Since When is Not Believing in God an ‘Agnostic’ Position?

The South Texas Coalition of Reason‘s message on a new atheist billboard in Corpus Christi is pretty clear regarding the group’s stance on God:

“Don’t believe in God?”

Sounds like an atheist to me. Sure, the South Texas CoR is reaching out to atheists, agnostics, and those who are spiritual-but-not-religious… but the wording on the sign, anyway, is that God doesn’t exist. There’s no waffling or fence-sitting about it.

Which makes this front-page headline in today’s Corpus Christi Caller-Times very strange to me:

Incidentally, the headline in the online version of the article is “Godless billboards now on display in Corpus Christi.”

But keeping in mind that the reporters and headline writers are usually different people, I wonder why the front page’s headline writer chose the other “A” word when “Atheist” would have been both more accurate and more eye-popping.

About Hemant Mehta

Hemant Mehta is the chair of Foundation Beyond Belief and a high school math teacher in the suburbs of Chicago. He began writing the Friendly Atheist blog in 2006. His latest book is called The Young Atheist's Survival Guide.

  • Gus Snarp

    They’re afraid to even type the word? Or they’re ignorant? I just don’t see how “agnostic” could describe the sign. Sure, you could say you’re agnostic in terms of your view on knowledge and still accept the sign, but the sign’s message takes no stance on our ability to know about god, and I don’t think they’re getting that deeply philosophical. It seems more likely they’re thinking of the colloquial uses of agnostic: you’re completely on the fence, or you’re afraid to say you’re an atheist, both of which are antithetical to the sign.

  • Rain

    … but the wording on the sign, anyway, is that God doesn’t exist. There’s no waffling or fence-sitting about it.

    It doesn’t say God doesn’t exist. I would agree that is says that, if it did say that. But it doesn’t say it.

    • Gus Snarp

      You’re right about that, but the use of “agnostic” to describe it is hardly appropriate either.

      I can just picture an agnostic billboard: “God may or may not exist, we can’t really ever know for certain,” then you can tag on the agnostic atheist ending: “but we find that there’s just no evidence at all for one, and it’s really hard to describe how our world would be any different if there were no god, so it seems pretty unlikely that one exists”, or the agnostic theist ending: “but we’re pretty sure there is one, else why would religion have popped up all over the place, and besides, we’re pretty convinced by received tradition and arguments from antiquity and authority”.

      • Rain

        Agnostics don’t have a belief on god. Neither do atheists. The sign can be for agnostics or atheists.

        • GCT

          Agnostics don’t claim to have knowledge of god, but can still believe in god. So, no, the sign is for atheists.

          • Rain

            Not all agnostics believe in god. Some of them actually don’t, although they are a a minority for sure.

            • GCT

              The definition of lacking belief in god, however, is atheism, not agnosticism. Agnosticism is whether one claims there is knowledge of god’s existence. They are orthogonal claims.

    • AxeGrrl

      It doesn’t say God doesn’t exist. I would agree that is says that, if it did say that. But it doesn’t say it.

      That’s exactly what I came here to post, too :)

      The sign says absolutely nothing on the existence or non-existence of God, it merely makes the point that those who don’t believe are atheists.

  • C Peterson

    “Agnostic” is one of the most misused words in English. A word that describes basically nobody at all. Mostly, it’s used by atheists afraid to properly describe themselves, and by religionists who think “atheist” is a dirty word. And worst of all, by people who think it is synonymous with not being able to know for sure if deities exist.

    • Gus Snarp

      But agnostic really does have two meanings (at least). It really does describe not being able to know for sure if deities exist. That’s actually the proper technical definition. It also has the more common colloquial meaning, namely fence sitters, people who are afraid to take the final step and admit that they just don’t believe in god at all.

      It is one of the most misused words in English: when the common colloquial definition is used, because it’s wrong.

      Wikipedia:

      Agnosticism is the view that the existence or non-existence of any deity is unknown and possibly unknowable. More specifically, agnosticism is the view that thetruth values of certain claims—especially claims about the existence or non-existence of any deity, as well as other religious and metaphysical claims—are unknown and (so far as can be judged) unknowable

      Merriam Webster:

      1. : a person who holds the view that any ultimate reality (as God) is unknown and probably unknowable;

      Yes, the colloquial definition follows, but that one is first.

