In this essay, I will endeavor to show that agnostics have no basis to fence-sit on the notion that “there isn’t enough evidence” for or against the existence of gods or goddesses to make a knowledgeable decision on the matter. Agnosticism, a belief that there can be no proof of the existence of deities but doesn't deny the possibility of such existence, was first introduced by Thomas Huxley in 1869. Huxley’s original intent was to reject all claims to spiritual or mystical knowledge. Since then the word has been expanded to the common definition about opposing evidence for the belief in deities. All of these definitions can be defined to the nebulous notion, “I have no firm belief about God.” I believe that Huxley’s intent (among other things) may have been to assuage the notion that Darwinian concepts of evolution were atheistic in nature thereby rejecting (or denying) the Christian God. To counter these charges, Huxley’s agnostics could still be believers in God and evolution in some contorted deist/pantheist system. The word agnostic has much more of a gentler sound and connotation, but does it really have meaning, or is it just a nice term to use for people that may think that atheist is too strong or has too many negative implications? In my view, agnosticism is much more difficult to defend than atheism, and this short essay casually attempts to expose those weaknesses.
There is one additional item that needs to be mentioned here, and that is the hubristic notion often asserted by a few agnostics that no one should have a positive belief for or against god or goddesses. Of course, this is just an unsupported and unsubstantiated statement of self-justification for the superiority of one's belief. It, as well as those that use it, is contemptible and should be readily dismissed as such. I don’t know any atheist who wouldn’t change his thinking toward the supernatural upon solid and compelling evidence. The pretentious notion that, somehow, atheists are already shoe-horned into a nonretractable position is just as contemptible as the notion that no one should have a positive or negative belief for or against god or goddesses. In my view, it is agnosticism that is playing with a stacked deck; no matter which card is turned up, they win. Pascal should have had it so easy. Let’s shuffle the cards a bit better and not forget to carry the cut.
Theism: Belief in the existence of a god or gods. This would include war gods, peace gods, gods with fire, gods with swords, gods with hammers, gods of the heavens, gods of the earth, gods above the earth, gods below the earth, gods with lightening, gods with rain, winged gods, gods of the ocean, household gods, temple gods, demigods, demiurges, savior gods, attending gods, messenger gods, virgin gods, mother gods, father gods, creator gods, destroyer gods, fertility gods, love gods, preserving gods, personal gods, nature's gods, omnipresent gods, omnipotent gods, omniscience gods, omnimax gods, absentee gods, higher gods, lesser gods, garden gods, cat gods, frog gods, snake gods, fish gods, fishing gods, martyred gods, resurrected gods, redeemer gods, triune gods, tribal gods.
Which of these some 2500-odd gods or goddess are agnostics not quite sure there is enough knowledge to determine their existence or not? Or are agnostics, to a certain degree throwing in with Pascal, just trying to hedge their bets that somewhere beyond our knowledge there “just might be” something out there? If the existence of a god or gods is beyond our knowledge, then we have no good reason to project our lack of knowledge or project a lack of empirical evidence to something beyond our senses or knowledge to make some connection. It is neither intuitive nor a priori to suggest, without good evidence, that some supernatural power may exist in our natural world. Are agnostics suggesting that the 2550th god just might be the real god? How about the 3000th or 10,000th? How many failures does it take to recognize the futility of this endeavor?
For lack of evidence, nontheists reject belief in all gods and goddesses. Nontheists don’t simply deny their existence, since that would be saying that gods and goddesses exist and that we just chose not to believe. We reject their existence as being counter to our natural world. As stated above, if there is solid and compelling evidence to the contrary, I don’t know of too many atheists that wouldn’t be obliged to change their minds.
Theism has rituals, rites, worships, holy books, inerrant books, bibles, old testaments, new testaments, qur’ans, gitas, korans, avestas, vedas, gold plates, books authored by god, dictated by god, revealed by god, written by god, book of the dead, book of life, tantras, sutras, purvas, doctrines, covenants, dianetics, kojkis, special times to pray, funny hats, idols, talismans, totems, relics, special water, wafers, diets, special underwear, prophets, preachers, ministers, priests, pastors, reverends, prelates, bishops, popes, golden children, brahmans, shamans, buddhas, medicine men, angels, sprites, cherubs, seraphim, satans, satyrs, devils, deceivers, saints, sinners, anointers, anointees, eunuchs, celibates, nuns, monks, apostles, disciples, presbyters, the divine, tempters, altars, temples, churches, pagodas, synagogues, chapels, mosques, revivals, hymns, chants, sacraments, devotions, prayer, prayer circles, prayer beads, prayer wheels, prayer rugs, prophecy, fortune telling, superstitions, healings, oracles, omens, signs, sermons, miracles, sacrifices, ghosts, holy ghosts, talking snakes, talking asses, talking crosses, special fruits, talking in tongues, tithing, offerings, commandments, four-, seven-, eight-, and twelve-fold paths, pillars, ways, life after death, reincarnation, heaven, hell, evil, purgatory, limbo, salvation, eternal bliss, eternal punishments, eternal life, apocalypses, henotheism, monotheism, polytheism, paganism, animism.
(Using lower case letters for all these entries was intentional.)
What items on this list do agnostics feel there isn’t enough information to make a decision toward? Do agnostics think that special books just might have some special purpose because there isn’t enough evidence to the contrary? Do they think that intercessory prayer, spiritual healing, and miracles just might be feasible? How about biblical inerrancy and prophecy fulfillment?
If agnostics feel there is not enough information or knowledge to make an intelligent decision whether or not god exists, then is there not enough information to make an intelligent decision on the efficacy of prayer? Or that an anointed person standing before an anointed altar of a tribal god handing out blessed wafers and wine that represent the body and blood of some long deceased martyr will save them from some sort of eternal punishment just might have some validity?
Nontheists (at least the ones I know) have none of these spiritual, metaphysical or ideological trappings and will, in fact, argue against such supernatural superstitions and supplications.
Extra Bonus Parable:
A theist, agnostic, and atheist are watching a magic show. The magician has a lady recline on a board supported by two chairs. He covers her with a large foulard. He then waves his hands over her and she slowly floats upward, first a few inches and then a few feet. Soon the magician has her elevated above his head. He reaches up and grabs the foulard and pulls it away. The lady has vanished completely.
The theist would say the magician has special powers and can suspend the laws of nature and then used this mysterious power to make the lady vanish.
The atheist says the laws of nature cannot be violated and since the magician, in reality, has no special powers the explanation must be elsewhere and the solution is within our empirical knowledge.
The agnostic says they haven’t enough knowledge to make a decision one way or another. Maybe the magician can suspend the laws of nature and maybe he does have special powers. The agnostic isn’t going to say the magician can’t do the miraculous but rather that even though it seems impossible for any human to actually violate the laws of nature, it just might be possible. So, even though all the evidence points to nonbelief, the baffled agnostic wants to see the trick again and again and again or claim deus ex machina. Of course, the magician will say, “No, you just might figure it out,” while all the gods remain silent as if they weren’t there.
Is the agnostic justified to project his lack of knowledge or information? Do agnostics have the intellectual right to believe such things just might be valid on such insufficient evidence? Thus the paradox that the agnostic faces: instead of the seemingly comfortable position in regard to theism or not, the agnostic position is really contradictory in a true-not-true nature in which they ultimately decide which is which as their pleasure pleases.
Using the dictum of WK Clifford from The Ethics of Belief: “It is wrong always, everywhere, and for anyone, to believe anything upon insufficient evidence.”