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Question for you all concerning the terms atheist and agnostic. I'm reading a book called "American Secularism: Cultural Contours of Nonreligious Belief." While reading, I had the thought that all agnostics, which aren't agnostic theists (which that is a classification for some I found out on this website) are atheists in the sense that they don't believe in god. They may claim not to know or not to be able to know but lack of a positive asserting belief is a form of disbelief is it not? If you don't put forward belief in god then you don't believe in god, which is what an atheist is right? What do you think, are all non-theist agnostics atheists?

LuckyOne3 4 Aug 22

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Atheist is a noun. Agnostic is an adjective. Agnostic is the type of atheist I am.

In practice I happily answer to either. In secular circles I am inclined to simply use the term atheist. For people whose heads might explode at the term atheist, I am inclined to use agnostic and then explain, if they give me the invitation, why organized efforts to speak of any concretely defined god(s) are nonsensical.


I'm fine with being an atheist.
I really don't care about all the semantics surrounding any of it.


Different people have different definitions. My own aren't 'righter' than other people's but are as follows:-

THEIST: Someone who actively believes in the existence of a god.

ATHEIST: Someone who is not a theist.

GNOSTIC: Someone who believes the existence or non-existence of god can be proven.

AGNOSTIC: Someone who is not a gnostic.

So by my definitions, if someone asks 'Do you believe in god?' and you answer 'yes', you're a theist - ANY OTHER RESPONSE means you're an atheist. If someone asks 'Do you believe the existence or otherwise of god can be proven?' and you answer 'yes', you're a gnostic - ANY OTHER RESPONSE means you're an agnostic.

The terms do not exclude each other. Someone can be a theist and a gnostic, a theist and an agnostic, an atheist and a gnostic, or an atheist and an agnostic.

I consider myself an agnostic atheist. When people question this, I explain with an analogy:

"Can I PROVE whether or not there's a fairy living at the bottom of my garden? No, I can't - so I'm a 'fairy agnostic'. Yet even though I cannot PROVE the matter one way or the other, I still don't actually BELIEVE that fairy exists - so I'm a 'fairy atheist'."

Great answer. Thanks for sharing.

Fairy atheist? Really?
A fairy atheist would be a fairy that didn't possess belief in god or gods.

Atheism is the absence of the belief in god, not the belief in the absence of god.

This post I wrote may help:
"If I declare that my god is real and that it's scriptures are infallible."/

The non-believer does not have to prove or disprove anything:

A god is not defined by reality or existence, believers make the assertion that it is, the god makes no assertion whether it exists or not, it is therefore the believer who must then prove the assertions they make.

@nogod4me 'Atheism is the absense of the belief in god, not the belief in the absense of god' - which is exactly what I said.

An 'atheist fairy' could indeed be a fairy that is an atheist - or it could be an example of atheism using belief in fairies for the purpose of illustration. It is not my problem if you choose to misinterpret my words - particularly when others appear to have no such difficulty.

@ToakReon It is not an example of atheism. Atheism means "without god", not without fairies. You are trying to conflate the two myths into one explanation. A fairy atheist would be a fairy that didn't possess belief in god or gods.

"Does she believe in fairies?"
"No she is a fairy atheist."
"So, she doesn't believe in fairies or god?"
"No just fairies."
"Maybe she is an a-fairy-ist."

@nogod4me It's known as an illustration of a concept by means of analogy. Not a difficult concept.

@ToakReon The story may be somewhat of an analogy, but the term "fairy atheist" is wrong and confusing.

@nogod4me On that we will differ.

@ToakReon So, a person that believes in fairies would then be a fairy theist and a person that believes in god would be a god theist? And a person who does not believe in god would then be a god atheist?

And that is not confusing?

@nogod4me I am using an analogy to make a specific point and illustration, not suggesting a wholescale change in the use of language.

An analogy serves to make a point in the context in which it is used.

@ToakReon Okay, I thought you were also using those as everyday terms.


Take your pick. Personally, I like simple.

ATHEIST - Simple

Someone who doesn't believe in God

ATHEIST - Complicated

Someone who sees insufficient evidence to demonstrate the existence of God or gods in general but may be willing to reconsider their position should real and/or compelling evidence be provided now or at any time in the future.


Someone who's uncertain if God exists.

AGNOSTIC - Complicated

Someone who can't decide conclusively on the existence of God but is open to the idea and may eventually choose to believe should they make a final determination in favor of faith or become atheist should they become fully convinced there isn't a God or they may just remain agnostic indefinitely.


