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Agnostic Atheist

- Atheist: Lack of belief in a deity. This is derived from the prefix “a” meaning “lack of” or “no” and the word “theist” meaning belief in a deity.

- Agnostic: Lack of knowledge in a deity. Again, this is derived from the prefix “a” meaning “lack of” or “no” and the word “gnostic” meaning “knowledge.” The context provided the deity aspect but it is certainly possible to be agnostic about the weather or any number of other things.

There seems to be some question about the terms “atheism” and “agnostism” so I have decided that it is time to discuss it. The definitions are listed above, but they are mutually exclusive terms as many people (particularly Christians), seem to think. Atheism concerns belief while being agnostic is a claim about knowledge. I don’t know if there is a red house on Oak Street, so I lack the belief that there is. That doesn’t mean that I disbelieve that there is a red house on Oak Street necessarily, but it could mean that too. However, if someone showed me a picture of a red house on Oak Street, then I would have knowledge and would certainly believe it that there is a red house on Oak Street. By that same reasoning, if I said that I don’t have any reason to believe that there is a red house on Oak Street, that doesn’t mean that I believe that there is no red house on Oak Street. It also doesn’t mean that I believe there must be a blue house on Oak. In other words, atheism is a lack of belief in a deity, but it is not a disbelief in a deity necessarily and it is not necessarily a belief in something else either. It can be, but that is not a requirement of the set of people who lack the belief.

There are atheist religions however such as Secular Humanists, The Brights, Buddhism, Taoism, Confucianism, etc. Believe it or not, I have even met an atheist Christian (I don’t understand it either so don’t ask) and there are also a number atheist Jews that I have met. But that has to do in part with the Hebrew heritage and traditions and less to do with the Jewish religion. But when someone claims to be an atheist, they are not talking about a belief that they hold, but rather a belief that they don’t hold. Unless it is modified or married to some other belief, the term “atheist” is not about the person’s beliefs but rather the person’s lack of belief in a particular being or beings.

If someone were to tell me that there was a man named David living in Israel, I would say that I lack the knowledge of such a person, but I still believe it to be true. David after all is a pretty common Jewish name and it is pretty likely that there is a man named David living in a country full of Jews. This is an example of belief without knowledge. And if I were at a magic show and the Magician sawed a girl in half right in front of me, I could say that I have knowledge (in that I saw it happen right in front of my eyes) but I still don’t believe that it happened. One could argue that I know it was a trick and that additional knowledge but I can’t really say that I “know” it as much as I can say that I don’t believe it was real based on other factors.

My point here is that knowledge and belief are two separate things and so it is entirely logical to be both an agnostic and an atheist at the same time. I also want to again clarify that atheist does not necessarily mean an active disbelief in a god just a rejection of a belief in a god. Personally, I will make the claim that particular Gods do not exist. I am reasonably certain that Thor, Zeus, and Yahweh are made up fictional characters. But that isn’t to say that I am not open to the idea of some vague higher power entity. But currently, I see no evidence to suggest such a vague higher power entity, so I lack that belief. Show me evidence for the red house on Oak Street and I’ll consider it, but I am reasonably certain that there isn’t an Igloo on Oak Street (especially not during these summer months if we are both talking about the same Oak Street in Pennsylvania). I have no knowledge of that Igloo and I also don’t believe.

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  • http://myspace.com/bloodypatriot prestonofcourse

    i found this blog to be quite a profound way of explaining athiesm (in general), although i wonder if athiests would agree? i guess not believeing in a God or gods is non-theism?

    personally i believe in God; but not dogmaticly. i do not live in a world of certianty and i do not put stock in religion.

    • admin

      Do you believe in a particular god or in some vague higher power concept?

    • Mr. X

      “i guess not believeing in a God or gods is non-theism?”

      What? Wait, I thought it was still “a-theism”…

      “This is derived from the prefix “a” meaning “lack of” or “no” and the word “theist” meaning belief in a deity.”

