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

Bertrand Russell, in his 1947 “Am I an Atheist or an Agnostic?”, wrote:

“Not to be absolutely certain is, I think, one of the essential things in rationality. (…)

Militant agnosticism in action

“When one admits that nothing is certain one must, I think, also admit that some things are much more nearly certain than others. (…) Complete skepticism would, of course, be totally barren and completely useless. (…)

“As a philosopher, if I were speaking to a purely philosophic audience I should say that I ought to describe myself as an Agnostic, because I do not think that there is a conclusive argument by which to prove that there is not a God. On the other hand, if I am to convey the right impression to the ordinary man in the street I think that I ought to say that I am an Atheist, because, when I say that I cannot prove that there is not a God, I ought to add equally that I cannot prove that there are not the Homeric gods.”

And hence to his flying or cosmic Teapot, of course.

Russell’s contemporary, the British geneticist and evolutionary biologist J.B.S. Haldane, did not believe he understood the structure of the universe, or that such understanding was even with human power. As he wrote in “Possible Worlds and other papers” (1927): “the Universe is not only queerer than we suppose, but queerer than we can suppose.”

That admission of ignorance would qualify him as an agnostic. But, as he also wrote, “My practice as a scientist is atheistic. That is to say, when I set up an experiment I assume that no god, angel, or devil is going to interfere with its course; and this assumption has been justified by such success as I have achieved in my professional career. I should therefore be intellectually dishonest if I were not also atheistic in the affairs of the world.”

The farther we gaze and the closer we focus, the more we find that the Universe just keeps on going. From stars to galaxies to hypothetical multiverses in the one direction, from atoms to quarks to hypothetical strings in the other, there is no final limit to either vastness or foundational substance. More importantly, there is nothing to explain the existence of the Universe.

How can there possibly be anything? How can the Universe come from nothing? To say “God made it” just leads to asking where God came from. To say “It was born from the collapse of a previous Universe” or “It is automatically generated from the multiverse” just leads to questions of their origin, too.

A “First Cause” is as nonsensical a concept as “Before Time Began”. There are (fortunately) concepts that simply do not compute, questions that are fundamental to the nature of existence and yet are not capable of clear framing, let alone an answer. This is not new to us. They have stimulated and challenged human thought since reason began.

So it is perfectly in keeping with both today and the Greco-Roman time of Jesus to give “The Gospel According to the Romans” a skeptical protagonist with the personal creed of “Nescio et tu quoque” – “I don’t know, and you don’t either.”

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5 comments on “Militant agnostic: “I don’t know, and you don’t either.”

  1. So how would you describe the antagonist then?

    Anyway I thought it might be interesting for you to post on:

    http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Ontological_argument#Anselm

    It always baffled me as an argument.

    • Assuming you are referring to :

      “Anselm’s argument in Chapter 2 can be summarised as follows:

      1. Our understanding of God is a being than which no greater can be conceived.
      2. The idea of God exists in the mind.
      3. A being which exists both in the mind and in reality is greater than a being that exists only in the mind.
      4. If God only exists in the mind, then we can conceive of a greater being—that which exists in reality.
      5. We cannot be imagining something that is greater than God.
      6. Therefore, God exists.”

      This is the kind of pathetic game-playing that I find so embarrassing about my cultural history, and so irritating in poor thinkers.

      The correct deduction in Point 6 cannot be “Therefore, God exists.” It is only “Therefore, we are imagining God.”

      Which sums it up perfectly.

  2. I don’t think I’ve met a militant agnostic, do they even exist? I’ve run into all kinds of other militants, atheists, christians, certainly muslims, even a few pagans, and some others. Never even heard of militant agnostics though, huh.

    • It’s pretty close to a joke term, because people without an opinion about something tend to not be passionate about the subject. And as Bertrand Russell also wrote:

      “The opinions that are held with passion are always those for which no good ground exists; indeed the passion is the measure of the holder’s lack of rational conviction. Opinions in politics and religion are almost always held passionately.”
      – Introduction to 1961 edition of Sceptical Essays (1961)

      • Ah, okay. I thought you might have been serious, mostly because I have run into so many militants of so many things, it seemed possible there could be a militant agnostic, even if it would be one of the hardest ones out there to be militant about, lol

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