The fool says in his heart, “There is no God.”—Psalm 53:1
God is free with his criticism of those who deny his existence. But does God also look askance at those who are not certain enough to affirm his existence? On one hand, I sympathize with an agnostic point of view in that it refuses to affirm something it cannot know. On the other hand, God says that the truth about him is clearly revealed in his creation, and that none of us are without excuse (Romans 1:20). He also says that we cannot please him without faith (Hebrews 11:6). So does God have patience with those who argue that we cannot know Him?
God loves each of us and is patient with us as we struggle to understand him and his revelation to us (2 Peter 3:9). However, the only way to be made right with God is to trust in Jesus Christ as our Savior (John 14:6). He deals with us gently, but firmly leads us towards faith (John 20:27). I am writing this post as part of a conversation with a friend who is struggling to reconcile his doubts with faith in God. Our conversation is taking place as the compelling naturalistic storytelling of Neil deGrasse Tyson is being broadcast on Fox. Tyson, a disciple of Carl Sagan and one of the premier apologists of scientific materialism, claims to be agnostic, and not atheist.
The cosmos is all there is, ever was, or ever will be.—Carl Sagan
Those who claim agnosticism often affirm one of these two propositions:
- “God may exist, but I do not know if he does.”
- “God—who is spirit—cannot exist, because matter makes up everything that exists.”
Many people who self-identify as scientists and agnostics affirm proposition #2 rather than #1 because their basic assumptions about the universe conform to philosophical materialism. In my opinion, these “agnostics” are not-so-cleverly disguised atheists. Their worldview rules out the possibility of God, and because of this they simply ignore him—and often mock those who trust in God. Though he claims otherwise, Neil deGrasse Tyson certainly appears to be an atheist. At a conference in San Diego in 2006 he said, “I want to put on the table, not why 85% of the members of the National Academy of Sciences reject God, I want to know why 15% of the National Academy don’t. That’s really what we’ve got to address here” (UncommonDescent.com).
However, those who claim to be agnostic and who affirm proposition #1 may be intellectually honest. The intellectual problem we have with God is that we cannot conclusively verify his existence in the natural world. When we try to do so, the effort leads us to a dead-end. This happens because he things of God are foolishness to the natural mind. It cannot grasp them because they are spiritually discerned (1 Corinthians 2:14). An intellectually honest agnostic may have reached the epistemological limits of the natural means of investigation available to them about the existence and nature of God. When we reach the end of ourselves, we can either settle the matter by trusting that there is a God or by affirming philosophical materialism.
True agnosticism is not a settled belief; it is uncertainty coupled with a desire to know the truth. We need clear and trustworthy principles to guide our choices, so agnosticism is a difficult position to maintain. Eventually, an agnostic will place their faith in God (Philippians 4:7), or they will adopt the clever disguise of the “agnostic” atheists who attempt to preclude God’s existence by asserting that the material world is all that exists.
It saddens me to hear the often repeated accusation that Christians are unthinking simpletons and “religious nuts” who substitute faith for reason. If you feel this label fits me and those who put their trust in Jesus Christ, I will wear it proudly. But hear me out. Yes, there are simple Christians. Simple faith is not to be despised if it is based on truth (Matthew 18:2-4). I and many other Christians have pushed our search for epistemological understanding as far as we are capable. We have concluded, based on things we do know with certainty, that faith in God is the best choice we can make. Based on the historical person of Jesus Christ and my reading of the Bible, I have concluded that the Bible is the only trustworthy source of truth about God, and that Jesus Christ is worth resting my whole life upon. At the limits of our understanding, we Christians put our faith in God’s all-knowing wisdom and his revelation to us in the life and love of Jesus Christ.
I cannot speak with authority for atheists, but I believe many have followed a similar path—but chosen a different conclusion. They have searched with all their mental powers for truths of which they can be certain. And, when they came to the limits of their understanding, rather than choosing faith in God, they were guided by their own natural understanding. This seems to me to be a form of faith. It is faith that the natural mind is capable of comprehending truth reliably enough to guide it through this life without help from God. This conclusion directly contradicts a Christian worldview which founded on the first principle that, “The fear of the Lord is the beginning of wisdom” (Proverbs 9:10).