Perceptions of Agnosticism

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Perceptions of Agnosticism

Postby Kachi » Tue Apr 29, 2008 11:17 pm UTC

Inspired from the bisexuality thread, funnily enough.

I self identify as an agnostic, and have in the past fallen victim to the perception that agnostics are wishy-washy idiots who lack resolve. What is your perception of agnosticism/agnostics?

Speaking for myself, I am very firm in my agnosticism (someone once poked fun at me when I told them this, stating that it was oxymoronic). By definition, agnosticism is the only system that rejects faith. Even atheism asks one to have faith in the idea that there is no god. Agnosticism is funny in that respect because it doesn't identify what the person believes if they believe anything at all. The most it will ask for faith in is the impossibility of knowing the truth, and it doesn't necessarily even ask for that.

The "problem" with agnosticism is that it identifies some ideas that the person rejects while identifying none of the ideas that they embrace. It's not a system of beliefs so much as a mode of thought-- it's an acceptance of skepticism, and a rejection of this notion that a person should know something or have conviction in ideas that are questionably true at best. In spite of this skepticism, people have to make decisions based on the information that they have regardless of their level of certainty. To offer an example, I don't know that when I wake up in the morning and step out of bed that I won't fall through the floor. I consider even something so fundamental to be out of the realm of my knowing, but I still have to make the decision to do it or not to do it based on the information that I have. Of course I do it because the odds seem strongly in my favor. I don't do it because I believe firmly in humanity's body of physics knowledge nor because that's the way God made it. The scientific method is an agnostic method.

I act under the premise that there is no God because based on my observations of the world, that seems to me to be the most likely case. So in practice, I am not much different than any atheist. However, I hear stories from people about amazing experiences that they've had (or more often, someone they know or a friend's friend), visions and apparitions, and though I think that there is probably an explanation that does not involve some all powerful deity, I acknowledge that if tomorrow I witnessed some inexplicable miracle in all lucidity, I might not be an atheistic agnostic, but a Christican agnostic, or-- I don't know-- a Judaistic agnostic. And I would probably go to whatever hell my god had planned for me because the notion of faith just doesn't sit right with me, no matter what I'm being asked to believe.

I hestitate to even say the words "I believe," but it's a lot easier than saying, "It seems most likely to me" all the damn time.

Edited to clarify: The above are my personal perceptions of agnosticism. This is not a discussion of what certain terminology does or should mean (at least, it's not supposed to be). I realize that generally that's a good starting point for a discussion, but is actually contrary to what I was going for.

i.e., when someone says, "I'm agnostic," do you (be honest), assume that they are essentially an atheist, think that they're confused/uneducated, a religious person that's having doubts, is your first instinct to question them for clarification, or none of the above?
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Re: Perceptions of Agnosticism

Postby Robin S » Wed Apr 30, 2008 12:06 am UTC

I think a lot of people here actually would self-identify as agnostic if confronted with the technical definition, since they recognize that it is impossible to prove or disprove the existence of God or gods; but call themselves atheists because, despite this, they disbelieve in God or gods due to the lack of evidence. As has been discussed before (to death) there are various possible meanings for the word "atheist" - and also for "agnostic", and a number of those are compatible with each other.
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Re: Perceptions of Agnosticism

Postby cypherspace » Wed Apr 30, 2008 12:18 am UTC

I often feel that agnosticism is a cop-out to some extent. It's used as a way to justify irrational beliefs because they are technically possible. And sometimes it's used because people don't want to identify themselves as atheist for fear of being branded narrow-minded. I'm not claiming that everyone who identifies as agnostic says it for these reasons, but it certainly happens.
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Re: Perceptions of Agnosticism

Postby Robin S » Wed Apr 30, 2008 12:20 am UTC

Ok, put it this way: why should one restrict oneself to making the claim that certain things don't exist, when we can never know one way or the other? Tegmark's Ultimate Ensemble theory is one feasible way I see a possible God-like, conscious being existing.
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Re: Perceptions of Agnosticism

Postby antonfire » Wed Apr 30, 2008 12:27 am UTC

I think the OP may have a looser definition of "agnosticism" than, say, most Christians. I'm pretty sure my former (and future) roommate has told me that he is Christian because the evidence he sees (mostly historical) points towards Christianity. He is perfectly aware that he doesn't know that he won't fall through the floor when he gets up, and he doesn't know that God exists. I doubt he'd call himself a Christian agnostic (I can ask, if you'd like).

