Thursday, July 02, 2009

Definitely Maybe

Regular poster Oranjepan raised an interesting question yesterday on the subject of agnosticism and atheism, there are many types of "ism's" all meaning slightly different things so I thought I would post a little summary of what the main ones are and what I think they mean.

Atheist – Someone who does not believe any Gods exist, or as in most cases simply feels there is not sufficient evidence for any of them.

Agnostic – Someone who is undecided or feels there is not enough evidence to support any particular position

Deist – Someone who believes in a God or creator, but feels that having created the universe no longer interferes or cares about its development

Pantheist – Someone who believes that God is essentially "nature", i.e. a redefinition of the word God to mean "everything"

Panentheist – Someone who believes that God contains the universe, i.e. the universe is a subset of God and God is greater than it.

Monotheist – Someone who believes there is only one god, this group is dominated by the Abrahamic religions of Islam, Christianity and Judaism etc.

Polytheist – Someone who believes that there are many gods and all should be worshiped, like the Romans for instance

Henotheist – Someone who believes in one god but accepts the existence or possible existence of many other gods and they are equally true

Monolatrist – Someone who believes in one god but accepts that there are many other gods whilst denying that the others are worthy of worship

Different religions can also incorporate elements of these different positions, sometimes mixing them to support different theological arguments and dogma. Nothing seems to be straightforward, there seem to be as many different positions are there are people on the planet, which is one of the reasons Atheists often feel that religious positions are man made, i.e. the evidence seems to strongly support that.

It's a funny old game.


Oranjepan said...

Hmm, good post.

It would be perverse to say that an individual holds an opinion which doesn't correspond with their perspective, but neither does that mean to say where it originated.

I don't think there is any evidence which supports humans as the inventors of the various natural philosophical positions which have become standardised as they became clearly defined.

Surely the existence of ideas to interpret and make sense of truth is not contingent upon the perception of people - if a tree falls in a forest it still falls whether or not anyone is around to hear it.

Where do numbers come from if they don't relate to and describe the infinity of the wider universe?

Steve Borthwick said...

OP, thanks.

Fascinating point, sounds like some specific epistemic theory is it? (I wish I had more time to look at philosophy!)

Anyway, probably ham fisted but I'd say that people construct models to describe reality as they see it; I'd call those models ideas, science gives us a formal method for constructing and testing the models.

To turn it around I'd say there is no evidence I can think of that such models exist without a conciousness to create them.

Our models are all approximations of course.

Oranjepan said...


We can only know for certain what we can measure, so if our ability to measure is limited by circumstance we must construct theories to compensate.

Epistemological truth is defined as not only by how we measure the world, but also by how the world measures us - it is highly pragmatic.

I was a dead failure at philosophy when I studied it because the range and scope of my criticisms were beyond by reading experience which meant I was always marked down for my referencing.

For example while I like pragmatism I don't hold it up to be an ideal because I think it must comply and be reconciled with deductive reasoning. So ultimately Dewey's reasoning that an instrumental intermediary between the two is a necessary component of existence means that truth is found where a priori theories cohere with an independent reality without either actually depending on the other.

For me that does suggest a pretty good description of and explanation for consciousness and a potential ontological being, although it's only our communication that demonstrates it!

I did once try constructing a mathematical formula to try showing that opposites are not dualistic because they are capable of equalisation but I was told that going off at a tangent doesn't provide proof... I still find that hilariously ironic.

Steve Borthwick said...

OP... wow you pack a lot of content into few words here, I'll have to ponder this when I get some quality time.

However, I thought this was relevant, a little video of Richard Feynman talking about "stuff", he articulated nicely my own feelings when he concluded, "I'm not looking for any ultimate truth, I just like finding out how things work, I'm not scared of not knowing" a rational approach perhaps or just geekism ;-)

Fynman telling it like it is

BTW have you read any good books in your philosophical travels that summarise the main schools of thought for a newbie like me? I need a solid 30,000ft view for reference.

Oranjepan said...

I'm a big fan of feynman!

But I don't know about recommending a good intro to philosophy - my treetops don't get up to 300ft let alone 30,000ft!

Anyway I think introductions are pretty much bluffers guides, so you might as well dive right into a subject and follow the reference trail - the names which come up most often are usually the most reliable and relevant. So if it's the issues 20th century thinkers were mostly concerned with then probably the best place to start is the bibliographies of AJ Ayer, Karl Popper or John Rawls (wikipedia or amazon will have these).

Ayer's The Central Questions of Philosophy is a must have intro to political philosophy, and as I tend to think politics is the arena of practical philosophical debate then I'd say this.

However if you want to see where the cutting edge is then The Philosophers' Magazine is more up to date.

Steve Borthwick said...

Thanks OP, I have read bits and bobs (like Popper for example) but not having studied it formally I kind of don't know what I don't know and need a road map/overview (if that is possible!).

Anyway, I will investigate what you suggest, I've got a holiday coming up and am in desperate need of some interesting reading matter!;