Basically I am agnostic, but I am happy to call myself atheist, soft atheist, humanist, none theist, none believer, in fact any label you like. Because this question comes up every now and again, so I prefer to write about something more interesting.

ABOUT MUFFINS. I see that the issue of Atheist/Agnostic has been rearing its head again, as it does every few days, so since some people find this a bit tiresome, I thought that a post on muffins would be more interesting.

Suppose for a minute, and for the sake of argument only, that there is a god, and an afterlife, including heaven and a hell; and that the god chooses whether people go to heaven, or if some go to hell, in fact the whole theist deal. Not only that, but the criterion on which the god makes the choice is based on the type of muffins they eat. ( Note: “eat” not prefer, this is not about free will or anything like that.) People who eat lemon muffins go to heaven and people who eat chocolate muffins go to hell, with limbo for those who don't eat muffins at all, naturally.

Would that make a difference to your life ? Would you give up your chocolate muffins for an eternity of joy, and all the lemon buns after death you could ever eat ? Perhaps you would. But there is one vital thing that I forgot to mention about this god, which is that; this particular god, does not tell you about the muffins, or how they affect your afterlife, in fact it keeps the whole thing a big secret just to itself, so that you have no way of knowing which muffins you have to eat.

Then in that case, of course, you could not make the appropriate changes to your life, or save your soul anyway. In fact muffins, the gods preferences and even that god, would not impact on your life at all.

The point is this. That a gods, souls, the afterlife etc. have no effect on anything, unless that god, or someone who knows, tells you about it, and you therefore have some knowledge of god's cake prejudices. Making this the big difference between religion, which pretends to offer knowledge of god the afterlife etc., and none belief which does not. Which is why the difference between atheists, humanists, agnostics and even deists, is so small and unimportant by comparison, because none claim any knowledge of gods preferences, and it is the pretense of fake knowledge, and of god given authority, which makes the big difference. Compared with that the differences between atheist and agnostic, even deist, are trivial to the point of vanishing.

Wow, great take. I should have know it was you before scrolling; your comments are always impressive.

@JeffMurray Thank you. And it is always good to meet people who take care with their reading, and know how to show appreciation.


Love how you wrote:

"I see that the issue of Atheist/Agnostic has been rearing its head again, as it does every few days, so since some people find this a bit tiresome, I thought that a post on muffins would be more interesting."

Rearing its ugly head is my take. eye roll

Kathleen -

Lifelong skeptic and strong atheist since age 13.

@LiterateHiker Yes, well I keep the Muffin story on a file to copy and paste, I always think that new members deserve a reply, even though we may have seen it all before.


If you believe in zero gods, you are an atheist. If you have no knowledge any gods exist, then you are an agnostic. Than makes me an agnostic atheist.


I use agnostic due to the stigma attached to the term atheist. But if you do not believe, you are atheist, period.

SCal Level 7 Aug 22, 2020

Just the opposite for me. I use "atheist" because of that very stigma attached to the word "atheist." Because I want to undermine the stigma of being what we are.

That said, I understand your choice. Many people have enough crap in their lives that being an uncloseted atheist would just make things that much worse. I'm otherwise pretty privileged, so I take a few knocks as an atheist and do what I can to disrupt the stigma.

@vertrauen I can respect that.


I find just calling myself an atheist simplifies everything.
I think agnostics are atheist in denial.
I mean technically I am an agnostic because we know of no way to prove a non falsifiable claim, so in a sense the term is forced on me, when I don't believe there's a chance in hell there's truth to any of it.
Despite some controversy I am convinced that the absence of evidence is evidence of absence.

"I find just calling myself an atheist simplifies everything."

Agreed. I do the same in the real world. Because I am an agnostic atheist, I have the choice of calling myself an agnostic, but I do refer to myself as an atheist because that is the word that is easier for the public to grasp and because that is the word with the stigma that needs to be dispelled by our coming out of the closet.

"I think agnostics are atheist in denial."

This is the truly annoying stigma that atheists slap on agnostics. That, or we're accused of still being theists. Those of us who identify as both agnostic and atheist are truly weary of this friendly fire. We aren't in denial. The overwhelming majority of agnostics are atheists. Some are closeted atheists (not in denial, just coping with society); many like myself are out as atheists and carry the banner of atheism openly with the gnostic atheists.

"I mean technically I am an agnostic because we know of no way to prove a non falsifiable claim, so in a sense the term is forced on me, when I don't believe there's a chance in hell there's truth to any of it."

If you see this, then please don't impugn the intellectual honesty of your fellow atheists who also happen to identify as agnostic.

