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Richard Dawkins

Richard Dawkins

Postby RichardWSymonds » Sat Sep 01, 2012 2:31 pm

http://bigthink.com/think-tank/neil-deg ... dium=email

Atheist or Agnostic?
Mark Cheney
April 8, 2012

Richard Dawkins, the most famous atheist in the world, created a stir when he recently declared that he was not an atheist after all, but an agnostic. The news, which came during a debate with the Archbishop of Canterbury last month, seemed at first to be a big get for God. However, in The God Delusion Dawkins was frank about his agnosticism.

So, how does Dawkins square his public persona with his lack of certitude? Easily. No matter how strongly Dawkins is associated with atheism, he is first and foremost a scientist. Therefore, "the existence of God is a scientific hypothesis like any other," he claims.

Similarly, astrophysicist Neil deGrasse Tyson claims the title "scientist" above all other "ists." And yet, Tyson says he is "constantly claimed by atheists." So where does Tyson stand? He tells Big Think: “Neil deGrasse, widely claimed by atheists, is actually an agnostic.”

Watch the video here:

Are you an Atheist, an Agnostic, a Theist, or somewhere in between? Take the test here.


Comment 1
I respect him as a scientist, but I honestly lost a good amount of respect for him because of this video. How can you claim to be an educator and a true scientist when you don't want to protect those things and stand by them? Especially being an American I assumed he would see how Religion damages those things profusely, he just seems to approach the whole situation in the same way a lot of American public figures are due to fear of being ridiculed, and the misconception Anti-theism has.


Comment 2
There is almost no difference between an atheist and an agnostic. Atheists ARE agnostic, and agnostics ARE atheists. I like Neil, however; rather it was intended or not, he came off as very uncertain or confused in this video. I've been a life long "active" atheist, yet I've never once seen, nor even heard of anyone gathering together to discuss how much they don't believe in God. So, on that part, for him to say that, is a little awkward and seems out-of-character for him.

What makes someone an atheist? Not believing in a God. What makes someone an agnostic? Not believing in a God. Atheists do not claim that there is no God. An atheist can say "I am uncertain if a God exists" and they would still be considered an atheist.

I'm sorry Neil, but as intelligent as you are, you've misunderstood, or misconceived what it is to be an atheist and/or agnostic, because they are most definitely one in the same.


Comment 3
No, they are not the same thing at all. One is a declaration of what you know (agnosticism) and the other is a declaration of what you believe (atheism). If you want to know more than that look it up or read some of the other posts below.


Comment 4
I can be sure that I'm smart, unsure that I'm smart, or sure that I am not smart. Those are all distnictly different positions. Don't try to conflate them. To say "I'm not sure that God exists" is the functional equivalent of saying as "I'm not sure that God doesn't exist". Using your reasoning, I can now claim that Dawkins and the Pope have the same viewpoint, in that neither believes that God doesn't exist. Don't try to be the smartest guy in the room. You're not. You're certainly not smarter than Tyson.


Comment 5
It's amazing to me. In science there is not only so little respect, but also so much open animosity to what proceeded science by many hundreds of years, and that is philosophy. I agree with almost everything this man has ever said, but I think he might be able to find a more inclusive term. Let's stay Phenomenology.


Comment 6
ONLY APPLICABLE TERMS are Theist and Atheist. Agnosticism does not apply"

This sounds like a hang up of yours. If I do not believe in God per se, but also do not believe that there is no god, then I label myself an agnostic. An agnostic is someone that assigns no higher probability that there is a God in some form then that there is not.

The agnostic has no investment or belief on either side of the question. Furthermore, the agnostic is likely to be able to explore different religions and different perspectives on God in a more objective way, because of the lack of bias.

I like what Tyson says about how non skiers don't have a word for their group. I would add that they don't get together like a bunch of adolescent morons to put down the skiers either.

I can see it now,..."those stupid flipping skiers !!"


Comment 7
Brandon jones and my atheist friends should do some little research on Thomas huxley and real meaning of agnostic before commenting.
Atheist deny god's existence without any knowledge of creation of universe
Theist accept God's existence because of stupid ancient books
Also they manufacture their own definition of Agnostic and use them as fact to criticize Agnostic people.
What a bunch of losers ?


