The agnostic believer

Those who sincerely attempt to reconcile Christianity with fact and reason eventually discover, if they persist, that the Gospel is not consistent with unbiased objective truth, as I can testify from personal experience. The unfortunate believer who encounters this problem has a couple of choices. One choice—the choice I made—would be to allow the true facts of reality to lead me out of the ignorant and superstitious traditions of Bible and Church. Call this the Truth Trumps Traditions choice.

The alternative would have been for me to turn my back on truth, closing my eyes to it and deciding that truth cannot (and should not) be known by man. My own search for truth led me only to the brink of apostasy, and what good is that, right? To stay faithful, I would have to decide that knowledge of the truth must be the enemy of faith, and would need to reject this knowledge as something that all faithful believers should oppose.

Believers who choose this latter path become the world’s most agnostic philosophers, denying that we can know even part of the truth. Faith turns into a kind of communal solipsism, where each believer has only his or her subjective beliefs to cling to, unsupported by any knowable truth, unverified and unverifiable. It’s a worldview founded on dogma, of which the cornerstone is the denial of the idea that real-world truth can be known by any mortal. It’s the ultimate in agnosticism.

Of course, they can’t actually leave this world and move into their own subjective worldviews. Inevitably, maddeningly, rational reality keeps intruding, contradicting, poking holes in their careful defenses, encroaching on the shrinking terrain of their little walled gardens. Small wonder, then, that paranoia and intolerance sprout so freely in such carefully cultivated minds.

Instead of motivating them to re-examine their underlying assumptions, however, the contrary evidence of reality only motivates them to try harder to replace the real world with the subjective, faith-based alternative. Not satisfied with rejecting their own ability to know truth, they try to deny that anyone else can know anything either. We can see this in some of the comments Murk is sharing with us. For example, here he is giving us a quick tour of the little prison he has carefully constructed for his thoughts.

proof furthermore requires commitments to absolute laws of logic / validity of senses / uniformity of nature / existence of meaning – entails purpose and direction ….yada yada yada – which no one can know (since we do not know everything) therefore it requires belief in the existence and continuance of these things – we all must believe – we cannot not – the only issue is do we believe in what is true or what is made by the Truth.

To believe something means to have an understanding of it, a mental model of it that may or may not be correct. To know something is to have an understanding that is consistent with material reality, and for which we can show how this consistency with the truth can be verified. Knowledge, thus, could be described as being a belief that has been tested against the infallible standard of reality, and has passed the test.

In Murk’s world, though, beliefs are arbitrarily and artificially cut off from reality, so that they can never be tested or become knowledge. No one can know any absolute laws of logic. No one can know the validity of senses or the uniformity of nature. Unless we are omniscient, we cannot even know of the existence of meaning. It’s against the rules. We can’t have any access to the truth, because if we possess any truth at all, we can use it to undermine the very foundations of Christian faith. Truth must be kept strictly off limits to mortals, and reserved for God alone, lest we use it to bring about His destruction.

Mind you, I don’t expect that Murk really believes or lives by this philosophy, most of the time. This is a script, to be pulled out and applied to specific (and possibly desperate) situations, where the ability to know the truth would be a serious detriment to the believer’s faith. And even then, it’s typically applied only to the non-believer. Never does the believer question their own ability to “know,” e.g.,  that God is true and is the source of all things. The rule that forbids knowledge is a special rule intended only for non-believers.

But setting aside the hypocrisy, self-contradiction, and double standards, let’s look at this philosophy on its own merits. It’s fairly easy to see that this particular worldview is nothing more nor less than abject, unabashed gullibility. Whenever you insist that all mortal knowledge must be based on mere subjective belief, you have surrendered all possibility of having beliefs based on real-world knowledge. To embrace such a worldview is to admit that your beliefs are unfounded. You blindly believe whatever you have been taught, regardless of what you might have learned if you were willing to know the real facts. Indeed, blind faith is the whole point of denying that mortals have the ability to see.

There can never be any good reason to adopt such a philosophy, since the worldview itself denies the possibility of having good reasons for anything. You can’t even offer up God as a good reason, since it is not possible for you to have any true knowledge that God exists, or that there were any connection between Him and truth, or that He would reveal anything to you, or that anything you accept as divine revelation really came from Him. The very best you could aspire to would be to have a wholly unfounded and unjustifiable belief, which you embrace out of mere gullibility and denial of your ability to test your beliefs in the light of real-world knowledge.

A side effect of this philosophy is to eliminate scientific understanding of the world around us, and replace it with a more primitive and superstitious understanding. Notice that in Murk’s worldview, the existence of logic and meaning and so on “entails purpose and direction.” He does not seek to understand the genuine, real-world principles and processes that produce the world around us. He wants to attribute everything to “purpose and direction,” meaning the unpredictable, intentional whims of some invisible, magical, anthropomorphic spirit. Scientific study is pointless, since things happen according to “purpose and direction” rather than natural laws.

Forget plate tectonics: volcanoes erupt because the gods are angry. What’s the point of doing medical research when diseases befall you because God has some higher purpose in play? Pay no attention to wealthy corporations and their lobbyists tweaking the laws to divert ever-greater profits out of the economy and into their own pockets—God is punishing us with economic woes because we’re not doing enough to persecute gays and unbelievers. And so on.

Primitive superstition has not really been displaced by science and education as much as we might have hoped. All that really happened is that people started calling it “meaning” and “purpose” instead. Behind the more up-to-date terminology lies the same belief in invisible anthropomorphic spirits making things magically happen because they need to be appeased and flattered and obeyed. When you expel real-world truth from your worldview, the gods and demons move in to take its place.

And that’s just the way a lot of believers like it. Universal agnosticism is appealing to intelligent and educated believers, because intellectually it’s the only remaining gap big enough to hide a whole god in. Mandatory ignorance, given the prohibition against knowledge, is a domain big enough to embrace Christianity in all its myriad manifestations and superstitions and self-serving standards. The fact that you have to reject all possible knowledge to get there is a small price to pay.


  1. hexidecima says

    most excellent. This is one of the best reviews of the theist claim that we can’t know anything.

    I’m still waiting for one of them to take me up on holding, in their bare hands, this white-hot bar of iron I have.

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *