What Do Agnostics Believe?
- Lisa Loraine Baker Contributing Writer
- 2021 9 Apr
An agnostic is defined by Merriam-Webster as someone who is not committed to the belief in an ultimate reality, such as God or a god. They think, if He exists, He is unknowable. Therefore, what do agnostics believe? They are a stone’s throw from atheism, but will not commit to complete disbelief (an atheist does not believe in God or a god). In this sense, their belief system is nebulous. Agnostics are close to the fool described in Psalm 14:1, who says in his heart there is no God.
We will look at the beginning of their worldview and see how what they believe (or not) affects them and others.
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What Is Agnosticism and Where Did it Originate?
The term, “agnosticism,” comes from the Greek word, gnosis, which means knowledge. By adding the letter, “A” to the front of it, the sense is changed to one of unknowing. For our purpose, we are centering on the agnostic’s view of God, Whom the agnostics say is unknowable.
Most agree agnosticism first came to the fore in 1869 when British professor, T. H. Huxley
coined the term, “agnosticism.” He was called “Darwin’s Bulldog” because he fiercely defended the theory of evolution. His explanation was he did not know about metaphysical things (things that transcend the physical senses), yet his view is a conundrum, for he contradicts himself in his explanation. On one hand, he says there is no way to search the unknowable (metaphysics) because of man’s limits, and on the other, he says what is knowable (including metaphysical things) can come by way of scientific inquiry. He later referred to his doctrine as one of necessary ignorance.
Other adherents took up the mantle of agnosticism and perpetuated and mutated Huxley’s opinions. Such proponents include W. K. Clifford, who, in his Ethics of Belief, postulates on the norms which govern our belief systems. He says evidence must always confirm our beliefs.
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Is Agnosticism Still around Today?
Actors, politicians, best-selling authors, sports stars, musicians—everyone who gains a platform with which to influence masses of people—can sway them with their beliefs. This is how we know such doctrines as espoused by agnosticism still abound. Famous agnostic proponents of our day include Brad Pitt, who said, “When I got on my own, I completely left it [religion] and I called myself agnostic,” Pitt told GQ. “Tried a few spiritual things but didn’t feel right.” Beliefnet has a running list of celebrities’ beliefs, with many proclaiming agnosticism. In general, American philosophies are a moving target, with numerous people “church shopping” until they find the something suitable, whether it be the worship style, programs, the pastor’s preaching style, or many other motivations. Many agnostics fit into this mold, for though they may think God is unknowable, they still seek. Agnosticism appears to be an expression of humility in our tolerant culture, because to say, “I don’t know” doesn’t assert an offensive truth claim; it leaves room for others’ beliefs.
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Can You Be Agnostic and Christian?
To be a Christian as defined in the Bible—the ultimate source for truth—one cannot be an agnostic. Knowing God comes through general revelation and special revelation—mutually—and He initiates both. General revelation is available to all; it shows His existence. It’s how God reveals Himself through the natural world. Psalm 19 tells us the heavens declare His glory, and the skies show His creation. Special revelation is from God’s word—the Bible.
Romans 1:18-32 goes into great detail about His wrath advancing against those who “suppress the truth in unrighteousness.” The verses continue by informing us what we know about Him is made clear to us, “for God has shown it to them.” The Bible says man has no excuse because God has shown Himself through what He created and most specifically through Jesus Christ. Those who “professed themselves as wise became fools” because they worship the created rather than the Creator (Romans 1.22-23). It is God who draws men to Himself (John 6:44a), and He does this by both forms of revelation.
Jesus says, “Whoever is not with Me is against Me, and whoever does not gather with Me scatters” (Matthew 12:30). That’s an indictment not to be dismissed, and it leaves no gray area; you either believe or you don’t. A believer loves the Lord and believes God raised Him from the dead. One who chooses not to believe is condemned already (John 3:18). There are no “maybe” believers (Hebrews 11:6).
When a Christian dons the full armor of God (Ephesians 6:14-17), one of the components he wears is the “helmet of salvation.” A Christian knows because he knows because he knows he belongs to Jesus. The first portion of God’s armor is the belt of truth. By the grace of God, we are afforded the rest of the covering, which includes the breastplate of righteousness, shoes which are the readiness given by the Gospel of peace, the shield of faith, and finally, the sword of the Spirit. The sword of the Spirit is the word of God, which is truth. Jesus is the Word, and He is the way, the truth, and the life (John 14:6). Our protection, won for us by the Lord Jesus Christ, begins and ends with truth. We cannot make a righteous step in life without truth. His word is truth (John 17:17).
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How Can Christians Graciously Engage with Agnostics?
To worship something or someone means to adore and reverence with supreme respect and veneration. We all worship something or someone; even agnostics do the same. When we reason with an agnostic, it does us well to study not only Paul’s defense throughout his missionary journeys but also the questions Jesus posed to His audiences. Just as the Apostle Paul reasoned with the Bereans and also with the philosophers at the Areopagus (Acts 17), we too can present a strong apologetic for our beliefs with winsomeness and gentleness. Knowing as much of the Bible as possible can only aid us when we avail ourselves of God’s wisdom when in a discussion with an agnostic. An excellent question comes from The Truth Project, a Family Foundation production taught by Del Tackett. The provocative inquiry is, “Do you really believe that what you believe is really real?” Asking ourselves that very question and researching the why’s of our belief in Jesus equips us to answer questions agnostics raise (they are a very curious group).
From Scripture, the Christian must engage the agnostic by establishing the biblical worldview, which is logical and makes sense of the same world the agnostic experiences. Preparation is hard work that requires much research but to glorify God is worth our every effort. Herein are a few thoughts with which to involve an agnostic. They are mentioned to help lower the agnostic’s guard when discussing our faith with them. Keep in mind, Scripture is key in all presentations of the truth.
First Cause - Everything that was created has a cause. The universe exists; therefore, the universe had a cause. It had a beginning (Genesis 1:1) and God is the only logical cause of the heavens and the earth. According to philosophy and science, it is illogical to say the universe is eternal. They are right about that, but the Cause of it is eternal—and He is Almighty God.
Intelligent Design - People recognize intelligence. Just as a person understands a car has a designer, the universe and everything in it testifies to a Designer.
Humanity’s Moral Dilemma – We know a moral law exists, which points to the moral Lawgiver (Romans 2:12-15). We all fall short (Romans 3:23, 7:19). Yet as believers, God gives us everything we need to live a godly life (2 Peter 1:3), and this includes how we stand for our faith.
The Resurrection – That Jesus rose from the dead gives authority to Who He is and what He says. Christians should familiarize themselves with the arguments for the historical fact of Jesus’ resurrection.
Loving Others – In all we do, Christians are to pour forth the fruit of the Spirit; to react with pleasant words and actions displays His work in our lives (Galatians 5:22-25). When we live out the love of Christ, we will bring the agnostic face-to-face with His absolute truth.
Remember, God’s word is living and active (Hebrews 4:12), and it never returns void (Isaiah 55:11).
As you encounter agnostics and anyone whose faith is not in God, rest in God’s promises and in the wondrous things He’s done. Pray, study His Word, and know the culture with which you interact.
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