The problem is that just about any label related to religion ends up being a loaded term, with too many connotations and implications to sort out. There's a gap between what some people would have the words "atheist" and "agnostic" mean, which I (and the OP) fall into. "You're agnostic? Well, then you're just as open to the existence of God as to his nonexistence.". "You're atheist? Hah, you have just as much 'baseless faith' as a Christian!".

My position on this stuff is mostly the same as the OPs, but I hesitate to call myself agnostic, because then I'd have to call just about everyone agnostic, which makes the term not so useful. I think the current state of affairs with religious labels does a poor job of describing my position. Just as with the whole straight/bisexual/asexual thing, I generally prefer not to stick to a label. They're just words, people. They don't mean anything.
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Re: Perceptions of Agnosticism

Postby Kachi » Wed Apr 30, 2008 12:34 am UTC

I guess one of the reasons that I brought this up, is that if I'm confined to identify myself to one word about my religious affiliation (for whatever reason), would I be more likely to be perceived accurately if I identified myself as an atheist or an agnostic?

If you were classifying me squarely as an atheist or an agnostic based on the things I said in my original post, which would I be? And I ask that you not just decide as a matter of technical accuracy, but as a matter of public perception. Which do you think is a "friendlier" term to the general non-theist populace?

I think the OP may have a looser definition of "agnosticism" than, say, most Christians. I'm pretty sure my former (and future) roommate has told me that he is Christian because the evidence he sees (mostly historical) points towards Christianity. He is perfectly aware that he doesn't know that he won't fall through the floor when he gets up, and he doesn't know that God exists. I doubt he'd call himself a Christian agnostic (I can ask, if you'd like).


I think the distinction there is the presence of doubt. Especially in Christianity, doubt is very frowned upon, so while I expect many Christians wouldn't say that they "know," they would say that they "believe" or "have faith," which is essentially saying that you reject doubt even if you don't really know.
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Re: Perceptions of Agnosticism

Postby Robin S » Wed Apr 30, 2008 12:40 am UTC

You can believe something without rejecting doubt.

As antonfire said, I think the general populace regards both "atheism" and "agnosticism" as having a stronger meaning than, say, many people here might assume. As I mentioned, there have been various discsussions on these forums as to what are the "correct" meanings of these words. You can find them using the search function. The consensus was that there are many different meanings that the words can have, and no one "correct" meaning. There is some clarification of this issue on the relevant Wikipedia articles.
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Re: Perceptions of Agnosticism

Postby antonfire » Wed Apr 30, 2008 12:47 am UTC

Hm, this post might inspire me to have another religious discussion with my former (and future) roommate. I may ask him about how similar his views are to that of "the typical Christian".

Kachi wrote:If you were classifying me squarely as an atheist or an agnostic based on the things I said in my original post, which would I be? And I ask that you not just decide as a matter of technical accuracy, but as a matter of public perception. Which do you think is a "friendlier" term to the general non-theist populace?
I'm not exactly the best at predicting other people, but I would guess that the "friendlier" term to non-theists is "atheist". It sounds to me like you're about as convinced that there is no god as you are that the Earth is round. I'd call myself and you "pretty much atheist". If you really need one word, I'd use "atheist".


