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Tony Marmo

Tradition says that God has three attibutes:
c. Omnipresense.
My reply to the questions you mentioned is often another question: how can you study a being with such characteristics? Science and the scientists would have to be omnipotent too to do so.


Welcome back, Marc!

Suppose you became convinced that God created you, that he loves you, that he is perfect, and that there are certain things that he wants you to do. Are you saying that this would have no practical bearing on your life? That sounds wrong. And since this is how most bleievers think of God, it is strange that you would say you are indifferent about whether their views are true.

conscientious objector

Two questions, to clarify my understanding of "indifferentism" and (possibly) to answer chad's query:

1. Is it possible to be both a theist and an indifferentist; more strongly, is it possible to be both a devout believer and an indifferentist?

2. Is it possible to be an indifferentist about the existence of particular human beings?

I ask these questions because your theses seem, at first glance, to apply just as easily to my cousin Russell:

1. Almost every major philosophical/scientific question can be answered more or less completely without any appeal to my cousin Russell.

2. Belief in the non-existence of my cousin Russell is unwarranted: we do not have adequate grounds for beieving that every philosophical/scientific question can be answered adequately without any appeal to my cousin Russell.

3. Those philosophical/scientific questions which may require an appeal to my cousin Russell are not ones on which most other philosophical/scientific answers hinge. And, moreover, it is likely we will have to answer most or all of the questions which don't appeal to my cousin Russell before we can determine whether or not an appeal to my cousin Russell is needed to answer the remaining ones.

4. Those philosophical/scientific questions which may require an appeal to my cousin Russell are not ones on which have immediate practical bearing on my life (e.g., not questions of ethics, well-being, etc.).

If so, it seems quite possible to believe in the existence of my cousin Russell while also being an indifferentist about him. (And, to forestall one possible disanalogy, note that I have nowhere said that I have ever laid eyes on my cousin Russell.)



Your cousin doesn't satisfy condition (3.b)--it isn't at all likely that in order to decide whether or not he exists we need to answer most of the major philosophical and scientific questions first. But apart from that, yes, you could be an indifferentist about any number of purported entities.

I am inclined to say that indifferentism is a species of agnosticism, but I suppose VERY weak epistemic commitments to either theism or atheism might be permissable (in which case I would have to modify 2 slightly). I'll have to think about it more. Suggestions welcome.


Since all the questions like "How ought I to live?", "What ought I to do?", etc., are ex hypothesi to be largely answered independently of the God question, coming to believe these things would largely have some sort of psychological impact on your life. And since I don't think we are in an epistemic position to defend such beliefs, I can't see any reason to bother with settling the issue. --Let's get on with the *important* questions, shall we? If answering the God question was a more pressing issue, then we might be willing to take more epistemic risks. But it isn't, so those risks are unecessary.

conscientious objector

I'm not surprised. Condition 3b was the only one I didn't (and still don't) fully grasp.

First, the condition in some sense seems question-begging. How you organize the hierarchy of presuppositions so as render certain other questions "last in line" itself reflects certain philosophical commitments. A Cartesian solipsist, for instance, might decide that questions about the existence of his cousin Russell are among the last set he should turn to consider--because, after all, he has to settle the ontological status of the external world and his epistemic relation to it before he can turn to consider the existence of his cousin. Similarly, but conversely, someone with an Aristotelean notion of substance might elevate questions about the Unmoved Mover to the first rank. The consequence, it seems to me, is that condition 3 as a whole is some kind of "relevance condition." But a "relevance condition" will only take its content contextually. A logical positivist can be an indifferentist about ethics, and an ethicist can be an indifferentist about particle physics, depending upon how narrowly they want to play the game.

Second, if this is so, then I am not certain why theistic indifferentism is only *weakly* compatible with theism. You can substitute "practical politics" for "science/philosophy" in your formula and get a coherent political philosophy. But a genuine embrace of that political philosophy is surely compatible with strong religious belief. It is possible to be both a Bible-thumper and a strict church-state neutralist; in fact, that's is a very plausible interpretation of Christ's "Render unto Caesar ..." aphorism. If it's possible to believe in both God and the state and also believe that these beliefs imply nothing of consequence for each other, why is it not possible to hold the same with regard to God and philosophy/science?


