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Leprechauns?

I wrote the following little skit as part of an e-mail response and Thad and I read through it on an episode of The Non-Prophets. Several people have asked for a written version (and Martin keeps pestering me to post at the blog), so I thought I’d make a few quick edits and post it here.

This is very rough and I doubt I’ll ever bother to update it to a proper ‘final draft’ – but, here it is…

NOTE: HUGE DISCLAIMER – the ‘Agnostic’ in this story represents a particular type of intellectual agnostic that makes assertions about the unknown and unknowable (and sends me countless e-mails) – this doesn’t represent EVERY type of agnostic or everyone who uses the label. Many of us have used or currently use the word agnostic to describe ourselves without ever approaching the nonsense represented here.

A very sturdy looking box rests on a table as two men walk up to it

Theist: That box has a leprechaun in it.

Atheist: I don’t believe that…why do you?

Theist: I heard him talking.

Atheist: I don’t believe that either…in fact, I have no evidence that leprechauns exist.

Theist: Well, either there’s a leprechaun in the box or there isn’t, right?

Atheist: Right.

Theist: So it’s 50/50…and since I heard him talk, I’m sure that there’s a leprechaun in there.

Atheist: Either there’s a leprechaun in the box or not, but that doesn’t mean the odds are 50/50.

Theist: Of course it does.

Atheist: Actually, it doesn’t, but could you offer some evide…

Theist: Hang on! He’s just told me that if you don’t believe he’s in there, he’ll chain you to a tree after you’re dead and stick his shillelagh up your ass for 10,000 years!

Atheist: Um, wow, but I was asking if you could offer some additional evidence beyond your claim that you heard him. I didn’t hear him say that, by the way.

Theist: Well, you’re not listening hard enough.

Atheist: Ok (listens)…noth…

Theist: Give it TIME! You’ve got to sincerely WANT to hear him…

Atheist: If he’s in there, I’d like to know it…I’ll keep listening.

Theist: Did you hear that?

Atheist: Nope, nothing.

Theist: You’re either lying or you’re so closed minded that he’s not letting you hear him.

Atheist: Not letting me? Leprechauns can choose who can hear them?

Theist: Of course! He could open this lid, show himself to me…and you’d never see it, you’d think the box was closed the whole time. They’re MAGIC!

Atheist: Well, do you have any evidence for any of this? I mean, I’ve never seen a leprechaun…I have no reason to think they even exist and every time you tell me how to prove it, the tests fail.

Theist: No, YOU fail. It worked for me.

Atheist: (Motions toward a handful of people to one side) Well, there are other people here who have tried this…and it failed for them.

Theist: Yes, but these people (motions toward a huge group off to another side) heard it. In fact there are WAY more people over here who will tell you they heard it.

(The Atheist moves off to ask them a few questions.)

Atheist: I talked to some of them…they all have a slightly different take on this. Some say it’s a leprechaun; others say it’s a fairy; still others say it’s a goblin. They don’t all describe the same voice and they apparently have conflicting messages that they claim came from inside the box. Most of them simply said that they knew other people who claimed to know what was in the box.

Theist: Ah, yes! There’s actually a troll in the box with the leprechaun. He sometimes pretends to be the leprechaun, or a fairy, or a goblin in order to fool those other people – but you’ll notice they STILL heard something.

Atheist: Yes, some say that, but others don’t.

Theist: Well, that troll sometimes blocks the sounds so people can’t hear it.

Atheist: So, how do you know, when you hear the leprechaun, that you aren’t hearing the troll?

Theist: Don’t be absurd! The leprechaun is my friend; he makes sure that I only hear him.

Atheist: But how can you be sure…if you think there’s a troll there too, who pretends to be a leprechaun…how can you know? Maybe there’s ONLY the troll and he’s just fucking with you.

Theist: Now you’re just being thick. Look, there’s a box, right?

Atheist: Yup.

Theist: Now why would there be a box here unless there was something in it?? There MUST be something in it, right?

Atheist: No, the box could be empty.

Theist: No it couldn’t, or there’d be no reason for the box to exist! Boxes are for holding things. We all know that.

Atheist: So you’re claiming that the box could not possibly be empty?

Theist: Correct.

Atheist: And you don’t see that as a flawed premise?

Theist: No, and it’s confirmed by the fact that I heard a leprechaun.

Atheist: How did you hear him?

Theist: He talks to me telepathically.

Atheist: Oh, so you didn’t mean to listen with my ears, you meant listen with my mind?

Theist: Your heart.

Atheist: That doesn’t listen…

Theist: Your metaphoric heart!

Atheist: Ok…but that guy says he heard it with his ears.

Theist: He’s wrong…he’s hearing the troll.

Atheist: But I don’t even hear the troll.

Theist: He’s blocking you.

Atheist: Ok…how do you know all of this?

Theist: The leprechaun told me.

Atheist: Ok, so you’ve made appeals to magic, telepathy, leprechauns, trolls and non-empty boxes….you’ve offered no evidence. I’m sorry, but I don’t believe you.

Theist: Don’t forget the shillelagh!

Atheist: Right… and you’ve made threats about things that’ll happen after I’m dead – when there’s no evidence that there’s any ‘me’ to experience anything after I’m dead. I just don’t believe your claim.

Theist: What if you’re wrong? Isn’t that a lot to risk? He says he’s got a pot of gold for you if you believe…isn’t that worth believing?