Comment 8
I'm with Jones and Hawthorne too. This is about intellectual honesty. Intellectually, we can't prove God doesn't exist beyond a shadow of a doubt, or with absolute certainty. And that's why the whole premise is shitty. Karl Popper came up with this whole premise about how things that are unfalsifiable are essentially bullshit. If it cannot be proven or disproven then by it's very nature it doesn't work, but we still cannot achieve certainty, to say otherwise is intellectually dishonest. This doesn't mean that Agnosticism is a valid belief though is my point, quite to the contrary, agnosticism has nothing to do with belief or disbelief, it's a whole different category of thought pertaining to certainty, or rather, knowledge. This is what I mean when I say agnosticism has no place in the conversation, because the conversation has never really been about what we can or cannot know or prove, why would it be when the conversation is taking place around a topic which is unfalsifiable, right? No, the whole debate on the existence of God is one of belief, which means the ONLY APPLICABLE TERMS are Theist and Atheist. Agnosticism does not apply.


Comment 9
Popper wouldn't agree with you about that. There are a lot of none bullshit things worth doing that are unfalsifiable. You've mistaken politics for truth. As so many do.


Comment 10
I'm with Brandon Jones on this one.
It's just illogical. There isn't really any such thing as an Agnostic in terms of religious belief. Whether you're a Theist or an Atheist, none of us can prove God does or doesn't exist because the idea is unfalsifiable which means we have no choice but to be agnostic be default. Atheism and Theism don't talk about what we know though, these terms refer to what we believe. So while I do not believe God exists, I cannot say I know he doesn't exist. And while a Theist may believe that God exists, they too cannot really know He exists. We are all Agnostic, thus it renders the use of the term as an identifier as being useless you see. It's like saying, "I'm a human being"... all of us are, so we don't generally go about introducing one another this way. There are people out there who say they do know that God exists or doesn't exist, but they're simply wrong.


Comment 11
This whole argument is stupid and displays an ignorance of the terms on all sides. Observe: http://2.bp.blogspot.com/-zKgM...
By the very definitions of the terms referring to oneself as Agnostic doesn't make logical sense. Theism and Atheism refer to what we believe where God is concerned and Gnosticism/Agnosticism refer to what we know of God's existence in this instance. My point here is that we can know whether or not we, as people, believe in God or do not believe in God but in either case, whether we do or do not believe in God, we cannot know if He exists or not. Addressing oneself as an Agnostic says nothing of one's belief in God, and it really says nothing at all as it states the obvious, that whichever camp we find ourselves in, we can't know for sure that God does or does not exist.

I hope this makes more sense now. I love Neil deGrasse Tyson, but this was sheer dumb fuckery.


Comment 12
Brandon jones and my atheist friends should do some little research on Thomas Huxley and real meaning of agnostic before commenting.
Atheist deny god's existence without any knowledge of creation of universe
Theist accept God's existence because of stupid ancient books
Also they manufacture their own definition of Agnostic and use them as fact to criticize Agnostic people.
What a bunch of losers ?


Comment 13
Atheist deny nothing. They just lack belief in god. Agnostic atheists (or weak atheist), more specifically not only lack belief in a god, but also admit they lack any knowledge whether there is a god or not. Gnostic athiest (Strong atheist to be specific) Doesn't believe in a god and claims to know there is no god.

All one needs to do is pick up any dictionary to get these definitions. Thomas Huxley didn't invent English.


Comment 14
Reading through these comments...

AG! You aren't athiests, you just hate the Catholic Church and various derivatives

That is not Atheism. That is Orange Irish. You appear very confused. You'd be happier in an orange t-shirt making car bombs. It is a much simpler concept to understand, and you naytheists won't have to worry about people thinking you are idiots!


Comment 15
Hey! People!

Can't we just start throwing the term "Naytheist" around.

You know, the people who tried going into Wicca because they hated the Catholic Church, until the Wiccans started throwing them out? The ones who tried going into Buddhism/Taoism/Zen because they hated the Catholic Church... until anybody with half a brain said, "the fuck?"

