The Instigator
samuelchen
Pro (for)
Losing
6 Points
The Contender
yarnedia
Con (against)
Winning
43 Points

There Is No Such Thing as an Agnostic.

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Voting Style: Open Point System: 7 Point
Started: 8/20/2008 Category: Religion
Updated: 9 years ago Status: Voting Period
Viewed: 3,120 times Debate No: 5099
Debate Rounds (3)
Comments (23)
Votes (11)

 

samuelchen

Pro

The issue I am debating is of this atheist/agnostic debacle. While most people contend that atheists and agnostics are two separated positions, some atheists such as myself contend that agnostics are really just atheists. In other words, agnosticism is a "cop-out" for atheism.

I believe that one of the biggest problems is with the definition of "atheist".

Most people state that an atheist is one who does not believe god exists. However, I would contend that a more accurate definition of an atheist is one who does not believe that all current deities that have been so far proposed as candidates exist. This might help clear up the confusion. I have yet to meet a reasonably smart atheist who has told me that he knows that no god exists. Now of course, by that he could mean that he doesn't believe that Jesus Christ, Allah, Zeus, or Brahma doesn't exist, but I doubt he meant to say that no god exists. You would have to have an indefinite amount of knowledge of the universe to say that.

Now agnosticism is the position that truth values of metaphysical claims usually related with the concept of religion and God, are unknowable. But really, doesn't this describe everyone? No one can "know" if God exists or not, but they can "believe".

For instance, take the fun example of our well-known deity the Flying Spaghetti Monster. Now, will there be a-FSMers and agnosti-FSMers? Of course not, you either believe in the FSM or you don't, you wouldn't withhold your judgement.

I propose that this is a simple case of the burden of proof concept. If you have a claim, you better back it up with some compelling evidence. If not, then your claim is meaningless. Very similarly, Richard Dawkins has proposed the spectrum of theistic probability. You base your belief on the probability of the existence of a deity. So for atheists, we believe that all deities that have been presented so far are highly improbable.

This is my first debate so let's see how it goes :D!
yarnedia

Con

To start, I would like to thank my opponent for submitting this debate.

Before I get into my argument, I would like to reiterate the parameters of this debate as I understand them. As I see it, it is NOT my burden to prove the merit of Agnostic views, but only to prove that at least one person holds such views, thereby proving that there is "such thing as an Agnostic".

So with that established, here we go... First it is important to define the word Agnostic. As there is an official, long standing definition of the word, there is no need for us to debate its meaning.

Agnostic -
Etymology: Greek; unknown, unknowable, from a- known, from ;skein to know — more at know
Date: 1869
1: a person who holds the view that any ultimate reality (as God) is unknown and probably unknowable; broadly : one who is not committed to believing in either the existence or the nonexistence of God or a god
2: a person unwilling to commit to an opinion about something
— ag•nos•ti•cism \ noun

(Merriam-Webster: http://www.merriam-webster.com...)

For the purpose of this debate as outlined by my opponent, we will use the first definition.

Because my opponent uses Atheism in his argument against the existence of Agnosticism, I will also introduce an official definition of the word Atheist to the debate.

Atheist –
Main Entry:
Date: 1551
: one who believes that there is no deity

— athe•is•tic \ or athe•is•ti•cal \ adjective
— athe•is•ti•cal•ly \ adverb

(Merriam-Webster: http://www.merriam-webster.com...)

It is important to point out that contrary to my opponent's definition of atheism; it is NOT limited to "current deities". So there is a clear distinction between atheists and agnostics. It is now my burden to prove that there is at least one person who holds the view that "ANY ultimate reality (as God) is unknown and probably unknowable", in other words, "not committed to believing in the existence or the nonexistence of God or a god" (A.K.A. – Agnostic).

To do so I need not look any further than my opponent who states "I have yet to meet a reasonably smart atheist who has told me that he knows that no god exists. Now of course, by that he could mean that he doesn't believe that Jesus Christ, Allah, Zeus, or Brahma doesn't exist, but I doubt he meant to say that no god exists. You would have to have an indefinite amount of knowledge of the universe to say that".

By definition, my opponent is describing all "atheists" he's encounter as agnostic. At this point I think that I have met my burden of proof. The burden has now shifted to my opponent to either 1) prove that he has the authority to change the definition of the words "atheist" and "agnostic" to mean the same thing OR 2) that another's definitions, whose authority in such matters supersedes that of the dictionary, are consistent with the definitions of my opponent.

