Are Agnostics Just As Bad?

Agnostics without a clue.

Late last night on Twitter, I had a debate with an agnostic.  Oh, I didn’t plan on it, I just stumbled into it when @LogicalBeing from the Reason Being Blog included me in a tweet discussion that I sort of took over.  I tend to have that happen a lot, people who get frustrated in a debate will just mention me and silently drop out of the fray.  I have no idea if that was the case this time but anyhow, that’s how I got involved.

So anyhow, this woman, I’ll assume it was a woman based on her Twitter avatar, was an adamant agnostic with wrong ideas about pretty much everything.  The religious were all dangerous fanatics, lunatics who were going to destroy us all.  Atheists were just behind them with fanatical disbelief.  The only way to go was agnosticism for the win!

Yeah, except it doesn’t work that way.  For anyone who has read this blog for a while, you’ll know I’ve had to spell out the difference between agnosticism and atheism many times because most people just don’t get it.  Agnosticism is not some magical mid-way point between atheism and theism, where people who feign ignorance can hang their hat.  Agnosticism and it’s counterpoint gnosticism, deal with an entirely different question, that of the availability of knowledge.  Is it possible for an individual to know anything about the existence or characteristics of gods?  Atheism and it’s counterpoint theism deal with belief in one or more gods.  Not only is it possible to be one option in both positions, it’s necessary, absolutely everyone is, yet far too many people, afraid of embracing the “atheism” label, have taken to stamping the softball label of “agnostic” on themselves to keep from pissing off theists.

I spent a good half hour trying to calmly explain to this woman that agnostic didn’t mean what she insisted it meant and that atheists were not dogmatic fanatics who hated imaginary friends.  It did utterly no good, it was no different than debating a theist who couldn’t see the forest through the trees of their own indoctrination.  Therefore, I foolishly tried another tack.  She kept stating that the only honest answer was ignorance, that we simply could not ever know anything about gods.  Alright, let’s try that one.  I asked exactly how she came to the conclusion that we could not ever know anything about any gods?  I pointed out that there are primitive cultures that worship nature, bow down to trees and offer sacrifices to rocks.  We certainly can be sure those gods are real, can’t we?  No response.  Not even an attempt.  Okay, second shot.   I asked her how she knew that gods were unknowable?  What evidence brought her to that conclusion?  Again, not even a feeble attempt, just more repetition of the same initial claim.  Sounds very theist-like doesn’t it?

That was pretty much when I gave up, although she feigned being tired because I was asking questions that were too hard for her tiny little brain and then went on for another 20 minutes with her original “we’ve got to stop the fanatics!” nonsense.  I didn’t care, I was done.

I learned a couple of things from this little encounter.  First, that there are a lot of crazy fanatics out there and they fall into all categories.  It’s not just the lunatics who believe in imaginary friends, it’s the lunatics who have complete and utter faith, for no good reason, that nobody can know anything about gods whatsoever too.  Secondly, and perhaps most importantly, that I wasted a ton of time explaining the same old tired nonsense over and over and over again.  I tend to have to do that a lot because I talk to a lot of different people.  I do get tired of having to explain what an atheist is for the 5,231 time, to people who are going to send it in one ear and out the other, wholly unprocessed by their few working brain cells.  So what do I do?

Well, I figured I could host a general-purpose “Answers to Commonly Asked Questions” section, if such doesn’t exist elsewhere, where I and others could submit articles that explain, in detail, with references.  I know that doing so risks theists completely ignoring it, but hey, at least we don’t have to waste time typing it in over and over and having the same thing happen.

So, anyone else want to help, or at least talk about it, or is this just a colossal waste of time?

24 thoughts on “Are Agnostics Just As Bad?

  1. “I pointed out that there are primitive cultures that worship nature, bow down to trees and offer sacrifices to rocks. We certainly can be sure those gods are real, can’t we?”

    Well, actually they’re worshiping the spirits that inhabit trees and rocks, slippery creatures whom, like anything non-existent, we can never know anything about. Ya know, ’cause there’s nothing to know.

    Everyone is an agnostic. It’s just that, not everyone knows it. No one can know the nature of beings, or things, which don’t exist. Few adults believe in Santa, but good luck proving he doesn’t exist. We’ve got satellites covering the North Pole? Santa has magic. And so on… But ok, some people like to use that label as a hedge, or to avoid taking a position. Or, they want to believe, “there’s something out there,” but they just don’t know what it is. You can no more argue with them than you can with a full-on religious nut. Neither science nor logic can ever have anything to say about non-existent things – of any sort. The human brain is wired for magical thinking, so we’re all guilty of it.

    Is atheism a belief? To me, it’s more of a default position. That is, it’s a lack of belief. It’s when your beliefs drop away. You have to be taught these things. The one true religion is usually the one your parents taught you, or that dominates your culture.

    Think of when you lost your belief in Santa Claus, or what have you. You didn’t become a Santa atheist, (well, maybe for a little while), you learned it was another of the many fairy tales you’ve been told, and moved on. Same with religion. But, as they used to say in the old Cracker Jack commercial, “Some kids never grow up.”

  2. How about this: I find it very irritating when self proclaimed atheists wish to categorize me and my views as their own. No: Stating that there is not enough information to make claims about god's existence is not atheism. Its not the gnostic belief idiocy tossing random claims about the existence of (a) being(s) that may or may not exist.
    By definition i categorize my standpoint, since its mine. Its not for you to tell me whether or not i believe.

