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.
I agree with your own named beliefs- I.e. about rejecting the Hebrew god idea, yet not being able to disprove other types of gods, etc., and stand by my self-definition as "agnostic."
even An atheist doesn’t know but more inclined to say no rather than maybe
This was well thought-out, and well written, thank you for sharing your thoughts and the result of your searching and cogitating! Agnostic and atheist are similar terms, but, yes, they define different perspectives. I call myself an atheist because I strongly believe that there is no god (or are no gods), and that works for me.
Silvereyes,. Great post. I can't get past the question about if you believe in God and if so how sure you are. An atheist is 100% sure and agnostics are usually 99.9% sure there is no God. What is missing as you point out is the definition of faith in a God. If someone asks if you believe in God they usually are asking if you believe in the Judeo-Christian version. To that I answer that if I am the one defining what God is then the answer is yes. A non personal , non judgemental life force that is truly ineffable fits easily into my personal belief system. Do you believe in metaphysics , would a better question and for me the answer would be no 100%. That one question aetheist/agnostic is as hard to answer as it is answering my front door when a Jehovah Witness is knocking on it.
Don't tell me what I believe or what agnostics 'usually' believe. I'm 0% there us a god, and 0% there is no god. Stop being so damn sure.
Agnostics are cautious theist..
Agnostics have opinions. I myself don't believe there's a god. The most strident fundamentalist Christian has his opinions, and HE'S agnostic. Everybody is. Opinions are irrelevant.
@Touched Thank you. You can SAY that, but you're speaking as would a believer who says he KNOWS there IS a god, with absolutely no evidence to support your contention.Many atheists try to have it both ways, with no credibility. If they ssy they're NOT sure, then they're not an atheist, they're agnostic. If they ARE sure, they're no different than the people they mock.
I KNOW there's no way fir you to logically claim certainty, therefore you are illogical. Hence, atheism if defined as a certainty is as much of a fraud as any belief system, and I appreciate you being honest about it.
Thus, despite people's attempts to blur the distinctions and say the terms are synonymous there are sharp differences. From my point of view, agnosticism is the only supportable position.
@Storm1752 there's such a thing as evidence or lack there of.. there's such a thing as history or lack there of....there's such a thing as over imagination, laws of physics, and just plain common sense...f you don't see the difference between a "believer" and an "atheist" have a great day..in this case a lack of evidence regarding such an incredible claim is evidence to the contrary
I am neither Agnostic or Atheist or religious. I am Secularist/ Humanist/Spiritualist.
Most often I find people employ a mutually exclusive category error, claiming you have to be one or the other. But an agnostic is a type of atheist. To be a rational agnostic you have also to be an atheist. Not all atheists are agnostic, and some strange and irrational people might claim to be theist agnostics, but mainly all agnostics are atheistic too.
Without labels we can not exist as we can not exist without words.
And that's good until we just create and use labels.
But at the moment labels conquer our thinking and program it, things can get worse.
Therefore, we must always leave blank drawers in our brain for "types" that are new and unknown for us, or are in a “between” position; and not only to see labels instead of the people behind them.
I also do not think atheism and agnosticism is the same thing. The agnostic stance with regard to things that can not prove are not provable would be better suited to any truth-seeker and would contribute to the objectivism of scientists, researchers, scholars, writers, etc.
But there are many disturbing things in , whose absurdity can be proven (for example, the dogma of the Immaculate Conception). This is where agnostics, atheists, and any kind of truth-seekers can meet.
I will share that I dislike when a person tells me I can not be an atheist /agnostic or visa versa. Atheist is simply my belief. Agnostic is my scientific position. I am a Humanist too. I believe there is not a god(s), However, I can not prove it factually. Both theses terms are important in my self-identity a part of me. Thank for the thoughtful writing.
I choose to go by Atheist simply because it is more clear to those who are less knowledgeable than you, and many others on this site. Both terms fit most of us because strong disbelief in the existence of a god and one who is not committed to believing in either the existence or the nonexistence of or a god are not mutually exclusive. I really doubt there is a god, to the tune of less than 1%, but I cannot say it is zero and so here we are. Many would have a similar stance with some degree of movement on the %. Others just don't care enough involve math. Either should be accepting of the other.
Personally, I think that claiming to be certain there is no God or similar supernatual deity is as arrigant and intellectually dishonest as claiming there is one (while I will agree that if there is such a deity, he/she/they have yet to be defined by any holy text or religious teaching).
As for the dogma of religion, I consider myself an anti-theist as well as an atheist since I see the harm of religion and religious dogma which does not mean that I support forcing people to leave their faith as that would not only be unethical, but counter-productive. I could care less about how religious the general public let alone an individual is, I would just want them to accept the teachings of science, learn to think critically, and keep their religion out of schools and impressionable children.
