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Michi’s blog » On religion

 On religion

  • January 27th, 2007
  • 10:06 pm

I decided on a whim to look in at the Dilbertblog, where the top post at the moment has Scott Adams calling all atheists that discuss on the net irrational, using a rather neat strawman carbon copy of most discussions of faith between believers (i.e. mostly Christians) and atheists he has seen on the web.

At the end of it comes a question: supposing it could be established that there’s a truly infinitesimal (in the physical sense, not the mathematical) chance of a God existing – he quotes “one in a trillion” as a model probability; would it then be fair of an atheist to claim the non-existence to be proven?

Somehow, this illustrates clearly the thesis I occasionally pronounce (when I’m feeling belligerent) that mathematics and theology have a lot more in common than mathematics and physics. For a physicist, the quoted probability of failure is a dream: most physical ‘truths’ are much looser than that. However, for very many people, the choice between self-identifying as an atheist and as an agnostic falls in the agnostic camp, since Absolute Certainty can never be reached in such a question. For many more, the Lack of Absolute Certainty takes on a handy argumentative baseball bat shape for Believers, who use it to cast doubt on their supposedly wholly rational argumentative opponents.

I’m a mathematician. I acknowledge that things may not be what I perceive them to be. I realize that this may make me into an agnostic – HOWEVER, selflabeling myself as agnostic doesn’t change anything. I still view the existence of a God, or several, of descriptions known to man or unknown, as mainly irrelevant.

If you get something out of it – fine, that’s great. I, however, don’t, and therefore view the hypothesis as irrelevant. I don’t believe in a God, and very much not in the (sorry, a) Christian God, since I find the hypothesis preposterous, and of very little impact on my own life.

I was once held up on my way from somewhere to somewhere else by a Mormon missionary, who in the cause of our discussion put forth the thesis that humans are incapable of acting morally without the presence of a Watchful and Vengeful God.
I, on the other hand, think that most people will want to live in a society where most if not preferably all act according to some set of common morals, and therefore will help impose morals on their community. This regardless of whether a God is used as impositional tool or not. It’s a useful social construct for getting it your way, but in no way a necessary thesis.

That would be my answer to Scott Adams – too long to fit in the already too long answer thread.

5 People had this to say...

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  • Brandon S. Allbery KF8NH
  • January 28th, 2007
  • 0:43

I was once held up on my way from somewhere to somewhere else by a Mormon missionary, who in the cause of our discussion put forth the thesis that humans are incapable of acting morally without the presence of a Watchful and Vengeful God.

Judging by the behavior of the Truly Religious(tm), it’s pretty clear that this is true of them — not so much so of other people, who unlike them manage to behave civilly most of the time….

</sarcasm>

(be it known that I am religious, but have sincere and grave doubts about the self-styled Truly Religious(tm) of all faiths)

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  • Dan P
  • January 28th, 2007
  • 2:25

one in a trillion = absolutely certainly not. Surely only a mathematician, or an innumerate, would say otherwise.

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  • Michi
  • January 28th, 2007
  • 11:53

@Brandon: You may want to include Selfstyled Truly Religious – I’m quite certain that there are people that can rightly be given that epiteth (in a non-sarcastic way) and still behave civilly.

Then again, this is the mathematician nitpicking about wordings.

@DanP: That being the point, wouldn’t it? What made me trigger on the posting in the first place was this formulation on one in a trillion – which, me being a mathematician, for a long time was the hurdle I faced in calling myself atheist. I couldn’t deny a one in a trillion chance, and thus absolute certainty was not to be had.

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  • Micah
  • February 23rd, 2007
  • 5:14

You are using atheism and agnosticism as if one is one or the other. Those terms are not mutually exclusive. Atheism is simply the lack of belief in a particular god. Agnosticism is the belief that a particular god cannot be disproven.

I for one call myself an Agnostic Atheist. There are Agnostic Theists. There are a fewer people who consider themselves Gnostic Atheists. There some Gnostic Theists, too.

From a utilitarian perspective, some do call themselves agnostics. Actually, you might rather call yourself an ignostic. Let me pull something from the Ignosticism article on Wikipedia, “Ignosticism is the view that the question of the existence of God is meaningless because it has no verifiable (or testable) consequences and should therefore be ignored.”

I’m really arguing a small nit-picking point about your wording. I agree with you on leaps and bounds more than I do with the Fundies.

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  • Michi
  • February 23rd, 2007
  • 11:21

Micah: Thanks for the Ignostic poke — that actually is very much my own position.

However, leaving the theo-philosophical nitpicking and terminology aside, in the popular language-use, agnostic and atheist occupy slightly different positions; and among most people I regularily interact with, agnostic is used as a label close to “I believe in something, I think, but I’m not convinced it’s any god I’ve heard described”, whereas atheist ends up being more along the lines of “I just don’t buy it, and wish to distance myself from all organized religion.”

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