Agnosticism

Agnostics are just Atheists without balls. Moving on.” – Stephen Colbert

In case you’re wondering, my current position is probably best described as Agnostic. This is because my beliefs (or lack thereof) are better described by a lack of knowledge (a-gnosis) than a lack of God (a-theist).

I have probably had a lot more atheistic and nihilistic thoughts than many of the atheists and nihilists out there. I came to a place recently where I was 100% confident that having children should be made illegal and the world should be immediately brought to an end in order to prevent new minds from being dragged into the absolute horror of existence. How I escaped this conclusion, I’m not sure, (perhaps it will come back later, when I allow myself to think about it again) but I now realize that I can’t afford to think about existence too strongly, so long as I am employed in a profession that does not pay me to think about it. If I have a heart attack, lose my job, or end up on the street, things will not be easy. So for the time being I’ve decided to artificially stunt my thinking, distract myself with trivialities, and act like my old self again, with a few differences (more on the inside than on the outside).

“Agnostic” always used to make me think of “Apathetic” (perhaps because it begins with A, ends in C, and denotes a state of mind wherein one is not committed to anything). This is not true in my case. I don’t think I have met anyone live and in the flesh who thinks more intensely, and intentionally, about this stuff than I do. Not even at the front of a lecture hall (though I studied engineering, so this doesn’t say much). Nor have I met anyone else who reports being a pale, nauseous, shivering wreck in the middle of a sunny day due to pure, unadulterated existential panic. In my experience most people just pick a few arbitrary beliefs, rules, and desires and stick with them without ever really questioning them in the same way that they question other people’s beliefs. I don’t blame them. I’m not sure there’s anything else we can do.

I’m not an atheist for a couple of reasons. First, I am not really so sure that “there is no God.” This uncertainty isn’t wishful thinking or fear of divine wrath; it’s just what I actually think. I do not agree with the conclusions of my staunch materialist contemporaries, because I think their conclusions are incomplete and insufficient to account for the world in the way that they would have me believe. If I thought they accounted for the world, I would accept them (at least, then, I’d know what I believed). But as Sir Anthony Kenny puts it, atheism makes the stronger claim that there is no definition that makes “God exists” true, whereas theism only claims that there is one definition that makes “God exists” true. Agnosticism is the true default position, because ignorance need only be confessed. Second, I believe that people need God, whether he exists or not (and even if they think he has a lot to answer for). As a human being I am compelled to keep on searching for something transcendent, so I cannot adopt a position that outright denies such a thing.

The most striking thing about the world, to me, is not that there is no God, but that nobody has any idea what’s going on. Moreover, everyone has such strong opinions about what’s going on that it really quite blows my mind. Christians (with whom I have had the most experience) believe themselves to be in the company of millions of fellow believers, but in reality they all have their own special ideas and lifestyles that are specifically suited to them. They agree only on paper, and oftentimes not even then. The vocal atheists are almost as intolerable as charismatic Christians (if that were possible), as they are defined almost entirely by a blithe lack of belief in the “supernatural” (whatever that means). It isn’t even a worldview at all. Add in the rest of the globe’s population, and the world is just jam-packed with certainty. It is a simple consequence of logic that most people, living and dead, were fundamentally mistaken about existence. We know this, but we are unable to take that next logical step, and consider that we may also be fundamentally mistaken. We have no problems understanding why the rest of the world is deceived, but we do not consider that we may also be deceived.

I believe it is possible to discuss specific questions with high degrees of accuracy and insight, transcending even the human tendency to be wrong about everything. I believe that we may be able to learn deep things about the truth. But I cannot think of any number of facts–not even a book of all the secrets about life in a world to come–that could possibly account for this as a whole. It is all so fundamentally inconceivable. I would deny that it is even happening, except that it must be happening in order for me to talk about it.

The most fundamental tenet of my worldview, right now, is that the evidence does not add up in any one direction, and we do not have any of the answers to any of the important questions. And perhaps later on I will explain why I think this.

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7 Responses to “Agnosticism”

  1. “Nor have I met anyone else who reports being a pale, nauseous, shivering wreck in the middle of a sunny day due to pure, unadulterated existential panic.”

    This guy, though we have never met, uh, flesh to flesh.

    On definitions: I’m an agnostic atheist. That is, I do not hold my atheism with any grip, save that which I am able to wrestle out of the world I perceive. It is likely that I was wrong on the God Question, and it may be possible that I’m wrong on the atheism, too. Ergo, I’m agnostic, in a sense.

    I suppose I see it thus: agnosticism is related to an epistemological method, whereas atheism is a statement about my current state of awareness.

    Regardless, I can sympathize with angst.

    “As a human being I am compelled to keep on searching for something transcendent, so I cannot adopt a position that outright denies such a thing.”

    You might try, in some fashion that does not involve hammers and chisels, suppressing your right parietal lobe. That was an attempt at humour, but, really, it does work. Just ask stroke victims who have blockages in that region, or, alternatively, Buddhist monks.

  2. Thanks.

    >> You might try, in some fashion that does not involve hammers and chisels, suppressing your right parietal lobe

    Is it just me, or are you jargon-prone? I had to look this up. I don’t see anything about transcendence in the Wiki.

    Nonetheless, when I say “something transcendent,” I just mean “something.” Nothing can remove this need, save for a suppression of my entire brain… which I have briefly considered, but decided against.

  3. rwzero: “. As a human being I am compelled to keep on searching for something transcendent, so I cannot adopt a position that outright denies such a thing.”

    indeed, in spite of my agnosticism, atheism or theism (depending on the day, what I’ve read at that moment, or what’s going on around me) I keep coming back to this desire to “know god” for want of a better phrase. I absolutely hate that “god sized hole” metaphor that Christians use, but in some way I do have that longing…

    turning off pieces of my brain does not seem like a very suitable solution to this dilemma, no more than it would be for any other desire…

  4. No, not jargon prone. It’s from a few studies I’ve come across, the following being one of them.

    http://www.sciencedaily.com/releases/2008/12/081217124156.htm

    From the article: “We studied people with brain injury and found that people with injuries to the right parietal lobe of the brain reported higher levels of spiritual experiences, such as transcendence.”

  5. (I didn’t mean to suggest it was inaccurate jargon) – This is interesting; I thought that you were suggesting a way of removing a need. But you were suggesting a way of having mystical experiences. Hm. It sure would be nice to have one of those, even if it wouldn’t solve any problems.

  6. I resonate with this post b/c it describes my daily thought patterns, including the annoying existential thoughts. The hardest part is feeling alone, envying those that don’t entertain these thoughts.

  7. I wish I could be like them. One of the awful things about the angst is knowing that there can be no reward for it in this life, or in any life to come. Those who are without it are entirely better off.

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