Why I am not an agnostic atheist


You will allow me to start with a very irrelevant story. Thank you. At the beginning of the year when guys were busy making resolutions, I made only one that I hoped I could remain faithful to and that was to read 53 books  so chosen because a year has 52 weeks and given that I got to work, blog, have a beer and sleep in between, this was a good number. As it stands now, I have surpassed that number by almost 10 books and am happy for it.

I must state from the onset that I do not intend to berate my agnostic friends, but to briefly demonstrate that their position is not justified. In order to do this, I must clarify that there are two applications of the term agnostic [a term I will show is unnecessary] its application in religion and philosophy. It is its use with reference to the belief in deity that interests me.  The question of whether one believes in god or not admits of only two possible answers. Either one believes[theist] or doesn’t believe[atheist]. I want to state here that between theism and atheism, there is no halfway point and if any, I will say that position is one of intellectual dishonesty or one of development or transition to the greater truth.

A small digression would suffice here. I am agnostic/ skeptic as to whether I will wake up tomorrow, but I work as fact that I will be tomorrow. I make plans, arrange for meetings and so on. If the skeptic was to suspend judgement on everything, for which they have no evidence, as they claim, life would be impossible.

Words being fluid, people have often employed them to different ends. And the same is true for agnosticism. First and foremost, there was never a need for the word agnostic. If agnostic is used in reference to existential questions, that is, as to the nature of reality or of thing in itself the word skeptic was sufficient to explain and with reference to lack of belief in gods- atheist was and is sufficient. Unless the word agnostic is used in place of atheism because of its earlier connotations, so be it, but to use it to represent a different conclusion than the atheistic one, that I contend is not warranted.

I know there are no gods, in the same way I know there is no ABRACADABRA. Anthropology has shown that the god belief originated for a practical purpose in the age of our primitive infancy and was employed as an explanation for causes to which they were ignorant. Their world was populated by spirits, good and bad, responsible for every conceivable phenomena. This idea of god/ghosts and phantoms evolved to the current conception of a monotheistic god. In essence, as man became more intelligent, so did his god but it’s function has always been the same. It is evident that the more ignorant of causes a man is, the stronger is his belief in gods and the opposite is true, that is, the more enlightened a man is, the less use he has for gods and the more abstract his conception of god becomes.

The moment the theist describes his god, it canl easily be shown that either it is contradictory in its definition or is a logical impossibility. The word god on its own, that is, if not attached to a specific belief is meaningless and does not avail itself either to refutation or affirmation.

The agnostic in attempt to look superior to the atheist by claiming skepticism on the belief in gods is being intellectually dishonest. He says the nature of god is unknown and unknowable and so he suspends judgement. The atheist says he has no knowledge of god, that is, the god-idea has not been properly defined. How in the name of all that is reasonable does one suspend judgement on what is unknown and unknowable? What would be more absurd than such a stand? Why even entertain the thought of a thing that is unknowable? Further still, our conception of a thing could be inadequate or wrong, but to say it is unknowable is to put a limit on the ability of the human capacity to wrest knowledge from nature.

On the balance of things, for one to say he is agnostic and holds this position as being halfway between theism and atheism is to imply that evidence adduced for the existence of god and against almost stand par. But is this really the case? Has even a god been properly defined, even if we put aside the matter of evidence, to permit a suspension of belief?

One is likely to say that the philosophical arguments for god make this a possibility. But does it really? It doesn’t. The god of philosophy is an abstraction that is far removed from what men mean when they talk about god. Whenever men have talked about god they have always meant a being that is personal, that listens to prayers, answers them and loves them. It is only with mental gymnastics, special pleading and dishonesty does one come from one to the other. The god of William Craig and of my grandmother don’t meet anywhere except that they are all used as explanations where we are ignorant of causes. My grandmother being ignorant of how rain is formed, prays to god for rain and William Craig being ignorant of how matter can result in consciousness says god. The common thing is they are both ignorant and the evidence for my grandmother’s god and William Craig’s god is the same, nil.

