QotD: Atheists and Agnostics

by VorJack

Alright, let’s have this out …

In your opinion, what is the difference between an atheist and an agnostic?

Feel free to throw in any other terms you feel are important, i.e. non-theist, anti-theist, etc.

  • Jon Banes

    An agnostic is an atheist who hasn’t thought about it long enough.

    • yahweh

      This

    • http://agnosticism2010.blogspot.com/ nomad

      An atheist is an overconfident agnostic.

      • Nzo

        An agnostic is someone who uses a silly word in an attempt to not be labeled an atheist.

        Overconfident?

        Thanks, but when the odds that you are right are astronomically high, “overconfidence” isn’t exactly a trait you can possess about that subject.

        I might as well be an overconfident “sunriser” who believes %100 that the sun will rise tomorrow.

        Or an overconfident “Antifaerie” or “Antimythology” or “AntiSanta”.

        It’s true that the chances I’m wrong here are technically non-zero(read: so astronomically low that even using a word defining my belief that that chance is worth thinking about is stupid), but to the degree that anyone can be certain of anything, don’t I have the right… no, the responsibility of making a commitment to that with the %99.999(repeated indefinitely) chance?

        It’s like sitting the fence on what’s bigger, a whale or a tic tac, because even though every piece of observation, measurement, and every ounce of common sense in the world would tell you the whale is bigger, there is still a chance the tic tac is, in reality, bigger.

        • http://agnosticism2010.blogspot.com/ nomad

          As you have probably guessed by now, “overconfident” is my euphemism for arrogant.

          • Janet Greene

            But arrogance is ok if you can back it up, right? :)

            • http://agnosticism2010.blogspot.com/ nomad

              Abso-freakin-lutly!

      • http://brgulker.wordpress.com brgulker

        I like it, nomad :)

    • http://larrytanner.blogspot.com/ Larry Tanner

      I might re-phrase to “an agnostic is an atheist who hasn’t studied the matter enough.”

      I think people can get to agnosticism just by considering the logical incoherence of most peoples’ concept of God, the problem of evil, and/or the hypocrisy of self-appointed religious moral authorities.

      Getting to atheism, at least in my case, required lots of reading across a wide spectrum of subjects from the Bible itself and other holy books to biblical studies and history, and from biology and cosmology to philosophy and ethics.

      • http://agnosticism2010.blogspot.com/ nomad

        Or maybe he just came to a different conclusion.

        • http://larrytanner.blogspot.com/ Larry Tanner

          Maybe s/he did, but I’ll admit to having trouble seeing how someone could study the matter, account for bias, and not conclude atheism. It’s becoming ever more irrational to insist agnosticism as it has become so for insisting theism.

          • http://agnosticism2010.blogspot.com/ nomad

            That’s the point. People accessing the same material as you are not obliged to come to the same conclusion.

          • http://agnosticism2010.blogspot.com/ nomad

            My point is that this image of the agnostic as an unfinished insufficiently educated atheist is not only erroneous but arrogant.

            • Sunny Day

              Hey, I resemble that!

            • http://agnosticism2010.blogspot.com/ nomad

              lol!

            • Nzo

              Committing the same logical fallacies as fundies and pretending that an atheist is arrogant for pointing that out is arrogant.

            • http://agnosticism2010.blogspot.com/ nomad

              Touche.

          • http://brgulker.wordpress.com brgulker

            Maybe s/he did, but I’ll admit to having trouble seeing how someone could study the matter, account for bias, and not conclude atheism.

            Do you think this statement has any bias in it?

  • Tim

    Agnostics are usually atheists who don’t want to “hurt” their loved ones by announcing their deconversion. They allow the believers in their lives the hope of praying them back into delusion mainly because they are afraid to be demonized by their peers. As the tide of deconversion rolls in, with more atheists coming forward, the fear of peer reactions will lessen so agnostics will reveal the truth about themselves.

    • James

      Exactly.

      Atheist – Someone who does not believe in god.
      Agnostic – Someone who does not believe in god… and doesn’t want to be labeled an atheist.

      • LRA

        Ok- having read the comments so far, I just have to step in. I consider myself an agnostic. I am not an “incomplete atheist” nor do I have a problem telling religious people to stfu with their stupid drivel. I am an agnostic for this reason:

        a-gnosis: without knowledge
        a-theist: without god

        I cannot say with any certainty that there is no god. Therefore, I am agnostic. Period. Any self proclaimed atheist who wants to call me a p***y for that can have a SHOUT OFF with me RIGHT HERE and RIGHT NOW GODDAMMIT!!!!!

        (heh heh heh) :P

        • Nzo

          a-theist: without god

          How does this word not describe you?

          • LRA

            Because there might be a god. I don’t know. Admittedly that god is absent and probably shitty, but nonetheless, might still be there. I don’t know. So, I’m a-gnostic.

            • Zinn

              If you think there “might” be a God then aren’t you, at least currently, “without god”? Until you are with god you are without him.

            • LRA

              My position is epistemological. Can you say the same?

            • Nzo

              What are the odds of a god existing in your opinion?

            • LRA

              I have no way to calculate the odds. If I did, then I could have some way of knowing. In simplest terms, agnosticism is about knowledge while atheism is about belief. For me, I cannot come to a strongly held belief without some kind of knowledge. Since I have no knowledge one way or the other, I remain agnostic. And since I have no way to prove/disprove the existence of some unmoved mover/ god of the philosophers/ creator in general, I cannot commit to theism or atheism.

              Now, if you say Santa and Biblegod/Yahweh are both human inventions and don’t exist, I can get on board with that.

            • Nzo

              My issue with the idea of an agnostic platform is that there’s an infinite number of things that might exist with the same chance of existing as a god. Why is it that it is only with the idea of god(s) that people choose to say, “I don’t know that a god exists, and i know know that one doesn’t, so I label myself as such”.

              They don’t say it about anything else that can be imagined. No one says “I don’t know that Santa Clause exists, and I know know that he doesn’t” even though there’s the same possibility that a Santa Clause, just as you imagine, exists as there is that a god exists.

              Because the agnostic platform cannot logically reconcile giving gods a special place in the realm of imaginary, then it must apply to all things imagined.

              All things perceived lie under the realm of things imagined… so technically everything has a non-zero possibility.

              If everything has a non-zero possibility, one can never truly be incorrect about any claim, no matter how outrageous; dismissing one would break from the agnostic logic.

              I don’t believe anyone here has taken the logic to even the second logical step of “all things imagined”.

              So I’d say that instead of an “incomplete atheist”, I’d say you’re an incomplete agnostic.

            • Nzo

              I just noticed below that you’re philosophically agnostic while in reality atheist, and I’m not really sure what I think of that.

              A philosophically agnostic atheist might just be the key to the whole thing for me…

              I couldn’t figure out how you weren’t an atheist when you didn’t believe in a god, but you were agnostic. I wound up working with the idea that you, and the other agnostics, considered yourself, in reality, an agnostic who didn’t believe in a god.

              I came across many problems with that idea, and wound up with the conclusion in the post above this one.

              I think, on some level, we all have to be philosophically agnostic, (all things are technically possible, no matter how improbable.) If you don’t believe in a god, in reality you’re an atheist.

              I suppose my problem now would come in at the point where I have to ask, why is it significant to point out that you believe all things are possible, no matter how improbable, by mentioning that you’re philosophically agnostic? Is the mention of that merely for the benefit of those uncomfortable with atheists?

              For all intents and purposes, you’re atheist. Calling yourself an atheist is not a declaration of having a non-agnostic philosophy, so the addition of that (probably) universal characteristic of a personal philosophy is unneeded. Something along the lines of, “I’m a philosophically vegan agnostic pacifistic atheist”.

              Grr, then there’s the already-present “agnostic theist”.

              I’m done for now. I can’t brain anymore. Thanks to everyone who responded here, I’ll be back tomorrow to tackle any new issues and, if it hasn’t been tackled for me, the “agnostic theist”.

            • LRA

              Let me refer you to the SEP on this matter:

              http://plato.stanford.edu/entries/atheism-agnosticism/

            • Zinn

              Hmmmm…well of the SEP says it is so! :-)

              From the SEP- “‘Atheism’ means the negation of theism, the denial of the existence of God.” Perhaps this is just breaking down into semantics but then if I am “apolitical”, does this mean I deny the existence of politics? I think it was Daniel himself that once posted (maybe on Twitter) – Atheism is a religion like OFF is a TV channel. I don’t *deny* god exists, I can’t *prove* he doesn’t, I just don’t *believe* he does and that the chances that he does are near zero. So according to the SEP you are just not near zero or one and are somewhere in the middle?

            • LRA

              I suppose I’m in the middle, but really I feel like I’m off the chart altogether. When I say I don’t know, I honestly don’t know. In a sense, I am skeptical of both positions:

              God exists. Really? Then where is it and why doesn’t it communicate with me? I would happily worship a good and loving god, but god has no time for me I guess. That sucks. A god like that isn’t worth worshipping.

              God does not exist. But what about the “unmoved mover”? How did matter and energy come to be (or has it always existed?) Why is there something rather than nothing? Why did our universe bang into existence? What happened before the big bang? (I realize that modern physics may one day answer these questions.) Is there really no purpose for life, ultimately?

              So, you see. I just can’t pick a side. I just don’t know.

            • Nzo

              Are you able to pick a side on anything that has to do with knowing or not knowing? Why are you able to pick that side?

              It seems to me that if you leave room for infinitesimally small chances of supernatural answers, you’d have to leave room for that in every case of knowing or not knowing.

              Sorry, I’m trying to understand how one can stand in the “I don’t know” category here. Isn’t the absolute lack of evidence of anything supernatural happening anywhere an indication that there isn’t, and never was, any supernatural phenomena? If, with that information, we can’t say “It’s true that there is no such thing as the supernatural” then can we truly make any claim about anything being %0 or %100 correct?

              What happens when these questions are explained scientifically? The questions that these answers leave behind become the justification for leaving space for something supernatural?

              And what’s wrong with there being no purpose for life? What’s wrong with being brought into existence, evolving, and then dying off?

              If there is a purpose, wouldn’t the first hurdle towards our ultimate goal have to be space travel and colonization to preserve our species before something cataclysmic happens and destroys all life on earth? Maybe we accomplish this in time, maybe not, but isn’t that a good enough purpose?

            • http://agnosticism2010.blogspot.com/ nomad

              It is a misconception to think of agnostics as someone who can’t make up his /her mind. Some are. Some aren’t. The confusion comes in thinking that agnosticism and atheism are two points on a single spectrum. Agnosticism has to do with what can be known; atheism with belief, as pointed out by others. I probably attribute same degree of probability to the existence of God as many who call themselves atheists. I am an atheist, for all practical purposes. But really what I am is an antitheist. But the term carries a certain connotation I reject. Atheists have won the debate with theists, hands down, imo. But their victory is only that: one over religion. They haven’t disproved the supernatural. They have only proved that religion is a false representation of it. Also I don’t agree with the unstated precept that the supernatural is predicated on the existence of God.

  • http://wondergoon.wordpress.com WonderGoon

    My understanding is an atheist is someone who does not believe in any higher power/god/goddess/whatever and an agnostic is someone who does believe in some form of higher power/god/goddess/whatever but doesn’t know what to call him/her/it (or can’t relate to it enough to know it by a name).

    *shrugs* I could be wrong, though.

    • Francesc

      I thought that was a deist(?)

      • http://wondergoon.wordpress.com WonderGoon

        You’re probably right. *shrug*

        • http://www.dctouristsandlocals.wordpress.com DCtouristsANDlocals

          Yes, you described a deist. They believe in a “god” but don’t generally label which one, or perhaps believe that they are all one in the same.

          • http://karly@karlylarson.com Karly

            I always thought that a deist was one who believed in a supreme being who created the world, but then stopped interfering? But I guess that could be similar to what WonderGoon wrote.

  • CorticalWarhead

    Two largely overlapping categories that vary primarily in certainty and the degree to which believers are upset at them for their disbelief?

  • Francesc

    An atheist, a theist and an agnostic all walk into a bar.
    http://cectic.com/039.html

    Dad, why is the sky blue?
    http://cectic.com/005.html

  • http://www.asdf-matt.blogspot.com Matt M

    I think the difference is largely a matter of emphasis:

    Atheists put the emphasis on the fact that the odds of God existing, while not exactly zero, are extremely low.

    Agnostics put the emphasis on the fact that the odds of God existing, while extremely low, are not exactly zero.

    • Keith Allison

      Works for me!

    • http://sistermoon65.livejournal.com Lisa S

      This works for me too. Puts me in the atheist category…

    • http://arkonbey.blogspot.com arkonbey

      That’s a fantastic definition. Did you compose it yourself? I’m going to have to spread it around.

      I’ll put myself in the agnostic camp. While there is no evidence to suggest the existence of gods, there is no definitive proof of lack of existence.

      My own personal philosophy is: According to all the evidence there are only two conclusions to be drawn about the existence of gods: either they don’t exist at all, or they are all complete bastards that don’t deserve worship.

      • http://www.asdf-matt.blogspot.com Matt M

        “Did you compose it yourself?”

        It came to me remarkably easily – which means I’ve probably nicked it from somewhere.

    • charlene

      This is by far the most concise definition i’ve ever heard!

  • RobG

    The way I see it, the atheist is making a claim about the existence of gods — i.e., “There are no gods.” The agnostic is making a claim about the ability to know about gods — i.e., “You cannot know whether gods exist or not.” I think the latter tends to be seen as a compromise position because you can follow it with either “I believe gods exist” or “I don’t believe gods exist” without contradicting yourself, as long as you are willing to admit you have no basis for either belief.

    • Kodie

      The atheist will have eliminated as much probability of there being a god as is possible – that’s not “no basis.”

      Alternately, a person may consider themselves an atheist if they allow themselves a certain amount of hedonism or immoral behavior frowned upon by the religion that later sucks them in, who believes they were lost but now are found, so to speak, but they were never really an atheist. Because they think that is what an atheist is, they think that we are all similarly debauched lost little lambs in need of salvation. I don’t know a better word to describe it, though, since they were demonstrably ignoring the directions they later found very constructive, and so, the guy who allegedly made them. I can’t say they did believe in god or did not believe in god (yes, atheism), but it seems more like set aside the whole question whether there is or isn’t, or belonged to a more liberal church that they later considered atheistic compared to the conservative church they joined and consider the path.

      The person who labels themselves agnostic will generally concede there is no way to know for sure and that agnosticism, full stop, is the only valid position; or they will concede the odds seem about 50/50 to them and each side makes valid arguments and don’t really explore the validity of either side; or they will be unable to admit to themselves or to others that they are actually an atheist because their church always taught them very nasty and untrue things about atheists; or they believe atheism is homogeneous brand of outspoken hot-air jerks and they use agnosticism as some sort of misnomer to be an atheist while distancing themselves from the trouble-makers; or agnostics are mostly atheists with some shred of experience they attribute to a supernatural cause they can’t eliminate completely; or agnostics are everyone since there really is no way to know for sure, no way to prove a negative.

