A Response to “Why I am an Agnostic Fideist”

If you’re anything like me, you don’t know everything. Knowledge is hard. The nature of knowing, I believe, requires certainty and that’s where we get problems. I’m fairly solipsistic when it comes to knowledge. During a counseling session, I once tried to explain this, pointing to a blue chair and saying, “For example, I wouldn’t say I know that this chair is blue. I call it blue, and it appears to be blue, but I’m not 100% certain of its blueness.” (Here’s some fun advice: if you’re seeing a counselor, you might want to stray away from this. It did not compute for him, and after I finished my convoluted rant on the nature of knowledge, he said, “Well, that sounds like a very scary world to live in.”)

Anyway, let’s get down to it. Recently, a friend showed me a blog post called, “Why I am an Agnostic Fideist.” This article made some great points, and I was glad to see a Christian acknowledge that they could be agnostic when it came to their faith. It was refreshing. But I think it fell short in its representation of agnosticism as well as made some some contradicting claims. What follows are some quotes from that blog with my rebuttals. (You shouldn’t have to read the said article to keep up. The quotes should do just fine, but please feel free to check up on me.)

So let’s get to it. When reading the title, I didn’t know what a “fideist” was, so I had to look that up. Here’s some Wikipedia:

Fideism is an epistemological theory which maintains that faith is independent of reason, or that reason and faith are hostile to each other and faith is superior at arriving at particular truths.

Right away, this shot up a red flag. So I kept reading and came across this:

The term fideist, one who argues for fideism, is very rarely self-applied…with fideism being a label applied in a negative sense by their opponents…

I’m not sure why this blogger took the title willingly, but I think it says something about them. There are a number of different fideist positions, so I can’t be sure to which this blogger subscribes. My only point is that if someone is putting faith above reason, there’s a good chance they’re not good at using reason. Especially when making claims about knowledge since gaining knowledge is contingent upon the ability to reason.

But let’s get to the article. Here is the first misrepresentation of agnosticism.

Agnostics recognize that theism is a logical possibility – they can’t prove God doesn’t exist – but they don’t see a good reason to believe in God either.

Agnostics do not think theism is logically possible. Sound logic requires knowledge and since agnostics can’t know if God exists, they can’t think theism to be logically possible. Possible, sure, but not logically possible. When it comes to theism, I find it’s handy to gauge your belief according to the Dawkins Scale:

dawkins scale

Faith in God is irrational. It has to be because there is no empirical evidence of God’s existence. Faith requires belief despite evidence to the contrary. A fideist, who puts faith above reason, would disagree, and because of this, we get statements like this:

This is where faith comes in, and I do choose to believe God exists. Is this irrational? That’s a huge question in philosophy, whether you can believe something without evidence and that still be a good belief. Ask me in thirty years and I may have worked out my answer. But if it’s irrational, it’s not irrational in the same way as (say) 9/11 truthers or Obama birthers are. There, you have counterevidence – the video of planes hitting the towers, the released birth certificate and newspaper announcements – that those groups just deny exists. With God, I don’t think we have evidence one way or the other.

Believing in something that has no evidence of being true is irrational. That’s why so many nonbelievers sarcastically claim belief in the Flying Spaghetti Monster. The same amount of evidence exists for the FSM as does God, yet my claim that the FSM exists is irrational and ridiculous. Further, I would argue that it’s equally irrational as 9/11 truthers and the birther movement. There is tons of evidence out there that contradicts the Bible and just as much that sheds serious doubt on the existence of God. Of course, this a false parallel. The birther makes a claim to which verifiable proof can be provided to deny the claim. The theist does no such thing. In the words of Hermione Granger, “I mean, you could claim anything’s real if the only basis for believing in it is that nobody’s proved it doesn’t exist!”

From here, the author went on to talk about morality.

And morally, a lot of my social progressivism – my feminism, my commitment to economic justice, my pacifism – starts with the idea that all humans are uniquely worthwhile, not just those I know personally. I’m sure you can fight for these causes without being religious, but in my case it’s taking my religion seriously and thinking hard about the Biblical stories and church history that drives my position on these issues.

