In Defence of Agnostic Atheism


I am compelled to write this article after an atheist friend of mine said that:

i think agnostics are a bunch of people that have been brainwashed too much by religion. they cant help but think theres’s a god somewhere

Although he is my friend, I must admit that such a statement is ignorant to an inexcusable degree, especially coming from a person who actively participates in rational undertakings against religion.

To make my point, let us first consider “agnostic” as it appears in the layman’s nomenclature; as some sort of mutually exclusive middle-ground between atheism and theism — as if such a definition were in anyway faithful to itself; Thomas Huxley who coined the term “agnostic” had written:

So I took thought, and invented what I conceived to be the appropriate title of “agnostic.” It came into my head as suggestively antithetic to the “gnostic” of Church history, who professed to know so much about the very things of which I was ignorant…
Agnosticism is not a creed but a method, the essence of which lies in the vigorous application of a single principle… Positively the principle may be expressed as in matters of intellect, do not pretend conclusions are certain that are not demonstrated or demonstrable.

This word “agnostic” is thus merely a claim of knowledge (or acknowledgement of the lack thereof), and by no means does it represent any position on an incorrectly-perceived spectrum of belief in god; one either believes or he doesn’t. Also revisit the history of atheism to find out why this definition of atheism is favourable.

It is a fair argument to be made that “agnostic” is more faithful to its meaning when it appears as an adjective, because “agnostic” does not in itself describe the belief, rather the nature of it.  For instance, agnostic atheism is atheism without the need to posit the claim “God definitely does not exist”.  Now, if only I knew why an agnostic atheist should be considered “brainwashed too much by religion”, we wouldn’t be having this discussion.

Where the term “god” is defined in such a way that it becomes logically disprovable, positive or strong atheism is in luck. However, the definition problem does not in any way discredit the agnostic-atheist position.  In fact, it might even be that the majority of atheists are agnostic to varying extents. Many of us are agnostic to most things. To apply the classic example, I do not believe in a celestial teapot, nor do I claim to have the wisdom of being able to disprove it, but at least I agree that its existence is most improbable — and so I am an agnostic a-teapotist in that respect. Strong atheism is a bonus; the common definition(s) of god just happens to be logically doubtful.

I close with an invitation for everyone to be agnostic at least to certain levels, theist or atheist, UFOist or a-UFOist, unicornist or a-unicornist.  I think skepticism and agnosticism go well together. Who knows, it might even be that one stems from the other.

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