Agnosticism is the Most Reasonable Position

I think when you take a serious look at all of the claims being made about religious truths and the problems we address in philosophy about nearly everything, that everyone should be agnostics. It's the most reasonable position if we can just learn to think independently of the emotional and social need to accept what our particular culture has led us to believe. I became an atheist via agnosticism. I wonder how many other atheists were first agnostics? This is the reason I argue for agnosticism. It's the step in the right direction. It's easier to argue for. And it makes the greatest impact on the believer.

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46 comments:

Mike said...

I agree and disagree... arguing for agnosticism offers a much simpler and likely more effective way to connect with a lay person.

However, if you're logically honest (kind of borrowing from Harris here) we're agnostic to an infinite number of imaginative things. Fairies, Flying Spaghetti Monsters, etc, etc... we can't disprove their existence, but we carry on our lives in such a way that they do not exist. Hence we're agnostic about their existence, but atheistic in action.

Don said...

I don't think agnosticism is the most reasonable position. It is the admission of ignorance and a comfortable mean between God/ no god. Like faith, it does not require individual effort. The lack of knowledge should be a motivator toward knowledge and not a destination in itself.

Nick said...

Since there either is or isn't a god, agnosticism is the one position that is always wrong.

John W. Loftus said...

There is weak and strong agnosticism. The strong version says we cannot know. The weak version simply says I don't know the answer. That position cannot be wrong because it doesn't claim anything. Yes, it should motivate us to decide between the options. And when it does I think it leads to atheism.

Don said...

Any assertion, strong or weak, made from agnosticism is an argument from ignorance and as such is logically fallacious. Nick's right, it's always wrong.

John W. Loftus said...

Didn't Socrates say that only someone who recognizes he isn't wise is wise? He claimed not to know when others claimed to know. And that was what made him wise. There are literally thousands of things we don't know, and hundreds of thousands of things any given person doesn't know. Why claim we do? How many of us have PhD's in science, theology, philosophy? Not knowing is a humble claim, an honest one.

Not don't get me wrong, I'm an atheist best described as an agnostic atheist, but an atheist nonetheless.

choda boy said...

I'm sure Socrates was a wise one, but he wasn't privy to much that we now understand.

I've always been atheistic. From a cultural perspective, its easy to see how man has created gods for a multitude of purposes, and we can trace how those gods have changed, become more personal, etc., to meet our needs.

From the perspective of reason and science, no one has offered an explanation for the origin of their god. How does the most complex and powerful thing ever imagined come to exist? You don't start from complexity. How does this god find immortality? How does this god create and manipulate? Energy exists only in the context of matter, hence a god would have to have "flesh." The physics and thermodynamics of the existence of a god quickly become overwhelming, hence you never see a coherent model of how any god exists or operates.

We're seemingly capable of creating gods, but not describing them.

Don said...

Knowing that you don't know something does not mean that you know anything beyond your ignorance. Ignorance does not equal wisdom even if Socrates said it does. Anything argued from ignorance is foolish.

I moved through agnosticism on my way to atheism. It is a less threatening place for a believer, where they can admit to themselves that the evidence does not add up to God. Arguing that though, is like saying to a believer "Your faith is based on faith!" That would encourage them.

Adrian Cockcroft said...

There is another position - maybe it should be called Apatheist? - which describes people who just have no interest in religion and spend no time thinking about it or interacting with its institutions. If you ask an Apatheist what they believe, you will probably get an Agnostic answer that they don't know, but also they don't care.

I moved from Apatheist, to Agnostic, to Atheist, to Antitheist as a response to the increasing impact of Theist's and Fundamentalism on society, and also as a result of moving from the UK (where Apatheism is quite normal) to the US, where Fundamentalists are trying to impose cherry picked bronze age social rules on everyone in the name of religion.

AdamK said...

I don't know any atheists who aren't also epistemological agnostics.

Since "god" is undefined, or the definition is slippery, or the definition contains internal contradictions, (or god is claimed to be beyond understanding anyway) the question of whether we can know anything about it is ill-formed and unanswerable. Ergo, agnosticism.

trendyhipster said...

I was an agnostic for a long time because I believed that logically inconsistent beings/objects could exist (squared circles, something that could be 4 feet tall and 5 feet tall at the same time, god). What swayed me to being a strong atheist (God does not exist) is that - as I understand it - the agnostic line of thinking is actually a negation of any type of truth statement.

