What Does Agnosticism Look Like Today?

THE word agnostic _ meaning “not known’’ _ was first coined by T.H. Huxley in 1869.
Huxley wrote that a true agnostic should follow reason “as far as it will take you’’. But he cautioned: “In matters of the intellect, do not pretend that conclusions are certain which are not demonstrated or demonstrable.’’

Mark Vernon, who was an Anglican priest who became an atheist and is now a committed agnostic, says today anybody can be agnostic “with little more than a shrug of the shoulders _ like drab metal furniture of the theologically uninspired’’.

He calls for a new radical agnosticism in which adherents are involved in the process of vigorous searching and pushing knowledge to its limits, while accepting our ignorance will always be bigger than our knowledge.

Vernon says he became disillusioned with atheism because “when you convert to atheism, it seems to entail a kind of Puritanism’’.

“Religion is put off-limits,’’ he writes. “The problem is that because religion is not just about believing certain things or going to church, but is about a whole attitude to the world and existence, many atheists seem to deny certain possibilities for fear that they are letting in religion through the back door.

“Modern humanism finds it hard to address the questions of morality, values and spirit. Following the scientific rationalism it holds in high regard, it tends to boil it all down to a discussion of mechanisms, rules and laws. This may create an illusion of meaning and a sense of purpose. But meaningless keeps rearing its head because mechanisms, rules and laws are actually not very meaningful.’’ He says belief in God and atheism are not worlds apart. They share the same assumptions _ that the world can be understood, that truth corresponds with reality and that one can decide for or against God.

Vernon argues that fundamentalists of science and religion are dangerously mistaken and that agnosticism can add up to a way of life that matters.

“I do hope that more agnostics will stand up for the value of their position, since the fundamentalists of science and religion want to force people to extremes,’’ he writes.

“This is damaging at a human level, to say nothing of society and politics. In fact, I think the best of science and religion is agnostic, since it is about the search and about answers to questions that throw open even bigger questions.’’

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23 thoughts on “What Does Agnosticism Look Like Today?

  1. ??? ” “I do hope that more agnostics will stand up for the value of their position, ” —> “not known’’
    So the ambition ought to be to seek a state of blissful ignorance?

    I guess at least it wouldn’t be a long or difficult search. 😉

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  2. “Religion is put off-limits,’’ he writes. “The problem is that because religion is not just about believing certain things or going to church, but is about a whole attitude to the world and existence, many atheists seem to deny certain possibilities for fear that they are letting in religion through the back door.”

    Who? Me??

    I’ll accept any possibilities,
    Only don’t tell me; show me.

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    • I’ll accept any possibilities,
      Only don’t tell me; show me.

      A guy named Dabbles was in a discussion on Faithworks which had a discussion about God’s existence. Dabbles presented the following logic:”Has anyone in this audience heard God?” Nobody wrote anything.”Has anyone in this audience touched God?” Again, nobody wrote anything.”Has anyone in this audience seen God?” When nobody wrote anything for the third time, he simply stated, “Then there is no God.” One reader thought for a second, and then wrote the following:

      :”Has anyone heard Dabbles’ brain?” Silence.”Has anyone touched dabbles’ brain?” Silence.”Has anyone seen Dabbles’ brain?” When nobody wrote anything, the guy challenging Dabbles logic, concluded, “Then, according to Dabbles’ logic, it must be true that Dabbles has no brain!

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      • Not at all Strewth.
        My entire life has been one of exploring possibilities: to ‘suck it and see’, as they say.
        I deliberately avoided ~ even as a kid ~ the safe and secure, the life of convention, caution and ‘good citizenship’, and took chances which should’ve killed me long ago…and often……and a few times almost did. I always counted on nimble footwork and wit, which got me out of more strife than it got me into (just!), and my only regret is the time I wasted.

        But taking risks to explore possibilities was never the point of the exercise. The point of possibilities is to be a guide to realities (facts), which are then used as stepping-stones into the future and upon which to build priorities that have some sort of value.

        Even if, for the sake of the argument, the whole god-thing were ‘true’: how would that assist in making your life (or anybody else’s) any better or more ‘purposeful’? All it does is confirm the convention/status-quo as the only reality…..and we’ve see the consequences of that, haven’t we?

        There’s a universe of differerence between ‘Inspiration’ and ‘Aspiration’.
        ….even if, at the end of the day, the price you pay is the same.

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      • …and herewith an example of ‘exploring possibilities’ ~ how 1% can equal half of something.
        (Not really news though; Bryan uses this sort of methodology when he throws some of his assorted ‘surveys’ onto the table. 😉 )

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    • davinci,
      that’s a pretty silly story you know. Like loads of other people, I’ve had scans done that showed very clearly that I, like all other humans have a brain. You will need to come up with a far better argument than that old tale.

      When you can demonstrate some experiments or research that prove the existence of a god, we will all be most interested. Like most others among the ‘faithful’, I feel a distinct confidence that there is a divinity behind and above everything. But I dont kid myself that any testimony that is tossed about, can actually prove that the/a god exists.

      Rian.

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      • He’s not only a dill, Rian; he’s liar.
        (Unless he’s talking about some other ‘dabbles’…..or hearing Paulian-type voices.)

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      • Rian,
        The illustration given is actually quite apt. Some things we know indirectly. We don’t have to open Dabbles’ head to know he has a brain do we? In the same way we can know God exists by indirect evidence.

        But have it your own way. Just because I have never met you in the flesh does that mean that you don’t exist? In that case whose figment of imagination are you? Dom’s? Monica’s? Dabbles’? Bryan’s?

