Agnosticism is a middle ground, or something much better

I recently had a very brief but interesting (and amusing, if I must admit) conversation with somebody who goes by the name Flying Free on Twitter. It was about one of my articles on Richard Dawkins and atheism.

In that article is is a statement which I believe sparked the whole debate that follows. I quote myself:

Agnosticism is the safe line bordering both atheism and theism …

I have gone on to say that the existence of higher beings or their lack thereof ought to be of no consequence to the work of a scientifically-minded fellow. (I was, of course, talking of science and religion then.)

Not a middle ground?

Somebody who had clearly read my article (because this particular sentence comes round the end anyway) had this to say:

That got me thinking. As far as I knew, agnosticism, atheism and theism were on the same page even if they defined themselves slightly differently. The definition of an agnostic, according to the Cambridge dictionary of English goes thus:

Someone who believes that it is impossible to know whether a god exists.

Looking into the annals of religious social development, one finds a slightly different definition taking equal prominence:

A person calling oneself ‘agnostic’ is literally stating that he or she has no opinion on the existence of God.

The closest I had ever come to reading about agnostic atheists and agnostic theists (as I could recall at that time, phone in hand, Twitter app opened) was George Smith’s, Atheism: the case against god. Honestly, it was one of those books that I had read almost half-heartedly between two better books (that is not to say this book was bad by any measure) but that work was my only compass at that moment.

So I replied:

And, as expected, I received a reply. Several, actually.

Believe is binary

One of the replies I received was from the same person, and went thus:

Now that is faulty premise. Whoever defined agnosticism on the basis of belief in a god? Agnosticism is one’s position on the knowledge of existence of god, not in the belief in one.

To elaborate (or dumb it down): you decide whether you are an atheist or not by asking yourself if you have faith in god. You decide whether you are an agnostic or not by asking yourself if you think god’s existence can be ascertained as knowledge not falsifiable.

So I tweeted back:

And then there came more.

What’s your favourite number?

I actually got several more tweets at this point, but there are two I will mention, as follows,

I chose to ignore the ignorant or dishonest dish mostly because I never was able to figure out where that came from; and it sounded more like an insult. A moment later, however, this pinged on my phone:

Ah, that is a clever way of putting it; but a little effort into lateral thinking will bring out something else, as I pointed out.

I think that is a question that deserves some thought. I can have an opinion on something, or I may just not care enough to have an opinion in the first place. That would suggest neither belief nor disbelief, i.e. a middle ground.

But we soon reverted to the original question in an attempt to explain by example:

Sounds reasonable, but this was really a demonstration of his (or her — how do you determine gender by a handle like @FlyingFree333 anyway?) previous point, so I demonstrated my own point in return, just in case my previous 140 characters had not been as clear as I thought.

Finally, we are getting somewhere.

I’d rather be a moron, thank you

Clearly, by this point I had either been right enough to be hard to argue with or foggy enough to want to run away from, so my honorable debater stooped down to insults once again:

Without picking on the grammatical errors in that Tweet, if I absolutely have to answer, I’d say I’d rather be a moron than a liar. In any case, neither my IQ nor my trustworthiness was the point of this discussion. So let me bring it to a more decent closure than what I received with the person above.

To quote Dawkins, “I cannot know for certain but I think God is very improbable, and I live my life on the assumption that he is not there”. That seems like it sums up the issue quite well, so where do agnostics stand on the scale from atheists to theists?

Without touching up on gnosticism, I would say that agnostics can take a permanent stand or a temporary one, somewhat similar to Dawkin’s own TAPs and PAPs. As I said before, I do not care to judge right now whether god exists because whatever proof we have (for or against it) is meagre. That would put me down squarely within the definitions of a TAP.

And to wrap it up neatly in one sentence, I would simply state that being an agnostic draws definition based, not on faith or belief in something, but in the knowledge of its existence, thereby providing a middle ground.

What are your thoughts on this?

 Cover image: Flickr/Jennifer Boyer  VHBsign