Atheist: Look, even if I could make myself believe, which I can’t, why would I want to do that? If there’s no leprechaun in there, then I’ve wasted the opportunity find out what’s really in the box. And if he wants me to follow his instructions…

Theist: Oh, he does…I’ve written them down for you, here…

Atheist: (Looks at the list) Then I’ll have wasted time doing things that…does that say “Do not eat poo”?

Theist: Yup…great rule, isn’t it?

Atheist: Yeah, but what about “Drop money in the box”

Theist: He’s got needs too…pots of gold don’t grow on trees.

Atheist: I thought he was magic.

Theist: He is…but, well, the money is so we can tell other people what the leprechaun wants.

Atheist: Why doesn’t he tell them?

Theist: He could, but…well, he will, if they’re open too it. Some, like you, are fooled by the troll.

Atheist: Why doesn’t he get rid of the troll.

Theist: It’s a mystery, but we’re sure he will eventually.

Atheist: Anyway, if this isn’t true, then I’ll have wasted a lot of time and money on something false…only to avoid a threat that wasn’t real.

Theist: Yeah…but what if you’re wrong.

Atheist: Ok…look, I’m done. I do NOT believe there’s a leprechaun in the box.

Theist: How can you be sure?

Atheist: I’m not, but I don’t believe there is.

Theist: How can you say there’s no leprechaun in the box!

Atheist: I didn’t…I said I don’t believe there is one.

Theist: Same thing.

Atheist: No it isn’t…however, now that I’ve considered and rejected your claim…

Thei
st: Don’t do it!

Atheist: I’m willing to say that I actually do believe there is no leprechaun in that box.

Theist: NO! You’re making an irrational claim…you think you know everything?!??!

Atheist: No, I’m not claiming that I’m absolutely certain that there’s no leprechaun in the box…but I actually believe, to some degree of certainty that there isn’t…because if there were, I’d expect there to be some evidence to support it, and investigations keep coming up empty. I’ll be back with some tools…we’re going to open that box.

Theist: You can’t open the box.

Atheist: Why not.

Theist: You just can’t, it’s impossible.

(Another person walks up)

Agnostic: He’s right. Neither of you know what’s in the box. You’re both equally absurd to assert that you DO know.

Atheist: I didn’t assert that I’m absolutely certain, I simply stated what my belief is…and it’s based on the evidence, or lack thereof

Agnostic: Don’t be silly…you’re just as dogmatic as he is.

Atheist: I’m not dogmatic about this at all – I’d just like to open the box and find out.

Agnostic: The box is impervious.

Atheist: How do you know?

Agnostic: Um, well, I don’t…it just seems impervious.

Atheist: Really, do you have other impervious things to compare it to?

Agnostic: Well, um, no…but I’m sure it’s impervious.

Atheist: If you’ll forgive me, as we’re essentially on the same side in that we reject his assertion…

Agnostic: I don’t reject it, I don’t reject anything

Atheist: Do you accept his claim?

Agnostic: I don’t know.

Atheist: You don’t know whether you accept his claim?

Agnostic: No, I mean I don’t know if he’s right or not.

Atheist: Well, neither do I, but that’s not what I asked.

Agnostic: The box is impervious

Atheist: Well, you sound just as dogmatic about our inability to know as he does about his private communications with the leprechaun

Agnostic: Now you’re just being rude

Atheist: Look, I’m going to open this box

Agnostic: Silly atheist….

(The atheist manages to drill a tiny hole in the box…)

Atheist: Look, it’s not impervious! I’ve got a hole here. We may eventually be able to investigate this in more detail.

Theist: You switched boxes!

Atheist: No, this is the box.

Agnostic: It’s STILL impervious; your little hole doesn’t give you enough information to support your claim.

Atheist: I can continue to investigate…and so far, there’s no evidence to support the theist’s claims.

Theist: You switched boxes!

Atheist: No I didn’t.

Theist: Then, um…he’s hiding. He needs you to believe without seeing him, so he’s hiding.

Atheist: That makes no sense.

Theist: The troll has created an illusory hole that is providing you with false information about what’s in the box!

Atheist: /sigh

Agnostic: That might be possible, I really couldn’t say.

Atheist: No, I bet you couldn’t.

The theist walks away, to tell other people about the leprechaun in the box.

The agnostic tries not to be anywhere near either of them, while secretly keeping an optimistic eye on the atheist’s activities.

The atheist goes about his life, occasionally finding new ways to investigate the box, but he tries to enjoy his life while preventing the theist from ruining it by imposing the leprechaun’s rules on everyone.

Comments

  1. Admin says

    "… but he tries to enjoy his life while preventing the theist from ruining it by imposing the leprechaun's rules on everyone"I don't know… the rule about not eating poo seems reasonable to me. Why wouldn't you let that rule be imposed on us? Do you hate people's freedom to not eat poo? I think we should adopt this rule in our schools and put up monuments to it in front of courthouses.

  2. says

    I think I hear the leprechaun, and he is telling me that someone with the appropriate skills should make a YouTube video out of this or else they'll get a shillelagh up their ass for 10,000 years!Or maybe it was the troll…?

  3. says

    Lurker, I was thinking the exact same thing. I expect someone (hopefully NonStampCollector) will convert this into a cartoon for the amusement of us all.

  4. Hugo says

    A cartoon would be a great idea indeed.I just submited the idea to user DarkMatter2525 on Youtube.I am sure he would be a good person for the job.Go take a look at his channel!