The reason most people think that Agnostics are in "denial" is they do not know about the person who originated the term "Agnostic", and what his intent was. Sometimes Atheists are as bad as the christians in insisting they "know".


Keep reading...To me, agnosticism is divinity lite...too scared to let go into an uncaring universe.
The freedom of no woo is indescribable, although I must admit that lately the very concept of even considering a deity is now completely ridiculous.


The word Atheist has such negative aspects associated with it, all unfounded of course, that I do not use it to describe me in any way. I consider myself a secular humanist.


The problem that most people run into when they start thinking about what us Agnostics believe is that they think of "god" as being the god of the bible, the god of Islam, etc. Einstein saw "god" as the great mystery of the universe, coupled with the universal laws, and that leaves the door wide open for the existence of god, but in NO WAY that of most images constructed by religious people who think they should devote time to their god, praise their god, and all that hogwash.


As time goes on I’m finding that it’s difficult to box people in with a single term. These terms can mean many different things to different people. Personally I haven’t found one that fits me perfectly, though I usually just say “atheist” for simplicity’s sake. But, yes, I think many people who call themselves “agnostic” could arguably be called “atheist” (and vise versa).

kdmom Level 6 Aug 22, 2020

Lack of belief is not disbelief. That’s the logical distinction between agnosticism and atheism. Or a logical difference.

Sounds good, but that actually is one of the definitions of disbelief, lack of faith.

Gnostic and agnostic are about a claim of knowledge. They have nothing to do with belief.

@SCal Good point. I meant lack of knowledge.


I think you are on the right track here and much about any difference is written by theists or former theists. People simply do not like the word "atheist." I call myself an agnostic atheist.

Ditto. I happily answer to either component, but my preferred ter is likewise agnostic theist.


I have had this discussion so many times I am sick of it.
I no longer care what people call themselves, if they will explain to me what they mean by the title they use I can tie that definition up to the word I use and think of them as that and assign an level of respect accordingly.

Words and there definitions sadly no longer seem to matter to people, the English language maybe in the toilet, but I refuse to swim in the sewer trying to turn a pile of shit back in to three course meal.


Excellent question and amazing answers. I am really enjoying this. Thank you.

I only want to add one thing:

The fact that we are agnostic atheists and can't prove whether or not god(s) exist(s), is not something that makes our position weak. Quite the opposite. We are not making a claim. We simple say: we do not believe there are deities. -A negative claim.

Another person makes a positive claim: -There are gods.
-Can you prove it?
If the answer is no (agnostic theist), then you don't take them seriously as they made a positive claim without any evidence. You might as well say there might be fairies, Zeus, celestial teapots etc.

If the answer is yes ( gnostic theist), the burden of proof lies on them.

Basically, you can beat a christian on a debate in less than two minutes if you ask them the right questions 🙂

In reference to your comment, "Another person makes a positive claim: -There are gods.
-Can you prove it?
If the answer is no (agnostic theist), then you don't take them seriously as they made a positive claim without any evidence. You might as well say there might be fairies, Zeus, celestial teapots etc.

If the answer is yes ( gnostic theist), the burden of proof lies on them."

Somethings in life are emotions. You can't prove emotions except by describing them and your behavior when you are experiencing them. To discount someone's opinion or belief because they can't prove it is nonsense. You are most certainly entitled to your opinion and beliefs but so are others and just because they don't line up with yours does not mean they are not valid.

I believe there are deities and a spiritual world because of things I have felt and personally seen. I cannot prove these things but they exist and are valid to me and I could care less if anyone agrees or disagrees...believes or has disbelief.

@ArtemisDivine Emotions can be proved by their characteristics and with an MRI scan...

@tsallinia I did not know that...that still doesn't change my stance on what I meant to say eventhough my comparison was a poor one. It doesn't negate that I have felt and have seen things that lead me to believe in dieties or a spiritual realm.

@ArtemisDivine I have seen things too. Things that some people might consider miracles.

My question is: How do you know they are deities? They might be aliens. You might live in a simulation...

How do you know?

I think this is a very important question to ask. I live in a Christian country so the moment I saw something extraordinary, I jumped to the irrational conclusion that it was Jesus. As a result, I wasted twelve years of my precious life as a Christian 😟


To me, labels are labels, I just do not believe in bullshit.


My Agnosticism is in line with the man (T.H. Huxley) who is given credit for creating the term "Agnostic". Please see the link to supportive documentation regarding Huxley. To put it simply, I will not say I believe or disbelieve without conclusive scientific evidence. Therefore the existence of god is unknowable at this time. This does not mean I'm an atheist. Because an atheist chooses to disbelieve in god without evidence that would irrefutably, and factually define the natural creation of the universe.


