“What type of agnostic are you?” It is an interesting question to ask anyone who claims to be one.
The word agnostic comes from the ancient Greek word “gnosis”, meaning “knowledge”, prefixed by the letter “a” which, in ancient Greek, meant “no” or “not”. Thus, an agnostic is someone who has no knowledge about something. They simply don’t know. When used in refence to God, it means that a person doesn’t know whether God exists or not.
But it in my discussions with self-claimed agnostics over the years, I have identified three types of agnosticism.
Type 1 Agnosticism is when something is knowable, but you don’t happen to know it. For example, I am currently agnostic about how many helium balloons it would take to lift my wife into the air. It would be possible to discover the answer (and thus resolve my agnosticism) by conducting a fairly simple scientific experiment. I would just need to tie my wife to a chair and keep adding helium balloons until she got airborne. But as she is not currently very enthusiastic about submitting herself to this experiment, I will probably have to remain agnostic about this issue indefinitely. (What a shame; it could be quite fun).
Many people are Type 1 agnostics in regard to Jesus. It is entirely possible to find out more about Jesus and assess his claims because there is plenty of historical evidence for his life and ministry, but most people simply haven’t bothered to find out. The issue is entirely knowable and people’s ignorance arises from a lack of research rather than a lack of evidence.
Just as Type 1 diabetes can be successfully treated with insulin injections, so too, Type 1 agnosticism responds well to a course of investigation of the evidence.
Type 2 Agnosticism is a more entrenched philosophical position. These are people who don’t merely say that they don’t know, but claim that it is impossible to know. They say that there is no way anyone can know whether or not God exists because there is no evidence that will ever sufficiently prove or disprove his existence. But can you see the irony of this position? These agnostics are effectively saying, “I know for sure that no one can know for sure”.
Type 2 agnosticism is basically a claim to know everything. It is the claim that you have examined every possible piece of evidence in the universe and that you have deemed it all insufficient. But this is a ludicrous claim. For this to be true, you would have to know every second of human history, have carefully considered every possible philosophical argument, analysed every piece of scientific data and explored every molecule of the entire universe. Good luck with that! Type 2 agnosticism is both arrogant and irrational.
Type 3 Agnosticism is the most oppositional of the three types. Rather than merely saying “I don’t know” or “I can’t know”, these agnostics are saying “I don’t want to know – so leave me alone”. The Type 3 agnostic’s goal is not to arrive at the truth, but to avoid facing it. For them, “I don’t know” is the ultimate wet blanket to douse the most fervent flames of the Christian evangelist. It is their philosophical handbrake to cease all forward dialogue in an undesirable direction. In my own experience with Type 3 agnostics, I have concluded that they are driven not by the fear that Christianity might not be true, but by the fear that it might be true. The suspicion that God might actually be there and that they might have to do something about it – like change their life – is too difficult for these agnostics to face. And so, their mantra, “I don’t know”, hides two additional unspoken words, “I don’t want to know.”
But Type 3 agnosticism is ultimately illogical and even absurd. It is the equivalent of the emu burying its head in the sand or the three-year-old child covering her eyes with her hands and thinking that no one can now see her. And it is as dangerous as the person who is very ill but who refuses to be examined in case it turns out that they have a serious disease. Hiding from the truth won’t make it disappear. And it might just kill you in the end.
I have spent much of my adult life presenting evidence that hopes to convince atheists and agnostics that there is a God who created them, to whom they are ultimately accountable. And contrary to the claims of Type 2 agnostics (“No one can know”), there exists a vast amount of evidence – scientific, historical and philosophical – that is incredibly compelling.
Next Sunday, 19th November, I will be conducting a community seminar on the topic, “Evidence For Belief” at Yarramalong Community Hall, on the Central Coast of New South Wales (see the flyer below). It is free to everyone and consists of about an hour of fascinating images and short video clips that will present some amazing evidence for the existence of a Creator God and for the truth of the Bible.
If you are within easy travelling distance, why not come along? And bring your atheistic or agnostic friends along with you. I cater for all types.