      Atheists can admit agnosticism to some degree (to me, that’s an infinitesimal degree), while theists rarely seem to. If they admit there is no way to know for sure, then they might as well deny there’s a god. While I’m sure they have tests to their faith now and again, the answer usually is ‘there is a god, I will wait for him to let me know what to do next,’ Footprints kind of stuff. If someone who believes in god waits long enough, they’ll see “signs” that god cares and wants them to be ok and wants them to know he is there, I mean, if that’s all they do is wait desperately. They think god has left them, I don’t know what triggers the idea that wait a second, god was never really there in the first place, if that’s the direction they end up heading. Obviously that happens, but I don’t think it’s common. Otherwise, they pray and pray until he comes back; there’s no maybe he is and maybe again, he is not, because they fear realizing that he’s not there in case he is and then he’ll never come back.

  • Iztok

    (A)Theism deals with (non)belief in deity while (A)gnosticism deals with (non)knowledge about deity.

    Atheists doesn’t believe in a deity.
    Theist believes in a deity.

    Gnostic knows deity exists (or doesn’t exist).
    Agnostic doesn’t know if deity exists (or doesn’t exist).

    So one can easily be agnostic atheist (doesn’t know if it exists or doesn’t exist and doesn’t believe) or gnostic atheist (claims that knows it doesn’t exist and doesn’t believe). Also gnostic theist would know it exists and believes it exists. On the other hand agnostic theist is not sure if exists or not but believes it exists.

    • George

      Well, if you want to go by what the words actually mean, and not just what people take them to mean, then yes.

      Otherwise, we can just continue to try forcing our own definitions on the terms.

      • Elemenope

        That’s what the game of language is all about.

    • James

      I thought Gnostic was more along the lines of knowing about deities or spiritual things. So it’s more about knowing and understanding the concepts. In this sense all agnostics must be atheists as you can not believe in something that you know nothing about.

    • http://www.sawilhelm.com sawilhelm

      This is the definition that I go by, and I first heard it from Penn Jillette on “Penn Says.”

    • Einargs

      Your point about agnostics and atheists is strange. You seem to suggest that agnosticism and atheism are terms that quantify positions on different subjects; this is not true. At face value, this makes sense; this is because one needs to consider the definition of believe in order to understand this clearly.
      1. That Atheists can be agnostic; (In fact I’m pretty sure most are), and
      2. that all Agnostics are atheists.

      The Definitions: (according to the Merriam Webster dictionary)
      Atheism:
      1: archaic : ungodliness, wickedness
      2.
      a : a disbelief in the existence of deity
      b : the doctrine that there is no deity

      Agnosticism:
      1: a person who holds the view that any ultimate reality (as God) is unknown and probably unknowable; broadly : one who is not committed to believing in either the existence or the nonexistence of God or a god
      2: a person who is unwilling to commit to an opinion about something

      Believe:
      intransitive verb
      1
      a : to have a firm religious faith
      b : to accept something as true, genuine, or real
      2: to have a firm conviction as to the goodness, efficacy, or ability of something
      3: to hold an opinion : think
      NOTE: I cut out the transitive verb part

      My Reasoning:
      In the case of believe I’m going to use the 3rd definition, as it is the one that the Bible supports “We live by faith, not by sight.” 2 Corinthians 5:7, sight meaning proof.* ** Thus, the (2:a) definition of (2:a) atheism is NOT thinking there is a god, which is NOT the same thing as thinking that there is NO god, where as the (2:b) definition is being CERTAIN that there is no god. Or, in other words, (2:b) atheism is strong atheism and (2:a) atheism is weak atheism. Weak atheism which is not knowing if there is or isn’t a god is the same thing as agnosticism.

      My Conclusion:
      Agnosticism is a subset of atheism, otherwise known as weak atheism. Therefore, all agnostics are atheists, but not all atheists are agnostics. Like rectangles and squares.

      Notes:
      1. When you find the holes in my logic that I’m sure there are, please comment with them :)
      2. sorry for the formatting, I’m incredibly sick and its 10:15.
      * (sorry, I live in the U.S. so Christianity is most familiar)
      **(more stuff about this at http://www.youmustbesaved.com/preview_019.htm)

  • http://cwagner.wordpress.com Christoph Wagner

    Well, seems I’m an agnostic as I think it would be possible for an entity to exist that might be called god. For example an entity could exist that just for fun “ignited” the Big Bang. And from that point on forward never ever had anything to do with the universe it helped create.

    Depending on your definition of god I might be atheistic though^^

    • Kodie

      While that remains possible, and something I have considered before, I determined it improbable and it really didn’t come to me right away, I guess I put it aside for a few years. But: what if there were a god, and that’s all he came to do, why would we require that for an explanation (if discoverable), and what would a god like that be good for? Why would that kind of god even exist? If god is god, then it makes no sense for god to exist, you know what I’m saying?

      • http://cwagner.wordpress.com Christoph Wagner

        Who said something about requiring that for an explanation?
        I just say that there is the slight, though improbable, chance that such a being might exist:)
        Why would he exist? Why shouldn’t he. Perhaps he is dead. Perhaps not. We’ll probably never know:)
        But I think the existence of such a “deity” is more probable than the fact that we live in a Matrix-like environment and nothing we see is actually real. Which might be a fact as well:D

        • Kodie

          I tend to think a god-like entity will continue to be god-like. Perhaps he is god-like somewhere else. I believe mostly that the deity is invented and then placed here or there, doing whatever, making whatever, being slightly possible but mostly improbable and having great powers and knowledge. That seems we believe (by we, I mean humans who do) what we want to believe, then there’s no reason to believe in it after all. Just because we can make stuff up is no reason to suppose then it’s true, or something just like it, or something we don’t know, but it’s out there, maybe. What’s it do, what’s it for? If it’s so unknowable as to lack presence, and yet, so many of earth insist it knows its properties in great detail, and yet not agree, I am going to have to say it’s all made up, there is no truth to it, only wishing and storytelling.

          I did also take a philosophy class in my first semester at college and so the professor sounded pretty high, he said, maybe you are a mind and everything else is your invention and imagination and not real at all. Keanu-Reeves-WHOA for 18-year-old me. Post-Bill and Ted, pre-Matrix. I reasoned my way out yet again – how is it that someone can tell me something I don’t know and can’t understand when they tell me? How is it that I can’t remember the answers to a history exam? Where would I possibly have the energy to invent Chinese or Greek or Arabic, etc., and people walk around reading and speaking and understanding each other but I can’t understand it? Why would I invent my life the way it is instead of the way I want it to be? A dream where everything, the vast science and math of it all, that I don’t understand can indeed seem to pattern my dreams. How could I make this all up but not be able to write a novel about it, or stay awake to read a book about it? It makes so little sense. Could this be set in front of me and my memories implanted and history never happened, it is all just brand new library books that look decades old or older, and documentaries and tv shows I hate that everyone else seems to be watching. Vastness filled with myriad details. The supposition that this could be anything other than what it appears to me and everyone is ridiculous. Why could it be that way, what could possibly be the purpose in building it inefficiently but perfectly balanced and consistent for my pain and amusement alone? I can not consider that possibility remotely probable, because it’s profoundly stupid.

  • http://jenxdigital.blogspot.com/ Jeni

    From my point of view (I consider myself Agnostic), atheists do not believe in any sort of higher power, while agnostics cede that there may very well be a higher power, but that we just don’t know. The fact is, I doubt any of us will every know, and the most inane argument among all humans on the planet is the religious argument. Between believers damning the non-believers, the non-believers mocking the believers, and both sides insisting that the questioners are really non-believers is repetitive, banal, and most times just someone slinging talking points at the “other side”.
    As someone who came to their own personal conclusion that there very well might be some sort of creator type or even a God, but that the idea of God/creator isn’t at all important to living life in any fashion (the existence of a God neither negates nor proves creation, life, morals, or anything else, in my mind), I find it insulting when someone insists that I’m an Atheist. Not that being an atheist is a bad thing, mind you, but, *I* get to decide whether or not I’m an Atheist. You don’t.
    ***This isn’t aimed at the writers of this blog, but the greater idea that anyone knows what I think at any given moment. I’ve lost friends who would go out of their way to insist their beliefs or non-beliefs upon me, and, to be honest, what I call “Fundie Atheists” are just as bad as Fundie Christians. They both yell “YOU’RE WRONG” at the same volume, and insist that you “see the light”.

    • Francesc

      “what I call “Fundie Atheists” are just as bad as Fundie Christians”
      Yeah, I know very well those fundie atheists who burn witches and try to avoid other people having rights.
      Or those others who try to change reality when it doesn’t fits with their never changing theories.
      And what about those Atheists who try to blame a fictional character for their actions?
      \sarcasm off

      By the way, I’m agnostic about the existence of little green men who live at the end of the rainbow with a pot of gold.

      • Kodie

        I believe in those little green men – they put those marshmallows in the sugar kibble cereal. They used to be a lot better, they would add a new marshmallow shape every couple years or so, making the content of the cereal possibly up to 80 or 90% marshmallows, until, several years ago, they took down the ratio of marshmallows to nasty kibble and reassigned the colors to the different shapes of marshmallows so they were less fun and harder to remember. I believe in those green men who live at the end of the rainbow but I don’t like them anymore.

  • Jon

    I don’t understand why people find this so confusing and why so many need to make up stuff like “atheists believe there is no god, agnostics haven’t made their mind up”. The OED makes it clear what the two terms mean.

    An atheist is someone who does not believe the theist claims for god(s). They may or may not believe there is no god, they may or may not have a position on all possible theist claims. Even if you can’t make your mind up you still either believe or don’t, if you don’t you’re an atheist, if you do you’re a theist.

    An agnostic is someone who holds the philosophical position that it is currently or is inherently impossible to know anything about the nature of any god(s). It is absolutely not a word to describe someone who hasn’t made their mind up or is undecided or needs more time to think about it or is wavering between Jesus and Ganesh etc. It would be very, very unusual for someone to be a pure agnostic as they will still either believe or not. Hence it is more normal to find an agnostic atheist or and agnostic theist than someone who is simply agnostic.

    Cheers,
    Jon.

    • Kodie

      I’ve known at least one person who was an agnostic, period. I know it’s anecdotal, but I think a lot of people don’t actually consider the question very deeply, but go so far to hold out their pedantry that agnosticism on the subject is the only rational decision. It’s impossible to know, atheism and theism are both too certain to some people and there’s no other factors to consider, like which one seems more likely. It’s possible they felt one over the other and didn’t say to me, or rationalized their leaning away because of their pre-determined belief that agnosticism is the only fair and square.

      I’ve also known people who are mostly atheists (for all intents and purposes), but care about things like horoscopes, or pantheism, or pagan multi-god systems, some overall maybe there is, it sure feels like it sometimes, fleeting, when it’s convenient, but not a constant devotion to this belief; they could also deny it if they were momentarily inclined to do so. An agnostic can be someone who doesn’t fit in a religious organization, who switches their thoughts between god exists and god doesn’t exist, who really is undecided and not too deep a thinker, their concentration on the subject doesn’t last long enough to explore whether to believe or not.

      I would consider there is a fair population who really never thinks about the question too deeply. I think a lot of them assume there is a god, though he doesn’t seem to have much of an effect down here. He’s just there because he’s there. It’s what they’re taught, they just aren’t religious, but that’s definitely not agnosticism.

      I went for a long time not drawing questions and answers out of myself over it, yet considered myself an atheist all along. I have listened to a lot of religious arguments (not strenuous ones) that set off a series of questions and awakened me to really look into what I believe, think of possible forms god might take, address in what ways that’s improbable, so I became a born-again atheist or something. I’m not really sure if I could be an atheist before if I still sort of was scared of ghosts and dabbled in fortune-telling devices, but I never believed in god, even if I did give him a chance to exist as much as possible before I felt that I confirmed my atheism, that I had explored it reasonably.

    • Revyloution

      Nailed it Jon. That’s exactly how I feel.

      Unfortunately, the word atheism contains a great deal of baggage. When a theist hears it, they typically see it as some sort of challenge or offence. I know atheists who will use the title agnostic in hopes of avoiding confrontation, including me. Both words are accurate to describe how I think about gods in general. I also call myself a Humanist, a Pearlist, and an Empirical Rationalist depending on the situation. The last 3 are positive affirmations, as they refer to what I do believe, not just what I reject. In the end, isn’t that more important?

      • yahweh

        I agree Revyloution. However, remember that no matter what you call yourself, to the fundie, you are still a heathen, lost and on your way to hell ;-)

    • Nzo

      An agnostic is someone who holds the philosophical position that it is currently or is inherently impossible to know anything about the nature of any god(s).

      Yet the agnostic, from that platform, probably doesn’t hold the logical philosophical position that it is currently or is inherently impossible to know anything about the nature of any imagined being.

      This, of course, could be logically applied to anything imagined.

      Unless for some reason god(s) deserve some kind of special treatment in the realm of things imagined.

  • DDM

    From what I’ve seen, the only difference between an atheist and an agnostic is that agnostics don’t want to be associated with atheists.

  • beyonddeities

    That TheoreticalBullshit guy explained it very well–technically atheist is an umbrella term that agnostic falls under, but it largely has to do with not only emphasis but whether you’re positive or negative, anti-theist or more so passive. Idk about metaphysical naturalism though; that stance could apply to both?

  • Chuchi

    Agnostics lack the courage to take the next logical step into atheism. Full blown atheism is hard for some people to accept. They need to hold on to that last thread of possibility, just in case.

    • nazani14

      You’ve accurately described the people I know who label themselves agnostic. It’s like they have a nostalgia for the sense of protection or mystery they knew as children. Some just don’t want to deal with the fact that a person they loved is only a memory.

      • yahweh

        “Some just don’t want to deal with the fact that a person they loved is only a memory.”

        Yet Santa Claus is dismissed easily by age 10. :-)

        • Kodie

          I was reading something about the Easter Bunny last month, where a mother wrote a company (Walgreens, I think) that their commercial spilled the beans on the Easter Bunny isn’t real because kids were speaking on what should go in their Easter baskets. A lot of follow-ups describe to the mother who wrote in that the commercial (a) clearly portrayed someone dressed as a bunny putting together an Easter basket, thus spilling no beans, and (b) what makes kids so stupid to go in a store like Walgreens and see all their Easter stuff, or any store at Christmas and not put the puzzle together that toys and candy come from the store and that Santa and the Easter Bunny are their parents? The ones that really shouldn’t have surprised me but did were the religious ones who don’t have Santas or Easter Bunnies in their households. Why? Not because it’s really about Jesus, but because myths like Santa and the Easter Bunny might make them think Jesus isn’t real either, and Jesus is real.

          Also, 10 is a little late to still believe in Santa Claus. Maybe just conservatively old, but I think any 10 year old who plays along either has no pals at school who’ve told them or more likely doesn’t want to disappoint their parents that they found out, maybe they don’t think they’ll get as much loot, or they can see how much it means to the parents to play innocent.