Unfortunately, most of the dictionaries have corrupted T H Huxley's intent for the meaning of the word "Agnostic". This throws people off when they try to understand it.

@nogod4me Your reply proves my point. It is intuitively obvious to most humans there is no factual knowlege regarding the origin of the universe. To use just one imaginitive example, our universe may be merely a simple snowglobe sitting in a curio cabinet of a super species who are orders of magnitude more advanced than we are. To us, these beings would seem like god. Yet here you are lecturing me about god. The only human construct we can prove are the thousands of falsifiable books, stories, dogmas, rituals, and spiritual traditions we have evidence of.


Yes. All non-theist agnostics are atheists, ...

... except those folks who call themselves "agnostics" because they aren't clear about what the word "agnostic" means as a philosophical position.

Unfortunately, there are a lot of such people in society at large, which muddies the waters everywhere, including on this site.

Maybe we can call this latter group "pseudo-agnostics" for lack of a better term. "Pseudo-agnostics" don't know what they believe; they haven't made up their mind about whether or not they believe in the predominant religion in their culture. So when they hear that agnostics don't know if a god or gods exist, they say, "Cool, that's me. I'm agnostic." But being undecided isn't a philosophical position. Actual non-theist agnostics know what they believe; they're agnostic atheists.

I've made the above remarks bc most of the chronic arguments on this subject here on this site arise from gnostic atheists accusing agnostic atheists of being "pseudo-agnostics" - and thus not true atheists. But the agnostic atheists know damn well that they don't believe in any god, so they get really irritated with the gnostics telling them differently.

And so the arguments go round and round, all bc too many "pseudo-agnostics" in the general population misuse the word "agnostic" to mean "I have doubts about God's existence but I don't yet know what I actually believe." That's not an agnostic. That dude is still a theist, a theist with doubts.


Not to me in how I practice my agnosticism.

"Theist" or "non-theist" agnostic is an oxymoron to me. This is because the very nature of being an agnostic is that I neither believe, nor unbelieve, in gods... I am neither a theist nor a non-theist. It is a position (again, to me and the way I practice... no universals in this arena) that says lacking evidence either way, I withhold judgment both ways.

To call an agnostic an atheist is to claim that we have made a judgment... either there are no gods (the ontological view of atheism) or I don't believe there is a god (the epistemological view of atheism); similarly when we call an agnostic a theist.

Of course, it gets tricky because I just said that we neither believe (thus justifying claims of atheism) nor unbelieve (thus justifying claims of theism). It's tricky because we are, I am, in a very real sense neither and both... It's the "Schrodinger's cat" of theology! We allow ourselves to believe in order to examine that claim from the theistic POV and simultaneously (i.e. on the same topic of piece of evidence) to unbelieve to examine that claim from the atheistic POV.

IMO, this is the best way to minimize bias in examining these claims, by allowing ourselves to embrace both perspectives. To call ourselves "atheist" would bias our examination towards unbelief... the same way that to call us "theists" would bias us towards belief.

Just call me agnostic with no qualifiers, prefixes, or addendums. 😀

As I understand that term (again, no universals), this means you are against all forms of theism but don't explicitly make a claim that there is or isn't a god?

I didn't see that you were agnostic anti-theist.

@TheMiddleWay To clarify, you are saying that a claim that you don't believe in god is equivalent to a claim there is no god?

I called one ontological and the other epistemological exactly because they are not equivalent claims: the former is a statement on objective existence (matter); the latter about our subjective thoughts (mind).

Having said that, I think that (with the probable exception of pure math) epistemology is based on ontology and vice versa so both claims are the same... if you say you don't believe in god you are defacto saying gods don't exist and vice versa.

But not many people accept that point of view and, to respect that, I separate both claims.

I consider myself an atheist not because I have made the judgement that there are no gods, but because I absolutely do not believe there are any gods. Are there gods? I don't know. I cannot know. But, I see no reason to think there are any.

Perhaps the difference between the atheist and the agnostic is simply that the atheist is more certain that no gods exist. But, the intellectually honest atheist will never say that they know that no gods exist as this simply cannot be known/proven.

@TheMiddleWay You're a bit of a unicorn, but I respect the existence of your position.

The overwhelming majority of agnostics are atheists. But some truly honest theists are agnostics in that they recognize that they actually don't know that which they subscribe to by faith.

