Theist, Deist, Atheist, Agnostic, Accomodationist – Yawn!

by Neil Rickert

I guess Jennifer Hecht started it with “Down with Agnosticism.”  John Wilkin disagreed in “Positivism about agnosticism.”  And the Larry Moran added his two cents, with “Trying to Understand Agnostics.”  This post is mainly a response to Larry, partly because he expresses his view (with which I disagree) with clarity.

Firstly, for the curious and partly based on the title of this post, I’ll say that I am a yawner.  Of the more standard terms, I’m inclined to think that “agnostic” is the best fit.  But I am not going to be upset with Larry, if he prefers to say that I am atheist.  At least Larry expresses that in a more temperate manner than does Jennifer Hecht.  That I won’t be upset with Larry, is because I don’t find the distinction between deist, atheist, agnostic to be very interesting.  And that’s why I am a yawner.

I’ve been in an internet debate, where I have been told that agnosticism is irrational.  Sorry, but that is absurd.  I never did like positivism, because it seemed too simplistic.  That seems to be the point that John Wilkins is making with his title suggesting that Hecht’s post is overly simplistic.  And it is, as are some of the things that Larry said in his post.

Like Dawkins, “I am agnostic only to the extent that I am agnostic about fairies at the bottom of the garden.”

That’s an example of what I consider simplistic.  The role of God as a concept is very different from that of fairies.

Sure, the notion of God is made up, just as the notion of fairies is made up.  But being made up isn’t enough to disqualify a concept.  The “fairy” concept is made up as fiction.  The “God” concept is made up in an attempt to answer what people take to be a serious question.  So that’s a big difference already.

We cannot reject a concept, simply because it is made up.  The idea of phlogiston was made up.  We reject phlogiston, and for good reason.  But let us not forget it’s importance.  The “phlogiston” concept was made up in an attempt to answer serious questions about the nature of combustion.  In its day, it was an important concept that helped centralize scientific research on combustion.  That research developed into what we know as chemistry.  As it happened, the research yielded results that contradicted what had been believed about phlogiston.  But that does not alter the fact that phlogiston was important in focussing that early research.

If we look to more recent science, the concept of “gene” was made up in an attempt to explain what Mendel had observed about inheritance.  And nobody could doubt that “gene” has been an important concept.

So what about the “God” concept?  Sure, it is made up.  But it is made up in an attempt to answer questions about origins.

I see Christian theology as mostly made up.  It is not even consistent with the Christian Bible.  So I have no problem rejecting that.  You could say that I am atheistic with respect to Christianity.  But it isn’t so easy to say the same about deism.  The deist’s God is made up in an attempt to answer what Deists see as serious questions about the origin of the universe.  Those questions are metaphysical questions.  I am inclined to think that all metaphysical questions are bogus – that’s one point where I agree with the positivists.  However, many people do think that metaphysical questions are valid and important.  So I am agnostic about the Deist’s conception of God.  Because I see metaphysics as bogus, I don’t see the existence of the Deist’s God as a question that could ever have an answer.  That’s very different from the question of the existence of fairies.

Part of the problem is that agnostics like John tend to use a different definition of “atheist” than we do. He seems to think that it means we deny the possibility that gods exist.

No, that’s not the issue.  Well, I can’t speak for John.  For myself, the issue is that people like Larry think that the existence of God is a true/false question.  And I don’t think it is that at all.  Rather, I think that the “God” concept is a seriously muddled one.


While I’m about it, I might as well comment on another yawner, the question of accomodationism.  I often wonder what all of the arguing is about.  Sure, theists have absurd beliefs.  But then lots of people have absurd beliefs.  If I only talked to people who I did not see as having absurd beliefs, there’s a possibility that I would end up talking only to myself.  I find it better to tolerate other’s beliefs in what I see as absurd.

Sure, religion is ridiculous.  When I see somebody ridiculing religion, I don’t get offended at that.  I sometimes even enjoy the ridicule.  I think that means that I am not an accomodationist.  But, then, I don’t go out of my way picking fights with religion either, so I suspect that means that I am not a gnu.  I guess I am agnostic on the gnu vs. accomodationism arguments.

2 Comments to “Theist, Deist, Atheist, Agnostic, Accomodationist – Yawn!”

  1. … people like Larry think that the existence of God is a true/false question.

    Either supernatural beings exist, or they don’t. What other options are there?

    Do you really think it’s helpful to quibble about what “god” means?


    • Either supernatural beings exist, or they don’t. What other options are there?

      It depends on what the meaning of is is.

      Do you really think it’s helpful to quibble about what “god” means?

      If you want to use a language that is perfectly logical, then stick to FOPC (first order predicate calculus). The downside is that you will never be able to discuss biology in FOPC. For that matter, even discussing a lot of mathematics would be impossible.

      Natural language isn’t a logic calculus. It’s a communication system. Quibbling about meanings is part of what is required in order for language to work.

      Getting back to the “atheist” question, saying that I am an atheist works fine if I am talking to you. But, for communication with the bulk of the public, it misrepresents my position. Saying “I am agnostic” is better. Saying that I am non-religious is the best of all, and is what I mainly use.


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