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There is no agnostic vs. atheist! The peeve I have...

Dear friends,

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.

  1. 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.

  2. 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.

  3. 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.

ah, semantics

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.

With ❤


silvereyes 8 Jan 20

Enjoy being online again!

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305 comments (51 - 75)

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Separated by a common language.....

Theist - claims that a god or gods exist
Atheist - does not believe the claim that a god exists
Anti-theist - believes that no god exists or can exist

These are claims about belief.

Gnostic (theist or atheist) claims to KNOW that a god does or does not exist.
Agnostic understands that we cannot know whether a god is possible or not without evidence.

These are claims about knowledge.

Theism and gnosticism are different prongs of the same question, theism is a claim of belief, gnosticism relates to knowledge which is a subset of belief.

Personally, I call myself an atheist. I do not believe the claims of theists and I see no evidence that any gods do or could exist. Do I know that in any circumstance in any universe that it is impossible for a god/s to exist? No, so in the strictest sense I am an agnostic atheist in that I do not believe any god/s exist, but I know that the null hypothesis is impossible to prove.

And just to clarify, I am referring to all gods.


I consider myself an atheist, much to the Chagrin of many other self-professed atheists. I have often been grouped with agnostics by other hardcore atheist but there should be another term I believe, "atheist who just don't give a fuck" maybe? While I am sure someone could argue that because I confess the possibility that there may be an unknown creator, I must also at once confess that I cannot know what is unknowable. I don't mean the unknown, but instead, please, imagine that you woke up tomorrow and someone told you the alphabet has 30 letters and always has, then asks you to write down the missing four letters. That would be impossible for you to know. So when a hardcore atheist says to me, "oh so you think there may be a God but you just can't comprehend it? That makes you an agnostic!"
And I think to myself, "No, it just leaves me alone, in my ignorance of my ignorance."
"Just how stupid am I?" I ask myself sometimes...

I probably won't know until my last breath, so I don't try to answer. But I giggle when I think that one day I will exclaim, "AHA! I get it!!!!"
" It is Exactly as...."
cough, cough


This is my favorite post.


I've adopted the notion that an agnostic is an atheist who is hedging his/her bet. Personally, I prefer (if labels must be used) 'freethinker.'

@silvereyes Yes. For me, agnosticism goes far beyond the question of whether or not a god exists.

I find this troubling. I've been told that I'm really an atheist and not just an agnostic, and that I'm too afraid to admit it. I just simply do not identify with the label "atheist."

Just to be clear about my notion of atheism vs agnosticism, it's very tongue--in-cheek; I never take myself, nor much of anything, that seriously.


Excellent response @MichaelSpinler on this subject.

I'm a little taken aback by a post that rails against people trying to "educate" others about labels while doing exactly that in the post. This issue has come about from a challenge from agnostics about the site and what it stands for. Having stirred this up, now we have lecture extolling the virtues of not getting hung up on labels. Duh! Well I would have agreed anyway with this before all this got stirred up. As for me I'm not going to be get caught up anymore in webs in the atheist-agnostic debate. I respect agnostics' right to revel in their unknowingness. 🙂 But @Admin the issue of the definition of this site still remains, even though you like this post, and the title leads some to consider that this isn't just a domain name choice but a site definition.

@silvereyes. Oh I don't take anything personally. Your preferred dictionary definitions are fine but these are basic definitions only of course. My point though is, if you look at the relevant posts, the running on this issue has come agnostics, including about this site definition, and not so much from atheists. I think we atheists are very laid back about whether people choose agnostic or atheist. Really.

@silvereyes OK. Just so we're clear, comments like agnostics don't have the balls etc are not something I would say or have said, including here. You can check my contributions. And I haven't read atheists say this about agnostics, but maybe they have. I get the agnostic position, I do, and used it myself in the past. But now the logic of agnostic doesn't work for me. But I think we are all on the same side, ultimately. As I said in another post, I want to fight "The Romans" not us. (Life of Brian). So, when agnostics say atheism is "insane", "arrogant" or "dogmatic" - I quote these as they have been said to me here - it's wrong and doesn't help. 🙂

"...your initial response through make it seem as though I directed the entire message at you ..."
No, I didn't think that. I knew it was a reflection on recent discussions..

"In the end, I think we agree about being on the same side... etc.
I agree.

@David1955 I too have had a hard time and felt misunderstood by some atheists on this site and others. We do get hit with you don't have the balls to admit all religions are fake, or so you might believe in the bible and the abrahamic god. It's hard to define the God of the gaps. It's even harder to define the unknown and the unknowable.

