Against agnosticism II: Why “I do not know” is never the answer…

In today’s world, many people like to play the agnosticism card. When in face of touch questions, they answer “I do not know” and explain that they do not have enough data to have a definite answer on the question.

That – at first sight – seems like a perfectly legit (if not the MOST legit) answer to a question.

After all, how can you have an opinion on something you do not know the answer to? Isn’t it more honest and scientific to admit that you do not know?

Yet, all of the above is wrong.

The truth is that we can NEVER know anything with 100% certainty. We can never be completely sure that what we say is right. We do not and we will never know all the parameters of ANY problem so as to have a definite opinion on that problem. The realm of knowledge is infinite and the more we explore, the more it expands. There will always be gaps in our knowledge of the cosmos. Taking that into consideration, it is typically and scientifically wrong to claim that we “know” anything. Even for the simplest problem (let’s say: to predict where a billiard ball will hit next) we do not have and we will never have all the data to provide the perfect solution to that problem. We can predict where the billiard ball will hit with a great accuracy, but the more we know the more we will have a better accuracy to that answer. Typically speaking: we will never reach a point where we will be able to say that our answer is the BEST possible answer. (one can search for Poincare and the “Three body problem” to see that we can never even predict how a simple system of 3 bodies will behave in the future, to understand the limits of our methods of thinking)

The same as the above, apply to even greater extent to philosophical and theological problems. We will never know for sure how the cosmos was created. No matter what we do, even after 1,000,000 years we will not have “all” the data to give an answer. We will never be able to know with a 100% certainty the solution to the problem of “free will”. We will never be able to have a definite answer to questions about human consciousness or about the nature of existence per se.

Having that in mind, the position of the agnostic seems more and more like hypocrisy and evasion that a true honest position. The agnosticism’s solution of “I don’t know” is not a valid answer anymore.

Related article: Why you can’t be an agnostic

Sure, we do not know and we may never know how the cosmos was created. But stating “I do not know” in order to avoid the answer, is like saying that “The sun rises from the East” and avoid the answer. You simple state something which is anyway true (“I do not know”) to justify your evasion of taking a stand or for attempting to answer.

Making things worse, practice has shown that people who tend to answer “I do not know” in questions of metaphysical type (like “How was the world created?”) are truly atheists trying to cover up their true position under a cloak of scientism. And this stance is perfectly out of line from what true science also believes: True scientists try to reach for the truth by taking a stance for unanswered difficult questions. Science has progressed not by saying “I do not know” but by proposing possible solutions and theories to explain unexplained phenomena. Simply saying “I don’t know” would truly make Newton – who tried to answer why the planets move in an era where gravity was unknown – turn into his grave. Agnosticism is the best way to stay stagnant in an era where progress of knowledge seems to be the best and only way forward.

In summary, agnosticism is in every aspect wrong.

Yet again.

“I don’t know”…

Agnosticism, as a cloak to Dogmatism

Many people, when asked if they believe in God, answer “I am an agnosticist”. Agnosticism seems the best place for “free thinkers” and is promoted as the safest harbour to protect from dogmatism.

Well, I have some objections to that. I will show here that agnosticism as a philosophical idea is something like a cloak to deep Dogmatism. Something like a camouflage for the hypocritical “free” thinkers who are actually more like fundamentalists trying to sneak into the night into the Academy of Plato – and the burn it down.

I have already shown why one CANNOT practically be an Agnosticist in the first place, at the article Why you can’t be an agnostic. Here I will elaborate more on the hypocritical uses of this philosophical idea and expose what seems like a “method to hide from public eyes the dogmatism one has”.

Take the infamous atheist priest Dawkins for example. You will never see him state that “there is no God”. You will see him however state that he is an agnostic (see here and here) or that “there is PROBABLY no God” (see here).

All nice and well, you would say?

Not at all, I would answer.

The point is that Dawkins HAS made his choices. He HAS made up his mind. He “knows he knows” even though he does not admit it. He HAS made up his mind for the philosophical subjetc of God. He HAS decided on whether afterlife exists or not. He HAS decided whether he wants to go to Church every Sunday or not. He HAS decided whether to debate for or against theists. He HAS decided whether or not he wants to have educated friends. After all, when Playboy asked him here if he has any religious friends he answered the glorious “No. It’s not that I shun them; it’s that the circles I move in tend to be educated…“.

If he wanted to be TRULY agnostic, then he would explore both views. He would explore both possibilities. He would pursue other paths, so as to find out which one is the right one. But he does not.

All in all, Dawkins HAS made up his mind.