I again would like to thank my opponent and look forward to round 2.
Debate Round No. 1
samuelchen

Pro

I would like to thank my opponent for taking this debate with me.

Now, my opponent gave suitable definitions of agnostic and atheist, and I have no desire to change such definitions. However, I do want to point out that essentially, the definition of Agnostic is meaningless in an Atheist/Agnostic distinction. Along with my argument, I will use the same definition my opponent has cited.

The definition of agnostic basically applies to everyone. Even if religious people say they do know that God exists, they are irrelevant since this is between Atheists and Agnostics. As I have stated before, it takes infinite knowledge of the universe to know if a god, not necessarily a particular one, exists. Faith and Knowledge are two different areas. No one has "faith" when they turn on their car, they "know" it will. If something goes wrong, they can always get a mechanic to inspect their car, and explain why it malfunctioned. However, when it comes down to the existence of God, people either "believe" or not. This is why the definition of an Agnostic is meaningless, since it states we can not KNOW the truth value of metaphysical claims usually related to deities and religion.

The definition my opponent has supplied for the atheist is correct, but it can be misleading. Though it doesn't explicitly say, an atheist is one who does not believe in any god that has been so far proposed as a candidate. "A deity is a postulated preternatural or supernatural being, who is always of significant power, worshipped, thought holy, divine, or sacred, held in high regard, or respected by human beings." This means it has to a postulated one, a proposed one, a candidate that has been given for the identity of god.

http://en.wikipedia.org...

I say this because no reasonable atheist can claim to have compelling evidence to disprove the existence of a god that has yet to be proposed. They can claim to have compelling evidence to disprove the existence of a Judea-Christian god, but not to spell out the possibility of any god existing that hasn't been brought forth as a candidate.

Take the example of a unicorn. Will there be a-unicorns and agnosti-unicorns? The matter is that the beliefs in deities and such related metaphysical claims no one can "know" but only "believe". So are agnostics saying that "they do not know if they believe in X deity?" This would be a fallacious thing to say, of course they know what they believe. If an agnostic were to write all the gods they have heard about on a piece of paper, and gone through each one choosing whether or not they BELIEVE in such god, then they will either choose one and be a theist or not choose any and be an atheist. They can't say "oh I don't know what I believe".

Atheists do not believe in any deities because of the concept of the burden of proof. The spectrum of theistic probability spells it out exactly. We base our beliefs on the probability of a certain belief being true. Atheists do not KNOW if Jesus Christ is God, but we can strongly BELIEVE he isn't because of all the evidence put forth so far. This is why Agnosticism is a meaningless definition and really a cop-out for something else.
yarnedia

Con

My opponent agrees with the definitions put forward and therefore acknowledges that a distinction between Atheism and Agnosticism exists. The argument he makes is that the distinction is irrelevant because he says Agnosticism is meaningless as in his opinion it is no different than Atheism. I will make two points in contention.

A.By definition, an atheist would say that based on evidence (or lack thereof) they believe that there is no god. "Believe" can mean to have faith, to accept as true, to hold a firm conviction, or to hold an opinion (http://www.merriam-webster.com...).

An Agnostic on the other hand contends that whether or not a god exists is unknowable and therefore does not believe one way or the other. An agnostic cannot apply any definition of the word "believe" to the existence of a god nor to the nonexistence of a god. The only thing in the matter of "god" that an agnostic believes is that existence/nonexistence is unknowable.

This point answers your question: "So are agnostics saying that ‘they do not know if they believe in X deity?'" The answer is No, they are not saying that they do not know if they believe in X deity. What they are saying is "I DO believe that the existence or nonexistence of a deity is unknowable therefore I do NOT believe in the existence of a god nor do I believe that there is no god.

In other words, an Agnostic cannot say he has faith, accepts as true, or holds a firm conviction or opinion, in a matter that is unknowable. An Agnostic sees no point in believing in that which is unknowable. An Atheist however would be someone who does pick a side and believes (has faith, accepts as true, or holds a firm conviction or opinion) that there is no god.

My next point is less important but still worth making as it makes light of a flaw in your logic.

B.Although I disagree, let's assume that there is no distinction between Agnosticism and Atheism. My opponent's description of both Atheists and Agnostics fits exactly within the agreed upon definition for agnostic. Why then in this logic isn't the meaning of Atheist irrelevant?

So I think I made it clear in point A. that there is in fact a meaningful distinction between Agnosticism and Atheism. The latter holds a belief in the matter of the existence of a god and the former does not. To say there is no meaningful distinction is to say there is need for only one word which I cover in point B.

