My World View – Agnosticism

I had set about to write a ‘what is agnosticism’ post several times. It turns out that it wasn’t as easy as I had at first thought. Insert some saying about getting on a horse here. I’ll have to leave equestrianism for another post 🙂

Agnostics can be militant or not, vociferous or not. In many ways they are like atheists. The label does not define them in any way but one – they generally do not believe in the existence of gods (see no evidence for them) but cannot be certain that gods do not exist so will not claim that they do not. Most people with any vestment in this discussion will already have formed an idea of how they feel about such a position. I’m not going to discuss their opinion, or even the opinion of agnostics.

Meditating with my cousins

I remember well the transition from evangelical believer to agnostic to atheist to anti-theist. It was not a weekend fling. It took a lot of work to figure out that I was agnostic when in fact I finally told myself that I was. I can’t remember exactly when it was but I do remember that it was out of frustration. I was in search of answers since I was a very young boy. Finding none in my parents church I sought them in other churches. They didn’t have answers either. I travelled the world, well, I travelled some of it. More of it than most American born folk. I looked for answers everywhere I travelled, and found none. Oddly enough, one of the few places that I went where I did go that did not raise more questions was the zoo. I visited zoos all over the world. Never once did I find a question there that I could not also find an answer. There, the magic of the number 5 was all around me. There I found the meaning of life: eat, drink, fornicate, sleep, wake … repeat. It is what all these wonderful animals and I had in common. The real meaning of life, if there must be one, must be a meaning shared by all of life; the best of us and the least of us. I know that I spent a lot of time watching primates. The looked to me like cousins, however it was the apes that made me think. I watched them and I could spot the policeman, the troublemakers, the miscreant teens, the caring, the democrats, the republicans, the libertarians. I could see in them all manner of human behavior. At least I then thought it was only human behaviors. I did not understand evolution as I do now.

This made me think. How can God not care for them? Why are humans special? Why is there no heaven for them? Where do they go after death? Why doesn’t my God care the same about these wonderful creatures? There were, of course, no answers in the brochure with the map of the zoo. These thoughts troubled me. They troubled me more than anything else ever had. I could find no answers and as far as I knew I was the only one for thousands of miles that felt as I did, if there even was another thinking like me. I have always known what it feels like to be, or at least feel, alone. I thought quite some time about it and finally decided that I just don’t know. There are no answers that sound right so I just don’t know and can’t know. I can’t know what happens to animals when they die. It was not long before I had a discussion with myself and we concluded that it is unreasonable to assume that we can know that a god like that exists. For quite a few years I was content with the fact that I can’t know. It was not until many years later that I would understand this to be agnosticism.

So What Exactly Happened Next? (C’mon, finish the story)

I was agnostic for many years. I searched in all the usual ‘spiritual’ haunts for signs of supernatural evidence of any kind. For that I can only say that Harry Houdini and Penn and Teller are kind influences on the world that I then inhabited. It was at this point that I started learning the importance of thinking critically about the world around me. Reason and rationality became part of my world. I know the sequence well. After these changes it was then that I started becoming an atheist. Not because I hated god or anything as silly as some apologists will tell you. It was simply because I had looked everywhere and could find nothing but reasons to not believe, nothing but lack of evidence, nothing but evidence that gods are not necessary to life. I remained agnostic, yet fearful that a god might exist, though I did not know if it was the god of Abraham or some other god… it still seemed possible.

I don’t remember the day exactly, only that I was thinking to myself that it was frustrating that yet another ‘spiritual’ story turned out to be complete scam. I was frustrated. This god was supposed to be omnipresent, omnipotent, omniscient. Why is it that I can’t find him? Why is he hiding? It was in this funk that I sat up like a shot, looked around carefully, thought to myself nervously…. and said a prayer: God, if you exist, show me. Give me a sign, throw me a bone, something, anything… and I waited. Weeks, maybe months later I hesitantly repeated this prayer. Still nothing. I began to become distraught by this result.

Months later yet my distress turned to anger. Again sitting by myself I repeated my experiment but spoke the words out loud as if this would help him hear me and know I meant it. I didn’t even see a pair of paper clips posed in a cross formation. I looked. There were no signs. I did not know what to do. Eventually I firmly called out in prayer ‘show yourself. I don’t care if it kills me. Show yourself, this teasing is not working for me’ and waited. Still nothing. This was repeated until it became a threat for god to kill me if he could. Just show up and obliterate me with laser beams from his eyes or something. Still no sign. I teased back… ‘guess you don’t care, not about me… show yourself… coward!’ I did not know it, but I had become an atheist. I had lost all fear and respect for gods. They have no power, no presence, they are nothing. The god of Abraham, like Thor, was a myth.