          • Revyloution

            As a fun social experiment, we never told our daughter the mythical creatures of childhood were real. From day 1, Santa, the Tooth Fairy (actually, we call it a tooth ogre), the Easter Bunny, etc, have all been treated as window dressing for the holiday.

            What was really interesting was her reaction. Before she became social, she would play along but obviously never expected a real live creature to be performing the holiday duties. Once she began socializing with other kids she began a game of pretend at holidays. When I would ask her a question like “What should Santa get for mom this year?” She would chastise me and say that she was pretending Santa was real and expected me to play along. As she gets older she is really interested in preserving the belief in these creatures in her younger cousins. Watching her develop through these years has been really interesting.

            • Francesc

              Definitely, the only point in having descendence is to experiment with them
              http://xkcd.com/531/

            • Revyloution

              Haha, I printed out that XKCD for my kid. She’s got it on her wall.

    • Andrew

      Since you can not prove there is no god, why is atheism the next logical step?

      • Francesc

        Then as you can’t deny the existence of Santa you should be agnostic towards him too. What about Jack Frost, have you proven that he doesn’t exist?

        • Andrew

          The idea of comparing Jack Frost and a creator are not equivalent. In addition you have also failed to answer the question but posed another in response. You’re current gantry appears to be equivalent to that of the standard religious believer. I’m asking for something better than that. If the step is logical, then explain it; possibly using logic.

          • Nzo

            Jack Frost and a creator are not equivalent

            If we’re speaking of proofs, please tell me what measurable difference these two have. If there are no measurable differences, are they different? Is there any proof that the chances of either existing are better than the other?

            The odds that you can give me a measurable difference are astronomically low.

            In addition you have also failed to answer the question but posed another in response.

            Answering a question with another is common in conversation. How exactly was his comment not an answer? He made a counterpoint, and it is valid. Your response that he didn’t answer you is actually quite rude.

            Since you can not prove there is no god, why is atheism the next logical step?

            and

            I’m asking for something better than that. If the step is logical, then explain it; possibly using logic.

            Let’s use an example.

            I do not have a baseball in my hand, but I tell you I do have a baseball in my hand.

            You see my hands, and there is no baseball. You can measure the weight, take pictures, videos, and ask everyone around if there is a baseball in my hand.

            No measurement shows a baseball. No eyewitness tells you they see a baseball…

            Clearly, there is no baseball in my hand. LOGICALLY, you would conclude that I do not have a baseball in my hand, but illogically you refuse to commit to the idea that there is no baseball in my hand because I tell you there is one, and technically there is a non-zero chance that I have a baseball in my hand.

            So, you declare yourself an “agballstic” in response to that non-zero chance and make fun of those who are “atheballistic”. Makes sense, right?

            Not really. Whatever mental processes you used to get to your conclusion, you used ZERO logic, though your comments suggest that you used plenty of it. I must conclude that you do not know what “logic” means.

            It also appears that the comment you meant to be snide and uncouth equating Fransesc’s comment to that of a religious believer makes no sense. (Define “gantry”)

            Now go sit in the corner and think about what you’ve done, jack*ss

            • Andrew

              The difference is that the folk lore in relation to Jack Frost can and has been reasonably explained by scientific evidence. And although numerous religious beliefs have been shown to be incorrect due to scientific evidence, this has little to do with disproving a deity so much as disproving particular religious beliefs. If you can show scientific evidence for the origin of all energy and/or matter in the universe then perhaps you’ll have effectively found a scientific basis for refuting most basis for the concept of a god.

              A counterpoint is not necessarily and answer, but in this case is an argument. In this case it didn’t answer anything but tried to exchange the burden of proof onto myself. Let be clear though, I didn’t ask the person to prove the non-existence of god. I said, if you can’t prove it, then why does the logic follow? Your example is flawed on numerous levels, but I don’t want to go back and forth with examples as there are always problems with them. Lets instead talk straight facts and logic without examples. Can you explain with logic in regards to existence, why there can not be a god? I’ll help by stating some facts we can probably agree on and you can elaborate and explain why logic would dictate the non-existence of god.

              * the existence of god can not be proven
              * the existence of god can not be disproven
              * no god has been shown to actively influence the world as we know it
              * – for you to continue -

              Calling someone rude while you’re calling people names is a perfect example of the sardonic attitude that has been portrayed on atheists in the mainstream media. It’s sad to see you (or any atheist) fall into this stereotype.

              Feel free to look up “gantry” in a dictionary.

            • Nox

              “Since you can not prove there is no god, why is atheism the next logical step?”

              Because the only reason most people have for believing there is a god, is because they have been taught to believe in a specific god. For those who find out that their specific god doesn’t exist, there is usually not a reason to continue believing in some god. Some people do continue a vague belief in a deity. Those are the ones who usually refer to themselves as agnostic (not technically what the word means). To understand why atheism is a logical step you have to first understand that atheism is not the certain belief that there is no god. It is, as others have pointed out, “lack of belief in a deity”. Almost 0% of atheists would say there’s a 0% chance of god. The atheist stance (at least my atheist stance) is more like, “until god actually shows himself to exist, I’m not going to act as though he exists”. As an atheist (not agnostic in any practical sense) I am perfectly happy to concede that some god may exist. I would even say that the deist concept of god (see Thomas Paine, Albert Einstein) has well above a 1% chance of existing. But to live or think differently in any way because of an entity that might exist is irrational. Hence atheism.

            • Nzo

              Thank you nox, well said.

              Andrew, allow me to enlighten you…

              Main Entry: gan·try
              Pronunciation: \ˈgan-trē\
              Function: noun
              Inflected Form(s): plural gantries
              Etymology: Middle English ganter, gauntree, from Anglo-French *ganter, from Old French dial. (Artois) gantier, from Latin cantherius horse of poor quality, rafter, trellis
              Date: 15th century

              1 : a frame for supporting barrels
              2 : a frame structure raised on side supports so as to span over or around something: as a : a platform made to carry a traveling crane and supported by towers or side frames running on parallel tracks; also : a movable structure with platforms at different levels used for erecting and servicing rockets before launching b : a structure spanning several railroad tracks and displaying signals for each

              gan·try
                 /ˈgæntri/ Show Spelled[gan-tree] Show IPA
              –noun,plural-tries.
              1.
              a framework spanning a railroad track or tracks for displaying signals.
              2.
              any of various spanning frameworks, as a bridgelike portion of certain cranes.
              3.
              Rocketry. a frame consisting of scaffolds on various levels used to erect vertically launched rockets and spacecraft.
              4.
              a framelike stand for supporting a barrel or cask.

              You’re not sounding clever to me…

              If you can show scientific evidence for the origin of all energy and/or matter in the universe then perhaps you’ll have effectively found a scientific basis for refuting most basis for the concept of a god.

              Oh, riiiight… now that we’ve explained lightning and disease and gravity and that the earth is round, now we have to have evidence for the origin of ALL energy to make a scientific basis for refuting the concept of a god. Because if everything in the history of ever has been shown to have a natural, predictable, measurable explanation, surely there’s SOMETHING that we can’t explain… we’ll just say “there’s a good chance goddidit”.

              How is this not like a theist?

              And yeah, I have an extreme hatred of stupidity. The fact that you don’t see how you’re the one making the logical fallacies here is just amazing to me.

            • Francesc

              Yes, I would prefer too to fail into the mainstream image of a promiscual atheist, but I’m doing what I can.

              Now let’s look at the differences between god and Jack Frost. You said:
              “The difference is that the folk lore in relation to Jack Frost can and has been reasonably explained by scientific evidence”
              And so does the folklore about any god so far, of course.

              Let’s take Yahvé, you said “If you can show scientific evidence for the origin of all energy and/or matter in the universe then perhaps” as implying that the creation of universe is one of the things folklore apply to the hand of god. Well, it doesn’t apply to the original concept of god.

              That’s because the concept of universe seems to be more recent than myth’s creation. In the bible, Yahvé created the earth and separated the waters (yeah, the universe is full of water, not very dispersed hidrogen) from the earth with a vault. He created the light and then the sun. So… the claim is that he created the “solar system” in an existing universe, wich we know is false.

              If we take a look at other myths, we will find something similar. Our ancestors didn’t have a concept of void, they didn’t need a god to create the white paper to draw in, only the ink.

              Then we can dismiss every existing religion as well as we can dismiss Jack Frost.

              But you have what seems a good point: the fact that any proposed god being false doesn’t mean that there is not a god in general. That’s the way deists were born.

              But that god has a particularity: you don’t claim anything about him, it is really a default explanation to anything we doesn’t understand. It is what is outside the boundaries of science and, as those boundaries grown, this “god” flees away. This god is the equivalent to “I don’t know” so he doesn’t mean anything to science, he is not a valid answer for any possible question.

              The god you are proposing is irrelevant.

  • kjpweb

    For me the terminology is pretty much irrelevant. I think there should be a new term for those vehemently opposed to organized religion and church – them being the root of all “evil”, namely fundamentalism and extremism. The definition for an Agnostic “the disbelief in any claims of ultimate knowledge” pretty much hits closest to home for me, since it simply states: “Dude – I don’t know!”, whereas in the Atheist corner some people can be found, that are equally as obnoxious as their deist counterparts.

    • Revyloution

      Christopher Hitchens uses the phrase antitheist to describe someone who is vehemently against religion. I kinda like the term, very precise.

      • http://agnosticism2010.blogspot.com/ nomad

        Must have posted in the wrong place. Anyway. Let’s try again:

        Yep. The issue for me is not so much “God”, though that remains a big issue. It’s religion.

    • Nzo

      Does the easter bunny exist?

      “Dude, I don’t know!”

      Makes just as much sense.

      There’s really no excuse for that kind of stupidity.

      whereas in the Atheist corner some people can be found, that are equally as obnoxious as their deist counterparts.

      You’d be obnoxious too if people ran around stating that you CAN’T KNOW IF SANTA CLAUSE EXISTS because there’s a non-zero chance of it…

      It really disgusts me… agnostics use JUST enough intellect to not be a fundie, then go all wishy-washy about infinitesimally small chances that they could be wrong if they committed to the only logical conclusion.

      Then they have the nuts to make fun of atheists.

    • http://agnosticism2010.blogspot.com/ nomad

      Yep. The issue for me is not so much “God”, though that remains a big issue. It’s religion.

  • J.J.E.

    This is a great post for the purpose of declaring one’s allegiances using one’s own personal lexicon and deriding those who who assume different labels, though also perhaps different personal lexicons as well. Fun!

    My personal lexicon includes the following:

    Anti-theist: someone who believes that there is evidence that god does not exist.

    Ignostic: someone who believes that conventional usages of the term ‘god’ is too ill-defined to promote meaningful discussion of god.

    Atheist: someone lacking belief in any god.

    Weak agnostic: someone who believes that claims about god (especially existence) are unknown.

    Strong agnostic: someone who believes that claims about god (especially existence) are unknowable.

    I do not identify with “weak agnostic”. While I am an “atheist”, I don’t identify with the term because babies and dogs are also atheists in my lexicon.

    I identify most strongly with “ignostic” and “strong agnostic”. God talk is usually incoherent and meaningless babble. On the rare occasion that it isn’t, god is presented in such a way as to be untestable even in principle. By choice, I almost never encounter the fundamentalist god in discussions about how I identify myself. However, if I did have a talk with Ken Ham, for his god, I might identify as “anti-theist”, though as a general label, I think it stretches a bit.

    My favorite quote in this area comes from the coiner of the term “agnostic” himself, T.H. Huxley:

    “…the foundation of morality is to have done, once and for all, with lying; to give up pretending to believe that for which there is no evidence, and repeating unintelligible propositions about things beyond the possibilities of knowledge.”

    • Christine

      I was under the impression that someone who is anti-theist (like Hitchens, for example) would be vehemently AGAINST worshipping a god, even if one existed.

      Thoughts???

      • Kodie

        Well, the god of the bible doesn’t really merit worship, so if a god like that existed, it would have to be a matter of personal integrity not to let that god bribe you. If a god were proven to exist, of course we would have to agree he exists unless we were in denial or required more thorough proof. See what he really wants, and decide whether to worship him, if that is his actual request. Skepticism is still good in this case, because people already imagine this god to exist, tell us all about him, and convey what they think is adequate proof. No matter what ever could happen, don’t get fooled by faulty logic and mistaken evidence, just like now.

      • James G

        Just because a God existed, it doesn´t necessarily stand to reason that he would be worthy of worship. If the God of the Bible existed and statements made about him in said book were true, then he´s obviously a clueless fuckwad who has no idea how to run a universe. The fact that he has appointed himself ruler of the universe in no way makes him anymore worthy of praise than Idi Amin, Pol Pot or Pinochet. And if, after so much human history, a God was finally proven to exist, there would be no reason to assume he´s the only one and we would be free to search for other less knobbish gods.

      • Chuchi

        I assume you are making a clear distinction between just accepting the existence of a being who has created the universe and all that it contains, and who has some direct influence on the course of human events, as opposed to actually worshipping that being. Why would we need to worship this being? Because he demands it? I would definitely resist such a demand, in the same way that I would resist a demand from my own father to worship him just because he was responsible for my existence.

      • Nox

        I think the way he explained “anti-theist” is that you consider it to be a good thing that there is not a god.

  • nazani14

    I’m convinced that there are no supernatural agencies of any kind operating in my solar system. However, I am able to believe that in some corner of the vast universe, there may be some being that has qualities that humans typically attribute to gods, such as materializing out of nothing, incredible power over the weather, mind reading, etc. There may be beings who are to us as we are to amoebae. However, I don’t believe such beings would be omniscient. Could a non-supernatural being be involved in the creation or our universe? Talk to the folks at CERN about that.
    I guess what I’m trying to say is that atheists have higher standards of proof.

    • Chuchi

      I don’t believe that such a thing as “supernatural” can even exist. If it exists, it is part of nature, part of the universe we live in.

      • http://agnosticism2010.blogspot.com/ nomad

        a kind of pseudo-supernatural?

      • http://malvond.wordpress.com/ Malvond

        YES.

  • tonyk

    They are not mutually exclusive.

    Atheist = without a god
    Agnostic = without knowledge

    So I’m agnostic atheist. I live without a god and admit that I have no knowledge of whether there is one… or not!

    • Nzo

      Same as mentioned above…

      With that logic you’d have to be an agnostic atheist about santa, the tooth fairy, zeus, and Russel’s teapot.

      • Elemenope

        Well, yeah. A person is an agnostic a[existence claim] about a lot of things. All entities that subsist but have a low probability of existing, in fact. It’s just that it doesn’t come up in conversation enough for most entities other than Gods, because it doesn’t usually matter.

        • http://agnosticism2010.blogspot.com/ nomad

          And then there is agnosticism about things that do exist (but have yet to be explained).