The majority of the so called Atheists out there are nothing more than Naytheists. Who have been burned by what the Bible itself calls the "Church of the Harlot". No seriously, if either side would start reading the book instead of trying to use it as a weapon (Naytheists against the Harlot Church... the Harlot Church against anything else... neither reads it), you'd learn how silly this all really is (when your holy book warns people about you... you aren't doing well).

Honestly, me? I'm a misopolytheist. I believe there are several gods and goddess and gender neutral ones (like the Kami)... and most of them are jerks. It is a much simpler belief system. It is also an honest one too.

But Eris Discord Strife damn it! Atheist is a belief system on that there is no God. There are plenty of awesome wonderful...


Comment 16
Seems simple to me. If a person doesn't hold a strong belief in either the existence or non-existence of [whatever], then they are agnostic about it. For example, I do not have an opinion either way on the existence or non-existence of the Higgs-Bosun particle, and therefore I am agnostic on the subject. Just because I have not been persuaded of its existence, doesn't mean that I actively dis-believe in it, or am closed to the possibility of belief at some point in the future.

Same with God (or whatever you want to call the higher-power thingy). Don't believe, don't disbelieve, don't give it a whole lot of thought. Agnostic.


Comment 17
Love your use of the God Particle in your example.


Comment 18
Argh.
Agnosticism is not some wishy washy, shoulder shrugging" "I dunno" philosophical position. It drives me nuts that the majority of people seem to think that's what the word means. That's nonsense.

Agnosticism is not saying "I dunno" about something, Agnosticism is saying IT IS IMPOSSIBLE TO KNOW about that thing.

Agnosticism is also not an alternative to atheism or theism. Saying it's impossible to KNOW if something exists or not says absolutely nothing about whether or not you BELIEVE it exists. Go ahead and be an agnostic, you are STILL either a theist or an atheist. That is a binary solution set, you are one or the other. Period. You either do or you do not believe God exists.

Saying "I'm not an atheist. I'm an agnostic" makes as much sense as saying "I'm not an atheist, I'm a ballerina". You can be a ballerina, you can be an agnostic... that isn't an alternative to being an atheist.


Comment 19
What you are thinking of is "absurdism"

Absurdists state it is impossible to know.
Agnostics state they don't know.
Atheists state they do know the answer... the answer is "no" there is no god.
Learn how to think you damned naytheist.


Comment 20
No, I'm not thinking about absurdism. I'm thinking about agnosticism. The philosophical position that the nature of God, as that entity is defined, renders certain knowledge of whether it exists or not *unattainable*.

I am aware that has ceased to be the popular usage of the word and people use it instead as a substitute for a shoulder shrug and a mumbled "I dunno" to avoid having to identify themselves with either theism or atheism. I am also aware that that is idiotic, "I' dunno" is not a philosophical position. It doesn't warrant an "ism".

Agnostics state they don't know BECAUSE THEY CAN'T. They are still also either atheists (They don't KNOW, but they don't BELIEVE God exists) or theists (they don't know, but they do BELIEVE God exists)

I'm just fine with thinking, you give it a try.


Comment 21
Actually, you're both right.
In the strict sense, an Agnostic believes that we cannot know whether there is a deity or not.In the popular sense, an Agnostic neither believes nor disbelieves in a deity.

One can, of course, be both types at the same time.


Comment 22
There are some subjects where the most honest response is a wish-washy shoulder shrug.

And the dictionary defines an agnostic as 'one who is not committed to believing in either the existence or the nonexistence of God or a god' and 'a person who is unwilling to commit to an opinion about something' ( http://www.merriam-webster.com... ). Which is exactly what I said. You are, of course, free to use your own definition, but I'll stick with this one.


Comment 23
The dictionary amends word definitions to reflect popular usage.

In this instance popular usage is illogical and ridiculous and philosophically incorrect.

Please explain to me how agnosticism is an alternative to atheism or theism. Stating that you are either atheist or theist is a response to the question "Do you believe God exists". Atheism is answering with a "No", theism is answering with a "yes".

People try and claim agnosticism is answering with an "I don't know" but then you ask them "you don't know *what*?" and the answer is always "I don;t know if God exists".

