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Thursday, October 30, 2008

I Am Identifying As Agnostic?

Agnostic: The Atheists' Four-Letter Word
At the Texas Freethought Convention, Terry McDonald (chairman of DFW Metroplex Atheists) took a polling of people in the room on labels for their beliefs, first if they identified by it and then if they did not identify by it:
  • Agnostic
  • Freethinker
  • Atheist
  • Bright
  • Humanist
The only two labels which had votes against it were agnostic and bright. I found it particularly interesting that agnostic was voted against, given that most atheists I've ever met are agnostics. Agnostic has gotten a bad wrap in atheist circles, I have observed. The only thing worse than calling yourself religious to an atheist is to call yourself an agnostic.

A better label
He concluded the survey by asking if anyone identified by something else. The representative from CFI raised his hand and responded "skeptic." No one had any problems with that. People seemed to approve of it. It definitely didn't get the dirty reactions that agnostic did.

This reinforced something I have been thinking for a while now. Should I call myself an atheist over agnostic? Perhaps I should represent myself as agnostic instead of atheist. Perhaps all of us should.

A meaningless label
What does being an atheist entail? Nothing, except that you don't believe any gods exist. Does it tell you why you don't believe? Does it tell you how you approach the question? Does it tell you anything?

If you label yourself as a skeptic, though, what does that tell you? It tells you why you don't believe. It tells you how you approach the issue. It's a very good label. As such, I would use it as my view on religion.

A broader application
However, skepticism doesn't really apply to your view on the existence of gods beyond religion. I disbelieve religions because they fail with every application of skeptical inquiry. Skeptical inquiry is just the method by which we assess claims through critical thought.

The essence of agnosticism, though, is that the truth value of certain claims cannot be assessed. I don't believe any religions are true because I am a skeptic; in other words, they collapse under critical examination. I don't believe in any gods because I am an agnostic; in other words, the claim that a "god exists" is one which I cannot even begin to assess.

Why should I identify as atheist?
Yes, I'm an atheist because I have no belief. It doesn't say anything about my disbelief, though. Why not use agnostic for my views on theism and skeptic on my views on religion? I certainly wouldn't describe my view on alien abductions as anabductionist; I would describe it as skeptic. Furthermore, I wouldn't describe my view on the general existence of aliens as analienist; I would describe it as agnostic.

Should I now describe myself as an agnostic? Or, perhaps, an agnostic skeptic?

1 comment:

Paul Brown said...

I've always disliked the term "agnostic" and resisted most strongly when anyone tries to convince me that I am one, since I feel that the term reduces the concept of "knowing" to a point where it no longer has any value; the SCMikes and SyeTenBees of this world may like to spend their days saying, "Aaah, but how can you be ABSOLUTELY SURE," and other such time wasting crap, but the reality is that when normal, rational humans use the word "know" they are at least vaguely aware of the concept that they could be wrong. I know that I have hands, but the possibility exists that I am a brain in a jar wired to a computer that is giving me the sensory inputs required to convince me that I have hands. The term to apply here is WFDDIM (What Fucking Difference Does It Make) - whether my hands are physically real or I am a brain in a jar makes no difference to my environment or its reactions to me or, in other words, interesting concept, but who cares? Likewise, it is possible that there is a god outside the universe who does not interact with it in any way that started the whole thing up, but since it can't interact with the universe in which we live WFDDIM?
In terms of being unable to falsify the existence of JHWH, it is on the same level as not being able to falsify the existence of Luke Skywalker; since it was a long time ago in a galaxy far, far away we can't be absolutely sure (in the SCMike sense) that it didn't happen, but since we know that it was made up by people we can be sure in the normal sense that Luke never really existed pending evidence of the most amazing coincidence that the world has ever seen. Likewise, the Bible was created by people from their tribal stories, their political requirements and their wish fulfillment fantasies, with a big dollop of mistranslation, misunderstanding, predjudice and creative lying added in. I know, in the same way that I know that I have hands, that the god(s) depicted within are not real. The possibility that I am wrong exists, but it is so tiny that it might as well not do and, even if I am, WFDDIM? I just wish that they'd put my jar on a lower shelf - I don't like heights.