March 31, 2012

The value of agnosticism

Reading elsewhere here (from a "skeptic") that "agnosticism has no intellectual merit"? Tosh. Certainly if we're talking about a limited agnosticism, such as whether or not science will "solve the mystery of consciousness," it has plenty of merit. Even if we're talking about "big ticket" agnosticism, the existence of a deity, it has merit, and not just as a halfway house. Both religious believers and a certain class of atheists who insist on absolutes, including absolute certainty, and cannot live in a world of grays, are mistaken, in my opinion.
 
Second, it’s ironic, or worse, for a skeptic, even if in the breed of modern self-proclaimed “scientific skeptics,” to reject the value of agnosticism. That said, this is another reason why I’ve said before, and will say again now, that modern “scientific skeptics” need to actually familiarize themselves with the philosophy of Skepticism.
 
Third, to claim that Arcesilaus never advocated such a thoroughgoing agnosticism, or skepticism, as to be skeptical even of skepticism, is not true. Such versions of agnosticism were advocated. And, no, that’s not a self-defeating concept, no more than is the pithier “question everything.” First, the agnosticism proposed is a state of mind, not a state of being. Related to that, no advocacy is made for the permancy of agnosticism in every instance in life. And, related to that, Arcesilaus’ skepticism is probabilistic, anticipating in some way Bayes’ theorum, perhaps.
 
Fourth, this doesn’t even consider Pyrrhonic skepticism, which is actually even more necessary today. Pyrrho advocated what he called “knowledgeable ignorance,” or, in more detail, taking a deliberate stance of non-certainty against dogmatism, whatever its form or stripe.
 
And, especially as some “scientific skeptics” are also “Gnu “Atheists” or approach them in mind, that’s the biggest reason of all “scientific skeptics” actually need to learn more about the roots of Skepticism, the philosophy.
 
“Darkness,” metaphorically speaking, can produce more light than heat can.
 
And, per the likes of a Scott Atran, the desire for certainty shown by both true religious believers and true atheists, or "scientific skeptics," are two sides of the same coin -- more general human mental patterns, such as causation-inferrers and pattern-inferrers, put to the service of ideologies, dogmas and isms for which they had never evolved (since evolution doesn't have Aristotelian final causes.

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