Questionable Motives

July 30, 2010

Why is agnosticism cowardly atheism?

Filed under: Uncategorized — tildeb @ 10:37 am

Ron Rosenbaum tells us in this Slate article why his infantile Templeton-funded “radical skepticism” kind of agnosticism is so new and improved. It is neither. It is an intellectual embarrassment.

New Agnosticism (versus New Atheism, of course) as a practical matter is nothing more and nothing less than cowardly atheism but with a healthy dose of accomodationism built right in. What a surprise such a wobbly foundation would be acceptable to the Templeton Foundation that spends gobs of money attempting to marry science and religion in spite of objections from both families. That’s who funded Ron’s latest jaunt to Cambridge to experience this revelation regarding the evils of atheism.

Radical skepticism. Let’s see.

Does anyone really insist that as far as Zeus’ existence is concerned, we can’t really say? How radical.

Does anyone stand firm and proclaim that it is reasonable to take the attitude that we don’t know if a pink elephant will drop out of the sky and land on our cars during the afternoon commute? Skepticism in action, I say.

Is “I don’t know” really the honest answer to all assertions about what is not known? Let’s stay radically skeptical, people.

Are mushrooms really intergalactic spies sent here to keep tabs on the expansion of flax? Umm… I’m skeptical?

Is “I don’t know” the higher value answer upon which to base our daily decisions? Yeah, very skepti-cological, dude… like, totally rad, man.

Is this the kind of agnosticism that will in Ron’s words “take on the New Atheists”?

Yeah, good luck with that Ron.

But as long as Templeton continues to pay for writing like yours to subsidize the spread such nonsense, why not continue to spout this intellectual garbage? Although it pays your rent, doesn’t judging atheism in such a way fly in the face of exactly that you champion: you admit that you just don’t know?

So I suggest you sit in front of whatever writing tool you favour and follow your own position for the rest of your life pondering not whether you should or shouldn’t write anything that contains an opinion but that you admit that, deep down, you just don’t really know anything about anything and therefore cannot possibly take any position at all. Now that would really show these New Atheists what’s what from your  unicorn and butterfly and rainbow mystic world of New Agnosticism.

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23 Comments »

  1. Are mushrooms really intergalactic spies sent here to keep tabs on the expansion of flax? Umm… I’m skeptical?(QM)

    Hmmm, after some of the Mushrooms I ate, I would wonder. 😉

    Comment by Titfortat — July 30, 2010 @ 9:55 pm | Reply

    • I think that may be grounds for inviting alien abduction and probing!

      Comment by tildeb — July 30, 2010 @ 10:49 pm | Reply

  2. I think Tildeb that agnosticism of any form is more integrally honest then any form of athiesm can ever be. An agnostic is honest enough to say that they doubt the existence of God. Wheras a Atheist point blank declares there is no God / god!

    No atheist can actually disprove the existence of God as much as they would like to declare the non existence of God.

    Comment by Craig Benno — August 15, 2010 @ 6:00 am | Reply

    • My point is that non belief is the default we use when we have no good reasons for belief. That default should not be suspended and replaced with an “I don’t know for sure” when asked to believe in an extraordinary religious claim that does not have extraordinary evidence to back it up. To fall into agnosticism at such a request, I think, is intellectual cowardice.

      Comment by tildeb — August 15, 2010 @ 8:33 am | Reply

  3. On what level should one consider personal testimony of major changes to ones life. Whether it be a miraculus healing, change of attitude or belief system. Take C.S Lewis for instance. He was an avid athiest who set out to disprove the existence of God. In his honest pursuit to do so, he found he had no choice but to believe and then spent his life writing about God.

    Comment by Craig Benno — August 18, 2010 @ 6:26 am | Reply

    • We know very well how much our interpretation plays a central role in describing the world to our brains. I don’t want to get into that when you can check it out with some online research. What I do want to point out is that personal testimony is a weak kind of evidence because there is no way to assess how accurate the interpretation is. But when a claim is made that is causal, then it can be tested and should be done so. For example, there is huge pile of discarded canes and crutches outside of the Lourdes shrine and grotto but nary an artificial limb. Report of miracles healing never seem to offer any evidence except the self-reported kind where no one can test to see if the interpretation is, in fact, correct. That’s why is the most dubious kind of evidence.

      I suspect you would agree that a religious person becoming an atheist is not evidence against religious beliefs being true for exactly the same reason that an atheist (even CS Lewis) becoming religious is not evidence for religious belief being true.

