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Follow up: What is Agnostic? May 16, 2007

Posted by Ian in Religion.
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As a quick follow up to the previous post, I’d like to define what I see as agnosticism.

There are two different ways the term agnostic is used. The first is its more literal meaning of a person who denies or doubts the possibility of ultimate knowledge in some area of study (source). Pretty much everyone is (or should be) agnostic in that sense – “ultimate knowledge” is pretty much impossible as there is always some amount of doubt.

There is another meaning of agnosticism which is what I first thought it meant and I think most people also refer to. It is the fence sitting position of someone who doesn’t know whether god exists or not. Often it is used in religious company as an agnostic sounds much more reasonable than atheist.

What agnosticism is not is granting a 50-50 chance of either possibility being right.

I am agnostic about the subject of god, but not because I grant any credibility to the god hypothesis. To paraphrase Dawkins, I am as agnostic about god as I am about fairies, Thor, Bertrand Russel’s teapot or the flying spaghetti monster. In practical terms I am an atheist to all of these but at a purely honest scientific level agnosticism is a necessity.

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1. bwinwnbwi - July 19, 2010

Early on I identified with agnosticism,– an escape from what I had been taught. But, I continued to study religion–aesthetic traditions, philosophy of, and even Christianity. The religious views that had staying power with me, though, did not contradict my understanding of science (the “pool ball model of atoms,” which fell out of favor with the discovery of Plank’s constant, but, even so, the scientific method was left intact. However, logic (and sensation) replaced materialism as the last arbitrator for the validation of predictable events). So, in order for me to believe in God, divinity and religion had to demonstrate both consistency and coherence with the fundamentals of logic. The short story is that I now believe in God. What follows is a brief explanation:

Both the logical structure of God and the logic we use on a daily basis come together in what gets identified as “self-consciousness embedded in a physical event.” Hence, in this “event structure,” the source of logic (the source of the God-affirmation) and the source of an “affirmed self” become intertwined. In other words, what permits human beings to affirm the existence (or the non-existence of God) is not just the freedom to choose/believe in God, it is also the freedom to recognize and affirm our shared/selves, our shared/world, and our shared belief (a choice)- in the “individual rights and freedoms” that follow from the life affirming/freedom affirming “event structure of God!” Thanks for the opportunity to post.

2. Ian - July 19, 2010

Welcome, some responses:

Early on I identified with agnosticism,– an escape from what I had been taught. But, I continued to study religion–aesthetic traditions, philosophy of, and even Christianity. The religious views that had staying power with me, though, did not contradict my understanding of science

In my experience these are the vaguer ideas – thoughts?

(the “pool ball model of atoms,” which fell out of favor with the discovery of Plank’s constant, but, even so, the scientific method was left intact.

I’d go further and say it was the scientific method that developed out atomic theory beyond the pool ball theory. This wasn’t a “threat” to science but rather a development because of it.

However, logic (and sensation) replaced materialism as the last arbitrator for the validation of predictable events).

What is materialism if not logic and sensation?

So, in order for me to believe in God, divinity and religion had to demonstrate both consistency and coherence with the fundamentals of logic.

A fair idea, and one that I support.

The short story is that I now believe in God. What follows is a brief explanation:

Both the logical structure of God and the logic we use on a daily basis come together in what gets identified as “self-consciousness embedded in a physical event.” Hence, in this “event structure,” the source of logic (the source of the God-affirmation) and the source of an “affirmed self” become intertwined. In other words, what permits human beings to affirm the existence (or the non-existence of God) is not just the freedom to choose/believe in God, it is also the freedom to recognize and affirm our shared/selves, our shared/world, and our shared belief (a choice)- in the “individual rights and freedoms” that follow from the life affirming/freedom affirming “event structure of God!” Thanks for the opportunity to post.

The problem I have with this description is that if I replace the word “god” with “cheesecake” it still makes as much sense to me… perhaps you could expand on what you mean by “the logical structure of god”?

Thanks for posting and I hope you find time to follow up.

3. bwinwnbwi - July 19, 2010

Again, thanks for the opportunity to reply. Yes and yes, to your first two comments, and a qualified yes and yes, to your other two comments. And further, if cheesecake could be structured in the same way that God is structured then yes, we could replace the concept of God with the concept of cheesecake. Now for my two caveats:

1) If materialism takes in the manifold of everything we can see, hear, feel, taste, smell, and explain, then logic and sensation become mere material attributes. However, consider that space, as an ontological entity, in the theory of general relativity, doesn’t exist. The being of space has been replaced with purely methodological considerations. What space ‘is,’ or whether any definite character can be attributed to it, is no longer a concern. Rather, we must be concerned with the geometrical presuppositions, the ‘ideal meanings’ that get used in the interpretation of the phenomena that we ascribe to nature according to law. And further, at the other end of the universe, as far as a person’s limited reason is concerned, there is no quantum world, just an abstract quantum physical description. In other words, over time, both knowledge and the perceived field that we find ourselves in changes. Within this context, for me at least, the concept of materialism breaks down, but the concept of sensation–becomes elevated to a whole new ontological level. The function of the mind’s capacity to connect meaning to sensual contents goes beyond sensual contents and establishes an order among the connections between them. The necessary elements of every assertion—being and non-being, similarity and dissimilarity, unity and plurality, identity and opposition—cannot be represented by any content of perception, but through them ‘ideal meanings’ get created, and when applied to our perceptual field those elements fill our perceptions with meaning. This process, over time, alters both the meaning and the content of our perceptual field. But, what it comes down to in the end, is testing the deductive consequences of those ‘ideal meanings’ against the sensual contents in the field of our perceptions.

