I came from believing in God to questioning everything. I would never have guessed that would be me; yet here I was, wondering about the validity of everything I had been raised to believe. It’s not so much that I doubted the existence of God, I simply developed apathy towards the whole God Debate, eventually taking the position that any knowledge of God is unknowable and beyond our grasp as we couldn’t know with certainty, and that I wouldn’t let it bother me either way. This questioning had first popped into my mind in the year 2000 when I joined a group of philosophy academics for dinner in Belgian’s quaint university town of Leuven where I had resided for over a decade. We bounced around ideas and talked into the wee hours of the night by the moonlight as the intrigue built. It was the very first time I had ever heard anyone question the faith, such a possibility had never crossed my mind even though my own faith remained unexamined. The question reared its head again in 2007 as I struggled to hold on to my faith having walked away from the church to, as we now call it, deconstruct my religion. I lived in this space until circa 2014 when I jolted awake to losing Emma, but eventually concluded that God was knowable, but that he chooses to remain indifferent and unreachable.
The word “agnostic” was first coined by English biologist T. H. Huxley in 1869, stating that “It simply means that a man shall not say he knows or believes that which he has no scientific grounds for professing to know or believe.” Herbert Spencer, a 19th century proponent of social Darwinism, was one of the first agnostic philosophers that popularized the term. Earlier 5th-century BCE thinkers such as Indian philosopher, Sanjaya Belatthaputta, and the famous Greek philosopher, Protagoras, had written papers expressing agnosticism about any afterlife and about the existence of gods respectfully. In the book Routledge Encyclopedia of Philosophy, William Rowe said, “human reason is incapable of providing sufficient rational grounds to justify either the belief that God exists or the belief that God does not exist.” Since the 21st century, about 10% of the world’s population identifies as agnostic.
The dictionary defines an agnostic as a person who believes that nothing is known or can be known of the existence or nature of God or of anything beyond material phenomena; a person who claims neither faith nor disbelief in God. Wikipedia makes this distinction: “Agnosticism is the view that the existence of God, the divine, or the supernatural is not known or knowable with any certainty. If the question is “Does God exist?”, “yes” would imply theism, “no” would imply atheism, and “I’m not sure” would imply agnosticism—that God possibly can or cannot exist.” We see that rather than a religion, agnosticism is merely the belief that the knowledge of God is unknowable, with varying degrees from person to person. This makes it even more unstructured than Atheism.
Types of Agnostics
Strong Epistemological Agnostic who believes that the question of the existence of God is completely unknowable, mainly because one cannot verify an experience without it being subjective. The Mild Empirical Agnostic believes that the question of the existence of God is presently unknown but is progressively knowable, thus to suspend all judgment on the subject until such a time when that answer is revealed. Your Pragmatic Agnostic simply believes that there can be no proof either way to prove the existence or the lack of existence of God. And finally the Apathetic Agnostic believes that there can be no evidence for or against God and that since God appears not to be concerned about His creation, the question shouldn’t matter much anyway. I would belong to this last group for years of my life, and my reasoning was along similar lines -that the question of the existence of a God who was indifferent to humanity’s plight shouldn’t preoccupy our mind as it would neither make a difference nor serve any purpose either way.
Famous English evolutionist Richard Dawkins declared he was less of an atheist and more of an agnostic. This was his reasoning for his stance: “It is often said, mainly by the ‘no-contests’, that although there is no positive evidence for the existence of God, nor is there evidence against his existence. So it is best to keep an open mind and be agnostic. At first sight that seems an unassailable position, at least in the weak sense of Pascals’s wager. But on second thoughts it seems a cop-out, because the same could be said of Father Christmas and tooth fairies. There may be fairies at the bottom of the garden. There is no evidence for it, but you can’t prove that there aren’t any, so shouldn’t we be agnostic with respect to fairies?” The famous American lawyer, Clarence Darrow, questioned the doctrines of Biblical Christianity in a speech titled “Why I Am An Agnostic” in Columbus Ohio in 1929. It was a discussion on agnosticism, skepticism, belief, and religion where Darrow concluded that “the fear of God is not the beginning of wisdom. The fear of God is the death of wisdom. Skepticism and doubt lead to study and investigation, and investigation is the beginning of wisdom.” history shows that it had rarely gone well with people that boisterously contradict God’s written word. “I am an Agnostic because I am not afraid to think. I am not afraid of any god in the universe who would send me or any other man or woman to hell. If there were such a being, he would not be a god; he would be a devil.” he has been quoted as saying. I shudder to think there was a time when I too made similar bold proclammations, I am grateful God is long-suffering and merciful, not willing any of us to perish, rather willing us to come to repentance (2 Peter 3:9).