If the atheist declares that "there is no god" as a statement of truth, how does the agnostic counter this claim? Basically by saying that something can have contradictory properties and still be true. Basically, the agnostic is saying:

"(a) The atheist cannot make truth statements that rule out logically inconsistent ideas, therefore
(b) the atheist should change their position to be more logically consistent"

The conclusion is that logical consistency is both important and not important at the same time. This is why I believe agnosticism a just a negation of any sort of truth statement.

Richard H said...

When Christians start describing themselves as 'agnostic' about faeries, I'll start calling myself as 'agnostic' about personal Gods.

Until then, that label seems to overstate the level of uncertainty.

Edward T. Babinski said...

Nick wrote "Since there either is or isn't a god, agnosticism is the one position that is always wrong."

But what kind of "god" or "mysterious force" are you talking about Nick? There's a spectrum of mysterious forces, from the least personal and most immanent (a kind of cosmic consciousness, a non-hierarchal intelligence spread out throughout everything), all the way to highly anthropomorphic deities who enjoy being praised incessantly like some ancient Near Eastern king.

One even wonders how many different contrasting "gods" or depictions of deity are found in the Christian scriptures from OT to NT writings, not to meniton the intertestamental writings that led changes in ideas that would later be incorporated into the NT.

And what about the question of life after death? Believing in God does not guarantee immortality, not according to some ancient Hebrew texts. And what kind of life after death, with all past memories intact or not? And how can a person be sure such life whatever it is, can never die or be absorbed back into the whole?

So let's agree there's only one correct answer. But how do you ARRIVE at which the absolutely correct answer?

And, without knowing what that answer is for sure, does anyone here think that going to church and revering one collection of Holy Scriptures book is going to increase the chances that they alone possess the one correct answer?

I suppose all we can honestly do is wonder and study and live our lives as best we can and hope for something better, or simply concentrate on life here and now and making it better, which are not necessarily incompatible things to do.

Dan said...

It's a numbers game. More specifically, a probabilities game. Just because we can't have 100% metaphysical certainty doesn't mean we can't assign probabilities to things and lead our lives accordingly. it also doesn't mean that we have to act as if all things are equally possible.

If I am 99% confident there is no God, but I am unable to rule it out completely (reasonably so, as nothing can be completely ruled out), then technically I am an agnostic. However, if I lead my life in a manner that is in proportion with the probabilities, I will for all intents and purposes act as if I am an atheist. Therefore, from a practical perspective, I am an atheist.

Unless you are an exactly 50/50 agnostic (you believe that there is a perfectly equal chance that there is or is not a God), then it is more reasonable for you to call yourself a weak atheist or a weak Christian.

Jim said...

Don (and by extension, Nick),

Any assertion, strong or weak, made from agnosticism is an argument from ignorance and as such is logically fallacious. Nick's right, it's always wrong.

This is silly, guys.

You're trying to introduce logical fallacies where they don't belong.

Go the wikipedia page for "argument from ignorance" and tell me that agnostics are making claims that fit the profile.

An "argument from ignorance" would look like this: "There is no God, because I can't think of a way for God to interact in this world." I.e. your ignorance doesn't make the claim true.


Scientists don't know what came before the big-bang, or if the word "before" even has any meaning. Are they being "logically fallacious?"


"I like the color green"
"I live in Denver"
"I don't know if there is a god or not"

These are all simple facts--there is nothing for the system of logic to operate on.

It seems to me that some people get overly zealous trying to find "logical fallacies" when they simply disagree with an assertion.

Hendy said...

Interesting discussion!

Does the atheist also have to make the assertion that there is no 'deist' conception of god? I think most would probably be agnostic with respect to this. If that's the case, would it be true that most/all atheists at least admit the possibility of something supernatural.

In this case, I think the most reasonable position would be something like 'agnosticism lived out via pragmatic atheism'. Someone up above (in this discussion, not the sky...) made this point earlier and I agree.

Point to consider: hypothetically, what if Jesus really did return in front of you and let you put his fingers in his wounds, tell you your entire life story with perfect detail, tell you your social security number, mother's maiden name, pin, and the returns you've gotten on the last 20 years of your taxes... and then regrow your amputated limb in front of you. You would believe in his power, I'm assuming.

