(my question was born from bill maher's remarks at  the 4:20 mark)

I have found myself thinking, am I really an atheist or an agnostic? 

I'm not as religiously or savvy as most atheists are. You all have your arguments, your references and keen intellect to fall back on. I try to learn as much as I can from people like this but I know that I will probably not amount to their level of expertise on the subject.


The thing is, (and I saw this recently on a youtube video) I chose to be an atheist in because I knew that there was no such thing as god, and that I believe all the stories of religion, as well as it's followers are deluded. The fact that they are so certain about their beliefs annoys me even more.


However, my own certainty is that god does not exist and I use the basic arguments in order to debunk their theories. So, does me having this certainty that makes sense to me, mirror the certainty of religious people and their beliefs?


Of course I will never accept any kind of religion as an answer, nor do I think our lives are dominated by any kind of sentient force.


To this I ask, can I really consider myself an atheist? A person who doesn't believe in religion or its doctrines and deities.

To my understanding an agnostic is a person who  is not certain of these supernatural powers, but may disagree with religions. Is this it?

And lastly can we say FOR SURE, there is no god/deity/force/giant energy ball of life/ flying spaghetti monster, just by presenting a lack of evidence from opposing arguments?





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Well, OK. I've got to admit that I split those hairs, too, at times. Someone says to me, "so you don't believe in God?" I say, "that would mean that there IS a God in whom I do not believe. I prefer, 'There is no God'." The problems come, in such abstruse conversations as this, when virtually no two participants agree upon the meaning of key words like "believe". Then comes the battle of the Dictionaries. It reminds me of the game "Balderdash".

BTW I could ask why you felt the need to weigh in, Don. My first contribution to this thread was prior to yours. :-)

I meant on this small matter, Mike.  But you're right--when it comes to effective expression (and argumentation), because the words we use are the only tools we have to work with, it's always important to use them with a full appreciation for what they signify.  We become better communicators when we use the language well. 

I think that most people do agree, more or less, on the connotations of a word like "believe," but problems arise when those connotations seem to conflict.  To believe is to have a firm conviction or trust in the truth of a proposition.

Valid belief, however, derives from knowledge, nowhere else.  A belief has value only insofar as the knowledge it's based on is reliable.  The validity of any belief must hinge on our ability to determine the extent to which it may be true.  That is, to hold a valid belief we must have a way to determine whether the knowledge on which that belief is based is true.  And we do have a way; it's called epistemology.

To use the word "belief" to refer to a deep religious conviction (as many people do, of course) is to stretch the word's useful meaning and to ignore its essence, the knowledge on which any belief must be based.  The fact that many religious people hold "true believers" in such awe only testifies, perversely and witlessly, to the emptiness of religious belief.  When a fundamentalist rises to his feet in church to shout, "I BELIEVE, I BE-LEEEEVE!" he is declaring his absolute conviction and trust in something (a system of belief) for which everyone in that church knows there exists no evidence.  That's why, to them, his declaration of belief in all its fervor is so moving, so inspiring.  He doesn't know, but his not knowing doesn't matter!  He beleeeeves anyway.  He really believes.  And that, strangely enough, is regarded as a great virtue.  He has banished reasonable doubt.

When someone asks, "Do you believe in God," he is referring to a concept--God's existence.  God certainly exists as an idea in the human mind.  That is, the concept exists, of course, just like the concept of Santa Claus, or Atlantis, or Batman, or multiple universes.
The religious want you to say that "there is no god" so that they can then make the case for shifting the burden of proof to you.  It is better to say that you have concluded there is no god.  Then explain that this is because they have failed to meet their burden of proof.

Exactly.  Better to say you are willing to consider the possibility of some sort of deity whenever good evidence for its existence is offered.  So far, however, throughout human history, no good evidence has come to light.  None.

A coherent definition of "god" would also be helpful up front, so that we can all agree on the attributes and form of the being being posited.  This can amount to a thorny issue for theists.

I disagree with you both. If you're talking about debating with a theist, the worst thing you can do is admit that there is any room for debate. Back a couple of posts, Don talks about "valid belief". Talk about connotation, "believe" is tied to something you DON'T know for sure. Shall we debate the existence of Santa, the Easter Bunny, etc.? Don't be silly. Debating the existence of God is (and should be expressed as) no less silly. A theist debater likes nothing better than to descend into "word games" - splitting hairs about what constitutes "God", or "belief", or "agnostic", or "real". God LIVES in this realm of words that have been emptied of their meaning only to be assigned more convenient meanings. "Is there any milk left?" THIS is the level at which we should be "debating" the existence of GOD. If I say, "there is NO milk in the fridge", will someone say, "well, there exists in fridge air and on the inside walls of the fridge certain organic molecules which ..."? No they won't. That would be silly. Debating the existence of God should be done at the same level. "There IS NO God. Oh, you disagree? Show me. Can't? Ok, carried - There is no God. Next subject."
The concept of valid belief, which is admittedly a secondary connotation of "belief," is nonetheless entirely apt in debates with theists.  Why?  Because what one knows to be true one also believes.  Knowledge and belief go hand-in-hand.  The two states, in this sense, cannot be separated.  Valid belief is based on what we can know to be true--on testable knowledge.  That is, for a belief to have demonstrable and uniform value, it must be based on knowledge that is ascertainable by everyone.

