In Agnosticism, and Not Knowing, we delved into a peculiarity of thinking among many who profess to be neutral on the God question. The very word “agnostic” implies the absence of a special knowing—a “gnosis.” That special knowing is something different than merely being persuaded by evidence. It means subjective, intuitive, experience of truth. A self-described “agnostic” is therefore not merely someone unpersuaded about God’s existence, or non-existence. He lacks gnosis–an experiential knowing that God is, or that He isn’t—and on that basis declares the matter unknowable.
Knowing concerning nature
We treat the question of the existence of supernatural reality differently than the question of existence of natural things. If we’re told that there is a land mass at the south pole, and that penguins live there, we would conclude that it is true or not true, based on the evidence, without insisting that judgment must be reserved until such time as we actually visit Antarctica. We would not shrug the shoulders and say that it is unknowable absent experiential special knowing, such as we might have by witnessing it first-hand.
This active decision-making is how science proceeds. Suppose we theorize that Pluto has multiple moons, or that black holes can bend time, or that life can develop from non-living matter. We might become persuaded to the truth of any of these propositions, and even begin to build further scientific speculation upon them. But we would not back away from the entire inquiry, remaining unengaged until such time as we have an experiential, subjective knowing concerning the moons, or time, or the origin of life.
Knowing concerning super-nature
It is only with matters outside the natural universe that we tend to become so passive as to shrug the shoulders and say to ourselves that it is unknowable, solely because we don’t acquire an interior, subjective knowing—a gnosis–concerning it. Why is that? The question is more important, not less, than scientific inquiry concerning nature.
Moreover, the question is amenable to a yes or no answer. Many claims exist concerning the particulars of supernatural reality, of course. Is God merely a philosophical necessity? Is He personally engaged interactively with His creation? Does He view man as being in need of redemption? Does He redeem? Does He reveal Himself in history? There are certainly competing claims to truth on these matters. But all of them follow what is necessarily the first question: is there a Being beyond matter and time? We should answer that question as best we can on the evidence, without requiring also a gnosis concerning that answer.