meaning of life” (regardless if there is one or not). As such the why part could still be explained through a god even if the how is already explained through spontaneous processes.

    • I couldn’t disagree more. If we use the patent-pending strategy of religion to debunk your debunking of the existence of Santa, we find that (A) You can not disprove a negative and (B) Anything you suggest as proof I can counter, just as religious people counter even the most obvious holes in their beliefs with pat sayings and other such mumbo jumbo.

      So while you can trace the history of the legend of Santa (just as we can trace the history of the legend of Yahweh/Jehovah/Mohammed/etc.) you can not disprove his existence. For those of us who believe, we know very well that he transcended the legends and now exists in a magical state of grace under the North Pole. By all means, prove me wrong.

      Secondly, I find it remarkable that those who question the idea of an eternal universe have no issue with believing in an eternal god that created a finite universe. This defies all logic. Therefore, atheism is, again, the only rational choice.

  5. The main reason i see santa claus as more disprovable than religion is that it was not designed (or redesigned) to withstand scrutiny.

    While religion was updated and edited like old timey superman to fit the situation as needed santa has been fairly stagnant in his representation.

    The north pole is often explicitly called out as an above ground physical location without cloaking or being in a pocket or adjacent dimension.
    Gods and afterlives are none of these things.

    Santa has specific magical powers that do specific things(mostly supersonic flight and spatial warping, predominantly through the use of enchanted objects)

    Whereas gods (as well as/under the umbrella of omnipotence) are invisible and intangible with no defined shape or form and their powers are set out as whatever they say they are only witness-able by the chosen faithful and the dead. Santa can’t even teleport.

    Invisible intangible things are designed to be indisproveable. Big red old dudes aren’t. Santa is neither invisible, nor intangible and has a physical address, which has been photographed via satellite and recorded not to have been present in it’s claimed location. You can’t have a photo of the absence of something invisible.

    Also, while religions have appointed officials to update the rules for their thing, santa has no official press department to patch holes in his credibility or divert attention. They just let that shit go or personally answer on their own, case by case. They aren’t trying to convert people or sustain belief past childhood.

    They can be categorized similarly but are in entirely different weight classes and were created to serve very different purposes which makes them a little hard to compare.

    Also to say that there is no middle ground to belief seems silly.

    You say the only legitimate options are to sincerely believe in either a specific nebulous far fetched set of statements, or a specific set or a peer reviewed, constantly updated fairly accurate set of observations.

    But surely the presence of the former proves a human capacity to believe anything sincerely.

    Especially if ingrained early enough and either taken to or societally enforced with sufficient fervor. If you can sincerely believe anything you can surely believe in an abyss absent of facts or fantasy.

    Human stubbornness and delusion are boundless.

    If people can believe whatever they want stalwartly enough and if you saying an agnostic’s belief is illogical and isn’t a real opinion doesn’t cause them to change their minds any more than a theist or atheist would, doesn’t that prove they are have equal faith in their own ignorance to what a theist or atheist has in their outsourced correctness.

    If blind faith isn’t your vector for a belief system’s legitimacy, what is?

    For example, i, as an agnostic, would happily renounce my beliefs and my right not to think things you think aren’t real thoughts if you can show me one example of a theist or an atheist who is more well informed, intelligent and knowledgeable on the topic of gods and afterlives than i am ignorant, dumb and inquisitively apathetic.

    It’s just there for people who would probably be atheists if there had been any conclusive research into how to check if that shit were real or not. If either someone invents a working magic’o’meter and the entire scientific community is 100% devoid of theists or religions develop some other kind of evidence to back up any of their claims you’ll have yourself far fewer agnostics among us plebs.

    • I think you sell the legend of Santa short. It’s been updated quite a bit through television and film. And because he’s magical, he can certainly withstand casual scrutiny by satellites and the like. Many other stories place the toy shop underground. Elves themselves are magical beings for which we have separate legends of varying descriptions from countries around the world. And who said Santa can’t make himself invisible? If he couldn’t, he’d have been spotted by millions of children, particularly today with all the camera phones.

      As for Santa not being able to teleport… how does one explain getting all around the world to millions (if not billions) of separate homes all in one night? Just how much can he manipulate the space-time continuum to make flying between all those homes feasible? How old must he be? Our tiny human minds just weren’t made to understand such grand feats of magic.

      Aside from all this silliness, you haven’t done anything to support the notion that agnosticism is in any way acceptable or preferable to either theism or atheism. As I noted in a separate response to your other comment, you either believe in god(s) or you don’t. The middle ground is absolutely a wishy washy no-man’s land for those who think their pseudo-intellectual claptrap somehow places them above their less considered peers that stoop to hard and fast labels like theist or atheist. And most people basically mean atheist when they instead say agnostic.

      As for blind faith, that’s only required for theists. Atheists don’t ascribe to any belief system. They show a distinct LACK of belief. If you come to my door selling vacuum cleaners and tell me yours is the best vacuum known to man, but refuse to show me proof, my disbelief in your product isn’t an anti-vacuum cleaner belief system, it’s purely a lack of belief in your assertion, nothing more.

