Two Kinds of Agnosticism
An “agnostic” is someone who claims to be ignorant on the question of whether or not God exists. The word “agnostic” derives from the Greek word “gnosis,” which means “knowledge.” A “gnostic” was someone who claimed special knowledge or insight, usually of a spiritual nature. The prefix “a” in “agnostic” is a negative, so an “agnostic” is one who lacks, or claims to lack, knowledge of something.
There are basically two types of agnosticism. The first is what we might call “soft” agnosticism. “Soft” agnosticism basically says “At this time I do not know, but with further information I might know at some point in the future.” The “soft” agnostic seeks to be genuinely open-minded and “neutral” on the question in doubt, such as God’s existence. (Of course, from a Reformed Christian perspective, given mankind’s fallen condition and inherent disposition of rebellion against the Creator, such genuine “neutrality” does not consistently exist in the real world.)
The second type is what we might call “hard” agnosticism. “Hard” agnosticism not only says “I do not know whether or not God exists”; it goes further and states “It is not possible for anyone to know whether or not God exists.” Hard agnosticism claims that such metaphysical questions as God’s existence, whether or not there is an ultimate meaning and purpose to the universe and to human life, etc., are beyond the scope of human knowledge.
Jesus Christ and the Christian gospel disagree with both forms of agnosticism, for Jesus Himself said “And this is eternal life, that they know you the only true God, and Jesus Christ whom you have sent.” (John 17:3, ESV, emphasis added) (Of course, in that passage Jesus is speaking of a saving knowledge of Himself, which is much more than a mere intiellectual understanding of who He is and what He did. Such knowledge also includes a personal trust in Christ which unites us to Him as branches are united to the Vine. Still, an intellectual knowledge of the gospel facts about Jesus are part of this “knowledge” of which Christ speaks.) And the Apostle Paul asserts that even pagan Gentiles who never received the Holy Scriptures still know of God’s existence intuitively through general revelation in creation: “For what can be known about God is plain to them, because God has shown it to them. For his invisible attributes, namely, his eternal power and divine nature, have been clearly perceived, ever since the creation of the world, in the things that have been made. So they are without excuse.” (Romans 1:19-20, ESV)
From a biblical point of view, the agnostic position is not morally neutral. Agnosticism is rebellion against the inherent, intuitive knowledge of God that we all possess because we have been created in God’s image. Even the most hardened atheist “knows” intuitively, in his heart-of-hearts, that the true God (the God revealed in the Bible) exists, but vigorously rebels against and suppresses that intuitive knowledge (see Romans 1:18-32). The “soft” agnostic tries to appear more reasonable and “open-minded,” but God’s response to such an “I just don’t know” position is basically to say (as He does in Romans 1), “Yes, you do know; so stop trying to pretend you are ignorant of Me.”
The problem with the “hard” agnosticism is that it is logically self-defeating, for one thing hard agnostics “know” is that “one cannot know.” It is just as dogmatic as is Christian theism. Indeed, it is dogmatism cloaked in anti-dogmatism, which makes it utterly hypocritical. It is better to be an openly dogmatic atheist than an inconsistent, mushy-headed “hard” agnostic.
Questions that “hard” agnostics need to ponder include: How do you “know” that you cannot know God exists? Do you think that Jesus Christ was wrong in claiming that we can know God? Do you think you are smarter than Jesus? How do you account for the fact that something exists rather than nothing? Don’t you think it would be safer to go to church, read your Bible, pray and seek God, “just in case” He exists and “just in case” you will one day stand before Him on Judgment Day? If you take the position of a skeptic, why not be consistent by also being skeptical of your skepticism? Why not be agnostic about your agnosticism? If you like to “Question Authority” (in the words of the bumper sticker), why not be willing to question those who question God’s authority?
While some agnostics seem to pride themselves on their supposed humility, the truth is that agnosticism is not a humble position at all. Like many other “isms” out there, agnosticism is just another manifestation of mankind’s arrogant rebellion against the Creator God who has made Himself clearly known (Romans 1:19). One suspects that often the agnostic position is adopted as an intellectual cover to justify a sinful lifestyle (as, for example, when a college student from a Christian upbringing suddenly becomes an “agnostic” in college so he doesn’t have to feel constrained by the biblical notions of sexual morality with which he was raised, and thus can feel free to fornicate with a clear conscience).
Don’t be fooled by the false humility of agnosticism. God is, and we all know it intuitively in our heart-of-hearts. Dear reader, do you know God, not only through natural revelation, but in the sense of having come to a saving knowledge of Christ as your Lord and Savior? Such saving knowledge is freely offered to you in the gospel. Get to know the gospel of Jesus Christ, and call upon the Name of the Lord Jesus Christ for salvation.