The Case Against Agnosticism

Written: 5 November, 1999

The basic idea of Agnosticism (that one can't know whether there is a God or not, so one won't say either way) is understandable. It accepts that we humans don't know everything, that even science doesn't have all the answers to fully explain the human experience. Agnosticism would at first glance appear to be the humblest of beliefs, declaring man so flawed and uninformed as to be incapable of recognizing God, if there is a God. In practice, however, is Agnosticism the philosophy for the humble, or a religious cop-out?

When one surveys their surroundings, does one find a collection of random accidents in their view, or a landscape showing signs of wisdom in its making? Even in the unpleasant things one sees, is it wholly without meaning -- or hold a hint of some wisdom, a challenge for the betterment of the soul? The Agnostic may reply, "I don't know, I can't say one way or another," placing their heads in a hole and ignoring obvious truths that both the religious and scientific thinkers acknowledge. Rather than searching for an answer to the question "Is there a God?," Agnostics don't believe in even trying to answer the question, content in not asking or seeking. In his book The Dragons of Eden, Carl Sagan criticized those who hold spiritual beliefs by saying their views were "devised in such a way that they are not subject to disproof and characteristically impervious to rational discussion....betokens a lack of intellectual rigor." But what is more lacking in rigor than to say one can't know to begin with, that one is better off not even trying? Agnosticism becomes a self-fulfilling prophecy: if it can't provide the answers to life's questions (since it has already delared the answers unknowable), then why ask questions? The reason to ask questions, of course, is because it is the only way to find the answers. Both the religious and scientific thinkers are seeking the truth, and struggling with their answers, while Agnostics have given up on trying to know.

The Agnostic view says, "There may be a God, or there may not be, I'm not sure." I think, however, that the Agnostic does not really believe in God at all, else he would seek Him in some way. By refusing to seek God, a man has basically rejected Him. If one seriously thought that the possibility existed that God might be real, wouldn't one want to try and find Him, follow Him, worship Him, praise Him? By their silence, Agnostics deny God of praise. By their actions (or lack of action), Agnostics demonstrate indifference toward God, which is an affront to Him. Why should God bother saving them, since they show no interest in being with Him?

We can agree that being humble is a worthy trait, but is it worthwhile to deny God in the name of ignorance? How can one expect to find God when one starts with the assumption that he can't be found for sure? This differs from Atheism because of only two words ("for sure"), an escape clause just in case there really is a God. But that "escape clause" will do little to help Agnostics "escape the trap" of life if God is real. If one's philosophy is based entirely on the idea that God is unknowable, then one is rejecting the idea of ever having a personal relationship with God, and therefore rejecting the idea of salvation.

Of course, there are those Agnostics (like myself, until this summer) who will say that they "follow the good" rather than "an unknowable God." But the obvious question to that is "How does an Agnostic know what is good or not? What rules does he go by?" If one is religious, one can follow time-honored guidelines that one believes came from a higher power. Chances are that the Agnostic follows much of the same religious laws, but declares them to be secular, universal laws without addressing why he would feel the need to engage in such robbery from an "organized religion" he claims to despise. Taking the higher power out of the moral code, however, robs the equation of its strength. The Agnostic, confident in the wisdom of his independent mind, won't stop to ask what God would want or WWJD, consistent with their teachings, which is how one interprets the spirit of the Law over the literal letter of it. The Agnostic thus pursues his own self-styled morality, whose laws are easily blurred without consequence when the temptation arises. This soft, selfish morality is not morality at all, but the uplifting of one's own whims at the expense of following a stronger set of moral laws that may prove more challenging, for its high standards are God's, not ours.

In "A Free Man's Worship," Bertrand Russell writes that a man ought "to worship at the shrine that his own hands have built" and that God is simply "the creation of our own conscience." If one is to worship oneself and one's efforts, then one is raising oneself to the level of God. This is the natural consequence of a view where God is unknowable, for if we cannot credit God for our achievements and blessings, then the glory is by default given to oneself. In this way Agnosticism reveals itself to be not as humbling as appeared at first glance. In the old days, men thought that the sun revolved around the earth because that's certainly how it appears to us here on the ground. But appearances can be deceiving, and the earth revolves around the sun instead. If God is our creation, then who created us? If God came from our conscience, who created our conscience?

Even if we decided to worship good instead of God (as I myself once claimed to do), where would one worship? An Agnostic may say that he worships good and not God per se, but does he really worship good as much as a religious person worships the source of all goodness, God? What evidence does an Agnostic have for his worship of goodness? How many hours a day does he devote wholly to this kind of heartfelt worship? What specific sacrifices can he point to, showing that he regularly sacrifices to his "God," goodness? The Agnostic gives lip-service to serving goodness, but does not literally worship goodness. Agnosticism thus reveals itself to be The Lazy Man's Religion: even if we hold the Agnostic to the standard that he says he sets for himself, we find that he's not even faithful to that. If you were his "god" Goodness, would you be impressed by the "worship" of followers who rarely thank you for your blessings?

By rejecting Agnosticism, however, and opening up oneself to trying to follow God, one may start to more faithfully worship goodness (who is, after all, God) and demonstrate that devotion regularly and publicly in a more meaningful manner. If one is really serious about wanting to worship goodness, then one starts by acknowledging God, not denying Him. The final proof against Agnosticism is the way in which God has indeed made Himself known to humanity in so many ways, provided that we don't hide our heads in the ground to avoid Him.