Saturday, 12 April 2008

The Problem of Agnosticism

It's one of my rant-button topics. If someone equates agnosticism with "sitting on the fence" or generally with being indecisive, there's around an 80% chance they'll be receiving one of my carefully-restrained rants.

Etymology's always a fun place to start, so let's look at the word itself: "a-" is a negation (as in atheist), and "gnostic" pertains to knowledge. In its usual context, it's a belief that there can be no true knowledge of the supernatural. Agnosticism stands distinct from atheism and theism, not as a compromise between the two. Its adherents (for the most part anyway) have just as strong beliefs as the other two camps, but their PR is sadly lacking.

I do, however, think it's a mistake to paint them as three distinct viewpoints on the one subject - I consider myself both an agnostic and an atheist. How do I pull off this amazing feat? Well, I started as an agnostic, certain in my belief that regardless of if there was a god or gods of any sort, there could never be any convincing proof one way or the other. Then I became an atheist, swayed in the main part by the argument of necessity - it is not necessary to posit the existence of a supernatural, omni-everything being - Occam's Razor and all that jazz.

That didn't erase my agnosticism, however - I didn't hop from one camp to the other, because these things are rarely that clear-cut. As an agnostic, I still believe there could never be any convincing proof one way or the other; and yet I think that the atheist position is the far far more likely of the main two.

Do we need an "out" campaign for agnostics now? Probably not. Just a bit more education about what it means would be nice.


Todd Sayre said...

I've come up with several different problems with agnosticism: different definitions, different questions, real world applicability, social pressure and pronunciation (didn't expect that one, did you?).

And then I posted about it.

I agree that most of the problems stem from the compatible/exclusive definitions problem.

Anonymous said...

^^ nice blog!! ^@^

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