Posts Tagged ‘Agnosticism’

In Defense of Atheism….Again

As some readers may remember, I am a committed and proud atheist (despite some apparent controversy on the point). So when someone attacks atheism, as James Wood does in the most recent issue of The New Yorker, I feel obligated to defend it.

The occasion for Wood’s criticisms is the publication of Terry Eagleton’s new book, Reason, Faith and Revolution: Reflections of the God Debate. Eagleton is one of the most respected theists currently writing about the subject of theology, but his new book will probably convert about as many people as The God Delusion or God is Not Great: not many.

Books like this have a tendency to appeal only to the side already in agreement, and Wood seems to think Eagleton’s will do the same. Wood offers a pretty sound criticism of Eagleton’s arguments in his review, and even professes a lack of formal belief on his own part.

But Wood—who from the little I’ve read of him seems like a brilliant critic with whom I disagree about almost everything—has many of the same problems with “new atheism” that Eagleton has. Continue reading

In Defense of Atheism

Last week Josh offered a pretty sound criticism of agnosticism, but neglected to mention the elephant in the room: atheism. Part of the reason agnosticism is such a popular position, as Josh says, is that “atheism” is still a dirty word: Atheists are dogmatic, unreasonable, and extreme. These perceptions, however, are based on several popular myths about atheism. Atheism properly understood is not only reasonable, but, in fact, the only reasonable religious position.          

Myth #1: Atheists believe there is no god. This myth is largely the result of syntactical sloppiness. I, too, used to get tricked up by the difference between, “I don’t believe in any god” and, “I believe there is no god.” I thought that atheism meant the latter, which I was unwilling to support.

But this is an unfair standard. Atheism is not a belief, but the absence of a belief. Just look at the etymology: Theism means, “belief in a god” and the prefix a means without. If you are “without belief,” then you are an atheist. Continue reading

Against Agnosticism

Agnosticism has a certain appeal as a more moderate form of atheism. Agnosticism, for our purposes, refers to the belief that the existence (or lack thereof) of god is unknowable.  I’ve generally found that theists tend to have more respect for agnostics due to their holding of a more “reasonable” position. However, this is misguided: When it comes to the belief in god, agnosticism is logically unsound at best and intellectually cowardly at worst. Many agnostics are cowardly in the sense that they use agnosticism as a cop-out for not thinking hard about religious questions. Many agnostics do not actually deal with the epistemological question of whether we—as humans with reason—can know whether there is a god; Rather, they deal with the subjective personal question of whether they believe in a god: “Do you believe in god?” “I don’t know!” And, because agnosticism is a more socially acceptable position to hold, there is an incentive not to think.
Continue reading