Radical Agnosticism

A few times I’ve referred to my view about “the God question” as “radical agnosticism.” I thought it might be fun to work through what this means.

For the purposes of this discussion, by “God” I shall mean follow Hart’s definition of God as “the one infinite source of all that is: eternal, omniscient, omnipotent, omnipresent, uncreated, uncaused, perfectly transcendent of all things and for that very reason absolutely immanent to all things” (The Experience of God, p. 30).

Next, I shall stipulate that our assertions about the world fall into two classes: those that take a truth-value in all possible worlds and those that take a truth-value only in the actual world. This is a contemporary version of “Hume’s Fork”: there are “relations of ideas”, “truths of reason”, analytic a priori claims and then there are “matters of fact”, “truths of fact,” synthetic a posteriori claims. (There are some reasons to be skeptical of this neat distinction but I’ll leave that aside for now.)

Whether or not God exists would therefore seem to be either a “truth of fact” or a “truth of reason”.  I shall therefore now argue that it cannot be either.

Truths of fact are either directly observable phenomena or they are posited phenomena. (Though the boundary is strictly methodological and shifts over time.)  But there are many presumptive truths of fact — claims with truth-value about the actual world — which we know have turned out to be false. And we know that because of empirical inquiry, and in particular, in the collection of techniques of inquiry called “science”. (I shall not insult anyone’s intelligence by assuming that there is a single thing called “the scientific method”).

Central to disciplined empirical inquiry, including and especially the sciences, is the act of measurement: intersubjectively verifiable assignments of quantitative variation across some interval of spatio-temporal locations. (It might be said that “the Scientific Revolution” is the historical period during which measurement slowly becomes the dominant conception of objectivity.)

But with that notion in place, it is perfectly clear that it is not even possible to take measurements of a perfectly transcendent being. A being that transcends all of space and time cannot be measured, which means that no claims about Him can be subjected to the tribunal of scientific inquiry. And hence no matters of fact about God can be verified one way or the other.  That is to say that all claims about God that are restricted to the actual world have an indeterminate truth-value: they cannot be determined to be true or false

The epistemic situation is no better when we turn from a posteriori to a priori claims. In a priori claims, the tribunal is not science but logic, and the central epistemic concept is not measurability but provability. Can the existence of God be proven? Many have thought so!

But here two things must be pointed out: a proof, to be deductively valid, consists of re-organizing the information contained in the initial assumptions. One can generate a logically valid proof of the existence of God. (Gödel, for example, has a logically valid version of the Ontological Argument.)  The process of proof-construction is not going to give you more information in the conclusion than was present in the premises.

Logic is limited in another important way: there are multiple logics. What can proved in one logic can be disproven in a different logic. It depends on the choice of logical system. Once you’ve chosen a logical system, and you’ve chosen some premises, then of course one can prove that God exists. But neither the premises nor the rules are “self-evident”, inscribed on the very face of reason or of reality, etc.

Hence we cannot determine that God exists or does not exist on the basis of logic alone, since provability is no more reliable here than measurability is.

On this basis, I conclude that it is not even possible for beings such as ourselves to assign any truth-value at all to the assertion that God exists. This yields a radical agnosticism. Whereas the moderate agnostic can accept the logical possibility of some future evidence or reasoning that would resolve the issue, the radical agnostic insists that beings with minds like ours are completely unable to resolve the issue at all.

Radical agnosticism is at the same time compatible with either utter indifference to the question of the existence of God (“apatheism”) or some quite definite stance (ranging from theism to pantheism to deism to atheism). All that radical agnosticism insists on here is that all definite stances on the God-question are leaps of faith — no matter what direction.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

739 thoughts on “Radical Agnosticism

  1. fifthmonarchyman: In this case he is using me in some small way to reveal his observation to those who might not have opened the book in a while

    You succeed to reveal yourself as a total looney, I’ll give you that

  2. GlenDavidson: How is that going for him?
    I guess I’ve never been very impressed with his choices.Unless, just possibly, it isn’t really God who made those choices.I’d hate to blame God without good cause, after all.
    Glen Davidson

    It’s going as well as can be expected, what with a naked lunatic parading in public, raving about the fine fabrics in his raiment.

