A Criticism of Agnostic Theism

I use the agnostic label to describe my viewpoint concerning the possibility of intelligent creators. I sometimes clarify my viewpoint as an agnostic atheist when communicating with picky people that insist agnosticism is only descriptive of knowledge and doesn’t say anything about beliefs in gods. Agnostics are logically de facto weak atheists lacking theistic beliefs. I say this only if you must insist religious beliefs are worthy of consideration even though they aren’t “justifiable true beliefs” under the common definition of knowledge. Faith isn’t a sufficient justification for belief. The world’s religions aren’t worthy of consideration as faith based claims of knowledge, therefore theistic beliefs aren’t compatible with the agnostic acknowledgement that we lack such knowledge.

I continue to agree with the logic of the historical agnostics when they first invented and promoted the term. You can use the Library link at the top of the page to read some of their writings. Agnostics see knowledge as the standard for evaluating supernatural claims and believe we “lack knowledge” concerning such things as definable gods. The agnostic term means without knowledge, so an agnostic that believes in gods using faith has dismissed the primary reason for defining agnosticism in the first place. Theism is belief based on faith so it really has nothing to do with agnosticism or being an agnostic.

You may then wonder what the agnostic response is to agnostic theism as it’s presented on some websites. Austin Cline over at about.com writes about a myth that agnostic theism doesn’t exist by boiling down a criticism of the term to “no religious faiths allow a person to believe without knowing for sure.” This is a false premise unless religions are gnostic and claim to have justified true beliefs. I haven’t encountered such religions and have only experienced promoters of faith as proof of their beliefs. They may make some knowledge claims about their god but when they’re put through scientific scrutiny they fall back on faith as their justification. Religious belief claims don’t often try to live up to the standards of human knowledge except in circular logic like the Bible proving that the God in the Bible exists.

The about.com article argues that agnostic theism is valid but doesn’t present a good argument for these words to make sense together other than to refute a poorly crafted myth. Admittedly agnostic theism can be claimed just as much as as any combination of terms such as a left-handed man where being left-handed has nothing to do with gender. I could claim to be an atheist Christian if I want to twist logic and insist on a non-belief view of Christians as a tribal label passively accepted from our parents.

The same is true for claiming to be agnostic Christian or agnostic theist in the more general sense. They only work if I insist Christianity and theism aren’t making knowledge claims with their religion or beliefs. They would have to strictly be about their beliefs and not knowledge… but beliefs in what? Religions and theism consists of beliefs in supernatural claims that may or may not be justifiable as truth. These beliefs are weak knowledge claims even if they’re not claimed to be verifiable knowledge statements.

Being a theist is making an unverifiable statement about knowledge and being an agnostic takes a negative position regarding that knowledge. Agnostic theism would be a twisted logic way to say a person fully acknowledges their religion is completely unjustified but they choose to believe in it anyway. Theism already says this simply by using belief instead of knowledge.

Agnosticism doesn’t describe or qualify a belief in supernatural knowledge claims. On the contrary, agnosticism is as contradictory to those claims as the atheist position of lacking theistic beliefs. When presented with new god knowledge/belief claims, agnosticism and atheism come to the same conclusion of falsehood using two different default positions. Agnosticism starts from a default position that we don’t know about such things without verifiable evidence using common standards of knowledge. Atheism starts from the position that we don’t believe based on faith alone, without verifiable evidence, just cause, or whatever it is we generally establish disbelief. I’m actually not sure what atheism uses as a default standard for disbelief. Atheism only means lacking belief so I don’t see it as a useful starting position for why we should disbelieve and that’s why I’m primarily agnostic in my response to god claims.

3 thoughts on “A Criticism of Agnostic Theism

  1. “Agnostic theism would be a twisted logic way to say a person fully acknowledges their religion is completely unjustified but they choose to believe in it anyway.”

    I would agree with that, but that is a position one could take (I did, for a week or so). There’s no evidence for my belief but I believe anyways, because it works for me, makes me fell better, whatever… I could see some really liberal religious people taking that position.

  2. Jasen777, choosing to believe in god(s) regardless of the facts and relying on faith alone for justification is still theism. A really liberal religious person admitting their beliefs lack verifiable knowledge doesn’t meaningfully modify the fact that they believe in god(s). Such beliefs are still logically counter to admitting there’s no knowledge or reason to believe. It’s about as useful as saying you’re an atheist Christian and you’re going to continue doing what Christianity requires of you even though you no longer believe.

  3. I must counter your argument; in fact I must use education and science as basis for countering your argument. Let us both start by agreeing that most things we believe about science ranging from the theory of evolution; down to DNA strands and molecular biology are for the common person believed to be true yet unknown and often unknowable. Let me explain; whilst studying texts by scientists that have had the privilege of using electron microscopes or space telescopes is great; very few people have the access to such technology to verify such claims. What many claim as knowledge “gnosis” is actually belief. Verifying every piece of information would take more than a lifetime; we therefore allow belief to take the place of true knowledge. Maybe our limitations force us to make a judgement call. Do we A) test every piece of information presented to us OR B) believe the information presented? We predominantly choose B; we use our best judgement, some logic and a whole lot of faith in the educational institutions and individuals presenting us the information. Agnostic Theism is very much a similar concept; using our better judgement and logic we inevitably conclude that there is a strong possibility that something created that which exists. We find proof in the way that the world around us is. The proof is inconclusive but we are free to believe that the unknowable (agnostic) could be something and therefore believe (theism). One could ultimately argue that: This thing which is unknowable is a thing by the very fact that it is unknowable; we have agreed that it is unknowable and in that agreement we must concede that a thing being unknowable does not refute that it exists. Prior to gaining knowledge of the atom one could have decided that since it was unknown it did not exist – this argument would be flawed. It is therefore clear that agnosticism does not preclude one from believing in something. I do not have knowledge of quantum physics; I know of the existence of it because someone told me and I believed; I chose to believe.

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