What I'm hearing you say is that you don't believe in gods and you don't not believe in them. I would not be able to sustain that position for any length of time. My curiosity on the one hand and Ockham's razor on the other would force me to make a call about what I believe, even if I'm perfectly comfortable w my continued lack of knowledge.

Evidently your mind doesn't force you to make that call. Okay. I'm a little skeptical that you don't lean in one direction or the other, But you're saying that your needle is dead center at 50/50 between theism and atheism. I guess I'll have to take your word for it. But that absolute neutrality is rarer than a hen's tooth.

"Perhaps the difference between the atheist and the agnostic is simply that the atheist is more certain that no gods exist"

I agree. This is why I favor the ontological definition of atheism as being one about gods not existing since it makes it clear what you are saying about gods... not that maybe possibly, I don't know, could be...none of that waffling.

That if you are an atheist you are making a claim that gods don't exist, if you are theist that they do, and if agnostic you are making neither claim or alternatively, claiming that you don't know.


" I would not be able to sustain that position for any length of time."

Not many people can.
I ascribe my ability to my training and experience with quantum physics, specifically quantum indeterminacy (colloquially: Schrodinger's Cat). In reconciling that seeming physics paradox I find that I can reconcile what others see as a seeming theological paradox.

"But you're saying that your needle is dead center at 50/50 between theism and atheism."

Not at all; I'm saying I don't have a needle.
It would be wrong to call me 50% of one and 50% of the other; I'm simultaneously 0% both and 100% both.

"But that absolute neutrality is rarer than a hen's tooth."
Yes; that is my experience as well. I find that most people find it easier to lean one way or the other... it's human nature to not be undetermined and one of the reasons for religion: rather than say "I don't know why lightning occurs", we create gods to explain it. I resist that nature as much as I can, leaving things taht "I don't know" as simply.... "I don't know.

@TheMiddleWay You don't have a needle? That sounds like you don't care, or you don't have so much as a gut inclination on the question.

@TheMiddleWay I appreciate your reference to quantum physics. It helps, but ...

I don't believe that the existence or non-existence of a god or gods is properly a Schrödinger's cat sort of question. Any posited creator created the universe. The creator cannot both have created and not created. In the latter case, either the universe or the creator doesn't exist.

@TheMiddleWay And this is where it falls apart for us every time (with different examples). If you had asked me a week ago if I believed there was a sea creature that could snap its claw closed so fast it could create a vacuum that when the sea water rushed back into the space it would create temperatures hotter than the surface of the sun and a sort of bubble torpedo that would stun or kill its prey, I would have said no, but I wouldn't have made an assertive claim that it didn't exist because I didn't have enough (or any) knowledge that it didn't. There's tons is crazy shit that I learn is true, so I don't like to claim stuff doesn't exist without a good reason. But if I had to choose whether or not I believed something, all I can do is go on prior knowledge and best available evidence. People make claims regarding beliefs about things that can't know all the time. I believe team X is going to win this game. I believe I'm going to ace the test tomorrow. I believe Biden is going to win the election. I don't believe there will be a Friends reunion episode (as much as I want there to be one). I believe the Cash Me Outside girl getting an almost million dollar makeup advertising deal will make people wake up to what trash Reality TV is. I believe in god. I believe Roe will be overturned. To me, a claim about belief does not in any way seem to be the same as a claim about existence/truth.

@Joanne See, I don't see that to be the difference because I consider myself to be both, even though neither word should really exist.

@JeffMurray All three of us (you, me, @Joanne) consider ourselves both. She's talking about the gnostic atheists being just a bit more certain.

@vertrauen That was not clear in what she said...

@JeffMurray Yes, I realize that. @Joanne and I know each other IRL, so I happen to know.

@vertrauen Ah, okay. Good enough.

@JeffMurray I consider myself an agnostic atheist as well. My comment was more about why one person will identify as atheist and another as agnostic.


You don't have a needle? That sounds like you don't care, or you don't have so much as a gut inclination on the question.

I do care. But a "gut inclination" is too prone to bias so I don't listen to my gut on these issues any more than I listen to my gut on my cancer patients.

If I don't know that the best care is for my patient, I remain agnostic on what to do. I don't irradiate them cause my gut tells me so and I don't tell them no radiation is necessary cause my gut tells me so. I tell them "I don't know that radiation" until such time that I do know because to act without knowledge is dangerous.

The creator cannot both have created and not created. In the latter case, either the universe or the creator doesn't exist.

To be clear, my reference to Schrodinger's Cat and agnosticism is about epistemology (what I know or believe) not ontology (what exists or is real).
My belief is in a state of superposition, not the existence or non-existence of god.

