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Honest, Responsible, Open-minded Agnosticism

After spending a lot of time considering the issue, I have decided that two, equally reasonable conclusions can be arrived at regarding human existence. We are more than our physical bodies, or we are not. It is one or the other.

Either consciousness is an epiphenomenon of matter, or matter is an epiphenomenon of consciousness. We are frisky dust destined for the nothingness of the deep sleep, or we are immortal and this often irritating Earthly experience is a very brief episode in a very long journey. Life and mind are an accident, against all the odds, or they are part of a scheme, infinitely conceived and beyond the conception our earthly senses and limited intellect can afford us. Take your choice. What’s your poison?

I think the reason so many of my atheist friends are atheist is because they have limited the choice in the debate between having to choose between having martinis with Christopher Hitchens or suffer an infuriatingly ridiculous evening with Pat Robertson.

Between the two institutions of organized, dogmatic religion and The First Church of Atheism we have three options: heaven, hell, or nothing. I choose a fourth option: none of the above.

We know that we owe what we can sense of ourselves, and the world we live in, to the Big Bang, but do not know what caused it. We are involved in matter, but thanks to quantum physics we do not know exactly what matter is. Matter is not Newtonian billiard balls, but something hardly substantive, more like energy and waves of probabilities than something that can be swatted with a tennis racket. Space and time are interdependent, curved and relative. Physicist have postulated the possibility of multiple universes.

As humans we know our physical environment through our senses which are only tuned to consciously perceiving a minutia of the broadband that is available. We only consciously use a small percentage of our brains.

The only honest answer to the biggest of ontological questions is that we just do not know, and may never have the capacity to do so given the limits of what we have to work with here. But that does not mean we should stop trying.

The True Believers of dogmatic-mythically conceived religions would say we should stop, because all the answers are contained in sacred texts written by ancient inhabitants of Earth who thought the world was flat and not very old.

My atheist friends and I can agree that we are evolving creatures. Everything evolves. Nothing does not evolve. And anyone who would challenge the facts that science has provided us should be shunned and marginalized, like the Pat Robertsons of the world.

I would add, we are here to evolve, not just physically, but spiritually. That this world might be a laboratory designed to force us to evolve, and no matter what happens here, we graduate intact.

It is my choice to believe that we are more than our physical bodies; that we are primarily consciousness and only secondarily matter, and therefore something enduring and maybe immortal. That choice is built on hunches of intuition which I cannot take out of a box and show anyone. It is also based on the rationalization that it makes existence infinitely more interesting and wide open with possibilities.

Dogmatically based religion would have us put a lid on scientifically verifiable knowledge when it is not in line with the mythic-fantasy espoused by it. Atheist would have us put a lid on speculation that we, and the world we live in, might be a subset of a much greater universe, or universes, that are conscious-mental-spiritual, not physical, in nature.

Science, logic and reason are indispensable tools to be utilized on the quest to knowing ourselves and the reality we live in, not just a means by which to minimize pain and maximize pleasure. As evolving beings, we owe it to ourselves to keep open the possibilities and not to shut the door on mature, reasoned speculation no matter where it might lead us.

There are more things in heaven and earth, Horatio,
Than are dreamt of in your philosophy.

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Posted by on April 25, 2010. Filed under Commentary. You can follow any responses to this entry through the RSS 2.0. You can leave a response or trackback to this entry
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34 Responses to Honest, Responsible, Open-minded Agnosticism

  1. osori Reply

    April 25, 2010 at 1:47 pm

    Lawyer,
    Fantastic,funny, well-reasoned post. I would readily stipulate to us believers following texts written by people who thought the world was flat and not very old.

    But I would submit that the concept of spending any amount of time with either Hitchens or Robertson might be considered a form of Hell on Earth, and if you accept the existence of Hell it implies the existence of Heaven-at least on Earth!

    Currently time spent with Lady Gaga might fill that bill,in my case.

  2. Bee Reply

    April 25, 2010 at 2:03 pm

    Lawyer said: Atheist would have us put a lid on speculation that we, and the world we live in, might be a subset of a much greater uni­verse, or universes, that are conscious-mental-spiritual, not physical, in nature

    Huh? What lid?

    As an atheist, I have ZERO problem with the possibility that there are multiple universes – however, multiple universes do not prove the existence of spirituality in the sense of the existence of a “soul.” I readily acknowledge that the word “spiritual” is a subjective term which ultimately doesn’t mean anything, because no one seems to ever be able to explain it cogently. It means different things to different people, making it, to me, at best, a meaningless description of a state of mind. Multiple universes don’t worry me. What those who believe in a god/gods/benevolent or malevolent deities choose to populate them with in their imaginations doesn’t worry me. Just don’t expect me to go along with it.

    think the reason so many of my atheist friends are atheist is because they have limited the choice in the debate between having to choose between having marti­nis with Christopher Hitchens or suffer an infuriatingly ridiculous evening with Pat Robertson.

