by Dr Steve Kumar

A skeptic is someone who thinks that nothing can be known for sure while an agnostic is someone who thinks nothing can be known about God, or doesn’t know for sure whether there really is a God. It is even suggested that an agnostic is a person who hasn’t had time to become an atheist. Since the rise of secularism the philosophy of agnosticism is escalating. Individuals who reject atheism as arrogant and theism as incoherent turn to agnosticism to nurse their unbelief. Agnosticism is often accepted as a viable belief system and a sensible alternative in the face of modern sophistication.

HISTORY AND ETYMOLOGY

The word agnostic was first coined by Thomas H. Huxley, the grandfather of Aldous Huxley, and it comes from the Greek word “agnoo” which simply means “I do not know.” Huxley did not categorically deny the existence of God but affirmed that we don’t have any knowledge of God, who is beyond the knowledge of man. There may be a God but we can know nothing about him. Thinkers who followed this line of thought in the history of philosophy were Herbert Spencer, David Hume, Auguste Comte, J.S. Mill, Leslie Stephen and Immanuel Kant. The popular agnostic Robert Ingersoll expresses the general sentiment of his fellow agnostics when he declared, “Is there a God? I do not know. Is man immortal? I do not know. One thing I do know and that is that neither hope nor fear, belief nor denial, can change the fact. It is as it is and it will be as it must be. We wait and hope.” The Apostle Paul on his visit to Athens confronted the agnostics who built an altar “To the Unknown God” (Acts 17: 23). Agnosticism is not a modern invention but an ancient illusion.

The philosophy of agnosticism has two main classifications which we may call the “hard-boiled” and the “soft-boiled.” The soft-boiled or the ordinary agnostic believes, “We do not know God.” The hard-boiled agnostic argues that, “God cannot be known”.

THE BASIC ASSUMPTIONS OF AGNOSTICISM

1. Immanuel Kant reasons, “we know not this (God) thing as it is in itself but only know its appearances, namely the way in which our senses are affected by this unknown something.”

2. Since the human mind is limited it cannot think about reality.

3. Nothing can be known or said about God.

4. The wise man will always suspend judgement about matters of ultimate reality.

CRITIQUE OF AGNOSTICISM

First, Agnosticism is self-contradictory and self-defeating for it presupposes some knowledge about God in order to reject all knowledge about God. Christian philosopher Stuart C. Hackett rightly replies to Kant’s position, “If there were no reality, and if I therefore had no knowledge of it whatever, it would never occur to me to deny the possibility of knowing such a reality.”

Agnostics are either stating something real or true about God or they are not saying anything real or true about God. If they are saying something true about God then they are no longer agnostics because they have true knowledge about God. But if they are not saying anything true about God then one should not believe what they say. Someone rightly told Herbert Spencer, the famous agnostic, “You know too much about your unknowable God.” It is for this simple reason that one popular writer insists that most agnostics are atheists; they say we don’t know anything about God but they act as if they had received a divine revelation.” Think for a moment of the aphorism of a mystical agnostic, “He who knows doesn’t speak and he who speaks doesn’t know.” Obviously he has just spoken hence he doesn’t know either. He destroyed his own assumption by his own criterion. In a similar vein the Greek philosopher Gorges spoke too soon, “There are no true statements,” then realized that he had just made one.

Sometime ago when the press published the evidence of medical research connecting smoking with lung cancer, one smoker was so annoyed by the finding that he cancelled his newspaper subscription. He had made up his mind and did not want to believe the facts. Agnosticism is not a neutral option but a definite denial of the evidence of God. It is not a conclusion one arrives at after observing the evidence but an a priori philosophical presupposition about God. The agnostic in essence insists, “I have made up my mind don’t confuse me with the evidence.”

Second, the agnostic position is either meaningless or self-destructive. How could one assert that there are no universal and ultimate truths about God yet at the same time maintain that this position is universally and ultimately true. The agnostic is not in a rational position to deny any knowledge of the existence of God. Given the agnostic’s finite and limited perspective it is logically meaningless for agnostics to categorically deny the possibility of knowing God. The former agnostic John Warwick Montgomery rightly charges the agnostics for failing to see their irrationality. Agnosticism, states Montgomery, “is tantamount to traditional atheism, and suffers from its basic fallacy: it presumes that one can (apart from any revelation of God, to be sure!) know the universe so well that one can assert the nonexistence of God or the non-existence of compelling evidence for his existence. But such comprehensive knowledge of the universe would require either (a) revelation, which is excluded on principle, or (b) divine powers of observation on the part of the atheist or hard boiled agnostic. In the latter case, atheism and the extreme agnostic position becomes self defeating, since the unbeliever perforce creates a god by deifying himself.” Philosopher Elton Trueblood points out, “We cannot know that nothing can be known unless we already know everything.” Arguing on the same promise the brilliant Christian philosopher Gordon H. Clark notes, “for if the object were quite unknowable, one could not know either that it existed or that it was unknowable.”