      Comment by tildeb — August 18, 2010 @ 9:15 am | Reply

  4. If one wishes to pretend agnosticism is legitimate and honourable position, then hold fast: do you really think Santa Claus may or may not be true, that the Easter Bunny really might be real, that all religious assertions no matter how contradictory are equally likely to be true? Is it really intellectually honest to take the ‘I don’t know’ attitude?

    No.

    This is intellectual cowardice. We do make clear choices about what to believe even if there is a possibility we may be wrong. It’s simply practical to do so. Agnosticism is just an avoidance technique rather than an intellectually honest opinion.

    Comment by tildeb — August 18, 2010 @ 9:00 am | Reply

  5. I’m amused by some arguments made by people towards agnostics. An agnostic stance isn’t intellectual cowardice. There is nothing wrong in accepting we do not know what we do not know, and as Confucius once put it, ” To know that we know what we know, and that we do not know what we do not know, that is true knowledge.”

    There are things I know from experiences (mine, first hand accounts or other trustworthy ones that can be, in most cases, reproduced perfectly in sync with previously made claims), and things I can’t possibly presume to know. That’d be arrogant. While it is noble to take a stance and defend it staunchly with arguments stemming from perception, it is also important to note that said perception doesn’t necessarily has to concur with The Truth/The Reality. Sure, we as humans tend to create our individual realities with our perceptions of the world but they’re merely interpretations of the true facts that by themselves are singularly unique. And agnostics wish not to get tangled in the messy web of perceptions, knowing that the reality can’t be known as long as we cling to perceptions. That is why, they cleverly do not take sides, indulge in entertaining perceptions that might create for them a reality that might be different from The Reality. Cowardice say you, Caution say I. As for Mushrooms, Santa Claus, Easter Bunny… a reductio ad absurdum logic may be destructive to the debate itself and mislead us from what we all strive for – to know and experience The Reality.

    Comment by Artemis — July 30, 2012 @ 1:33 am | Reply

    • I don’t think you honestly want to know by comparison if you think it clever to hold fast to agnosticism given anything less than certainty. It’s a ridiculous framework unsuitable for knowing anything. And I write that not to malign your character but to question your intellectual integrity beyond the philosophical armchair where you seem to want to keep agnosticism comfy and cozy and away from the harsh glare and pointy corners of reality.

      The fact is, you must act in the world. Your actions are not based on honestly holding fast to clever agnosticism; such agnosticism in practice would be paralyzing and you know this to be true. You must act on best reasons, on likelihood and probability, recognizing personal bias and preference and opinion as part and parcel of being human, of being intellectually honest. In real life you do not honestly assume some balanced middle ground between certainty and non belief in extraordinary claims unjustified by compelling evidence where “I don’t know” might very well be the honest answer. You act as you must to function in reality. “I don’t know” is simply a luxury you cannot afford in your everyday life so to suggest it is reasonable to categorize central religious tenets that are equally reductio ad absurdum as the Easter Bunny as worthy of an a clever “I don’t know” really offers us a glimpse – once again – of how easily religious respect is gained in spite of glaring unlikelihoods and improbabilities and absurdities by fogging up the atmosphere of intellectual integrity to the point of showing the “I don’t know” to be contrary to the necessary assumptions you make about the world that allow you to function in it. Such agnosticism remains nothing more than lip service to avoid disturbing the delusions of others. If not cowardice, then such agnosticism is hypocrisy. And that’s the price one must be willing to pay to insist with a straight face that lying to one’s self is a synonym for clever.

      Comment by tildeb — July 30, 2012 @ 10:07 am | Reply

    • …to know and experience The Reality.

      I, for one, applaud your courage in using captial letters. It makes reality so much more…Real.

      Comment by Cedric Katesby — July 30, 2012 @ 3:27 pm | Reply

  6. Too many atheists talk as if the only two available choices are to believe in the God of the Abrahamic tradition or to join their ranks. To many, agnosticism is the only rational conclusion given the sheer amount of what is most likely unknowable to humankind, hence the name “agnosticism,” which of course simply means “not claiming knowledge.”

