or “The Unacceptable Position of Agnosticism”
Is there such a thing as true agnosticism?
Can one really reject one position or another without assuming some kind of middle ground?
As a Christian theist, a believer in Jesus as both Savior and God, I live in recognition of the fact that there is no neutral ground upon which anyone can stand without necessarily assuming certain necessary facts about the world that they inhabit. That doesn’t mean that there aren’t certain positions wherein one can maintain some kind of positional neutrality with certain beliefs.
For example, while I’m skeptical about Darwinian evolutionary theory when it comes to trying to use it to explain certain facts outside of biology, I’m not necessarily as skeptical of it inside the field, when it is considered alongside other competing theories, though no one will admit that such a competition exists. But that particular skepticism is in regard to a recognition that the logic used is often viciously circular in making its application: it assumes what needs to be proven.
Now, that skepticism often gets me painted with the brush of Ken Ham or Kent Hovind, who I also find guilty of using viciously circular reasoning in making their arguments.
I am of the opinion that in this question there is no doubt some middle ground that can be found, but the fact that I can see a place to stand in which one can see the problems of both, and therefore remain agnostic is because I recognize that I possess certain presuppositions about the world and the nature of it that give me a place to stand and look at both from above and mediate.
Now, that would seem to make this about me trying to eat my cake and have it too, but that is often how false dichotomies work.
A Network of Dichotomies
Philosophy of Religion, similar to biology, is riddled with all sorts of dichotomies due to the number of theories proffered to try to explain various facts. That is to say that, like Darwinism in biology, there are pet theories that will suffer no heterodoxy. All-or-nothing propositions seem to be the rule of the day.
Hence there is great ground that often gets ignored in the theist-atheist debate: the great, perceived middle ground of agnosticism. But is this a truly capable and consistent position?
Now, this is not to say that agnosticism doesn’t exist, but whether or not it is a philosophically sufficient position that is an entirely different question.
Steve McRae, former co-host of the NonSequitur Show on YouTube, wherein he seeks to defend his position as an agnostic in the context of Matt Dillahunty’s “gumball analogy”, wherein the debate over the existence of God is couched in terms over whether or not the number of gumballs in a gumball machine are either odd or even, and the negation of the claim that for one to not believe that the assertion of one position, say the number is even, necessitates that one take the position that the number is odd, as McRae explains,
“The Gumball analogy is usually to attempt to show that if someone posists (sic) a claim, if you don’t accept the claim that does not entail that you accept the negation of the claim…which of course is absolutely correct.
And that is true, logically speaking. Someone denying belief in position “A” is not automatically obligated to take position “B” as a belief.
Looking at a jar of gumballs, it is true that there is either an odd number or an even number of gumballs in it. That is a position about a quality of the gumballs, not whether or not the jar of gumballs exists.
Of Gumballs and God
In the debate over the existence of God—in this case the Christian God—the gumball analogy, since it is a question about the quality of an object rather that the object itself, it is categorically inapplicable to the debate about the existence of God.
But, one might remark, isn’t “existence” a quality?
Yes and no, again referring to the jar of gumballs analogy: in order to speak about any quality (even or odd number) there must be referent ontological reality (X-number of gumballs in a jar) by which such a determination can be made.
For someone to say, “I don’t believe that there’s an even number of gumballs in that jar,” necessarily assumes that there is a way about which a fact can be ascertained, namely opening the jar and counting the number of its contents.
The closest equivalent to the claim “there is an even number of gumballs in the jar” is not—contra-atheist— “There is a god,” rather it’s “God is good”.
One then might be able to be agnostic with regard to the qualities of God, but to the reality of God’s existence there simply is no way, for just like the jar in question, “what can be known about God is plain to them, because God has shown it to them (Romans 1:19,ESV).”