Wednesday, May 29, 2013

How Not To Be An Agnostic

Omar Baddar makes a weak "case for agnosticism" by redefining God as "the name assigned to the mysterious force...behind this universe" - which he then conveniently declares to be "fundamentally unfathomable." So much for cosmology I guess.

"What on earth does [quantum superposition] even mean?" he asks. If "science...can't explain why there is something in the first place rather than nothing," and an infinite multiverse is "equally unfathomable," "do we really know enough about the universe to be clinging to any theories at all?"

As I read his piece, I was reminded of my favorite Asimov essay and these words from Feynman...

One can always redefine "God" and keep hiding in the gaps of current knowledge. But that's not agnosticism. That's just semantics and an argument from ignorance. In other words...theology.

Of course we don't know everything, but that's no reason to stop clinging to the best way of finding things out: theories that are supported by evidence, observation, measurement, and reasoning, and confirmed by independent observers. And the principle of parsimony suggests that God is an unnecessary assumption. As is a "mysterious force" that created the universe...or not.

Our intuitions do not determine what's true. Maybe the universe is a simulation that was created a few minutes ago. Or maybe it really is a natural phenomenon that is eternally existing and self-reproducing. Baddar doesn't want us to rule out "God" or a "mysterious force" behind it all. But he provides no reasons or evidence that this possibility is any more likely than the tooth-fairy or Russell's celestial teapot. I remain a tooth-fairy agnostic (atheist for most of you).

I ought to call myself an agnostic; but, for all practical purposes, I am an atheist. I do not think the existence of the Christian God any more probable than the existence of the Gods of Olympus or Valhalla. To take another illustration: nobody can prove that there is not between the Earth and Mars a china teapot revolving in an elliptical orbit, but nobody thinks this sufficiently likely to be taken into account in practice. I think the Christian God just as unlikely.
 - Bertrand Russell 

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