  • http://www.mindboxofmarkbrewer.com MindBox

    Agnosticism and atheism are far more available for dichotomisation than one might initially think. The distinction between the two is largely a matter of foundational perception. By this I mean something like the platform of reasoning upon which their disposition is built.

    An atheist, for instance, is not one who claims that deities or God does not exist. The task of providing proof for such a claim is impossible. On cannot provide evidence for the fact that an object does not exist, except to say that there is no reason to believe that it does in the first instance (see Bertrand’s Celestial Teapot analogy: http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Russell%27s_teapot). Negative evidence (the fallacy that something is true simply because it hasn’t been disproven) is hugely problematic in the sense that it allows the thinker to invest their belief in an array of imaginarey objects simply on the grounds that no one can show them that they don’t exist.

    For example, I could postulate to a friend the existence of a red apple, located inside my pocket. He or she might happily accept this but, if they are playing silly buggers, they may ask to see some evidence for my claim. They might wish to examine the inside of my pocket, or else feel up the in-seem of my trouser (naughty!). In this case, if the apple does not exist, and I wish to continue to delude myself and to bemuse my friend by my seemingly retarded behaviour, I could then apply any amount of metaphysics necessary to further the imagined apple from my friend’s reach. I could claim that the apple is invisible and there is no way in which I could provide visual evidence of its existence. This, aside from slightly irritating my peckish chum, sneakily removes any need for me to physically show them the apple and, if they are sufficiently stupid, they might ask for a little further testimony. I could then extend the list of metaphysical features of the apple to include the stipulations that it only ever reveals itself to me; others can’t touch it since it simply falls through their hands; the apple chooses the eater, not the other way about.

    My other friend (yes, I am quite popular amongst communities of argumentative types) might stumble through the door of this sordid scenario. The original friend might then tell him or her that I claim to possess an apple which can only be seen and touched by me. He or she might say that there is no real reason to believe me, but they still can’t prove me wrong, to which the second friend will likely reply “Er… Get bent.” They are quite right to do so! I was clearly lying and had simply conspired to design an object to be situated outside of the realms of rational discussion. In reality, it was nowhere other than inside my prankster-like mind. The difference between my two friends was that the first was ready to believe my diatribe of bullshit metaphysics, whilst the second astutely recognised the problem of evidence and articulated it thus.

    This is usually the foundation for atheistic thinking; rational discourse and evidence are required to validate truth claims. We cannot say that God does not exist, simply that there is as much validty in claiming that he does as there is in talking about the imaginarey apple, The Tooth Fairy or Bertrand’s teapot. In the case of the atheist, discussion about God is not built upon any foundation, since there is no belief to build it upon. They recognise that there is no point in investing a belief in objects which can only be proved negatively.

    The agnostic, however, subscribes to a view which states that the answer to metaphysical truth claims is unknowable. They are much more akin to my first friend who was stuck inside the ridiculous idea that, because they couldn’t prove that my hastily constructed metaphysics was rubbish, there was no way they could doubt me with certainty.

    It’s all a matter of whether you think the truth behind claims is knowable or not. Agnostics will say no and sit on the fence, whereas an atheist will simply slap them in the face and say that real-world evidence is the most valid measure upon which we should base decisions about belief.

    A brief note on ‘fundamental atheism’:

    This term is so paradoxical that it is almost laughable. Have a quick think (fifteen seconds) about what you’re saying when you use it. You’ve literally just made the claim that you think some people can disbelieve in deities or God more than others. If there are two empty containers of exactly the same size, shape and mass sat side-by-side, can one be more empty than the other? No. Belief cannot be more empty than completely empty.

    People who try to their opinion that you shouldn’t believe certain things onto other individuals aren’t fundamentalist atheists, they’re just bigoted idiots.

    It is my view that terms like ‘fundamentalist atheism’ stem from the movement propegated by individuals such as Richard Dawkins and Christopher Hitchens (to some extent Dan Dennett with his adoption of the term ‘bright’, which is hideous). This campaign was specifically designed to turn atheism into Atheism (I do notice that most people incorrectly turn these descriptors into proper nouns). Whilst I admire their message, which is presumably that it is ok to be an atheist or agnostic and not have to apologise for it in public discourse, the result has been somewhat skewed. Their material has inadvertently simply replaced certain religious variables for some people who have never taken the time to think about the issue themselves. If people were previously religious and have decided they no longer believe, then a complete shift in perspective is required at a basic level. Atheism isn’t a “thing” and it isn’t “cool”. It is a disposition on an individual’s belief in God, just as agnosticism and deism are.

  • Edman

    “Isn’t an agnostic just an atheist without balls?”

    • http://agnosticism2010.blogspot.com/ nomad

      A female atheist?

    • Paul

      I like to use: “Agnostic is an atheist without guts.”

      Way back when, this caused my mom to switch to the atheist camp in about 2 seconds flat. lol

  • Paul Adrem

    I have always described myself as a “teacup” agnostic. It is entirely possible that a teacup is in orbit around Mars….just not probable. I feel the same way about the god question, possible just not probable. I do know one thing for sure, if there is a god, he has failed terribly at providing any answers to mankind.

  • EBrock

    I’m quite happy to admit that I Don’t Know if there is a god, so whatever that makes me is just fine. The best definition I can come up with is to call myself a “skeptical agnostic”– I’m skeptical of everything, especially “god”.

    Neither the believer nor the atheist can offer 100% proof for their claims (though the atheist has better arguments), so I cannot make the jump to being a full-fledged atheist.

    What’s wrong with admitting we don’t know the complete answer/truth/facts/etc.?

    • Kodie

      Yeah, I can see where some might find it problematic to commit to atheism as a certainty, it’s really just a convenient description that does not require 100% certainty, I don’t think. An atheist is mostly able to extrapolate the probability of there being a deity on the basis that none has explained anything yet nor contacted anyone nor performed the miracles he allegedly likes to do. Many things are unknown, but things that used to be unknown are now explained rationally. God remains invisible or too small to find with even the strongest instruments we so far have developed. Why is he so small or hidden or invisible? What does he do? How far do we have to develop our implements to find the micro-micro-micro dust of god? What will he do then? Why does he require worship (or does he?) and faith when he plays such silly games? The possibility may remain for some, mostly I think as a pseudo-plausible explanation for fortuitous coincidences that are statistically inclined to happen and arranged by physics itself. It feels good. So do a lot of things. I like to walk on the beach and dig my toes into the sand. I like the first cup of coffee in the morning. I like to drive my car. Is that you, God?

      Helloooooooooo…… ?

  • tea

    agnostic are atheist with a spiritual side!?!?! Like calling yourself a Buddhist atheist. I think the label of atheist as a umbrella term. And agnostic, humanist, secular, and whatever else you want to throw in there go under that umbrella labeled atheist.

    So sick of labels. Almost takes you to the point of giving up trying to identify yourself. But if we don’t, the Christians WIN!!!!!! :(

    • Revyloution

      Yes, but imagine how difficult cooking would be if your spices weren’t labeled.

      I know labeling is a frustrating experience, but it has a strong utility in developing theories of the mind.

      • tea

        And that is why we do it. I agree.

      • http://agnosticism2010.blogspot.com/ nomad

        Damn! That’s why my coffee tastes salty!

        • Revyloution

          I like a pinch of salt in my coffee over sugar. It’s quite nice, the correct phrase is ‘Black Gang Style’ . Try it sometime.

  • Nick

    Alright, this is a pet peeve of mine, so I’ll try not to get too snippy.

    Atheism and agnosticism are two different answers to two different questions. You can be either, both, or neither.

    Atheism is an answer to the question: “Do you BELIEVE there is a god?”

    Agnosticism is an answer to the question: “Do you KNOW there is a god?”

    What we have here is a cartesian plane, with “Do you believe in a god” on the X axis, and “Do you know that your beliefs are true” on the Y. Hence, one can be both an atheist (“I do not believe there is a god”) AND an agnostic (“I do not claim to know whether god exists”) SIMULTANEOUSLY. Other positions on this coordinate plane are gnostic theist (“I believe in a god, and I know that it exists”), agnostic theist (“I believe in a god, and do not claim to know that it exists”), and gnostic atheist (“I do not believe in a god, and I know that it does not exist”).

    I think most intellectually honest atheists are agnostic atheists, since the absence of evidence is not, after all, evidence of absence, even though it is a very good reason to disbelieve the claims of theists. This position would include Richard Dawkins, who made the statement, “I do not know for certain, but I think that god is very improbable, and I live my life on the assumption that he is not there.”

    • Chuchi

      I won’t argue with your definition of the terms, but ultimately yours and any other argument about this issue hinges on a definition of the term “god.” In regards to all religions of which I am familiar, I know that the gods of these religions do not exist. That would make me a gnostic atheist according to your definitions. You could present a definition of god that could make me confess to being an agnostic atheist, but the god you would describe would be irrelevant to our lives.

      • Chuchi

        I also believe that I am an intellectually honest gnostic atheist.

        • Kodie

          Say ‘honest gnostic’ 12 times fast.

  • Thegoodman

    I feel like these 2 terms get tossed around without considering their definitions. I am guilty of claiming to be “agnostic but not atheist” for a long time but the way I define the terms now, this doesn’t make sense.

    To me, agnostic simply says you are not definite if there is or is not a god. I would say that 90% of all people fall into this category. Many people believe there is a god, but few claim to be absolutely certain (despite what they may say in church). I suppose I am agnostic because while I do not think there is a god and I find it unlikely (especially the christian/islamic/jewish/etc.. gods); I have no proof one way or the other.

    Because I am on the very skeptical side of agnosticism, I am also an atheist. I am “without god” and I do not practice any sort of religion. This obviously is a much smaller part of the population and I feel is the proper term for someone who doesn’t practice any particular religion or believe any of the religious dogma.

    A person is agnostic or they are gnostic.
    A person is atheist or they are theist.

    100% of the population is 1 of the 2 choices for each above sentence.

    If you do not practice any religion, but are sure there is a god, you might be considered a gnostic atheist (i.e. Will Smith). Anyone who has a “personal” god but rejects all religious practices falls into this category.

    Most of the readers of this blog are obviously agnostic atheists. We don’t know if there is a god and we don’t adhere to any religion.

    Most of the insane fundies that we love laughing at so much are gnostic theists. They know there is a god and they worship him. They defy logic because they are gnostic, they KNOW he is real.

    I would be willing to bet that most of the people in the world are agnostic theists. They practice a religion because it is their family tradition but they still reserve some doubt. The idea that there isn’t a god makes less sense to them than the idea that there is a god, but both are possibilities.

    Wow, this is the first time I’ve thought of it, but I love those definitions.

    Gnostic Theist – 15%
    Agnostict Theist – 70%
    Gnostic Atheist – 5%
    Agnostic Atheist – 5%

    • James G

      Due to the fact that it is impossible to prove the non-existence of God, (or any supernatural or mythical being,) I don´t think it´s really very helpful to say that agnostics are people who aren´t 100% sure that God exists. Such a definition of atheism would exclude many people, such as myself, who would consider themselves very strong atheists. By your definition, Dawkins is an agnostic because he said in The God Delusion that it is impossible to be 100% sure that God exists, it´s just extremely unlikely. I think the main difference is that atheists are willing to stake a claim that God does not exist, whereas Agnostics are unwilling to make any claim at all.

      • SDE

        I believe Dawkins had a 7 point scale in the God Delusion.
        1 theist
        2 de facto theist
        3 weak theist
        4 pure agnostic
        5 weak agnostic
        6 de facto atheist
        7 atheist

        He places himself at 6.
        “I am agnostic only to the extent that I am agnostic about fairies at the bottom of the garden.”

        So my question to thegoodman — should 2 and 6 be considered ‘theists and atheists’ or ‘agnostics’?

    • objectifier

      A person is agnostic or they are gnostic.
      A person is atheist or they are theist.

      I agree with the first proposition, you either know or you don’t but there is another choice for the second, I guess non-theist would be a possible name, but its more don’t care about theism. Most of us, atheists or christian, muslim or jewish have no opinion about a myriad of past gods we may never have even heard of.

  • James Thompson

    I called myself agnostic for a long time — because I didn’t care about the question. After 9/11 and reading “End of Faith” I realized that I was an atheist and religious beliefs do matter.

  • Kate

    I consider myself an atheist, and one key point about agnosticism I wanted to point out is this:

    Agnostics claim they don’t know whether God exists, but at some point a decision has to be made on what you THINK. Being undecided isn’t very productive.

    Atheists will never prove a negative, so there will never be definitive proof that there is no God, but they have decided that after weighing the evidence it’s silly to undecided about the teapot orbiting about Mars, or the Loch Ness monster or any and all gods. Otherwise life might be spent looking for these things.

  • Sunny Day

    An Agnostic is just an Atheist with commitment issues.

    • Jasowah

      Tisk tisk. Everybody hatin’ on the Agnostics. =P

      • Chuchi

        Its not hate, its impatience. Just get off the frigging fence and pick a side!

        • http://agnosticism2010.blogspot.com/ nomad

          You’ve convinced me. I’m becoming a theist.

      • Nzo

        I just wish agnostics would be more honest and follow their logic by being “agnostic” about the other fairy tale creatures made up by mankind.

        “Agnostic” is a silly label for those who what to use illogical arguments to avoid being labeled what they actually are.

        • Jasowah

          Wow. I’m a horrible person because I hold out the belief that I don’t know and understand everything about the universe. I didn’t know these things were so crystal clear. I’m sure I will understand some day, maybe, if someone explains to me.
          I was originally under the impression that we were on the same team. But I guess I’m lumped back in with all the religious fanatics and crazies. Or maybe my perception of Agnostic is wrong. I thought it was holding out for the belief that there possibly could be some kind of higher power/being, whatever that may mean. Of course I know the response to this is probably going to be “well there could also be invisible unicorns blah blah blah”, but I don’t think that would be really fair in this context.

          I don’t know, I think saying these kinds of things is really just mean and arrogant. It seems more like a stab at other people than an actual definition.

          Oh! And just to clarify, this is more directed at everyone who has posted here than to you (Sunny Day) in particular. As what you said was kinda funny.

          • Elemenope

            And just to clarify, this is more directed at everyone who has posted here

            Hey, now, we’re not all agnostic-hatin’ meanies!

            • Jasowah

              Ergh! =P I just meant those who are doing the hatin’, Elemenope. But you are right, I should have clarified. ^_^

          • Nzo

            There’s absolutely no reason to “hold out” on some possibility of a higher being existing. That’s like holding out on a great job now for a win in the lottery.

            It’s not like I wouldn’t switch my life around if Lil’WAYNEMOHAMMALLAH opened up the sky and said “THOU SHALT NOT EAT PIE” in an autotuned voice with a middle-eastern accent. Believe me, I wouldn’t eat pie. Being an atheist isn’t an end-all-f*ck-all stance, it just goes where the evidence leads.

            Any stance BUT atheism is based on an illogical or emotional platform.

            Yeah, I am mean and arrogant, but I have no patience for fundies, and I only just realized how much alike fundies and agnostics are. Both are unreasonable when it comes to “god” or “gods” and both can be argued with mostly the same arguments.

