I'm referring to the accepted answer on this post. The answerer states that

If one is both attentive to empirical scientific studies and to philosophical investigations of the limits of knowledge, then the only rational position is philosophical agnosticism plus pragmatic atheism.

Here, I'm assuming that a philosophical agnostic internally holds agnostic beliefs (regardless of how they act upon them), a pragmatic atheist acts as if they were an atheist (not celebrating religion, etc.), and a pragmatic theist acts as if they believe in a God. I'm also assuming that you could be philosophically agnostic and still choose to be pragmatically theistic or atheistic. Ultimately, the most rational option is that which is most adequately in accordance with reason or logic.

Given these definitions, I was wondering if the highlighted claim above can be supported logically. It seems to me that it can't.

I have two main points:

[1] Between atheism, theism, and (soft) agnosticism, the only rational philosophical position is agnosticism. This is because we have no way of knowing whether any given religious scripture is 'reliable'. In Pascal's wager, the idea is that, assuming we have no evidence either way, we can conclude that

  • if God exists and you don't believe in God, you go to Hell
  • if God exists and you do believe in God, you go to Heaven
  • If God doesn't exist, nothing happens regardless of whether or not you believe in God.

Therefore, Pascal concludes that the most rational option is to believe in God.

However, this fails if I ask you to put a truth value on the claim that "The Devil wrote the Bible and anyone who refuses to believes in God goes to Heaven." We have no way of ranking these claims, so we cannot say that this option is any less plausible than the option where God wrote the Bible and anyone who believes in it goes to Heaven. Hence, because the Bible is not sufficiently 'reliable' as evidence of God, there is no way of truly knowing if believing in God sends you to Heaven or Hell. Therefore, philosophical agnosticism is the only rational option.

[2] In the event that you have to choose between being an atheist or believing in God, your likelihood of being correct increases if you are an atheist, in the same way that, for instance, asserting that "God has green hair" is a false claim makes you probabilistically more likely to be correct than if you assert that it is a true claim.

However, I don't see why [2] makes you more rational for being pragmatically atheist. We know that rationality != correctness simply because you can hold a belief that is both irrational and correct. If I said that "God has green hair" is a true claim despite having no evidence to support it, and if it turned out that God exists and does have green hair, that doesn't mean that I held that belief rationally.

Furthermore, assuming you accept the premise of [1], it is equally irrational to be an atheist as it is to be a theist. Therefore, if you are philosophically agnostic, it doesn't matter whether or not you are pragmatically theistic or atheistic. Hence, pragmatic atheism cannot be more rational than pragmatic theism, and can only be equally rational.

The main justification for the claim that pragmatic atheism is more rational is that

...the track record of all detailed predictions for every major religion are astoundingly bad...so there is essentially no evidence in favor and very much evidence against hypotheses that any historical religion is actually meaningfully divinely inspired.

But again, if we rely on the Bible as being "unreliable" in order to conclude that philosophical agnosticism is the only rational position, then how can we logically support the claim that all predictions made based on religion are inconsistent? For one thing, God could exist and the Bible could be a trick. For another, the Bible could be consistent and we could be perceiving it too narrowly, just as quantum mechanics came into play once we realized that classical mechanics was too narrow at the atomic level.

From this, I would conclude that, for a philosophical agnostic, the pragmatic effects of believing in God can't be any different from the pragmatic effects of being an atheist, since you cannot make any pragmatic decisions based on your beliefs in either case. However, I can find no further discussion on this topic.

  • 1
    Because rationality isn't about finding out what can be true, it's about finding out what's actually true. (More specifically, it's about acting on what's actually true.)
    – Veedrac
    Commented Apr 3, 2018 at 8:37
  • God is more than capable of making Himself known to those who seek him through humility and repentance. Not only that, He has also promised to do so.
    – user3017
    Commented Apr 3, 2018 at 9:18
  • I think you're going to have to define those terms before we can give you a good answer.
    – JeffUK
    Commented Apr 3, 2018 at 10:18
  • @JeffUK that’s fair, which terms would you like me to define? I’m using the terms from the post I linked to. I’m under the assumption that philosophical agnosticism and pragmatic atheism just means that you are an agnostic at heart but you act pragmatically as an atheist Commented Apr 3, 2018 at 15:05
  • 1
    @SydneyMaples, so just a follow-up: So, you'd consider spending a lifetime of thinking about, feeling toward, and acting in terms of--all of which require taking time out of your life to accomplish--something for which you have no evidence a rational use of one's time?
    – Chelonian
    Commented Apr 3, 2018 at 16:36

2 Answers 2


Since you probably do not have a very good working definition of God you are probably going to have to come up with your own tentative idea. Then the question is whether you think there is something tangible that could be anything near your idea. If you think there is anything that could distinguish itself beyond neutral meaninglessness then you should probably incline to pragmatic theism, manifesting as continued search or hope for understanding/inspiration.

  • I’m more responding to the post I linked to, and the notion of God introduced in Pascal’s wager. I’ll edit my original post to make it clearer. Commented Apr 3, 2018 at 15:09
  • @SydneyMaples Nevertheless if you examined what you thought you were talking about by saying 'God' you might find even the proposition of existence to be questionable. To suppose existence is to jump the gun; that is to say at the centre of your conceptualization of God existence might not be necessary, for example. Commented Apr 3, 2018 at 15:53

For the specific deity listed (the God of the Bible), there are rational reasons to hold atheist beliefs: the deity is claimed to be omniscient and omnipotent, but omniscient beings are incompatible with quantum mechanics and omnipotent beings are logically impossible.

  • I’m inclined to downvote this answer as too specific to a particular theology to be of any philosophical use, but I’ll withhold my vote as I think I understand why the question has invited it.
    – Paul Ross
    Commented Jul 13, 2023 at 8:54

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