It’s Atheism, Not Adeism

As I have expressed a number of times in the past, I am a gnostic atheist.  I am an atheist in the sense that I neither believe in nor worship, appease, pray to, or in any other way imagine myself to interact with personal gods. Simply lacking such belief and refraining from related practices is sufficient to make one an atheist. I am a gnostic atheist in that I think that I know that such personal gods in fact do not exist.  An agnostic atheist, by contrast, refrains from belief in personal gods and from pretensions to interact with personal gods but does not think their nonexistence is quite a matter of knowledge for one reason or another.

I am not such an agnostic because I do think that it is a matter of knowledge that there are no personal gods.  It is no harder for me to dismiss the existence of Yahwheh or a personal Allah or a divine Jesus as fictional or mythical than it is for all of us 21st Century modern people to dismiss out of hand claims that Thor or Zeus or Spider-Man or Aquaman exist.

But some atheists are reluctant to call themselves atheists because there remain the various god conceptions of the philosophers, some of which are, or may in the future be, plausibly formulated.  Might there be a single source of all being distinguishable from the known universe and fitting a certain, longstanding, traditional philosophical definition of the word “God”?  Perhaps.

This or a number of other concepts one might formulate are, or at least could be, sufficiently conceivable and sufficiently consistent with our best science and metaphysics as to be reasonably plausible.  One might for one reason or another disfavor belief in one or another of the possible metaphysical god concepts and yet still not think of one’s disbelief as raising to the level of knowledge.

I consider someone like this open to deism and agnostic about deist gods.  I myself fit this description.  But then why call myself an atheist if I am philosophically agnostic about whether some single “divine” principle which originates existence exists?  Should I not just call myself an agnostic?

No, I should not just call myself an agnostic.   The reason I am an atheist is because I am the opposite of a theist, not the opposite of a deist.  And I am not agnostic about theism, I am agnostic about deism.  I am gnostic about theism.  I know Yahweh and a divine Jesus and a personally construed Allah, etc. do not exist with the same kind of sufficient evidence and degree of certainty that I know Aphrodite and Green Lantern do not exist.

An impersonal metaphysical principle which somehow accounts for existence or order, etc. is an entirely different thing.   Proving such a thing exists would get you no closer to proving the existence of Yahweh or a divine Jesus than proving numbers are real entities would prove the real existence of The Count from Sesame Street.

Theists are quite fond of arguing for a deistic god and assuming that it is the same thing as providing evidence for a theistic one, when it’s not.  Or, a bit more modestly, other theists think that the inconclusiveness and relative philosophical open endedness of the deist god question translates into a plausibility of the theist god.

But it does not.

I do not feel like participating in the equivocations of theists by granting them that lack of knowledge about whether a deist god may exist translates to lack of knowledge about whether the personal gods upon which religions are actually based exist or not.

The believer in a personal god is a theist.  I do not believe in any personal gods, so I am an atheist.  My considered reasons for disbelief raise to the level of knowledge by our ordinary standards for knowledge claims.  Therefore, I am a gnostic atheist.  That the existence of some deistic, impersonal god may very plausibly be proved to me is irrelevant.  Even were I to come to be a deist by affirming the existence of a “divine” impersonal metaphysical principle of some sort, I would remain a gnostic atheist. The positions are entirely compatible.

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About Daniel Fincke

Dr. Daniel Fincke  has his PhD in philosophy from Fordham University and spent 11 years teaching in college classrooms. He wrote his dissertation on Ethics and the philosophy of Friedrich Nietzsche. On Camels With Hammers, the careful philosophy blog he writes for a popular audience, Dan argues for atheism and develops a humanistic ethical theory he calls “Empowerment Ethics”. Dan also teaches affordable, non-matriculated, video-conferencing philosophy classes on ethics, Nietzsche, historical philosophy, and philosophy for atheists that anyone around the world can sign up for. (You can learn more about Dan’s online classes here.) Dan is an APPA  (American Philosophical Practitioners Association) certified philosophical counselor who offers philosophical advice services to help people work through the philosophical aspects of their practical problems or to work out their views on philosophical issues. (You can read examples of Dan’s advice here.) Through his blogging, his online teaching, and his philosophical advice services each, Dan specializes in helping people who have recently left a religious tradition work out their constructive answers to questions of ethics, metaphysics, the meaning of life, etc. as part of their process of radical worldview change.