Atheism Analogies

I’ve seen some decent atheism analogies like bald isn’t a hair color or not playing football isn’t a sport. I recently saw an interesting one on Twitter saying you’re either pregnant or you’re not. I really like this one because I can use it to better explain the agnostic viewpoint.

I guess we assume some couple had sex and there’s a question of it resulting in a pregnancy or not. Theism is the pregnancy belief and atheism is the not pregnant belief. This is a perfectly understandable state of being something compared to the lack of being something.

Agnosticism says our knowledge is limited. It’s the first day of a possible pregnancy and there’s no test available for it. In time, perhaps our knowledge can expand to really know what’s going on in there but right now we know nothing about the nature of a possible pregnancy. Theists would tell you they know the sex, hair color, and personality of the baby. Atheists deny a baby is there and anti-theists claim a baby isn’t possible.

Agnostics are coming from the viewpoint of saying we shouldn’t assume there’s a pregnancy at the present but we honestly don’t know. There could be something more going on than just the sex with the “big bang” (pun intended). Not knowing isn’t proof there is or isn’t a pregnancy so all we can really say is we don’t know.

We should be able to agree that our collective human knowledge is very young and very incomplete. There is most likely so much we don’t and can’t know about the universe and the specifics of our existence. Theism, atheism, and agnosticism say some different things about the mystery of existence and if anything supernatural could exist outside the natural universe. Even if there is something supernatural, it may not have any relationship with or cause for natural existence.

The theological “gnosis” would have us believe that the world is a conjurer’s house; the anti-theological “gnosis” talks as if it were a “dirt-pie” made by the two blind children, Law and Force. Agnosticism simply says that we know nothing of what may be beyond phenomena.

– Thomas Henry Huxley

My mind wanders to a different look at it. Let’s say Law and Force have sex. We’d have to assume they’re capable of producing offspring to question if the union of Law and Force results in a pregnancy. What that pregnancy creates might not be done growing into what it’s really supposed to be. We could still be in the early stages of pregnancy and the universe is forming into something else where we’re just some microbial anomaly growing inside the true offspring.

Is it possible the offspring of Law and Force is a God and our intellect is a small part of a greater intelligence? I have to admit it’s possible even though I think it’s unlikely. It’s more likely the offspring of Law and Force is just the messy universe we can see and observe where we’ve naturally grown. It’s the only thing we can see and test for at this point. Our knowledge is limited and it’s all we truly know.

Agnostic in the Middle?

Agnosticism isn’t a middle ground between theism and atheism. Theism is the umbrella term for faith-based belief systems such as Christianity, Islam, Hinduism, deism, and pantheism. Atheism is lacking belief in those belief systems. Agnosticism is concerned with our lack of knowledge about gods and supernatural causes for this universe.

agnosticatheist

comic from stanleycolors.com

I often feel like I’m stuck in the middle of belief and disbelief even though I’m on the side of disbelief as a de facto atheist. I’m criticized by both sides since I primarily define myself by our collective knowledge instead of what I believe today. I just don’t think anyone’s belief position is as important as our views of knowledge.

Sure, agnosticism means holding the creation question open to a certain extent. I have no problem doing that while rejecting the current set of theisms. We should continuously judge available information for anything that rises to the standards of knowledge as verifiable truths. In practical terms, an agnostic should come to an atheist conclusion on a daily basis even though we may not view atheism as the final answer.

Theism isn’t a final set of described beliefs so how can atheism be a final answer? One day we may finally understand some grand truth not currently dreamt of in our philosophies. Applying ignosticism to a scientifically researched variation of pantheism might give us a universal truth about some sort of universal intelligence. I don’t think it’s very likely, but the truth for me in agnosticism tells me it’s still a possibility.

