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?
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.
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'."
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.
AGNOSTIC - Simple
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.
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.
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).
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
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.
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.
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 ..."/