            Invisible unicorns and gods have the exact same chance of existing, so why is it that “a creator” or “god” is considered more likely by an agnostic?

            I don’t know and understand everything about the universe.

            That makes two of us, but I don’t pretend that there’s a good enough possibility that a god exists to say i’ll “sit on the fence on this one…”.

            I was originally under the impression that we were on the same team. But I guess I’m lumped back in with all the religious fanatics and crazies. Or maybe my perception of Agnostic is wrong. I thought it was holding out for the belief that there possibly could be some kind of higher power/being, whatever that may mean

            It wasn’t ’till this thread started that I realized agnostics are one step off from fundies. They both give unfair treatment to “god” in the realm of possibilities. I think you have the definition of agnostic more or less right, but the idea behind it is stupid. I could just as easily say I’m an atheist holding out for the belief that there possibly could be some kind of higher power/being. The only difference is that I’m honest enough to say “well, without evidence there’s no reason to conclude there’s any deity in existence, so let’s go with that” instead of “well, there’s no evidence, so I’m going to sit on the fence on this one”.

            • Elemenope

              There’s absolutely no reason to “hold out” on some possibility of a higher being existing. That’s like holding out on a great job now for a win in the lottery.

              Bad analogy. Holding out for the lottery by remaining unemployed has terrible practical consequences for the person doing it and perhaps the surrounding society. Holding out a latent, mostly inactive belief in a conscious universe or higher power has no such consequences. Since the human reasons for belief include the consequences that are likely to proceed from them, these are about as different as they come.

            • Nzo

              It’s not great, but I suppose the idea there was that you could still take the job, and if you won the lottery, quit and never work a day in your life again.

              Same thing with atheism, you could be an atheist, find out there IS some kind of god, renounce your atheism, and be a follower of that god for the rest of your life.

            • Elemenope

              Part of the practical difference between people who choose to be agnostics as opposed to atheists, I find, is one of original position. Atheists are generally disposed to default to the negative claim without evidence, whereas agnostics are more hesitant to do this.

              Honestly I don’t know which approach is better. I imagine that depending on the context, the different approaches work with different levels of efficacy. They tend, however, to be controlled by the temperamental disposition of the person at issue. Faced with a lack of evidence, some people are simply comfortable saying “no” rather than “I don’t know”.

              To tie back to the example, some people feel that by taking the job, they foreclose the opportunity to actually realize the possibility of the lottery (if, in the hypothetical, getting a job made it less likely to buy a lottery ticket, for example, or more likely to miss the winning drawing). Others see no conflict.

            • Jasowah

              I don’t really understand how it’s such a big deal, or how people get so mean and angry over it.
              “it’s just dumb” isn’t really a great response either. I’m sure I could look into your life and find tons of dumb shit you do, merely for reasons all your own. We have practically the same beliefs in NOT believing in God(s), so WTF is the problem? I’m not following your “logical” line of thinking 100%, therefore I must be wrong and am rightfully insulted. o_O

              “Invisible unicorns and gods have the exact same chance of existing, so why is it that “a creator” or “god” is considered more likely by an agnostic?”

              Yes, only this kind of argument is silly in the way that they are totally unrelated. It’s just a way to try and make my argument look stupid, and it’s the first thing that people seem to cling to. Is that a Strawman fallacy, Elemenope?

              “That makes two of us, but I don’t pretend that there’s a good enough possibility that a god exists to say i’ll “sit on the fence on this one…”.”

              Sit on the fence? You make it sound so extreme. And I never said anything about how good of a chance there is, all I said is “I don’t know”. The same way I don’t know if aliens exist (and yes, I do realize that since they would be just another life form it is not as big of a stretch).

              “I only just realized how much alike fundies and agnostics are.”

              This is just ridiculous. You sounded logical until you said this. Yes, I’m just like a fundie, spreading my gospel of “sitting on the fence” and yelling at people about how they should believe what I am not sure about! Hey everybody! You should all be unsure like me! If not… well, nothing will happen, I think, but do it anyways!

              “I’m honest enough to say”

              Yes, my being unsure means I’m totally being dishonest with myself. I’m sorry, I just think it’s arrogant to think we understand enough about existence from sitting on our little world to assume that there is nothing else. Hell, most people on here would probably agree that there is a possibility of there being endlessly varying versions our universe (multiverse?). And yet the possibility that some higher power COULD exist is incredibly ridiculous?
              I just don’t see it. Maybe if you could stop insulting me with ludicrous assertions and actually try and explain another reason why you believe that then I could start to see things from your point of view.

              “Same thing with atheism, you could be an atheist, find out there IS some kind of god, renounce your atheism, and be a follower of that god for the rest of your life.”

              Why would you follow a god just because it exists?

              Otherwise, I’m not even sure why we are fighting. -_-

            • Nzo

              Yes, only this kind of argument is silly in the way that they are totally unrelated. It’s just a way to try and make my argument look stupid, and it’s the first thing that people seem to cling to. Is that a Strawman fallacy, Elemenope?

              Ok, I’m misrepresenting your position. Let me try it this way.

              We have practically the same beliefs in NOT believing in God(s)

              I realize I’ve made this argument elsewhere, but at what point does the “it’s possible, so I won’t pass judgment” stop? Since everything is possible, should we just not label anything at the ends of the possibility spectrum?

              As far as being like fundies… agnostics give exception to “god” whereas other imaginary things are thought of atheistically. Agnostics can be argued against the same way churchies can be. The idea that a god exists, and the idea that, because a god could possibly exist, so we shouldn’t outright disbelieve, are quite alike in the fact that there’s no reason whatsoever to believe a god exists… you’re agnostic because there’s a non-zero chance that one does.

              I’m not saying you guys are out there preaching the stupidity, just that your position seems to be the result of the same type of errors. I see this as stupidity, and I tend to go overboard sometimes.

              I’m sorry, I just think it’s arrogant to think we understand enough about existence from sitting on our little world to assume that there is nothing else. Hell, most people on here would probably agree that there is a possibility of there being endlessly varying versions our universe (multiverse?). And yet the possibility that some higher power COULD exist is incredibly ridiculous?

              It’s the fact that the possibility of a higher power existing and the possibility of those imaginary-thought-up-things-you-think-are-unrelated existing are exactly the same. There’s no logical reason to believe any different, yet the “I don’t know it exists, and I don’t know it doesn’t, so I’ll label myself differently” is only applied to gods. You think pink unicorns are so unrelated, yet you can’t deny that there is a non-zero possibility that on some world there are pink unicorns with godlike powers EXACTLY how you picture them in your head… but that’s not relevant or important in any way.

              I don’t see how you can reconcile being agnostic about that one thing, and not about everything else. Something along the lines of, “I know pink unicorns with godlike powers don’t exist” could be held to the same standard as a god… if you’re agnostic about gods, why could unicorns not exist? Can you really pick and choose what to be agnostic towards while still maintaining a logical platform of beliefs?

              Besides using the “there are no impossibilities” platform, and basically never saying “no, that’s not right”, or “It’s not green, it’s blue”, how do you explain your platform?

              Everything would be “because it’s not impossible, I don’t know, and neither do you.” … or does it logically stop somewhere?

              As for the multiverse thing, I’m sure everyone understands that a multiverse is a possibility just as much as anything else that can’t be proven or observed out there. But there wouldn’t be a faction of fundies preaching about it, and there wouldn’t be people saying “you can’t prove it does or does not exist, so call me this instead of a multiverse-atheist”. This phenomenon only happens with gods.

              Maybe if you could stop insulting me with ludicrous assertions and actually try and explain another reason why you believe that then I could start to see things from your point of view.

              You’re taking the fun out of this for me. Fortunately there are plenty who aren’t as level-headed out there. Kudos for sticking it out and rationally confronting the digs.

              Why would you follow a god just because it exists?

              Obviously for when he/she/it turns all the spam in the world into delicious pie.

            • Nzo

              Yes, my being unsure means I’m totally being dishonest with myself.

              You’re dishonest about your agnosticism. Please search for the term, “incomplete agnostic” in this thread.

  • Capt’n John

    Since there is no scientific way to either prove or disprove god, no matter how much evidence has been built up against the possibility of a god that possibility never reaches zero. Therefore, rationally, there is no such thing as an actual atheist, except in a religious sense. People can and do believe that there is no god, as I do, but, because one cannot prove a negative, in actuality, we are really agnostic.

    • Kodie

      So any amount of possibility for god that can be dismissed never amounts to 100% proof. A drop of possibility in an ocean of improbability counts enough to refuse to commit? I really try to understand exactly why that still counts as a fence to sit on. I agree we cannot prove a negative, but I think that is nothing to worry about that god will suddenly appear and prove me wrong. I will adjust my views if I have to. The philosophy that there may be some kind of god somewhere who does nothing all day for all time is pretty straightforward. Most cultures of earth have invented a deity of some sort, which does not make a strong case for a deity’s existence, only that people tell stories and have vivid imaginations and invent similar control strategies. If you’re not going to listen to me, um, er, a-HA! God says so. And he can see you everywhere. I’m sure you’ve read “Kissing Hank’s Ass” as well. If God ever made any contact or chose prophets or made rules, then he would have spread the identical message to everyone on earth, and would continue to do so. I think there is a fallacy somewhere about philosophizing an unknowable, invisible deity of immeasurable power and knowledge just because primitive people could not understand stuff and were scared of things until they were better understood.

      I think god cannot possibly exist if he’s at first imaginary and then extrapolated from that instance as a plausible entity of some academic study, what if it’s true, what if he’s watching me right now, what if he’s holding the universe in a basket made of recycled aluminum cans he found along the highway. That I would call poking a stick in the air and see if it’s a dog. I call myself an atheist because god is imaginary. It’s loopy. I don’t see the point in holding out possibility for a micro-percentage that’s only a logical formality.

      • Chuchi

        Exactly. Someone once imagined such a thing as a unicorn, and now we must claim that we cannot know if unicorns really exist, because we can’t prove a negative. If the idea of “God” had never been imagined, then we would not be having this discussion, because there is not now nor never has been any unequivocable, undeniable evidence that an entity such as a “God” has existed.

        • Kodie

          This not being able to prove a negative sure bugs a lot of people. I would like to know how much possibility they consider there is a god. If we’re going to break the laws of logic, I think being an atheist is the lesser offense than allowing the minusculity of possibility to hold people back from a commitment. That same minusculity (I know it’s not a real word) of possibility is what theists also cling to for dear afterlife and piety and awfully coincidental interventions in their daily routine, even if they don’t think that’s what they do. That same minusculity of possibility, what has it done for anyone lately or ever, so it says it has and will come? God has not been proven, so what is faith? There’s nothing wrong with holding that abstract possibility in your hand and blowing it away. Maybe all it is is an atom, maybe you will cause a new big bang that instantly destroys this universe and creates a new one, and you will disappear, and billions and billions of years from now, people will emerge from their caves on another planet and make up new stories until someone dares to blow that possibility away in the wind and start it all over and over again. Imagine, you were god once, and nobody ever figures out why. Does this sound plausible to you? Will stepping all the way off the fence cause the universe to implode and re-expand anew? Maybe you’re not the chosen one, and things will stay relatively the same for another million billion years or so or whenever the time comes.

  • Jeremy

    Theism and atheism deal with belief. Gnosticsm and agnosticism deal with knowing. A theist may say “I believe in god”; an atheist may say “I don’t believe in any gods”. A gnostic may claim to have special knowledge of god; an agnostic may claim that we can’t know anything about god(s). In this way, it is possible to an agnostic atheist or an agnostic theist. People will use the word agnostic to mean “not sure” but in reality, these people are atheists: anything less than “I believe” is atheism.

    • Jason

      Bingo! I have a little test I use whenever this issue of atheist vs agnostic comes up . It’s one simple question. I ask this question and find it amazing how people still dont get it. The question is: “Do you believe in a god or gods?”

      If they answer anything other than “Yes” they are an Atheist. Period!
      Other possible answers:
      No = Atheist
      I dont know = Atheist
      We cant know = Atheist
      I dont care = Atheist
      I dont know but I believe in “something” (wishy-washy nonsense) = Atheist
      etc.
      Unless you answer the question in the affirmative, you are without Theism and therefore an A-Theist. None of this debate is really about knowledge or belief. It really comes down to probability. As an Atheist (and anti-theist for the record), I like my odds.

      Very interesting comments though. Great discussions and well with the time suck while trying to get some actual work done.

  • Hansen

    I don’t believe in any god. Call me whatever you like – it doesn’t change that I don’t believe in any god.

    I really think it’s useless semantic quibble. Very often it is used dishonestly by theist to sidetrack a discussion or to shift the burden of proof (or at least make it seem like belief and non-belief are equally valid). As if the meaning of a word had any bearing on the existence or non-existence of gods.

    • Thegoodman

      Well said. The definitions of words are very annoying at times considering we create/shape/change the definitions of these words daily.

      I think this is a big reason why so many people use the term anti-theist. Its definition is very clear, they oppose the idea of believing in god, often vehemently.

  • fftysmthng

    An atheist doesn’t believe in the existence of God.
    An agnostic can’t let go of that last strand of hope/fear that there may be a god.

  • http://posnonrel.tumblr.com Shane

    I like to think of this issue in terms of Dawkins’ range of religious certainty:

    1 — 2 — 3 — 4 — 5 — 6 — 7

    At one end, you have the #1s, who are 100% certain that God exists. At the opposite extreme, you have the #7s, who are 100% certain that God doesn’t exist. Right in the center, the #4s think God’s existence is just as likely as his non-existence.

    I define “agnostic” as someone who doesn’t think certainty is possible. So anyone who’s not a #1 or a #7 can be considered an agnostic. In reality, though, people who use the term agnostic probably fall between 4.5 and 6.5 on this scale.

    I define “atheist” as someone who doesn’t actively believe in any gods. In the most liberal application, this term could encompass anyone who’s between 4.0 and 7. In practice, though, people who self-describe as atheists are probably between a 6 and a 7.

    What ruffles my feathers is that people who are opposed to the term “agnostic” tend to think that it means all agnostics are at 4.0 on this scale, or they’re too spineless to commit to saying where they are on the scale.

    But really, this is an unfair characterization of the term. Like I said, anyone who’s a 1.1 to a 6.9 could be called an agnostic. This includes Dawkins himself, who’s said that he’s a 6.9, and that very very few people are hard 7s.

    Also, I find this Isaac Asimov quote appropriate: “I am an atheist, out and out. It took me a long time to say it. I’ve been an atheist for years and years, but somehow I felt it was intellectually unrespectable to say one was an atheist, because it assumed knowledge that one didn’t have. Somehow, it was better to say one was a humanist or an agnostic. I finally decided that I’m a creature of emotion as well as of reason. Emotionally, I am an atheist. I don’t have the evidence to prove that God doesn’t exist, but I so strongly suspect he doesn’t that I don’t want to waste my time.”