        And how do you know that your feelings do not betray you? Isn’t it because indirect evidence of the existence of God give you the confidence that He exists?

        I’ll give you another analogy. How many people have actually seen a hydrogen atom? How many have actually seen an electron? And what shape and colour is an atom, an electron? Isn’t it perhaps true that we know atoms exist because of indirect evidence?

        According to your and Dabbles logic, I am supposed to believe that you guys are not a figment of somebody’s imagination, based on indirect evidence, but I can’t believe in the existence of God based on indirect evidence?

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      • Probably ‘inspired’. 😉

        ……Might even be smart enough to get into the police-force, which delivered a hand-up brief a few days ago which included my ‘criminal record’ all the way back to 1960, would you believe, when I was arrested for living on a Blackfella reservation illegally (! ~ wrong colour) and buying beer (by the barrow-load) for them at the local pub….as a 12-y.o.
        (Blacks and dogs, being non-human ~officially! ~ weren’t allowed beer.)

        Anyway, despite all the ‘evidence’ about a dozen entries were demonstrably wrong ~ unless god was working miracles ~ but what really cracked me up was the smug, evidentiary, assertion that I’d never used any other names.
        There’s been dozens ~ and I’d even been arrested and processed under a couple of them! They obviously hadn’t read Faithworks, just go start with! 😆

        ….and on another occasion they’d even bounced me around the walls for an hour trying to get a confession that I was the Gladys Gronkstein who’d been arrested in a ‘house of ill repute’-cum-gambling-den and had failed to appear in court………. until finally their “indirect evidence” was contradicted by other “indirect evidence” that at the time of alleged arrest I was asleep in my cell in (maximum security) H Division.

        They were finally induced to accept that,
        ……but but still didn’t believe it!

        The more I think of it…the more davinci seems like a good prospect for the police-force. An evenly-balanced amount of brain and heart.

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      • …errrr, no, davinci:- “According to your and Dabbles logic, I am supposed to believe that you guys are not a figment of somebody’s imagination,”

        Wherever did you get THAT silly idea? :O

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      • “…errrr, no, davinci:- “According to your and Dabbles logic, I am supposed to believe that you guys are not a figment of somebody’s imagination,”

        Wherever did you get THAT silly idea? :O”

        At least have the brains and intelligence to quote everything I said in my sentence which read:
        According to your and Dabbles logic, I am supposed to believe that you guys are not a figment of somebody’s imagination, BASED ON INDIRECT EVIDENCE” (capitalised letters mine).

        So how do I know that the person whose nickname Dabbles actually exists? Did I ever see his face? Did I ever hear his voice? Come to think about it, did I open Dabbles’ head to see if he actually has a brain?

        Oh! Wait! It was by indirect evidence!

        And you still talk about direct evidence being the only type of proof available (when you said don’t tell me; show me).

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      • …errrr-r-r…No. I wouldn’t do that —–>
        “And you still talk about direct evidence being the only type of proof available”
        …….because, for one thing, I know that ‘evidence’ and ‘proof’ are very different things ~ and not interchangeable. And what you call ‘indirect evidence’ is, in fact, ‘assumption’ based on wishful thinking.

        On the upside, you can “believe in the existence of God based on indirect evidence”, a soothsayer’s fantasy or anything else.
        …..or nothing else.

        However, I may have been wrong in suggesting you had the brains to join the police force, given statements like:- “So how do I know that the person whose nickname Dabbles actually exists?”.
        To garner any sort of ‘indirect evidence’ about him at all you’d first need to establish that there’s enough ‘indirect evidence’ to suggest ~ and only suggest ~ that ‘Dabbles’ actually exists as a nickname.
        You wouldn’t want to be running around seeking Fred Nurk, on the assumption that his nickname is Dabbles, if his real name IS Dabbles, would you?
        ….or even if was ‘dabbles’.

        Love & kisses
        Gladys Gronkstein

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      • Oh yes davinci,
        sure it is indirect evidence at this point in time,that suggests that Dabbles and I are real. But the big point is, dont forget, that our realness can very easily be demonstrated. And it is totally within the bounds of possibility for anyone, whether a religious person or an atheist or a specialized scientist to check and observe directly that we are real.

        However, when it comes to the issue of a god’s existence, the PROOF or direct evidence of ‘his’ (sic) evidence is simply not available while we are all in earthly incarnation. No matter what you do you just cant bring direct evidence to it, in order to confirm the same. All the indirect evidence in the world cannot be trusted to convince a sceptic.

        I might say, ‘ah, just wait until you die, and then you will see clearly that it is a Pantheist god who alone exists. There will then be clear and direct evidence about it.’ No proof to be registered here and now. All deities are only believed in because of indirect evidence.

        Rian.

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      • Sorry I got lost in the thread. Can some please tell me if Dabbles has a brain or not ?

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      • No Dom ~ she doesn’t.
        I know them personally, and can assure you he doesn’t exist.
        ….and of course anyone who doesn’t exist doesn’t need a brain; It just issues Commandments, penalties and homilies.
        ….but doesn’t take the blame for davincis and other odd phenomena: just blames it on the Bringer of Light:- Lucifer.

        Hope that’s cleared it up for you 🙂

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  3. Stephen J. Gould has said:-

    “The fundamentalists, by “knowing” the answers before they start, and then forcing nature into the straitjacket of their discredited preconceptions, lie outside the domain of science – – or any honest intellectual inquiry.”

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