Saturday, October 09, 2010

"we know too little to commit to strict atheism, and too much to commit to any religion"

--- David Eagleman, opinion column Beyond God and atheism: Why I am a 'possibilian', New Scientist, 27 September 2010

Excerpts, quote quote highlighted below:

Given these considerations, I do not call myself an atheist. I don't feel that I have enough data to firmly rule out other interesting possibilities. On the other hand, I do not subscribe to any religion. Traditional religious stories can be beautiful and often crystallise hard-won wisdom - but it is hardly a challenge to poke holes in them. Religious structures are built by humans and brim with all manner of strange human claims - they often reflect cults of personality, xenophobia or mental illness. The holy books of these religions were written millennia ago by people who never had the opportunity to know about DNA, other galaxies, information theory, electricity, the big bang, the big crunch, or even other cultures, literatures or landscapes.

So it seems we know too little to commit to strict atheism, and too much to commit to any religion. Given this, I am often surprised by the number of people who seem to possess total certainty about their position.


I don't think the important goal should be to fight for a particular story in the absence of strong evidence; it should be to explore and celebrate the vast possibilities.


This is why I call myself a "possibilian". Possibilianism emphasises the active exploration of new, unconsidered notions. A possibilian is comfortable holding multiple ideas in mind and is not driven by the idea of fighting for a single, particular story. The key emphasis of possibilianism is to shine a flashlight around the possibility space. It is a plea not simply for open-mindedness, but for an active exploration of new ideas.


In every generation, people are seduced by the idea that they possess all the tools they need to explain the universe. They have always been wrong. From consciousness to dark energy, we know that we are missing an unknowable number of pieces of the puzzle. This is why in the debates between the strict atheists and the fundamentally religious, I choose a third side. A little less pretence of certainty and a little more exploration of the possibility space.

As Voltaire put it, "Doubt is not a pleasant condition, but certainty is absurd."