posted on Jan, 23 2013 @ 05:29 AM
Whenever anybody mentions "agnostic," confusion immediately sets in, which is the legacy of Robert Flint's unsuccessful attempt to word-lawyer a
religious view he despised, my religious view, out of existence.
Like any other contingent yes-or-no question, "In your opinion, does God exist?" has three responsive answers: yes, no and "I have no opinion
either way." Also, like any question, people will sometimes volunteer additional information beyond what the question asks, for example, a
self-description of how confident they are, or some summary of the reason why they answer as they do. Nevertheless, there are three and only three
responsive answers to the question asked.
Since the late 19th Century, there has been an ordinary English word for giving the non-categorical responsive answer to the question of God,
agnostic. It is a pure coinage; Huxley tells the story of his coining it. It doesn't mean "I don't know," although the roots Huxley chose
to use are the Greek for "not knowing."
Huxley used the word to describe himself, and it caught on in the English speaking world during his lifetime. However, as you might expect with
anything anyone might coin from simple ancient Greek roots, there was indeed an obsolete philosophical term which was a homonym (same spelling)
but not a synonym (different meaning) for the new, actually used word.
With Huxley safely dead, Robert Flint claimed that Huxley's coinage was illegitimate, and deliberately denied the difference between a homonym and a
synonym. In other words, he was a 20th Century example of a "pious liar," somebody who serves his God by pursuing fake counterapologetics against an
incompatible religious opinion.
Counterapologetics makes strange bedfellows, and atheist extremists have no more use for agnostics than theist extremists do. And so the conspiracy
was born, the godly and the godless breast-to-breast, that agnostics should not exist, and therefore they do not exist.
In any case, both words, the two homonyms, are now current. Fortunately, Flint's revival is neither responsive to the question of God, nor does it
add anything to the conversation. The question of God is contingent, so no human being properly knows the correct answer. It is vacuous and redundant
to add that fact to any of the three responsive answers.
If you happen to be interested in whether somebody "claims" knowledge even though you know that they don't properly have it, then that's fine, but
it is still not the information sought by the question of God. If you'd like to add that to your own self-description, then that's swell, too. Just
don't pretend that when I describe my substantive religious opinion as "agnostic," that I'm telling you only that I participate in the universal
human condition of having nothing more than a purely personal view about ultimate matters.
Plainly, in the Flint revival sense, agnostic has no "opposite" in connection with any contingent question. "Gnostic" is a
folk-etymological back formation. Apart from being nonsensical in its proposed uasge, it is also confusing, since a homonym is already in use as the
name or doctrinal focus of a specific set of religious sects.
Then again, confusion was exactly what Flint sought. As the saying goes, if you can't confound 'em, then confuse 'em.
However, if you court confusion, then you will not be understood. If you use words to obscure valid distinctions, rather than to illuminate them, then
your contribution will be devalued, as it ought to be when you sidestep and fail to address the substance of any question.