This is my first real rant... breaking out that soap box.
Agnostic has broadened my world and introduced so many lovely people into my life that I deeply enjoy the company of. Our conversations are sometimes fun and lighthearted, other times intense and intellectual. I've learned many things from this community and the people in it.
That said, there is this tired old debate. One where agnostics and atheists can't seem to agree on definitions for the words. I'm not going to sit here and post telling all of you that people misunderstand and they need to be taught! That is so demeaning and presumptuous when people do that. It's preaching and coaching rather than talking to someone like a peer. I respect all of you as peers and fellow critical thinkers, so...
I can tell you my own interpretation based on the digging that I've done. I won't ask you to agree with it. All I ask is you do what you already do, think critically. Be open minded. And, most of you are pretty cool and respectful peeps, so I don't think I need to say it-- but there is always one person that needs the reminder. So, here it is! Please play nice. ; )
Disclaimer: if you want to call yourself an agnostic, atheist, agnostic atheist-- whatever, it's your choice based on what fits you most comfortably. The term you choose for yourself is what matters more than my interpretation of the words.
Ah, so for almost 20 years, I've said I was an atheist. After joining agnostic, someone ranted about atheism and agnosticism being mutually exclusive. That someone made me re-evaluate my own thinking. I started digging into the words a little more... and then I started questioning my own bias.
Was I calling myself atheist, because I rejected the dogma of religion (which on an emotional level really pisses me off)? When I thought about it, I could only reject certain gods. Because there was not only no proof of these gods, the evidence was stacked against the holy books these gods are defined in.
I absolutely do not believe the Abrahamic god as portrayed in the bible or similar holy texts is real. These holy texts disprove themselves with contradictions and inaccuracies.
I do not reject the idea of the possibility of a creator of some sort. I do not believe it. But, I do not disbelieve it.
My beliefs and disbeliefs are based on facts and evidence. I will shift beliefs regardless of my feelings, if the facts and evidence align.
*When I looked into the terms atheist and agnostic here is the defining difference
Definition of atheism
1 a : a lack of belief or a strong disbelief in the existence of a god or any gods
b : a philosophical or religious position characterized by disbelief in the existence of a god or any gods
Definition of agnostic
1 : a person who holds the view that any ultimate reality (such 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
*The difference between the two, per Merriam-Webster (and I agree with this interpretation, which is why I regularly quote it)
Many people are interested in distinguishing between the words agnostic and atheist. The difference is quite simple: atheist refers to someone who believes that there is no god (or gods), and agnostic refers to someone who doesn’t know whether there is a god, or even if such a thing is knowable. This distinction can be troublesome to remember, but examining the origins of the two words can help.
Agnostic first appeared in 1869, (possibly coined by the English biologist Thomas Henry Huxley), and was formed from the Greek agn?stos (meaning "unknown, unknowable". Atheist came to English from the French athéisme. Although both words share a prefix (which is probably the source of much of the confusion) the main body of each word is quite different. Agnostic shares part of its history with words such as prognosticate and prognosis, words which have something to do with knowledge or knowing something. Atheist shares roots with words such as theology and theism, which generally have something to do with God.
Depending on your interpretation, I could be defined as an atheist or an agnostic. Atheist if we're talking ONLY about the Abrahamic god. But, why was I defining myself as if Christianity was the anchor of the definition?
In broad strokes, I realized agnostic fits better for me. I don't know if a god or creator exists. And, if I have to label myself, I prefer to think in general.
Some people call themselves agnostic atheists. Per wiki, one of the earliest definitions of agnostic atheism is that of Robert Flint, in his Croall Lecture of 1887–1888 (published in 1903 under the title Agnosticism).
I understand the intent behind the conjoined term, but in my mind these two concepts contradict. How can you both not believe (disbelieve) and claim unknowability? Why have both terms at all, aren't you just agnostic if you require evidence?
But, I suppose it comes from the desire to say, I disbelieve until someone proves otherwise. Which, I do get. But, agnostics don't believe anything without evidence either. So, I don't feel the need to put the terms together. Though, I don't find I need to argue with people who do want to put them together. It does make it's point, which is the whole purpose of labels to begin with. So, OK.
