Although gnosticism has its roots in the first half a dozen centuries of the Common Era, where its philosophy was selected as an intermediary between Paganism and Christianity, it was Sir Thomas Huxley in 1869 who coined the word agnostic. Gnostic, being a Greek word leaves room for the placing of an ‘a’ as a prefix to indicate the absence of a quality, opposite or a negative meaning to the original. Atheism and theism are similarly contrived.
A dictionary definition of an agnostic is as follows:
agnostic One who holds that the ultimate cause (God) and the essential nature of things are unknown or unknowable.
Nowadays the common meaning of agnosticism is the simultaneous sitting on the fence of belief and disbelief for the existence of ‘God’ and trappings. We do not hear of people being agnostic in regard to fairies. There is no evidence for gods or fairies.
There are two distinct classes of agnostics: One is the Atheist, who, not wanting to upset family or friends or fearful of some genuine or presumed ostracism by society, is therefore reticent to openly admit that stand, and the other is the confused thinker. Let us concentrate on the confused thinker.
Infant indoctrination, an evolutionary benefit in the learning and retention of social and survival skills, is not an imaginary concept. For humans, this learning process happens over a very long period by repetition and constantly reinforcing adult selected themes according to accepted cultural norms. Modern knowledge of how we think demonstrates that hardwiring of the brain, in our formative years, is then taken as instinctive behaviour later on in life. Examples are abounding. Accent in language, how we hold a knife and fork or chopsticks etc and our worldview are all implanted into us in the early years and retained throughout life. As adults it is difficult to modify or undo the infant indoctrination but it is possible
All peoples implant their worldview into the brains of their children, be that parentally, by peer pressure or by overall cultural beliefs, or a combination. A child is unable to understand the process and is compliant in a method sanctioned by adult authority and honed by countless generations.
Many people find no rational reason to accept as factual anything that is devoid of evidence, particularly religious cosmological belief. They experience and endorse as a self-evident truth the existence of a natural universe but reject the idea of such status to a supernatural realm or beings. Now consider the case of the confused thinker/agnostic.
Human capacity to reason remains just a capacity. Years of brainwashing is implanted so deeply into the emotional psyche that it seriously affects logical deduction. As a way of coping with the fear of suffering or death individuals endorse hope and fantasy, which religion claims to provide. The basis for these claims are bogus.
While the confused thinker/agnostic can find no rational reason to believe in anything supernatural they maintain their deep survival yearning. To avoid mental conflict they separate the conflicting thoughts into different compartments. This is an exercise practised by exemplary citizens who can be taxation cheats with a clear conscience. Perception of personal gain or benefit is one of humanities strongest driving influences. All humans are very capable of living with a concurrent duality of contradictory ideas, but those recognising the absurdity are well on the way to overcoming them.
Confused thinkers/agnostics are not Atheists half of the time. No evidence for ‘God’, ‘souls’, the supernatural etc. cannot be discounted or ignored. No evidence means exactly that – no evidence. Induced feelings are not evidence – period. The thought that we do not know if a ‘God’ exists or not, is as relevant as not knowing if Unicorns exist or not. By any stretch of the imagination, such a creative outlook should not be used to bolster religions whose affects on the people and planet is and has been disastrous.
The confused thinker/agnostic is really just another religious person. They may have more reservations about the veracity of their spiritual opinion than the average doubting devout adherent, but this is only a matter of degrees. While the religious are firmly tethered to an ‘infallible’ institution, an ‘infallible’ book or an ‘infallible” experience, the agnostic is tethered with an elastic rope which allows them to graze a little further. Atheists are free-thinkers without tethering.
Agnostics of the planet are a very dangerous breed, for they appear to be weighing all the evidence in evaluating a worldview and appear to be choosing neither Atheism nor faith. That they are denying Atheism gives them a grudging acceptance by the religious, religions and society in general – a far cry from the hatred, animosity and denial of even existing, afforded Atheists.
This alone is proof enough that the path of the confused thinker/agnostic is one far easier to travel than that chosen by an Atheist and is therefore a psychological inducement to not stray from it. Easier, maybe, but that does not make it truer. In fact, the critical thinker should, on recognising this fact, be extremely suspicious that “acceptable social beliefs” by agnostics can give their case greater authenticity that it deserves.
The phrase, confused thinker, and the word agnostic, have always been and will forever remain, synonymous.
By David Nicholls