Agnostic Atheism Is The Most Logical Default Position
I would like to thank WindWaker for instigating this debate. There are however a few errors with his introduction that I would like to correct before we get started.
 My opponent places atheism against religion, but theism is the opposite of atheism, not religion. I do not have to defend religion, but theism.
 My opponent defines faith as “belief in the absence of evidential or logical justification”. One may argue to the conclusion that faith is belief in the absence of evidence or logic, but to define it as such begs the question of the rationality of faith and hence makes a debate involving the defense or criticism of faith impossible.
 My opponent sets up another false dichotomy, this time between logic/scientific method and faith. Again, I disputed his definition of faith, but also, my opponent cannot simply assume that there is no faith used in what are called scientific theories, just as he cannot assume that there are no theistic arguments that do not rely on logic and the scientific method. It is something that must be debated, not assumed or defined as such.
 The title of this debate is “Agnostic Atheism Is the Most Logical Default Position”. We must define the word “agnostic”. There are two definitions of the word. The first refers to the position that we cannot come down on either side of an issue. We must remain in the middle. In this sense of the word, an agnostic is someone sitting on the fence between theism and atheism, someone who does not believe that it is rational to take either of those positions. One of the debaters on this site, RationalMadman, is one of these agnostics.
The second use of the word agnostic refers to the position that we cannot have knowledge of some particular area. This leaves open the possibility of taking a position but not claiming knowledge about it. So an “agnostic atheist” is someone who does not believe in God but does not claim that we can know that God does not exist. Similarly, an “agnostic theist” is someone who believes in God but does not claim that we can have knowledge of God’s existence.
To negate my opponent’s resolution, I could argue for agnosticism in the stronger sense, the one which is incompatible with atheism. Or I could argue for agnostic theism, or I could argue for pure theism, or even pure atheism. Since I believe in God, I will not be arguing for pure atheism. Which of the three remaining resolutions I defend the best I will leave for others decide, but I will definitely be arguing against my opponent’s resolution.
Following typical debate procedure, I assume that first round is for acceptance, and that my opponent’s remarks in round one were more of an introduction. Therefore, I will wait for him to present a more substantial case for his resolution in round two, and we will take it from there.
Thank you, CriticalThinkingMachine, for accepting the debate.
The corrections you made sound fair. I will attempt to clarify my resolution and some of the definitions.
I think I may have made the title of this debate a little too specific. I would change it to "Non-theism Is More Logical Than Theism". My resolution is that agnosticism/weak atheism is more logical a philosophical stance than theism.
When I say "agnostic," I am using the second definition you provided. I call myself an agnostic atheist, meaning I don't believe that there is a god but I don't think it is knowable one way or the other. I simply see no reason to believe in God. You could just as well call me a weak atheist, I suppose.
I will now present my main arguments:
God is the bigger leap of faith
To believe in God requires such a massive leap of faith because there is simply not enough empirical evidence supporting the existence of God. Any evidence or scientific reasoning you use to suggest God can equally, or even better, be used to support non-theistic theories. Take the "fine-tuning" or teleological argument for example. We could say that the sum of all the complexity in the universe points to the existence of an intelligent designer. But it requires too great a leap of faith to explain the universe with an even more incomprehensible being who is invisible, otherworldly, and supposedly supernatural. We could more simply say that the complexity of the universe is due to natural processes like evolution and general cause and effect. We don't know everything about the universe, but this is not a sufficient reason to jump to the conclusion that it was created by an omnipotent, omniscient being who cannot be seen or tested in any way.
Agnosticism, or in my case, weak atheism, makes no unnecessary leap of faith. I conclude there is no reason to believe in God, therefore a non-theistic position is more logical.
God doesn't really answer the question
Essentially, God is usually defended to answer the big questions, such as "Why do we exist?", and "Why are things the way they are?".