    I have no rational reason to believe in the Abrahamic God just like I have none to believe in Zeus or Ahura-Mazda, but I also see myself as having no rational reason to believe that humans are cognitively well-equipped enough to understand the universe. In fact, I believe with certainty that humans in all likelihood are too dumb to understand the universe. We seem to be the smartest organisms on Earth, but I advocate the likelihood that this is only a marginal superiority that we hold over the remainder of the Earth’s organisms; just like we accept unquestioningly that a parrot’s cognitive capacity is marginally greater than that of a frog when compared to that of a human. To use an analogy, we might be the fastest runners on the track, but nobody ever said that this wasn’t the Special Olympics.

    Because of this, I cannot discount the philosophical possibility of the existence of some power or force greater than myself, because of which we and everything else in the universe ultimately exists, and which in all likelihood is neither conscious nor sentient (and certainly not anthropomorphic) and couldn’t possibly care about us or how we live our lives. If you choose, you can secularize this in terms of a “Grand Unified Theory” or a “Theory Of Everything” that unifies and supersedes all other known and unknown natural laws, and which would therefore be for all practical purposes “God” (even if it is a “God of the Gaps,” since I believe most of those gaps will never be filled anyway).

    I firmly believe however that we puny yet proud beings are too dull to understand the full nature of this ostensible “God,” which is to say I see myself as being unable to make any claim to knowledge about this putative “God” (if you even choose to call it that). Perhaps ultimately there are only two kinds of people: optimists and pessimists. Problem is, it would be choosing a favorite to make a claim as to which side the optimists are and which side the pessimists are.

    Since I therefore essentially believe in an ambiguous higher power that has no mind as such and couldn’t possibly care about anything, let alone us, that would actually make me a pagan (according to at least one available meaning of that word). However, you can’t even call yourself a pagan anymore without people thinking you’re into all that Wicca business. So therefore, I guess I gotta be an atheist with no balls, i.e. an agnostic.

    Comment by Dick Waczynya — July 1, 2013 @ 6:21 am | Reply

    • I see myself as being unable to make any claim to knowledge about this putative “God”… which is why most atheists (who are intellectually honest) will clarify their position to be an agnostic atheist: regarding their equivalent faith-based belief position to be atheist (they have no compelling reasons to believe in such supernatural claims) and their position of equivalent knowledge-based position to be agnostic (they have no compelling reasons to claim to know either way for sure). When comparing apples to apples, the atheist does not believe what the theist believes so this is the proper term in this regard and not agnostic. When comparing oranges to oranges, all of us – including believers and non believers – are agnostics; the atheist (as far as I can tell) are the only honest ones who admit he or she does not know, whereas the believer pretends he or she does… by means faith. This is not honest. To respond to such dishonesty with the claim of agnosticism is the means to promoting accommodationism in place of intellectual honesty. That’s why it’s cowardly.

      If you wish to believe in some ambiguous higher power that has no mind, then for what compelling reasons do you have to think this is a reasonable claim rather than merely just another expression of fancy untethered to the reality we share? Without compelling reasons, your belief remains a theistic one based on belief that has nothing to do with knowledge. That makes you a theist who, like all theists, abuse the term ‘agnostic’ to make it only seem like you are in some way straddling both camps when you are doing no such thing.

      Comment by tildeb — July 1, 2013 @ 10:43 am | Reply

  7. I’ll state my position again, but this time more carefully to avoid saying anything I didn’t really mean to say by way of poor semantic choices.

    My position fundamentally stems from not being able to conceive of any necessary reason to believe that humans are sufficiently cognitively well-equipped to understand the principles that govern the universe.

    My reasons for coming to this conclusion are that given what is known about biological adaptation through natural selection, the human capacity for cognition is apparently something that arose from an outside pressure to adapt. That capacity for cognition has resulted in the homo sapiens becoming the most dominant organism on Earth, since for all practical purposes it makes us faster, stronger, more mobile and more lethal than virtually any other organism on the planet.

    However, while outside pressures gave the homo sapiens a clear imperative to become superior in those regards, the source for the imperative to make the homo sapiens understand the fundamental forces that govern the universe is less clear, if at all existent. In fact, I would go so far to say that it is non-existent, and that the human ability to understand those said forces is accordingly non-existent. I regard subscription to the point of view opposite to that as requiring a form of faith, and therefore I am forced to eschew it on rational grounds.