If the universe itself is our creator then it could have used an intellect flowing through energy in a way we may never understand. I’m just a simple human but it’s the kind of idea where I say “sure, maybe there’s something to The Force in Star Wars and George Lucas might be a true prophet.” I’m mostly joking about The Force, but there’s something about the idea that just feels right even though it’s probably an illusion of my simple human senses. I know I don’t have faith enough to become a Jedi.

I don’t have the intellect or senses to know how all of existence simply came to be if it didn’t always exist. There’s new evidence that points to existence without a beginning. See No Big Bang? Quantum equation predicts universe has no beginning at phys.org. If this can be proven then hopefully the whole theism/atheism scale disappears in a puff of logic. Atheism isn’t needed without theism. We could still have agnosticism as long as humanity isn’t omniscient.

Back on topic, I still feel stuck in the middle because other people try to tell me I’m not believing or disbelieving correctly. People criticize agnosticism despite the evidence that we’re all just making it all up in the absence of verifiable truths. I can understand theist criticisms since they rarely deal in verifiable truths but atheist criticisms are confusing since there isn’t atheist dogma for me to violate.

Some theists argue with me that they know things about god or an intelligent creator through their faith and I should accept this unproven knowledge they’ve gained. They think I’m more open-minded than self-identified atheists even though I don’t share in their theism either. I’m still an unbeliever, infidel, and heretic but they sometimes get surprised and upset when I won’t see their truth.

On the other side, some atheists try to argue agnosticism is useless so I should fully embrace atheism. They push atheism as an obvious final answer since the current major theism of their focus is unproven. They insist we should define ourselves based on our rejection of other people’s specific beliefs. They say nobody can justifiably call themselves agnostic and sometimes get upset when I won’t see their truth. Would this be an atheist attempt at dogma?

Anyway here’s some examples of “Clowns to the left of me, Jokers to the right, here I am, stuck in the middle with you” starting with one of the most polite exchanges I’ve had on Twitter with a believer:

‏@lcorbo13  Being in a pitch black room does not mean it is empty. It means U simply can’t see anything. #Catholic #Christian #atheist #agnostic

‏@AgnosticU  “Being in a pitch black room does not mean it is empty. It means U simply can’t see anything” or know it’s empty or not #agnostic

@lcorbo13  Thats why you walk around and search the room rather sit in a corner and keep asking yourself if it is empty or not..

@AgnosticU  Very true, but what if simple us lack the right senses to experience what could be? We may not be equipped to ever understand…

@lcorbo13  U are trying to come up with any solution that eliminates the OPTION of God.

@AgnosticU  God is a specific concept requiring great leaps of imagination and faith. Universe as creator is possible but intellect unknowable

@lcorbo13  U R making assumptions…. If U say God is imagination and that is a fact U share a burden of proof too.

@AgnosticU  I didn’t invent human definitions of “God” so I don’t share in a burden of proof for the unlikely beings described by others

@lcorbo13  I deflect…have a good day..Peace to you

@AgnosticU  have a good life and peace to you as well 🙂

Here’s a recent exchange with an atheist claiming people shouldn’t call themselves agnostic. It wasn’t directed specifically at me but I answered the general criticism:

‏@Zohso  Stop calling yourself agnostic. Everyone’s #agnostic. The question becomes, “What do you believe?” #atheism #Christianity

‏@AgnosticU  Everyone isn’t #agnostic. Believers make knowledge claims of gods & say their faith is proof. #agnosticism says knowledge > belief

‏@Zohso  the guy in the asylum also talks to elves. Just because someone CLAIMS something doesn’t make it so. Default: Christian=agnostic

@AgnosticU  We know they don’t know, but they seldom identify as agnostic which is often a first step for switching to knowledge to find truth.

@Zohso  but see, agnosticism is NOT a middle ground somewhere between belief and disbelief. It’s a position of knowledge. #epistemology

‏@AgnosticU  Agree agnosticism isn’t middle ground. Truth about knowledge is much more important than beliefs/disbeliefs so I emphasize agnostic

@Zohso Let’s first establish we’re both using the same definition of “agnostic.” Is this definition the same? http://www.oxforddictionaries.com/us/definition/american_english/agnostic

‏@AgnosticU  Our definition of agnostic (noun) is same. Most religious people don’t claim to be agnostic and believe ancient books are knowledge.

