Agnosticism, in fact, is not a creed, but a method, the essence of which lies in the rigorous application of a single principle…
Positively the principle may be expressed: In matters of the intellect, follow your reason as far as it will take you, without regard to any other consideration. And negatively: In matters of the intellect, do not pretend that conclusions are certain which are not demonstrated or demonstrable. That I take to be the agnostic faith, which if a man keep whole and undefiled, he shall not be ashamed to look the universe in the face, whatever the future may have in store for him.
T. H. Huxley (Victorian mutton-chop hottie, “Darwin’s bulldog”, and coiner of the term “agnostic”),”Agnosticism”, 1889
I have a confession to make. Okay, maybe its not actually a confession if I’ve never actually kept it secret, and have blogged about it before. In my head, I am agnostic. Why, you may ask? Well, because (as an IRL scientist), when it comes down to it, the only intellectually honest position I can take on the question of whether or not Divinity (in which ever form/forms identifies with) “exists” (what a loaded term), in the absence of evidence*, is agnosticism.
This does not mean that I have not experienced Divinity. This does not mean that I have not had personal experiences with deities. This does not mean that I doubt the experiences of others as being anything less than authentic and honest (okay, in the interest of absolutely honest disclosure, there are occasions where I have done this, I’ve seen some weird ****). Instead, it means is that I completely and utterly acknowledge that there is no measurable, verifiable evidence for the existence or nature of the human idea that we call “god”.
I acknowledge that, given the dearth of evidence otherwise, in thousands of years of human existence and billions of person’s experiences that there has not been one shred of verifiable, repeatable, physical observation, (combined with the many, many quirky things that our brain does when interpreting the world around us) that it is highly likely that our experience is mostly in our heads. The possibility always remains that this (the logical position, based on the lack of observable evidence we have) is incorrect and that, indeed, we simply lack the technology or the understanding to perceive the causal agent people’s experiences of god…whether that be the gods or something else). It also means that while I acknowledge that while extraordinary claims require extraordinary evidence, I also acknowledge that absence of evidence is not evidence of absence…particularly when (and *no* this is not a “god of the gaps” argument) advances in technology have often been a requirement for the advancement of human knowledge.
I am a practicing Pagan. I have numinous experiences. I talk to the gods and they talk back. I practice magic. I believe in ghosts. I believe in a divine Universe and in gods that are a product of its unfolding. I practice divination and witchcraft. I ask plants for permission before I harvest them. I thank my food for its death when I eat meat. I use crystals and herbs. My kids have spell bears and dream catchers. I fully acknowledge that my experience of the gods and other phenomenon are real as an experience.
But I’m also a scientist. I make lifelong health quality and life and death decisions on the safety and health of people on fairly regular basis, that are based on empirical data. I look at research on a daily bias, I understand and can account for the limitations of a poorly designed experiment or conclusions. I understand many of the limitations of the human experience, because if I didn’t I’d not be very good at my job.
This means that I understand that personal experiences are just that–they are personal. The brain and the manner in which we use it has many flaws. It ridiculously easy to implant false memories, to remember things that aren’t there, to not see things that are, to see connections were there are none, to miss connections that are, to be programmed to think in a certain way, to have the filter of your experiences be interpreted according to your preconceptions, and I could go on…its a long, long list.
Knowing this, and calling my experiences “objective” or “concrete” is a lie, to myself and to others. My experience, your experience, the experiences of any theist, may actually be based in an objective and physical (or some other phenomenon) reality that we have not yet perceived. But there is no objective or concrete evidence of this in 200,000 years and billions of individuals’ lives that go beyond or disprove the parsimonious explanations of how and why religious experiences arise.
My personal experiences are not evidence of deity, my personal experiences are anecdotes. And anecdotes are not evidence. Anecdotal testimony isn’t reliable until its investigated, corroborated, and replicated without finding any other plausible evidence-based, demonstrable, testable explanations. I mean really, look at the problem of “witness testimony” in court cases that jails innocent people (more sauce). Our senses, our experiences and our memories are fallible, we connect the unconnected and draw false conclusions (I see this a lot at work), we entrench ourselves in the idea of something being *true* even in the face of mountains of data otherwise (look at evolution deniers, holocaust deniers, and people that refuse to think that humans might be putting enough carbon dioxide into the atmosphere to make life very uncomfortable for ourselves). AND to top it off, the more often we recall something out of our memories, the more it changes and distorts—our own brain, remembering something, becomes it own game of telephone (sauce, extra sauce, extra extra sauce, radiolab sauce). If the human brain were a computer, it would be a darn buggy one.
I am not indecisive or sitting on the fence. Often agnostics are accused of “fence sitting”…an accusation that I find patently unfair in most instances. Some agnostics are theistic in practice, and others are atheistic or non-theistic in practice, but very few use the reality of a lack of evidence for deity as an excuse to be unsure about religion in general and their own spirituality in particular…and those few often are operating on a faulty definition of the term. Rather, I find that the accusation of “fence sitting” is a statement upon the accuser, either of their own misunderstanding of the term (because it is frequently misused) or because of (what seems to me to be) their own projected insecurity in their faith. I am not a fence sitter, I’m a person that knows the difference between personal experience and observable evidence, and chooses to value both.