Friday, December 30, 2011

"Militant" agnosticism


I don't like the phrase militant atheist - what's the worst we've done? Near as I can tell, it's to voice strong opinions, blog and write books. However, if those things make one militant, then we have found a militant agnostic.


In discussions relating to PZ Myers' post on Painter's Law, Simon made the following statement:
I do not care if there is a god or not because by the very definitions and as stated by the prophet Dawkins it is impossible to prove there is no god so it is unlikely I will ever know. You have your belief that there is no god, others have a belief that there is a god and I choose not to have an opinion on the matter, I lack concern however the topic does interest me so I am hardly apathetic.
Simon will not make his mind up on the issue, but will insist on voicing his opinions about it, strongly. 

12 comments:

  1. Dave, your definition of a militant agnostic seems to be one who won't make their mind up but instead keeps questioning rather than decide what the truth definitively is. Does this not sound like scientific-esque quest for deeper understanding instead of holding a faith-style view on what the truth is?

    In all honesty you seem to be annoyed with the "militant agnostic" for not picking a side but arguing and questioning all. That to me is the true essence of trying to understand things further.

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  2. Oh, I wasn't annoyed, I thought it was funny.

    However, I disagree with what you say about not picking sides. Not picking sides can leave someone forever confused. For example, is creationism or evolution real? We know it is evolution.

    However, just because one has picked a side does not stop someone from changing their opinions in light of new evidence. I'd reject evolution, if it was shown why I was wrong.

    Now it's true that in some cases "I don't know" is a perfectly good response and there is nothing wrong with a good healthy debate.

    But trolling is not a debate, and constructing oneself a get out of jail free card because people get tired of being trolled still doesn't stop the fact that Simon isn't up for debating, but trolling.

    See comments here:
    http://www.facebook.com/notes/david-wood/a-little-bit-on-what-i-beleive/428464502198

    And here:
    http://www.facebook.com/davidbigdavekungfuwood/posts/151044484990307

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  3. Dave, you are trying your hardest here to conflate the two separate arguments of evolution v creation and God v no God. I am going to leave creation v evolution to one side as it is external to point and also has a lot of evidence pointing one way rather than the other implying with a high degree of likelihood that one is correct (evolution obviously).

    On God v no God there is a distinct lack of evidence, owing in no small part to the nature of the question and the way things can easily be inferred by proponents of either argument to support them. There is therefore no "sensible" or "silly" stand point. By saying I don't know and asking questions the "militant agnostic" is not being troll-esque or needlessly awkward more inquisitive and provoking.

    This to me shows your point of a militant agnostic is not brilliant and how you have defined them actually makes them sound reasonable.

    You then mention Simon's arguing tactic. That makes this then seem like an ad hominem attack rather than a viewpoint one. Now I could make ad hominem attacks but I'm not the sort of horrible person who does things like that (see what I did there?). What makes you say Simon isn't up for debate? Yes he can be confrontational, but do you not see that maybe your approach can also make it seem like you aren't up for debate either to others. Believing or not believing in God is initially a faith stance. You have to makE an initial gut feeling belief one way or the other if you take an opinion. You then move from that point and test/justify it. Some of the attacks you make attempt to undermine institutions espousing the belief rather than the belief. That could be seen as unfair like the idea of saying Stalin and Hitler were atheist therefore atheists are evil. By the very nature of the argument the people backing up your argument will not believe in God so are hardly neutral parties which could again be countered in an argument for that very reason.

    The whole theism debate is, in my opinion, great and intriguing and one which will burn on for a long, long time. The main problem is the attempt to undermine people's views wrongly and also the fact so many arguments beg the question of their initial argument. Namely God does/doesn't exist because it's obvious God/doesn't exist.

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  4. I was just using an example where taking a side makes sense, as you said: “In all honesty you seem to be annoyed with the "militant agnostic" for not picking a side but arguing and questioning all. That to me is the true essence of trying to understand things further.” Sometimes it makes perfect sense to pick a side. Maybe another example would have been better, but for I would hope understandable reasons, it was the first idea that popped into my head.

    Also, as I said earlier “I don’t know” is a good starting point – you don’t always “have to make an initial gut feeling belief one way or the other if you take an opinion”. You can go in not knowing, find out information, and then make your mind up based on that.

    As for god(s), there is a sensible stance, and it is atheism. That assertion requires more than this comment here, but the briefest way I can think to explain is as Hitchens said “What can be asserted without evidence, can be dismissed without evidence”.

    Yes, some of my attacks will also be on institutions and not necessarily the beliefs they hold, my recent post on why I hate the Catholic Church being a prime example. This is because I feel those institutions should be attacked as well.

