Sunday, January 06, 2013

J. Budziszewski on Agnosticism

"To say that we cannot know anything about God is to say something about God; it is to say that if there is a God, he is unknowable. But in that case, he is not entirely unknowable, for the agnostic certainly thinks that we can know one thing about him: That nothing else can be known about him. In the end, agnosticism is an illogical position to hold to."

— J. Budziszewski
Quoted in Ron Rhodes, Answering the Objections of Atheists, Agnostics & Skeptics, p. 25. 

16 comments :

noapologiesallowed said...

Incredible quote! Thanks for sharing that.

B.J. Bruce said...

Sounds a little like the Ontological argument. The agnostic must be all knowing like the atheist to leglislate knowledge. So really he is God.

John Moore said...

What confusion! You start with somebody saying he doesn't know, and you finish by saying he is all knowing. This is just perverse word-play. You're like a dog chasing his own tail.

Brian Auten said...

John,

Huh? Perhaps you didn't read it properly, because he never says anything about being all-knowing.

He's just saying that in order to say that you can't know anything about God first requires that you do know at least one thing about God. And therefore, agnosticism in that sense is self-defeating.

John Moore said...

I guess I was just replying to B.J. Bruce, who said the agnostic must be all knowing.

Sure, even agnostics know there's a word "God" that supposedly refers to something. But knowing a word exists does not tell you anything about its meaning. Those who cry out "Lord Lord!" will not necessarily get into the Kingdom either.

Brian Auten said...

John,
In that regard, then yeah, I don't think B.J.'s comment makes much sense. I don't know how this resembles the ontological argument or where the idea of being all-knowing is coming from either!

Matt Stemp said...

This argument only works for someone who asserts that it is not possible to know any proposition involving the word "God". But it doesn't work for someone who simply asserts that it is impossible to know whether or not God (whatever/whoever that word is held to refer to) exists, or for someone who simply states that they themselves do not know whether God exists (which is the usual definition of an agnostic as far as I'm aware).

James said...

I agree with Matt here. This quote doesn't seem to be defining agnosticism in its commonly-used and understood form, thereby not really conveying anything significant.

Brian Auten said...

He's taking about hard agnosticism. If you keep that point in mind, it is an accurate analysis.

James said...

Brian,
What do you understand hard agnosticism to be ?

Brian Auten said...

James,

Hard agnosticism: To say that we cannot know anything about God.

James said...

Brian,
Understood. So, what would you call the belief that one cannot know whether any god (i.e., conscious creator of the universe) exists ? I suppose that's what I always thought of when it came to hard agnosticism.

Anonymous said...

I've never met a hard agnostic. I've never seen evidence of a hard agnostic. I can't prove that hard agnostics don't exist, nor do I claim that we cannot ever know anything about hard agnostics. Do you have any convincing evidence that they exist?

I've meet people who say we can't ever know if God exists, which is what I thought a "hard agnostic" meant. Hard as their claim is, it is a lot softer than the claim that we can't know anything about God.

-Gavin

Brian Auten said...

James,

I think that probably falls into the same category. Both the idea that we can't know IF God exists, and we can't know what God is like are both positions that fall within the category of hard agnosticism, it seems to me. But I'm open for correction. I'm taking my queues from the definitions found here for the categorization:

http://www.philosophybasics.com/branch_agnosticism.html

Put simply, if someone says, "you cannot know" and they mean that by the very nature of the case, then they are a hard agnostic, whether they are talking about the nature of God or the existence of God.

But back to the main point, I think the quote in this post is accurate as he defines it. If one says you can't know anything about God (in this case, the nature of God), then that is in itself a claim to know at least one thing about this God. Therefore, the statement is self-defeating.

James said...

Gavin,
I see what you did there. :-)

James said...

Brian,
I agree on that, then. What tripped me up was the unfamiliar definition of agnosticism that you cited.

When speaking with others, I've always encountered the objection in the context of God's existence, not nature.

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