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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 athΓ©isme. 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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304 comments (76 - 100)

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As you may see from my profile, I identify as philosophically agnostic (can't know for sure) but culturally atheist (not worth my time to consider gods). So there's my reconciliation of the two πŸ˜‰ It's sort of like my attitude towards Bigfoot: I suppose it's possible that there's one out there, but I just don't feel compelled to spend any time looking, because I've got better things to do with my life.


I agree, getting into an argument about atheist vs agnostic is like a Baptist arguing with a Lutheran about which religion is more Christian.


All true I would say, but for prefixes being a cause of the confusion. The "confusion" lay in religious indoctrinators defining the words to suit their own purposes and disseminating them. This is why people get the question "Do you worship the Devil?" I dare say very few ever came up with such nonsense on their own.

@silvereyes exactly!


What is more important than the pedantic differences between words [I did find your analysis good though] is getting a word that is acceptable to peolple starting at either end and coming to a working agreement. Our opponents look for lack of agreement as a sign of weakness. Yes I know they have a lot of weaknesses in this area also.

I was rather hoping that the word Humanist would be the blanket term which covers these and several additional words. The use of these words has served their purposes and now it is time to move on together and with a collective descriptor.


After readng your comments I question my own it all comes down to faith. faith is believing in something without proof


Oh Yeah come to think of it I know many agnostics.


Wow. You warn that this is just your opinion and interpretation but you are being modest. This was very well researched! I still have issues with agnosticism but that's just because I can't conceive that there "could be" a god. Since the point of your post was not to argue for the merits of either side but to clarify the difference between the two, I won't start the argument here. Even if we happen to be on different sides of the issue, for what you posted you get an A+ from me!


Brilliant !! πŸ™‚


Short version of my long answer is...It's usually agnostics who quibble about such bullshit. You know what you are. Any one trying to tell you what you are is an asshole so fuck em, I say. Now at the risk of being an asshole myself I 'm going to label you a pretty cool person. The kind I like. wink wink.

Atheists and agnostics think I'm the asshole for telling them that there is no evidence that "God" is a meaningful word. But there just isn't. Sorry, but "God" does not refer to anything to believe in, nor anything to disbelieve in, or anything to withhold judgment on the existence of.


This is just my opinion, but I always figured the difference this way. If handed proof, or at least a reasonable amount of evidence, an agnostic is willing to change his mind. The atheist is not.


The trouble I have with agnostic is which of the literally thousands of religions do you not disbelieve in? Are you a christian agnostic, a hindu agnostic, a muslim agnostic ????

Trouble is, the people I know who call themselves agnostics usually say something like "I don't know if there is a god". This implies a monotheist alternate belief. Some say things like "There must be something" implying that while they are not convinced of the christian fairy tale but they do believe in the supernatural. Most people I know, including myself, are open minded about nature and the cosmos but are skeptical and believe in the scientific method to convince them (us) of anything. Philosophically speaking there is enough empirical evidence to prove that there is no entity worth of worship and that there cannot be an all powerful, all knowing and all loving entity. Any two of the above are logically possible but not all three. Many who profess to be agnostic ignore this logic.

Oops, I meant to say most people who label themselves as atheist, including ....

May I ask why atheists and agnostics believe "God" to be a meaningful word? I still have not seen an answer to this question.


Yes there is a creator, modern man calls her nature, her and the big bang is what led to our creation.

But "God" can't mean "nature". If "God" meant "nature", then everybody would be a theist because everybody believes in nature.

Nature drives evolution, I personally don't know many christians who accept evolution as a valid theory.


I regard [a]gnosticism as a knowledge position and [a]theism as a belief position. My knowledge position is agnostic -- I don't claim to know with absolute certainty that there are no gods. And my belief position is atheistic -- I don't see a valid reason to believe in any god.

Classic Huxlian agnosticism IS as you describe it ... the notion that not only do I not personally stake a knowledge claim one way or the other -- but that it's not even doable. I hold to this, because invisible beings allegedly outside the natural order are inherently non-falsifiable.

However, many modern agnostics are "soft" agnostics who just profess to be personally "not sure", implying that some new information could change that in the future. What information that might be, they never seem to say. i think this latter, watered-down agnosticism is responsible for the notion that agnosticism is some sort of way-station between belief and unbelief. Theists find this idea pleasing because uncertainty is far less threatening and taboo than unbelief, and besides, such an agnostic might still be persuadable. They tend to consider atheism too irredeemable to hold out the hope of [re]conversion.

Another major reason for "agnostic atheism" is that it circumvents the argument that atheism is inherently "arrogant". If atheism claims to KNOW there is no god, that argument finds some purchase, because you'd have to be god yourself -- be everywhere and everywhen -- to LITERALLY stake such a knowledge claim. And fundamentalists are nothing if not literal. I am willing to not KNOW there is no god, even if on a technicality, to emphasize that atheism is really a different beast: not affording belief to the unsubstantiated and/or highly unlikely.

To me, "there is no god" is a semantic shortcut that would be reasonable in any other discussion but this one. I live my life exactly as if I were making such a knowledge claim. The difference between being 100% sure and 99.9999% sure isn't a practical difference. But I'll be damned (ha!) if I'm going to give a believer an excuse to dismiss a considered, substantial certainty with mere arrogance.

