I really hate to admit when I am wrong, especially about ideas that I have cherished or lines of reasoning that I have ardently defended. Perhaps it just feels like such a waste of mental effort and time to intellectually retrace my steps, yet I find this to be a necessary move as I am hopelessly entangled in convoluted thinking. In particular, my mind has been coddled by a romantic notion of epistemology as I touted an ethereal stance of agnosticism. Now, I face recanting all of my arguments as I possibly abandon this shiny little mirage.

I can imagine the irritated groans and envision the rolling eyes as I launch this airy agnostic label aloft to float upon the subjective breezes of rumination. But this time I am armed with logic, and I am ready to do some target shooting. Squinting one eye along the cold barrel of a rational gun, I finally fire unrelenting bullets of reason at my beloved agnosticism. I can only wonder if I will strike enough holes to send the entire concept crashing to the ground, never to rise again.

Previously, the primary tenets of my worldview concerning the supernatural had been:

1. The supernatural exists beyond the natural world.
2. We can only know the natural world.
3. Therefore, the supernatural is unknowable.

From this, I concluded that humanity must be fundamentally agnostic about the supernatural. I then accepted that any statements made about the supernatural realm were beliefs, as beliefs are assertions held in the absence of knowledge. Because beliefs can only exist in this void of knowledge, all belief systems are necessarily dependent upon the condition of agnosticism. Therefore, I held that theism is only possible because of a fundamentally unknowable supernatural. I also held that because atheism is conceptually dependent upon theism, atheism is also therefore indirectly dependent upon agnosticism. (I did not argue that the atheistic worldview would not exist without agnosticism, but that it would simply not be defined as such if there were not a belief in a deity which, in turn, was dependent upon a lack of supernatural knowledge.)

So I had settled myself down in a quiet corner of reason on a soft agnostic hassock, happily rejecting any and all supernatural beliefs on the basis of a complete--and necessary--lack of evidence. For all intents and purposes, I considered myself an atheist; technically, I was not wrong. I did reject the belief in any deity or supernatural entity. However, I still held the grand lack of supernatural knowledge as the reigning cornerstone of my worldview. Really, I did not even give it much more thought; as the supernatural can never be known, I found it to be wholly irrelevant and nothing more than a metaphysical timesink. I dismissed the supernatural and all beliefs connected to it.

Concerning irrelevancy, I was correct. However, when I really examined why I rejected the belief in anything supernatural, I was forced to confront a glaring error in my reasoning. Immediately, I noticed that the first axiom of my previous line of logic:

1. The supernatural exists beyond the natural world.

is fundamentally illogical. What does it mean to exist beyond the natural world? How can anything exist beyond the material world? Isn't existence dependent upon matter and energy? How could something that is wholly immaterial and completely beyond the boundaries of the natural world even be said to "exist?" If anything, wouldn't this redefine existence itself, whittling the concept down until it bore little relevance?

Prior to identifying this flawed logic, I had touted my rejection of theism as a rejection of belief systems in general. In the same manner, or so I thought, I had rejected homeopathy, astrology, and other unevidenced assertions. I failed to notice, however, one key difference: the rejection of these other belief systems was not just based upon a lack of supporting evidence, but also upon a wealth of contradictory evidence. Whereas homeopathy is clearly disproved by examining the finite dilutive properties of water and the astrological influence of celestial bodies crumbles in the face of the laws of physics, my rejection of theism had been solely based upon a lack of evidence; I held no contradictory evidence to the belief in supernatural deities.

Finally, I quit my intellectual lassitude and examined the basic concept of the supernatural upon which I had based my entire position. I now realized that besides being fundamentally unknowable, the supernatural is also fundamentally illogical. How could anything possibly exist in any meaningful way outside of the boundaries of the material world? Even mathematics--perhaps the final remnant of Plato's supposedly immaterial universals--is necessarily related through the material world to even be relevant or logical. Can we really think about immaterial quantities? Does a number really exist without anything material to quantify? Dividing something into separate entities would seem to suggest the necessity of a material which can be divided. Mathematics may be intangible, but it is not immaterial. A presence in the material, natural world is necessary for existence.

And so I realized that my rejection of supernatural beliefs is not due to agnosticism and a lack of evidence. Instead, my rejection of supernatural beliefs--theism included--is entirely based upon the material concept of logic. Logic is the fundamental principle by which we understand the characteristics of the material world; logic underlies all knowledge. The very notion of a supernatural entity violates the principles of logic; this violation provides the contradictory evidence with which I now reject theism. No longer may I claim the lofty perch of an agnostic mystic, as I am no longer wholly without knowledge of the supernatural. I now know that all supernatural entities--deities included--are fundamentally illogical. My stance towards a deity can no longer be a matter of belief; I cannot believe or disbelieve in God any longer because I now know that it is completely impossible for a supernatural deity to exist. I am exactly what I always adamantly claimed was impossible: a gnostic atheist.

Of course, this is only my current philosophical soapbox on which I perch, watching the shattered clay disc of my agnostic ideals fall to the ground in a million pieces; I wonder at the stability of this new platform as I loft this new logical precept on high to fare against the brisk winds of reason. I can only hope that I have not replaced one faulty cornerstone for another; perhaps I will come to understand the true meaning of the figurative "slave to logic" and again mentally retrace my steps to an earlier truth. But, at the very least, I do not mourn these intellectual transitions anymore; life would be exceedingly dull were we not to continually evolve.