However he keeps on hiding behind the cloak of “agnosticism”. But WHY? Why would he lie? Well, I guess the answer is simple: saying he is “agnostic” lets him off the hook for some very embarassing questions and helps him keep on the face of the “free thinking scientist”. After all, it suits him well. Agnostics are not “fundamentalists”, right?

Well, as it seems from his case that they can. And stating you are not an elephant does not mean you are not one…

One can find many other similar cases of known “agnostic” atheists everywhere you look. It is actually no accident that the very term “agnostic” was invented by a man known as “Darwin’s Bulldog” (imagine how… “gentle” he was in his views). He too claimed that he was agnostic, even though his battles against religion were epic…

Russell is another great example. He claims that he is an agnostic and when he is asked “Why shouldn’t one raise the question of the cause of the existence of all particular objects?” he answers “Because I see no reason to think there is any” (see Copleston vs. Russell radio debate here). Later on, he says “I don’t admit the idea of a Necessary Being and I don’t admit that there is any particular meaning in calling other beings “contingent.” These phrases don’t for me have a significance except within a logic that I reject”. So he HAS decided that specific questions have “no meaning” (what does that mean really?!?). So he HAS made up his mind about whether or not the cosmos has a Cause. And he DOES NOT want to look into the problem. If he was genuinly agnostic, he would search for every possible answer. But he does not. Because if he searches for an answer, he knows he might find an answer he does not like…

Most agnostics like to say “I do not have an opinion on whether a flying teapot is orbiting Mars”, in a way to quote an example invented by Rusell. They say that so as to show you that this is how the also treat the problem of God. They “do not know” as “they do not know the answer to the teapot story”. But making the philosophical question of whether the cosmos has a First Cause equal to the question of a flying teapot (or a “tooth fairy” – another infamous parallelism used by fake “agnostics”) shows there is more to that “agnostic” opinion. The one who makes this equations HAS decided that the question of the existence of the world is not worth his effort. He HAS decided that the First Cause is EQUALLY important to a teapot. This is Hypocrisy. Not “free thinking”.

An atheist friend of mine used to tell me the example of the teapot in his attempt to convince me that he was an “agnostic”. Well, the fact that he was attacking religion whenever he got the chance, did not help him convince me…

A scientist who searches for the explanation of consicousness on a metarialistic basis, cannot say he is agnostic on the matter of God. He believes everything is matter, so he HAS a very SPECIFIC opinion about God. A biologist who every day attacks religion and its proponents, CANNOT claim that he is an agnostic!

Agnosticisim is almost impossible to practice. But not impossible at all. That is why the article is not titled “Agnosticism is a cloak to Dogmatism”, but “Agnosticism, as a cloak to Dogmatism” instead. However when used, it must be used HONESTLY and not as a method to evade questions.

All ideas deserve respect. But how people use philosophical ideas, is their problem… Or maybe it is all in the ideas themselves?

Well, I “don’t know”…

Or maybe I do? …

Harmonia Philosophica News

Rationalists, atheists and agnostics: A new breed of Dogmatists!

Religion-Science Philosophy articles series

Many people today claim they are “reational”. Many others claim they are “atheists”. And a lot others claim they are “agnostics”. I will not address here why it is not-so-logical to be logical (see Harmonia Philosophica) or why it is invalid to be agnostic (see Why you can’t be an agnostic) or why atheism requires more faith than theism (see Religion and Science unification – Towards Religional Science). What is of interest here is to point out the great misunderstanding that covers all there three ways of thinking: the claim that people who claim to belong in any of these groups are not dogmatic, while they are more than anyone!

People today have been so accustomed in using specific axioms that they really forget that are axioms at all! So when any of these people say “Prove me that a soul exists”, they forget that the other can also respond “Prove me that only matter exists”. Our experience if full of unexplained phenomena and we must remember that materialism is a philosophical DOGMA (call it Axiom), not a proven position! Relying on it to try to be “free thinking” does nothing more than revealing how dogmatic you are. You cannot rely on ANY dogma (whether it is materialism or theism alike) in order to prove you are not dogmatic!

The worship of Logic as a dogma is also a mark of our era. People (especially those belonging in the three abovementioned groups) BELIEVE in Logic as if it was something “valid”, “objective” or “true”. However this is hardly the case. Mathematical Logic is based on a whole SET OF AXIOMS  (just look http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/List_of_axioms for an indicative list)!! Selecting those axioms is a matter of intuitiuon and FAITH. Changing those axioms is a matter of FREE WILL! Logic is not set on solid foundations! Being illogical is just another way of saying “I think differently”. It is not bad or “wrong”. It is just what everyone should do in an era of scientism!

