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does god intervene?, ..we're talking miracles here!
  • exchemist May 2012
    OK Bonnie, sorry if my earlier reply seemed a bit acid - it came out at slightly lower pH than I meant. And your point is fair that most Christians do not trouble themselves with the details of many aspects of their faith. But then I take most of evolutionary biology and general relativity on trust: nobody can be expert on everything, after all.  

    Simon, I very much enjoyed your 2 letters about what faith is and isn't. Very insightful and clearly expressed. I presume the idea is that Anthony's "trust" and your "faith" are the same thing. This reminds me of one of my favourite insights from Alister McGrath's book, "Dawkins' God", in which he points out that, due to the impossibility of proving that  God doesn't exist, an embrace of atheism is just as much an act of faith as embrace of religious belief. 

    But, on this basis, I would have thought that agnosticism is the one state that does not require faith. If so, then it seems to me that Anthony's contention falls down, making Bonnie right on this point.           
  • SimonSimon May 2012
    Hi exchemist,

    It is interesting to note that even Dawkins has taken to referring to himself as an agnostic (see here). I often roll my eyes when I encounter people who claim to be an atheist because in reality, when pressed, most of them are agnostics with attitude!

    I'm glad you liked those letters - they were fun to write and you'll be amused to know they even got picked up on a blog and given the title "Atheist: faith is not belief without evidence" which amused me somewhat. Mind you (as you may have gathered) I am definitely on the agnostic side of Christianity!

    Regarding the difference between faith and trust, one difference is that "trust" tends to refer to concrete ideas (I trust that the chair will hold my weight) and faith to more abstract theories or constructs. Another difference (from my perspective) is that "faith" describes the epistemological process of getting from propositions to conclusions, whereas trust describes a type of relationship between two propositions. So yes an agnostic may not have faith in God (or not God), but may well have faith in other areas such as humanism, scientism etc.
  • I would tend to see "faith" and "trust" as meaning pretty much the same thing, though philosophers love to make distinctions between words :)

    Agnosticism is a faith commitment too, as it is a positive commitment to the belief that the evidence is not compelling. If all the evidence says that Bill Gates is in charge, then for a Microsoft employee to say "I don't know who is in charge" - that is, to be agnostic about who is in charge - would not only be crazy, but would be an insult and grounds for disciplinary action.
  • SimonSimon May 2012
    Hi Anthony,

    If "Faith" and "Trust" mean the same thing then why are they different words?

    RE Agnosticism, I don't think it is always a "positive commitment to the belief that the evidence is not compelling". I tend to view beliefs as being related to probabilities so something I believe with a 99% probability I might call truth, and something with a 1% I might call false, but things that fall in the middle I can be less sure - more agnostic - about. For instance I am agnostic about the afterlife. This isn't to say that I am committing to the evidence not being compelling, just that I really don't know. I'm not sure that such "uncertainty" can be equated with "a positive commitment to the belief that the evidence is not compelling", although something else philosophers are known for is splitting hairs!!
  • Hi Simon,

    I see faith and trust as pretty much the same thing, not exactly the same thing, if you don't mind me splitting hairs. Anyway, there is such a thing as a synonym :)

    Agree about the probability point. That's what is often missing in the discussion. Someone who thinks the probability of God's existence is 1% might call himself an "agnostic", but someone who thought the probability was 99% probably wouldn't use that label. I suppose the positive commitment comes in when someone makes life choices based on the belief (that the evidence is not compelling). So an agnostic may seem to be following this kind of reasoning:

    "I'm not sure whether P is true or false, so I will live as though P were false."

    For an example of this belief affecting life choices, a die-hard agnostic is unlikely to give much of their income to support Christian evangelism.

    But now try that substituting for P:

    P1: "God exists"
    P2: "God doesn't exist"

    Then it becomes ridiculous. So it seems that to self-identify as an "agnostic" really means something else. Maybe: "I think it is more likely that God doesn't exist than that he does exist, so I will live as though God doesn't exist." Or, in a general principle,

    "I believe that Pr(P) < 0.5, so I will live as though P were false."

