I've heard a bunch of quite well-known scientists and other famous people (e.g. Niel deGrasse Tyson, Bill Nye) who have claimed that scientists, to be true to themselves, "must" be agnostic, not atheist. Their defense of this is that since there is no evidence, a decision can't be made one way or the other on the existence of any mythical beings.

Isn't this kind of claim not entirely valid, though? Does there have to be positive evidence either supporting or contradicting something to make a claim about it, or can a staggering (significant...) lack of any evidence -- when evidence would essentially be expected -- defend a similar claim from a negative aspect as well?

It seems to me that saying "there is no specific evidence, therefore: agnostic" is being dishonest to oneself. This brings up arguments like Bertrand's Teapot, IPU, FSM, or even a "square circle". While there isn't any universe-encompassing body of evidence that rules such things out, the complete lack of any evidence of any sort is really just a different kind of evidence, isn't it?

Do you have any unique perspectives, particular experiences, or tidbits to offer to help solve this fluke of reasoning?

Tags: agnostic, atheist, bill, degrasse, niel, nye, science, tyson

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Agnostic is not a position of faith or non faith or even in between.  It says nothing about faith.  It is about knowledge. We are all agnostics.  I happen to be an agnostic-atheist

Since the word "atheist" signifies, not an affirmative belief, but a lack of one, I think it's perfectly appropriate to consider oneself - scientist or not - an atheist in the absence of evidence.  

I'm not sure why people waffle at the terms. As you say, the very status of unbelief indicates atheism. And I think that there are very few exception that atheists are agnostic. Anyone who understands the basics of the scientific process will admit knowledge sufficient to prove the non-existence of the supernatural is basically impossible. Whereas theism, by it's very definition, is equally gnostic. People who accept the existence of a specific deity must claim knowledge of it's existence or their faith in it's existence would be questionable. Personally, I see almost no value in the term "agnosticism". Once the definition is clear, I don't know that I have ever heard of an agnostic theist or a gnostic atheist. Atheist tend to only claim that there is no reason to believe in any specific claim and theists tend to attempt to provide evidence to support their knowledge.  Seems fairly cut and dried.

@Keith  I think it would be very difficult to be an agnostic theist.  I can only get my head around the concept of an agnostic deist.  That I can at least comprehend.

Is there such a thing as an agnostic theist?

Just an example that popped into my head on reading your comment, Strega:

Someone who believes in the possibility of a religious being, and despite the lack of evidence, decides yet to believe. In a way, Pascal's Wager fits in here. You can bet on god existing, or bet on him not existing. Technically, you don't *know* either way, but it's what you choose to believe.


Isn't that an agnostic deist? 

As far as my understanding of the alternatives goes, either there are no gods... or there are approximately 3,000 gods, or there is that teapot in orbit, or there are aliens that visit us, or there is a spirit of the Earth, or there is a Flying Spaghetti Monster, or there is a Yoda, or.... etc.  To be a theist, you would believe in a god that had some kind of religious structure to it...

How DARE you question the existence of Master Yoda!!!!

I do not believe in the personal God put forth by the major religions of the world. That is, the God who originated reality, defines right from wrong, appeared on earth in human form, alters the laws of nature in response to the prayers, punishes those who disobey, and rewards those who do obey. And let's face it, that's the God the religious crackpots are pushing. Oh, they pull a bag over his head whenever they show up to debate the existence of that God or try to get a judge to let that God into a biology classroom, but ultimately that's the God they mean.

The reason I disbelieve in that sort of personal God is simply due to a lack of evidence; specifically, evidence of absence. We may under some circumstances conclude that we would find what we're looking for, if it was there, and we don't find it, we may reasonably conclude that it is not there. 

'Absence of evidence' refers to the inconclusive. For example: there is no evidence that life ever existed on Mars, but one cannot conclude as a result that no life ever existed on Mars.

'Evidence of absence' refers to the conclusive. For example: you search a closet, find that it is empty, and conclude there are no shoes in the closet.

The book God: The Failed Hypothesis concludes based on a thorough review of 'evidence of absence' that a personal God (as opposed to a deistic God) does not exist. The general premise, taking a scientific approach, is that one should (among other things) see constant and measurable changes occurring in the natural world and in the laws of nature, based on the millions of prayers constantly being uttered and (according to the faithful) being answered. But the natural world carries on exactly as though none of the laws of nature were ever altered at all, leaving God with nothing to do.

That said, the Dawkins' Scale may be worth a look in this conversation. Dawkins considers himself to be something like a 6.9 on this scale, if I remember correctly, because a good scientist never asserts anything with 100% certainty. Where do you fall?

Like you say about Dawkins calling himself a 6.9, I've always been willing to accept the deistic argument, since (where we stand now in science) there's no real way to test the hypothesis, nor is there any evidence of absence, since the central tenet is that the deist god does not interfere with the universe. Maybe this is what some agnostics are really referring to, not so much positive agnosticism, but subliminal acceptance of the plausibility of deism?

Or how about, an honest atheist is also agnostic, since, while logically possible, a gnostic atheist would register a full 7 on the Dawkins scale?

Excellent post - and thank you for addressing my earlier query as to how an agnostic theist could exist.  Not only thanks, but also welcome to TA!. 


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