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.

An Agnostic (non)War on Christmas

If you don’t pay attention to manufactured hype and are one of the few people that wonder what the War on Christmas is then read A Short History of the War on Christmas. I’ll wait. Now that you’re up to speed then let me give you my view on Happy Holidays, Holiday Trees, and this whole nonsense surrounding secular and religious observations of Christmas. This holiday should peacefully coexist on a common day that’s positive for anyone interested in any aspect of Christmas. However, some people are trying to pick a fight over the true meaning of Christmas and I’m just not taking the bait.

I was raised Christian (lax Catholic really) and am now an atheistic agnostic regarding religious beliefs. I think I can clearly see both sides of this supposed war and wonder why it’s even an issue. The “reason for the season” is as complex as the American public and it goes back to Yule, Noel, and the origins for Christ’s Mass outside this country. Christians adopted various pagan rituals and practices along the way including choosing Dec 25th as the day to celebrate the unknown birth date of Jesus. There’s nothing biblical or sacred about the American public celebration of Christmas this time of year. It wasn’t a holiday created by God or Jesus and was instead developed by their followers. The term Christmas didn’t even appear until about a thousand years after Jesus may have lived in the Middle East.

Things like Santa Claus and stockings over the fireplace have become an American tradition for Dec 25th but they aren’t related to Christ’s Mass. Santa Claus was pushed into more widespread popularity by Coca-Cola in the 1930s and isn’t a character in the nativity scene. Many secular aspects of Christmas are firmly rooted in American consumerism instead of Christian tradition. It’s these secular aspects of Christmas that I still embrace as an unbeliever. I grew up with them in an American family and I continue the gift giving distraction that brightens a dreary winter for human beings. It’s just a human family holiday for me. The only things I’ve had to drop from the family traditions of my parents are the display of little nativity figures, going to mass on Christmas Eve, and saying a prayer before the family meal. Otherwise, my house and the houses of Christians in my family operate the same on Dec 25th.

Go ahead and have a Merry Christmas because it’s both a religious and secular day regardless of the origin of the term. Tuesday’s etymology is from Tiwes or Tiwaz as an ancient Germanic god of war but unbelievers don’t demand the name of that day to change. Why should anyone care that there’s a secular holiday on Dec 25th called Christmas when it’s about as religious as calling a day of the week Tuesday? Sure, there’s also a religious holiday on Dec 25th called Christmas but I don’t celebrate that one. Santa Claus is front and center on my Christmas. I’d much rather see a jolly fat guy in a red suit instead of a tortured man nailed to a cross regardless of who you think that tortured person really was or why he had to endure that death. I don’t believe in it and I don’t have to for my enjoyment of Christmas.

I put up a Christmas Tree because it isn’t a biblical or religious thing. It’s just pretty and the evergreen is a nice symbol of life during the dormant winter. It isn’t really a Holiday Tree because there isn’t a Wikipedia page for Holiday Tree. There’s some sarcasm there but really the tree is only related to Dec 25th so it should just be called a Christmas Tree or Yule Tree if you want to keep to the original terminology.

I’ll say Happy Holidays or Merry Christmas since both are just fine with me. There are several holidays around this time of year including New Year’s Day. I hope all of your holidays are happy when I say Happy Holidays. I also say Merry Christmas and Happy New Year individually if I feel like it. I’m only wishing you a Merry Secular Christmas when I say it. You really shouldn’t mind my intent because if you wish me a Merry Religious Christ’s Mass then I’m just going to have a Merry Secular Christmas anyway. We each celebrate Dec 25th in our own unique ways so we can think different things when we hear those words. We all mean well wishes towards each other when we say it, right? That’s the true reason for the season.