If we use God to answer the question of how the universe came from nothing, then the same question applies to God: How did God come to exist? If our answer is that God always existed, why not say that the fundamental laws of the universe always existed?
Any ontological or cosmological questions that apply to the universe also apply to God. God does not answer ontological or cosmological questions.
I, as an agnostic atheist, would rather be patient and wait for science to answer these questions, if possible. Because God really solves no problems. Again, I conclude there is insufficient reason to believe in God, therefore non-theism is more logical than theism.
A reasonable person would bet against the existence of God
Let's say that someone comes along and offers you a bet. You have to bet on whether or not God exists, and if you bet correctly, you get an unlimited number of wishes and you don't die. If you lose, you die immediately.
Now, in determining which way you bet, I assume you would use empirical evidence and logic to weigh your decision, just as you would if you were betting on a horse in a race. You would care about figures and statistics, hard information, rather than faith on a given horse because someone told you that that is the horse that will win, despite any evidence for that being the case.
Similarly, in betting on the existence of God, there is not enough evidence for God to risk such high stakes and such loss. A reasonable person would weigh the scientific evidence and bet that God does not exist because there is no sure reason to believe he does, and God is simply too outrageous a claim to accept on faith alone.
Again, I conclude that in this situation there is no reason to believe in God, therefore non-theism is more logical than theism.
Thank you to WindWaker for his arguments. He has presented three arguments in support of weak atheism. I will now respond to them and show why, inverting the resolution, agnostic theism is the more logical default option.
MY ORGANIZATIONAL STYLE
I have placed WindWaker’s arguments in bold. I have numbered his arguments and summarized them. My arguments have, in front of them, a number followed by a letter. The number matches up to the argument to which I am responding. The letter denotes a different response to the same argument.
 God is the bigger leap of faith
The reasoning that is used to defend God as the explanation of the universe can also be used to defend non-theistic theories. The fine-tuning argument can point to evolution rather than God.
[1A] It is true that some kinds of reasoning used to support God as an explaining factor can also be used to support natural causes as the explaining factor, but not all. I have issues with the fine-tuning argument, so I will not defend it. Read the section following this “Arguments to Prefer Agnostic Theism Over Agnostic Atheism” for my example of something that is better explained by God and therefore taking an atheistic stance on it would be a bigger leap of faith. It is important to realize that the position that God does not exist is a universal negative, whereas the position that God does exist is an existential affirmative. Now some theists argue that you cannot prove a universal negative. I think they are wrong, but what is important is that, in terms of quantity, atheists have a much heavier burden than theists. Atheists must show that it is likely that all phenomena have natural explanations, where theists must only show that it is likely that at least one phenomenon has a theistic explanation.
[1B] All of the things that I believe that science can explain are the kinds of things that I would never expect God to explain in the first place. For example, even before examining the arguments concerning intelligent design, I would never expect God to be the designer of the bacteria flagellum (a popular example used by ID theorists). As a Christian, I see God as being too profound to be interested in constructing bacteria. If intelligent design turned out to be true, it would taint my view of God. My point is that the fact that science can explain so much does not in any way cast doubt on the existence of God. Rather, it purifies the concept of God.
 God doesn’t really answer the question
If we use God to explain the mysteries of the universe, then we are left with the mystery of what explains God. We should rather wait for science to explain what is currently unexplained.
[2A] It is true that God does not ultimately answer the question of why anything exists, why are things the way they are etc. but neither does anything else, and that includes science. Anything that can possibly be posited as an explanation for something simply brings up the question of what explains that. It is an unending cycle. So God and science are both in a tie in terms of ultimate explanations. So where is the tiebreaker? It is that since these ultimate questions are radically different from everyday questions (Why did the ball fall when I dropped it?) we would naturally expect that whatever is behind them would be radically different from the everyday explanations (gravity). If secondary problems have secondary answers, wouldn’t primary problems have primary answers? We know that science can be used as a secondary answer to secondary problems, but wouldn’t we expect something different for primary (ultimate) problems. Again, positing God would not tell us why God exists, but at least it would fit more with the territory of an ultimate explanation.
