Agnosticism as Practical Atheism

AgnosticismAgnosticism is the position of being without knowledge concerning a proposition. If asked whether they believe that God exists, the agnostic responds: I don’t know! Within the technicalities of philosophical thought there are shades of agnosticism as there are shades of atheism. On the one hand, there are soft agnostics which make the weaker claim to not know whether God exists, and on the other hand the strong agnostic claims that not only do they not know, but no one can know whether God exists. Apart from the irrationality of the strong agnostic position, the weak agnostic position is not as modest as one might think.

First, the irrationality of the strong agnostic position. When the claim is made that God cannot be known, one must ask the penetrating question of how the strong agnostic “knows” that no one can know whether God exists or not? Surely, the strong agnostic is not claiming to know the limits of knowledge, and the capacities or lack thereof of individuals who claim to know that God exists. Just because the strong agnostic believes that God is unknowable and has not been able to find a means whereby, he or she can know that God exists, does not mean that it is impossible for others to know whether God exists. Secondly, if it is impossible to know if God exists, this statement is not logically incompatible with the actual existence of God (although I deny the statement: It is impossible to know whether God exists), and thus it is non-sensical to suggest on the one hand, that it is impossible to know that God exists, and on the other hand proceed to tell us something about the capacities of a God who might or might not exist; namely, that if God did exist, He is unable to reveal himself to people such that they can have a knowledge of his existence. How would the strong agnostic know such a thing concerning the hypothetical God in question? Thus, on the one hand the strong agnostic tells us that it is impossible to know whether God exists, while at the same time telling us that if God did exist, it could not be the kind of God that has the capacity to reveal himself to His creatures such that they would know that He exists. Hence the strong agnostic position possesses a fatal logical flaw.

In regards to the weaker agnostic position, the modest claim is made simply that the person does not know whether God exists. Interestingly enough, such persons in their modesty tell us that they simply refrain from making a choice as to whether they believe or disbelieve in the existence of God. But is refraining from making a choice on this matter possible? The Christian philosopher Gordon H. Clark writes, “As Christ said, “he that is not with me is against me, and he that is not against us is on our part. One must therefore be either for or against; there is no neutral or immediate position…Everyone lives either with the fear of God before their eyes or not. Our preferences, our standards of morality, our purposes in life accord with a theistic worldview or they do not. And if they do not we are acting on the assumption, whether we admit it or not, that there is no God to hold us responsible. Suspension of judgment, so-called, is but a disguised, if dignified, form or unbelief.” (Christian View of Men and Things, pg. 33). Hence, to refrain from making a choice to believe or disbelieve in the existence of God is itself a choice. The agnostic in essence then, is a practical atheist.

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