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josie's avatar

Just what in heck is an "agnostic"?

Asked by josie (30931points) July 20th, 2010

Let’s face it. Either there is evidence enough to “believe” something, or the evidence is not available, or credible, so you do not “believe” it. It is certainly OK to say “I don’t know”, but how long are you going to put off committing? I have friends who have been “agnostic” for 20 YEARS for heaven’s sake. How can you be uncertain for 20 years?

So maybe the problem is that I do not really understand what an “agnostic” really means when they say “I am agnostic”

So, enlighten me.

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64 Answers

syz's avatar

This seems more of a rant that a question…

I am atheist. In my opinion, clinging to religion out of some “blind faith” is just foolish. I suppose that you could say that an agnostic is more open minded than I am.

netgrrl's avatar

An agnostic is skeptical about the existence of god, but thinks we can’t know 100% for sure.

Austinlad's avatar

A person who believes God is unknown and probably unknowable, not committed to any particular religious belief but also not anti-religious. Woody Allen has a line that sums it up nicely…

“I don’t know whether there’s a heaven or hell, but I’m taking a change of underwear just in case.”

DominicX's avatar

The definitions of these “belief” terms get pretty muddled together and unclear. An agnostic is someone who believes that the existence of God is unknowable. I heard a joke once that said “I’m a militant agnostic. I don’t know whether God exists and neither do you.” It is my belief that no one can know whether God exists or not, so that makes me an agnostic. An agnostic may tend to think he exists (agnostic theist) or tend to think he doesn’t exist (agnostic atheist).

netgrrl's avatar

It really doesn’t mean your friend isn’t committed to his/her beliefs, you know.

There’s a lot of things I can know one way or the other… the existence of life on other planets, for instance.

Mariah's avatar

You can be uncertain for 20 years because we haven’t exactly gotten any definitive evidence one way or the other in the last 20 years.

LuckyGuy's avatar

I figure an agnostic is an atheist who does not what to offend or piss off a believer.

El_Cadejo's avatar

agnostic is saying you dont completely deny all possible existences of a god like being. Athesist is fuck this, its all shit and could never happen. Agnostic is more open minded to say I really dont think its possible, but you never know, and if presented proof i will gladly change my opinion.

rooeytoo's avatar

I am an agnostic but I believe in insurance, so when something good happens I always roll my eyes heavenward and say thank you.

El_Cadejo's avatar

@rooeytoo pascals wager no?

rooeytoo's avatar

@uberbatman – pretty much covers the whole issue for me and really I think isn’t a bad way to lead one’s life.

aprilsimnel's avatar

Agnosticism: IF there is a “god”, how would we humans dare to claim to know the true nature of such a being?

DrasticDreamer's avatar

I’m agnostic. Like other people have pointed out, I don’t believe that it’s possible for people to know one way or another whether or not god, or a “higher” being exists. That said, I think it’s highly unlikely that god exists… But, it’s impossible to know. As for feeling this way because I don’t want to piss people off? Ha! Couldn’t care less about that. My beliefs are my own, I don’t have them to please or displease anyone else.

Lacking the ability or willingness to commit? No to that, as well. In my mind, it’s foolish to say “I KNOW god exists” or “I KNOW god doesn’t exist”. Really? Prove it – either way.

Blackberry's avatar

Your friends have been uncertain for so long because we still don’t have the answers. When we all find out where the universe came from, then we can banish this word lol.

Pandora's avatar

@Austinlad LMAO, love the quote!
“I don’t know whether there’s a heaven or hell, but I’m taking a change of underwear just in case.”
I agree with @DrasticDreamer as to what most agnostics think, but I think that some like Woody Allen, as mentioned by @Austinlad may be just want to hedge there bets.

ipso's avatar

I find this site the best resource for anything to do with religion.

ratboy's avatar

One can be agnostic about various matters, other than the existence of the supernatural. Is it a virtue to have an opinion about everythig?

ninjacolin's avatar

if presented sufficient proof anyone would believe anything. atheists aren’t people who are “stuck” atheists neither are theists people who are “stuck” theists.

The agnostic is undecided as yet. They’ve heard a lot of arguments from both sides and find themselves without a strong opinion one way or the other. They believe they cannot know simply because they happen not to believe they know.