How is one a pacifist after reading Bible stories? Especially when God often encouraged the rape of his enemies’ women and the murder of the disobedient and nonbelievers? The God of the Old Testament is the same God of the New. After all, according to Malachi 3:6, “I the Lord do not change.” And Hebrews 13:8 says, “Jesus Christ is the same yesterday and today and forever.” If God does not change and Jesus does not change and Jesus is God in the form of man, then Jesus is the one responsible for the atrocities committed in the Old Testament just as much as the God of the Old Testament. That’s logic at work right there.

Also, I’m unsure about the writers phrasing that “all humans are uniquely worthwhile” and it’s not just those s/he knows personally that are important. I’m a secular humanist and I believe that all humans are worthwhile, and it seems bizarre that s/he would assume that a non-theist would view the world otherwise.

From the quote above, s/he goes on to write this:

(By the way, I don’t think this is just me. Connor Wood recently blogged about a spike in suicides among the elderly in South Korean. One reason: the nation has become increasingly secularized and has lost a lot of its Confucian underpinning, leading to elderly people spending their golden years isolated from their children in a culture where this was pretty well unheard of a generation ago. Religion provides useful ways to structure your life, and when we try to do away with religion, this can harm people if not done rightly.)

Confucianism is not a religion. It is a philosophy. The original New York Times article makes no mention of religion or the secularization of South Korea. It instead refers to the “Confucian social contract” and its withering as a factor in higher suicide rates. Not to mention, “But as South Korea’s hard-charging younger generations joined an exodus from farms to cities in recent decades, or simply found themselves working harder in the hypercompetitive environment that helped drive the nation’s economic miracle, their parents were often left behind.”

It’s important to note here the distortion made by this blogger and the aforementioned Connor Wood. They, whether ignorantly or not, claimed the Confucianism was a religion in order to promulgate their point that religion provides a useful structure to your life. When faith is irrational, other means must be used to support a belief, such as drawing inaccurate conclusions based on faulty evidence. They needed Confucianism to be a religion for their point to be made.

Of course, religion provides structure in life and is useful because it provides people with a community. Humans thrive on community and church provides that. But that doesn’t validate religion, it only validates the fact that we humans are social creatures.

However, I give quite a bit of credit to this blogger for being fairly open and honest. S/he even acknowledge that plenty of bad has been done in the name of Christianity. She writes:

I’m not blind to all the harm done in religion’s name. I’m perfectly aware that it was a Christian pastor (John Piper) who encouraged abusive women to submit to their husbands, and another (Doug Wilson) who defended American slavery. There was also the non-pastor journalist who argued the Bible encourages us to own and be willing to use guns. And of course we’ve all heard about Christian groups fighting against gay marriage, gays in the military, anti-bullying laws, and other things in this vein. These people use the same Bible I do, and they use it to fight – often quite effectively – for the exact opposite of my moral ideals.

So why share their name? Because I believe they are misusing Christian theology.

This is the No True Scotsman fallacy. To quote my source, “In this form of faulty reasoning one’s belief is rendered unfalsifiable because no matter how compelling the evidence is, one simply shifts the goalposts so that it wouldn’t apply to a supposedly ‘true’ example. This kind of post-rationalization is a way of avoiding valid criticisms of one’s argument.”

In all, this was an interesting article, and I encourage you to read it, if you haven’t already. Agnosticism is position on knowledge, not belief. I’m an agnostic atheist, and I rate myself a 6 on the Dawkins Scale. This blogger is an agnostic theist, though I don’t know how s/he can be a fideist and an agnostic. If faith is higher than reason, then how can your reason lead you to be agnostic concerning the existence of God? It doesn’t make sense to me, but, as I admitted before, I just learned what fideism is, so I could be misrepresenting it. It’s important to know what agnosticism is, and if more were aware of it, I believe we’d see a rise in the numbers of agnostics (or, another way of putting it, a 4 on the Dawkins Scale).

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