Atheist or agnostic?

Am I an atheist, or not? It depends on the definition of “atheist”, and on the mindset of the person asking. In Europe I label myself agnostic, because I have no understanding of why there is a Universe. But in the United States it’s easiest to say I’m an atheist, because anything short of that implies support for the idea of a personal God.

God watching TV

I find offensive the idea of a personal God who, swayed by the emotional appeal of prayers from the devout, favors one person over another. I don’t care whether they’re praying about healing an illness, or winning a ballgame, or picking the right lottery ticket – what morality is there in an omnipotent deity who would intervene in that, and not intervene in the most extreme situations of human suffering?

I find illogical the idea of a God who creates individuals and then punishes them for acting according to the nature they were given.

I find simplistic the idea that God’s Universe is focused on Earth (let alone on one particular tribe, or sect, or individual), when the Earth is only a small planet of a small star, and there could be more stars in the Universe than there are grains of sand on all the beaches of the whole world.

So I’m certain that the personal God of the average American believer doesn’t exist, and couldn’t possibly exist.

But as for exactly what force is the wellspring of the Universe, and what qualities it has, that’s where I’m a militant agnostic:

“I don’t know, and you don’t know either.”

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22 comments on “Atheist or agnostic?

  1. You’re absolutely right. The whole universe might exist in somebody’s test tube.

  2. teunispeters says:

    Part of the trouble with dealing with the US is there’s basically an assumption of Christian-centric theism. A really nice post on it is here : http://gracerules.wordpress.com/2012/06/12/christian-privilege/
    If you don’t fit into the “consensual assumption” you’re tagged an atheist or a devil-worshipper. Folks like me who fall into “other” just aren’t part of the conversation at all – or are treated with extreme contempt.

    I don’t know what it’s like anywhere else, but from the city I live in (Vancouver) I get small tastes of full immersion in other cultures – Sikh and Buddhist communities mostly. (although I did enjoy an immersion into an Islamic region for a bit). I’d guess from living in a foreign land, they’re quite welcoming to people with other (or no) beliefs as long as folks give respect.

  3. Tom Hail says:

    ” In Europe I label myself agnostic, because I have no understanding of why there is a Universe.”

    This is a great video by Lawrence Krauss on “A Universe From Nothing”. It is easy to follow and he is an entertaining speaker. Basically there is a Universe because nothing is unstable.

  4. The Scriptures do not teach that God is “swayed by the emotional appeal of prayers from the devout.” Rather, He knew what is asked for before it was ever asked (Matt. 6:7-8). It is more about the relationship between Him and His creatures… Furthermore, it’s not just whimsical prayers as you describe, but whatever is according to His ultimate will (James 4:2-3; 1John 5:14-15). Perhaps He does answer what you deem insignificant, as from His perspective they may be an important piece of His ultimate plan for the universe, such as convincing someone that He is there and answers prayers (John 4:13).

    Regarding the extreme situations of human suffering, I have two questions. How do you know that He isn’t or hasn’t intervened? And if God doesn’t exist, where do you get your standard to judge His supposed lack of intervention as morally wrong? What is it that makes this inaction orally wrong? Is it because you say so?

    Again, could it not be that the suffering fits into a greater role? Consider that the early followers of Christ were severely persecuted. Their faithful endurance through this caused explosive growth in numbers (solving one of your dilemmas).

    God did not create humanity with a sinful nature, but originally perfect. Our leaders and representatives rebelled, and the consequences of that affected us, their descendants. According to the Scriptures, He didn’t just leave us at that, but provided salvation from that affect as well as the consequences.

    It is interesting that you point out that there are more stars than grains of sand. The Scriptures declared this over three millennia ago (Gen. 15:5), and yet some scientists declared the Scriptures wrong for doing so, until they were proven accurate. –Still, what is to say that God did not simply create this vast universe to demonstrate His power and greatness to us? If the universe were full of civilizations, you would like argue that sentient beings are a natural phenomenon because they are such a common occurrence…

    Suddenly you are certain that He doesn’t exist, and could not possibly? How can you cognitively KNOW this? Similarly, how can you cognitively know what someone else does or doesn’t know?

