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A continuing problem of labels

After all this time, I keep coming back to the question of how to describe myself at the moment. I know who I am and what I believe, but it’s hard to put a name to it that I feel comfortable with.

I am a Christian because that’s both my upbringing and the entire background to where I am.
I’m not a Christian because there’s next to none of it that I still believe in.

Sun RaysI am an atheist because I don’t believe in any form of deity.
I’m not an atheist because it implies a degree of confidence I’m not totally ready for. Read More…

Oh Baby – What neonatal variation can teach us about labels

It’s funny the things you remember through the haze of sleep deprivation that accompanies a new baby.

When #2 was born, we started to realise that babies aren’t all the same, and they have their own personalities and preferences just like adults. One thing I remember very clearly from that time is an interesting comment someone made (sorry, I have no idea who – sleep deprivation) about how we react to different children. The gist of it was that when you have two boys or two girls, you notice all the things about the second child that make it different from the first. “A used to do X, but B seems to prefer Y”, you say.

But – and this is the interesting bit – guess what happens when you have one boy and one girl? It appears that most people in that situation notice the same differences, but they interpret them differently. Now, they say “girls do X, boys prefer Y.” Rather than seeing it as two different babies having different personalities, they generalise it into a statement about fundamental differences between the sexes – they know they have one of each, so that’s the obvious explanation for the variation they’ve observed. Read More…

Dawkins v Williams: Debate Conclusions – Is Richard Dawkins really agnostic?

I’ve rather painted myself into a corner here, having said that I expected everyone to judge the debate based on their own prior standpoint and preconceptions. I might have got away with that on its own, but as I also said how I expected the debate to go, I have the choice of admitting that my prediction was wrong, or leaving myself open to a charge of merely confirming my own expectations, as I somewhat critically suggested others would do.

Fortunately, I’ve been saved from having to cover that in too much detail, because there’s one issue that’s dominating discussion of the debate – Richard Dawkins’ self-description as agnostic, putting himself at 6.9 on his Spectrum of Theistic Probability. Read More…

Agnostics and Identity: Clowns to the left of me, Jokers to the right…

…Here I am, stuck in the middle with you. At least, if you consider yourself an agnostic. I’ve mentioned that how we describe ourselves owes as much to identity and which groups we feel comfortable with as to what we actually believe, and this is true for me right now. I feel that I have very little in common with either Christians or atheists at the moment, but even where I do find a point of agreement with either side, I have no interest in associating myself with either extreme. That’s partly because I don’t have that level of confidence in my conclusions and partly because I don’t feel any sense of belonging to either group. Read More…

Agnostics and Identity: What’s in a name?

Agnostics – no one seems to agree on what we are, or what we believe. Christopher Hitchens identified with us as part of a sort of non-religious coalition, Richard Dawkins despises us (or at least, some of us) for weak-minded vacillation and appeasement. I often find the label unhelpful, as it can suggest different things to different people, many of them a long way from how I’d describe myself.

It should be simple enough to plot belief on a scale from total, absolute theism on one hand to complete, certain atheism on the other, drawing agnosticism somewhere in the middle. Richard Dawkins’ Spectrum of Theistic Probability is a start, but distinguishing the boundaries is hopelessly problematic. Strictly, a 1 could only be described as a theist, a 7 must be an atheist, and a 4 is a pretty good fit for an agnostic, but almost no one fits those descriptions exactly (Dawkins himself says he’s 6 to 6.9), and all points in between are up for debate. Read More…

Agnostics and Identity: Bisexual Agnosticism

Happy feet, should be a universal-ish symbol o...

I’ve recently been thinking a lot about agnosticism, identity, and different ways of considering and defining belief. I’ve had lots of different thoughts and ideas floating round in my head, and despite being closely related, they don’t seem to sit easily in the same post, so I’ve split them into three separate but connected ones. Part one is here, parts two and three to follow shortly.

It’s common to see agnostics in various uncomplimentary ways – fence sitters being a common one – and increasingly, I’m coming to see that point of view, at least for some definitions of the word. The trouble is that there’s a very limited range of terms you can use to define yourself if you fall between the two extremes. In fact, I don’t think “agnostic” is a very useful description of where I’m coming from – Ignostic might be closer to the mark, if it was more widely understood – but it’s as close as I can get within the limitations of common terminology. Read More…

There and back again?

Hi, my name’s Dave, and I’m an agnostic. I think agnosticism often gets a bad press – woolly fence-sitter is a typical understanding of the word, and some would go as far as to describe agnostics as cowards and appeasers, but I tend to something much more like Thomas Huxley’s original definition:

Agnosticism is not a creed but a method, the essence of which lies in the vigorous application of a single principle… Positively the principle may be expressed as in matters of intellect, do not pretend conclusions are certain that are not demonstrated or demonstrable.

That’s fine as far as I’m concerned – I’ve never been one for overstating the certainty of conclusions – and it’s kept me detached from the sort of mudslinging that both theists and atheists are often guilty of online, but there are a couple of problems which have prompted me to think about my position and start this blog. Read More…

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