This is where the analogy breaks down because while I believe that epistemology informs ontology and vice versa (so that if you say you don't beleive in gods you are effectively saying gods don't exist), and thus being in a state of superposition about belief implies being in a superposition about ontology, that is not the case: I firmly believe gods that gods exist OR they don't, not that they exist AND they don't.

@TheMiddleWay Re "gut inclination," it's still a belief or a non-belief, whether you act on it or not.

I understand what you're trying to say, but I think that you are kidding yourself. I respect that you are trying to ignore it, but I don't agree that your efforts to do so then qualify you to say that you are neither an atheist, nor a theist.

From my perspective: Either your belief is stronger or your disbelief is. So you're either a theist with serious doubts or an atheist with serious doubts.

Feel free to disagree. I know that you do. In the end this is going to be a definitional argument.


But if I had to choose whether or not I believed something, all I can do is go on prior knowledge and best available evidence.

Why must you choose? I don't feel myself under any such compulsion to choose on this topic. I agree that there are topics where we must take a stand... for example Christians trying to force their laws onto us... but on the larger philosophical claims of ontology (which as a physicist you can understand is my main concern), I don't know why anyone has to lean one way or the other... though of course I recognize my own bias in this answer given that I don't currently lean one way or the other.

If you had asked me a week ago if I believed there was a sea creature that could snap its claw closed so fast it could create a vacuum

Snapping shrimp are a great example because of its uniqueness: no other known animal can willingly create a cavitation bubble.

As such, if you were to ask me if such an animal existed prior to it's discovery, what do we know? We know cavitation bubbles exist (in propellers for example) and we know shrimp exist. But to say that because a) and b) exist, then c) must exist is unjustified. You are putting together two things that don't belong to each other (shrimps don't have propellers) and claiming that they exist.

However, to say that such shrimp don't exist is equally unjustified. As we now know, just because cavitation is observed in propellers (and a few other fluid dynamic contexts) doesn't mean that a mechanism to produce said bubbles can't exist.

As such, I submit to you that were we faced with this decision say 100 years ago... do shrimp exist that can create cavitation bubbles... the properly scientific answer is to remain agnostic. To have taken an "atheistic" POV and claim they don't exist could have potentially had scientists play to this bias and prevented them from searching for it. To have taken a "theistic" POV and claim they do exist could have potentially had scientists play to that bias and create all sort of crazy models for how this would happen in many or all shrimp though all manner of mechanism and make their search less of a priority since clearly they exist.

But the agnostic position, I claim, would have a scientist simultaneously look for ways that it can't exist and it can and weight the evidence for both. Would have had them calculate evolutionary reasons why that proposition is outlandish while at the same time searching the sea floor for a creature that could in fact do this in a way unknown to science. I claim the agnostic position is the best to minimize bias and have the scientist act only on positive evidence and not gut instinct or incomplete a priori knowledge.

I'm not kidding myself: I, and all the other doctors in my radiation oncology clinic, practice this philosophy in the clinic every day. If we don't know, we say we don't know. We don't have the privilege of having our belief or unbelief in treatment be stronger since the decision to treat or not treat should be strictly based on knowledge, not belief. It's not always... we have our biases like any other human... but we have to reach for that ideal if we are to maximize patient care.

With that in mind, I see ours as less of a definitional difference and more of an experiential one.
Unless you've experienced science the way I have... theoretical particle physics PhD then medical physics PhD... it's going to be difficult... not impossible, but difficult... for you to understand how that science informs my viewpoints about the world.

I think that is true of all these arguments: until you've experienced what another has experienced, it's difficult... not impossible, but difficult... to understand why they might have fundamentally different views of the world.

@TheMiddleWay No, you misunderstand me a bit. I totally understand practicing agnosticism w respect to your patients' treatment plan. That's a question of action A or B or C or inaction for the moment. My point was simply that beliefs and actions are distinct. Actions are easier to control in a careful skeptical way, allowing for the data to accrue over a space of time to point to what the science says would be the best course of treatment; beliefs, however, simply happen - they're generally fast and involuntary but can change over time, hopefully in accordance with the data influx.

Can't quite agree with that dichotomy because as I see it, my belief informs my actions.

I believe that this course of treatment will benefit you and thus I act on it.
I believe that this course of treatment will NOT benefit you and thus I DON'T act on it.