      Finally, you suggest that you’re apathetic on the entire subject (but not so apathetic as to sit and write out two long posts on the subject), then ascribing to yourself such a label is silly at best and ignorant at worst. As I noted before, labels have meaning. Saying you are agnostic is not the same thing as saying you don’t care about the subject. Not the same thing at all. The very label claims a position (albeit a rather vague one). This goes back to the purpose of this post: to define the words so that people are better educated on the subject. From where I’m sitting, you missed the point entirely.

      • I think you sell the legend of Santa short. It’s been updated quite a bit through television and film.: True, but i meant as a unified canon. There is no one bridging the contradictions between the different versions of santa like they do with god. Which limits his legend’s average broadness to the overlapping parts that are corroborated by other tellings.

        Elves themselves are magical beings for which we have separate legends of varying descriptions from countries around the world: Sorry, i assumed he had his own brand of elves. If they are made up of all the other kinds of elves with their own powers from folktales and whatnot collected in to some sort of namesake christmas department i figured one or more of Rowling’s house elves would make santa immediately redundant, seeing as they are essentially omnipotent. Or the many elves depicted as sorcerers and witches would replace him as all but a dottering figurehead.

        As for Santa not being able to teleport… how does one explain getting all around the world to millions (if not billions): The running story is, i believe, light speed reindeer and some sort of pressurized magic red suit to withstand g forces and relativistic shifts in mass and inertia, otherwise the reindeer can fly for no reason and no one would have mentioned a sleigh.

        As for blind faith, that’s only required for theists: my point is that you hold agnostics to the standard of an atheist for requiring evidence and theists get a free pass on believing whatever they want because it’s an established group. I thought it would only be fair of you to group them both into “people who are wrong about this” and treat them the same in this issue.

        Atheists don’t ascribe to any belief system. They show a distinct LACK of belief.: Not so, they believe (if i understand the concept correctly) their cognitive and sensual grasp on reality, and that of many others to probably be at least somewhat accurate and that verifiable evidence and solid proof, along with logic are a good markers toward finding the direction of truth. And that things that are proven not to be true, probably aren’t. That is a belief system. Just because it is accurate and as close to a lack of a belief system as you can reach without blankly and mechanically repeating stimuli as they reach you doesn’t stop these things (facts) from being things people believe.

        The very label claims a position (albeit a rather vague one):
        You are right, and i concede that i was wrong to claim it didn’t, but the position it claims is that of a non position when it is entered into the argument between the other two primary positions, which, in my eyes, averages out not far from not having a position on the topic for these purposes.

        Agnostic.
        noun
        plural noun: agnostics
        a person who believes that nothing is known or can be known of the existence or nature of God.
        (source: google)

        This is the ignorance i am referring to. If something is stated to be ineffable it is, by definition, incapable of being explained, understood or verified. To claim it can be disproven is to play chess against someone who has already flipped the table.
        I have no choice but to be ignorant, because the rules of the concept preclude even the faithful from gathering any information on the subject short of “this is what i imagine my god would think, and if it didn’t then it wouldn’t have let me think it.”
        I just don’t see how, whether you accept or dismiss this concept, anyone sees it as a concept with an outcome other than ignorance on the table.

        This is a firm decision not to believe either and disbelieve both, based on a different interpretation of the facts. It isn’t a cop out so much as acknowledging a lack of the depth and perspective that is required of an atheist or invented for a theist.

        Knowing your limits isn’t always the same as giving up.

        It could be argued making a decision to believe something without testing it or devising a possible vehicle toward testing it and remaining assured of the correctness of that belief is just as much of a cop out as not believing that thing. Neither of them, nor the person who believes an opposing thing are actually doing anything to make sure they aren’t wrong, which is a three way tie for mediocrity.

        If people did the same things with something and observable and testable like like gravity they’d be idiots. But because testing and accurately FINDING the answer is impossible and irrelevant and these are the only options available to us we’re stuck arguing over which of the people who can’t know happened to stumble into the right answer and whether it was for the right reasons.

        Why is withholding a conclusion until you have sufficient information more of a cop-out than jumping into a conclusion with the same (argually insufficient) amount of information, then saying it’s fine because you had the best theory so far and at least you committed? Absence of evidence and all that.

        Similarly why is it better pull the trigger and call “i’m-rightsies” as soon as you have an explanation you like than not at all?
        It seems like your main problem with agnosticism (it’s lack of an immediate strong commitment to the current state of events) is the same problem some religions have with atheism. And what atheists like about atheism. Waiting round to ask questions and checking the answers to similar questions before deciding on an answer is fine but waiting till someone asks a question that will result in a verifiable answer before supplying that answer is bang out of line? As is answering before asking questions, because reticent is the worst thing a person can be. I can’t parse how out of what you claim to see as “right, wrong and wusses” you like wrong but hate wusses. Not being enough of a wuss is what made the wrong side wrong(i’ve assumed here that you are an atheist, please correct me i’f i’m wring) and if the side that’s “right” was quicker to form permanent conclusions, science would only be a hundred years more advanced than a cultist theocracy. Forever. Granted this is hyperbolic and assumes an unyielding stance not present in a scientific outlook, but it seems like it should be a personal choice whether to form a conclusion until you have both positive and negative evidence to support an idea, not another separation into correct people and bad, namby-pamby, deceitful people. There’s enough of that already.