    I think this gradual transition from emphasizing the “agnostic” part of one’s belief to the “atheist” part is common. But if you bash people who self-identify as agnostic, you run the risk of alienating or pushing away people who would probably get comfortable with the term “atheist” if you’d just give them time and maybe expose them to atheist literature or politely share your own views with them.

    Instead of bickering with other non-believers about labels, shouldn’t we be focusing our energies on working towards our shared goals? For me, improving the public perception of non-believers and preserving/improving the quality of science education in our country are far, far more important and more urgent issues than these kinds of debates about semantics.

    • David Thompson

      I agree with just about everything you wrote in your reply, and won’t nit pick the stuff I didn’t agree with. Agnostics do fall in such a wide range that one has to qualify their beliefs in such a way that atheists and theists don’t.

      • Question-I-thority

        Well said.

    • Kodie

      people who would probably get comfortable with the term “atheist” if you’d … maybe expose them to atheist literature or politely share your own views with them.

      Who has time for all that? :) I mean, there are certainly people who will eventually feel more comfortable and ‘agnostic’ is a transitional term for them, I don’t feel the need to push them in the right direction, so to speak. Handing them a pamphlet is right out. Then there are other people who do simply allow the possibility of a deity to halt them, like it’s too certain, too committed, the semantics and the logical “leap” really matters to them and they will self-identify as an agnostic forever because that is tidier. I really don’t care what they call themselves, I guess deep down, it’s really what’s in their heaW^W^brains that matters.

      Instead of bickering with other non-believers about labels, shouldn’t we be focusing our energies on working towards our shared goals? For me, improving the public perception of non-believers and preserving/improving the quality of science education in our country are far, far more important and more urgent issues than these kinds of debates about semantics.

      Blame VorJack, I didn’t ask the question! Really, I think there’s room and time and energy for all these mental exercises along with all that more important and urgent stuff you list, if someone feels like paying attention to it. I think the question of knowing and believing and logic and semantics is an interesting topic (obviously), worthwhile in its own right. I guess it really doesn’t matter if someone wants to call themselves different than I would, and topics like this don’t really produce anything or do they? Discussing it obviously brings people to discuss and think what they really do believe. Before I confirmed my atheism with a lot of thought and exercise, I was an atheist without thinking too much whether I really was or wasn’t. I don’t know if there’s anyone else like that, but a lot of people who were raised religious probably presumed a lot too and when they really started to think, it’s the same process for them as for me. It seems a little futile, but I think it makes for stronger attitudes who do all that other urgent stuff rather than let someone else take care of it. If coasting on thoughtless agnosticism, indecisiveness, noncommitment, or anything else (theistic or atheistic presumption) promotes apathy, clarifying your position in a discussion like this probably motivates a person in the other direction for the other things. If someone is for all intents and purposes rather clarified as an atheist but that possibility still snags them officially, and self-identifies as an agnostic (or likes to use both terms for even greater clarity), I don’t think it makes as much of a difference, except maybe for the people who are reading it and getting it and figuring out where they are in their head.

  • David Thompson

    My observations and opinions on agnosticism, and atheists, in no particular order of importance.

    I explain my agnosticism to theists as, “I don’t know, you don’t know, and there’s no way of knowing. There’s also little to no evidence that worshiping a deity, even if they exist, makes any difference at all.”

    I explain my agnosticism to an atheist as, “I see atheists and theists as opposite sides of the same coin. Both have a certitude in the existence or non existence of a god based on evidence that is not defined in a way that anyone can agree on, and doesn’t exist. Either way, their conclusions are equally irrelevant, and their certitudes are equally annoying.”

    I’ve never met a dogmatic agnostic in my life, but I’ve met plenty of dogmatic atheists that are just as arrogant and condescending as a dogmatic theist.

    • Hansen

      Arrogance and dogmatism are not the same thing.

      So what exactly is a dogmatic atheist? I’ve yet to meet one.

      • David Thompson

        All you have to do is read the replies here where atheists demean agnostics. You hear the same things out of theists mouths when speaking about atheists and agnostics. It’s as if you couldn’t tell if the speaker was an atheist or a theist.

        • Hansen

          All you have to do is read the replies here where atheists demean agnostics.

          That’s arrogance and not dogmatism. You need to learn the difference!!!

          P.S. The last part above was arrogance. :)

        • Chuchi

          If you ever cannot tell the difference between an atheist and atheist, you are not paying close enough attention.

        • Thegoodman

          Stop right there. Don’t steal the martyrdom card from the theists, they desperately need it for their radio programs. You are not a victim so don’t act like one.

          You strong defense of being an agnostic is laughable. Don’t allow yourself to be defined by what you “are or are maybe not” sure of. Define yourself with something tangible.

          Your sentiment that atheists are prejudice against agnostics may be valid, but its also ridiculous.

          • Nzo

            I have a prejudice against that which is ridiculous.

            Agnostics like to say atheists are like theists. The problem with that is atheists don’t rely on logical fallacies to explain their position, while theists and agnostics do. Therefore I present this statement.

            Agnostics are more like theists than atheists.

            • http://agnosticism2010.blogspot.com/ nomad

              I know I am but what am I?

            • Nzo

              haha, i’m not quite sure what you are.

              But with all this deep, meaningful crap going on, a Peewee Herman quote was just hilariously delivered.

              Thank you

    • Elemenope

      I’ve never met a dogmatic agnostic in my life

      Go to a UU service.

      • http://agnosticism2010.blogspot.com/ nomad

        What is UU?

        • Elemenope

          Unitarian Universalist.

          • objectifier

            Ex-wife number 2 is a UU minister who kept telling me I’d make a good unitarian. I said that joining a church seemed to counter one of the key benefits of atheism – sleeping in on Sunday mornings.

    • Chuchi

      It is not dogmatism when all the facts and evidence are on your side. I am an atheist because there is absolutely zero evidence that a god or gods exist. Where else in life do we accept a premise that has no factual evidence to support it?

      • David Thompson

        Okay, then tell me exactly what it is you believe doesn’t exist. After you write it down, ask yourself if you can honestly say that’s not just a strawman.

        • Chuchi

          I don’t need to “believe” in the non-existence of anything. I can doubt the existence of anything that is not within the range of my senses, and I can express that doubt to you. Then you can try and prove to me that it does exist. If you tell me there is a man in China with four arms and a monkey tail, I will ask for proof. You will show me a photo. I will question the whether the photo is real. So you show me a video of said man along with testimony from reliable and trustworthy witnesses. Maybe i am extremely skeptical, so I still refuse to accept his existence. So you have him flown here to meet me. Now I am convinced because I have experienced the actual physical existence of this person. I say there is no god. Show me the proof, the evidence that I am wrong. Allow me to experience his actual, physical presence. Oh, right, god is everywhere and everything and has no (current) corporeal manifestation. I should accept this explanation why? Because you tell me it is true? I must accept it on faith. Okay, so I accept some things on faith. Science tells me many things about the world that I would not be able to know through my own experiences. I accept their assertions, on faith, you could say, because I know that if pressed to do so, they could show me, prove to me, that these things were true. I have known that there is no god since I was nine years old. That certainty will not change until Yahweh or Jesus Christ or whatever other manifestation of the deity you worship appears before my eyes and slaps me in the face and says “There, NOW do you believe?”

        • Chuchi

          I believe that the following does not exist: a fluorescent purple turtle with the power to walk through walls and shoot lazer beams from its eyes and speaks fluent Swahili.

  • Nzo

    I just wish agnostics would be more honest and follow their logic by being “agnostic” about the other fairy tale creatures made up by mankind.

    “Agnostic” is a silly label for those who what to use illogical arguments to avoid being labeled what they actually are.

    This really doesn’t belong as a reply, I honestly want to know who can argue with this.

    • Question-I-thority

      Read Shane’s post above. Your (or the quote’s) dualism is showing.

      I have not found any evidence for the reality of fairy tale characters, space tea pots or interventionist gods but that does not imply that I can, with 100% certainty, know that no god exists. I think RD and Shane lay it out very well.

      • Elemenope

        Your [...] dualism is showing.

        Ah, the philosophical version of undergarments.

        Or naughty bits.

      • Nzo

        Perhaps you should read my other posts.

        I have not found any evidence for the reality of fairy tale characters, space tea pots or interventionist gods but that does not imply that I can, with 100% certainty, know that no god exists.

        It also does not imply that you can, with 100% certainty, know that no space tea pot, or Falcor exists.

        I’m saying that if you’re “agnostic” about a god, then following the same logic, you have to be agnostic about other fairy tale creatures. It’s a silly idea to be honest.

        • Elemenope

          Usually, claims about the existence of fairy tale entities are never earnestly asserted, so there’s that significant difference.

          • Nzo

            The significant similarity being that they’re non-proven entities from books written by men.

            Earnest assertion does not make the “logic” used to back agnostic claims any less erroneous.

            • Elemenope

              Earnest assertion does not make the “logic” used to back agnostic claims any less erroneous.

              That’s true but tangential to the point I’m making.

              Claims are human things. One claims to have knowledge or assert belief in the existence or non-existence of certain entities. We don’t worry about fairy tales because nobody is making the claim that the entities in them exist. Existence claims have consequences (and this is where it matters). If elves or fairies or trolls existed, it would have an impact first and foremost on how we view the universe, but also many other areas such as ethics (what ways ought we deal with elves or fairies or trolls). We don’t have to *worry* about it (i.e. spend time thinking about it) because we have very good reason to believe such entities don’t exist and probably *can’t* exist (in fancy philosopher talk, they neither exist nor subsist, but absist).

              Gods, on the other hand, if they did exist would have consequences far more profound than the existence of trolls or elves, *and* Gods probably at least subsist (they could possibly exist), and so the issue is a bit more live than the one regarding fairy tale beings about which no claims are made.

            • Nzo

              Bigfoot and the Loch Ness monster.

              I know these aren’t as life-changing as gods theoretically could be, but then again, you have to remember that Zeus WAS a big deal at one point, so where does the agnostic claim end? Is it with the christian god? Xenu? Allah? Amun?
              Does it stop before the Titans, or after the Fates?

            • Elemenope

              As William James argued, the practical limits of the necessity for claims ends with what actually matters to the person judging them. If the chthonic cult of Zeus is no longer a driving force in society (or, really, anything), it costs literally nothing to believe or not, and is thus not a momentous choice, making the result trivial.

              We tend to care, in this context, about the non-trivial agnosticisms or atheisms, those of Gods whose belief is still live and the choice to participate is fairly forced and momentous for the actor so choosing.

            • Nzo

              You’ve managed to lose me, I’m afraid.

              What point are you making here?

            • Sunny Day

              I don’t get it.

              “Gods, on the other hand, if they did exist would have consequences far more profound than the existence of trolls or elves…”,

              The same lack of evidence for trolls and elves, and now more importantly Gods, can only serve to further belittle the position of agnostics.

            • Elemenope

              The same lack of evidence for trolls and elves, and now more importantly Gods, can only serve to further belittle the position of agnostics.

              The presence or absence of relevant evidence has no bearing on the importance of the claim to which evidence may prevail. Something can be unknown and still important.

              What point are you making here?

              Agnostics need not waste their time expressing doubt about things that no longer matter to anyone. That’s my point.

            • Nzo

              I suppose my point is that agnostics still have a burden of proof to defend their illogical stance on unreasonable claims.

              Any doubt about the existence of anything for which the chances of it existing are astronomically low is a waste of time. The origins of the ideas of all of these are exactly the same.

            • Elemenope

              Subjectively assessing what is and is not a waste of time is best left up to the person spending the time.

            • Elemenope

              I suppose my point is that agnostics still have a burden of proof to defend their illogical stance on unreasonable claims.

              What claims are agnostics making that are illogical/unreasonable? Asserting the possibility of something which is possible?

            • Nzo

              I’ve more or less dealt with this in a different area… search for “incomplete agnostic”

          • Francesc

            Usually… never…
            Wow, a relative quantifier and an absolute quantifier applying to the same statement. I wouldn’t have expected that from a philosopher, Elemenope.

            (Hey, it is good to see even you can make a little “error”)

            • Elemenope

              :-)

  • http://unreasonablefaith.com luz

    I never seen any evidence whether through personal experiences, scientific proof or supernatural occurrences that there is a god.That is enough for me. Call me an atheist,non believer, whatever.
    What I hate more than anything is when a theist and on occasion an agnostic expects ME to provide them with the answers to life mysteries…like I’m god or something :)
    I never said I had the answers, I just refuse to say it must be or would be God just because I dont know.

  • Tophertron

    Atheism- a(without)theism(belief in gods). It is someone who does not have a belief in any gods, it is not a belief system, just as not playing baseball is not a sport. It shouldn’t even really be a label in my opinion, but to me it describes a highly intelligent, rational, and usually humanistic person that is fed up with superstition.

    On the other hand most people who I come across who claim to be agnostic are just lazy, too nice, atheists who are scared to REALLY shed their belief system that was drilled into their head as a child and call themselves an atheist. I was at this point once. Others are usually semi-intelligent people who realize that there is no proof for a god, but they want to hold out hope for an afterlife bc they have kids or wanna see their mommy again when they die so they walk the fence about it. I almost dislike this type of person more than I do an all out theist. I say this bc I feel that it is a cop out and they are giving our stance and overall war on superstition a bad name. They fight against us worse than christians bc they say “oh you’re just as bad as fundamentalists”, when we CLEARLY are fighting to retain our human rights and fight for the rights our constitution gives us(freedom from religion) which are being taken from us DAILY by religious government leaders.

    That’s how I see it… There’s no room to walk the fence, it goes beyond belief and lack of belief, it’s a war for our rights, and if you can’t see it, you’re in trouble. I’m also a southern atheist so I see it every day. Bill in Florida just passed that will allow kids to vote(find a majority) and decide to say a prayer in class of the majorities’ religious views and vote on a student to lead the prayer. This is unacceptable! It singles out and discriminates against the minority of kids who are atheist or Muslim or whatever and forces the other religion on them! This is in a government funded school program. We need to band together and fight for our rights, our founding fathers would be appalled!

    • objectifier

      building on your breakdown of atheist, A(without)gnosis(knowing) is one without a knowlege one way or the other about god(s)

  • Dan

    People who label themselves as agnostics because “well, you can’t be 100% sure” are holding atheism to a standard no other belief system is held to before calling yourself a proponent of that system.

    If you ask most mainstream Christians, “Do you think it’s conceivable that your religion is not true?” most will probably tell you, “Sure, I guess it’s possible,” but no one expects them to stop calling themselves Christian.

    • Elemenope

      Yes. I think there should be a distinction made between Cartesian/Humean doubt and what one might call legitimate grave doubt. One is, at the final analysis, an intellectual curiosity whereas the other can change your behavior and orientation towards the universe and its contents.

    • Question-I-thority

      Yes, and I don’t stop calling myself an atheist even though I am also agnostic.

    • David Thompson

      Ummmm, except that most atheists would argue that it isn’t a belief system, it’s a lack of one.

