I’m an Agnostic Adeist and a Gnostic Atheist

In reply to my call for questions from theists about my philosophical views, Ku asks a foundational question. To help make clear where I am coming from for new readers (and, I guess, for old ones too), I thought I would make my reply into a post of its own:

Ku asked:

How can one with limited, finite knowledge possibly know with absolute certainty that there is no eternally, immutably self-existent first cause?

One cannot. I do not claim absolute certainty about such matters. I am an agnostic adeist with respect to the question of whether within reality there is some fundamental ground of all being that is eternal, immutable, and self-existent and therefore worth calling a “first cause”. I neither affirm nor deny that proposition but explore its potential metaphysical implications and inferences. My refusal to either accept or rule out the existence of such a metaphysical principle and my belief that at present the evidence is too inconclusive for anyone to properly affirm or refute belief in it makes me an agnostic with respect to that conceivable entity (assuming it is in fact a coherently and meaningfully conceivable entity). Since those bare traits (eternality, immutability, self-existence, and function as a first cause) are all compatible with mere deistic conceptions of the ground of all being and not at all unique to theism, I see my non-affirmation but theoretical uncertainty and openness to the proposition that such a being exists as only an agnostic adeism, rather than an agnostic atheism.

That said, I am a gnostic atheist (rather than an agnostic simpliciter or an agnostic atheist) because I see no reason whatsoever to think such a being as Ku described, even if it did exist, would be a personal being. In fact, as a basic metaphysical principle it would in all likelihood be nothing at all like those anthropomorphic projections that religious believers worship–i.e., nothing at all like Zeus or Thor or Yahweh or Jesus or Spider-Man. Those are all equally clearly anthropomorphic fictions dreamed up by human imaginations.

If there is an immutable, eternal, self-existent first cause it is nearly certainly impersonal as numbers are, as abstract entities are, as the fundamental laws of the universe, and the fundamental particles are. Personhood is a complex phenomenon made up of trillions (or more?) molecules interacting. It is an evolved phenomenon, specific to very particular kinds of beings. To impute it to the most basic metaphysical principle is sheer unjustified anthropomorphism. There is no reason to think an eternal, immutable, self-existent first cause would have any personality. It is as laughable as saying that it carries honey from flower to flower (as a bee might fantasize in hubris) or that it looks for mates by singing (as a bird with delusions of specialness might infer). Also given that personal beings as we know them are temporal as a matter of fundamental constitution, the notion of an eternal and immutable personal being is incoherently contradictory and therefore a logical impossibility.

With no reason to think that the thus far unprovable and irrefutable notion of an immutable, eternal, self-existent first cause would have a personality and many reasons to think it would not, I feel comfortable saying there are no personal gods. That makes me an atheist who thinks we can know with a very high degree of confidence that there is no personal god. I call this “gnostic” (or knowing) atheism.

Also, I see no reason to infer that an immutable, eternal, self-existent first cause would be any more likely a being separate from either our universe or, say, a total multiverse rather than its most foundational feature. In fact, the principle of parsimony leads me to think that it is somewhat more likely that if there is such a being it is a feature of Nature (or is “Nature itself”) rather than anything mysteriously outside the universe or multiverse. These considerations make me quite confident that preponderance of the evidence is that even if there is an eternal, immutable, self-existent first cause that is meaningfully and coherently capable of conceptualization and demonstration, it is not a being independent of the universe (or multiverse). It is more likely and more rational to infer that it either inextricably expresses itself as the universe or multiverse (as Spinoza argued) or it is just an integrally connected “piece” of the universe or multiverse.

These considerations also make me think that the metaphysical proposition of a theist god is most likely false. It is likely enough false that I feel confident in saying that I know that no theist god exists. Therefore, again, I am a gnostic atheist. I am not absolutely certain but I do not need to be to make knowledge claimsNone of my knowledge claims are absolutely certain. I am open to considering new arguments and even though I think I know I could be wrong and even could be persuaded that I am wrong. But based on everything I know and have read at present, I feel confident enough to say that I know.

There is no God.

(By which I mean more specifically, “There is no personal/theistic/interventionist Yahweh, Allah, or any other personal god believed in and worshipped by the world religions.”

Your Thoughts?