    Therefore, I take the position that a certain portion of the laws or forces that govern the universe are in all likelihood outside of our ken, and that the reality that we perceive is therefore probably not completely objective. Given the possible great magnitude of what I regard as being most likely unknowable, I see the choice between calling that bulk of unknowable information ‘god’ or naming it with carefully chosen secular terms as an arbitrary one, since for all practical purposes, it does many of the basic things that a god is typically believed to do (even though I see no more reason to ascribe thoughts to it or anthropomorphize it than I do, say, an observed force such as gravity).

    In short, my position is therefore that while I definitely do not believe in the Abrahamic God (or any other god whose worshippers claim improbably to have special, detailed knowledge either of its nature or of how that god would have us conduct our lives), the choice to believe in some higher power or even to call it ‘god’ is an arbitrary one. Expediency forces me to call it by some name, and though I personally don’t choose to call it ‘god’, I won’t judge someone as wrong if he or she does choose to call it ‘god’.

    I feel like that makes me a pagan, since I hold that whatever forces ultimately govern the universe (call them whatever you will) are mindless and indifferent and couldn’t care less about the affairs of humans. However, I think I am an agnostic as far as labeling would be concerned, because I don’t claim definite knowledge of these forces. Am I still a theist in your estimation?

    Comment by Dick Waczynya — July 2, 2013 @ 2:58 am | Reply

    • Definition of a theist: one who believe in a god or gods. You believe that there is a ‘source’ outside of what is knowable for our cognition yet somehow responsible for bringing it into being, that you make a choice to believe in ‘it’ and, for lack of a better word, call ‘it’ god. Even though you think this ‘it’, this ‘source’, this god is ‘unknowable’, you feel capable of knowing something about it… apparently by means of causal effect regarding our cognition. Doesn’t that strike you as rather an odd assertion, more odd than assuming cognition as an emergent property of biology? The assumption you make is to place this property outside of evolutionary biology and then claim it to be both unknowable yet causal… without any hint how such an effect could be caused from a distance, so to speak. It’s an arbitrary assignment, like assuming the colour blue is an effect of of a causal god but red is just a colour. Lots of critters have cognition; selecting the cognition of us humans as evidence for causal effect of this exterior non-knowable god seems to me to be rather odd. Why bother espousing belief in something you admittedly can know nothing about?

      Comment by tildeb — July 2, 2013 @ 9:02 am | Reply

      • ——————————-
        “You believe that there is a ‘source’ outside of what is knowable for our cognition yet somehow responsible for bringing it into being, that you make a choice to believe in ‘it’ and, for lack of a better word, call ‘it’ god.”
        ——————————-

        No, I don’t call it ‘god’. In fact, I said that I personally don’t choose to call it ‘god’. However, I also said that I will not call someone wrong who chooses to call it ‘god’, since for all I am capable of knowing, I am forced to admit that person’s choice of terms is really no less useful than my own. I personally choose to characterize the unknowable in secular terms such as ‘laws’ and/or ‘principles’ that are clearly outside of our current ability to observe, if not outside of our ability to comprehend altogether (I’ve already said I lean toward the latter). Even if someone asserts that the ability to observe and comprehend these putative laws and principles are within the realm of human cognition, we clearly cannot observe them at the moment (or else we would know them!).

        ——————————-
        “Even though you think this ‘it’, this ‘source’, this god is ‘unknowable’, you feel capable of knowing something about it…apparently by means of causal effect regarding our cognition.”
        ——————————-

        I never called as-of-yet unobserved natural forces a ‘source’ of anything. I used that word elsewhere in my comment when talking about something else. I referred to the unknowable in terms of ‘fundamental laws or forces’, and said that they do ‘many of the basic things that a god is typically believed to do’. By those ‘things’, I suppose I simply meant ‘governing the apparent regularity found in our universe’ in a general manner of speaking. If I were required to say that those forces are the ‘source’ of anything, I guess I would say that they are the ‘source’ of the rules by which the universe works. I am not a creationist, if that’s what you were getting at. When I referred to those forces as ‘it’ in the sentence, “Expediency forces me to call it by some name, and though I personally don’t choose to call it ‘god’, I won’t judge someone as wrong if he or she does choose to call it ‘god’,” I only did that for grammatical agreement, and because I was speaking from the other point of view. As for ‘knowing something about it’, I claim only to know that unobserved, possibly inexplicable, forces exist. I claim to know nothing outside of that. As I stated earlier, it is clear that unobserved forces exist in the universe; you cannot refute that. I merely suspect that it may be beyond the scope of human cognition to understand many of them.