I invite my agnostic friends to do two things

  1. To describe the god of whom they have suspended judgement
  2. To enumerate the evidence they have in support of the god idea

I hope that this will help in moving the conversation forward.

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About makagutu

As Onyango Makagutu I am Kenyan, as far as I am a man, I am a citizen of the world

78 thoughts on “Why I am not an agnostic atheist

  1. john zande says:

    Brilliant. I tend to place deists in the same intellectually lazy basket as agnostics, although i do have greater respect for their position. Few people recognise it, but Pantheism was the intellectual high point of the god business, not monotheism.

    Like

  2. mixedupmeme says:

    Your topic reminds me of an old song, “Is You Is Or Is You Ain’t My Baby”
    To me you can’t have it both ways.
    You either is an atheist or you ain’t.

    WOW! Your reading goal is impressive!! And thanks for sharing and reviewing so many of them for us.

    Like

  3. No offense taken, however:

    “The question of whether one believes in god or not admits of only two possible answers. Either one believes[theist] or doesn’t believe[atheist]. I want to state here that between theism and atheism, there is no halfway point and if any, I will say that position is one of intellectual dishonesty or one of development or transition to the greater truth.”

    That is a completely false definition of agnosticism which also attempts to restrict the debate to absolutist (i.e. black and white) positions on the existence of god. Agnosticism is based on empirical knowledge, not rationalized beliefs. From: http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Agnosticism

    “In the popular sense, an agnostic is someone who neither believes nor disbelieves in the existence of a deity or deities, whereas a theist and an atheist believe and disbelieve, respectively.[2] Philosopher William L. Rowe states that in the strict sense, however, agnosticism is the view that humanity lacks the requisite knowledge or sufficient rational grounds to justify either belief: that there exists some deity, or that no deities exist.[2]”

    Agnosticism is scientifically honest. Atheism and theism are philosophical constructs which have nothing to do with science.

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    • makagutu says:

      this is what Huxley says ‘ when I reached intellectual maturity and began to ask myself whether I atheist, a theist, or pantheist: a materialist or an idealist, a Christian or freethinker, I found that the more I learned and reflected the less ready was the answer, until at last I came to the conclusion that I had neither art nor part with any of these denominations except the last. So I took thought and invented what I conceived to be the appropriate title of agnostic’ and I said there was no need for this. Sceptic answered for it.
      Science deals with the knowable, and if god occupies the unknowable, it is not in the purview of science to study it.
      New definitions of the term could be in vogue now, the god question to which theism and atheism answers to doesn’t allow for any other answer. In practice you either believe or you don’t.
      And it is not arguing for absolutes per se but for honesty. For as i said, if god’s nature is both unknown and unknowable why even talk about it.
      Sigh* at least you didn’t take offense

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      • I appreciate your philosophical perspective, but I contend that the entire purpose of science is to learn that which is unknown. The creation of the cosmos is unknown. Theists offer the concept of god as the creator. That puts it squarely in the purview of science.

        I do not believe in god, and I am not an atheist.

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        • archaeopteryx1 says:

          “The creation of the cosmos is unknown.”

          I could agree with you had you said “The origin of the cosmos is unknown,” or, “The cause of the cosmos is unknown, that puts it squarely in the purview of science.” But as soon as you say, “The creation of the cosmos is unknown,” you lose all credibility, as a creation requires a creator, and that puts it squarely in the purview of belief, i.e., religion.

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          • makagutu says:

            I can’t agree more

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          • That is an incredibly weak semantic distinction with which to disparage someone’s credibility.

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          • archaeopteryx1 says:

            It’s been my observation, Robert, from a myriad of conversations with proselytizing theists on a number of other sites – and Mak has seen this process in action – that they will attempt to subtly insert Creationist terminology into the conversation, and if one doesn’t dispute the terminology at the onset, it’s assumed agreed upon.

            If you’re sincere in your earlier assertion that you’re an atheist, I can’t imagine you would object to a little semantic redefinition, but would likely see the concern and be only too happy to correct it, rather than assuming it to be a disparagement of your credibility. Methinks he doth protest too much.