  5. Jon says

    dang, two days ago i made a transcription of this parable for myself. if only i had been a bit more lazy and waited….

  6. says

    So I guess you're going to need to contact someone on youtube to do the video, the demand seems high. How do you think a theist would react to this? Point out arbitrary differences and claim that the analogy is in no way accurate? Yes, yes I think that's how it would go.

  7. Hugo says

    "How do you think a theist would react to this? "Of course they will say it's a bad analogy, and I think one reaction would be to claim that no one would die for a leprechaun.We all heard that one before of course…

  8. says

    Matt,Why did you represent an agnostic as a stupid caricature of agnosticism? I read the disclaimer but is it not the same as trying to portray an atheist as someone who believes in nothing? I know that there are morons claiming to be agnostic but there are also atheist morons. Why not make the atheist in your story just as stupid as the other two characters?I know why. It's because he's the hero – boldly battling straw men!

  9. says

    "Matt,Why did you represent an agnostic as a stupid caricature of agnosticism? I read the disclaimer but is it not the same as trying to portray an atheist as someone who believes in nothing?I know that there are morons claiming to be agnostic but there are also atheist morons. Why not make the atheist in your story just as stupid as the other two characters?I know why. It's because he's the hero – boldly battling straw men!"Oh hey, I think I hear the troll!

  10. says

    Stenlis,The particular type of agnostic represented was used because the other type is already represented… in the atheist.Any agnostic offended by the representation, especially after the disclaimer…probably deserves to be offended.

  11. says

    Stenlis:Just to ask, what should the agnostic be portrayed like? In general, I encounter two types of agnostics, both of which are portrayed in the story:1. The classical agnostic who claims god is unknown and unknowable to himself and, perhaps, to everyone else as well. Depending on what exactly is claimed by this person, it can be just as unreasonable as is portrayed in the story. On what grounds could a person, for example, claim to “know” that a thing is “unknowable” to himself or anyone else? Alternately, a person can reasonably assert “I have no knowledge” of this thing. But this very often leads to #2:2. The layman “agnostic” who thinks there is a fantasy middle ground between theism and atheism—a person who doesn’t appear to understand the difference between not believing a claim and believing the opposite. (You ask him what he “believes,” and he answers about what he does not “know,” and wholly refuses to answer, or utterly lacks the wherewithal to recognize he has not answered, the question of whether he accepts the theist claim, that is whether he "believes it"). It’s like asking someone “what is your favorite model of automobile?” And they reply, “Normally I take the bus.” I’m left wondering what exactly they failed to understand.The term "agnostic" is used by loads of people who apply loads of proprietary meanings to it (which makes it difficult to portray), but what sort of agnostic would you have preferred to have seen modeled? What agnostics do you see most often, and how would they respond to the box situation differently than the ones in the story?I'm general I'm OK with "agnostic theist" or "agnostic atheist"–although I have to agree with Matt the extra "agnostic" label in those cases adds little to nothing to the identity if you accept that 100 percent certainty is a fantasy to begin with (outside of certain, very narrow fields).

  12. says

    A small addition I think should be there.Agnostic: It's STILL impervious; your little hole doesn't give you enough information to support your claim.Atheist: [I HAVE NOT MADE ANY CLAIM] I can continue to investigate…and so far, there's no evidence to support the theist's claims.

  13. says

    Tracie:I understand that agnosticism is a confusing term – even for those that subscribe to it. The problem is – on what ground can you claim to be gnostic (knowledgeable) about a thing? Is it when you have *any* information? In that case nobody would be agnostic. Is it when you have *absolute* certainty about a thing? Then everybody would be agnostic. Is it something in between those extremes? Well, in my opinion that option is the right one.So where do I draw the border – I say I am agnostic about a matter when I don't have enough information (or the information is conflicting) to form a belief about the matter. To give you an example – if you flip a coin and just slap it on the counter and cover it with your hand, of course, I don't know whether it's heads or tails. The thing is, that I can't even form a belief about it – I can't say 'I believe it's tails' and cant say 'I don't believe it's tails' either. I'm agnostic about the matter. Now, you could say – "I say it's tails. Do you believe *me*?" That is something I could under normal conditions evaluate. I could, for instance, see that you had no chance to check the outcome of the flip and you are just guessing. In that case I could say – "No, I don't believe *you*." That is a matter I would not be agnostic about [and confusingly enough I would not claim to be gnostic about it either ;)] .As far as agnosticism towards religions goes, I personaly only claim agnosticism towards some forms of deism, like the thing Einstein believed in. But I researched religions a lot. I can imagine that someone that for one reason or another haven't done much study in philosophy and religion, can honestly say he/she hasn't got enough information to form a belief about them and therefore is agnostic.

  14. Hugo says

    @stenlisInteresting response because I recently heard them using the exact same coin analogy on the show. I am not sure it was a recent episode though. Is that just a coincidence…?Anyway, I think that using that analogy, what you need to reply to is this: Do you believe the claim "It's tail" ?Your answer will be "No". Therefore, you're an "atheist". An "agnostic atheist" of course because you don't know…Note that to you would also say that you do not believe the claim "It's head". Remember that it's not because you reject a claim that you accept its opposite.But what if the person hiding the coin was to tell you: "I have 350 coins under my hand because that's what happens when I slap and hide a coin". Well, then you would be a "gnostic atheist" in regard of that claim since you know what coins look like and you can be sure that the person is wrong. Not any guess is of equal value!I'll stop here and leave it to others to make the parallel with a god, since we all know that it's a bit more complicated…

  15. says

    stenlis: "The thing is, that I can't even form a belief about it – I can't say 'I believe it's tails' and cant say 'I don't believe it's tails' either."You CAN actually say "I don't believe it's tails" and you just did when you said "I can't say 'I believe it's tails'" That is the default position to any claim. Saying that you don't believe it's tails does not equal believing it's not tails. It's only a statement that rejects one specific belief about it being tails.

