Few people today refer to themselves as agnostics, and even fewer people fully understand what it really means to be one.
I used to be one of those people
Often we live in a black and white culture with very little acceptance, let alone room, for the gray areas. Within this culture, discourse often spawns distinctions in views that take the shape of two dominant, parting sides—ideologically contradictory—vying to discern truth from myth. Without research, our general understanding of issues is through the recognition of the two leading positions—and their basic principles and ideas that set them apart. Some issues only have two solutions that are inherently contradictory, but many other issues, and particularly the ones that we hear about today, have a spectrum of solutions or positions with which to align oneself with. Unfortunately, many of these middle-ground explanations (take a little there, leave a little here) go untapped, thus contributing to the volatility of such issues and the stubbornness with which they are viewed.
This polemical mentality has been over-applied in discussions that unwelcome it to begin with. Discussions like the origin of the universe, creation, and the existence of a divine creator have, as a result, been turned into issues, or at least given the appearance as if they were. Societally, these issues are thusly marked by a division that offers two distinct world views: an intra-personal belief system, which lends itself to the acceptance of a wide array of divine causes, and the rejection any belief system, which bases its claims on scientific grounds, empirical evidence, ect—simply put, belief versus non-belief. As people live out their lives, they tend to cluster into these two categories, which we often see (falsely) ideologically at war with each other.
It doesn’t make for a very warm and hospitable discussion when an atheist and a theist get together for coffee.
But often there is a middle-ground solution that reasonably avoids much of the needless controversy—if it is the controversy that we are trying to avoid. Historically, much of the pain and suffering throughout the world can be attributed not simply because of the beliefs themselves, but because of their clashing as well. Religion has undoubtedly stained our history, but so too, similarly, has the lack of acceptance for one another, which we’re seeing more and more today as people are breaking away from their religious roots. Amidst all the fighting and alienation, one very important notion gets shoved aside, and that’s the notion that we simply cannot know enough to ultimately know ourselves. We are epistemologically bound by what one can only determine through centuries of scientific observations backed by empirical evidence and proofs. What is derived from this is ultimately what we know to be true.
As much as I’m disinclined to believe in a higher power, I am equally cognizant of the actuality that we as human beings simply cannot know everything that we hope to know about ourselves and the universe. As complex and sophisticated as we are, we are feeble and impression-less in a universe that we cannot ever hope to map, master, or fully understand even in the slightest. If there is one thing we can know for sure, it’s that we know how much we don’t know, and can’t know. What we do know doesn’t even scratch the surface of what we would need to know to satisfactorily fill the voids. Given that, how then do you expect me to rule out even the slightest possibility of a higher power existing, even if such a power were to be as callous and cold as our world tends to be? Who’s to say the observable universe isn’t an infinitesimal fraction of the universe as a whole, and who’s to say THAT universe isn’t one of an infinite number of universes in an infinite number of dimensions. Not me.
In a world divided by opinion, misguided by the illusion of the obtainability of ultimate knowledge, and blindly entrusting of centuries-old doctrines, I have no issue with the fact that I find myself right in the middle, accepting of either claim if it were had that one or the other was true in an unknowable sense.
As far as I would call myself anything, agnostic seems accurate. Incessant pursuit of knowledge without harming others is absolutely at its core.