    Furthermore: One can believe even while admitting that you or anybody else for that matter, does not have the information required to prove or disprove the existence of the subject of your worship.

  3. In my opinion, self-proclaimed "agnostics" are the worst kind of people to have a debate/discussion with because they seem to treat certainty as a black and white paradigm rather than a series of differing levels of trust in a given factual statement.

    However as soon as the conversation turns away from the subjects of gods/supernatural/religion and instead towards a topic they're sympathetic with they will toss around phrases like, "you can't really know so it could be possible" or "try to be more open minded, not everything is about facts". I am not even joking with that last one; I literally was told that by a friend. For example I know a few people who are sympathetic towards the ancient astronaut theory bull-sh*t that the History Channel loves to show to its gullible audience. They consider themselves agnostics but their skepticism seems to take a dramatic pitfall down a cliff because they 'want to believe' in that nonsense.

    Lastly they don't seem to have a problem with "spiritual" things such as ghosts, reincarnation, or anything that is "mysterious". I have many family members who always talk about these kind of things as though they have any factual credibility to them. Of course when I question them and ask why they believe they divert the conversation to why I should be more ‘open minded’. Very Frustrating.

    I’ve come to believe that agnosticism might just be a smokescreen to avoid calling oneself what they are (depending on their beliefs or non-beliefs). This seems to provide a socially strategic position where they can agree a little with everyone as to no alienate themselves with positions that may be regarded as extreme or unpopular. I suppose when it comes down to it the main beef I have with agnostics is they don't seem to understand the difference between 'possibility' vs 'probability'.

  4. Well I'm just going to be as simple as possible because it seems that no one truly knows anything about agnosticism at all.
    I am an agnostic and if I wanted to introduce my philosophical opinion to another person I would simply say it is of course Skepticism which simply means :
    Certain knowledge is impossible ( So in our opinion , believe or disbelieve with CERTAINTY are verdicts of lesser minds )
    we are also skeptic towards matter ( seeing doesn't always mean knowing . well mostly it is not! )
    is there a need to believe in anything? ( when you deal with scientific facts there is no such thing as believe so we are not middle ground between theism or atheism )
    Skepticism do not relate to any specific time or philosophy ( fortunately ) : from ancient philosophers of Greek like "Socrates" to somewhat Gnostic ( because of his frequent humors with Gnostic believes in his poems I'm not sure what to call him ) philosopher "Khayyam" or "Avicenna" of middle age Persia. From Analytic philosophers like "Russell" to scientists like "Erwin Schrödinger" or "Charles Darwin"
    So I am going to ask sincerely from my friends here: Do read PLEASE!!
    And to begin with I suggest "Bertrand Russell" articles on this matters such as "Am I An Atheist Or An Agnostic?" or "What is an Agnostic?" and you can find them totally free on the internet 🙂
    If you ask me , there are lots of arrogant atheists ( unfortunately ) just as there are lots of arrogant theists because hating or loving something without a rational cause or fact is just stupid. ( Although some of the greatest minds of our time are wise atheists like "Stephen Hawking" or "Christopher Hitchens" or "Richard Dawkins" ) – So I'm going to beg you: please do read 🙂

    Anyway I'm going to finish my comment with some quotes :

    “Ignorance more frequently begets confidence than does knowledge: it is those who know little, not those who know much, who so positively assert that this or that problem will never be solved by science.”
    ― Charles Darwin, The Descent of Man

    "There is exactly the same degree of possibility and likelihood of the existence of the
    Christian God as there is of the existence of the Homeric God. I cannot prove that either
    the Christian God or the Homeric gods do not exist, but I do not think that their
    existence is an alternative that is sufficiently probable to be worth serious
    consideration."
    ― Bertrand Russell, Am I An Atheist Or An Agnostic?

    "The only true wisdom is in knowing you know nothing."
    ― Socrates

    If a man will begin with certainties, he shall end in doubts; but if he will be content to begin with doubts, he shall end in certainties.”
    ― Francis Bacon, The Advancement Of Learning

    “In all affairs it's a healthy thing now and then to hang a question mark on the things you have long taken for granted.”
    ― Bertrand Russell

    “I believe in intuitions and inspirations…I sometimes FEEL that I am right. I do not KNOW that I am.”
    ― Albert Einstein

    “To learn which questions are unanswerable, and not to answer them: this skill is most needful in times of stress and darkness.”
    ― Ursula K. Le Guin, The Left Hand of Darkness

    “Let go of certainty. The opposite isn't uncertainty. It's openness, curiosity and a willingness to embrace paradox, rather than choose up sides. The ultimate challenge is to accept ourselves exactly as we are, but never stop trying to learn and grow.”
    ― Tony Schwartz

    "Is there a God?
    I do not know.
    Is man immortal?
    I do not know.
    One thing I do know, and that is, that neither hope, nor fear, belief, nor denial, can change the fact. It is as it is, and it will be as it must be."
    ― Robert G. Ingersoll, The Works of Robert G. Ingersoll, Vol 1: Lectures

    “Moral certainty is always a sign of cultural inferiority. The more uncivilized the man, the surer he is that he knows precisely what is right and what is wrong."
    ― H.L. Mencken

    “I act with complete certainty. But this certainty is my own.”
    ― Ludwig Wittgenstein, On Certainty

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