  16. says

    [You CAN actually say "I don't believe it's tails"]I can't because I don't "don't believe it's tails". I think there's a pretty good chance it is, namely 50-50 but I just don't know. [That is the default position to any claim. Saying that you don't believe it's tails does not equal believing it's not tails. It's only a statement that rejects one specific belief about it being tails.]Yup, but I don't want to 'reject one specific belief about it being tails' just out of thin air. I can reject that belief when it comes from a source I think is not knowledgeable about the matter but I can't reject it per se.

  17. says

    Sten, you're missing the entire point.Toss out this garbage coin thing; Obviously it's just mucking up the issue.The default position on any and every claim is rejection of that claim until your standard of evidence is met. Every claim requires a different standard.If you tell me that your name is Bob, I'm inclined to believe you based solely on your word, simply because your name doesn't matter very much (except in cases of, 'You're not Jim Marley! I am! And that's my uniform!'). However, if you told me your name was "Glexspack Sniggle," I'd reject that claim until you provide me with the legal name change documents.The simplistic denial of the way basic logic works is absurd. Simply saying, "I don't know" doesn't inform me of what you believe to be true.Again, if you told me your name was Bob, and I take your word for it, that means I've accepted your claim as true. I believe that your name is Bob.However, I still don't know. If your neighbor told me that your name was Bob, I'd be reasonably sure that your name is Bob, to the point where I can claim that I know your name is Bob.This isn't absolute knowledge; Absolute knowledge is an absurd idea in its own right. It could be the case that you've duped your neighbor into thinking your name is Bob.The same logic applies to a God.If I tell you that God is in heaven, and he loves you, and if you don't worship him, you'll burn in hell, and all that spew, no matter what your answer is, unless it is, "I believe in that God," you're an atheist, because you have rejected the claim.Atheism is not the belief that there is no God. It is the rejection of the claim that there is.In fact, $cientologists are technically atheists, as they reject all the claims of a God, and assert that they were what Xenu used to brainwash Thetans. Or some crap to that effect.

  18. says

    Darknezz:It seems you haven't read my first reaction to Tracie because you are not addressing my point at all. You also seem to try to insult me in your second post which is no surprise to me as most of the internet flock cannot debate a thing without throwing in an ad hominem.Let me reiterate my position for you here – agnosticism does not mean one should be agnostic about everything. That would be the same like claiming that atheism means one believes in nothing.For me agnosticism is not about not having an absolute certainty. When I can form a belief statement about a matter, I don't claim I'm agnostic about it [any more]. When I can't, I do [claim agnosticism]. When you'd come to me preaching about godly love in the heaven, I wouldn't be agnostic about it. In that matter my opinion would be – 'I believe you are wrong' – strong atheism in fact. Twenty years ago my response would be an agnostic – "I can't evaluate that". Most atheist report a similar progression – they went through agnosticism to atheism. Then most atheist make the mistake of assuming that they abandoned agnosticism because agnosticism is wrong. I disagree. I don't think that when one is an agnostic he is stupid (despite the fact that there are some stupid ones). It's just that the person doesn't have enough information or the information is too ambiguous to form a belief statement about the matter at hand. In that case, I think agnosticism is a logical position.The 'agnostic' in Matt's story keeps claiming the box is impervious. That is a stupid statement and what's more, how can he *know* (or at least *believe*) it's impervious – that is not an agnostic statement. That character is not agnostic.Simply saying, "I don't know" doesn't inform me of what you believe to be true.That's right. And I could not care less. I fart in your general direction!

  19. says

    "I can reject that belief when it comes from a source I think is not knowledgeable about the matter but I can't reject it per se."I don't think this is quite true.The coin toss analogy to the existence-of-gods question isn't really a very good one. For one thing, it involves:a) a choice between 2 and only 2 outcomesb) each outcome is an equally likely event in each run of the experiment.c) only a limited range of types of experiments yield the 50/50 probability result.But the question of the existence of any gods does not involve the same 50/50 probability for several reasons.Unlike the coin toss experiment, the existence-of-gods experiments that have been conducted so far have _only_ produced a does-not-exist result. The does-exist result is not attested _at all_ in any of the experiments conducted so far. Also, a wider variety of experiments have been conducted than merely something like a coin toss and _all_ of them have yielded _only_ a does-not-exist result. We've looked for gods behind not only natural processes in our world but artificial ones as well. I.e. we've looked for the actions of a god behind evolution (come up snake eyes. Other explanations work better) and we've looked for its actions behind, oh, say the operation of an internal combustion engine (snake eyes again, other explanations work better).So in this case, the probability that a god exists and is responsible for all these processes is definitely NOT 50/50. Instead, we can safely say that the probability of this is low to very low (and the probability that it does not exist is high to very high).On that basis you CAN reject the belief in the existence of a god. True you can't completely rule it out (until such time you can conclusively _prove_ it doesn't exist or can't exist), but you CAN conclude that the probability that it does exist is low enough to justify rejecting the belief.LS

  20. says

    Stenlis…To believe something is to make a claim. When you say "I do not believe X is tails", you are saying:I cannot make the claim that "x is tails". "Not believing" does not mean you reject the claim. It means you do not subscribe to it.When others say "not believing is the default position", they mean to say that (if we are being rational) we do not make claims about things we have no reason to believe.As a strong atheist, I would go a little farther, but that is another discussion entirely.

