Beauty, Religion, Science

God, Believing in the Unproven … But Does It Help to Be Happy? – A #381

Some people rely on religion, in different gods, depending on their culture they will adore a specific god. They believe this god will help them throughout their lives through favors and fantastic miracles, forgiveness for their sins, no matter how horrific the crime is “god is powerful and loving enough to forgive their sins” – they, the believers, say.


These people are theists. The opposite to theism is atheism: the lack of faith in any god. But in order to consider atheism as a valid contradictory position, there has to exist theism first: the belief in a god. They are both on the same coin, just opposites.


How can anyone oppose the non-existent, and debate it fervently on the Internet? It is a waste of time. The radical and fanatical religious will never try to understand, they will never have an open mind. 




In my experience agnosticism is largely misunderstood and often misused.  And I especially do not like the modern misappropriation of ‘agnostic has to do with knowledge and atheist has to do with belief”, for one, we lack an unambiguous philosophy of Knowledge (see The Analysis of Knowledge) – two, in practice almost nobody except a few nut cases claim to be absolutely 100% certain (theist or atheists)


Really? One hundred percent certain? OK, here I go.


Let’s look at what agnosticism is.

The term Agnosticism arose in the days when atheists were loudly making the strong claim that god doesn’t exist and it was a rejection of that certainty. How can anyone reject the non-existing?!

But smart atheists today largely do not make this claim, so times have changed.  Agnosticism was founded on two principles – parsimonious epistemology (I don’t believe things by default and I prefer beliefs that don’t add unnecessary elements) and empiricism (I believe things when there is measurable evidence to support the claim). Today we basically call this ‘skepticism’.

To sum it up, Agnosticism is merely the position that you shouldn’t hold a position that isn’t demonstrable with sufficient evidence.  In the exact words of Thomas Huxley, who coined the term Agnosticism:


Agnosticism, in fact, is not a creed, but a method, the essence of which lies in the rigorous application of a single principle. That principle is of great antiquity; it is as old as Socrates; as old as the writer who said, “Try all things, hold fast by that which is good” it is the foundation of the Reformation, which simply illustrated the axiom that every man should be able to give a reason for the faith that is in him; it is the great principle of Descartes; it is the fundamental axiom of modern science. Positively the principle may be expressed: In matters of the intellect, follow your reason as far as it will take you, without regard to any other consideration. And negatively: In matters of the intellect do not pretend that conclusions are certain which are not demonstrated or demonstrable. That I take to be the agnostic faith, which if a man keep whole and undefiled, he shall not be ashamed to look the universe in the face, whatever the future may have in store for him.



Let Me Explain To You My Reasoning In The -how I call it:



Note that NOTHING in this definition implies that all possibilities are considered all ‘equally likely’, nor does it have anything to do with looking at probabilities.


Putting this into practical terms, let’s say I’ve tossed a coin so we know it is either Heads or Tails but neither of us have looked at the result, right?

Hopefully we can both agree that given this situation, and lacking sufficient evidence otherwise, that both claims, that it IS Heads or that it IS Tails, are equally unsupportable?

In this situation it is the ‘Theist’ who claims they believe the coin is Heads.  They can give you a load of reasons and rationalizations about WHY they believe it is Heads but ultimately they take it as a matter of ‘faith’.

The modern Atheist says they don’t believe the Theist’s claim. They also largely do not assert that it is Tails (though a few still do).  This is a correct statement BUT it doesn’t really say WHY you don’t believe.  To reject a claim that hasn’t met a reasonable burden of proof is a logically sound position so long as you don’t assert the opposite – but this may or may not be the case.  The term ‘atheist’ alone doesn’t tell us about anything other than the rejection of the claim.


The Agnostic says they neither believe it is Heads nor believe that it is Tails because they lack evidence sufficient to make either claim.  This is also a logical sound position.  To me, the difference is that Agnosticism says a little bit more about WHY you reject the claim and is more clear that you aren’t asserting the opposite.


Both can have a good basis for their position and both are largely compatible.


If you are an Agnostic and you don’t accept the theistic claims then you are, by common usage an Atheist – even if you reject the label (for whatever reasons).


I think this is best summed up by Bertrand Russell in “Am I An Atheist Or An Agnostic?”


Here there comes a practical question which has often troubled me. Whenever I go into a foreign country or a prison or any similar place they always ask me what is my religion.


I never know whether I should say “Agnostic” or whether I should say “Atheist”. It is a very difficult question and I daresay that some of you have been troubled by it. As a philosopher, if I were speaking to a purely philosophic audience I should say that I ought to describe myself as an Agnostic, because I do not think that there is a conclusive argument by which one prove that there is not a God.



On the other hand, if I am to convey the right impression to the ordinary man in the street I think I ought to say that I am an Atheist, because when I say that I cannot prove that there is not a God, I ought to add equally that I cannot prove that there are not the Homeric gods.


None of us would seriously consider the possibility that all the gods of homer really exist, and yet if you were to set to work to give a logical demonstration that Zeus, Hera, Poseidon, and the rest of them did not exist you would find it an awful job. You could not get such proof.


Therefore, in regard to the Olympic gods, speaking to a purely philosophical audience, I would say that I am an Agnostic. But speaking popularly, I think that all of us would say in regard to those gods that we were Atheists. In regard to the Christian God, I should, I think, take exactly the same line.


So to me, (Huxley) Agnosticism is the stronger version of the claim because it asserts two positive beliefs upon which the position is based while Atheism, at best, tells us your position on the God question and for strong Atheism it is actually a logically untenable position (although, if the Hawking-Hartle unbounded origin model can be demonstrated I would say that all First Cause ‘gods’ could be rejected).


On the other hand – I do not find the Theist position to be logically sound at all.  There are tens of thousands of different theistic beliefs, many of which are directly contradictory, and they are ALL accepted on the same ‘faith-based’ methodology – which means that this methodology is completely useless.  It produces an endless stream of often unintelligible beliefs with no mechanism by which we can discern the truth of any of them.


I also think that the combination of all the known human cognitive flaws better accounts for the data (including ‘personal experience’).  I find no indication in all of that noise that it points to anything other than flawed human cognition (confirmation biases, false memories, wishful thinking, etc).


god religion agnostic




If it helps you to believe in God (whatever your god is) to make yourself happy and more hopeful, so be it.


I like Huxley Agnosticism – Skepticism.
I don’t have a problem with ‘Atheism’ at all.
Theism isn’t logically tenable.


I like the terms: Free thought, skepticism, humanitarianism. After all, all of them are atheists – Agnostic Atheists. 


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2 thoughts on “God, Believing in the Unproven … But Does It Help to Be Happy? – A #381”

  1. In addition to a complete lack of evidence for the existence of a god, we have hundreds of debunked theist claims and hundreds of thousands of debunked claims for other spirits and gods. The argument from a “A lack of evidence is evidence of absence” is a pretty good argument in my view. I can say with 99.999% certainty that there just isn’t a god out there. If there is one, the burden of proof is still on the theist. I am happy to change my mind as soon as some evidence is presented that supports their claim.


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