In “Nothing” is Not Religious Neutrality, we suggested two competing ideas, A and Z. A and Z are mutually exclusive, and together they comprise the only two possibilities concerning the subject matter. If we disbelieve A, we should believe Z, and vice versa.
After following the logic of the thought experiment involving generic ideas A and Z, we substituted the specific ideas of theism and materialism, demonstrating how they were mutually exclusive, and comprised all of the options on the subject matter. The point was to say that “Nothing,” or “non-belief,” is not neutrality on the subject matter under investigation. Further, because not-choosing equates to choosing in this situation, not-choosing could not be neutrality on the question, either.
Choosing Neither A Nor Z
Now we consider an alternative not addressed in the hypothetical for A and Z. Suppose we don’t select one option and thereby de-select the other. Suppose we de-select both options. Suppose we don’t adopt either one, so that the alternative is not chosen by default? Suppose that instead of believing or disbelieving A, we do neither. And then we neither believe nor disbelieve Z, either.
Keep in mind that our starting premise is unchanged. We know that either A or Z is true, even if we don’t know which one is true. We don’t believe in “nothing,” and we don’t default to Z by mistakenly thinking of it as neutral. We simply don’t know. But not knowing one way or the other is quite different than neutrality on the question. Neutrality supposes that there is a position one can adopt between the two choices, which adopts neither. Not knowing is not knowing.
Choosing Neither Theism Nor Materialism
Now let’s substitute the relevant ideas, for A and Z. Suppose that instead of adopting theism or materialism, we do neither. We don’t know whether there is a God of some sort. If we turn to the principles of materialism, we might conclude that it is true, in which event we have rejected theism. In that event, we would not believe in “nothing,” we would believe in materialism.
Alternatively, we might conclude that we don’t know whether materialism is true, either. In that case we neither accept nor reject theism, and we neither accept nor reject materialism. We don’t know which is true. Our starting premise is unchanged, however. We know that either theism or materialism is true, even if we don’t know which one is true. In this event, we still do not believe in “nothing.” We simply don’t know. Not knowing one way or the other is not neutrality on the question.
Agnosticism as Neutrality?
This is important to understand, because neutrality on the subject of God’s existence is held by many to be a societal good, in the public space, and we may unthinkingly attempt to adopt neutrality personally. Neutrality on the question of the scope of reality, and of God’s existence, is not a personal good, however. It is beyond important that we deal with this question head-on.
Even if neutrality were something that we should attempt to achieve, agnosticism would not be that neutrality. Agnosticism is a passive avoidance of the question altogether, not neutrality concerning it.