  21. says

    On a purely artistic note–if you change the labels to names–say Peter, Bertrand and Willy, and add a line in which the atheist walks up to his friend and says, "What's in the box?" you'd not only have an excellent (subtle) tool, but it would be a comedy skit worthy of Monty Python.

  22. says

    I might make a short film out of this one, too, with the small adjustments suggested in these comments. It'd be a good video to show people.

  23. says

    LS,While we both object to the coin toss as a good analogy, I object for a different reason:>a) a choice between 2 and only 2 outcomesThe theist question is only half a coin toss. There aren't two possibilities to choose from."god exists"Do you agree with that?If you do, you're theist. If you don't, you're atheist.In the coin toss, there is a choice that would be more akin to:"God exists""God doesn't exist"Which do you believe?This is NOT the theist/atheist question. It's a strawman fallacy. The "God doesn't exist" choice is a red herring that has zero relevancy to determining whether one is an atheist or a theist.To say that it's a choice between believing god exists or god does not exist is pure ignorance about what constitutes theism/atheism.It's not a choice between two opposing beliefs. It's a question of whether you adopt one and only one belief, which is "god exists."You believe that is true–or you don't. Period. Can you say you believe it? If you can't, then you've answered the question.

  24. says

    Stenlis:>…I don't know whether it's heads or tails. The thing is, that I can't even form a belief about it – I can't say 'I believe it's tails' and cant say 'I don't believe it's tails' either.The moment you admit you cannot say you believe it's tails, you've simply restated "I don't believe it's tails." It's the exact same statement. You do not have belief that it is tails.You are, in fact, the very agnostic I described "who thinks there is a fantasy middle ground between theism and atheism—a person who doesn’t appear to understand the difference between not believing a claim and believing the opposite."Do you believe it’s tails?If you cannot say that you do, then you've answered the question as "no." You do not believe it’s tails.In other words, you do not believe it’s heads. You do not believe it’s tails.You do "not believe" either proposition–since, as you admit, you have no belief. Atheism is the absence of belief in god–which would be like the absence of belief it's tails. You are not a believer (a believer would be a theist–someone who says they have a belief that it's tails).The atheist is one who does not believe a god exists. (Someone who says they do not have a belief that it is tails).The atheist does not believe a god exists–has no belief in the existence of a god. He may, also, not believe no god exist–have no belief in the claim no gods exist.ALL that matters, though, is whether or not he has belief that a god exists. If he cannot say he does believe god exists, then the answer is “no, he does not have belief in the existence of a god."If you don’t have a belief—then you do "not believe" god exists. Anyone who does not have belief in the existence of a god is an atheist.

  25. says

    >Then most atheist make the mistake of assuming that they abandoned agnosticism because agnosticism is wrong.I have to disagree with this as well. I've met just as many if not more people who identify as agnostic atheists than gnostic atheists.Most atheists I have met understand the difference between knowledge and belief–far more than people who think you can claim to be "agnostic" _instead of_ atheist (or theist), which is a stance based on ignorance of what theism/atheism constitute.One is either theist or atheist. Whether one is Gnostic or agnostic is another question entirely. "What do you know" is not the the same question as "what do you believe?"If I ask if you believe X, and you answer "I don't know," there are only two options:1. You've misunderstood the question.2. You mean to say you don't know if you believe X or not.If #2, then you don't know what "believe" means. Believe means to accept a claim as true. And you know if you think a claim is true, because you can say about such claims, "Yes, I think X is true."If you "don't know" if you can say you think it's true, then you don't have "belief"–which is the point at which you do, in fact, accept the claim as true."I don't know" is generally confused shorthand for "I haven't really come to believe this yet."It's what a person says when they don't believe something, but they haven't really come to grips yet with the reality that they don't believe it. But until you have belief, you're one who doesn't have belief. Until you believe, you don't believe.Until you have a car, you don't have a car. "I'm still thinking about buying a car" is _still_ the same as not having a car.

  26. says

    "Atheist: I didn't assert that I'm absolutely certain [that there is no leprechaun], I simply stated what my belief is…and it's based on the evidence, or lack thereof."I've always found this to be a bit of a red herring. The agnostic atheist criticism of some atheists is not, "how can you be absolutely certain?" it's "how can you have any degree of certainty whatsoever?"Finding that the predictions of a model do not match up with your observations does not imply, to any degree of certainty, that the model is false. It only means that the model is currently useless.Why doesn't the lack of evidence, or presence of contradicting evidence, imply falsity? Because we can never know to what extent our observations match up with "reality". Imagine a situation like the one in the Matrix – where all of our observations are being generated and fed to us by computers. Can you disprove such a possibility? Can you even assign a probability? No. But what you can do is point out that such a possibility is nothing we can act upon, and therefore useless.But wait, if you cannot even assign a probability that the Matrix is true, how can you assign probabilities that anything at all is true? You can't, because for us to assign probabilities to what is "real" or to what "exists" based on our observations, we first have to know to what extent our observations actually correspond to reality.Does this mean we can't know anything? Maybe, if your definition of knowledge depends on knowing "reality". But at the end of the day, who cares? I accept my observations not as some proxy for reality, but in and of themselves, whether generated by a computer or implanted by a micromanaging deity. As far as science is concerned, it doesn't matter."I had no need of that hypothesis." —Pierre-Simon Laplace