[2B] In saying that we should wait for a scientific explanation for X, atheists assume that a scientific explanation is even possible for X. Putting aside the issue of the origin of the universe, what about just the bare existence of the universe. The universe is continent (it could have been different) hence its existence does not follow from any aspect of it, but why does it exists. Since its existence cannot come from itself, it must come from something outside of itself. If that thing were just another universe, a black hole, vacuum fluctuations, the same problem would exist for those things, since they are contingent too. But a God who is radically different from all other things is the best candidate for whatever must break that chain in order to existence to be possible. So even if science can explain the coming into existence of the universe, it cannot explain the existence of the universe. That is, natural forces fail to explain the modality of the universe, or anything for that matter.
 A reasonable person would bet against the existence of God
Because there is no evidence for God, a reasonable person would bet that there is no God.
[3A] This last argument is not an argument in itself. It is basically just a rewording of the main contention, which is that people should not believe in God because there is no evidence to support it. I agree that people should not believe in something in God if there is no evidence for God, but that in itself does not imply that there is no evidence for God. So this point is not actually an argument in support of the resolution, but a restatement of the resolution. My evidence for God is to be found below.
Argument To Prefer Agnostic Theism Over Agnostic Atheism (I could only fit one)
If evolution were atheistic, then it would not move upward, but only outward. A blind process does not aim for the sky. Evolutionist Stephen Jay Gould has explained that the word “evolution” is really a misnomer, since it implies that one species is more evolved than the one preceding it, when in fact no species is more evolved than another but just differently evolved. But if there is an upward movement, that implies guidance; that implies theistic evolution, or teleological evolution.
Now using an everyday example involving one animal and another evolution, it can easily be argued that evolution does not go up, it just goes. But in a few significant respects, it does clearly move upward.
Just the instigator behind evolution, life, shows upwardness. Why did things go from non-life to life? That seems like an improvement to most people. Atheists will attribute the development of certain traits to survival, but why did the need for survival come about. If evolution were truly blind, it would not care about survival or natural selection. Why did consciousness come about? That is not necessary for survival. Even if we get past the issue of why life exists, we are left with the huge mystery of why life is for humans is so extravagant. Why are we equipped with such biologically useless abilities? Why can human write music, for example, when it has zero survival use?
Bottom line, evolution moves upward, hence it is must be theistic in nature.
We have learned that certain phenomena are better explained by theism. We have learned that God’s being unnecessary to explain certain things helps to purify the concept of God. We have learned that neither God nor science can offer us ultimate explanations, but that God is a more likely candidate for first explanations. And we have learned that the very nature of evolution implies a God who guides it, and therefore a God who exists. This means that agnostic theism is the more logical default option over agnostic atheism.
I turn it over to Pro.
You've yet to convince me that theism is less of a leap of faith than agnostic atheism. Anyway you slice it, that's just not true. Agnostic atheism makes no positive assumptions about the primary nature or existence of the universe. Theism makes not only one gigantic one (in saying that there is a conscious creator of the universe), but many, many more, as there are always many facets attached to the concept of God. Just to name a few, theism assumes that:
etc, etc, etc...
But theism is also a huge leap of faith in the sense that it provokes so many questions that are unanswerable, which must be accepted as burdens by the theist, such as what reason would God have to create the universe and the human species?, etc.
And in response to your statement that God is the best candidate for a primary explanation of existence, I'm not convinced either. It may be the easiest answer, but that's not enough to conclude that it's true. Psychology tells us that the human mind naturally detects agency in a mysterious phenomenon. We look for consciousness behind things that we can't explain. God is the intuitive answer to why everything exists. But he was also the intuitive answer for why thunderstorms occurred and why there was night and day many centuries ago. My point is, from the agnostic viewpoint, it just doesn't make sense to accept that God created the universe, when it doesn't have to be that way, and there is no conclusive evidence that it is.