Note: I'm not an authority on how these words are used and perceived, and I rarely have discussions about religion. It would be wiser to treat my comments as a single data point, rather than as observations on a trend.
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Re: Perceptions of Agnosticism

Postby Kachi » Wed Apr 30, 2008 12:52 am UTC

You can believe something without rejecting doubt.


I don't know, I mean depending on what definition you're using, technically you can. To clarify my definition, I'd say that to believe something, religiously, you have to consciously and systematically reject ideas contrary to your own. That is, you may have doubts at times, but you do not embrace them. I realize that there are more ambiguous definitions for belief, but it's all very sloppy semantically.

I'm not an authority on how these words are used and perceived, and I rarely have discussions about religion. It would be wiser to treat my comments as a single data point, rather than as observations on a trend.


Right, well thank you. That's what I want; multiple perspectives so that I can get an idea for the broader perceptions.
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Re: Perceptions of Agnosticism

Postby Robin S » Wed Apr 30, 2008 12:55 am UTC

If you disbelieve in God to the extent that previous posts have implied, I would definitely agree with antonfire that you should call yourself atheist when describing your views briefly to the average person.
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Re: Perceptions of Agnosticism

Postby Indon » Wed Apr 30, 2008 12:59 am UTC

Kachi wrote:Which do you think is a "friendlier" term to the general non-theist populace?


I think you used a term right there which is rather friendly to that populace.
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Re: Perceptions of Agnosticism

Postby Micron » Wed Apr 30, 2008 1:06 am UTC

Based only on my experience the popular(no matter how incorrect and almost always given as strawmen) definitions seem to be as follows.

Agnostic: someone who is uncertain about the existence of the supernatural and who considers arguments for and against its existence equally valid and balanced, thus they cannot decide.

Atheist: someone who strictly disbelieves in the existence of the supernatural and rejects any argument to the contrary.

Theist: someone who strictly believes in the existence of the supernatural and considers it a proven fact.

This of course neatly rules out arguments like "I believe in what I see evidence for and I see no reasonable evidence for the existence of the supernatural" and "I believe in something supernatural but do not think its existence can ever be proven" which is a nice way to stir up fights on the internet but doesn't allow for any particularly interesting discussion.
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Re: Perceptions of Agnosticism

Postby btilly » Wed Apr 30, 2008 1:53 am UTC

Kachi wrote:Speaking for myself, I am very firm in my agnosticism (someone once poked fun at me when I told them this, stating that it was oxymoronic). By definition, agnosticism is the only system that rejects faith. Even atheism asks one to have faith in the idea that there is no god. Agnosticism is funny in that respect because it doesn't identify what the person believes if they believe anything at all. The most it will ask for faith in is the impossibility of knowing the truth, and it doesn't necessarily even ask for that.

Definition time. These are the definitions that I've seen commonly agreed on in most discussions I've been in in the last 15 years.

Theist: Actively believe in one or more deities.

Atheist: Lack all belief in God or gods.

Agnostic: Think the question of whether God or gods exist is impossible to prove either way.

The one you're likely to question is the definition of atheist. Let me put it this way. If, for you, the concept of God is on par with The Easter Bunny, are you an atheist? Most people would say yes. But you can take that position without having any proof that there is no such thing as God or gods.

Now note that these categories are not mutually exclusive. One may believe that God is unprovable but still find that you have faith that He exists. A notable example is Martin Gardner (he is well-known to mathematical types). One may believe that God is unprovable but lack all belief in God or gods. I'd be an example of that.

