I don’t believe the title of this post is correct, and I’d really like input from all my readers on this topic.
But before I go there I’d like to go over my own views again. The graphic to the right totally cracked me up and it was one of those “yup, that’s definitely the image I want for this post”. As I promised I would a couple of times before, I’m turning a bit of a corner now in my series (you know the one which is not very clearly a series and has been going on for 9 months) and I’m going to express the other side of the story, and will share even more on that in my next post.
Now I’ve expressed the kind of labels I think apply to my own viewpoints here and here. I believe they still fit. As I mentioned there I don’t see a need to argue semantics and some believe the labels are used as tactical debate moves, but that kind of stuff just irritates me – I’d much rather get at the meat of what’s real rather than win some silly debate. I was recently invited to a neighborhood evangelistic small group and was asked why I called myself atheist when I wasn’t really that certain about the existence of gods. My response was something like this: “I know that by strict definitions I am implicitly an atheist, and I also know that I am agnostic as well, and I frankly think possibilian fits me the best, but feel free to call me whatever you like, as long as it’s not a curse (wink) – instead of getting the right label on me what I’d much rather do is get across to you the kind of views I have, and maybe I can learn some from yours as well if I force myself to truly listen. I am doubtful that the kind of gods that humans have described exist, but my certainty level is not extremely high on that. I’m not so sure I am a naturalist but it’s probably fair to say I lean in that direction. I highly value humans and all conscious beings (hide that chicken leg I’m chewing on, gulp). If someone put a table with all possible worldviews out before me and forced me to bet which was true I’d likely choose one that had naturalistic tones to it (whatever that means), but I do wonder quite a lot about reality and whether there is something deeper to reality that perhaps transcends any experience or description that any human is even capable of describing at this stage in our development.” Now how’s that for some cool dinner talk?
And then in this post I described some more about my somewhat relaxed view toward all this stuff, and likely confused some of my readers a little.
So a little more on point – agnosticism – I am an agnostic, but I’m not the kind that says “I don’t know and you don’t either.” My agnosticism is my own and it really just means that I’m not quite so sure of my conclusions. Perhaps I haven’t read enough or learned enough to realize that I can be sure about this topic. Perhaps one can be epistemically justified in claiming that gods do not exist. Which leads to my question.
I’ve seen a lot of theists (and some agnostics) say that that if you cannot disprove something then you should claim agnosticism. But there are some analogies that kind of fly in the face of this. The issue is not about 100% certainty – all who are well thought know that. I’ve given the example of ghosts before. I don’t believe the arguments for the existence for ghosts is very convincing. Do I have proof that ghosts do not exist. Of course I don’t. Perhaps they exist but for some reason would prefer to only make themselves known to a select few (sound familiar?). But should I say I’m agnostic about ghosts? This is not how most people practically communicate their everyday beliefs. A lot of people simply say they do not believe in ghosts. And yes I do believe this relates to the burden of proof, but I don’t see it as a burden I need to put on anyone else – for me it is a burden on myself – if I want to say I believe in ghosts then I feel I should have convincing reasons that justify that belief. If I don’t have them then I feel I am epistemically justified in claiming that I believe ghosts do not exist.
Take the spirit in the closet that my 6 year old son is afraid of. It’s dark in there at night and he’s seen some movement in there (shadows maybe), and noises as well (shifting toys maybe due to gravity). But no matter what I tell him he still wants me to make sure the closet door gets closed before he goes to bed. Can I prove there is no spirit in there? Actually no – in fact it may very well explain things he has heard and seen. Ah, but there seem to be some better explanations for those things (at least to me). But are those really better explanations? We don’t know do we? But why would the spirit not come out and simply reveal itself to us, or why can’t we see it when we go look in there. Well it’s invisible of course, and we should not place any assumptions about the way that spirit thinks – for all we know it has it’s reasons for wanting to remain invisible (sound familiar?). So then I should be forced to claim agnosticism about that spirit then right? I’m thinking not. I’m thinking there is some good epistemic justification there. Is there the same for more deeper metaphysical questions that may relate to spiritual beings in general? I’m not so sure. Perhaps the strange experiences that so many people claim to have really do end up going a bit beyond just anecdotal – more on that in my next post. And then there’s just the general question of existence itself – deep questions that seem strange to think about sometimes.
Questions: If you are a theist, can you see that there may be cases where things cannot be proven yet we would still say it is fair to claim they do not exist? What other thoughts do you have on this? If you are not a theist, do you feel you are epistemically justified in claiming that you know gods do not exist (not 100%, but enough practically speaking), and if so how would you formulate that?