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What is an agnostic? Am I an agnostic?


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Initial post: Jun 4, 2012 2:17:48 PM PDT
J. Steger says:
I've heard quite a few people throw around the term agnostic in this forum, but I'm not quite sure I understand what it means. The definition I get when I Google it is something along the lines of, 'One who believes that the existence of a god can never be proven or disproven.' Wouldn't every single thinking person fall under this category? Why do people use it as a distinction, it would be like saying, "well as someone who has feet..." it makes no sense.

In reply to an earlier post on Jun 4, 2012 2:18:51 PM PDT
Last edited by the author on Jun 4, 2012 2:19:16 PM PDT
nameinuse says:
An atheist who can't commit?

Posted on Jun 4, 2012 2:32:48 PM PDT
Atheism - a theism - a lack of theism, the belief in the existence of Deities
Agnosticism - a gnosis (knowledge) - a lack of knowledge concerning the existence of Deities

The term agnosticism was created by Thomas Huxley, and originally meant the philosophical position which held that the answer to the question "Do Deities exist?" is both unknown *and unknowable*.

So, you could be a theist who is certain a Deity exists... in which case you would not be agnostic.

Or, you could be an atheist who is certain that we can be sure no Deities exist... in which case, again, you would not be agnostic.

Unfortunately, you'll see a lot of variation when it comes to how people use the term "agnosticism" today, so it can be confusing when you try to figure out just what the term means.

Posted on Jun 4, 2012 2:39:09 PM PDT
Rev. Otter says:
<<Am I an agnostic?>>

i don't know. :)

Posted on Jun 4, 2012 2:42:40 PM PDT
I am an atheist because I have never encountered anything approaching empirical evidence that any supernatural beasties exist. Therefore, I don't BELIEVE that they exist.
I am an agnostic because I don't KNOW that they don't exist.

In reply to an earlier post on Jun 4, 2012 3:55:59 PM PDT
Mickey says:
I think the best definition is just a person who's not sure. But there are strong and weak agnostics - a weak agnostic says we may know someday or we may not, not that we can never know.

In reply to an earlier post on Jun 4, 2012 3:58:17 PM PDT
That's actually a *terrible* definition, as it doesn't get at the key point of agnosticism: what can be *known* about the existence of Deities, as distinct from what is *believed* about the existence of Deities, which is covered by the terms atheism and theism.

In reply to an earlier post on Jun 4, 2012 4:00:38 PM PDT
Mickey says:
Lack of knowledge leads to uncertainty - what's wrong with that?

In reply to an earlier post on Jun 4, 2012 4:09:20 PM PDT
"Lack of knowledge leads to uncertainty - what's wrong with that?"

Agnosticism (at least as it was originally defined) wasn't just about what is or isn't known... it's about what *can* be known. It's a matter of epistemology... and about much more than merely being uncertain.

But, that said, word meanings can and do shift over time, and, among modern audiences, you'll see the term "agnosticism" applied to simple uncertainty... but that certainly isn't the meaning Thomas Huxley had in mind when he invented the word.

In reply to an earlier post on Jun 4, 2012 4:36:28 PM PDT
Mickey says:
"This principle (Agnosticism) may be stated in various ways, but they all amount to this: that it is wrong for a man to say that he is certain of the objective proof of any proposition unless he can produce evidence which logically justifies that certainty. This is what agnosticism asserts; and, in my opinion, it is all that essential to agnosticism."

"I do not very much care to speak of anything as 'unknowable.' "

"Relatively to myself, I am quite sure that the region of uncertainty- the nebulous country in which words play the part of realities - is far more extensive than I could wish."
Thomas Henry Huxley, "Agnosticism and Christianity", 1889

In reply to an earlier post on Jun 4, 2012 4:39:31 PM PDT
Last edited by the author on Jun 4, 2012 4:39:59 PM PDT
Yeah, that's another source of confusion when it comes to this issue: Thomas Huxley's own views on the term changed over time.

Eventually, it all collapses into a (IMO) pointless quibble over semantics, with the original point - clear communication - becoming hopelessly lost.

Posted on Jun 4, 2012 4:44:37 PM PDT
Allan says:
I can't top Santayana's quote: My atheism, like that of Spinoza, is true piety towards the universe and denies only gods fashioned by men in their own image, to be servants of their human interests.

Posted on Jun 4, 2012 6:38:39 PM PDT
Last edited by the author on Jun 4, 2012 6:39:16 PM PDT
Kodoku says:
There are two senses in which the term is used.

One has to do with belief: you're agnostic when you're neither a theist nor a strong atheist (a strong atheist being one who believes there is no god, as opposed to merely lacking belief).
The other has to do with knowledge: you're agnostic when you believe that you don't have knowledge of theism/atheism OR when you believe that the question is actually unknowable (it's impossible to know whether theism or atheism is true).

