Science tells us what we can know, but what we can know is little, and if we forget how much we cannot know we become insensitive to many things of very great importance. Theology, on the other hand, induces a dogmatic belief that we have knowledge where in fact we have ignorance, and by doing so generates a kind of impertinent insolence towards the universe. Uncertainty, in the presence of vivid hopes and fears, is painful, but must be endured if we wish to live without the support of comforting fairy tales.
~Bertrand Russell, The History of Western Philosophy
ne pillar of this philosophy is that it is wise to humbly admit what one does not know and what is probably unknowable.
This is important because otherwise you might waste time trying to answer a question you cannot answer, or, if you cannot accept that some things are unknowable, you might delude yourself that you know something that, in fact, you do not.
Thomas Henry Huxley, who coined the term “agnostic,” was a champion of this sort of humility:
When I reached intellectual maturity and began to ask myself whether I was an atheist, a theist, or a pantheist; a materialist or an idealist; Christian or a freethinker; I found that the more I learned and reflected, the less ready was the answer; until, at last, I came to the conclusion that I had neither art nor part with any of these denominations, except the last. The one thing in which most of these good people were agreed was the one thing in which I differed from them. They were quite sure they had attained a certain “gnosis,”–had, more or less successfully, solved the problem of existence; while I was quite sure I had not, and had a pretty strong conviction that the problem was insoluble.
Let us approach the question of the Supreme Being with a Huxley-eqsue willingness to admit what we do not know, but also with uncompromising reason, and see where that takes us.