Below are links to just three key posts, one defining different kinds of atheism and two explaining more of my reasons for rejecting personal god theism:

The “A” Word

Examining Some Alleged Divine Attributes

On God As The Source of Being But Not of Evil

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About Daniel Fincke

Dr. Daniel Fincke  has his PhD in philosophy from Fordham University and spent 11 years teaching in college classrooms. He wrote his dissertation on Ethics and the philosophy of Friedrich Nietzsche. On Camels With Hammers, the careful philosophy blog he writes for a popular audience, Dan argues for atheism and develops a humanistic ethical theory he calls “Empowerment Ethics”. Dan also teaches affordable, non-matriculated, video-conferencing philosophy classes on ethics, Nietzsche, historical philosophy, and philosophy for atheists that anyone around the world can sign up for. (You can learn more about Dan’s online classes here.) Dan is an APPA  (American Philosophical Practitioners Association) certified philosophical counselor who offers philosophical advice services to help people work through the philosophical aspects of their practical problems or to work out their views on philosophical issues. (You can read examples of Dan’s advice here.) Through his blogging, his online teaching, and his philosophical advice services each, Dan specializes in helping people who have recently left a religious tradition work out their constructive answers to questions of ethics, metaphysics, the meaning of life, etc. as part of their process of radical worldview change.

  • http://myhumorousagenda.blogspot.com Bret Alan

    Until someone can explain to me where the Prime Mover came from, I feel comfortable in my gnostic adeism.

  • http://quinesqueue.blogspot.com Quine

    I also wrote a blog entry, today, about the “fundamental ground of all being.” Scientifically the best we know at this point is that it looks like quantum instability is just such, consistent with your piece. Even if that is true, I am not going to grab one of my neighbor’s goats and sacrifice it on the altar of QM. Nor will any amount of praying to the quantum foam miraculously bring forth a winning loto ticket or grow back a missing human limb. I am not agnostic, I do know what I don’t believe in, and those goats can sleep easy.

  • http://skepticiality.wordpress.comhttp://skepticity.blogspot.com Lord Griggs[ IgnosticMorgan,InquiringLynn,Fr. or Rabbi Griggs, CarneadesofGa]

    I concur, but as an ignostic/igtheist, I find Him no more than a married bachelor and therefore cannot possibly exist!
    Google Lamberth’s the ignostic-Ockham for fuller exposition and Lamberth’s naturalist arguments about God and any of the nicknames noted above.

  • Baal

    It’s kind of fun to see all the words spelled out (and if I’ve read properly, I don’t disagree with Dan). I’m partial to the invisible pink unicorns of Bolivia comparison. Turns out they are the prime mover by (my) definition. If the arguments for a prime mover weren’t equally effective for proving the aforementioned unicorns just as well as the prime move, I’d be happy to give up my adeism. Becoming theistic would require more – apologetics that weren’t trivial to use to prove any god(s) including flatly evil mofo’s like Cthulhu (Ia! Ia! Cthulhu ftaghn! (had to throw that in just to be sure it all works out ok later)). (no, defining god as good doesn’t work to get you out of the problem)

  • Jonathan

    A friend of mine shared this on Facebook and, as I’ve already thanked him, I wanted to thank you. This is a better explanation for my philosophical beliefs (based on the evidence I’ve yet to come across) than I could have come up with. As a recovering evangelical Christian, and as a person who has never really studied or read up on philosophy, I have never had the terminology to explain my philosophical views about the universe, etc. (Luckily, I have a friend who has, and who shares things on Facebook.) However, as I read this, it just resonated with me. So, from one agnostic adeist/gnostic atheist to another, I thank you.

  • Dhoelscher

    Good article Dan.

    This sentence:
    “In fact, the principle of parsimony leads me to think that it is somewhat more likely that if there is such a being it is a feature of Nature (or is “Nature itself”) rather than anything mysteriously outside the universe or multiverse.”
    reminds me of this book, which I note in case you haven’t seen it and in the event you may be interested:


  • Ryan

    Very interesting write up. I especially liked the part about how athropomorphized first movers are especially ridiculous. I do wonder about the very last part, though, about how “the principle of parsimony leads me to think that it is somewhat more likely that if there is such a being it is a feature of Nature (or is “Nature itself”) rather than anything mysteriously outside the universe or multiverse.”

    In many orthodox/eastern sects of Christianity this is quite the opposite of their beliefs. Some preachers will actually say “god does not exist” in their sermons to remind people that god is precisely that which lies outside the universe/material existence. It strikes me that this is the simpler explanation, especially given the lack of any second movement by the first mover.