Agnostisism and Learning LO30217

From: AM de Lange (
Date: 05/28/03

Replying to LO30213 --

Dear Organlearners,

Greg Haworth <>

>At, I must say this post, "Agnostisism and Learning", of yours
>really pushed a bunch of my buttons .. thanks. With that said,
>I feel compelled to respond with extreme bias. And with bias,

Greetings dear Greg,

Thank you very much for your thoughtful response. I did not experience
your response as biased or blind, but rather as questioning.

>First: I think this post should have left out the last paragraph.
>I am still struggling to see the leap from the human interest
>story to the questions relating to LO's. I am sure they are there
>for you, forgive my inability to connect the dots.

Allow me to try and explain. The act of learning (with its individual and
organisational complements) is central to the LO (Learning Organisation).
As learning continues, knowledge as its outcome, increases. Without
learning knowledge cannot increase.

It is not my definition, but that of several dictionaries that agnosticism
is the denial of knowledge of any god. Can this imply that learning of any
god did not happen? I think we must be careful not to make such a simple
inference. A very intersting case is that of the agnosticist prof Thomas
Huxley of the 19th century. Fellow learners may browse through < >
for his account on agnosticism. He became an agnosticist because for
him there were too much contradictions in the New Testament literature. He
knew a lot about this literature (which requires learning), but he could
not find in it any sure evidence for the existance of the God.

It just struck me when i heard of my friend how complex the relationship
between specifically agnosticism and learning is. I guess it is far more
complex than the relationship between atheism and learning.

>Second: The response to your elementary reduction of
>agnosticism could, and has, lined whole shelves of discourse
>and thought. Let me point out just one thing. For you to list
>the etymology of the word and then to gerrymander some
>literature, in no way defines agnosticism. Sorry, not biting.
>There are far more uses of the term than, "one can not know god".
>Take, god is not worth the effort of knowing, for one.

I merely used the etymology to explain the definition of agnosticism as is
given by several dictionaries. By this i did not imply that agnosticism is
a simple issue. I think that agnosticism is very complex because it
involves the act of learning which itself is very complex. Learning is far
more than merely absorbing a lot of information. For Huxley the lack of
sure evidence was the reason for his agnosticism. For others the mystery
of devine revelation is another reason. Greg, you are right, another
reason may be that a person may think that god is not worth the effort

>Third: Because of the way you have framed this post I
>am lead to conclude that you believe you must know
>god in order to express love. This is obviously an absurd
>belief. Here is how I made this conclusion.
>You state, "My knowledge of God comes from only one
>source -- my interaction with those people who had the
>Spirit of God in them, acting with deeds of love towards
>me. God is agape (love) .."
>So at the very least, god is requisite in transformative love.
>Now you may not believe this, and I may have misinterpreted
>it ... but as I said, hot button! Bias and blindness.

No, i never will say "you must know god in order to express love", nor
will i imply it. I am sorry that my articulation led you to this
conclusion. Allow me some explanation, although i admit that it may be too
inferior to prevent any misunderstanding. Only a persistant dialogue will
prevent it.

Some fellow learners will know that i have given much thought in our LO
dialogue on the relationship between knowledge (which i understand as
"dwelling within a person") and information (which i understand as
"existing outside a person"). We live in a world in which information has
exploded. However, i think that few are aware that this explosion is
taking a heavy toll, especially in terms knowledge. In this respect i have
great admiration for Michael Polanyi who already fifty years ago had given
deep thoughts to what "personal knowledge" entails.

A person may create information having the knowledge to do so. Let me
symbolise it as
   knowledge => information
This process has a lot of pitfalls. The opposite process
   information => knowledge
namely, gaining in knowledge based on information, also has a lot of
pitfalls. As a teacher, the worst pitfall for me is rote learning, i.e. the
memorisation and regurgitation of information. I have to struggle continually
against rote learning. The following is a case involving myself which i would
never have expected five years ago.

Since i believe that wholeness is essential to physical and spiritual
life, i cannot exclude or avoid religious texts like the Bible, the Koran
and the Vedas from this relationship between knowledge and information.
All religious texts are nothing else but information. I grew up as a
protestant and accepted without serious questioning the central tenet of
protestantism, namely that infallible knowledge of God comes from the
Bible. But as my thoughts on the relationship between knowledge and
information became clearer, i had to question this central tenet. I also
had to question another confession of most protestants, namely that the
Bible writers got their knowledge by the divine inspiration of the Holy
Spirit. It became crucial to me HOW -- second loop of learning -- (and not
the WHAT alone -- first loop of learning--) they got that knowledge by
divine inspiration.

