Agnosticism

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Agnosticism (from the Greek a, meaning "without" and gnosis, "knowledge", translating to unknowable) is the philosophical view that the truth value of certain claims — particularly theological claims regarding metaphysics, afterlife or the existence of God, god(s), or deities — is unknown or (possibly) inherently unknowable. Agnosticism is not to be confused with religious views opposing the doctrine of gnosis and Gnosticism— these are religious concepts that are not generally related to agnosticism. Agnostics claim either that it is not possible to have absolute or certain knowledge or, alternatively, that while certainty may be possible, they personally have no knowledge. Agnosticism in both cases involves some form of skepticism.

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  • When I reached intellectual maturity, and began to ask myself whether I was an atheist, a theist or a pantheist, a materialist or an idealist, a Christian or a freethinker, I found that the more I learned and reflected, the less ready was the answer. The one thing on which most of these good people were agreed was the one thing in which I differed from them. They were quite sure they had attained a certain 'gnosis' — had more or less successfully, solved the problem of existence; while I was quite sure that I had not, and had a pretty strong conviction that the problem was insoluble.
    • Thomas Huxley, Reprinted in ''Christianity and Agnosticism: A Controversy (1889)
  • 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. To my great satisfaction the term took.
    • Thomas Huxley, Reprinted in ''Christianity and Agnosticism: A Controversy (1889)
  • I do not consider it an insult, but rather a compliment to be called an agnostic. I do not pretend to know where many ignorant men are sure - that is all that agnosticism means.
    • Clarence Darrow, Speech, July 13, 1925, Dayton, Tennessee. Defending John T. Scopes, on trial for teaching Darwinism.[1]

Unsourced

  • Now I say that I am an agnostic. People think that's pusillanimous and covering your bets. But it's not based on any belief or yearning for an afterlife but on the fact that we actually know so little about the cosmos. It is a tribute to the complexity and, at our present stage of development, the unknowability of the universe.
  • Don't take your beliefs too seriously, they've only been shaped by the tiny spec of the planet you've experienced.
    • Clint Borgen, famous poverty campaigner.
  • An agnostic is an atheist for whom the fear of God has been supplanted by the fear of his fellow man.
  • I am a skeptic about everything, including God and atheism. I am not certain about issues of cosmology. Sometimes I believe that our universe is the result of random forces. Other times I believe that there must be some order or purpose, though I do not begin to understand what or who it could be. I do not expect that these cosmic doubts will ever be resolved in my mind. I am more certain that the miraculous stories that form the basis of most religious beliefs are myths. Yet I respect the Bible and enjoy reading and teaching it. Indeed, I find it even more fascinating as a human creation than as a divine revelation. I consider myself a committed Jew, but I do not believe that being a Jew requires belief in the supernatural. When I attend synagogue, as I often do, or conduct Sabbath, Passover, or Chanukah services at home, I recite prayers. I am comfortable with these apparent contradictions. I am part of a long tradition that links to my heritage through the words and melodies of prayer. Indeed, it is while praying that I experience my greatest doubts about God, and it is while looking at the stars that I make the leap of faith. But it is not faith in the empirical truths of religious stories or in the authority of hierarchical religious organizations. If there is a governing force, He (or She or It) is certainly not in touch with those who purport to be speaking on His behalf.
  • I have always considered Pascal's Wager a questionable bet to place. Any God worth 'believing in' would surely prefer an honest agnostic to a calculating hypocrite.
    • Alan Dershowitz
  • [O]ne should not have the arrogance to declare that God does not exist.
  • Until I get some evidence one way or the other which is compelling to me, I'm going to have to remain an agnostic.
  • Agnosticism simply means that a man shall not say he knows or believes that for which he has no grounds for professing to believe.
  • In matters of the intellect follow your reason as far as it will take you, without regard to any other consideration... and do not pretend that conclusions are certain which are not demonstrated or demonstrable. That I take to be the agnostic faith, which if a man keep whole and undefiled, he shall not be ashamed to look the universe in the face, whatever the future may have in store for him.
  • It is wrong for a man to say that he is certain of the objective truth of any proposition unless he can produce evidence which logically justifies that certainty. This is what agnosticism asserts.
  • We should be agnostic about those things for which there is no evidence. We should not hold beliefs merely because they gratify our desires for afterlife, immortality, heaven, hell, etc.
  • The Agnostic does not simply say, 'I do not know.' He goes another step and says with great emphasis that you do not know.
  • As a matter of fact, no one knows that God exists and no one knows that God does not exist. To my mind there is no evidence that God exists - that this world is governed by a being of infinite goodness, wisdom and power, but I do not pretend to know.
  • Fix reason firmly in her seat, and call to her tribunal every fact, every opinion. Question with boldness even the existence of a God; because, if there be one, he must more approve of the homage of reason, than that of blind-folded fear.
  • If I have been wrong in my agnosticism, when I die I'll walk up to God in a manly way and say, "Sir, I made an honest mistake."
  • Not to be absolutely certain is, I think, one of the essential things in rationality.
  • I don't know whether or not God exists, but I don't deny the possibility (on the other hand, I do deny that any God that has any personal interest in us as individuals exists -- you simply have to look around at the horrors of the world to know that that can't be true).
  • Indeed, I am a free rider, but only in the freedom from one set of cultural traditions usually gathered under the umbrella of religion. But, like everyone else, I face judges that are in their own ways transcendent and powerful: family and friends, colleagues and peers, mentors and teachers, and society at large. My judges may be lowercased and occasionally deceivable, but they are transcendent of me as an individual, even if they are not transcendent of nature; as such, together, we all stand in a long pilgrim community struggling down the evoloutionary and historical ages trying to live and love and learn to temper our temptations and do the right thing. I may be free from God, but the god of nature holds me to her temple of judgment no less than her other creations. I stand before my maker and judge not in some distant and future ethereal world, but in the reality of this world, a world inhabited not by spiritual and supernatural ephemera, but by real people whose lives are directly affected by my actions, and whose actions directly affect my life." (Written in respone to a review by Michael Novak, discussed in Shermer's The Science of Good and Evil.)
  • The person who admits that he does not know, is consequently open to learning.

See also

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