Sunday, June 27, 2010


I posted this elsewhere in response to someone's query as to whether their position was best described as "atheist" or "agnostic." Thought I'd repost it here, since it manages to sum up fairly well how I feel about stuff, and that might make it a useful thing to link to or copy-paste from the next time this comes up and I don't feel like repeating myself.

Stephen Batchelor defined agnosticism as saying "I don't know" when what you really mean is "I don't want to know."

I disagree with him about what atheism is or should be, but that does fit my experience of talking with people who are really attached to identifying as agnostic, whether the label makes sense or not (much like people who like to identify as conservative or liberal as a matter of identity, even though they may not really know or care what they're endorsing).

Personally, it is very rare that we can use evidence to say anything with 100% certainty. That doesn't mean we stop vaccinating our children or start teaching the flat Earth theory as a credible hypothesis. All we need is to have some point or marker where we say, "Okay. We have gathered enough evidence that it'd be kind of silly not to make a reasonable stab at what is probably happening and/or why it may be so."

Atheists are people who are willing to place such a marker even on hypotheses about the supernatural, and who are willing to say that we've been exploring the issue long enough that we can make a reasonable stab at answering the question. An agnostic is someone who says that the question can never be answered, that there is no point at which we can say we have enough information to place confidence in a theory.

If we would not be agnostic about the theory that reptilian Jews control the banks (for the record, while we cannot 100% disprove this, we can say it is probably not true), then why should we place the question of the supernatural in another category?

Agnosticism just isn't really a useful step toward figuring anything out. Skepticism, yes. When many people talk about agnosticism, what they really want to convey is that they're skeptics--they're not making a statement of faith that there can be and must be no God. They just aren't convinced. However, the crushing majority of atheists don't make this as a statement of faith either. They're just no more agnostic about God than about the reptilian Jew bankers.

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