Agnostic! Are you sure? (The atheist delusion)

by dhw, Sunday, February 01, 2009, 08:23 (4171 days ago) @ dhw

Part Two

There are two major factors that make me argue against atheism: 1) I find it impossible to have a full, genuine, gut-felt, intellect-approved belief that chance initially could combine all the elements needed to bring inorganic matter to organic life with the ability to reproduce and develop the astonishing variety of organs and creatures that has evolved. This was my position even before David Turell confronted us with the many scientific complexities that are being or have yet to be unravelled. My scepticism prompted David himself in an earlier post to point out that I had no alternative other than to believe in design, but that is the equivalent of the atheist saying that if I argue against atheism I must be a theist. My agnosticism functions through negatives ... through what I cannot believe, not through what I can. 2) The paranormal is the second factor, though that is a misleading term, since it presupposes that we know what constitutes normality. This is sneered at by some, but I take it seriously enough to say that I cannot believe all such experiences are fake or illusory or self-deluding, and therefore I cannot believe that we already know all the dimensions of existence. Like Attenborough, I would say that "there could be things we are not aware of because of the limitations of our senses and limited brains."

Why am I not a theist? Because, again like Attenborough (Darwin had a similar problem), I cannot believe in a benevolent deity when I see a world that proceeds with random cruelty through a system that entails the destruction of the innocent. That knocks out most religions. But my non-belief (agnosticism), which is not the same as disbelief (atheism), goes further. If life, despite the love and beauty that randomly balance the horror, is proceeding without any evidence of a designer's interest let alone benevolence (and that's how it appears to me), it doesn't actually matter whether we were designed or not. An indifferent or absent designer might just as well be called Chance. And finally, although it is not a reason for a decision, I can no more believe in a never-beginning, never-ending intelligence, or an intelligence that magically sprang into existence, than I can in the creative genius of non-intelligence.

There is, in this respect, no way forward. None of the alternatives gives me enough certainty to be able to say: I think this one is true. But I see myself as a category 2) agnostic, in so far as mankind is still learning, and I hope to go on learning too.

I see no reason to assume that David Attenborough (or Charles Darwin, for that matter) calls himself an agnostic "purely for political or social reasons, in that the term atheist attracts more abuse than agnostic". In my experience, some theists and some atheists can be equally abusive to each other and to agnostics, because there are some irrational and aggressive fundamentalists on both sides. Whereas agnostics, of course, remain evenly balanced and sweetly reasonable and free from the terrible affliction known as "confirmational bias". I would have thought it quite possible that when Attenborough says he's an agnostic, it's because he's an agnostic.

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