On Agnosticism vs. Atheism

On Agnosticism vs. Atheism, in which I piss off lots of readers

For a long time I prefered to call myself “agnostic” as opposed to one of the many terms that suggests some amount of gnosis about the universe and whether it is possessed by a deity. I’ve recently had a change of philosophy, and want to explore it a little here.

In the capital-A Atheist community it’s a big deal that the nomenclature for your stance runs thus: 1) Agnostic vs. Gnostic, referring to whether you think it’s even possible to determine the status of a deity, and 2) Atheist vs. Theist, referring to what you believe in practice.

These metrics have even been plotted on two-dimensional scales so you can pinpoint your coordinates. This always bothered me on the basis that 1 is really prior to 2. I think a better version would be a flow chart that goes like this:

A) Are you Agnostic or Gnostic? If Agnostic, stop here. if Gnostic, proceed to B.

B) Are you Atheist or Theist?

In other words, if you believe it is impossible to know if there’s a deity, that seemed to be the end of the line for a person who lives her beliefs. If you believe knowledge of the “God question” is impossible, it doesn’t make sense to either join a church or an atheist society. If you believe you can know, then the question becomes what you believe that knowledge leads to.

On this basis, I did (and do) dislike the epithets sometimes put at self-described Agnostics. I won’t name names, but even people I respect will often refer to Agnostics as “cowards” or “weasels.” I dislike this partially because it’s simple ad hominem, but also because (by golly) there is a great tradition of scientific and intellectual contribution by cowards and weasels. To say otherwise is to never have visited a computer science department. As a coward-American, I stand in solidarity with my people.

That said, the more I consider it, the more I consider agnosticism to not be a proper position, and I would like to explain why. Here, I’m going to start with an analogy, then proceed to a more logic-based stance.

Suppose a person came to you and said “do you believe there is Big Stuff in the universe?” What would be your response?

If you’re an analytical person, you’d probably say something like “How big? If by ‘Big Stuff’ you mean something with greater volume than the universe, I’d have to say that it doesn’t exist. If you mean something bigger than a breadbox, I’d say that it affirmatively does exist.” You might also ask questions like “what is stuff?” and “what constitutes a single instance of stuff, as opposed to bits of disconnected stuff?”

Now, suppose this person then said “No, no, no. I don’t care about the specifics. Is there Big Stuff or not?”

Your response at this point, if you’re being reasonable (and a bit stubborn) would not be “I guess I don’t know.” It would be “If you give me enough specifics, I can tell you whether they’re sufficient for me to say if Big Stuff is possible or not. Until you give me specifics, I really could go one way or the other.”

At this point, the person says “So, I guess you’re agnostic on the question of Big Stuff.”

To this you respond “No. I’m certain some forms of Big Stuff don’t exist. I’m certain that others do. And, for others still, I’m agnostic.”

Hopefully you get my analogy here. My point is this: It doesn’t even make sense to say one is agnostic as to the question of a deity, since the question is not a question at all. It’s as much a question as saying “Do you believe in Big Stuff?” Without specification as to the nature of bigness and stuffness, it’s just a string of words that appears to be a question, but in reality asks nothing.

So, where does that leave us? Well, it means for example that I’m atheist about Enki, in that I don’t believe you can combine clay and blood to create humanity. It means I’m atheist about Shabbetai Tzvi because I don’t see why the Messiah would come to Earth, then later in his career take a solid job in the Ottoman Empire thereby losing most of his following, only later to get fired.

But it also means I could construct a deity about whom you’d have to say “I am agnostic.” A partial list would contain features like “Does not have a human sense of justice.” and “If it has a plan for the universe, it does not answer prayers.” and “Is not yet empirically detectable.” In other words, you can construct a deity about whom I would have to be agnostic, but it would be a deity so abstract that you probably wouldn’t be interested in worshipping it, and it probably wouldn’t be interested in your faith. Thus, I’d say most self-named “agnostics” are probably what the community would call “atheist” once the question is given enough specifics to be properly called a question.*

I’m sure much of what I’ve said has been noted before, but I felt the need to oppose this simple dichotomy that people seem to believe in. “Do you believe in God” is not actually a question at all, so it doesn’t warrant a system of nomenclature being defined around it. Thus the question should not be “Do you believe in God?” It should be “Which gods do you believe in?”

