Is there a God? Some are very sure that there is while others are very sure that there isn’t. Of course, both are valid opinions, but a third one is at least as interesting: We don’t know. That’s what’s called agnosticism.

Living in uncertainty is hard. Most people want to be sure about things: When will my train arrive? What am I going to eat this evening? How can I solve this problem? Yet, our real world is what an engineer would call noisy, which means it’s unpredictable, random. The train could arrive early, on time, delayed or never. You don’t know until it has or hasn’t arrived. Still, everyone wants a prediction about what will happen. Then, you can act as if the prediction were true. Of course, this doesn’t work when the prediction is wrong. That happens quite often since a prediction is basically a “best guess”, but nothing more.

However, to find optimal solutions for problems, it’s often necessary to work with and appreciate the uncertainty. By carefully considering what’s uncertain, solutions can be designed to be robust against this uncertainty.

Imagine the following (simplified) example from digital communications: You want to send your friend a message, either a 0 or a 1. But on some days the app you use messes things up and your friend receives a 1 instead of a 0 or the other way around. E.g. you send “010” and your friend receives “101”.

Now you could say: “Well, that’s no problem. Only on 10% of all days, this mistake happens. Hence, my friend can just assume that it didn’t occur.”

Of course, this doesn’t make any sense. You don’t want your friend to think you’re completely wasted every 10th day. Therefore, you could invent a simple code: Always look at two symbols at once. If both symbols are the same, I meant to send “0”, otherwise I meant to send “1”. So, you would send “000100” instead of “010”. Even if your friend receives “111011”, that’s no problem: “11” are the same symbols, hence it’s clear that you wanted to send “0”. “10” are different symbols, hence it equals a “1” and so on.

With this method, you could eliminate all errors by accepting that sometimes this problem occurs and designing a solution that tolerates this (of course, more efficient solutions are possible as well, this one was just easy to explain).

If you’re still reading, you might wonder what this communication system has to do with God. Admittedly, not very much; I was just studying for my upcoming exam in Digital Communications when I wrote this article.

Yet, it’s not completely unrelated to agnosticism: Just because you want security, i. e. to know whether God exists or not, it might not be an optimal solution to decide for one option and pretend like you are sure. It’s ok not to know. That’s basically the whole idea of being an agnostic.

This philosophy proposes to not have a strong opinion on the existence of God, but instead to acknowledge that you don’t know. In fact, the word “agnostic” can be derived from Greek and basically means “without knowledge”.

And without better knowledge, it’s not very reasonable to just claim something or someone does exist. This also provokes one to question religious organisations and churches who just assume the existence and claim it’s the truth. In fact their whole existence itself is based on that idea. That their basic assumption has never been proven (so far) is no problem for them, since it’s only a question of faith—which doesn’t require any evidence, they argue.

Often, freedom of religion is seen as right to believe in whichever God you want. While this is undeniably true, it’s not a comprehensive definition: One is also free to not believe in a God or be not sure about that topic.

Hence, the philosophy of agnosticism should provoke everyone to use this comprehensive right and at least ask the question whether it’s the smart thing to choose one of two positions (God exists vs. no God exists) without any evidence for either one.

This question can only yield benefits: The faith of a person can be strengthened if they find their opinion still convincing after consciously (re)considering it. If a person doubts their previous beliefs, that’s also a win: Instead of passively continuing to pursue previous beliefs, an active discussion becomes possible.

von Bastian Heinlein

Beitragsbild: Martin Scherbakov