  27. says

    I can assign a probability to the likelihood of the Matrix model being true and it's zero.The physics doesn't hold water. The stated reason for the whole shebang is to generate energy from the body heat of the people living in the jars. But there is no way that you could generate more energy than it cost you to support them. The whole idea collapses under the laws of thermodynamics.So the Matrix model isn't going to happen for the reasons given in the movie anyway.

  28. says

    Janet: "But there is no way that you could generate more energy than it cost you to support them. The whole idea collapses under the laws of thermodynamics."Yeah… the laws of thermodynamics in THIS universe. The one created by the evil super computer that wants us to think it'd be impossible. How would you know if the real universe doesn't have different laws of physics?.That's why I'm a Matrix agnostic and not a non-believer like Janet. She's just as dogmatic as the people who think it's real. Obviously, since we can't know anything with any degree of certainty ever, the only reasonable position is to not believe in the Matrix BUT not not believe in it either. :)

  29. says

    @AdraelYou must think yourself rather clever, but maybe if you actually tried to understand what I wrote, you might realize why your response is an absurd non-sequitur / strawman. In general it's a good idea to engage someone else's arguments for what are rather than what you'd prefer to argue against. Did I say anything about belief? No. I was talking about science – where what you believe is irrelevant. Science is about observations and making practical, predictive models of those observations. That's it. No metaphysical speculation, no assumption about what's "really" going on, no claims about what really exists, none of that. When discussing subjects (like QM) which require precise language to avoid confusion, many canonical textbooks and pioneers in the field point out the folly in talking about whether a claim is probably true or not. (Feynman, Dirac, Pauling)All of this is to stress the fundamental concept you casually dismissed. We only have access to our own observations. We cannot step outside ourselves and assess their veracity. And because of that, assessing, to any certainty, the veracity of any claim, no matter how mundane, is outside the scope of science and empiricism. What we can do is assess the utility of a claim. Does it make accurate predictions? Is it computationally simple? Is it consistent with other models? Does it shed light on existing problems and suggest further areas of study?Those are the kind of practical questions we ask about a claim in science, not "what's the probability that it's True?" or "do you or do you not believe it's True?" If you're asking those questions, you've left the realm of science and empiricism.

  30. says

    @Janet,Way to completely miss the point. First of all, I wasn't talking about the Matrix exactly as it was in the movie, I only used it because it's an example many are familiar with. I could just have easily asked if you can assign a probability to whether or not you're only dreaming right now, or if you're merely a "brain in a jar", or whether a deity is directly implanting all of our experiences. Or maybe you're actually locked away in a psych ward, vividly hallucinating all of this.The specifics aren't important – bottom line is that you cannot in any way determine if your observations correspond to reality. You cannot assess the likelihood that what you are experiencing right now is really what it seems.Of course, the beauty of science is that it doesn't matter. Science is contigent upon observations, whatever their provenance, not things as they really are. Claims about gods are at their core, claims about things as they really are. So even if a particular part of a claim is testable and comes up negative, that has no bearing on the core claim about reality. Science just rejects it (and all other failed ideas) as useless, not false. Hence Laplace's famous reply to Napoleon concerning God, "I had no need of that hypothesis."

  31. says

    "You must think yourself rather clever, but maybe if you actually tried to understand what I wrote, you might realize why your response is an absurd non-sequitur / strawman. In general it's a good idea to engage someone else's arguments for what are rather than what you'd prefer to argue against."Attention Dhawk. RELEASE THE SPHINCTER!

  32. says

    What is it with people who have nothing better to do than give condescending and unasked for advice? Is anyone forcing you to read the comments section? I'd be a lot quicker to shut up if someone had actually offered a response to my argument, or if no one had responded, instead of inane one-offs by people who didn't bother to read it.But by all means, keep up your crusade to tell people in the comments section of niche blogs to relax and stop caring so much about what other people write on the Internet. It's not hypocritical, I promise. Or you could, you know, ignore the comments that don't interest or pertain to you, and take the time to respond thoughtfully to those that do.

  33. says

    "What is it with people who have nothing better to do than give condescending and unasked for advice? Is anyone forcing you to read the comments section? I'd be a lot quicker to shut up if someone had actually offered a response to my argument, or if no one had responded, instead of inane one-offs by people who didn't bother to read it.But by all means, keep up your crusade to tell people in the comments section of niche blogs to relax and stop caring so much about what other people write on the Internet. It's not hypocritical, I promise. Or you could, you know, ignore the comments that don't interest or pertain to you, and take the time to respond thoughtfully to those that do."Dhawk, allow me to explain what happened that you're not grasping.Have you ever been at a party where someone told a joke, something clearly for fun and jest, and then someone overhearing it flew into a rant attacking that person as if what they said was entirely serious? Meanwhile the rest of the room is looking at him in sympathetic dread trying to convey to him "dude, it was a joke" before he makes a compleate fool of himself by his knee jerk rant? At the end the person says "um…loosen up I was jokeing" and all he can do is look sheepish and say "oh…." and then there's an awkward silence?Ok that's what you just did. And it went from sad to hillarious because you just KEPT doing it. Even people trying to help you save face you attacked and lashed out. It's like watching a small dog jump into a glass door, again and again and again…sad yet sadistically funny.

