I think I am, therefore I am … I think

    Back in April, Vanguard columnist Khalid Adad wrote a column against agnosticism. He called the agnostic viewpoint “intellectual cowardice,” and said that agnostics, unlike Bible believers, lacked even the excuse that they were simply delusional. Offended by this slander upon my worldview, I resolved to fight back. So, in true wishy-washy agnostic fashion, I finally sat down seven months later to write a rebuttal.

    All of the arguments for and against God form a collective argument for agnosticism, as does the history of scientific discovery, in which we constantly throw out previous beliefs in the face of new discoveries. The question of whether or not there is any God is not actually that interesting of a question in itself. Saying “there is a God” really says very little, since “God” could mean the vindictive prick of the Old Testament, or the hands-off creator of the Deists, or an all-encompassing big glowing ball of infinite love, or a Hindu Godhead that assumes various forms, or a bunch of ancestors, or evil Xenu, or whatever. Agnosticism means not that we don’t/can’t know if there is a God, but that we don’t/can’t fully know what kind of universe we live in (moral/amoral, random/guided, etc.) and we try to live in a way that makes sense to us, considering the ultimate uncertainty of living as a finite being in a reality that is not completely knowable.

    Agnosticism is not just an alternative to theism or atheism. The term “agnostic” functions almost more as an adverb than an adjective. There are many people who could be reasonably described as “agnostic theists (or Christians or Jews or Zoroastrians or whatever)” or “agnostic atheists.”

    A woman once told me that Satan made her get a parking ticket. Let’s assume for a moment that the ticket is a given, and we’re trying to find the most satisfactory explanation. One theory is that she parked her car carelessly, and an officer gave her a ticket. Her theory, by contrast, was either that Satan made her violate the parking rules, or that she only got a ticket because Satan guided the cop to write her up. Since the Satan-free model is perfectly adequate to explain the violation, invoking the Prince of Darkness seems like a clear case of multiplying entities beyond necessity. Similarly, it isn’t necessary to add a God we don’t know to the evidence (historical, scientific, and sensory) that we do know.

    Adad presented a cartoonish vision of agnosticism in which agnostics, in order to not be hypocrites, would have to grant that there could be invisible pandas following them around wherever they go. After all, they can’t prove that invisible pandas aren’t following them around. He said that the only way for agnostics to be intellectually consistent would be to take an agnostic position on the existence of invisible pandas. Like Christian fundamentalists who invoke the truth of the Bible as proof of the truth of the Bible, Adad was judging the agnostic perspective by standards that only make sense within the worldview of the true believer, whether this is a believer in God or in no-God.

    This Procrustean one-size-fits-all standard, in which an agnostic must be equally agnostic about everything from the ridiculous to the sublime, from God to invisible pandas, is the very opposite of the pragmatist worldview. Calling oneself agnostic doesn’t mean renouncing all powers of judgment. Rather, it means keeping an open mind and judging everything individually in shades of gray rather than throwing everything into black and white categories. It’s not sitting on a fence, but walking a slack rope. It is not intellectual cowardice but intellectual humility, and it seems the most logical way to live in a world that ranges far beyond the powers of comprehension.