        ——————————-
        “Doesn’t that strike you as rather an odd assertion, more odd than assuming cognition as an emergent property of biology? The assumption you make is to place this property outside of evolutionary biology and then claim it to be both unknowable yet causal… without any hint how such an effect could be caused from a distance, so to speak. It’s an arbitrary assignment, like assuming the colour blue is an effect of of a causal god but red is just a colour.”
        ——————————-

        ‘Odd’ has a lot of meanings. If claiming that human cognition is an emergent property of biology through the statement, “human cognition apparently arose from an outside pressure to adapt” is odd, do you mean it is unconventional? If yes, then I would challenge you to please explain how it is unconventional. The peculiar human capacity for cognition presents a clear biological advantage over every other organism on Earth, including humankind’s next closest relative, the chimpanzee. If a human has clearly superior cognitive capacity to its next closest relative, how is that trait not biologically emergent? It apparently emerged biologically somewhere along the line between the chimpanzee and the human! In all fairness, maybe your meaning just isn’t clear to me.

        Maybe I could have been more clear when I said, “outside pressures gave the homo sapiens a clear imperative to become superior [in regard to being faster, stronger, more mobile and more lethal] the source for the imperative to make the homo sapiens understand the fundamental forces that govern the universe is less clear, if at all existent. In fact, I would go so far to say that it is non-existent, and that the human ability to understand those said forces is accordingly non-existent,” since I meant in no way to use that statement to claim that human cognition is outside of evolutionary biology.

        The antecedent of the phrase ‘outside pressures’, was the phrase ‘outside pressure to adapt’ found in the paragraph immediately previous. By that, I meant ‘pressures in the natural environment that are external to humans’. You seem to think I was talking instead about the unobserved and unknown ‘fundamental forces that govern the universe’ that I mention elsewhere in my comment. To rephrase, what I meant to say was that even though the pressures in the natural environment which were external to humans provided an imperative for humans to develop a superior cognitive capacity that — by greatly enhancing problem solving and cooperative abilities — made them for all practical purposes faster, stronger, more mobile and more lethal than any of their biological competitors in the animal kingdom, if one were to claim that the peculiarly acute cognitive capacity of humans is capable additionally of encompassing the scope of all conceivable natural knowledge, then I would ask that person where the evolutionary imperative to be able to do so lies. If that imperative does not exist, then it is not rational to believe that humans possess that corresponding ability to encompass the scope of all conceivable natural knowledge, and it is therefore reasonable to suspect that there exist limitations to human cognition.

        ———————————————-
        Lots of critters have cognition; selecting the cognition of us humans as evidence for causal effect of this exterior non-knowable god seems to me to be rather odd. Why bother espousing belief in something you admittedly can know nothing about?
        ———————————————-

        Though many animals have cognitive capacity, science has yet to show if any other animals possess cognitive capacity to rival that of a human. The point of speaking in regard to human cognition is that we humans tend to take the notion for granted that given enough time, our capacity for cognition will enable us to eventually know everything about how the universe works. Again, my central claim is that by way of a conventional model of evolution through natural selection, there is no reason to take this notion for granted, and it is therefore possible or even likely that humans will never understand a great deal about how the universe works. We may be therefore doomed to live within the confines of our own cognitive limitations, just like every other other animal that we consider less intelligent than ourselves.

        Finally, as far as what I believe, I believe merely that the laws and forces which ultimately govern the universe are probably beyond the limits of human cognitive capacity. I know that those laws and forces exist, because they are the same laws and forces that science tries to uncover. That they exist is not the part that is refutable. The thing that I believe is that the greater part of them are probably unknowable though mere human cognition, and this belief compels me to admit that for all I know and all that I believe that I am capable of knowing, I cannot criticize the individual who chooses to call the bulk of the unknown/unknowable information ‘god’, since that person’s choice of terminology — given what is known to humans about the universe — is no really no less useful than my own.

        Comment by Dick Waczynya — July 2, 2013 @ 1:02 pm

      • As Hawking says (and I paraphrase), once you have gravity, the rest follows. Why you want to attribute this or whatever it produces to anything other than a materialistic universe seems futile to me. But, hey…

        I know of no one who suggests that human cognition is capable of knowing everything about everything. But our knowledge of the universe is expanding and this is a rather remarkable achievement using methodological naturalism. It seems to me to be a sufficient beginning. Where it will end? Who knows? To what do I attribute this ability? It is an emergent property of our biology, just as it is an emergent property of our kin, although to a lesser extent (speaking globally) as far as I can determine. Still, the exercise of this ability has the potential to be equally disastrous as it can be beneficial. So far, we come down on the beneficial side because we are still here and our population growing, although for how long remains unknown. Our ability to pollute our own environment is also unprecedented among species, but I would be hesitant to assign the label ‘superior’ to it. We’re still primates and subject to our mistakes as much as the next great ape.

