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Agnostic Theists and Other Varieties

I came across this image today on Reddit:

It poses two axes, knowledge and belief. But one of them strikes me as peculiar. Why is the one that runs from left to right categorized as having to do with “belief”?

It seems to me that a graphic that explores religious and non-religious options, and the relative sense of certainty adherents to them have, could be useful. The “knowledge” axis is clearly about confidence in one’s views and not “knowledge.”

And of course, “Gnostic” has other connotations.

It is presumably an attempt to improve on the linear Dawkins Scale which I blogged about previously. But it is just as problematic, if not more so.

Has anyone seen a diagram like this, but one which deals with the varieties of religious and areligious confidence in a better way?

  • John Wilkins
    • http://www.patheos.com/blogs/exploringourmatrix/ James F. McGrath

      Thanks for the reminder about your post, John! I don’t suppose you ever made a 3D map that does a better job of this at any point?

      • John Wilkins

        No, although I would add another axis: pragmatic knowledge and doxastic knowledge. One can be a practical atheist and a doxastic agnostic. For each deity.

  • Kevin S.

    I think the Knowledge axis is supposed to reflect belief in the ability to know whether a god exists, not merely confidence in one’s beliefs. Thus, an agnostic theist doesn’t believe it’s possible to know for sure whether any god exists but is predisposed to believe one does.

    • http://www.patheos.com/blogs/exploringourmatrix/ James F. McGrath

      Thanks, Kevin, that makes more sense. Although it probably still correlates with my own suggestion, since presumably those who think one can know tend to also think that they do know, although with differing degrees of certainty or tentativeness.

  • Dorfl

    What Kevin said.

    I describe myself as a ‘gnostic atheist’ because I think the statement “we can’t really know if there is a god” is only true for a definition of ‘knowledge’ that nobody actually uses outside of philosophical discussions. Not because I necessarily claim to know myself.

  • Herro

    Mark Smith basically makes the case for a diagram like this (although I don’t think he actually presents a diagram) in ‘Atheism: the case against god’.

  • Ben Thompson

    yah this doesn’t effectively nail down the difference between belief and degrees of certainty. The two are not so easy to distinguish as this diagram suggests.

    • John Wilkins

      I take the knowledge axis to be confidence in the claim that you do know something.

  • Tony Bellows

    I think I’d probably describe myself as an agnostic theist. Gnostic has so much 2nd century baggage that it’s not a word I would care to use to describe myself.

  • dangus

    It’s very popular on Reddit, but I’ve never seen it used seriously in any other source, academic or otherwise. The only appeal I can see to it is that atheists who are constantly asked “why are you atheist and not agnostic?” can reply that they’re both. Or, if you’re more cynical, it’s appeal lies in that atheists can use it to “claim” agnostics as their own.

    The linear scale that Dawkins uses, while not perfect, is far superior.


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