  3. fifthmonarchyman: 1) Because God doesn’t reveal everything to me

    “Robin: If you say, “well, this god doesn’t reveal everything to me” then your claim that said god can provide warrant for knowledge is clearly erroneous, because you can never actually establish what is known at all.”

    Thank you for proving my point.

    2) Because I often don’t heed his revelation

    peace

    So we’re left with a god that doesn’t reveal everything (or even most things…or even actually all that much…), allows you to make mistakes, and who you don’t listen to all that much even if/when it does reveal something (which you show you’re not all that accurate about anyway).

    Yeah…that’s a rational (to say nothing of valid or credible) basis of knowledge…

    From everything you’ve posted, FMM, your god concept isn’t just questionable, it’s completely useless and pointless.

    This describes your god concept to a “T”.
    http://tvtropes.org/pmwiki/pmwiki.php/Main/ReedRichardsIsUseless

  4. Robin: Already provided the definitions showing they are not synonymous. Unless you can somehow demonstrate that the definitions I used are either a) incorrect, or b) actually synonymous, my point is made.

    I can disprove you by showing neither, but rather a third thing.

    Cows are mammals. “Cows” is not synonymous with “mammals”, but cows are mammals, because cows are a subset of mammals.

    Similarly, you may assert all you want that Hitchens’ Razor is not an assertion, but it remains a statement of a rule about statements where the rule can be applied to itself. “Assertion” and “statement” are not the same thing, but they are not mutually exclusive either. Same as “observation”, “principle”, and “rule of thumb” are not synonymous, but not mutually exclusive, and none of them excludes that the same statement could be an “assertion” too at the same time.

    You have not even demonstrated that it’s not an assertion, because there is a difference between asserting and demonstrating. You have only asserted, never demonstrated. But I never cared about this “assertion” detail, so it should never have arisen, if you actually paid attention to what I said.

  5. fifthmonarchyman: Do you have evidence for this claim?If not can I simply dismiss it?

    peace

    Are you seriously asking me if you can be irrational? Hey…whatever blows up your skirt. However you want to approach the world/other people/conversations/knowledge/etc is your business. If you want to be irrational, have at it. If you want to be evil, go for it. If you want to be rude, nothing stopping you.

    It’s your god-premise that most hereon are dismissing. It’s folks like you who are trying to “sell it” (in a metaphorical sense). So it’s no skin of my teeth if you dismiss what I post; of the two my dog is more popular than your pixie. And the world has been steadily moving to my dog over your pixie for the better part of 200 years. And lo and behold, the world is better for it.

  6. Erik: I can disprove you by showing neither, but rather a third thing.

    Cows are mammals. “Cows” is not synonymous with “mammals”, but cows are mammals, because cows are a subset of mammals.

    Man…you really don’t understand how dictionaries work:

    cow (kaʊ)
    n
    1. (Animals) the mature female of any species of cattle, esp domesticated cattle
    2. (Zoology) the mature female of various other mammals, such as the elephant, whale, and seal
    3. (Breeds) (not in technical use) any domestic species of cattle
    4. informal a disagreeable woman
    5. slang Austral and NZ something objectionable (esp in the phrase a fair cow)
    6. till the cows come home informal for a very long time; effectively for ever

    So…yeah…the definition of “cow” includes the term mammal They are actually connected terms.

    So your example fails.

    Similarly, you may assert all you want that Hitchens’ Razor is not an assertion, but it remains a statement of a rule about statements where the rule can be applied to itself. “Assertion” and “statement” are not the same thing, but they are not mutually exclusive either. Same as “observation”, “principle”, and “rule of thumb” are not synonymous, but not mutually exclusive, and none of them excludes that the same statement could be an “assertion” too at the same time.