    To rephrase what I said, if your agnosticism (your belief that the probability of P is x, where 0.1 < x < 0.9, say) leads you to live in a certain way, then you are exercising a positive faith commitment to your belief (that the probability of P is x).
  • exchemist May 2012
    Anthony, this strikes me as a slippery piece of manipulation that cannot pass unchallenged. The whole essence of agnosticism is WITHHOLDING commitment to either atheist or religious views. It is perverse to try to maintain that that itself constitutes a commitment to uncertainty. Suppose someone said I was committed to the view that I don't know whether or not Greece will exit the Euro? What a meaningless statement that would be. 

    And what, please, is a "diehard" agnostic?   

    The example of giving financial support doesn't work either. I don't support Battersea Dogs' Home but that doesn't mean I don't think they do valuable work: it is merely a matter of my charitable priorities. You only put yourself out for something you feel strongly about. Similarly, and more to the the point, the fact that an agnostic doesn't go to church or pray (for example) doesn't for an instant mean they have made an atheist "life choice". The agnostic is NOT following the logic you impute: "I'm not sure whether P is true or false, so I will live as though P were false." The agnostic, I suggest, is simply refraining from making life choices predicated on whether God exists or not.  

    Finally it is ridiculous to imagine that the average agnostic assigns probabilities to the likelihood of the existence of God. It is true that if they were to do so, they could only do it on the basis of some reasoning process, weighing of evidence, or theory they had constructed, in which process or theory they could then be said to have "faith". But practically nobody actually thinks in this way.  


  • Hi Bonnie, interesting discussion. I wasn't there, but I think Twin Towers happened though whether that thought would be allowed in a future Orwellian world, I wonder. What we think it means is a matter for one's personal opinion and world view. If we wind back the clock around 40 - 60 generations or so into a pre-scientific world (as we understand that) we have to ask whether a resurrection of a crucified body took place and if it did, what it means, because our single point of agreement with all of humanity, is that we will ourselves die and the clock ticks relentlessly. To use an old cliche, we are in a race against time. Thank you for all your thoughts, my brain is ticking too in some kind of sympathetic harmony with all your reservations and I will continue to ponder the "answers" others come up with.
  • Exchemist - my point is that it is impossible to withhold commitment to whether or not the Christian God exists. You either live as though Jesus is Lord of everything, or you live as though he isn't. It makes a difference. You can always tell by the general shape of someone's life whether they are living as though Jesus is Lord or as though he isn't.

    I don't know what will happen to Greece and the Euro, and I don't have the faintest idea what the probabilities are. But that doesn't make any difference to how I live. I'm not investing in Greek industries, for example, or weighing up whether or not to move to Greece and make a living there. It's not the same when it comes to the claims of Christianity. Whether they are true or false makes a huge difference to my life.

    I'm suggesting that most people who self-identify as "agnostics" end up living as though Jesus isn't Lord of everything. Would you disagree with that? Or can you join the dots between "I don't know whether the Christian God exists" and "I'll live as though the Christian God doesn't exist"?
  • On the historicity of Jesus, and the resurrection, a friend of mine in the States.. a very clever guy in my opinion, has made a very thought provoking series of video's entitled "Excavating the empty tomb", his youtube name is TruthSurge, well worth checking out.

    I'd be quite interested to get some feedback on his work. Sorry I haven't included a link, but if you go to Youtube and type in "Excavating the Empty tomb" by TruthSurge you should easily find his video's. They are not incoherant ramblings and babblings, ( like so many video's on Youtube)  but well made, well narrated, nicely edited pieces that he has made. Certainly food for thought for anyone seeking truth. IMHO.

  • exchemist May 2012
    Anthony, of course an an agnostic is not going to live his life as though "Jesus is Lord of everything". 

    But that is NOT the same thing as making a  commitment to an "atheist life choice", any more than not voting Tory makes one a Labour supporter. 

    You are posing a false dilemma. 