@AgnosticU  atheism helps very few people see truth about knowledge, #agnosticism helps show the folly of blind faith beliefs

@Zohso  again, everyone is agnostic. Someone’s belief can either be theistic or atheistic. There is no middle ground. It’s binary.

‏@AgnosticU  Not everyone describes themselves as agnostic. Religious don’t care about knowledge. Atheistic agnostic with emphasis on agnosticism.

‏@Zohso  I think @pennjillette gives one of the best descriptions in the first couple of minutes in this interview. http://youtu.be/4_WKlttKRDw

@AgnosticU  non-theists are both we don’t know/we don’t believe. Both are fine if using one to be short, why deny agnostics can be?

‏@Zohso  That’s completely fine… Just answer the question, “As an agnostic, what do you believe?”

‏@AgnosticU  I don’t believe in any religions, but what we know is the better question. atheistic agnostic

This is a recent conversation so it may continue but I doubt anything more meaningful will be said. Penn Jillette is right that we’re both agnostic and atheist depending on the question but we differ in which question we think is more important. @Zohso says we shouldn’t call ourselves agnostic because he thinks we’re better defined in terms of what other people believe. For me, that gives more legitimacy to those human defined beliefs to only define ourselves as a rejection of them.

The same logic that we shouldn’t call ourselves agnostic could be used against humanists. Humanists put their own focus and emphasis on humanism even though they’re also de facto atheists. I’m a bit of a humanist so maybe I’m an agnostic atheist humanist. It’s too many terms so I pick the one that means the most to me.

You could go even further and say human defined theisms are unproven and false so everyone is atheist. Saying there are no true theists means they should just admit the truth and call themselves atheist. See how silly it can get when you try to force definitions on other people?

This is what happens when you concern yourself a bit too much with what other people believe and call themselves. I could see an issue if I tried to redefine the terms but I used the commonly agreed upon definitions. I just try to focus on agnosticism as my core viewpoint, but for some reason there are people that just won’t let agnostics self-identify as such based on historical agnosticism. Please just let agnostics exist if that’s what we feel like using as our label. It doesn’t impact your viewpoint.

Both religious and disbelief viewpoints are capable of being stupid and unreasonable in the areas where we lack specific knowledge to support our views. It’s yet another thing that makes me see agnosticism as the right fit for me. We just don’t KNOW and what’s so bad about proclaiming that viewpoint?

Happiness and Religion

Religion has been described as the opiate of the masses. A recent study finds that religious people are much happier than others. Those “others” are all of us non-believers not going to church and not talking to a powerful imaginary friend. Are we missing out on a good opiate that increases happiness in our lives?

The study doesn’t give a clear answer:

The correlation between religiosity and happiness is clear, but explanations of the connection and possible causal relationship are less clear. One theory suggests that the social support that religious communities can provide may be a key factor contributing to increased happiness, since “religious Americans are more apt to be involved in their communities.” Yet even here, the study found “that those who attend religious services often are happier than their peers with similar levels of involvement in the community.”

I always assumed it was the common bond and support of a community that added to their happiness. The study has been repeated and still holds true so there must be something to it. It obviously doesn’t prove religion is right but it does show religion provides an extra something to people’s happiness that simply not being religious doesn’t replace. It’s something to think about during religious holidays with our secular observances. The article ends with:

One could almost predict that many of those celebrating Christmas will be merry, those observing Hanukkah will be happy, but those only recognizing the “holidays” will have a little less cause for rejoicing.

I’d like to see a study that delves into those that simply drop religion and ground themselves in humanity and atheism. I like to think I’m not just that kind of person. I still live in awe of the universe and the mystery of our existence.

