I really have a dislike of agnostics, at least those who are agnostic when it comes to religion and supernatural beliefs. I’ll blast you with a few definitions and some history before delving into my justification for why I hold agnostics in very low esteem.
The word ‘agnostic‘ means ‘without knowledge’, or ‘I don’t know’. It was first coined by Darwin’s Bulldog, aka Thomas Henry Huxley, who was the voice to Darwin’s Theory of Evolution when it came to the public arena. In my mind Darwin effectively didn’t want to offend his wife, who was fervently religious, nor directly or indirectly offend the church or its followers, who comprised the majority of English people back in the late 1800s. (See this article on Huxley and agnosticism).
When it comes to the question of ‘does God exist’, an agnostics answer is ‘I don’t know’. This is a justified answer when it comes to the epistemological question. However, when the question is theological, ‘do you believe in God or a god?’, then an agnostic’s answer of ‘I don’t know’ automatically drops them in the same category with atheists who would answer ‘I don’t believe in any god/s’. If you don’t know, then you don’t believe do you? Believing is a conscious act, where you have to actively partake in the act of ‘believing’, it isn’t a passive act. So to be a theist, you have to actively believe in a god, throw prayer and worship, etc. If you don’t actively worship a god, then at best you’re a deist, though deists still believe their is a god or higher power that created the universe, just not one that requires worshipping. So if you don’t believe, and you don’t actively worship any good, then it logically follows that you’re without belief in god, therefore making you an ‘atheist’. Whether you like it or not. And I think that is what really defines whether people decide to plonk themselves on the agnostic fence post. It’s more about not wanting to rock the boat, not wanting to upset anyone who does believe in a god. As if by being labelled an atheist you are automatically attacking their belief in a supernatural being.
“If I asked you right now, is there a dead elk in the trunk of your car? You could say I don’t know, but then the following question, do you believe there’s one in there, you’d go, ‘No, I have no evidence for that!”. Atheist does not mean you believe all the questions are answered. It does not believe that I will be Christian next week. It means at this second I don’t have an active belief. And it’s all because of one brilliant and hero weasel Tom Huxley decided he didn’t want to say the word ‘atheist’…” Penn Jillette
Moreover, I can understand that a lot of areligious or ‘agnostic’ religious sympathisers don’t want to share the same brand as people such as Richard Dawkins, Christopher Hitchens, Sam Harris, etc. Those who would be anti-theism if not borderline. However, when it really comes down to it you are what you are, and if you don’t believe in a god, if you don’t actively worship a god, whether or not you can say for sure there is or isn’t one, you are an atheist. Labelling yourself as anything else is as stupid as say a Norwegian who’s so ashamed of Anders Breivik‘s recent acts that they decide to label themselves as Japanese instead.
I guess this is what annoys me so much about agnostics today. Like Huxley and Darwin, they are more worried about offending others, as well as attempting to avoid being put on the same shelf as atheists such as Dawkins, that they decide to champion the ‘agnostic’ label. When in reality this is atheism. It’s just watered down, hiding in the closet, rather cut off your own tongue than admit it, atheism.
I put it to self-proclaimed agnostics, to suck it up and take on the appropriate label of ‘atheist’. If you don’t want to be viewed as a Dawkins equivalent atheist, then maybe you should just find the time to actually explain your beliefs to others. It is definitely not as hard a task to do without treading on the long and sensitive toes of theists, as I’m sure you fear it is.