Debating agnostics


#1

please forgive me if this has been covered in a previous thread, but lately i’ve been running into people who make this statement: there’s no way we can know whether catholicism or denomination X is correct, so what’s the point of debating the merits of different faiths?

if i’m not mistaken, this stance is the essence of agnosticism. the comment blindsides me, and i admit i find it infuriating, because it essentially shuts down any further conversation. at the same time i know it’s a profoundly misguided statement.

is there a good way to respond to a comment like that? i could take it as a sign that my interlocuter wants to talk about something else and change the subject, but that would suggest that the agnostic stance is not problematic in and of itself, which i know it is. any suggestions?


#2

I would ask them to prove their statement that there is no way to know. How do they know that? How is that knowable, and yet the question of Catholicism vs. denom X is not knowable?


#3

Why wouldn’t one want to know where the fullness of truth lies?

All religions contain truth, some more than others. How can we know - start them off with the worst cases and work your way up.


#4

The essence of agnosticism is ‘we cannot know whether or not God exists’. One who is unsure which denomination has it right already assumes the existence of God.

In the case of the undecided theist, I doubt rational arguments will do you much good. The only backup for a particular belief is that belief itself. Catholicism proves itself by the New Testament, Judaism by the Torah, Islam by the Quran, and so on and so forth. One must accept the source in order to accept the faith, and if one accepts the source one has already accepted the faith.


#5

because it’s deeply unfashionable these days to believe in the truth.

to quote John Paul II’s encyclical “fides et ratio”: "Rather than make use of the human capacity to know the truth, modern philosophy has preferred to accentuate the ways in which this capacity is limited and conditioned.

This has given rise to different forms of agnosticism and relativism which have led philosophical research to lose its way in the shifting sands of widespread scepticism. Recent times have seen the rise to prominence of various doctrines which tend to devalue even the truths which had been judged certain. A legitimate plurality of positions has yielded to an undifferentiated pluralism, based upon the assumption that all positions are equally valid, which is one of today’s most widespread symptoms of lack of confidence in the truth … Hence we see among the men and women of our time, and not just in some philosophers, attitudes of widespread distrust of the human being’s great capacity for knowledge. With a false modesty, people rest content with partial and provisional truths, no longer seeking to ask radical questions about the meaning and ultimate foundation of human, personal and social existence." (page 4) (emphasis mine).


#6

hi mirdath,

one might think so, but in the case of my friend whose comment got me thinking about this she says she believes in god but she’s deeply uncomfortable with organized religion especially catholicism. i think she would also agree with the statement “there’s no way we can know whether christianity or buddhism is correct so what’s the point of discussing their relative merits” which is in the same relativistic spirit.

i find this attitude very prevalent among secular people in the us. they don’t want to affirm that they’re agnostic for some reason so they claim to believe in something spiritual but as far as the life they lead they might as well be agnostic or atheist. they’re self-styled free agents or religious independents and they’re either deeply mistrustful of organized religion or they seek to downplay core differences by saying all religions lead to god one way or another. that way (in my opinion) they don’t need to make difficult choices or think hard about what they believe.

as for your other point about scriptural sources, a christian apologist would argue i think that christianity is qualitatively different from the other major religions because only it brings god directly to humanity in the form of Christ.


#7

So she’s a theist, but doesn’t worship in any specific way. It’s still quite distinct from agnosticism; there are plenty of Catholics-in-name-only who are in the same boat. Agnosticism is a specific stance on the question ‘does God exist?’; she has already made up her mind that God does exist, but is either unable to decide how to worship or simply apathetic.

as for your other point about scriptural sources, a christian apologist would argue i think that christianity is qualitatively different from the other major religions because only it brings god directly to humanity in the form of Christ.

A Christian apologist would be wrong to say so, if he didn’t qualify it with the Christ’s specific purpose of salvation. Greek paganism has quite a few stories of gods walking among humans; and in modern times, Hinduism is a major religion which preaches of many divine incarnations. Even if the apologist did qualify his statement so, he is still left with the problem that he seeks to rationally validate a religion by that religion’s own scripture.


#8

depends on what it means to believe something, i guess. nevertheless i don’t think an authentic theist would say there’s no way we can know what is true (in religious matters, i mean).

theists believe there are other and higher forms of knowledge than what we can know by using our rational senses. this is different from and opposed to the agnostic view, so i don’t expect you to accept it.

as for the hindus, let’s leave that for a different thread.


#9

I dont see any reason to pin this person as an agnostic to handle this.
She said there is no point in debating the merits of either.

Tell her you will be happy to debate the deficits of various faiths with her.


#10

Sure it’s possible. Let’s say we go back to the middle ages with a light bulb and a battery, and show it to a peasant. The peasant can tell there’s a light source, but could he tell us whether the bulb is incandescent or fluorescent? Similarly, one can believe in God in some way without knowing which denomination is correct in its theology and worship.

All I’m really saying is that theism does not have to adhere to a specific form of worship, be that Catholicism, Lutheranism, Hinduism, Voudoun, or anything else. It is simply a statement: ‘I believe in a deity or deities’. One who is uncertain which form of worship is proper has made that statement, implicitly or explicitly; an agnostic has not.


#11

Mirdath, that peasant would likely think I was practicing witchcraft and I would end up getting the “treatment” via the hands of a Jesuit Priest if I did the lightbulb gag you suggested.


#12

The Wicca argument.
There are many religions all saying essentially similar things. Now we both agree that Wicca is an absurd religion that cannot be taken seriously. Bu Catholicism is jsut another such religion. So Catholicism cannot be taken seriously.

The argument is actually sound, but it doesn’t stand up to a momnet’s examination, one you realise that the first premise begs the question.

In fact it is a straight fight between Catholicism and atheism. No other beliefs have any intellectual credibility, though there are a few special cases such as highly intelligent Reformed Jews. There simply aren’t any intellectually significant figures who are neither Catholics nor atheists, and speak as members of their religion. Usually some fairly central claims are known to be false - the Torah was not dictated to Moses on Mt Sinai, Mohammed was not an edifying man, one man and his Bible Churches are predicated entirely on cheap printing, Wiccans are not in any meaningful sense Celtic pagans, and so forth.


#13

Heh. It’s just an example :wink:

[quote=Malcolm McLean]In fact it is a straight fight between Catholicism and atheism. No other beliefs have any intellectual credibility, though there are a few special cases such as highly intelligent Reformed Jews. There simply aren’t any intellectually significant figures who are neither Catholics nor atheists, and speak as members of their religion.
[/quote]

And this is flat-out untrue. ‘Intellectual credibility’ is maintained only by Catholicism and atheism? Aside from ignoring the rational impregnability of mere agnosticism, you discount the intellectual traditions of Judaism, Islam, Buddhism, and Hinduism – to name a few – entirely? Dismiss the Dalai Lama, Haroun al-Rashid, Thomas Jefferson, and Srinivasa Ramanujan as ‘intellectual insignificants’? Ignore Islam’s contribution to your very own apologetics in the Kalam cosmological argument, and Judaism as the very foundation of your faith? I am hard-pressed to think of a more ignorant commentary on other beliefs, and this from a published author and apologist!


#14

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