Where atheism tears downs the wonder and miracle of it all, agnosticism simply says we don’t understand it. The human described gods aren’t the answer but no god at all isn’t necessarily the answer either. I just don’t know. Freethought should allow for all of us to believe as we choose as we’re all just trying to figure it out.

I marvel at the mystery of it all during winter solstice, Yule, Christmas, or whatever this season is to me. I’m thankful to be alive and have my family and friends. I hope that whatever makes you happy with religions or no religions isn’t hurting anyone else and that you all are free to be yourselves. I wish for freethought and joy for everyone during this winter season!

winter happiness

US Air Force Forcing Atheist to say “So Help Me God”

USAF Enlistment Oath
USAF Enlistment Oath

This is the oath of enlistment for the United States Air Force as presented on the Air Force recruiting website. The Air Force recently “corrected” the required oath to align with Title 10 of the United States Code (USC), which is public law written by Congress. You can read more about this at several Air Force Times articles: Atheist airman must swear ‘so help me God’ or get out in November (9 Sep 2014) and Air Force stands alone in requiring atheists to say ‘so help me God’ (10 Sep 2014).

The General Counsel at the DoD level is reviewing the matter and I’m sure they’ll have to reverse this back to an optional requirement. It violates the constitutional prohibition on religious tests as well as other laws in the USC concerning discriminatory hiring practices based on a person’s religion. The laws of the US are as imperfect and conflicted as the people that wrote them. Hmm, that sounds like another set of writings I struggled with as a child.

God should be optional in the oath and nobody should be forced to say it. God signifies a singular deity so this doesn’t work with several religions and obviously doesn’t work with the lack of religion. A real irony of this oath situation is it serves as a perfect example of how the US isn’t an exclusively Christian nation even though a majority of it’s citizens are Christian.

The oath doesn’t function with god in it and it makes the oath internally inconsistent. I swear to support and defend the Constitution which includes the freedom of religion. I can write tons about the superiority of the Bill of Rights over the 10 Commandments including the first amendment trumping the first commandment. Freedom of religion is superior to the command to not have any other gods before the jealous Judeo-Christian god. Oh wait, the defenders of the “so help me God” phrase say it isn’t that specific god. Well, if the oath god isn’t that God then the phrase is non-specific and unnecessary as a mandatory statement. It still wouldn’t jive with an overall freedom of religion we guarantee ourselves in our Constitution. The first amendment is obviously not derived from biblical origins because it defies the bible’s first commandment. Which one do you want to keep?

I don’t bring much of my personal life into what is really a personal blog here, but this story hits home for me. I’m retired Air Force and started this blog while on active duty as my own little non-religious outlet on the Internet. My dog tags evolved from an initial enlistment where I said “I guess so” for putting Roman Catholic as my religion. I just couldn’t think of an alternative at that time to my family’s religion and didn’t give it any thought. Later, as I began to explore religions, I switched to “No Religious Preference” until I finally settled on and requested Atheist. Soon after that I switched to the more accurate Agnostic and that’s what my record said when I retired. I see myself as an atheistic agnostic with emphasis on the agnostic side of the non-religious belief/knowledge coin.

I never had any issues in the military and flew well under the radar with my lack of religion. Only the few personnelists recording my preference and making my dog tags really knew and they didn’t say anything about it. When it came to taking the oath, I would say “so help me god” or not depending on if I could just quietly slip out of it in a private ceremony. I trusted the few officers that gave me a godless oath and they didn’t have a problem with it. I have said the phrase when the ceremony was more public just to not draw attention to myself. Personally, I had no issue with playing along because it had the same impact on my oath as “so help me Santa Claus” would have on it. I just didn’t feel strongly enough to publicly fight it even though I fully support others that do.

I never bowed my head in prayer during group events and nobody had an issue with it. They weren’t paying attention to me anyway and it was only other nonbelievers that ever noticed me with a knowing wink and a smile. Trust me, there are plenty of us around just quietly standing by as people exercise their freedom of religion. We’re not all out to stop the faithful from believing in an unproven supernatural deity even though we don’t want to join in their godly games.