Third, if nothing can be said about reality and no truth can be affirmed of God, then agnosticism which speaks about reality (that reality is unknowable) is not true. The affirmation that no one can know anything about God is both an affirmation and a denial. If no one can know then the agnostic cannot know either. In which case he cannot say no one can know. How does the agnostic know that he cannot know? He merely substitutes one absolute (God’s truth) for another absolute (his subjective feeling that God is unknowable). If God is totally unknowable how did we arrive at this position? The Harvard philosopher William E. Hocking correctly observes, “When the agnostic says that we cannot know anything about the reality beyond nature or experience, he implies that there is such a reality.”

Finally, agnostics do not actually suspend judgement on matters of reality. Their judgement is in the negative and they live as though God does not exist. Consider Montgomery’s valuable analogy: If an agnostic receives a report that a bomb is about to go off in two hours in the room where he is presently seated, he will not ignore message. Because of the value of life and the seriousness of the circumstances he would not sit there, as Montgomery notes, “in blase indifference (the usual agnostic posture), but would clear the room and engage in a most diligent search of the premises to determine whether concrete evidence supported the claim or not.” If the agnostic is open-minded he will not sit in his chair of agnosticism and subjectively speculate the meaning of life but will seriously consider the evidence of God’s revelation. The Apostle Paul rightly declares that the knowledge of God’s existence is available to man, “For since the creation of the world God’s invisible qualities–his eternal power and divine nature–have been clearly seen, being understood from what has been made, so that men are without excuse,” Romans 1:20.

A leader may boast of his leadership, a cook may boast of his cooking, but when a man boasts of his humility he is boasting of something he does not have. The same is true of an agnostic. He is so certain about what he does not know. He affirms that nobody can know about God, but says “I know you are wrong.” He knows for sure that no one can be sure of God.

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by Dr Steve Kumar

What is the greatest truth that the human mind can conceive? Philosophers, scientists and psychologists have written millions of words on the subject and yet our hearts long for something deeper. What about the ideas scientists proclaim? The concepts philosophers propose? The presuppositions psychologists promote? The notions sociologists provide? As humans we desperately struggle to find answers to our searching questions. As valuable as these ideas may be, they are not the greatest truth.

Is there a truth that transcends all human conceptions? Is there a reality beyond our finite perception? Where can we discover the truth that will set us free from the darkness of our uncertainties? Christianity affirms that there it such a truth, and if it is true, it is the greatest truth for our searching hearts. The great philosopher and chairman of The Encyclopaedia Britannica, Mortimer Adler, after testing and debating Christianity for nearly seventy years, became a Christian. His intellectual journey brought him to this remarkable conclusion, “I believe Christianity is the only logical, consistent faith in the world.” There Is nothing more tragic in existence than to devote one’s life to a belief system, which is ultimately false. Imagine spending a lifetime climbing a ladder and when you reach the top discover, that it is leaning against the wrong wall.

The greatest truth could only come from the greatest Mind. In Christianity we discover the essence of God’s greatest truth in a world where people struggle to find meaning, hope, purpose and reality. Unlike any other ideologies or religions, Christianity provides a unique message. It’s uniqueness is found in four essential truths.

