The Attraction of Agnosticism
George H. Morrison
Not very long ago in Glasgow there was a criminal trial which attracted much attention, not only by reason of its peculiar circumstances, but also because of certain observations of the judge. When the prisoner was being examined by counsel, one of the questions asked was, "Are you an atheist?" That was a very unusual question to be put in a modern court of law. No one, therefore, was very much surprised when Lord Guthrie, in giving the charge to the jury, dwelt with undisguised severity on that unusual interrogation. Now had the learned lord done nothing more than that, the aspect of things would have been entirely legal. But your true Scot is a theologian born-especially if he be born a Guthrie.1 And so we had a little discourse on theology in which we were very wisely told that there are no atheists nowadays-only agnostics. I was struck by the very widespread notice which was given to that dictum of the judge. It found its way into all sorts of papers and was commented upon from every point of view. And so I have thought this might be a fitting time to say one or two words about agnosticism.
Now I venture to think there are few here who do not know the meaning of these words. An atheist is one who denies that there is a God; an agnostic is one who denies that we can know God. The word agnostic is quite a modern word. It was coined, if I remember rightly, by Professor Huxley.2 It was suggested by that verse in the Acts of the Apostles which tells of the altar raised to the unknown God. It is very significant that the view of things which utterly denies all revelation should have had to borrow its title from the Bible. An atheist has the courage of conviction. He lifts up his eyes and says there is no God. For him, heaven is a vacant place, and there is no eternal Personality. But the agnostic does not deny there is a God. All he asserts is that we cannot reach Him. He says that we are so constitu ...
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