This was initially posted elsewhere, and it was interesting to observe the responses. In a small minded gaming community, people could not be bothered to actually read the article and responded emotionally to the title, feeling obligated to defend their religion or stance – missing the point entirely. This contrasts heavily with the reaction that was received when it was posted in the Richard Dawkins forum, where pretty much everybody agreed. I find it interesting how people can be so biased or hostile, and refuse to consider new ideas if they find them the least bit threatening. I hope that by making this article more available, it may generate some interesting feedback, or further arguments or points of view to consider. While I am sure many such arguments have been written on this topic, the only other one I could find was this one here, which misses some of the points raised in this article. Without further ado, the article:
I have thought about this quite a lot, and this is the conclusion I keep coming back to. In this text, I hope to explain my reasoning as to why, and to hear back some alternative points of view, or reasons why my reasoning may not apply or can be voided. I would like to stress, this thread is in no way an attack on religion, nor is it specific to any religion. I would hate to see it sidetracked by a back and forth argument that tends to accompany such matters. Likewise, I understand matters of faith and belief are very much a spiritual or emotional thing, logic, reason or evidence not having a major influence. As such, I am only looking at this issue from a logical/rational/objective/empirical point of view, as I am incapable of taking the matter on faith. As such, I would appreciate any serious responses to be on similar grounds.
NOTE: When I say agnosticism, I am not referring to what is sometimes called weak atheism. The idea of accepting the possibility that a god may exist, but waiting for evidence and assuming none does. That is of course, not pointless and very rational. I am in fact referring to Agnostic atheism, Apathetic agnosticism, Strong agnosticism, and to a far less extent, as much as it sometimes falls under the category of agnosticism, ignosticism. This post is to do with truly taking the stance that you can’t or don’t know, implicitly considering both ideas as equally likely, rather than denying the idea of God by default but willing to consider evidence. With that out of the way….
Firstly, we can divide a belief in God into two major categories. A belief in or possible acknowledgment of God(s) relating to, or as a result of subscribing to a particular religious faith, such as Christianity, Judaism, Scientology etc. The second category is far less specific, and is not related to any particular religion, and simply acknowledges the possibility of there being an external force/deity, with details such as identity, capabilities/level of power, intentions etc not being specified.
I will address the first category first.
The god of any number of organized religions. Well, these religions are all the result of human creation. Perhaps their is a god, who communicated with early humans and used them to record his messages. Perhaps. In which case, all the dogma and tradition can be said to be accurate, or at least the core stuff can be said to be. If this is the case, then agnosticism can not possibly apply. If you subscribe to the beliefs of your specific religion, then…it’s a matter of faith. You can’t ever know you are correct, and it doesn’t matter, because you believe. agnosticism is completely contrary to having a belief in a specific religion. If you declare yourself an agnostic while practicing a religion, that isn’t smart or rational, it’s just hypocritical.
Yes, it is accurate that all religions are created by humans. Each of the Abrahamic religions can be traced back to their roots before they split off from Judaism, they can be shown to have adopted and influences the cultures they influences at different times, and the results of this influence. We have much evidence that will contradict almost all Abrahamic dogma, and it is reliable. We can follow the spread and influence of Christianity around the world as new lands were settled and trading relationships entered into. Likewise for other religions, we can trace back the origins of Taoism, Confucianism or Wicca, we can see how it started and how they evolved throughout history, with their current incarnations no longer resembling what they were originally.
I tend to believe, as it is the most rational conclusion based on the info provided, that it is simply human nature to come up with a religion and belief system. The very best example of this is the cargo cults phenomenon, and the case of the Jon Frum cargo cult. Cargo cults are an interesting phenomenon. Due to a less advanced civilization encountering soldiers, or planes dropping of cargo or something similar and not understanding it, they will make up a reason for it, and ascribe a very powerful entity to it, or in the case of something tangible, such as John Frum, who was responsible in getting much cargo delivered, assign great power to an individual.
This is near perfect evidence of how religions can be formed, and that it is natural for humans to do so. It is easy to explain how then why there have been so many religions through history, why they have nothing in common with each other unless they were a descendant, and why they grow in power over time. Religions adapt. Most Christians traditionally took the Bible literally…in the face of developments, it is now far more common to interpret the passages in a metaphorical way so they can be applied to the modern world. A fantastic example of adapting and growing stronger. There is an interesting parallel to Jon Frum growing in power, and after people learning he was human saying he was indeed a spiritual messenger, elevating him above his original mortal origins, and making idols out of the symbol of an airplane, hoping to attract more..to practices deemed by many of the worlds religions today. People have a need to explain and justify things, and in the face of threatening information, will adapt to incorporate it.
