Non-philosophy-based writing on religious epistemology mostly confuses me and frequently frustrates me. This article on Slate.com definitely confused me. But it’s an opportunity to make a point. Consider this excerpt.
“Agnosticism doesn’t fear uncertainty. It doesn’t cling like a child in the dark to the dogmas of orthodox religion or atheism. Agnosticism respects and celebrates uncertainty and has been doing so since before quantum physics revealed the uncertainty that lies at the very groundwork of being.”
Apart from the ad hominem and the fact that though quantum mechanics is pretty fundamental it’s still pretty far from the “very groundwork of being,” the thing that bugs me is this idea that religious believers have any particular interest in certainty. “Lord I believe, help thou my unbelief.”
I’ve been pretty forthcoming about my own undulating credences here (enough so that some folks have asked me to send them my Spreadsheet (yes, I keep one)). Religious publishers catalogs abound with books embracing the consistency of faith and some limited but real doubt. There might be some fundamentalist sombitches out there who espouse certainty, but their getting all the press gets old. I’ve blogged a good bit on my Catholic blog about a *species* of certainty faith includes, but it’s not the kind of certainty these kind of people are talking about.
Now Brian Leiter lauds a comment on that story which includes this:
“Atheism is NOT the certainty that there are no gods. It is NOT a conviction that science will one day answer all questions. Atheism is the refusal to believe in gods in the absence of evidence for their existence.
Some of my Christian Evidentialist colleagues at Rochester–there’s a small colony of us emanating from there now–were discussing this and it was noticed that we counted as atheists according to this! After all, we refuse to believe *anything* in the absence of evidence!
Another problem with this definition is that it makes metaphysically impossible irrational atheists who disbelieve in God in the *presence* of evidence. And I have evidence that such persons are possible (it involves the lemma that the actual is possible). 🙂