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          • makagutu says:

            I think Bob will agree.

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          • archaeopteryx1 says:

            That remains to be seen —

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          • Yes, I agree on the semantics. However, I do not agree with attacking another person’s credibility in a substantive discussion. It’s unnecessary and counterproductive.

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          • archaeopteryx1 says:

            If your credibility is that important to you, possibly you’ll choose your words more thoughtfully next time – no one can read what you mean, only what you write.

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          • Arch, there was nothing wrong with my choice of words, only your narrow interpretation of them. Regarding my credibility, your opinion of it is irrelevant. I was making a point about respectful discourse.

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          • archaeopteryx1 says:

            Well, I was trying to mend fences but if you insist, walls it is.

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        • makagutu says:

          Bob, me and you are in agreement as to the purpose of science. What I said and must repeat is that science can’t study what is unknowable. How would you know that you have known if it is described as unknowable? And the apologist has said his god is unknowable. At that point science tells the apologist to have his way. The moment something is said about god and that thing can be investigated, it comes into the purview of science.

          Now, to talk of creation of the universe is to talk about religion. Their god’s first duty is to create. It is impossible, at least, for my feeble mind to conceive of the creation of the universe. In fact, the word to create, when you think of logically is almost an impossibility.

          You don’t believe in god and you are not an atheist! Now my friend that is a difficult one for me to understand.

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          • Nothing is permanently unknowable, in my opinion. Where would science be today if it didn’t attempt explore that which was previously considered unknowable?

            Mak, your position is as difficult for me to understand. If you believe the creation/origin of the cosmos is unknowable, then that makes you by definition agnostic. But if that’s what you believe, then I respect it.

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          • makagutu says:

            Bob you see a difficulty where there is none.

            I identified two questions where people have answered as agnostic. One question regards the nature of god and the next nature of existence or reality so to speak.

            The question of the origin of the universe has nothing to do with gods. All answers so far given about it, I’ll be skeptical about.

            But on whether I believe in god, I have no room for skepticism. I don’t have and I know they don’t exist.

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          • archaeopteryx1 says:

            “Nothing is permanently unknowable, in my opinion.”

            You and I would agree here, Robert – if Humankind allows itself enough time as a species, and by that, I mean doesn’t prematurely destroy itself, we will ultimately unravel the origins of the universe. When that happens, I predict that astrophysicist Neil Degrasse Tyson’s hypothesis will be confirmed:

            “God is an ever-receding pocket of scientific ignorance, that gets smaller and smaller as time goes on.”

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          • Mak: “The question of the origin of the universe has nothing to do with gods.” Yes, but it has everything to do with religion. If and when science understands what triggered the universe (or multiverse), the foundational concept of an omnipotent god as the creator of everything will utterly collapse.

            * * * * *

            Arch, yes I couldn’t agree more with Tyson’s hypothesis.

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          • makagutu says:

            I don’t think there was ever a foundation except in the days of our ignorance that such a being was conceived.

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          • archaeopteryx1 says:

            Your credibility is rising already. I’ve just had too many creationists, under various pretexts, try to subtly slide their unfounded assertions into conversations.

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    • makagutu says:

      I think also that agnosticism answers to a question that has not been asked. The theist says the nature of god is knowable e.g benevolent, omniscient and so on. The question then is do you believe the entity described by the theist exist or do you lack a belief in its existence? What evidence would be decisive? What do you make of the anthropological studies that have shown the human origin of gods? Are they a sufficient basis on which to rule on the case?

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      • As an empiricist, I am concerned with knowledge and facts. Beliefs are just opinions, and unless they are supported with verifiable evidence or impeccable reasoning, I don’t place much weight on them.

        Regarding the subject of god, I generally concur with atheists about why human beings started believing in that fanciful idea. However, I cannot definitively state that god does not exist because there is no scientific basis for disproving it… yet.

