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Discussion 3 to Talk Back 89
I do not demand “proof before belief”

by: Paul W. Sharkey

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Dear Ben

While you say that “first [you] completely enjoy reading the thoughts of anyone who takes the time to articulate exactly what they believe or do not believe,” you evidently do not enjoy paying very close attention to what they in-fact say but instead seem to enjoy misrepresenting them – which brings me to your second (and evidently main) point – that agnosticism is a “cop-out” because it requires scientific proof before belief. However, contrary to your mis-representation, agnosticism does not require the necessity of scientific proof as a condition for belief. Nowhere on this site am I aware of anyone who demands “scientific proof” for all their beliefs. In fact and instead, it has been explicitly pointed out that there are many things we can, do and must believe-in in the absence and even impossibility of such “proof.”[1] As an agnostic I do not demand “proof before belief” but I am concerned with what exactly I am expected to believe and whether such beliefs are at least honest, consistent, plausible, and at least benign if not virtuous – certainly not vicious.

You have also charged us with being one “who denies the existence of One whom [you] know personally.” This charge too is false, for as agnostics we emphatically neither deny nor affirm the existence of any such “One,” but only honestly report our own personal ignorance of such a One, Him, Her, or It. If you do indeed have such personal knowledge and experience which does indeed bring you a sense of solace, security and comfort, then who am I or anyone else to deny you of your experience or belief? That, I think, is true respect and humility. But to suggest that if someone else does not also have your experience and share exactly your beliefs and that if they do not, they had “better be right,” sounds like at least a veiled threat and certainly not an expression of mutual personal respect, piety, or humility.

You say you “see our [statements] for what they are; a lashing out meant in retaliation for years of having to be confronted with the ‘stumbling block’ which is Jesus Christ.” However, also contrary to your charges against us, I at least do not find Jesus Christ – at least the Jesus of the Gospels – to be a “stumbling block” but evidently the Jesus you know and the one I do are rather different. The one I know asked his followers to be honest, humble, understanding and forgiving of others and specifically not to engage in judging them. Again, not only do I not “deny his existence” but rather have learned from him among others that each of us is indeed responsible and must “answer to” each other and to the truth for what we believe, say, and do – and that it was he who reportedly taught that if we cannot recognize the “Christ” in each other, we certainly cannot recognize it in him.

Finally, it is interesting that you “surmise” that we might take your comments as “insults,” though you insist that you did not mean them as such. I at least for one will take you at your word and trust that you will regard my responses with the same respect as well. However, your closing comment (accusation?) that we consider ourselves answerable to no-one other than ourselves seems rather different. I, at least, certainly do not believe that I am answerable only to myself and I must say that to have my “stance” described (misrepresented) as such seems very difficult to understand in any other way than as a judgmental insult. We are, as I said above, all answerable to each other and to the truth. That is at least part of what I understand that we as agnostics are all about.

Thank you for the opportunity to engage in a healthy exchange of deeply felt views.


  1. See Meditations 651, 660