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Thread: Agnosticism

  1. #21

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    Quote Originally Posted by toonia View Post
    I've been wrestling with the question of God on an almost daily basis for 21 years. For the last couple of years I have debated online. To my disappointment I find both theists and atheists take a similar approach: if you're not for me you're against me.
    Though to be fair, part of that might be how you're phrasing the topic. Both parties feel strongly about their belief or lack of belief, and are sensitive to drive-bys. Everyone has an agenda; sincere ones are rare, and therefore never recognized as such.

    These are some assumptions they share:

    1. The human mind has the capacity to determine the nature of all things.
    2. The answer to this question is simple and obvious.
    3. Those who do not share our conclusion are flawed (evil vs. stupid) and the world would be better off without them.
    4. Certain questions are considered off limits.
    5. It is based on a system of dismissal.
    I don't want to play the 'generalization' card as it's seriously fuggin annoying, but nevertheless I would argue this list applies to only a very small portion of either.

    For example, I consider myself a strong atheist and only #1 fully applies. #2 and #5 can at times apply, but it's largely situational, contextual, and/or born out of social frustration. #4 doesn't make much sense to me; I can't see how it applies, but I admit, the case could certainly be made for #3 in some circumstances; I don't think anyone could disagree outright.

    Humility of thought is the quickest path to truth from what I can tell. The ability to examine the limitations of the human mind is a necessary first step towards growth.
    This is somewhat of a non sequitur, though. Are we talking about truth, or are we talking about growth? The two aren't necessarily inclusive, and each claim - in my mind - needs to be supported independently.

    It is a different mental process altogether. It focuses on examining assumptions, withholding judgment, approaching all aspects of the question and the people who hold them with respect. It is a willingness to ask questions, the process of formulating questions that lie at the boundary of human perception. It is a willingness to accept that not only can we not find every answer, but we are also unable to ask every question.
    That works as am NF definition. An NT might break it down between metaphysics and epistomology, the nature of being and the nature of knowledge, which is the working philosophical model.

  2. #22
    Senior Member Bushranger's Avatar
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    Quote Originally Posted by toonia View Post
    My position is such that I'm not really certain what I will teach my children. That thought haunts me a bit. I do believe in compassion and that acts of kindness are their own reward. Heaven isn't a necessary motivator. I plan to give my children many opportunities to act out of kindness.
    Teach them how to use Carl Sagan's Baloney detection kit. Teach them how to be ethical without relying on divine commandments. Beyond that, what they choose to believe is essentially their own concern.

    There isn't much room for an agnostic that I have found. It isn't a choice for me. It is simply admitting where I actually stand. It reflects the whole of how my mind works. There is no black-and-white, but a continuum of greys. Nothing is certain, but exists with degrees of probability.
    I can understand what you mean. I recently found myself explaining to an Atheist group I meet that while I lean towards strong Atheism I am technically Agnostic. People are often too eager to draw up dividing lines.
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  3. #23
    Tenured roisterer SolitaryWalker's Avatar
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    Quote Originally Posted by toonia View Post
    Anyone here consider themselves agnostic, or at least see value in the agnostic approach to the 'big' questions?

    I've been wrestling with the question of God on an almost daily basis for 21 years. For the last couple of years I have debated online. To my disappointment I find both theists and atheists take a similar approach: if you're not for me you're against me. I have been accused of being a wolf in sheep's clothing, having a Judas complex, having an imaginary friend, and many other slams that make assumptions about my mind, experiences and motivations. If they are that willing to settle on false assumptions about me (them being a human just as I am), then why should I trust their assumptions about issues that lie at the edge of human perceptions? I see more parallels in the thinking of the strong atheist and theist than between those and the agnostic. These are some assumptions they share:

    1. The human mind has the capacity to determine the nature of all things.
    2. The answer to this question is simple and obvious.
    3. Those who do not share our conclusion are flawed (evil vs. stupid) and the world would be better off without them.
    4. Certain questions are considered off limits.
    5. It is based on a system of dismissal.[

    Humility of thought is the quickest path to truth from what I can tell. The ability to examine the limitations of the human mind is a necessary first step towards growth. Agnosticism is not a reluctance to choose sides, it is not a desire to not offend, it is not a lack of desire to explore the topic. It is a different mental process altogether. It focuses on examining assumptions, withholding judgment, approaching all aspects of the question and the people who hold them with respect. It is a willingness to ask questions, the process of formulating questions that lie at the boundary of human perception. It is a willingness to accept that not only can we not find every answer, but we are also unable to ask every question.

    Let's avoid having this thread evolve into a debate about the existence of God. If that happens, I'll rename it and try again.