Still, I was alone. Always alone. I did not know anyone that thought even a little bit like me. I had never thought of finding others. I never thought of needing others. I was simply content that I had the answer I had looked for. The meaning of life was already clear. I learned it from my cousins. If there is a true meaning of life, it is true for them. If they can enjoy it I too can enjoy it. I was content. I needed no more explanations, no more excuses. Life made sense to me.

So what happened to make you so angry?

That’s fairly easy. After 9/11 the activity and zest of Christianity popped up and started making claims and pushing for this and that… it felt wrong. My cousins would not do this. Why are these people doing this. Their god does not exist, surely they have a clue? Some time later I heard about these four horsemen fellows. I studied and listened. It was amazing to find that there are other people who think like I do. I was stunned. I literally did not know what to think of it all.

The more I read, the more I studied, the more certain that I became that religion poisons everything. That these angry fellows were right, but more pointedly many of them did not go far enough. It is not enough to say that the god of Abraham does not exist, that there is no credible evidence for such a being to exist but that there is no credible reason to believe that such supernatural beings even can exist. Since that moment science seems to have accelerated. Perhaps I’m just reading more and more on the Internet, I don’t know. The evidence I needed for the answers I sought is becoming available at an ever increasing pace. Religion offers me no answers. Science brings me more answers every day. The god of Abraham is the kind of horrendous manifestation of mankind’s imagination that truly sets us apart from animals. An animal will kill another but never make up a story to justify it. In this, yes, we are different from the animals.

I don’t agree with all atheists. I don’t agree with all non-believers… I am me. I got here on my own. I speak for me and no other and no other speaks for me.

If you wish to present to me apologetics I ask that you start with the evidence for believing that a supernatural being of any kind can exist. What evidence even shows that such beings are possible. Show me that, then we can talk about the rest.

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    • Joe ‘Blondie’ Manco
    • May 9th, 2012

    One can be both agnostic and atheist. I count myself among both camps. Lacking any belief in a theistic god makes me an atheist. And as you know, that is all that makes one atheist – beyond that an atheist can be good, bad, caring, misogynist, criminal, charitable etc.
    I too am agnostic in the sense that I cannot say for certain that no supernatural entities exist beyond the limits of our knowledge. But if they do exist that’s exactly where the phenomenon lies – beyond the limits of our current knowledge. We may know some day but we do not know now. Any of us. I would say everyone on Earth is agnostic – many just don’t know that they don’t know anything about anything beyond the limits of our knowledge. It is without doubt that a personal God as envisaged by any theist does not exist, however. That kind of God was proven wrong a long time ago.

    Nice story, by the way.

  1. Thanks for an enlightened comment. You are correct, as far as I can understand. I did not try to argue the point of agnosticism, only my journey through it. There are philosophical points which agnostics seem to hinge upon that I did not get snagged on. That is my view.

    In contrast to your view, I hold that no credible evidence has been shown that a supernatural being can exist. In this, I’m anti-theist and certain that I do not have evidence to believe in non-sense like supernatural beings.

    It might be useful to know that for a supernatural being to exist we necessarily need nature to be finite. To not be certain that nature is finite or not is to say you do not understand if space is infinite. The argument gets obtuse, but ends with the knowledge that without evidence in the positive there is no credible reason to even think a supernatural being can exist. This negates any question of whether one does exist, despite the argument that evidence of one disproves both doubts.

    Further, the assertion that a supernatural entity can exist does not argue that such an entity is the creator or that such entity gives a hoot about humanity. It is only an argument that a supernatural entity can exist. It may indeed argue that if one can, the only one that does is that more commonly referred to as Satan, but we have to get over the first hurdle before the race can be run.

      • Joe ‘Blondie’ Manco
      • May 9th, 2012

      Points taken.

      I agree that no credible evidence has been presented for anything supernatural. I did not mean to give you the impression that I thought otherwise. I hardly spend my time philosophising about agnosticism in depth. I’m just being diplomatic, like most atheists are, when they say they can’t disprove the possibility.
      And I also agree that if a supernatural entity was discovered that it would be in no way related to any personal god thought up by primitive man and written in a holy text. I tried to make that clear in my original comment.

      The short version of what I was trying to say was that agnosticism and atheism are not mutually exclusive, and that a common misconception is that agnosticism lies roughly halfway between atheism and theism. Not necessarily true. Then I got carried away.

      I liked your reasoning of whether a supernatural being can exist, and I think I recall a similar argument in Dan Barker’s Godless that I had forgotten about. I will look it up again.

