Agnostisism and Learning LO30162

From: AM de Lange (
Date: 05/08/03

Dear Organlearners,

Greetings to all of you.

I want to share the following with you with a pain in my heart and the
hope in my mind for a better future.

A dear friend of mind who claimed that he is an atheist, got cancer and is
on his last stretch. He is a medical doctor and a professor of public
health. He is deep into creativity, complexity thinking and recently,
organisational learning. He often admitted to me that i am the only
Christian who does not want to covert him. He insisted that he is an
atheist and i respected it.

Two weeks ago, after we failed to make contact for three months, i was
informed about his predicament. I went to visit him, but his wife told me
that he does not want anymore to see anybody, that he stopped all
treatment and that he is waiting for the end. I felt so sad because i
wanted at least to pray for him.

Two months ago he told another friend of us, the last to visit him that,
after carefull contemplation, he is not an athiest, but an agnosticist.
This makes things much more complex. An atheist is somebody who believes
that there is no God. But an agnostic person is somebody who claims that
one cannot know God ("gnostikos"= knowledge, "a-"=not).

Agnosticism is a mental position which the Christain church had been
struggling with since the earliest centuries. The term "agnosticist" had
been created by the Englsih philosopher Thomas Huxley -- a religious
skeptic -- in the 1840's. He wrote:
"When I reached intellectual maturity, and began to ask myself
whether I was an atheist, a theist, or a pantheist; a materialist or
an idealist; a Christian or a freethinker, I found that the more I
learned and reflected, the less ready was the answer, I found that
the more I learned and reflected the less ready was the answer;
until at last I came to the conclusion that I had neither art or part
with any of these denomination, except the last. So I thought,
and invented what I conceived to be the appropriate title of
"agnostic". It came into my head as suggestively antithetic to the
"gnostic" of Church history, who professed to know so much
about the very things of which I was ignorant."

The agnosticist thinks that just as a bacterium cannot know the doings of,
say, a complexer frog and a frog cannot know the doings of a complexer
human, the human, the lesser complex, cannot know the doings of God, the
infinite complex. Many agnosticists believe that religion and superstition
comes from the same source, namely a fear of the unknown. The Scottish
eighteenth century philosopher David Hume was an emprical agnosticist
because he believed that nothing should be accepted except on the basis of
empirical verification. Immanuel Kant attempted to answer Hume's position
by grounding our present experience of reality (phenomenon) in a
transworld realm (noumenon). But he did no succeed convincingly.

The Catholic Encyclopedia (although i am a Protestant) at
< > has a fine
exposition on agnosticism. It asserts that "God, the beginning and
end of all, can, by the natural light of human reason, be known
with certainty from the works of creation" (Const. De Fide, II,
De Rev.) Most Protestants, on the other hand, asserts that God
can be best known by Scripture. But what do i think?

I can only digest data from nature and bits of information from Scripture
or commentaries on it with "kernels of knowledge" which have emerged
within me. The emergence of these "kernels of knowledge" depend on my
interaction with the "world-outside-me". My knowledge of God comes from
only one source -- my interaction with those people who had the Spirit of
God in them, acting with deeds of love towards me. God is agape (love) and
were it not for humans reflecting this agape in my experiences with them,
i would not have acquired these "kernels of knowledge".

When i think of my friend W, he claimed that all positive things he know
he acquired through individual learning. He came too late to the concept
of organisational learning because he claimed that all negative things he
learned through social interaction with other humans. He is extremely
negative towards the intentions of humans. He just had too little
"experiences of deeds of love" initiated by other humans, including me.
His end of the road made me think. What do we have in mind with
Organisational Learning (OL)? What outcome do we expect from OL? Does OL
have any lasting worth if it is devoid of unconditional love? Can an
organisations emerge into a Learning Organisation (LO) when love is not
the backbone of its capacity for action? What is knowledge without love?
It is questions such as the above which i lay into your midst.

With care and best wishes,


At de Lange <> Snailmail: A M de Lange Gold Fields Computer Centre Faculty of Science - University of Pretoria Pretoria 0001 - Rep of South Africa

Learning-org -- Hosted by Rick Karash <> Public Dialog on Learning Organizations -- <>

"Learning-org" and the format of our message identifiers (LO1234, etc.) are trademarks of Richard Karash.