      And Thomas Huxley, who coined the term:

      Agnosticism, in fact, is not a creed, but a method, the essence of which lies in the rigorous application of a single principle…Positively the principle may be expressed: In matters of the intellect, follow your reason as far as it will take you, without regard to any other consideration. And negatively: In matters of the intellect do not pretend that conclusions are certain which are not demonstrated or demonstrable

      Well that’s clear as mud, and therein, perhaps, lies the problem, that description could support either definition, so let’s just blame Huxley and stop using the word.

      • C Peterson

        But virtually nobody uses it to mean “not being able to know for sure”. And that’s
        a pretty technically useless meaning, anyway, since it describes
        everything, not just deities.

        People- and that’s mostly atheists-
        all too commonly use the word to simply mean “I don’t know for sure”,
        and that’s almost always a cop-out. Not knowing something for sure isn’t
        the same thing as not having good reason to have an opinion. Usually,
        the only reason for that is ignorance on a subject. The idea that
        everybody except a 1 or a 7 on the Dawkins scale is an agnostic is
        absurd.

        I’ve never met an agnostic, although I’ve met a good many
        atheists who choose to call themselves that. Incorrectly. So as long as
        atheists embrace the word, we can expect theists to misuse it as well.
        Really, the best thing would be for every atheist organization that uses
        the word “agnostic” in their name or charter to remove it, and get rid
        of this completely unnecessary source of confusion.

        • Bad_homonym

          Language is what usage makes it! We might as well get used to the word being used by laypeople in its colloquial sense. That being said, I am an atheist but my teenage sons would probably identify as agnostic. Not because they are intellectually dishonest, but because they have been raised without religious influence and as such have never given such possibilities any real thought! It simply has no bearing in their lives either way! I never identified myself as atheist until I had done enough research to be convinced that there is no reason to believe!

          • Achron Timeless

            Oh it is? Well, there goes science. Afterall, ‘theory’ just means ‘wild ass guess with no support of any kind’ in its colloquial sense.

        • Gus Snarp

          I’ll certainly agree that when someone uses “agnostic” by itself as their religious identifier, then it surely is the colloquial definition, and a cop-out.

        • blasphemous_kansan

          I’ve always said that agnostics are simply atheists who don’t yet fully understand that the absence of evidence is actually evidence of absence.
          Once this bridge is crossed, self-definition as ‘atheist’ seems to follow quickly. At least in my experience.

          • Randomfactor

            My take is that “agnostic” is a philosophical position.

            “Atheist” is a scientific one.

            Sure, you could debate whether or not a god of SOME sort could possibly exist with certain qualifiers. But when it comes time to design the experiment, or live your life, an atheist has no need of that hypothesis.

            • http://www.flickr.com/photos/chidy/ chicago dyke

              i agree with this. i would also had “educated about history” to the atheist tag.

              Western philosophy has deep roots in Western religious traditions, specifically Christian and Jewish intellectual philosophers from the Middle Ages. in those times, it was damn risky to say “there is no god.” you would get burned or stoned to death for that, often. so a lot of our common philo tradition is based on arguments which assume “there is some kind of god that is real, but in truth i’m reaching for more skeptical and scientific conclusions in the work i’m doing here.”

              what i’m waiting for is the billboard campaign that says, “Everybody is an atheist, except for their favorite God(s).” to me, nothing shuts up believers better. 1 Billion Buddhists are wrong, but 1 Billion Christians are right? Which Christians, out of the 000s of Christian sects? What about the Hindus? there are a billion or so of those too. etc.

              you wanna believe in imaginary invisible things that no one can see or hear or be affected by? fine. just explain to me why your mythology is better than my neighbor’s. hint: you can’t.

              • McAtheist

                Hi chicago dyke,

                Apparently there are 33,000+ christian denominations in 238 countries.

                http://www.philvaz.com/apologetics/a106.htm

              • http://itsmyworldcanthasnotyours.blogspot.com/ wmdkitty

                I figure if it’s something that enriches your life, and isn’t causing harm to others, go ahead and believe whatever you want.

