Agnostics and Agnosticism
"There ain't no answer. There ain't going to be any answer. There never has been an answer. That's the answer." Gertrude Stein, attempting to describe Agnosticism.
|"Fix reason firmly in her seat, and call to her tribunal every fact,
every opinion. Question with boldness even the existence of a God; because, if
there be one, he must more approve of the homage of reason, than that of
blindfolded fear." Thomas Jefferson|
|"I don't know & you don't either." "Militant Agnostic" bumper
sticker from CarryaBigSticker.com.|
|"I don't 'know' if there is a God; but I think that if there is one, he
certainly isn't the one proclaimed by the Judeo-Christian tradition, the one
who is actively and powerfully involved in this world." Bart Ehrman.
|"True religion, like our founding principles, requires that the rights of
the disbeliever be equally acknowledged with those of the believer." A. Powell
Davies, Unitarian minister.|
|"I don't try to imagine a personal god; it suffices to stand in awe at the
structure of the world, insofar as it allows our inadequate senses to
appreciate it." Albert Einstein, physicist.|
|Bertrand Russell, English philosopher:|
|"Live a good life. If there are gods and they are just, then they will not care how devout you have been, but will welcome you based on the virtues you have lived by. If there are gods, but unjust, then you should not want to worship them. If there are no gods, then you will be gone, but will have lived a noble life that will live on in the memories of your loved ones. I am not afraid." Marcus Aurelius, Stoic philosopher and Roman Emperor during the 1st century CE.|
The word "Agnostic" was coined by Thomas Huxley (1825-1895) from two original Greek words: agnôstos, which means ignorant and gnosis which means knowledge. 17 An Agnostic is not simply without knowledge or stupid. Agnostics take the stance that no knowledge of God is now possible; some say that God's existence or non-existence will never be provable.
The French website "Atheism: Man standing on his own two feet" writes that Huxley:
"... took inspiration from the ideas of David Hume and of Emmanuel Kant. Agnosticism is a philosophy that declares absolute, divine, metaphysics -- and more generally that which cannot be grasp by experiment -- is inaccessible to the human mind and to perception. Consequently, the existence of God cannot be proven. Agnosticism professes a complete ignorance about the profound nature, the origin, and the destiny of things. It is a form of skepticism applied to metaphysics and theology.
Already present in the Ancient Greece, agnosticism developed rapidly in the 18th and 19th centuries because of scientific discoveries that contradicted many religious dogmas, the Bible and other Holy Scriptures. 17
Agnosticism is a concept. It is not a full religion, like Judaism, Christianity or Islam. It is a belief related to the existence or non-existence of God. However, many people have added a moral code, rituals and other items to Agnosticism, and have created a belief system with many of the attributes of a religion.
The one principle linking all meanings of "Agnostic" is that God's existence can neither be proved nor disproved, on the basis of current evidence. Agnostics note that some theologians and philosophers have tried to to prove for millennia that God exists. Others have attempted to prove that God does not exist. Agnostics feel that neither side has convincingly succeeded at their task. Further, most Agnostics act on this belief by concluding that they cannot believe -- or disbelieve -- in a deity without evidence.
When asked what their religion is, many of those who are unsure of the existence of a God will reply "Agnostic." Since so many Agnostics regard this as their religion, we have a policy of capitalizing the term out of respect, as we do for all religions on this web site. This is not often seen on the Internet or in print, but we feel that it is appropriate.
When asked whether they believe in the existence of one or more Gods and/or Goddesses, Theists will answer in the affirmative; strong Atheists will say no. Agnostics often cannot give a straight "Yes" or "No" answer. They might respond with one of the following:
|I don't know.|
|The Gods that various believers worship are like unicorns: they are obviously
fictional creations of humanity. But, who knows. They might actually exist.|
|There is no way to know, but perhaps someone will find a proof or disproof
in the future.|
|There will never be any way to know.|
|The question is meaningless.|
|I doubt it, but cannot be sure God doesn't exist.|
|I think so, but cannot be positive that God exists.|
|I don't know but will lead my life in the assumption that no God exists.|
|I don't know but will lead my life assuming that God does exist -- perhaps
because of the rewards I would receive if God does
|I will have to withhold my opinion until God, if he exists, decides to
make his presence known. Rearranging, say, 10,000 stars in the sky to read "I
AM" would be a great start. Even recreating an amputated leg would be a
strong indicator. But, of course, neither has ever happened.|
|I think that God exists, but have no proof.|
|I worship a god (or a god and goddess, or a goddess, or some combination
of god(s) and goddess(es) but cannot prove that they exist.|
|I cannot give an opinion because there is no way that we can prove the existence or non-existence of God given currently available knowledge.|
|I cannot give an opinion because there is no way to know, with certainty, anything about God,
either now or in the future.|
|Yes, God exists. But we do not know anything about God at this time. |
|Yes, God exists. But we have no possibility of knowing anything about God, now or in the future.|
Some people criticize Agnostics as simply being indecisive -- unable to make up their mind. But most Agnostics have actually taken a firm stand that it would be meaningless to become a Theist or strong Atheist without evidence. Not being able to prove his/her/its/their existence, most Agnostics consider it unethical or irrational to pick a side.
Many Theists believe that Agnostics are merely going through a phase in their spiritual life. They are actually searching for God, perhaps without being aware of it. They will eventually find God. The Bible promises it.
Ultimately, the term "Agnostic" is something like "Christianity." Both refer to a wide diversity of belief systems. In many cases, an individual asserts that their particular definition is the only fully valid one. There are many definitions circulating, and no real consensus.
The following information sources were used to prepare and update the above essay. The hyperlinks are not necessarily still active today.
Copyright © 1997 to 2011 by Ontario Consultants on Religious Tolerance
Latest update and review: 2011-MAY-14
Author: B.A. Robinson.
Links last checked on 2009-DEC-28
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