Monday, May 14, 2007

Retraction By Request

I mentioned last week that an agnostic had e-mailed me to request that I continue writing about things of a vaguely religious nature. I am reluctant because they are only important to me in so far as they have in impact on the politics necessary to move the government towards the left and to put items in the left’s agenda into law. Religion does interest me, its diversity and range, from folk lore to imposing systems of thinking are an important part of human culture. Atheism and the organized form of Skepticism were interesting the first time I read their ideas but it’s been a long time since they’ve provided the diversity of perception necessary to sustain interest over repeated repetitions. But then, I did, early on, read Thomas Huxley*. The current crop are at best forth generation echos of his brilliant sarcasm. It would seem that I’m not the only one who has found that to be true. Talking a while back with an atheist I know, he remarked that he didn’t find the topic of atheism at all interesting. He was more interested in more important things.

My new, agnostic friend apparently found what I wrote useful to her or his side of things. There is a growing intolerance for agnostics in the culture of non-belief. You are apparently required to give up free thought and honesty about what you don’t know in order to be sufficiently non-believing among the “Free thinkers”. If you dare to suggest that things other than rude intolerance for religious believers might make more sense, you will be accused of appeasing the Nazis, quite literally.

My decision to stop talking about the current culture of atheism was in the interest of talking about real life. I’d rather talk up single-payer health insurance and environmental protection than how to prevent the tiny minority of impractical, romantic Dawkinsites from losing us elections. My friend’s e-mails say that it’s brave to attack them, I’ve never suspected that I was in danger from them. Though sometimes prone to lapses of judgement through wishful thinking, I never expected to become popular with what I wrote and have resisted the temptation to write down to try to attract a larger audience. Though a lot of that was out of sheer laziness on my part.

I will point out that I am an agnostic only in that I agree that it is impossible to know with reliability anything about the existence of God or any other entity outside of the physical universe. It is impossible to objectively know anything about anything that isn’t physical. In that the subject matter of religion is like most of the physical universe, unknown. I think it’s entirely possible to be such an agnostic while holding beliefs in any range of things, physical and non-physical. The best proof of that isn’t in a tortured line of attempted reasoning, it’s in the fact that there are people who have told me that is THEIR personal experience.

This blog has never put up a sign saying that it will not take requests. It’s seldom someone asks for one. My new friend was so gracious in making theirs that fulfilling it will be attempted.

* While I thoroughly enjoyed Huxley on religious topics and some of what he had to say about biology he was also a particularly odious racist. The experience of reading some of the recent pop-atheists has, however, led me to wonder if their arrogance and dismissive rudeness is also copied form Huxley. It’s Huxley’s knowledge of his targets that make up for the fact that he could be a real jerk sometimes. Unfortunately that’s not something shared by his heirs. Apparently the idea that you should know what you are talking about is a failed “meme**” of the atheist fundamentalists.

UPDATE: I just got an e-mail that one of PZ Myer's devotees just accused me of listening to James Taylor. See, flapping their lips before doing research. I hate James Taylor's music, Just last month I nominated his and Carly Simon's cover of "Mocking Bird" as the worst cover of all times. This might have gone too far.

** I don't believe in "memes". Though the topic is too boring to explore my suspicions that Dawkins invented them in an attempt to cover up the defects in his theories.

Howdy, from your friendly agnostic.

I certainly agree that some atheists can be quite irrationally certain about what they cannot possibly know. While I take the view that God, as most religions describe, is very unlikely to exist, I do not rule out the possibility that some form of higher power exists. This, in essence, is why I associate with agnosticism, rather than atheism.

It seems many people these days are calling themselves "atheists", when in my mind that are, in fact, agnostic. The word atheism, to me, is associated with an irrational certainty that God does not or cannot exist - to me, this it not the correct label for the beliefs of many atheists.

I do not call myself an atheist simply because I disagree with the word.
Richard, I'm entirely in favor of people decideing what they call themselves and to tell anyone who wants to listen to them, what they think. I've found that agnostics are the self-identified group that is almost uniformly inclined to allow other people to do the same.

I've also made a distinction between fundamentalist and liberal atheists, and religious believers. Fundamentalists are people who believe that they know the truth about areas which in no more than belief is an honest possibility. That certainty is often matched with a pretty obnoxious peronality and all degrees of bigotry. The assertions of fundamentalists are often equally mistaken in the level of known information on the subject they are expounding on at any given time. Richard Dawkins on God can sound awfully like Dobson or Roberts. Hitchens is even worse.

Liberal believers and non-believers, many of whom are actually scientific or philosophically agnostic, are the ones I've found to be the second most reasonable group. I could guess that of those I'd classify as fundamentalists there aren't any people who can match the liberals and agnostics for their fairness, though I'd like to think that you can find fair and reasonable individuals in any group. I do find fair people in the agnostics and liberal believers and non-believers.
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