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Old 06-15-2009, 05:59 PM   #101
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I think this definition is a little odd. The fact that something can't be proven (as we know under scientifically accepted definitions of "proof") would mean (by definition) that we would ALL be agnostics, or else someone would have either solid proof (or disproof) of the existence of supreme being(s). And as far as I know, no one has any proof about the existence (or lack of existence) of God.

Nobody *knows* to a provable extent that God (or any manifestation of supreme being) does exist or does not exist. So I would think the Wiki definition as quoted above is useless. I prefer what was stated earlier: an agnostic is someone who is undecided about the existence of God; they are neither firmly convinced God exists nor firmly convinced God doesn't exist. Theists and atheists both have convictions that God exists or doesn't exist (respectively), but neither can prove their beliefs. And yes, I consider atheism a belief (unlike agnosticism).

Interesting discussion. Hope we can keep it civil and respectful, since discussion of religion can turn volatile in a hurry.
I suspect that, in fact, we are all agnostic. Any religious person who is intellectually honest will admit to at least a glimmer of doubt now and again. And I suspect that an honest atheist would also admit that he or she could be wrong and that God could exist. It is the true believers -- those who admit of absolutely no possibility of error -- regardless of precisely what they believe in, who are generally the troublemakers in this world.


In the presence of my own doubts, I will take Pascal's wager.
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Old 06-15-2009, 06:15 PM   #102
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In the presence of my own doubts, I will take Pascal's wager.
OOC, how far will you take it?
  • just believe cause it might help?
  • devote your life to good work, sing in the choir, evangelize etc.
  • pay tithes and send money to the TV guys?
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Old 06-15-2009, 06:37 PM   #103
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I do believe that atheists perform an act of faith by rejecting the existence of God because, objectively, the non-existence of God is as unproven as His existence (unless I missed something). The agnostic decides to remain open to both possibilities. To the question "Does God Exist?", theists will answer "yes", atheists "no" and agnostics "maybe". That's how I see things but I am no philosopher...
Ah, but most Christians are atheists--concerning the Hindu gods, the Homeric gods, and the hundreds of other gods of human theology. So, except for a few deists, Unitarians, and a few others with nonspecific and unexclusive views of what this supernatural entity might be, almost everyone is an atheist (with regard to most of the proposed gods). As the atheist allegedly said to his Chrstian friend: "We're both atheists regarding hundreds of gods. I just reject one more than you do."

I agree with FUEGO's approach. Many rationalists use the shorthand label "atheist" in common discussion, but would choose "agnostic" if engaged in a rigorous discussion that dealt with degree of observable evidence. For what it is worth, I think most atheists have given this subject (the existence of god) at least as much careful, critical thought as the average religious person has given it.

BTW, there's a good deal of debate among nonbelievers in how best to "come out of the closet" in a Christian/religious-dominated culture. Some favor a confrontational "we're not going to be quiet anymore, get your theology out of government, religion is killing hundreds of thousands of people every year" stance. Another faction sees this as counterproductive and instead wants to emphasize the fact that lack of religious faith does not result in amorality and that atheists have made/continue to make many positive contributions to society. I'm in the second camp, but there are times (e.g. religiously-motivated mass killings) that should make everyone consider the impact of various beliefs--and the impact to society of giving people a pass for disregarding reason in favor of texts they believe to be the revealed word of a diety. Once we accept supernatural communication as a valid means of choosing an action, I don't know how we get to rule on which supernatural communications are valid and which are invalid.
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Old 06-15-2009, 07:15 PM   #104
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OOC, how far will you take it?
  • just believe cause it might help?
  • devote your life to good work, sing in the choir, evangelize etc.
  • pay tithes and send money to the TV guys?
Each of us must find our own comfort level. I think I have found mine. It is probably not the same as yours, but we can both find happiness in our own way.
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Old 06-15-2009, 07:21 PM   #105
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In the presence of my own doubts, I will take Pascal's wager.
As to which god? If you are wrong in the selection of the proper god or proper method of worship, you may be burning in the fires of the muslim hell, or Hades, or any other imaginable varieties of really bad afterlife places. It's a crap shoot, heck, worse odds than a crap shoot that you happened to be born into the correct faith that worships the right god(s) in the right manner.

If there is a god, I trust he would be benevolent enough to do right by me, and forgive me for using the brain between my ears to live life in a rational inquisitive manner.
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Old 06-15-2009, 07:32 PM   #106
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As to which god? If you are wrong in the selection of the proper god or proper method of worship, you may be burning in the fires of the muslim hell, or Hades, or any other imaginable varieties of really bad afterlife places. It's a crap shoot, heck, worse odds than a crap shoot that you happened to be born into the correct faith that worships the right god(s) in the right manner.

