Agnosticism Regards Knowability

Sarah Bowman
Sarah Bowman, Writer & Researcher, volunteer at Atheist Secular Humanism

Agnosticism is not considered as “undecided.”

Agnosticism is about what can be known. Lots of people call themselves agnostics when they “don’t know” whether or not God exists. There is a difference between “undecided” and “don’t know.” “Undecided” is about decision-making abilities and processes. “Don’t know” is about “what can be known” or “what is knowable.”

Many Christians insist that belief in God equals knowledge that God exists. In other words, unless a person can say, “I know God created the heavens and the earth,” or something similar (that implies knowledge of God’s existence), then that person’s faith is considered inadequate.

Traditionally, atheism meant denial of God’s existence.

Thus, there used to be two opposing hardline positions.

  1. I know God exists.
  2. I know God does not exist.

However, by the late 19th century, the scientific method had been developed and academics had a really good sense of how humans can prove what they know. Thomas Huxley concluded that it is not possible to know—it is unknowable—whether God exists or not. He used the word agnostic to describe his position, rather than the hardline term “atheist.” Other academics followed suit. See the Britannica’s article on Agnosticism.

Today, atheists no longer claim to know that there is no God. A few of us think we can know but most do not. Atheist is now defined merely as “lack of belief in God or gods.” Re the word agnostic. Today, many former Christians still think that atheist means denying God’s existence. But they are not prepared to do that. They simply don’t know whether or not there is a God. Some have said, “I know the God of the Bible doesn’t exist, but I don’t know if there is some other god.” They choose to call themselves agnostic.

So you see, agnosticism is not about decision-making at all. This is about knowability.

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