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Discussion 1 to Meditation 27
Reflections on Agnosticism and Atheism

By Sandy M

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I found this article particularly interesting as I have being trying to decide for some time exactly how to describe myself.  I have used the term “apathetic agnostic” before, which is how I came across the UCTAA which, by the way, I think is very cool.

Currently I describe myself as an atheist, and actually would consider agnosticism to be a subset of atheism.  I realise that this is a bit controversial so here’s my argument:

Basically I have followed the Etymology of the various terms.

“Theist” few would disagree refers to a person who has faith in god, with god meaning the most supreme of all beings (this definition is iffy, but then it would be, I’ll come back to this later).

Therefore atheist refers to a person that does not have such faith.  By way of analogy the set of all things can be split into subsets by sex.  Those that are male, those that are female and those that have no sex, ie are asexual, like DVDs, paperclips and bricks.

Therefore we can split the set of all people into theists and atheists.  Interestingly the latter subset would include infants and people who had simply never heard of the concept of a supreme being (again possibly a bit iffy) or who are not capable of maintaining such a thought (certain types of aphasics for example).

Agnosticism as I understand the word refers to a certain school of philosophy that holds as axiomatic that nothing can be said to be true except that which is materially provable.  Unless an agnostic feels that they can materially prove the existence of god they would therefore be classed as atheists.

I concur with this view but go a bit further.  I reject the idea that anything is materially provable.  In other words there is no certainty of anything at all.  In everyday language I use phrases like “It is the case that”, “that’s true”, “I believe” (although I do try to avoid that one).  I do not, however mean these things literally.  By saying that something is the case I am implying that that thing is very probable, perhaps more probable than not, or so probably as to make the probability of any counter statement statistically insignificant (but not impossible).  Obviously if I went around talking like this in everyday language I would probably sound a bit odd.

In response to Descartes then:

I think I am, therefore I probably am.

To reiterate, faith is binary. You either have it or not.  Not having faith in god makes you an atheist, albeit you may be an agnostic (or ignostic) as well.  Not having faith in god however is not the same thing as having faith that there is no god.  I think this is the assumption that Michael Clay finds so irritating.  I agree.

Having faith that there is no god is logically as unsound as having faith that there is.  I think the correct word etymologically would be antitheist (hmm, the spellchecker likes it).  I have heard such people described as strong atheists in the past.

I mentioned Ignosticism earlier.  I have read a few meditations on this concept on the webpage.  I quite like the idea; that the question of the existence or otherwise of god has no logical meaning, that it is a bit like asking “What flavour is July?”.  Here is one possible justification for this line of argument:  If we define god as the supreme being then god must be infinitely everything, infinitely interested in humans, infinitely disinterested.  Infinitely good, infinitely evil.  Infinitely fond of pasta, infinitely disgusted by pasta and so it goes on.  Clearly this is not a logically supportable position.  This doesn’t work logically because the term infinite has been assumed to mean very very very great, like so great you can’t get any greater.  This treatment of the infinite is mathematically a bit iffy however.  It is the case that when the infinite is encountered in maths the value tending to it becomes very very big, however the infinite itself is considered to be an undefined value.  Therefore the reason you come up against logical paradoxes when considering the supreme being is that such a being is necessarily undefined.  In other words it is not possible to express the idea of a supreme being in any meaningful sense.

As a fig leaf to theists, or agnostics who think my argument sounds a bit antitheistish: My personal philosophy is that nothing is knowable, not just the existence or otherwise of god.  Just because stuff is unknowable doesn’t make trying to figure it out worthless.  Otherwise I’d be leading a very worthless life……

I hope I still qualify for membership, I am pretty apathetic after all.