Mariah's avatar

For some of you above commenters, who say that being agnostic means believing that the existence of a god is unknowable: do you mean that it will NEVER be knowable, or that it’s just not knowable with the evidence that we have presently?

I consider myself agnostic, but I’m not even willing to commit to the idea that the existence of a god will never be knowable. I do however believe that it’s presently unknowable. Call me indecisive, I call it not leaping to conclusions.

Mariah's avatar

@josie “Let’s face it. Either there is evidence enough to “believe” something, or the evidence is not available, or credible, so you do not “believe” it.

An agnostic would be someone who not only doesn’t believe it but also doesn’t believe that the opposite is necessarily true.

El_Cadejo's avatar

@rooeytoo why not live by atheist wager instead.

“You should live your life and try to make the world a better place for your being in it, whether or not you believe in god. If there is no god, you have lost nothing and will be remembered fondly by those you left behind. If there is a benevolent god, he will judge you on your merits and not just on whether or not you believed in him”

DrasticDreamer's avatar

@Mariah I’m about to get annoying, most likely, but:

To say that the existence of a “higher” power will never be known is just as foolish to proclaim that one knows now. There’s no telling the future, so who knows?

netgrrl's avatar

@ubernatman That’s precisely why I identify, if asked, as a secular humanist.

El_Cadejo's avatar

@netgrrl I consider myself the same.

RealEyesRealizeRealLies's avatar

Agnostics have both boy parts, and girl parts. And they can’t make up their minds which one they want to use.

meatheadbox's avatar

Your friends will be agnostic until the end of their lives, fore one can never & will never know if God exists/doesn’t, hence the philosophy of agnosticism. The ratiocination for why never & will never know is due to physical limitations. Mankind resides & depends on the palpable universe & we use tangible apparatuses to explicate everything, whether it be science or philosophy (which is human syllogism). However, God does not reside in a corporeal existence and can’t be bound to the materialistic fore God would cease to be God. The alternative is an atheist/believer which is an utterly leap of faith philosophy for/against God fore it consists of emotional intuitions driven by indeterminate human reasoning but is done so regardless for perhaps peace of mind or rationalization that this unstipulation is deemed as fact. Skepticism has no role in agnosticism as some people on here wrote that it is, which is wrong.

Dr_Lawrence's avatar

It is much harder to know for sure there is or could not possibly be something suitable to be called G_d than it is to admit you don’t know but are still open minded to the possibility there is.

Nullo's avatar

Agnostics are the bench-warming slackers of the religious world. You can often get an agnostic to turn funny colors by telling him that “agnostic” is the Greek equivalent to the Latin “ignoramus.”

Lots of people are effectively agnostic: they believe that there is a God, but they haven’t bothered much with who He is or what He’s about. I suspect that the denominations on the very fringes of what is commonly recognized as Christianity get their doctrine from these sorts of quasi-agnostics. Unitarians and parts of the UCC come to mind.

DrasticDreamer's avatar

@Nullo Bench-warming slackers of the religious world? Ah… ha… hahaha…hahahahaaaa! :)

Nullo's avatar

@DrasticDreamer Glad you liked it :D. At first I was going to put “fence-sitting,” but I decided that I liked “bench-warming” better.

rooeytoo's avatar

@uberbatman – I don’t see much difference between the two stances, different words perhaps but the same results.

josie's avatar

@Mariah “An agnostic would be someone who not only doesn’t believe it but also doesn’t believe that the opposite is necessarily true.” So what option is left? What is the third thing to believe?
@aprilsimnel “IF there is a “god”, how would we humans dare to claim to know the true nature of such a being?” Even my friends who are believers will say that God is unknowable. That seems to be a given about God. So how can that be an excuse for agnosticism?
I think @worriedguy is on the right track. Saying you are agnostic is to religion as being an independent is to politics. It is a socially acceptable way of dealing with being afraid to state your case.

El_Cadejo's avatar

@rooeytoo how so? You are believing just for the sake of doing so to save your own ass. My stance is I dont give a fuck but ill live my life as best I can, If there is a god it will see i lived a good life.