      • Blondie
        No, the two positions are not mutually exclusive. They have commonalities. For me, they felt as two separate things such that I could not be one and the other at the same time.

        If it’s not too much trouble, I’d love to hear what you find about where you heard similar argument to my ‘can gods event exist’ issue.

        Thanks

          • Joe ‘Blondie’ Manco
          • May 9th, 2012

          I was mistaken. Dan Barker’s argument was specifically related to the Christian God. He deconstructed the terms omniscience, omnipotence, omnibenevolence and omnipresence (often associated with God) to argue that if He is any of these things then He cannot exist. If you have the book (titled ‘Godless: How an Evangelical Christian Became One of America’s Leading Atheists’) I highly recommend it. The bits I am talking about are from chapter 7 and are very well-put.

          I plan to expand on my musings on agnosticism in my own blog entry within the coming days, now that I’m thinking about it.

          • I happen to agree, if a thing is omni-anything, it cannot exist. My pet theory of ‘big splash’ and energy dissipation might allow for such, but precludes them from being part of this universe. I’m looking forward to your new posts. Thanks

  2. I agree completely with Joe “Blondie” Manco.
    In fact, I’m annoyed he got here first. Damn him! (To the hell none us believes in, presumably)

    • LOL

    • Apollodorosh
    • May 9th, 2012

    “An animal will kill another but never make up a story to justify it.”

    And how do you *know* that? 😉

    “The god of Abraham, like Thor, was a myth.”

    I think Ásatrúar will vehemently disagree 😉

    • I feel better now. I would have been disappointed had you not dropped by to comment on this particular topic.

      My DoLittle skills are lacking, but I make up for it by lip reading. When my dog first chased away birds from the backyard fence he turned to look at me. I gave him the ‘you shouldn’t do that’ look. I’m not sure how to understand the noises he then made, but by lip reading he said “That will teach them to perch on MY fence” and then he smiled.

      Yep, no story for justification. 🙂

      There is some room to argue that language and art developed as they did to enable mankind to brag about their spoils from warring with neighbors. If you think about it, most of ancient Egypt is ‘tagged’ with bragging about the Pharaoh and his battles… or maybe not.

      But… technically, humans are animals so there is some sliver of error in my earlier statement.

  3. I know this is all semantics, but that’s what we do in order to refine our communications. Joe, if what you say is true, why have two words? Or three, as you claim that “everyone on earth” is really an agnostic.

    Many theists absolutely believe. For them, the existence of god is an absolute “truth”; it cannot be denied. I’m sorry, but you cannot tell me there are not people in this world who have unshakeable faith; I know several of them.

    To me, atheist means you have totally rejected theism. There is no supreme being/consciousness in the universe. End of story.

    Agnostic means you aren’t sure. By definition, you are still searching. This is not the same as being open-minded, which I am as an atheist (if someone could offer substantial proof of the workings of god, I would certainly pay attention and think about it, but no one ever has). To me, an agnostic would like to believe, but cannot rationally give themself any sound reason for such belief.

    So, not just as a semanticist, but as a person who recognizes significant philosophical differences between people, I cannot accept your usage of those words.

      • Apollodorosh
      • May 10th, 2012

      It may interest you to know that at one time I was agnostic. I was raised atheist/agnostic (meaning no specific religious upbringing), then took an interest in Wicca during my teens (never came to actually practicing it though) but ultimately felt dissatisfied because it was always the Goddess this, the Goddess that, never the God that was also part of the religion. Also I now know that was all not proper Wicca but neowicca based on the Outer Court knowledge of Wicca, whereas proper Wicca is an initiatory Mystery religion with specific Gods, practices, etc. But I digress.

      After that I fell into a pit of agnosticism, searching, and dabbling with pseudo-science (ancient aliens and all that crap, I shudder when I now think of that all…) Ultimately two or two-and-a-half years ago I was reading about Wicca and Ásatrú on Wikipedia, and usddenly noticed a bow at the bottom of the page with more reconstructionist religions. Somehow I already knew about Ásatrú as a reconstructionist religion but until then never made the connection that the same could apply to toher religions as well… Thus I found Hellenic polytheism and here I am 😀

      All this to just say that I have been agnostic myself, but for myself ultimately found a spirituality that really suited me, and I am glad I have found the Gods 🙂

      Should you want to read more about my spiritual journey, I wrote about it a bit more elaborately here: http://youngflemishhellenist.wordpress.com/2010/08/26/how-i-came-to-hellenismos/

      • Apollodorosh
      • May 10th, 2012

      Oh sorry that was meant to be put with another reaction… Sorry for the confusion, must have done something wrong -_-

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