            • ReadsInTrees

              This is where I am. Agnostic is “I don’t know, and I guess it COULD be possible” and atheist is, “but I definitely don’t believe it”.

              • C Peterson

                Those are not mutually exclusive positions. All agnostics must be either theists or atheists (although neither must be agnostic).

                • ReadsInTrees

                  I know this. I call myself an agnostic atheist when I feel like being specific (otherwise, just atheist).

      • Claude

        Yes, I call myself agnostic because I think that:

        any ultimate reality (as God) is unknown and probably unknowable.

        But I do not believe in God or gods.

        The atheist position is: God does not exist.

        It is a distinction with a difference.

        • GCT

          Then, you’re an atheist.

        • AxeGrrl

          The atheist position is: God does not exist.

          Nope. Atheism doesn’t involve asserting ‘God does not exist’, it’s a-theism, non-God-belief.

          And has GCT has already said, you saying “I do not believe in God or gods” means you fit the definition of atheist. Whether or not you want to accept it as a ‘personal label’ is up to you ~ but your position, as you describe, is atheistic.

          • David B.

            “it’s a-theism, non-God-belief”
            Unless it’s athe-ism, belief there are no gods. Etymologically, it could be either, though the earliest uses do seem to derive from the Greek atheos (cf. Cicero, “De Amicitia”).

            • Claude

              Now this could be a deal-breaker. Would you elaborate?

              • David B.

                Why assume the suffix (-ism) came first and the prefix (a-) is respective of that, rather than that the prefix was first and the suffix relates to the prefixed root?

                Atheos, meaning “without god(s)” is a much older word than atheism, e.g. it was the crime of Socrates (who probably wasn’t an atheist in the modern sense); while Cicero also used the term to refer to Diagoras of Melos (who almost certainly was).

                In the end though, etymological arguments are essentially worthless since words regularly change meaning, i.e. in the 16th century the meanings of deist and theist were the other way round compared to today.

                • Claude

                  Well, I wasn’t assuming anything; I was being facetious about any “deal-breaker.” At the time I was interested in hearing more about the ancient usage of atheos, since you brought it up. Of course I would not expect an archaic usage to be revived.

                  Axegrrl disputed my contention that:

                  The atheist position is: God does not exist

                  It did make me wonder if I had been wrong all these years, so I looked up “atheist” in my old Webster’s dictionary:

                  one who denies the existence of God

                  Pretty close.

                  Atheism is defined as:

                  1. a disbelief in the existence of a deity;
                  2. the doctrine that there is no deity.

                  Hence the confusion.

        • C Peterson

          That is not the atheist position. Atheists don’t believe in a god. And that’s all there is to it. Any properly skeptical atheist will readily admit they don’t know for sure that their view is correct. That doesn’t make them an agnostic, and it doesn’t make them less an atheist. Indeed, anybody who takes the position that gods don’t exist is as guilty of irrational thought as those who take the opposite position.

          You do not believe in gods, so you are an atheist. By definition.

          • Claude

            Well, I am fine with being called an atheist, and in fact identified myself as such for many years, although vacillating at times, in the interest of precision, between “atheist”, “agnostic,” “atheist-agnostic,” and “nonbeliever.”

            My hesitation in using the term “atheist” is that I do not positively assert the non-existence of God as ultimate reality, because I think that is unknowable and un-demonstrable. Also, I am not a miltant atheist, that is, an atheist who is hostile to religion. I’m fatalistic about and very much interested in the persistence of religious belief, and atheism is currently associated with militant atheism. That is not to say I’m indifferent about the destructive effects of religion that are so often featured on this blog. I’m incensed by it all. But again, there’s a distinction.

            • GCT

              Wow. There’s a lot wrong with the above.

              Atheism is simply lacking a positive belief in god(s). Nothing more. If you don’t believe god exists, you’re an atheist, whether it’s knowable or not.

              Secondly, let’s do away with the whole “militant atheist” trope. It’s nothing more than bigoted atheophobia dressed up in false paranoia and angst over persecution that doesn’t exist. Don’t feed the bigotry.

              • Claude

                OK, “GCT,” I will try to have faith in what you say against my own reasoned analysis of what I read.

                • GCT

                  Seriously? You can’t even define your terms properly, but you feel that gives you license to be a d-bag?

