Robert C. Priddy

Writings on diverse themes from philosophy, psychology to literature and criticism

  • Robert Priddy

    In this blog I post information and critical views concerning ideologies, belief systems and related scientific materials etc. I am a retired philosophy lecturer and researcher, born 1936.

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Archive for July, 2014

The agnosticism vs. atheism issue and and secularism

Posted by robertpriddy on July 19, 2014

Some key distinctions for the science-religion debates: If ‘atheism’ means “100% certainty or conviction that there is no god or cosmic intelligence which created or sustains the universe” then there must be few who can – on proper reflection – subscribe to its literal sense. To do so it to become a rigid know-all who thinks his conviction is infallible. By ‘atheism’ however very few generally intend such an absolutist pronouncement, they leave open the possibility that – despite all evidence and likelihood, there may be a remote likelihood that they could find out they were not right. A sensible reservation of judgement at all times! However, to call oneself an atheist is reasonable without having to hold oneself permanently infallible. It is impossible finally and scientifically to prove or disprove the existence of God (whatever or whoever that is supposed to be). To deny this is to become like those fanatics who preach the various religions as being the absolute truth and word of God, or that they have personal contact with God.

Though Professor Dawkins tends to uphold an iron distinction between agnostic and atheist, it does not take account of ordinary usage, of common sense or scientific scepticism (i.e. reservation of final judgement). His agenda with that schism is to try to confront certain all-too-religiously-tolerant ‘agnostics’ aware of their actual position and its consequences. He no doubt wants to firm up their skepticism. However, I regard myself as a convinced non-believer and sometimes speak of my attitude as agnostic, sometimes atheist. The term ‘non-theist’ is often preferable, though it tends not to cover certain kinds of mysticism which accept a depersonalized cosmic intelligence of some kind.

Based on definitions in Prof. Sindre Bangstad’s book “What secularism is and is not” the following is important to recognize:-

Secularism is not the same as Atheism, it is primarily a political doctrine which makes it possible to take many kinds of positions with regard to the place of religion in the public sphere, including politics. Secularity is something else, which mainly describes a cultural process in which religious faith only gradually becomes one possibility among many others; while secularization refers to social differentiation in which the secular spheres are separated from one another and from religious institutions.

These distinctions may seem meticulous but they show that what seem to be the same positions are often quite different. Secularism says nothing about whether people are religious or not, but about the institutional structures in place to guarantee representation of different ways of life. Secularism may be thought of as a society which embraces cosmopolitism.

Comment received:-


Good explanation about secularism. Hearing the term on a regular basis, I had come to the same conclusion on its meaning, even though we tend to immediately think of it implying a ‘non-religious/spiritual’ country; rather than a society that completely separates religion from the political sphere.

As for belief itself, I always tend to describe myself as agnostic, as it is so much more peaceful when dealing with fanatical people who believe in a god. Though the idea of one single creator and sustainer of the universe, who has all powers and knows all, is ridiculous and up to 99% impossible, I still hold the last one percent in reserve of judgement. Perhaps as stated, in part due to observing so many self-righteous 100% belief declarations of religions, cults, etc. Truly, there is no way to know anything 100% when it concerns the world of mental imaginations of what might be beyond the physical universe (and even then, much depends upon each individual’s perception!).


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Ever unstoppable expanding scientific discovery and human understanding

Posted by robertpriddy on July 14, 2014

The old adage ‘believe only half you hear’ is, of course, not even half adequate as a guideline for making up one’s mind about more difficult or controversial matters of fact. Even back in the 1960s and 70s, the natural sciences had not yet secured the huge exponential increases in knowledge that have resulted since computer technology was developed on a wide scale. Rapid changes in cutting-edge scientific theories like astronomy, astrophysics, micro-physics, often had the effect of creating further uncertainty, because new theories – often conflicting – about the universe and matter came and went in regular procession – even though the most general theories (relativity, quantum theory) remained largely unshaken by experiment or continued observation. However, what may seem to be the ‘theoretical antics’ of astronomers and physicists still occur today, in such problem areas as dark matter and the disappearance of vast amounts of light which should be there, among other anomalies. Yet these kind of examples are a natural result of operating at the extreme outer rim of accumulated knowledge and using the trial and error of research theory.

More and more uncertainties about the security of scientific knowledge are being removed, and computing has definitely led to a “quantum leap” in most of the sciences. Even the ‘inexact’ or less experimental and quantitative human and social sciences are improving due to information technology and reduced national provincialism in globalised society. Add to this the fact that there remain issues about the mind and consciousness – also even about soul and spirit – concerning which advances unimaginable before the advent of experimental neuropsychology and ‘live’ magnetic resonance imaging are rapidly pushing back the dark frontier of unknowing considerably. There remains evidence of a wide range of what must still be termed extra-scientific or ‘paranormal phenomena’ which are not yet satisfactorily resolved by scientific methods and technologies at the current state of the art. Another century of progress in understanding what now seem arcane matters can therefore be expected to resolve many such questions at a fundamental level.

Much is made by religionists of the claimed fact that the sciences cannot provide anyone with genuine answers to any of the most important human questions; why do we exist, what real meaning does anything have, what should I do?  While it is a fact that these are often extra-scientific issues which no special science researches, it would be wrong to suggest that science has not increased the understanding of the human being and life in many important respects. Before modern science, absurd superstitions and religio-mystical assumptions ruled the scene the world over, which is definitely no longer the case to such an extent.  Granted, it is a fact that science does not pretend or set out to answer all emotional and existential questions, such as on how best to relate to others, how to develop human understanding, to obtain mental equilibrium and lasting fulfillment. But these are no longer really so-called ‘extra-scientific’ issues, since the expansion of empirical studies through vastly improved information resources are already tackling what once were considered questions only philosophy or religion could answer. The different and very often conflicting religions have occupied the vacuum of our ignorance of the real causes of so many things to fill it with doctrines, moral imperatives and a vast range of beliefs about matters which could not then be tested scientifically. More now than ever, the resources necessary to resolve most question about human life are becoming available – and widely so – creating daily advances into matters which would have been ignored as too vague and uncertain some decades ago.

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