"I ought to call myself an agnostic; but, for all practical purposes, I am an atheist." - Bertrand Russell

Atheism, I find, is often misunderstood. To a significant number of people, it is seen as a firm belief that God does not/cannot exist - meaning it's 'just as bad' as religion itself. This is wrong.

Calling Atheism a belief (or 'belief system' as I made the mistake of referring to it in an earlier post, hoping my poorly judged conversational sarcasm would be picked up and my true meaning made clear) is like calling baldness a hairstyle. Again, Atheism is not a belief in the non-existence of God, it is simply a lack of belief that 'he' does.

There is no faith element in Atheism. 'Belief' in certain things from the non-religious is earned when there is a significant amount of evidence to support them - like evolution, or the 'Big Bang'.

Apply this empirical mindset to the God Hypothesis (in it's many forms) and what you're left with is a very easy to define scientific standpoint on the plausibility of the issue; which is that there is no physical evidence for God and we therefore cannot verify 'his' existence... And people interpret this in different ways (and are free to do so, of course).

One way is to declare oneself an Agnostic. Agnosticism - as a stance - concerns knowledge, and some things, it may state, are, despite utilising all possible scientific methods, intrinsically impossible to address. These things, many would say, are not even worth debating. The fence is the adopted position (a reasonable stance in its own right), and Agnostics are likely to neither believe nor 'disbelieve' in God. But this is of course a spectrum, and self-identifying doubters may choose to find the God Hypothesis likely but not certain; unlikely but not impossible; or just not care either way.

Atheists tend to agree with this. The only major difference between the two philosophies, I find, is the interpretation of the inherent unfalsifiable nature of deities, as well as each individual's motivation... (Read more of this post)

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Tags: Agnosticism, Atheism

Comment by Richard Schweitzer on September 8, 2013 at 7:20pm

I'm not a regular subscriber to Think Atheist, I logged on to respond to something else, but in the sign up process lost track of that, but ended up here... I do consider myself an Agnostic, mostly for the sake of accuracy. I generally agree with everything stated in this post, but since I do have to leave that one percent of leeway FOR the existence of "something", I have to go with Agnostic. I guess others do, but I would certainly not consider Atheism a "belief system" anymore than I would baldness a hairstyle. I have dealt with many Atheists who declare themselves correct to the absolute exclusion of all other ideas. This I DO consider just as incorrect as faith. To declare an idea as "certain and unquestionable" that is clearly not, for or against, is equally delusional. To be clear, IMHO, to insist in the "non-existence" of a god as an unmitigated fact is just as delusional as any religious certainty. Even if it is only left to a one percent compromise. Agnosticism (and to use the term apathiesm is just as arrogant, IMHO) to me is simply the idea that "we don't know, we can't know, which means you (whoever "you" is) don't know and can't know, no matter how sure you feel you are." From a Christian bible standpoint,  'to know' works outside the very fundamental concept of faith-building. You cannot have "faith" in something of which you have absolute knowledge. The ultimate Catch 22 (although the idea of "prayer" would have to be Catch 21). So, while I believe in science and evidence, I recognize that there is much that we simply don't know... yet. Things that we consider supernatural or spiritual may prove to be science at some point. With this in mind, I have to stop at Agnosticism, or I would be as arrogant as those I consider arrogant (and wrong), and Atheism as the general populace understands it - a firm and unarguable declaration in the non-existence of any kind of God, often to the point of derision - is no less incorrect than religion. If there is any doubt in your mind about that surety, you are an Agnostic, and there is nothing wrong with being honest and accurate. As always... IMHO.

Comment by Carnun Marcus-Page on September 10, 2013 at 3:07pm


I can't help but agree... It is a question of honesty. Plainly and simply, I should call myself an Agnostic.

Because, the thing is (and I hope this point came across in the post - I wrote it a while ago and can't quite remember whether it's included or not), I am an Agnostic. It's just that I prefer, in public - and if asked in person - to call myself an Atheist 9 times out of 10. It saves 'this post'-style explanation. It's easier. (And it's lazy, unashamedly).

Also, every so often, I do it for a reaction. Bad? I don't think so. After all, the kind of 'reaction' I tend to be after is:

"How can YOU be an Atheist? You're nice!"

So there's always that. ;)


Comment by Carnun Marcus-Page on September 10, 2013 at 3:13pm


I think it's also worth mentioning that looking back on most of the things I wrote 'a while ago', I often see a lot of room for revision/re-visit... Including in this post's case. ;)

Cheers for flagging it up.

Comment by Jason Kristian Clark on November 4, 2014 at 1:44am

There are two main fallacies, with the newer definition of atheist, as in "a-theist" (non theist, or, not a god believer).

1. The False Dilemma

"The presence of a belief in a god and the absence of a belief in a god exhaust all of the possibilities."

First, the a-theist claims there is only one proposition put forth, that of the theist ... "Gods exist" ... and, if you don't believe that proposition, then you're an a-theist. This definition was promoted by George H Smith, in the 1970s, while he admitted that athe-ist was the common definition. However, George only recognized implicit and explicit a-theism. Later a-theists had to admit to the existence of actual athe-ists (the older, more common definition), who believed a counter proposition ... "Gods do not exist". While admitting to their existence, and admitting they were putting forth a proposition, which carries its own burden of proof, a-theists didn't go back and correct the initial claim, that there is only one proposition, or revisit their a-theist definition. Instead, they chose to label them "strong atheists", and themselves "weak atheists".

Huxley recognized that there were two propositions, and defined agnosticism as a no belief position, which put all the burden of proof on both the-ists and athe-ists. True Huxley agnosticism is not compatible with athe-ism or the-ism.

2. The False Premise

A-theists argue that knowledge and belief are separate. Although not the first, this fallacy was also promoted by George H Smith. It is totally incorrect. Epistemology has been using the basic formula, put forth by Plato, that knowledge is a justified true belief, to define knowledge. In other words, knowledge is simply a belief that can be proven true. They are not separate axis, or separate anything. They are steps along the same path. The only real debate is about the justification process. Ever the scientist, Huxley believed scientific method was the only valid justification process.

Another fale premise, within this false premise, is that Agnosticism is strictly about knowledge, has nothing to do with belief, and is therefore not a third option, and is compatible with both atheism and theism. Huxley made clear that agnosticism was not strictly about knowledge, did cover belief, and wasn't about anything being unknowable. Agnosticism is the no belief position.

"Agnosticism is of the essence of science, whether ancient or modern. It simply means that a man shall not say he knows or believes that which he has no scientific grounds for professing to know or believe."

"That which Agnostics deny and repudiate, as immoral, is the contrary doctrine, that there are propositions which men ought to believe, without logically satisfactory evidence; and that reprobation ought to attach to the profession of disbelief in such inadequately supported propositions."

"I do not very much care to speak of anything as "unknowable." What I am sure about is that there are many topics about which I know nothing; and which, so far as I can see, are out of reach of my faculties. But whether these things are knowable by any one else is exactly one of those matters which is beyond my knowledge, though I may have a tolerably strong opinion as to the probabilities of the case."


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