        To say there is nothing that accurately fits a particularly deific description like that of god or anything similarly unexpected anywhere or any-when, while simultaneously acknowledging that human knowledge of the universe is patchy and in it’s infancy(assuming it continues to grow at an approximation of it’s historical pace between now and the extinction of the species)and that most people still aren’t sure what is between the observed and edge of the unobserved universe, how many realities exist simultaneously, or if the universe is the self contained extent of this reality(due to a similar lack of appropriate test conditions) or that any other number of preliminary questions pertinent finding to a theological solution remain unanswered seems closed minded. While a scientific method would dictate you should create a solid hypothetical worldview based on available information and update it as new information comes to light, this is not the only way people can think. As evidenced by theists.

        Firm belief on the topic of an untestable theory with no immediate scientific or holistic relevance (as i see the existance of deitys to be) is, to some, a waste of time. It is the attempting to answer the pointless question to which i am apathetic, and will remain so, until some form of evidence in either direction appears. As a hypothetical point of philosophical debate i’m quite interested, but you have to make causal leaps and assumptions (admittedly of vastly different lengths [the difference between requiring a margin of error in the percentiles and a margin of error approaching one]) before either outcome hits 100%. One side covers it’s ass and moves the goalposts, and the other is sure of something that is only very highly likely, but impossible to verify, due to the ass covering and goalpost moving.

        Saying you are agnostic is not the same thing as saying you don’t care about the subject.: It is saying you believe it is a question impossible to be well informed enough to be sure of an answer to. It would follow that the healthy course of action based on this belief would be to let it go and get used to not knowing, though i’ll grant you there are likely just as many very hung up on determining something they believe to be impossible, who care very much.

        To clarify, it was a mistake to say agnostics don’t care about the subject when what i meant was that agnostics (as i see it) don’t care about the answer to the question that the topic is predicated on.

        A theistic approach to an experiment is to believe the answer you’ve been given beforehand because you trust whomever told it to you.
        (because the things that people tell you do and don’t exist are true unless you notice a reason they have to lie to you)

        An atheistic approach is to believe in the most likely outcome based on prior outcomes.
        (because everything doesn’t exist until it does)

        An agnostic approach is to wait for results on a case by case basis and not trusting yourself to come to the right conclusions. Possibly due to an observed lack of the capacity to make accurate predictions or hypotheses.
        (because everything exists and doesn’t exist until it does one or the other.

        You are right in that they also mostly lean toward one or the other. But i wouldn’t discount the possibility of some outlying ascetics somewhere in the desert in a constant meditative state existing. Though i do agree that, should they exist, we should all hate these people.

        I don’t see anything that makes one approach better or worse than another.

        There is also an unrepresented superstitious demographic who believe most interesting, either best or worst case outcome might occur. (everything exists until it doesn’t) The actual diametric opposite of atheism.(believing in whatever you like or have a gut inclination toward) I don’t personally think the thought processes that lead to atheist and theist people are particularly related to each other except that they happen to fall opposed on this god issue.

        I think they might actually follow a blue & orange variant of the law-chaos-good-evil spectrum of personalities, one in each diagonal corner with good & evil subbed out with inquiry and resignation.

        But that’s off topic.

        It’s true that there are people that are smug about agnosticism and act as though it is somehow smarter or more valid than atheism, despite this being objectively false. This is not an agnosticism problem, it is a stupid asshole problem.

        Silly at best and ignorant: the exact term i used to describe myself in the sentence you’re referring to. What is your point? We agree here.

        I also believe that the answer is wholly irrelevant. And in that sense, actually don’t care.

        If there turned out one day to have been a giant sky wizard who pushed the start button on a giant machine that created the optimum conditions for the singularity in the first place, nothing would change. Physics and math would work the same. Humans will still have evolved from dino-rodents, and gross fish and the first mold before them.
        All the rules would still be there. There’d just be a weird, meaningless quirk to reality people would bring up at trivia nights and forget. Or they’d argue over what, if anything made this machine and wizard.

        If it turned out that this wizard reincarnated itself as a human by raping a virgin. it wouldn’t change anything. Or even be much of a surprise. Just another fucked up asshole who ought to be in jail and a kid that paid for having a shitty parent.

        And then what? Some of one particular set of theists who formed a religion based off a folk hero, based on another religion plus some cults for flavor would act smug for a while without seeing the bigger picture.
        Because that wasn’t happening already.

