virus: agnosticism (was "no purchase required")

Robin Faichney (
Sun, 9 May 1999 10:58:53 +0100

Eric writes
> 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; and, in my opinion,
>it is all that is essential to Agnosticism. That which Agnostics
>deny, and repudiate as immoral, is the contrary doctrine, that there
>are propositions which men ought to believe, without logically
>satisfactory evidence."
>Thomas Henry Huxley, "Agnosticism and Christianity and Other Essays"
>(1889, Buffalo, NY: Prometheus, 1992), p. 193.

OK, this is what I believe, what I "have faith in", if you like. But note, there's no mention of any god(s) there. (Thanks a lot for typing in these quotes, Eric. Saved me the trouble!)

>However, in a more recent sense, agnosticism has come to mean the
>positive assertion that *we cannot know* the truth about the existence
>or non-existence of god, and it is this sense which most people will
>think of if you call yourself an agnostic. I for one do not think
>this sense is at all useful.

You may be right about what most people take agnosticism to mean, but I tend to call myself "a radical agnostic", which I hope will wake people up from their assumption that they already know about it. My position on the existence of god(s) is that the concept can be used in an analogical sense, as for instance in the Buddhist "god-realm", which is open to all sentient creatures, and which actually signifies a psychological state typified by lifestyles of the rich and famous. (And that is seen as a fundamentally unhealthy state, even though such people can temporarily succeed in feeling like gods. Especially with the help of certain substances!) Or the god concept can be neglected altogether, which is what I tend to do.

But to return to the central point here: Huxley's Agnosticism is identical with the ideal scientific attitude, and to assert that there can be no god is as unscientific as to assert that there is one (or more), because (a) "god" is undefined, and (b) any likely definition will almost certainly be untestable. (Where there is a testable definition, of course, is another matter.)

The practical implication of which is that no sensible person will devote much time or energy to the issue. Let's face it, if they are "true believers", you're not going to convert them with reason -- and why should you try? Don't you have anything better to do? I'm tempted to add: e.g. like getting a life? :-)

(BTW, Eric, that's not aimed at you, rather at the more evangelical atheists around here.)