Quantcast

«

»

Oct 18 2010

Say it with me: theism and gnosticism address different questions.

I absolutely love QualiaSoup. Chicken soup for the atheist’s soul uh… brain, that guy is.

I’ve argued in the past, in some effective and some ineffective ways, that atheism and agnosticism are not mutually exclusive, and that not having made up your mind on whether there’s a god or not does not mean you get to claim you’re “agnostic”. To be agnostic, you must have the belief that the existence or non-existence of all possible gods cannot be definitively established — that the concept of “god” is fundamentally unknowable. To be atheist, you must merely lack a belief in gods.

It’s perfectly acceptable to believe that it’s possible to know of a specific god or gods, and yet not make up your mind on whether you believe in any specific ones. In that case, you’d be gnostic, but you’ve yet to address whether you’re a theist or an atheist.

It’s also possible to expressly disbelieve in every concept of god yet postulated by human beings, as each of them make claims that are demonstrably false, and yet leave the door wedged open a tiny crack for the possibility that some god may one day reveal itself, or be revealed through repeatable scientific experimentation, unequivocally. In that case, you’d be an agnostic atheist, as I am.

It’s also possible to dismiss the concept of deities as childish and impossible under any circumstances, and be a so-called “strong” atheist. You in this case would be an gnostic atheist — you believe that it’s possible to know with certainty that there are no gods, and you believe that there are no gods.

And yes, it’s also possible to decide that you don’t know whether gods exist, and you don’t know whether it’s possible to prove them. I posit that this position is not “true agnosticism” but rather a form of willful ignorance. You don’t know, and don’t care. Every time your mind turns to the possibility of a deity, you shrug and go “dunno”. You don’t expressly believe in a particular god, so you’re not a theist, but you don’t expressly doubt that there are gods, so you’re not an atheist. However, because you lack a positive belief in gods, you’re a de-facto atheist.

There are lots of different variations on the theme. Not all of them require any positive belief at all. Notwithstanding this, there are idiots out there that believe that atheism is a religion (and apparently make a pretty penny by poisoning this well) — that you have to accept a dogma, and that you have a positive belief in science as a deity. And maybe there are even people that do fit this description. But to assume that every atheist believes in science dogmatically and religiously, is as closed-minded as to assume that every theist believes in the specific deity and dogmas of Christianity. Since both are demonstrably false, someone who accepts the latter but not the former, is showing themselves capable of gross doublethink. The subcategory of human beings that fit the description of “atheist” are much more expansive than most people (and some misguided dictionaries) will lead you to believe. This subcategory includes almost everyone who answers “none” to the Religion question on a census form, by mere dint of their not believing in a god. That is, unless they answer “none” when they DO believe in a deist god, or a theist interventionary god that does not belong to a specific religion.

This is a problem of education, and like most problems of education, there is a faction with a vested interest in sowing misinformation — those that wish to paint us atheists as dogmatic religious extremists. And as unlikely a correlation as that seems, pretty much any lie can become the truth if it’s large enough and repeated loudly enough. None of us stand to gain anything from having our position mischaracterized — not even (and especially not) theists who think themselves intellectually honest philosophers.

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *

You may use these HTML tags and attributes: <a href="" title=""> <abbr title=""> <acronym title=""> <b> <blockquote cite=""> <cite> <code> <del datetime=""> <em> <i> <q cite=""> <strike> <strong>