    I know that people see me as close minded. I don’t think that is fair, for I do my best to present not just my point of view, but why I hold that point of view, and do enjoy, as we are doing now, discussing any differences. I also listen to what others have to say – and will change my mind accordingly. Where I fail in this department, however, is twitter, where often 140 characters aren’t enough to get across what I’m trying to say.

    However, this, so far, has not happened with Simon, and that is why I sent the links in my previous comment, to evidence this. I wasn't just calling names, Simon is a troll.

    One of them links to my explaining why atheism was not a faith position – Simon agreed with that, but only to get a swipe in at someone else.

    The whole same issue raised its head again later. If Simon genuinely wants to discuss issues, seriously that is great, but to do so he must take note of people’s replies to him and not use comment like “Dave, I don't ignore you, I just have to keep challenging you every time you try to ram your bullshit religious beliefs down my throat.” In relation to the subject of atheism not being a belief. We can also see in this comment that when I express my opinions, it’s ramming my religious bullshit down people’s throats, but, when Simon gives his opinions (or lack there of), it’s not.

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  5. I honestly didn't know where to start so tried to pick through it bit by bit here:
    http://www.simonpainter.com/2011/12/i-am-a-militant-agnostic-apparently-via-bigdavesb/

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  6. Right, I'm going to try to be concise.

    Paragraph 1, yes you've shown that taking a stance can be acceptable no argument there. However your initial claim is not taking a stance is unacceptable. Slightly nuanced but showing 1st does not show 2nd. Just because taking a stance is valid doesn't mean not taking one isn't.

    Second, this is exactly the problem/ your faith position and balck & white view. You claim there is an obvious default position and that is atheism. No Dave, no it isn't. There is no "obvious" position. The unicorn/fairy argument is fallacious as they are all supposed to be earthly entities so differently judged. I could also argue that people like you would say it was obvious one of the thousands of species discovered in the last 10 years didn't exist 20 years ago as there was no evidence. That may be dishonest, it probably is, but it gives you an idea as to how your argument can be seen as flawed. There is no evidence for a God-less universe, this isn't saying some creature doesn't exist. It is a state of the universe. One could also argue there is a lot of circumstancial evidence for God, which although it can be explained by other things possibly, the same can be argued for inferred things in science (eg Higgs boson and for balance the previous idea of the ether). Therefore no God is there without evidence so can be dismissed without it. Also your pro-atheist arguments come from atheist thinkers so will have an (albeit possibly unintentional) bias towards their view in multiply interpretable situations.

    Third, fair enough as long as you do split the two. As I'm said I'm not always sure you do fully split institustion and belief and you use the faults of institution to mock belief.

    Onto Simon, yes he can often come across as troll-esque. Having discussed with him several times and alsdo hearing you make the argument he does have a point with some of whathe says. If someone challenges you several times with the same point there is a non-insignificant chance it is not trolling but instead a failure on your part to fully answer the question. I have argued with you before and when there has been a logical breakdiwn in your argument, ie the axioms of your argument reach a contradictory conclusion to another point you are raising, you say I've misunderstood and I'm not listening peoperly. Even if the point and links are all simple and clearly defined. Now I accept I may misunderstand but this is exactly the same way a religious person says the atheist agitator is misinterpreting their message.

    Basically don't throw the baby out with the bath water in an argument. Also accept you hold a faith position, the one that makes most sense to you. That's what we all do on any faith (and I use this in its loosest sense) position.

    Dave, on a related point, what is your view on extra-terrestrial life?

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  7. My response isn't as brief, so need more than one comment.


    “ Just because taking a stance is valid doesn't mean not taking one isn't.” Fair point.

    This is my post for when I switched from not believing in god to believing there is no god, let’s leave that discussion there:
    http://furtherthoughtsfortheday.blogspot.com/2010/10/i-believe-there-is-no-god.html
    Do read the arguments that I have linked to.
    “Also your pro-atheist arguments come from atheist thinkers so will have an (albeit possibly unintentional) bias towards their view in multiply interpretable situations.” I do read criticisms of these too you know, but am aware I’ll have confirmation bias. I’m a slave to my brain though.

    “ you use the faults of institution to mock belief.” I try not to, if you can show me where I did this then I can try and not make that same mistake again.

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  8. “ If someone challenges you several times with the same point there is a non-insignificant chance it is not trolling but instead a failure on your part to fully answer the question. “ This was mostly related to the whole atheism not being a belief.
    Example:
    Simon: So, David, if atheists believe there is no god then it's a faith right?
    Me: Not necessarily.

    I think you can believe that something is not true given the complete lack of evidence for it, even if it's impossible to prove that it is false, without calling it a faith, if that person is happy to change their mind when evidence for it comes along. Yes, lots of things are possible, but why entertain crazy ideas with no supporting evidence? It's true that you can never prove a negative, but lots of religions have had centuries to come up with evidence, and have failed. Saying "I believe there is no god" is the same, to me, as saying "I believe there is no pot of gold at the end of the rainbow".