      • Elemenope

        And they would be silly, silly atheists. :)

        • JohnMWhite

          Or just quite literal.

          • Elemenope

            Like I said. :-)

            I think an atheist has more grounds to quibble about the “system” part than the “belief” part. There are ample grounds to claim that the overarching term ‘atheist’ does not imply a specific systemic approach. I think, however, there are no grounds to claim that it isn’t a belief about existence claims of a certain class of entities. That for the most part they are trivial rejections (of the “…and I don’t believe in Thor, either” variety) does not diminish their status as beliefs.

            • Dan

              You’re right, “system” is not the right word to describe atheism. I’m not sure what you’d call it, though. Category?

              But I stand by the rest of what I wrote – no other [whatever] of belief is said to be invalid if you aren’t 100% sure about it.

            • Elemenope

              I agree. That’s why I call myself an atheist, not an agnostic; I feel perfectly comfortable asserting the belief that God(s) do(es) not exist, despite knowing that there is no way to verify that belief within my reach . But I understand how a person could desire not to cross the line from making a modest knowledge claim to a somewhat less modest belief claim.

    • http://brgulker.wordpress.com brgulker

      If you ask most mainstream Christians, “Do you think it’s conceivable that your religion is not true?” most will probably tell you, “Sure, I guess it’s possible,” but no one expects them to stop calling themselves Christian.

      Isn’t that because Christians (for the most part anyway) aren’t the ones demanding empirical evidence to support any and every single epistemological claim?

  • Custador

    I think that agnostics believe that there is no proof either way and choose not to choose. Atheists believe that the negative requires no proof and since there is not even any evidence of the positive, God does not exist.

    • Revyloution

      Ah Custador has hit upon the real difference between agnostics and atheists.

      Atheists took philosophy and understand the logical paradox of trying to disprove a negative claim.

      Agnostics had something better to do. Because they have friends.

      • Nzo

        Way to clear things up.

        Atheists are right, but agnostics have friends.

        • Revyloution

          There is no better way to clear a room at a party than to bring up philosophy :)

        • objectifier

          I like that, though I am an atheist with many friends, some atheists, some holding a variety of other beliefs. I do push some people away but generally those are people that I am okay with pushing away. And I do enjoy christians who try to convert me.

  • JonJon

    So, on one end of the spectrum, there are theists, who believe that God exists.

    On the other, there are a-theists, who believe that God does not exist.

    Agnostics have a lot of shades of gray, but I think the most important definition is that agnostics are the only ones on the spectrum who can avoid the burden of proof, since atheism is as strong a knowledge claim as theism, and since weak agnosticism especially is effectively not a knowledge claim.

    I expect I’ll get yelled at, but this is strongly implied by the way that atheism has defined itself. Un-belief is different from non-belief.

    • Elemenope

      Well, not yelled at, but I don’t think that atheism implies a knowledge claim, necessarily, only a belief claim. There is probably a minimal knowledge claim in there somewhere (knowledge of the possibility and definitions thereof), but the position of atheism only requires a conviction in the absence of deities.

      Weak agnosticism is the “well, I dunno, ah well” of religious positions. I think when Atheists react strongly against agnosticism, it is this position they are assailing for the most part, not the more strongly considered strong agnostic position on the inaccessibility of the requisite knowledge.

      Unbelief is different from non-belief only up until the prospective agent becomes aware of the possibility of belief. Then they are the same, because at that point a choice has been made one way or the other, if not explicitly, than existentially (one thinks and lives as if there is a God, or as if there is no God).

  • http://www.davidlrattigan.com Dave Rattigan

    I guess technically I’m an atheist, but I tend to identify myself as agnostic or non-theist. I continue to practice many aspects of religion, but I interpret their meaning from a secular, non-theistic, non-supernatural, non-literal perspective. Atheism is too strongly associated with being non-religious or anti-religious to describe my relationship to religion.

  • bigjohn756

    An atheist is one who reads a novel and knows it’s fiction. An agnostic reads the same novel and wonders if it might be true. After all, what are the odds of the existence of Frodo Baggins or Sherlock Holmes, or, for that matter, Jesus Christ? They are all clearly fictional characters.

  • arrakis

    While I do not rule out the possibility of a god, I do not believe in one. To me, being an agnostic would require that the odds of the existence of a god be equal to the odds that a god did not exist. As of this moment, I feel that the scale is heavily weighted in favor of the nonexistence of a god. Therefore, I consider myself an atheist.

  • anderegg

    An agnostic is a believer with enough sense to feel embarrassed about it.

    As an Atheist, I do not “believe that god doesn’t exist”, actually. I think that the idea of god(s) is indistinguishable from pure fantasy, therefore should be rejected for any logical pourpose.

  • KimV

    Since I see gods as human constructs, originally created to explain the unexplainable, it is very easy for me to say they don’t exist. If, and this is a huge if, a power akin to our idea of god does exist in the universe, it obviously couldn’t care less about our tiny little planet and our tiny little lives. And it certainly does not deserve any worship on my part. When you look at it this way, it’s very easy to label yourself atheist. I always feel that agnostics just hedge their bets; maybe it’s easier, more comfortable to leave the door of doubt open. I’ll take the intellectual honesty of an atheist any day.

  • Not A Zombie

    Backbone. Or maybe a dictionary.

  • http://afeatheradrift.wordpress.com Sherry Peyton

    An agnostic realizes that there is no proof either way as to the existence of God and remains open to being persuaded still, all the while living out his life without referen deity.

    An atheist has concluded that there is no reliable proof of God and chooses to believe there is none on that basis. In that respect the atheist is the akin to a believer of God, only choosing to believe that there is no God.

    The agnostic is philosophically on solid ground, the atheist is not.

  • http://www.agnostic-library.com/ma/ PsiCop

    I wrote an article for a different site, which happens to cover this issue.

    The bottom line is that … according to the dictionary definitions I found … the difference is this: “Atheist” means someone who denies the existence of any and all deities. Its meaning is very specific and narrow. The word “agnostic” was coined by T.H. Huxley and has a much wider meaning.

    What I have found is that, over the last (say) 20 years, a lot of folks have redefined the word “atheist” to have a much wider meaning than one finds in dictionaries. Their justification for doing so is that there is a need for a word which has a wider range of meaning … something standing between the twin affirmatives of “theist” (i.e. someone who definitely believes in one or more deities) and “atheist” (i.e. someone who rejects the existence of any and all deities). So what these folks have done is to artificially widen the meaning of “atheist” to mean “someone who does not believe in a deity.”

    While these folks have a point, in that there is a need for an additional term of this sort, the truth is that this word has already been devised, meaning it is NOT necessary to redefine “atheist” to mean something it never did before. And that was done by none other than T. H. Huxley. It was the very reason he came up with “agnostic”!

    I say it’s wiser to use words that already exist — and stick with their current definitions — than to engage in a kind of unilateral redefinition game.

  • ch

    Ultimately everyone is an agnostic in a strict philosophical sense. As humans we don’t have an ultimate epistemological foundation from which we can completely rule out possible realities. (for example, one cannot rule out the possibility that your perceptions and feelings are programed by a superior alien race or Thor or other.)

    But, this same position can be claimed for any possible belief. For example, we don’t have an ultimate epistemological foundation from which we can rule out the existence of fairies. But, based on observation and logical analysis we can claim the reasonable position as an a-fairyist.

    So, I’m both… philosophically an agnostic / practically an atheist.

    • LRA

      Excellent point! I agree 100%. I would agree that “philosophically [I'm] an agnostic / practically [I'm] an atheist.”

  • ch

    I think another point to keep in mind is that one’s firmness in an atheistic stance can very depending on the definition of God being proposed:
    Zeus residing on Mt. Olympus – very strongly atheistic
    Yahweh – strongly atheistic
    Unnamed Personal God – atheistic
    Deism – mildly atheistic
    “life force of the universe” – slightly atheistic

    • LRA

      Another great point. :)

    • ch

      “vary”, not “very”

    • objectifier

      I generally avoid soundbites but I do like “I am only atheistic about one more god than you are.” I think I heard Dawkins use that in a talk but don’t know if he originated it.

  • http://zandz.macabreink.com zach

    An agnostic is someone who is either has doubts in the existence of god, but doesn’t know if god exists or not. Or they have doubts that he doesn’t exist while believing strongly that he doesn’t exist. I find that the latter are more common, and atheists are the ones that have decided that he doesn’t exist, either because that’s their opinion or they think that’s where any evidence to god’s existence proves. Atheists are the more confident atheistic agnostics, while theists are the more confident theistic agnostics. Some agnostics just don’t decide, because it can’t be proven. In a way deciding to be either atheist or theist has some form of faith on your decision. Faith merely being the word to describe what you think. These agnostics are the ones who want actual evidence to prove one side before they commit to one decision on either side.

  • Arie

    I’m in the entertaining position of having rejected both Theism and Atheism, trying to find a place to stand somewhere in the middle is proving challenging. Pantheism looks promising but who knows weather it will stand up to scrutiny.

    • http://agnosticism2010.blogspot.com/ nomad

      Is that a rhetorical question?

      • Arie

        no

        • http://agnosticism2010.blogspot.com/ nomad

          In that case, atheists know it won’t stand up to scrutiny.

          • Arie

            That is indeed a position I would expect some atheist to take. But presenting it as a bear fact is no better then saying “Jesus is the one and only way”. There is a quite a range of Pantheist view ranging from the clearly religious to the clearly secular. Which of them do you object to, and why?

            At present I would accept the i view the universe as an organism because that is what my perceptual system is wired to do. In a deep way assigning motive and purpose to things in the external world is how human minds work. Is there some overriding virtue in fighting against this? IF your aim is absolute and truth (if there is such a thing) then perhaps. Personally I don’t see the point in fighting my own nature more then necessary.

    • Francesc

      Rethink the reasons why you rejected theism (the logical ones) and you may get to the same conclusion in respect to pantheism.

      By the way, nomad, you sounded arrogant here, or was it sarcasm?

      • http://agnosticism2010.blogspot.com/ nomad

        A little of one. A lot of the other.

        • Francesc

          Then I’ll support empirically your view:
          Yes, I know it won’t stand up to scrutiny (as anything that implies a supernatural claim).

          But it may worth a try.
          I mean, it’s pretty normal to keep looking for a purpose for life.

          • http://agnosticism2010.blogspot.com/ nomad

            (arrogant chuckle) heheh

      • Chava

        I know it sounds contradictory, but Pantheists can be thought of atheist or theist, depending on how the god idea is defined. I identify as Naturalistic Pantheist (or Scientific Pantheist) through Jewish Reconstructionism which holds that there is no supernatural God (much like Buddhism is technically atheistic – a person stating they are an atheist Buddhist is being redundant) and Judaism is a civilization that we participate in. We’re probably the most leftist of the Jewish denominations. My definition or personal use of the term “God” is closer to the idea of a universal life-force or nature that encompasses all of us and all things and is a unity – or the Hebrew “Echad”, than it is to a being that exists outside of nature as a “super-person”.

        Incidentally, Richard Dawkins refers to pantheism as “sexed up atheism”, which I fined lovely and amusing.

        It may be that I have difficulty with letting go of a place to direct reverence or I need to hold something sacred so I’ve redirected it towards nature, the same criticism that strong atheists have toward agnostics, but I think that’s really just a part of my personality. I often feel as if strong atheists are just saying “you should be more like me”, that is, when they are not simply misconstruing my position and are hung up on “God” having to mean what the Bible says in a literal sense. I like the poetry of viewing life as sacred. I do read the Torah, but I view it as a collection of folk lore and the mythos of my particular civilization or people. I also fall into the Neo-Hasidic category in that I practice Jewish mysticism – kind of like someone would practice the various forms of Yoga but not literally believe that there’s a god with an elephant head who brings luck.

        http://plato.stanford.edu/entries/pantheism/

  • Charity

    I used the term agnostic when I had decided that I no longer believed in Christianity, but wasn’t sure what I believed. Eventually, I decided that a belief in any god was pretty pointless (for me) and that there probably wasn’t a god, so I started saying atheist. So, for me, agnostic was a transitional step.

    I do think that there is a difference between the two terms, and not that an agnostic is an uncommitted atheist or an atheist who doesn’t want to offend people. It’s a bit nuanced, but there is more of a certainty in an atheist’s position that some people don’t identify with. I think those people are the ones who self-identify as agnostics.

  • Steve

    “Atheist” and “agnostic” refer to two distinct categories. An atheist is taking a position on the question “Is there a god or gods?” whereas an agnostic is taking a position on the question “Is it possible to KNOW whether there is a god or gods?” Both answer in the negative for their respective questions. In practice, however, most people seem to be unaware of this difference, and use “agnostic” to mean something like “negative (weak) atheist” or “an atheist who doesn’t want to be perceived as argumentative or over-confident.”

    • Vombatus

      Finally someone addresses the fact that one is ontological and the other is epistemological. Knowledge and belief are two different questions with two different answers.

  • objectifier

    Often I find atheists becoming agnostics in circumstances where there is greater personal risk, be it social, financial or physical. The label they choose depends on who they are talking to.

    Others adopt the position of agnostic because they claim that atheists cannot prove the non-existence of god any more than the theists can prove his existence.

    I think I am more anti-theist because of the harm I see religion doing both today and throughout our history. I also sometimes use the label of born again evangelical atheist because I do quite openly talk about my beliefs and the logic of it. I was at dinner last night with two friends and I was talking about my views and they about theirs. While mine was quite specific, theirs was more amorphous, drifting towards deism rather than any specific denomination.

    I try to be very clear about what I think, not just say “I’m an atheist” and let the other person fill in the blanks. I also very much enjoy discussing religion with young people, even those who have a devoutly fundamentalist mindset as long as they are open to discussion rather than just spouting catch phrases they were taught to parrot. I don’t like soundbites and try to speak in complete thoughts rather than slogans. I am very heartened by the fact that I do find a lot of the people I speak to in their late teens and early twenties either atheists, agnostics or at very least open to hearing another point of view.

    As far as other points of view, I find that listening to them helps me focus my own thoughts more than when I just talk with other atheists. It forces me to sharpen my intellect and arguments.,

  • Kimberly

    Who cares? A skeptic is a skeptic is a skeptic. The more the merrier. It’s pointless for people to squabble over something imaginary, especially us. I personally like to go by animist…just because most people haven’t even heard of the word. Makes them feel stupid. XD In my little world, animist=hippie athiest.

  • JiveKitty

    I’ll just pull this from where I’ve already written about it:

    The terms “atheist” and “atheism” come from the Greek “atheos” which means “without gods”. There is a subtle distinction here which many fail to make. The term does not imply that one believes there are no gods. It implies a lack of gods/lack of belief in gods. Following on from that root, atheism is logically considered to be “a lack of belief in the existence of God or gods”. As such, atheism is not a proscriptive concept defining what one believes, it is rather a concept which defines certain ideas that one does not believe.

