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Van Harvey reflects on Huxley’s and Clifford’s reasons for not believing. are from Thomas Henry Huxley: Agnosticism and Christianity and other Essays. I recently posted 2 answers on the Christianity Stack Exchange regarding the Admittedly, I know very little about Huxley’s Agnosticism-(I believe it is Thomas. In this selection of his most important writings, renowned scientist and philosopher Thomas Henry Huxley () discusses his views on.

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You can read four articles free per xhristianity. To have complete access to the thousands of philosophy articles on this site, please. In the struggle against obscurantism and the appeal to blind faith that was rampant in Victorian culture, it would be difficult to find two greater champions of restraint on unfounded opinions and beliefs than W. Clifford and T.

Huxley’s Agnosticism

For Clifford the imperative was: Agnostivism and Christianity and other EssaysPrometheus Books, Although both formulations are couched in the form of ethical imperatives, there are subtle but important differences between them.

They believed that irrational beliefs had social consequences, and so it was a duty to weigh the evidence for beliefs. Both arguments were in part directed against religions. Clifford roams over several of them, especially Islam. Huxley makes his case in relation to Christianity.

As many recent philosophers have pointed out, particularly Wittgenstein in his little book On Certaintywe do not acquire most of our beliefs about the world by being persuaded out of skepticism about them, nor do we carefully weigh the evidence for every belief proposed to us. Rather our culture teaches us to organize our experience in certain ways by teaching us concepts, rules of use, names, and language. Doubt only arises against this background of taken-for-granted beliefs when something we encounter does not fit with our picture, or when we find ourselves confronted with evidence that clearly contradicts specific beliefs we hold.

Contrary to Clifford, we begin by believing and must have grounds for doubting. Moreover, among the set of propositions that we believe, some are more fundamental than others. They stand fast, so to speak.

Some of these are empirical and checkable, but others are so general that we would not know how to justify hudley for instance, the belief that there is an external world. Many of these fundamental beliefs are literally groundless.


We do not acquire them by testing or investigation, but simply by belonging to a community bound together by science and education. We so take them for granted that if ane were to question them, we would doubt they could believe anything that we say. But all of them together constitute the background against which we distinguish what is true or false.

He does not argue that one requires evidence or justification for every belief that one holds; he simply argues that it is wrong to claim certitude about propositions for which one cannot produce adequate evidence. And while Clifford claims it is morally wrong to believe on insufficient evidence, Huxley is less heavy handed. Rather, the two essays mount two major arguments: Huxley argues that this christuanity a misunderstanding of the real issue: Dr Wace defines agnosticism in terms of the content that is disbelieved, showing cgristianity he does not understand that agnosticism is a method, not a creed.

The method is to ask of a proposition that is proposed as true what evidence the proposition is based on. But this disbelief is not based on some arbitrary hostility or indifference to the Christian tradition; rather, chrixtianity is that if one applies the agnostic method to the claims of the New Testament regarding the authority of Jesus and what he is alleged to have said, there are reasonable grounds for withholding assent.

The issue is not whether one respects or disrespects the authority; the issue is the value of that authority and the textual testimony about it. The agnostic wishes to know, what has Jesus said, and why does that make him the authority regarding the supernatural? But difficult as it is, these scholars have begun to converge on some important issues, and this convergence hkxley such as to cast doubt on the veracity of the New Testament authors.

For a layman with little formal education, Huxley demonstrates a surprisingly informed knowledge not only of the New Testament but also of the Biblical criticism of his time. These criticisms, Huxley argues, provide reason enough why the agnostic is unable to christianiy assent to the authority Wace claims for Jesus Christ.


The more fundamental reason to doubt the claims huxlej Christianity is that even sgnosticism the reports in the Gospels were those of eye witnesses, this still would not justify belief in their testimony, because these eyewitnesses were themselves credulous, and believed in the existence of spirits and demons and the occurrence of miracles, and just because of this the witnesses ought to be discredited.

Thomas Henry Huxley, Agnosticism and Christianity, and Other Essays – PhilPapers

Huxley uses this story to make several points. The first of these is to say that belief in evil spirits and demonical possession is the remnant of a once-universal superstition that has justified the persecution of thousands of men, woman, and children throughout history for example, as witches. To attribute the same belief to Jesus casts grave doubt on his authority regarding knowledge of the spiritual world.

Secondly, Huxley uses the story to drive more liberal Christians, who tend to see the story as a myth, into a dilemma: Either one says that Jesus did believe in demons, in which case Jesus is discredited as an authority about the unseen world; or, if one edits out the story as just part of the first century worldview of the authors, then one is confronted with their untrustworthiness. But it is the third point that is most crucial for Huxley.

His Messianic work is to cast out Satan and his christiaanity. We find this view in the Church Fathers, the confessions creeds of the churches, and even in the Protestant theologians Calvin and Luther. Against the narratives the issue is probability, or lack of it. But in the case of unseen spirits the matter is as follows.

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