      “a-” and “non-” both mean the same thing, as prefixes, at least in this context. Don’t they?!

    • KAH

      Of course we agree! Its not really debatable. Those are the definitions of the terms!

    • existential blues

      I wonder how you can believe in God non-dogmatically. Do you assign a probability to his existence, or is it a certainty?

  • http://www.myspace.com/andrewtheatheist AndrewtheAtheist

    I have a hard time thinking in negatives. I believe there is no god. That is, to say “I do not believe in a god” is less accurate than “I believe there is no god.” I believe there is no god as I believe there are no unicorns, goblins, loch ness monsters, or flying spaghetti monsters. Perhaps that makes me a bad atheist, but that is my position, regardless.

    • KAH

      Well, while the fact that you do not have a belief in a god makes you an atheist, the fact that you have an active disbelief is in addition to that and requires an added term of some kind – not sure what that might be, but another is needed non the less.

  • existential blues

    knowledge vs. belief = epistemology vs. ontology

    Belief isn’t all-or-nothing. Its strength is a function of the strength of the evidence that supports it. I believe that my car will start, might not. It wasn’t an existential problem for me the time it didn’t.

    If I stayed off religion & philosophy blogs, I’d be an igtheist; I wouldn’t give God any more attention than I give unicorns.

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  • Leo

    Atheist: a person who denies or disbelieves the existence of a supreme being or beings.

    Atheism the doctrine that there is no God.

    Agnostic: a person who holds that the existence of the ultimate cause, as a god or God, and the essential nature of things are unknown and unknowable.

    Here, Stak’s clearly describes himself as an agnostic when he attributes existence to an unknown supreme being, or to the lack of evidence either way, and yet he follows atheism, not atheist in the strict sense, rather he does not believe in God with a big G.

    An agnostic is someone who believes that super computers are capable of simulating experience, humans from the future/aliens from other planets are sent to teach us and warn us, and that God is just one from the pantheon of super beings…believing in the Lock Ness Monster has relatively nothing to do with religion, therefore these terms don’t apply, unless they also believe that the monster is a god or supreme being and ultimate cause.

    On the other hand, a true atheist does not believe in the existence of a supreme being or beings, including gods or God. There are no super computer’s simulating experience, no humans from the future and no aliens prodding us along, there is no pantheon of gods cheering us on in some cosmic gladiator arena.

    Since there is a difference and confusion of terminology, I suggest the word ahenotheistic; a-meaning “no”, henotheist as in worshipping one supreme being but believing many more may exist; between believer and agnostic thought, in the same class as atheist, yet as follows:

    Ahenotheistic: a person who denies or disbelieves in God or the existence of one supreme being and holds that the existence of the ultimate cause and the essential nature of things are unknown and unknowable.

  • Strangel

    I like “abullshitistic.”

    • Leo


      Sometimes fancy words don’t cover the smell…like some brandname airfreshners.

  • Sherry Jewell

    LOL… it’s a pickle. Both A-A terms pretty well sum up my musings most of the time… while at the same time, pantheist, in the gaia sense, also fits the bill.

    Lately I’ve been calling myself a skeptic, without wanting any formal definition of the word to guide or confine me. Please don’t supply one, thank you :)

    Not that it matters in the scheme of things, but perhaps one day I’ll settle down with a single term. Until then, it’s sort of like dating.

  • Joe Freshwater

    Well I definitely agree and think it is possible to be both an Agnostic and a Atheist at the same time so if someone wants to call themselves an Agnostic Atheist that’s cool too. I afterall call myself an Agnostic Atheist and I refer to myself as that because there are many terms to describe a non-believer and I choose Agnostic Atheist. Also if you read and study Atheism it has Agnostic belief in it. I think you can be an Atheist and not believe in any God,Gods,Religions,Deities,Holy Bible,Heaven,Hell,Divinity,Supernatural,Paranormal,Angels,Virgin Mary,and Satan at all because there’s no Scientific proof and evidence in any of these things but at the same time say all these things might exist but probably doesn’t.

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