  34. Martin says

    Okay guys. This is Mr. Mean Blog Admin Guy, asking politely for a cease-fire on the flamewar. The next time it will be impoliteness in the form of deletions.

  35. says

    @Ing,There's a difference between making fun of someone and making a joke. Mocking someone and then claiming "it was only a joke" doesn't make it less insulting.This blog is about a serious topic, and while many posts aren't 100% serious, a great deal of them are. I get that you might not be interested in a serious discussion, but what do you gain by shouting down others that are?

  36. says

    @Martin,I wasn't sure if you meant no more discussion, or no more flames. I tried to make my response civil and sincere, but if you meant to cap off the discussion, I'm sorry for continuing it.

  37. says

    @Ing,There were three people who mentioned the Matrix: I did in my first comment to illustrate my point, Janet did in her response to me, and Adrael in a tongue-in-cheek rebuttal to Janet. As far as I can tell, Janet was completely serious in her reply.The fact that Adrael was trying to be funny was not lost on me. But when I said earlier there's a difference between mocking someone and making a joke, I wasn't suggesting that you couldn't do both at the same time. My point was that including humor doesn't make the insult less offensive.Before I had the chance to, Adrael used the absurd arguments of the hypothetical agnostic in Matt's post to "address" Janet's criticism of my argument. That's called poisoning the well – no matter what follows, my argument will be taken less seriously. [pedantry]Technically, it's an appeal to ridicule.[/pedantry] Connecting my arguments with those of the agnostic was an invitation for everyone else to dismiss what I said out of hand.Now, this meta-discussion is incredibly interesting I'm sure, but why couldn't you engage me on the subject instead? Your first comment in this post was to call the first person who disagreed with the blog post a troll, and your second comment was to tell me (the second person who disagrees) to "relax the sphincter." I just don't see what you gain from it, other than ridicule for the sake of ridicule.

  38. says

    1) was a joke about the skit. 2) Grow a sense of humor3) End the discussion now, as we've already prolonged it more than we were asked to.

  39. says

    1) was a joke about the skit.I addressed that already, twice – the joke was at my expense, i.e. mockery. He took my position and "defended" it with the absurd arguments of the skit.2) Grow a sense of humorI addressed that too. If someone tells you a joke, the punchline of which is spitting in your face, would you find it less insulting than if they had left out the joke before spitting in your face? And if you find yourself routinely telling people they need to grow a sense of humor, maybe you should heed your own advice – maybe you're just not funny.3) End the discussion now, as we've already prolonged it more than we were asked to.You're right, we should end the discussion. I appreciate you offering me the opportunity to have the last word. In any case, there's really nothing more to be said.

  40. says

    tracie:you said somewhere that you think I believe there is a 'fantasy middleground' between theism and atheism. Well I do believe there is a middleground – on a higher level then just theism/atheism – there is a middleground between belief and non-belief in general. That middleground is 'not knowing'. In many instances 'not knowing' and 'not believing' come hand in hand. But there are some when they don't. For instance, open up the last Non Prophets show where Matt talks about dark energy (about 1:30:00 into the show). He goes on to say 'I don't know what my position is on dark energy'. He seems to be in your 'fantasy middlegroung' about the thing – not being able to take a position – like saying 'I don't believe dark energy exists'.Why is that?

  41. says

    >there is a middleground between belief and non-belief in general. That middleground is 'not knowing'. Belief is to accept a claim as true. If you can say that you accept the claim "god exists" is true, then you are a theist. If you do not accept it as true, you are a non-believer (someone who does not assert it is true). There is no middle ground.God exists.Can you say you accept that statement as "true"? You either can, or you can't.

  42. says

    >He goes on to say 'I don't know what my position is on dark energy'. He seems to be in your 'fantasy middlegroung' about the thing – not being able to take a position – like saying 'I don't believe dark energy exists'.Wrong. And Matt, can contradict me if he'd like, but I know his position. If Matt honestly "doesn't know what his position is" then he cannot say "I believe in dark energy." If you ask Matt, who says he has no position, he WILL tell you that he does not believe in dark energy.

