All that is wrong with the world…

October 8, 2009

Agnosticism is a pointless and irrational stance.

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.

16 Comments »

  1. Hi!,
    I found this a very interesting article. I consider myself to be an agnostic atheist, but I should be clearer about how exactly I mean that. First and foremost, I am a “weak” atheist, with regard to all posited “interventionist” god(s). When I say I am agnostic, I mean only that, with regard to the existent of a tradionationally deistic, non-interventionist god or aristotelian “first mover”, I am agnostic. Of course, as you and I would agree, the existence (or non-existence!) of such a being is pretty much irrelevant to anything. I guess my agnosticism is really an obscure philosophical point. I would never describe myself as an agnostic except to somebody who wants to be absolutely philosophicaly accurate. I always describe myself first and foremost as an atheist. Interesting article though, I will have to consider your point!

    Comment by Cian — March 12, 2010 @ 8:42 am

    • Hi Cian, Thanks.

      I’m glad you liked the article. I’m actually not happy with it and planning to rewrite it substantially, so check back in a few months.

      For the non interventionist god that we have absolutely no proof of and can never prove…I just don’t think there is any reason to say you are agnostic. It is the more complex explanation when compared with the possibility of no god, and so I see no reason to consider it anymore than the tooth fairy.

      I think agnosticism is sound when there is reasonable doubt. With the concept of god, the doubt is not reasonable, and its only counterpart is not an argument but faith.

      We ultimately agree, but think about it in different terms.

      Comment by allthatiswrong — March 12, 2010 @ 3:00 pm

  2. No, I think you are right. I will probably remove the agnostic part in my profiles from now on!🙂

    Comment by Cian — March 12, 2010 @ 7:47 pm

    • Wow, I’m glad to have gotten someone to actually change their minds!

      I really am glad you liked it and it made sense to you. Thanks again!

      Comment by allthatiswrong — March 13, 2010 @ 12:22 am

  3. We are a species that lives by fear and not innovation. Every human is limited by perception. There is not a single one of us that can describe the earth in complete detail; but, we seem to think we can determine the nature of the universe. All are wrong when it comes to proving the existence of supernatural creator; we are only dealing with assumptions. Gravity- not the effects of gravity, the force itself- cannot be seen yet Escher and Dali can; does that make the first an illusion and the second a proof of reality?

    Atheists, agnostics, Christians, Jews, Muslims, Buddhists, et al are all wrong. None of us- you, I Dawkins, Shlomo, Siddharta, or any human- can perceive the universe in its entirety.

    Experience is individual. We cannot share a thought or emotion only the concept of one. Can anyone you know actually tell you any moment of your day in the exact way you remembered it? No.

    Communication is the exchange of concepts, not of individual experiences. Knowledge increases, shit happens.

    Arguing over the existence of a universal deity will continue to follow opinion. Dawkins is as much your prophet as Siddharta is for a Buddhist: you both are following a philosophy of another without considering everything that there is.

    You cannot remember your entire life. You cannot perceive outside of yourself or your own personal era. You cannot fully explain all of your reactions; but, you can explain the existence or non-existence of a higher being.

    What proof does anyone have of either truth? The argument of the tree? Evolution will not convince the pantheist to change opinions.

    If I am agnostic, it is because I realize that I do not know everything.
    If I am not, I still realize that I do not know everything.

    Comment by Bull Shitter — June 12, 2011 @ 6:43 pm

    • Realizing we don’t know everything is great.

      Using that as an excuse to lend credibility to ridiculous claims? Not so great.

      Comment by allthatiswrong — June 15, 2011 @ 11:13 am

  4. There should be a comma between I and Dawkins above in the second “paragraph.”

    Comment by Bull Shitter — June 12, 2011 @ 6:47 pm

  5. I appreciated to how much lengths you went to show acceptance towards religions even if you shore none of their beliefs and how you worded it very well.

    I hear this point of view a lot and it has its merits, but in all respect I think you’ve oversoon, or at least didn’t address in this article is:

    -Why is there something rather than nothing?-

    So I’d like to flip things around and tell you that a deity that created the universe is a simpler explanation than saying you don’t know why and that according to what we see, nothing should even exist at all.
    So if you follow this train of thought, according to your rather “basic truth” Atheism is a pointless and irrational stance.

    Comment by Timothy — March 26, 2012 @ 5:12 am

    • That doesn’t really make sense.

      How is a sentient being a simpler explanation than an alternative we don’t yet know? Why is it a simpler explanation than “it just happened” ?