On to round 3…
Debate Round No. 2
samuelchen

Pro

There is a certain flaw in my opponents argument; he fails to realize that atheists also "contend that whether or not a god exists is unknowable". There has been tons of arguing over the definition of atheism, but I am confident that most would agree that an accurate definition of an atheist is "one who does not believe in the existence of every purported deity thus far". Now remember, I never said the atheist KNOWS this, but BELIEVES this.

Agnosticism is not about belief in god but about knowledge. Even though it involves a matter entirely unknowable, this is when the spectrum of theistic probability comes in, something my opponent has yet to address. I have brought up the examples of imaginary creatures such as unicorns, Flying Spaghetti Monsters, and now leprechauns, and for the sake of wishful thinking lets assume that they cannot be proven by the scientific method, in the short run meaning they are inherently unknowable. Are there those who believe that the 3 stated creatures do not exist and those who believe that matters as such are unknowable and thus hold no belief on the matter? If you were to apply the spectrum of theistic probability concept, then such a matter would be of no importance. I do not see why an "agnostic" can't apply such concepts to god-related metaphysical claims .

"Although I disagree, let's assume that there is no distinction between Agnosticism and Atheism. My opponent's description of both Atheists and Agnostics fits exactly within the agreed upon definition for agnostic. Why then in this logic isn't the meaning of Atheist irrelevant?"

Because the meaning of an Agnostic is like the partial meaning of an Atheist. An atheist contends that the truth value of god's existence is unknowable BUT does not believe in the existence of purported god's.

There have been philosophical views such as agnostic theism and agnostic atheism. If we were to incorporate the definition of agnosticism, then an agnostic atheism would describe the majority of atheists now. I find it irrational to claim to be just an agnostic, taking neither side. You can always apply concepts such as spectrum of theistic probability, burden of proof, etc.
yarnedia

Con

I would like to again thank samuelchen for submitting this debate. It's been fun. Before I submit my final arguments I am going to first restate the resolution: "There Is No Such Thing as an Agnostic". With that said I will address my opponent's round three arguments.

A."There has been tons of arguing over the definition of atheism, but I am confident that most would agree that an accurate definition of an atheist is "one who does not believe in the existence of every purported deity thus far". Now remember, I never said the atheist KNOWS this, but BELIEVES this."

As I stated last round, my opponents definition of an Atheist actually describes an Agnostic. I will extend that argument.

B."Agnosticism is not about belief in god but about knowledge."

Belief is a result of knowledge (refer to definition of belief). One can believe in varying degrees and this is why it applies to Agnosticism. This brings us to your next point...

C."this is when the spectrum of theistic probability comes in, something my opponent has yet to address"

You site Richard Dawkins' spectrum of probabilities in your opening argument in making this point. I will use this same info against you. Richard Dawkins' spectrum of probabilities are as follows:

1. Strong theist. 100 per cent probability of God. In the words of C.G. Jung, 'I do not believe, I know.'
2. Very high probability but short of 100 per cent. De facto theist. 'I cannot know for certain, but I strongly believe in God and live my life on the assumption that he is there.'
3. Higher than 50 per cent but not very high. Technically agnostic but leaning towards theism. 'I am very uncertain, but I am inclined to believe in God.'
4. Exactly 50 per cent. Completely impartial agnostic. 'God's existence and non-existence are exactly equiprobable.'
5. Lower than 50 per cent but not very low. Technically agnostic but leaning towards atheism. 'I do not know whether God exists but I'm inclined to be skeptical.'
6. Very low probability, but short of zero. De facto atheist. 'I cannot know for certain but I think God is very improbable, and I live my life on the assumption that he is not there.'
7. Strong atheist. 'I know there is no God, with the same conviction as Jung "knows" there is one.'

(http://en.wikipedia.org...)

Dawkins recognizes a place for Agnosticism (4 and 5) and a separate place for atheists (6 and 7)

Philosopher Jack Smart also addresses this and also specifies a place for Agnosticism. He says: "Let us consider the appropriateness or otherwise of someone (call him ‘Philo') describing himself as a theist, atheist or agnostic. I would suggest that if Philo estimates the various plausibilities to be such that on the evidence before him the probability of theism comes out near to one he should describe himself as a theist and if it comes out near zero he should call himself an atheist, and if it comes out somewhere in the middle he should call himself an agnostic. There are no strict rules about this classification because the borderlines are vague. If need be, like a middle-aged man who is not sure whether to call himself bald or not bald, he should explain himself more fully."