    All of this is totally irrelevant to the fact that anyone can (and most do) logically and rationally dismiss claims about gods without having to defend that dismissal. Why would anyone try to argue otherwise? Or are you really getting your undies in knot because you don’t feel rational simply dismissing Vishnu or Thor without coming up with a reason?

    You have not even demonstrated that it’s not an assertion, because there is a difference between asserting and demonstrating. You have only asserted, never demonstrated. But I never cared about this “assertion” detail, so it should never have arisen, if you actually paid attention to what I said.

    Definitions are demonstrations. That you don’t fully understand how dictionaries and definitions actually work in English is not my problem. Likewise, that you don’t like that is not my problem either.

  7. Robin: All of this is totally irrelevant to the fact that anyone can (and most do) logically and rationally dismiss claims about gods without having to defend that dismissal.

    Well, you can dismiss stuff without defending. And most do. But you cannot do it logically and rationally. Logically and rationally, you have to have a reason for the dismissal. If you dismiss something, then by the very definitions of “logical” and “rational” you will have to defend your dismissal.

    You are not good with semantic games.

    Robin: Or are you really getting your undies in knot because you don’t feel rational simply dismissing Vishnu or Thor without coming up with a reason?

    Ah, so to be rational is the same thing to you as to feel rational. This is the very difference between rational and irrational people. For irrational people, everything is a feeling. Rational people question and examine their feelings and perceptions.

  8. Erik: The point is – on what grounds is this particular statement an assertion. And you keep ignoring the fact that I don’t care what you call it, an observation or principle or razor.

    Fine. Erik, I could care less that you want to dismiss/distort definitions that separate concepts. The majority of people will still ignore your claims about gods as nonsense. We will still have no compunction to rationalize it, support it, or even consider it. The majority will continue to ignore such proclamations in favor of scientific/analytical assessment for better understanding of the world around us, and thus better living. And we will continue to move away from superstition and toward rational concepts and conclusions in our education as well. All this regardless of what you happen to think of Hitchen’s Razor’s internal consistency.

    The only thing that matters is that it’s a statement that postulates a rule that I am applying to the statement itself. You have done nothing at all to show if I am doing something out of place.

    Then feel free to dismiss Hitchen’s Razor on dubious definitional grounds. Heck, you don’t even need to go that far; you can just dismiss the razor for no reason whatsoever. Feel like a winner now?

  9. Erik: Well, you can dismiss stuff without defending. And most do. But you cannot do it logically and rationally. Logically and rationally, you have to have a reason for the dismissal. If you dismiss something, then by the very definitions of “logical” and “rational” you will have to defend your dismissal.

    Uhh…no. As I’ve pointed out quite a number of times, there’s nothing rational about accepting a concept that has no apparent effect upon the assessor. Indeed, it is the very definition of irrational to conclude and act on a concept for which one has no perceptible entailment.

    You are not good with semantic games.

    Says the man who offers irrational arguments…

    Ah, so to be rational is the same thing to you as to feel rational.

    Didn’t imply that at all. Simply asking about your feelings because you seem to be getting so upset about folks dismissing your imaginary friend. You know…like perhaps you felt that dismissing Thor or Vishnu was unfair or something and that was causing you great angst.

    This is the very difference between rational and irrational people. For irrational people, everything is a feeling. Rational people question and examine their feelings and perceptions.

    LOL! Ironically, I agree with you. Hence the reason I pegged you having issues concerning your feelz. Maybe I should have put (/sarcasm) at the end…

  10. Erik: Your exercise of subtraction didn’t answer the question that everybody cares about. Namely, Why? If the world as it really is does not bother and should not be bothered about, then your exercise was in vain.

    Who is “everybody” here? And what is this “why?” question you are talking about?

