The truth is elusive
"Agnosticism and Christianity" in Essays Upon Some Controverted Questions (1892), pp. 350-1, 351-2.
The people who call themselves "Agnostics" have been charged with doing so because they have not the courage to declare themselves "Infidels." It has been insinuated that they have adopted a new name in order to escape the unpleasantness which attaches to their proper denomination. To this wholly erroneous imputation, I have replied by showing that the term "Agnostic" did, as a matter of fact, arise in a manner which negatives it; and my statement has not been, and can not be, refuted. Moreover, speaking for myself, and without impugning the right of any other person to use the term in another sense, I further say that Agnosticism is not properly described as a "negative" creed, nor indeed as a creed of any kind, except in so far as it expresses absolute faith in the validity of a principle, which is as much ethical as intellectual. This principle may be stated in various ways, but they all amount to this: that it is wrong for a man to say that he is certain of the objective truth of any proposition unless he can produce evidence which logically justifies that certainty. This is what Agnosticism asserts; and, in my opinion, it is all that is essential to Agnosticism. That which Agnostics deny and repudiate, as immoral, is the contrary doctrine, that there are propositions which men ought to believe, without logically satisfactory evidence; and that reprobation ought to attach to the profession of disbelief in such inadequately supported propositions. The justification of the Agnostic principle lies in the success which follows upon its application, whether in the field of natural, or in that of civil, history; and in the fact that, so far as these topics are concerned, no sane man thinks of denying its validity.
Discourse on the Method of Rightly Conducting Reason, and Seeking Truth in the Sciences, trans. John Veitch (The Open Court: 1910), pp. 15-6.
I have never contemplated anything higher than the reformation of my own opinions, and basing them on a foundation wholly my own. And although my own satisfaction with my work has led me to present here a draft of it, I do not by any means therefore recommend to every one else to make a similar attempt. Those whom God has endowed with a larger measure of genius will entertain, perhaps, designs still more exalted; but for the many I am much afraid lest even the present undertaking be more than they can safely venture to imitate. The single design to strip one's self of all past beliefs is one that ought not to be taken by every one. The majority of men is composed of two classes, for neither of which would this be at all a befitting resolution: in the first place, of those who with more than a due confidence in their own powers, are precipitate in their judgments and want the patience requisite for orderly and circumspect thinking; whence it happens, that if men of this class once take the liberty to doubt of their accustomed opinions, and quit the beaten highway, they will never be able to thread the byeway that would lead them by a shorter course, and will lose themselves and continue to wander for life; in the second place, of those who, possessed of sufficient sense or modesty to determine that there are others who excel them in the power of discriminating between truth and error, and by whom they may be instructed, ought rather to content themselves with the opinions of such than trust for more correct to their own Reason.
"Arnold Bennet" in Prejudices: First Series, vol. 1 (Knopf: 1919), pp. 46-7.
What appears in them is not a weakness for ideas that are stale and obvious, but a distrust of all ideas whatsoever. The public, with its mob yearning to be instructed, edified and pulled by the nose, demands certainties; it must be told definitely and a bit raucously that this is true and that is false. But there are no certainties. Ergo, one notion is as good as another, and if it happens to be utter flubdub, so much the better — for it is precisely flubdub that penetrates the popular skull with the greatest facility. The way is already made: the hole already gapes. An effort to approach the hidden and baffling truth would simply burden the enterprise with difficulty. Moreover, the effort is intrinsically laborious and ungrateful. Moreover, there is probably no hidden truth to be uncovered. That he actually believes in his own theorizing is inconceivable.
Protagoras on Knowledge of God said...
The Great Sophists in Periclean Athens, Jacqueline de Romily and Janet Lloyd (Oxford University Press: 1998), p. 104.
Eusebius tells us that it was the opening sentence of Protagoras' treatise on the Gods, and it is attested by numerous citations. It runs as follows: "About the gods, I am not able to know whether they exist or do not exist, nor what they are like in form; for the factors preventing knowledge are many: the obscurity of the subject, and the shortness of human life." The last words have sometimes been omitted, but they are important. They indicate the ground upon which Protagoras took up his position and the nature of his agnosticism. All that mattered to him was what could be known; and the Greek word (eidenai) that is used twice in this sentence means, precisely, knowledge: not belief, not faith.
Orthodoxy: The Romance of Faith (John Lane Company: 1909), p. 73-4.
