In the July 28 edition of The Slate, Ron Rosenbaum identifies agnosticism as the reasonable option for those who do not know whether there is a God, finding it impossible in all honesty to commit themselves either to theism or atheism. He notes that the latter demands the same kind of belief, and can be accompanied by the same levels of intolerance as the most belligerent religious fundamentalism. It is gratifying to hear him observe,
Atheists display a credulous and childlike faith, worship a certainty as yet unsupported by evidence—the certainty that they can or will be able to explain how and why the universe came into existence. (And some of them can behave as intolerantly to heretics who deviate from their unproven orthodoxy as the most unbending religious Inquisitor.) Faced with the fundamental question: "Why is there something rather than nothing?" atheists have faith that science will tell us eventually. Most seem never to consider that it may well be a philosophic, logical impossibility for something to create itself from nothing.
From a Christian perspective, and I also believe from that of the believing Jew, there is no such thing as an atheist or agnostic. All men are endowed with what has been called a natural knowledge of God which it takes an act of the will to deny, for “ever since the creation of the world God’s invisible nature, namely his eternal power and deity, has been clearly perceived in the things that have been made, so [the ungodly are] without excuse.” “The heavens declare the glory of God, and the earth shows forth his handiwork.”
Nor am I sure Mr. Rosenbaum (and on this he stands with many believers) understands the nature of theism, for the “knowing” that believers in God profess–or should profess–is not of the kind many imagine it to be. While believers believe it is true knowledge, it is also partial and analogical, the product of sight, citing St. Paul once again here, “through a mirror, imperfectly.” The knowing paradoxically stands alongside unknowing, both of which are equally valid and true, so that more than a little of the offense caused by Hoffer's True Believer comes from mistaken enthusiasms rather than the knowledge of God. (Which is not to deny that by the same token much offense comes, as Christ indicated it would, from knowledge of God and obedience to him.)
But these things aside, I doubt whether agnosticism, or a least the fixed neutral attitude on God implied by the idea of agnosticism, can exist comfortably on the logic of its own grounds, either. The agnostic says he does not believe in God, but neither does he deny him–he professes the possibility of God’s existence, but does not know whether he exists. The problem his reason makes him face, if he is honest, is a moral one that I doubt can be avoided.
If it is possible that God exists but the agnostic cannot see him, the question of this existence (because it is the existence of God) must become the Principal Thing for him. He must abandon agnosticism as a static state and become a seeker. If he will not, then he has refused what must be for a professed agnostic the most singularly important of all conceivables, and, like the seeker, he is no longer neutral on the question, but is in active refusal to consider God–an a-theist in the sense of a person in rebellion, someone who has said in his heart “no God.”