Weak Agnosticism


Weak agnosticism is the assertion that, at present, there is not enough information to know whether any deities exist, but that such might become knowable, or that someone may come forward with a conclusive and irrefutable proof for the existence of such deities. It is in contrast to strong agnosticism, which is the belief that the existence of any gods is completely unknowable to humanity. Neither type of agnosticism is fully irreconcilable with theism (belief in a deity or deities) nor atheism (rejecting belief in all deities).

Weak agnostics who also consider themselves theists are likely to acknowledge they have some doubt, though they are not necessarily having a crisis of faith. Weak agnosticism is compatible with weak atheism (wherein a person does not believe in the existence of any deities, but does not explicitly assert there to be none). Weak agnosticism is also referred to as ’empirical agnosticism’ and as ‘negative agnosticism.’ According to Australian philosopher Graham Oppy, weak agnosticism is ‘the view which is sustained by the thesis that it is permissible for reasonable persons to suspend judgement on the question of God’s existence.’

Weak agnostics differ from strong agnostics in that they believe the existence or non-existence of god(s) might yet be proven by science or philosophy. Weak agnostics simply feel that humanity is not there yet; weak agnosticism is not a belief or faith which one can hold in the light of extreme amounts of rational coherent scientific evidence to support the existence of god(s), ‘godlike’ entity, or non-existence, so if it can be proved, either way, then the weak-agnostic will acknowledge it. In a western monotheistic system, it can be argued that since evil and suffering exist under an omnipotent and benevolent god, this god must not exist. This does not refute the existence of a non-benevolent god(s), nor does it account for many of the arguments of Theodicy, the specific branch of theology and philosophy that attempts to reconcile the problem of evil. A weak agnostic would say, ‘I don’t know whether any deities exist or not, but maybe one day, when there is evidence, we can find something out.’

Weak agnostics have often been accused of being ‘fence-sitters,’ that is, indecisive. This arises if one considers the matter to be about belief rather than about knowledge (epistemology). For agnostics, the only conclusion that can be drawn is that there is not enough information to justify a knowledge claim, and that it would be a leap of faith either to believe that a deity exists or to deny any deity exists. There are many theists who agree that they do not know their belief to be true, and there are many atheists who do not claim certainty that no deity exists. Agnostic theists seldom identify primarily as agnostic, and many people who primarily identify as agnostic do not believe in a deity. Richard Dawkins refers to weak agnostics as ‘Temporary Agnostics in Practice’ (TAPs), and he considers them to be reasonable people due to the lack of certainty one way or the other. Dawkins, however, argues that weak agnostics are really de facto atheists.

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