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Discussion 3 to Ask the Patriarch 151
The Articles of Faith Should Incorporate Belief

by: Will Petillo

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O.K., I have looked carefully over Ask the Patriarch 86 and all three of the Articles of Faith and my question still stands. In fact, it seems to me that your responses to AtP 86 demonstrate the need to include a statement about belief in the articles and contradicts the claim that agnosticism (at least this strand of it) is only about knowledge.

As Jose’s comments illustrate, however, one can be certain with regards to belief while being uncertain with regards to knowledge. Assuming that he has not stumbled across some proof for the nonexistence of God, his argument seems to be as follows:

  1. One must make a decision with regards to belief and that decision must be positive (belief) or negative (disbelief). Nonbelief is not an option.
  2. It makes more sense to decide that God does not exist than to decide that God exists if the evidence available does not conclusively point either way.
  3. Therefore, if one thinks that the evidence does not conclusively point either way, one should firmly disbelieve in God.

If I am misrepresenting Jose’s arguments, let us imagine some hypothetical person—let us call her Ginger Spree—making the argument I have presented. Ginger admits to not having certain knowledge, but advocates certain belief. Now, if Agnosticism is purely about knowledge and not at all about belief then Ginger is an agnostic. This seems like a rather useless definition. Furthermore, it most certainly is not the one that you describe yourself as having when you say: “I do not believe in god. But, nor do I disbelieve in god. [sic.]” Ginger is a disbeliever, you are simply a nonbeliever, but both you and Ginger admit to not having access to any proofs of God’s existence or nonexistence.

Now before I return to the original question of whether simple nonbelief—as opposed to disbelief—is a should be implicitly mentioned in the articles of faith, I will first outline nine states of knowledge and belief partly to clarify my intentions, partly in response to your atheism/agnosticism, and mostly because I can.

Knowledge = K; Belief = B; * = belief systems that no one I have heard of subscribes to that I have included anyways for the sake of clarity.

  1. K = yes, B = yes: Considers God’s existence to be proven and believes fully
  2. K = maybe, B = yes: Believes in God while admitting that one does not know for sure
  3. K = no, B = yes: Has seen and understood a proof for the nonexistence of God and therefore knows that God cannot possibly exist but stubbornly refuses to accept this fact and believes anyways.*
  4. K = yes, B = maybe: Considers God’s existence to be proven but is uncertain about whether or not one should believe in God.*
  5. K = maybe, B = maybe: Does not know whether God exists and therefore does not commit to either belief or disbelief. This is how I would describe my own religious views.
  6. K = no, B = maybe: Considers God’s existence to be utterly disproven but remains undecided on whether or not to believe anyways.*
  7. K = yes, B = no: Considers God’s existence to be proven but refuses to believe despite this certain knowledge (see Will’s Wager for a tongue-in-cheek story about why on earth someone would think this way).*
  8. K = maybe, B = no: Believes that God does not exist but recognizes that one does not know for sure.
  9. K = no, B = no: Considers God’s existence to be disproven and does not believe.

Note: this list does not include any explicit reference to probability.

Human nature seems to rule out possibilities 3, 4, 6, and 7; the first article of faith rules out 1, 3, 4, 6, 7, 9; leaving 2, 5, and 8. 5 clearly meets the criteria for Apathetic Agnosticism (If not, I am hopelessly confused); my original question was whether or not it was intentional for you to also include 2 and 8 since people who hold the former view seem to call themselves theists and people hold the latter view seem to call themselves atheists (albeit “weak” ones).

I had not thought to look closely enough at the second and third articles of faith, so let us see whether or to what extent those rule out 2 and 8.

2. If there is a Supreme Being, then that being appears to act as if apathetic to events in our universe.

All events in our Universe, including its beginning[1], can be explained with or without the existence of a Supreme Being. Thus, if there is indeed a God, then that god has had no more impact than no god at all. To all appearances, any purported Supreme Being is indifferent to our Universe and to its inhabitants.

This statement argues that there is no basis for knowledge of a compassionate God, but does not rule out any set of beliefs. I say this because of the repeated use of the word “appears.” One could know that there is not sufficient evidence to support the claim that one knows there is a compassionate God and yet believe in a compassionate God anyways—perhaps there is a reason for the events in our universe that allows for God’s compassion but is beyond our understanding. Thus, article 2 has not ruled out religious views #2 or #8 any more that article 1.

3. We are apathetic to the existence or nonexistence of a Supreme Being.

If there is a God, and that God does not appear to care, then there is no reason to concern ourselves with whether or not a Supreme Being exists, nor should we have any interest in satisfying the purported needs of that Supreme Being. However, our apathy to the question of God’s existence does not necessarily mean we are apathetic about promoting agnosticism.

This article is a statement of belief, namely the belief that there is no reason to care that one should believe in God. This rules out anyone who expects to receive a divine reward or punishment for believing or disbelieving, thereby ruling out anyone who holds religious view #2 because of a Pascal’s Wager sort of argument. It does not rule out those who believe in God’s existence and compassion despite a lack of certain knowledge of God’s existence and compassion as well as a lack of belief in divine reward/punishment. It also does not rule out those who disbelieve in God’s existence despite a lack of certain knowledge in God’s nonexistence as well as a lack of belief in the idea that they will be rewarded somehow for disbelieving.

I know that apathetic belief is possible because I used to be an apathetic Catholic. I was raised in a “sort-of-Christian” family (reference is from God, Inc. videos) and therefore grew up with a vague belief that there existed some sort of Supreme Being. As soon as I was old enough to feel compelled to think critically about religion, I understood that this was not something I could know for sure (passing the first article of faith), but still believed. I imagined God as being laid-back and being rather tired of dealing with creation by now (passing the second article). I also completely rejected the idea of Heaven and Hell or any other sort of reward or punishment based on belief (passing the third). In short, I believed that God existed but didn’t really care about me or anyone else. I stumbled across the UCTAA when searching Wikipedia and realized that I did not have to make a decision on the matter—and that I didn’t really want to.

So, I ask you again, assuming that the above description is true (a big if since I have no qualms with making that sort of story up), did I convert to Apathetic Agnosticism or have I been one all along? And, to address the atheist side of the coin, what about Ginger Spree?