If we take away Agnosticism, what do we call people in the middle (Smart) or 4's and 5's (Dawkins).

D."There have been philosophical views such as agnostic theism and agnostic atheism. If we were to incorporate the definition of agnosticism, then an agnostic atheism would describe the majority of atheists now. I find it irrational to claim to be just an agnostic, taking neither side. You can always apply concepts such as spectrum of theistic probability, burden of proof, etc."

You are correct that agnostic can apply to various levels of theism. Using theistic probability though we do see that there is potential to land in the middle. This is where the term agnostic makes its bed. At best you argue that the term agnostic is used too broadly, in my estimation you have not successfully argued that there is no place for Agnosticism. I have met my burden of proof and identified a clear use for Agnosticism. I have shown that there is such thing as Agnostic, it in fact exists right in the middle of absolute theism and absolute atheism.

With that I will conclude my arguments and leave it up to the judges. As I see there are many on this site, a couple on this message board, that have unfavorable views of Agnostics. I ask that those holding these views judge on the merit of the debate, not pro/con on Agnostics. To vote con you only need to acknowledge that non-commitment to the existence or non-existence of a god exists.

Thank you.
Debate Round No. 3
23 comments have been posted on this debate. Showing 1 through 10 records.
Posted by Lightkeeper 9 years ago
Lightkeeper
I don't understand all this God stuff and omnipotence and omniscience stuff. At least in the Christian context....
We have an omnipotent God who creates man in God's image except fallable. Being omniscient, God knows that man will sin. And yet He gets really angry when it happens. Creates all sorts of thorns, poisons and other exciting things just to make man's life miserable. Then this LOVING God decides that all subsequent generations of Adam and Eve should be held responsible for THEIR original sin.
The omniscient God knows whether or not Abram will be willing to kill his only son at His whim. And yet this LOVING God puts Abram through the paces, just to test him (although omniscient entities don't really need to test anything because they know everything).
Ok... there is a lot that happens in between. But then one sunny day, God decides that we should be given a chance. He is now willing to forgive us how bad we are (though of course He did create us fallable). And yet, this omnipotent God appears unable to forgive us unless more horrible violence takes place. He now wants His OWN Son to be killed, in much pain I might add. That he has a son is a peculiar thing in itself but let's not go there just now...They say that He LOVED the world so much that He sent his own son down. Is it really such a huge deal for an omnipotent God though? After all, the Son was capable of extroardinary things, including resurrection.
Now surely something doesn't add up here. Something's wrong. Very very wrong.
nb... if Jesus was also omniscient then why did he have to be shown where that poor Lazarus fellow was lying dead? Surely He knew.
Posted by bthr004 9 years ago
bthr004
First,.. your definition of omnipotence is tailored to fit the view of theology,... Not religion,... The two definitions I gave in my previous post are as taught in my church.

God is perfect,.. It would be a contradiction to his perfection to even desire the action you speak of,.. Not that action could and would exist,.. Why does it mean so much to you guys to disprove God,.. Will it make you feel better about yourself? Will it give you meaning in your beliefs?
Posted by yarnedia 9 years ago
yarnedia
Let me try to explain this a different way. If God is capable of committing any and all actions, then he should be able to create another omnipotent being. However, if god created another omnipotent being, there would be 2. The very definition of omnipotence does not support > 1 omnipotent being. Therefore God can NOT create another omnipotent being. Therefore God cannot commit ALL actions. Therefore God is not omnipotent. Regardless of whether God attempts the action is irrelevant.
Posted by bthr004 9 years ago
bthr004
God is able to do anything that is in accord with His own nature (thus, for instance, if it is a logical consequence of God's nature that what God speaks is truth, then God is not able to lie).

Hold that it is part of God's nature to be consistent and that it would be inconsistent for God to go against His own laws unless there were a reason to do so.

"But what's important is not where the contradiction is, but THAT there is a contradiction that (results from omnipotence.) The fact of such a contradiction is proof of the fact of nonomnipotence."

NO,! The contradiction DOES NOT result from omnipotence,.. the contradiction results in the ACTION OF CREATING omnipotence. NO ACTION. You are insisting that the action is there, it is not! Only one almighty,.. Nothing created omnipotence, God was not created, he existed(exists).
Posted by Ragnar_Rahl 9 years ago
Ragnar_Rahl
"-This still does not support the point your trying to make.

Say the god of the old testiment (Elohim), is omnipotent. The existence of the of another omnipotent being is not the contradiction first, it is the creation of another omnipotent being that is the contradiction.
"

The existence of another omnipotent being is also a contradiction. It means that neither of them can stop the other from doing something. Stopping the other from doing something is an action.