@Kojaksmom not wishing to stir the pot about agnosticism, but I've had occasion recently to make this point, and I also state it here: I don't know why some agnostics say or assume that a God is unknowable. This is such an assumption. The easiest thing in the world would be for any God to make its presence known or knowable. A voice from the heavens and move a mountain 5 feet to the left. Easy. If any God exists, which I don't believe as there is no evidence, then it chooses not to definitively known or knowable. That's on God, not us. I refuse to say, God is unknowable, so I'd better be an agnostic. Any so-called God could be knowable if it wished.


Thank you, silvereyes, you show your depth in your posts. I think I use, Agnostic, because there are so many believers around me of different denominations. As you stated so well, the ultimate reality is unknowable. In other words, I DON'T KNOW! I know that there are believers out there that insist there IS no doubt about the existence of God/god(s) in the positive. An acquaintance once asked whether I was willing to believe in a god, and I answered, "It depends on what day of the week and what mood I'm in." As I have stated in another post, god could be a far more technologically advanced society or a group of experimental lab technicians.

That is right.

Did not see God increase our life expectancy by double in the last 150years.
Still, don't know, is the correct answer.


I completely understand and support your view. I have heard many people claim that atheism is more logical or scientific than agnosticism but based on your definitions and others I've seen it seems to me that atheism is as based on logical galaxy than religion because it equates absence of proof with proof of absence.
On the other hand, because of the roots it could be argued that atheism opposes the worship of something that can't be proven to exist, although that might be antitheism. Regardless, as you said it's still semantics.
As a writer I value the precision of communication but usage is where words are truly defined. I agree that labels limit all of us a well. I think taking the time to know individuals and their ideas rather than defining them as a group would not only foster greater communication here but with those who practice religion as well.

I claim that before you can speak of "the existence of God" or "the nonexistence of God", you must first show that "God" is a meaningful word. But theists, atheists and agnostics just assume that it is without question! That's what bothers me. That's why I am neither theist, atheist, nor agnostic.

You say correctly "atheism opposes the worship of something that can't be proven to exist". So atheism is the unjustified belief that theists have defined a god that doesn't exist. They haven't defined ANY god, so atheism and agnosticism cannot be justified. That leaves only ignosticism, which is that theists, atheists and agnostics are all wrong because they share the unjustified belief that "God" is a meaningful word. Ignostics don't share that belief.


I need to be enlightened. The letter 'a' used as a prefix in front of the words Gnostic & Theist Does it mean 'not' ?

True for "atheist," but not "agnostic" as the word doesn't relate directly to the Gnostics, IMO.

Thanks for the link Middle Way. It's much appreciated. And it has good definitions of the two words I asked about.

I would have no complaint with the word "atheist" to mean merely "non-theist" if people would use it that way. But what bothers me is that they don't. They use it to mean "one who does not believe that any gods exist". That's because they believe fully that "God", "Yahweh" and "Allah" represent an imaginary god, like the imaginary but well-defined god Zeus. But Christians, Jews, and Muslims don't worship any god at all, they only THINK they do., Therefore "one who does not believe that any gods exist" applies to Christians, Jews and Muslims as well as virtually everybody else.




I agree that whatever label you choose for yourself is your label. I do have to clarify a few things you may have overlooked.

The root of atheist is Greek it was used as early as 300 bce. The a prefix is the direct negation of a thing and theist comes from theos which basically means believer so atheist would simply be anyone who isn't a believer. Gnostic was also in use well before Huxley added the prefix and gnosis means knowledge.

So the agnostic/Gnostic claim deals with knowledge and the atheist/theist claim refers to belief. One can believe without knowing. You can say you believe but don't know there are no gods or you believe but don't know that there are. Tje huxlean agnostic claim tries to cut this off at the knees by saying it is unknowable but you still believe or not. It is an inescapable dichotomy.


