I’ve been blogging on Patheos for about three years and I don’t think I’ve explicitly stated that I’m both an atheist *and* an agnostic. I know this topic has been covered many times by many people. And yet, it’s still commonly misunderstood. So I’d like to share on my own blog why I’m both an atheist and an agnostic.
Agnostic derives from Ancient Greek and simply means “without knowledge.” The definition of knowledge using the Merriam-Webster dictionary is “the fact or condition of knowing something with familiarity gained through experience or association.” I’m not sure that’s even a good definition since it has the word “knowing” in it. But basically, knowledge here refers to something we can study empirically.
If we apply this to religion, it means a person does not have the ability to empirically study or observe God or Gods. I’m also agnostic about many things that I don’t have knowledge about (unicorns, dragons, etc). And religious people can certainly be agnostic about their own religion! They can admit that they do not have knowledge that makes them feel certain about their deity of choice. However, they choose to have faith, or believe.
Atheism also derives from Greek and means “without belief.” So if we apply this to religion, it means we do not have that belief in God or Gods. In order words, we lack faith to believe in the deity because we don’t have evidence to do so. Religious people are not atheists because they do possess belief in their God(s). Again, they can still fall under the definition of agnostic and then choose to believe or have faith despite their lack of knowledge.
Of course, some people claim they *do* have knowledge of God too. They can saw they saw God in a vision or something as that is their “evidence.” Rarely, you may even run into an atheist who “knows” there is no God. But these people are rare outside of YouTube comments sections. It’s simply a strawman argument to say atheists generally claim to “know” there is not a God. Many of us openly admit we do not have knowledge and do not believe based on the lack of evidence for such knowledge.
Now, you may hear the argument that “both atheists and religious people have faith!” But this is incorrect. Religious people choose to believe in the God they do not have knowledge about (making them agnostic theists). The agnostic atheist is simply taking the position that there is not enough evidence to believe in the deity.
So when Richard Dawkins says “we are all atheists, but I just go one God further” he is referring to how almost everyone is an agnostic atheist for some type of deity. Christians believe in their God without evidence, but don’t believe in Zeus for example. The reasoning for why a Christian doesn’t believe in Zeus and why I don’t believe in any Gods follows the same logic. There is not enough evidence for me to believe so I choose not to!