Thursday, April 21, 2011

Are you atheist or agnostic?

I get this question more often than I'd like to admit.  I'm sure most any atheist who is open about their leanings has probably gotten this one.  A large part of it rests on how you define the terms, and rarely do people ever really get it right even among people who aren't really believers in some supernatural deity.  The fact that this question even exists as phrased above shows a misunderstanding of the terms.

To put it squarely, I am an agnostic atheist anti-theist.  Now there are those who wonder how that combination is possible.

I am an agnostic in the sense that I don't have the ability to say that I know with absolute certainty that there exists absolutely no supernatural deity.  There is enough variation and enough vagueness in the term "God" to make room for just about anything.  Now if you bring to me, a very specific "God", such as one described exactly as in the Old Testament, I can say with certainty that that particular god does not exist because too many of that god's acts can be shown never to have occurred, nor did creation transpire exactly as described by the Old Testament.  I can say, also, for instance, that Rama as described exactly in the Ramayana never existed because there is simply no way that an arrow can fly through 14 tree trunks nor could there be a flying chariot or a monkey taller than a mountain.  Now, the idea that these stories have a tinge of truth to them or are based on a handful of real characters and events is a separate matter.  But when you say those things really happened as described in the stories, you are definitively delusional.

I am an atheist in the sense that I do not believe that there is any supernatural being of any sort.  There is simply no evidence, nothing whatsoever to support the idea, and every unknown, every gap in my knowledge, whatever it may be is not a valid point of entry for a deity to be inserted.  This is a key point that a lot of self-professed "pure agnostics" miss.  Agnosticism is a matter of knowledge/knowability.  Since a hypothetical deity or intelligent agency beyond our apprehension is unknowable with our current capacity for data-gathering, we cannot know one way or the other.  This is entirely separate, however from whether we believe or not.  Theism or atheism is a question of whether or not you have a belief in a supernatural deity.  I do not, and that makes me an atheist.  Plain and simple.  My primary suspicion about people who define themselves as "agnostic" only is that they are either unfamiliar with the fact that the two terms are independent of each other (just as you can also be an agnostic theist), or they are just too cowardly to own up to the specific nature of their beliefs and wish to avoid confrontation by feigning entry into some sort of hypothetical middle-ground which doesn't really exist.

I am also an anti-theist in the sense that I do feel that it is wrong to believe in a god.  It is harmful to individuals and it is harmful to society.  It is a seed for fallacious thought processes and it is an avenue by which delusions can compound throughout life.  In a sense, if I were nothing more than an agnostic atheist to the extent of the dictionary definition, I would probably be less vocal about it.  Nonetheless, my unrelenting dedication to reason and rational thinking means that I also revile and openly hate ideas which brazenly violate that requirement.  I do not subscribe to the notion that reason and faith are both valid mechanisms of enlightening oneself.  Reason and faith are inherently separate and hostile to one another.

As a tool for attaining knowledge, faith is inferior to reason in every way.  Reason alone has that capacity, and faith never can.  However, when it comes to spreading knowledge, faith has one key advantage over reason, and that is the fact that it is easy.  It takes no effort to believe something on faith, because you simply don't have to think about it, and that's precisely what makes it attractive, and also quite effective in enabling religions to carry on for several generations.  The downside of course is that it is much more often used to spread untruth than truth, and that is the reason why it simply can never be possible for me to take theism as a phenomenon within our society which is worthy of even the slightest bit of respect.