Tuesday, 17 December 2013

Agnosticism, Atheism, and Eusebius McKaiser

Sent to The Star, Johannesburg, Wed 04/12/2013 08:09, and published Tue 17 December 2013, minus the parts in blue.


I refer to Eusebius McKaiser’s column on Monday, December 2.

I agree with Eusebius on many things, such as the value of Sunday’s Conference “Thinking Things Through”, and that faith is an intellectual failure.  However, he, in contrarian fashion, also takes a swipe at atheists and maintains that agnosticism is the most honest approach.  I disagree.

Eusebius makes a distinction, between atheism, which he characterises as saying that there is no god, and agnosticism, which, he says, is not committing one way or the other.

Eusebius says that atheists baldly claim that god does not exist.  This is a “straw man” argument, beloved of Thabo Mbeki, where you misrepresent your opponent’s position to make it easier to knock down.

The word “atheist” comes from the prefix “a-” (not) and the word “theist” (a believer in a god or gods).  An atheist is simply someone who does not believe in any gods.  The word “agnostic” derives from the same prefix “a-” and the word “gnostic”, meaning “having direct knowledge” (usually of god).  Few of us can claim to directly experience god, so the majority, theists included, are agnostic.

You will seldom find an atheist who says he is 100% sure that there is no god. Most follow the scientific method, which allows for error and correction. One can say with reasonable certainty that Odin, Jupiter, Allah and Jesus Christ do not exist, at least as described in their religious writings.  However, one cannot yet disprove the claim that a god set off the Big Bang and now lives in retirement on Betelgeuse IV, taking no interest in our affairs.

How, does Eusebius, as a professed agnostic, live in practice?

An agnostic has a dilemma. Should he give equal credence to all gods, and worship at church, mosque, synagogue and temple, just in case?

Even that may not be enough: Many Christian sects believe that the others are going to Hell.  Better to worship at all of them! The poor agnostic will have no time left for anything else!

Worse is to come. Different religions believe contradictory things. You cannot truthfully accept Jesus and still worship Allah.

There is only one option open to the reasonable agnostic and that is to disregard the lot.  This is what Eusebius does.  His behaviour is identical to that of the atheist. The only difference is in what he says.  "I am not sure if there is a god or not (but I am living my life as if there isn't)" vs. "I am pretty sure there is no god so I am living my life as if there isn't".

Which is more honest?

Thanks and RICKgards

Rick Raubenheimer
126 Kelvin Drive, Morningside, Sandton, Johannesburg, 2191.
Tel: 011 802-2685. Cell: 082 389-3482. E-mail: rick@softwareafrica.co.za

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