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Agnosticism: Where is the threat?

Updated on May 18, 2011

Is "I don't know" forgivable?

One of the foundations of our moral and judicial system is predicated on ascertaining "intent" when judging whether one has committed some vacuous deed. Did that man "know' that he was going to kill that pedestrian as he sped around the corner?

In many areas of our life "I didn't know" absolves us of our responsibility to the action we had been involved in. "You can't blame him. The bird escaped when he opened the door. He didn't know!"

Why is it then, when we are faced with the biggest unknown ever, the afterlife - that "I don't know" is not only insufficient but in some areas of the bible, an unforgivable crime? To drive the point further home, we are given the story of "Doubting Thomas".

"Doubting Thomas" does not believe in any of the stories circulating that Jesus has risen. He then confronts Jesus, becomes a believer and then is looked down upon as Jesus says, "Happy are those who believe yet who have not seen."

I have many reservations where religion tries to enforce belief without any rational questioning. Is there sufficient proof from Jesus' time that he actually existed? No. It has been scientifically hypothesized that the earliest Gospels had only been written down about forty years after the crucifixion.

We don't know who wrote the Gospels. The earliest works are not in Jesus' language of Aramaic but in Greek. None of the apostles can be historically located in their time. There is plenty of tradition as we move out into the second century but that does not give us any concrete ideas about who Jesus really was.

While we are on the subject, we have no idea if Jesus Christ was his real name. "Christ" is of Greek origin not Hebrew. What would a first century Jew be doing with a Greek family name? Did Joseph not have the "Christ" family name? We are not given his name. We are not given Mary (Jesus' mothers name).

So let me summarize what we are being asked here. We don't know who wrote the four Gospels. By the way, Matthew and Luke were copying large parts of Mark. If Matthew and Luke were followers of the disciples, why did they plagiarize someone else's testimony? We don't have any historical account of Jesus' existence here on earth. Now, after all the amazing things that happened at least someone could have wrote something down within forty years to corroborate what was done.

We have four different and sometimes conflicting accounts of the bible story. Of those four accounts, very little is supported in the same way by Paul in his own writings. It is a strong possibility that none of the writers expected two thousand years to go by. Many were preaching the impending apocalypse before the next generation passed.

We have prophesies that are not linked to the old testament. There are amazing claims that should have made the Ancient headlines (such as the dead walking and appearing before the city of Jerusalem at the conclusion of the crucifixion), yet there are no such reports from Philos of Alexandria nor Justus of Tiberia (whose works are now extant).

When all of these and other things are added up and truly reflected on, there is one question that I direct at all the believers who insist that I should believe. Before I get to that question, I would like to frame it into the summary of this article.

I had read recently that there was a local debate between a religious scholar and an atheist intellect on the proof of God. With all the arguments going back and forth, many in the audience felt that the debate ended in a draw. That God's existence could neither be proven nor denied. My Catholic priest seized upon this as some sort of hollow victory. However, I asked him a question that I put forth as my conclusion.

If God's existence can neither be confirmed nor denied what does that say about His power to establish His presence among the world without a shred of doubt? Why would a God, Jesus or any other deity consider it an unforgivable crime for me to not affirm my belief when in all fairness, He did a poor job of not transmitting his truth either by His own direct effort or through those of whom he works with? The world is only 33% Christian. If Jesus said that "the only way to the Father is through me" then someone or something did not complete their job to convert the whole world. They did not make it even to half the population.

I have been given free will to accept or reject what has been written in the bible. I have been given a brain with reason to sift through what is and what isn't true. If I declare that after carefully studying and finding a lack of integrity in the bible, how could I be punished eternally for seeing and recognizing such ambiguities?

Finally, is an "I don't know" really all that bad of a response? If Johnny cannot guess accurately that there are 6,575 gum drops in the machine, does he get punished severely? There are many mythological and real stories out there that are inspirational. Whether I choose to believe in them or not, should not tip the balance of my existence. I'm just telling the truth - "I just don't know if there is a God out there".


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    • secularist10 profile image


      7 years ago from New York City

      "Why is it then, when we are faced with the biggest unknown ever, the afterlife - that "I don't know" is not only insufficient but in some areas of the bible, an unforgivable crime?"

      Very well said. Christianity and the Bible spend so much time making the case of the certainty of God's existence--precisely because it is so uncertain--that they forget they are talking about some of the most nebulous and mysterious questions in existence!

      It never ceases to amaze me how some can be so certain of something so impenetrable.

      But there is a desperation there, a desperate need for it to be true. People want to believe, and so they believe.

    • Beverly Stevens profile image

      Beverly Stevens 

      7 years ago from College Station

      Great article--I voted it up. There are a million excuses and rationalizations for the inconsistancies and inaccuracies in the holy books, and I heard them all growing up. The truth is that few religions actually try to follow their books upon which their religion is based because they know they would lose all of their followers (and their status and income). All Christians, for instance, are more moral than the bible. They choose only those passages that are moral and consistant with living a moral life, as they see it. I could go on, but, in the interest of keeping this relatively short, I'll stop here.

    • Pierre Savoie profile image

      Pierre Savoie 

      7 years ago from Canada

      Well, we're smarter than bunnies. If confronted by some unknown thing, say a luminous highway for UFOs that only rarely appear but zip by in a blur when they do, it might be dangerous. We humans usually toss in a rock and sit and watch; let the evil spirits of danger oppress the spirit of the rock. But here I mean the religious populate the Unknown with vast myths and, not satisfied that we just take these stories or leave them, say that this is the basis of momentous events that are happening, and there is a cosmic struggle for "our souls". Of course I disagree with that; the only cosmic forces are the quadrillions of tons of plastic magma sloshing around, causing earthquakes, gradually changing the coastlines, widening the Atlantic, causing Africa to slam into Europe and Australia into the Far East.