        What I don’t understand is why you continue to conflate belief in some ‘greater power’ (apparently due to our lack of knowledge) with the term ‘agnostic’. Again, in terms of a faith-based belief about a ‘greater power’ , the term ‘agnostic’ remains a middling statement about not knowing enough… as if there were evidence both for and against a faith-based proposition but no cumulative amount to tip the balance one way or the other. Agnosticism is not a synonym for ignorance, after all; it’s a statement equivalent to “I don’t know one way or the other.” The problem here is that there is no equivalency between a belief and non belief claim about an interventionist god causing effect in our world to assume agnosticism. All the evidence so far comes down solidly on one side only: a natural universe world devoid of supernatural causal effects. Unless and until equivalent compelling evidence is presented to counterbalance this claim, agnosticism plays no role in the faith-based belief for god any more than people are honestly ‘agnostic’ about believing in an actual Easter Bunny.

        There’s a reason why people stick god into gaps in our knowledge and not extract god from our knowledge. And that reason is because there is no independent evidence. Gods exist only so far as to be found in the minds of people wherever ignorance reigns. And the evidence is wholly dependent on those minds. All these gods can be banished by the mind that simply states what’s true: “I don’t know and you don’t either.” In that sense, all of us are agnostic about the universe we inhabit, but that gives us no reason to cross the divide and pretend we do know that a causal agency called god exists. And this is certainly the way most believers present their faith-based claim. Responding to the claim with “Gee, I don’t know for sure one way or the other so perhaps it may or may not be true so I’ll claim to be agnostic,” is a cop out because it neither claim is about knowledge; it’s about belief that is unsupported by independent evidence. In this regard there are only atheists and theists: those who do and do not believe. The agnostic, to remain honest, still has to shit or get off the pot.

        Comment by tildeb — July 2, 2013 @ 5:06 pm

  8. ——————————–
    What I don’t understand is why you continue to conflate belief in some ‘greater power’ (apparently due to our lack of knowledge) with the term ‘agnostic’.
    ——————————–

    What I meant is that I, personally, choose to view the various unobserved and undiscovered forces that ultimately govern the universe as definitely not being the result of divine power, and choose to view them in secular terms, though I cannot say exactly what they are.

    However, I must admit that if a theist — perhaps eager to use fancy logic in order to fully convert me to his camp — were to point this out to me and say to me, “See? See? That’s pretty much just like believing in a mysterious god, because it’s all just one big body of stuff that you can’t explicate,” then I can’t really say that that person is wrong, because if you look at it a certain way, I guess it really is essentially a lot like believing in a cold, indifferent god and being a pagan or something.

    To me, the proposition of one side versus the other then becomes a mere choice of terminology. I call all of that stuff ‘unobserved and undiscovered laws and forces that govern the universe’, but someone else calls all that stuff ‘god’. For all I know and view myself as capable of knowing, I can’t take the extra step to becoming a complete atheist and unequivocally call the theist wrong without feeling like I’m being dishonest in a way. That’s why I ultimately see myself as an agnostic.

    Comment by Dick Waczynya — July 2, 2013 @ 6:33 pm | Reply

    • I can call the theist ‘wrong’ because their conclusions have been drawn from a deeply flawed methodology guaranteed to fool us without offering any compensating evidence to mitigate full skepticism. The theist can call me ‘wrong’ for maintaining such skepticism because of compelling evidence from reality that links causal effects to this agency they claim is real. In other words, there is only one right answer. if someone’s going to make a claim about the reality we share, then we have to be able to share the compelling reasons in its support backed up by evidence from the world or share the justified skepticism if these requirements are absent. Without this willingness to support causal claims of efficacy to this agency in such ways, the claims are empty and not worth consideration because they are equivalent to just making stuff up. Yes, this made up stuff may turn out to be true, but that is no reason to grant it any consideration until such a time is reached! I’ll change my opinion if the world tells me to and not because I wish to appear tolerant to someone willing to be duped.