    You're welcome to argue that everything's a faith, as we all believe things, and these will all be based on assumptions at some level. But if that's the case, then this is a rather fruitless discussion.

    Faith, to me, means believing in something without any evidence for it, or in spite of evidence to the contrary.

    How do you define faith?

    It might be time to remind you: "I don't believe in something" doesn't mean you are saying it's impossible, and is different to saying "I believe there is not that something". As was mentioned earlier in the thread, the definition of an atheist includes both of these.

    The majority of atheists I am aware of (including Richard Dawkins) fall into the "I don't believe there is a god" and not "I believe there is no god" category, and those that fall into "I believe there is no god" do so on the basis that no evidence has been presented for a god, and all the evidence uncovered so far points towards an indifferent universe with no divine input - but, this would change if evidence was given to them.

    Consequently I think it's fair to say that atheism isn't a faith.

    Why does all this god talk matter? As I said, it's because I feel that, on the whole, religion is a Bad Thing for society. Read The God Delusion by Richard Dawkins; The End of Faith by Sam Harris and the Meme Machine by Sue Blackmore. These will fully explain why I have come to these conclusions. Feel free to suggest ideas that may make me feel differently though. I'm not saying that there are no good parts to religions, but I don't think these are worth the Bad Things, and, I think the good that comes from religion isn't exclusive to religion, apart from the comfort of knowing that a deceased loved one is in heaven when they die.
    Simon: You see, Dave, this is the problem. With people like Dan Moody I can argue them round in circles for hours because all they do is recite whatever some trendy book has told them to think (atheism is so mainstream these days) but you've actually got your thoughts together and I can't really fault your logic.

    Notice how he agrees with me, but to troll someone else, and doesn’t answer my question him on a definition of faith. Yet, he still comes back with the whole “atheism is a belief stance”. How exactly is this having a discussion with me?

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  9. “I have argued with you before and when there has been a logical breakdiwn in your argument, ie the axioms of your argument reach a contradictory conclusion to another point you are raising, you say I've misunderstood and I'm not listening peoperly. “

    That’s because I’m shit at communicating via twitter where these debates have occurred (though do remind me of any others I’ve forgotten away from twitter – I haven’t forgottyen the free will discussion, and still want to write about it) with issues like these. Hence the blog – it let me fully express myself. I also, initially, kept it separate because I was incredibly bored of being trolled and not being listened to.

    “Dave, on a related point, what is your view on extra-terrestrial life?”
    Given there are at lowest estimates 100 billion galaxies with an average of around 200 billion stars, I would say there is almost certainly extra terrestrial life.

    At this point we might end up agreeing to disagree because if I’ve not convinced you yet, I’ll not have time to reply to you. I’d like to reply to you, but would much rather spend the time with Helen, and then it’ll be PGCE, which won’t leave me with much time at all.

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  10. I love how you trot out some comments I made to save a friendship as some sort of magic bullet in this argument. I can indeed argue that everything is faith, science is the search for truth amongst faith however at each stage along the way we have erred from that path and believed that we have found the truth only to discover later that what we understood is just a gloss on the surface of a deeper understanding. Each time you present the current in vogue theory as an indisputable fact then Science dies a little inside.

    I am glad that you conceded prior to ejecting yourself from the argument, your post explaining your belief that there is no God is a valid opinion and the post quotes the scriptures of your many atheist prophets. We must agree to disagree and do not feel that you have failed in your Mission because you have not convinced Andy or I to turn to your righteous faith, we hold different opinions and this may continue for quite some time. I do hope that one day you learn that you don't need to convince us to join your faith and we can each have our own views.

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  11. OK.

    This is a major problem, a lot of your argument is "read this book and you will understand why I think what I do" and "this learned person has made a good argument which I follow and subscribe to now" to validate it. This is exactly the same as a religious argument for God saying I have read some theological/philosophical text that convinces me and/or after speaking to learned religious leader their explanation has convinced me. I don't mean believing the Bible word for word and accepting God in a naive childish sense. I mean actually questioning and really thinking around the concept of God, this is what grown up religious people do.

    The alien point, I didn't really care much about your answer more your rationale, thanks for giving it. The answer seems to say there is far too much uncertainty and I don't know enough so aliens almost certainly exist. I hope you can see that juxtaposed with the there's no evidence so God doesn't exist and understand that you have decided on some a priori view on both so are suffering from confirmation bias.

    Anyway, have a good new year and best of luck with PGCE and that.

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    Replies
    1. sounds like someone is playing god to me

      Delete

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