Theism, Atheism, and Agnosticism

In this post, I would like to consider what I believe to be the strongest arguments for theism, atheism, and agnosticism. By doing so, I would like to consider just how one might go about showing that God exists, or that He does not exist, or that we cannot have any reasonable belief about whether or not He exists.

To begin with, then:

1.

There are three positions that we can take in regards to the existence of God: theism, atheism, and agnosticism.

2.

Theism is the belief that God exists.

Atheism is the belief that God does not exist.

Agnosticism is the absence of any belief about the existence of God, either “for” or “against.”

3.

At each moment, each of us is either a theist, an atheist, or an agnostic.

For, either I have a belief about the existence of God, or I do not.

If I do not have a belief about the existence of God, then I am an agnostic.

But, if I do have a belief about the existence of God, then either I believe that He exists, or I do not.

If I do believe that He exists, then I am a theist.

But, if I do not believe that He exists, then I am an atheist.

Hence, at each moment, each of us is either a theist, an atheist, or an agnostic.

4.

Thus, if we wish to have a reason for the position that we have adopted at this moment – for atheism, agnosticism, or theism – then it is important to ask what the best argument for our position actually is, and what the strongest arguments are for each of the other two positions.

That is the task that the rest of this post will be concerned with. I will not say much about my own views, but just let the arguments speak for themselves. To begin with, then:

5: The strongest argument for agnosticism

The strongest argument that I am aware for agnosticism is that there is no evidence either for or against the existence of God. But, if there is no evidence for either side, then it is unreasonable to hold either belief. Hence, we should not believe either that God does exist, or that He does not.

This is a very simple argument, but it is a very powerful one. It is by far the strongest argument that I am aware of for the agnostic position.

6: The strongest arguments for atheism

I am aware of two strong arguments for atheism, both of which are worth considering.

The first argument is a variation of the agnostic argument. According to the atheist, there is no evidence either for or against the existence of God. But, if there is no evidence that something exists, then it is reasonable to believe that it does not exist. Hence, from the absence of evidence for a thing, we can reasonably infer the absence of the thing itself.

The second argument is that there is actually evidence that God does not exist, contrary to the claims of the agnostic. An atheist might make this argument in the following manner:

If God existed, then there would have to be certain consequences of His existence, and these consequences would be apparent in the world that we observe. For instance, if an all-powerful and all-loving God were to exist, then there would have to be certain consequences that each of us could see – like the way that each of us would be cared for, and looked after, and guided by Him. But, according to the atheist, it is just manifest that these consequences are not present in the world that we can observe. Hence, if the effects are not present, then we can know with absolute certainty that the cause does not exist – there can be no existence of a cause without the existence of its effects. Thus, the atheist would conclude, God does not exist, and we can know that He does not exist.

Both of these arguments are strong, but in my judgment, the second argument is stronger than the first.

7: The strongest argument for theism

The strongest argument that I am aware of for theism begins by disputing one of the basic starting points of both the agnostic and the atheist. According to both kinds of non-believers, we do not have any evidence that God exists. But, according to the theist, we do have evidence for the existence of God. It’s just that our evidence does not come to us through the senses. Rather, each of us has an inner light, or a higher spiritual faculty, that allows us to glimpse or to behold the existence of God, as well as the law or the duties that He gives to us, which constitute our highest purpose on this Earth. It is this inner light that reveals to us the highest and the most spiritual things, like the moral law, and the presence of the divinity; and it is this light that allows us to become aware of our exalted place in the universe, and of the true existence of the soul, and of how the soul is separate from the body, and how it shall live on even once the body has been destroyed. From the theist’s point of view, then, the atheist and the agnostic are both refusing to listen to their heart, and stubbornly refusing to acknowledge all of these different divine things, even though they are aware of them. But, the theist would say, the atheist and the agnostic both just want things to be simple, and not complex – intelligible, and not mysterious – tangible, and not ethereal – even though, deep down, they know that the world is complex, and that it is mysterious, and that there is more to the world than merely material nature. For the theist would claim that we really do know that we are not just our bodies, but that we have souls, and that we are spirits, and that we have a free will that is not just the result of “matter in motion.” Hence, the theist would claim, it is just not true that there is no evidence for the existence of God. It’s just that the atheists and the agnostics are choosing to ignore this evidence, because it does not admit of being perceived through the senses, or proven through mere logic – which is the only sort of “evidence” that either the atheist or the agnostic is willing to admit. For both of them have become so lost in the tangle of their minds, and in a certain arbitrary way of dividing up the realm of Being, that they have ceased to listen to what they know deep down in their hearts, at the very depths of their existence.

There have been many other arguments for theism, like the watch-maker argument, or the ontological argument. But, I believe that this is by far the strongest argument for theism, and the one that poses the most direct and convincing challenge to the beliefs of both the atheist and the agnostic.

4 thoughts on “Theism, Atheism, and Agnosticism

  1. This was a lovely post, well articulated and clear. But I still would like to clarify a part of your post. You said the following:

    “For both of them have become so lost in the tangle of their minds, and in a certain arbitrary way of dividing up the realm of Being, that they have ceased to listen to what they know deep down in their hearts, at the very depths of their existence.”

    What this suggests to me is that the atheist and agnostic camps are trying to set how things can exist? The atheist and agnostics are saying “one of the was we human beings determine that things exist is by using our sense organs. If god doesn’t come to me via my eyes, ears, or hands then I proceed to rule him/her out”. This is something that I have actually thought about of late, and it intrigued me. But despite it intriguing me, I am still on the fence about the existence of god. That’s not to say I do not believe in god, because I know in my heart I cannot argue for either side that he does or does not exist.

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    1. I’m glad that you enjoyed the post! Yes, I’d say that your summary’s exactly right. From the theist’s point of view, I think both the atheist and the agnostic would seem to be over-reliant on the senses, and not to rely enough on the “dictates of their heart,” or on what their intuition says is true. More generally, I think that the theist would claim that they are over-relying on the small part of the world that modern natural science can get a grasp on – the physical, material world – and that because of that, they are blinding themselves to the other aspects of reality, which they also have some awareness of. But, I think the atheist/agnostic counter – that their heart really *doesn’t* give a clear answer to these questions, and that it isn’t clear at all if God exists – is certainly a very powerful response, and certainly seems to me to contain a great deal of truth.

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      1. Oh OK. Thanks for clearing that up. I think the overall ontological debate (which is what it is fundamentally) as it relates to god is very interesting. I have been thinking about taking up a philosophy of religion course and seeing what I can take out of it.

        What does “the dictates of the heart” involve?. You also said that the atheists and agnostics are refusing to “listen to their hearts”. What does that mean?

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        1. By “dictates of the heart,” I just mean, what our heart says to us. For instance, we often say that, in our hearts, we know that a thing is wrong, even if we can’t quite say why. I think that a theist might say that, in just the same way, we know in our hearts that there is a God, and an immortal soul, even if we can’t reason our way towards those beliefs. Of course, that’s just a metaphorical way of speaking, and different theologians would probably have diferent ways of explaining what it really means to “know a thing in your heart” – while others might use a different sort of phrase altogether. But, that’s more or less what I had in mind there, for how a theist might speak.

          I’ve always enjoyed this debate too, both in its ontological aspect, and its epistemological – what it is that we really know, and how it would even be possible to “know” about a being like God, or to “know” that He does not exist, or that we cannot know. I also find it interesting just as a psychological matter, that human beings can disagree so profoundly, even when they seem to have access to just the same sort of evidence about the world.

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