Given that throughout human history, there have been so many religions, in all different parts of the world, with none of them resembling any of the others, while the religions in particular geographic regions have always maintained some traditions in common, given that we have observed phenomenon like cargo cult within the last 100 years, the stance of agnosticism can not apply to human created religions, even if it is considered that they were creating with the guiding hand of a god. As such, only belief or faith applies. The agnostic stance is then reserved for people who do not subscribe to any specific religion, but wish to consider the possibility that there may be a god of some sort.
The above few paragraphs are not intended as an attack on anyone subscribing to any faith, they merely serve to illustrate what I believe to be human nature, and the man made nature of religion, which is relevant as to why so many people will adopt an agnostic stance towards the idea of god, and not other similar imagined concepts.
Now, for the second category, it is important to distinguish the possible god from an interventionist god, and a non-interventionist god. The distinction is important. A non-interventionist god..would mean little if he were to exist. If he did not create our universe, did not interfere in any way, and has no effect on anything we do, then surely he is irrelevant, and his existence meaningless, to us? We would have no reason to prey to him, to worship him, to fear him, or to even communicate with him. For all intents and purposes, our lives, and the lives of all humans past and future, would not be affected by such a god.
An interventionist god on the other hand, will have intervened in the affairs of our universe to some extent. Perhaps he just set the universe in motion, or perhaps he micromanages humans and animals and listens to prayers and steps in when appropriate, which is apparent whenever we think a coincidence has occurred. It does not matter to what extent such a god would have intervened, only that he did. This type of god can then be said to represent a creationist god, not in the biblical or any other religious sense, but by the fact that if it were not for the actions of this god, even if they were simply setting everything in motion and not creating earth or people specifically, we would not have existed. None of that may necessarily have any impact relating to the reasoning of such a god existing however I thought it was important to mention the distinctions.
With that out of the way, there are quite a few problems with examining the idea of a god, of any sort, that does not come from any of our established religions.
Because of these reasons that I have outlined….agnosticism makes as much sense as taking an agnostic stance towards Santa, Raptor Jesus, FSM, Russel’s Teapot or Yoda. No sane adult will acknowledge that any of the above may exist, but will in fact stubbornly deny their existence, on the basis that they are man made. For some reason however, it is perfectly acceptable to take an agnostic stance towards the idea of god. Why? Obviously Yoda was created as a work of fiction, and has a specific set of facts to work with, and deny. There are many other suggestions of things that may exist, and are less specific(and therefore harder to prove), and yet are dismissed as ridiculous. Take UFO’s for example. I have always considered from a scientific point of view that it makes sense to consider that ET’s may exist, and yet most people will(perhaps less these days) laugh at the idea. Quite often, these same people who will accept the idea of god, or take an agnostic stance, will firmly deny the existence of ET’s. How does that make sense?
The only answer is that because such a large number of people in so many different forms embrace this idea, people have been fooled into thinking that there may be something to it. Again, I’m not exactly sure why the idea of god is different in this respect, as the same applies to vampires and dragons. Forgetting that for the moment, the fact is.., agnosticism does not come into play if you subscribe to a religious faith. If you have faith, and believe the dogma and such…, then you believe god exists, and taking a stance that he may not would have no relevance at all. Left with the people who don’t subscribe to a specific religion but want to acknowledge the concept as plausible.., well this is just as meaningless as the previous examples I gave.
The correct stance to take here, when presented with an idea that you cannot know to exist, is to assume it does not, unless presented with some kind of valid reasoning or proof. In the case of a non-interventionist god, we do not have this, and due to the nature of such a god, we never can have this. We can never know, just as we may never know of many supernatural monsters are true or not, or an invisible and out of phase pink unicorn that only turns invisible and out of phase when people look at it or it is detected in some way. While it might be theoretically possible to one day find reasonably persuasive evidence of the existence of a deity, it is impossible to find evidence of any thing’s non-existence. Given that we cannot prove the non-existence of a deity, why should we consider it may exist, anymore than something most people would deem as ludicrous, but is equally unable to be proven to not exist?
It’s fine to admit that something may exist if you don’t now either way, but it makes little sense to do so when there is a simpler explanation. Because agnosticism as a stance contradicts this rather basic truth, it is a pointless and irrational stance.