Atheism is simple... Or not. O.o Random boring day drawl... (You don't have to read this! lol!)

Okay... so today, I just finished my second final exam! (1 class left to go... yeah baby!!! Whoo hoo!)
Anyhow... so I'm procrastinating in the library to avoid writing my final paper for lit class and started browsing the "Religion" section of the encyclopedia shelves. I was astounded at what I found. There was a book on the bottom shelf entitled "The New Encyclopedia of Unbelief." Well, I had always thought atheism was kind of simple... I mean... either you believe in God or you don't. Isn't that the dividing line between theist and atheist? Yes, to that question. But I guess atheism is NOT as simple as I thought. Hmmm... Well... I found this out without even having to open the book. "The New Encyclopedia of Unbelief" is about 2 inches thick (from cover to cover). Wow. So... I'm checking out what I find that this book has to say about us and I'll post some summarized versions of interesting stuff below. Oh! BTW! (I'm ADD, so I always forget stuff... lol!) "The New Encyclopedia of Unbelief" is edited by Tom Flynn and published by "Prometheus Books." (Just so you guys have a reference... don't want to plagarize stuff if I can help it.) :)

Ooooh... interesting... the foreword is by Richard Dawkins. (So an actual atheist helped write an encyclopedia of unbelief). That's good... it's so annoying how lots of theist reference books and dictionaries try to define "atheist" way too narrowly or negatively. Maybe this one will be a better source of info.

Richard Dawkins defines a "spectrum" of theism-atheism in his foreword... although I would word some of the terms he used for the definitions differently. (And I have seen the same definitions worded differently before). Okay, here's the spectrum. I will put my terms in brackets!
1. Strong Theist [wouldn't change this] - "I do not believe, I know."
2. Agnostic, Leaning toward Theism [Weak Theist] - I cannot know for certain, but I think the existence of God is highly probable. [i.e. I can't prove God but I believe in him]
3. Truly Impartial Agnostic [Agnostic] - It is impossible to prove or disprove the existence of God. [Won't take a position either way]
4. Agnostic, Leaning toward Atheism [Common Atheist] - It is impossible to disprove God, but he is just as improbable as fairies or unicorns.
5. Strong Atheist [Wouldn't Change this] - I know there is no God.

Views: 51

Tags: Atheism, Theism atheism spectrum, types of, unbelief

Comment by Dave G on June 9, 2009 at 2:24pm
Dawkins' spectrum from theism to atheism is better than the straight yes/no option, but I prefer a 2-axis version, where theist-atheist is on axis, and gnostic-agnostic is the other. The two really do apply to two separate things (knowledge vs belief), and conflating the two just generates confusion, as can be seen with the stereotypical view of an atheist as adamantly insisting that there cannot be a god.
Comment by MaddMike on June 9, 2009 at 3:58pm
Haha how ironic, i have exams tomorrow and i am procrastinating by looking at this, and i have ADD too ;D.
More on topic, i had never heard of these definitions for theists through to atheists before, i had always wondered but never got around too looking them up. I like the definitions to be honest, i think atheist/ theist is too broad to fit everybody in, i had a discussion with my friend a while ago, and when i started i asked him, are you atheist or theist, and he replied neither. He then made me aware that there is more than just an atheist/ theist side.
Comment by Wendy on June 9, 2009 at 4:21pm
Dave - I'd definitely agree with you. I've seen analogous charts on political views, plotting conservative vs. liberal views on a economic/social scale.

I've read several of your comments, and you're one of the most thoughtful, well spoken here. So, I'll ask you to elaborate on how you'd define the 4 quadrants: theist gnostic, theist agnostic, atheist gnostic & atheist agnostic. Where do Fundies fall? Richard Dawkins? Run-of-the-mill Christian apologist?
Comment by Dave G on June 10, 2009 at 11:43am
Why thank you for the compliment, Wendy. :)
While there are certainly different degrees within each zone, here's how I'd define them overall.
Gnostic theist: This person both believes in a deity (or deities), and claims to *know* that a deity or deities exist(s).
Agnostic theist: This person believes in a deity or deities, but does not claim to know this for a fact.
Agnostic atheist: This person does not believe in a deity or deities, but does not claim to know for a fact that there are no gods.
Gnostic atheist: This person does not believe in a deity or deities, and claims to *know* that there are no gods.

