The Technium

Possibilians vs Agnostics

Neuroscientist David Eagleman has articulated a new religious vocabulary that many, including me, find attractive. It’s kind of a third way, a nerd way. It is neither traditional belief in religion, nor traditional atheism. Nor is it traditional agnosticism. Here’s how David describes it (in a video talk):

Our ignorance of the cosmos is too vast to commit to atheism, and yet we know too much to commit to a particular religion. A third position, agnosticism, is often an uninteresting stance in which a person simply questions whether his traditional religious story (say, a man with a beard on a cloud) is true or not true. But with Possibilianism I’m hoping to define a new position — one that emphasizes the exploration of new, unconsidered possibilities. Possibilianism is comfortable holding multiple ideas in mind; it is not interested in committing to any particular story.

I would add a few more points about the difference between possibilism and agnosticism. We have to acknowledge that both Possibilians and Agnostics belong the church of I Don’t Know. Both positions support I-don’t-knowism. And I-don’t-knowism is the founding beatitude of science. But here’s how they are different:

Agnostics end with the lack of an answer.
Possibilians begin with the lack of an answer.

Agnostics say, we can’t decide between this and that.
Possibilians say, there are other choices than this or that.

Agnostics say, I Don’t Know, it’s impossible to answer that question.
Possibilians say, I Don’t Know, there must be better questions.

Both start in humility, but agnosticism is bounded by our great ignorance, while possibilism is unbounded by our limited knowledge.

Watch Eagleman’s 20-minute sermon on why possibilism is a possible theology. It’s very convincing.


© 2023