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T. H. Huxley coined the word "agnostic".

Agnosticism is, in weaker forms, an affirmation of ignorance regarding the existence of a God or gods, and in stronger forms, the assertion that the existence of a deity or deities is unknowable. By contrast atheism is a strong form of ignorance that denies the existence of God.[1] See: Definitions of Atheist and Agnostic

The proponent of the weaker form does not make a claim to knowledge about existence, but he simply suspends from making a decision. A suspension of decision, in terms of logic, does not have a truth value, and therefore they are not making an argument. The proponent of the stronger form goes a step further and makes a claim to knowledge by saying, I know that the existence of God cannot be known.

The word "agnostic" was coined in 1869 by T. H. Huxley[2] from the Greek roots a- not, and -gnostic, knowing; the philosopher Herbert Spencer was influential in spreading its use. One nineteenth-century saw held that "There is no god but the Unknowable, and Herbert Spencer is his prophet."[3]

History of agnosticism

See also: History of agnosticism

Up until at least 1970, there was a rise of agnosticism in the world. However, in the latter part of the 20th century and beyond, there was a decline of global agnosticism (see: History of agnosticism).

T. H. Huxley was an vociferous proponent of Darwinism and the worldview of Darwinism had extremely harmful effects on the world as it was influential in terms of Social Darwinism, Communism, Nazism and evolutionary racism (See: History of agnosticism).

Atheism and agnosticism

See also: Atheists doubting the validity of atheism

Agnostics differ from atheists in that they do not deny the existence of a deity while not affirming the existence of one (thus occupying a "middle-ground").

Further division lies with in two kinds of agnosticism: Agnostic Theism and Agnostic Atheism. Agnostic Theists believe in a god but do not claim to know there is a god. Agnostic Atheists do not believe in a god but do not claim to know there is not a god. Thus the distinction between Agnostics as opposed to Theists or Atheists is they do not claim knowledge even if they claim a belief. So contrary to what some may believe, they are not opinion-less on the subject.

Many religious believers make no distinction among non-believers. If you're not sure that God exists, they combine the unsure and "surely not" into one lump. For these believers, an "atheist" is any faithless person who doesn't believe in God.

Among those who have not decided whether to believe in a god, or to disbelieve in the existence of one, there are two main groups:

  1. Those who simply haven't made a decision
  2. Those who declare no rational decision is possible, on the grounds that the existence of a god is not knowable.

Analysis of agnosticism and common objections to agnosticism

Common arguments for the existence of God

Norman Geisler on complete agnosticism

See also: Agnosticism quotes

Christian apologist Norman Geisler wrote on complete agnosticism:

Complete agnosticism is self-defeating; it reduces to the self-destructing assertion that "one knows enough about reality in order to affirm that nothing can be known about reality." This statement provides within itself all that is necessary to falsify itself. For if one knows something about reality, then he surely cannot affirm in the same breath that all of reality is unknowable. And of course if one knows nothing whatsoever about reality, then he has no basis whatsoever for making a statement about reality. It will not suffice to say that his knowledge about reality is purely and completely negative, that is, a knowledge of what one cannot meaningfully affirm that something is not – that it follows that total agnosticism is self-defeating because it assumes some knowledge about reality in order to deny any knowledge of reality (Geisler, Apologetics, p. 20).[4]

Shaun Doyle: Four problems with agnosticism

Shaun Doyle writes:

First, either God exists, or He doesn’t. And, theism and atheism imply starkly different worlds. Atheism is a world of no objective purpose, meaning, beauty, or value. Theism expects science to work; it’s a massive accident if God doesn’t exist. But this contradicts strong agnosticism, which entails that theistic and atheistic worlds must be indiscernible. It also means weak agnosticism is flawed. The wildly different implications of theism and atheism make it unreasonable to remain agnostic forever.

Second, the weak agnostic might be unreasonably incredulous regarding the evidence for God. For instance, most Muslims reject the historicity of Jesus’ death by crucifixion based on the Koran (e.g. Surah 4:157), despite the fact there is overwhelming evidence that Jesus died by crucifixion. Muslims refuse to accept an obvious truth due to a deeply held prior commitment. If so many people can be blinded to well-evidenced truths due to a faulty bias, it’s not hard to see that the same is possible for the agnostic.