In this sense, I don’t really like to call myself agnostic or atheist, as it really depends on the deity. I like to say that it would surprise me less to discover there was a creator god than to discover astrology is true. That is, to find out there is some sort of deity with certain parameters doesn’t seem impossible to me. However, when you input some specifics, then I have to say the answer is decidedly “no.”

It’s on this basis I like to just call myself “irreligious.” Whether I’m agnostic or gnostic or atheist or whatever is really dependent on what we’re talking about. But I know for a fact that I don’t attend a place of worship, and don’t assume any books are sacred.

I’d love to hear your thoughts in the comment section.

Happy trails,

Zach

 

 

 

*That said, I don’t recognize the right of any individual to say to another “No, you’re wrong, you’re ______” especially when that blank begins with a capital letter. As I said to a reader who asked me if I would call myself a capital-F Feminist, “By your definition and mine I probably am, but I don’t recognize the right of anyone to put a capital letter to the left or right of my name.”

 

 

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80 Responses to On Agnosticism vs. Atheism

  1. asonge says:

    I think the issue also gets confused when people compare atheism to Christianity instead of theism. Christianity, while diverse, consists of communities with common elements that have long lists of proscriptive demands on its members. Most Christians think “As a Christian, I should do X”. The lower-case atheist is a descriptive label (PZ Myers derides this as “dictionary atheism”). As such, I think you can call people whatever you want, but it’s just in bad taste because of the stigma. I think the Atheism you were talking about consists of a very short list of criteria, an abbreviated dogma that is rationally justified. One is that it is not a bad thing to be an atheist. Another is that it is important that you are skeptical and that you appreciate science. Other than that, there isn’t much else to it.

    If we’re actually interested in entertaining a popular notion about atheism and agnosticism being somehow on a single spectrum, I think the “live option” criteria is a good one. Assuming you already know that you don’t believe in any specific gods, given the facts about the world today, do you believe that god is reasonably possible? To say yes makes you an agnostic, and to say no makes you an atheist. To the atheist under this definition, the existence of god may be logically possible but just isn’t a “live option”. There are facts about the world that aren’t compatible with the standard suite of god-properties.

    What’s way more important to me than all these labels, though, is enjoying myself with a good beer and philosophizing (badly) with others who enjoy the same thing.

  2. Thnikkaman says:

    This is quite an eloquent way of describing being agnostic since I had always perceived agnosticism being the belief that “God exists, but is apathetic towards the universe.”

    That being said, I am willing to embrace the term irreligious as I truly believes it applies to me. I have ideas of what my faith is, and I’m content that it resolves me from my fear of death so that I can live life, and isn’t that essentially what the purpose of faith is?

    • Kenny says:

      Your previous concept of agnosticism does have a name. It’s called Deism, and is technically not agnostic in nature, though it doesn’t tend to have many crazy fundamentalists.

  3. mahe says:

    ha ha what a story mark!

  4. Somite says:

    Currently there is no evidence or possible scientific mechanism by which a deity could exist or make sense. Also deities are not necessary explanations.

    If you call yourself an agnostic you are saying “based on no evidence whatsoever I believe that at some point in the future there could be some evidence for God”. This is not rational or useful.

    The logical and most useful position is to state that you are an Atheist “because there is currently no evidence or mechanism that would allow the existence of a God nor is God necessary to explain any observation so far”.

    If you don’t like to call yourself an atheist for psychological or social reasons it is up to you to decide whether you should be honest enough to overcome this and recognize it is part of the problem.

    This article by Mano Singham might be useful.:

    http://newhumanist.org.uk/2594/no-doubt

    • mjec says:

      See, “based on no evidence whatsoever I believe that at some point in the future there could be some evidence for” time travel; or faster than light travel (or rather, I did even before the LHC recorded FTL neutrinos, if you call that evidence); or extra-terrestrial life; or cold fusion; or benevolent dictatorships; or even a youtube video with more than three valuable comments. None of these things are backed up by existing evidence, nor necessary to explain existing observations.

      That’s not to say that I believe such things exist, it’s to say that even in light of existing evidence that doesn’t support them, I’m willing to accept the idea they may yet exist, and there may yet come into existence evidence for them.

      I’m agnostic because to definitively say there is no “god” (and I agree with Zach here that there are semantic issues big enough to prevent that question being meaningful) is to reject the possibility of alternative explanations for our existing observations. That’s unscientific. Furthermore I don’t argue the question because it’s unimportant to me: it doesn’t determine how I live my life.

