Monday, 9 August 2010

An agnostic manifestly confused

Via the New Humanist blog I came across this Slate article by Ron Rosenbaum: "An Agnostic Manifesto". Paul Sims (NH editor) describes it as "excellent", but I can only hope he's being ironic. He invited comments on the New Humanist blog, so I posted the following:
Much of this comes down to definitions. Agnosticism and to a lesser extent atheism are oft-misunderstood terms. Even theism as a description of a certain kind of religious belief leaves a lot undefined.

With this article Ron Rosenbaum is engaging heavily in the straw man fallacy. Richard Dawkins, forever portrayed as the ArchAtheist, says clearly in The God Delusion (in his chapter entitled "The God Hypothesis") that he is agnostic on the matter of the existence of God.

Rosenbaum is also mistaken if he thinks that science purports to "know everything". If that were the case there would be no point in science continuing, as there would be nothing left to discover. There's no evidence that scientists the world over are quitting their jobs and attempting to find something else to do. Science isn't yet — nor is it ever likely to be — redundant.
Faced with the fundamental question: "Why is there something rather than nothing?" atheists have faith that science will tell us eventually. Most seem never to consider that it may well be a philosophic, logical impossibility for something to create itself from nothing.
Whether "most" atheists have or have not considered this is a moot point, but it has been addressed, by Lawrence Krauss, Adolf Grünbaum and others. There's also the entirely acceptable response, "We don't know," which Rosenbaum rightly describes as the agnostic position, and which most of the so called "New Atheists" (or to use a term I've seen recently, "Gnu Atheists") would embrace wholeheartedly as valid. Their position on the existence of God is derived not from a dogmatic stance, but on the balance of probabilities. It's a position based on evidence, and on logic. And most important, given this discussion, it's open to revision in the light of new evidence and new arguments.

Rosenbaum on Aquinas:
His eventual explanation entailed a Supreme Being standing outside of time and space somehow endowing it with existence (and interfering once in a while) without explaining what caused this source of "uncaused causation" to be created in the first place.
When someone talks about a source of "uncaused causation" they're unlikely to feel obliged to explain the cause of that source. It's in the description.
I should point out that I accept all that science has proven with evidence and falsifiable hypotheses but don't believe there is evidence or falsifiable certitude that science can prove or disprove everything.
I don't believe there's a reputable scientist that does believe science can prove or disprove everything.

Straw man, straw man, straw man.
(Rosenbaum's confused article was picked up by Jen Peeples on yesterday's Atheist Experience  TV show (#669) The mp3 audio of the show is available for download, and the Blip.TV video version is embedded below.)
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