An Agnostic Is Neither an Atheist Nor a Theist
Some Simple Deﬁnitions
Although these words have been deﬁned with various shades of meaning by some thinkers, I wish to use some simple, brief deﬁnitions of three crucial terms: agnostic, atheist, and (Biblical) theist. An agnostic is a person who holds that there is not sufficient evidence available to man to warrant the deduction that men can know that God exists. (The agnostic holds that there is not evidence available so that man can answer either “yes” or “no” to the question as to whether God exists.) An atheist is one who claims that there is sufficient evidence available to man to warrant the deduction that men can know that God does not exist. A (Biblical) theist is one who holds that there is sufficient evidence available to men to warrant the deduction that men can know that God does exist. I am concerned in this article to show that while some men who espouse the basic agnostic viewpoint may classify themselves as theists, such a classification is unwarranted. To be an agnostic relative to, say, X is to hold that men cannot know X. In this article, I am concerned especially with agnosticism relative to the existence of God, the inspiration of the Bible, and the correct interpretation of the Bible.
“Kinds” of Agnosticism
Relative to the existence of God, there are at least two kinds of agnostics. The kind of agnostic who “leans toward” theism (such as Blaise Pascal) says that no one can know whether God exists but claims that “it is more reasonable” to believe that God does exist than that he does not. But the fact that this type of agnostic “leans toward” theism does not make him truly a (Biblical) theist. The other kind of agnostic is one who “leans toward” atheism (such as Bertrand Russell). This kind of agnostic holds that no one can know whether God exists, but he claims “that it is more reasonable” to believe that God does not exist than to believe that he does.
An Agnostic Is Neither an Atheist Nor a Theist
There are numerous philosophers who claim not that they know that God does not exist, but that there is not sufficient evidence available to men to enable anyone to know whether God does or does not exist. It is manifestly incorrect to refer to such men as atheists, and it is surely the case that at least most of them would resent anyone referring to them as atheists. There is a deﬁnite distinction made between being an atheist and being an agnostic. While we thus recognize the distinction between an agnostic and an atheist, we also must recognize that it is incorrect to refer to an agnostic as a (Biblical) theist. If a given person says that there is not sufficient evidence available to men for them to know whether God exists, even if he does claim that it is “more reasonable to believe” that God does exist than to believe that he does not exist, such a person is not a (Biblical) theist–he is an agnostic! This is the case simply because so long as one holds that the evidence available to man is not sufficient to warrant the deduction that men can know that God exists, even if they do say that it is “more reasonable” to believe that God exists than that he does not exist, then they are not theists but agnostics!
The Importance of This Matter
I am writing these words with the sincere desire that they will be helpful to some people to stop being “soft” on the matter of the proof of the existence of God, the inspiration of the Bible, and to attainability of truth–or else to help them to come to the point of admitting that they actually are agnostics and not theists. I also hope that this material may be helpful in guarding others from being misled by those who set out and seek to defend what is actually an agnostic–not a Biblical–viewpoint.
The importance of this matter is seen in the fact that if it is impossible for men to know (1) that God exists, (2) that the Bible is God’s word (and thus inerrant), and (3) what the Bible teaches relative to becoming a child of God and living properly as a child of God, then no one. can know (1) that Jesus Christ died for our sins, (2) that he arose from the dead, (3) that Christianity is the one true religion, (4) what to do to be saved, (5) how to live the Christian life, (6) the fate of those who reject the gospel, etc. If we cannot know, for example, such truths as the fact that Jesus Christ arose from the dead and other such basic elements of Christianity are really true, then, for all we know, Christianity could be false. If such ignorance were the forced and determined fate of any and every man, then, for all any of us could know, it might be just as acceptable to God for men to be atheists or Buddhists as to be Christians! But I thank God that such is false! We can know the truth. The Bible makes clear that there is evidence available to man which warrants the deduction that men can know that God exists. The Bible makes clear that by proper deduction from “the things that are made” men can prove the existence of God. Among these passages are: Romans 1:18-23; Psalms 19:1-6; 14:1; Acts 14:15-17; 17:22-31. Guided by the Holy Spirit, the apostle Paul said, “For the invisible things of him since the creation of the world are clearly seen, being perceived through the things that are made, even his everlasting power and divinity; that they may be without excuse.” (Rom. 1:20.) There is no place in this world where a man can live and be without the responsibility of perceiving the everlasting power and divinity of God “through the things that are made.” We can know that God exists. We can know that the Bible is the word of God. We can know what the Bible teaches as to what man must do to become a child of God. We can know what a man must do in order to live acceptably as a child of God. We can know that all who reject the gospel will be lost. We can know that salvation is in the body of Christ (the church). We can know that men who enter religious denominations sin in so doing. We can know that those who use instrumental music in the worship of God sin in so doing.
Let us accept the plain and simple truth of this matter. Let us reject not only atheism but agnosticism as well. Let us accept the plain and simple truth of God almighty. (John 8:32.)
Thomas B. Warren