The Pythagorean Theorem is not “valid”! The Pythagoream Theorem is not “true” or “proved”! The correct way of putting it is to say that “Based on the Eucledian Axioms, the Pythagorean Theorem is proved”. Again, a set of initial axioms must be used!

Claiming the “truth” of something while forgetting that it is based on completely intuitively chosen axioms is DOGMATIC!

Claiming that you are fighting against dogmatism while being dogmatic is not only wrong, but dangerous as well…

And atheists, agnosticists and rationalists of today do just that…

Why you can’t be an agnostic

This article deals with the issue of agnosticism and tries to show why agnosticism should be a philosophy that one follows on every aspect of his life, or does not follow it at all. I will demonstrate that believing in science but applying agnosticism when it comes to the big metaphysical questions of human existence is utterly wrong.

Agnosticism – A definition

Many people like to postulate on the great metaphysical questions of human. Many people like to think that God exists, others like to think that He does not. But there is a third category of people: those who do not like to deal with such questions because of lack of relative evidence. These people are called “agnostics”. The terms agnostic and agnosticism were created by Huxley to sum up his thoughts on contemporary developments of metaphysics about the “unconditioned” (Hamilton) and the “unknowable” (Herbert Spencer).

Thomas Henry Huxley

What I will demonstrate in this article is that if someone defines himself as “agnostic” he must not believe in anything concerning science and life. Or, in other words, someone who calls himself a “scientist” (thus, he believes in what we call “science” – see below) cannot at the same time call himself an “agnostic” and avoid questions about God in such a crude and un-scientific way…

I will achieve that by analyzing the nature of “knowledge” and by showing that there can be no such thing as “certain” knowledge: for us to say something about anything, we must have faith in something! There is nothing for which we have ALL the evidence required for us to “know” – after all who decides which is the level of knowledge required for someone to “know”? Noone.

The implications of that fact are very important especially for agnosticism: one cannot say “I don’t know” in some areas of knowledge but “claim” that he/she “knows” in others…

Faith or Evidence?

Many people rely solely on evidence to believe something. Others rely only on faith. Others – most of us actually – rely both on hard evidence and soft indications (i.e. evidence + faith up to a point) to believe in something. The first two categories of people are the extremes and these extremes make a very good job in trying to convince everyone that you must either rely on evidence or on faith exclusively so as to actually “know” if something is true. This is far from correct.

I will demonstrate by using simple human logic that such thing as “absolute knowledge” does not actually exist and that believing in anything always contains some degree of faith. This has a great implication as far as “agnosticism” is concerned: you must either choose to believe nothing (since every knowledge contains some “faith”) or to believe something about every question you deal with, but you CANNOT say “I don’t have evidence, thus I cannot have an opinion on this”…

The myth of absolute knowledge

Science uses evidence to reach to conlusions about the world. Scientists apply the tool of “logic” to these “hard” evidence and formulate theories that explain the world and, most importantly, predict the future behaviour of systems. So is the knowledge gained via this scientific method valid? Is what we learn via evidence and logic induction “real”? The answer is that we cannot be certain.

First of all, induction is a logical tool that can be used to draw great conclusions, but it is not a perfect tool. Its limits are the actual limits of our knowledge. Lets say you decide to formulate a scientific theory about frogs. You observe a frog and see that it is green and likes water. Then you observe another frog and see that it is also green and likes water. Then another, another, another and another…So by using logical induction you state your grand theory: “Frogs are green and they like water”. Have you discovered the truth? Should others believe you? Lets say they do and you become the world’s greatest “frogologist”…Everything seem fine, until you discover a black frog…

How do you decide when there is enough evidence to base one theory on? How does one scientist knows when to stop collecting data and start writing his theory? The answer is simple: he cannot know when to stop. So believing the conclusions science draws from the scarse evidence it has entails believing that induction actually “works” for the case we examine [1] [2].

Secondly, what do we know of the limits of our thought? As Wittgenstein well put it, we cannot know the limits of our thought because in doing so we should be able to think of what we cannot think! How do we then know if our senses totally fool us? How can we be certain that our brain functions correctly? And what does “correctly” mean anyway? The answer to such philosophical questions is quite simple: we cannot be certain of anything. So believing the results of science means that one must also believe that we think correctly, that nothing out of our brain reach exists and so on…

See my knol Religional Science for more details on the post-modern philosophy of Wittgenstein.

Following from the above, Science can create theories but cannot tell us anything about the “truth” of the world we live in. Science can create models of gravity, but is unable to say whether “gravity” is something real or not. The knowledge we have via science is relative and not absolute. And even if it is, we will neven know it. Please refer to my knol for The Limits of Science for a more detailed analysis of the matter.

