Nov 10, 2010

Can you feel God, ctd

Sullivan has been posting readers' emails on an interesting back and forth between moderate Christians and agnostics.  Count me with this reader:
I am an agnostic who does not feel my life one bit less richer because of it.  I acknowledge mystery in the world.  In fact, I see the world at times as a beautiful, mysterious, dreamlike place.  I constantly ask myself what this all means.  However, I know that no one, including myself, has the answer. 

I hope there is an afterlife.  I hope that it is a place of love considering all of the suffering that goes on in this world.  But religions created by men cannot tell us these things.  In the meantime, I'm satisfied with the meaning of life as given to us by Kurt Vonnegut: We're here to help each other get through this thing, whatever it is.
Like most philosophical or theological concepts, agnosticism has many different sub-types, but what it is not is simply saying "I'm not sure" to religious questions. Lay people often think that being an agnostic means you are still considering between atheism and theism, and you'll come down on one side eventually. Here's an example: consider strong agnosticism, the belief that certain knowledge about any deities is impossible, so much so that no person can have it.  Consider this cute post by Julian Sanchez, on whether an omnipotent being could prove its properties:
It would require a good deal less than omnipotence to make a human perceptual system experience any demonstration of omnipotence you might care to suggest. So we might imagine God zipping you back to the dawn of creation so you can watch him summon all the galaxies into existence, then mold the earth and breathe life into the first humans, and so on. The trouble is that if you’re aiming for parsimony, the simpler explanation will almost certainly be that you’ve encountered a being capable of simulating all these experiences to your primate nervous system. That is, of course, a hell of a trick—a being who can do that is certainly pretty potent!—but still pretty far short of complete mastery over all space, time, and matter. Even assuming that problem away, the tests would be limited to those feats observable by (and comprehensible to) humans. Maybe God’s almost omnipotent little brother can do just about anything, but could never get the hang of performing a 12th-dimensional loop-de-loop with whoozits sprinkles, which isn’t even on our mental menu of stuff-a-really-awesome-entity-could-do.
He goes on to talk about the epistemic problems of actually being omnipotent, and ends with a great line:
I am not, of course, a believer, but if I were, I’d prefer to imagine a deity occasionally plagued by these thoughts—an agnostic God who sometimes doubts Himself.
Worth a read.


  1. I'd like to up the erudition of this post via Simpson's quote:

    "Could God microwave a burrito so hot he himself could not eat it?

    I think you make a good point that agnosticism isn't a statement of belief or even reserving judgment necessarily. A person can be an agnostic Christian or Muslim or any sort of believer in a God or gods.