Agnosticism FAQ

Status
Not open for further replies.

AgnosticBoy

Open-minded Skeptic
Administrator
Agnostic
Oct 1, 2020
848
159
TheAgnosticForum.com
Worldview

Agnosticism

I decided to start an FAQ on agnosticism so that people better understand what it is. Since some might say that there are different types of agnostics so I will specify that this FAQ page will mainly refer to the type of agnosticism that Thomas Huxley advocated for. Huxley's agnosticism would represent the original and fullest description of the term since he coined it and elaborated on it.

I'm open to input from others so that the responses are more accurate and/or representative of agnostics but I will specify if or when it deviates from Huxley's agnosticism. For any further questions, discussions, or suggestions on this FAQ, please post them in the Books & Articles section of the forum. Stay tuned for any edits or improvements that I make to each entry.

Questions:
1. What is agnosticism? (edited on 2/8/2021)
2. What views would an agnostic have? Should they be neutral views?
3. What are the characteristics of an agnostic's thinking?
4. Can an atheist be agnostic? (edited on 11/27/2020)
5. Can a Christian be agnostic? (edited on 1/27/2021)
6. Are agnostics non-ideological?

More to be added.
 
Last edited:

AgnosticBoy

Open-minded Skeptic
Administrator
Agnostic
Oct 1, 2020
848
159
TheAgnosticForum.com
Worldview

Agnosticism

What is agnosticism?

Many people today understand agnosticism to be the position that God's existence is unknown or unknowable. This is not inaccurate given the fact that 'agnostic' is a compound of two Greek words, "a" which means "no" and "gnosis" means "knowledge".

However, the first person who combined the two words was Thomas Huxley, and he offered a different meaning. Thomas Huxley defined agnosticism as being a principle (or even a method) that involved being scientifically minded when it came to all matters involving the intellect. Here are some of Huxley's definitions:
Agnosticism is of the essence of science, whether ancient or modern. It simply means that a man shall not say he knows or believes that which he has no scientific grounds for professing to know or believe.
Source: Source: "Agnosticism: A Symposium." The Agnostic Annual (1884).

Agnosticism, in fact, is not a creed, but a method, the essence of which lies in the rigorous application of a single principle.... Positively the principle may be expressed: In matters of the intellect, follow your reason as far as it will take you, without regard to any other consideration. And negatively: In matters of the intellect do not pretend that conclusions are certain which are not demonstrated or demonstrable."
Source: Agnosticism (1889) Collected Essays V (or read here)

Huxley's definition is unlike the ones found in modern dictionaries. The key difference is that Huxley doesn't view agnosticism as a position or a view, but rather he defined it as being a standard for agnostics to apply. Some may consider it an epistemic standard or even a skeptical one.

Related Discussion:
Did Huxley intend for agnosticism to be a position of uncertainty?
What is agnosticism? (full article)

Return to Question Index
 
Last edited:

AgnosticBoy

Open-minded Skeptic
Administrator
Agnostic
Oct 1, 2020
848
159
TheAgnosticForum.com
Worldview

Agnosticism

What views would an agnostic have? Should they be neutral views?
One common misconception about agnostics is that there is an agnostic view. Well, I should say that modern-day definitions describe agnosticism as the position on God's existence, but Huxley defined agnosticism as being a principle or method that involves being scientifically minded.

If we go by Huxley's definition, then we have to acknowledge that agnostics do not have one or a set of views that they must follow, but rather they can accept and follow any view that is supported by logic and evidence. This means that some times, an agnostic may agree with a view(s) of Christians, or that of atheists, or neither. Agnostics may even disagree with each other, just as scientists some times disagree with each other. But one thing that agnostics should agree on is following Huxley's principle or standard of being scientifically minded.