So... hypothetically, you'd have to reject your previous assertion of 'truth' as an atheist?

You may reject the idea that you'd actually believe in this case, but this seems to be the same attitude W.L. Craig has taken when asked, hypothetically, whether he would still believe if transported back to 33AD and able to sit outside Jesus' tomb to see him not emerge but rot instead. He says he would still believe.

I think to be true to a scientific mindset one has to admit at least a smidgen of agnosticism. Even in science we would admit that we cannot know one way or another whether a theory is the 'absolute truth' or whether it will be improved upon to be more true down the road. At the same time, we live according to the currently best describing theories in existence.

Hence, I think science is a type of agnosticism (with regards to current theories ultimate validity) lived out in a way that rests on their validity (as in resting on the validity of the statement 'there is no god.').

In the end, having thought about and written all this... it almost seems like this is splitting hairs. A staunch agnostic making a claim like, 'We will absolutely never, never be able to know any of this for sure' could be combated in the same manner as an atheist who says, 'We can absolutely know the truth and there most definitely is no god.'

I speak of a deist god here and think the conclusiveness of agnosticism vs. atheism with regards to a personal god who is all god and all knowing is an easier matter. In the former case, god truly would be 'hidden' and so I think we could plausibly think we may never know.

Chuck O'Connor said...

I don't know what the most reasonable fixed position is. I did "come out of the closet" this weekend to my wife and parents that I identify as an atheist after 1 year of agnosticism and, am very grateful for the term agnostic. It is a very pleasant transitional psychology when moving from Calvinistic Christianity (which I was) to free-thinking atheism (where I am). Making a sudden change would have been pretty hard for me. I'm grateful I could rest in the defintion of agnosticism prior to making a commtiment to atheism.

JD Curtis said...

I don't know about the "most reasonable position" but agnosticism is a hell of a lot more reasonable than atheism.

One cannot expect to have 1/10th of 1% of all of the knowledge that there is in the universe yet some will make an overall blanket statement "God does not exist". Amazing. How do you actually know that?

Chris Jones said...

I'll be the one to make the obligatory reminder that one can be (and we often are) both atheists and agnostics simultaneously as we're talking about the question of whether we do/can "know" vs. whether we believe it.

Every time the "either/or" thing comes up -- not that John was implying an either/or, but it is certainly inevitable to arise in the discussion -- I'm reminded of the several self-labeled Agnostic Christians that I've met. Their position is, "I don't know whether a god exists, but I believe it anyway". Saying "I'm agnostic" just isn't a complete answer, as it still doesn't answer whether you believe or not.

Anthony said...

You all know that being an atheist is not making a "truth claim" either. I am an atheist in the sense that I don't believe in God. All the words that end with theist, or any derivation thereof, deal strictly with what we believe, and therefore make ZERO truth claims.

What John is referring to with this post, is attempting to get Christians to admit that they are agnostic Christians (or agnostic theists for any other religion). They believe, fine, but will they admit that they don't epistemically "know" it? Go on youtube and watch the discussion between Thunderf00t and Ray Comfort. Ray Comfort looks him dead in the eye and tells him that he "knows" how the world began, whereas, evolutionists just believe in Darwin's theory. You wouldn't get that guy to admit in a million years that he's an agnostic Christian. He would certainly consider himself a gnostic Christian (oh, the heresies).

The fact is, there are no gnostic atheists or gnostic theists. None of us know, and I believe that none of us will ever know. I don't exactly understand how agnosticism leads to atheism, since they are dealing with different things. If you believe something, by default you don't know it.

What I think does lead to atheism is when you place the things that we do know (in a practical sense) against the things we've been led to believe. When they don't jive, it is a matter of intellectual honesty to side with what we know about the world. And, as what we know about the world continually removes our need to posit God for much of anything, that is what leads to atheism.

In my opinion.

Piero said...

I neither agree nor disagree with anything and everything said so far.

Breckmin said...
This comment has been removed by the author.
Breckmin said...

"And it makes the greatest impact on the believer."

Only to the believer who does not understand the huge problem with bent terminology and is not aware of the evidence that leads first to agnostic theism, then to Infinite Creator, then to Orthodox Monotheism, and then to born-again Christianity (through prayer and requesting God's Holy Spirit to open their eyes).