The structure of the God explains why the physical universe is comprehensible, why the mind will never stop explaining things, and why mathematics (present and not yet invented) will explore all these imagined possibilities for as long as there is a consciousness alive to do the arithmetic (in this way God has made sure we stay interested). I am committed to the spiritual aspect of “why we are here.” With that thought in mind I offer this quote from Greens book. “Already, through studies in M-theory, we have seen glimpses of a strange new domain of the universe lurking beneath the Planck length, possibly one in which there is no notion of time or space.” Where there is no notion of time or space there is only “emptiness.” (p.387). Now for the structure of God, a structure that is rooted in this emptiness.

2) God is structured in and through “negation,” negations which evolve into the divinity that characterizes physical events, biological events, and psychological events. Human self-consciousness is an expression of this “liberated divinity” (in this sense the whole of the evolving universe may be identified as “liberated divinity”). Sagan’s quote pretty much hits the mark here–“we are the universe’s way of understanding itself.”

God is Logos (that’s why logic and mathematics bridges the gap between scientific theory and predicted physical events). Second, the Logos is freedom fleshed out (physical events that we experience and study). Third, this environment is our aesthetic universe (the natural world) validated through our sense experience. Forth, and last, this Logos moves forward (evolves dialectically) on the back of negation, such that in the human being it becomes the experience of discontinuity occurring in continuity. We know this experience as “time of mind,” as self-consciousness, as implied identity (Descartes cogito), as free will, and (perhaps most importantly) as the birth of ethics and morality. At bottom, the duality of negations evolves into the higher dualities of life/death, and “self-consciousness embedded in a physical event.”

God’s logical consistency is connected necessarily to the evolution of everything that we know about the universe–connected necessarily to all the possibilities of human behavior, albeit, not behaviors that contradict God’s self-consistency, e.g., behavior that takes life unnecessarily, behavior that causes unnecessary suffering, behavior that does harm to the environment–harm to that which preserves and perpetuates freedom, life, love, and the reverence of a God that makes “all” possible. Take care. Sorry for being so wordy.

4. Ian - September 9, 2010

Apologies for a very much overdue reply but here it is anyway on the off chance you see it:

1) I agree with most of the first paragraph and my differences are pedantic so I’ll leave those. The second paragraph almost makes sense to me except in defining the structure of god which you address in step 2…

2) I struggled through this because I really can’t relate to your argument, it feels too lost in the words.

It seems to me however (trying to simplify) that the structure of god is defined by you as interconections between elements of things, both conceptual and real. This ultimately doesn’t really say anything since that would exist regardless of the system.

I suppose the next question is how one could link this highly conceptual and high-level ideas to the idea that one should pray to such a thing?

5. bwinwnbwi - September 15, 2010

Apologies unnecessary, I am frequently tardy and sometimes a no-show (not proud of it though).

You’re right, it’s not just about words. Words are embedded in consciousness, which, in turn, is embedded in physical processes, which, in turn, is embedded in structure, which, in turn, is embedded in the structure that circumscribes all possible things. This structure not only is the precondition for existence, but is also the precondition for the evolution of consciousness and the knowing consciousness that culminates in self-consciousness, or the story of the ups and downs of civilization. Existence, circumscribed by this structure,implies (because of this structure)that which goes by the name of God. This is the same God that we look up to and pray that we will become better human beings.

I don’t know if the above helps, but, speaking strictly for myself, without my belief in the above mentioned God, an emptiness would permeate all the “good” that I have been fortunate enough to encounter. Take care and thanks for the reply.

6. Ian - September 15, 2010

I actually didn’t expect you to still be following this so thanks for continuing the discussion 🙂

Words are embedded in consciousness

I’m not sure I agree with this unless you conflate thought and consciousness. Words are simply labels which reflect convenient simplifications of observation for the purposes of communication.

which, in turn, is embedded in physical processes

Agreed.

which, in turn, is embedded in structure

I am not sure I agree with this either. Physical processes (and things) can be said to exhibit structure but I think that is an externally imposed description and not something where saying “is embedded in” makes any sense.

Structures don’t exist, they are imposed for descriptive purposes.

which, in turn, is embedded in the structure that circumscribes all possible things.

Notwithstanding my previous point, I don’t see any reason to assume that there any such thing.

Existence, circumscribed by this structure, implies (because of this structure)that which goes by the name of God.

So to simplify once more, you are saying that god is implied by the structure of everything? I am not sure that really tells us anything at all…

This is the same God that we look up to and pray that we will become better human beings

We not including me of course 🙂 I am still not entirely sure what one is praying to other than an inherent structure which doesn’t really make sense to me?

7. bwinwnbwi - September 19, 2010

Thanks for the additional comments. Because of our back and forth here (a little luck and some concentrated effort) I managed to put together a post on my wordpress blog. For me, inspiration and effort are in short supply these days, but my thoughts on Existence, God, Structure, Logic, and Love are first in line now. If you find the time, it’s all there. Thanks again.


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