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According to the philosopher William L. Rowe,

"agnosticism is the view that human reason is incapable of providing sufficient rational grounds to justify either the belief that God exists or the belief that God does not exist"

The word "rational" is entirely subjective. It means to do something for a "good reason", but "good" depends on ones ethical assumptions, and thus, it is subjective. The rationality of a utilitarianist will be different from somebody who ascribes to Kantian ethics, and so on. Therefore, in conclusion, is agnosticism a subjective position?

For example, take agnosticism with respect to a benevolent human-like God and agnosticism with respect to the spaghetti monster.

If one is agnostic with respect to the Christian God, one may be so because one finds it rational that such a God could exist or at the very least that one does not see any rational reason for why such a god doesn't exist, where one has used some subjective measure of rationality. But that does not imply that one is also agnostic with respect to the spaghetti monster, since one may equally say that it is rational to believe that such a being doesn't exist.

Therefore, since the decision to be agnostic with respect to some belief is entirely subjective, does this mean that the typical atheist argument of "oh so you are an agnostic? Then you must be open to the existence of the Spaghetti Monster as well, you fool!" falls apart, since it ignores this subjectivity?

  • 1
    First get rid of dictionary definitions. Words are defined by context with other words--- not the dictionary or the entomology. Concepts are words that EXPRESS an idea. Agnostic expresses that one is unaware or uncertain a God existing. Atheism is a rejection --not an unbelief-- of God existing. Rational expresses that a true statement or a highly plausible statement is expressed. There are no blatantly false claims that are rational. This is objective. Agnostic is only for the concept of an all powerful, all knowing , etc God. God --- not super heroes. You can't be agnostic other ways – Logikal Apr 3 '18 at 18:05
  • @Logikal words can have a lot of double or alternate meanings, so a dictionary definition can absolutely be valuable to make sure everyone is on the same page. For instance, to me "rational" means "logically sound". I can make a claim which is logically sound, but is still false, such as by beginning with an incorrect premise. – FirstLastname Apr 3 '18 at 18:40
  • Logically sound in philosophy has a specific meaning. Soundness means the propositions MUST BE TRUE. If prove can just make definitions up why bother with a semantic issue saying agnosticism is subjective? Why not define triangle any kind of way while we are at it? I say triangle means a shape with 27 sides. Subjective will now means absolute face and so on. The dictionary is NOT an authority it was meant to guide not be taken verbatim. Context is how children who can't read a dictionary know words. You do the same as well. You can't make a logically sound argument and the conclusion is false – Logikal Apr 3 '18 at 18:45
  • @firstlastname your terminology may be outside philosophy. The terms you are attemting to use have specific definitions at least in the field of Philosophy . They are not to be made up as people go. – Logikal Apr 3 '18 at 18:48
  • @Logikal I guess I meant "valid" rather than "sound". My point stands- you can be rational but still potentially wrong. Words have many possible meanings; you can't always be certain someone else will glean the right meaning from context alone. The dictionary is as fine a source as any other to resolve this ambiguity. – FirstLastname Apr 3 '18 at 18:59
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Subjectivity is the point of the Flying Spaghetti Monster analogy

First I must point out that The Flying Spaghetti Monster was created in a specific context: as a response to a decision by a school board — i.e. a government sponsored institution — in the United States. This was later taken to court and the school board's decision was ruled unconstitutional.

The point Bobby Henderson was making with the Flying Spaghetti Monster is that all religious belief is subjective, and that no-one in executive, legislative or judicial authority in the United States is allowed to discriminate for or against any religious belief based on their own subjective assessment of said belief. So if one — made up — religious belief is considered irrational, and therefore is considered to not belong in a science class, then all religious belief must be considered the same.

So in the original context, the subjectivity of religious belief is the very point of the analogy.

If we then instead move to the context of agnosticism, what the Flying Spagetti Monster analogy does there is to point out that that a believer's rationale for belief — i.e. the arguments as to why they feel the existence of a personal intervening god could be reasonable — is no better than the rationale for The Flying Spaghetti Monster. Every argument that is made for the possible existence of a personal god that intervenes in human affairs can also be recreated within The Flying Spaghetti Monster analogy.

So again the subjectivity becomes the point of the analogy, in that it points out that the believer subjectively decided that their rationale seems good enough to them, even though its tethers to reality is no better than just making stuff up.

So it is not a matter of forcing believers to accept the Flying Spaghetti Monster, but to point out the absurdity of entertaining the notion of the possibility of a personal intervening god, when the subjective arguments for it are no better than fantasy, fantasies such as the Flying Spaghetti Monster.

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I think that, in this case, rational does not mean ethically sound, but rather logically consistent.

For example, suppose God is known to exist and is known to exist in the form of some animal. Suppose I say to you "True or False: God is a lion." If you say True, you are probabilistically more likely to be incorrect, because there are millions of animals and you have no prior evidence to suggest that God is a lion. If you say False, you have a >99.9% chance of being correct. Hence, it is more rational to reject this premise and say False.

We can ultimately generalize this case to conclude that, for any one hypothetical thing for which we have no reliable evidence of its existence, to assert that this hypothetical thing exists (i.e. is "True") is less rational than to assert that it doesn't exist (i.e. is "False"), simply because there are so many millions of other things we could presume 'exist' in its place.

Now suppose it is not known whether or not God exists -- which happens to be the case. If I say to you "True or False: God exists", if you say "True", then based on the fact that we have no evidence whether or not God exists, from the principle I showed you above, you are more likely to be incorrect than the person who says "False".

However, it ultimately cannot be proven which one is correct, because we lack evidence. Note that we are assuming that the Bible isn't technically evidence in favor of God, because we have no evidence that it was actually, truly written by God. It could have been written by a person who consumed psychedelic drugs, or it could have been written by the Devil as a trick. Either way, we have no means by which we can say which one is correct.

Further note that it doesn't matter whether you're a utilitarian or a Kantian deontologist. The above logic still holds.

Ultimately, we are forced to conclude that human reason is incapable of providing sufficient rational grounds to justify either the belief that God exists or the belief that God does not exist, as per the definition of agnosticism. It is independent of one's subjective beliefs because it is derived logically.

Hopefully this made sense. Let me know if it didn't!

  • "from the principle I showed you above, you are more likely to be incorrect", remember, it's possible that P=NP and other things which are considered unlikely. In fact we cannot say anything about likelihood of this statement and existence of God. – rus9384 Apr 3 '18 at 17:12
  • @rus9384 its unlikely simply because we are presumably referring to a specific God (e.g. the Christian God). There are many 'variations' of God and even religions that worship multiple Gods, and perhaps God doesn't exist but instead the Devil exists. These possibilities give you a 1/X chance of being correct if you say that any specific God exists, where X is a non-trivially large number. Hence, we can say something about the likelihood in this case. However, we can't justify it with any evidence, so it is always rational to be agnostic instead of atheistic. – Sydney Maples Apr 3 '18 at 17:16
  • There is a difference between to believe in specific God (or gods) or to be ietsist. – rus9384 Apr 3 '18 at 17:23
  • "I think that, in this case, rational does not mean ethically sound, but rather logically consistent." This is the important bit. A lot of these other answers are arguing about agnosticism in general, when OP's premise stems from a misconception. – FirstLastname Apr 3 '18 at 17:45
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To me it sounds like in your second last paragraph you're not following the definition that you quoted. In your quote on agnosticism, it says there is no rational ground to favour existence over non-existence and vice-versa, but you are saying something different:

one may be so because one finds it rational that such a God could exist

This is no longer agnosticism as per the definition because this person has decided that the scale towards existence is in fact favoured rationally.

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