*Sigh*.. I ended up in a little discussion over here about atheism and agnosticism. Dealing with dogmatic people, whether Christian or atheists, is obviously not much fun at all. So I’ll make a few clarifications of my viewpoint here, instead of spamming another blog.
Atheism is the denial of the existence of a god, nothing more nothing less. This is stated well here. Obviously, in order to deny the existence of some entity E, whether divine or not, you have to claim that it is possible to prove that such entity absolutely does not exist, otherwise there is no basis for the denial.
Not being able to do so would have to lead you to conclude that you cannot prove the non-existence of E but you still do not believe in it, which is what (theistic) agnosticism is (also clearly explained in the SEP article). (That is not necessarily true. One could at least conceive the idea of an agnostic who does believe.)
So how would one go about proving or disproving the existence of the entity E? To (empirically) prove the existence of E one merely has to find it. As soon as one finds just a single example of E it has been proven to exist, at least in that point in time. It becomes a lot more difficult to disprove the existence of E, especially if we claim that E can be anywhere in the universe and is mobile. That would require divine powers indeed.
A little example: suppose I ask you is there a cup in the room?. How would you be able to know? Well, you start searching the room. As soon as you find a cup, you can tell me yes, there is. But you would have to search the entire room before you could conclude that there is no cup in the room.
That is fine, but now let’s suppose I instead ask, is there a cockroach in the room? Again, you would have to search the room. If you find one you have your answer. (If you find cockroach shit you can merely conclude that it is likely that a cockroach either is there or has been there recently.) But if you don’t find one, does that mean there is no cockroach in the room, or simply that it moved around so it was never at the particular place where you were looking at the moment?
One might try to use logic to disprove the existence of gods. This has been attempted many times, but as is common with pure mind games, they easily run aground (not to mention, put you in a straitjacket). It is all too simple for somebody to come up with a counter-argument, and since neither can be verified you get stuck.
Various inductive arguments are possible, but then they still run into that little problem that Hume wrote about. We cannot use an inductive argument and then claim absolute certainty. Without absolute certainty, how do you deny?
It is possible (but unlikely) that one can sit down and work out some grand scheme that absolutely rejects the existence of any divine being(s). But that would probably take a very long time. Since I do not believe in gods and religion plays no role in my life, it is not a task I’m ready to undertake. I have better things to do with my time. Hence, I stay a non-believing agnostic.
I think many people who claim to be atheists are, from a philosophical point of view, not really atheist. They are more anti-Christian, probably outraged at the never-ending attempts by Christians to force their ideas upon others. And I fully agree, it is fucking annoying when you tell a Christian that you are not religious and their response to that is to invite you to church or some similar bullshit. Nothing pisses me off more. They should learn to respect the words “I do not believe in gods” instead of drooling over the prospect of yet another tithe-paying church member.
Theism and atheism are both absolutist viewpoints. These are excellent breeding grounds for fundamentalism and intolerance of other ideas. Agnosticism rests comfortably with the notion that one cannot know for sure, so just a little bit of humility is in order.
As always, don’t take my word for it. Go and read for yourself. Here are some starting points.
Stanford Encyclopdia of Philosophy – Atheism and Agnosticism: A good introduction to the subject.
Bertrand Russell – Am I An Atheist Or An Agnostic?: Clearly indicates the difference between atheism and agnosticism. Read the section “Proof of God”.