                  Militant religionists fly planes into buildings, bomb abortion clinics, etc. Militant atheists say things critical of religion that make religious people get upset. There’s no comparison there, and for you to assert that there’s some equivalency there makes you an enabler for bigotry.

                  And, yes, I’m against religious ideas. Why? Because they rely upon faith, which is an inherently faulty way of discerning what is true about the world and those belief come with real-world consequences that do harm people. I’m also against terrorism, but that somehow doesn’t make me “militant”. No, that is only reserved for religiously privileged bigots to tar and demonize atheists.

                  And, reasoned analysis? There’s nothing reasoned about you being unable to use the correct words. Yes, words have meanings. When you use them incorrectly, you look ignorant. When you double down after being corrected, you look stupid and willfully ignorant. That’s no way to go through life.

                • Claude

                  Militant religionists fly planes into buildings, bomb abortion clinics, etc. Militant atheists say things critical of religion that make religious people get upset. There’s no comparison there, and for you to assert that there’s some equivalency there makes you an enabler for bigotry.

                  In fact, I never made such a comparison. I use the term “miltant atheist” because it is used by people who identify themselves with an open hostility to religion. I have read avowals of this sort right here on t is blog. And, being an atheist/etc., I read a lot of commentary by atheists, and it’s not unusual. Now, I can certainly understand where these anti-religionists who call themselves “militant atheists” are coming from, but I no longer identify with them.

                  As for why you’re against religious ideas, please don’t carp at me about it. Again, being an atheist, I get it.

                  When you use them incorrectly, you look ignorant. When you double down after being corrected, you look stupid and willfully ignorant. That’s no way to go through life.

                  I could swear you’ve posted these very words before. Is it some boilerplate you keep on your desktop to copy and paste when you get mad?

                • GCT

                  So, McAtheist, are you also Claude? Because that’s who I was responding to. Either way, the term “militant atheist” is bigoted, atheophobic nonsense that used to tar and demonize atheists. Even those who are anti-religion.

                  And, whether I post the same things over and over is irrelevant. Apparently, there are lots of people out there who wish to persist in repeating these inane tropes and seeking to buttress religious privilege. Until people stop doing that, these words will have to be repeated.

                • GCT

                  Apparently Claude was posting as “McAtheist” and edited after I responded, which is why I’m confused as to who was addressing me.

                  Also, Claude, it occurs to me that if you’ve seen me discuss this before, then you have no excuse for being ignorant and you are willfully being ignorant. If you can’t engage in good faith, then you are nothing more than a bigoted troll.

                • Claude

                  No, McAtheist, I was not posting as you. This often happens with Disqus when many people post at the same time; the right names do snap it at some point.

                  It’s always funny to me to get accused of impersonating somebody who imagines their commentary to be so awesome as to inspire subterfuge. Yes, I was trying to be you, you genius!

                • GCT

                  Well, it’s probably less egregious than being an enabler for bigotry and religious privilege.

                • Claude

                  Oh my, I can see you’re just getting started. Would you like a little pepper with that piety?

                • GCT

                  Piety to what? How many bigoted tropes are you going to trot out? Stop with the religious privilege.

                • Claude

                  Piety to what?

                  Think real hard.

                • GCT

                  Sorry, but I don’t speak atheophobic bigot. You’re going to have to spell out what exactly an atheist is pious to. What tenets of atheism am I pious to?

                  I take it back. You’re not an atheist. You’re a transparent sock puppet. The harms that you and yours do are real and you need to stop. Your sneering religious privilege and your propensity to double down on stereotypes makes you nothing more than a sniveling bigot.

                • Claude

                  You appear to be struggling. Time to resort yet again to your prefabricated stock of sanctimonious wisdom. Don’t delay! Everybody is counting on you. The price of freedom is eternal vigilance.

                • GCT

                  Struggling? Hardly. All you can do is shout out atheophobic, bigoted stereotypes and then act condescendingly and smugly when called out for the religiously privileged bigot you are. Fuck you.

                • Claude

                  Ha ha ha! Truly a gem of the genre.

                  I do enjoy a little schoolyard tussle in the morning to get the blood flowing. Though it is cheap sport.