I find your thesis interesting. I find, however, a very simple way of understanding the term atheist. Like in the term asexual... non sexual, I am non theist. Not so different from your definition for agnostic... With the difference that I do not admit to any all powerful all knowing loving or vengeful god as is defined by anyone I ever heard try. Was there a beginning , and will their be an end to the universe as we understand it? Surely. The universe may have been remade and destroyed uncountable times. I just can not find any room for a self aware being in control of it, willing it to be. Atheist= a non=theist. Agnostic, one who states they are not sure. I called myself an agnostic for years, primarily because of my then wife's family, who were somewhat devout Catholics. That was dishonest though. I do not admit to some god or gods that I simply do not have the evidence for yet. This, I am an a-theist. I'm not terribly antitheist... though that would probably be true as well. Simply because I do not care what most of the world thinks. As a journalist, I am interested in words and how they came to the current meaning we give them. I'm no wordsmith, hardly! I am (was) a photojournalist, but I had to write also. I sucked at English and writing, until I learned that spelling and the names of the parts of a sentence weren't really what writing was about. (Or English as a subject in school) I find your thesis above both thoughtful, and insightful. An interesting combination for one so young as yourself. Get up on your soapbox when ever the mood strikes you!


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 will let it go with your above quoted and reposted text and just go on from there. This is what happens when you have all these books bound together that were never meant to be bound together. It means that your bible is all made up. Gods have written none of it and no gods are trying to get in touch with you. Call me by whatever name you want. This is why I do not believe in god.

That's it!


Considering God doesn't exist, the argument is irrelevant ?? oh the joys of being an atheist.


This never stops coming up. The two terms are NOT mutually exclusive I assure you. The difference is also not hard to remember. All you need to know is that they answer two different questions.

Do you KNOW? no, agnostic
Do you BELIEVE? no, atheist.

Its not hard or contradictory at all to admit we don't know but also have no reason to believe.

It's also helpful on the theist side -- tho rare, there are some theists honest enough to admit they don't know if there's a god, tho they believe (or perhaps hope) there is one, making them agnostic theists.


I consider myself an atheist. I think that the Universe we see could have been formed without having some intelligence managing its evolution. There are about 2500 versions of gods all over the world. I do not believe in any of them. For better understanding I recommend you to read "A Brief History of Time" by Stephen Hawking. He explains this much better than I can. It is a short book and may have to read it twice to get a better understanding. I studied electronics which is a branch of physics and it was all mathematics. I got to understand it because in the lab, I could see the math work in the physical world. Later on I was working with very advanced systems used in jet fighters that solidified me as an atheist. This same theory that I have seen work on many occasions does not require a god to jump start a Universe like the one we are in. If quantum mechanics work, which it does, doesn't require a creator why complicate our lives even more. Perhaps in our future there will be another science that explains it all and will be the end of these arguments


I'm glad to think I'm part of your unique crowd @silvereyes,
Hey, let's build a tree house!



Great rant! Occasionally I wonder if I'm actually agnostic, but saying atheist simplifies it. People are not as likely to start in trying to convince me that their religious argument will be the one that converts me. Plus, my agnosticism comes with some caveats. Such as if God is an asshole, I don't believe he is worth worshipping or in other words he or it may exist, but maybe i don't "believe in" him anyway. Also I do believe in something love-driven that we all are accountable to. I don't necessarily believe that this thing is sentient, judging, or controlling, so, not exactly God. I believe that when you love someone and they love you, something survives after death that can be of great comfort to the survivor. The degree of "real" as opposed to seeing what we want to see is unknown to me, but I lean heavily toward the latter. Doesn't mean if I become widowed I won't indulge myself with the sense of comfort a "sign" from my husband would bring. What does this make me? I'm comfortable with the label "atheist" and certainly "skeptic". I don't believe that bad things come in threes or that my black cat will ever bring me bad luck. I don't believe I can just up and manifest anything I desire. But I also understand that being open to the "magical" in life enriches the experience. To each her own but finding my "tribe" of like-thinkers makes life a little sweeter. Like-thinkers don't have to think exactly alike or agree on every definition.

Oh do I like what you said n how you said it
Ty @Rangepainter

You are right about people not spending time trying to convert someone identifying as atheist.Smiling mormon and jehovah's winesses leave my doorstep when I,smiling,tell them I am an atheist and definitely do not support any religion.


You are an agnostic semanticist. Lol! I am a practical atheist, but I am not sure of much of anything. So maybe I am ideologically agnostic. But not sitting on the fence most of the time.


I bet no other primate has this problem,


Fantastic post! Thanks for sharing, I really enjoyed your efforts to educate us with cited sources. I find myself in conflict with fellow agnostics/atheists on many levels. I reject the dogma, I reject the required conformity of religion, but I do believe in the concept of a soul. Not as a religious concept, but as a scientific construct. I often find myself with non religious people who don't believe in anything that is currently termed "supernatural". But I continue to study, research, and strive to find truth in the "mind" being an entity beyond the physical brain. I am looking for evidence out of a deep seated belief, whether real or imagined that we are more than our physical body. But I am coming at it from a scientific approach, not theological.