So you're an agnostic. Fine. So am I. You're still free to maintain your agnosticism and also be an atheist, Christian, Muslim, Wiccan or Scientologist. In fact, if you wish to get to know yourself better, I'd suggest that you think about that and figure out what (if anything) you believe in.
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Re: Perceptions of Agnosticism

Postby Lykren » Wed Apr 30, 2008 2:34 am UTC

i think that richard dawkins (whom i get to see speak next summer!!) put it best: "I am an agnostic, but in the same sense that I am agnostic about gravity."

in essence, nothing can be proved, ever, because each person is locked in their frame of reference and can never know if their senses are telling the truth, etc. in addition, because are minds are structured to interpret information in a certain way, we may simply not be able to comprehend other sorts of things. an extension to this way of thinking is that all of math is false until proven, because it is bases on unprovable axioms.

of course, no one would ever get anywhere if this is how we all thought: we work off of the rules that make logical sense to us and trust seemingly accurate sensations to give us information upon which we rely. so we go on making airplanes and designing things and fighting off possibly imaginary predators, and so far it has (apparently) all worked out.

all this shit done so far, despite the (fact?) that the statement "i think, therefore i am" is unprovable.

SO: there you are. agnosticism: technically correct on a fundamental level, but practically useless on an everyday basis.
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Re: Perceptions of Agnosticism

Postby a386 » Wed Apr 30, 2008 2:41 am UTC

alot of people here are comparing agnosticism to like a philosophical belief that nothing is provable, but i don't think it's that simple. basically yeah i'm agnostic about gravity but within that basic frame of doubt of all things constantly, i think an agnostic person maybe doubts the existence of a god figure even more?

earlier in the thread i'm looking at atheistic being defined as a lack of belief in a god/gods, but as i've come to know it i thought atheism meant a determined belief that there is no god. then agnostic would be not a lack of opinion either way, but simply a lack of belief in god and a lack of the belief that there is no god.

to get nittier and grittier, if i remember correctly there are two kinds of agnosticism, hard and soft. Hard agnosticism is a belief that it is unknowable to everyone weather or not there is a god. A soft agnostic believes he himself can't know if there is or is not a god but acknowledges that somebody else might. i count myself among the latter. right there, agnosticism becomes something practically different from atheism, not just a theoretical doubt in the belief in the lack of the existence of god. a soft agnostic can be aware of other religious experiences and accept that maybe they are true, where by definition an atheist couldn't.

so being firm in your agnosticism, OP, do you mean you believe god is unknowable to everyone not just you?
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Re: Perceptions of Agnosticism

Postby Robin S » Wed Apr 30, 2008 2:54 am UTC

Guys, let's not get bogged down in another discussion on what the "right" definition is.

I myself am a particularly strong agnostic, as I not only believe that the existence or nonexistence of God is unknowable, but also completely lack personal belief or disbelief in God. I do not assign a probability to the statement "God exists", not because I think it is a meaningless statement, but because I believe that I am unable to. As far as I am concerned, it is quite possible that God exists, and quite possible that God doesn't exist, but I'm not even going to assign a 50% probability to God's existence as that would suggest that there was some evidence which balanced out to give that 50%.

I hope that made sense.
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Re: Perceptions of Agnosticism

Postby Semidi » Wed Apr 30, 2008 3:29 am UTC

Paraphrasing Bertram Russell as I don’t have the essay in front of me that I want to quote, "If I am in the company of non-philosophers, I call myself an atheist, but among philosophers I call myself an agnostic." This is the same position I take. I recognize the possibility of God, but I've yet to see a shred of evidence for the existence of God that cannot be explained through natural means, so I act in a way that God does not exist. As an example, I recognize the possibility that David Bowie is making waffles in the next room (mmm... waffles), but this does not mean that I'm going to act as if he is there or that it is at all probable.

So just saying I'm an atheist saves time.
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Re: Perceptions of Agnosticism

Postby Robin S » Wed Apr 30, 2008 3:30 am UTC

Ah, yes, I act as though God did not exist also. But I do not have the tendency towards disbelief that you have.
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Re: Perceptions of Agnosticism

Postby Kachi » Wed Apr 30, 2008 4:12 am UTC

as i've come to know it i thought atheism meant a determined belief that there is no god. then agnostic would be not a lack of opinion either way, but simply a lack of belief in god and a lack of the belief that there is no god.


Actually, that's exactly as I have described it to others in the past.