    Agnosticism and atheism are thus compatible. Agnosticism can be considered as the belief that one can neither prove nor disprove the existence of God or gods. Belief can be considered as “any cognitive content held as true” with truth being considered as conforming to reality or factually verified. If one can neither prove nor disprove the existence of God or gods, the agnostic cannot be considered to hold belief in the existence of God or gods as, by the very definition of “agnosticism”, such cognitive content could not be held as true. Given that atheism is “a lack of belief in the existence of God or gods” rather than a proscriptive concept determining what one does believe, agnosticism can thus be seen as a form of atheism.

  • laura

    Its easy to be an athiest when it comes to the god in the bible, the entity-man-dude to whom christians love to make silly requests like please let my football team win this game, etc. However, someone else in this discussion raised the question of the definition of “god” itself. I believe that human intelligence at this stage in evolution is far from capable of knowing absolute reality. I so dislike the term “god” but I consider myself an agnostic mostly because human’s concept of “god” may be so completely off the mark. I dont even like the term “higher power”. I dont have the words for what I’m trying to say, but I’m fascinated by this mechanism that keeps our planet chugging along day in & out – this stuff or energy that moves existence forward to the next second. Maybe some scientific inquiry thats way over my head will bring us closer, like string theory perhaps. It would be cool if “god” turned out to be dark matter. While some prefer science in pursuit of knowledge, others are comforted by and cannot expand beyond these most perplexing stories of a strange-acting mean-spirited god-person. I sure as hell don’t get the bible people but I wonder if these two extremes are not the product of the same drive in humans to understand whats what. We just have widely varying levels of awareness. But maybe this pursuit of “god” is the pursuit of ultimate reality. Could they be one in the same? Or have I gone off on a tangent? – I just had a glass of wine. Its way past my bedtime. I’m very sleepy. But its been very interesting to read the responses to this question!

    • JiveKitty
      • jchai

        Thanks for posting that link. I especially enjoy this from the article:
        “Since the word “God” has many different meanings, it is possible for the sentence “God exists” to express many different propositions. What we need to do is to focus on each proposition separately. … For each different sense of the term “God,” there will be theists, atheists, and agnostics relative to that concept of God.”

  • Nick

    If I may throw my two cents around, I’d like to clarify two ideas about this.

    Formally, the difference between an Atheist and an Agnostic seems to lie with the issue of knowledge about divinity. As I understand it, the formal definition of an Agnostic is one who denies the capacity to possess knowledge about divinity in any form. This is contrasted by the Atheist standpoint, that there is no divinity. Implicit in the Atheist’s claims is that one is capable of knowing about the nature of a higher power. Regardless of whether you consider Atheism a proscriptive concept or not, it seems inappropriate to directly compare Agnosticism to Atheism. It would seem to me that one talks about whether a god exists or not, and the other talks about whether its even possible to have knowledge about this god that may or may not exist.

    In practice, it seems that a large number of people appropriate the word “agnostic” to indicate their uncertainty on the matter or their refusal to choose (which is not the same as making definite claim that one *can’t know). I have also found some that borrow the agnostic mantle to cover their general apathy about the discussion. Although I am sure they are out there, in my daily life I have not met many people who qualified as Agnostics from a technical standpoint.

    The practicing atheist, on the other hand, seems to line up much more with the actual definition of “Atheist.” Although I do know some who are blindly atheist without actually considering what the title implies, with greater regularity than the agnostic I see atheists as actually being Atheists.

    • Elemenope

      There is a distinction between what is called “strong agnosticism”, which is as you describe a meta-position about the ability to know certain classes of fact (such as whether God(s) exist(s)), and “weak agnosticism” which merely the position that the person holding it either refuses or doesn’t have access to the requisite information or skills or desire to decide whether they believe God(s) exist(s). One is a powerful epistemological claim, and the other is a simple existential choice.

    • JiveKitty

      See, I would disagree by stating that agnosticism is a subset of atheism. The reason I mentioned that it is not a proscriptive is because an atheist does not necessarily believe there is no divinity, they do not believe in any divinity. It is a lack of belief rather than a belief. It is admittedly a subtle distinction. However, as such there is no claim as to knowledge of a higher power: that would be proscriptive, and congruent with this lack of belief there is a spectrum which ranges from belief that there is no divinity to belief that the existence of divinity can be neither proven nor disproven.

  • Bryan Elliott

    No opinion involved.
    “Atheist” is a statement of disbelief about gods; “agnostic” is a statement of disbelief in knowledge about X, where, in this context, X=Gods. In short, they’re not mutually exclusive.

    If you’re talking about the difference between someone who calls themselves an agnostic v. an atheist; an agnostic is someone who doesn’t believe in god (and is therefore, technically an atheist), but doesn’t have a firm enough grasp on the topic to use the right terms.

    • http://brgulker.wordpress.com brgulker

      Only if you assume that it’s not possible for an agnostic to be a believer, which is incorrect.

  • ElitistB

    I believe the terms have a lot of overlap, since the two are not exclusive and deal with different processes of thought. Agnosticism is a statement of knowledge, atheism is a statement of belief.

    Agnosticism as a statement of knowledge – all reasonable people would say that they are agnostic, because there is some extremely slight slim chance that a god of some form or fashion could exist. Since this term covers pretty much everyone in the world who has a grasp of reality, it is a useless definition, and thus no one should ever describe themselves as such. Those who do do so because typically because of peer pressure, whether real or imagined. The only people who are not agnostic are those who claim with absolute certainty 100% that there is or is not some form of a god by whatever definition gods have. Generally only theists will make the claim of NOT being agnostic, because they claim they have 100% proof. Some atheists will also claim to not be agnostic, but really, they have some severe biases to say there is 100% no chance.

    Atheism is a statement of belief – If you do not believe there are gods, for whatever reason, you are atheist. Regardless of the CHANCES of gods existing, if you do not currently believe in one or more gods, you are an atheist.

    I am an agnostic atheist. The chances of there being gods is so minuscule that to believe in them is logically retarded, and thus I do not. While I won’t deny that there is a possibility of the IPU existing or of Russell’s teapot, the likelihood is vanishingly small, and thus I don’t believe in them.

  • http://brgulker.wordpress.com brgulker

    Athiest: No God.
    Agnostic: No/not enough knowledge.

    • http://brgulker.wordpress.com brgulker

      I should add, I think an agnostic could just as easily be a believer as a non-believer in god(s).

      • http://brgulker.wordpress.com brgulker

        Should have read through the comments before posting. It seems that nearly every comment assumes that agnosticism and atheism are connected/related/subsets of each other/etc.

        I think that’s incorrect. As one easy example, I don’t have empirical evidence to support belief in God; I am literally without that type of knowledge. So technically, I’m an agnostic (without knowledge) with respect to that specific type of knowledge and evidence as it relates to belief in God.

        I’m not trying to play a mere game of semantics. But I do think there’s a bit of a blind spot in the discussion that’s obvious to me given my perspective and the perspective of other commenters.

        P.S. I wouldn’t self-identify as agnostic in conversation, because the word comes with baggage that would only serve to confuse the conversation and inaccurately reflect what I actually think and believe, because in my experience, most people tend to incorrectly associate agnosticism and atheism, and I’m not an atheist.

        • Siberia

          Funnily, over here agnostic is used more or less in the same way you describe – I can’t know, but I believe there’s something. Which is why most people I know describe themselves as agnostic – having some sort of mystical belief – only a few have the guts to say “no, I don’t believe in any sort of magic”.

          • http://brgulker.wordpress.com brgulker

            That’s interesting. Do you mind reminding me where “here” is for you? :)

        • http://agnosticism2010.blogspot.com/ nomad

          That’s an interesting distinction, BR. And as mentioned elsewhere, one position is a statement about belief, the other refers to knowing. Apples and oranges so to speak. Probably better, left brain and right brain. The two halfs have to interface with each other in the human head. Your comment suggested to me something I’d never thought about before: even when I was a theist I was agnostic. And now that I am antitheist I am still agnostic. I have always been agnostic. As for atheists, there are various kinds, of course; but what I notice is that many are recovering religionists. They were as certain about their religion then as they are about their atheism now. I am not saying that there is anything wrong with that. I’m merely making an observation about the need to be certain. Certain as a Christian and now certain as an atheist. Two sides of a single coin.

    • Jabster

      I think much of the problem is that when someone says God it’s not clear what the definition of what God actually is; the Christian god, the Muslim god, a Norse god etc. My belief in the concept that mainstream gods don’t exist is somewhat different to a vague concept of a god as just a creator or something similar. So to me the statement No God is fairly meaningless unless someone states which god.

      • http://brgulker.wordpress.com brgulker

        I think I see your point, but if your answer to the existence of fill in the blank god(s) is “No,” I don’t see what the tangible difference is. Does that make any sense?

        Someone: “Do you believe in Zeuss?’
        Jabster: “No.”

        Someone: Do you believe in Yahweh?
        Jabster: No.

        Someone: Do you believe in some type of intelligence that humans cannot possibly understand or describe that caused the universe to be?
        Jabster: No.

        I’m not sure I’m being clear. I’m basically asking you to expand on your last sentence, because I’m not sure I’m following what the practical outcome is.

        • Jabster

          I certainly believe there is a tangible difference as if god is defined as creating the Universe the buggered off leaving it the same as if naturalistic processes had created the universe then all though I wouldn’t say I believe that’s true I would say that it’s not possible to provide evidence one way or the other. If you take a mainstream god that is not only supposed to have created the Universe but plays a ongoing role in what happens then there should be evidence for this being true.

  • Janet Greene

    I had this conversation with my sister, who believes exactly as I do but labels herself an agnostic rather than an atheist. I explain this a few ways:

    1. Her personality vs. mine – she is more diplomatic and I am more blunt. Agnostic is a softer word that means the same thing in fundy circles (ie – I’m not a christian).

    2. How we define the word “god” – I am using the most well-understood definition of god; a conscious god, who made everything, wrote a book for us to follow, knows how many hairs I have on my head, answers prayer, died for me, is preparing a heaven (or in my case, a hell) for after death, etc. Even by a more liberal definition of god, it’s still SUPREMELY obvious that this entity does not exist. However, my sister says “agnostic” because she doesn’t know if there is some kind of life force out there that cannot be explained scientifically. I get this, because I have experienced things that seem beyond coincidence. But I don’t know what it is, and I’m unwilling to label that “god” just because I don’t know. Humans have been doing that since the dawn of time – filling in their ignorance with the “G” man.

    So if you include ANY possibility of mysticism, pantheism, or whatever, it’s a wider net to say “there is no god”. But in the commonly used definition in western society, it’s pretty much a no-brainer and I think calling yourself agnostic in these circumstances is a cop-out.

    • http://agnosticism2010.blogspot.com/ nomad

      I disagree. Whose going to take seriously an atheist that believes in mysticism? Agnostic is the best descriptor.

  • http://www.altairIV.net Wade

    An atheist lives his life without any need to consider the supernatural, nor bothering to follow dogmas created by those inside the religious bureaucracies. They’ve spent some time and effort coming to this philosophy and stance. The agnostic has spent neither time nor effort bothering with the question of uber-natural beings or causes, and can even be religious in his behavior, as apathy is not necessarily consistent with non-following. Atheism is a consistent knowledge system. Agnosticism is a consistent system of willful disinterest.

    • Jabster

      “Atheism is a consistent knowledge system.”

      er, no it’s not. It quite possible to be an atheist with very little thought into the why.

    • http://agnosticism2010.blogspot.com/ nomad

      Just as it is possible to, after much thought to these issues, become an agnostic. Or a theist for that matter. Get over yourselves.

  • http://zackfordblogs.com Zack Ford

    I wrote a response synthesizing a lot of the discussion on here. Thanks to everyone for sharing all your brilliant ideas!

    http://zackfordblogs.com/2010/05/atheism-vs-agnosticism-in-the-context-of-religious-privilege/

    I hope you will all consider the influence of religious privilege on why we care so much about these issues!

  • jchai

    An atheist is convinced there is no god. An agnostic, while acknowledging there in no verifiable evidence of a god, is not totally convinced there is no god; there is room for doubt, it’s one of many unknowns in life. But an agnostic and an atheist both live as though there is no divine intervention in the world, no point in prayer, no miracles, etc.

  • Cyberdraco

    “I contend we are both atheists, I just believe in one fewer god than you do. When you understand why you dismiss all the other possible gods, you will understand why I dismiss yours.”
    Stephen F Roberts

  • Jen

    An atheist believes no god exists. An agnostic believes that you just cannot decide whether a god exists or not. However, I don’t think that an agnostic is an atheist who just doesn’t want to upset his or her family… I think I’d even consider myself in between the two ideologies sometimes.

  • http://agnosticism2010.blogspot.com/ nomad

    Having found this, I simply couldn’t resist. Paraphrasing slightly:
    “Captain’s log. Stardate 3545.666
    Daniel Florien reporting.
    The presence of nomad upon my ship has become nightmarish…”
    http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=r8VkzG2S0-Q&feature=player_embedded

  • SDE

    Like others, I view the terms as not exclusive. Belief and knowledge are different.

    I self-identify with ‘agnostic’ – I really don’t know. In fact, I really don’t know whether I’m dreaming or awake.
    I also self-identify with ‘atheist’ – I really don’t believe in god(s).

    I’m most likely to call myself an atheist when asked- because its easier. I think the term agnostic is difficult because it isn’t an “I believe” statement.

  • Richiban

    ‘Agnostic’ to me means something slightly different than people are saying in the comments – they seem to think that ‘agnostic’ means that they haven’t made up their mind about the existence of God, but actually it means that they believe that it’s impossible to _know_ whether God exists.

    This means that you can be an agnostic atheist or an agnostic theist, rather than a scale with atheist on one end, theist on the other, and agnostic somewhere in the middle.

    Personally I’m an agnostic atheist – meaning that I don’t believe that God exists, rather than I claim to know with 100% certainty that God doesn’t exist.

    • Nzo

      Feeling the need to add the “agnostic” in the description is something I don’t understand.

      If you’re agnostic about a god, one way or the other, then how are you not agnostic about everything else that, on a deeply philosophical level, you cannot “know” exists, or does not exist?

      Agnostic Pastafarian
      Agnostic This-chair-is-real-ist
      Agnostic Santaclausian
      Agnostic Anti-russell’s-teapot-..ist

      Technically, anything ever thought of has a non-zero chance of existing, or not existing, no matter how remote the chances are. Therefore, a certain level of agnosticism should be an obvious stance with anything, so why is it so important to declare this stance in this forum of theists and atheists? Whatever the case may be, if you’re on that level of thought, limiting your agnosticism to a “god” is giving that particular made-up idea more credit than others.

      • Richiban

        You can always reverse your position, and be gnostic. This means that you are 100% sure, not prepared to accept even the smallest probability that you might be wrong.

        Since the agnostic view is quite scientific in its caution, it usually crops up wherever atheism does. The opposite could be said of gnosticism too – by far the majority of gnostics will be in the theist camp.


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