    If we drill down to what I think is the deepest level of philosophical reflection, the mutual incomprehension between theism and naturalism turns on how one interprets the principle of sufficient reason. Is the PSR about reasons in the strict sense — rationally defensible choices that are justified in light of the giving and asking of reasons? Or is about causes: what is the causal explanation of some state of affairs or given situation? This is precisely the point at issue between Spinoza and Leibniz, and between naturalism and theism ever since.

    Put otherwise, it is one thing to always be looking for a causal explanation of how it came about that X, and a rational justification of why it is the case that X. If one is inclined to interpret the PSR in rational terms, then one is already on the way towards accepting theism; if one is inclined to interpret the PSR in causal terms, then one is already on the way towards accepting naturalism.

    The third position, the radically agnostic position, is one that denies that the PSR has any ontological status at all, but takes it as nothing more than a heuristic of successful inquiry.

  11. Kantian Naturalist: Who is “everybody” here? And what is this “why?” question you are talking about?

    Well, “everybody” was a hyperbole, but it certainly included you and me.

    Take a look at this post of yours http://theskepticalzone.com/wp/radical-agnosticism/comment-page-14/#comment-125089 You are somewhat answering, but you didn’t get to the why questions which you included in the quote.

    PSR is very interesting to me, but it’s as far removed from Hume’s Fork as Hart’s definition of God is. I think we can safely conclude that these disparate things have no place in the same discussion, except when demonstrating that they have no place in the same discussion.

    We have done our best on this topic. Thanks.

  12. fifthmonarchyman:

    For what can be known about God is plain to them, because God has shown it to them. For his invisible attributes, namely, his eternal power and divine nature, have been clearly perceived, ever since the creation of the world, in the things that have been made. So they are without excuse.
    (Rom 1:19-20)

    Then shall they call upon me but I will not answer; they shall seek me early but shall not find me. (Proverbs 1:28)

  13. Mung: Yet you’re the one trying to redefine ‘atheist’

    No, I’m identifying the characteristics shared by everyone who labels him or herself an atheist. The one that I’ve found is lack of belief in a god or gods.

    and change the rules of the site to favor ‘skeptics’.

    This is The Skeptical Zone. It’s reality that favors skeptics.

  14. Erik: Well, you can dismiss stuff without defending. And most do. But you cannot do it logically and rationally. Logically and rationally, you have to have a reason for the dismissal.
    . . . .

    Lack of evidence and logical support are sufficient, rational reasons.

  15. Patrick: Then shall they call upon me but I will not answer; they shall seek me early but shall not find me. (Proverbs 1:28)

    preach it.

    If you wonder why God does not jump through the hoop you set up that you claim would prove his existence to you there is your answer. The reason why is that he has already proven his existence to you

    Here is a little context to drive the point home

    quote:

    Because I have called and you refused to listen, have stretched out my hand and no one has heeded, because you have ignored all my counsel and would have none of my reproof, I also will laugh at your calamity; I will mock when terror strikes you, when terror strikes you like a storm and your calamity comes like a whirlwind, when distress and anguish come upon you. Then they will call upon me, but I will not answer; they will seek me diligently but will not find me. Because they hated knowledge and did not choose the fear of the LORD,
    (Pro 1:24-29)

    end quote:

    on the other hand

    quote:

    Then Isaiah is so bold as to say, “I have been found by those who did not seek me; I have shown myself to those who did not ask for me.”
    (Rom 10:20)
    end quote:

    see it’s about God and not about you

    Peace

  16. Robin: Are you seriously asking me if you can be irrational?

    So it’s irrational to dismiss a claim for which no evidence is given if Robin is the one making it yet it is not irrational to simply dismiss a claim if it’s Robin who thinks no evidence is given

    WOW this Hitchens’s razor thingy sure is a complex yet handy assertion for you. No wonder you pull it out so often.

