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Faith, Reason and Agnosticism

Bill Moyers is pretty much the only journalist I respect. I just love his projects, as they seem so timely and interesting. He has a way of bringing together disverse aspects of our global community in a constructive and meaningful way.

His latest project, On Faith and Reason begins with a great quote:

In a world where religion is poison to some and salvation to others, how can we live together?

In one episode, Bill interviews Sir John Houghton (see an overview), a noted scientist and a devout Christian. During the course of the interview, Bill pulls out a contradiction in Houghton's thought in that he thinks that Genesis should be taken as poetry (as do I), but also believes that the resurrection of Jesus is literal. Bill then makes an assertion to Houghton, "In your life, there hasn't really been a deep conflict between faith and reason."

To which he responds:

I've recognized the potential for conflict, I've recognized those areas which I can't resolve. But then I also think that one of the most important statements you could make as a scientist are I don't know. One of the most important statements you should be prepared to make as a believer is I don't know.

And too many people don't want to say I don't know. Because we are just human beings and our knowledge is limited. And to say, I don't know, is a very proper scientific statement. You may know sometime, but I don't know now. And the same is true in the area of faith.

There are lots of things I don't know. And I have to remain ignorant or agnostic (whatever it may be), because I don't know. And there are too many theologians and people out there who say I know when they have no right to say that.

T. H. Huxley couldn't have said it better, as that sort of statment comes right out of an Agnostic's tract. But as I've mentioned this before, that there are two types of agnostics: deep agnostics and apathetic agnostics. The difference was brought out earlier in that same program when Bill quoted Colin McGinn as saying:

Let's not spend a lot of time on this, because the existence of God can not be proved nor can it be disproved, let's move on to other subjects.

That sounds like an apathetic agnostic, that is, one who doesn't know and doesn't care. To this statement, Houghton responds:

Well, I agree that it can't be proved and it can not be disproved, but that sort of statement implies that it it's not important. It is the most important question you have to get to grips with.

And that sounds like a deep agnostic… one who doesn't know, but indeed cares and is interested in searching out. The difference between this position and a devout Christian, is that the agnostic is pretty sure the questions and conflicts will not be resolved. The "don't know" attitude may just be permanent.

Humans just have a hell of a time dealing with those sorts of ambiguities. Questions must be resolved. But it seems like so many people seem to get along with their internal contradictions, why can't they also get along with their inability to know everything and to accept that not everything can be known or resolved. To me, this is where it gets interesting.

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