    Agnosticism, the way that you've posed the question resembles more one's religious perspective from a political scope than that of the philosophy of religion.

    You asked not to address the latter, so I will only comment on the former.

    Agnosticism appeals to those who wish to be neither leaders nor followers, as religious views are often used as outlets to make waves in the political arena. It is also a popular view among scholars of philosophy and psychology, especially the former. This is mostly because religion has been stygmatized as a way of life for those who can not think for themselves but can only accept what is said to them. It is more popular than atheism because by embracing agnosticism, a scholar can easily avoid confrontations with unreasonable religious zealots and focus more on the more intellectually stimulating problems. It also appeals to NPs, or people who prefer not to make decisions concerning the big questions of life that there is no clear-cut rationale for.( Could not be accessed with Ti, Ti is most adept with pure reason.) For these reasons, agnosticism tends to be popular among INTPs.

    As far as religious zealots are concerned, I think this has a lot to do with them not being able to think critically and not being open to new ideas. So they have to cling to tradition just to get through life as they are not comfortable with novelty and dont think they could handle it with just their minds alone.

    Dogmatic atheists are only marginally to be preferred to dogmatic theists. They tend to be the activists who believe for religion to be harmful through and through and that society is an urgent need to be rescued from it.

    Again, when people profess to be religious fundamentalists, agnostics or atheists, they are usually talking about religious politics. Not philosophy of religion. They profess themselves atheists not because they have seriously thought the question of God's existence and came to the conclusion that he does not exist, but simply because they are making a political statement against the campaignings of religious movements. Those who profess to be religious fundamentalists dont necessarily have deep spiritual faith or for philosophical reasons believe in God, all they are saying is that they support the political movements of religious institutions. And the agnostics just say that they want to have nothing to do with this.

    These are the two most common attitudes about God's existence and the afterlife among the conventional people.

    A)You don't need to think about it, just focus more on practical things. (Agnostic)
    B)God is inscrutable, you cant answer many of those questions that God gives you answers for, so just accept what he says. You were made not to question him but to worship Him.(Religious fundamentalist)

    Atheists among conventional people tend to be rare, those are the ones who were likely raised under the tyranny of religious indoctrination. Those who were raised in atheist households where generally shift to agnosticism later on, as they see no reason to dogmatically cling to atheism.

    As again, we see that people hold a particular position mostly based on the factors in their personal experience/current social life. They tend not to be interested in philosophy of religion and only hold an opinion on matters such as these for the sake of connecting with those who affirm their values.
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  4. #24
    respect the brick C.J.Woolf's Avatar
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    Quote Originally Posted by toonia View Post
    [Agnosticism] is a willingness to accept that not only can we not find every answer, but we are also unable to ask every question.
    Beautifully said, Toonia.

    That's how I defend agnosticism too. Our perception and our consciousness is unreliable enough that we can't be totally sure what reality is outside of the simple physical reality that can crush us, eat us, scorch us, freeze us, etc. As for metaphysical "reality", how much is real and how much is constructed deep in our brains?

    The theory that the human brain is hard-wired to be spiritual appeals to me. Some famous highly spirtual people like Teresa of Avila and Jeanne d'Arc were also called nuts. Did they just have a much stronger spiritual brain function? Also, people can interpret their spiritual perceptions quite differently depending on their culture and education.

  5. #25
    Senior Member Kyrielle's Avatar
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    Quote Originally Posted by toonia View Post
    Anyone here consider themselves agnostic, or at least see value in the agnostic approach to the 'big' questions?
    Yes. I like the answer "I don't know" to some 'big' questions, because I honestly cannot arrive at an adaquate, "closed" answer with the evidence I have. I think it's possible there is a god or a force that started the first universe and started time and a force that continues to perpetuate these things. It's also possible there isn't a force/god.

    I like the idea of all religious and non-religious answers to these questions having an equal possibility to be true.

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    Tenured roisterer SolitaryWalker's Avatar
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    What I find most puzzling is that people assert that they know that God exists or does not exist when they are not even sure what exactly God is.

    Again, I think this has little to do with philosophy of religion, or discovering what is true, they are acting on behalf of politically founded motives.
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  7. #27
    Lex Parsimoniae Xander's Avatar
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    Fervent Agnostic. I disagree with almost all zealots not matter what their crutch.

    Personally I like to think of both atheist and theist as philosophies with elements worth merit. Like all structured philosophies they fall down in regard to their extremes where they begin to exclude more than include but there's no structure which doesn't do this.