To sum this up, in my opinion there is no perfect term, label, or word for me. I use labels as a general means to find things that interest me under these headings and to connect with people who generally share my viewpoint-- or at least share the desire to reject dogma and examine things critically.
This rant is only because I've seen several people try to "educate" others on the definitions. To tell everyone they are wrong and have a misconception. This has long been debated and really, to what end? There isn't a good conclusive resource to say side A is right and side B is wrong, so why keep bringing it up? To educate people without a strong source to reference is against the very concept of freethinking. It's better to say "my opinion is..." or "my interpretation is..." and even myself, I cannot claim that I am right and others are wrong. There is no really good corroboration for either side here. Our sources don't even really agree.
Truth be told, I hate labels anyway. I don't feel the need to have a specific tattoo of either agnostic or atheist. Those of you who know me get the gist of what I do and don't believe. I hate dogmatic thinking-- that's the end game.
Fuck the labels. If you don't like dogma, you are my people, my tribe, and I'm good with whatever definition you want to use.
Seriously, call yourself whatever you want, friends.
If you read to the end, thank you for hearing me out. This is the longest blurb I've written. I will now step off my soap box.
There is no "agnostic versus atheist". Each is the answer to a different question. Agnostic is about knowledge, atheist is about belief. If they're being honest, many religious people would agree that they think the existence of a god (or their god(s) in particular) is unknown and unknowable; a person can clearly be an agnostic believer.
People can (and do) call me whatever they want to, but I don't feel any need to assume an identity (pro or con) based on other people's hallucinations. Different dictionaries define those terms differently anyway, so a conviction of one perspective over another is really a statement of arbitrary loyalty to, you guessed it, another book!
To my mind, a more vexing problem is that everybody seems to assume that they are all talking about the same thing when they use the word god, when, realistically, no two people are likely to see that concept exactly the same if they were to talk it out fully. By various definitions I am a theist, an atheist, and an agnostic, as well as none of those.
I don't know of any way to communicate my position other than through lengthy, two-way discussions. Two-way because I don't know how to add an idea to your current understanding until I am familiar with that understanding. I don't know how to talk to you until I know what certain words mean to you. Communication is relational.
Arguments over the definitions of words are not really arguments. They are just two people telling each other what those words mean to them. They are both right. All we can do is listen, believe them, and try to take that into account.
Get out of my head! Point well stated, and exactly!!!
"In broad strokes, I realized agnostic fits better for me. I don't know if a god or creator exists. And, if I have to label myself, I prefer to think in general."
"Fuck the labels. If you don't like dogma, you are my people, my tribe, and I'm good with whatever definition you want to use."
Thanks for this post. Love it.
Well done. As for me, I fall in the camp that believes the existence of God is unknowable. One may label that whatever one chooses. It doesn't rule out the possibility of a God of some sort. It just states that (with our current understanding and ability) we can't prove or disprove the existence of a greater being than us.
Part 1) Precise thoughts come from precise language.
If we adopt the "call yourself whatever you want" ideology, then are we ok with theist calling themselves atheists and atheists calling themselves theist? I should think not.
As well with agnostic and atheist; these are two different words with two different meanings. They are not synonyms. And in teasing out the differences we tease out what our true intentions and feelings are on an issue. You said it yourself, by posing the idea that agnostic and atheist were mutually exclusive, someone made you think about your own beliefs, made them more precise.
Part 2) "The limits of my language are the limits of my world" - Wittgenstein
There is a problem in relying on dictionaries and that is that dictionaries try to boil down complex ideas into a sentence or two and we are on this site discussions some of the most complex ideas in philosophy and theology. Thus, while we can use dictionaries as a jumping off point, we have to be careful that they are not the only point. The Wittgenstein quote can be viewed to mean that if you use the wrong words to describe yourself, you are unfairly limiting your worldview and, conversely, by choosing the right word you broaden your world view. I've seen many many many posts on this site about people, whom once their realized they were atheist, once they could put a name to their feeling, felt like a weight was off their shoulder, like the world made more sense to them. As such, an exploration of labels is very important to us for as humans it not only give definition to our thoughts but also to give us a sense of where we belong and what communities rally around the same words, the same thoughts.