I feel a god would look more kindly on my approach than yours. In your approach you are concerned with just saving yourself in the end. Not really believing in such a god but doing it only as, as you say, “insurance.” Where as while i dont make the attempt to believe, im living a good life helping others.

rooeytoo's avatar

@uberbatman – I still think it is semantics, but if you think your way is better, good on ya mate. I’ll probably see you in heaven (if there is one – rolls eyes upward and says “no offense.)

ucme's avatar

What, you don’t know? I don’t believe you….but then again.

Blackberry's avatar

There are also agnostics that lean towards atheism. Of course it’s not logical to say that a god doesn’t exist %100, but you can be %99 sure. That other %1 is just logic.

aprilsimnel's avatar

I think a lot of people who claim to have the true faith believe that they know the nature of their god, and what that god says is the right and wrong way for people to conduct their affairs at all times in all places, and knows how their god thinks. I see this all the time. Evangelicals and various dogmatic fundies of a number of religions, mostly.

Agnostics are those who aren’t sure whether there’s a god or not, and if one does exist what it’s all about. Agnostics are saying that neither The Pope nor Richard Dawkins necessarily have the “answers” to the questions about our purpose or creation, no matter how authoritatively they put those “answers” before everyone, and that they don’t either, and that nobody really knows..

Poor things. It’s almost like bisexuals or mixed-race people. Everyone demands that they choose a side and stay there, dammit! not for the benefit of the person, but for the comfort of those making the demand. I’m an atheist, but agnostics have a right to shrug their shoulders and say, “Hey, I don’t know if there’s a supernatural being out there or what.”

Mariah's avatar

@josie We don’t believe anything at all on the matter. We might have some theories that we entertain, but we don’t throw ourselves behind them and call it a belief. We don’t feel the need to form an opinion on every single matter, especially those where we simply don’t have the evidence.

@DrasticDreamer That is my opinion as well; I just wanted to ascertain that that is what other people meant by unknowable. Thanks

josie's avatar

@aprilsimnel It has nothing to do with my comfort about their lives. I really do not care what they do as long as they do not interfere with mine. I just simply do not understand the epistemological limbo that “agnostics” live in. How do you make a decision about anything important if taking no position at all is a legitimate position?
So, we look at the facts of reality, and gather the evidence and draw a conclusion. Some people have done this and concluded that there is a God.
Others, like me, have looked at the evidence and concluded that there is no God.
I do not see how it is possible to say, maybe yes, maybe no, and be comfortable with your relationship to reality. But this is more of an issue of my curiosity about how people think, and not if I care about how they live their lives. I don’t.

RealEyesRealizeRealLies's avatar

My problem with agnostics is that they aren’t antagonostic enough. Makes it difficult to pick a fight with them.

RealEyesRealizeRealLies's avatar

How many agnostics does it take to screw in a light bulb?

Ah COME ON!!! Make up your mind!

El_Cadejo's avatar

@josie its not that are taking no position. They are taking the position of keeping an open mind. I dont believe in the existence of a god, i really really think that god is nothing more than a construct of man, but I can never really know for sure that a god doesn’t exist somewhere out there. It would be ignorant for me to even say such.

So they keep a more open mind. There is no proof of existence, but neither proof of absolute non existence.

josie's avatar

@uberbatman Non existence has no proof-there can be no evidence of existence if something does not exist to leave the evidence. So,again, what is the confusion?

El_Cadejo's avatar

@josie How do you know there isnt evidence but we as humans arent advanced enough to see it yet? We used to think the earth was flat and the center of the universe.

Im not saying religion is right, fuck, i loathe the existence of religion, I just believe its very naive to completely dismiss the idea of there possibly being a higher being out there. You really dont know. Its like saying for sure there is no alien life forms out there. I mean we have no proof of their existence but again, to completely dismiss the idea of extraterrestrial life because the existence is yet to provide itself is naive.

Disc2021's avatar

Is it that unbelievable that some people just dont like to define God or Truth into concrete terminology, church, worship and text interpretation? We have realized that while religion may (or often may not) have everything to do with spirituality, spirituality has little to do with religion itself; it transcends such a concept.