    Whatever it takes to insulate yourself and your position from self reflection.

    peace

  17. fifthmonarchyman: Because I have called and you refused to listen, have stretched out my hand and no one has heeded, because you have ignored all my counsel and would have none of my reproof, I also will laugh at your calamity; I will mock when terror strikes you, when terror strikes you like a storm and your calamity comes like a whirlwind, when distress and anguish come upon you. Then they will call upon me, but I will not answer; they will seek me diligently but will not find me. Because they hated knowledge and did not choose the fear of the LORD,
    (Pro 1:24-29)

    That’s a scumbag god you believe in right there. A narcissistic, vindictive piece of man made shit, so keep it to yourself please. Thank you

  18. fifth:

    Whatever it takes to insulate yourself and your position from self reflection.

    Oh, the irony.

  19. dazz: so keep it to yourself please.

    and there is the real reason for the professed atheism it’s not so much a lack of evidence as a lack of personal attraction.

    That is what happens when you make it all about you

    peace

  20. fifthmonarchyman: and there is the real reason for the professed atheism it’s not so much a lack of evidence as a lack of personal attraction.

    That is what happens when you make it all about you

    peace

    No, it’s both. There’s plenty of disgusting things I believe they exist because there’s plenty evidence that they exist.

    This particular god you believe in doesn’t exist. Luckily. And it reflects on you that you believe in such an obnoxious imaginary being. All the while you have a high opinion of yourself. Sorry but I can’t share that view: the fact that you believe in such a being and that you take pride on it paints you in a pretty bad light, an intellectually and morally obnoxious one

  21. fifthmonarchyman: So it’s irrational to dismiss a claim for which no evidence is given if Robin is the one making it yet it is not irrational to simply dismiss a claim if it’sRobin who thinks no evidence is given.

    Ahhh! So only you get to declare what is true or accepted by definition. My bad…carry on with your false authority and irrationality…

    WOW this Hitchens’s razor thingy sure is a complex yet handy assertion for you. No wonder you pull it out so often.

    LOL! I wasn’t the one that pulled it out! Heck, I’ve never referred to it before! You’re a riot when you rely on those revelations…oh…I’m sorry… assumptions of yours!

    Whatever it takes to insulate yourself and your position from self reflection.

    You’re funny FMM. Nobody wears armor to protect themselves from the boogey-men of insecurity like the devout. It’s the crutch that pacifies like no other. Of the two of us, I don’t need it.

  22. Kantian Naturalist: Nowhere in the OP do I say or imply that our cognitive and perceptual capacities are unreliable.

    That wasn’t the point. The point I was making was about the question you asked. Is it as immune from Hume’s Fork as Hume’s Fork is immune from Hume’s fork?

  23. dazz: You succeed to reveal yourself as a total looney, I’ll give you that

    And moderation here at TSZ is a joke. I wonder if it’s because the moderators here at TSZ are a joke.

  24. petrushka: It’s going as well as can be expected, what with a naked lunatic parading in public, raving about the fine fabrics in his raiment.

    Please put on some clothes. You’re making a fool of yourself.

  25. Kantian Naturalist: If we drill down to what I think is the deepest level of philosophical reflection, the mutual incomprehension between theism and naturalism turns on how one interprets the principle of sufficient reason.

    This is false. First and foremost the distinction that needs to be made isn’t between theism and naturalism, it’s between theism and atheism. And one ought to be a radical agnostic about that.

    Personally, I am radically agnostic when it comes to claims about naturalism. They are no less immune to Hume’s Fork than are claims about Hume’s Fork.

  26. Patrick: No, I’m identifying the characteristics shared by everyone who labels him or herself an atheist. The one that I’ve found is lack of belief in a god or gods.

    I have no doubt that your method of classification, according to features that are absent, will meet with a notable lack of success.

    Humans are humans because they lack the features of apes.

  27. Patrick: It’s reality that favors skeptics.

    Reality as defined by what does not exist. Sadly, this demonstrates the foolishness of your campaign to redefine atheism.