      If people argue particular things – that god instructs them to be bigots, or that we don’t have to think about our actions because “God Has A Plan” – I’ll argue against them. I’ll use my observational, scientific method and I know theists who make such an argument theologically. The point is that whether or not you should be a bigot (and, in my opinion, every other question about human behaviour) is invariant regardless or whether or not god exists.

      This for me is the core of agnosticism: it doesn’t matter whether you believe in god or not. I don’t think it’s a question about which one can come to a rational conclusion by the very nature of the question. Omnipotence of any entity makes its existence without evidence by definition possible. To argue the question is meaningless. Maybe I am just a brain in a jar; that’s not going to change the way I act because there’s literally no way to know for certain.

      If you want to argue about whether you believe one side of the uncertainty or the other (i.e. that there is a god or there isn’t) go right ahead. I’m not going to stop you. All I’m saying is both sides of that are just as irrational as each other.

      • Somite says:

        All the things you list are difficult to envision but not so far removed from reality that if they were indeed to happen would be interesting, but would not shake the foundations of our understanding of the universe. Not like a God would.

        There is also no evidence whatsoever that there are “alternative explanations for our existing observations”.

        So far every explanation has turned out to be “not magic” and there is no reason to think this will change. You could only justify being an agnostic if there was unexplained phenomena that could only be explained by supernatural causes.

        • Jack says:

          How do you explain the Big Bang?

          • Somite says:

            According to physicists: “not magic”.

          • Reason Being says:

            Very fun conversation to read. To Jack–science is working on that answer as we speak. Stephen Hawking and Leonard Mlodinow believe they found the answer in their recent book, The Grand Design. Whether they have or not is for people with a far greater knowledge of physics than I to deduce.

            Quirky story on Zach’s theme…When people ask me if I believe in god I reply “yes” most of the time. Though, sometimes, when I am feeling snarky or in a mood for some fun, I reply, “I do not understand the question”…the look on their face is priceless in this moment. When I extrapolate, similar to what Zach wrote in the post, or what Carl Sagan has written elsewhere, about what kind of god or which god they mean (yahweh, zeus, one with an elephant head? The look gets even better. I recommend you try it sometime.

          • Reason Being says:

            Typo alert—-in previous post I stated that I answer “yes” when people ask me if I believe in god. I am atheist, and meant to type “no”.

  5. Chris Acciardi says:

    This is how I’ve felt for a while now – really, I wish I could put my religion down on facebook as ‘it’s complicated’ because to give anything less than a full few paragraphs like this is doing a disservice to the subject. There are so many varying aspects of the question to consider.

    When it comes down to it, yes, I am also wishy-washy on the subject of a deity/deity-like entity existing somewhere in the universe. It could, it may not – it could care about us, it may give zero fucks. Who knows? I sure don’t.

    Do I believe there’s a chance any modern doctrines on Earth have gotten it exactly right? No, absolutely not – of this I’m considerably more confident. In that regard, I guess I’d be labeled more as an Atheist – I reject all current religious doctrines.

    But then again, can ‘religion’ even be said to exist as a concrete thing? If you consider yourself ‘catholic’ but you believe that the use of contraception is okay, are you still a catholic? Or have you splintered off into a sub-faction of the religion and made it your own? I feel like this would be the case for most people, or at least those who aren’t completely uninterested in having a unique thought. We don’t so much subscribe to the wholesale theory of another, such as Lutheranism or Islam or Atheism. We look at the various bullet-points therein, and decide which ones work for us, forming some amalgamation that can only be described as “my personal religious beliefs.” I sure hope God isn’t picky!

  6. lechaf says:

    Hi Mr Weiner, I’d like ask you permission to translate that work into french in order to discuss it on my blog. I have long been an admirer of your comics and most of your work (the part of it that I know and/or understant). If you want, I’ll send a translation of my own thoughts aubout this topic, as soon as I write it.
    Thanks for everything.

    • ZachWeiner says:

      Feel free, thanks!