This is to the people that would try to force us to take an oath to a god we don’t believe in. Why can’t you just make it optional and extend us the same courtesy we give you to leave it in as an option? The oath with an optional ending is really what freedom of religion looks like. We could even go one step further and change it to “Optional: So help me, —insert deity/deities here—” Now wouldn’t that really be freedom of religion?

Agnostic vs Atheist Deconversion

Engaging in conversations through the Internet with strangers is generally useless and futile. This was definitely the case today on Twitter with an antitheist called Flying Free @FlyingFree333. He refuses to let agnostics use the agnostic label. He insists lacking belief is the only important thing for having a label. I tried to explain that knowledge is much more important to me and I’m also an atheist with no problem saying it. He called me a moron, pretentious poser, agnostic twit, and not worth the oxygen I cost. This is a prime example of the ‘angry atheists’ or ‘asshole atheists’ I sometimes read about.

I don’t believe in the religions of the world. I agree with his atheist viewpoints except for anything really antitheist. I can’t prove theism is entirely fiction no matter how much I believe it to be false. Somehow I’m the worst kind of person to him because I use agnostic as my primary label. It’s so hard to get anything meaningful across in short tweets. However, the idea of theists watching that banter made me think agnosticism will always remain a better viewpoint for deconversion from putting faith in mythological fantasies.

Antitheist Deconversion

Based on his tweets, Flying Free’s antitheist response to religious belief claims is to tell them their beliefs are idiotic and unbelievable. I’m sure he’d push the burden of proof on the believer like any good antitheist. However, I’m sure it would be confrontational instead of trying to be educational. He would reject every proof by just calling them an idiot for thinking it’s true. He’d push disbelief as the only answer to any question. He’d push disbelief as what a believer should adopt simply because of his assertion that their beliefs are obviously false to anyone with half a brain. Who would listen to such a person?

Agnostic Deconversion

Yes, I lack theistic beliefs and I’m an atheist regarding theism. My primary label is and may always remain to be agnostic. If you present me with specific theist beliefs then I do respond with agnosticism first. Does what you claim to believe actually rise to the standards of human knowledge and a verifiable truth? If not, then it shouldn’t be believed. I have no real reason to say you can’t believe in your fantasies just as I won’t tell a child to quit believing in Santa Claus as long as the belief remains harmless.

I really enjoy certain fictions and am fond of science fiction. I suspend disbelief as I enjoy it. Maybe you enjoy your life by wrapping your mind in your religious fiction just like I might enjoy thinking of Gandalf as a real wizard. If we each keep our fictional nonsense to ourselves then why should I care about yours? If you bring your beliefs to me and ask me to share in them then I’ll test your hypothesis and reject what isn’t knowledge. I won’t believe it. The faithful see me the same as any other atheist.

My atheism only exists as a continuously examined and tested byproduct of my agnosticism. It’s likely that I will always be atheistic towards every theism my fellow humans try to share with me. But I can’t guarantee that there won’t come some theism that I end up deciding to be true human knowledge. Pantheism and the notion that this universe is god has some plausibility simply because saying there is no “why” for the universe to exist can be unsatisfying. Scott Adams wrote a novella called God’s Debris which was an interesting thought experiment about the universe being a god’s debris. I wrote about it in this blog post: Omnipotence and Scott Adams’ God’s Debris.

There are just so many unanswered questions and limits to our knowledge that primarily being agnostic makes the most sense to me to remain open to a theistic possibility. I’m very sure the truth is nothing like our religions. I imagine the real truth is well beyond anything we could imagine or possibly understand.

If you’re an angry atheist and hate your fellow freethinking agnostics for not fully embracing your preferred label… well then all I can really do is shake my head and say you’re obviously the one with the problem. I don’t see how your views help anyone else in their own understanding of the universe, so good luck with that.