Return to Question Index
 
Last edited:

AgnosticBoy

Open-minded Skeptic
Administrator
Agnostic
Oct 1, 2020
848
159
TheAgnosticForum.com
Worldview

Agnosticism

What are the characteristics of an agnostic's thinking?
One common way that people identify agnostics is in terms of how the agnostic thinks or behaves. A lot of people expect agnostics to be wishy-washy, fence-sitters, non-committal, unsure or uncertain, etc. But are these even accurate or fair characteristics? Are they necessary characteristics? In this response, I want to provide a list of necessary characteristics that we can expect agnostics to have. These are the characteristics that logically stem from the definition of agnosticism. A natural place to start is with how Huxley described agnosticism and how he applied it.

I'll go over some of the common characteristics that people tend to apply to agnostics and see if that goes with Huxley's thinking.

Is being a fence-sitter or noncommittal necessary characteristics for agnostics to have? An agnostic can accept or commit to views that are proven as indicated by following quote from Huxley's writings:
Agnosticism is of the essence of science, whether ancient or modern. It simply means that a man shall not say he knows or believes that which he has no scientific grounds for professing to know or believe. - Huxley

And of course an agnostic can also choose to remain undecided or uncertain, but applying the above quotation, it's not the default position. The undecided position for agnostics would only apply when there is a lack of logic and evidence to take a side either way.

Open-mindedness? I would say yes because open-mindedness goes with being undogmatic. It's also one way how Huxley expressed his agnosticism as shown in the following:
That which is unproven today may be proven by the help of new discoveries to-morrow.
... And the only obligation accepted is to have the mind always open to conviction. Agnostics who never fail in carrying out their principles are, I am afraid, as rare as other people of whom the same consistency can be truthfully predicated. But, if you were to meet with such a phœnix and to tell him that you had discovered that two and two make five, he would patiently ask you to state your reasons for that conviction, and express his readiness to [247] agree with you if he found them satisfactory.

A key thing to notice is that Huxley is not advocating to be open-minded under any condition, as if you should just accept that anything is true. But nor should you be too skeptical as to think that only certain things can be true. You should be open enough to consider that anything can be true, no matter how far-fetched it sounds, but it is not accepted as truth unless there is valid logic and evidence for it or unless it is disproven.

Undogmatic? According to the following, agnostics are to be undogmatic by not placing full confidence in unproven views or ideologies:
Some twenty years ago, or thereabouts, I invented the word "Agnostic" to denote people who, like myself, confess themselves to be hopelessly ignorant concerning a variety of matters, about which metaphysicians and theologians, both orthodox and heterodox, dogmatise with the utmost confidence. - Huxley

A characteristic that Huxley brought up is that agnostics are "freethinkers". A freethinker is a person who forms their view on the basis of reason, and independent of authority, tradition, and commonly accepted or popular views.
When I reached intellectual maturity and began to ask myself whether I was an atheist, a theist, or a pantheist; a materialist or an idealist; Christian or a freethinker; I found that the more I learned and reflected, the less ready was the answer; until, at last, I came to the conclu[238]sion that I had neither art nor part with any of these denominations, except the last.

So in conclusion, an agnostic should be a freethinker, undogmatic, open-minded, and scientific-minded. There may be more characteristics than the ones I listed, but you can tell the necessary ones from the unnecessary or even inaccurate ones by seeing if the characteristic in question fulfills the goal of being undogmatic or of being scientifically-minded by not placing certainty in unproven things. That is the standard of the agnostic principle.

Return to Question Index
 
Last edited:

AgnosticBoy

Open-minded Skeptic
Administrator
Agnostic
Oct 1, 2020
848
159
TheAgnosticForum.com
Worldview

Agnosticism

Can an atheist be agnostic?
One of the reasons that Huxley coined agnosticism is to be a position against dogmatism. If we're considering Huxley's definition, then I would say that an atheist can not also be an agnostic. If we're considering a limited sense of agnosticism that only deals with God's existence (as opposed to all intellectual matters), then yes, an atheist can also be agnostic.

