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At Slate yesterday, columnist Ron Rosenbaum wrote “An Agnostic Manifesto” in which he defends agnosticism against its detractors on two different sides — what he calls “the unwarranted certainties that atheism and theism offer.”
It’s a thoughtful piece. His point is that it’s important to stake a place for an honest, humble agnosticism, especially as distinct from the “New Atheism” of writers like Christopher Hitchens, Richard Dawkins, and Daniel Dennett. Rosenbaum makes several points that are worth considering:
• He labels atheism as “faith-based,” with this explanation: “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.”
• He acknowledges that he can get behind the New Atheist critique of centuries of bad religious behavior and theology, but “I just don’t accept turning science into a new religion until it can show it has all the answers, which it hasn’t, and probably never will.”
• He challenges “any atheist, New or old” to answer this question: Why is there something rather than nothing?
Rosenbaum praises “humility in the face of mystery” and writes:
Agnosticism doesn’t fear uncertainty. It doesn’t cling like a child in the dark to the dogmas of orthodox religion or atheism. Agnosticism respects and celebrates uncertainty and has been doing so since before quantum physics revealed the uncertainty that lies at the very groundwork of being.
Read the full article at Slate.
I’m on record in O Me of Little Faith defending the term agnostic against the baggage it carries among Christians. The agnostic recognizes that his or her understanding is limited and embraces that fact–acknowledging that, despite our best efforts at religion or faith (or whatever), there are some things that truly are unknowable. While Christians might accuse agnostics of being unwilling to take that last step of faith, we at least need to affirm the honesty and humility of this approach. Saying “I just don’t know” in the face of uncertainty seems pretty healthy to me.
Which means, as a Christian, I can respect Ron Rosenbaum’s call for an uprising of “New Agnostics” to stand against the certitude of the New Atheists…AND maybe even against the super-certain Christians who seem to have everything figured out, from how the universe began to how it will end.
I know my readers identify along all colors of the atheist-agnostic-theist spectrum. So we should be able to have a nice, civil discussion about this, right?
So what do you think? Questions to ponder:
To my atheist readers, do you agree or disagree with Rosenbaum’s manifesto?
To Christians, is there any value in “respecting and celebrating” uncertainty?
To everyone, is agnosticism a thoughtful choice or just a wishy-washy refusal to commit?