      Comment by allthatiswrong — December 11, 2012 @ 3:53 am

  6. I liked the article, it reminded me of reading George H. Smith’s book “Atheism:The Case Against God”. To a point I am arriving at the conclusion that I simply don’t care anymore one way or the other(Apatheism I suppose). I will most likely be an Atheist/secular humanist till the day I die as the only evidence I had for “God” is what I was told in church from the Bible growing up combined with the need to be “chosen”. I eventually became a Nichiren Buddhist and recognized myself as an Atheist(because there are the two opposing philosophies within that form of Buddhism, Atheistic/Pantheistic and Polytheistic Pantheism which the latter I simply didn’t buy into as it WAS superstitious). I eventually abandoned Nichiren Buddhism because I couldn’t swallow all the dogma(and I was practicing intellectual honesty where a lot of other Buddhists I knew would simply sweep the superstitious claims made by Nichiren under the rug and reinterpret or wholly ignore making excuses that Christians would be proud of), but kept the things that made sense to me in line with my common sense, reason, and logic. Universe works like an electronic circuit(overgeneralizing here), my perception of reality dictates my reality, my past creates my present(habits, addictions and such although I threw out the belief in reincarnation due to lack of evidence and applied “Karma” to ONLY this life in a purely secular sense), how I am on the inside is how things are on the outside(the inside dictates how I react to things, what I choose to say, attachments that prevent me from attaining my goals, the “vibes” I send out by the inflections in my voice, etc etc). I even created my own secular mantra that has no meaning and proved all the dogma to be blatantly false. I do believe we are all born with our light side and our dark side, and when Christians pray(albeit prayer does absolutely no good whatsoever in the real world as it keeps people from taking real actions to create real results), they mistake that part of themselves as “God” believing that they are actually talking to something outside of themselves, that being intuition and such, Meditation allows me to alter my feelings and actions making things happen. None the less, I suppose I am a weak Atheist, and the idea of Deism or the type of agnosticism that I wouldn’t subscribe to IS irrational(considering the Christian god to be equally likely to exist as not to exist and simply saying “I don’t know”). I just get tired of the debates from all sides of the coin, religious and non religious. I don’t mean this to come across as me being critical, I just simply think that sometimes those of us(including myself) go somewhat overboard discrediting agnosticism. I mean agnosticism in the sense that although I have no good reason to believe that a deist type of deity could exist, I am still suspending disbelief due to lack of evidence-and we have a tendency in my opinion to even discredit that point. I am not saying that you did that in this article, I simply think that sometimes we can come across that way. Dawkins comes across so arrogant sometimes although I really like him, he would be a good person to sit down and eat lunch with to pick his brain(I think he seems arrogant because of the accent-that accent seems so aristocratic to me…Christopher Hitchens seemed that way too and I think for the same reason-the accent). Sam Harris says the same things, same arguments, same assault on religion yet he seems downright humble at times to me, no accent. The thing that got me the most as I have walked this path and abandoned religion is the honesty of most Atheists that I have listened to and the dishonesty of many religious people, never ceases to amaze me.

    Comment by Marrey Jack — August 27, 2012 @ 7:00 am

  7. Sorry, meant suspending belief about a deist type of god, that came out wrong and I caught it after I posted my comment.

    Comment by Marrey Jack — August 27, 2012 @ 7:04 am

  8. I believe my Bible. It is book that has something to say about distant past, ancient past, past, present and future. I believe SCIENCE is the fulfillment of Daniel 12:4 “Knowledge shall increase at the end time be.” God permit science to help the believers understand the remaining mysteries in the Bible. When good SCIENCE declare that earth is old, it will be amen to it. There is Garden of Eden that was covered with stones stated in Ezek 28:13, it is not the same Garden of Eden during Adam and Eve. If you believe that the earth is old, you can easiy accept that there was that Prehistoric life as supported fossils that were unearthed. Those dinosaurs fossils that were found, seemingly on the act of mortal combat and two were even on the act of biting each other before suddenly died suggests that a catastrophic had happened. The first cleansing of the earth happened as hinted by 2Peter3:1-7

    Genesis1:1, is when God created the universe, stars, planets, and the earth. If these were because of the “big bang”as science, so be it.

    Genesis1:2, this is the condition of the earth during the ice age. “The earth was without form and void….And the Spirit of God was hovering over the face of

    Comment by Angelino Acosta — July 3, 2013 @ 5:20 pm

    • Your Bible is written by flawed human beings. Your modern bible as you know it has very little in common with the actual scriptures in their native language.

      Comment by allthatiswrong — January 11, 2014 @ 9:03 pm

  9. Genesis1:2 “…And the Spirit of God was hovering over the face of (solid) waters.

    Genesis1:3-10 is the restoration of the earth to prepare it for life to exist again.

    2Peter3:5b “and the earth was formed out of water and through water by the WORD of God.

    Genesis1:3 “Let there be light” “HEAT” is generated when light is restored. The heat melts some of the solid water. Genesis1:6″….let it separate the waters from the waters. V9 “let the dry land appear”

    The 24/7 Day/Night was restored in Genesis
    1:11 The purpose is to restore the wate cycle and right atmosphere for life to exist again

    In Genesis1:28, Adam and were Instructed to REPLENISH the earth.(It means life were existed before all had been wiped out because of the earth cleansing by ice

    Comment by Angelino Acosta — July 3, 2013 @ 5:47 pm

  10. I think it hillarious that you contrast a gaming communitys opinions as being biased and hostile, yet the biased and hostility of people agreeing with you on a richard dawkins sight was virtually ignored. Bias exists in both places, simply because you deem it hostile in one area and friendly in another does not make it less in either.

    Comment by winkle — March 4, 2014 @ 3:22 am

    • There is a difference in bias towards logic and reason, and bias that stems from idiocy.

      Comment by allthatiswrong — March 5, 2014 @ 1:30 pm


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