"Does God exist".... . Isn't. The. Question.

Or are you claiming that agnosticism means you don't know *if you believe* God exists? As in, you are unfamiliar with the content of your own thoughts? The one single thing in the entire universe you should be completely capable of knowing? If so, the more appropriate label for that condition is "cognitively impaired"... seek help.


Comment 24
You're making an error here. Consider two statements:

1. "I don't believe in God."
2. "There is no God."

The first statement could be made by both atheists and agnostics, but the second could only be made by atheists. Atheists, by definition, deny the existence of God. Agnostics do not, for reasons you have covered. There's nothing wishy-washy about it. It is impossible to know that God doesn't exist, just as it is impossible to know that he does. Claiming any certainty on the subject is absurd, and agnostics avoid the trap of two absurd options. So agnostics are neither theists nor atheists.


Comment 25
I have considered the two statements. I have considered your comment on which could be said by both atheists and agnostics and which could only be said by atheists.

It is in 100% agreement with what I wrote. I'm searching for the error part there.

"Atheists, by definition, deny the existence of God"

No. Atheists, by definition, lack belief in the existence of God. This may OR MAY NOT involve declaring that God *definitely* does not exist. Alternatively they may say (as almost *every single atheist I know* says), that the odds against God existing are sufficiently high, and the evidence in favor of him existing so non existent, that there is no reason to believe God exists. So they don't.

All people either have or do not have the belief that a deity exists. All people are thus either theists or atheists. whther they are agnostics is completely separate from this.

So when people try and incorrectly use the term agnostic to *avoid identifying as theist or atheist* yes, it is nothing but being wishy-washy.


Comment 26
Actually, many people who label themselves Atheist would not say the second sentence. To avoid absurdity. They will gladly admit that it is impossible to know that god doesn't exist, however, they believe all of the defined gods (such as Christianity,Zeus, etc.) to be extremely unlikely due to various contradictions and things that don't make sense. This is a common viewpoint among atheists. I think agnosticism still has it's use as a label, but some atheists probably object to it because it pushes others to misunderstand their own views, as you just did. Atheists don't necessarily claim certainty.

Technically the word Atheism means a "lack of belief in god, OR an active disbelief in god." Plenty of atheists fall under the first half of that definition, which overlaps with agnosticism. Some people specifically identify as agnostic-atheist, because of this overlap. I've also seen it called weak-atheism, as opposed to strong-atheism.


Comment 27
Again, I'll stick with the Merriam-Webster definition, which defines Atheism as 'one who believes that there is no deity'. I understand that words are defined differently in different places, so I'm not trying to be absolutist about this (or about anything, clearly). Call yourself what you want. It's just that I prefer the simplicity of this . . .

Theist: Believes in the existence of God.
Atheist: Believes in the nonexistence of God.
Agnostic: Is not committed to believing either the existence or nonexistence of God.

. . . to the hyphenations of the Euler diagram (http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/F....

But if someone wants to call themselves a weak-gnosto-half-caffeinated-agno-theist, more power to them. If it comes with a funny hat, I might even consider joining them.


Comment 28
Sigh...

You do realize that the diagram you just linked says that we're right and you're wrong... right? You know how those diagrams work don't you?

See my other comment to you addressing the "dictionary definitions" of agnosticism.


Comment 29
Here's the thing I find disingenuous. For the first part, he talks about wanting to engage with people as people, with individualised thoughts, ideas, beliefs and philosophies rather than group stereotypes and labels.

Then in the second part, part of his claim is that he doesn't want to be identified as an atheist because of a bunch of assumptions and stereotypes typically associated with atheists. That whole bit about spending a whole lot of time sitting around debating who believes in god the least, for example. That's a stereotype. That's engaging with an idea or group as a label.

Now, I don't think he's a bad person or somehow underhanded for doing so. It just shows how easy it is to fall into the trap of categorising, labelling, and grouping. I mean, that's a part of how we naturally process information. But much like ordinary christians don't sit around debating bible passages or proselytising door-to-door every night, nor do ordinary everyday atheists engage in similar activities.

As for the getting involved in policy thing, most of us don't do that either. I'm glad that some do, because when you have things like representatives trying to push creationism into science textbooks,...