The Jacobin could tell you not only the system he would rebel against, but (what was more important) the system he would not rebel against, the system he would trust. But the new rebel is a sceptic, and will not entirely trust anything. He has no loyalty; therefore he can never be really a revolutionist. And the fact that he doubts everything really gets in his way when he wants to denounce anything. For all denunciation implies a certain moral doctrine of some kind; and the modern revolutionist doubts not only the institution he denounces, but the doctrine by which he denounces it. ... In short, the sceptic, is always engaged in undermining his own mines. ... Therefore the modern man in revolt has become practically useless for all purposes of revolt. By rebelling against everything he has lost his right to rebel against anything.
A History of Philosophy: Volume II: Medieval Philosophy, (Continuum: 2003) p. 53
Again, everyone who doubts knows that he is doubting, so that he is certain of this truth at least, namely the fact that he doubts. Thus every one who doubts whether there is such a thing as truth, knows at least one truth, so that his very capacity to doubt should convince him that there is such a thing as truth.
The Secular Web, "About the Internet Infidels" (October 28, 2008).
Life is short. Nevertheless, billions of people invest incalculable hours making fruitless pleas to nonexistent gods, participating in lavish rituals with no tangible effects, and whittling away tight budgets to support extravagant religious institutions or "spiritual advisors." Worse still, antiquated religious ideas lead people to impose needless hardships on themselves and others, to rationalize discrimination and other forms of mistreatment, and to hasten environmental destruction because they believe that "the end of the world" is imminent anyway. And for every outward manifestation of wasteful, counterproductive, and even downright harmful activity motivated only by religious belief, there are countless instances that are not nearly so obvious. Religious belief has exacted a toll on people's emotional well-being as well. Just how much energy has been drained searching for meaning where none is to be found, or been squandered on false hopes and unwarranted fears? How many believers have agonized over the uncertain destination of their loved ones after death? How many have struggled to discern exactly what they did to displease God after falling victim to a natural disaster? How many have been tormented trying to make sense of why God allows terrible things to happen to good people? In the absence of any clear revelation about what God wants us to do, how many have fretted about whether their own actions or beliefs, or those of the people dearest to them, are enough to avoid hellfire? How many of those who have lost their faith in old age have looked back at all the missed opportunities, the roads not taken, the life that could have been, had they not been born in a religious household, or had they abandoned religion in their younger days!
"Bill Maher vs. the 'talking snake'", by Andrew O'Hehir at Salon.com (October 2, 2008).
I don't use the word "atheist" about myself, because I think it mirrors the certitude I'm so opposed to in religion. What I say in the film is that I don't know. I don't know what happens when you die, and all the religious people who claim they do know are being ridiculous. I know that they don't know any more than I do. They do not have special powers that I don't possess. When they speak about the afterlife with such certainty and so many specifics, it just makes me laugh. People can tell you, "Oh yes, when you get to Paradise there are 72 virgins, not 70, not 75." Or they say, "Jesus will be there sitting at the right hand of the Father, wearing a white robe with red piping. There will be three angels playing trumpets." Well, how do you know this? It's just so preposterous. So, yes, I would like to say to the atheists and agnostics, the people who I call rationalists, let's stop ceding the moral high ground to the people who believe in the talking snake. Let's have our voices heard and be in the debate.
Bill Maher on Faith and Reason said...
"Bill Maher vs. the 'talking snake'", by Andrew O'Hehir at Salon.com (October 2, 2008).
This is the idea that people have in their heads, that somehow you can have a person who sounds very rational and can hold his own in a conversation about whether religion is silly or not. And I just disagree with that premise. If you're defending the story I just described, you are going to come out sounding ridiculous no matter who you are and no matter how intelligent you are. We interviewed Francis Collins in the film. He's the man who mapped the human genome, he's a brilliant scientist. But he says some pretty cuckoo things, some things that are just factually wrong and make him look foolish. I said, "We don't even know for sure whether Jesus lived," and he said, "We have eyewitness accounts." I said, "No, every scholar agrees that the gospels were written from 40 to 70 years after Jesus died." And he said, "Well, that's close." That's close to an eyewitness account? Forty years after somebody dies, 2,000 years ago? This idea that there's somebody out there who can make a case for this and make it sound reasonable, that just doesn't exist.
god is not Great, Christopher Hitchens (Twelve Books, 2007), p4.
And here is the point, about myself and my co-thinkers. Our belief is not a belief. Our principles are not a faith. We do not rely solely upon science and reason, because these are necessary rather than sufficient factors, but we distrust anything that contradicts science or outrages reason. We may differ on many things, but what we respect is free inquiry, openmindedness, and the pursut of ideas for their own sake. We do not hold our convictions dogmatically: the disagreement between Professor Stephen Jay Gould and Professor Richard Dawkins, concerning "punctuated evolution" and the unfilled gaps in post-Darwinian theory, is quite wide as well as quite deep, but we shall resolve it by evidence and reasoning and not by mutual excommunication.