                • GCT

                  Cheap for me. It’s not like you’ve made any sort of point or argument. A sneeringly smug and condescending bigoted attitude is no substitute for cogent argumentation. Again, fuck off bigot.

            • Randomfactor

              If you capitalize the word “god” when you say what you don’t believe, yr doin it rong.

              • Claude

                If G/god is ultimate reality, shouldn’t it at least get a capital letter like us of the middling-reality variety?

                • C Peterson

                  If G/god is ultimate reality, shouldn’t it at least get a capital letter like us of the middling-reality variety?

                  “God” does get a capital letter when that name is used as a proper noun, as with the Abrahamic god. But in discussing gods in general (including a abstract monotheistic one) it is no more appropriate to capitalize the word than it is to capitalize “person”.

              • rg57

                Unless you mean it that way.

            • C Peterson

              As noted elsewhere, it is not common for atheists to positively assert the non-existence of a god.

              Personally, I don’t recognize the existence of militant atheists, although there are those who call themselves that. An atheist has no assertive beliefs at all, he simply doesn’t believe in any gods. “Militant atheists”, “New Atheists”, and similar expressions are nonsense. Such people should properly be called anti-theists or anti-religionists. There’s absolutely nothing wrong with being militantly opposed to either theism or religion, but it is wrong to conflate that active belief system with atheism.

              • Claude

                Not sure how the whole New Atheist coinage developed, so I remain, um, agnostic on that one. But as you say, it’s miltant atheists who call themselves militant atheists! I am willing to call them whatever they wish to be called, however, so: miltant atheists, what will it be?

                • GCT

                  “New atheism” is just the bigot’s way of claiming that modern atheists are too uppity.

            • http://www.facebook.com/eukota Darrell Ross

              @Claude
              Rejecting the claim “god exists” is not the same as making the claim “god does not exist”. Atheism is the former – rejecting a claim.

              This is the single most annoying theist interpretation of the word “atheist”. Theists say that atheists “believe there is no god”.

              Instead of labeling an anti-theist a militant atheist, perhaps you should call them anti-theist atheists? I am at times anti-theistic. It all depends how many times I have been witnessed to in the past week.

            • McAtheist

              I do not believe in the existence of gods, goddesses, unicorns or sasquatches. However if someone introduces some actual evidence of their existence I am willing to review my stance.

              I don’t know if there is a specific word that defines that position. I don’t really care, and I think most people spend too much time trying to define themselves and others.

              I am not an a-unicornist or unicorn denier, I just haven’t seen any evidence of unicorns. Do I need a label for my lack of belief in unicorns?

              If you don’t believe in any gods, that means to me just that – you don’t believe in any gods! It’s the core belief that I pay attention to, not the ‘label’.

              • C Peterson

                Do I need a label for my lack of belief in unicorns?

                We use labels when we need them. There aren’t enough unicornists to require that label, and therefore no need for aunicornists, either. But there are theists, and there are people who aren’t theists, whose lack of theism has social consequences. Thus, “atheists”.

                I look forward to the day when as many people believe in gods as believe in unicorns, and both “theist” and “atheist” can be relegated to the history books. Until then, though, the terms are useful.

                • McAtheist

                  “We use labels when we need them.”

                  I don’t believe in gods, I personally don’t need a ‘label’ for that position, maybe others do. What’s the amount of people subscribing to a (non) belief that requires them to be labelled?

                  Like I said, I pay attention to the core belief, labels are often misleading and I might prefer a different label for myself than others want me to have.

                  I don’t believe in gods, you can ‘label’ that whatever you want. It is what it is, if I am going to debate something I would prefer to talk about the lack of evidence for gods – not what my label ‘really means’.

                  I think you missed my point, labels are confusing, and, when many people ignore the dictionary definition of a word in favour of their own interpretation, labels become the focus, not the belief.

                  Like this:

                  Bob says he refuses to kill people, therefore he won’t join the armed forces, police force or apply for a job as an executioner.