In response to your argument on theistic evolution
Now admittedly, I'm not greatly educated on evolution. But from what I do know, and my common (or uncommon) sense, I gather the following.
First, when you say that evolution moves "upward," I assume you mean that evolution seems to improve life rather than simply change it. But that observation is simply coming from a subjective standpoint.
Objectively, how is life an improvement from non-life? It only seems that way to us because we are alive, and concerned with the matters of the living. Our brains are wired to look for meaning and purpose in things, even where there is none. There is no "quantum" difference between life and non-life. Biological organisms may be simply a byproduct of the physical and chemical behavior of the cosmos.
Second, evolution does not just happen within itself. It is influenced by external phenomena, such as ecological and social factors. So this can explain how evolution progresses. And as a species becomes more complex, it will likely develop ancillary traits that are, as you pointed out, not necessary for survival.
And as for the question of why survival is necessary, again, it isn't on an objective level. The universe is indifferent to whether or not there is life. Biological organisms are, I would guess, just another way for energy and matter to act, a chemical phenomenon that grew very complex. Consciousness came about due to a more evolved nervous system.
And when you say that no species is more evolved than another, I'm not sure what you mean. Obviously some species are more complex than others. Doesn't that mean they are more evolved? I guess I'm confused.
It comes down to this: God is used to explain what we can't explain in relation to anything natural. God is the supernatural answer, and therefore he is an unprovable hypothesis. It does not sound beneficial, wise, or necessary to invest belief in an unprovable hypothesis of such grand proportions.
In my opinion, God always has been, and is still, the God of the gaps. Just because I don't know why nature exists, I have no good reason to positively believe that there is a creator. One can interpret scientific discovery and natural phenomena as evidence for God, which I think you have done, but in my mind, that doesn't justify the positive belief in God.
This time I have used direct quotes as opposed to summaries due to my opponent’s much briefer points. We will see that his opening arguments are problematic and are not applied to any theistic arguments. We will see that his objections to my evolutionary argument do not work as well.
 Theism provokes so many questions that are unanswerable.
[2A] This is essentially the same point he brought up in argument two, which I already answered. We are left with questions regardless of which worldview we take. If vacuum fluctuations caused the universe to exist, we are left asking what caused the vacuum fluctuations. And regarding his specific questions of motive, we might respond to the question “Why did God create humans?” with the obvious answer “Because he is all-loving and wants us to have experience life and have a relationship with him.”
 Psychology tells us that the human mind detects agency in a mysterious phenemenon.
[3A] I agree that we have an intuition to find agency, but that itself does not mean that agency does not exist on a cosmic level. The bare fact that we have a psychological tendency to believe something does not make the belief false.
 It does not make sense to accept that the universe was created by God when it didn’t have to be that way and there is no conclusive evidence that it is.
[3A] Even if he is right, that would not mean that God does not exist. I did not put forth an argument with the conclusion that God created the universe, I put forth an argument that sustains the universe, and hence exists. Unfortunately my opponent did not address this. A dropped point counts as a concession.
My Argument For Theistic Evolution
 First, when you say that evolution moves “upward”, I assume you mean that evolution seems to improve life rather than simply change it. But that observation is simply coming from a subjective standpoint…There is no quantum difference between life and non-life.
[1A] Life is necessary for everything that is significant to us. Is pleasure, for example, no better than non-pleasure? Of course not. It is overwhelmingly obvious that life is preferable to non-life. As I explained earlier, the fact that we are programmed to look for value is not an argument for why value does not (objectively) exist. Denying the objectivity of value brings up problems that stretch beyond this debate, but if my opponent thinks that the significance of life and all that follows it is subjective, then he should at least explain how and why we came to find value in the things in which we do find value.
