Agnosticism and Religion
Agnosticism can be thought of as a blank slate. Rather than saying yes or no to questions of the existence of god or the supernatural, the agnostic says "I don't know." Religious people and believers of every stripe, from the hardcore traditionalist zealot to the liberal "spiritual" new ager, will claim that there is a god, that there is a supernatural, that there is an afterlife, that there is this, and there is that.
And yet, for the most part, they will not accept the existence of the Loch Ness monster. They do not believe in alien visitation. They will not claim, with all confidence, that "there are Leprechauns. There are unicorns. And that's that." In other words, they are agnostic to these things. They withhold judgment, they hesitate to make a definitive conclusion, and they do not swallow arguments in favor of them.
But why? For the most part, they do not accept the existence of Big Foot or unicorns because of lack of proof. There is no supporting evidence. They therefore see these ideas as fantasies, dreams, delusions or fiction--interesting and fun to imagine, but nothing more serious than that.
Gods and Leprechauns
Then we are back to god. The believer will claim that, unlike the unicorn or the leprechaun, there is actual proof for the existence of god, or for the supernatural. Sure, it isn't as rock solid or as obvious as proof for the existence of the sun, or proof for the existence of atoms and molecules, but it's a lot stronger than the case for those other fantasies. Or so it is claimed.
Suffice it to say that this evidence is subjective, circumstantial and logically inconsistent. In other words, right on par with the evidence for Big Foot, or for the same kinds of folk myths that gave rise to stories of leprechauns or ghosts or evil spirits, all of which are generally viewed by modern religious people as hogwash and delusion, or (always a favorite) as "false idols."
No matter what the "idol" medium, whether it is polytheism, monotheism, deism, theism, pantheism, atheism, I-am-me-ism or everything-and-the-kitchen-sink-ism, the lack of evidence remains. As the saying goes, when the religious believer understands why he does not accept other faiths, he will understand why I do not accept his.
The Natural and the Supernatural
And this goes for the supernatural generally. It is very possible that there is an immaterial realm somewhere out there that we do not experience. Asking for scientific proof would then be meaningless since, as the religious apologist is fond of reminding us, science deals with the material, and therefore cannot be expected to explain that which is immaterial. But the question then arises: since we are beings who can only know something for certain through material means, how do we know the immaterial exists at all?
The supernaturalist might provide material evidence (or evidence experienced through our senses), in which case she must justify the existence of the material. Unless she posits the existence of the material as a blind faith (which would render her on par with the atheist), she must inevitably justify the material by pointing back to the immaterial--that we know natural reality exists because God created it, for example. And what justifies the immaterial? As we just saw, it is the material. And circular reasoning ensues. Any supernaturalist who respects knowledge and the human need for it must reckon with these issues. And then realize that their faith is blind.
Shadow Boxing with God
Many religious people decry atheists and agnostics as "battling god" or "fighting god." If these people believe there is no god or hold no opinion on the matter then why, they often ask, do they spend so much time fighting with him? As usual with the religious, such a position misses the point. We do not fight that which does not exist. That indeed would be delusional and counterproductive. We criticize faulty logic, faulty claims to knowledge, and overall bad thinking. That bad thinking can lead to all kinds of beliefs--friendly, scary, benign, psychotic, slightly flawed, very flawed, or obviously untrue.
But one must remember that it is the incomplete or inadequate thought process that deserves concern and attention. In other words, not the belief itself, but the thinking behind the belief. Beliefs, after all, change with the seasons and the fashions of the day. But flawed thinking remains constant, and has remained constant for all of human history. Humans have attained enlightenment and progress and physical and mental wellbeing as they have banished flawed thinking through the ages. Continued progress and improvement of the human condition requires a continued commitment to better and more reasonable thinking.
The Agnostic is Happy Not Knowing
This is not an intellectual position rooted in anger, or "hatred of god" or fear of that which does not exist. (Although, to be sure, there are plenty of irrational agnostic and secular people who reject religion for emotional reasons.) Agnosticism at its best is a commitment to certainty. It is a fidelity only to that which can be verified. It cuts through all of the BS, all of the rhetoric, all of the hopes, and dreams, and fantasies, and desires, and whims, and emotions and expectations that--while essential to human life--do not sow the seeds of human improvement nearly to the degree that true knowledge does. It therefore empowers the human more than any "religion" ever could, by using four simple words: How do you know?
The religious say that "knowing" is beside the point. That theirs is "a different kind of knowing." That "faith is believing when common sense tells you not to." How poetic. Thanks but no thanks. I'll keep my knowledge, understanding of the world, enlightenment and the greatest material prosperity ever achieved by humankind. You can "keep the faith."
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