Question 14: How do Agnosticism and Gnosticism differ?

***DISCLAIMER***The following is far from an exhaustive post. Instead, it makes a best effort to answer the question.

Recently, someone basically asked me whether or not Gnosticism and Agnosticism go hand-in-hand. What follows is the person’s questions followed by my response.

ORIGINAL QUESTION

When you have an agnostic atheist say “agnosticism is a statement of knowledge, not belief. Therefore agnosticism is a subset of atheism and theism.”

  1. gnostic atheist
  2. agnostic atheist
  3. agnostic theist
  4. gnostic theist

What is your take on this? Now from what I understand, when he mentions “is a statement of knowledge”, he is referring to Gnosticism. So does the term he identifies himself and the term Gnosticism as he defines it go hand in hand?

RESPONSE

According to Webster’s Dictionary, agnosticism is “of or relating to the belief that the existence of any ultimate reality (as God) is unknown and probably unknowable.” This is tantamount to atheism because the belief that any reality of God is unknown and unknowable would take infinite knowledge to come to such a conclusion. Furthermore, Carlson & Decker wrote a resourceful book called Fast Facts on False Teachings. They explain how being an atheist requires one to “have infinite knowledge in order to know absolutely that there is no God.” At its core, to be an atheist is to believe that God does not exist. However, even the smartest human being cannot possibly have infinite knowledge of everything there is to know in life. This would require the person to know every single human, place, thing, sport, subject, etc. Given the world has a plethora of people (and continues to grow), I seriously doubt any human can rightly make such a boast. Psalm 14:1 states, “The fool says in his heart, ‘There is no God.’” The atheist already has a problem because he/she claims God does not exist. However, one would need infinite knowledge to make such a claim. Given human’s limitations based on the fact he/she cannot possibly know every single human, place, thing and the like, it should be obvious that no human can rightly claim infinite knowledge. Therefore, to claim there is no God is simply foolish. Romans 1:18-25 states the following:

18 For the wrath of God is revealed from heaven against all ungodliness and unrighteousness of men who suppress the truth in unrighteousness, 19 because that which is known about God is evident within them; for God made it evident to them. 20 For since the creation of the world His invisible attributes, His eternal power and divine nature, have been clearly seen, being understood through what has been made, so that they are without excuse. 21 For even though they knew God, they did not honor Him as God or give thanks, but they became futile in their speculations, and their foolish heart was darkened. 22 Professing to be wise, they became fools, 23 and exchanged the glory of the incorruptible God for an image in the form of corruptible man and of birds and four-footed animals and crawling creatures. 24 Therefore God gave them over in the lusts of their hearts to impurity, so that their bodies would be dishonored among them. 25 For they exchanged the truth of God for a lie, and worshiped and served the creature rather than the Creator, who is blessed forever. Amen.

The Romans passage makes it very clear that all people have an innate knowledge of God. Unfortunately, as Carlson & Decker state, “many have turned their backs to this knowledge and have rejected the revelation of God to follow other gods.” As shown by this article here, it takes as much faith to be an atheist as it does to be a theist.

Gnosticism, on the other hand, is much different. Gnosticism, unlike agnosticism, threatened the early church “during the first three centuries” (see Colossians 2:1-23). Furthermore, Gnosticism recognizes that God exists. However, those who hold to a Gnostic view claim to have a secret knowledge of Him. As they result, they see themselves as privileged and superior. While Gnosticism actually recognizes God (unlike atheism), it is just as bad as atheism because it is far from Christian.

As a result of these definitions, an agnostic theist and a gnostic atheist cannot possibly exist.  Those terms are essentially oxymorons. Furthermore, agnosticism cannot possibly be a subset of theism; theism actually recognizes God. Agnosticism, on the other hand, does not do such a thing. The term “agnostic atheist” is essentially a redundant term. A gnostic theist (unlike a plain theist, who may actually have a biblical worldview) cannot possibly have a biblical worldview.

 

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