Religious literalists and creationists can be annoying, and liberal believers whose theology is entirely apophatic can also be annoying; however anyone who espouses atheism on the internet will soon encounter an even more annoying group: the Militant Fundamentalist Agnostics.
The what? Surely that’s a contradiction in terms?! Sadly not, the Militant Fundamentalist Agnostic, while pretending to complete ignorance of gods, will confidently assert the central dogma of the agnostic faith, and cling to it tenaciously. Their one dogma is the claim that atheists make dogmatic assertions about the non-existence of gods. And hence, by declaring themselves to be free of such unwarranted, beyond-the-evidence assertions, they feel themselves superior, not only to the believers, who have no proof of their deities, but also to the atheists, who have no proof to back up their supposed claims of certain non-existence.
It is pointless trying to argue with the Fundamentalist Agnostics, telling them that, no, atheists usually do not make dogmatic assertions of non-existence. Such a correction undermines the very core of the agnostic identity, and will be rejected with fervour. If an agnostic once accepted that atheism is not about making categorical non-existence assertions, then they’d have no good reason to call themselves agnostics. They might — oh the horror! — have to consider whether they themselves might be (I shudder to write the word) atheists! Continue reading
Scientific knowledge is provisional: it is founded on empirical evidence and our knowledge of empirical evidence will always be incomplete. Thus there is always the possibility of new evidence coming along to show that some area of scientific understanding is wrong.
This leads to a common claim that science can be disregarded because its ideas are always changing. For example, the fundamentalists at Answers in Genesis say:
We agree that scientists should continually refine their views as new information becomes available, but that is precisely the problem … Evolutionary scientists have changed “common knowledge” multiple times over the past century, yet the Bible has not changed. It still clearly teaches that the universe, earth, and dinosaurs were made during a six-day period about 4,000 years before Christ.
And the complaint isn’t only from Biblical literalists. Mark Vernon, a liberal “agnostic Christian” who used to be an Anglican priest, writes in the Guardian:
There are, of course, differences between scientific and religious myths. For one thing, scientific myths are far less long-lived than religious ones. The great faiths of the world daily turn to myths that are thousands of years old and find truth leaping off the page as they read them. Scientific myths, on the other hand, do well if they last more than a century. Who today reads Newton?
Is the complaint fair? To use an analogy, science is like golf, where the “hole” we are aiming for is truth, and by a “true” scientific theory we mean one that matches the empirical reality of our universe. Nature sets the lie of the golf course and the location of the hole, and science tries to find it. So we revise our theories when better empirical evidence comes along, and each time we do that we halve our distance to the hole. Continue reading