We are able to believe, with every fiber of our being,
That a thing may be impossible, but true
We convince ourselves of miracles—accept them without seeing—
It’s a fairly common thing for us to do
Though we’re able to be skeptical of other peoples’ view
We retain our own illusions, even so.
If God actually existed; if a miracle was true;
If it wasn’t false belief, how could we know?
My aggregator sent me to the Oxford University Press blog, to an article “Religious Belief: A Natural Phenomenon With Natural Causes“. The essay explores Bayesian inference and Hume’s essay on Miracles. Not the best, nor the worst, treatment of the topic I have seen, but it did lead to today’s verse.
And it got me thinking about something I have thought about quite a bit recently–you see, my aggregator sent me to another place (I have forgotten where) where the writer was trying to clear up some vocabulary, and asserted (confidently, and wrongly) that agnosticism was the middle ground between positive belief and positive disbelief in God. (Never “a god”, always “God”, which is the first sign of assuming things not in evidence.) Anyway, I wanted to muse a little bit about agnosticism.
I had always been taught that agnosticism is best approached not as a personal thing–whether one claims to know or not know a thing (in this case, about the existence of or reality of a god)–but as a global thing–whether it is possible at all to know a thing (ditto). So, assuming a god exists (let’s call it, or him, God… and Him), could we possibly know? As advertised, of course, I would have to say “no”. I cannot know (though I could believe) that God was omniscient: what tests could I give Him, that would not be something a demigod (or Satan, or IBM’s Watson) could also pass? I cannot know that God was omnipotent: what tests could I give Him? Omnipresent? Suppose I could literally see Him (not metaphorically conclude his presence from what I actually do see) everywhere I look–I am physically unable to look everywhere; I cannot conclude omnipresence. Could I know, with my human imperfections (in sensation, perception, thought, and memory) that He is perfect?
I cannot see any other position than agnosticism, globally, and so am personally agnostic. I make the same claims for scientific knowledge as well; science, though, is accustomed to the concept of provisional truth, truth that is acted on as if it were bedrock, but which may be updated if new evidence comes along.
So I am a “hard agnostic”; I don’t know, and neither do you. But of course, that does not stop anyone from believing, or not believing. We do not need perfect knowledge in order to come to a conclusion. To believe it without the willingness to change (provisionally, that is) requires faith, though.