Is Everyone an Agnostic about Other Religions?

In reading through news stories today, I noted that a number of stories concerned agnosticism. The always less-than-thoughtful Huffington Post has an article entitled "Debates About Agnosticism Are as Old as the Concept Itself", and second entitled "Agnosticism in the UK: It's Time to Listen to the Faithless Majority." (I wonder why the Huffington Post is obsessed with agnosticism.) Following up on some thoughts, I came across a page on the old Skeptical, I mean the Secular Web, called "Why I am an Agnostic" by Clarence Darrow.

The opening paragraph is written in a different typeset than the remainder, so I am uncertain whether the following quote is from Mr. Darrow or from skeptic who felt he ha to take a few cheap shots as a sort of introduction to Mr. Darrow's own thoughts below. Regardless of the source, the quote that caught my attention was, "Everyone is an agnostic as to the beliefs or creeds they do not accept." This wasn't the first time that I read this statement, but I began to wonder whether it was true.

To determine if I am, in fact, an agnostic about "beliefs and creeds" I do not accept, I thought I should first understand what it means to be "agnostic." The first place I decided to visit was where I read the following information on the origin of agnosicism:

< Greek ágnōst ( os ), variant of ágnōtos not known, incapable of being known ( a- a-6 + gnōtós known, adj. derivative from base of gignṓskein to know) + -ic, after gnostic; said to have been coined by T.H. Huxley in 1869

What I gather from the origin of the word, to be an agnostic means simply to hold the belief that something be unknown or incapable of being known. This is quite similar to the second definition of agnosticism on which reads: "a person who denies or doubts the possibility of ultimate knowledge in some area of study."

This raises two thoughts. The first is a question: Exactly how am I, as a Christian, an "agnostic" about all other religions as the Skeptical Web article claims? When I reject the teachings of other religions, such as Islam, it is not because I hold that the truth about Islam is not known, or that I somehow believe that the truth is unknowable. Quite to the contrary, as a Christian I am rejecting the teachings of Islam because I know them to be false. To the Christian, the truth about Islam is that it is false and it is knowable that it is false.

Now, someone else (usually a skeptic) may claim that I don't know it is false or that it is not knowable that it is false, but that isn't my claim. It is my beliefs which are the subject of the assertion that "everyone is an agnostic as to the beliefs or creeds they do not accept." I don't see how my assertion that Islam is false can be transposed into a claim that I don't believe that it is knowable that it is false. Am I missing something here? I don't think so.

The second thought is a logical condundrum: I believe that I am an agnostic about religious agnosticism. In other words, I don't know or I am uncertain that it can be known that religious truth is unknown or not knowable. That is, after all, what we spend hours upon hours discussing on this blog. And through all of the discussion, I have found my own beliefs in God and Christianity growing stronger.

Now, I am not doubting that some people claim that they don't know whether God exists or that truth about God cannot be known. I further don't doubt the bona fides of these individuals in making these claims. But merely because they believe their claims that God is unknown or unknowable doesn't make them true (elsewise, Christianity would likewise be proven true by the fact that people believe it to be true). I am not certain that it is really possible, when viewing the evidence, to believe God to be unknown or unknowable.

So, I guess I am an agnostic after all -- just not about other religions and certainly not about Christianity.


Anonymous said…
I've never heard that formulation with respect to agnosticism, but it's often thrown about by fellow atheists-- i.e., "Christian's are atheists with respect to all other god except their own. I, as an atheist, am just atheist about one more god than you are."

It's just as silly an argument, really, because the entire debate about whether god exists is about THEISM, which would include monotheism, polytheism and their various manifestations. They are all theists in that they share the position that a god or gods exist. It's that position as a whole that atheism rejects, not just the particular brand of theism that Christianity, Islam, Judaism, Wicca or Hinduism represents.

So, I always thought it was a pretty weak argument to begin with.
BK said…
Alejandro, I agree wholeheartedly.

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