Most Fundies I would place within the Gnostic Theist zone. The ones that I have encountered or heard of claim to *know* that God (Allah, etc) exists as a fact. The reliability of their evidence notwithstanding, they do claim to know.

Richard Dawkins I would place in the Agnostic Atheist section. He does not claim to *know* that there are no gods, and in an interview about the atheist buses in London did say that it is not something that could be known for certain. Likewise, his stated position on his own scale supports this. The likelihood of their existence is simply so low that it can safely be discounted unless additional, new evidence for their existence is presented.

Christian apologists range from Gnostic Theist to Agnostic Theist, depending on their version of religion. Some acknowledge that it cannot be 'known' and requires 'the faith of things not seen', while others try to twist science and other observations into providing the 'proof' that their assertion of the fact of their god's existence requires. Kent Hovind is a good example of the second type.

In general, I find the Gnostic Atheist position to be completely untenable, as proving a negative, particularly such a nebulous one as this, is nigh impossible. The best that can be done is proving that specific definitions of a god are false, but this does not prove that all possible gods cannot exist. The best we can say is that there is no evidence to support the existence of a god or gods, and until such evidence is presented, it is only logical to discount the proposed hypothesis.
Comment by Wendy on June 10, 2009 at 11:51am
See? I knew I could count on you ;)

I've often said the Gnostic Atheist is just as unreasonable as the Gnostic Theist (though I didn't use those terms). I think that the agnosticism is what brought me to atheism to begin with... I couldn't imagine that we could KNOW details of what a God would want of us. Occam's Razor brought me the rest of the way, but I still shy away from declaring that I *know* there isn't a god.

I think I'm somewhere between the agnostic atheist & the agnostic theist (obviously leaning more towards atheism, since I'm here on this site). I sometimes still "feel" that there may be some higher power out there, but as I have no way to know what it would want of me (or WHY a powerful being would give a crap what I do with my life), I live as though there is no god.
Comment by Skycomet the Fallen Angel on June 10, 2009 at 12:09pm
Dave - I like how you worded your definitions and explained them. I went onto one of my favorite sites explaining unbelief: and found that they say that at least 90% of all self-proclaimed "atheists" are Agnostic Atheists. (I fit into this category). I did try to mention in my note how it is very annoying that many theists seem to believe that ALL atheists are "Gnostic Atheists." According to Freethoughtpedia... this view makes up 10% or less of us, in reality. By the definition of science... you can never "prove" anything absolutely. (That's most likely why I often roll my eyes at creationist in online debates when they demand that we "prove" evolution.) Most of science is ruled by statistical probabilities. (How probable is something?) For example... the probability that gravity really exists is very high because there is a lot of evidence to back it up (the same with evolution). Neither are "proven" though. Still, since both have a high probability of being right, we can accept them as fact. On the other hand, the existance of unicorns has a very LOW probability of being correct, so we can dismiss it as incorrect. As for "God," the situation gets trickier. It depends very much on what your definition of "God" is on whether or not it can be statistically measured. My hypothesis is that the more narrowly you define "god" the easier it will be to show its statistical improbability. For instance... the "old man in the sky" god is easy enough to dismiss... however... some eastern religions are harder to so easily scoff. For example, Daoists (Taoists) believe in a "god" not as a spirit being with a personality, but more as a invisible, powerful, and natural creating force that most likely has no consciousness, so it can't know or care about what it creates. For obvious reasons, this idea is harder to refute. But you all make good points. Thanks for contributing! :)
Comment by Brent Rasmussen on June 10, 2009 at 1:14pm
I wrote about this very thing that Dave is talking about a few years ago and drew up this chart as well:

I think it nicely illustrates the difference in the "belief" and "knowledge" areas, and why most of us label ourselves "agnostic atheists".
Comment by Dave G on June 10, 2009 at 2:03pm
Pretty much, Brent. :) While I tend to leave out the 'strong' and 'weak' labels as unnecessary, I can see why you'd include them as common usage.
Comment by Skycomet the Fallen Angel on June 12, 2009 at 11:29pm
Wow... whoever gave me 5 stars... thanks... I didn't think it was that good... I was just writing whatever came to my head because I was bored.
Comment by fixedentropy on June 12, 2009 at 11:39pm
great post, i so am going to find that book.


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