| Agnosticism: Term introduced by T.H.
Huxley for the thesis that one does not know whether or not there is
any God. (A-gnosis: no knowledge)
This seems a logically tenable position
and it is possible that there are or have been a few real agnostics,
but normally it seems to be a way to have one's cake and eat it - one
believes there is no good evidence
that there is any God, rather like one believes there is no good
evidence that there is any mermaid or griffon, but one wants to avoid
trouble with powerful religious believers, and therefore claims one
does not know whether or not there is a God.
So here are a few mostly logical
arguments and problems related to agnosticism.
1. One logical point here
is that very few people really are agnostic about griffons or mermaids,
in the way or for the reasons that they are or pretend to be agnostic
about god, even though griffons and mermaids are at least as
logically possible as an infinitely powerful, all-knowing, benevolent
Maker of All, which is what many believers and unbelievers regard as a
good definition of what they mean by "God".
The relevant difference that makes
people usually agnostic about god's existence while being dismissive
about the existence of mermaids seems to be that disbelievers in
griffons or mermaids are not punished by persecution of the faithful
and also do not run the risk of being sent to hell if, after all, that
infinitely powerful, all-knowing, benevolent Maker of All turns out to
exist, after one dies, and happens to be a Calvinist God with a large
and hot and eternal hell for unbelievers.
2. A moral point here,
apart from having or lacking the courage of one's opinions (which
differs considerably in moral value with the risks one may run, such as
an active inquisition) is that one effectively does choose
whether or not one lives according to the moral
and philosophical teachings of some religious faith,
or one does not. To claim with an honest face that one chooses not to
live or believe according to a religious faith but that one does
not really and truly know that there is no God such as the faithful
pray to and believe in, seems rather a lot like saying that one acts in
real life as if there are no griffons and mermaids, and as if one does
not believe there are any, but is quite willing to - pretend to -
believe there are, if this avoids problems with faithful believers in
3. Also, there is another logical
point involved for those who defend their agnosticism with the thesis
that the Godhead, if He (She, It) exists, is beyond human
comprehension: What one does not comprehend admits of no other
inference than that one does not comprehend it, and not at all
that there is something one does not comprehend ... and caused
all, and is benevolent, and knows all, and is
all-powerful etc. That is just a combination of wishful thinking and fallacious moral shilly-shallying.
And indeed, the rational position about what is
incomprehensible is that there is very much one does not fully or at
all comprehend - and that one must wait for better evidence and more research to say
anything at all about it.
The rhetorical move of Tertullianus,
namely "credo quia absurdum" that is "I believe" the teachings of the
Church "because they are absurd", with the suggestion that one would
not need to believe if they were not absurd or one could prove them as
one can prove a mathematical theorem is fallacious: One cannot believe
what is absurd.
4. Here also enters a related
point about evidence and assumptions:
Believers in a god often pretend or sincerely believe that belief in a
god and disbelief in that god or any god are logically on a par, and
that both belief and disbelief are a kind of belief.
This is fallacious and confused:
Somebody who believes that there is something X of a certain kind K in
reality posits and assumes more than somebody who does not believe so,
for whatever reasons, simply because positive belief involves the
positive assumption of more, possibly much more, in reality than the
absence of such a belief.
Moreover, one very real difficulty with
assuming a godhead that created reality such as one believes that one
knows, is that this is no merely trivial and smallish addition to what
one believes already, but seems to involve the positing as real of something that is at least
as complicated, complex, baffling and large as all of reality: Assuming
a god to explain reality is assuming at least as many complexities as
one believed already in an attempt to explain these - and, unlike
natural reality, without the possibility of empirical scientific
experiment to test one's hypotheses.
5. All evidence I have seen about the Gods is
that none of them ever appeared to me, and that it seems as if not only
all thousands of divine religions
except one's own are mistaken about the divinity,
but more simply that all thousands of divine religions are
mistaken - though all these religions do provide very good
evidence for the thesis that it is very easy for a human being to delude oneself with wishful thinking, including
fearful religious superstition, and be deluded by priests, who are often mostly or total hypocrites in the faith they preach, and
by religious fanatics.
6. Finally, agnosticism has yet
another logical problem: The fact that virtually everybody will agree
that some faiths are more irrational than others. Should the
agnostic also be agnostic about the degree of irrationality of
In the same vein: Should an agnostic be
agnostic about the (un)wisdom of adding ever more hypotheses - say: of
gods, of devils, of saints, of spooks, of ghosts, of dragons, of .... -
all of which may be eminently understandable when conceived of as wishful thinking but rather
whacky, at least, and with hardly any evidence from a scientific point of view?
My brief answer is wholly along the
lines of Hume and Clifford:
"A wise man proportions his belief to
An Enquiry Concerning Human Understanding)
"It is wrong always, everywhere,
and for anyone, to believe anything upon insufficient evidence"
(W.K. Clifford, The Ethics
And I do not know of any religion that
makes sense reasonably, which also is not a good reason to be agnostic
about its possible existence, but which is a good reason to be positive
there probably is none.