I. THE GREATEST FACT

Christianity is centred on the fact of Jesus Christ. It is not an empty dream or wild speculation but a faith grounded in historical evidence. Unlike religions of the world, which major on the teaching of their’ founders, Christianity primarily focuses on the actions of the founder. Just as the brilliance of the sun the brightness of the moon, our Lord Jesus Christ outshines all other personalities of history. This is indeed an amazing fact of history. He lived a perfect life. His friends and his enemies all acknowledge that He never did a single wrong. His incredible life influenced education, the establishment of many universities including Oxford, Cambridge, Harvard, Yale and Princeton. He inspired great scientists, such as Isaac Newton, Johannes Keppler, Robert Boyle, Michael Faraday, Louis Agassiz, Louis Pasteur and others. His existence provided the inspiration for the foundation of western democracy. His love and compassion moved many to establish hospitals and social services around the world. The famous sceptic Renan once proclaimed, “Among the sons of man there is none born who is greater than Jesus.” Blaise Pascal, the brilliant French mathematician observing the life of Jesus made this remarkable statement. “Apart from Jesus Christ we know not what our life is, nor our death, nor God, nor ourselves.” The famous Lord Byron asserted, “If ever God was man or man was God, Jesus was both.”

2. THE GREATEST NEWS

The greatest news of the greatest faith is that God came to redeem us from our sin, evil, hatred, bitterness, darkness demons and death. The religions of mankind insist that our solution Is a matter of good works. They teach that our redemption is based on human efforts. But the good news of Christ is that God came in person not just to reform mankind but to redeem mankind. Christianity is not a religion of rituals and customs, but the power of God to redeem sinners going the way of destruction. In John 1:12 this apostle declares, “Yet to all who received Him, to those who believed In His name, He gave the right to become children of God.” The apostle Paul declares in 2 Cor. 5:17: “Therefore, if anyone is in Christ, he is a new creation, the old has gone the new has come.”

3. THE GREATEST GOOD

What is the greatest good? Is it health? Is it pleasure? Is it freedom? Is it beauty? Is it power? Is it success? Or is it culture? As precious as these are to us, they are incomparable with the greatest good we discover in God through our Lord Jesus Christ. Indeed the greatest good is to know the grace of God, to enjoy his fellowship, to experience his forgiveness and to receive his favour. There is nothing more tragic than to miss the real meaning and purpose of life, which God designed for his people.

Life poses many challenges. No one passes through life without facing basic needs. Our human hearts struggle to fill the empty void. The famous agnostic writer Clarence Darrow proclaims, “I’ll tell you what human life is: It is. an unpleasant interruption of nothingness.” Within the human heart there is a longing for something deeper, something beyond what material substance can provide. This quest for reality, is often described as a quest for significance, meaning, happiness or genuine fulfilment . The search for reality is an undeniable fact of human existence. We all struggle in our quest for the ultimate. The famous atheistic philosopher Bertrand Russell states, “The centre of me is always an eternally terrible pain searching for something beyond what the world contains, something transfixed and infinite. . . . I do not think it is to be found–but the love of it is my life.”

Augustine, the great Christian thinker understood the human need when He said, “Our hearts are made for Thee, O Lord, and they are restless until they find their rest in Thee.” The French mathematician and scientist Blaise Pascal came to the right conclusion when he wrote, “There is a God-shaped vacuum in our hearts which only God can fill.” The famous tennis player Boris Becker confirms this truth. Becker attempted suicide due to a sense of hopelessness and emptiness. Although he was famous and successful, something was missing in his life. He said, “I had won Wimbledon twice before, once as the youngest player. I had all the material possessions I needed: money, cars, women, everything. I know that this is a cliché. It’s the old song of the movie and pop stars, who commit suicide. They have everything, and yet they are so unhappy. I had no inner peace.” Inside the heart of every person in the world there is a large empty hole that only God can fill. Professor C.S. Lewis, a former atheist from Oxford University, was insightful on this matter when he declared, “If within my heart I find a desire for something which nothing in this world can satisfy, the most probable explanation is that I was made for another world.”

In stark contrast to the darkness and the despair of the world, in Christ we find a peace and a joy which passes all understanding. Jesus came to fill our emptiness. He came to give comfort in place of sorrow (John 14:27), pardon in place of guilt, love in place of hate, companionship in place of loneliness (Matthew 28:20), certainty in place of anxiety, peace in place of stress (Romans 5:1), hope in place of despair, life in place of death (John 10:10), heaven In place of hell (John 14:1-4).

4. THE GREATEST HOPE

The beauty of the Christian faith is the remarkable hope, which it provides for our troubled soul. The world hopes for the best but Jesus offers the best. The death of hope logically leads to hope for death. Looking at our world Woody Allen once said, “More than any time in history mankind faces a crossroad, one path leads to destruction, the other path leads to hopelessness. Let us pray that we might have the wisdom to choose correctly.” Some years ago they buried an atheist who was elegantly dressed. Later they put a tombstone on the top of his grave. Someone came and wrote on the tombstone the following words, “Here lies an atheist all dressed up but nowhere to go.”

