Religions and ethical systems
Agnostics and Agnosticism:
Uncertainty about whether God exists.
The adult world is composed mainly of Theists: they believe in the existence
of one or more Gods and/or Goddesses from among the many thousands of deities who have been
worshipped by humans down through history.
A minority of people are strong Atheists who deny
that any deity or deities exist. They believe that the hundreds of the religious
creation stories that exist in the world have it all wrong: A deity or deities
did not create humans; it was humans who created
the many thousands of Gods and Goddess who have been devoutly and sincerely
worshiped over many tens of thousands of years. The process of creating deities continues today.
However, there is a third group. When asked whether a deity or deities
exist, they don't have a definite yes or no answer. These
hold Agnostic beliefs about God's existence. Each Agnostic has been unable to find convincing evidence that one or more deities exist. They have also been unable to find convincing proof that no deity exists.
During 1958, Bertrand Russell, an English philosopher commented on whether "Atheist" or "Agnostic would be a better term for his religious beliefs about God. He wrote:
"I ought to call myself an agnostic; but, for all practical purposes, I am an atheist. I do not think the existence of the Christian God any more probable than the existence of the Gods of Olympus or Valhalla. To take another illustration: nobody can prove that there is not between the Earth and Mars a china teapot revolving in an elliptical orbit, but nobody thinks this sufficiently likely to be taken into account in practice. I think the Christian God just as unlikely." 1,2
Some Agnostics who enjoy religious discussion, fellowship, and/or ritual join a
local congregation of the Unitarian-Universalist Association or
an Ethical Culture group. Many others remain solitary Agnostics.
How common are Agnostics in the U.S.?:
This is not a simple number to estimate. When public opinion pollsters ask adults what their religious affiliation is, some Agnostics refer to themselves as Agnostics, or Atheists, or Secular Humanists. Others call themselves "NOTAs" (NOT Affiliated with any religion), or "Nones," or "nothing in particular," etc.
A public opinion survey by the Pew Research Center found that 22.8% of adults are unaffiliated with an organized religion. This number increased from 16.1 to 22.8% between 2007 and 2015. The unaffiliated are now the second largest religious group in the U.S., exceeded in numbers only by evangelical Protestants. Most of the increase is believed to have ocurred among older teens and young adults. The number includes:
- 4.0% Agnostics,
- 3.1% Atheists,
- 15.8 Persons who are "nothing in particular," etc. 3
In contrast, adults affiliated with various Christian denominations has decreased by a slightly larger number of percentage points from 78.4% in 2007 to 70.6% in 2015-MAY. The actual number of Christian adults has shrunk by about 5 million over 8 years. 3,4
The differences between Agnostics and Atheists:
Atheism is commonly divided among into two groups: strong Atheists, and weak Atheists:
- Strong Atheism -- sometimes called Explicit Atheism -- refers to individuals who firmly assert that there is no God, Goddess, or pantheon of Goddesses.
Sometimes, a Strong Atheist is defined as a person who firmly denies the existence of specific Deities -- like Zeus or Thor. We do not recommend this definition, because it would make the vast majority of humans into Strong Atheists. There are books that list 1,000 Gods or 1,000 Goddesses. Most adults believe in very few if any of these thousands of deities listed. Yet if you called them Strong Atheists, they wold probably be quite offended!.
- Weak Atheism -- sometimes called Implicit Atheism or Agnostic Atheism -- are persons with no belief in the existence a God or Goddess. However, they hold open the possibility that such a deity might some day be proven to exist or not exist.
- Agnosticism are persons who hold beliefs essentially identical to weak Atheists. However, many Agnostics believe that it is impossible to prove either the existence or the non-existence of God with the current level of human knowledge -- perhaps forever.
Topics covered in this section:
I am the author of this section and the webmaster of this web site. I was raised a Protestant Christian. As a child, I dutifully
said my prayers ever night. I attended Sunday School at the Leaside United
Church in what is now Metro Toronto, ON, Canada. I had difficulty understanding the message of some of the Bible
stories. While learning the Exodus story my classmates and I were asked to draw a picture showing some aspect of that event. Most of the other children drew a picture of Moses separating the Red/Reed Sea. But I drew a sketch of a heartbroken Egyptian couple holding their dead first-born child in their arms, and who were facing hardship because of the death of the first-born of all their livestock. Also, while being
taught about the Flood of Noah, the other children drew pictures of the Ark with usual two giraffes on the top deck. I drew a sketch of some
children, who were drowning in the flood.
Never having sensed the presence of God at any time in my life, I became
an Agnostic in my early teen years. I have continually and unsuccessfully
sought God ever since. I have remained an Agnostic for six decades, and counting.
However, who knows what the future may bring? The Bible may be right in Deuteronomy
4:29, Proverbs 8:17, Jeremiah 29:13. Matthew 7:7-8, and Luke 11:9-10 when it
says that those who seek God will find him. One can always hope. In the meantime, I feel ethically bound to live with uncertainty. In early 2015, I exceeded the life expectancy of the average U.S. male. However, I am a Canadian and have been covered by health insurance for my entire life which makes the life expectancy in my country longer by many years.
The following information sources were used to prepare and update the above essay. The hyperlinks are not necessarily still active today.
- Dale McGowan, "Voices of Unbelief: Documents from Atheists and Agnostics," Greenwood, 2012, Read reviews or order this book safely from Amazon.com online book store
- Portions of McGowan's book are available online on Google Books at: https://books.google.com/
- "America's changing religious landscape," Pew Research Center for Religion & Public Life, 2015-MAY-12, at: http://www.pewforum.org/
- Rich Schapiro & Erica Pearson "Americans are less Christian, more atheist and agnostic: Pew survey," New York Daily News, 2015-MAY-12, at: http://www.nydailynews.com/
Copyright © 1997 to 2015 by Ontario Consultants on Religious Tolerance
Latest update and review: 2015-OCT-31, Samhain and Halloween.
Author: B.A. Robinson.