Theism, atheism, and agnosticism are all belief positions. They all require belief that the capitalized row of alphabet letters "God" is coherently defined. Theists believe the word "God" is coherently defined as something that exists. Atheists believe the word "God" is coherently defined as something that does not exist, like "unicorn", Agnostics believe that "God" is defined as something that either exists or doesn't. They're all wrong. There is no reason to believe "God" is a coherently defined word.

@EdwinMcCravy Theists, atheists and agnostics all have belief AND knowledge positions, be they positive or negative. I am simply attempting to distinguish the various combinations. You are correct however that "god" doesn't have a coherent, much less reasonably objective or intersubjective, meaning.


I contend that belief is an active thing. For any premise, you either believe it or you do not; saying, "I don't know" implies that I do not actively believe. To borrow an idea from Matt Dillahunty (or at least that's where I heard it), knowledge is a subset of belief. Everything you know, you also believe. There can also be things that you believe but do not know, and things that you neither know nor believe.

When you answer a yes/no question with, "I believe so," you aren't expressing certainty; you're saying that you are unsure but believe the answer to be "yes." I see atheism and theism the same way. I don't know that no gods exist, but I don't believe they do, and therefore I call myself an atheist.

@silvereyes The word "god" with a small "g" is well defined as something worshiped, whether existent or nonexistent. But there is no evidence that the capitalized version "God", which theists utter, is meaningful, so why believe it is a meaningful word? That's what I don't get.

@silvereyes You say "all words carry some meaning". I agree that most do, but not necessarily all. Why do you believe that all words do? I don't. What does "God" (when spoken by a Christian) mean?. Don't say it means a flying spaghetti monster, for it doesn't. No theists claims to worship a flying spaghetti monster. So what does "God" mean?


I dig your rant.


Also, thanks for doing all that work. πŸ˜›


I call myself an Atheist. I believe (there is that word!) there are NO GODS. I have come to this conclusion after some study and some experiences in my life. I cannot PROVE that I am correct.

I am philosophically more of an Agnostic, in that there could be evidence that would convince me, and I have just not seen it. I also feel like this will never happen because lack of evidence does not prove something is not real.

I do not identify myself as an agnostic because religious people hear "Agnostic" and they think "So you just haven't heard my arguments." I have no desire to hear a bunch more damn arguments about GOD.

So for me, the answer is clearly ATHEIST and bugger off you religious nuts!

No offense to any kind of nuts, but that's how I feel.

What I keep asking for, which nobody has begun to comply with, is to show me some evidence that the capitalized word "God", which is uttered by Christians, and "Allah", which is uttered by Muslims, are coherently defined words that refer to something that does not exist, like the words "mermaid" and "Santa Claus".


I believe that gods are a human construct, all life is a result of evolution, and humans have a limited understanding of the cosmos. I tell my friends and family that I am agnostic, only because it is more socially acceptable than being atheist, and I know that is cowardly. I also don't like hurting the feelings of my religious loved ones, so I will often say that I am open to the "possibility" of there being a God... even though I most certainly am not.

It seems to me that atheists have a need for the capitalized row of letters "God" to refer to something that they can disbelieve in. Theological noncognitivists have no such need. We have lots of things to disbelieve in such as unicorns, mermaids, elves, etc. But please, somebody, give me a reason to believe that "God" (capitalized) as uttered by theists is a coherently defined word, like the coherently defined words "unicorn", "mermaid", "elf", etc.


first of all, i will admit that i did not manage to read your entire rant-blurb.
just today i had to re-check on my profile whether i still stand behind my claims to be agnostic as well as an atheist...
& hurrah! i am. i do not see nor have i ever seen evidence of a superhuman power apart from nature, & she is sheer energy, the zest of life.
i also am an atheist, not believing in any god - which is easy for me, because i am a relentless non-believer.
one claim i had to take back after some consideration, & that is to be a humanist. not everything that tickles my senses is in my control, in fact, humans have almost no control over the vital things in life. it breathes.


It's worth having a look at Alex O'connor (CosmicSkeptic) on Youtube for arguments along these lines.

He prefers the label "Atheist" because it is a familiar term which people can identify with as a "political" position.

Personally, I identify as agnostic because I can not rule out the possibility of some kind of sentience in the universe distinct from that of an individual animal. I don't believe in one; I just can't rule it out.

This might also be of interest:


For me, agnostic is not strong enough, and really just semantics.


For the nonce, I go with Atheist. Strictly speaking I would not claim certainty but operate as if I do.
I think I do know, as far as one may tell, That there are no superlative, rational agencies extant.
I guess by definition a gnostic atheist.


Funny, I just did a video about this sort of topic.


what i have been thinking all along


Agreed. The absurdity is in both terms because there's rarely a label for "not something". Are you a gymnast? No I'm an agymnast. Do you know about quantum physics? No I'm an agnostic physicist. The utility is only in the rarity. Titles like secularist or humanists make a little more sense, but I get a blank stare if I say those. So agnostic atheist it is I guess. Likewise, neither term describes anything else about me.

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