        I can still find it interesting to think about, while not minding either way and don’t know what to call that except agnosticism. (when pressed for a better answer than lazy)

        The main concept of yours i take issue with is that of there is a wrong type of person to be other than harmful and a wrong kind of opinion to have that suddenly doesn’t count. Opinions can be misguided and they can be stupid, but they can’t be both sincere and not a real opinion at the same time.

        It smacks of calling badwrongfun, implies access to unavailable insight into the minds of others and generalizes an arbitrary group of people into having a personality & such broad prejudices are rarely accurate.
        (i find this sentence amusing because it is paradoxically hypocritical, yet accurate to the best of my knowledge. Fun talk we’re having)
        Oh, and then it claims discreet access to the reasoning of this anthropomorphised generalization.
        (see, hypocrisy. It’s an argument which disproves itself while still holding up solely on the clause that should cause it to collapse in on itself… well, I find it funny)

        (because i was also… and you… but it… no one ever laughs at me when i’m intentionally hypocritical, but they crack up when i step into it and they pounce on it. What gives? is it the delivery? It’s the delivery isn’t it? Is it supposed to be subtle?)

        Sorry, that was very long, i tend to ramble when i get confronted by something interesting.

        • First off, Joel, I want to thank you not only for the discussion, but also for the civil tone of the discussion. In my experience, such topics as these elicit rather strong emotional feelings that, more often than not, degrade into insults and shouting matches. So my kudos to you for keeping the discussion on an even keel.

          Okay, back to our discussion…

          Regarding atheism as a belief system: I want to be clear about this because it’s an issue often thrown in atheists’ faces by theists. Theists like to marginalize the opinion of atheists by claiming their “belief” is just another form of religion. But it just isn’t so. Atheism is NOT a belief system. There are no codified ideologies, rules or any other trappings of such a system.

          Also, no faith is required for atheism. It is simply a lack of belief. It is the religious making an assertion regarding divine beings, afterlife, historical figures never proven to exist outside the Bible, etc. Atheists are simply saying they don’t believe it. It’s as simple as that. That’s not a belief system.

          This is also why, as you say, theists “get a free pass”. There is no reasoning with the type of irrationality that drives people to believe things for which there is no proof. That’s why I equate religion with Santa Claus. The only difference between the two is that the belief in god is fostered by the community while the belief in Santa Claus is not (beyond a certain age). The religious simply believe because it’s what they’ve been taught their whole lives. Brainwashing and indoctrination are the reasons that people come to believe in such crazy notions and self delusion keeps the ball rolling beyond childhood. So it goes without saying that faith – belief without proof – is a purely irrational ideology. People believe because they want to believe, not because there’s anything substantiating it.

          Additionally, the very word “atheist” is generic in the sense that most use more specific labels to better identify themselves (such as “secular humanist”, to give one example). Like you, however, I don’t care enough to define myself by a more detailed label. Atheist fits the bill perfectly while immediately getting the point across without me having to explain myself.

          Also, I don’t think you’re defining agnostics properly throughout much of your argument, though you do refer back to my definitions later. As you may remember from the beginning of the blog post, agnostics tend to fall into 2 categories – agnostic atheists and agnostic theists. I also supplied links so that you know these are real and not purely something I made up. Basically, agnostics are defined as having a “leaning” in one direction or the other. The reason I always say it’s a pseudo-intellectual cop out is because rather than take a position in keeping with what they believe, they hedge.

          “I think there’s a god, but don’t think there’s enough evidence to say for sure.” That’s ridiculous! As you noted, the belief in the divine is ineffable. It’s a belief. There’s no proof and there’s never likely going to be any proof because no matter how much of the universe we explore, no matter how many secrets we lay bare, someone will ALWAYS have a way of manufacturing a reason why there could still be a god/heaven/hell, etc. out there somewhere (the “moving goalpost” you mentioned). Religion allows for pat, nonsensical answers to explain everything while simultaneously explaining nothing. And faith becomes an unassailable shield against further discussion.

          So to take the argument a step forward, I don’t think agnostics are being honest. They hedge. Rather than say what they believe, they provide a backdoor for a quick escape. So we come full circle back to belief. You either believe in the divine or you don’t. It goes without saying that there’s no evidence, but stipulating a belief entirely around the idea of hedging your bet only makes sense when proof could be forthcoming.

          For example, if I were a scientist, I could say, “Based on observational studies, past research, my own experience, etc., I believe ABC about XYZ, but I allow for the possibility that I could be wrong.” This makes perfect sense. As a scientist, they’re not showing hubris by insisting they are 100% correct. But by saying you don’t believe in god, but allowing that you could be wrong… it’s nonsensical. No proof is ever going to be forthcoming. You simply believe it or you don’t.

