Gospel & Universe
This page locates agnosticism between belief and disbelief, and suggests that any unmovable philosophical system is a veil of sorts.
Theists, Atheists, & Agnostics - Proving the Unprovable - Spectra - Veils
Theists, Atheists, and Agnostics
In general, theists believe in spiritual truths about deities, the soul, and the afterlife. Atheists on the other hand believe that spiritual truths don’t exist. Agnostics are open to the possibility of spiritual truths, yet they remain doubtful that such truths exist. They also doubt that we can grasp or understand such truths even if they do exist.
Like Socrates, agnostics question all claims to truth. Yet in the realms of questioning, they go a step further than the theist Socrates: they also doubt the existence of deities and the soul.
From an agnostic point of view, a crucial point about theists and atheists is that they've made up their minds. The agnostic on the other hand remains in doubt -- without belief or disbelief. At the core of the agnostic lies a question mark:
Theists Agnostics Atheists
Souls ? No souls
Deities, spirits ? No deities or spirits
Afterlife ? No afterlife
There are of course a million points along the spectrum from belief to disbelief. Yet at the far ends of the spectrum, theists and atheists arrive at final conclusions. Both believe they understand the fundamental, ultimate nature of reality -- spiritual in the case of the theist, and material in the case of the atheist. From an agnostic point of view, theists and atheists make mutually exclusive claims that neither can prove.
Proving the Unprovable
In the following short section, I'll argue that while theists can't prove the existence of the spiritual world, atheists can't disprove such a world. And while atheists can prove the existence of history and physical laws, theists can't prove the existence of spiritual histories and laws.
Theologians have failed to prove the existence of God. The most famous attempt was made by Thomas Aquinas in his 13th-century Summa Theologica. He gave himself an impossible task, for how can one prove the existence of a Force which by definition operates from beyond the four-dimensional world within which one defines both pure and practical reason?
Atheists are on stronger ground here, for they're correct in their assertion that there's no proof of God. Yet by pointing to the lack of proof they're only refuting theists who talk about proof. There are, however, very few rigorous theistic philosophers who continue to do this -- at least not since Kant's Critique of Pure Reason (1781). By talking about proof atheists are merely drawing attention to the fact that they're talking about things theists are no longer talking about. Atheists are thus ignoring the premise of spiritual belief: that spiritual realms are not subject to proof or the laws of physics. When theists are talking about truth, they're talking about exceptional or extra-ordinary realms of human experience, not about realms of logic or practical experience, or about the wide fields of scientific experimentation and verification.
Of course, once theists start talking about ways in which essences penetrate the physical world, they enter a battleground in which the atheist triumphs and in which they must huddle behind doctrines and myths that require gigantic leaps of logic in order to be maintained. It's one thing to say that God exists; it's quite another to say that God entered history and did this or that thing. Here the Western religions are much more vulnerable than the Eastern ones, for while some Western theists chart the fabulous histories of Moses and parting seas, most Hindu philosophers would think you've missed the point if you worry about the exact date on which the Ganges started to flow through Shiva's hair.
The atheist's triumph in the realm of history and physics can't be automatically transferred to the specific realms of subatomic physics or astrophysics. Atheists might argue that religious experience is merely a function of time and space -- of DNA, sense impressions, upbringing, culture, history, and our place in the universe -- and that these things can be quantified and understood. While the atheist may be right here, a more in-depth analysis of time and space may undermine the probability of verification. The contours of matter vanish in the electron microscope and in the thrust of the particle accelerator; the horizon of the cosmos recedes at the end of the telescope and in the minute calculations of the interstellar spectrograph. Theists might legitimately question whether or not the atheist really knows what matter is. Theists might also wonder if, at some point, matter merges with what they call spirit. The theist's hopes remain speculative, yet the mind-boggling magnitudes of the extremely small and the extremely large encourage speculation. In brief, we don't know as much as the atheist thinks we do.
There are of course theists and atheists who doubt their philosophies. By doubting, they avoid dogma, and thus share with agnostics in the sense of doubt. One could see the spectrum from belief to disbelief in terms of a wide community of doubters:
dogmatic theists ||
+ doubting agnostics
+ doubting atheists
|| dogmatic atheists
Yet doubt presents a conflict for many theists and atheists, since it challenges their standards of belief and disbelief. Often, the spectrum looks like this:
dogmatic theists +
|| doubting agnostics ||
doubting atheists +
For agnostics, doubt's the air they breathe. It's the permanent challenge they make -- to theists and atheists, and to their own position as agnostics.
I’ve spent my life looking through veils:
childhood veils of ego and hunger
adolescent veils of anger and lust
veils of Heaven and Hell
and Guru Dev mysticism
being and nothingness
politics and rage
my own unending needs
and everlasting hypocrisies.
I wonder, How many more veils will I look through
until I see my self for what it is:
drifting in immensity?
The Sufis say there are seventy-seven thousand veils
which the Christians boil down to seven
deadly sins, the chief among these
the first and the last: pride
(I understand it all)
Next: Gods & Souls