The implications to agnosticism

When some people who BELIEVE in science are asked about the great metaphysical questions of humans (e.g. “Does God exists?”, “Why do we exist?” etc), they answer that the lack of evidence does not allow them to carry an opinion on these issues. Can this be a possible answer? No.

The reason why agnosticism is not a viable answer for someone who believes in science, is simple and based on what I have mentioned above for the myth of “absolute” truth. As described above, believing in science contains the notion of “faith”. So one cannot see the “lack of evidence” as a problem, while deciding to just ignore the same problem in another field of knowledge (you believe that all frogs are green because the great frogologist told you so, even though you do not have observed ALL the frogs in the Universe).

So the possibilities are:

1. You are a complete agnostic: You do not believe in absolutely ANYTHING, since believing in anything means having observed ALL possible data, KNOWING that your mind works correctly, being CERTAIN that your mind can think for what you think and so on.

2. You have an opinion, since knowing equals observing + analyzing logically + believing (see above). We can never actually “know” something, but we use that word often. That is acceptable, provided that we understand the true nature of the words we use.

3. You say that you DO NOT WANT to have an opinion. That is an absolutely valid option to choose.

However it must be noted that this has nothing to do with the often heard agnostic motto: “I do not have evidence to draw an opinion”…And it is even more weird (at least) to be a scientist and try to understand how everything in the universe works, but not want to learn why do you exist or what is the reason behind the existence of the whole universe…

In other words, if you have no problem using number π or the suare root of 2, then you do not have the “right” to use the excuse of “lack of evidence” when it comes to questions like “does God exist?”. If you use the idea of “infinite” in mathematics, then you cannot say that people who claim that God is infinite and exists do not have reliable evidence. If you believe in the existence of a number you cannot even write down on paper (see 3,14159…), then how can you use the excuse of “we cannot know” or claim that “I don’t want to know” when it comes to the meaning of your own life? If you discuss about the “Big Bang” for which you will never have empirical or experimental data, how can you not discuss about metaphysical questions?

Agnosticism is incompatible with human relations

Saying “I don’t know because I don’t have all the necessary hard evidence to draw a certain conclusion” can lead to many problems in everyday life. To put it simply, hard-core agnosticism is incompatible with everyday life and healthy human relations because it undermines the basis of human relations: trust. When a close friend tells you that he caught a very big fish the day before, would you believe him? Or would you deny even to discuss about it if your friend did not present hard evidence for the specific fish in discussion? If your wife tells you that she loves you, would you believe her? Or would you wait until specific hard evidence were presented to back-up her saying? How many evidence would it take to convince you? In life and especially in human relations many agnostics believe things without any evidence, but they tend to “forget” it or present these cases as something “different” from the cases discussed above. However the cases are similar. And to make things more complicated I would like feedback from agnostics on the following: If your son is accused of something in a court of law with all the evidence pointing towards the conclusion that he is guilty, but you really *know* your son and know he is a never-lying good kid, would you believe him if he said “I didn’t do it” ? Trust and love are things not based on evidence every time. Human relations are things not based on scientific experimental data and evidence. If you say to your wife that you love her as long as you have a list with evidence “proving” HER love to you, then this is not true love and this is not a healty human relationship. So what do you do? Would you just stop being an agnostic there?

Conclusion

Most of us apply agnosticism selectively to specific aspects of knowledge. As I have demonstrated above, human knowledge must always be based on evidence and faith at the same time – we can never be certain of something beyond any doubt! So agnosticism in some things and “knowledge” of others is not an option! Either believe, not believe or state that you do not WANT to decide – but don’t use the “lack of evidence” as an excuse for you “not knowing” in matters that may discomfort you!
And do not forget that no matter how many times an agnostic might say “I don’t know” he still cannot hide the fact that he/she constantly makes deliberate choices in his life: an agnostic who “does not know” if there is a God goes or goes-not to the church. So in his mind he does have an inclination towards one of the two possibilities.  In the same way an agnostic who “does not know” if causality exists in the worlds, looks for cause or does not look for causes in his everyday life. So in most cases the “I don’t know” is accompanied by more than specific choices that are made.

Moreover, the search for knowledge is what has driven humans to philosophy for thousands of years. Denying that reality and denying the inherent desire of humans to “know”, is simply unacceptable…If Socrates, Aristotle and Plato applied agnosticism, then we would still be eating bananas now…


As Frederick Copleston said, “If one refuses to sit down and make a move, you cannot be checkmated”. [3]
I am eagerly waiting for comments of agnostics who believe that I am wrong and they are right…
I will gladly hear anyone who can propose an objective criterion upon which we can rely so as to decide in which questions we are “allowed” to say “I know” (or, at least, have an opinion) and in which we are not. Feel free to post comments below.

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