I began studying the Bible on this HOW for each of its writers. A new
world opened up to me, one which unexpectedly alligned with my own
non-religious experiences. It is a world for which i can confess as you
have quoted:

>"My knowledge of God comes from only one source
> -- my interaction with those people who had the
>Spirit of God in them, acting with deeds of love towards
>me. God is agape (love) .."
It is these kernels of knowledge (deeds of love experienced) which enable
me to digest the information in the Bible as also in other religious

Let me haste to add that my understanding is not at all a reflection of
the understanding of fellow learners or what it should be. They have their
own learning to do. I merely share my own understanding with them so that
it might catalyse their own thinking.

>And further on this topic, you state, "He is extremely
>negative towards the intentions of humans. He just had
>too little "experiences of deeds of love" initiated by
>other humans, including me"
>There is that term again "deeds of love" which equals god and
>actions of those full of the spirit of god. Now first just what is
>wrong with holding, "negative towards the intentions of humans"
>as a belief, seems rather realistic to me. You seem to think of
>it as a disease that needs to be transformed, that he could
>change his ways if he just came to know god. Don't you think
>that is just a bit pompous? And why does it take god anyway?
>Is there no goodness in the world that does not have it's source
>in god? Is man so bankrupt without god? Has he no nobility in
>his own right? What about the Greeks and other peoples of
>history that came before the "word of god" was spread? Did
>they know nothing of love and nobility?

I think i wrote that my, unfortunately now late, friend W often said that
he loved to talk with me on the complexity of life, including religions,
without me as a Christian trying to convert him. I was not pompous in
reflecting on my lack of showing more deeds of love towards him -- i was
rather very annoyed with myself.

As for your other questions above, they seem to question what i have
written or implied by my writing. For example, i know far too many good,
noble, loving people who do not believe in any god to ever write or to
imply by writing that they are bancrupt without God. A person who does not
believe in any god is not a lesser human for me than a believer. As i have
written in the past, i am not in the conversion business and i am
definitely also not in the judging business.

>Fourth: you ask these questions, "Does OL have any
>lasting worth if it is devoid of unconditional love? Can
>an organisations emerge into a Learning Organisation
>(LO) when love is not the backbone of its capacity for
>action? What is knowledge without love?"
>In the context of your thesis that god is love, and I substitute
>god each time you use the word love above ... well I am
>sorry I do not believe you need god to find lasting worth,
>do not need god as a backbone, nor is godless knowledge
>inferior or of lesser value.

Please accept that my questions were intended just as they were
articulated without any hidden agenda.

I used the statement "God is love" in the sense of a mapping
   God => love
and not in the sense of an equality
   God = love
The reason is that i believe God is too complex and almighty to be captured
by one word in an equality. Therfore i myself cannot do the substitution which
you did. Furthermore, should i have done it, i would have felt and reacted just
like you. Allow me to explain.

During the era of apartheid a very unhealthy situation developed. The
state and church were considered to be close partners, almost twins. A
fashion developed whereby many organisations bragged how close partners
they were with the church. (I myself got extremely hurt by it in 1969.) As
you may expect, most of this partnership was merely window dressing which
vapourised into thin air in the New South Africa with its secular
constitution and government.

I often think of the question "What is knowledge without love?",
especially when i read, hear or see of great destruction caused with the
certain knowledge how to do it. The 9/11 events are an example of what i
have in mind. There exists now so much information on how to destroy life
that anyone with enough knowledge of it and too litle love for life can do
the world great harm. Is war really the answer for preventing people with
the "capacity for doomsday actions" to do so?

>Hoping to have pushed some of you buttons too,
>Best regards

You certainly did -- thanks. One of them is how important it is to read a
contribution in context. I often fail to do it, sometimes because my
memory is failing more (as i get older) of what someone wrote in the past.
Another is that the act of learning changes a person's understanding of
things so that past writings need not to be consistent with future
writings. A third is that i do not keep all "kinds" of readers in mind as
i should when writing.

Please, accept that i do not imply with the above you in any way.

With care and best wishes,


At de Lange <> Snailmail: A M de Lange Gold Fields Computer Centre Faculty of Science - University of Pretoria Pretoria 0001 - Rep of South Africa

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