The term "agnostic" is generally believed to have been coined by Thomas Huxley, "Darwin's bulldog." It is supposedly a less dogmatic position than that of atheism, holding that one can neither prove nor disprove the existence of God.
Charles Darwin, as well as Huxley, professed to be an agnostic, although both seemed to waiver back and forth between agnosticism and atheism in their writings and correspondence.
Actually, the word is derived from two Greek words, a ("no" or "against") and gnosis ("knowledge"). When combined as agnosia, it is translated as "ignorance." For example, it is used in I Peter 2:15: "For it is the will of God, that with well doing ye may put to silence the ignorance [read "agnosticism"] of foolish men."
But now a strange new form of agnosticism is making inroads among left-leaning intellectuals, associated with the "postmodernism" of the so-called "Generation X." The new agnosticism holds that one cannot really know anything at all!
Only recently have we been using this term [i.e., "post-modernism"], but this many-headed monster has been growing for some time among us. Most prominent in the children of "baby-boomers," this new cultural pattern refers to the complete loss of values, beliefs, and traditions. At its core is the loss of belief in any kind of Truth, and therefore the loss of belief that Right and Wrong exist.1
To the postmoderns everything is relative. What may be true or right for one person may not be true or right for the next. Ethics is a matter of taste, and what's right is merely a pragmatic question of what works.
This attitude even is starting to affect the teaching of evolutionary biology. Anthropologist Matt Cartmill complains:
Now we find ourselves defending Darwin against attacks not only from the religious right but from the academic left as well.2
It seems that these postmodern liberals not only reject Christianity, but science as well, especially when its findings and theories are presented as objective truth.
Although these notions are often expressed in a mind-numbing "postmodern" jargon, at bottom they're pretty simple. We can sum them up in one sentence. Anybody who claims to have objective knowledge about anything is trying to control and dominate the rest of us.3
And though all fields of science are suspect, what most left-wing anxiety centers on is biology.4
In a well-reported example, social psychologist Phoebe Ellsworth encountered an unexpected reaction when giving an interdisciplinary seminar lecture on human emotions. When she first mentioned "experiments," audience members objected that the experimental method was merely a power-grabbing device by white Victorian males. Then, when she countered by reminding them that this scientific method had led to the discovery of DNA, the dialogue was terminated when the audience expressed strong disapproval of anyone who "believed" in DNA!
In commenting on this experience, Ehrenreich and McIntosh somehow manage to equate this unscientific attitude of the postmoderns with creationism, although they call it "secular creationism," since they are well aware that these protagonists have no commitment at all to either Biblical creationism or scientific creationism.
It was only with the arrival of the intellectual movements lumped under the term "postmodernism" that academic antibiologism began to sound perilously like religious creationism. . . . Glibly applied, postmodernism portrays evolutionary theory as nothing more than a sexist and racist story line created by western white men.5
To the postmodern, human behavior and human societies are functions only of their respective group cultures. They are not to be explained in terms either of ancestral animal characteristics or of any cross-cultural commonalities.
In fact, it is hard to pinpoint just what they do believe. As noted above, Thomas Johnson (a professor teaching in the Czech Republic) calls it a "many-headed monster." They are against Darwinism and against capitalism and against Christian moral constraints, but they all seem to favor feminism, multi-culturalism, and situational ethics. Otherwise they are an extremely heterogeneous group.
The academic left is a diverse group. It includes all shades of opinion from the palest pink liberals to old-fashioned bright red Marxists. Probably no two of them have the same opinions about everything. But a lot of them have bought into some notions that are deeply hostile to the scientific enterprise in general and the study of evolution in particular.6
These postmodern secular "creationists" are certainly not Bible-believing creationists, or creation scientists, however, so they necessarily must believe in some form of evolution if they delve into the subject of origins at all.
There is undoubtedly a wide variety of opinions on this subject among these latter-day agnostics, but most or all of them (if not frankly atheistic) would favor some form of "New Age" pantheistic evolution. Of these, the most highly developed is probably the Gaia Hypothesis, Gaia being the name of the ancient Greek goddess of Earth.
Scientific evidence for the idea that the Earth is alive abounds. The scientific formulation of the ancient idea goes by the name of the Gaia hypothesis. . . . In its most elegant and attackable form, the hypothesis lends credence to the idea that the Earth—the global biota in its terrestrial environment—is a giant organism.7
The so-called "scientific evidence" for Gaia, however, consists of the "fitness of the environment" and the many symbiotic relationships in the living world—evidences which, to the true creationist, are beautiful evidences of God's design of the natural world.
In any case, this secular creationism (or postmodern agnosticism concerning Darwinian evolution and biology) has no real resemblance to true scientific Biblical creationism at all.
This climate of intolerance, often imposed by scholars associated with the left, ill suits an academic tradition rhetorically committed to human freedom. What's worse, it provides intellectual backup for a political outlook that sees no real basis for common ground among humans of different sexes, races, and cultures.8
The above assessment of secular creationism was written by traditional neo-Darwinists, but it could just as well have been an assessment of academic evolutionism by a Bible-believing creationist. Biblical creationism does provide real common ground between all sexes, races, and cultures, for the inspired account in Genesis assures us that we are all descended from Adam and Eve, who were both created in the image of God!
But evolutionism in any form—that is, any worldview other than solid Biblical literal creationism—provides no such foundation.
Furthermore, scientific Biblical creationists are not opposed to experimental observational science, as are these new agnostics. We strongly support all fact-based science. Our concerns are with speculative evolutionary philosophy masquerading as science.
There is really no place for agnosticism among those created in God's image, whether that agnosticism is of either the Huxleyan or the postmodern variety, for we have God's inspired and completed inscripturated word to guide us in our beliefs and behavior.
The world, represented in the governor who delivered the world's Creator to be crucified, may ask sarcastically: "What is truth?" (John 18:38). But we can answer back, with Christ "Thy word is truth" (John 17:17). Christ also claimed: "I am the truth" (John 14:6).
And we can say with the psalmist: "Thy word is true from the beginning: and every one of thy righteous judgments endureth for ever. . . . Therefore I esteem all thy precepts concerning all things to be right; and I hate every false way" (Psalm 119:160,128).
- Thomas Johnson, "Abortion, the Sexual Revolution and Post-modernism," The Outlook (vol. 48, February 1998), p. 3. Emphasis is his.
- Matt Cartmill, "Oppressed by Evolution," Discover (March 1998), p. 78.
- Ibid., p. 80.
- Ibid., p. 81.
- Barbara Ehrenreich and Janet McIntosh, "Biology under Attack," The Nation (June 9, 1997), p. 13.
- Cartmill, op. cit., p. 80.
- Dorion Sagan, Slanted Truths (New York: Springer-Verlag, 1997), p. 190. In book co-authored by Lynn Margulis. Dorion Sagan is the son of atheist Carl Sagan and Gaian evolutionist Lynn Margulis.
- Ehrenreich and McIntosh, op. cit., p. 16.