Is Agnosticism Tenable?

Over the years, I’ve encountered a few friends that have subscribed to agnosticism because they concluded that there is no way to possibly know whether or not there is a God. According to Oxford Dictionaries, agnostic is defined as, “a person who believes that nothing is known or can be known of the existence or nature of God”.[1] I’ve heard prominent atheist Michael Shermer express his admiration during a debate for the bumper sticker that states, “Militant Agnostic: I Don’t Know and You Don’t Either”. Since many non-believers have chosen to take this stance, I thought it would be a good idea to further examine the tenability of such a position as it is comfortably placed between theism and atheism.

As proclaimed by Christopher Hitchens during his debate with Dr. William Lane Craig at Biola University, he feels “agnosticism is evasive”.[2]Does this claim against agnosticism by the late Christopher Hitchens, one of the four housemen of the New Athiesm, hold any credibility? I would venture to say that it does. I’ve included a video of William Lane Craig discussing agnosticism and how it is “practically untenable” (http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=tpEXKoLm0Qc&feature=plcp). The reasoning for why agnosticism is “practically untenable” is because a true agnostic would have to have the evidence for atheism and theism be perfectly balanced on both sides in order to genuinely hold it for an entire lifetime if one chooses to be a long-term agnostic. While this possibility may be “theoretically possible” it is “impossible practically”.

Later in the video, Craig asked an analogous question of a chicken laying an egg on the peak of a barn roof, “which side would the egg fall?” One side of the roof would represent “theism” and the other side would represent “atheism”. The agnostic would have to perfectly balance their “philosophical egg” on the peak of the roof without having it fall to one side or the other. This analogy effectively represents how untenable agnosticism truly is when looking at the evidence in its entirety for both positions. Keep in mind; you don’t have to have 100% empirical proof for one position or the other in order to hold to that particular position. You can believe in something without knowing it absolutely. I’ve heard many theologians use the analogy of a marriage. You have no way of absolutely knowing whether your marriage will endure prior to marrying your spouse-to-be. That is a reality for everyone. You have to take all the information you have about your spouse and make the best decision. If that information leads you to the conclusion that this person is worth the risk, it may be best to make the decision to marry him/her which will hopefully result in much happiness. If you remain an agnostic about this spouse-to-be, you could potentially pass up what could have been an excellent opportunity for happiness and companionship. You’ll never get married because you are unable to commit due to your hyper-skepticism which has led to the inability to make decision. The point is that despite whether you know with 100% certainty that your marriage will be successful shouldn’t prevent you from making a decision. The same can be said about atheism and theism. There is enough information out there to make a decision if one is truly searching for answers. As Hitchens rightly said, “agnosticism is evasive”.

For agnostics, it is appropriate to ask whether they have been skeptical of their skepticism. Have they looked at the evidence enough to make an informed opinion on the matter? Don’t get me wrong, skepticism can be a very healthy thing when investigating a matter that that you are unfamiliar with. It assists in the avoidance of accepting information as truth too hastily. It allows us to check out all perspectives before making a determination on how you feel on the matter. However, becoming skeptical to the point of intellectually refusing to make a decision because you’ve submitted to be a “Militant Agnostic: I Don’t Know and You Don’t Either” only evades the question at hand.

In the video below (http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=czBahk0S9yA), prominent Christian apologist Greg Koukl highlights the problematic nature of some forms of agnosticism. When speaking with an agnostic, he suggests evaluating the reasons for their skepticism and see if there are any underlying presuppositions that are leading them to this skepticism. The very reason for their skepticism could be that they’re not being critical enough of their own skepticism to have a genuine understanding of why they are skeptical in the first place.


[1] Oxford Dictionaries. Definition of “agnostic”, http://oxforddictionaries.com/definition/english/agnostic

[2] Debate between William Lane Craig and Christopher Hitchens at Biola University in 2009, “Does God Exist?”

 

YOU MIGHT ALSO LIKE:

DISCLAIMER: Blog entries made by individual authors reflect the views of the author and not necessarily the view of other CAA authors, or the official position of the group at large.
  • http://twitter.com/JTrott Jim Trott

    How is it practical to assert one must have perfectly acquired evidence? And whose criterion supersedes?

    Dr Craig displays a lack of regard for his audience when he offers the dubious egg analogy.Greg Koukl’s forte seems to be rhetorical legerdemain and captious onus-shifting.

    It seems that when all the discussions are played out, there remains only one dart left in the apologists’ quiver: Pascal’s Wager; believe it or ELSE. Not very satisfying.

    It doesn’t matter to me whether there is a God. If we’re not here to help one another, then nothing else makes sense, even if there isn’t a God who cares.

  • http://pastorjamesmiller.com/ Jim Miller

    This is really sharp. I’ve never found agnosticism tenable, and the more I think about it, the less realistic I think it is. Thanks for pointing this out again with clarity.