One of my favorite agnostic YouTube channels is called Capturing Christianity by Cameron Bertuzzi. I once watched a lively exchange on an episode where he was interviewing Apologist Dr. Frank Turek of CrossExamined, and I have been intrigued ever since. Upon closer examination, agnosticism is even less structured than atheism, more elusive, because it refuses to investigate or answer a question of eternal worth, that of the existence of God. I would say it is the ‘Sweden’ of belief stances, a pyrrhic position that ensures no winner. One cannot really argue with or properly challenge an agnostic because he does not commit to any standpoint, preferring to sit on the fence. I could cry that I once paid no mind to such weighty matters, that I once refused to answer a question that would determine where I would spend eternity. But God, in His mercy, afflicted me to the point of repentance (Psalm 119:71), then knocked on the door of my heart and rescued me from the deception of my mind and the depravity of my seared heart. I am grateful for my journey through apologetics that settled the matter for me once and for all that the existence of God is most certainly knowable and he declares his desires that we should know him in numerous verses in the scriptures. I am grateful his grace found me, and I pray it finds you too.
Scriptural Challenges to Agnosticism
The bible verses that come to mind now when I think of agnosticism are those of Joshua 24:15 “…choose for yourselves this day whom you will serve…But as for me and my household, we will serve the LORD.” Such decisiveness on Joshua’s part! It’s no wonder God chose him to replace Moses in leading the children of Israel into the promised land, the land flowing with milk and honey. Another verse is Revelation 3:15-16 “I know your deeds; you are neither cold nor hot. How I wish you were one or the other! So because you are lukewarm—neither hot nor cold—I am about to vomit you out of My mouth!” This is how much God is displeased with indecisiveness when it comes to choosing to serve him or not. Eccles. 3:11 “he has put eternity into man’s heart.” That desire we have to go on beyond this life, that desire to worship something, someone, anything, that fight to stay alive and find relevance, it all comes from him. Refusal to think about an eternity that he has placed on our hearts is rebellion to God, I doubt we will be able to say we did not know. On that last day, accountability will demand that we confess to our rebellion in refusing to think about it and refusing to take a stand for Christ.
1 Cor.1:18-29: “18 For the message of the cross is foolishness to those who are perishing, but to us who are being saved it is the power of God. 19 For it is written: “I will destroy the wisdom of the wise; the intelligence of the intelligent I will frustrate.” 20 Where is the wise person? Where is the teacher of the law? Where is the philosopher of this age? Has not God made foolish the wisdom of the world? 21 For since in the wisdom of God the world through its wisdom did not know him, God was pleased through the foolishness of what was preached to save those who believe. 22 Jews demand signs and Greeks look for wisdom, 23 but we preach Christ crucified: a stumbling block to Jews and foolishness to Gentiles, 24 but to those whom God has called, both Jews and Greeks, Christ the power of God and the wisdom of God. 25 For the foolishness of God is wiser than human wisdom, and the weakness of God is stronger than human strength… God chose the weak things of the world to shame the strong. 28 God chose the lowly things of this world and the despised things—and the things that are not—to nullify the things that are, 29 so that no one may boast before him.” In the final analysis, men remain without excuse in their refusal to choose or acknowledge God, because he has made the knowledge of his existence clear.