"If I am in the company of non-philosophers, I call myself an atheist, but among philosophers I call myself an agnostic."


Hah, well put. That summarizes the kind of perspective I was looking for. For practical purposes I am an atheist, but for philosophical (re: technical) reasons, I'm an agnostic.

"I am an agnostic, but in the same sense that I am agnostic about gravity."


Also well put.

so being firm in your agnosticism, OP, do you mean you believe god is unknowable to everyone not just you?


Neither, I reject all beliefs. I think it is more likely that it is impossible for me to know god and thereby think it is less likely that there is a god, but maintain the slim possibility that someone could know. For me to know god would require a fundamental change in my perception of the world, to say the least.

I do give consideration to the idea that there is a god, but that if there is one, it is more likely that they are an apathetic god. But when I make my decisions, I do so as an atheist. That's just good gambling wherein I'm concerned.

So based on the discussion so far, I think I'll classify myself as an atheist, or "non-theist" when a brief answer is in order.
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Re: Perceptions of Agnosticism

Postby btilly » Wed Apr 30, 2008 5:20 am UTC

a386 wrote:earlier in the thread i'm looking at atheistic being defined as a lack of belief in a god/gods, but as i've come to know it i thought atheism meant a determined belief that there is no god. then agnostic would be not a lack of opinion either way, but simply a lack of belief in god and a lack of the belief that there is no god.

You've come to know it imprecisely. See http://www.infidels.org/library/modern/ ... intro.html for verfication that the definitions that I used are in common use.

a386 wrote:to get nittier and grittier, if i remember correctly there are two kinds of agnosticism, hard and soft. Hard agnosticism is a belief that it is unknowable to everyone weather or not there is a god. A soft agnostic believes he himself can't know if there is or is not a god but acknowledges that somebody else might. i count myself among the latter. right there, agnosticism becomes something practically different from atheism, not just a theoretical doubt in the belief in the lack of the existence of god. a soft agnostic can be aware of other religious experiences and accept that maybe they are true, where by definition an atheist couldn't.

The distinction that you're looking for is weak vs strong atheism. The difference is that the weak atheist says they lack all belief in God or gods, while the strong atheist actively believes that there is no God or gods.

I am a weak atheist.
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Re: Perceptions of Agnosticism

Postby Robin S » Wed Apr 30, 2008 5:23 am UTC

There is also a distinction between (hard / strong / positive) and (soft / weak / negative) agnosticism. I am the former.
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Re: Perceptions of Agnosticism

Postby Spill Wooner » Wed Apr 30, 2008 5:43 am UTC

This talk makes me wonder how often one sees a weak theist. "I have reason to believe there is something out there, but I'll admit there is no hard evidence to back it up." Otherwise, everything I'd wanted to say about unicorns and genies has already been said.
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Re: Perceptions of Agnosticism

Postby Jjarro » Wed Apr 30, 2008 5:43 am UTC

The literal meaning of atheist is "non-theist." For me, at least, that expands as "non-belief in god, assumption that there is no god." Assumptions can be challenged and are not facts, nor are they burdened with the requirement of faith. I assume that there is no god (or that, if there is, it is irrelevant to my life) because that seems the sensible thing to do so as to best go about living on earth. If confronted with evidence otherwise, I engage it (and generally reject it as insufficient) and would change my views if it were compelling.

I realize that this is what a lot of people call agnosticism. I hear a lot that atheism requires a "faith" in the non-existence of god - I reject that on the ground that non-belief does not require the proving of a negative, as so nicely illustrated by the FSM and other thought experiments. I'm just not a theist.

Now, agnosticism isn't really the right word for this, but might be the right word for the offered position of the OP. As described there, agnosticism is essentially an epistemological distinction, whereas theism and atheism are spiritual. Perhaps the best way to refer to the OP would be agnostic atheist?

The very militant, strident version of atheism one sometimes encounters deserves it's own appellation, perhaps "antitheist."

