Agnosticism and Religion

Muslims can substitute "Quran" for "Bible"
Muslims can substitute "Quran" for "Bible"

Agnosticism

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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Comments 17 comments

James A Watkins profile image

James A Watkins 6 years ago from Chicago

A very interesting analysis. I know God exists because He speaks directly to me. But I do not denigrate agnostics. I say, let them be.


secularist10 profile image

secularist10 6 years ago from New York City Author

Thanks for visiting, James.

I say, let the religious be as well--it's a free society. But we cannot let them impose their beliefs, which is almost inevitable when someone believes they have the "absolute truth." Ancient, medieval and modern history show this.

History also shows which mindset--the religious or the secular--has led to more material and immaterial prosperity.

I wonder why God directly speaks to some people, but not others?


James A Watkins profile image

James A Watkins 6 years ago from Chicago

God speaks to those who seek His voice, study His Word, and sit silently waiting patiently until He speaks. He will not be trifled with by curiosity seekers.

I think everybody thinks they know the absolute truth except relativists who insist that there is no such thing as absolute truth—which circles back to them thinking that relativism is the absolute truth. :D


secularist10 profile image

secularist10 6 years ago from New York City Author

I have little use for relativism, so I agree with you on that point. But there is at least one class of people who do not claim to have the "absolute truth": agnostics. And I am proud to rank myself among those who are humble enough to affirm their own fallibility.

The absolute truth sought by those who believe in rational inquiry and knowledge discovery (such as myself) is of a very different kind than the "absolute truth" of the religious who believe they know everything important about some of the most mysterious and impenetrable aspects of reality.

As Socrates said, religion claims to have the truth, where philosophy claims only to seek it.

I wonder how one is supposed to know which book is "His Word" and which isn't?


Jane Bovary profile image

Jane Bovary 6 years ago from The Fatal Shore

Wow...I think I've found my intellectual hero. At least as far as this topic goes...


secularist10 profile image

secularist10 6 years ago from New York City Author

Thanks, Jane. Glad you enjoyed it!


James A Watkins profile image

James A Watkins 6 years ago from Chicago

I am only aware of one book that actually makes this claim.


secularist10 profile image

secularist10 6 years ago from New York City Author

I assume you are talking about the Bible. But we have at least one other book that claims to be the "Word of God":

"This is the Book about which there is no doubt, a guidance for those conscious of Allah--Who believe in the unseen, establish prayer, and spend out of what We have provided for them, And who believe in what has been revealed to you, [O Muhammad], and what was revealed before you, and of the Hereafter they are certain [in faith]. Those are upon [right] guidance from their Lord, and it is those who are the successful." 2:2-5

"And believe in what I have sent down confirming that which is [already] with you, and be not the first to disbelieve in it." 2:41

[Note: "that which is already with you" refers to the Gospel and the Torah; so the Quran confirms those other books]

"...Allah has sent down the Book in truth." 2:176 [referring to the Quran]

"And if you are in doubt about what We have sent down upon Our Servant [Muhammad], then produce a surah the like thereof and call upon your witnesses other than Allah , if you should be truthful." 2:23

"And when there came to them a Book from Allah confirming that which was with them..." 2:89

"Those to whom We have given the Book recite it with its true recital. They [are the ones who] believe in it. And whoever disbelieves in it - it is they who are the losers." 2:121

"Just as We have sent among you a messenger from yourselves reciting to you Our verses and purifying you and teaching you the Book and wisdom and teaching you that which you did not know." 2: 151

More where that came from. I think you get the idea. Source: http://www.quran.com


katiem2 profile image

katiem2 6 years ago from I'm outta here

secularist, AWESOME piece, I will certainly be back to review this again... I'm a thinker who keeps my peace till I have complete peace and prompting to do otherwise. I will be back. Welcome to Hubpages, I will maintain the most positive thoughts for you! Thanks and Peace :)


secularist10 profile image

secularist10 6 years ago from New York City Author

Katiem2, thank you for your very kind words. You are more than welcome any time, take care! ;)


