Strong agnostics – please explain your position on the big question

As I understand it in a very broad sense, there are two types of agnostics. One is the weak agnostic, or those who when asked, “do you think God exists?” answer, “I don’t know”. The position of these agnostics can be explained (as I see it) by two things:

  1. They don’t know enough about the academic arguments or evidence to decide one way or the other. Since they cannot make an informed decision, they choose to remain neutral.

  2. They don’t see how or why the question should affect or change their day-to-day activities. This is in terms of functionality and daily operation. For example, a weak agnostic may feel that in order to feed their children cornflakes in the morning, it does not really matter whether there is or isn’t a God. This can even extend to moral/ethical decisions. Whether there is or isn’t a God shouldn’t affect your perception of good or evil. Or, put more squarely, you shouldn’t stop being a good person simply because there is no longer a God.
    Now I can respect both these answers. 1) IMO is admirable, because you do not simply act as a drone and listen to the rest of the (more well-informed) colony. You reserve judgement till you’ve examined the facts/arguments yourself.

While I don’t really advocate 2) as being much of an answer, I can see the logic in it. If it isn’t a question that particularly concerns you, then why take up your time with it? Why bother taking an entrenched position yourself on the matter when you do NOT see the relevance?
But now things get (for me at least) more tricky. Because you have the second group of agnostics – the strong agnostics. As I figure, these folks aren’t nearly as nonchalant as the weak agnostics. They are firmly entrenched in their opinion. It is not simply to answer “I don’t know the answer, therefore I cannot take a fixed opinion on the matter” but rather, “the answer is unknowable, and you could not prove or disprove it either way”.

For this group, their uncertainty rests on the unanswerability of the question. For them, you could not posit sufficient evidence one way or the other, so ultimately you cannot provide a certain answer.

You can probably deduce from my language that I have great difficulty in understanding this position. Surely even with this (strong agnostic explanation) in mind, you still have an opinion on the matter? Even if a test cannot be devised that would truly settle the matter, surely you are more predisposed to thinking one way or the other?

I think I can better appreciate a weak agnostics position because it isn’t so deep-rooted. After all, I can hardly argue with the position, “I don’t know, therefore I have no real comment on the question”.

However, it’s the inclusion of un-testability in a strong agnostics argument that I have such difficulty getting my head around. As the name suggests, their position is far more solid. If you state, “I don’t know”, then who am I to argue?

However, if you state, “ultimately, you cannot know the answer”, then what kind of response is that? I’d have to reply, “but what are your personal feelings on the matter? Do you think God is likely or probable?”

Of course you could ask the weak agnostic the same question, however given that he/she doesn’t really have an answer for anything, it’s not likely to enthral you.

So by now you’re probably asking, “well, what the heck DO you wanna ask a strong agnostic?”

Well for starters, where you (directed at ALL strong agnostics) have come to the conclusion that it is an unanswerable (or untestable) question. For example, does this come from a scientific viewpoint (the idea that you cannot conduct a scientific experiment to prove/disprove the existence of God)? And if so, could you elaborate on that please?

Secondly, whether or not you tilt in any particular direction. Do you think it is likely that an entity such as God exists?

I won’t accept the sort of apathy that I get about this question from weak agnostics. You strong agnostics take a more powerful, specific approach and thus I am interested in your views. I would think that any self-described “strong agnostic” who doesn’t have well-thought and heavily staked views is really a weak agnostic in disguise.

As a firm atheist I simply cannot understand why someone wouldn’t have an opinion on the question. I really don’t understand the agnostic approach. In many ways I prefer the theist perspective because at least we have something definitive to engage ourselves in (or argue about). But it seems to me that being an agnostic is like saying, “well, don’t worry yourself about it”. Which is fine, but you must still surely have an opinion on it?

As always, if I have made any errors in my assumptions, please let me know, and correct them. For the strong agnostics out there, explain your positions as thoroughly as possible, especially with respect to the two mentioned above.

Oh, and knowing this to be the SD, I’ll rest my definition of God upon the Oxford English MiniDictionary which states:

(snipped and edited)

The superhuman creator of the universe

Or if you like, I’ll let you define Him/Her/It, so long as you give definable characteristics (i.e. some sort of intelligence), as opposed to the “God is nature and everything” pantheistic approach.

Well, I don’t have a lot of time at the moment, so I don’t know how instructive this will be, but I’ve always loved this quote from Clarence Darrow:

I identify with that. In searching for that quote, I ran across this page:Why I Am An Agnostic by Clarence Darrow. I haven’t actually read that, so I don’t know how well it addresses your particular question.