    For example, at its simplest, an atheist is convinced religious believers are WRONG. This is bound to affect his or her interactions with them in some ways, however polite or subtle he or she may be. The agnostic does not have this conviction and is likely to behave differently towards those with religious faith. Is it not the case that "not knowing"is an intellectually humbler stance than that of conviction.     
  • exchemist - I agree that atheism and agnosticism are not the same. But, in the moderately simplified dilemma that I am setting up, the options are either to vote for candidate A, or candidate B. Not voting is not an option, not is spoiling the ballot paper. You can be agnostic about whether you prefer candidate A or candidate B, but you have to vote for one or the other.

    Similarly, I contend, there is no way of living your life so that you are neutral as to whether the Christian God exists. If what you say is correct - that an agnostic is going to live his life as though Jesus is NOT Lord of everything - then I think you agree. Living as though Jesus is NOT Lord of everything (= not living as though Jesus IS Lord of everything) is not a neutral way of living. It's living in basically the same way as an atheist would live.
  • Anthony, I'm not sure where you are going with this. It's almost as if you are saying that by choosing to live life as though Jesus is Lord gives you a distinct advantage over someone who does not. (maybe I'm reading between the lines and I've got it wrong).  I regard myself as an atheist ( although I'm happy to be called an agnostic, a secular humanist, whatever, it's no big deal for me, .. I simply lack belief in a supernatural entity.. god, call it what you will ). Moreover, given that I do live my life without Jesus, it in no way makes my life any less fulfilling. I've no doubt you find tremendous comfort and strength through your Christianity. Similarly, I find those exact positives in my life through atheism/agnosticism, I experience incredible senses of joy and wonder in my life on a daily basis. I've no doubt both you and I Anthony live our lives as best we can, helping others, giving to charity, generally doing our best in life for our fellow man. I don't think either of us can claim that we have the upper edge on eachother, I certainly wouldn't claim that. How can you quantify the happiness and contentment of one persons life over another?. I can only speak for myself regarding my non belief in God, It's improved my life a 100 fold, and It's given me a greater understanding of my place in the Universe, and a wonderful quest for more knowledge about our past and our future.

    I'm sorry if I've misunderstood your comments, but I don't think there is this big issue between atheism and agnosticism, I'm happy to be labelled an agnostic atheist. In a nutshell, .. regarding God, .. I don't know, ..and I don't think so.  For me, the evidence is lacking. .. but if I find any credible evidence, I'll happily change my mind.

  • exchemist May 2012
    I think my problem with Anthony's characterisation is that he wants to label anyone who does not "live life as though Jesus is Lord of everything" as having made an "atheist" life choice. (Not sure where that leaves Hindus, Buddhists, Zoroastrians etc, but that's another story.) It seems to me the assertion that there is no way to live your life that is neutral towards the possibility of a God existing is a false one. 

    But what it comes down to of course is what "living your life" according to any of these convictions or absences thereof consists of. I'd like to hear Anthony expand on what living a life as if Jesus is Lord of everything consists of in practice. My own view is that a "maybe" towards people of different beliefs, including atheism, is a different stance towards your fellow men and hence a different way of living your life, from that of the firm Christian believer or the atheist.  
  • SimonSimon May 2012
    Just for the record I too think that Anthony's dichotomy is too simplistic. I do not view Christianity as a closed set belief system where you are either in or out based upon your acceptance of certain claims. Instead I think Christianity is a far more fluid "open set" belief system where many people who might not identify with the label "Christian" are in fact far closer to God than they (or others) may think. We each have a unique history and therefore way of looking at the world. God will judge us fairly based on his standards rather than a doctrinal statement dreamt up by man. The world is an uncertain place and if we believe God created it, then we have to also believe that God is able to deal with our uncertainty. 
  • I agree Simon, .. every single person on the planet is unique in their own way. Even within a given religion people have differing nuances. No two people think exactly alike. I think for millions of people on this planet they have far more pressing issues just trying to survive within their own environment, deep issues regarding god are given only fleeting thoughts when you don't know where your next meal is coming from. I would imagine these people know little about philosophical arguments. I agree with Exchemists comments aswell.

    And may I say how well Simon writes for a little boy with an eye patch, .. I'm very impressed.