"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.


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