Third, it assumes that their allegedly poor position to know about God is permanent. Rather, a person’s ability to know truths fluctuates with changing circumstances. It may be that they were once in a better position to know, or that they will come into a better position to know. The weak agnostic’s ability to know about God is in principle provisional.

Finally, a dogged stance of doubt in the face of uncertainty is not very reasonable. For instance, Jesus said: “Ask, and it will be given to you; seek, and you will find; knock, and it will be opened to you” (Matthew 7:7). The psalmist said: “Oh, taste and see that the Lord is good!” (Psalm 34:8). God’s goodness is worth grasping, and He is willing to answer those who seek after Him. As such, even if there is such a thing as reasonable uncertainty, that need not translate (and if God exists, certainly should not translate) into reasonable doubt.[5]

Laurence B. Brown on agnosticism

The Islamic scholar Laurence B. Brown raises the question to agnostics: ""You claim that nothing can be known with certainty ... how, then, can you be so sure?"[6]

Agnosticism is often seen as cowardly and fence sitting

Both theists and atheists frequently accuse agnostics of being cowardly, due to their wishy-washy rejection of God.[7] Studs Terkel, a self-described agnostic, jokingly referred to the frequent charge of agnostics being called cowardly, "You happen to be talking to an agnostic. You know what an agnostic is? A cowardly atheist".[8]

It is also said by particular Christian groups, particularly but not exclusively in the United States of America, that those who know of Jesus but do not accept Him are just as damned as those who reject Him explicitly.

Agnostic Richard Dawkins and accusations of cowardice

Richard Dawkins
The Oxford University Professor Daniel Came wrote to the agnostic Richard Dawkins:: "The absence of a debate with the foremost apologist for Christian theism is a glaring omission on your CV and is of course apt to be interpreted as cowardice on your part."[9]

See also: Agnosticism and debate

The evolutionists Richard Dawkins is an agnostic who flip-flops his public persona between being an agnostic and being an atheist (See: Richard Dawkins and agnosticism).

The Oxford University Professor Daniel Came (an atheist) wrote to Richard Dawkins: "The absence of a debate with the foremost apologist for Christian theism is a glaring omission on your CV and is of course apt to be interpreted as cowardice on your part."[10]

In October of 2011, William Lane Craig went to England and the Daily Telegraph declared that Dawkins is either a fool or a coward for his refusal to debate William Lane Craig plus declared that Dawkins is a "proud man" and a "coward" who puts on an "illiterate, angry schtick" for the public.[11] In addition, Christian apologist Mariano Grinbank called Dawkins a "cowardly clown" because Dawkins and other prominent atheists refused to debate Creation Ministries International at the 2010 Global Atheist Convention.[12]

Shmuley Boteach

(see license agreement)

Below are some resources relating to Dawkins refusal to debate various debate opponents:

In addition, respected biochemist and intelligent design researcher Dr Michael Behe has openly challenged prominent evolutionists and proponents of Darwinism to debate him regarding the many failings of evolutionism, yet Richard Dawkins - one of the most outspoken Darwinists today - has declined all such invitations.

Agnosticism and morality

See also: American agnosticism and political views statistics

Barna Group studies: Atheism and morality

Barna Group study on behavior of agnostics vs. evangelical Christians:

Richard Deem wrote:

A random sample of 1003 adults were surveyed in May, 2008 by The Barna Group for their participation in a number of negative behaviors within the previous week. The results showed that there were vast differences in the behaviors of evangelicals compared to agnostics/atheists.

These results show that atheists/agnostics participate in morally questionable behaviors to a much greater degree than evangelical Christians - an average of nearly five times the frequency![13]

Barna Group study related to agnostics' beliefs about behaviors:

The Barna Group found that agnostics and atheists in America were more likely, than theists in America, to look upon the following behaviors as morally acceptable: illegal drug use; excessive drinking; sexual relationships outside of marriage; abortion; cohabitating with someone of opposite sex outside of marriage; obscene language; gambling; pornography and obscene sexual behavior; and engaging in homosexuality/bisexuality.[14]

Given the many diseases associated with homosexuality, the biblical prohibition against homosexuality is quite arguably one of the many example where the Bible exhibited knowledge that was ahead of its time. See also: Atheism and sexual immorality

Agnosticism and Uncharitableness

Per capita agnostics and atheists in the United States give significantly less to charity than theists.

