Saturday, April 23, 2011

And another-nother thing.

Today's thoughts:

I wish to propose something to you, dear reader. It's a little thought puzzle, and you can play it right where you're sitting. Imagine:
- A china teapot orbiting the sun between Earth and Mars, too small to be picked up by even our most powerful telescopes and thus utterly unprovable.
- A magical unicorn that is both invisible and pink, its contradictory nature chalked up to divine mystery and invisibility rendering it utterly unprovable.
- A giant bee which lives inside the sun, using its infinite invisible arms to manipulate all matter in the universe. Oh, and it's completely and utterly unprovable.
- For bonus points, why not make up your own! It's fun, and the only rule is that they have to be entirely without evidence. Go wild!

Now for the fun part: I want you to believe that each of those exists. You can believe in them one at a time, or all at once - it's up to you. They're all unfalsifiable, so their non-existence cannot be any more proven than their existence; it's all up to you to decide whether they exist or not. So can you bring yourself to truly believe in them - simply acknowledging that their existence is a possibility doesn't count - after honest and rational scrutiny? Or are they too obviously made up to prove a point?

I bring up this odd and mildly patronising exercise because I realised I didn't cover everyone in my last post - the one about how you're either a theist or an atheist. I still believe that, but I left one possible group out: those who are in the middle, undecided, but still think faith deserves a chance. If you think faith is valid evidence, then I would suggest you still count as a theist even if you're still unsure about the existence of a specific divinity. All the examples I listed earlier rely on faith, yet they're so ridiculous that no remotely rational person would consider them to actually exist.

So why do we consider faith an acceptable form of evidence in some cases but not in others? Or rather, why do we consider faith anything other than a delusion in some cases but not in others. I'm not trying to argue now that faith is bad or anything like that. I'm just trying to get a consensus that faith is an unacceptable source of "evidence" and is simply people convincing themselves of something which is completely without proof (and thus they have no reason to believe). Which it is. Don't back out on me now - we've already shown that. Once we're on the same page about that, then we can discuss whether theism is a force for good or evil in this world. Otherwise we're going to be talking past each other and no productive debate can occur.

TL;DR - A short tack-on to my last article, in which I acknowledge that I wasn't completely thorough and set out to rectify this lack of insight. Essentially, if you still consider faith to be remotely valid, I classed you as a theist. Apologies.

Tuesday, April 12, 2011

Agnostic vs. Atheist

Today's thoughts:

Firstly, but also for the last time, I'm going to apologise for not posting more often. I just haven't had all that much inspiration recently, coupled with too much persiration. I have, however, been cooking up a post analysing Neitzsche's concepts of "will to power" and "beyond good and evil" with regard to Heart of Darkness, Apocalypse Now and Far Cry 2. Seriously. So that might be up here soon... or it might not.

I just wanted to do another clarification (and demonstrate yet another change of position) - this time on the definition of "agnostic". After watching QualiaSoup's excellent video "Lack of Belief in Gods" for the umpteenth time - I've drawn on it a lot - I realised how far behind I am in terms of definitions. Pun intended.

If you didn't watch the video, and even if you did (it's confusing), he talks about the actual definitions of "agnostic" and "atheist" instead of their popular ones. Instead of agnosticism being the middle ground between theism and atheism, it actually occupies its own unrelated and largely irrelevant category. Ignore it for the moment.

This middle ground is in fact also atheism, termed "soft" atheism to differentiate between it and "hard" atheism which asserts that there is no god or gods. Soft atheism is instead the skeptical perspective which makes no claims either way, but in the absence of evidence does not believe there to be a divine. Hard atheism is a more faith-based position, in that there is no evidence for there not being a divine either. This unfalsifiable certainty is what nets atheism the charge of being as faith-based as religion, but actually makes up a very small percentage of atheists.

Hmm.. perhaps a diagram is needed.


Point 1 is theism. It is a faith-based position which claims there is a divine.
Point 2 is hard atheism. It too is a faith-based position, since the lack of evidence either way does not definitively exclude the existence of a divine.
Point 3 is soft atheism. Without evidence for the existence of a divine, it does not believe in its existence. Should evidence arise, however, it would willingly change its position.

Agnosticism actually refers to knowledge, not existence. It claims that nothing can be known about the divine, regardless of whether it exists or not. In this way, it is actually possible to be an agnostic theist or an agnostic atheist. It covers both categories, but - due to its unfalsifiable claims - is another faith-based position.

Finally, I thought I'd chuck in a bit about "falsifiability" since I've thrown it around a lot in this post. Falsifiability is the ability for a claim to be proven wrong - such a claim doesn't have to be wrong, it just has to be evidence-based so that its veracity can be shown one way or the other. Thus a claim which is "unfalsifiable" cannot by definition be proven or disproven, and is thus scientifically and skeptically irrelevant/bullshit. There is no case that can be put forward to prove it - no one has any reason whatsoever to think it true except for faith. And we all know what that means...

TL;DR - If you consider yourself an "agnostic", you're most likely an atheist. Agnosticism isn't the middle ground between theism and atheism - it's a completely separate and largely irrelevant category.