Like your ideas here..

Soul and Spiritual are two words which to me mean mostly "the unexplained" so to that extent they exist. `However do not look for their location in the body except perhaps a small unsatisfied region of the brain.


“Agnostic/ism” is a term that I have long found to be problematic. The best solution I have found in terms of interpretation requires a bit of philosophical groundwork. Nothing terribly difficult, but very relevant.

The first distinction is between “epistemological” and “ontological” inquiry. Though they may overlap, the basic distinction is that “epistemology” concerns itself with HOW we establish knowledge (e.g., scientific methodology); whereas “ontology” concerns itself with WHAT things are even knowable (e.g., knowledge of the supernatural).

I believe many use the term in an epistemological sense, which is how it appears in the numerous charts floating around. I also believe that is the weakest interpretation of what Thomas Huxley intended and the usefulness of the term. This would operate at levels such as: “have you simply not been informed of 👩 claim” [igtheism] – “have you considered 👩 claim and don’t have enough information to take a position” – “has 👩 claim simply not been sufficiently explained to you?”

Noting the a-/without relationship, “without knowledge” as applied to an ontological argument (what is knowable) indicates that “the question of supernatural existence cannot be answered – or is nonsensical.” Those who hold this to be true largely rely on empirical or natural criteria as a means for evidence. Something that is super-natural exists outside of natural observance. By what criteria could we even establish anything approaching “knowledge” (as opposed to belief) of such a thing?

Moreover, witnessing the effect or impact of super-natural activity on the natural world is purely speculative. Any impact detectable falls within the natural experience and may reasonably point to a natural point of origin (unknown, though that might be).

Towards the end of the Ken Ham/Bill Nye debate, Tracey Moody raised the question similar to: “What, if anything, would change your mind (on your position)?” Ken Ham responded, “nothing.” Bill Nye responded, “evidence.” Ontologically speaking, I disagree with both. There is no empirically admissible evidence (Nye) that I can accept that would support the existence of the supernatural (Ham).

Ken Ham responded in reference to his “unshakable” beliefs (not knowledge). Bill Nye responded as an empiricist would of a natural occurrence but skirts the philosophical nature of ontologically addressing something that is asserted (without evidence, and without the capability of evidence) to exist outside of nature or empirical observation.

As an ontological agnostic: “There is no way to possess knowledge of something (supernatural) that exists outside the realm of the natural or empirical.” Epistemological claims fail at this point.

My $0.02.

There is also the logical technique of assuming the assumption is true, and "what then?". For those that believe in disembodied souls, what drives the belief in this? Why should one believe this? The answer is that the person does not want to die. He wants his soul to live forever, beyond his body dying. This is a direct consequence of evolution -- self-preservation. When one realizes that this is the motive for his beliefs, then maybe he can recognize his folly. Time to give up on his fantastical dreams and move on to reality.


I call myself an atheist. I really think that science is the big mystery and that we will never learn the depths of it. If a god showed up tomorrow and he was the god of the Bible, I hope I’d be strong enough to stand up to his terror and refuse to bow my knee. He is not worthy of my worship.


The funniest thing I ever heard about agnostics is that they believe in Gosh, and fear if they don't then they'll be darned to Heck.


What would one call a person who does believe in a "prime source" but is determined to, come judgement day, insist that that entity be judged because of the evil it has perpetrated upon humanity. One might say this person hates "god". And do not reply that this woudl be satan worship since satan is a made up being , just as all the gods ever dreamed up.
My belief is that there is/was an entity that created everything, including cancer, malaria, dementia and every evil that can befall mankind , alzheimer's being the worst of all, and that this entity must be held accountable for it's atrocity. I know this is not atheism nor agnosticism , just wondering.

Thank you very much !


The ORIGINAL idea behind AGNOSTIC is different from our vancular idea of the word in US today.

It’s “idea”: Humans beings don’t and will never have the intelligence to to answer the question of a god. It’s titalky out of our reach. And may be “designed” that way on purpose. (Last sentence was subsequently added scores later)

In our modern thinking and philosophy: “I don’t think there evidence either way to conclude if there’s a god or not”.

You can see how much these idea disconnected.
Honestly, I prefer the original idea. As an Atheist, I believe NO GOD. And we know just enough science & philosophy to now answer.

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