No matter how many people John W. Loftus leads into subterfuge and contributes to their logical eternal separation...the Sacrifice of Jesus Christ on the Cross is a great enough Sacrifice to forgive John Loftus of ALL of it...(when/if he repents) and all of the glory will go to God the Father and Jesus Christ alone...and not to anyone else here on earth.

Question everything! But when you question, pray to the Holy Creator for "protection." Matt. 6:13.

Ken Pulliam, Ph.D. said...

It really depends upon how you define the word "know." If it means to know with absolute certainty, then I think everyone is an agnostic on the question as to whether some type of supernatural entity exists. Dinesh admitted that he was an agnostic in this sense. He said in the debate with you: "We can't be sure beyond a reasonable doubt."

However, Dinesh is also correct in saying that we can't live in a state of indecision. We have to act upon the information that we have. Based on the information that I have currently, I don't believe any supernatural entity exists. In that sense, I am an atheist. Can I prove beyond a reasonable doubt that no deity or deities exist? No, I can't. Can a believer prove that one does exist? No, he can't. In that sense, we are all agnostics.

So the real question becomes: is the existing evidence sufficent to believe that a deity exists? That is the point to be debated.

Chris Jones said...

Ken,

I firmly agree that everyone is an agnostic in the sense that no one has certain knowledge whether a god exists. I leave myself unsure whether it is reasonable to describe a staunch fundamentalist this way. While in my view they really don't KNOW that a God exists, they will nonetheless remain adamant that they do possess this certainty on the basis of "personal experience", which while I see as wholly inadequate for such a conclusion, they remain "certain". I guess from my perspective they are necessarily agnostic but from theirs, not.

trendyhipster said...

@ JD Curtis

"I don't know about the "most reasonable position" but agnosticism is a hell of a lot more reasonable than atheism.

One cannot expect to have 1/10th of 1% of all of the knowledge that there is in the universe yet some will make an overall blanket statement "God does not exist". Amazing. How do you actually know that?"

The same way that can you make the claim that agnosticism is more reasonable to atheism. Your position - if I understand - is that we have such a small amount of knowledge compared to what's available, therefore we can't make blanket (truth) statements. But, if this is true, your statement "agnosticism is more reasonable than atheism" doesn't hold up under the reasoning you've given. The axiom does not even pass it's own criteria, since it is also a blanket truth statement.

Mark said...

By the present Christiain (as in NT) definition of god -- all loving, all knowing, all powerful, etc. -- overwhelming evidence suggests that god does not exist. This onmniscient, omnipotent being refuses to manifest itself if only to settle the question -- and stop the incessant slaughter and related absurdity, worldiwide, year after year, in its name. (The Bible conveniently works around this obviouis manifestation expectation with the claim that seeing god will simply kill you -- that's "all loving?"). Prayer has no particular pattern of success beyond what chance would also dictate. (One recent study found that prayer for recovering hospital patients may have a detrimental effect, particularly when the one recovering is aware that others are praying for them). Arguments for the existence of god are constantly found to be fallacious. The greatest problem atheists and agnostics alike face is the reality that those who think they know what god is thinking are dangerous. This requires a) a belief in a god, and b) a belief that one knows what that god wants, needs, or is otherwise thinking. Neither atheism nor agnosticism are capable of invoking any imaginary (aka religious) purpose in waging man's inhumanity toward man. In this sense, agnostics and atheists are far less dangerous to the survival of our species than are theists.

James Croft said...

I do not see any philosophical difference between intelligent atheism and agnosticism. One cannot disprove that such a thing as God exists. That is no reason to say that one believes in such a thing. If one does not believe in God, one is an atheist. There is no reason to "choose" the "option" of disbelief. It is simply the default position given that the null hypothesis (that God exists) has not bee established.

Terry Melanson said...

I've never - ever - seen so much God talk than when I visit an atheist site. Don't you guys get tired of it? It gives obsessed a new meaning. I don't rant and rave about Santa Claus and I stopped believing in him a long long time ago.

There's got to be a psychological explanation to this phenomenon, or God forbid - a spiritual one.

It's got a hold on you, in a bad bad way. God, that is. Or not God. Which ever you prefer to endlessly pontificate about. That dreaded syllable is an albatross you cannot break.