That belief is not fast or involuntary but gained by many years of study and practice. Conversely, that action can be fast and reflexive exactly because I've already studied it and practice it so much that it becomes second nature: 70 Gy to the prostate; 45 Gy cord dose tolerance. I don't even have to "think" about these numbers... I just know then and if I see 60 Gy to the prostate (underdose) or to the spinal cord (overdose), I act very fast and somewhat involuntarily.

Another way to look at this is relying on the old standard "knowledge = justified true belief". So if I'm going to treat my patients based on knowledge, then I have to make sure that what I believe is justified and true... hence the long hours of studying.

@TheMiddleWay I don't think that we disagree on any of that. I only think that you are conflating some issues.

For example, you know what you know professionally from study and hands-on experience. But neither you nor I are conscious of experiencing any god.

You also know from experience when you don't have enough data to diagnose and you'll ask for tests to be run if the patient's condition permits. But neither you nor I are in a position to run tests for the existence or non-existence of a god even if we had lots of time. It is unknowable (on this we agree).

So from my perspective, the only thing we've got to go on is our gut inclination and Ockham's razor. For some people these conflict; for others there is agreement. But Ockham's razor is a more sound principle than gut inclination anyway.

I just don't see how you end up with a principled non-position. Do you oppose Ockham's razor?

Yes: Ockham's razor is unscientific... the simplest explanation is not often the correct one... and thus I don't use it.

Given the above, my advice is to generally avoid using the so-called Occam’s principle in any of its variants in arguments. Even if it is taken to be true at face value (despite its lack of logical justification) the Occam’s Razor is non-operational unless you are looking at two hypotheses which explain exactly the same set of phenomena, in exactly the same circumstances, to exactly the same degree of predictive accuracy, which is practically impossible.


@TheMiddleWay Thank you for the link. From the article:

"Even if it is taken to be true at face value (despite its lack of logical justification) the Occam’s Razor is non-operational unless you are looking at two hypotheses which explain exactly the same set of phenomena, in exactly the same circumstances, to exactly the same degree of predictive accuracy, which is practically impossible."

Hypothesis 1: Universe created by a god or gods


Hypothesis 2: Universe not created by a god or gods.

All the phenomena to be explained are the entire universe. = same set of phenomena with the same circumstances

Hypothesis 1 claims a predictivity that has failed hundreds of time throughout history. It also has an extra element absent in Hypothesis 2.

In the article greater correlation to conditions and predictive accuracy permits greater complexity being spared the razor, but what about when greater complexity (adding an unnecessary god or gods) also reduces predictive accuracy (by demanding purposes from the universe that consistently have failed to play out)?


"claims a predictivity that has failed hundreds of time throughout history. "

I challenge you to find a scientific experiment ala poppler (falsifiable) that can confirm or deny either hypothesis. Alternatively, find a scientific experiment with a Null Hypothesis (say "Universe is not created by god(s)" ) such that we can gather statistical data to "reject" or "fail to reject".

See what you've done is not provided two competing hypotheses. You've only provided one hypothesis and it's negation. This means that if H1 is not true, H2 is automatically true and vice versa. A better (and legitimate) use of the razor would be

H1: A standard model of particle physics with 6 free parameters
H2: A standard model of particle physics with 18 free parameters.

H1 being false doesn't make H2 automatically true nor vice versa. But by the razor, if both theories make the same prediction about the same events in the same circumstance, we choose the 6 over the 18 since the extra 12 don't add any predictive or descriptive value and are superfluous. (BTW, the current SM does in fact have 18 free parameters; in contrast, String Theory has NO free parameters and thus would be superior... but it's not been proven yet.... so again we can't use the Razor on it)

PS: funny little way to see why I don't believe in the Razor. Regarding creationism

H1: God did it
H2: The Big Bang Theory

...then by the razor, "god did it" is infinitely more simple than the Big Bang theory. This is of course an extreme example but showcases, rather silly I admit, why Ockham's Razor is not something I can legitimately embrace as a scientist.

@TheMiddleWay Can't you just treat a god as an extra particle to the rest of the universe and whose manner of action is utterly unknown and which adds nothing, indeed - if anything - subtracts from, the predictive accuracy of the model?

I can and do all the time. When I do science, I don't include god in my calculations. Just like when I take a shit I don't pray.

But my non-inclusion of god during these events is not the same as my dismissal of god.

Consider that when I do science, i also don't include the latest sports results in my calculations, when I take a shit I don't dwell on racism... doesn't mean those things don't exist... just that they aren't relevant to the context at hand.