But what's important is not where the contradiction is, but THAT there is a contradiction that results from omnipotence. The fact of such a contradiction is proof of the fact of nonomnipotence.

"
Another point would be,.. Me jumping out of my bed room window into a volcano,.. << that is the action.

The problem here is that, well,.. the action does not exist, could not,.. I do not have a volcano outside my bedroom window,.. I do not even have a window in my bedroom for that matter."

Which proves you are not omnipotent. If an action, any action, cannot exist, omnipotence cannot exist, by definition. The fact that there are ideas falling under the concept "action" that cannot exist proves my point.
Posted by bthr004 9 years ago
bthr004
"Of course it doesn't exist. But the creation of such a thing clearly qualifies as an action, "to create" is a verb. The fact that such an action cannot exist is PRECISELY what the proof depends on. It is why it is called reductio ad absurdum."

-This still does not support the point your trying to make.

Say the god of the old testiment (Elohim), is omnipotent. The existence of the of another omnipotent being is not the contradiction first, it is the creation of another omnipotent being that is the contradiction.

Another point would be,.. Me jumping out of my bed room window into a volcano,.. << that is the action.

The problem here is that, well,.. the action does not exist, could not,.. I do not have a volcano outside my bedroom window,.. I do not even have a window in my bedroom for that matter.
Posted by Ragnar_Rahl 9 years ago
Ragnar_Rahl
replace "Different" with "Contradictory" in the below comment.
Posted by Ragnar_Rahl 9 years ago
Ragnar_Rahl
"To Ragnar, I agree with your proof, but doesn't that only disprove that there can be no such thing as an omnipotent supernatural being?"

Prove not disprove lol. You double negatived... But yes. Typically, however, that is how God is defined. A different definition of God may or may not be disprovable, but if one is not speaking of a specific definition of God, comments about provability or disprovability are incoherent as such.

"

The only contradiction here is that you believe creating something more powerful than omnipotent is an action,.. it is not an action, it can not exsist, it can not happen. THE ACTION DOES NOT EXIST!"

Of course it doesn't exist. But the creation of such a thing clearly qualifies as an action, "to create" is a verb. The fact that such an action cannot exist is PRECISELY what the proof depends on. It is why it is called reductio ad absurdum.

"Several years ago there was a large body of doubt that large ancient pyramid shaped structures were built by ancient egyptian people.:
Wait... Huh? How many "severals" are you talking about? Pyramids are out in the open where people can see them. I've never heard of anyone doubting their existence, and as for the building by ancient Egyptian people, well, they can't be built by non-people, they are in Egypt, and some have poor maintenance so they are clearly old...

And even if that were the case, the existence of one instance of faith turning out right is NOT evidence of the efficacy of faith. In fact, it's impossible that faith is efficacious, because people have faith in different things, and faith provides no tools for distinguishing.Jews have faith in there being exactly one supernatural being, some pagans have faith in anywhere from two to hundreds.
Posted by bfitz1307 9 years ago
bfitz1307
bthr004 - Regarding faith. Several years ago there was doubt that ancient Egyptian people built pyramids? Who doubted that? ...Could you please clarify what you are trying to say here? Left as is your comment sounds pretty ridiculous. I may just not be understanding correctly.
Posted by bthr004 9 years ago
bthr004
ragnar,..

That is the probably the oddest thing I have heard in a while,... Here is another action,.. jumping off a roof, I could do it,.. I have the power to do so,.. I will not, I dont have to.

"An OMNIPOTENT being has all powers imaginable, and can perform any ACTION. CREATING something more powerful than omnipotent is an action, and therefore possible if one can perform any ACTION. It is not possible to CREATE something more powerful than omnipotent. Therefore, contradiction."

The only contradiction here is that you believe creating something more powerful than omnipotent is an action,.. it is not an action, it can not exsist, it can not happen. THE ACTION DOES NOT EXIST!

To answer you other question about faith holding as much merit as evidence,..

As faith has been proven,.. Several years ago there was a large body of doubt that large ancient pyramid shaped structures were built by ancient egyptian people. Old texts depicting the construction of these pyramids had been translated, published, and done so over and over. The ridicule shelled out by these doubters, did little to deter faith of the believers in these ancient texts,.. Then,.. they were discovered, a lot of them,.. still being discovered,.. The people that had faith believed, they did not need proof,.. they knew they existed,..
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