    Lawyer, dear, you know I love you, but you don’t have a clue what you’re talking about here. 1. It’s not easy being an atheist – I for one would love to believe in a big sky daddy who will save the day in the end, but that’s never happened yet, and “examples” people sometimes give really just sell the human species short. 2. Most atheists get there from former religious belief – and most have read a hell of a lot written by other atheists, by believers trying to argue against atheism – they’ve read the holy books, they’ve pondered the lessons and decided, much like myself, that bibles and torahs and korans don’t tell us a single thing we as humans don’t already know. Hitchens is a self-proclaimed speaker for atheism…but he’s really just an asshole and a drunk.

    • The Lawyer Reply

      April 25, 2010 at 2:08 pm

      I respect your opinion, Bee.

    • osori Reply

      April 25, 2010 at 4:57 pm

      Bee,
      I would also imagine being atheist would be tough anywhere, but particularly in the South where people would be horrified that you don’t believe.

      • Bee Reply

        April 25, 2010 at 5:52 pm

        Oso, yeah, but you know, I just keep digging my fork into that roast baby and tell’em they should try it, it tastes like chicken.

        🙂

  3. TomCat Reply

    April 25, 2010 at 3:58 pm

    My athe­ist friends and I can agree that we are evolv­ing crea­tures. Every­thing evolves. Noth­ing does not evolve.

    Can you look at GW Bush or the average Teabagger and tell me that devolution is not also valid? 🙂

    • The Lawyer Reply

      April 25, 2010 at 4:36 pm

      It is also valid. I agree with that–the whole freewill thing.

    • Bee Reply

      April 25, 2010 at 5:50 pm

      Hey, no one ever said which direction evolution could take… 🙂

    • Mother Hen Reply

      April 25, 2010 at 7:19 pm

      GWB and teabaggers are the unfortunate result of atavism- cultural mostly.

  4. Jess Reply

    April 25, 2010 at 4:59 pm

    As an atheist myself, I have done all the book reading and trying to learn about magic dust and invisible sky pixies that make things happen. I cannot bring myself around to believing, that some supernatural being is sitting watching everyone and knows everything that is best for me better than I do myself. The same being that allows horrific things to happen and it is the will of(insert diety here). When good things happen, can’t be us humans, has to be above named deity. That whole mysterious works thing, grates my last good nerves. Nope, I think I am going to go ahead and respectfully disagree with you on this one(said in my best Lumberg voice) mkay. 😉

    All of that being said, if someone chooses to believe in above named deities, as long as they don’t bug me about joining the group, I say whatever flies your flag, go for it.

    Oh and Hitchens is a drunken blowhard. I have nothing to say about Robertson, he doesn’t deserve the energy it would take for me to think of him ever.

    =^..^=

    • The Lawyer Reply

      April 25, 2010 at 5:28 pm

      Okay, so Hitchens was a bad juxtaposition to Robertson. Maybe I should have used Dawkins or Bill Maher, but I liked the photo of Hitchens better.

      You mention, “Magic dust and invisible sky pixies.” Atheism seems to me to take aim at goofy-ass religious dogma and candy-ass new age crap, not allowing that there might be something to psi research, parapsychology and some of the ideas that can be extrapolated therefrom. There is a serious way to approach the topic while honoring the efficacy of the scientific method and science in general. I think there is a high probability that there is a hell of a lot more than meets the eye with regard to reality, and much of it lays outside or ability to understand, explore and verify at present. The basic premise of this piece is that there is bound to be more we don’t know than do, and beliefs tend to be limiting.

      Interestingly, I find myself in almost lock-step agreement with every atheist I know except on the issue of atheism. Hell, Mrs. Lawyer is an atheist.

      • Jess Reply

        April 25, 2010 at 6:02 pm

        Totally agree with the limiting of beliefs thing there Lawyer. I am limited to my non belief and won’t venture out of it any time soon. Differences are what make the world go round. If we all were into the same thing, this would be a terrible place to live.

        • The Lawyer Reply

          April 25, 2010 at 6:08 pm

          “Differences are what make the world go round. If we all were into the same thing, this would be a terrible place to live.” And a very boring one. Well said.

    • osori Reply

      April 25, 2010 at 5:38 pm

      Jess, the invisible sky pixies are one of our biggest selling points. Surprised that didn’t work.

      • Jess Reply

        April 25, 2010 at 6:04 pm

        Ah, see now hubby who is a devoted Catholic, has said it is indulgences and free wine. Now what is it? Hmm, I don’t know who to believe now.

  5. Stimpson Reply

    April 25, 2010 at 6:32 pm

    I think definitions are important to this discussion.