Global agnosticism

See also: Global agnosticism and Desecularization and Agnosticism statistics and Global atheism

Secular Europe has one of the highest rates of agnosticism rates in the world.

According to the agnostic and religious demography scholar Eric Kaufmann, in the Europe of tomorrow, immigration and religious fertility will increase the proportion of committed Christians in Europe, many from the developing world.[15] See: Desecularization

In 2015, Pew Research indicated in their report The Future of World Religions: Population Growth Projections, 2010-2050 that agnostics and atheists “will make up a declining share of the world’s total population.”[16]

The Center for the Study of Global Christianity (CSGC) at Gordon-Conwell Theological Seminary estimated that agnostics made up 9.5% of the global population in 2015. CSGC projects that agnosticism will be 8.71% of the global population in 2025 and 7.19% of the global population in 2050.[17]

The agnostic Eric Kaufmann is a professor of politics at Birkbeck, University of London and author. His academic research specialty is how demographic changes affect religion/irreligion and politics.

Kaufmann wrote in 2010:

Worldwide, the march of religion can probably only be reversed by a renewed, self-aware secularism. Today, it appears exhausted and lacking in confidence... Secularism's greatest triumphs owe less to science than to popular social movements like nationalism, socialism and 1960s anarchist-liberalism. Ironically, secularism's demographic deficit means that it will probably only succeed in the twenty-first century if it can create a secular form of 'religious' enthusiasm." [18]

According to Kaufmann, in the Europe of tomorrow, immigration and religious fertility will increase the proportion of committed Christians in Europe, many from the developing world.[19] See also: Desecularization

Frequency in Western World Countries

Financial Times (FT)/Harris Poll among adults in 5 countries in 2006

Agnosticism has become a fairly common belief system in Western culture with 14% of people in the United States, 32% of people in France and 35% of people in Great Britain self-identifying as agnostics.[20]

American agnosticism: Race and gender statistics

See also: Western atheism and race and Atheism and women

Pew Research reported in 2012:

Atheists and agnostics are particularly likely to be non-Hispanic whites. Fully eight-in-ten atheists and agnostics (82%) are white, 3% are black, 6% are Hispanic, and the remainder is of some other race or of mixed race...

Atheists and agnostics are much more likely to be male (64%) than female (36%).[21]

Agnosticism statistics

See: Agnosticism statistics

Agnosticism debates

See also: Agnosticism debates

Despite there being more self-described agnostics in the world than self-described atheists (See also: Definitions of Atheist and Agnostic)[22], since at least the latter part of the 20th century, there have been more atheism vs. Christianity debates than atheism vs. agnosticism debates (see: Atheism debates and Christianity vs. atheism debates). In recent times, however, there have been notable cases of atheists being unwilling to engage in debates (see: Atheism and cowardice).

For a listing of notable agnosticism related debates, please see: Agnosticism debates

Betrand Russell on agnosticism

An essay by the Christian apologist Dr. James Spiegel describes Bertrand Russell as a "misogynistic and a serial adulterer; a chronic seducer of women, especially very young women, even in his old age."[23]

Bertrand Russell once wrote that, in describing his beliefs,

I never know whether I should say 'Agnostic' or whether I should say 'Atheist'.... As a philosopher, if I were speaking to a purely philosophic audience I should say that I ought to describe myself as an Agnostic, because I do not think that there is a conclusive argument by which one [can] prove that there is not a God. On the other hand, if I am to convey the right impression to the ordinary man in the street I think I ought to say that I am an Atheist, because when I say that I cannot prove that there is not a God, I ought to add equally that I cannot prove that there are not the Homeric gods.[24]

In 1927, Bertrand Russell wrote an essay entitled "Why I am not a Christian" which was based on a lecture Russell gave the same year.[25][26]

Below are some works by Christian apologists which show the inconsistencies and logical fallacies of Bertrand Russell's essay:

Charles Darwin and agnosticism

evolution darwin theory
Late in Charles Darwin's life, Darwin told the Duke of Argyll that he frequently had overwhelming thoughts that the natural world was the result of design.[27]

In a letter to Asa Gray, Darwin confided: "...I am quite conscious that my speculations run quite beyond the bounds of true science."[28]

