Is it possible to be an AGNOSTIC THEIST?


#1

Hi,

I was wondering how someone could describe themselves as an agnostic theist. I would have thought that having an element of doubt would mean you didn’t have faith.

On the other hand I expect we all go through times of doubt even when we attend church and live our faiths.

So on the one hand this makes sense to me as a temporary label, but I don’t understand how someone could label themselves with this long term, or for their whole life. There must be a point where a decision is made.

Can someone follow a faith while believing you can’t prove it?

Take care, S


#2

It sounds like an oxymoron, however, perhaps the person is saying that she believes God exists but does not know anything about Him. I imagine you might be able to answer many questions for such a person and have some great conversations.


#3

The fact that some cannot be proved, is one of the principle atributes of faith. If something can be proven, no faith is required.


#4

equally you can;t have absolute faith and also serious doubts and skepticism…

in the context of agnostic theism though it’s slightl different…the idea simplified is that:

I’m gonna follow this situation even though I’m not sure and can’t ever prove it.

Its not just this person either, apparently there’s a movement of them.

S


#5

It depends on how you define faith. St. Thomas defines it as an opinion that reaches the certainty of knowledge by an act of will. In other words, you have good reasons to believe but not 100% certainty. But your will is drawn by the goodness of the Faith and so you choose to commit yourself entirely to believing. That at least is how I understand his discussion of the matter–I’m open to correction. Aquinas didn’t think that will and intellect were cordoned off from each other–he thought that if you choose to focus on something you can influence your intellect, even though the intellect is primarily the guiding partner in the relationship.

I think this is basically compatible with William James’s account in *The Will to Believe *(which builds to some extent on “Pascal’s Wager”). James points out that choosing not to commit yourself to a belief is just as much of a choice as choosing to commit yourself. So since you have to do one or the other, there is nothing dishonest about choosing to believe even if the evidence is not entirely conclusive.

The difference between this kind of “agnosticism” and classical agnosticism as defined by T. H. Huxley is that Huxley insisted that it is wicked and dishonest to commit yourself to anything that has not been proven to be true. I think James’ critique is valid–if followed consistently, this leaves one paralysed on most important questions of life.

Since Huxley invented the term “agnosticism,” it is perhaps discourteous to hijack it for a quite different point of view. I have sometimes called myself a “believing agnostic,” but mostly for shock value. At any rate, I cannot imagine being without doubts on any matter that is really important. This is the way I am, and I have to make the most of it. In fact it’s a struggle for me not to look down on people who find believing easy. It’s hard for me to see how they could really be taking the issues seriously. But what do I know? Maybe they just have a more direct line to God than I do. Or at least some of them do.

In Christ,

Edwin


#6

Hi Edwin,

Do you find that you engage with religion in more of an acedemic way then an emotional way?

This might explain why you always have doubts, or question everything and other people engage emotionally and don’t question as much…

or possibly they do so privately lol, I don’t know.

Thanks for your reply…it makes some ind of sense when you get the language out of the equation.

S


#7

Probably more “academically” than the average person (since I am an academic!). However, I definitely engage with religion emotionally as well, and that is very important to me. I think that in an entirely whole and balanced person (i.e., a saint–or maybe not even all saints could be described that way!) intellect and emotion would be completely fused. That is not how it is with me. Perhaps not with anyone in this life. But at least we can reject any philosophy that tries to separate them altogether.

In Christ,

Edwin


#8

that’s an interesting answer. thanks.

S


#9

It depends on the meaning of the terms and how they are applied in a sentence. If we define ‘agnostic’ to mean someone who believes that it is impossible to know whether God exists or not, and theism, which is a belief that God exists, these beliefs seem mutually contradictory by definition so someone could not hold them at the same time.

However in practice J.A.T. Robinson’s ‘Death of God’ theology and also the writings of Don Cupitt seem to try an examine how one might be called a Christian without necessarily believing in the God of classical theism. There are also likely to be people who find meaning in the rituals of Christian religion but who do not necessarily believe in God.


#10

Sure you can. You can believe without knowing, and therefore you can believe while also thinking it is impossible to know (I do the former but not the latter, by the way).

The agnosticism that is incompatible with Christianity is agnosticism as defined by Huxley–the refusal to believe anything that has not been proven, combined with the proposition that God’s existence cannot be proven.

One cannot, after Vatican I, be an orthodox Catholic and say that God’s existence cannot be proven. But other churches, as far as I know, have no dogmatic stance on the matter.