Part 3) A personal account
I've had two threads where I've brought into question the meaning of the word agnostic. For a site named agnostic.com, this should be par for the course and yet I've often met this idea that I'm being pedantic, that I should leave well enough alone, or that I'm just flat our wrong. And that is fine! We pure agnostics are the minority on this board (and perhaps in society) and it should come as no surprise that how we view ourselves is not in vogue. If you don't agree with how I define myself, then so be it. If you don't agree with how I see you define yourself, I challenge you to also be ok with it. I am a teacher by trade and, ironically, I don't teach; I facilitate. It is not my intention to be a teacher on what agnostic means but it is my intention for me to facilitate your understanding of what I mean when I say agnostic.
Conclusion) Respectful discourse is more important than labels
While I disagree with the content of Silvereyes post (as I believe labels do matter), I wholeheartedly agree with it's spirit: let us strive to understand each other using whatever labels we see fit.... but let us not get upset if the labels we choose for ourselves or others are challenged for growth comes from challenge, not blind acceptance. If this clashes with how you view me or that term, then I say more power to us both! Most of the clashes I've had on this topic have been respectful and intelligent, with each side presenting their points for why they feel this way. Most. Not all. And thus I will continue to espouse my views and live by them peacefully and respectfully. If you want to join me for the ride using the labels I chose, great! If you don't or if you want to use different labels, great as well! But let us challenge each other to meet our disagreements with the spirit of respectful discourse for that is more important than just about anything... including labels.
"but in my mind these two concepts contradict. How can you both not believe (disbelieve) and claim unknowability?"
Easily, you do it too.
Do you believe you'll be dead in 30 minutes time?
I'd assume the answer is no.
Can you know right now that you won't be dead in 30 minutes time?
So it's not at all contradictory to disbelieve something while simultaneous accepting you can't know it.
Thank you for this! I hate labels, as well....but I relate most to agnostic, as you have described it above. There have been a few times on this site that I have considered never coming back, mainly from the aggressive "education" attempts from a few extremist, self-labeled atheists. No one has the right to define who I am, except for me. Labels are just words, that are a tool to help describe a viewpoint. But those words can be arbitrary if they're not flexible enough to include everyone's interpretation. If someone wants to dig their heels in over their own interpretation, then they and I are not communicating. If they insist that I am wrong, and they are right, conversation is over. Sometimes that's for the best! Ha.
Thanks for the rant.
I self-identify as an atheist. I marmalise anybody who (cherry) picks a dictionary definition to tell me what I am. I get sick and tired of people who fail to understand the limitations that are inherent in all dictionary definitions.
When asked to explain myself, I trot out this tired old war horse: "Nobody has ever produced any falsifiable evidence to support the existence claim of any god. Oh, and it is trivial to prove that both the god of the Torah and the god of the Bible cannot exist.".
Thomas Henry Huxley grandsons include Aldous Huxley (author of Brave New World and Doors of Perception) and his brother Julian Huxley (an evolutionist, and the first director of UNESCO), and Nobel laureate physiologist Andrew Huxley.
It is appropiate the god in the Brave New World was Henry Ford.
This was too nice to be a rant IMHO, more like an overture or something of that sort.
I like simplicity, and it is really simple to look at the prefix and root words.
a- means without
-gnostic comes from the word gnosis, meaning knowledge.
-theism is the belief in a god or gods
Simply an agnostic knows of no gods (but might believe, given proof, or as pointed out might believe but not "KNOW" God) while an atheist believes there is(are) no god(s). That lines up with the definition that Webster so kindly published.
I agree fully. In my late 20s, 1974, I was in Bible College and later a minister. I found the same thing regarding the terms. I have been an agnostic since my early 50s. I went from a right wing bible fundamentalist to a spiritual theist to an agnostic liberal over about 27 years. What a trip. And without drugs.
For me it's the "strong disbelief in the existence of a god or any gods" that I don't really possess at the moment and because of that I can't really call myself an Atheist.
Also, I've come to realize that there are a lot more people using "atheist" as an umbrella term for everyone who "isn't a theist"; this is kind of like how someone can be a Christian theist, but someone else can believe there is a God but no frills attached and is thereby a "Theist" in a more specific sense. It used to be that this general "not an umbrella theist" was referred to by the "nontheist" label, but has increasingly just been getting referred to by "atheist". Just another shift in language that makes things more confusing—I don't mind either way so long as the individual is clear and specific with their usage.