Really, this post is just arbitrary. I could have commented on the incalculable reams of them, here, at this site, and in cyberspace ad infinitum. The mania is uniform and mentally all-encompassing.

Chris Jones said...

Terry, as soon as the Santa Claus brigade mobilizes and begins to work toward a Santa-favoring government, to affect legislation and public policy in a way that is decidedly in favor of the Santa believers, to attend public events with signs chastising the non-Santa people, and to knock on your door every other week or so to proselytize you in the name of Santa, feel free to come back and join me in forming an a-Santa-ists movement.

Really, you should be able to recognize this distinction on your own. It is just unbelievable that I'm having to point out to you why your analogy is so inappropriate.

Chuck O'Connor said...

Does anybody else here Eric Idle speak when they read Breckmin's posts. It is kind of funny.

Chuck O'Connor said...

Terry,

I will take your criticism of us atheists seeing that you have a blog dedicated to the Illuminati conspiracy (LOL). Are you Dan Brown?

Terry Melanson said...

Take my analogy out then.

Your obsession is still impossible to behold.

Kel said...

Depends on what you mean by agnosticism, and depends on where one is coming from too. The idea of lapsed theism or weak agnosticism isn't very reasonable, Huxleyian agnosticism in my mind is. Though in terms of agnosticism, I'd contend that most atheists ARE agnostics - in the teapot agnostic sense. They can't prove the teapot isn't there, they just have no reason to believe it is.

The position I like to advocate is ignosticism, because when people talk about deities in very nebulous terms and won't commit to anything, then the idea is so ill-defined that there's no point in considering it in the first place. But as soon as those who attribute design or emotion or action to a deity, then it comes into the realm of the meaningful and thus can be critically examined.

Chris Jones said...

Terry, you're here on an atheist blog to let atheists know that they're obsessed with something. So are you the pot or the kettle?

Piero said...

Terry, the question of God's existence is interesting: it leads to a host of stimulating (and very hard) philosophical questions concerning the nature of knowledge, the existence of other minds, the possibility of an uncaused cause, etc. So are we obsessed? Maybe, but is is fun.

Breckmin said...

"we're agnostic to an infinite number of imaginative things. Fairies, Flying Spaghetti Monsters, etc, etc... "

This don't remove infinite regression as Uncaused Cause.

This don't explain the Existence and/or creation of the universe.

Some of these require matter to exist so they can not be the creators of all matter.

These do not judge you perfectly for every wrong thing that you ever did in your life.

These do not have a Holy Perfect Nature which is incompatible with your own.

These are infinitely different when it comes to the "God concept" of an Infinite Creator.

These are NOT concluded as a resutl of scientific observations (Information comes from Intelligence, complex mechanical working systems do not emerge without intelligence, IF-THEN algorithmic programming is clearly programmed, etc.)

There is evidence that first leads us to agnostic theism. There is no evidence that leads us to conclude fairies, invisible dragons, tea pots in outerspace, or flying spaghetti and meatballs that have conciousness.

These are folly.

Breckmin said...

By the present Christiain (as in NT) definition of god -- all loving, all knowing, all powerful, etc.
All knowing is correct. "All loving" is imperfect terminology since God does not love satan and his demons, nor does God love money or things which are perishing.

"All powerful" should be specified
as "All LOGICALLY powerful" in that God will not do actions which are Self-Contradictory in nature ..or illogical for Him to do (against His Holy Nature).

"-- overwhelming evidence suggests that god does not exist."

Presenting God incorrectly does not invalidate His Existence.


"This onmniscient, omnipotent being refuses to manifest itself if only to settle the question --"

He became a Man approximately 2000 years ago.

"and stop the incessant slaughter and related absurdity, worldiwide, year after year, in its name."

Many things will be done in His Name...that doesn't mean God will NOT judge them as sin/disobedience.
Salvation is needed. Punishment is logical (unless you receive mercy/grace).

"(The Bible conveniently works around this obviouis manifestation expectation with the claim that seeing god will simply kill you -- that's "all loving?")."

The Glory of the Infinite Creator Manifesting Himself at a particular point of the universe that would consume you or kill you is irrelevent to whether God loves the creature (the vessel is physical and just a body that contains the spirit - imperfect in the English,btw) but perhaps the reason God DOESN"T display this glory is BECAUSE He loves the finite fragile/tender subject (human body).