                  His label should be:

                  a) conscientious objector
                  b) coward
                  c) hates his country
                  d) ‘with the terrorists’
                  d) anti american
                  e) pro-life
                  f) godless commie
                  g) a guy who refuses to kill people

                  h) lazy, (because he won’t take work as a soldier etc.)
                  i) Quaker
                  j) all of the above
                  k) none of the above

          • flyb

            “Indeed, anybody who takes the position that gods don’t exist is as guilty of irrational thought as those who take the opposite position.”

            If this is true, then would this be the case for any human-created fiction?

            • C Peterson

              If this is true, then would this be the case for any human-created fiction?

              I don’t understand. We’re talking about people who make an absolutist assertion about something which can’t be demonstrated absolutely. That is irrational. What does that have to do with fiction?

              • flyb

                I better understand your original statement now. I guess I was trying at the idea of gods as human-created fiction (such as Santa or smurfs), meaning that if we know they are imagined then they must certainly not exist. But then I realized I’m being irrational by thinking “know they are imagined” which was your point. Sometimes it takes me a couple cycles to get things. =)

    • Ryan Jean

      …and by religionists who think “atheist” is a dirty word.
      For example, my parents, who when talking to other Christians, describe how their atheist son is really “just searching and having a test of faith,” not simply an atheist.

      • Mario Strada

        If I had a $1 for every time a Christian told me that I wasn’t an “atheist” but I was an “agnoistic”, by now I’d probably have about… $10

        That’s why I never identify myself as an agnostic. Religionists think that agnosticism is a better position not because they are worried about the fine distinctions we are making today on this board, but simply because it is their belief that atheists do not exist and that we are simply in a “phase” but that some day, through divine intervention we will all believe.

        The other reason is because often this conversation happens following the establishment of mutual trust and even friendship. Then, when asked, I tell them I am an atheist it creates a big booming cognitive dissonance. They simply cannot reconcile their idea of an atheist with the person they are talking to (regardless of the reality of their perception. I am not trying to get the “Nice Guy” award for 2013). So declaring that I am not an atheist but I am instead an agnostic make them feel better. Of course, they don;t realize how profoundly insulting that is.

        A couple of times I retorted with “I think you are more of a Muslim than you are a Christian”. Didn’t go over well.

  • RiddleOfSteel

    I would like to see them instead use the phrase: “Don’t believe in a god?” That is how I always respond when discussing the various proposed gods with their supporters. Capital “G” god sort of implies there is a universal god to believe in or not. Also given how much disagreement there is between various belief factions (and even within the factions) as to the nature of their proposed gods, they are in many cases believing in different gods. I find initially starting conversion with “gods”, avoids getting sucked into discussion of some one true God, and puts the onus more on the believer, to make the case for her/his proposed god – where it should be.

    • http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Invisible_Pink_Unicorn Anna

      I’m also a fan of talking about gods, plural. I don’t like to play into theist assumptions of a single male deity. Bonus points if you can work goddesses in there, too!

      • http://itsmyworldcanthasnotyours.blogspot.com/ wmdkitty

        Monotheism never made sense to me.

        One god, responsible for creating and overseeing everything?

        *looks around* And this crapsack world looks like it was put together by a committee in which everybody got completely fucking stoned, and just barely managed to macgyver their ideas and creations into a working universe.

        Also… umm… Christianity isn’t exactly monotheistic. *counting on fingers* They have *one* God, *two* Christ, and *three* The Holy Spirit (all said to be co-equals), and *four* Satan, who “isn’t a god”, but mysteriously has a whole bunch of godly powers attributed to him.

        So, by my count, that’s four. Four gods, ah ah ah…*cough*

        • http://squeakysoapbox.com/ Rich Wilson

          Not to mention the rest of the angels and the saints.

          • http://itsmyworldcanthasnotyours.blogspot.com/ wmdkitty

            True.

          • http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Invisible_Pink_Unicorn Anna

            And the Virgin Mary! She’s practically a goddess. If they weren’t so wedded to their pseudo-monotheism, they might even call her one.

  • Tainda

    “Agnostics are just Atheists without balls” – Stephen Colbert

    “When it comes to God’s existence, I’m not an atheist and I’m not an agnostic. I’m an acrostic. The whole thing puzzles me” – George Carlin

    :D

    • http://itsmyworldcanthasnotyours.blogspot.com/ wmdkitty

      All hail Saint George.