          You said, “[agnosticism] is saying you believe it is a question impossible to be well informed enough to be sure of an answer to.” And I disagree. People have no problem with saying they don’t believe in Santa Claus – something they can not truly know for certain, but can only justify with a solid certainty most sane adults will back them up – but then say they can’t be certain of a storybook god, heaven, hell, etc. That’s just silly. We can certainly reason for ourselves through general observation and past experience that the very notion of divine beings (not aliens, but true, magical beings with omnipotent powers) is fiction. Mythology. Parables. Whatever you want to call it. The words omnipotence, omniscience and omnipresence are terms that fly in the face of all logic. Even a bare bones discussion of them presents enormous inconsistencies and contradictions, both philosophically and logically speaking. Even worse, many people have a serious problem dealing with the concept of an unending universe but likewise have no problem dealing with an unending divine creator. That’s just crazy!

          So in the end, I think we agree in broad terms, but have a sticking point on terminology. That’s okay, it’s the discussion that matters. As you aptly noted, even real proof one way or the other really wouldn’t change anything. People would likely still continue to believe as they wished. However, I believe the discussion is what’s important because theism is irrationality that breeds still more irrationality. To my mind, it’s just one step away from insanity, and one thing this world needs is more sanity and skepticism. Religion teaches just the opposite and people tend to wallow in such trappings when times are hard and clear heads are needed the most. That, to me, is dangerous for the survival of the human race.

          Finally, regarding subtlety: Yes, I’m sure it’s the delivery. Subtlety is lost on most people, probably because they lack familiarity with it due to regularly dealing with people that are too anxious to throw in their own two cents to actually listen and catch the underlying joke.

  6. Also i don’t see how a lack of knowledge on a specific topic, and knowledge of that failing is a pseudo intellectual cop out.

    That’s like saying you can either like or dislike ice cream and people who claim never to have tried it or shown any interest in buying any are lying because they’re wishy washy.

    Not having looked into it isn’t pseudo intellectual or a cop out.
    It’s straight not intellectual and a decision. Albeit arguably a troglodytic one.

    You aren’t either a dedicated scientist or a nun/priest, some people work in banks and cafes and don’t know or care about this shit. Just about being grouped together arbitrarily and insulted.

    • You’re not reading properly. If one brands themselves an agnostic, they are taking a position. If they are taking that position, as you suggest, because they are lacking in information/education, then that’s even worse – it says they take a position without even considering what it is they’re taking a position on. Words have meaning. Labels have meaning. If someone ascribes to themselves a label, then they should understand its meaning – which is a large part of why I wrote this blog post since many people don’t understand what the various terms mean.

      Beyond the issue of labels, no one needs to be specifically educated on either science or theology to get the gist of religion. You believe in god or you don’t. Agnosticism is an idiotic, pseudo-intellectual no-man’s land for people unwilling to take a position one way or the other. It’s an intellectual cop out because it IS wishy washy. Again, you believe in divine beings or you don’t. It’s as simple as that.

      • I go into nauseating detail in my other response but i’m just realising that the main point of confusion was that caused me to spiral into words to explore.

        What it matters.

        What does deciding on a version of reality to believe and a version to disbelieve bring you? How does making that decision make you better if you would not act differently having learned the secret accuracy of either?(and why should picking one cause you to act differently)

        Why must you(communal use, not You you) subscribe to either.

        Some people believe in rules such as luck and they haven’t been proven to be any more or less happy than those that don’t.

        What of the vague, semi-religious types who think god is a “feeling” or an abstract concept, or a metaphor,or aren’t sure. Do these opinions put them on middle ground as well or is the distinction only important on whether you think there is a god, not what god is, or what version of that god? As long as you can say yes or no. If so, what is the difference between picking to opt in and out of the service and picking the right god provider and why is one more important?

        There are people who believe in no creator or intentional design, but believe the universe itself to be sapient and largely disinterested. On a “planets as organisms” sort of scale.

        What is the value of ascribing yourself with an additional label if there is nothing to be learned from the experience? Or even any additional assurance that you’re right. Saying yes or no, doesn’t let you into the secret club where they huddle you in and break out the good truth for special occasions.

        It isn’t as if deciding on something is the same as learning something and you can’t possibly learn anything from either conclusion because both, as ephemeral, un-examine-able concepts, can’t be a source of any further information through deconstruction. All it can do is provide you with a better box to check and a group of people to agree with. I’m not following where one of the only questions with nothing approaching consensus on an answer is so intrinsically tied to a binary approach.

        And why you care that some people might not believe anything. (belief in the absence of a thing is a belief all the same)

        I’ve just reiterated alternate aspects to the same question a bunch but i just really don’t get how belief is mandatory when that belief has no function but to exist and occasionally be displayed like a curio, or oddity you collected. Some peoples knicks don’t knack. If it’s perfectly acceptable not to have a second kidney then an imaginary sense of assurance on the status of something which may or may not exist seems like it should just lift right out of a person without so much as a surgical scar but you’re speaking like it’s psychic bedrock or vital mind organ you cant live without. Lest the douche voles get in through the hole and make you into a not-us.

        It feels like when theists ask, how can you not believe in god? it’s god!(appropriate name of appropriate deity as applies)
        As though that belief were an intrinsic part of your humanity.