    Atheism is the absence of a belief in god (a = without; theism = belief in god). Note that that is different in certainty that there is no god. Richard Dawkins has said that, on a scale of 1 to 7 where 7 is total certainty that there is no god, he would put himself at about 6.9.

    Using the above definition of atheism, I find the designation “agnostic” puzzling. Either you have a belief in a god or you don’t. I don’t see where “agnostic” fits in.

    The position of “Aw, shucks, there are things I can’t explain so it must be the work of a magical being” has been termed (again, citing Dawkins) “argument from personal incredulity.” Respectfully, I don’t see any merit in it. It’s like primitive peoples chalking up the night-and-day cycle to gods.

    • Stimpson Reply

      April 25, 2010 at 6:33 pm

      … different *than* certainty that there is no god.

      • osori Reply

        April 25, 2010 at 7:14 pm

        Richard Dawkins sure made be a believer when he hosted Family Feud.

    • Krell Reply

      April 25, 2010 at 7:33 pm

      Science allows for non-decision because of absence of data.

      Agnostics cannot believe OR disbelieve because of lack of evidence and proof.

      • Stimpson Reply

        April 25, 2010 at 7:41 pm

        Again, atheism is the absence of a belief in god. If you don’t have a belief in god, I would say you’re an atheist.

        You missed my point about the diff between not having a belief in god and simply believing there is no god. I’m saying, you’d be properly termed an atheist either way.

  6. Mother Hen Reply

    April 25, 2010 at 7:32 pm

    The big difference between atheism and agnosticism is that while atheists have not been convinced that there is a deity, agnostics aren’t sure there isn’t.

    Theists can be agnostic as well.You can believe “in something, I’m not sure what- but it isn’t adequately explained by the sciences or religions we have now” which actually sounds a lot like what Lawyer is saying. He feels there must be something, but admittedly does not know (gnosis) what the nature of the “something” must be.

    If you live in the Bible Belt, you offend fewer people by claiming to be agnostic. Both types carry a heavy social burden- almost as bad as coming out gay in some parts of the country.

    I merely state I am agnostic as I like to leave open the possibility for something to convince me otherwise. (trying to remain scientifically unbiased). Most of the time online I just say atheist though, because as of now I remain unconvinced, and it is a label that is better recognized.

  7. Holte Ender Reply

    April 25, 2010 at 8:40 pm

    Thank you Lawyer for a considerate and gentle post. I’m with you on this. A Theist believes there is at least one God and an (a)Theist believes there is no God. So both are belief systems. An (a)Gnostic is not 100% sure of anything, like science. Einstein’s theories were just that, and still are theories, although he was probably 99.99% correct. He proved Newton’s theories were off kilter and some bright spark will come along and put for forth an idea that will be in conflict with Albert’s thoughts. That’s the nature of thinking and the advancement of humanity.

    I am 99.9999% certain that the sun will rise tomorrow. One day in the future it will not happen.

    • Stimpson Reply

      April 25, 2010 at 9:10 pm

      No, atheism is the absence of belief in any gods.
      http://atheism.about.com/od/aboutagnosticism/a/atheism.htm

      • Holte Ender Reply

        April 25, 2010 at 9:26 pm

        A The­ist believes there is at least one God and an (a)Theist believes there is no God.

        Isn’t that saying an atheist believes there is no God, or an absence of God? I think it does and therefore an “absence of belief” is moot. Maybe we are into semantics.

        • Stimpson Reply

          April 25, 2010 at 9:39 pm

          There’s a difference between saying you have no belief in god, and saying there is no god. It’s a matter of certainty; an atheist doesn’t necessarily feel 100% certain there is no god. As I said earlier, Richard Dawkins pegs himself at about 6.9 on scale of 7 in conviction that there is no god. By some people’s logic, because he doesn’t say 7, that would make him an agnostic (which would be a very silly thing to call him).

          Fellow Canuck blogger Canadian Cynic explained it well in the first post of his that I linked to.

  8. MadMike Reply

    April 26, 2010 at 9:53 am

    This is one of the best treatises I have ever read on this subject. It made me think which can often be a stretch, especially on a Monday when I have so much to do. I have said more often than not that I envy the believers their conviction of a spiritual life beyond our biological state, but that does not mean I believe it [although the idea of multiple universes intrigues me]. As to my lack of belief in “God” it is a lack of a belief in man’s perception of “God,” religion notwithstanding. I could be persuaded to accept that Mother Nature is a form of God, or that we might well be nothing but a virus in the belly of a giant beast. So, am I sure there is no “God?” No. As I am writhing in agony on my death bed, paralyzed with fear, I wager I may have a moment of renewed “faith.” Who knows what the future brings. A Belief can be like the weather. It can change. The vagaries of life can seriously fuck up the strongest of convictions.

  9. Ratsosmith Reply

    April 26, 2010 at 4:02 pm

    Ignore the rest you’re the best.

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