Officially Agnostic

Thomas Henry Huxley (* 4. Mai 1825 in Ealing, Middlesex; ? 29. Juni 1895 in Eastbourne) CDV 8,9 x 5,6 an den Ecken beschnitten
Thomas Henry Huxley (* 4. Mai 1825 in Ealing, Middlesex; ? 29. Juni 1895 in Eastbourne) CDV 8,9 x 5,6 an den Ecken beschnitten

By Karla Fetrow

The middle ground between believers and non-believers, the religious and non-religious is a school of thought known as agnostic people. Under formal definitions, an agnostic contends that there is not enough empirical evidence to prove the existence of a deity or deities, but that to dismiss the possibility also requires a leap of faith. Their philosophy is based on separating beliefs from certain knowledge. Agnostics have been defined in a number of ways and the term is sometimes used to describe a skeptical approach to questions. It is also sometimes used by people who express a spiritual rather than religious belief, but still have doubts.

The Uncommitted

As agnostics do not believe humankind has enough knowledge to prove or disprove the existence of a God, they are generally highly secular in their views on religion. To such ones, none of the religions can prove the tenets of their belief beyond a doubt, but they all carry the characteristics of possibilities. As early as ancient Greece, there were agnostic thinkers, among them Pyrrho, Protagoras and Sextus Empiricus. Socrates encouraged a skeptical approach to epistemology, which is basically a theory of knowledge. Ancient Hindu scripts reflect a great deal of agnosticism among its thinkers, such as the philosopher from the fifth century B.C.E., Sanjaya Belathaputta, who expressed doubts about the belief in an after-life, and the Rig Veda, which questions the origin of the Universe.

The Enlightened Thinkers

The Age of Enlightenment, which brought such thinkers as Thomas Paine, John Locke and George Berkeley, also brought philosophers who examined the concepts of free will. David Humes, whose psychology was stated in the “Science of Man”, concluded that desire rather than reason governed human behavior. Contrary to reformist thinking, he proposed that, “reason is and ought only to be the slave to passions.” Amending Humes’ skeptical views, Immanuel Kant argued that reason was the source of our morality. His hope was to bring reason together with experience, ending the age of speculation about objects that do not conform to our cognition.

Officially Agnostic

Thomas Henry Huxley first used the word in the 1860s as a means of defining his own religious philosophy. Stating as he could not be considered an atheist, pantheist, materialist, and idealist or a Christian, his closest affiliations to any of the denominations was to a free thinker. It occurred to him that the antithesis of the Christian Gnostic, absorbed in spirituality, would be agnostic, he coined the phrase to help clarify his position. The Gnostics, he explained, professed to have certain knowledge of the very things to which he was very ignorant. To his immense satisfaction, the word came to mean those who questioned answers given to metaphysical issues that were basically unknowable.

The Development of the Term

An exemplary orator of the late nineteenth century followed in the path of Huxley with lectures explaining his views of agnosticism. In America, he was referred to as the “Great Agnostic”. He elaborated on his beliefs, he stated he did not know if there was a supernatural power governing the movement of humankind, but he did not believe. His belief was that nature was supreme. Nature, he argued, left nothing to chance; that every event is necessary, with countless causes and countless effects.

The Agnostic Believer

Not all agnostic people were willing to express doubts about a creator. Author Bernard Russell, when expanding on his views centered around his 1927 thesis, “Why I Am Not a Christian” reveals his strong agnostic leanings in his objections to the arguments for the existence of God. He also had moral objections to Christian teaching. At one point in his career as a lecturer, he stated he was an atheist, for to question the existence of God negates the question concerning the nature of God. Yet later he concluded that a benevolent, omnipotent God could not be disproved just because he believed it could. Perhaps this was the dawn of the so-called Agnostic-Atheist, which is a relatively new hybrid of two opposite philosophies.

Agnosticism is not a statement of belief or disbelief but one of declaring that human understanding does not yet have the knowledge to call certain things true. Although the term agnosticism is fairly recent, agnostics have lived in every society under every type of religious beliefs. It has developed as both a philosophy and a psychology. As agnostics are encouraged to use free thought, it could be said that agnostics are searchers for the truth.

About karlsie

Some great perversity of nature decided to give me a tune completely out of keeping with the general symphony; possibly from the moment of conception. I learned to read and speak almost simultaneously. The blurred and muffled world I heard through my first five years of random nerve loss deafness suddenly came alive with the clarity of how those words sounded on paper. I had been liberated for communications. I decided there was nothing more wonderful than writing. It was easier to write than carefully modulate my speech for correct pronunciation, and it was easier to read than patiently follow the movements of people’s lips to learn what they were saying. It was during that dawning time period, while I slowly made the connection that there weren’t that many other people who heard the way I did, halfway between sound and music, half in deafness, that I began to understand that the tune I was following wasn’t quite the same as that of my classmates. I was just a little different. General education taught me not only was I just a little isolated from my classmates, my home was just a little isolated from the outside world. I was born in Alaska, making me part of one of the smallest, quietest minorities on earth. I decided I could live with this. What I couldn’t live with was discovering a few years later, in the opening up of the pipeline, which coincided with my first year of junior college, that there were entire communities of people; more than I could possibly imagine; living impossibly one on top of another in vast cities. It wasn’t even the magnitude of this vision that inspired me so much as the visitors who came from these populous regions and seemed to possess a knowledge so great and secretive I could never learn it in any book. I became at once, very conscious of how rural I was and how little I knew beyond the scope of my environment. I decided it was time to travel. The rest is history; or at least, the content of my stories. I traveled... often to college campuses, dropping in and out of school until one fine day by chance I’d fashioned a bachelor of arts degree in psychology. I’ve worked a couple of newspapers, had a few poems and stories tossed around in various small presses, never receiving a great deal of money, which I’m assured is the norm for a writer. I spent ten years in Mexico, watching the peso crash. There is some obscure reason why I did this, tightening up my belt and facing hunger, but I believe at the time I said it was for love. Here I am, back home, in my beloved Alaska. I’ve learned somewhat of a worldly viewpoint; at least I like to flatter myself that way. I’ve also learned my rural roots aren’t so bad after all. I work in a small, country store. Every day I greet the same group of local customers, but make no mistake. My store isn’t a scene out of Andy Griffith. The people who enter the establishment, which also includes showers, laundry and movie rentals, are miners, oil workers, truck drivers, construction engineers, dog sled racers and carpenters. Sometimes, on the liquor side, the conversations became adult only in vocabulary. It’s a good thing, on the opposite side of the store is a candy aisle filled with the most astonishing collection, it will keep a kid occupied with just wishing for hours. If you tell your kids they can have just one, you have an instant baby sitter; better than television; as they agonize over their choice while you catch up on the gossip with your neighbor. We also receive a lot of tourists, a lot of foreign visitors. They are usually amazed at this first sign of Alaskan rural life style beyond the insulating hub of the Anchorage bowl. Many of them like to hang around and chat. They gawk at our thieves wanted posters. They laugh at our jokes and camaraderie with our customers. I’ve learned another lesson while working there. You don’t have to go out and find the world. If you wait long enough, it comes to you.

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