CO, On the first point, I am not begging any questions since I am not arguing for indifferentism. Clearly there will be certain issues concerning God on which I am committed. For instance, one possible view is that God torments indifferentists(parents, professors, etc.) in Hell for all eternity. Now, of course, if any of these things were true it would have a pretty significant impact on how I live my life. Fortunately, I am warranted in believing that there is no such God. So my indifferentism is predicated on having settled certain issues concerning the nature of God. But having settled those issues, I now find that I am indifferent to the remaining possibilities.

On point two. I see that (3.b) is, at least in theory, an optional component. Core indifferentism merely asserts that the God question is either epistemically disjoint from or epistemically dependent upon the other major philosophical and scientific questions and that answering it has little practical import.

If the God question is epistemically disjoint, then it might be a settleable issue but I would still be indifferent to the solution because it just doesn't have much bearing on anything. But I guess I am doubtful that the God question could be in this way epistemically disjoint, so the only viable option it seems to me is that it is epistemically dependent on the answers to the other questions (a cosmoligical IBE, perhaps).



I assume that you don't think that you ought to pray on a regular basis. But the Christian God, if he exists, is perfect, omniscient, and (let's suppose) thinks that you ought to pray on a regular basis. So, if the Christian God exists, then you ought to pray on a regular basis. So whether the Christian God exists is an issue that is relevant to (in the sense that it is incompatible with) at least one of your beliefs about what you ought to do. Now you might reply that the question whether you ought to pray on a regular basis is one that is "to be answered" independently of the God question. I am not sure I understand this claim, but it sounds false to me. But, even if I grant the point, it remains true that if you think (as you surely do) that it is not the case that you ought to pray on a regular basis, then an argument in favor of the claim that the Christian God exists constitutes an objection to your view. It seems to me that in this sense you are not (and should not be) indifferent to the issue whether God exists. Notice that this point does not conflict with the above "official" statement of the view. So maybe I do not disagree with you after all. But it seems like what I am saying conflicts with the spirit of the indifferentist view.

conscientious objector

Well, I didn't think *you* were begging the question. It only seemed to me that condition 3 would have force only once conditions 1, 2 and 4 had been given content. Depending upon what your other commitments are, you might find yourself "indifferent" (in your sense of the term) to lots of different things. (Just as, depending upon your various commitments, you can find yourself "agnostic" about the existence of lots of things, from God to unicorns to protons to mental states.) Thus, you might be "indifferent" toward the existence of God, I might be "indifferent" toward the existence of my cousin Russell, and our reasons--though certainly not identical!--would be parallel and could be captured by your four theses. In fact, your statement:

"my indifferentism is predicated on having settled certain issues concerning the nature of God. But having settled those issues, I now find that I am indifferent to the remaining possibilities"

is more or less the point I was sensing, i think. So, I guess that takes care of that!



Your general point is that if there are specifically religious or spiritual moral principles that I ought to follow, then I need to settle the God question before I can (fully) settle the moral question and so indifferentism about God is in principle mistaken. I am going to be a bit vague in my response, but my basic reply is that I think I can know that (whether or not there is a God) I have no specifically religious or moral obligations!

To sketch my line of reasoning:

1. I am warranted in believing that there are no Decievers (Evil or otherwise).

2. Thus, if there is a God, He is not a Deciever.

3. But my epistemic position is such that I am warranted in being agnostic about God's existence.

4. If I am warranted in being agnostic about God's existence, then I am warranted in not following any purported religious or spiritual moral principle.

5. But if God is not a deciever and I am warranted in not following a purported moral principle, then there is no such principle.

6. Thus, there is no such moral principle.

I have some other responses, but I am curious about what you (and others) think about this line of reasoning.


Let me add. I THINK the hardest premise to defend is (1). More accurately, I am not sure I can defend (1) in such a way that doesn't just land me on the side of atheism.

Tony Marmo

I understand what Marc means. When he defends indiferentism, he is talking mainly about questions that Philosophy or a particular Science tries to answer. Of course, individuals who believe in God do not share the same ideals as those who do not believe, and, as such, they do not justify or defend the same conducts on the same premises. But, for the sake of debating intellectual issues, a common ground for theists and atheists may exist, and in such case one does not appeal to the existence or inexistence of God.