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        • makagutu says:

          The god idea is an hypothesis in need of proof. I think god has been found it. There is no place left for god to hide and there really is no warrant to suspend judgement on the case

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  4. Mordanicus says:

    I don’t know how many books I have read this year, but I haven’t read much of the books I really want to read. For my study I have mostly to read article, many of which are quite long. But good to hear that you’ve read more books than you planned for!

    Like

  5. archaeopteryx1 says:

    I’ve said this before, but it bears repeating often – you are the most prolific reader I have ever known.

    I’m an agnostic as to whether or not the sun is shining – at no point in time, can we ever know.

    Like

  6. As I have moved away from faith and begun questioning it, I wondered if being just unsure of everything was similar to agnosticism. I have no term to describe myself with at this point since I just don’t know what I believe. But that’s due to a non-committal nature in me rather than a dearth of applicable labels or evidence to answer my questions. Anyway, I enjoyed the blog, and next time I need a book recommendation I know who to ask!

    Like

    • archaeopteryx1 says:

      Trust me, SOMUCH, when it comes to book recommendations, this is THE MAN!

      Like

    • makagutu says:

      For a start you can be a-ghost believe there are no ghosts; aspirit believe there are none and you shall be on your way to some belief. That said, there are a lot many things to believe in :-P. Atheism just answers one question.

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      • I love a-ghost. I am going to use that, that’s funny! 🙂 Honestly, hesitance to call myself an atheist is more about social and family pressure. People do seem to be more comfortable with agnostic because I guess they see it as the middle road. I reread your post and I agree, I hadn’t considered the word like that before.

        Like

        • makagutu says:

          I wouldn’t suggest you put undue pressure on your relationships over a label. It would be sad to lose family over trivialities like labels though it doesn’t speak good of any religious person to say theirs is a religion of tolerance but ostracize a person the moment they can no longer believe the lies.

          I have done my work, then, if I manage to instruct one single person. I can now go to sleep.

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  7. aguywithoutboxers says:

    Congratulations on surpassing your 2013 resolution! This is a very good work on agnosticism. A friend of mine once confided to me that he considered himself an agnostic as opposed to atheist out of respect for his parents. He didn’t want to offend them by denying their deity. They (his parents) didn’t communicate with him for almost a decade. Belief systems make people do strange things! Naked hugs, brother!

    Like

    • makagutu says:

      Hugs my friend.
      That’s true for many people. I have read articles of parents who were happy to hear their children were agnostic but not atheist, if only they would be honest!

      Like

  8. I have a sincere question for you my dear. Who are you besides being an Atheist that reads a LOT. I would like to know please?
    Kathryn

    Like

  9. Arkenaten says:

    I have always felt agnosticism is an odd stance to take, especially as theism requires participation, at least in some form of profession of faith.
    That was why the Nicene Creed was drafted to iron out the niggly bits of Jesus and his Dad and the Wholly Goat and to give the Church all the reason they needed to embark on lots of Pogroms.
    Gods bless Theodosius, right?
    And of course with Jesus in your life everything is so much better, tr la la the live long day.

    Now Deism just says something about a god thing sort of character type wotsit made everything then buggered off to have a beer and let us get on with it.

    The atheist, in the face of ( especially Jewish, Christian, and Muslim) claims of a creator god-cum-human just says, ”Show me the Money Honey!”
    And lo, the believer embarks on a winding path involving Korans and Bibles and Winged horses and Kalam’s and Cosmological, and strange things to do with the eye and fossils atop mountains and dinosaur and human footprints in Arizona and an Ark (not me) on another mountain and chariot wheels on the bottom of the Red Sea, and stuff about absence of evidence or something and Adam and Eve and god-compatible evolution and and… and….
    Phew….

    But when you say , yeah, well, no fine. And where is the EVIDENCE?
    They reply, ”Ah, well you know how they say you can’t see fairies until you believe in them, right?’.

    So the atheist isn’t saying there is/are no god/s. The atheist IS saying that so far the evidence presented stinks and doesn’t even warrant consideration from even a remedial chimp.

    But the agnostic says…er…um..well… y’know, I’m not sure, but well, could be and er..can I get back to you on that? Oh, and if Jesus arrives in the meantime give me shout , okay?