Anyway, in a very tiny nutshell, yes, I do believe the existence or nonexistence of god is an unknowable. What I don’t understand is why I would be expected to have an opinion on the matter. For one thing, it’s simply not important to me. When I was a bit younger, I used to think and argue about such matters frequently, but now, hardly at all. For another thing, I have nothing on which to base such an opinion, and, to be honest, I never really cared much for baseless opinions.

I’m an atheist, so not exactly who you are asking to reply, but I tend to take up the strong agnostic argument when discussing religion with those who believe in a God. I do feel the existence of God is can’t be positively known, and can’t be conclusively tested, because the definition of God would require us to be Gods ourselves to know for certain whether our evidence showed God, or simply a more advanced being.

My opinion on the question is that due to the overwhelming lack of any evidence, there most likely isn’t a God. I can’t be positive. Just as I would hope that those who believe in God will admit that they can’t be positive either.

I think most strong agnostics firmly believe your first weak agnostic position, but also believe that there isn’t and can’t be anyone more well-informed. Agnosticism, just like any other belief structure, can’t really be boiled down to two distinct groups.

Follow-up question for agnostics: Do you hedge your bets?

I mean, do you occasionally give a nod and a wink to the (unproven) man upstairs, just in case? If you honestly “don’t know” it seems that one would definitely want to act as if God did exist, because hey, eternal damnation would suck and stuff. But then how do you decide which deity to suck up to? Or do you justify it by saying that if any god does exist they would forgive you for doubting?

I’m an atheist, btw. In case you didn’t guess.

I think your question’s a bit of a muddle as (IMO) the bipolar categories you set up don’t reflect the real world nature of how the “agnostic” position is maintained. For most agnostics it’s a huge slippery slope, and your “strong agnostic” position is essentially tantamount to being a foxhole atheist.

As to the rationale, for most agnostics the notion of a universally omnipotent, super intelligence being responsible for our creation, and directing or influencing our moral affairs, is not supported by the weight of evidence available to critical reason in modernity.


This is (to be polite) a silly position and I’ll simply second Cabbage’s observation that requiring, or demanding in so any words, that someone to have a strong and definitive opinion on an essentially unknowable question, is about as odd as a preacher’s insistence that I come to Jesus in order to be saved.

I’m not sure I’m a “strong” agnostic, and that seems to be somewhat of a contradiction in terms, but I for one became “more strongly” agnostic from my associations with “strong” atheists. The strength of their convictions, and their often-dismissive and sneering attitude toward religious people, seemed to me to be nearly as arrogant as an insistence on the almighty. Strong atheism is often religious in its passion, and it often seems to be a reaction to religious organizations, etc., trying to push an agenda. But a belief should not be a reaction to another belief, in my view.

Agnosticism to me just seemed to be the most rational and reasonable approach.

H.L. Mencken: "Well, I tell you, if I have been wrong in my agnosticism, when I die I’ll walk up to God in a manly way and say, Sir, I made an honest mistake. "

My father spent his entire life thinking about the “big question” and became more and more firmly undecided through the years.

We talked about it a lot in his final years. Basically his position was:

“I do not believe the universe evolved by random chance. Having said that, I do not believe there is an all-knowing, all-seeing supreme being who keeps watch over us, nor do I believe there is a pre-life or after-life. At some point the universeas we know it will end. It may be reborn, it may transform into some other type of system, or it may just be a mass of cosmic dust or random radio waves.”

“Wink and nod”? Maybe, sometimes. But it’s never to a particular god. It’s more of a “if there was some greater unknown force that was involved in this, well then thanks.”
And as far as “acting” that a god exsists becasue eternal damnation would suck and stuff, then your falling into some belief made up by a religion (made up by a person) that non belief = damnation.
As far as I’m concerned God never came to me and said “believe or else”, it was always some person. Why should I believe them? If I ever come face-to-face with a god and he want’s to say “Why didn’t you believe?!!” i’ll have to answer “you really didn’t give me much to go on.”

By the way, I’m an agnostic / hopeful theist if there is such a thing and find atheists to be sometimes as ignorant as believers.

I’m almost a foxhole atheist. Meaning I cling to the agnostic lable just in case. I am almost totally convinced there is no God but then— how can anyone be so sure.

Plus there is something comforting in believing there is a chance that the universe is not the cumulation of random events but some higher power’s excellent idea. Or maybe their petri dish.

So, like DrMatrix once said of me, I’m still looking for the pony under the pile of shit.

I had this conversation with my dad recently. I told him (as did my sister) that while I wonder if there’s a god, I’m absolutely fine with not knowing. Yes, I have opinions on the subject, but I no longer obsess over it. I don’t think there’s a god, but I have no way of knowing.

