If You’re a Confidence Atheist or a Confidence Theist, You’re More Likely to Be Happier Than a Confused Agnostic Like Me

So suggests a new study.

Fine, but that doesn’t mean that you’re right. Via Steel Phoenix, a nice retort from George Bernard Shaw:

“The fact that a believer is happier than a sceptic is no more to the point than the fact that a drunken man is happier than a sober one. The happiness of credulity is a cheap and dangerous quality.”

About Santi Tafarella

I teach writing and literature at Antelope Valley College in California.
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7 Responses to If You’re a Confidence Atheist or a Confidence Theist, You’re More Likely to Be Happier Than a Confused Agnostic Like Me

  1. Pingback: If You're a Confidence Atheist or a Confidence Theist, You're More …

  2. Jared K says:


    You say above that just because a person is happier because she feels with some confidence that God exists or that God doesn’t exist this doesn’t mean that she is “right.” I agree.

    But either God exists or God doesn’t exist, yes?

    In other words, one side, either the theist or atheist side, is “right” about God while the other side is wrong, yes? Even if there isn’t very good evidence and one side is just lucky at guessing.

    So if God doesn’t exist, then confident theists are wrong regardless of how confident they are. And maybe even if confident atheists are right, perhaps there isn’t justification or evidence to support the confident atheist’s belief. Maybe the confident atheist just got lucky. Maybe there wasn’t really any proof.

    But what I’m really getting at is this: Maybe atheists are right. Maybe theists are right. But how could an agnostic ever be “right”? In some ways, agnosticism isn’t really a position that can be right or wrong. It is just affirming ignorance, yes?

  3. santitafarella says:


    Your justification point is well taken. And with regard to agnosticism, I, by definition, cannot be right on the question at issue because I haven’t thrown in my lot with one side or the other. I agree with you on that. As they advertise for betting pools, “You can’t win if you don’t play.”

    But in one very important sense, I think that agnosticism is right. I think that if God exists AND rewards good calls in this life that agnosticism gets the justification issue right, and God will pat me on the head for that someday. God may or may not exists, but confidence is a folly. The way of doubt is, in my view, the way of the cross. It’s the route Jesus took before the resurrection (“My God, why hast thou forsaken me?”). Premature triumphalism is a kind of being wrong even if you lucked out in choosing the right side.

    To me, no lie is greater than the lie (you tell yourself and others) that you know something with certainty that you cannot know. It may make sense to act on your hunches (lean towards God belief or atheism), but arrogance about such matters is wrong. I think that you, for example, have it pretty close to right. I think I have it pretty close to right. You genuinely think God is more probable than improbable, so you act on that. But you’re not arrogant about it and you keep your eyes open. I genuinely think the question is much too close a call for me to make, and so I stay where I am (in confusion). What I’m impatient with are people who cover their eyes and ears, and then mouth disdain for the other side, heaping mockery and expressing triumphalist confidence. Maybe this is why I wasn’t thrilled about the “Nobody laughs” video. It’s a kind of counter mockery set in smug, arrogant tones of retort.

    I’m not above these impulses. I don’t like them in myself when I express them. I just don’t like them in anybody else either.


  4. brooks says:

    “But either God exists or God doesn’t exist, yes?”

    only if leave aside any consideration that the nature or existence of “God” could be something other than a mere binary.

    how are we defining god, then? how *should* we? aren’t animists, pantheists, deists or panentheists, allowed?

    as i see it, that’s what always rang false about pascal’s wager– it’ll only work if you’re lucky enough to have picked the RIGHT god to believe in (and affording to pascal, of course, only a single specific version).

    it’s just not a wager worth taking.

    • brooks says:

      in the second to last sentence, “affording” would probably make more sense if it read “according”. ::blushes::

  5. santitafarella says:


    My agnosticism concerns a very narrow claim: does mind precede matter or does matter precede mind? It seems to me that when you look at the universe as a whole, you should ask yourself: “Does the world make more sense thinking of it as a place where matter precedes mind, or mind precedes matter?”

    I see holes in both ways of seeing the world, and lots of question begging on both sides. For me, the details of the definition of God are less important than getting that first question settled (which is probably unlikely to be settled). Mind v. matter.


  6. brooks says:


    i see. no argument here– that actually makes a lot of sense.

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