Jerry Coyne, who wrote the excellent WHY EVOLUTION IS TRUE, posts this on his blog (which goes by the same title) today:

>>> Paul Kirby is rapidly becoming an eloquent voice for atheism.  You might want to have a look at her piece in yesterday’s Hibernia Times, “Atheism is the true embrace of reality.“  You won’t find any new arguments here, but it’s worth reading since it’s her personal odyssey from theism to atheism. She was a devout Christian until 2003—so devout that someone suggested she should be a nun.

Then she discovered that every Christian had a different conception of God, and, miribale dictu, everyone’s conception of the deity comported with their own personality and predilections:

We all knew we were right, and we all based that knowledge on the personal relationship we had with him.  How could any of us possibly be wrong?

What was striking about these observations was that those of us whose personalities led us to embrace the world and other people in a spirit of openness, generosity, warmth and tolerance “knew” that God did the same. And those who lacked the confidence for that, and consequently saw the world as threatening and evil and bad, “knew” that God saw it that way, too.

This is why subjective experience cannot tell us anything about God.  Knowing what kind of god someone believes in tells us a great deal about that person – but nothing whatsoever about the truth or otherwise of the existence of any god at all.

And this brings us to something very important about atheism.  Atheism is not in itself a belief. Few atheists would be so bold as to declare the existence of any god at all utterly impossible.  Atheism is, quite simply, the position that it is absurd to believe in, much less worship, a deity for which no valid evidence has been presented.  Atheism is not a faith: on the contrary, it is the refusal to accept claims on faith.

I was thinking about this very topic on my run today.

I agree with the posts that prefer "freethinker" and I consider myself a "freethinker."  But I may be able to identify with one of the following (from


Types of agnosticism

Agnosticism can be subdivided into several categories. Recently suggested variations include:

Agnostic atheism
Agnostic atheists are atheistic because they do not have belief in the existence of any deity, and agnostic because they do not claim to know that a deity does not exist.[16]
Agnostic theism
The view of those who do not claim to know of the existence of any deity, but still believe in such an existence.[16]
Apathetic or Pragmatic agnosticism
The view that there is no proof of either the existence or nonexistence of any deity, but since any deity that may exist appears unconcerned for the universe or the welfare of its inhabitants, the question is largely academic.[citation needed][17]
The view that a coherent definition of a deity must be put forward before the question of the existence of a deity can be meaningfully discussed. If the chosen definition is not coherent, the ignostic holds the noncognitivist view that the existence of a deity is meaningless or empirically untestable.[18] A.J. Ayer, Theodore Drange, and other philosophers see both atheism and agnosticism as incompatible with ignosticism on the grounds that atheism and agnosticism accept "a deity exists" as a meaningful proposition which can be argued for or against. An ignostic cannot even say whether he/she is a theist or a nontheist until a sufficient definition of theism is put forth.[19][not in citation given]
Strong agnosticism (also called "hard," "closed," "strict," or "permanent agnosticism")
The view that the question of the existence or nonexistence of a deity or deities, and the nature of ultimate reality is unknowable by reason of our natural inability to verify any experience with anything but another subjective experience. A strong agnostic would say, "I cannot know whether a deity exists or not, and neither can you."
Weak agnosticism (also called "soft," "open," "empirical," or "temporal agnosticism")
The view that the existence or nonexistence of any deities is currently unknown but is not necessarily unknowable; therefore, one will withhold judgment until/if any evidence is available. A weak agnostic would say, "I don't know whether any deities exist or not, but maybe one day, when there is evidence, we can find something out."

Dan Barker of

It turns out that the word atheism means much less than I had thought. It is merely the lack of theism [...] Basic atheism is not a belief. It is the lack of belief. There is a difference between believing there is no god and not believing there is a god — both are atheistic, though popular usage has ignored the latter [...].

Again, here Barker adopts the theists' prejudicial and pejorative definition.  That's forgivable when we recognize that many dictionaries cite this basic definition, and atheists thoughtlessly echo it everywhere all the time. 

Belief in gods, however, is not something that atheists lack.  Rather, it's merely something that atheists do not have.  While the distinction may seem subtle at first, yet it's fundamentally significant.  And careful users of the language will take note.


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