Agnosticism Is Actually Humanism

An agnostic is someone who holds to the belief that we don’t – or even can’t – know whether or not God exists. As typically understood, God is an eternal, omniscient, omnipotent, omnipresent being responsible for the creation of the universe we find ourselves in. Because God must be transcendent, not a part of the universe, it is argued that our cognitive faculties confined to the context of this universe are therefore unable to come to definitive knowledge or belief about God’s existence.

I am familiar with this line of reasoning because I was myself agnostic before becoming a Christian two years ago this month. On the surface it appears to hold water. Our frame of reference is indeed confined to sense perception data which is limited by the dimensional structure of our universe. A common analogy is to the book Flatland, an allegory that imagines a two-dimensional world and draws its sharpness by demonstrating how a Flatlander would necessarily misconstrue a perception of a three-dimensional object interacting with the two-dimensional structure.

This approach of acknowledging the limits of human perception and knowledge has another source of appeal: apparent humility. Since we are indeed subject to epistemological constraints about what we can actually know about reality, we can be led to decry the arrogance of all others who would neglect these boundaries and in a bout of hubris presume that we can actually attain certainty about things that we simply don’t have access to. The best thought picture is to imagine a gulf that we cannot traverse. To claim that we can access the other side of this divide appears to demonstrate unjustified boldness.

However, taking a step back we find that this humility about human knowledge runs into a problem that ultimately leads to a contradiction. An intellectually honest agnostic is forced to consider the implications of both counterfactuals. Either God exists or God does not exist; no other option exists. If God does not exist, then indeed we are constrained by our frame of reference and cannot access any transcendental truths. On the other hand if God does exist, then while the divide between man and God also remains, there is reason to believe that the gulf is not unbridgeable.

Even if we, because of the limits of our knowledge, cannot traverse this gap surely God, an omnipotent being, would be fully able to cross it. Even though we cannot approach a full understanding of God using our faculties alone, God would nevertheless be able to reveal aspects of Himself to us. Once I realized as an agnostic that there was no way to negate this possibility, the entire nature of the question changed. By claiming that no knowledge of God is possible, we are actually contradicting ourselves.

If we say that God is unknowable, then we are also implicitly claiming that we know something about God. If God is unknowable, then how do we know that God is incapable of revealing knowledge about Himself to us? We can’t have it both ways. When we try to latch on to the humility of accepting human limits to knowledge we by definition also draw conclusions about God that are supposedly beyond those limits. If you are unwilling to adopt a self-contradictory and incoherent worldview, then agnosticism falls apart.

In fact, agnosticism can be best understood as humanism in disguise. Humanism states that man is God and is capable of and responsible for a self-determining destiny without any help or interference from any other authority. To say that the limits of our human knowledge require us to be agnostic about anything beyond those boundaries is equivalent to the claim that we are the ones who set those boundaries and determine reality. Such a position is one of arrogance and elevation of self rather than humility.

This topic is extremely challenging to navigate, but if we can ask the right questions then we can identify contradictions that make worldviews simply untenable. Our knowledge and abilities are certainly limited. God’s knowledge and abilities are unlimited. We cannot bridge the divide between man and God. God can and has done so. Your path won’t be the same as mine, but if you are seeking the truth with an open heart then ask God to show you whether or not He is real and who He is.

-Steven

 

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