My agnostic testimony
For the most part, I don’t really buy the semantic system where “agnosticism” is a concept mutually exclusive to “atheism” or “theism.” (Although interestingly enough, once upon a time I did. I’ve found an early post of mine on a message board I visit where I nonchalantly claim, “Agnosticism FTW…it’s the most logical choice.” This comment was written in a topic whose title was: “Religion is stupid, but so is atheism.” So….)
At some point, I realized that in the few testimonies I bore (especially one at Youth Conference), the phrase that was making the room deadly silent (hidden around sentences about enjoying the practical parts of church) was: “I don’t really believe in God.” At some point, alone, I said the sentence without the really and only then did I realize what I was (really) saying: “I don’t believe in God.” And I gasped: I’ve been saying I’m an atheist all along and I haven’t realized it.
I know people will say, “Well, no, atheists positively reject god. They believe god does not exist, not just do not believe he doesn’t exist.” And didn’t I once think that way too, since I thought so poorly of atheism?
And yet, there I was, with the impression that my nonbelief made me an atheist, not just an agnostic.
Since then, I’ve talked to self-professed “just agnostics” who try to impress upon me how they are neither theist nor atheist. How they neither believe nor disbelieve. I can understand as far as they say “I neither believe there is a god nor believe there is not,” because I think, “Me too!” but then, I don’t know how they follow up by saying, “I neither believe nor disbelieve there is a god.” How can one neither believe nor not believe in something? What middle option is there?
I get that a lot of people define “disbelieve” to mean “believe the opposite claim” (notwithstanding what seems to be a pretty straightforward definition), and so they take atheism solely to mean the belief that there is no god, because without a distinguished definition of “disbelief,” the alternative definitions lose any distinction. So, when they say, “I neither believe nor disbelieve,” they are asserting, “I neither believe there is or believe there isn’t.”
…but that’s semantics. Over time, I’ve come to realize that language isn’t quite as prescriptive as I thought. It changes; it is political; it aims to persuade. And in any case, some people try to say that their “withholding a position” is still different from “not believing”.
And notwithstanding the definitions that people use, and however much I agree or disagree with them, I find that there are some lines of reasoning that certain people who identify in certain ways use. These different lines of reasoning give me some way to classify them in contrast to me.
I can see now, for example, that even if I don’t necessarily agree that “agnostic” should be a term mutually exclusive to atheism or theism, many self-professed “just agnostics” have a way at looking at things or asking questions that never occur to me. Like ID_v_EGO on twitter; many of his tweets seem to me to be contrarian, and I wonder why. But then I realize that he’s really gripping with what he feels are inadequacies with both “sides” — theism and atheism. For the most part, I recognize many of his issues with theism (so I won’t list them), but in addition, he has a distinct…awareness? appreciation?… of consciousness and qualia and identity that he can’t quite mentally incorporate with materialistic reductionism that seems to be gaining steam. (He tweeted once, “Once you get past the necessary assumption that you don’t exist, materialistic reductionism is pretty easy to swallow.” I started following him because earlier on, he tweeted something about how if he became an atheist, he would live nihilistically, only for himself — and I was curious as to why he believed atheism or materialism or anything else required nihilism without some kind of subjective value projection.)
Many of these issues just don’t really bother me. I guess that’s what theists mean when they claim atheists of “not taking their worldview seriously” or “not taking their worldview all the way through.” I dunno.
But anyway, conversations with him and a few others like him make me appreciate that if there is such a thing as a “just agnostic” distinct from atheist or theist, then I probably am not it.
…and yet, sometimes I get into conversations with atheists that make me realize I’m not all that atheist enough. From a “weak” or “negative” atheist standpoint, I think I fully qualify. But from conversations with “strong” or “positive” atheists, I have several concerns that, like ID_vs_EGO on twitter, the other party just doesn’t even seem to appreciate.
Does God exist?
I don’t know. And so, I am an agnostic by my reckoning.
Do I believe God exists?
No, I do not. And so, I am an atheist by my reckoning.
Do I believe God does not exist?
See, here’s the surprise. Unlike a positive/strong atheist, I do not. And the lengthy explanation forms the rest of my agnostic testimony.
I don’t perceive a lot of direct, objective proof for God’s existence. So, that is why I answer “I don’t know” to the first question. But I also don’t perceive a lot of personally persuasive or convincing evidence for God’s existence either. So that is why I answer “No,” to the second question.
But while this lack of personally compelling evidence doesn’t persuade me to believe that God exists, it doesn’t then somehow double as persuasive evidence that God doesn’t exist.
People like to talk about probability. So instead of believing God doesn’t (100%) exist, they’ll say, “OK, I believe that God probably doesn’t exist.” To this I respond, “But what is the wherewithal for comparing probabilities? How do you have enough evidence at all to even begin making guesses about the probability of god?”
Strong atheists often want to assert that the gods which have been proposed are “obviously ridiculous” like Santa Claus, unicorns, and the tooth fairy. But notwithstanding the vast categorical differences (e.g., novel, but material, natural beings vs. novel, generally immaterial [or, I guess with Mormonism, a finer material], generally supernatural or transcendent beings), I wonder how people get the confidence to assert a scale for ridiculousness, much less the place for things on that scale.
In all of this, the uncertainty doesn’t compel me even one bit to believe that these things exist, but the absence of evidence isn’t conclusive evidence (that is, proof) that they do not.
…I still have some thinking about some things. I feel that an argument out of logical impossibility is a different matter (assuming that we don’t go into that twilight zone of talking about deities which are not constrained by logic), but I feel that most people overstate arguments of logical impossibility. And I feel that there is more to do about the categories of different novel concepts (e.g., in what ways are a celestial teapot different from the god concept? If a “teapot” is something that is defined categorically as a human creation for the containment of tea, then of course a celestial teapot doesn’t exist — because even if there were an object in the galaxy…if it weren’t humanly created for the containment of tea, it could not be a teapot, and therefore not a celestial teapot — teapots may categorically be tied to humanity, but are god concepts similarly tied?)