Agnosticism Rightly Understood

Eller's analysis of agnosticism claims that it denies that one can have any knowledge of God. But in that case one is automatically and essentially an atheist. For why bother considering the existence of that which is totally unknown or unknowable? What are we even showing the existence of? Eller correctly points out: "If you said that you have no idea what a zorg is or what it does or wants but that you believe that there is such a thing as a zorg -- and even worse, that you center your life around the existence and wishes of a zorg -- I would think you were either pulling my leg or talking crazy." (170)

But of course agnosticism is nothing of the sort. An agnostic says: "I accept your concept of God in all its richness as coherent; it is possible that this God exists; moreover, the probability that God exists is high enough to make me uncomfortable with atheism, which is why I am not an atheist; however, I still have doubts that this idea of God is instantiated." An agnostic then knows what God is; he just does not know that He is.

Eller replied to me (back in 2010), and the dialog went as follows:

Eller: I know what the Christian concept(s) of god is/are, but I recognize it/them as nothing more than concepts, and as having no actual referent. Any agnostic who understands agnosticism would say the same.

Chernikov: My point exactly: an agnostic will accept the concept but be unsure of whether this concept refers.

Eller: You are again inventing a straw man agnostic and knocking him down. What, for instance, would an agnostic in India say: that he knows what Shiva is but [not] that he is?

Chernikov: Absolutely.

Eller: If so, then Shiva exists, by your argument.

Chernikov: In semiotics there is a distinction between the meaning of a word and its reference which is at work here. The meaning is ideal, in the mind as the form of the word -- what the word is or signifies; the reference is real, out there as the thing to which the word corresponds. So, no, once again, an agnostic would be familiar with the concept of Shiva, but would disclaim any knowledge of whether Shiva exists. Think about it this way: otherwise, what sort of thing would the agnostic doubt exists? Both "zorg exists" and "I don't know whether zorg exists" would be meaningless statements.

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