Admitting Our Uncertainty
[This responds to remarks by P. Coyle that appear in the Comments section below my posting entitled “Magic: Divine and Human.”]
In your comment you quote me as saying, "As an agnostic I renounce pontificating." Then you say: “And yet you offer, not explanation, but pontification. You offer the vision of ‘a supremely intelligent and powerful Being (who) may have been the First Cause who produced the singularity and all that proceeded from it,’ even though you could not ‘explain how this Divine Reality, which exists outside of time, space, and the material world, could make matter out of nothing.’ Yada, yada, yada.”
My reply: To pontificate, as I use that term, is to say “my explanation is right and yours is not even an explanation.” But to say, as I do, that “yours is a valid explanation, one that can be rationally be held, and mine is too; that reasonable minds may differ in choosing between them; that you may be right and I may be wrong,” is to avoid pontificating.
In “Magic: Divine and Human” I made this statement: “I don’t claim to know that God created the universe. I do claim that is a possible, and not irrational, explanation of its origin.” I said later: “It is reasonable to say that you reject the theistic hypothesis, based on any of several arguments. I think it unreasonable to claim that a transcendent power and mind, like the God I describe, cannot possibly account for the origin of the universe.”
Agnosticism and Humility
There are atheists who do not pontificate, and others who do. There are theists who do not pontificate, and others who do. Philosophical agnosticism says: “We can’t know whether there is a God or not. His existence can’t be proven, and it can’t be disproven.” That proposition is, it seems to me, profoundly true. It is also humbling and conducive to civil and fruitful conversation about the kind of issues we debate on this blog.
If I became acerbic in “Magic: Divine and Human” (regrettably, I did), it was not in declaring the atheist position wrong, but in challenging this assertion -- that the Divine First-Cause Argument is not an explanation at all. It has been viewed as one by serious minds for centuries, and neither particle physics nor the Hubble Telescope has diminished its relevance, vigor, or logical force.
Powerful as I think the argument is, I respect your right to reject it. It’s a reason to believe, not a proof.