|Atheist, scientist, hero, heartthrob|
British scientist and author Richard Dawkins is probably the most well known atheist advocate around today; he has devised a faith scale that ranks someone's belief or lack thereof in much the same way that the scale that Dr. Alfred Kinsey developed back in the 1930's ranked one's sexual orientation. On the Dawkins scale, a ranking of one means you definitely believe in god, and a ranking of seven means you definitely don't. The interesting thing is that Dawkins himself admits that he is only a six on the scale; in other words he allows that there is a slim possibility that god does in fact exist. Does this make him an agnostic instead of an atheist?
The late historian Studs Terkel called himself an agnostic, which he defined as a "cowardly atheist". While I may not be the bravest soul in the world (trust me), like Dawkins, I too call myself an atheist. Yet I can't completely disbelieve in god, I must admit that there is some chance, however small, that such a being is around (although, if it is, I have some very pointed questions for it!). So should I call myself an agnostic? I would gladly do so on one condition, and that is that every other living person in the world must admit that they too are agnostics. The bottom line is that we all are, and that if no one is a seven on the Dawkins scale, than no one is truly a one either.
Oscar winning screenwriter William Goldman once described Hollywood as a place where "nobody knows anything", and really, isn't that the entire human condition in a nutshell? Aren't all of us just stumbling around in the dark, blindly searching for answers that we will never really find until we die, (and even then they we may never know)? Not one living person can truly say that they know exactly what will happen to them when they die. I certainly don't know for sure, but neither do you. You can have hopes, desires, beliefs, and faiths, but at the end of the day, as Goldman said, nobody knows anything.
|"I was a speck on a beautiful butterfly wing"...|
which proves, uh, nothing at all, really.
Right now there are several popular books written by people who have had near death experiences and claim that they have experienced an afterlife; but even the biggest defenders of those authors can't honestly say that the content of those books provides absolute proof. Skeptics have pointed out that in a near death experience, when the heart stops beating and the brain loses oxygen, the brain begins to hallucinate, and that the experiences described by people who have been near death sound a lot like simple hallucinations. Not to mention the very real possibility that these people are just straight up charlatans who want the money and fame that comes from writing a popular book. The success of these books prove nothing; their assertions are no better than those from people who say that they remember experiences from past lives.
Carl Sagan once told a great story: when he met the Dali Lama, he asked him what he would do if science could disprove all of the spiritual beliefs of Buddhism. The Dali Lama admitted that there would have to be a real reconsideration of the faith, and then he leaned over and pointed out that it would be very hard for science to disprove reincarnation, and they both had a good laugh. So here we see a perfect example of how strong the human desire is to hope for some kind of life beyond death, and also just how impossible it is to prove or disprove that. And it should be observed that there are over a billion people in the world today (Buddhists and Hindus) who believe in reincarnation just as strongly as Christians believe in heaven and hell. So, when I say that I believe in the possibility of heaven and hell, I don't put it on a higher level than reincarnation. They both seem equally crazy to me.
So what I'm saying is that I'm an agnostic in the sense that we all are; the pope, rabbis, priests, nuns, monks, whoever, none of us are sure. And here's a good final example: "Jesus has a very special love for you. [But] as for me, the silence and the emptiness is so great, that I look and do not see,—Listen and do not hear—the tongue moves [in prayer] but does not speak", that quote is from the late Mother Teresa from a letter she wrote to the Rev. Michael Van de Peet. If the one of the most revered and holy people of the twentieth century expressed doubt that could be called agnostic in nature, how can anybody be sure. I'll say it again, nobody knows anything.