Views: 5

Comment by Michel-san on February 6, 2010 at 12:10pm
Nice post! I see and understand your problems. It doesn't help that we're stuck using a language that is defined using itself.

There is a very fine line between axiom and definition.

We could form a trichotomy of ideas - "exists", "doesn't exist", and "things to which the concept of existence does not apply". The latter group seems somewhat synonymous with "fiction". Certainly our language is capable of describing things that fit in to the third category; looking just at mathematics, we have zero, euclidean space, infinity, sets.

All this of course depends on how existence is defined, which is a problem in itself. In common usage the word has many definitions depending on the context.
Comment by Shine on February 6, 2010 at 3:31pm
Thank you! The trichotomy of ideas regarding existence is really interesting; I have never encountered that concept before. I had only thought of a purely binary relationship of existent and nonexistent as two mutually exclusive sets that encompassed everything. But there are still "things" that seem to defy classification in either category. I was actually thinking about the concept of zero when I wrote about quantities signifying a material entity to be quantified. Zero would imply no material, so it invalidates my argument against the necessary material implications of mathematics. Thanks for the feedback; I now have more food for thought! :)
Comment by Misty: Baytheist Living! on February 6, 2010 at 9:59pm
Great post and now featured!
Comment by Shine on February 6, 2010 at 11:46pm
Thanks!
Comment by Wesley on February 7, 2010 at 11:50am
My first question of unknowingness would be.. What are the boundaries of the material universe?... We haven't even scratched the skin of the skin of it yet... to conjecture beyond what you have barely started to explore is 'jumping the gun' a bit to say the least. It would be similar to start arguing over the origin of the aliens who built a civilization on the moon....before looking to see whether there ever were an alien civilization on the moon.

The domain of the supernatural is shrinking and has been as for a long time as we discover natural explanations for these different phenomena. It takes us back to an examination of the origins of the supernatural conjectures/explanations. People used the tools and knowledge that was available to them to make hypothesis about the world around them.

Why do we argue over the veracity of a stone age conjecture when their very premise was clouded by profound ignorance of the natural world?

It does no good to say that these stone or bronze age conjectures are outside the boundaries our natural universe.....when we don't have a freakin clue what is INSIDE them yet? The natural universe keeps growing and has far surpassed the conceptions of primitive man.

Our investigation of the brain and perception etc.....has shown us that 'visions, sensations of all-knowingness, universal connectedness, etc.. all all within the boundaries of not only the natural world, but the cranium itself.

Why conjecture beyond it until we have examined its depths first?
Comment by Wesley on February 7, 2010 at 12:13pm
I want to add.. That that is my problem with the supernatural question. It is a stone age proposal.

Were the aliens who built the civilization on the moon Klingons or Romulans?

Why make an assumption on the veracity of a question that there was no good reason to put forth in the first place?

ON the other hand....

There's plenty to be agnostic about..... EVERY SINGLE scientific answer we currently have is subject to revision or rejection as new information comes to light.

To say that we 'know' something is a tentative and nuanced statement. Its a very short walk to the boundaries of our knowledge in ANY direction.

We are surrounded by mystery.....and some of us stand in wonder and awe at it...even as we try to make inroads in our understanding of it.

This is where (imo) our agnosticism needs to be focused... not on some outdated religious or mystical conjectures made from extremely limited resources....but on our current crop of ideas... Let us keep ourselves honest and skeptical and able to change, grow, and reject ideas as new information comes in.
Comment by Reggie on February 7, 2010 at 3:24pm
Great post, Shine! I'd Feature it, but Misty already did.

I would not worry too much about the precariousness of your logical perches. Your willingness to reflect and self correct will result in a much more balanced view of the world on which you will be comfortable standing upon. It is those who refuse to trade in or modify their platform that need to worry about aeroelastic flutters of reason.
Comment by Shine on February 8, 2010 at 7:38am
There's plenty to be agnostic about..... EVERY SINGLE scientific answer we currently have is subject to revision or rejection as new information comes to light.

Wesley, I agree. Agnosticism still has a huge presence in human life. However, the distinction I was looking to make was the difference between being agnostic regarding aspects of the material world versus being agnostic regarding a logically impossible supernatural entity. I started to delve off into a discussion (in the post) about the the difference between the unobserved and the fundamentally unobservable, but I figured that I was getting a bit too longwinded as it was. Maybe that will have to be my next topic. :D

Reggie, thank you! It was actually a couple of our exchanges in various threads that help spur me onto closer examination of the foundation of agnosticism.
Comment by Reggie on February 8, 2010 at 7:52am
Oh! Cool! Truth be told, Dawkins forced me to re-examine my own stance on agnosticism years ago.
Comment by Shine on February 8, 2010 at 8:53am
I must confess that I still have not had time to read a full Dawkins book. I really can't decide which one to delve into first; any suggestions? I'm torn between his earlier work, The Selfish Gene, because I have a habit for (or perhaps obsession with) doing things in chronological order, or the more pertinent The God Delusion. Then again, the shiny butterflies on The Greatest Show on Earth do beckon to me every time I go to Barnes & Noble, lol.

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