      • lechaf says:

        Hi!
        Took me a while, but that’s because I’ve been drunk. we, coward-europeans, do that sometimes :) Here’s the french translation, if someone asks. http://0z.fr/jMCEN

        It has always struck me that in US culture, faith and reason seem deeply antithetic. Well, as a reasonnable person, I can understand why.
        What is curious is the need of nomenclature. I mean, I am as irreligious as you are, but that’s not waht defines me, and it has never pissed anyone off.
        Well that’s maybe because French culture as deeplier tradition of secularity? What defines us don’t fit much into words. I am afraid to see atheists and agnostics being mad at each other, as if bigotry had reached those supposedly reasonnable people too. (In my opinion, bigotry is the real threat to peace in the world actually)
        I always considered agnosticism as a kind of peace keeping device “if it’s impossible to know wich one of us is right, why fight? I let you believe, let me not, and let’s go have a drink”

  7. Matt says:

    I identify most with the pantheist ideology (i.e. I do not believe in an anthropomorphic god- rather that god is the process of the universe, and that throughout history people have anthropomorphized this process as “God”). However, if people ask me about my beliefs, and I don’t want to get into a discussion about esoteric religious ideology I usually just say I’m agnostic. The reasons for this are as follows. Even though I don’t believe in many religions conception of god, I don’t identify as an atheist. I also don’t hold the same fervor in their beliefs that many atheists hold (another reason I am hesitant to identify with the group). I’m also reluctant to say I believe in some conception of god, because many people will think of that as the Christian conception of god and identify you as such. So agnostic is the best simple answer I’ve come up with. I’ve also told a few people “I’m nothing”, which I think is pretty confusing. The best term I think I can come up with for my beliefs is irreligious pantheist (but again I wouldn’t say this in everyday conversation). Anyway I guess my point is that if you consider the strict definitions of the words, your argument above is correct. However, in everyday usage these words have taken on extended meanings. So if you’re in a conversation with someone, it’s hard to convey the nuances of your beliefs with just the four terms you discussed.

  8. wanderer says:

    You said:
    To this you respond “No. I’m certain some forms of Big Stuff don’t exist. I’m certain that others don’t. And, for others still, I’m agnostic.”

    I think one or the other of the don’ts in the sentence should be a do.

    Very enjoyable read. Thank you for putting it out there.

  9. porusan says:

    I think you’re getting too caught up in the dictionary definitions of the underlying words. There is a difference between being agnostic towards something and a big-A Agnostic. Also, I think you’re using the word “aethist” wrong when you’re mentioning that you were “aethist” about Enki. What you mean to say is that you don’t belive in Enki – there is a difference between being aethist and not believing in some particular deity (I mean, not beliving in particular deities is the basis of many religions, right?)

    As far as Agnosicism is concerned, I think you’re focusing a little too narrowly. You’re singularly approaching the problem from the dictionary definition – e.g. what it means to be agnostic about something. In opposition to this approach, I think how of big-A Agnosticism approaches the problem is viewing the God question holistically – as “I believe we cannot possibly be able to determine whether a god-figure exists” as opposed to “I am agnostic to this deity, but not to this one, etc.”

  10. TCC says:

    I’m not sure I could agree more. So many people misunderstand agnosticism, and it’s perfectly acceptable to use the terms in a limited respect even though people want to use them in the broader senses.

    Personally, I self-identify presently as a “non-believer,” but “irreligious” is another good label.

  11. anon_np says:

    That’s an interesting point of view, Im close but the opposite ;)
    I identify as religious. I don’t think a singe religion gets it right, and I doubt some even try. But I do believe in the bible by my desk can help me be a better person, and be closer to the lord. But I don’t trust taking it word for word, or even trusting it as the only source. I plan on reading many religious texts, and looking for my own opinion.Too much time is wasted identifying with a group, whether its a religion, political party, or even a fucking brand. Have your values, not others.

    -np

  12. LC says:

    So, “Which gods do you believe in?”

    If the answer is none, I’m not sure how one can still claim to be agnostic. My fear is that your argument has devolved into a preference of semantics and not being labeled rather than anything substantive about the difference between the two distinctions atheism and agnosticism.

    But, applause for a well-written and thought provoking piece.

  13. John says:

    Doesn’t the entire issue require some tolerance level of fuzziness, regardless of your stance on its internal consistency? It’s not like the concept of religion itself is well-defined, or that any question regarding its validity could be given enough specifics to properly call it a question. “Do you believe in God?” is no more specific than “Do you believe we could know if there is a God?”

    Consider that theism itself specifically revokes the omniutility of logic in the first place. If that’s a valid stance, then why not agnosticism? Why not be able to say “I don’t know if religion is knowable, because religion per definition is unknowable”?

    It’s like the principle of explosion, if you start out considering contradicting statements you can derive anything >_>

    But that’s kind of cheating the discussion I guess. We want to treat atheism and theism as just contradicting values A and !A. Is it possible to say that my opinion of A or !A is Undefined? Of course, why not? If I don’t know the issue, if I don’t know any process by which I could deduce an answer, why shouldn’t it be Undefined? Isn’t it a real question to ask whether the issue is solvable?