I suggest this because I dislike suggesting that this form of atheism is "strong" where mine is "weak" - I consider their positions to be absolutely the reverse of that when it comes to defensibility.
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Re: Perceptions of Agnosticism

Postby btilly » Wed Apr 30, 2008 6:04 am UTC

Spill Wooner wrote:This talk makes me wonder how often one sees a weak theist. "I have reason to believe there is something out there, but I'll admit there is no hard evidence to back it up." Otherwise, everything I'd wanted to say about unicorns and genies has already been said.

I suspect more often than you think, but you usually don't hear about it. After all why would such a person come out and publicly say it?

That said, Martin Gardner's declaration that he was one sticks out in my mind because it was so rare. And my understanding is that he declared it because he was sick and tired of people wrongly assuming that he was an atheist.
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Re: Perceptions of Agnosticism

Postby Kachi » Wed Apr 30, 2008 6:32 am UTC

You've come to know it imprecisely.


Reading further into the article, the author explains that weak atheism is commonly called agnosticism and the term "atheist" is commonly reserved for strong atheists, so I would say that his assessment was accurate.

This talk makes me wonder how often one sees a weak theist.


They're very rarely vocal because the most successful religions don't allow you to be weak without attributions of evil, sin, and dire consequences. Expressing weakness in your faith would likely incur a lecture if not indignation. In my experiences with theism, when a member of one of such a religion has doubts, the inclination is to try to "overcome" it.
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Re: Perceptions of Agnosticism

Postby btilly » Wed Apr 30, 2008 7:16 am UTC

Kachi wrote:
You've come to know it imprecisely.

Reading further into the article, the author explains that weak atheism is commonly called agnosticism and the term "atheist" is commonly reserved for strong atheists, so I would say that his assessment was accurate.

I'd suggest that you re-read it more carefully. It says that "many people" use the words that way, but that is not the same as saying that that's the right way to use those words. Also you have people like me, I may be a "weak" atheist, but my lack of belief in God is on par with my lack of belief in The Easter Bunny. Even people who are confused about the difference between weak atheism and agnosticism are likely to accept that I'm an atheist.

I direct you also to what viewtopic.php?p=646541#p646541 said about Bertrand Russell.
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Re: Perceptions of Agnosticism

Postby Kachi » Wed Apr 30, 2008 8:49 am UTC

The fact that "many people" use the terminology in that way, frankly, says more to me about the definition than what some guy, no matter who he is, thinks should be the way the terminology is used. Words are defined by their meaning to the people that use them more so than what the dictionary says.

But this is all treading far too closely on a semantics debate for my taste. What it's called doesn't really matter; what people think of when they hear the words is what I wanted to know.
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Re: Perceptions of Agnosticism

Postby Arancaytar » Wed Apr 30, 2008 11:32 am UTC

Kachi wrote:Even atheism asks one to have faith in the idea that there is no god.


One of us has the definition of an atheist wrong, which is a bit ironic as this topic is arguing about the definition of agnosticism.

When I consider myself atheist, what I mean is that nothing should be taken on faith, and everything on evidence - and that overwhelming evidence points toward the non-existence of a god in the way He/She is usually defined (personal, omnipotent, benevolent, omniscient, eternal creator who thinks like a human).

Perhaps we believe the same thing and just call it by different names? I do not believe (as in faith) that nothing exists which may conceivably count as a god; I just reject any of the prevalent human concepts of such a god.
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Re: Perceptions of Agnosticism

Postby Kachi » Wed Apr 30, 2008 9:39 pm UTC

To clarify, this is not a discussion of what certain terminology does or should mean (at least, it's not supposed to be). I realize that generally that's a good starting point for a discussion, but is actually contrary to what I was going for.

Perceptions are just that-- opinions, interpretations, whatever you want to call it. In general, they have more societal significance than the "actual" definitions, however they are defined. Most people don't carry around dictionaries and ask for disambiguations of your word choices. They frequently just run with their own perception of what you mean.