Charles Darwin likely abandoned Christianity as a student when he disappointed his father by refusing to become a minister. In his autobiography Charles Darwin wrote about the diminishment of his religious faith and Darwin stated that he was an agnostic.[29] Darwin wrote the following: "The mystery of the beginning of all things is insoluble to us; and I for one must be content to remain an Agnostic."[30] However, Darwin stated in his private notebooks that he was a materialist, which is a type of atheist.[31] [32][33] In the 1996 British Journal for the Philosophy of Science Kim Sterelny wrote in a book review the following: "I have no doubt that Darwin was a materialist and a mechanist..."[34] See: Religious views of Charles Darwin

The Stanford Encyclopedia of Philosophy states regarding a candid admission of Charles Darwin:

In 1885, the Duke of Argyll recounted a conversation he had had with Charles Darwin the year before Darwin's death:

In the course of that conversation I said to Mr. Darwin, with reference to some of his own remarkable works on the Fertilisation of Orchids, and upon The Earthworms, and various other observations he made of the wonderful contrivances for certain purposes in nature—I said it was impossible to look at these without seeing that they were the effect and the expression of Mind. I shall never forget Mr. Darwin's answer. He looked at me very hard and said, “Well, that often comes over me with overwhelming force; but at other times,” and he shook his head vaguely, adding, “it seems to go away.”(Argyll 1885, 244][35]

For most of his adult life Charles Darwin suffered from very poor health.[36] The 1992 New Encyclopaedia Britannica stated that Darwin's illness was psychogenic in origin (A psychogenic illness is one that originates in the mind or in mental condition). [37] see: Charles Darwin's illness

Famous agnostics

See also: Famous agnostics

Agnosticism quotes

See: Agnosticism quotes

See also

External Links


  1. *Smart, J. J. C. (August 8, 2011). "Atheism and agnosticism". The Stanford Encyclopedia of Philosophy (Spring 2013 Edition), Edward N. Zalta (ed.). Retrieved July 17, 2014.
  2. T. H. Huxley was also an early and influential supporter of Darwinism.
  3. London, Jack (1913), Martin Eden, Chapter 13
  5. Agnosticism by Shaun Doyle
  6. Laurence B. Brown (February 2008). MisGod'ed: A Roadmap of Guidance and Misguidance in the Abrahamic Religions.
  7. Studs Terkel, a self-described agnostic, jokingly referred to the frequent charge of agnostics being called cowardly, "You happen to be talking to an agnostic. You know what an agnostic is? A cowardly atheist".[1]
  8. Interview:Studs Terkel, PBS
  9. Richard Dawkins accused of cowardice for refusing to debate existence of God, The Daily Telegraph, May 14, 2011
  10. Richard Dawkins accused of cowardice for refusing to debate existence of God, The Daily Telegraph, May 14, 2011
  11. Richard Dawkins is either a fool or a coward for refusing to debate William Lane Craig - October 21, 2011 - The Daily Telegraph
  12. Richard Dawkins, the Cowardly Clown
  13. Atheism Doesn't Lead to Immoral Behavior - Or Does It? by Richard Deem
  14. Practical outcomes replace biblical principles as the moral standard, Barna Group
  15. Shall the Righteous Inherit the Earth? Demography and Politics in the Twenty-First Century by Eric Kaufmann
  16. The Future of World Religions: Population Growth Projections, 2010-2050, Pew Research Forum
  17. Status of Global Christianity, 2015, in the Context of 1900–2050
  18. Shall the religious inherit the earth? - Eric Kaufmann
  19. Shall the Righteous Inherit the Earth? Demography and Politics in the Twenty-First Century by Eric Kaufmann
  21. “Nones” on the Rise Demographics, Pew Research
  22. Table on the projected global shrinkage/growth of various worldviews including atheism and agnosticism (Source: Center for the Study of Global Christianity at Gordon-Conwell Theological Seminary)
  23. The Making of an Atheist: How Immorality Leads to Unbelief By James Spiegel, page 72, Moody Publishers, 2010
  24. Russell, Bertrand (1947) Am I An Atheist Or An Agnostic? Most online sources say "by which one prove," probably a mistake.
  32. Barrett, Paul H. Darwin on Man 1974:276
  33. American Scientist May 1977:323
  34. British Journal for the Philosophy of Science, Volume 47, 1996, page 641
  40. Francis Crick, What Mad Pursuit: a Personal View of Scientific Discovery, Basic Books reprint edition, 1990, ISBN 0-465-09138-5, p. 145.