Wednesday, February 13, 2008

Agnosticism, Atheism, and Proof

I consider myself an agnostic rather than an atheist because I am just as unsure that there is no God as I am that there is a God. There are many religious beliefs that I consider foolish or harmful, including the belief in the Bible as some sort of magic book, however, I do not share the belief of many of the militant atheists who see all religious belief as inherently irrational and destructive.

Evangelical Christians frequently assert that atheists have a double standard in that they demand proof of God before they will believe, but they don’t require proof of God’s non-existence before they disbelieve. I consider this to be an absurd argument because such Christians don't require proof of the non-existence of leprechauns, pixies, gnomes, flying reindeer, unicorns, the abominable snowmen, the Loch Ness monster, or Suzy Snowflake before they disbelieve in those beings. I will leave it to the philosophers to decide whether their non-existence even could be proved.

After considering the similarity between my basis for rejecting the existence of leprechauns and my reasons for doubting the existence of God, I can't decide whether I am really an atheist or whether I am simply an agnostic regarding leprechauns as well.


  1. I may be able to help.

    You're both an agnostic and an atheist.

    So am I.

    Agnosticism and atheism speak to two different things. One speaks to knowledge, the other to belief.

    You don't know if a god exists or not. Which is honest. I highly doubt anyone really knows. I sure don't know.

    But you don't believe in a god.

    That being said, you don't have to call yourself an atheist if you don't want to.

    Either way, welcome to the club!

  2. I'm agnostic to a general deity.

    I'm a militant atheist against the Christian god. It's easy.

  3. What denotes a "militant" atheist? A nice uniform? Goose-stepping? The term is ridiculous. Don't help the fundie agenda by adopting their terms and labels.

    If you ever make a decision on those leprechauns without proof but don't about god or Suzy Snowflake, I'd be curious to hear the reasons why.

    Of course this is a stupid catch-22. You can't prove there is no god without proof yet something that doesn't exist can't provide proof by the fact that it doesn't exist and therefore can't.

  4. At some point we need to pay attention to PROBABILITY in our lives; it is the underlying paradigm for "everything", so ask yourself, how probable is "God"?.. based on evidence available I'd say pretty low.

    As a probability for something tends to zero then people tend to say it doesn't exist or isn't true, like you would in a court of law, guilty or not guilty, the intellectual buck has to stop somewhere.

    We shouldn't need "words" to define non-belief in anything, "Atheist" is a redundant term really, there is only rationality, people either follow evidence to a rational conclusion (atheists) or you don't (religious).

  5. PhillyChief,

    “Militant” is a perfectly good word meaning “aggressively active (as in a cause)” according to Mirriam-Webster. If we avoid using it just because the fundies try to make it a label, I think we implicitly concede that there is something pejorative about it.

    Christian apologists seek to portray the recent appearance of atheist authors on the bestseller lists as some devious new plot by Satan to destroy God’s church, when in fact, the militancy of atheists is a perfectly rational response to fundamentalist Muslims intent on jihad and fundamentalist Christians intent on throwing science and history down the memory hole.

    Gnarl Perches,

    I would probably substitute “fundamentalist” for “Christian,” but otherwise you have described my feelings.

  6. Your rationale for the use of the word "militant" might hold if it was used to describe everyone's “aggressively active (as in a cause)” behavior. Ever hear "militant christian" in everyday speech? How about "militant healthy dieters"? "Militant balanced budget" or "militant universal healthcare advocates"? No. You might hear "passionate" or "champion of" but "militant" holds a special place and is usually reserved for negative use to inspire fear and anxiety. You conjure images of fascists, of revolutionaries and nowadays, terrorists.

    The idea to take the word back I think is as naive as Randall with "porch monkey"

    You should give Steven Pinker's The Stuff of Thought a read. It explores the use of language.

  7. Google gave me 8080 results for "militant christians." My very cursory sampling suggested that most had a negative connotation, although I saw several that appeared to be Christians embracing the word as describing the proper attitude one should have in proclaiming the gospel. Perhaps it is a function of age, but for me, "militant" conjures up images of anti-war protestors and civil rights activists as much as terrorists or fascists.

    By "militant," I intented to suggest "combative" or "aggressive," which I think accurately describes the attitude of many vocal atheists. One thing I like about "militant" is that includes the idea of aggresiveness in pursuit of a cause. I was not thinking in terms of taking the word back because I did not realize it was gone.

  8. I am just as unsure that there is no God as I am that there is a God.

    I don't think this is the case, or at least the meaning of "just as unsure" is ambiguous.

    If "just as unsure" means "equally not absolutely certain", then you're "just as unsure" about the law of gravity, or evolution, or even the existence of objective reality as you are about God: you don't have sufficient epistemic warrant to be absolutely certain of anything.

    If, however, you mean "just as unsure" in the sense of "equally (im)plausible" in a probabilistic, Baysian sense, then I think you're simply mistaken. We can't be absolutely certain, but we can conclude on the basis of rational thought and the evidence of our senses that any notion of God is highly implausible, and that there is no God at all (as ordinarily defined) highly plausible; in this sense we are not "just as unsure".

    See also Agnostic and/or atheist.

  9. Aggressive and combative also have negative connotations in America. It's an old ploy that both the right wing and christians like to use, to calmly provoke their opponents until they respond angrily or aggressively and then point to that emotion as a flaw. Starting out by labeling your opponent as aggressive sidesteps the need to waste the time poking. They've already established the the idea in the listener's head. Christians take it a step further by going into victim mode after every statement or action by "militant" atheists opposes them in order to further perpetuate the idea that atheists are aggressive, combative and angry to turn opinion against them.

    Also, anti-war protesters are likewise labeled "militant" to undermine their message of peace. You think hippies ever call themselves "militant"?

    Btw, Randall started out thinking porch monkey wasn't gone, too. ;)

  10. They point out the absurdity of this in Austin Powers- "And Frau, a member of the militant wing of the Salvation Army"