The compatibility of Christian theism with Agnosticism

I’ve been thinking lately of the possibility/rationality of a Christian (or a theist in general), who is also an agnostic. By agnostic I mean something like: someone that doesn’t know whether God exists, and/or doesn’t believe nor disbelieve that God exists. If by “know” we mean “with certainty” than almost everyone will agree that we don’t need certainty in order to know something, but if not, perhaps every Christian could be agnostic in a trivial way. Perhaps by “know” we are at least implicitly granting that the person has justification or warrant for their belief. Of course, that wouldn’t mean we can’t justifiably believe things that don’t amount to knowledge. So, it’s a little unclear at times what “agnosticism” means in at least our current context.

If a Christian agnostic neither believed nor disbelieved in God, then why on earth would they follow Christianity? If someone suspends judgment on the existence of aliens, would we expect them to follow aliens? This seems implausible and irrational. If I suspend judgment on the existence of Santa Clause, I’m not going to go around leaving cookies for him on Christmas Eve, unless I’m actually now convinced that he exists or I get hit on the head by a rock (there are other possibilities of course).  And if the Christian agnostic just disbelieved in God, then why would they follow God if He exists? If you disbelieve that something is true, then how are you going to rationally dedicate your life to it?  For example, I don’t believe that zombies actually exist, so what’s going to rationally cause me to be fearful of them coming into my apartment tonight? Rationally speaking, there would seem to be nothing if I disbelieved, unless my mind is changed by the time I get home or I’m hit on the head with a rock.

Of course agnosticism is compatible with Christianity (or generic theism) in the sense that agnosticism hasn’t demonstrated that God’s existence is impossible/implausible (Maybe that’s what Craig means when he, in some of his debates, says agnosticism and Christian theism are compatible…?). However, I don’t know if this is really the most relevant sense of what we mean when one says that, “Christianity is compatible with agnosticism”. Granted, agnosticism doesn’t show that God doesn’t exist, just like being agnostic about the Tooth Fairy hasn’t shown that the Tooth Fairy doesn’t exist. Obviously, just because one hasn’t shown X to be false or implausible, doesn’t mean we are now rationally justified in believing that X is true. In other words, I think the issue at hand has to do a lot more with epistemology than ontology. I’m not saying the ontological question doesn’t matter, but I am saying that if one is only focused on the ontology, then they will seriously miss the big elephant in the room.

My fear is that one might use “agnostic” in the sense of something like “belief without evidence/warrant”. Of course this might sound strange because doesn’t “agnosticism” mean the suspense of judgment? Neither belief nor disbelief? Maybe that’s a stricter form of agnosticism, but maybe it isn’t necessary. The main point is this: It could be true that God exists, but if we don’t have warrant-arguments or experience- to believe in Him, then we shouldn’t believe; hence we shouldn’t be a agnostic theist or Christian agnostic. Perhaps a certain agnostic could respond by saying she places the probability of God existing at .50 and the probability of God not existing at .50; therefore, in certain contexts it is rational to dedicate your life to something, even though the proposition is not known or believed to be more likely true than false. Perhaps that’s a solution to at least some forms of Christian agnosticism; however, this would get us into a debate about Clifford vs. James, which would potentially side-track the current discussion.

Maybe the Christian agnostic can say that not only does she not know or believe that God exists, but that she also can’t know whether God exists. But I don’t see how this solves anything. Whether or not we have the ability to know God, seems to be somewhat independent of the question of whether we do know that God exists. Of course if we can’t know that God exists, then we don’t know that God exists. But it doesn’t work in reverse. Whether or not we have the ability to know that God exists doesn’t answer the question about whether it’s rational. If our belief is unjustified, we should drop the belief; this is true even if the original proposition in question might have been impossible to know. If the position is that we can’t know that God exists with certainty, so what? Why think that knowledge requires certainty? Why think we must know something with certainty? Certainty seems to be a red-herring in almost all discussions.

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