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Most people should be agnostics

Posted by Graeme in Religion at 1:38 pm on Friday, 26 January 2007

I suppose it is suprising that a Christian should promote agnosticism, but I think that for many, if not most people, it is the belief that they can most honestly hold.

My argument is simple. Most people simply do not have the evidence to conclude that there is a God. Neither do they have the evidence for the beliefs of non-theistic religions. Therefore they should be agnostics.

I do not say that they should be atheists quite deliberately. Most atheists have not followed a sophisticated line of thought. If, for example, they had read Hume and been convinced by his arguments, that would be rational.

In fact, most atheists have been convinced by very naive and incomplete arguments, and frequently by misconceptions. This is partly because popularisers of atheism generally misrepresent the beliefs of the religious, and then proceed to effective known down either a pure straw man or a weird variant of faith. I intent to return to this topic in the future.

Returning to religious belief there is little to add to the basic argument: it is irrational to believe without evidence, or at least convincing argument. The question is whether religious beliefs are generally that irrational.

I suspect that the answer varies from society to society. Where only a minority are religious, as in most industrialised countries, they probably do require a positive reason to maintain a non-mainstream stance – particularly as the values of almost all religions are at odds with consumerism and many other contemporary values.

I think things are different for people most in more religious countries (most of the world) and communities, and for many even outside them.

A key piece of evidence is that most people who follow a religion, follow the same religion as their parents. Is it really true that after weighing up all arguments and evidence that they have come to the same conclusion as their parents?

We certainly do not expect such as high degree of agreement within families in other areas. We expect disagreement on questions of science, politics, sexual mores, social issues etc.

My own experience (I used to be an agnostic) has been that in countries where almost everyone follows some religion, people may often not even understand what an agnostic or atheist is. They have clearly not contemplated many possibilities. They have simply accepted what they were told. They were brainwashed.

Some people may argue that people should believe something because it is good for them, even though it may not be true. I simply do not believe it is ever right to be dishonest. It also leads to endless arguments between various religions and atheists, each trying to show that the other’s beliefs leads to greater hard. It is no suprise that, given the dishonesty of their starting point, the argument itself tends to be carried out very dishonestly as well.

All this of course begs many more questions. What are the rational grounds for belief? What is the impact of belief? Is belief the same thing as faith? I will blog more on all those over the next few weeks.

One more thing I need to make clear. I do not think that the people who should believe are in some way better than those who I argue should not. If anything, Jesus could be interpreted as saying the opposite.

Comments (4)


Comment by Keith at 5:00 pm on 16 April 2007 at

Sorry, I should have re-read my post before I posted it. You can delete the first if you’d like.

As a Christian, it seems like you would think it more important for someone to be correct as opposed to being rational. Your view seems to place rationality above actual truth. I cannot rationally explain how my computer works. However, based upon personal experience, I know that it does work. In a like manner, I can’t explain why arsenic is poisonous, but based upon the testimony of others I know that it is. If someone cannot explain how Christianity is a superior philosophy compared to other beliefs but the religion “works” for him, I don’t see why you as a Christian would argue that he should pursue an incorrect (and possibly less functional) philosophy.

Comment by Graeme at 9:49 am on 17 April 2007 at

It depends what a lot on what you mean by “works” and “functional”. For a Christian the point of Christianity (or, indeed, life) is to become closer to God. I do not think that being less than honest in your pursuit of truth can do this.

Regarding your examples, I would say it is perfectly rational to think arsenic poisonous because credible people tell you it is. It is also perfectly rational to have expectations of your computer’s behaviour based on past experience.

When I say rational I do not mean to imply that you should have full knowledge, but honest (and that is a key word) grounds for belief.

Comment by mad dog at 2:58 am on 13 July 2007 at

“Your view seems to place rationality above actual truth. I cannot rationally explain how my computer works. However, based upon personal experience, I know that it does work.”

But you have seen evidence OF it working. You have seen your monitor glow, your fingers have touched the keys and make letters. Your hand moves a mouse and you see an arrow move around. To top things off, you could show this all to someone who has never seen a computer before, and they will see the same things that you do.

In other words, you have tangible proof of the existence of computers, which can also be demonstrated to others with tangible results. What do you have to prove the existence of God?

Comment by Graeme at 6:53 am on 13 July 2007 at

The evidence of God’s existence comes in the form of things such as “religious experiences”.

Some people tend to dismiss these as purely personal and not reproducible. They are using the wrong paradigm: consider them to be “eye-witness accounts”, rather than “laboratory experiments”, and they look a lot more credible.

Of course, it makes a great deal of difference if you are one of the witnesses!

Sorry, comments are closed