Perhaps we believe the same thing and just call it by different names? I do not believe (as in faith) that nothing exists which may conceivably count as a god; I just reject any of the prevalent human concepts of such a god.


For practical purposes, we're similar enough, but if you asked me if I reject any prevalent human concepts of god, I would say "no." I weigh them as possibilities, all be it absurdly low ones. Absurdly low for now, but having not completely rejected them, new experiences might cause me to weigh them in a vastly different way. Perhaps the difference is merely open-minded atheism versus close-minded atheism, but I'll emphasize again that I'm less interested on what people agree to call it as what people think of when they hear someone self identify as agnostic.

i.e., when someone says, "I'm agnostic," do you (be honest), assume that they are essentially an atheist, think that they're confused/uneducated, a religious person that's having doubts, is your first instinct to question them for clarification, or none of the above?
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Re: Perceptions of Agnosticism

Postby Micron » Wed Apr 30, 2008 10:00 pm UTC

Sorry, I'll try to give a specific answer.
Kachi wrote:i.e., when someone says, "I'm agnostic," do you (be honest), assume that they are essentially an atheist, think that they're confused/uneducated, a religious person that's having doubts, is your first instinct to question them for clarification, or none of the above?

From my experience I'd have to go with "essentially an atheist" and more specifically one who has chosen the term because it reduces the antipathy of fundamentalists theists and also disassociates them from close-minded atheism. Basically someone with a (presumably) well reasoned opinion who is trying to avoid labels which associate them with extremists at either end of the spectrum and might allow them to actually express an opinion instead of having other people's arguments presented on their behalf.
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Re: Perceptions of Agnosticism

Postby btilly » Wed Apr 30, 2008 10:06 pm UTC

Kachi wrote:i.e., when someone says, "I'm agnostic," do you (be honest), assume that they are essentially an atheist, think that they're confused/uneducated, a religious person that's having doubts, is your first instinct to question them for clarification, or none of the above?

Question them for clarification. Because people use these terms in very different ways.
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Re: Perceptions of Agnosticism

Postby cypherspace » Thu May 01, 2008 1:29 am UTC

It depends on the situation. If it's a dreamy hippy who says "man" and "yeah" a lot and talks about being "spiritual", I think that they're trying to sound oh-so-tolerant-and-worldly but are actually being fucking idiots. If it's someone who seems to be intelligent, I assume that they are essentially an atheist but are unwilling to say that they take this on faith for fear of being intellectually dishonest or hypocritical.
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Re: Perceptions of Agnosticism

Postby e946 » Thu May 01, 2008 1:51 am UTC

Kachi wrote:Even atheism asks one to have faith in the idea that there is no god.


No.

There is an equal amount of evidence rejecting and supporting the existence of an invisible british pink elpehant drinking tea in the corner of my house. Occam's razor says I should go with the simpler choice until more evidence is available. I therefore reject the existence of the elephant. Faith does not enter into it at all. The same applies for a belief in a supreme being.
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Re: Perceptions of Agnosticism

Postby yy2bggggs » Thu May 01, 2008 4:08 am UTC

Kachi wrote:I self identify as an agnostic, and have in the past fallen victim to the perception that agnostics are wishy-washy idiots who lack resolve. What is your perception of agnosticism/agnostics?
Anyone who accuses someone of lacking resolve due to not mindlessly and arbitrarily picking a position prematurely is himself the idiot.
By definition, agnosticism is the only system that rejects faith. Even atheism asks one to have faith in the idea that there is no god.
I don't think that position-lacking-faith is a desirable criteria in itself--especially when you water down what you consider as faith this much. Essentially, what you're calling faith is nothing but commitment to a viewpoint in an environment where you lack certainty.

