Individuals who openly claim to disbelieve in any type of god, afterlife, or other religious dogma are known as atheists. There is also a separate subset of people often grouped with atheists known as agnostics. To classify agnostics with atheists, however, does both groups a disservice.
Before describing why this is so, we must first define exactly what an agnostic is. And to do that we must recognize that there are actually two types of agnostics: religious-leaning agnostics and atheist-leaning agnostics.
The first group, religious-leaning agnostics (also known as agnostic theists), would say they believe in God, but don’t believe there’s enough evidence to say for certain. In other words, they allow for the possibility that there might not be a god, though they themselves believe there is one.
The second group, atheist-leaning agnostics (agnostic atheists), would say they do not believe in God, but likewise don’t believe there’s enough evidence to say for certain. Said another way, they allow for the possibility of a god, though they don’t necessarily believe in such a being themselves.
Many intellectuals take the supposed philosophical high road by refuting both theism and atheism in favor of agnosticism. They believe that since you can neither prove nor disprove the existence of God, you must concede to agnosticism as the only logical alternative. However, this position is usually taken out of fear of intellectual hubris rather than any argument of logic…thus, it’s easy to defeat.
For anyone who tells you they are agnostic, simply nod knowingly and ask them if they believe in Santa Claus. Don’t allow them to hedge; put the question bluntly: “Do you, as a thinking adult, believe in Santa Claus?”
While the more astute may suspect a trap, they are hard-pressed to cop to any position other than the fact that, of course, they don’t believe in Santa Claus. We can argue the philosophical validity of uncertainty principles until we’re blue in the face, but at the end of the day we’re all adults and no one can possibly believe there’s a fat man by the name of Santa living at the North Pole in a toy factory with mythological creatures known as elves building toys that are delivered to children all over the world over the course of one night at Christmas.
Once they admit to the foregone conclusion of their utter disbelief in Santa Claus, they’ve trapped themselves and you’ve already won the argument. Simply note that there is no more proof for God than there is for Santa. Therefore, how can they be a Santa Claus atheist, but a God agnostic?
Such an assertion would require some amount of proof. Can they do the impossible and provide more evidence for God than Santa Claus? If not, how can they be so certain Santa Claus doesn’t exist, but God might? It’s a fair question, given that agnosticism is all about a philosophical position of evidence-based opinion. Without any evidence for a position of certainty where equal evidence (or lack thereof) exists for a position of uncertainty, the argument falls apart.
One response by the agnostic might be to suggest that the topic of God is somehow special or that everyone “knows” there’s no Santa. However, to retreat to such a shaky position is perhaps the gravest logical error of all. Christians “know” there’s one god, all others are false, and that Jesus was the son of God. Jews “know” that Jesus was not divine and merely a profit. Muslims “know” that Allah and a harem of virgins await them in the afterlife. And none of them have an ounce of proof for any of this certainty.
Despite all the contradiction amongst religions, they do all share one thing in common: they each have nothing more than abstract feel-good platitudes to support their outlandish claims. We’re told it takes faith. And faith, by definition, is belief without proof…and therefore utterly illogical. In fact, we might use “belief without proof” as an alternative definition for insanity. But while the religious are happy with their unsubstantiated clichés, the agnostic is supposedly above such things. That said, there’s no support for the agnostic hypothesis here.
If the avowed agnostic tries to argue that God is beyond logic, simply note that in philosophical circles it is typically agreed on consensus that logic applies to all things; even omnipotent beings are powerless against logic (which is itself a logical contradiction since omnipotence requires power over all things…but such is the mystery of religion).
Finally, an agnostic may resort to the most ridiculous philosophical position of all – that we can never know anything with certainty. While such a position may offer them some academic shelter, it’s a position with little practicality. Out in the real world, if you’re asked if you believe in Santa Claus by anyone other than a small child, you immediately answer “no”. Uncertainty principles be damned, no one wants to look like a fool.
I mean, are you seriously going to explain to another adult, “I can’t say for certain there’s no Santa Claus because I feel it’s impossible to know with definite certainty that he doesn’t exist”? Somehow, I doubt it. Men in white coats may show up to assist you.
In the end, it becomes painfully obvious that either theism or atheism is the better choice over agnosticism. You either believe in God or you don’t. Anything else calls into question your belief in Santa Claus.