I frequently state, "In my experience," "based on my life choices and experiences, I, personally feel," etc. I try, always, to let it be known what I am saying is My Own personal belief, and/or why this or that or the other thing Is or Isn't imporant to me. I even try to reveal Personal information, information I do not like to share, not because I am secretive, but because I am Private, yet even still, I reveal personal life experiences here In Order to show Why I feel And believe as I do. Yet I am told, frequently, that I am dictating to someone else what "This title" or "that title" means to Them. No. I am not. Like you, I care to an extent how one chooses to address themselves, but so long as they do not try to title me against my own will, I will do neither to them. I Do Say I feel certain ways, but I also say I am open to Changing those opinions, that I have met such a variety of atheists in my time here that I Am changing my point of view in Certain aspects, but that those things still have yet to alter what I have Already experienced. Even still, I continued to get crap for My opinion. Mine and mine alone. I was tagged in other peoples "Additions" regularly. I thought I made myself crystal clear when I expressed how I felt, why I felt that way, gave Personal, Private life examples to support my claims, I left it Open that I could be mistaken, that I Am in flux, that I Am learning, yet still... it was as though a few people in particular were picking and choosing what to see and it was not a complete picture of my approach in the slightest. I tried to be gracious. To be kind. Yet here I am again and again being linked in to this or that. I tried to walk away. I was pulled back. There are even Specific Individuals that took to contacting me in private regarding this matter and to critsize and needle me regarding TheMiddleWay and myself.
Although I can see both sides, and even I, personally, have been... stressed out and frustrated over this entire thread to the point that I Almost didn't even come to read this. Last night when I said "Stick a Fork in me I'm Done!" I sooo meant it. haha! However, I have a Deep and abiding Respect for you Silver. I have followed your posts long enough, quietly in the background and the shadows, the way I do my observing hee hee hee, to have a decent enough understanding of your person. For Those reasons and those reasons Alone, I came here. I have varying levels of respect for everyone here. Some go up and up and up in calibur, while others can go down to the point of indifference in my world. And in that indifferene, I stop caring What titles they use to represent themselves with because in my mind, they are a non-issue in my life. However, the people I Do respect, they are the ones whom I Do look to and I look at the titles they use to represent themselves with because, frankly, in the beginning, thats all I've got. So to me, as with TheMiddleWay, those things Do count. They don't count for me in All cases, as I stated above, if someone isn't to a point of having built a relationship with me already, and we merely circle one another in loose circles, then call yourself whatever you want. It is When I begin to become personally invested in someone around here because of mutual respect and of admiration. It is in those times that I express my Viewpoints, my beliefs, if you will. For example, Frequently I am referred to, just flat out as "atheist." Like intros, first time emails here, "So how does an Atheist like you enjoy this site?" I then restate, "Hello! Its a great site! However, I am an Agnostic, not an Atheist. " Many times, the Same mistake is made by the Same person... later down the road, "Is it tough being an Atheist in your town of god?" How difficult is it to Remember I am an Agnostic after I went over it with you In Private about Why it mattered So Much To Me to be referred to as Agnostic. I even choose to Explain myself to this person, in detail, so they would understand my reasoning for feeling as I did. It is a Common misconception for Other Atheists to simply Assume I am an Atheist too. And even after the fact and I explain I am Agnostic and I go over it time and again, how the hell is it that hard, if you Truly respect me and my views, to Remember I am an Agnostic?
It feels to me, as though, unless you are on this side of the fence, which You, Too, are on now Silver, it isn't that easy to sympathize with, and rather, it Annoys some people. And sure, TheMiddleWay can seem assertive in his approach when it isn't so. He is misunderstood. It is passion for understanding and for the exchange of knowledge, healthy discourse, and for Mutual Respect among us. He isn't passive because these things Matter to him. Rather than see it as a flaw, a negative, why can't you see it for what it Really is: Passion. And also because he's been on this side of things. The Same side I am on and have been for many, many years.
I must admit, even I myself wouldn't have made a fuss. I would have allowed others to continue mislabeling me, probably, but when I saw how TMW defended it, spoke up about how it matters that it was misrepresenation, I knew I had always felt the same and if someone else was willing to bring it up, it would make me a coward, a chickenshit, to not support that Very speech Because I Agree with him. 100%, I do.