Warrant is usually something that attaches to a belief. So it is nonstandard I think to talk of being warranted in suspending judgment. Perhaps what you mean in (3) is that you are warranted in believing that you ought to suspend judgment in your present circumstances. Probably most believers that would get involved in a discussion like the present one would deny this. And it seems to me that the ensuing debate would sound a lot like a debate over "the God issue." You would, for example, look at various traditional arugments that we all know for and against the thesis that God exists, and you would presumably criticize them all. So you wouldn't be indifferent about the issue. So you wouldn't be an indifferentist.

Also, I am not sure that the principle that one ought to pray regularly is a *moral* principle. It seems to me that, if the Christian God exists, then it is good to pray regularly. But I am not sure that there is then any sort of *obligation* to pray. It is just that, given that God exists, praying seems like a good idea, and an idea that should affect your conduct if you come to believe in God. With all of this in mind, (5) seems somewhat less plausible than if we think of the principle as setting forth a moral obligation. After all, why does it make out God to be a deceiver just that you are acting (perhaps with warrant) as if he isn't there?



First, I hereby extend the bizarrely limited traditional range of warrant to cover actions as well as beliefs.

The issue here ties into questions concerning reasonable disagreement. Are believers committed to the claim that agnostics cannot reasonably disagree with them (i.e., be warranted in their conflicting opinion)? It seems to me that they shouldn't be. It is one thing to argue that you are warranted in your belief and another (and more difficult) thing to argue that I am not warranted in my conflicting belief. I guess I would find it pretty surprising for a person (theist or atheist) to maintain that agnosticism is not a warranted position for at least some well-informed people at our present state of knowledge.

As I said above, my indifferentism does require that I settle certain issues concerning God. For instance, that the traditional arguments for and against God's existence are inconclusive.

I wasn't sure how to read the "ought", but I do think that the above argument is easily extended to any further normative use of the term (for instance, if it is connected with conditions on living well).


So tell me if I understand the view correctly. You hold that one can be indifferent about whether God exists, but not indifferent about whether any known (respectable) argument for his existence is successful. For to be warranted in your agnosticism, you have to settle that the relevant arguments do not succeed. And you need to be warranted in your agnosticism in order for your response to my previous objection to work. So you cannot be indifferent about whether they succeed.

But doesn't it seem wrong to say that you are not indifferent about whether there are any good arguments for p, even though you are indifferent about whether p?

Tony Marmo


I think that it is about how you assess arguments. If you assess one argument based on what (practical) results it produces, and if you verify that no practical consequence comes from that argument, regardless of its validity, then you may be indiferent to that argument.



I take it that the God question has not been settled, in the sense that reasonable, sincere, well-informed people can come to different warranted opinions on the issue. Now if there were (or seemed to be) some pressing reason to settle the issue, then indifferentism would not be a viable position (at present). However, I maintain that there is no pressing reason to settle the issue. So, I am indifferent.

You responded that there are pressing reasons to settle the issue; that there may be some normative spiritual or religious principles which I ought to follow if God exists and which I (presumably) ought not to follow if He doesn't. In response, I argued that even if there is a God, there are no such principles and consequently no pressing reasons to settle the issue of the sort you suggest. That the argument I offered relies on the premise that the question isn't settled, doesn't strike me as problematic.

Note that this is consistent with saying that I am indifferent to whether or not any *further* arguments for God's existence are good ones. So it is false that I am "not indifferent about whether there are (timeless) *any* good arguments for God existence." I am, however, not indifferent to whether or not there have so far been any. [By "good" here I presume we mean not just sound, but arguments which I would be unreasonable in rejecting. I may be reasonable in rejecting a sound argument, because it is reasonable for me to reject a true premise of the argument.] So my view is that we needed to get to a certain state of understanding on the God question before indifferentism became a viable position. But I think we have gotten to that state.


I can't tell what your reply to my last argument is. I argued that, on your view, you end up saying (*) you are not indifferent about whether the traditional arguments succeed, but you are indifferent about whether their conclusions are true. I thought (*) sounded bad for your view. Do you embrace (*) or do you deny one of the premises in the argument I gave for the claim that you are committed to (*)?


I am not indifferent about whether or not the traditional arguments succeed. But given that they don't succeed, I am indifferent about whether or not the proposition which is the conclusion of those arguments is true. (It, after all, remains unsettled.)

What's wrong with that?

Consider. I have an argument for p. My argument for p makes use of the claim that argument A for q fails. So, while I am not indifferent to the failure of A (I need it for my argument), I may or may not be indifferent to q (which is still unsettled). Now it turns out that p is that I ought to be indifferent to q. That doesn't suddenly cause a problem does it?