There's a lot of fuss over what exactly an agnostic is but the three positions I've described are so commonly referenced under the banner of agnosticism that I think it's most reasonable to simply think of the term denoting three distinct positions.

In reply to an earlier post on Jun 4, 2012 7:31:49 PM PDT
Last edited by the author on Jun 4, 2012 7:34:33 PM PDT
jpl says:
What is an agnostic? Am I an agnostic?

J. Steger says: I've heard quite a few people throw around the term agnostic in this forum, but I'm not quite sure I understand what it means. The definition I get when I Google it is something along the lines of, 'One who believes that the existence of a god can never be proven or disproven.' Wouldn't every single thinking person fall under this category? Why do people use it as a distinction, it would be like saying, "well as someone who has feet..." it makes no sense.

jpl: Good point, J. I allow myself to become irritated with those who call themselves agnostics. The etymology of this word is "not" or--"without" knowledge".

In other words, if you tell me you're an agnostic, I consider you noncomittal. You don't want to admit you're an atheist, and you don't want to admit you're a theist.

I learned what a so-called "agnostic" is when I was about 11 or 12: If I were a theist, pantheist, polytheist, etc., I'd make it my life's work to find out whether what I believed were true or not and try to live accordingly.

If I were a non-theist, I'd make it my business to create some meaning for myself.

To me, an agnostic is afraid to say one way or the other, so as to escape being reviled by theists or non-theists. How can a person be indifferent to the question of whether one or more gods exist?

I'm an atheist. I don't care what BS theists come up with, I've never seen any evidence, so I live my life accordingly, trying to do all things in moderation. For a man or woman to declare his or her belief as agnosticism is tantamount to saying, "If I decide to believe in one or more gods, and want to live a meaningful life, I must live my life accordingly. If there are no gods, I am my own god, and I assume responsibility for my own actions. I therefore create my own worldview."

I'm like you, J. I see no distinction in the term "agnostic". As far as I'm concerned, the term "agnostic" means nothing, and I have no respect for people who identify themselves as such.

Posted on Jun 4, 2012 7:56:57 PM PDT
Last edited by the author on Jun 4, 2012 8:11:15 PM PDT
Mickey says:
"From this perspective,agnostics have been criticized by atheists as being tentative fence-sitters, as if they maintained (implausibly, in the atheists eyes) that there is a roughly equal probability of the truth of theism and atheism and that therefore it is unwise to come down definitively on either side. This is, however, an inaccurate characterization of agnosticism. Huxley, Russell, and others are fully aware that the probabilities are, at the current state of knowledge, substantially on the side of atheism, but they would declare it a philosophical error to declare themselves atheists even 'practically and provisionally'."
S.T. Joshi, "The Agnostic Reader", 2007, p.12

Posted on Jun 4, 2012 7:58:06 PM PDT
A customer says:
Oh, Mickey.

In reply to an earlier post on Jun 4, 2012 7:59:41 PM PDT
Last edited by the author on Jun 4, 2012 8:03:09 PM PDT
Mickey says:
Well, explain why it's wrong to say "I don't know" if one doesn't.

In reply to an earlier post on Jun 4, 2012 8:01:35 PM PDT
J. Steger,

An agnostic appears to be someone who neither affirms that they know that God exists or deny that they know that God does not exist. An agnostic suspends judgement on the issue.

Posted on Jun 4, 2012 8:14:49 PM PDT
Dan Sullivan says:
People call me an agnostic. I don't care what they call me. Neither the atheist nor the theist can prove their case. I have spent a lifetime studying both sides of the argument. If there really is a Pearly Gate, I will just ask St. Peter to show me the down escalator. It's the price of being honest.

In reply to an earlier post on Jun 4, 2012 8:16:47 PM PDT
jpl says:
[Customers don't think this post adds to the discussion. Show post anyway. Show all unhelpful posts.]

In reply to an earlier post on Jun 4, 2012 8:17:28 PM PDT
jpl says:
I don't know whether I'm alive or dead. Prove to me that I'm alive or dead.

In reply to an earlier post on Jun 4, 2012 8:18:02 PM PDT
jpl says:
Yeah, and I may exist or not.

In reply to an earlier post on Jun 4, 2012 8:18:12 PM PDT
Mickey says:
What does science have to do with the quote by Joshi?

In reply to an earlier post on Jun 4, 2012 8:18:53 PM PDT
Mickey says:
You just posted didn't you? Can a dead person post?

In reply to an earlier post on Jun 4, 2012 8:18:55 PM PDT
jpl,

What does a categorical error have to do with this?
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Discussion in:  Religion forum
Participants:  45
Total posts:  470
Initial post:  Jun 4, 2012
Latest post:  Jun 20, 2012

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