    Like

    • makagutu says:

      Hahahaha!

      Now you just made my afternoon. The agnostic is in a very funny position. No wonder they claim they are misunderstood both by the theist and the atheist.

      They have put themselves in a box from which it is hard to get them out of.

      Like

  10. shelldigger says:

    I cannot disagree with your conclusion. However…in my journey to get where I am today, I did get off the train at the agnostic station. I lived there for a while, until my education developed enough for me to realize that agnosticism, while a cozy place to reside, was not an honest position to maintain. I don’t like the agnostic position, I feel like it’s a copout, but I understand its usefulness as a way station for the eventual non believer. I like to believe that the agnostic just needs a little more time to think it over, and we atheists should wait patiently, and welcome them with open arms, once they arrive. While agnosticism isn’t a great place to be (intellectually), it is closer to an atheist than a theist by a large margin, these are the ones we can reach.

    Just my thoughts, from my personal experience, not to be taken with any degree of seriousness, and probably better with a cold beer.

    Like

    • shelldigger says:

      …Oh, almost forgot, I will be attending Prof Ceiling Cats talk on evolution, in Murray Ky. this evening. Will likely go back again for his talk on Religion vs Science tomorrow night. It is only a 40 min drive for us, and the entire family will be going. I am experiencing great anticipation for this event. Guess that makes me nerd #10976.

      Like

    • makagutu says:

      I remember way back, early last year, at the time when I was jettisoning faith, I didn’t know what to call myself and I found myself in this meeting where everyone was introducing themselves and stating their [dis]belief in deities and it dawned on me I was an atheist. The only difference then and now, is that at that time, my disbelief was based primarily on the impossibility of the bible stories. And this was not after a high criticism of the bible, no, it was occasioned by putting the stories on the table of reason without any filters.

      Agnostic is to me a difficult position to maintain in practice especially in relation to the question we are dealing with.

      Like

  11. shelldigger says:

    Darn it! Of course I meant Religion vs. Science. Ever have one of those moments when you know what you meant to say/type, but your fingers didn’t quite get the signal from your brain and typed in something else?

    I will get back to more productive things now…

    Like

  12. I love how you put your argument together. I have had the same thoughts but without quite the same lucidity so thank you very much!

    Like

  13. Ruth says:

    “Either one believes[theist] or doesn’t believe[atheist].”

    Mmmm…I’m ambivalent. But maybe I’m using the term agnostic in a different way than you? For one, I don’t think that there are only two options. Theist connotes a particular deity. Some people are deist, which essentially means they believe there might be some higher power, but to what end and and what form they do not know.

    I, personally, use the term agnostic to mean that the existence of a god is unknowable. I don’t see that as intellectually dishonest. “I don’t know” is a perfectly acceptable answer.

    By that same token, since I don’t know, and believe I can’t know, I operate effectively as an atheist. I don’t rely on knowledge from any religious book or source, nor do I pray to any deity, nor do I search for one.

    I invite my agnostic friends to do two things

    1. To describe the god of whom they have suspended judgement
    2. To enumerate the evidence they have in support of the god idea

    1. I have no description of such a god. If I did I wouldn’t be agnostic.
    2. I have no evidence in support of the god idea(for which I have no description). If I did I wouldn’t be agnostic.

    I see your points, but also don’t see them as a bone of contention. Then again, as a person who used to be big on labels, I’m really not so much now. On my post I was merely attempting to show Gary that there are many positions or transitions a person might go through during deconversion.

    Like

    • Ruth says:

      “The agnostic in attempt to look superior to the atheist by claiming skepticism on the belief in gods is being intellectually dishonest.”

      Just to be clear, I’m using agnosticism with regard to hard and fast knowledge and atheism with regard to belief. I have no belief in any deity, therefore I am an atheist. Can I know that I know that I know that there is absolutely no higher power of any sort? I don’t know that as an absolute truth, thus agnosticism.

