Monday, September 3, 2007

What is agnosticsim?

Q: What is agnosticism?

A: Agnosticism refers to the philosophical position that it is not possible to know whether or not a god or gods exist. This is a separate issue from whether or not the person in question actually has a personal belief in a god or not. Someone can be an agnostic and believe in a god at the same time -- they simply believe that while no one can know for sure, they personally do have a belief. This person would be a theist. On the other hand, someone can be an agnostic and not have a belief in a god -- while no one can know for sure, they personally do not have a belief.

Theists and atheists can be agnostic, or they can reject agnosticism, taking the philosophical position that not only is it possible to know whether not a god or god exists, but that they in fact actually know.

An agnostic who doesn't make a call one way or the other -- after all, why commit if you can't know? -- would, under the very general definition of atheism as "an absence of god-belief", be considered an atheist.

One of the key points is that agnosticism is a separate axis from the presence or absence of actual belief in the individual. It is a statement about whether or not the existence of deities is knowable, rather than about whether the person in question is a believer or not.

4 comments:

Anonymous said...

Look, I'm an atheist and I don't know whether or not gods exist. For me to say gods definitely don't exist I would have to have total knowledge of everything in the universe.
My definition of an agnostic is a wishy washy fence sitter that can't make up his mind.
You either believe in a god or you don't there is no middle ground.

mr zyphl

Anonymous said...

that would be significant, if you had the right to define words for the rest of the English speakers in the world.

which you do not.

you are an agnostic atheist. So am I. This article seeks to educate its readers. Please stand up for the principles of reason and rationalism and allow yourself to be educated.

finally, the proper term for a wishy washy fence sitter should be "wishy washy fence sitter", because "agnostic" does not fit the definition. If you want a more elegant term you could call them "undecided".

Anonymous said...

I'm a Buddhist and find that many people get very confused about the god issue as it relates to Buddhism. Buddhists are atheists because they don't believe in a personified, separate god being, but they do believe in enlightened mind, which some people would claim is just another way of describing God.

Most Buddhists who have practiced for any reasonable amount of time would say they definitely do know that there is such a thing as enlightened mind, either because of personal experience of because their teacher has convinced them that this is so. Therefore Buddhists are atheists, but not agnostics.

I found your definition useful in making that distinction in terms of Buddhism.

Jeff Hebert said...

Glad you found it helpful, Anonymous. Buddhism tends to confuse people and sometimes explaining it can be tough. I remember my sister-in-law staring blankly at me and saying "That seems awfully selfish" when I was trying to tell her what it was all about.