Agnosticism and Knowledge

I know lots of stuff. Depending on who says it when, Know-it-all is an insult or an expression of admiration to me, but everyone who knows me has said it at least once. And I collect knowledge in that big ol’noggin’o’mine. It’s a passion, and an unquenchable thirst. And it is ultimately futile. Whatever knowledge I have, it is always, by fault of scientific principle, incomplete. And often even not right. I just know the most widely accepted explanations of the observable phenomena. And the further out or within these phenomena are, the more difficult it becomes to retrieve reliable information for these explanations. So, I also pretend to know stuff. But, if you’ve read my blog, you already know that.

There are a few explanations that are just outright ludicrous, at the least ridiculous. Like the movement of  Continental Plates. Really, whoever came up with that must be out of their mind. Something as colossally massive as the Earth’s Crust consisting of mobile segments, like broken eggshells… oh, wait a minute, this is 1870 speaking. Yeah, this ridiculous, ludicrous theory is the accepted theory that explains large scale geological surface phenomena. So, what is the most preposterous scientific theory around?

Well, there are certainly plenty to go around. I usually disregard any religiously motivated explanation. Saying “it is so because some divinely inspired book says so” is equivalent to “A Wizard Did It”, and these explanations don’t qualify as theories. Why is that so? Because Aristotle’s book on scientific theory says so (the Organon, which consists of Aristotle’s writings on Logic as a tool for scientific discovery, compiled by scholars in the Byzantine Empire). Yes, the greatest of all Wizards did it. But it’s not like Aristotle was the first to use logic for scientific discovery. This has been a tradition in Athens for at least three centuries prior to Aristotle, and also in Persia, Egypt and India. Aristotle saw the necessity of formalizing the process in order to reproduce and compare results reliably, and adopting his formalism has led to an explosion in scientifically acquired knowledge.

I digress. Aristotle’s method is only the best method for scientific discovery that we know. It is by far not the only one, and it certainly isn’t the fastest one. But it weeds out most of the hair brained theories before they can do much harm. And imagine how much harm the hair brained theories could do, since the solid theories bestowed upon us the ability to obliterate our blue planet.

Now, if your mind isn’t obliterated yet, I’d like to get to the agnostic part of this knowledge. Well, I couldn’t really get around it explaining the knowledge part. You know I am an atheist. That means I don’t believe in a god, or any god or divine power or essence. Do I know that there is no god or anything or anyone who might fit the description? I don’t. I can’t. I can’t positively prove that I exist, since that would mean proving it to someone (or everyone) else. And I can’t prove to myself that you – ore anyone else, for that matter – exists. There is no definitive proof concerning any answers to the most foundational questions. For any kind of proof to make any sense at all, we need to accept that we operate on the shared assumption that we exist, and that there is a common reality. God and divinity doesn’t factor into my assumption.

That doesn’t necessarily mean I am right. Just as believing doesn’t magically make it true, the same goes for disbelief and falsehood. The only thing anyone knows they can be sure of, is that they can’t be sure of anything they know.

If you were wondering: I really also love watching Vsauce. To my mind, Michael is a genius. And I mean an honest to god non-ironical very much literal genius. And his team is also awesome.


2 thoughts on “Agnosticism and Knowledge

  1. Da steh’ ich nun, ich armer Tor, und bin so klug als wie zuvor. Und dann hat er sich der Magie ergeben. Heutzutage wenden sich mehr und mehr dem Glauben ab und irgeneinem schlimmeren Unsinn zu. Und die Kritik der reinen Vernuft? Nur weil man Gott nicht beweisen kann heißt es nicht a la Feuerbach dass es sinnlos ist zu glauben. Ein Atheist wird gezwungen sein Nichtglauben mit der Vernuft begründen – der Glaubender nicht.

    1. You know, most of my readers don’t speak German. Yes, Goethe put it quite eloquently in his signature epic of Dr. Faust: after having studied everything science has to offer, he hadn’t reached wisdom’s final conclusion (we know that the answer is 42, thanks to Douglas Adams, but we don’t know The Question). So he invited Mephistopheles, an aspect of the Power that wills evil but creates good, to help him see.

      True, many people who lose their faith are lured by false promises. But what better reason is there not to believe than reason itself?

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