  28. Mung: Reality as defined by what does not exist. Sadly, this demonstrates the foolishness of your campaign to redefine atheism.

    You may be confusing what does not exist with what there is no evidence for. Of all the infinity of things for which there is currently no evidence, surely some of them actually exist. So atheism is a working hypothesis, that in general the safest assumption is that if there is currently no evidence for something, it can be tentatively presumed not to exist pending some evidence.

    I should think that if any omnipotent and active gods exist, the evidence for them would be beyond rational debate. And conversely, there being no evidence for them at all, we are reduced to irrational debate.

  29. fifthmonarchyman: Because I have called and you refused to listen

    Whoever wrote this is either a liar or means something else than “called” when using the word. I have not heard any gods call to me and I have in fact listened. All I’ve heard so far are human men reading to me from old books.

    fifthmonarchyman: have stretched out my hand and no one has heeded,

    Same as above. Never seen any hands appear other than human and various other animal hands.

    fifthmonarchyman: because you have ignored all my counsel

    I have ignored nothing. Rather the problem is all the counsel I was given was given to me by human beings reading from old books of various origins. All of them claim to be the book of the one true god and offering the one true interpretation. Well, actually some of them claim to be the book from the nine true gods, or the 284 true gods. All of it is cute and rather silly. They’re just men (and usually, mostly, they really are male) reading to me from old books.

    I have listened but no calls or sounds came. I have looked but nothing appeared. I have searched but nothing turned up. That’s why I’m an atheist. Men reading to me from old books aren’t gods. If there really is a god, that god is hiding from me on purpose and it’s not my fault. If that god thinks it’s my fault, I’m not aware of what is making that god hide itself from me.

  30. Erik: Well, you can dismiss stuff without defending. And most do. But you cannot do it logically and rationally. Logically and rationally, you have to have a reason for the dismissal. If you dismiss something, then by the very definitions of “logical” and “rational” you will have to defend your dismissal.

    I dismiss things for which no rationally convincing evidence has been presented to me. Simply put: I only believe when I have good evidential reasons for doing so. I do not have good evidential reasons for belief in any of the countless gods human men have told me about, so that is why I don’t believe.

    I have never had the experience of divine revelation. Nothing it says in any of the dusins of so-called “holy books” is verifiably of divine origin. Same for everything so far discovered in the natural world.

  31. Mung: The question is, can you be rational?

    Oh Mung…bless your heart. Given most of the stuff you’ve posted here and elsewhere, you questioning my rationality pretty much ensures I’m one of the most rational people around. Thanks!

  32. fifthmonarchyman:

    Then shall they call upon me but I will not answer; they shall seek me early but shall not find me. (Proverbs 1:28)

    preach it.

    If you wonder why God does not jump through the hoop you set up that you claim would prove his existence to you there is your answer. The reason why is that he has already proven his existence to you

    That’s simply not correct. According to the very same book, your god conceals itself from people who are looking for it. That’s the opposite of demonstrating its existence.

    It’s almost like your scriptures were written by different men for different purposes resulting in internal contradictions rather than being the inerrant product of a god.

  33. Flint:
    Of all the infinity of things for which there is currently no evidence, surely some of them actually exist. So atheism is a working hypothesis, that in general the safest assumption is that if there is currently no evidence for something, it can be tentatively presumed not to exist pending some evidence.

    That working hypothesis is simply normal, every day skepticism that even devout theists use much of the time. They just don’t like it when the same rules are applied to their god claims.

  34. Some philosophical claims are, or at least seem to be, self-defeating. … I argue in Scholastic Metaphysics that scientism, and Hume’s Fork, and attempts to deny the existence of change or to deny the principle of sufficient reason, are also all self-defeating.

    Self-defeating claims and the tu quoque fallacy

    Sorry KN, but as a philosopher, you ought to know better.

  35. Mung: Sorry KN, but as a philosopher, you ought to know better.

    I have no time for Feser’s self-aggrandizing bullshit.

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