@RealEyesRealizeRealLies My problem with agnostics is that they aren’t antagonostic enough. Makes it difficult to pick a fight with them. That seems to be the continuous goal and overall focus of religion – Fight, pick fights and fight some more. Agnostics realize this and most of the time dont want anything to do with it. All we see is fighting, lies, manipulation, dogma, deception, war, hatred, etc. – completely the opposite of what it supposedly promotes. Some agnostics are spiritual and believe that there is much more to God than what is said in church or the old book and some just dont care because the message is lost in all of the trash religion is associated with.

This is what religion means to me: Go to church. Sit, stand, sit, stand, sit, stand. Sing. Sing. Sing. Listen (zone out) without asking any questions. Dogma-compete with your fellow worshipers. Leave until Sunday and do it all over again.

RealEyesRealizeRealLies's avatar

don’t tase me bro’

No no, really, I agree. That’s what religion is… A God Taser.

But really, if some agnostics are sitting around thinking that God is something more than what religion can depict, then they aren’t really agnostics.

DrasticDreamer's avatar

@RealEyesRealizeRealLies They are if they think it’s a possibility and not a fact.

Also… I’m very antagonistic. :D

RealEyesRealizeRealLies's avatar

Oh I’m not arguing against agnostrils. They have rights. I would enslave them if I could. They’d be great at picking up city clutter on the sidewalks whilst contemplating all the possibilities. I just wish they’d do something useful. They’re kind of a mange upon the Theist/Atheist debate. Makes me want to scratch.

It’s like a football game with two teams, Athiests vs Theists. But we gotta break at half time just so the marching band of agnosticklish can prance across the goal line a couple of times.

DrasticDreamer's avatar

@RealEyesRealizeRealLies Don’t worry, I would enslave you, too.

RealEyesRealizeRealLies's avatar

don’t threaten me with a good time

Nullo's avatar

@RealEyesRealizeRealLies Kudos for “agnostrils!

@Disc2021 That’s a good sign that you’re mired in ceremony. A good round of Sunday involves a surprising amount of critical thinking. What does this mean? Did the pastor say something different last time around? I see how Passage A and Passage B fit, but C’s a bit odd, I wonder why? Does this bit tie in with Proverbs? What does this mean for me?

The reason for the conflict surrounding religion is that it’s very important stuff that a person can’t afford to be wrong about. If your neighbor is behaving in a soul-damning fashion, you naturally want to help him. He won’t want to be helped, though, and you have difficulty conveying just how high the stakes are, and somewhere along the way you get frustrated and might possibly lose your temper.
It’s not a religion thing, see, but a people thing. You get the same noise in politics, sports, games, anything that a person can develop strong opinions about.

But for the record, I’m pretty sure that @RealEyesRealizeRealLies was being silly with the “antagonostic” line.

Blackberry's avatar

Have you guys ever seen those Atheist motivational posters? They’re hilarious.

RealEyesRealizeRealLies's avatar

Yes they are. I love em’. Though I am a Theist, I love anything that gives a Theist reason to think about their beliefs.

Disc2021's avatar

@Nullo I was talking about what religion meant to me. Perhaps Sunday morning at church is the perfect environment for some people to engage in critical thinking, but to me, I’d prefer another. I get enough of that at school, with friends, while reading, interpreting works of art, etc. I just see church as a one-sided argument in which there is no room for question – the people that have questions are usually shown the door or are unwelcome/stigmatized.

Important, sure, I’ll give you that. Important enough to start wars, judge, stigmatize or persecute others? I’m not so sure I follow.

For one, assuming that someone who doesn’t read from the same book as you do needs help or saving is incredibly condescending and articulates the pompous attitude the world is simply just better off without. I think we should all be free to read, practice and believe whatever we want(with obvious exceptions considering law) and I think religious people need to accept that, and get over their need to “help” those who believe in another path and stop superimposing their views onto them.

Perhaps politics generate the same amount of heat – but games, sports and most other things dont. In addition to that, I’m not so sure I agree completely with the politics we practice either as that’s usually just as and often more messy.

And to the comment I responded to, whether it was serious or silly it still articulates my point.

Nullo's avatar

@Disc2021 A good pastor will answer your questions, or at least try. Consider it a litmus test. Though it really helps if you don’t go in with a hostile attitude. That is certainly off-putting.

