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Agnostic ? November 24, 2015

Posted by anagasto in history, language.
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Translated literally from old Greek agnostic means “without firm knowledge”.

The term seems to have been launched by Huxley based on Saint Paul who traveled a lot and wrote about an altar he had seen in Greece dedicated “To a God Unknown”.

According to his report, he told the Greeks that he had been pleased to see they were a religious people, but it was no longer necessary to dedicate an altar to a deity that could not be known :

Source texts in English KJV…… Greek …… Hebrew……Latin

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The idea that some things are hard to know with any kind of certainty has been around since Neanderthal, especially in philosophy and theology. By now however the term has become mainstream and is also used in technology and in the sciences.

There are “software agnostics” and “platform agnostics” and you can even read about “agnostic psychiatry”.

:-)
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 little churchill posing

A good example is Churchill. He wrote that he was not a believer. He may have been an atheist, but tried not to offend.

He wrote that whenever he got into serious trouble (as he often did), he asked God to help him.

And  very early in life he also saw the logics of thanking God for any help received, once the danger was over.

This is  based on Churchill’s a great little autobiography published in 1930, long before WWII.

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The most widely known agnostic was Bertrand Russell, a somewhat fuzzy writer and philosopher who was  popular in the sixties  with theories on everything from lifestyle to socialism and race.

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Of course,  in a modern civilization everybody depends on everybody else for information, guidance, and knowledge. There is no time to verify the data that reach you every day.

You must take it on trust.

The stone age man is by Chris Madden http://www.chrismadden.co.uk

Notice the little hearts on his outfit.   He is being taught cosmology.

The picture below is based on a photo by ghD.


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aaa

Comments»

1. Mrs Greensleeves - March 29, 2009

Classifiers like atheist or agnostic or fundie are mostly thrown around like snowballs in a kids’ battle, all participants trying to hit each other smack in the face. That is a lot of fun, especially in election time, but you seem to forget that they are also useful as labels with more conventional meanings.

2. David - March 29, 2009

I like that comment Mrs. Greensleeves! That’s why I’ve come to classify myself as a theistic iconoclastic nihilist. It repels most casual queries, and confuses the rest. The election time snowball fights are especially abhorrent to my psyche.

I quietly resent the luxurious certainty that all such labeled persons exude.

Mrs Greensleeves - March 29, 2009

But don’t forget that they are useful, though they should not be used to classify people, but trends or an orientation.

David - March 31, 2009

Yes, I guess that is true. It’s helpful that such minds are easily recognizable, therefore one may avoid pointless disputes.

cantueso - April 1, 2009

Not pointless. About as necessary as air. For instance, how would you capture an outline of what is meant by “Republican” and “Democrat” ?

Both of these terms are used by practically everybody. That does not make them any more easily intelligible or stable.

David - April 9, 2009

I’ve been thinking about capturing that outline (Democrat versus Republican) for years and cannot do it. I do not think that they are intelligible. They are ephemeral storms of dogma.

What I meant by pointless dispute was the case where a believer self-labels. These declarations are helpful in determining the range of possible conversation. Understand that I am a person who avoids conflict.

cantueso - April 9, 2009

Ephemeral = as old as your country ?

I don’t know what you mean by “intelligible” either. Do you mean rational?

When you hear somebody talk for a short time about almost any subject, you can try and guess whether he votes Republican or Democrat. If you are mostly right, you have understood something. This something can be explained and clarified and pictured and painted and turned into a story a mile long.

Back in Switzerland I was even able to tell a Protestant from a Catholic the same way.

David - April 14, 2009

Yes, ephemeral could be thought of as a couple of centuries. A blink of the cosmic eye.

What I’m saying is that it is increasingly difficult for me to tell how someone votes by their talk. I don’t know why this really is, since we’ve become so deeply polarized here in the USA. Perhaps our fluffy convictions left and right are all losing steam with the economic collapse. Maybe most of the people I encounter repeatedly are too polite to engage in political dispute. Not likely that …

I use unintelligible in the sense of irrational, yes. Cannot be understood in terms of a consistent logic. I think of the political party labels as describing a continuum of thought and emotion on the topic of government that wraps around a circle of meaning. How about that? At the extremes the left wing nutjobs look much like the right wing nutjobs. In the middle, it’s the obvious topics that give away the Democrats and Republicans in the street. Those topics are resonated by the media. The conservative movement appears to have checked itself into rehab.

3. cantueso - April 16, 2009

I think your analogy is based on some computer graph, because I find it difficult to understand otherwise. It would have to be as you say, since all nouns that are widely used develop and change their meaning that way so that even population migrations can be traced accordingly. –But of course abstract nouns are only whatever is made of them and never static.

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4. frizztext - May 14, 2011

I like Churchill, Russell – and Schopenhauer …

5. David - May 14, 2011

… two years later …
Cantueso, my blatherings above were certainly not based on any computer graph. They are generated from the sickening miasma spewed forth from all the media I consume.

And it always surprises me when you respond that “find it difficult to understand”. I always use too many words, and know only this one language. And unfortunately the thoughts which I try to entrap for commentary’s sake are mostly egotistical chaff.

What I failed to say above is clear enough. I like this post! The title is brilliantly succinct!

6. cantueso - May 15, 2011

I thought that only teenagers keep trying to assess their own meaning and whereabouts in the world.

They look at themselves in a mirror where little by little that (quicksilver?) layer at the back flakes off so that in time instead of a mirror there is only a perfectly transparent glass. (the metaphor is Machado’s)

7. David - May 17, 2011

I was late. It wasn’t until my mid-20s that I stopped looking for the meaning of meaning.

Lovely metaphor Machado.

8. cantueso - May 17, 2011

Do you know that The Meaning of Meaning is the title of a fairly influential book by Richards & Ogden.

They figured out that most words are unnecessary because they don’t mean anything. We ought to simply restrain ourselves to think and talk within the 500 basic words that mean something.

And to set an example, they went and translated the Genesis into that 500 word English.
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I looked it up in Wikipedia http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/The_Meaning_of_Meaning and see that what I remember of the book is not what is considered its main focus at all.

9. Willy Uribe - June 22, 2012

I studied with the Jesuits in Bilbao (Basque country). They taught me that God is just a money machine. The ancient Greeks knew it for many years.

Paul does not fell off the horse. What he did was change the mount.

Best regards!

10. cantueso - June 22, 2012

I am sorry to hear that! I guess you would be better off if the Jesuits had taught you some English instead.

¿Sabes? Que a lo mejor, en vez de historia griega o lo que fuese, deberían haberte enseñado inglés.

Cosas que pasan.
:-(


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