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reader comments: agnosticism

28 September 2015
[You write:]
"Agnosticism is the position of believing that knowledge of the existence or non-existence of god is impossible."

People cherry pick Huxley, to portray this as the intended meaning of agnosticism. Huxley did not mean anything was "insoluble", period. An analogy, immediately following that statement, seems to make it clear that he was making a personal statement, rather than a general statement. He later made very clear he was only referring only to himself. 

reply: Interesting, but this article is not about Huxley and what Huxley meant by 'agnosticism.' Huxley may have introduced the word into the English lexicon, but that did not give him the authority to dictate how the rest of the world would now use the word. Words take on a life of their own and their meanings are determined by usage. My concern is limited to how the term is used today.

"The extent of the region of the uncertain, the number of the problems the investigation of which ends in a verdict of not proven, will vary according to the knowledge and the intellectual habits of the individual Agnostic. I do not very much care to speak of anything as "unknowable." What I am sure about is that there are many topics about which I know nothing; and which, so far as I can see, are out of reach of my faculties. But whether these things are knowable by any one else is exactly one of those matters which is beyond my knowledge, though I may have a tolerably strong opinion as to the probabilities of the case. Relatively to myself, I am quite sure that the region of uncertainty–the nebulous country in which words play the part of realities –is far more extensive than I could wish." ~ Thomas Huxley 

[You write:] "Understood this way, an agnostic could also be a theist or an atheist."

That, is even more clearly not how Huxley intended the word to be used. Huxley

"Agnosticism is of the essence of science, whether ancient or modern. It simply means that a man shall not say he knows or believes that which he has no scientific grounds for professing to know or believe."

"Consequently Agnosticism puts aside not only the greater part of popular theology, but also the greater part of anti-theology. On the whole, the "bosh" of heterodoxy is more offensive to me than that of orthodoxy, because heterodoxy professes to be guided by reason and science, and orthodoxy does not."

"That which Agnostics deny and repudiate, as immoral, is the contrary doctrine, that there are propositions which men ought to believe, without logically satisfactory evidence; and that reprobation ought to attach to the profession of disbelief in such inadequately supported propositions."

"Theism and Atheism; the doctrine of the soul and its mortality or immortality–appear in the history of philosophy like the shades of Scandinavian heroes, eternally slaying one another and eternally coming to life again in a metaphysical "Nifelheim." It is getting on for twenty-five centuries, at least, since mankind began seriously to give their minds to these topics. Generation after generation, philosophy has been doomed to roll the stone uphill; and, just as all the world swore it was at the top, down it has rolled to the bottom again. All this is written in innumerable books; and he who will toil through them will discover that the stone is just where it was when the work began. Hume saw this; Kant saw it; since their time, more and more eyes have been cleansed of the films which prevented them from seeing it; until now the weight and number of those who refuse to be the prey of verbal mystifications has begun to tell in practical life."

Huxley's agnosticism amounts to a form of demarcation. No evidence = untestable = unobjective, results: inconclusive. Karl Popper also self-identified as just agnostic. It was clearly not compatible with committing to a belief, one way, or the other. Both men did very much liked Hume's work, and Huxley fell on the side of Hume more so than he did on the side of Kant.

As for intellectually dishonesty...it is pseudo-science for atheists to accept a Bible, or such, as valid testable evidence, that can show the existence, or non-existence, of a being. There is no evidence that religious writings should be taken as anything other than fiction...historical fiction, at best (with fairly lousy historians researching for the story). 

reply: You seem to have gone off the Huxley rails here and are now on another track. Did you mean 'theists' where you use 'atheists'?

However, behind all religious writings is a concept. Whether you think that concept is important, or not, it is actually the only one that is relevant.

reply: relevant to what? the existence or non-existence of a being? How?

“God” is to “god” as “Superman” is to “alien”. I do not accept a Superman comic as valid testable evidence for, or against, the existence of “aliens”. I do not accept a Bible as valid testable evidence for, or against, the existence of “gods”. I do not call myself an anti-alienist because I consider “Superman” fiction. I do not call myself an atheist (narrow definition) because I consider “God” fiction.

When the theists or atheists have something to bring to the table, other than the equivalent of a comic book, that's when I'll listen. 

Feel free to post my name, and comment.

Jason Clark

reply: Your wish is my command, Jason.

Last updated 19-Oct-2015




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