  • http://squeakysoapbox.com/ Rich Wilson

    Because they equate question marks and ‘God’ in the same sentence with agnosticism.

  • A3Kr0n

    It’s because we all look alike to them.

    • Claude

      Ha ha!

    • Pepe

      You mean like the kind that eats babies? :)

      • http://twitter.com/InMyUnbelief TCC

        We don’t do that anymore.

  • Steve Frank

    Maybe I’ve got it wrong, but I consider myself to be both agnostic and an atheist. One term deals with knowledge, and the other with belief. I’m agnostic because I have no knowledge of a god or gods. I can’t say that they god(s) don’t exist, I don’t know that. I’m an atheist because I have no belief in regards to a god or gods. My agnosticism shapes my atheism. I have no knowledge of god so I don’t believe in god. So… I would say that if you don’t believe in god, you are an atheist, but I don’t think the billboard says that god doesn’t exist.
    Having said that, I have no problem with how people want to indentify themselves. Don’t forget this whole atheist / agnostic / secular / freethinking movement is pretty new to most people. I’m sure that the terminology will change over time, and there is likely to be some consolidation.

    • http://www.flickr.com/photos/chidy/ chicago dyke

      my argument with agnostics is: what is the scientific premise/thesis from which you can begin to explore the question “are there gods?”

      there isn’t one. there is a philosophical one, mythological one, one that comes from looking at the history of the human race and cultural practices, and an examination of what science has proven are man-written ‘holy’ books and texts (that science is archeology).

      but with things like slavery, misogyny, racism… science has pretty much proven those ideas are wrong. a less scientific but nonetheless intellectual pursuit of sociology can make a compelling argument for the idea that “religion is about some elect class of people in a given social group not working and getting free money in exchange for making up rituals and telling stories to entertain the masses on their days off.”

      i just don’t get agnostics. you know there are not polkadotted alien hippos on the far side of the moon. why do you still entertain the idea of a “god” based on some fable from hundreds or thousands of years ago? because a majority believe in one/some? well, a majority of people don’t believe in climate change, or think the lead singer of the doors is still alive.

      i am a proud Atheist, and proud not to be one of the sheeple. even the ones standing on the edges of the flock, who occasionally disobey the shepherd.

      • Marco Conti

        When did Jim Morrison Die??? I didn’t even know he wasn’t feeling good.

  • Randomfactor

    “Atheist” is scarier. Pearls would be clutched.

  • http://www.facebook.com/bill.zeblinsky Bill Zeblinsky

    As a former newspaper headline writer and copy editor who actually worked at this newspaper years ago, I can guess what the most likely explanation for the use of “agnostic” rather than “atheist” is: page design and laziness. Using the longer word actually fills out the entire space above the copy text so there is little white space in the headline strip. The lazy part comes in because no one on the copy desk bothered to look up both words to see if there was a significant distinction, which there clearly is.

  • rg57

    Not believing in God is a non-Christian position.
    Not believing in gods is an atheist position potentially consistent with agnosticism.

    Believing there are no gods in a strong atheist position.

    Most atheists I’ve encountered are also agnostic.

  • dwasifar karalahishipoor

    I think I see why they did it.

    The article text describes the CoR as “an alliance of six atheist and agnostic groups.” If you consider that to the religious, “atheist” is an insult, it makes perfect sense. I’m guessing they chose agnostic as the blanket word to avoid “insulting” the member groups that aren’t atheist.

  • http://www.facebook.com/profile.php?id=1351473675 Matthew Baker

    Must be a slow news day if the top headline is about a scary “godless” billboards.

  • sailor

    Agnostics and atheists are basically the same. Agnosticism was originally used because it was more palatable to say to religious people “The existence of God is scientifically unproven” than to say “there is no God you dummies”. But they did not believe in god any more than modern atheists.

  • pete084

    Never having been a believer, raised as I was by religiously apathetic parents, I thought I was agnostic until told by the Royal Air Force that I can’t have that on my dog tags, I was either part of a recognised religion, or an atheist; the rest is history!

    I really hadn’t given it enough thought up until then, now I’m a full-on atheist who is disgusted by things done in the name of religion, indeed I know see religion as a tool to control people, which is why state sanctioned religion is dangerous.


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