We agnostics are misunderstood and often shunned. Type “agnostic” into any search engine, and all kinds of insults and critiques will populate the window. We are called non-committing, afraid of confrontation, spineless, and so on. I encountered one forum that labeled us as lacking certain male reproductive organs. The point I am making here is that because we choose doubt over certainty, we are accused of not taking a stand and choosing the easy way out. I assure you: this is not true.
In fact, accepting the agnostic label means being rejected by both theists and atheists. Some theists lump atheists and agnostics into one category; while most fervent atheists slam us for not fully accepting science as absolute proof that God does not exist. If pleasing others and being accepted is important to someone, then being agnostic is not a good choice. It is a path littered with uncertainty and often-hateful resistance. A good comparison might compare agnostics to middle children. When there are three or more children in a family, and especially when there are only three children, the middle-born child feels overlooked and invalidated. Obviously, this may not always be true, but such feelings are real even if they are distorted perceptions. Being agnostic leaves me feeling overlooked and invalidated, sometimes, because I do not seem to fit-in with theists or atheists.
So, what is agnosticism and how did I “wander onto the agnostic path”? A more complete explanation of my personal journey will follow in later post. This post will provide some history of agnosticism, and how it has benefited mankind.
Reliable sources credit the English biologist, Thomas H. Huxley, with coining the term “agnostic” in the late 1860’s. At first, Huxley defined an agnostic as anyone who flatly refused to clearly define seemingly unknowable concepts, such as the existence of a higher power. In later years, however, Huxley’s definition of an agnostic evolved: “That which is unproved today may be proved, by the help of new discoveries, tomorrow.” There are hints of wise men who were agnostic, despite the term not being yet coined, thousand of years ago: “To know is to know that you know nothing. That is the meaning of true knowledge.” – Confucius (551-479 BC). From another wise source, “I am the wisest man alive, for I know one thing, and that is that I know nothing.” – Socrates (469-399 BC). There is a strong tendency to view agnostics as cynical, uncaring and narcissistic. Perhaps, some agnostics are such jerks, but just like all Christians (or any person of a chosen faith or religion) are not pious, self-righteous jerks, not all agnostics are close-minded, narcissistic cynics. A more modern definition of an agnostic can be found in the book: Agnosticism: The Battle Against Shameless Ignorance, by James K. Wall (2011): “A person who seeks the truth because they do not assume they already have it.” (p. 2).
Another way to view agnostics is as critical thinkers, who are curious with a touch of skepticism, especially when something is loudly proclaimed as unquestionable truth. We will change our minds if evidence and circumstances warrant the same, but in the meantime, we will remain outside the fray and look for common ground amid the shouting and the turmoil.
As I stated earlier, this is an attempt to define an agnostic based on research and my personal viewpoint. It should be apparent it is not easy to pin down an agnostic in a definitive manner. I hope this has helped everyone glean a better understanding of agnosticism, its history, and its current place in today’s world. Also, remember that agnostics can be plotted on a graph based on how they view the existence of God. Below is such a graph:
While I do believe in something larger than me, I am not sure how to define that "something." My
worldview can be summed-up with: God is love, the rest is just details.
So, it’s not that I don’t believe in God. It’s that I don’t accept the dogma, and I live in honest doubt. I am not alone. Read the book of Psalms; apparently, the Psalmists experienced doubt at various times in their lives, so I am not in “bad company.”