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Study Resources :: Text Commentaries :: Don Stewart :: When the God of the Bible Is Rejected

Don Stewart :: What Is Agnosticism?

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What Is Agnosticism?

When the God of the Bible Is Rejected – Question 18

While there are many people who believe that God does not exist, known as atheists, there are many others who are not certain if God or gods exists. These people are known as agnostics.

Agnostic: One Who Does Not Know Whether God Exists

Agnosticism comes from the Greek prefix a- (“no” or “non”), and the noun gnosis (“knowledge”). An agnostic is a person who believes that there is insufficient evidence to prove or disprove the existence of God or gods. The agnostic criticizes both the theist and atheist for holding their position with such certainty. The agnostic tries to maintain a neutralist position.

The Latin form of the word agnostic is ignoramus. However, it would be insulting to call an agnostic an “ignoramus” because of the present-day meaning of the term.

A number of points need to be made about agnosticism.

1. An Agnostic Is Similar to a Skeptic

A term that is similar to agnostic is “skeptic.” A skeptic does not believe there is sufficient evidence that God exists. Some people attempt to make a difference between the terms, “agnostic” and “skeptic.” A skeptic does not believe the evidence for God exists, while an agnostic denies that God can be known. While this is true of certain types of agnostics, it is not true of everyone who would claim to be an agnostic. Therefore, it can be proper to use the terms agnostic and skeptic interchangeably.

2. One Type of Agnostic: It Is Possible to Know If God Exists

There are basically two types of agnostics. One type says that there is insufficient evidence that God exists but leaves open the possibility of attaining that evidence at some future time. This type of agnostic considers it possible to have enough evidence to know with certainty that God exists.

3. Another Type of Agnostic: It Is Impossible to Know If God Exists

There is another type of agnostic who believes it is impossible for anyone to ever know with certainty whether or not God, or gods, exist. This group feels that the facts are not now available and never will be available to make such a decision. They argue that the finite cannot grasp the infinite. By definition, God is unknowable.

We can, therefore, break down the categories of agnostics into two groups: those that say we do not know whether or not God exists, and those that say we cannot know whether or not God exists.

The Biblical Answer to Agnosticism: We Can Know

The Apostle Paul encountered agnostics in his day. The Bible records how Paul dealt with this group in a sermon he gave in Athens:

So Paul, standing before the Council, addressed them as follows: “Men of Athens, I notice that you are very religious, for as I was walking along I saw your many altars. And one of them had this inscription on it—‘To an Unknown God.’ You have been worshiping him without knowing who he is, and now I wish to tell you about him. He is the God who made the world and everything in it. Since he is Lord of heaven and earth, he doesn’t live in man-made temples, and human hands can’t serve his needs—for he has no needs. He himself gives life and breath to everything, and he satisfies every need there is. From one man he created all the nations throughout the whole earth. He decided beforehand which should rise and fall, and he determined their boundaries. His purpose in all of this was that the nations should seek after God and perhaps feel their way toward him and find him—though he is not far from any one of us.” (Acts 17:22-27 NLT)

From the Scripture we discover what we can and cannot know about God. A number of observations need to be made:

1. We Can Know Some Things about God

The message of Scripture is loud and clear. God exists, and it is possible to have knowledge of that fact. The psalmist wrote,

Acknowledge that the LORD is God! He made us and we belong to him; we are his people, the sheep of his pasture. (Psalm 100:3 NET)

There is a difference between knowing God absolutely and knowing some things about God. Although human beings cannot perfectly comprehend God, we can know some things about Him. From the first page until the last, the Bible testifies that God is knowable.

2. We Can Also Personally Know God

There is something else. Not only can we know some things about God, we can also have personal knowledge of Him. The Bible teaches that it is possible to have a relationship with God through Jesus Christ. In fact, eternal life consists of knowing a Person, the Person of Jesus Christ. Jesus said,

“And this is eternal life, that they may know you, the only true God, and Jesus Christ whom you have sent.” (John 17:3 NRSV)

Eternal life begins the moment an individual trusts Jesus Christ as their Savior. It is a personal relationship which is created.

3. Some People Are Willfully Ignorant of God’s Existence

Those who are ignorant about God are willfully ignorant. The Apostle Paul wrote the following to the church at Rome:

For the wrath of God is revealed from heaven against all ungodliness and wickedness of those who by their wickedness suppress the truth. (Romans 1:18 NRSV)

According to this verse, unbelievers are actively suppressing the truth about God. They do not know the truth of God’s existence because they are consciously rejecting all testimony about Him. The point is this: they do not want to know the truth.

4. Though We Can Know God, We Can Only Know in Partially

Although humanity can know the living God, our present knowledge will always be partial. The Lord told Moses,

And he said, “You cannot see my face, for no one can see me and live” (Exodus 33:20 NET).

In the Book of Job, we have the following question asked:

“Can you discover the essence of God? Can you find out the perfection of the Almighty?” (Job 11:7 NET)

The answer is, of course, “No.” It is not possible for any human to discover God’s essence.

The Apostle Paul wrote to Romans expressing our limitations in understanding of who God is and what He does:

Oh, what a wonderful God we have! How great are his riches and wisdom and knowledge! How impossible it is for us to understand his decisions and his methods! For who can know what the Lord is thinking? Who knows enough to be his counselor? (Romans 11:33, 34 NLT)

Paul emphasized to the church in Corinth about the partial knowledge that all human beings have. He said,

Now we know only a little, and even the gift of prophecy reveals little! But when the end comes, these special gifts will all disappear. It’s like this: When I was a child, I spoke and thought and reasoned as a child does. But when I grew up, I put away childish things. Now we see things imperfectly as in a poor mirror, but then we will see everything with perfect clarity. All that I know now is partial and incomplete, but then I will know everything completely, just as God knows me now. (1 Corinthians 13:9-12 NLT)

While we cannot know everything about God, the good news is that we can know some things about Him. Thus, for those agnostics who believe it is possible to know whether or not God exists, the evidence is certainly available for them.

Summary – Question 18
What Is Agnosticism?

The atheist says that God does not exist or at least there is no evidence for the existence of a God. An agnostic says they do not know whether or not God exists. This is similar to the term “skeptic.”

Some agnostics believe that it is possible to know there is a God, while others do not even accept, as theoretically possible, the idea that anyone can really know that God exists. Whatever the case may be, agnostics do not know.

Against this is the Bible that says that God not only exists, but that the people can personally know the God who has created them. Those who are ignorant of God are willfully ignorant. They do not wish to know the truth but they can know it. So the problem is with them. They are willfully suppressing the knowledge of God. Although our knowledge about God is not exhaustive or perfect, it is sufficient to understand some basic things about who He is. Indeed, the Bible tells us a number of things about who God is as well as what He expects from us.

Furthermore, the Bible says that we can have personally knowledge of Him. When an individual believes in Jesus Christ they enter into a personal relationship with Him. This relationship will last forever.

Knowledge of God, according to Scripture, is thus possible for humans. We can know things about God and we can have personally knowledge of Him.

Therefore, the Bible is thoroughly opposed to agnosticism.

If Atheists Actually Cannot Claim That God Does Not Exist, Then How Can They Argue Their Position? ← Prior Section
Do Muslims Believe in the Same God as Christians? (Introduction) Next Section →
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