Comment 30
In the study of formal logic, and in the practical disciplines which make use of it--most notably computer science--there is a distinction made between the "open world assumption" and the "closed world assumption".

In the open world assumption, any proposition which is not provable with a given a system of logic (a system of logic is a collection of axioms and theorems) and collection of facts is regarded as unknown, not false. Universal and existential claims are, more or less, treated as equals. Much mathematical and philosophical discourse is conducted using the open-world assumption.

In the closed world assumption, any proposition which is not provable within the system and with the data, is considered false. Moreover, closed world datasets generally only include positive, existential claims--positive universal claims (or their equivalent--negative existential claims) are often excluded from closed-world systems.

Many practical reasoning systems implemented on computers use the closed-world assumption. If you are reading this blog right now, you are using a relational database system (blog engines use RDBMS's to store articles, comments, and such) which uses the closed-world assumption. You're employer's database likely has a personnel record indicating that you are an employee; it does NOT, however, have records corresponding...


Comment 31
I'm afraid there is something to our suspicions that Tyson is claiming to be agnostic because that is more acceptable to a believing public than acknowledging atheism. And, in fact, it is. Witness the attention if gets: I was sent here from The Dish.

Inherent to both agnosticism and atheism, however, is the conviction that it is wrong to assert unjustified beliefs. Since assertion of unjustified beliefs is essential to faith, the agnostic and the atheist equally challenge religion. Why one is embraced and the other scorned is a matter of sociology.


Comment 32
That's rich. You know better than Dr. Tyson what Dr. Tyson does and does not believe and his motivations for claiming him as atheist DESPITE his protest to the contrary. Instead of God, do you believe in ESP?

The difference between the two elements of atheism and agnosticism, a point made here by Tyson and also by Dawkins, is the underlying belief whether there is a God or no God. An agnostic is saying "it's unknown" while an atheist states "there is no God", the difference between the two being enormous. This is the differentiation used over the last 150 years since Huxley coined the term in 1869. It's an important differentiation and the impact on how we view religion is FAR different as a result of the two stances. Now, in the Venn diagram of agreement, both may say "don't teach ID in biology" but the reasoning could be different: atheists say this because there is no God and you're forcing religion while an agnostic would rightly point out that ID is non-scientific in that it is an untestable hypothesis (due to ID's "well, it's just too complex to be evolution").

If you want to claim that there is...


Comment 33
It seems to me that the idea of a personal God is an anthropological concept which I cannot take seriously. I also cannot imagine some will or goal outside the human sphere.... Science has been charged with undermining morality, but the charge is unjust. A man's ethical behavior should be based effectually on sympathy, education, and social ties and needs; no religious basis is necessary. Man would indeed be in a poor way if he had to be restrained by fear of punishment and hope of reward after death.

• ALBERT EINSTEIN - scientist, Nobel Prizewinner in physics, originator of the theory of relativity.


Comment 34
Like Carl Sagan, what ND seems to object strongly to is religious dogma shoved into the education system as equivalent or an alternative to science. So he is certainly not agnostic with respect to that outrageous nonsense it is safe to say. You can't label that as an atheist belief either as plenty of religious people feel the same way or even more strongly about it. Now, does anyone really care if a guy like ND agrees or disagrees with Stephen Hawking that god in not necessary for the big bang for example? I sure don't since I can tell you the answer on my own. Strictly speaking, no, god is not "necessary" for a big bang and for other things like afterlives, human and animal souls and so forth. However I am certain that an almighty is sufficient for all those things and more. If you took some math you know how much fun you can have with IFF problems so we should all be interested to find out and to see how the questions change with scientific advances.


Comment 35
If an "agnostic" does not believe in a god or gods, then he or she is an atheist.

As for Tyson's comment about non-golfers not feeling the need to organize and talk about golf, well, there would be "A-golfists" and anti-golfing organizations if: golfers were killing people around the world in the name of golf; abusing women and children in the name of golf; promoting hate against gay people; fighting social progress; fighting science education; and forcing millions of children to play golf.

If religious belief were not such an obvious source of violence and ignorance no one would ever hear a peep from the nonreligious.
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