        If atheist’s can get by without the belief in god, and theists can survive without the belief in a lack of any god, surely this means you can be fine without either without constantly tripping over your own stupid and collapsing into a smarmy drooling mess.
        Unless they fulfill the same necessary purpose, whatever that supposed purpose may be.

        (also just quietly not all agnostics consider themselves that way to come off as intellectual some just don’t have a better word when a stance is demanded of them, it’s that or lie about having strong feelings about a hypothetical question)

        • Hi, Joel

          I answered most of this at the end of my post to your other, longer comment. However, the last point to make on why it matters is because, as I stated before, words have meaning. As a writer, I abhor the fact that language has taken a back seat to speed in today’s “information now” world. Grammar, spelling, context, tone, labels… these things have taken a dramatic nosedive, which is a real shame. Words have power. When we misuse terms and labels, we do a disservice to ourselves. We don’t communicate properly. Communication is all important. Written language is a birthright of humanity. When we marginalize these things for the sake of expediency, it demeans us.

          Just a few thoughts. Be well!

          • Hello Michael.

            I’d like to just thank 𝘆𝗼𝘂 right back for your civil tone and discussion to start. I very much agree that it is rare to speak, especially on the internet and especially on philosophical or theological issues for any length of time lately without the entire endeavor devolving into projectile bile. It’s remarkably refreshing to find legitimate discourse show up as the immediate response to an unsolicited comment on ones work. Outlandishly polite even.
            (you brought this up elsewhere, but it seemed apt to respond to it in the first instance of retort.(i just spent a while attempting to come up with a natural sounding way to say that than the words “apt” and “instance of retort” but ran dry on synonyms that aren’t worse. I’m not always the most rightest wordinous talksmith))

            It’s probably a little difficult for me to whittle down to the points of disagreement because overall i don’t disagree with much of what you say.

            For instance, i agree wholeheartedly with everything you said just above regarding the importance and weight of efficient communication. Language fascinates me endlessly and I find most arguments i get into are created not due to what statement was made, but getting distracted by specificity and minutia of how the statement was delivered and the deconstruction of it’s potential meaning. Specifically a differing opinion on the definition and implications of terms used or one person intending a word’s primary definition and another falsely receiving a secondary or tertiary definition.(i can only assume this to be a form of mental illness) It is, as you may assume, exhausting for everyone.

            Back to the point, i didn’t mean to imply the definition to be unimportant, or that the distinction was meaningless. But that the concept of the answer itself was. With an agnostic mindset, one that i believe exists(which may be the initial point we and specifically disagree on as i understand it), the decision of whether a god exists can only be taken arbitrarily.
            Creating agnostic-ish half convinced atheists and theists.
            Which exist, in numbers. But have different opinions ow what to call themselves And what you describe as wishy-washy seem to be the ones who go with agnostic.
            Which is right, but where the issue is, is chronology.
            I think what makes them wishy-washy isn’t just that they aren’t “real” atheists or theists, but also that they aren’t “real” agnostics.
            There are plenty others with atheist and theist mindsets who lack conviction and go with agnosticism as a defaultish sounding middle ground.

            The point is, not all are there because their conviction to their theist or atheist beliefs are at half strength and agnosticism provides a crutch, but some are also there because their convictions as an agnostic(which are hard to have in the first place, being that there is only so emphatically you can claim not to dignify a question with a response before you’re responding.) are weak and atheism and theism become the crutches they can backtrack into, so as to be in one of the legitimate groups.

            You mentioned earlier that, to save time i’ll quote you directly, “If one brands themselves an agnostic, they are taking a position. If they are taking that position, as you suggest, because they are lacking in information/education, then that’s even worse – it says they take a position without even considering what it is they’re taking a position on. Words have meaning. Labels have meaning. If someone ascribes to themselves a label, then they should understand its meaning ”

            This is all true and accurate, but the issue was rooted in my vague phrasing. The ignorance i was referring to was not ignorance of the issue at hand(theism v atheism) But ignorance of the god in question. Since agnosticism is, by definition the belief that ignorance on the topic of theology is innate and unsolvable due to the intentionally vague and impermeable nature of the topic.
            So i wasn’t saying the position was taken ignorantly, but that the position being taken was one of ignorance.

            I think the important distinction is not that they don’t know, but that they can’t know and consider the entire thing to be less a question of belief and more an open ended philosophical riddle that leads nowhere. (for instance some people chose to believe an open ended narrative ends happily, some believe it ends sadly, and some believe it ends with a period and just has no conclusion.)

            I think, personally, that, especially in light of the facts that you pointed out about most agnostics having a theist or atheist bent, agnosticism as a term should be more often as an adjective describing subsets of atheism and theism with the noun form reserved for the concept of a possible third party.

            That way we would have a clearer field to work from, we wouldn’t be arguing over whether agnostics exist, because there would be obvious examples in all the agno-theists and agno-atheists who would no longer have to call themselves base agnostic. (When they sort of aren’t.) The argument would just be about the Agnostic agnostics. (Agno-‘nostics)

            Sadly language is only so malleable without consensus and we’re stuck with vague words that mean less than they should.

