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Don Stewart :: What Is Agnosticism?

Don Stewart

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.

From Latin Word Ignoramus

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.

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 can be proper to use the terms agnostic and skeptic interchangeably.

There Are Two Basic Types Of Agnostics

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.

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 - 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:

Then Paul stood in the midst of the Areopagus and said, "Men of Athens, I perceive in all things you are very religious; for as I was passing through and considering the objects of your worship, I even found an altar with this inscription: TO THE UNKNOWN GOD. Therefore, the One whom you worship, without knowing, Him I proclaim to you: God who made the world and everything in it, since He is Lord of heaven and earth, does not dwell in temples made with hands. Nor is He worshiped with men's hands, as though He needed anything, since He gives to all life, breath, and all things. And He has made from one blood every nation of men to dwell on all the face of the earth, and has determined their preappointed times and the boundaries of their habitation, so that they should seek the Lord, in the hope that they might grope for Him and find Him, though He is not far from each one of us (Acts 17:22-27).

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 as well as a personal relationship with Him. The psalmist wrote.

Know that the Lord Himself is God; It is He who has made us, and not we ourselves; we are His people and the sheep of His pasture (Psalm 100:3)

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.

Some Are Willfully Ignorant Of God's Existence

Those who are ignorant about God are willfully ignorant. The Apostle Paul wrote.

For the wrath of God is revealed from heaven against all ungodliness and unrighteousness of humanity, who suppress the truth in unrighteousness (Romans 1:18).

They are actively suppressing the truth about God.

We Only Know In Part

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

You cannot see my face, for no one may see me and live (Exodus 33:20).

In the Book of Job we have the question.

Can you fathom the mysteries of God? Can you probe the limits of the Almighty? (Job 11:7).

The Apostle Paul wrote.

Oh, the depth of the riches of the wisdom and knowledge of God! How unsearchable his judgments, and his paths beyond tracing out! Who has known the mind of the Lord? Or who has been his counselor? (Romans 11:33,34).

Paul told the church in Corinth.

For we know in part and we prophesy in part; but when the perfect comes, the partial will be done away. When I was a child, I used to speak like a child, think like a child, reason like a child; when I became a man, I did away with childish things. For now we see in a mirror dimly, but then face to face; now I know in part, but then I will know fully just as I also have been fully known (1 Corinthians 13:9-12).

Summary

An agnostic says they do not know whether or not God exists. This is similar to the term "skeptic." Some agnostics 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. 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. Although our knowledge about God is not exhaustive or perfect, it is sufficient to understand some basic things about who He is and how we can know Him. Therefore the Bible is thoroughly opposed to agnosticism.

CONTENT DISCLAIMER:

The Blue Letter Bible ministry and the BLB Institute hold to the historical, conservative Christian faith, which includes a firm belief in the inerrancy of Scripture. Since the text and audio content provided by BLB represent a range of evangelical traditions, all of the ideas and principles conveyed in the resource materials are not necessarily affirmed, in total, by this ministry.

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