on August 22, 2012
Wow! Robin Le Poidevin has done anyone that decides to pick up this book a favor. It is concise (118 small pages) but when you finish reading it, you will feel as if you have read a much larger book or a couple of books. His prose is accessible and extremely thought provoking.
I purchased the book on a whim as part of the bundle of Atheism, Humanism, (and Agnosticism) in the Very Short Introduction Series and thought that this would be the worst and least engaging of the three (my apologies). This is anything but true.
In fact, it was the most rewarding and thought provoking. It seems that today, most people are either theistic or atheistic in their beliefs and view persons that appeal to the agnostic approach to life as not wanting to take a side between these two views. This is really where the beauty of Le Poidevin's text shines.
He makes the reader aware, almost immediately, that this way of thinking is really nothing more than a straw-man approach to those that define themselves as being agnostic. It turns out that agnosticism and agnostics in the mold of Le Poidevin (or perhaps all agnostics?) may have actually thought out their points of view with a greater level of sobriety than most theists and atheists have.
He lays out the evidence for agnosticism in such an objective manner that one will find themselves having to delve deeply into what their own thoughts truly are. (Perhaps you are more of an agnostic than you realize?)
This is a great little book. It has definitely broke my own dogmatic approach toward agnosticism.
An exceptional book that explained and defined and approach to life that previously seemed to have only a minor ounce of integrity that I now have come to realize was anything but true. All this thanks to Robin Le Poidevin and the A Very Short Introduction series!
on November 18, 2014
"Agnosticism: A Very Short Introduction" is an excellent starting point for those who have little to no knowledge of what Agnosticism is all about. In this concise book, Prof. Robin Le Poidevin provides a well-rounded view of Agnosticism, as well as a brief cursory glance at its history, and explains how Agnosticism, as a position in the argument over whether or not God exists, is not merely a "spineless" and indecisive compromise between Atheists and Theists (on a sliding scale), but a formidable position (not on a sliding scale) that considers the pros and cons of the arguments for belief or disbelief from both sides, as well as its own, and makes no conclusive or compulsory claims where the evidence obviously demands further investigation. He also puts forward reasonable arguments that show the plausibility of a conclusion that stands in favor of a particular claim about the existence of God then contrasts it with the plausibility of a conclusion that stands in opposition to a particular claim about the existence of God, while leaving it open-ended for the reader to consider, by further investigation, then arrive at their own conclusions, even if those conclusions are themselves open-ended.
An excellent book and a great place to begin a journey in gaining an unbiased and unskewed understanding of Agnosticism.
This is a densely written, concentrated set of chapters by a British professor of metaphysics, reading like a series of lectures. Robin Le Poidevin balances theist and atheist perspectives as expected, while claiming ground for agnosticism as a respected and defensible perspective, rather than the one despised by some non-believers and dismissed as waffling by many believers. He reasons calmly and doggedly, in a philosophical tone. For me, some of this material was compressed too much, but I cannot be too harsh on the constraints, after all, of these erudite primers.
Yes, Bertrand Russell's teapot is here, and Carl Sagan's dragon, and from these, after a brisk introduction to the history of the concept, the author delves into the presumption of atheism if God's existence remains unproven. Then, he examines positive arguments for agnosticism, or whether it's based on a mistake. Faith, morals, and scientific theory follow, to see if these rest on grounds compatible with or conflicting with what may be false conceptions of agnosticism. Can you live religiously while remaining agnostic? Should schools teach agnosticism? What about religions: do these come across best when taught from an agnostic perspective? You get Pascal's Wager handled deftly, and you also get a nod to zombies.
All these topics gain some attention in 150-odd pages. I found this stimulating, and one part helps me in discussing the existence of evil with students. Le Poidevin wonders as to the "superfluity" of evil in nature, not only human but in the physical realm, if this might be an answer, from a believer's point-of-view, in why bad things exist in nature beyond the fault of what can be blamed on human action or inaction. "In so far as the world and its inhabitants are the product of blind (although not random) forces, it is up to us to shape them as we see fit. What good there is must come from us. Any indication that it will come from elsewhere might lead us into dangerous passivity. It is as if (so the story goes) God intends us to look at the world and feel alone, for only then will we realize that it is up to us to make heaven on earth." (75) That's a sample of the book's style.
As he presents agnosticism, it's "namely an uncertainty as to whether there is, or is not, a being that is quite independent of any human thought or activity, a being that would, if we understood its nature, provide a single unified explanation of why the world exists, what we are doing in it, and how we should live. That issue will not go away, even if every theologian decided to ignore it." (86) In such a direct, accessible style, Le Poidevin sets out his case. This compliments Julian Baggini's "Atheism" in this same "Very Short Introduction" series very elegantly, by the way (also reviewed by me). It's a pleasure to find such contributions that respect all sides in this eternal debate with consideration, tact, and seriousness.