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Discussion 3 to Meditation 27
Agnosticism is not a middle ground between two extremes

By Will Petillo

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Anyone who is not a fundamentalist (be it atheist or theist) has some degree of doubt. The majority of people (I hope) fall under this category of having some degree of doubt, which is why so many people claim to have “faith” -- for faith by definition implies doubt. An Agnostic is commonly defined as someone who doubts -- that is, is unsure about -- the existence of God. This definition is problematic because it would then follow that the majority of people are agnostic, even though most of them consider themselves theist or atheist. Furthermore, if both (non-fundamentalist) theists and atheists have doubt, then what distinguishes them? The whole point of words is to communicate meaning and therefore a good definition should conform as much as possible to how the word it is defining is used. Personally, I believe that the difference between a theist and an atheist is that while a theist is one who embraces the part of them that believes in God, an atheist is one who embraces the part of them that believes in No-God. As an agnostic, I do neither of these things and therefore cannot be classed in either category, for I embrace the part of me that doubts. This is why I reject the common definition of an agnostic as “one who doubts” in favor of the definition, “one who embraces doubt.” For me, agnosticism is not a middle ground between two extremes, it is a third extreme. And if one were to put theism, atheism, and agnosticism, on a graph, then it would form an equilateral triangle.

On a related note, I find the slogan for the apathetic agnostics, “We don’t know and we don’t care”, to be misleading -- albeit true when one really thinks about it and very pithy -- as it superficially suggests that apathetic agnostics should have no motivation to discuss their religion because they “don’t care”. I think it would be less misleading to state that agnostics, “don’t know and don’t need to know,” which brings me back to the aforementioned concept of agnostics as actively embracing doubt rather than passively “fence sitting” as is commonly believed.