When asked, most agnostics today will tell you they’re agnostic because they don’t know if god exists. So, rather than commit to either a theist or atheist position they have chosen to stand in a middle ground. A middle ground that is actually a gray area. But are they fence sitters, unable to commit to a belief in a god or not, or are they applying the logic of Thomas H. Huxley?
Huxley is credited with the creation of the word “agnostic” in the 1860s. In his book, Science and Christianity (page 246), he defined agnosticism as:
“Positively the principle may be expressed: In matters of the intellect, follow your reason as far as it will take you, without regard to any other consideration. And negatively: In matters of the intellect do not pretend that conclusions are certain which are not demonstrated or demonstrable.”
Huxley, know in his time as Darwin’s bulldog, was applying logic to the idea of the existence of god(s). By applying logic and reason, a scientific mind, should develop its own conclusion. And modern science leaves us with little doubt as to the folklore and mythological status of deism.
While neither being a proclamation for or against theism it has been evidenced even by Huxley himself that his logic of agnosticism ultimately made him an atheist. In a letter to Charles Kingsley, 23 September 1860 he clarified his position:
“I have never had the least sympathy with the a priori reasons against orthodoxy, and I have by nature and disposition the greatest possible antipathy to all the atheistic and infidel school. Nevertheless I know that I am, in spite of myself, exactly what the Christian would call, and, so far as I can see, is justified in calling, atheist and infidel”
So, if a modern agnostic claims the intended definition of agnostic as their reasoning, then by what is logical, they should not be declaring themselves as agnostics, but as atheists. They are, then, cowardly and unwilling to cast their dice. Instead they sit on a fence.
Some fence sitters, ignorant of Huxley’s logical definition of agnosticism speak more along the lines of Protagoras, a Greek philosopher of the 5th century. In his book, On The Gods, the translation reads:
“Concerning the gods, I have no means of knowing whether they exist or not or of what sort they may be. Many things prevent knowledge including the obscurity of the subject and the brevity of human life.”
This is the definition of agnosticism that agnostics cling to when they justify their decision to commit to neither deism or atheism. And it is here that they are bound, like deists, and lack the true freedom of being an atheist. It is these agnostics who are afraid that they might be wrong and lack the conviction to commit to their knowledge that there are no gods. They also lack the conviction to throw their dice with Pascal and wager on the possible existence of a god.
Why is that? If they allow for the precepts of Christianity, they know that to not believe is to consign themselves to an inferno afterlife. Would they be better off to follow Pascal’s lead and be a Christian, even if only following form with the narrow hope they’ll one day believe? The fact that they don’t reveals a truer sense of what they do know to be the truth and are fearful to admit. And so they remain on the fence, sitting.