In fact, I challenge any atheist, New or old, to send me their answer to the question: "Why is there something rather than nothing?" I can't wait for the evasions to pour forth. Or even the evidence that this question ever could be answered by science and logic.
Alas, agnostics still suffer from association with atheists by theists, and with theists by atheists. So let us be more precise about what agnostics are and aren't. They aren't disguised creationists. In fact, the term agnostic was coined in 1869 by one of Darwin's most fervent followers, Thomas Henry Huxley, famously known as "Darwin's bulldog" for his defense of evolutionary theory. Here's how he defined his agnosticism:
This principle may be stated in various ways but they all amount to this: that it is wrong for a man to say that he is certain of the objective truth of any proposition unless he can produce evidence which logically justifies that certainty.
Huxley originally defined his agnosticism against the claims of religion, but it also applies to the claims of science in its know-it-all mode. I should point out that I accept all that science has proven with evidence and falsifiable hypotheses but don't believe there is evidence or falsifiable certitude that science can prove or disprove everything. Agnosticism doesn't contend there are no certainties; it simply resists unwarranted untested or untestable certainties.
Agnosticism doesn't fear uncertainty. It doesn't cling like a child in the dark to the dogmas of orthodox religion or atheism. Agnosticism respects and celebrates uncertainty and has been doing so since before quantum physics revealed the uncertainty that lies at the very groundwork of being.
The circumstances in which I found the quotes from Huxley are worth noting since they point up the undeserving misapprehension of agnosticism as some subcomponent of atheism.
I came upon the Huxley essay in a book called The Agnostic Reader, a lone nod to agnosticism in an entire yardlong shelf of smug New Atheist polemics at a local Borders. The book's latest essay dates back to 1949. Time for an agnosticism revival, I say.
Why has agnosticism fallen out of favor? New Atheism offers the glamour of fraudulent rebelliousness, while agnosticism has only the less eye-catching attractions of humility. The willingness to say "I don't know" is less attention-getting than "I know, I know. I know it all."
Humility in the face of mystery has been a recurrent theme of mine. I wrote most recently about the problem of consciousness and found myself allied with the agnostic group of philosophers known as the Mysterians, who argue that we are epistemically, flat-out unable to know the nature of consciousness while being within consciousness. I'm reluctant to call agnostics Mysterians, much as I like the proto-punk ballad "96 Tears" by ? and the Mysterians. But I do like that agnosticism, which in fact can be more combative than its image, does have a sort of punk, disruptive, troublemaker side.
I was once called a "troublemaker" by no less than Terry Eagleton, once the wunderkind neo-Marxist post-modernist guru who ruined the minds of several generations of comp lit students and who has now turned into a promoter of a New Religiosity, with books such as Reason, Faith, and Revolution and On Evil.