      I do not take the position to look superior in any way. In fact, judging from the response of both atheists and theists, it appears to be inferior.

      Like

      • makagutu says:

        If I get you clearly, you are agnostic as to whether we can know whether god is and atheist as to whether you believe there is a god or not?
        On another note, I don’t think the knowledge has to be absolute.
        I tend to agree with D’Holdbach, that if man cannot know the nature of god, then god is not made for man and there is really no need of talking about it.

        Like

        • Ruth says:

          Everything you just said – pretty much it in a nutshell.

          Like

        • Ruth says:

          As I said earlier, I’m not huge on labels anyway. Call me anything you want, just don’t call me late for dinner!

          On the other hand, when someone is questioning their faith and they’ve been labeled for quite some time, sometimes they need some sort of label for what they are. As in, if I’m not a Christian, what am I?

          At first it mattered to me. Now not so much.

          Like

          • makagutu says:

            We agree here too. At the beginning, the term atheist had a nice ring to it. This days when I have to give myself a label, I prefer naturalist, sometimes humanist depending on the weather.
            You can call me late for dinner but don’t finish the food 😀

            Like

        • Ruth says:

          And too, so many times fundamentalist Christians get the idea that atheism means one is declaring certain knowledge. So I’ve found it helpful, like with Gary to explain that that’s not what we mean at all.

          Like

    • makagutu says:

      Ruth thanks for your comments.

      I guess you had the opportunity to look at some of the comments. In my response to Robert, I mention what Huxley, the one who came up with the term agnostic said led him to use the term.

      When you say some people are deist- they still believe there is a god who could have created all that is and died or took cosmic leave. But still hold the belief. In the group theist I include deist, monotheist and polytheist. In some way or other they believe in a god. Atheists have no belief. Is it possible that when asked whether a person believes in god they would give the answer I don’t know?

      I will admit, though, that thinking about this in retrospect, it is not an easy question. I for example, though no longer big on labels take the igtheist position on the question of god.

      Is the question about whether the nature of god is unknowable or his existence?

      Like

      • Ruth says:

        I guess my thoughts on it is that is two separate questions.

        My position is this:

        Agnosticism = Does a god exist?

        Atheism = Is the nature of said god knowable?

        I don’t believe any god that might exist(I don’t know that) has revealed anything about itself(I do know that about the gods that have been proposed).

        There’s a bloke that comments from time to time on my blog who thinks god is collective consciousness of the universe. Seems harmless enough. I can’t disprove it. He can’t prove it.

        Like

        • makagutu says:

          I think you have reversed the questions.
          Atheist- does god exist
          Agnosticism- is the nature of god knowable.

          In God’s debris, a short interesting book, Scott Adams says we are god’s debris. And that we, each of us are rebuilding god. An interesting idea but I think far fetched.

          Like

          • Ruth says:

            Maybe. I do get things a bit wonky in this noggin of mine from time to time. And as you said, it’s a bit more complex than it appears on the surface. If I were asked, ‘do you believe in a god or gods?,’ my answer would be no. If I were asked, ‘are you certain there is no god or gods?,’ my answer would be no. I do not believe in any god or gods that have thus far been proposed. Like I said before, I see it as a two part question.

            “In God’s debris, a short interesting book, Scott Adams says we are god’s debris. And that we, each of us are rebuilding god. An interesting idea but I think far fetched.”

            Yeah, that whole collective consciousness of the universe, along with God’s debris, sounds like woo to me. Paint me skeptical.

            Like

          • makagutu says:

            Yeah, that whole collective consciousness of the universe, along with God’s debris, sounds like woo to me. Paint me skeptical.

            We are on the same page on this one.

            I think usually the person asking do you believe in god assumes that what god is, is common knowledge. The answer am likely to give to the two questions is not a no but rather to inquire what god is.

            Like

          • Ruth says:

            Yes, but generally speaking, once a person who does believe in god has described said god they want to know if you believe in that god. To which I would most likely answer no since I’ve yet to encounter a description I could answer yes to.

            Like

          • makagutu says:

            I agree completely.

            Like

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