A young man, who was suffering from AIDS, came in for his regular treatment, but this time he had to face a new doctor. The medical specialist casually said, “You know, don’t you, that you won’t live out the year.” The young man deeply shaken by the doctor’s comment, stopped at the desk of the nurse and wept saying, “That man took away my hope.” “I guess he did,” she answered. “Maybe it’s time to find another one.”

Christ came to give an eternal hope which no one can remove or match. He says, “I have come that they may have life end have it to the full” (John 10:10). The Christian hope is not based on vanity but reality. Our only hope is the hope that Christ came to give. He conquered death by coming back to life.

He is the only person who can bring hope to a world in despair. Christianity makes the amazing claim that of all the persons of history Jesus Christ alone conquered man’s greatest enemy–death. The followers of other religions do not believe that their founders were resurrected but this is not the case in Christianity. According to the primary documents the tomb of Jesus was empty on the third day. This was the major reason for the birth of Christianity. What brought faith and hope to the disillusioned disciples? This event turned the doubtful and disappointed disciples into brave and exuberant disciples who willingly died for their faith. The resurrection event gave the disciples the best reason to follow their master. The logic is that if Jesus Christ overcame death and demonstrated that He is “the resurrection and the life” (John 11:25) then humanity’s only hope is found in Him. C.S. Lewis understood the logic of this truth when he affirmed that Jesus Christ, “has forced open a door that had been locked since the death of the first man.” He has indeed fought and defeated death. In the light of this reality, as Lewis notes, “a new chapter in cosmic history has opened.” In Christ we exchange a hopeless end for an endless hope. It is for this reason that Jesus said, “I am the way and the truth and the life. No one comes to the Father except through me” (John 14:6).

End Notes

1. See F.F. Bruce, The New Testament Documents: Are They Reliable? (London: Inter-Varsity Fellowship, 1968).
2. Quoted In Richard MacKenna, God for Nothing (London: Souvenir Press, 1984), p.56.
3. Augustine, Confessions, Book 1, Chapter 1.
4. C. S. Lewis, Mere Christianity (Clarendon: Fontana, 1970), p.118.
5. C. S. LEWIS, Miracles (London: Bles, 1947, 1973).

by Dr Steve Kumar

In 1984 our world was horrified by the tragic news of the Avianca Airlines jet that crashed in Spain. But even more disturbing was the discovery of the reason for the accident. Investigators discovered that the “black box” cockpit recorders revealed the shocking truth. Just a few minutes before the tragedy, the computer-synthesized voice from the automatic warning system announced, several times, “Pull up! Pull up!” The pilot however dismissed the warning as malfunctioning, and said, “Shut up, Gringo!” and turned off the system. Moments later the plane crashed into the side of the mountain killing all on board. When truth is ignored our lives are at risk.

The search for truth has always been in the forefront of the thinking mind. The French philosopher Michael Montaigne once observed, “Man is born to inquire after truth.” The ancient philosopher Plato expressed it eloquently when he said, “Just as our heart is designed for love, our mind is designed for truth.” His student Aristotle, said, “A friend is Plato but a greater friend is truth.” Truth is vital to existence. Truth matters to the human race! But is there such a thing as absolute truth? Can we really know the truth?

Sometime ago a group of students were invited to the White House. A spokesperson, in a carefully prepared speech, advised them to be good and moral, not to rob, get involved in drugs or bomb buildings. After the speaker had finished his speech, a student from Harvard asked, “Sir! Can you please tell us on what do you base your morality?” The official was puzzled and replied, “I’m sorry. I don’t know.”

The twentieth century provides many attractive ideas to the curious minds but the most subtle of all is the idea that there is no absolute truth. Allan Bloom, the philosopher from University of Chicago, reports in the opening pages of The Closing of the American Mind that “there is one thing a professor can be absolutely certain of, almost every student entering the University believes, or says he believes, that truth is relative.” “We are caught up in a revolution,” observes Dennis McCall which is ushering in “a cultural metamorphosis-transforming every area of everyday life as it spreads through educational movies, television, and other media.” A case in point is the Howard University professor Jane Flax, a radical feminist, who opposes conventional beliefs about truth, logic, knowledge, personality and language. Following other post-modernists she is crusading to replace it with radical feminism, multiculturalism and relativism. This new wave of thinking is radically transforming our large universities, including Harvard, Yale, Stanford, Northwestern and others.

