Humans seem to fear nothing more than uncertainty, which is why they tend to just make shit up. As members of a generally dimwitted species, most humans need myths just to get out of bed in the morning.
In my experience, the main personality difference between a theist, an atheist, and an agnostic is that agnostics don’t ram their beliefs—or disbeliefs—down your throat. Atheists didn’t used to be that way, but they’ve become increasingly pushy and arrogant to the point where they’ve eclipsed even religious fundamentalists in their intolerance for anyone who doesn’t join their team.
To explain why I identify as an agnostic, it’s necessary to define my terminology. I’ll explain what these words mean to me—and don’t come barking at me with dictionary definitions, because unlike numbers, the meaning of words is forever in flux. I’ll lay out how I define these terms and build a framework from there.
The fundamental question of existence is, “How did we get here?” To answer that question, I believe people can generally take one of three approaches:
A “theist” is someone who believes a personal God—an entity discrete from the rest of the universe—created the universe for reasons that are either selfish, compassionate, sadistic, or inscrutable.
An “atheist” is someone who believes—and the emphasis is on the word “believes,” because I can’t see how it can possibly be proved—that existence suddenly sprang from nothingness.
An “agnostic” is someone who admits they have no fucking idea how the universe originated. The word itself derives from the Greek agnostos, meaning “unknown” or “unknowable.” For my purposes, I’ll stick with “unknown” and allow the possibility that the universe’s origins may one day be knowable.
I don’t call myself an “agnostic” because I think there’s a 50% possibility that, say, Christianity may be true, but strictly because I am incapable of explaining the universe’s origins. As I see it, the word “agnostic” has very little to do with the idea of God.
When it comes to world religions, I think the Western monotheistic ones are by far the dumbest. It seems obvious that they’re all projections of human traits onto imaginary deities in order to establish cohesive tribal myths. Christianity is probably the most imbecilic major religion ever concocted. As someone who has a son, I can’t see how it’s an act of love to send your own son off to be crucified—if anything, it seems like a punk move. And Islam, with its eternally touchy and pissed-off God, is likewise nonsensical. Judaism, with its whole “chosen people” shtick, appears to be racist, if you’re worried about such things.
Eastern religions seem to make more sense because if they posit a deity at all—some would say Buddhism is nontheistic—it is one that permeates everything. That’s more reasonable than the Western notion of a God who is in some way separate from the rest of existence. If God can be separate from something, then he obviously has limits and therefore isn’t all-powerful.
Still, atheism seems to require blind faith in the idea that the universe just occurred at random, that everything suddenly decided to belch forth from the void. It also depends on a blind faith that human cognition is capable of grasping the universe’s origins.
Stephen Hawking writes:
Because there is a law such as gravity, the Universe can and will create itself from nothing….
I’m amazed his editors let him get away with that. Wouldn’t a six-year-old ask, “But where did the law of gravity come from?”
I agree that theists have a burden of proof hanging on them—if you insist there’s a God, then PROVE it. But the same could be said for atheists—if you believe everything came from nothing, PROVE it. Good luck with that.
I also allow the possibility that reality is multidimensional and that every idea ever posited may be simultaneously true, but then you’re venturing into multiverses, alternate pasts and futures, and speed-freak sci-fi Philip K. Dick territory. At this crude point in our evolution, we’re not even sure what an “idea” is.
Ultimately, the bedrock of my agnosticism is the suspicion that humans may simply be too goddamned dumb to figure out the nature of existence. It may not have anything to do with primitive, addle-brained conceptions such as “God.” It’s probably hanging right there in front of our faces, but our powers of comprehension may be insufficient to get the hint. It’s like walking up to a platypus and telling him what your favorite episode of Seinfeld is. Platypuses simply don’t seem wired to grasp the concept of what constitutes a “sitcom.” And life is a sitcom that always ends in death.
That doesn’t mean we shouldn’t try to understand. It doesn’t mean we shouldn’t use science, logic, and math to navigate our way through the world—they’re currently our best tools for forging ahead through dark waters. I have confidence in the seafaring vessel called science—the problem is that the ship’s captain may be a moron.
Some will accuse me of being a fence-sitter, but that requires belief in the fence’s existence. I’ve seen an “atheist” described as “an agnostic with balls,” but I think an agnostic is someone with the balls to admit they have no idea how the universe originated. And it’s not as if there are any social benefits to claiming agnosticism, because both sides wind up throwing rotten tomatoes at you.
So at this point, I have no faith in either God or the void. And I can change my mind, but you’re going to have to prove your side to me.
It’d be nice if there were an afterlife, or at least some form of existence less annoying than this one. And if there’s a God, I hope he’s not a jerkoff. If there’s a Goddess, I’m in a lot of trouble.