Being different and holding to our own traditions should continue to be a shared American tradition. Nobody should try to define Christmas as one exact religious (or secular) holiday dictated by the government (or church). Your secular or religious views of Christmas are right for you and everyone else so just get over yourselves, stop the silly war talk, and have a Merry Christmas everyone!!! What would Santa do? 😉

A Criticism of Agnostic Theism

I use the agnostic label to describe my viewpoint concerning the possibility of intelligent creators. I sometimes clarify my viewpoint as an agnostic atheist when communicating with picky people that insist agnosticism is only descriptive of knowledge and doesn’t say anything about beliefs in gods. Agnostics are logically de facto weak atheists lacking theistic beliefs. I say this only if you must insist religious beliefs are worthy of consideration even though they aren’t “justifiable true beliefs” under the common definition of knowledge. Faith isn’t a sufficient justification for belief. The world’s religions aren’t worthy of consideration as faith based claims of knowledge, therefore theistic beliefs aren’t compatible with the agnostic acknowledgement that we lack such knowledge.

I continue to agree with the logic of the historical agnostics when they first invented and promoted the term. You can use the Library link at the top of the page to read some of their writings. Agnostics see knowledge as the standard for evaluating supernatural claims and believe we “lack knowledge” concerning such things as definable gods. The agnostic term means without knowledge, so an agnostic that believes in gods using faith has dismissed the primary reason for defining agnosticism in the first place. Theism is belief based on faith so it really has nothing to do with agnosticism or being an agnostic.

You may then wonder what the agnostic response is to agnostic theism as it’s presented on some websites. Austin Cline over at about.com writes about a myth that agnostic theism doesn’t exist by boiling down a criticism of the term to “no religious faiths allow a person to believe without knowing for sure.” This is a false premise unless religions are gnostic and claim to have justified true beliefs. I haven’t encountered such religions and have only experienced promoters of faith as proof of their beliefs. They may make some knowledge claims about their god but when they’re put through scientific scrutiny they fall back on faith as their justification. Religious belief claims don’t often try to live up to the standards of human knowledge except in circular logic like the Bible proving that the God in the Bible exists.

The about.com article argues that agnostic theism is valid but doesn’t present a good argument for these words to make sense together other than to refute a poorly crafted myth. Admittedly agnostic theism can be claimed just as much as as any combination of terms such as a left-handed man where being left-handed has nothing to do with gender. I could claim to be an atheist Christian if I want to twist logic and insist on a non-belief view of Christians as a tribal label passively accepted from our parents.

The same is true for claiming to be agnostic Christian or agnostic theist in the more general sense. They only work if I insist Christianity and theism aren’t making knowledge claims with their religion or beliefs. They would have to strictly be about their beliefs and not knowledge… but beliefs in what? Religions and theism consists of beliefs in supernatural claims that may or may not be justifiable as truth. These beliefs are weak knowledge claims even if they’re not claimed to be verifiable knowledge statements.

Being a theist is making an unverifiable statement about knowledge and being an agnostic takes a negative position regarding that knowledge. Agnostic theism would be a twisted logic way to say a person fully acknowledges their religion is completely unjustified but they choose to believe in it anyway. Theism already says this simply by using belief instead of knowledge.

Agnosticism doesn’t describe or qualify a belief in supernatural knowledge claims. On the contrary, agnosticism is as contradictory to those claims as the atheist position of lacking theistic beliefs. When presented with new god knowledge/belief claims, agnosticism and atheism come to the same conclusion of falsehood using two different default positions. Agnosticism starts from a default position that we don’t know about such things without verifiable evidence using common standards of knowledge. Atheism starts from the position that we don’t believe based on faith alone, without verifiable evidence, just cause, or whatever it is we generally establish disbelief. I’m actually not sure what atheism uses as a default standard for disbelief. Atheism only means lacking belief so I don’t see it as a useful starting position for why we should disbelieve and that’s why I’m primarily agnostic in my response to god claims.