      No religious person I know of admits to being agnostic about contrary and incompatible religious beliefs; why on earth should we bend over backwards and allow the same kind of agnosticism they themselves refuse to allow but insist on a special exemption for their particular belief? I am sorry, but my intellectual integrity is more important to me than respecting their faith in made up stuff that in itself has demonstrable negative causal effect in this world.

      Comment by tildeb — July 2, 2013 @ 8:31 pm | Reply

  9. You and I then have at least something in common, because I will certainly draw the line at making any effort to be tolerant toward any belief system that ‘has a demonstrable negative causal effect in this world’.

    Though I don’t practice it myself, I do have a certain degree of tolerance for theism (as you already know), but it is also clear to me that some of the most evil acts committed by humans are the result of the complicity of large groups of people who are otherwise not evil being held under the sway of one or more religious/superstitious beliefs. The fact that most of those complicit people are otherwise not evil is, to me, perhaps the scariest part of all of that. There’s no need to go into examples, because I’m sure you’re familiar with more than enough.

    However, perhaps in order to avoid needless alienation from too many other people (plenty of whom I may be able to respect despite not subscribing to their spiritual beliefs), I choose to differentiate between the religious beliefs that I consider innocuous and the ones that clearly hurt innocent people.

    It’s just my own personal way of reconciling what I think is right with what I can’t always prove isn’t right, and thus making it possible for me to coexist with other people who think differently than myself. And I’ll absolutely go right on thinking that way without worrying that it makes me intellectually dishonest.

    Comment by Dick Waczynya — July 2, 2013 @ 10:07 pm | Reply

    • I used to think this way until I realized that the culprit that empowered the most extreme and violent and disrespectful and dangerous treatment of people was always the same as the innocuous: an identical methodology (epistemology) was used to empower it. The same faith-based methodology was used to justify all kinds of negative (and sometimes what seems to be innocuous) behaviours and opinions such as apartheid, Nazi death camps, European pogroms, anti-vaccination opinions, holocaust and climate change denial, voodoo, conspiracies, ghosts, genocides, and, of course religions of all kinds. In every case, the methodology remained the same: imposing a faith-based assumption on to reality rather than extracting a justified belief (even if tentative) from it (methodological naturalism).

      Once I realized this, I recognized faith-based belief in action all around me. This kind of belief permeated my life and had effect not just on me but everyone… an unjustified effect that caused real world damage to real people in real life all the time (even if they didn’t notice it). All one has to do is look at public policy to see its insidious effect in action… policies based on belief rather than adduced from reality for meeting various goals.

      So I have no qualms about holding those who maintain innocuous beliefs to the same standard I hold everyone: respect reality enough to allow it to arbitrate beliefs held about it rather than impose faith-based beliefs on it and force others to go along with the charade regardless of reality’s adjudication of its truth value. In other words,I don’t think there’s any such thing as an ‘innocuous faith-based belief’. But before you assume I damn people for this practice, lwet me assure you that I am as guilty as the next person. It’s not a question of damning people who empower faith-based belief; it’s a question of understanding why they do not describe reality accurately. I’m a Rams fan, for example, and I believe the team is going to rise to become champions every year but I respect reality enough to allow it rather than my belief to determine the quality of the team by its final standing. Those who refuse reality to justify beliefs held about it are the ones I will argue with and point out why their methodology is broken and unreliable and unworthy of being imposed on anyone anywhere at any time. For those who keep their faith-based beliefs solely in the private domain, I’ve got no problem. For those who wish to extend it to have influence in the public, I draw a line.

      Comment by tildeb — July 3, 2013 @ 3:32 pm | Reply

      • Nicely put. You speak for me also.

        Comment by Cedric Katesby — July 7, 2013 @ 9:13 am

      • Thanks, Cedric, but you speak much more succinctly than I.

        Comment by tildeb — July 7, 2013 @ 12:56 pm

  10. […] New Agnosticism (versus New Atheism, of course) as a practical matter is nothing more and nothing less than cowardly atheism but with a healthy dose of accomodationism [sic] built right in. [UNQUOTE, bold emphasis added, https://questionablemotives.wordpress.com/2010/07/30/why-is-agnosticism-cowardly-atheism/%5D […]

    Pingback by The Motives for Lack-of-Belief Atheism | The Reconquista Initiative — January 29, 2017 @ 5:43 am | Reply


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