View Single Post
Old Jul 15th 2010, 09:14 PM
Michael's Avatar
Michael Michael is offline
Herder of Cats
Join Date: Oct 2008
Location: Toronto
Posts: 14,838
Default Re: Literal isnít Lazy

Originally Posted by WFCY View Post
The chief distinctions between atheism and agnosticism rests on the status of knowledge, or as some philosophers further points out, the moral consequences of belief with knowledge and belief without (e.g. Clifford's Ethics of Belief has a story of the ship sailing to the New World, and Huxley's Agnosticism) (The_Drunk_Guy: you can look em up easily yourself, I certainly am not just touting names and literatures here- I just don't want to change the subject all the time trying to explain everything). The central claim being- regardless of your level of sincerety in what you believe, some which may or may not be self-serving, belief without certainty in knowledge is always immoral, and therefore we cannot be either theists or atheists, as both of these makes a claim on not just one's belief, but a belief that necessarily rests on knowledge. Only with justified belief, or belief with full knowledge, can we make religious statements such as "there is a god", or "there is no god" that are moral, since our belief in god often entail exhortations or imperatives relating to other people. (And if one can always keep one's religious belief completely private, then the moral argument is irrelevant- except for when one is harmed by one's own false beliefs). ...
I can't accept this because atheism itself does not constitute a claim of knowledge. Atheism, in strict philosophical terms, is simply a lack of belief in theism (or God). A lack of belief does not constitute an actual claim of knowledge (other than knowledge of one's conscious self).

Theism on the other hand, as a statement of belief, certainly does entail a logical claim of knowledge ('God exists', or 'scripture/theology is truth').

As for agnosticism, I've always considered that term to be as confusing as the common misunderstandings about the word atheism, though rather less contentious.

In practical terms, I find 'agnosticism' is the label many 'atheists' retreat to when they are challenged by aggressive theists and lack the ability to stand the intellectual ground. (I'm not accusing you WFCY at all of this, just making a common observation here that this approach seems common amongst the less eritrude/serious types and thus VERY popular. )

Originally Posted by WFCY View Post
There is a related but independent second point here- for some people such as the empircists (like Hume, or Mill), or later the Modernists and Logical Positivists, justified belief is significant not based on moral grounds, but based on the principles in which statements' truth value can be derived. Both theism and atheism suffer the same problem in that statements such as "there is a god", or "there is no god" cannot be verified scientifically. They are in a sense, nonsense, this is another ground for someone to be agnostic.
I certainly won't disagree with Hume.

And I certainly agree about what you say regarding justified belief.

I just get hung up on the idea that atheism represents a claim of knowledge (other than the self knowledge of a lack of presence of belief).

Originally Posted by Sanford, cited above
ĎAtheismí means the negation of theism, the denial of the existence of God.
If this definition of atheism is to stand uncontested, that means that the number of intelligent atheists is zero. End of discussion.

In my opinion, denial of the existence of God is as absurd as the assertion that God does exist. Without proof either way, no claim of knowledge is possible and it is all just conjecture.

I lack all interest in the question of God and theology. God might exist for all I know, but I still have no reason to believe in the whole concept so I don't. I don't believe in God/god/gods/theology/afterlife/etc at all. None of it, nothing. I lack any belief at all in this respect.

I think, therefore I am, and one day I will die. The End. That's all I can claim to know. There may be more to it than that, but I have no reason or knowledge to believe/justify that.

(My philosophical position here is epistemologically consistent with Hume)

Originally Posted by WFCY View Post
So an atheist is either- someone who claims to know there is no god, or who does not know, but nevertheless believes the non-existence of a god. An agnostic lacks such belief. This is consistent with the definition provided in my previous post.
As noted above, I just can't accept this definition of atheism. That (Sanford) definition of atheism makes atheism as absurd as the God-claims of the theists.

Atheism is a rejection of God-belief. That can not be considered the same as a positive assertion that 'God does not exist'. That's the contemporary popular definition of the term that intelligent atheists reject by definition because it constitutes the same principle of faith that is rejected in the first place. This Sanford definition of atheism makes atheism into a religion and that's absurd.

Originally Posted by WFCY View Post
The above does not seem to be a wholly satisfying or clear enough distinction, but it does make justified beleif, or belief with knowledge, a key criteria that sets agnostics apart from atheists.
I agree with the significance of justified belief, but I don't see how that applies to the issue of atheism since there is only a lack of belief.

Originally Posted by WFCY View Post
Again, the demonstrations by the author above seems unsatisfactory- The only reason I could attribute to this is precisely because natural language is not scientific and not precise enough. A statement such as "There is a god" or a statement such as "There is no god" is a matter of probability when justified belief, aka, knowledge, is involved in the evaluation of such statements- As the author suggests, we ought to apply methods of verification, external to the natural languages we speak, which contrary to natural languages, are scientific in nature, in order to determine the meaning or truths of those statements. There are further problems in applying scientific methods to prove the non-existence of things, which is why statements of existence is either positively proved, or matters of probabily when positive proof is absent.

The external methods of verification mentioned by the author and me, such as Bayesian/Confirmation theory, or the Demarcation problem mostly attributed to Positivists such as Ayer, will be extensively discussed in another thread which I intend to follow up in the near future.
I just can't get past the big strawman of this 'religious' definition of atheism making knowledge claims that seems necessary to this definitional distinction for agnosticism.

If agnosticism is valid, it needs to stand on its own feet with a definition that doesn't include a direct reference to atheism. Atheism takes its name from theism for good reason. Agnosticism is derived from a different traditional line of thinking that goes back to the ancient Greeks and Romans, not a reaction against monotheism.

Originally Posted by WFCY View Post
As we can see, the discussion of Atheism vs Agnosticism touches upon several philosophical issues. On the one hand, it deals with morality, which is phasing out in philosophical discussions of the modern and postmodern era. On the other hand, it deals with philosophy of language, the way in which we evaluate truth or falsity of statements in natural language, statements which are intrisically very imprecise, ambiguous and by no means suitable for communicating scientific knowledge.
And at the core of it, a poor and wildly abused and misunderstood word!

I think we really need to agree on a functional definition of atheism - one that doesn't seek to turn atheism into a reverse form of theism, otherwise it will be a religiously biased definition and that's non-functional for philosophic purposes.

I also think we need an "Atheism & Agnosticism" thread to discuss this as we are probably moving way beyond the issues of "literalism".

Originally Posted by WFCY View Post
There are however, pragmatic and practical grounds for making a clear distinction between atheism and agnosticism, which will be continued in my next post.
I hope you won't base it upon this [flawed] Sanford definition.
Remember what the dormouse said: Feed your head!
Reply With Quote