Guest Author - Daniel LeBoeuf
Agnostic. A troubling word for many. Go online and look it up. Go ahead. What is the definition of agnostic? Even the most cursory search is going to turn up multiple items. In one article alone I found three (it was on an atheist site) which included agnostic by itself, agnostic atheist and agnostic theist.
This points to a deeper, possibly more troubling aspect of agnosticism – the desire to define it. In researching the topic, it becomes clear pretty quickly that an agnostic theist could also be called a deist, or not. An agnostic atheist could just as easily be called an atheist, or not. The same article draws the lines based on knowledge and belief. The other articles reviewed prior to this article being written were more or less along the same lines. None of them could be called clarifying, though that is certainly what they sought to be.
Belief and knowledge. These two concepts appear to be widely accepted as related but separate. But think about that – shouldn’t your beliefs stem from your knowledge? For example, you have knowledge that the sun (even if it was obscured by clouds) “rose” over your location every day for the past 10,950 days (assuming you’re 30 years old, and is not corrected for leap years). Therefore, you may be permitted the belief that the sun will “rise” over your location tomorrow, and, presumably, for the next 10,950+ days.
What would be a belief that doesn’t stem from your knowledge? Maybe you believe that sheep are more intelligent that humans. On what could you base that belief? Don’t look here for an answer, but if you come up with one, please post it in the forum.
Desperate attempts to define it aside, an agnostic simply is one who doesn’t live as if a god exists but allows that the limits of human knowledge don’t preclude one. It’s a reasonable position. Human knowledge is limited, after all.
How does that differ from a deist? Deism is another term that seems to take on a life of its own, but at its root, deism is the belief that a god exists, but that it a) has no knowledge of our existence, or b) has knowledge of us, cares about us, but has no direct interaction with us, or c) knows about us and doesn’t care about us. As you can see, even a simple definition for deist is hard to frame. If you want to have a fun hour or two being told how wrong you are, find some Christian friends who would call themselves students of our Founding Fathers and then suggest that the majority of those Founding Fathers were deists. The evidence, by the way, suggests that the majority of our Founding Fathers were deists.
What fraction of the non-theist world is agnostic rather than atheist? Does it matter? Does it really matter what you call yourself? Or, are you more concerned about how to live a non-theist life? Are you wondering how one can derive morality, purpose, comfort, and meaning without having some supernatural authority to sanction it?
If the last two questions describe you, you’ve come to the right place.