Richard H said...

It's fascinating that people always label the "Uncaused Cause" as 'God' rather than 'Goddess'.

Of course, we could also refer to it as 'The Shadow Council of the Fae' or even 'That thing we don't know anything about'.

Renaming Yaweh 'God' was probably one of the cleverest tricks that the apologists have ever pulled.

Breckmin said...

"I've never - ever - seen so much God talk than when I visit an atheist site."

We are here to answer question and fully demonstrate that born-again Christianity has NOT somehow been debunked. Such assertions are nonsense and fail to deal with the real answers that are no where to be found between the pages of books which claim to somehow demonstrate that Christianity is irrational.

There is NO philosophical contradiction in born-again Christianity! If there is an alleged one - then name it.

It is because people are not in touch with contemporary systematic theology (which hasn't been published in response, except on the internet and is difficult to find)in the trenches of answering contemporary objections to theism
that people continue to remain in subterfuge regarding their own definitions and equivocation (which seems inevitable with the English language).

Until we address the logical answers themselves (for objections/questions) we really are missing the eternal GLORY of God.

That is the eternal Glory of Love together in Heaven (how can you have heaven without knowing how much God loves you, or what grace/mercy/protection is, or without knowing to never choose evil, or without knowing contrasts of pain/pleasure, or without knowing the logic of how eternal separation is multi-facted, etc.

Without the temporary creation to deal with the real problem of evil (not in explaining it - but in how it is a danger to God's children without knowledge that has to be learned), and to demonstrate God's Self-Sacrificing Love, and to provide a system of stewardship and rewards, and a system of LEARNING cosmological principles, etc (the reason for the temporary creation is multi-faceted just as the reason for eternal separation (hell) is mutli-facted) - we WOULDN'T have a logical heaven.
The Spirit of God (Holy Spirit) is
needed to transform us by the process known as spiritual regeneration. Find out about it.

Question everything. But when you question - don't just pray for protection...pray also that God's Spirit will help you to "see."

Vincent Harrison said...

The Agnostic Fallacy

John W. Loftus said...

Vincent the words atheisn and agnosticism have been endlessly debated. Words mean what I intend them to mean. Hopefully they communicate. Agnosticism in a weak or strong sense makes sense and is the way most people use it even if Huxley defined it as skepticism. Who tells me how to use words? No one but me. And they way I use them communicates since most people use it the way I do. It's like any word really. Church can be an organized group of believers, a religion, or a building.

Vincent Harrison said...

These are reasons why you've never been the "goto guy" for me. Your sloppy and your scholarship is quite poor. I'm still trying to figure out how you go so many to write a blurb for your book. They must have been paid.

"I think it's important to realize that when two opposite points of view are expressed with equal intensity, the truth does not necessarily lie exactly halfway between them. It is possible for one side to be simply wrong."

- Richard Dawkins' "Evolution", The New Yorker (September 9th, 1996)

Read more at Suite101: The agnostic fallacy http://www.suite101.com/article.cfm/atheism/106355/2#ixzz0gBcioyXd

The Agnostic Fallacy

Agnostic is best defined as "noncommittal." There certainly are times when that is a wise position but to claim it's the "most reasonable position" on the topic of religion is laughable. I highly doubt that you understand the proper definition of atheist is either. You certainly don't understand the case for mythicism.

Chuck O'Connor said...

Vincent,

Off topic question.

Do you believe what you post?

Your defensiveness seems to project a childish level of cognitive dissonance.

Peter said...

I love William Rowe's piece on Friendly Atheism and his approach. It seems to me more agnostic than atheist because he thinks that some can be rationally justified in holding to theism. Plurality and agnosticism is the best way to approach the world. It is the most fluid, the most unsettled, the most open way to go about learning and knowledge. While I think that there is more proof against the existence of God than for, I still am not an atheist. Because while the laws of probability favor one side over the other, nothing is ever certain....and all that other Hume stuff.....

Lvka said...

So's geocentrism. It takes a lot of studying, knowledge, and researching to *finally* find out that neither the Earth, nor even the Sun itself, lie at the center of the Universe. -- Some people seem to confuse Ockaham's razor with comodity. It's one thing find the easiest solution to explain all the data without adding extra data; and quite another thing not to even bother to find out all the possible data in the first place.