REVOLUTION AGAINST THE TRUTH

During a recent Harvard graduation address one student said, “I believe that there is one idea, one sentiment, which we have all acquired at some point in our Harvard careers–and that, ladies and gentlemen, is, in a word, confusion. They tell us it is heresy to suggest the superiority of some value, fantasy to believe in moral argument, slavery to submit to judgement sounder than your own. The freedom of our day is the freedom to devote ourselves to any values we please, on the mere condition that we do not believe them to be true.”

Historian Arnold Toynbee points out in the study of history we are the first of twenty-one civilisations to attempt “civility” without a moral reference point. Our post-modern age finds the idea of relativism very attractive. A number of recent movies The Mission, At Play in the Field of the Lord, The Black Robe, Do the Right Thing, and Dances with Wolves, portray Christian mission or western culture as guilty of cultural imperialism. The lyrics of musical groups like Offspring, Nine Inch Nails, Green Day, Bash, Nirvana, Hole, Live, Pearl Jam, Soundgarden and many others express postmodernist cynicism.

One day a rabbi, a priest, and a liberal minister were discussing the nature of truth. The rabbi said, “I speak according to the Law of Moses.” The priest declared, “I speak according to the tradition of the church.” The liberal minister said, “It seems to me. . . .” Here we have classic relativism. According to relativism, moral judgements are individual opinions with no validity for anyone but oneself. The Encyclopaedia of Philosophy defines relativism as “the view that what is right or wrong and good or bad is not absolute but variable and relative, depending on the person, circumstances or social institutions.” In the words of Hamlet, “There is nothing either good or bad, but thinking makes it so.” What is true or right for one person may not be necessarily true or right for another person. Relativists insist truth is not based on a fixed absolute external reality but is decided by a group or individual for themselves.

Oscar winning actress Shirley MacLaine declares, “Everyone has his own truth, and truth as an objective reality simply does not exist.” Popular New Age guru Joseph Campbell teaches, “The person who thinks he has found the ultimate truth is wrong.” It is no exaggeration that many describe our century as the age of the Death of Truth. The spirit of relativism is the major force behind the rejection of absolute morality. It is the backbone of radical feminism, the liberalisation of homosexuality, euthanasia, the rejection of Christian particularism and the promotion of deconstructionism. The crisis of the West is the crisis of Truth. The tragic reality of our time is not the lack of knowledge but the rejection of Truth. Truth today is relegated to technology, beauty is confined to the beholder and goodness is ridiculed night after night as millions are idiotized before a box. We have become expendable entities in a disposable world. As we sink deeper into the abyss of nihilism there is still time for us to reflect and return to God’s transcendent Truth. While postmodernist prophets like Richard Rorty and Stanley Fish and others argue that “the truth is there is no truth,” what should the disciples of Christ say to our post-modernist prophets of despair?

For the modern mind the final truth is there is no final truth. Jean-Paul Sartre, the existential atheist, promoted this idea in the Sixties: “There was nothing left in heaven, no right or wrong, nor anyone to give me orders. . . . I am doomed to have no other law but mine. . . . For I . . . am a man, and every man must find his own way.” Michael Novok, in his Templeton address, observed that the most dangerous idea which dominates the West today is relativism. Theologian Carl F. H. Henry describes our generation as “Intellectually uncapped, morally unzippered and volitionally uncurbed,” and in an important work, The Death of Truth, the author captures graphically the modern betrayal of truth.

Theologian David Wells, in his significant book, No Place for Truth, illustrates the widespread influence of relativism in Western churches. The Barnes Report confirms that nearly four out of five Americans are relativists, of the 88 percent who claimed to be evangelical, 53 percent believed that there is no such thing as absolute truth. “Relativism,” observes Professor Arthur Holmes, “has intruded into religion too, so that the Bible’s teaching is too often viewed as culturally relative and in need of change.” According to sociologist Peter Berger the intellectual struggle of the West is. “One long effort to cope with the vertigo of relativity induced by modernization.” Philosophers Jack Meilland and Michael Krausz insist that “Relativism is one of the chief intellectual and social issues of our time.” The idea of relativism is not only gaining popularity within the intellectual community but it is increasingly becoming as Harold A. Netland rightly notes, “the creed of those outside academia as well.”