    • “How do you know that He isn’t or hasn’t intervened? And if God doesn’t exist, where do you get your standard to judge His supposed lack of intervention as morally wrong? What is it that makes this inaction orally wrong? Is it because you say so?”

      If your god invented morality, isn’t it arbitrary? If not, what is it that makes it moral? Why do you not follow the scriptures that instruct you to stone your children for talking back, etc.? Do you believe ethnic cleansing is morally wrong? On what basis? Certainly it is not a scriptural one. What about slavery? Morally wrong? Not according to your Bible. According to what, then?

    • “Again, could it not be that the suffering fits into a greater role?”

      No. An all-powerful god would not be constrained by such things. He could, for instance, create a universe where it was possible to achieve his goals without human suffering. What made him choose to do otherwise? Immorality, perhaps? The observable evidence is simply not consistent with a god who is simultaneously omnipotent, omniscient and omnibenevolent. The god of the Bible certainly has some strange ideas about what is moral and what isn’t, assuming such an entity exists.

      “Consider that the early followers of Christ were severely persecuted. Their faithful endurance through this caused explosive growth in numbers (solving one of your dilemmas).”

      You don’t know that. Could be attribution error. I’m sure Robin would have something to say about the various possible causes of this explosive growth in Christianity during Roman times.

      “It is interesting that you point out that there are more stars than grains of sand. The Scriptures declared this over three millennia ago (Gen. 15:5), and yet some scientists declared the Scriptures wrong for doing so, until they were proven accurate.”

      Wrong scripture. You mean Psalms 139:18. But what does this prove? Nothing. Look at the context. The psalmist uttered this in a passing phrase of poetry–it wasn’t a “declaration” of a fact, and it wasn’t his god instructing him in the details of cosmology–more like a popular idiom. Comparing large numbers to grains of sand is a ubiquitous convention in the Bible, and isn’t intended literally. Anybody can say something like that and be right by accident (assuming the estimate is right to begin with). Besides, poetic verses can be scientifically inaccurate by accident too. You and I both know there are plenty of those blunders in scripture. Or do you wish to change to a less literal reading in those cases?

      “Still, what is to say that God did not simply create this vast universe to demonstrate His power and greatness to us?”

      The Bible (Romans 8:18-22). You do read the Bible, don’t you?

    • I meant to point out that guessing right about there being more stars than grains of sand on earth is hardly significant. You take one big pile of a certain thing and one big pile of some other thing, and then you say, “Hey, both these piles are pretty big, and I can’t tell which one’s bigger, but I’ll bet that pile is bigger than the other one.” You have a 50 percent chance of being right, just by accident–without any revealed knowledge at all. Pretty good odds as such things go. No one should be impressed if you guess right. They certainly shouldn’t start looking at you as though you were possessed of some special insight. What would be impressive is if you guessed the ratio right. Then we would have reason to think you might not be guessing.

      Now, I have to ask: if God wanted to impress us with this comparison, why didn’t he use numbers? The next question is, Why are you impressed by it?

  5. I know only what I know, and what I know is what I have seen, what I have felt, and and what I have heard.

    One can say that they do not know, and this is fair. But always be mindful when saying that someone else does not know. One could always be wrong about the knowledge of others.

  6. ubi dubium says:

    A good description to use might be an “agnostic atheist”, since gnostic/agnostic refers to knowledge and theist/atheist refers to belief. An “agnostic atheist” cannot conclusively prove that there isn’t a god, but has no belief that there is one. That covers it pretty well for me.

    • Agnostic – no knowledge… Atheist – no God. So you have no knowledge that there is no God. You could be a theist then. ;) LOL

      • ubi dubium says:

        Given adequate evidence, it could happen. But the existence of an all-knowing all-powerful god is an extraordinary claim, and as such would require extraordinary evidence to support that claim. I’ve never seen any extraordinary evidence pointing toward the existence of a god, but I’ve seen plenty of evidence pointing toward gods being things people invent.

