Tag Archive | Agnosticism

What kind of atheist are you?

News reaches me from the University of Tennessee at Chattanooga that a study of non-belief has identified six common categories within the unhelpfully broad category of “religious nones”. I doubt it’s the last word on the subject – the categories were formed based on interviews with just 59 people – but I rather like the idea behind it, although I think there’s a lot of overlap and I identify with at least three or four of their descriptions.

GaneshaYou can read the full details at their website, but here’s my attempt at a brief summary of the different sorts of atheist they’ve identified: Read More…


Book Review: Unapologetic by Francis Spufford

UnapologeticFirst, a confession. When I brought this book home after finally grabbing a copy from the library, my wife gave me one of those half-amused, half-offended looks and pointed out that not so long ago, I’d been dismissive and even scornful when she’d mentioned that it sounded interesting. I’d forgotten that, but she’s right – I think I’d previously read some comments by Francis Spufford that didn’t impress me, and a whole book of the same thing seemed less than appealing.

But when I got started (mainly, it has to be said, out of curiosity and with the intention of carefully dismantling it), I began to feel rather well-disposed towards both book and author. Spufford’s style is a disarmingly conversational faux-dialogue, answering questions he expects you to ask, waxing lyrical, spinning yarns and quoting liberally from sources as unlikely as Monty Python and Hannibal Lecter. If nothing else, it’s very readable. Read More…

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…

Lies, Damned Lies and Religious Statistics

[He] uses statistics as a drunken man uses lamp-posts – for support rather than for illumination

– Andrew Lang

If there’s one thing I dislike about Twitter, it’s the way some people seem to repeat the same handful of slogans in support of some cause or another over and over, with occasional variations here and there. I usually tune them out, but there was one that did the rounds recently which caught my attention:

If every #atheist left the USA, it would lose 93% of the National Academy of Sciences but less than 1% of the prison population.

That sounded like quite an interesting statistic, but it also sounded a little bit suspicious, so I thought I’d do some digging. It turns out that this claim, or similar ones, can be found all over the place, but – surprise surprise! – the full story is a bit more complicated than that. 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…

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