I prefer to use the word “agnostic” as an adjective rather than a noun.
Here’s origin of that preference: It starts with this video from one of my living heroes, Dr. Neil DeGrasse Tyson, in which he addresses the question of whether or not he is atheist.
If you didn’t watch the video – or maybe missed it, Dr. Tyson says:
“…I would say, if I find a word that comes closest it would be agnostic. . . to refer to someone who doesn’t know, but hasn’t yet really seen evidence for [God], but is prepared to embrace the evidence if it’s there, but if it’s not won’t be forced to have to think something that is not otherwise supported.”
Not surprisingly, conservative Christians were very disappointed in Dr. Tyson, as were the very people he mentions in the video who want him to call himself an atheist.
For me personally, the most helpful thing I’ve seen come out of the discussions resulting from the video was the idea of using “agnostic” as an adjective rather than a noun.
Admittedly, Dr. Tyson uses “agnostic” as a noun (I still do at times as well), but because of this video, I’ve heard him frequently described as an “agnostic atheist.” Considering he actually prefers no labels besides “scientist” (and I’d bet he’d be okay with “educator”), there are lots of other labels that could be used to describe his perspective – maybe something like “weak atheist.”
But, I find “agnostic atheist” to be much more helpful for describing my personal perspective on this subject.
Tyson defines “agnostic” as “someone who doesn’t know but hasn’t yet really seen evidence for [God], but is prepared to embrace the evidence.”
As a modifier to a noun, that can be a very helpful.
Whether it is modifying “atheist” or “Christian” or possibly other faith traditions, it’s a nice augmentation that helps put aside some of the assumptions that tend be associated with certain labels (the very thing Dr. Tyson is trying to avoid).Following that train of thought, I now call myself an “agnostic Christian.”
I believe there is most probably a God. But faith itself insists that God’s existence is not provable – that’s why it’s called faith.
In my last article, I said that, for me, the linchpin of progressive thought is open-mindedness based on rational thought.
If the set of beliefs you are following have something (faith) within their practices that presume the inability to “prove” the existence of God, and you are approaching the beliefs with “open-mindedness based on rational thought” (as progressives do), then like Dr. Tyson, you must be “prepared to embrace the evidence if it’s there.”
That means admitting that while you believe, you do not know.
“I believe, help me in my disbelief.”
It means, if you are a Progressive Christian, it’s time to admit that you are most likely an agnostic Christian.
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