Agnostics and Agnosticism
|Huxley defined agnosticism as follows: "... it is wrong for a man to say he is certain of the objective truth of a proposition unless he can provide evidence which logically justifies that certainty. This is what agnosticism asserts and in my opinion, is all that is essential to agnosticism."
|"... an agnostic is someone who not only is undecided concerning the existence of God, but who also thinks that the question of God’s existence is in principle unanswerable. We cannot know whether or not God exists, according to an agnostic, and should therefore neither believe nor disbelieve in him."
|An agnostic is undecided about whether or not God exists.|
George Smith, the author of "Atheism" 4 divides
Agnostics into two types:
|Agnostic Theists: those who believe that a deity probably exists,
even though god's existence cannot be proven;|
|Agnostic Atheists: those who believe that it is very improbable that a deity exists, even though god's non-existence cannot absolutely be proven. 5|
Another category of Agnostic are the "Empirical Agnostics." They believe that God may exist, but that little or nothing can be known about him/her/it/them.
Still another category are "Agnostic Humanists." These individuals are undecided about the existence of God. Further, they do not really consider the question to be particularly important. They have derived their moral and behavioral codes from secular considerations. Their ethical behavior would not be altered if a deity were proven to exist.
The word is often used to refer to a person who is uncertain about something other than the existence of God -- global warming, HIV as the cause of AIDS, an afterlife, etc. However, in its religious sense, we have found the following definitions of Agnostic:
|Houghton Mifflin: "One who believes that it is impossible to know whether there is a God. One who is skeptical about the existence of God
but does not profess true atheism." 6|
|Columbia encyclopedia: "[A belief] that the existence of God cannot be logically proved or disproved. Agnosticism is not to be confused
with atheism which asserts that there is no God." 7|
|Wikipedia: ['A belief] that the (truth) values of certain claims -- particularly theological claims regarding the existence of God, gods, or
deities -- are unknown, inherently unknowable, or incoherent, and therefore, irrelevant to life." 8|
|Merriam-Webster: "A person who holds the view that any ultimate reality (as God) is unknown and probably unknowable; broadly: one who is
not committed to believing in either the existence or the nonexistence of God or a god." 9|
|Die.net: "One who professes ignorance, or denies that we have any knowledge, save of phenomena; one who supports agnosticism,
neither affirming nor denying the existence of a personal Deity, a future life, etc." 10|
|WordNet: " A person who claims that they cannot have true
knowledge about the existence of God (but does not deny that God might
|Wiktionary: "Doubtful or uncertain about the existence or demonstrability of God or other deity. 12|
Charles Darwin, a 19th century British self-taught geologist and writer. He attended a course in theology at Christ's College, Cambridge. Darwin wrote in two places in his book "Life and Letters" about his personal faith:
"The mystery of the beginning of all things is insoluble by us; and I for one must be content to remain an Agnostic."
"I think an Agnostic would be the more correct description of my state of mind. The whole subject [of God] is beyond the scope of man's intellect."Thomas H. Huxley, a well known English religious skeptic, invented the term Agnostic in the mid 19th century (sources differ about the exact date). In 1899, he wrote:
"...every man should be able to give a reason for the faith that is in him; it is the great principle of Descartes; it is the fundamental axiom of modern science. Positively the principle may be expressed: In matters of the intellect, follow your reason as far as it will take you, without regard to any other consideration. And negatively: In matters of the intellect do not pretend that conclusions are certain which are not demonstrated or demonstrable. That I take to be the agnostic faith, which if a man keep whole and undefiled, he shall not be ashamed to look the universe in the face, whatever the future may have in store for him." 13
He also wrote:
"When I reached intellectual maturity, and began to ask myself whether I was an atheist, a theist, or a pantheist; a materialist or an idealist; a Christian or a freethinker, I found that the more I learned and reflected, the less ready was the answer; until at last I came to the conclusion that I had neither art nor part with any of these denominations, except the last...So I took thought, and invented what I conceived to be the appropriate title of "agnostic". It came into my head as suggestively antithetic to the "gnostic" of Church history, who professed to know so much about the very things of which I was ignorant..." 14
Robert G. Ingersoll is perhaps the most famous American Agnostic of the 19th century. He commented on the problem of theodicy -- the presence of evil in a universe that many people believe was created and is run by God:
"There is no subject -- and can be none -- concerning which any human being is under any obligation to believe without evidence...The man who, without prejudice, reads and understands the Old and New Testaments will cease to be an orthodox Christian. The intelligent man who investigates the religion of any country without fear and without prejudice will not and cannot be a believer....He who cannot harmonize the cruelties of the Bible with the goodness of Jehovah, cannot harmonize the cruelties of Nature with the goodness and wisdom of a supposed Deity. He will find it impossible to account for pestilence and famine, for earthquake and storm, for slavery, for the triumph of the strong over the weak, for the countless victories of injustice. He will find it impossible to account for martyrs -- for the burning of the good, the noble, the loving, by the ignorant, the malicious, and the infamous. " 15
Bertrand Russell was a well known British philosopher of the 20th century. He was arrested during World War I for anti-war activities, and filled out a form at the jail. The officer, noting that Russell had defined his religious affiliation as "Agnostic" commented: "Ah yes; we all worship Him in our own way, don't we." This comment allegedly "kept him smiling through his first few days of incarceration." 16
Francois M. Arouet, the French 18th century author and playwright who worked under the pseudonym Voltaire is often considered the father of Agnosticism.
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Latest update and review: 2009-DEC-28
Author: B.A. Robinson.
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