Emotions, Sins, and Virtues

A Christian view of ethics defines a set of thought crimes claimed to be the seven deadly sins. This ultimate list of the most evil emotions have seven virtues to counter them and guide Christian lives. Here’s the apparent do’s and don’ts for being emotionally right:

Vice : Virtue
Lust : Chastity
Gluttony : Temperance
Greed : Charity
Sloth : Diligence
Wrath : Patience
Envy : Kindness
Pride : Humility

Religions oversimplify their fictional guidance and it’s usually easy for me to see huge flaws in their charlatan sales pitches now that my mind isn’t clouded by blind faith. Hidden underneath this obvious attempt at controlling human behavior are some of our most basic emotions. These real emotions are as much a part of our humanity as the molecules that make up our bodies. Where’s the love, laughter, and overall happiness in this scheme? Where’s the healthy fear of dangerous situations that kicks in for the self-preservation and continuation of our species? Where’s the positive side of feeling anger at perceived injustices that drives us to act in defense of others?

I can look at this list and see some right in the vices and wrong in the virtues because emotions aren’t this simple. Would it really be bad if my desire for my wife or any woman is on the lustful end of the spectrum? Unleashing wrath against people that are screwing over others usually improves the situation. The religious didn’t stick to patience in World War II. Too much charity can promote dependency on the givers and isn’t a virtuous situation in the long term. The caregiver could abuse people’s dependency and that might be the real motivation for religions to promote charity. The thought often crosses my mind every time I see religions spreading their message through charitable acts.

The Christian sins and virtues try to tell us how much of an emotion we should have and where on the scale we should have them. Emotions aren’t this simple and the main flaw here is thinking they come from some higher order act of creation instead of from our most basic biology. Ekman’s list of six basic emotions is: anger, disgust, fear, happiness, sadness, and surprise. A newer classification list from Plutchik lists eight primary bipolar emotions which blend into additional emotions on a wheel of emotions: joy versus sadness; anger versus fear; trust versus disgust; and surprise versus anticipation.

Love and awe are emotions built from the more basic animal emotions I see in my cat and dog. You would think our most basic desire is to keep experiencing good emotions and avoid the bad ones. However, doesn’t it sometimes feel good in our core to experience some of the generally bad emotions? Having just come out of Halloween it’s easy to point out that we do seek out the excitement of fear and sometimes find humor in disgust. I can find good and bad in each emotion depending on the situations we experience them in considering the full spectrum of human emotions and life situations.

The seven deadly sins aren’t deadly and they aren’t as clearly negative as the label of sin might suggest. The same holds true for the supposed virtues. Our emotions are complex and we each have to struggle with how we feel them and what we do with those feelings. The only thing I know is that each emotion isn’t permanent as they come and go. I think we can change how we feel and how they impact our overall moods because what we do helps impact which emotions we encounter. I think love and joy can be emotions we choose to build up in ourselves from our more basic emotions coming from the choices we make. Happiness has nothing to do with religions and gods and has everything to do with what we do with our own bodies and minds.

I may not know exactly how or why existence came to be, but it’s obvious from my observations that we’re naturally emotional creatures lacking any specific natural disposition for our emotions. Agnosticism should lead you to question the guidance and motives of anybody claiming special knowledge that we were created as sinners and their beliefs are needed to become virtuous.

Marillion – Faith

Marillion is one of my favorite bands and I’m watching the DVD for the Somewhere in London concert. This song is an interesting one to ponder and just a great song to listen to…

Marillion – Faith

What I have here in my hand
Is like faith but not faith
For those without faith also have
What I have here in my hand

What I have here in my hand
Is like feeling but deeper
It’s why I am here

What I have here in my hand
Is knowledge without proof
What I have here in my hand
This is what I feel for you

It’s why the earth is alive
It makes electricity work
And fire dance in the sky..

Feel it
Feel inside the atoms where the science breaks down
Feel inside the atoms where the science breaks down
If you don’t believe in love
You’d have to make it up
You’d have to make it up
You’d have to make it up

What I have here in my hand
Is like faith but not faith
What I have here in my hand
This is what I feel for you

What I have here in my hand
Is like knowing but deeper
It’s why I am here
It’s why I am here