In a call-back to your earlier point on actions and belief, I'm secular in my actions but agnostic in my beliefs. I have no problem admitting that I act as if no god is around... I lived a good portion of my life as if god were around and find no substantive difference in my actions or results... but I can't go so far as to say that this proves that god "isn't" around and thus I hold firm to my belief that I don't know. I daresay most people act the same way as I do... even the pope doesn't pray when he takes a shit (I hope!)... most people are secular in the material world for the material world is not the spiritual world. But when it comes to the unknown, the unseen, the unprovable... there is where the distinction is made: some see nothing in the unknown (atheists), some see something (theists), while I just see the unknown (agnostic)


Are you familiar with Gould's "Non-Overlapping Majestiria"?
That's a good way to put the above in context and better understand my agnosticism.

@TheMiddleWay Because there are implications to each individual's and the collective's beliefs about the existence of god. While a agree with what you said about how your lack of belief and disbelief does not change your actions (which I assume is true of most atheists and/or agnostics) I don't believe that it doesn't change the actions of theists. I actually think it's readily apparent that theists act in a manner that is, at times, informed by their belief in god. The clearest and most pressing example I feel would be the election in November in the US. There are likely tens of millions of people in the country that could very well weigh the implications of their religious beliefs when casting their ballot. Which candidate will be more likely to appoint pro-life judges to end abortion? Which candidate will more likely infringe on my religious freedoms? Which candidate do I think believes in god the way I do? Which candidate will promote a false god and Sharia law? The true answers to these questions don't even matter, really. What matters is that the questions and the individual's beliefs about the answers are considered when making a selection. You may have the extremely rare ability to take no stance on any way on your belief in the existence of god, but most of us do not have that luxury or ability.

There is nothing wrong with someone voting based on their beliefs. I may not agree with them, but that doesn't mean there is something wrong with their voting.

For example: I voted for Obama cause he was black; for Hillary cause she was a woman. Had the republicans put a black man opposite a white man in 2008, I would have voted republican; similarly if they had put a woman. Those were my reasons: I wanted more inclusion in the WH. Nothing more nothing less. White against white, as this election, and I vote cause I want trump out. Nothing more, nothing less. Biden is not my first choice; I've no love for Harris. But I need Trump out and so regardless of their policy, I will vote for them.

A few people balk at this: how can you vote merely on their race or gender? What about the issues? Why not vote for a 3rd party that won't win but at least embodies what you believe, etc?

I say to them the same: my reasons for voting are my own and they need not be yours. Be it race, gender, religion, science, or simply demeanor, I see nothing wrong with voting on some reason as long as you vote for a reason... even if you don't agree with that reason, it's my vote, my reason, not my vote, your reason.

With that in mind, I would not accept anyone forcing me to believe, or unbelieve, as they do. If there is a law that makes it illegal for me to pray should I choose.. or makes it illegal to do science in contradiction to scripture should I choose... I will absolutely reject and fight against that.

@TheMiddleWay Yes, and that's precisely what a vote specifically to pack the court with pro-life judges would do: restrict others' ability to make decisions for themselves. Either way, the point was that their belief does change the way they act.

And may I add, if you wait for a bill that would infringe on your rights to become a law, or even for those that would write and support that bill to get elected, you're too late...
Maybe that's a good enough reason to take a stance on belief without knowledge in this instance.


My credo is "I don't know, and neither do you". AKA Agnostic. I have had personal experience/revelation that cause me to believe in certain nonmaterial elements, but not a fan of Skydaddy and the Sacrifices.


I have never seen it hard to think that one has made up their mind, one has not...I just don't see the problem...


Welcome to the group, why is it that so many are concerned with a label that in all reality means diddly-squat. Haha enjoy your stay my opinion is that it doesn't matter anyhow you got to deal with today that's all you got.


Atheist is a phony category.

Can you please elaborate?

@tsallinia Because 'god' could mean anything having to do with the nature of our universe and the nature of our existence. If you're saying there IS no explanation, then you're irrational and anti-scientific. Until we have all the answers--and we're a far cry from that--the answer to the question, 'Is there a 'god?' must be left open to question, conjecture, and speculation; in other words, agnostic thought.

@Storm1752 This is an interesting way to turn my question around, thanks for sharing.


Why don't you have the same level of interest asking about Bigfoot or leprechauns? Because these myths are widely accepted as myths. The god concept simply has had more acceptance than other stories.

We don't have words like a-Bigfoot-ists or a-leprechaun-ists, but we do have words like atheists or non-believers.

Basically being an agnostic is a mute point:
Does god exist?
I don't know.

This post I wrote may help:
"Imagine for a moment that the concept of god never existed, that no one had ever heard of such an ..."/

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