[1B] Who cares if there is no quantum difference between life and non-life? There is no quantum difference between Bush and Obama either. Does that mean there is no significant difference between them?
 Second, evolution does not just happen within itself. It is influenced by external phenomena, such as ecological and social factors. So this can explain how evolution progresses. And as a species becomes more complex, it will likely develop ancillary traits that are, as you pointed out, not necessary for survival.
[2A] I know that evolution is influenced by ecological and social factors. That explains it changing, but not progressing. Progression implies upward movement, which again implies guidance.
[2B] I understand that with complexity comes the unnecessary, but the unnecessary traits to which I am referring are more than unnecessary, they are systematically significant and defining of the human race. Where do we get the ability to write and appreciate music for example? It is more than just unnecessary, it’s spectacular. Human abilities are exactly what we would expect under theism, but they are highly unlikely under atheism.
 Consciousness came about due to a more evolved nervous system.
[3A] Even if a nervous system is necessary for consciousness, that does not make it sufficient. A highly evolved physical system cannot betroth a non-physical system. There is no intermediary or pathway between the physical and the mental, only nomological causal interaction the two. And even if it were possible to get consciousness completely from matter, that would still not explain the extravagant abilities conscious gives rise to that demonstrate a complete deviation from unguided evolution.
And when you say that no species is more evolved than another, I'm not sure what you mean. Obviously some species are more complex than others. Doesn't that mean they are more evolved? I guess I'm confused.
I sympathize with my opponent’s confusion. Technically, it’s just a matter of how broadly or narrowly one defines the word “evolved.” I was using a narrower sense. Anyway, this was not an argument, just an introductory point.
 It comes down to this: God is used to explain what we can't explain in relation to anything natural.
And the problem with that is??? If you have two explanatory options, A and B, to explain X, if and A cannot explain X, then it logically follows that B must be the explanation.
 God is the supernatural answer, and therefore he is an unprovable hypothesis. It does not sound beneficial, wise, or necessary to invest belief in an unprovable hypothesis of such grand proportions.
God being supernatural does not make Him unprovable. One can easily disprove anything supernatural by showing it to suffer from internal inconsistency (via logical arguments) or external inconsistency (via evidential arguments) as many atheists have attempted to do. My opponent has attempted neither of these.
 In my opinion, God always has been, and is still, the God of the gaps. Just because I don't know why nature exists, I have no good reason to positively believe that there is a creator. One can interpret scientific discovery and natural phenomena as evidence for God, which I think you have done, but in my mind, that doesn't justify the positive belief in God.
[6A] There are some gap-arguments for God, but not all of them are such. My modal cosmological argument was not a gap argument, just an application of logic. My evolutionary argument was a probabilistic argument about what we positively know about evolution and the human species.
For any debate over God’s existence that involves evidential arguments, one is not required to do anymore than interpret evidence in a certain way. That’s all that the atheist or theists can do. The point is that the interpretation be rational. I have defended what I take to be a rational interpretation of the evidence.
My opponent’s opening points about atheism and theism need to be applied to specific arguments to have any weight. As they are now, they are just fallacious talking points.
I have given an example of something that I believe is better explained by theism than atheism, and therefore means that agnostic atheism requires a bigger leap of faith. My opponent has failed to refute this. His point about the subjectivity of value is unsupported and goes against common sense. His point about the complexity of evolution giving rise to unnecessary traits misses the point about the systematic extravagance of the uselessness. He also did not address my argument about God’s sustenance of the universe. Hence, my arguments still stand in showing that agnostic theism is a more default logical option than agnostic atheism.
Very well then. It appears I can't refute your arguments. You clearly win. Perhaps I did jump into debating too soon. I mistakenly assumed it would be easy to debate a theist. I apologize for that. My points have been weak and I posted my last round at the last minute, and it was a bit rushed.
Thanks for the debate.
Thank you for debating. I hope you enjoyed your first debate and I hope you enjoy the website. Peace out.
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