I enjoy putting salvation in the context of lifeboats, so I shall do so here.
Say you’re on a cruise with a friend. Due to a terrible mistake on the charts, the submarine topography rips a hole in the hull. The captain gives the order to abandon ship. You realize that your friend is still in his cabin, and probably has his iPod cranked up as usual, so that he can’t hear the PA.
Is it wrong, at this point, to go tell your friend that the ship is sinking, and that everybody needs to get to the lifeboats? Is it condescending? Arrogant?
You may not think that the ship is sinking. You may think that I’m full of it. But I see a hole in the hull, and until it’s patched or we’re all on a different ship, I’m going to worry about it.

Have you not seen the fights that break out during sporting events, though? Riots are not uncommon at soccer matches, in those countries where soccer is the more popular sport. The heat is there, all that’s lacking is scale and leadership. And I’ve seen some pretty heated arguments over a Scrabble board.
Incidentally, a surprisingly large number of so-called religious conflicts were in fact regular conflicts with a religious garnish on top. Most of the Crusades, for instance, were about glory and riches and chasing the Saracens out of Europe.

DominicX's avatar

I see it more as you see a hole in the side of the ship; they look at the same side of the ship and don’t see it. And there’s no way of knowing who’s perspective is the correct one. Each side tries to convince the other that they’re right and the other is wrong.

Again, I’m not an atheist. I’m more playing devil’s advocate here.

Disc2021's avatar

@Nullo I have religious friends (one of which that goes to an actual seminary) that not only answer my questions but respect my stance on religion as well as my right to believe whatever I choose. That’s the kind of Christianity I believe in. In any other situation, usually, it doesn’t work like that. If I were to ask those kinds of questions in a church, or “out” myself as an agnostic in any other religious context (which I have), I get an aversive reaction I can’t really describe – almost like the deer in the headlights. I’ve never approached anyone with a hostile attitude, most of the time, the people I approached were frustrated that I didn’t just simply believe in what they did.

I could use the same metaphor you’re using from my perspective – as @DominicX is pointing out. Ultimately, it’s an endless battle.

I have seen the fights and riots that break out during sporting events and I’m still quite dismissive with you on this. Religion has more blood on it’s hands than sporting events.

Pied_Pfeffer's avatar

@Disc2021 I completely understand your viewpoint. When I told an old college friend who is now a minister that I am agnostic, his response was, “That’s OK. God still loves you.” The result was one more step towards atheism.

Disc2021's avatar

@Pied_Pfeffer That’s EXACTLY what I’m talking about. That attitude seems to plague most religious followers – If you just scrap that entire pompous, dogmatic “We’re better than you” attitude, religion is actually a good and peaceful thing.

Pied_Pfeffer's avatar

@Disc2021 I don’t consider him pompous, just not open-minded. There was a knee-jerk reaction on my part, and it made me laugh later.

I respect the atheists who desire proof and the theists who rely on faith. It is the people who say they can speak for how their god would respond to a certain individual’s actions or beliefs that leaves me dumbfounded. How do they actually know?

mattbrowne's avatar

Scientifically speaking all educated atheists and theists are agnostics. There is zero evidence for an uncreated creator and there is zero evidence for a multiverse (as the only reasonable explanation for our very special universe). Science can’t decide this issue. So we are left with beliefs. True agnostics don’t want to decide what to believe. We should respect that.

soozaloozakpow's avatar

I consider myself agnostic and understand some viewing it as “wishy washy”. What stops me from taking the Atheist route is recognizing I am not infallible. If I had to put money on it, I would bet there is no god. I am not easily persuaded by faith alone, but rather need empirical evidence to convince me of truth. However, I am not so narcissistic that I perceive my beliefs and powers of deduction superior to all others. I am open to the possibility I am wrong and that tangible proof may not be imperative for something to be real. Perhaps a little different than believing there is ultimately no way of knowing, I recognize there is chance that what I believe could be wrong.
My personal beliefs aside, I am always interested in what motivates other people’s beliefs and what defines different religions. I respect the religious beliefs people have and feel strongly about showing people respect regardless of their religion, as long as they display the same respect for others.

Mariah's avatar

@soozaloozakpow This. Exactly. GA.

My train of thought… I have had a mere 18 years on this planet to take in information and mull it all over; that’s not very long. I’m not going to claim that I in my 18 years have managed to find the truth on a very important topic, one that our species through thousands and thousands of years of contemplation still can’t agree upon.

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