BlogTitan 6 years ago

secularist10 I admire your position as an agnostic but i think you have some significant misconceptions about what atheism is. Atheism like agnosticism does not claim to have the answer but is willing to look for it free from religious interference. It’s true that an atheist doesn't believe in god but this is for the same reason that you have indicated about your agnostic beliefs. That is, that it holds the same basis of logic and evidence as the existence of the loch ness monster. The only real difference between an agnostic and an atheist is that an agnostic doesn't have the will power to look at the logic and evidence that you have detailed in this blog (plus much more)and say that religion doesn't make sense as an explanation of the universe and in fact raises more questions than it solves. It is a bad explanation that makes no sense given humankinds present knowledge of our universe and life and therefore should be dismissed. But in coming to this conclusion, Atheism only claims to know what mankind knows of the universe and does not try to fill in the gaps that we don’t know with ridiculous superstitions. Agnosticism takes the fence sitting position of "I know that there is something wrong with religion and i understand all the logical arguments against it but i would rather just not make my own judgement either way because its all to hard". As much as i respect agnostics, because at least they have come to terms with the holes in religion, i have trouble with the fact that they are not willing to draw any logical conclusions from it. Its fence sitting to the highest degree.

From my personal experience i tend to find that agnostics who look deeper at the facts that you are already finding, inevitably become atheist. This is pretty much the progression that I took from a born and bred catholic school boy. I was agnostic for a long time until i truly understood what it was to be atheist.


secularist10 profile image

secularist10 6 years ago from New York City Author

Blog Titan, thank you for visiting and welcome to Hub Pages. The problem is that everyone nowadays seems to define atheism and agnosticism in different ways. The classical definition of atheism as simply "without theism" (literally a-theism) is probably closer to the modern conception of agnosticism.

However, today "atheism" rightly or wrongly has come to mean "belief that there is no god." This strong/ positive atheism has significant logical problems just like belief in God does. That's why I associate it with traditional religious beliefs. It presumes certainty where certainty is not warranted.

You said:

"The only real difference between an agnostic and an atheist is that an agnostic doesn't have the will power to look at the logic and evidence..."

Not sure what "willpower" has to do with anything. This sounds like more of a criticism of people's character than a reasoned definition of anything.

"an agnostic doesn't have the willpower to... say that religion doesn't make sense as an explanation of the universe."

Agnostics by definition do not accept religion precisely for this reason. If they accepted religion, they would not be called "agnostic," they would be called "religious."

Saying that "it's possible, on some level, that there is a God" is very different from accepting that idea of God. Very different. My attitude toward God is the same as the Loch Ness monster--I will never deny that theoretically it's *possible* it exists, but nevertheless I must assume it does not exist as long as the evidence and logic do not support it. Call it "functional atheism" if you will.

You said: "Agnosticism takes the fence sitting position of "I know that there is something wrong with religion and i understand all the logical arguments against it but i would rather just not make my own judgement either way because its all to hard"."

This is incorrect. Agnosticism is a blank slate mentality. Agnosticism does not say "it's all too hard," it says "show me." It is that openness and humbleness that distinguishes it from strong or positive atheism.

And that is what science is made of. You can still take a position or favor a position without being 100% closed to other possibilities. Just 90% or 99% closed.


BlogTitan 6 years ago

Secularist10 thankyou for your response. I am always happy to debate these sort of questions. Your response is quite well argued however there are a few issues that I have with it.

First is the statement that you relate to agnostics of "show me". The problem I have with this is that it amounts to academic laziness. It suggests that you are content to sit back and wait for someone to prove a hypothesis to you rather than taking the initiative by eliminating hypothesis that are extremely unlikely. However in your defence I am not sure if you really mean it in that way you are using it in your response. I don’t think this statement is really appropriate to what you are trying to say. Something along the lines of "agnostics say until I see proof one way or the other I will not pass Judgement on anyone" would seem more appropriate. But a lot of this is all semantics, kind of like the definition of agnostic and atheist I guess.

The trouble I personally have with your stance revolves around your inability to at least eliminate religion as a likely explanation. Let me give you an example. If i was to say to you that the moon was made of cheese. How would you defend against that hypothesis? Well you would probably say “that cannot be correct because the very concept is ridiculous”. But how can you disprove it. I doubt either you or me have ever gone to the moon and even those that have were only there for a short period and only surveyed a very small percentage of the surface. There is therefore no real conclusive proof to dispel this concept. Using your argument, it is possible then moon is made of cheese and therefore i refuse to dismiss it. But what reasonable person would actually believe that the moon is made of cheese. Most people would be more than willing to dismiss this because the very concept is ridiculous and highly unlikely. Why is this logic not applied to religion? I guess this raises two ultimate questions that divide atheists from agnostics and that is firstly "at what point can we dismiss a theory based on the unlikeliness of its hypothesis as defined by present human knowledge" and second "Do we need to have a 100% proven counter theory in order to dismiss another hypothesis". The second question raises my concern about your agnostic concept of "Show Me" and the first for me is the reason why I consider myself an atheist. The only way you can even come close to successfully explaining life, the universe and everything with religion is from a massively adapted version of the original belief systems of most modern religions that is conveniently squeezed in between the gaps in human knowledge. This is like saying the moon missions are not proof the moon isn’t made of cheese because they only surveyed part of and not all of the surface.