Tony Marmo

I have been thinking, and perhaps your indiferentism has in part to do with Scepticism, as proposed by Pyrrho, Arcesilaos and Carneades. Maybe it would be worthy for you to check these sources or something about Scepticism in some book on History of Philosophy.


Your claim about atheism presupposes that "God" actually does work as an explanatory mechanism. If you believe it does simply replace God with trekkie, purple hippo, or any other type of unverifiable entity that suits your fancy. theoretical entities of our fancy cannot be utilized as sufficient means of explanation.

Tony Marmo

So, Timmy, how do you get the square root of a negative number?

Franklin Mason

I'm unsure why you seem to suspect that a defense of 1 will land you in atheism. Indeed it seems to me that a defense of 1 is likely to land you in the opposite. For if we admit that the existence of a Deceiver is a real possibility, a possibility that must be ruled out if the argument is to go through, we must then ask how we might show that no Deceiver exists. Perhaps I suffer from an ideational myopia, but I can think of no way to do this that does not presuppose the existence of God. (God would do the trick. He is not a Deceiver; nor would he allow us to come under a Deceiver's sway.)

Aidan Maconachy

Actually, indifferentism could also be described as a species of zen. As most know from experience, when you try too hard to "know" something, the act of wanting to know results in an involuntary attempt to create. We may therefore end up knowing in a manner that somewhat incomplete or delusional.

I'm sure most are familiar with the trial of forgetting a name. The harder you try to resurrect it from the depths of memory, the more robustly it eludes you. Yet often, when you stop trying to remember the name, it presents itself to your mind as if by magic.

One of the problems with knowledge of God through the ages it seems to me, are prophets and others who claim to know God in ways that seem to suspiciously fit in with their earthly ambitions. God has been co-opted more often than I'm sure "he" cares to consider.

Indifferentism doesn't necessarily suggest a lack of interest, so much as self-recollection. By not trying to know God, we are tuning in more closely to our breath, our perceptions and intuitions, signals from our sub-conscious. In such a condition we may be able to sense and experience something greater. A fleeting intimation ... a sudden intuition ... may be clearer and more lucid to one who is in a state of receptive indifference, than to one who is "working at it".


Hi Aidan, Interesting thought. I am not sure, however, that indifferentism (at least, as I conceive of it) is accurately reflected in your thoughts. Specifically, I believe that almost every major philosohical and scientific question can be answered without so much as addressing the the question of God (or god). [I say "almost" since it may be that the God qeustion has to be addressed in a completed view of the universe.] There is no attempt here to see God by not looking for Him (Here, It). Perhaps indifferentism makes one more receptive to divine epiphanies and maybe it doesn't, as an indifferentist I'm indifferent about this prospect.

My view aims to be rather more radical--that very little or nothing turns on the question. For instance, coming to know that there is a God would not significantly change my sense of the significance of life or how to live it. The significance of a human life is not determined by the nature of its origins (by who or what created it), but by its intrinsic nature.

That said, I am all for a Zen version of indifferentism. The larger point of the post is that we have a far from complete grasp of the "logical space" of Belief. This is not a particularly new observation (it is explictly raised for instance by certain responses to Pascal's Wager), but one that is all too frequently overlooked.

Aidan Maconachy

Thanks for your insight Marc. Yes I'm afraid I played fast and loose with the term, partly because it is so evocative. I confess to interpreting my understanding of indifferentism as it relates to my own philosophical inclinations.

I take your meaning entirely, and it raises a few other thoughts of my own. When you speak of the "logical space of belief" about which little is known, I start to get interested.

The logic of belief I believe partakes of an element of faith. An agent "believes" because he has come to know for example that water will not burn him. As a child he tested this element and came to believe certain truths about it. What follows upon this then is faith. Faith that subsequent encounters with water will remain just as he has come to expect them to be.

Faith follows upon belief, and belief follows upon knowledge. Just as this is true of our experience of the physical world, so I believe it is possible to proceed in a similar fashion within the context of a "logic of belief" related to experience that is psychological.

Of course that can lead to subjective experiences which may be entirely "logical" for the agent and yet incomprensible to others.

I'm interested in the above direction, and I do see how that differs fairly radically from your definition of indifferentism.

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