Thursday, July 1, 2010


One of the favorite pastimes of both believers and atheists alike is cataloging the sins of those they believe are representative of the other camp. This, in turn, leads to the another of the favorite pastimes of both believers and atheists alike; defining away people that: a) don't fit their carefully constructed image of themselves and their group and b) might give ammunition to the other side. Feeling left out of the party, Ron Rosenbaum decides that now agnostics must get in on at least part of the act, and pens what might be the first ever bitter agnostic screed in history.

Supposedly, it's goal is to define agnosticism as "radical skepticism, doubt in the possibility of certainty, opposition to the unwarranted certainties that atheism and theism offer." In reality, the piece seems to revel in the idea of calling Richard Dawkins, Daniel Dennett and Christopher Hitchens (recently diagnosed with cancer) out as haters, and atheism as "smug," fraudulently rebellious and a "credulous and childlike faith."

Now, I don't think that it's really going out on a limb to define some of the world's most strident atheists as angry polemicists. So it's hard to go wrong by defining yourself as being in opposition to them. And mocking "the brights" (Three words: Shoot. Fish. Barrel.) is likely always a crowd pleaser. But I don't know that simply going full bore after the most immoderate (and perhaps least savvy) elements of atheism is enough to cover for the fact that Rosenbaum is basically arguing that agnosticism should be defined as a steadfast refusal to have an opinion on the existence of deities in the name of denying the certainty of any statement that can't be backed up by "evidence which logically justifies that certainty." While he quotes Thomas Henry Huxley easily, he leaves it at that, rather than taking on what should be a central part of the manifesto - logically justifying certainty to whom? Or defining a logical justification of certainty himself, thus leaving the door open to willful ignorance to masquerade as "radical skepticism." But this is the problem with trying to form a coherent statement of belief around the ultimate statement of negativity - no matter which side you believe, you have no reason to believe, and any certainty you may have is nothing more than proof of cowardice and a simple mind. Where is the evidence which logically justifies such certainty?

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