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Sunday, October 3, 2010


I'm agnostic.
I find it amusing that some people seem to get VERY offended with that term.
I've had people tell me that calling myself agnostic is me being too afraid to say what I mean - that I should stand up for my beliefs and just admit to being atheist.
I've also had people try to tell me that that means I am going to hell.

Without delving into the whole topic of how foolish and hypocritical I find many people who decide to condemn my beliefs (that is a topic for another day and another post) I want to outline what, exactly, the term "agnostic" means  to many of the people that I know that use it.

It does NOT mean atheist.
It does NOT mean that we are anti-religion.
It does NOT mean that we condemn people who are religious.
It does NOT mean we condemn atheists.

It, essentially, means we are a scientist.

Many religious people find science threatening (note: I fully understand that there is probably a MUCH larger group of religious people who do NOT find science threatening - more on this topic someday in the future). This is something I completely and totally fail to understand. Science is not the enemy of anyone. Science is not a thing. Science is a process. That process is aimed at understanding the world around by observation and testing. Despite the assertions by those religious fundamentalists who are afraid of science: it is not a faith-based way of operating. Science is about the absence of faith. Science is about the need to have a preponderance of evidence to support an idea before it is accepted as fact.

That is why I am agnostic. I fail to have FAITH in anything.
I do not have faith that there is no god (that would make me an atheist).
I do not have faith that there is a single, all-powerful god (that would make me a mono-theist).
I do not have faith that there is a pantheon of gods struggling for the love and adoration of the people (that would make me a pagan).

I accept things as fact only when the preponderance of evidence shows me that I should. I accept that the sun will rise over the horizon tomorrow morning because the last several billions of years have shown evidence that it will. I accept that I will have air to breath tomorrow for the same reason. I accept that if I drink a glass of water it will help alleviate thirst.

I accept the world as I experience it.
I accept the scientific evidence for many things as it is compiled by the research of others.
I even accept the evidence that bad science is self defeating because others will come along and uncover it for what it is.
It may seem I have "faith" in things like evolution, or the existence of life on other planets, or the age of the Earth but, I assure you, it is not FAITH. It's science.
The Theory of Evolution can NEVER be proven unless someone has a means to travel MILLIONS of light years from where the Earth was millions of years ago AND has a powerful enough telescope to look at the animals on the ground AND has the means to record the life that it sees for the millions of year AND a means to play that back to us in time-lapse form. It's simply not going to happen. Because we cannot do that we cannot PROVE evolutions what led us to be here today: it will remain a full-blown theory for the remainder of humanity. But ALL of the scientific evidence points to it as a solid and well-developed explanation that works. The archeology, the anthropology, the current divergence of species, the biology, EVERYTHING. I accept evolution because ALL of the evidence points to it being a solid explanation.
Likewise, I accept the age of the Earth because the evidence points to it being MUCH older than the 6,000 years outlined in the bible.
I also accept that the idea that there is no other life in the universe is ridiculous (this does not mean I have faith it has been here). Anyone can test this one for themselves. Make a two column spreadsheet. Put in the following terms from the Drake equation:
1. The number of stars in our galaxy (raw number)
2. The percentage of star that have planets (a number between 0 and 1 - perhaps .25)
3. The average number of planets that can support life in a system with planets (in our system this is 1, our knowledge of exo-systems is limited. This will probably be significantly closer to 0).
4. The percentage of life-capable planets that actually develop life (given current locations of life I expect this to be close to 1).
5. The percentage of life-supporting planets that develop intelligent life (between 0 and 1, probably very sloe to zero)
6. The fraction of planets who develop intelligent life that then develops a means to signal their existence (again, a number between 0 and 1, this one is probably in the middle)

Multiply these 6 factors together and you get the raw number of technological civilizations to have ever existed in our galaxy. There is an estimated 100 Billion stars in our galaxy. Assuming that only 1% of ALL stars have planets and that systems are approximately 8 planets per system with 2 out of 500 (our current knowledge) planets being able to support life and that 50% of those planets will develop life and that .01% of those planets will develop intelligent life and that 50% of intelligent life is able to develop technology that can signal its presence to the stars we have 3200 civilizations existing in our galaxy.

There are ways to refine this equation… but this was a post about being agnostic, not a post about alien life but the numbers don't lie :-)

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