UNCERTAINTY ABOUT WHETHER GOD EXISTS
||"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.|
Definition of Agnostic:
Agnosticism is a concept, not a religion. It is a belief related to the existence or non-existence of God.
An agnostic is a person who feels 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.
Are they Theists? No, because Agnostics do not believe in a God, or a Goddess, or in multiple Gods, or multiple Goddesses
or in a pantheon of Gods and Goddesses.
However, some Agnostics consider themselves to be Atheists. That is because the term "Atheist" has two slightly different meanings:
- A person who positively believes that no God(s) or Goddess(es) exists. E. Haldeman-Julius suggests that "The atheist
perceives that history, in every branch of science, in the plainly observable realities of life and in the processes of common
sense there is no place for the picture of a God; the idea doesn't fit in with a calmly reasoned and realistic view of life.
The atheist, therefore denies the assumptions of theism because they are mere assumptions and are not proved; whereas the
contrary evidences, against the idea of theism, are overwhelming." 1 This is the definition of Atheism
used by most Christians, other Theists, and dictionaries of the English language.
- A person who has no belief in a God or Goddess. Just as a newborn has no concept of a deity, some adults also have no
such belief. The term "Atheist" is derived from the Greek words "a" which means "without" and "Theos"
which means "God." A person can be a non-Theist by simply lacking a belief in God without actively denying God's existence.
This is the definition of Atheism used by many Atheists. They use the term "strong Atheist" to refer to a person who
denies the existence of one or more deities.
Some Agnostics feel that their beliefs match the second definition, and thus consider themselves to be both Atheist and
an Agnostic. Such confusion is common in the field of religion. We have found 17 definitions for the term "Witch," eight for "cult," and six for the "Pagan." -- all different. A lack of clear, unambiguous definitions for religious terms is responsible for a great deal of confusion
and hatred. It makes dialog between Agnostics and Theists very difficult.
An agnostic usually holds the question of the existence of God open, pending the arrival of more evidence. They are willing
to change their belief if some solid evidence or logical proof is found in the future. However, some have taken the position
that there is no logical way in which the existence or the non-existence of a deity can be proven.
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
"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 1840's.
He combined "a" which implies negative, with "gnostic" which is a Greek word meaning knowledge.
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." 7
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..." 2
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. " 3
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." 4
Francois M. Voltaire, the French 18th century author and playwright is often considered the
father of Agnosticism.
George Smith, the author of "Atheism" divides agnostics into two types:
||Agnostic theists: those
who believe that a deity probably exists;|
those who believe that it is very improbable that a deity exists. 5|
Another category of Agnostic is "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.
Some agnostics who feel the need for religious discussion, fellowship, or ritual join a congregation of the Unitarian-Universalist Association or an Ethical Culture group.
How many Agnostics are there?
The number of agnostics is unknown. Most data sources lump together agnostics, atheists, freethinkers, persons of no religion
and skeptics. Some Agnostics identify themselves as Humanists, Unitarian Universalists, or Ethical Culturalists.
The Graduate Center of the City University of New York conducted a massive study of over 50,000
adults in 2001. 6 They estimate that there are 991,000 American adults who identify themselves as Agnostics.
This is about 0.5% of the total population. There are more self-identified Agnostics than Atheists in the U.S. The number
of Agnostics exceeds the number of followers of each of the organized religions, except for Christianity, Judaism, Islam and
Buddhism. If one were to count the number of Agnostics among the Humanists, Unitarian Universalists, and those who refused
to answer the pollster, they would probably outnumber all of the organized religions, except for Christianity.
The 1996 Canadian Census only counted 21,975 Agnostics. The 2001 census data showed that the percentage of Atheists,
Agnostics, Humanists, adherents of no religion, etc rose from 12.3% in 1991 to 16.2% in 2001.
- E. Haldeman-Julius, "The Meaning Of Atheism," at: http://www.infidels.org/library/
- J. Hastings, ed., "Encyclopaedia of Religion and Ethics"
- R.G. Ingersoll, "Why I am an Agnostic," at: http://www.infidels.org/library/
- See a brief note in the Atheists-for-Jesus website at: http://www.atheists-for-jesus.com/
- G.H. Smith, "Atheism: The case against God," Prometheus, (1980) Read 24 fascinating reviews and/or safely order this book from Amazon.com online bookstore
- "American Religious Identification Survey," by The Graduate Center of the City University
of New York, at: http://www.gc.cuny.edu/studies/
- Thomas H. Huxley, "Agnosticism," (1889). Online at: http://www.infidels.org/library/historical/
See an updating news feed of interest to Agnostics and others.
Agnostic resources on the Internet"
Many Agnostics contribute to the Atheist, freethinker and secular sites. Some resources are:
empirical agnosticism at: http://www.geocities.com/|
||The Universal Church Triumphant of
the Apathetic Agnostic delivers a sometimes light-hearted view of Agnosticism. See: http://www.ApatheticAgnostic.com|
||The Internet Infidels has a great
deal of material on Agnosticism. You can find it by using their internal search engines.
||Agnostic church describes their
web site as "the net's premier Agnostic Ezine & resource site." See: http://www.agnostic.org/ |
||The Agnostic Church is
at: http://www.agnostic.org |
||Thomas Huxley and Victorian
Agnosticism is described at: http://www.cyberartsweb.org/|
||The essay by Bertrand Russell titled
"What is an Agnostic" is online at: http://www.arts.cuhk.edu.hk/|
||The About.com has a group
of essays on Agnosticism at: http://atheism.about.com/|
||A critical Agnostic Review of Christianity
examines and evaluates "Christianity and the claims it makes about the Bible and the nature of the universe." See:
||Reaching the World for Christ Ministries
has a section called: "Christian Apologetics ~ Refuting Atheism/Agnosticism." It discusses and refutes agnosticism
and other related philosophies and world views at: http://www.reachingforchrist.org/|