  43. says

    Stenlis:I sincerely hope you were watching yesterday's AE show. I don't bring other people in usually when it comes to an issue like this. I wouldn't say "Matt says X, therefore you're wrong." In a case like this the "argument from authority" fails using anything but honest context and a dictionary, because we're truly discussing word definition and usage here. But invoking Matt as you did, above, I took the opportunity to pwn that claim, by putting your question directly to Matt.I asked him if it was correct to say that if he "has no position" on claim X, where claim X is "X exists," that it is fair to say he does not believe X exists.He confirmed it does.Your seem unable to wrap your brain around the reality that saying "I have no position on X" is a restatement of "I do not believe X." It's the same statement.Matt went on to describe _why_ if you're interested in watching the explanation. It was into the show where we had about 20 minutes or so left (rough estimate).Believe = accept a claim as true.If I say "Do you believe god exists?"I'm asking: Do you accept as true the claim god exists?If you have "no position," then you do not accept the claim is true, since accepting the claim is true _is_ a position.Your position, in having no position, is that (1) you do not accept the claim as true, and (2) you do not accept the claim as not true.(1) where we sub "believe" for "accept the claim as true," we have absolutely just said "You do not _believe_ the claim." This is a state of disbelieve. You have no believe. You do not believe in whatever this claim asserts. Unavoidable.(2) In this section, if we sub "not true" with "false," we have merely restated "I do not believe the claim is false."An atheist is:A: Anyone who does not believe the claim "god exists" is true (1)B: Anyone who believes the claim "god exists" is false. (2)I understand you do not accept the claim is false–many atheists also do not. But you DO "not believe" the claim god exists. And anyone who does not believe the claim "god exists" is an atheist.1. You either have belief (conviction this claim is a true claim – believe the claim) or2. you are unsure about the claim (and so, do not think it's a true claim – do not believe the claim), or3. you think the claim is false (believe the claim is false).You are claiming a middle ground between 1 and 2, having a conviction it's true versus not having that conviction.Not possible.Up to the point you have the conviction, you don't have it. If you have no position, you have no conviction. You cannot, therefore "believe" the claim. If I cannot believe your claim, then it's a restatement of "I do not believe your claim."You're trying to argue that means I'm saying I think your claim is false. It doesn't. It means I do not accept the claim as true. That is the state of "not believing."

  44. says

    dhawk:Solipsism is useless, I agree. Lately I compared it to a video game. The reality is only virtual, but still operates on rules."Reality" operates similarly. There is a Solipsistic level where we have no idea if this reality is real or illusory. But since that claim is useless, and cannot be addressed, we have the option to sit back and starve to death or go forward with the only "reality" presented to us.If we opt to "live"–then we have chosen "the game," so to speak.Once we're in this "game" we have rules which we cannot control. In other words, I put my hand on a hot burner, it is unpleasant–whether it's illusory or not.Let's say that in our video game, we have guns, knives, and bombs available as weapons. But the game has no "magic spears." It has a magic crystal, but there is no way to observe or access the crystal if you are a player. It is utterly unknown to you, and you'll never be aware of it. Only the programmer knows it's there.The players then are exploring the game world, trying to make sense of it–real or not, because they're in it and can't escape and have no way to know it's not real.They can only "know" what is presentable to them–what can be discovered. What cannot be discovered cannot be known. And they have zero reason to believe in either the magic spear or the magic crystal. Neither manifests to them in any way–even while one is in the game and the other is not.To the players, then, "reality" will be one without a magic spear and without a magic crystal.For "reality" to have any practical use as a word, it must represent the things that manifest, since that which does not manifest cannot be known and included in the set "reality."If one asserts the magic crystal, they could just as well assert the magic spear, as there is the same level of evidence to the players for both items."Existence" to be useful can only include the things that manifest and would, practically have to not include the spear or the crystal.Since the players can only categorize what they can identify, examine and understand, "existence" can only be those things that fit those requirements.The spear "is not" and the crystal "is"–but in the only useful and practical vocabulary of the players, neither item "exists."Existence and reality are not statements about "what is" but "what is manifest."We cannot include things that do not manifest because in the case of those things there is no way to differentiate between which "are" and which "are not."Neither the spear nor the crystal can "exist" in the game, to the players. Whether they are or not is irrelevant, since the players have no reason to think those items "are" without manifestation.If we assert that crystal exists, we must also assert the spear exists, since whatever grounds we use will apply equally to both–as players.In other words, if god manifests as much as a leprechaun–and the theist rejects leprechauns exist, we have a problem. Both must be accepted or rejected on the grounds that they both manifest to the same degree. To accept the crystal and reject the spear makes no sense, even if it's correct. It's the same as accepting the spear and rejecting the crystal–based on what is available to the players.As an atheist, I would say neither should be said to exist until it can be demonstrated. The theist feels very sure one exists, but not the other. The theist is inconsistent.

  45. says

    Tracie:I gave it some thought and I found that my problem is rather semantical. When people say "I do not believe this statement", it is more often then not a position of 'disbelief'. When I refuse to take a belief position on a statement, you would say "You do not believe that statement", but in this case it is not a position of 'disbelief'. I would agree that it is a 'non-belief' – as it is distinct from a position of believing the statement but by saying that my position is 'agnostic' I try to describe that my position is neither belief nor disbelief.So – just as you can say that my position is non-belief, you could, as well, say that my position is non-disbelief. And that is what I understand agnosticism to be.As to Matt's dark energy position – I was not trying to make an argument from authority but rather illustrate a mindset about a claim. I saw Matt say that he does not believe the dark energy claim on the AE show. I wonder if he would say he is in a position I mentioned above – non-belief & non-disbelief – or he actually takes a position of disbelief. It might very well be disbelief – I see that as a matter of preference.You might feel that there is no space between belief and disbelief. I'm afraid though that (if this is your position) both my claim that there is such a thing and your claim that there isn't can only remain assertions and cannot be proven.

  46. says

    Stenlis:This is way over-due, and I don't expect a reply. But someone e-mailed our list, and it led me back to this comments section, where I saw your post unanswered.Disbelief is sometimes described as "not believing" and sometimes as stronger denial. As it includes not believing, Matt would say he does _not believe_ the claim.And this is your position in regard to the claim "god exists." You don't believe it.Anyone who does not believe "god exists" is an atheist. You may also be agnostic, but you are, by definition, an atheist as well.

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