I used to describe myself as an optimistic atheist, because, while I found it impossible to believe in a higher being, I really hoped that I was wrong - as least as far as the fact that I didn't much fancy the idea of ceasing to exist when I die. I hoped, simply, that I would live on in some form. I imagine most people do, really.
However, after some thought, I decided to change that description to 'agnostic', because I felt it was a better description of my thoughts and feelings on the subject.
But since then I have found something interesting - everybody else seems to have a somewhat low opinion of the idea of being agnostic. A Christian friend of mine once described it to another Christian - who didn't know what it meant - as meaning "They don't know what they believe." Richard Dawkins, in The God Delusion, basically calls agnostics fence-sitters and argues they should follow the logic to decide that it is at least most likely that atheists are correct.
Both of these annoy me. So I'm going to address them.
First, however, I'm going to say that I have no beef with anyone's religious beliefs and everyone is very much welcome to believe whatever they choose. In fact - that's one of my points - I don't think anyone can "choose" to believe anything. Either you are convinced of something, or you are not. You believe it or you don't. And no religion has ever been able to convince me that they are the one, in all of history, to have got it right. That's it.
Why not? Well, even if I found one of the various books attractive, what does it have to argue that it is more accurate than the other ones? Why the Bible and not the Koran? Why the Old Testament but not the New One? I'm just not convinced. And as for them being attractive, women seem to get a raw deal in the main religions I know about, and that makes them extremely unattractive to me, as someone who firmly believes in equality for everyone - including women and homosexuals.
But that doesn't mean that I don't know what I believe. I know exactly what I believe. I believe that it is impossible to know one way or another what happens after we die and whether or not there is a god or gods until then. And I can live with that. I accept the unknowable and embrace it. Life's mystery. I'm happy to live my life and take the consequences, if there are any, at the end. And if all there is is oblivion - well then I won't be around to be disappointed about it, will I?
On the other hand, Richard Dawkins - whose book I stopped reading halfway through because I found a number of his argument specious and flawed - says I'm a fence-sitter. I should accept that science suggests there is no need for a creator to explain the universe. Well...
You may or may not know that the Big Bang theory - science's biggest theory for the creation of the universe - is fundamentally flawed. I didn't know this until recently myself. Firstly, the universe is too ordered for a normal explosion, which should have sent things flying off in different directions at different speeds. So there is an odd theory of 'inflation' to account for this, whereby "something" caused everything to expand up to a certain point in a perfect sphere - like a balloon - before all exploding and shooting off at exactly the same speed.
Then there's dark matter. For physics as we understand them to work, space doesn't make sense. So science has invented dark matter - which nobody has yet been able to find any way to measure or even confirm it exists - but it must do or else the universe would all collapse.
And then there are the other questions - where did the dust and gas come from in the first place? What was there before that? Nothing? What did that look like? How and why did something come into existence from nothing?
None of these questions have answers, but Dawkins' argument that of course science is still learning is perfectly valid. Yes, one day we may understand all of this. But we don't. Not currently. So why is the "most logical" conclusion that there is no god? He seems to want to assume his own hypothesis on the basis that he thinks science will eventually prove it. Well, the logical conclusion is actually that we don't have enough information to make a decision one way or another. And even if we did understand how it all happened, that doesn't explain why, does it? Does an understandable, traceable explanation of the way the universe developed preclude the idea of a guiding hand behind it all? I don't think so.
So there it is. I am agnostic because I believe, after a lot of thought, that it is the only logical, intelligent solution to the wonders of existence and creation. Simply put, we don't have enough information.
If I'm still around after I die, I'll pop back and let you know who was right.