I’m reasonably certain if there is a creator, it will be nothing at all like any humanly-conjured Sunday Morning messiah, the type that is “followed” all over the planet today. I’m betting it won’t speak English, won’t look like us, and couldn’t give a flying fuck if we covet our neighbor’s wife or save the starving in Bangladesh. I simply don’t believe that a creator would waste its time worrying whether or not we’re being good to each other. That’s our job. Even with all the religion being pounded into people – day after day, generation after generation – we still can’t manage to be civil to one another.

No, I don’t think there’s a god. But I’m willing to reconsider as the evidence rolls in.

Incidently, dad is an agnostic…I’m an agnostic with strong atheist leanings.

I take the weak agnostic position, because why should I have to define my beliefs to any of you? Whats so cowardly about not wanting to take sides? To me, its a damned-if-you-do, damned-if-you-don’t scenario. Both religious and atheist people get criticized for their beliefs by people who thing they are wrong or ‘stupid’. It goes both ways. I’m not condemning either parties, but I am not going to take part in it either.

So I proscribe to weak agnosticism, the Switzerland of beliefs. And you better cower down and FEAR my neutralness! :smiley:

Alternatively, there is a chance, ever so slim, that the universe is some higher power’s cruel joke.

You can’t conduct a scientific experiment to prove or disprove the existance of God. If there is a God, it could hide it’s existance using supernatural powers. If there isn’t, you can’t prove a negative.

You could be looking for me. I have always described myself as an agnostic/atheist.

To me, that means, I don’t think that god exists, but I don’t know and am open to be proven wrong. It definitely doesn’t affect the way I go about my day-to-day activities; I just try to be a good person regardless. But you categorized that as being a weak agnostic. Or does that make me a foxhole atheist?

However, unless god appears before me, or gives me some other objective proof, I am one of those who says that the existence of god is unknowable. But I don’t obsess about it, although I do find it highly fascinating and interesting. It seems to me that the exact person you are looking for is someone who is sort of aggressive or violent (just kidding) about the fact that they have concluded that “it is unknowable, goddammnit!” (pun intended), and grab people and shake them by the shoulders when saying so.

This is probably stating the obvious, but I think that some “pure” atheists are just believers in a non-god - it is almost as much a religion as the religions they reject. That is to say, “atheists believe that there is no god.” Well, that’s just another belief system. :wally So, sorry to hijack your thread, but I don’t understand how you can be an atheist. “God does not exist” is just another belief. That’s why I don’t know.

I think you’ve described me with your “strong agnostic” pigeon-hole. My response is… “what big question?”
I’ll agree with Cabbage that it seems ridiculous to me to have to have an opinion on a question that is not far removed from “how many angels can dance on the head of a pin?”
What part of “the answer is unknowable and therefore the question is pointless” don’t you understand?

…and to answer Ghanima. No. No bet hedging.

I would call myself agnostic in the sense that I don’t know what I don’t know. I don’t think the question for me is really so binary as whether there is/is not a “God” (a concept which I have never found a satisfactory definiton for) but to more abstract questions whether there is any meta level to perceived reality, whether there is any uber consciousness, whether there’s any point. I’m not quite ready to say there isn’t even though I find conventional religious constructs unconvincing and unsatisfactory at best and just plain silly at worst (depending on the particular mythology or belief in question), I also don’t think it can be said that there can’t be something I don’t know.

So I think my general feeling towards traditional images of “God” has been that, I don’t know what the truth is but I’m pretty sure it’s not that and I know it’s not that.

What I’m saving is that one kernel of openness to what I still might learn. I am not an agnostic who teeters on the question of whether “God exists,” but whether everything we see is all there is.

Yes, it comes from a scientific viewpoint. Although we can design specific experiments to rule out certain Biblical events (such as carbon-dating fossils to prove the age of the Earth and early humans), and can scientifically dismiss many organized religions, we can’t rule out the existence of any form of higher intelligence. For instance, right now the events that transpired in the first few seconds of the Big Bang (creation) are unknowable from a scientific angle. If we can someday come up with a way to recreate the Big Bang and prove that a universe can be created without the benefit of a higher intelligence than Man, then you can dismiss the possibility of a g/God.

Yes, I think it’s likely. Just as likely as the possibility that there isn’t a god.

I believe in that which can be proven. If you want me to believe in g/God, then provide conclusive proof. Likewise, if you want me to believe there isn’t a g/God, provide conclusive proof. Until that happens, I don’t think it’s at all cowardly to state that the answer is unknowable given current scientific knowledge and might be permanently unknowable due to the limitations of the human brain.