    As for the assumptions that people build upon, try getting them to see that all of their conclusions are based on thing which were defined by humans for human purposes and within the context of a humans perceptions and assumptions. Then what their brains kinda slurp out of their ears.... and then you walk away whilst they um and ah. Works.
    Isn't it time for a colourful metaphor?

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    Quote Originally Posted by BlueWing View Post
    What I find most puzzling is that people assert that they know that God exists or does not exist when they are not even sure what exactly God is.

    Again, I think this has little to do with philosophy of religion, or discovering what is true, they are acting on behalf of politically founded motives.
    BW, you look different -- did you change your hair?


    I would not necessarily say that it's "political," although some people consciously use people's beliefs to accumulate political power.

    There are many people who were taught to view the world from a particular point of view; their life experiences never challenged that original point of view (so their viewpoint still "feels right" to them); and when others challenge their POV, they then want to defend it, partly because it is theirs and partly because they think it IS right and don't yet understand how someone else could arrive at a different viewpoint.

    [This would be the positive end of the spectrum, compared to the entirely exploitative negative end you've insinuated above.]
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  9. #29
    darkened dreams labyrinthine's Avatar
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    One aspect of debate that turns to a dead end every time is the assumption that only measured facts are truth. Granted we may get into some word play here. I have found that the assumption that only facts have merit to be the primary lack of common ground. Let me attempt to explain this.

    My mind has been deeply shaped by the arts, not science. In the arts we break down a work, analyze it, defend it it measured ways. No matter how much we do this, there is a way of acknowledging that element that transcends the measured. There is a layer of truth that eludes the grasp, but is where much meaning lies. I'll come back to add quotes from the great minds of art that articulate this.

    Another consideration: What is self? A series of perceived experiences that even the individual can only glimpse. By observing ourself, we change ourself. There is an element to who we are that can't be nailed down. We are comprised of both measurable facts and the unknowable.

    I have heard it argued that everyone is atheist to every god but one, but that is not how i as an agnostic think. To use a tangible example, self. If you were to define who I am based on everyone who has perceived me, you would have as many definitions as there are people. And i am only a person on equal footing with everyone who has perceived me. They would not be equally correct in their perceptions of me. Those with the most false conclusions would tend to be the ones who spent more time concluding who I was rather than perceiving who I am. If there were an infinite being that humans had the capacity to glimpse, wouldn't the result be exactly as it is? As many perceptions of it as there are people? This would seem even moreso when what is being perceived cannot be fully acknowledged or understood.

    I have experienced a connection to something. It may be the same thing an atheist perceives, but it is something beyond myself that brings me strength. Whatever it is, it is real, but the nature of it is unknown. It could be a fuller awareness of my own unknowable self, it could simply be enjoying the beauty of the concrete world, it could the God I was taught it to be, whatever it is, I find that concluding too quickly is the path to not knowing. And so for me it is open. I strip away as many parameters as possible and just be. It is the only way I know to best perceive the 'truth' of it. (truth defined differently than the exploration of fact) It is not an attempt to diminish the value of fact, but likewise it is not a dismissal of all except fact. It is the exploration of the indefinable. It is shedding all labels and assumptions to let go of self, peering over the precipice so to speak, reveling in how small i am and how much i cannot know or perceive. That is my concept of agnosticism.
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  10. #30
    Tenured roisterer SolitaryWalker's Avatar
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    As far as Epistemology is concerned, Agnosticism is a must because we can't assert knowledge of God's existence (or a lack thereof) as we don't even know what God is.

    We can believe in all of this religious hocus-pocus that God has a face like Adam did, but there is no need to confuse this with honest philosophical inquiry.

    Food for thought...

    If God is infinite, and he created the universe, how could he have created it if by virtue of him being infinite he is everything that exists?

    P.S

    My polemic is not against theism in general, but only anthropomorphic theism that purports to be tenable on epistemic grounds. I think that a belief in God can only be justified through radical fideism, as the notion of God can only be accepted through testimony. As for instance, we can prove that there was a world-wide flood, and there was a Noah's ark, but we can't prove that it was God that caused it. We can 'prove' that somebody receives inner strenghth to do a miracle after praying, but we can't prove that God is the source of it, because we don't see God, we only see the way God manifests himself (granted, for the sake of the argument that He exists.) Also, God can not have any human traits because He is infinite, and our minds can only imagine what is finite because we are confined to our senses. There is nothing in the mind that was not once inspired by a sensation. Surely we can imagine something that we have never seen before, but the origin of this idea is of something that we have seen, heard, touched, smelled or tasted.
    Last edited by SolitaryWalker; 07-02-2007 at 03:44 AM.
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