    • profile image


      7 years ago


      We agree on many points, you and I, but a quibble with this one:

      "The Unknown is only Unknown, it carries no danger or serious import unless PROVEN to be a danger."

      If I'm a bunny and I don't know that a highway is for fast moving things, but all my 'evidence' shows me it is easier to cross than the river, that unknown car is pretty dangerous.

      The unknown can absolutely be dangerous. Isn't that one of the reasons why we search? To limit the danger?

      What we don't know can kill us.

      It is just a quibble, though, as I think I get what you're saying in the context of the hub.


    • Pierre Savoie profile image

      Pierre Savoie 

      7 years ago from Canada

      When we were peasants, we thought as peasants. But since the Age of Enlightenment, in Europe, we had a method to slice through questions and determine the facts, a Scientific Method. This method is not afraid or worried about the Unknown, or eager to wallpaper over the Unknown with some facile explanation. The Unknown is only Unknown, it carries no danger or serious import unless PROVEN to be a danger.

      What we say now, and what has given us the most explosive progress, is to say that people who have a theory that something exists, and those who say it does not, each have to provide POSITIVE PROOF IN FAVOR of their theory. The fallacy of saying "prove something DOESN'T exist" is not allowed. This is because, if we set too high a standard of disproof, we risk believing as true things that are in fact false, just not PROVEN IN ALL CASES to be false. This opens the door for opinions exactly opposite to ours to use the same fallacy to promote their cause.

      We will respect the theory that best explains the facts in front of us. We will not waste time with empty, unsupported theories, appeals to the unknown, attempts to support unsupported theories with even MORE unsupported statements, or arguments that are logical fallacies regardless of the topic. Will this give us the right answer all the time? Not always, since many subjects will stay unknown and experience no progress. But it will speed us to the right answers MOST EFFICIENTLY. When we have a firm basis of explanation, which we can trust, we can climb to ever-higher explanations, more facts, greater experience of our world and the fastest route to human comfort and progress.

      Reporting as I can from the front lines of science, it turns out that nothing in the universe, not even matter, requires any scientist to invoke "God" or anything supernatural to exist. We have historically recorded that many things previously "only" explainable by a god have turned out to have natural causes, so that was the end of the Lightning God or the Earthquake God. We have pretty much dispensed with any stories of primal creation gods as well.

    • profile image


      7 years ago

      Hi Both!

      If one believes in god, one must accept that uncertainty was intended. The only other option is that god was not in control, either by choice or capability.

      Could the world be a testing place and only those who accept the bible pass? Sure. It could be.

      Do I choose to worship such a god? No.

      Can you imagine raising a child like that?

      "Here, Anton. Read this book. Ignore all the others because they are false. No, I didn't write this one, but those who did believe they are telling you my thoughts, and those who teach it to you know more than you do. Okay, its been translated a few times and the chapters have been selected by political leaders for personal reasons, but ignore all that. The truth is in there somewhere. No, you can't ask me any direct questions that I will clearly answer (might provide the odd hint, but you won't know if its me, you'll just have to trust that it is), you just have to make up your own mind. I've given you free will after all. Use it wisely. Oh, by the way, choose wrong and there are horrible consequences, but I'm sure you'll work it out.

      ps. I love you "

      My parents were way more hands on than that. I would expect god to be at least as diligent.

      If you believe god exists, a possible reason why there are so many opinions about god and no clear way to demonstrate which is correct is that it was intended to be so.

      If god wants to develop in humans the ability to search for answers, god needs to provide 2 features of life

      1 Uncertainty, else we would not need to search

      2 Curiosity, else we would not care.

      I agree with you Robertj. 'I don't know' is not only acceptable.

      It is essential.


    • Robertj64 profile imageAUTHOR


      7 years ago from Burlington, Ontario, Canada


      Thanks for your comments. What evidence according to you is sufficient?

      "We assume that man, given overwhelming evidence for the existence of God, would accept it." To which overwhelming evidence are you referring to?

      I have no clue as to who wrote the Bible. It has gone through countless redaction - no one knows where the first copies are and no one can confirm who wrote it.

      If from my personal perspective, I read the bible, study and come to the truth for me to be "I don't know", why is that not good enough?

      I agree with you that we have to go as far as we can with the knowledge we have. There are at least three books by St. Paul that are pseudopigraphic. St. Jude also pseudopigraphic. Peter II and III are pseudopigraphic. The well has been poisoned but if you are going to drink from it, I prefer you drink alone.

    • Bibowen profile image

      William R Bowen Jr 

      7 years ago

      I think it was Pascal that said that God has not given indubitable evidence, but merely sufficient evidence to believe. It's the evidence that provides a way, but does not impose a way, to truth.

      We assume that man, given overwhelming evidence for the existence of God, would accept it.

      However, I think that such an assumption is incredulous. If you are really committed to the truth, I think you have to, at least, agree with that. I can envision men balking and complaining about the obvious advertisements of their Creator. Note that many complaints by militant atheists are not aimed at the lack of evidence (although there is a good amount of that), there is also the complaint about the type of God in the Bible: immoral, cruel--He orders genocide in the destruction of the Amalakites.

      You say that you don't know; the Bible says differently. You do not have exhaustive knowledge, but you do have sufficient knowledge of His existence and that you are responsible for that knowledge.

      Sometimes, shrugging our shoulders and saying “I don’t know” isn’t good enough. We have to go as far as we can with the knowledge that we have. Our experiences in life indicate that if we will follow a road as far as it will take us, when we reach the end of it, we will be able to see farther.


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