When it comes to the first scenario (the fullest sense of the word agnostic), the first thing to consider in answering the question is if atheists are dogmatic. By definition, positive or strong atheists are dogmatic when they believe that God doesn't exist. Negative atheists are usually not dogmatic when it comes to God's existence, however, that alone does not make them an agnostic in the fullest sense of the word. The reason is because an agnostic has to be non-dogmatic on all intellectual areas and not just towards religion or God's existence. One good way I look at it is that an agnostic has to be scientific-minded when it comes to religion, politics, philosophy, and any other area where the intellect can be applied. While negative atheists are scientific-minded when it comes to God, but oftentimes you find them becoming dogmatic when it comes to philosophy and politics (e.g. many atheists are liberal when it comes to politics).


*When I bring up the fullest sense of the word agnosticism, I'm referring to what it meant to Thomas Huxley when he coined the word. Here is Huxley explaining that he did not consider himself an atheist:
When I reached intellectual maturity and began to ask myself whether I was an atheist, a theist, or a pantheist; a materialist or an idealist; Christian or a freethinker; I found that the more I learned and reflected, the less ready was the answer; until, at last, I came to the conclusion that I had neither art nor part with any of these denominations, except the last. The one thing in which most of these good people were agreed was the one thing in which I differed from them. They were quite sure they had attained a certain "gnosis,"–had, more or less successfully, solved the problem of existence; while I was quite sure I had not, and had a pretty strong conviction that the problem was insoluble

Further clarifications:

- Re: Agnosticism FAQ | The Agnostic Forum



Return to Question Index
 
Last edited:

AgnosticBoy

Open-minded Skeptic
Administrator
Agnostic
Oct 1, 2020
848
159
TheAgnosticForum.com
Worldview

Agnosticism

Can a Christian be agnostic?
The answer depends and if we're going by modern-day definitions of agnosticism or if we're going by Huxley's agnosticism.

By modern day definitions, a Christian can be an agnostic. Under this position, the Christian can believe that something is true without claiming to know that it's true. This is contrary to Huxley's agnosticism where the agnostic can not accept anything as true based on belief.

If we go by Huxley's agnosticism, then a Christian can not be an agnostic. The simple reason for this is that Huxley says to not accept anything as true based on belief or opinion. If you accept anything as being true, then that certainty or acceptance should be backed by logic and evidence. Since this is contrary to what Christians do then they can not be agnostics in the fullest sense of the word.

Another way to answer if a Christian can also be agnostic is to ask if Christianity involves dogmatism. You have to remember that the goal of agnosticism is to be anti-dogmatic and since Christianity involves dogmatism, therefore a Christian cannot be agnostic per Huxley's standards.

When I reached intellectual maturity and began to ask myself whether I was an atheist, a theist, or a pantheist; a materialist or an idealist; Christian or a freethinker; I found that the more I learned and reflected, the less ready was the answer; until, at last, I came to the conclusion that I had neither art nor part with any of these denominations, except the last. The one thing in which most of these good people were agreed was the one thing in which I differed from them. They were quite sure they had attained a certain "gnosis,"–had, more or less successfully, solved the problem of existence; while I was quite sure I had not, and had a pretty strong conviction that the problem was insoluble
- Huxley

Return to Question Index
 

AgnosticBoy

Open-minded Skeptic
Administrator
Agnostic
Oct 1, 2020
848
159
TheAgnosticForum.com
Worldview

Agnosticism

Are agnostics non-ideological?

Going by Huxley's standard, agnostics are not to accept anything that isn't proven. This can lead an agnostic to accepting an ideology or worldview as true if it's proven. It may lead the agnostic to not accept any of it if none of it is proven. It may also lead the agnostic to only accept some of the ideology if only some of it is proven. The only ideology or systems of thought that that the agnostic accepts with certainty (and for practical reasons) are logic and science. In a lot of other cases, especially hot button cases (like on God's existence, politics, etc) the agnostic ends up not accepting or committing to any ideology, except perhaps whatever parts that are proven.

For instance, I consider myself agnostic when it comes to politics. I don't consider myself a Democrat because I disagree with some of their views, and I'm referring to their core views, like on immigration and gun rights. I don't consider myself a Republican because i have the same type of disagreements with their views. So oftentimes, I'm left not using any ideological lens (other than logic and evidence) to evaluate or judge a political issue.

Return to Question Index
 
Status
Not open for further replies.