I want the same things too. I want us to be able to discuss things, civilly, without it degressing next time as it did this time. Even I need to keep my cool, but what you didn't see were the things outside of a.com, the private things I was also receiving. Those things only served to make me more flustered. I think it went to far and it began as such a benign inquiry. It exploded into something much more volatile than need be.
In the end, I want to have True, meaningful friendships here. So many of you, I Absolutely Adore and Admire AND RESPECT, which means So Much to me. I want us to have peaeful disagreements, not insultfests. There must be a way we can Still discuss things, deep, profound topics, topics we won't Always see eye to eye on, but nonetheless, it will come to pass, and we Must be capable of exercising self respect and self control. All of us, myself included.
And in closing, please, Do Try to be mindful of those of us who Are Agnostics. We Are here. We are asking for no more than you Already have, Atheists. We are merely asking to be respected for our beliefs, Equally. Remember we Are Agnostics and Not Atheists. We Aren't the Same. And even within Those two labels, we are Soo much more varied, so much more than a name. Withing "Agnostic" there is a sea of variations to each of us who carry that title. Same of "Atheist." We are all shades, hues, colours that could exist in such a vast thing as one Macro title. Go beyond the macro and we have the micro, each of us, as individuals. We Must try to be mindful of Each of those layers, those nuances, if we are to mutually respect and care for one anothers feelings in this forum. I hope we can ALL learn tolerance and to be mindful of our actions, our Reactions most... and of our Words. Words can hurt. Words can burn. If we hurl them like weapons, we are no better than common assholes we talk shit about in our day to day lives. We become bullies when we lose respect. Let us not go down that ugly path, friends.
Read and I'll try not to rant...much...
Honestly, I like a lot atheists I've meet here but a much greater percentage of atheists who are renowned scientists or otherwise directly involved in research. Why? There seems to be a direct correlation to their education and intelligence levels down to those of the dogmatic "science worshipers" who deify science as irrefutable and immutable truth; in their levels of hostility, inflexibility and intolerance.
A truck driver who knows everything about everything? Please.
Anyway, good rant...much better stated than the many I've posted on the subject. Carry on.
Great post Silvereyes, I have another rarely used label I think I may have mentioned here before.
Quora definition: To the igtheist/ignostic, unless a theist can provide a concrete, detailed and falsifiable definition of what they mean by "God" then there is really no point in discussing deeper issues involved with "God" such as whether or not it exists.
Thanks for the info - I am too lazy to look it up myself.
I consider myself as a temporary agnostic in practice (TAP), which basically means that there is no evidence of a deity to confirm whether one exists or not. However, evidence MAY/POSSIBLY pop up in the future that WILL prove that there is.
As far as Christianity goes, I believe the same way as I do with other deities as my views as an agnostic (I don't want to keep on using TAP because it seems weird looking to me, lol). It took me a few years to officially choose to become agnostic due to my commitment to the Christian faith. I was a leader in a youth ministry as a teen, preached, and "led people to the Lord."
I've said things, felt things, experienced things that seemed so real; and maybe it is. But when it comes down to it in a logical and not an emotional perspective, it seems like a fairy tale. Still, it is a struggle with people that I was very close to who were committed Christians as myself, especially our youth minister who I worked closely with. I haven't talked to him directly about this change.
The healings, resurrection of Jesus, people like Elijah being taken to heaven, the commitment to theses beliefs over the few thousand years or so seems to originate from people who have Schizophrenia and other mental illnesses who make people experience hallucinations and delusions (from how society sees them). People don't talk about this at all; if people today have mental illnesses that influences them to have these hallucinations and delusions, then it very likely happened in the past, especially with it not being treated by psychotropic meds as it is today.
Working at a crisis hotline, people have literally told us bluntly that they are God or Jesus. But who knows? Maybe some of these people, or all, are seeing/believing things that are real but in some parallel universe which may be likely due to string theory and the many words interpretation (let's not get into that right now, lol. A good post for later).
In the end, love people, don't judge them, respect people and their perspectives. Because when it comes down to it, everything is a matter of perspective. That's what I have to say for now.