I posted a book recommendation for Sum: Forty Tales from the Afterlives in my last entry. It was written by David Eagleman. He’s written two other books, one called Incognito: The Secret Lives of the Brain, which was great. In writing the brief recommendation for Sum, I wondered if Eagleman was religious. I guessed “no” based on the two books I’ve read, but I took to google to see what came up. The resulting google search revealed something called Possibilianism, that Eagleman created. Besides being one of the more ridiculous -isms, it’s basically curious agnosticism.
Possibilianism is a philosophy which rejects both the diverse claims of traditional theism and the positions of certainty in strong atheism in favor of a middle, exploratory ground.
That sounds an awful lot like agnosticism to me. And what is meant by “strong atheism” anyway? Does that mean Possibilianism is a weak atheism? Or does it simply not reject weak atheism? Eagleman addresses the comparison to agnosticism:
“Our ignorance of the cosmos is too vast to commit to atheism, and yet we know too much to commit to a particular religion. A third position, agnosticism, is often an uninteresting stance in which a person simply questions whether his traditional religious story (say, a man with a beard on a cloud) is true or not true. But with Possibilianism I’m hoping to define a new position – one that emphasizes the exploration of new, unconsidered possibilities. Possibilianism is comfortable holding multiple ideas in mind; it it not interested in committing to any particular story.”
This just seems like lazy philosophy. (And paying lip service to being open minded.) He’s not concerned with committing to any particular story, which means there’s no pursuit of the truth? Or that no truth exists? Or that we are incapable of finding out the truth so why not have fun with random stories in the meantime? Whatever it is, he isn’t exactly helping anything move along.
In addition, he seems to be suggesting that no agnostics are curious. He took agnosticism, placed a bit of storytelling on it, and renamed it. However, he claims nothing that an agnostic wouldn’t already.
As for his critique of atheists. A major component to many atheists is a lack of interest in what is statistically unlikely to be true. The most vocal atheists are not vocal because they like spreading atheism or are 100% certain of their position. They are vocal because they see religious beliefs impinging on rights of society in general, including many citizens who don’t hold those same beliefs. The most obvious and persistent example being creationism in classrooms, but include women’s rights, gay rights, climate change, and the like. Mostly, gods don’t play into the lives of atheists. Most have “no need of that hypothesis.” There are rarely comments of absolute certainty.
It’s good to keep an open mind. I’ve found that most atheists admit they would have to change their minds if any evidence appeared that suggested a move in a new direction (that’s how science works). But what this philosophy seems to be suggesting is that we can always come up with new and currently untestable ideas about what god could be, or what the afterlife could be. Since we can do that, we can never call ourselves atheists, or religious either, I guess. We can think of any number of things completely disconnected from religion that we can’t test and may never be able to. Does Possibilianism suggest we spend time considering these ideas too? How long before we are spending all our time on impossible ideas just because we can’t demonstrate their impossibility with certainty? At some point we are simply wasting our time on ideas that have almost no likelihood of being true. It’s a fun exercise and reveals wonderful stories with wonderful beauty, and may just open up a new idea (that’s how science works!), but if your hope is to find truth this becomes a fruitless exercise to keep repeating without something to hang it on.
My problem with Possibilianism is minor. I think it’s a fun waste of time.
Skepticism by any other name…
This is simply my slightly informed opinion. I learned of this idea a few hours ago and in between other tasks, read a handful of articles and watched Eagleman’s tedtalk. All you possibilians out there can tell me how wrong i am.