As for the original question you posed, I think considering yourself an agnostic means that you can't say one way or the other whether or not there is a God while being an atheist means you lack belief. I do not think that the terms are mutually exclusive either as you mentioned previously.
This is great and very thought provoking! Thank you for taking the time to spell out your concerns about terminology and how people define themselves. It really is crazy how twonwords can carry so many different meanings for different people. For me, until this post at least, I’ve always seen myself as an atheist per the dictionary definition listed (this after far too many years stuck in Christianity). This post has made me think a lot about what I actually think and feel about religions, not just the one. I think, for the time being at least, I still remain in believing myself an atheist, but perhaps with agnostic tendencies (if that’s even possible- I don’t know). I will say this though- for me, even if a god, lets use the Christian god for this example, were proved to be real right now, I still would not follow it. If a god is supposed to be all powerful and loving, how can it let all these terrible things happen to people it claims to love. It either doesn’t have the power it claims, or it is not the loving being it claims to be. Either way is unacceptable and I’d much rather go to whatever hell it would send me to than worship it.
well, by your definition, you're an agnostic, and that's what you call yourself when pressed for a label, which i understand is sometimes annoying. mazel tov! you appear to understand the difference and you appear to have chosen the more accurate term for yourself. further, you've managed to do it without calling atheists arrogant for pretending to know the unknowable, or intimating that agnostics are timid or uncommitted and should probably just shut up, or comparing atheism to a religion because the word "believe" sometimes pops up in a sentence, or pretending the two words are completely synonymous. that's unusual here! i am (among many, many other things, while still not being a thing) an atheist, myself. nice to meet you!
The big division which really counts, is between holding groundless belief or not, the niceties within scepticism are tiny and unimportant compared with that. Some may think that they are on a higher rung of the ladder than others, and that may be true, but the really important thing is to have looked up and started the climb out of the cesspit of ignorance and prejudice which is blind unquestioning , looking at the light and not swimming nose down among the sludge where the users want to keep you. Therefore it is cruel and unfair to despise those who can not climb quite as fast, or use a different ladder, and for that reason I always call myself a 'Broard Church Sceptic.'
I like to use the word freethinker when around christians. It seems to confuse them and keeps their hate at idle for me to escape. When I use the word agnostic I get the comeback question Atheist?
For the same reasons I avoid using the word gun so as not to be labeled killer.
You see I just don’t like Fucking Labels but just for addressing letters as (snail) .
The fact that lots of people thing that agnosticism is a middle ground, or a lack of decision about belief is huge.
As far as I see the agnostic refuses to believe, an agnostic wants to know, and if the question can't be answered he/she won't choose an answer by gut feelings.
For philosophical reasons I consider myself agnostic or even ignostic (where I question even if there is a coherent question or definition of good before a decide about answering the existence question), but for all practical actions and decisions, I will act as if there is no divinity, so no practical day-to-day difference from an atheist.
A lot of new age, exoterics, mystics and undecided people claim the agnosticism, and much of this fight between atheists and agnostics are due to this group that in the strict sense are religious.
My toughs about agnosticism is:
I recognize that I don't need to assume a position about a question that can't be answered with evidences. And I will act on the premises of the questions that I can answer.
I consider myself an agnostic theist. I believe there is a "higher power" but don't believe I'm in possession of enough evidence to define that power. I don't think the power is an intelligent being who divvies out favors based on who prays the most eloquently or demonstrates the most piousness, but a force like gravity or inertia that follows measurable laws and offers consistent results.
If you choose to define god just as "that thing that started it all" then everyone believes in god. But when we talk about theism we are specifically referring to an omniscient, omnipotent being.
I could be wrong, but it seems you changed your definition of god to convince yourself that you're not an atheist (not believing in an omnipotent, omniscient, omnipresent being).
Perfect (in my opinion)!!!! Thank you silvereyes so much for writing what I've been saying (or at least screaming inside my head) for decades, especially the parts about hating labels.
I am with you. I can be both atheist and agnostic depending on the day. For the most part I am atheist but some times I wonder the possibility of some greater power. Often when I do I come to the conclusion that if there is some great creator our universe is likely a child's ant farm in our perspective, bought at Wal-Mart as a birthday present and exciting at first then forgotten.
The term agnostic was coined as a sarcastic joke after being repeatedly asked to state his position on belief in a god. The term he made up the term using the name of a sect of Christianity called the Nostics who claimed to know the exact will of God. By adding the A he turned it into the opposite meaning not knowing the will of God. That's not the common meaning anymore. The term Atheist was so associated with negative labels the religious community has successfully attached that many felt a need to create a new term with less negative associations. Agnostic has become that term. I'm still an atheist.
Nice I like it
Zdx"Call" yourself what you want. You ARE agnostic.