            Because agnosticism is not mutually exclusive from theism or atheism by any means. Because it is the only thing you can prove. That you can’t prove anything about god.
            Theists say that’s because god doesn’t want you to and atheists say it’s because there clearly is no god, but there is at least, what i figure to be, a majority who would concede that god, as a concept, is crazy ineffable(or crazy and ineffable).
            Which, from where i’m sitting, makes them agnostic by definition as well as theist or atheist.

            I may(and probably will) also respond yo your longer post when i have time to reread it more thoroughly a little later(i’m spending all the time i have free right now typing this) but the only point i can think of from memory is the thing about atheism not being a belief.
            I don’t think it’s a lack of belief so much as it is a belief with a negative value rather than positive. A non-belief. You can believe there isn’t a manticore in your closet but you still b̲e̲l̲i̲e̲v̲e̲ that. You can 𝑘𝑛𝑜𝑤 it as well, but that doesn’t stop you from believing it. If anything i’d assume being sure of it would bolster the belief.

            *

            The problem is when religious types attack atheism as being a belief 𝐬𝐲𝐬𝐭𝐞𝐦. Which it isn’t. It is a single belief that one particular thing is too far fetched to exist. Same as theism is a single belief that the same thing might as well exist. Religions are essentially cults(before that word had the connotations it has now and its original definition became the secondary definition) in honor of the existence of that thing. Which is entirely different and unrelated. (it’s kind of an issue that religion and theism are so difficult to separate, because it makes it difficult for a religious-theist to have a discussion on theism v atheism, because they are often predisposed to responding with a religious answer rather than a purely theistic one, which turns it into another round of religion versus anti-religion to the death)

            I also think some agnostics are agnostic because their mind(mine for example) is unable to regulate skepticism, and is skeptic of it’s own skepticism, which can in some cases lead to a lack of much belief in anything(positive or negative(that is to say belief or disbelief)) without at least some knowledge to back it up, but there is probably medication for that.
            I read somewhere a description of agnostic-atheists considering god the same as other mythical creatures. Which is (in my opinion) pretty accurate to how both agnostics and atheists see gods..
            Especially with your Santa analogy. But better analogous to a yeti or chimera.
            In that their existence is quite unlikely but not especially so, and most probably came about as a misattributed unfamiliar common creature, or a goof. We’d be happy to study one’s remains and find out if they’re related to any modern animals, were they excavated. Perhaps the gods were an ancient ancestor of the common wizard.

            And in that there were totally cults to dragons and minotaurs. They just converted when they heard that a god could beat both in a fight and would probably make a better guardian if you could curry one’s favor due to their superior hearing and land-speed.

            Stuff just got weird after the concepts of cultism got inbred and weird and religioney. And after the cults that involved blood rites and suicide got turfed for their barbarism but the equivalent barbaric practices in the main non-murderey ones became culturally accepted alternatives to logic. Well, they didn’t so much “become” as not have the chance to be removed at the same pace as knowledge increased that the murderey ones’ practices had.

            I vote for myself as mvp of this week’s game of accidentally getting the furthest from the topic in a comment thread without getting off-topic, which is hard to do when commenting on something about both santa and god, who, as we know from all the tests, is in everything(really, like, csi black-lights are showing traces of santa everywhere. Just, all the houses. The man must be stopped. And god is the one to do it. Specifically the god Hoar).
            Also in the field(field?) of most unnecessary nested and un-nested parentheticals.

            * I’d have put this there if i knew how to make it a hyperlink
            https://upload.wikimedia.org/wikipedia/commons/thumb/8/83/Classical_definition_of_Kno.svg/600px-Classical_definition_of_Kno.svg.png
            It’s from another blog, i think. (as a variant on the standard diagram, which is common and i don’t know the original source of)

            Anyway, good afternoon.

            (i wonder what your character limit is on comments. Probably too many looking at what it lets me get away with.)

            • Funny story: i had no idea you were a writer when i stumbled onto your blog quite accidentally and realized the most recent comment was quite recent. Then grew to like your rhetoric while arguing with you and have another tab open looking to see where i can track down your published works. Does Radion Media have an amazon page? Searching just shows up radios.

              • Hello, Joel

                While I’ve been writing a variety of articles and editorials both freelance and for various marketing positions (and also for the now-defunct Free Market News Network) for quite a few years, I only recently signed a publishing contract for my first novel. Radion Media is a relatively new publisher and I kind of got in on the ground floor. Their sci-fi/fantasy imprint, Dragon Highway, will have its own website here shortly. I’m uncertain what their plans are for Amazon in terms of marketing (I only know what’s going on with my own book), however, their website is http://www.radionmedia.com. My Goodreads page is here: https://www.goodreads.com/user/show/24402490-michael-morning

                My novel, “Rise of the Lesser Dragons” will arrive January 22, 2017. Thank you for your interest!