    Zach Weiner, Frankenfurter

  14. Parr says:

    When I ask whether you believe in God or not, what I’m asking is if you believe in an eternal being who consciously created the universe. God’s plan or not, prescience or not… those are specifics depending on the religion. Creation and consciousness is what I’m talking about when I say “God”.

  15. David Emerson says:

    I think the desire to apply a label to a lack of belief(s) is the oddest part of the entire discussion. I don’t feel like I need a word to explain my lack of craving for a shit and tapioca sundae. When the subject comes up, I feel like the word “none” adequately describes my belief structure.

  16. jtradke says:

    We should define categorical words like “atheist” and “theist” in a usefully distinguishing manner. That is to say, if you want to define “atheist” as “a person who does not believe in /any possible entity/ that’s ever been given the label of ‘god’”, you’d be hard pressed to find anyone who fits it. Therefore I argue that it’s not a very useful word. It’d be like creating a word for “green-skinned people” for use outside of science fiction.

    However, if we define “atheist” as: “someone who does not believe in what has historically been labeled ‘god’”, then that nicely encapsulates some set of actual humans, and usefully delineates them from the rest.

  17. nemryn says:

    So, you’re a Capital Letters Repudiator, I see.

  18. C4Pottery says:

    Humans discovered early that the easiest way to argue is to build two camps and throw rocks at each other. I have yet to find an issue that is as simple as two sides, and the people who realizer this get hit with a lot of rocks. Even in the comments here, it looks like someone’s already basically said to pick a side.

    Be it bisexuals (and many others) caught between homo and heterosexuals, political moderates in the U.S., agnostics between shouty theists and atheists, or what have you, being in the middle often means the two main sides treat you like crap. So thanks for making some sense in the middle of a pointlessly heated argument. I’m gonna start using irreligious, it’s an excellent word.

  19. InfernalXerxes says:

    My opinion of the difference is that theism is needed for agnosticism to exist. We know the origin of theism – explanations for unanswered questions – and the reason it lasted so long, but as was already stated, it is unnecessary.
    We no longer live in a world that doesn’t know what the lights in the sky are or what causes rain, but the original explanations continue to be used.

    If there was no widespread belief in gods, the question of gods existing, would be more for a stoned philosophy major. “Whoa dude, what if like there’s a being or force that controls everything but can’t be detected in any way? Like whoa.”

    You can doubt the existence of everything other than your own existence, but that doesn’t mean there are a great number of people roaming the earth believing they are no more than floating consciousness imagining all of reality.

  20. @Meadhands says:

    I would have to disagree with the idea you put forth. If gnosticism/theism is a flowchart, it would probably look more like “Do you/can you know god(s) exist?” They would branch, then both branches would ask “Do you believe god(s) exist?” In the end, you have four branches leading to gnostic theism, gnostic atheism, agnostic theism, and agnostic atheism.

    Those questions are fundamentally different. Can you know if gods exist? I would say no, you can’t. But there are plenty of people who say yes, they can, and that they can feel their deity inside them. Do you believe a deity exists? Again, you can say yes for whatever reason, but you can also say no, perhaps because of the lack of evidence.

    You CAN be both agnostic and theist, which your example disallows. How can this be? Simple: Pascal’s Wager. You know it, so I probably don’t have to go over it, but I will anyway: Blaise Pascal says, “Hey, we can’t know if God exists or not, so we might as well worship him just in case he does because what do we have to lose?”

    He has a whole book going over this, but it’s put together like a pile of pig crap and isn’t really a good argument at all, but that is besides the point. The point is this viewpoint exists.

    Likewise point, there are atheists who are definite gnostics. They KNOW there are no gods and to say otherwise is idiocy. There are not and can not be any gods anywhere ever. A shaky standing, considering there is no evidence to prove gods don’t exist. In fact, there never can be.

    That is why I call myself an Agnostic Atheist (I felt like I had to capitalize it here). I know that I cannot prove or disprove gods, and also recognize that such a task is likely impossible. However, I can also staunchly say that without evidence of any sort outside of a few moldy tomes and “feelings” people get when they don’t understand something, that no, I don’t think any god or gods exist. Science is explaining away all the mysteries we were once faced with. Someday, it may even explain all of existance. Just because we don’t know the origins of the universe yet doesn’t mean we never will. And even if we don’t why does it have to be what is essentially magic? Everything that has ever been discovered has turned out to be very not magic. Even quantum mechanics, and that shit makes no sense.