There's absolutely nothing wrong with being non-committal if the situation calls for it; quite often, fence sitting is actually better than blind commitment. But there's also no call for demanding certainty to commit (which is essentially what you're doing when you're preferring a position based on lack of "faith").

(And besides, it's not as simple as atheism being a belief that there's no god anyway, but that's for another thread).
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Re: Perceptions of Agnosticism

Postby 22/7 » Thu May 01, 2008 4:26 am UTC

e946 wrote:
Kachi wrote:Even atheism asks one to have faith in the idea that there is no god.


No.

There is an equal amount of evidence rejecting and supporting the existence of an invisible british pink elpehant drinking tea in the corner of my house. Occam's razor says I should go with the simpler choice until more evidence is available. I therefore reject the existence of the elephant. Faith does not enter into it at all. The same applies for a belief in a supreme being.

Except that you're still making a judgment call based on the information you've got an a certain amount of belief. You believe that there is no elephant. You don't actually know there is no elephant.

Oh, and Occam's razor, while quite useful for day-to-day decision making, is not the end all, be all of deciding what is and isn't belief. I'm a big fan of it, but just because Occam's razor says "operate under this assumption" doesn't mean it's not an assumption.
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Re: Perceptions of Agnosticism

Postby qetzal » Thu May 01, 2008 12:58 pm UTC

How about calling yourself an agnostic atheist?
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Re: Perceptions of Agnosticism

Postby andyvn22 » Thu May 01, 2008 1:47 pm UTC

I called myself agnostic for a long time before realizing that nobody understood what I meant by it. (I meant the same thing many people in this thread have meant: a god is very unlikely, but nothing is ever 100% impossible.) That is, I find it strange that the term 'agnostic' (using the definition of "nobody can know") even exists; in other areas, we don't have a place for "x, but I'm not 100% sure", it's just taken for granted. I think the fact that "but I'm not 100% sure" isn't taken for granted in religion is a big reason I like to stress my agnosticism; I think that's frightening. However, it doesn't do me much good to say I'm agnostic if nobody understands what I mean (they all jump to the "uneducated, wishy-washy" conclusion), so I now say I'm atheist. I think "agnostic atheist" is a good term; maybe I'll start using it.

In other news, I'd like to make sure that everyone here has seen the bumper sticker that reads: "Militant agnostic: I don't know and you don't either!" I think that sums up my position best. :)
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Re: Perceptions of Agnosticism

Postby a386 » Thu May 01, 2008 6:14 pm UTC

andyvn22 wrote:
In other news, I'd like to make sure that everyone here has seen the bumper sticker that reads: "Militant agnostic: I don't know and you don't either!" I think that sums up my position best. :)

that was what i had meant by hard agnostic that bumper sticker.

anyway when one of you hears somebody say she is an atheist, do you assume she doesn't do anything "spiritual," ex. meditation and things like tarot cards, anything "new age-y"? because i guess those things are sort of spiritual and they tie in to definite religions but i think someone agnostic or atheistic or whatever can kind of experiment with them without necessarily "subscribing" to a belief system. maybe agnostic more than atheistic. hey, more practical differences!
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Re: Perceptions of Agnosticism

Postby Hammer » Thu May 01, 2008 6:30 pm UTC

"What's wrong with you mathematicians? Cake is never a problem."
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Re: Perceptions of Agnosticism

Postby The_Duck » Thu May 01, 2008 7:51 pm UTC

Why do threads about agnosticism always devolve into semantics?

Kachi wrote:when someone says, "I'm agnostic," do you (be honest), assume that they are essentially an atheist, think that they're confused/uneducated, a religious person that's having doubts, is your first instinct to question them for clarification, or none of the above?


In this situation I generally assume (perhaps unfairly) that the self-professed agnostic either can't be bothered to think about the matter, or won't say he's an atheist because he can't "prove" anything. To this latter I want to respond with the argument that it can't be proven that the Easter Bunny does not exist but that few would identify themselves as agnostic about the Easter Bunny.
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