        I’m sticking with “There’s very probably no god” until a KJV bible grows out of my porch railing, or the stars rearrange themselves, or some evangelist comes up to me out of the blue and says my pass-phrase. Something beyond anything a human-manufactured religion could do. (If your god told you what my pass phrase is, and your reply starts with it, then I’d be all ears to what you have to say!)

        • chrysanthemum blue jays… just a wild stab in the dark. ;)

          • ubi dubium says:

            Nope. Maybe your god doesn’t want you to be the one to reach me. Or you just need to pray harder. :)

            • Xochitl says:

              May I ask why people who avadcote secular education never seem to give any backing to the idea of funding all schools equally regardless of whether they have a faith based ethos or not. Would the funding of all schools equally not be more egalitarian than saying that only schools with a secular ethos should receive public funding. Why should those who are sincerely Muslim, Christian,Jewish etc. not be able to attend an institution that serves them rather than having to attend religious education only at weekends, as is often proposed. It seems that those who favour secular education are attempting to control the choices that religious people can make as regards education, by making secular education the only choice. If those who want secular education receive public funding is it not only right an fair that those who want a faith based education get the same amount?

              • ubi dubium says:

                I don’t see what your question has to do with the topic of this thread, but I’ll answer it anyway. When you have the government authorized to fund a “faith based” school, you put the government in the position of having to judge what’s a valid “faith”. Should they fund a separate school for Scientologists? How about one for Pastafarians? I don’t want the government to be able to have the power to decide that kind of thing. Separation of church and state is protective for both the state and the church.

                AND – what if you are one of the few muslims in an area where the only local school is evangelical christian? Or the other way around? Are you OK with sending your children for indoctrination in some other religion? I’m not! And that sort of thing really happens in England where they do have “faith schools”, so this is not a problem I’m inventing.

                AND – you will have different educational standards for different children, because most faith-based schools have at least one area of education that they dislike and will refuse to teach adequately. A promising potential biologist might spend their childhood having their head stuffed with creationism, potential female politicians being taught that women should be quiet and submissive, potential great authors being allowed to read nothing but the bible, potential doctors told that we must rely only on faith healing, etc etc. Putting our kids in an environment where what they learn is limited by some dogma or other will result in a colossal amount of wasted future talent.

                If your religion is so obviously true, and so clearly wonderful, and your god is so great at communicating with people, then a couple hours on the weekend should be plenty. If your god needs more than that, it can be on your own dime. Our public schools need to spend their time on teaching math and writing, history and science, and not on telling kids what invisible man in the sky they should believe in.

      • No. Agnostic = no knowledge. Atheist = no theism (literally). Agnostic atheists don’t claim there is no god. They just don’t believe a claim that is unsupported. Theism and atheism (belief and non-belief) are orthogonal to agnosticism (the epistemological position that certain claims cannot be investigated and that, therefore, nothing can be known about them). This is why it is possible to be an agnostic theist, who doesn’t claim to have knowledge of and yet believes in a god. In other words, they have faith.

  7. Anonymous says:

    It make sense, unless you’ve Received the gift of faith.
    Renea
    Bahamas

    • There are many faiths, but only one science.

      • Oh, really? So science is always in total agreement?

        • Scientists are about as much in agreement as all Catholics are in agreement, for example. But those are issues that get argued out, not the same as the irreconcilable differences between, say, the ideas of an afterlife in Christian mythology, Hindu mythology, Norse mythology, etc.

        • ubi dubium says:

          Science, if you’re doing it right, should converge on the same answers, the correct answers. The speed of light or the gravitational constant isn’t different depending on what part of the world you are in, or what your parents told you the answer is, or what some two thousand year old book says the answer is. Separate groups of scientists measuring by different methods should still eventually come out with the same answers. Religion never does this.

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