If there is a god, I trust he would be benevolent enough to do right by me, and forgive me for using the brain between my ears to live life in a rational inquisitive manner.
You could be right and I am completely wasting my time. Or, it could be that God has as many manifestations as there are human beings. In other words, that there is only one deity, but our own diverse human language, culture and experience shape the way we perceive that deity. And it could be that there is no one correct way to proceed with respect to such things as forms of worship, or that these things are entirely irrelevant. I sure don't know, but I am comfortable with my choices in the matter, and I do not begrudge you your choices.

P.S. -- Religious belief does not necessarily preclude one from living in a rational, inquisitive manner. Although I will acknowledge that it does for far too many people.
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Old 06-16-2009, 08:48 AM   #107
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Old 06-16-2009, 09:16 AM   #108
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Gotta love that last line, "of course, he looks human but that doesn't mean a thing."
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Old 06-16-2009, 12:26 PM   #109
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To me, atheists and theists are both faithfuls. They both believe in something that cannot be proven, which is the basis for faith. Unlike the faithfuls, the agnostics make room for doubts.

I am not comfortable with this point of view of what an atheist is. An atheist doesn't take on faith that there is no life after death. The absence of a belief isn't a belief. It is nothing. Instead, the approach is that there is no evidence of life after death. If there was evidence the atheist would change his mind. The problem is partly with the word atheist. It implies an affirmative position when none is needed. That said, the atheist may chose to draw some conclusions as to likelihood of certain specific religious beliefs. The atheist may examine biblical or other religious texts that discuss God and how the world was made and conclude that these stories are inconsistent with the evidence on how the world works and maybe even inconsistent with their own morality. (Why are religions so exclusionary and what may happen to you after death be an accident of your birth?). After examining the evidence, the atheist may go so far as to say that it is unlikely you have a separate self or consciousness apart from your physical self. The atheist would say that it is unlikely there is a god, at least as god is described in religious literature, as we would have to stretch science way out of proportion to make science consistent with religious writings. Based on analysis of evidence and his own ethics, the atheist decides there is no need to spend any more time on the matter. In contrast, I think that an agnostic is one that either says it is impossible to know (which is an affirmative belief) or that the subject does not interest him enough to think it through thoroughly and draw a conclusion based on the current evidence, or deep down inside he wishes he had faith that some people just seem to have.

What bothers me is when the religious triy to modify science to fit their religious faith. At least the Dalai Lama says that if a religious belief conflicts with science, the belief must give way.

Most atheists do not define themselves by the absence of belief, but on how they approach the world. Maybe they are scientists who see the utility of the scientific method for figuring out how the world and people work. Maybe they are also secular humanists for whom rationality and doing good are of prime importance. And yes, some atheists are angry atheists like some deists are angry as well. It is hard to be part of a small minority, to know that many people think that there is something wrong with you, that you could fix that wrong by just believing. But you cannot just manufacture faith.

Now sometimes religious people say that the atheists' religion is the scientific method, but I think is a non-sequitur. The only reason that I rely on science is that it works. It is replicable. It is a process that gives helpful answers and through time it has built on itself. It isn't a matter of faith that the atheist relies on science, it is a matter of what works best to make the world understandable. Does it work best to carbon date a bone as being millions of years old or to rely on a biblical analysis that the world is 6000 years old? Does it work best to say that life developed through evolution, based upon what we know about genetics and what we find in fossil records, or does it work best to rely on one of many creation stories as literally true?

I hope this does not come across as confrontational, but given how few admitted atheists there are in the US it is good to share where they might be coming from.
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Old 06-16-2009, 12:47 PM   #110
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While I like splitting hairs as much as the next guy, my own definition is fairly simple:

Theist: believes there is a god
Atheist: believes there isn't a god
Agnostic: not sure what to believe

I would think any rational person would change whatever position they held, given sufficient proof.
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Old 06-16-2009, 01:17 PM   #111
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Gotta love that last line, "of course, he looks human but that doesn't mean a thing."
Checkov: I've never met a god before.

Kirk: And you still haven't...
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Old 06-16-2009, 01:22 PM   #112
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God Looks After Drunkards, Fools, And The United States of America.

There is a God and it's not me.

Whether I believe or not the universe still runs exactly the way it's supposed to.



And as a evil make em and break'em engineer I used to get my jollies when tested models failed wind tunnel, lightning strike, reentry tests, static and dynamic, etc., etc. - causing the number cats to wail and readjust.

heh heh heh - .
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Old 06-16-2009, 01:23 PM   #113
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I would think any rational person would change whatever position they held, given sufficient proof.
Emphasis on rational is key. I would submit that many airbreathers out there are not rational or at a minimum are oblivious to the goings on around them.
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Old 06-16-2009, 01:33 PM   #114
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Emphasis on rational is key. I would submit that many airbreathers out there are not rational or at a minimum are oblivious to the goings on around them.
You know what, my statement was pretty much a non-statement. "Sufficient proof" is kind of a dumb thing to say. Plenty of people in both camps probably believe there is sufficient proof right now to support their world view.
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Old 06-16-2009, 01:44 PM   #115
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Religious impulses, including the impulses of a-theists have nothing little or nothing do with rationality or proof. They have to do with feeling.