  7. //However, this position is usually taken out of fear of intellectual hubris rather than any argument of logic…thus, it’s easy to defeat.//

    Actually, Thomas Huxley was a scientist, above all else. He saw the scientific method in picking apples at the market. The agnosticism he defined was a belief in that scientific method, and it amounted to a form of demarcation. No objective testable evidence = a subjective unfalsifiable claim. Results: unscientific and inconclusive. No belief as to the truth, or falsehood, of the claim. It is not compatible with athe-ism, the belief gods do not exist, or the-ism, the belief gods do exist.

    To say his position is not based on logic, is dishonest. He also took on all comers over evolution and agnosticism, in print and in public. To say his position is based on fear, is also dishonest.

    //For anyone who tells you they are agnostic, simply nod knowingly and ask them if they believe in Santa Claus. Don’t allow them to hedge; put the question bluntly: “Do you, as a thinking adult, believe in Santa Claus?”//

    So, you’re going to set out to “defeat” agnosticism, with false equivalencies?

    Absence of evidence as evidence of absence works one of two ways: a) you know exactly where to look for X, you look there, and don’t find X; b) you look absolutely everywhere for X, and don’t find X.

    Example for a) The concept “Santa Claus” involves a toy shop at the North Pole. You search the North Pole. You find no toy shop. You have evidence of absence for “Santa Claus”.

    Example for b) The concept “alien” involves a being from another planet in the universe. You’d actually have to scour all the planets in the universe, and find no “aliens”, to achieve evidence of absence.

    I’ve yet to hear, exactly, where we should be looking for “god” beings, or exactly how we’ve managed to search everywhere for “god” beings. If the concept involves such a being creating the known universe, that might even involve them existing outside this known universe. That’s even worse than searching for “aliens”.

    I’m agnostic about the existence of “god” beings, much the same as I’m agnostic about “alien” beings. Sure, I’ll point out a Superman comic appears to be fiction, and isn’t evidence for the existence of “aliens”. Sure, I’ll argue against having “Truth, Justice, and the American Way” dictated as an absolute moral code. Sure, I’ll argue against having The Adventures of Superman taught in schools. Sure, I’d frown upon people trying to scare people into believing in Superman with tales of eternity in the Phantom Zone, if you don’t. Etc.

    However, in the end, I’ll also have to point out that a Superman comic isn’t evidence for the non-existence of “aliens”, either. And, it won’t matter how many thousands or millions of sci-fi “aliens” you parade forth and show to be fiction, it will still never be evidence for the non-existence of “aliens”.

    //That said, there’s no support for the agnostic hypothesis here.//

    What “agnostic hypothesis”? That nobody has presented any objective testable evidence, and just makes subjective assertions? I’m pretty sure your own article supports that hypothesis.

    These options are not better than agnosticism …

    X is true because you cannot prove that X is false.
    X is false because you cannot prove that X is true.

    https://www.logicallyfallacious.com/tools/lp/Bo/LogicalFallacies/56/Argument_from_Ignorance

    • First off, if you want an excellent breakdown of the logical and philosophical underpinnings of theism vs. atheism, you should check out the book “God is Not Great” (if I’m remembering it correctly). I won’t be able to do it justice, but it clearly defeats logic as a support for agnosticism.

      Secondly, you tried to use an argument common to religious people. You suggested that comparing the belief in Santa Claus to the belief in divine beings was somehow different (i.e. a false equivalency). That’s absolutely untrue and a misuse of logic (shame on you). Both are mythology. To suggest otherwise is to really overstate one’s case. Religious people try to suggest that the belief in a divine creator is something different than other mythology and therefore unassailable. But that is totally false.

      We can test this any number of ways. However, the religious always have an excuse why the test fails. For example, you suggest going to the North Pole and not finding a toy shop. That’s incredibly easy to defeat – Santa Claus is magic and could easily hide himself from your searches. Same thing goes when “searching” for divine beings. Though we are told they are everywhere, we find them nowhere… yet we’re not allowed to present that as evidence of absence? That, my friend, is called being dishonest and having an agenda.

      Thirdly, the other way we can ferret out divine beings is through simple logic. And this is where the mythology completely and utterly fails. One small example: Omnipotence. The idea that God (or any god) is all-powerful fails the test of logic time and time again. If we say that something is omnipotent, we are saying it can do anything. Because this is a staple in the god mythology, we must concede that for the mythology to be true, that part must follow. But according to logic, god cannot create square circles. It’s illogical, so it also destroys this concept of omnipotence, which says one should be able to do anything (which logically can’t be accomplished). Omnipresence and omniscience are similarly easy to defeat.

      Another staple of the belief in – and worship of – divine beings is their supposed beneficial manipulations within our lives. And yet evil survives. People pray and bad things still happen – people die, children are beaten, women are raped… but this doesn’t suggest evidence of absence? Really?? Epicurus provides an excellent quote on this (Google it).

      So purely by logic we can deduce that the existence of god – or any such all-powerful, all-knowing, all-present divine being – is a story. It’s mythology that too many people have taken way too seriously for far too long. Nothing more, nothing less.

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