Edwin


#11

I don’t agree. It is possible to believe that something in unknowable and still have a belief. I can not prove that aliens aren’t flying around probing the backside of farmers as we speak. I would even argue that it is impossible to know for sure unless we closely observe every single farmer in the world and set up stringent controls. If the farmer then claims to have been probed we would be able to assert that he had or hadn’t. It doesn’t prove that the probings just didn’t stop once we started observing though.

So technically, I am an agnostic to whether there are probe happy aliens around, although I have a stong belief against it. John Duns Scotus (I believe, it was him) felt that all proofs of God were eroneous, he felt that God should be believed on faith alone.

Tertullian said that he believed ***because ***it was absurd. A strong case of theistic agnosticism.

I had a professor who claimed that knowledged can only be observed by witnessing observable phenomena. He could not witness an electron, and so he maintained a skeptical attitude about it. He still paid his hydro bill.

However in practice J.A.T. Robinson’s ‘Death of God’ theology and also the writings of Don Cupitt seem to try an examine how one might be called a Christian without necessarily believing in the God of classical theism. There are also likely to be people who find meaning in the rituals of Christian religion but who do not necessarily believe in God.


#12

No, that was not Scotus. Scotus actually came up with probably the most rigorous and abstruse proof of God’s existence ever (starting from the proposition “something is possible”–you don’t even need to grant that anything actually exists!). William Ockham did not think that you could make a conclusive proof of God’s existence–at least of His continuing existence. If I remember rightly, Ockham thought that you could prove that something had to get the universe going, but there might have been more than one such being and you couldn’t prove that this initial creator still existed. So you could prove the existence of some sort of creator, but not of God as traditionally defined. I may remember that wrong, though.

Edwin


#13

Ah, I see. That makes sense. Thanks for the correction.


#14

Isn’t the term “agnostic theist” redundant? Isn’t an agnostic who who believes there is (or may be) a God but He cannot be known and doesn’t really bother Himself with us small fry?

This is on contrast to an atheist.


#15

‘Agnostic theist’, while technically not a misnomer, is still misleading. I generally use ‘undecided theist’ to indicate one who believes in the divine but is unsure which, if any, form of worship is proper.

rpp, an agnostic says we do not or (in the case of strong agnostics like myself) cannot know whether there is or is not a deity. What you’re describing is more like Deism :slight_smile:


#16

Hi Mirdath,

What about Agnostics who cannot prove anything etc but follow a particular faith despite this. This is how agnostic theists describe themselves. I suppose for all intents and purposes you could not tell them apart when they’re sat on the pew… they have doubts but choose to follow a religion regardless, for whatever reason… that’s different to someone who is undecided and not sure which worship to follow… some of these agnostic theists have chosen a religion regardless… don’t ask me how! lol, that’s why I started the thread

I said earlier though that maybe all christians could at some points in their lives be classed as agnostic theists as when we have doubts or go through doubt we still act out the religion/ritual but sometiumes some maybe feel that they will never know, or are not sure/can’t prove anything.

S


#17

I think what I’m complicating in my own head is:

that theism/atheism is about faith. (with/without)

a/gnosticism is about knowledge. (with/without)

so we can have faith or otherwise and we can have knowledge or proof of these or not. So agnostics can be theists or atheists.

put simply you can be an atheist with or without proof of this belief… or you can be a theist that does or does not believe you can have proof…

I think this is getting away from the ideas about faith though and sometimes these people head towards philosophy…not to say that the two are mutually exclusive, but in practical terms… the idea that someone could define themselves as an agnostic theist has really confused me lol


#18

Okay, I see the difference. Subtle, but important. Thank you, Mirdath.


#19

With faith, you don’t have to prove anything – I think that’s the whole point of it :slight_smile: Such a person as you describe isn’t an ‘agnostic’ in the sense the term is usually used; they’re theists, they have faith, but they realize they can’t prove anything and don’t have any hangups about it. They believe it, it’s good enough for them and just fine if some people don’t see it – a spirit I have to appreciate.


#20

No, it’s not. We believe that we may understand. The goal of faith is to disappear in the Beatific Vision, when faith and hope will be unnecessary and only love will remain.

Edwin


DISCLAIMER: The views and opinions expressed in these forums do not necessarily reflect those of Catholic Answers. For official apologetics resources please visit www.catholic.com.