This doesn't bother me, as I believe that life is mostly about feeling. But clearly it bothers some people.

Ha
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Old 06-16-2009, 01:55 PM   #116
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I was raised in what I consider the Bible belt.

Religion was a big part of my "growing up" years. Once I started to question the interpretations of the preacher regarding the bible, I was ousted.

I guess that shows me there are consequences in having a mind of my own...
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Old 06-16-2009, 02:22 PM   #117
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Religious impulses, including the impulses of a-theists have nothing little or nothing do with rationality or proof. They have to do with feeling.

This doesn't bother me, as I believe that life is mostly about feeling. But clearly it bothers some people.
I would say I find religious devotion "interesting", from an anthropological point of view, not necessarily bothersome.

People devote their entire lives (or significant portions thereof) to following their chosen religion. Do they really do this blind to rationality and proof or in conscious awareness of rationality and proof? Maybe a corollary thread to this one and the "are markets rational" thread would be "are people rational?". But I think I know the answer to that one.

People don't devote their lives or significant portions thereof to practicing atheism. "Not practicing" a religion doesn't take any time at all in fact. This frees up time for other valuable activities. That's a good thing, since per the atheist world view, this life is the only life you get.

Maybe people are born with "faith" or born atheists. Reflecting back on my very early childhood, I cannot recall a time when I was not skeptical regarding the existence of god. Maybe merely agnostic (in the "unsure of existence" sense) back then, as I was regarding Santa Claus and the tooth fairy.

I do find the concept of religion appealing and comforting in a way. But I don't have "faith" and I'm not sure you can simply acquire it. As a result it won't work for me. Perhaps the critics are right and maybe I am a social deviant somehow?
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Old 06-16-2009, 02:37 PM   #118
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While I like splitting hairs as much as the next guy, my own definition is fairly simple:

Theist: believes there is a god
Atheist: believes there isn't a god
Agnostic: not sure what to believe

I would think any rational person would change whatever position they held, given sufficient proof.
What is proof? Personal experiences are not proof. There is too much room for cognitive error. You can stimulate a part of the brain and create a religious experience. In a hypnogogic state you can end up thinking that you were abducted by aliens. And people mistake coincidences for cause and effect all the time. There is plenty of research on that issue.

Stories and tradition are not proof. (Especially as the stories are not consistent). The fact that the majority of people believe that there is "something there" is not proof. It may very well be a be an evolutionary characteristic because people have the ability to comprehend their own death. We are problem solvers and want answers. It helps us succeed and survive. But we also make mistakes in the process . We see patterns when none are there. We think the world is flat until we learn that it is not.

My not so humble opinion is that you must reject science to have a literal interpretation of religious writings. But looking at religious writings as allegorical is just as difficult for me. Too much believe in X (maybe in god, maybe in duty as defined by god or its representatives) without any evidence or you will suffer. What is the purpose of that? A person may always have had faith and all is well. Never questioning. Another person may read religious writings, think about them, question others, look at different religions, and never find faith and never find a reason to believe. Why would the second be punished? I have many other issues as well. Why so many allegorical battles? Why must Arjuna meet for battle on the plains of dharma? Why must the Israelites kill all the Canaanites? If I were God I would stay away from all these violent allegories.

I think quite a few people believe simply that there "must be something out there." But why? When you look hard enough there doesn't have to be something out there running the show. The show runs itself. Sometimes pretty good, other times not so much. But it all may come down to:

I am not wired to believe. Apparently most people are.
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Old 06-16-2009, 02:57 PM   #119
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Why so many allegorical battles? Why must Arjuna meet for battle on the plains of dharma? Why must the Israelites kill all the Canaanites? If I were God I would stay away from all these violent allegories.
One answer - you must go to church to be enlightened by the experts in difficult matters such as these. It is beyond the comprehension of a mere layperson - only church officials have a true grasp of matters religious.

Another answer - god works in mysterious ways. Some ways in which he works are really difficult to understand. Us humans are all mere mortals with mortal capacities for understanding and comprehension. The intricate ways in which god works are so far beyond our ability to understand that we could never succeed in a thousand years. What seems unfair or unjust in this world is merely a symptom of our inability to comprehend god's true intentions.

A third answer - It is just another example of worldly suffering. Suffering and strife are inflicted upon man because all men are guilty of sin. Entrance to Heaven allows escape from suffering. Failure to comply with our directives means you will suffer infinitely more in the afterlife.

A fourth answer - The Bible is a scary scary book full of wild tales of death, mayhem, mass killings and persecution.
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Old 06-16-2009, 04:01 PM   #120
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People devote their entire lives (or significant portions thereof) to following their chosen religion. Do they really do this blind to rationality and proof or in conscious awareness of rationality and proof? Maybe a corollary thread to this one and the "are markets rational" thread would be "are people rational?". But I think I know the answer to that one.
Asked and answered. Are Markets Rational? The "are markets rational?" thread has answered the question of whether people are rational.
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