In my original submission ‘will power’ was probably too aggressive a term to use but this is the easiest way to say it. Your idea that an agnostic person is working on a ‘blank slate’ is also interesting because in order to reach the middle or ‘blank slate’ position you need to have at least had and opinion to move away from the normal religious cultures of western society. Given that religion is the most common belief system and is what most people are raised to believe, you could almost define this as the default position and therefore the ‘Blank Slate’. Most people that are atheists or agnostic have nearly always started from a religious position. I myself was raised as a catholic school boy. This is why I feel that the term ‘fence sitting’ is more appropriate that ‘blank slate’.

Anyway I hope this has given you some more fuel for thought and I look forward to debating this further.


secularist10 profile image

secularist10 6 years ago from New York City Author

"The trouble I personally have with your stance revolves around your inability to at least eliminate religion as a likely explanation."

I do eliminate religion as a *likely* explanation. It is unlikely, but still *possible*.

"How would you defend against that hypothesis? Well you would probably say “that cannot be correct because the very concept is ridiculous”. But how can you disprove it."

The great thing about the scientific approach is that I don't have to defend against or disprove anything. The onus is on the claim-maker to prove his claim. All I have to do is sit back and shoot down his evidentiary or logical claims.

In this particular case, I can point to innumerable pieces of evidence and observations from a variety of scientific fields, as well as logical deduction, that conclusively demonstrate that the moon is made of certain metals and minerals.

It's never enough to say "that's ridiculous," ridiculous though it may be. "Ridiculous" is a largely subjective designation, and therefore has very limited utility for objective knowledge. Practically every idea accepted by modern science was considered ludicrous when it was first proposed--man arose from ape-like animals? Tiny invisible creatures make people sick? The sun is a star like all the others? Ridiculous!

"... at what point can we dismiss a theory based on the unlikeliness of its hypothesis as defined by present human knowledge"

Again, you're missing the point here. Agnostics do dismiss the idea of God. Not accepting an idea means dismissing it. There are a variety of types of agnosticism, some don't believe in God because they say it's unknowable, some don't believe in God because they say the evidence hasn't been shown yet, etc.

But the key difference between agnosticism and atheism (again, I'm working with the contemporary strong atheism) is that atheism is 100% closed to the possibility, just as the theist is 100% closed to the possibility that there is no God. That's bad science, plain and simple. You can dismiss an idea for all practical purposes while still being open to it on an esoteric level.

But of course my exact disposition would be considered "atheist" by certain definitions. I don't accept the idea of God, period. That alone qualifies me as an atheist in some quarters, and I'm fine with that.

I don't agree with your "blank slate" explanation at all. A baby has a blank slate. It has not been socialized or indoctrinated in the beliefs of the civilization yet. It is that kind of truly neutral position that we seek--a position truly unbiased by emotion, tradition, prejudice or blind assumption. It means giving every new idea, no matter how unusual or strange, a fair hearing against evidence and logic.

Again, God is like the Loch Ness monster: there is no reason, given all the evidence and logic we have available to us, to accept it. In fact, because of the logical difficulties inherent in the God concept, God is even less likely than the monster. But nevertheless, it is still possible that there is a God. This is because there remains the possibility that there is an aspect of reality that is not accessible to our logic, where our logical rules do not apply, where it is possible for an all-powerful being to create a square circle.

No one can dispute this point, because no one can demonstrate--nor will anyone ever be able to demonstrate, I suspect--that we are aware of every single thing that exists.


manzoor 4 years ago

i was hoping for BlogTitan to return. thanks secularist10


Anthony 4 years ago

You've stated some interesting things in this article. I've recently started doing a bit of research in hopes of finding where I belong in society, and I find myself not wanting to be labeled as an atheist or a christian. I don't want to worship and be told that God exists without any valid proof, but I also will not deny that God exist. I find myself in between. So, I figure, I'm an agnostic. I will continue to do my research, though.


secularist10 profile image

secularist10 4 years ago from New York City Author

Thank you, Anthony. Glad you liked it. Continue learning and researching, one can never learn too much.

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