The very concept of “agnosticism” was first introduced into scientific circulation in 1869 by Thomas Henry Huxley. However, skepticism about a person’s ability to know the world that surrounds him arose even among ancient philosophers, in particular Protagoras, sophists and skeptics. Ancient Greek philosophers argued that knowledge is changeable, imperfect, subjective and relative, as a result, ancient Greek philosophers came to the conclusion that it is impossible to mentally comprehend the true essence of things.
A philosophical worldview that asserts that the true meaning of certain statements – especially metaphysical statements about theology, life after death, or the existence of God, gods, deities, or even objective reality – is incomprehensible or, depending on the form of agnosticism, cannot in essence be comprehended through the nature of subjective experience perceived by an individual.
The points of view of agnosticism are widely represented in the media both in the form of popular science discussions and publications, as well as in the genre of documentaries.
A brief history
The theoretical justification of agnosticism was carried out only in the 18th century in the philosophical teachings of:
- a) J. Berkeley on being (to be is to be perceived);
- b) D. Hume on the rational lack of proof of the existence of cause–and-effect relationships;
- c) in the theoretical and cognitive concept of the distinction between “things in themselves” and “things for us” by I. Kant, according to which it is impossible to establish a correspondence between the objective world and the knowledge system in a purely logical way.
In post–Kantian philosophy, elements of agnosticism actively developed in the context of social cognition – from positivism and neo-positivism to conventionalism and critical realism. Agnosticism can arise as a result of any interpretation of the cognitive process, limited by the framework of empiricism or rationalism, absolutizing the role of sensory cognition or intellectual cognitive abilities.
In the latest trends of philosophical thought, the term “agnosticism” is used mainly in religious-philosophical and historical-philosophical contexts. To characterize a position expressing doubt about achieving true knowledge about the world, another term is usually used – skepticism.
Agnostics believe that questions like “Do you believe in God?” do not make any sense, since it is impossible to know this, however, there are agnostics who believe that this can be learned in the future, more about them later.
Atheists (people who deny belief in God) are not agnostics. What is the difference?
It’s simple, imagine that there are three people. One is a Christian, another is an atheist, and the third is an agnostic.
To the question “Do you believe in God,” a Christian will answer: Yes, I believe that God exists!
Atheist: No, I am convinced that God does not exist!
The agnostic will say: “It’s not so simple.” Because the latter is convinced that there is no evidence to confirm or disprove the existence of God.
Although, it is worth recognizing that agnostics are still closer in worldview to atheists, for example, an agnostic, like an atheist, has developed critical thinking and is skeptical of Holy Scripture, primarily due to the fact that there are many contradictions in it.
Also, agnostics are critical of the Church itself, often because of the historical factor, since many people in the Middle Ages died at the hands of the Inquisition, thus the Church, according to the agnostic, perpetrated evil, therefore the Church cannot, in turn, be a “moral authority” for humanity.
The question of “sin” is also not considered by agnostics. Of course, this does not mean that they do not have moral restrictions, they simply do not commit immoral and illegal acts, not for the reason that they will not go to heaven, but because they have certain moral frameworks or are convinced that they will suffer legal consequences for this.
The attitude of agnostics towards Jesus Christ is generally positive, but agnostics do not perceive Jesus as God. They refer more to his personality, as well as to the personality of, for example, Nelson Mandela or Abraham Lincoln.
Agnostics are also skeptical about the concept of “soul”, since they are mostly “materialists”.
The attitude towards heaven and hell after death is identical among agnostics, since they will never believe in something for which they will not have evidence.
Subcategories of agnosticism
Agnosticism can be roughly divided into:
Strong agnosticism, the essence of which is that the question of the existence / non-existence of God cannot be comprehended due to the fact that a person cannot verify it in any way.
Mild agnosticism – the view that the question of the existence/non-existence of God is currently incomprehensible, but is not necessarily impossible to be comprehended, so judgment must be withheld until more information is available.
Apathetic agnosticism, the essence of which is that regardless of the evidence of the existence / non-existence of God, any God (or Gods) that may exist is indifferent in relation to humanity or the welfare of the population, so the question is not worth it to be studied.
Religious theism is the view of those who do not demand to know about the existence of God, but still believe in his existence.
Agnostic theism – combines theism and agnosticism, allows the existence of a deity, but considers it unknowable.
Ignosticism is the view that a clear and understandable definition of “God” must be offered before the existence of God can be discussed.
From a logical point of view, a person should belong to only one of three categories:
- You believe in a philosophical worldview that you can find out the answers to the questions of life, death and faith in God.
- You don’t believe in a philosophical worldview that answers questions about life, death, and faith in God can be found.
- You do not doubt the philosophical worldview that you can find out the answers to the questions of life, death and faith in God.
Biography of the creators
Thomas Henry Huxley (1825-1895) was an English zoologist, a supporter of Charles Darwin’s theory of evolution. President of the Royal Society of London. Awarded the Carl Linnaeus Medal for Achievements in biology.
George Berkeley (1685 – 1753) was an Anglo–Irish bishop and philosopher, known primarily as a critic of Isaac Newton’s teachings on absolute space, time and motion. He is also known as the founder of the theory of “subjective idealism”, in which he argued that familiar objects are ideas perceived by the mind, and which, accordingly, cannot exist without perception.
David Hume (1711 – 1776) was a Scottish philosopher, historian, and economist. he argued that inductive reasoning and belief in causality cannot be rationally justified; instead, they are the result of customs and mental habits. Hume also believed that a person is more guided by emotions than reason.
Immanuel Kant (1724-1804) was a German philosopher of the Enlightenment. First of all, he is known for his work “Criticism of Pure Reason”. He argued that space and time are simply “forms of intuition” that structure all experience, and therefore, although “things—in-themselves” exist and contribute to experience, they are nevertheless different from objects of experience. He was a proponent of a balance between rationalists and empiricists. He believed that eternal peace could be achieved through universal democracy and international cooperation.
Richard Dawkins (1941) is a British writer, biologist, evolutionist, popularizer of science.
Michael Schmidt-Salomon (1967) is a German writer, philosopher, chairman of the Giordano Bruno Foundation.
Noam Chomsky (born 1928) is an American linguist, philosopher, and writer. Author of the theory of generative grammar.
The ideological opponent of agnosticism is Christianity, the latter claim that agnosticism is essentially a hidden atheism.