BELIEF IS THE ENEMY OF KNOWLEDGE
Ricky Gervais has been winding-up people on twitter recently, by proclaiming his atheism.
He had hundreds of replies, many of them abusive and particularly un-Christian, some barely literate.
Rickey Gervais enjoys the exchange because he’s wittier than most of the people that want to pick a fight with him.
So he’s having fun.
But the other day he retweeted a serious question.
Someone asked him “Should schools teach atheism?”
To which he replied “No, there’s no need to ‘teach’ atheism. It’s the natural result of education without indoctrination.”
Now I didn’t quite agree with that.
Atheism isn’t the only natural result of teaching without indoctrination.
It is true that believers say there definitely is a God.
But atheists say there definitely isn’t a God.
I thought wait, there’s third view: agnostics.
Agnostics say we don’t know.
We don’t know and we don’t have to make up our mind either way.
So I sent him a reply.
“@rickygervais I disagree, atheism is another belief system. Agnosticism is the natural result of education without indoctrination.”
And I started to get dozens and dozens of people writing to me about what I’d said to Ricky Gervais.
Most of them from atheists, most of them abusive.
One was from someone describing himself in his profile as “an evangelical atheist”.
So here’s the dictionary definition of an evangelist: “Evangelism is the preaching or the practice of relaying information about a particular set of beliefs to others with the object of conversion.”
So converting people to your belief in atheism.
I sent the definition and got a message back saying “Relying on dictionary definitions, how pathetic.”
At which point I realised these people are like religious fundamentalists.
They are ‘true believers’ certain that only they have the right answer.
Call me old-fashioned, but I always find the dictionary is a good place to go when you’re using language.
Just to make sure it means what you think it means.
So here’s how the dictionary defines atheism:
“The doctrine that there is no deity. Critique and denial of metaphysical beliefs in God or divine beings. Unlike agnosticism, which leaves open the question of whether there is a God, atheism is a positive denial.”
So that’s pretty clear “atheism is a positive denial.”
Then I looked up agnosticism:
“Agnosticism is the view that the truth values of certain claims are unknown and unknowable. Agnosticism is sometimes used to indicate doubt or a sceptical approach to questions. Agnosticism is a stance about the difference between belief and knowledge, rather than about any specific claim or belief. 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.”
So again, theists believe one way, atheists believe another way, agnostics don’t believe either way.
Thomas Huxley coined the term agnostic in 1869.
This is why he felt a new word was necessary.
“In matters of the intellect do not pretend that conclusions are certain which are not demonstrated or demonstrable.”
So that’s what agnostic means.
Keeping an open mind, not a closed one.
Not just about religion, but about any area in life.
In fact, that seems to me a pretty good way to lead our life.
In fact, isn’t that what we particularly need in our business?
Isn’t that the whole point of creative thinking in general?
To find something new, something that isn’t just conventional wisdom.
To live in the question not in the answer.
But let’s leave the last word to Socrates.
“I am wiser than this man, for neither of us appears to know anything great and good; but he fancies he knows something, although he knows nothing; whereas I, as I do not know anything, so I do not fancy I do. In this trifling particular, then, I appear to be wiser than he, because I do not fancy I know what I do not know.”