Skeptics On The Run Overcoming the Agnostic Thesis

Back in the day, I used to host a radio talk-show in Santa Rosa, CA called "Point of Contention." I had a great time fielding the whole range of calls you might imagine a host would reap on a show treating religious and philosophical topics. One of the more interesting refrains I encountered behind the microphone would run something like this: "You Christians all seem so confident that your version of "the Truth" really tells it like it is, and yet not only do you not agree with each other half the time, but you dismiss out-of-hand dozens of other views that scholarly types take seriously.

With all the different views out there it seems highly unlikely that you -- out of all the contenders -- just happened to get it right.".Sometimes, this challenge comes in a more abbreviated form like, "I suppose you think all YOUR views are right." Now let us treat these in reverse order. I always find the short version the most fascinating. Look at it carefully and you will notice that it comprises a tautology -- a claim that is true by definition.

Whatever happen to constitute "my views" (by definition) I believe to be true. But the same is true of everyone else. "Your views" simply shortens the phrase "views you believe to be true.".Believe it or not, this caller seemed to suggest -- by implication and without realizing it -- that I ought deliberately to run about collecting false views and then affirm them so that I wouldn't think "my views" were the "right ones.

" What conceivable advantage would somebody gain from assuming that all his views were wrong? Yeah, I know. I chuckled too.The longer version, I took a bit more seriously. It notes that so many people out there have it wrong (given my views), that it asks, how do you know that you aren't just one more of "them," the sincere and well-intentioned guy who gets it wrong? This is worth asking.

The problems with this question (used as an objection) may be listed thus. First, it assumes that "no one really has the answer and knows that they do with certainty." It veils a form of agnosticism that refutes itself. In other words, when someone implies or affirms explictly that no one can know ultimate truths for sure, he has uttered an example of an ultimate truth, one which implies ITS OWN denial.

Second, notice that the challenger holds to his view (agnosticism) just the way, let us say a Christian (or any other sort of proponent), holds to his views. The agnostic does just what he chides the Christian for: "Supposing that HIS views are the right ones." Agnostics seems no less confident than Christians when they offer rebuttals. Here, you can find the Achilles heel any astute apologist is looking for. Sweep the legs.Third, this challenge attempts to employ the wide variety of choices out there as some sort of insurmountable obstacle to finding the best choice.

This offspring of the agnostic thesis normally carries the daunting label "epistemological pluralism." By way of example, this would amount to arguing that a lottery winner could not know he had won the lottery if all the confused losers in the lottery also claimed to have won it. Now, I do not recommend lotteries, or any other form of gambling.

But if I did, I would at least want to check the numbers on the ticket to see if I had won. This would solve the above problem.Moreover, if we grant the challenger's assumed (but never stated) view that a wide variety of choices prevents us from discovering the Truth, this would then render science (and knowledge in general) impossible.

For every field of science, at any given moment, overflows with several or dozens of competing views on this or that event, process or what have you. The same is true of philosophy, math and English. And, remember, the implied conclusion of this mirage, "No knowledge is possible" cannot be known to be true -- on its OWN terms.

What shall we conclude then from our brief study? Agnostic game over. The fact that a wide array of religious or philosophical views dot the landscape does not in any way mitigate against the claim (or likelihood) that a person can know the truth about such topics, and know that he knows such truth, even while others confidently get it wrong. The existence of counterfeit dollars does not disprove the genuine greenback. We know this for sure because the contrary is logically impossible. Smoke'm if ya gottem.


Carson Day has written some 1.3 gazillion articles and essays aimed at helping other live wisely and well. He studied the history of ideas in college, and believes a great many propositions on purpose. Feeling courageous? You can visit his websites at http://ophirgold.blogspot.

com (The Omniblog) and (Carson's Day Trading Outpost).

By: Carson C. Day

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