    At the very least, I would say your gnostic/theist structure could use some refinement. I don’t think those ideas are the same, nor should they be treated the same.

    Anyway, thanks for the read. Cheers.

    Your friendly agnostic atheist antitheist existential nihilist,
    Meadhands

  21. Wonton says:

    I’m more fond of APATHEISM.

  22. Simon riddell says:

    I think the “do you believe in God” question can be construed differently. You deconstructed it one way, but there are other ways to deconstruct it as well. Take the following question for example:

    “Do you believe that there is a metaphysical entity that escapes human empirical detection in space and time yet is still in existence and plays the role of a worshiped human god?”

    I think that can get a yes or no. You could probably argue a point since I wasn’t articulate to make my question simpler. But the idea that there either IS or is NOT a metaphysical being could be a binary yes or no question. In which case your flow-chart might hold.

    • Fareed says:

      “plays the role of a worshiped human god” – The term “plays the role” needs to be defined further. Whether there is a metaphysical entity or not is surely irrelevant if it causes absolutely no empirical effect on this world.

      What I mean is, how could a “God” “play the role” of a “worshiped human God” if that “God” could have no effect on our lives in any helpful, hurtful, or even measurable way.

  23. zoeplankton says:

    Well, this is fun! I’m probably the only church-goer who is going to show up on this thread ;) Hi!

    In many ways, I think Christianity has short-changed the European and/or English speaker understanding of what God is. I can understand why so many atheists insist on an anthropomorphic understanding of God – the ‘sandal-wearing sky fairy’, as I like to call him – because Lord knows, he looks that way in the Bible. And the Christ, that too.

    I think your key observation is in the deity “so abstract that you probably wouldn’t be interested in worshipping it, and it probably wouldn’t be interested in your faith.” Hinduism provides a good point of access on this. In Hinduism, that role is taken by Brahmin, and yes, people don’t pray to Brahmin because what’s the point? Brahmin is way to abstract to get anything done.

    Christianity is a historical religion – it’s made of stories, some of which happened (probably). We can follow the progress of the invention of monotheism throughout (e.g. it’s ‘no Gods before me’, not ‘I am the only God’ – the early Jews were not monotheist.) The further we get, the further we move from the sacrifice-demanding, city-burning, don’t-you-know-who-I-am God (cf Job) through to the living Christ, and onwards. (Contrary to popular neo-atheist opinion, there’s bugger all about proscribed behaviours in Christianity, especially as opposed to the diet & cleanliness restrictions on the other two Abrahamic religions. Jesus pissed off lots of people by telling them rituals like handwashing didn’t matter, and our saints used to take filthiness as a point of pride).

    Anyhow. Back on track. I use Christianity as the example because the historical nature of it demonstrates the ongoing movement from the manifest to the abstract understanding of the deity. I’m right with you on the abstract nature of God, I think you’re spot on. But I disagree that you wouldn’t be interested in worshipping it – I am – and I have no answer as to whether the deity cares about worship or not. I care, though, so worship I must.

    The thing is, for us human people, I am that I am is just too damn big for our little brains to cope with. We need a couple of handgrips. If God is, God is the greatest (hello the ontological argument), and I can’t get there conceptually without a legup. Neither can anyone else. So we do what we can. And yes, we do so without understanding the definitional criteria for our ultimate destination.

    I’m actually with you on another point too – I think the question ‘is God?’ is meaningless. But I’d rather live with him (heh – ‘him’) than without him.

    Now I *did* say I’m a Christian, and clearly, my explanation should cover the word made flesh. It’s not going to though. I’m just going to fall back on what Tolkein told CS Lewis when he was struggling against the onslaught of faith:

    ‘What if it’s true?’

  24. Matt says:

    Very nice statement, for me what it boils down to is the question: Do you actively believe in a God or Gods in a way that materially affects your actions?” If yes, then I would probably say you’re irrational in doing so. If no, then you’re probably irrational in other areas, but you are in group XXX, which is the same one I belong to. While I have used the word Atheist, I really don’t care what that group is called and am annoyed about the pedanticity (totally should be a word) surrounding the debate.

    Anyway, I liked your insights there, tried to sum up mine as succinctly as possible, failed to make it as short as I’d like, and probably left a few huge holes in my argument. Mission Failed!

  25. Lethalinterjection says:

    Here’s my problem. You are equating knowledge and faith, or at least lumping them together. I’m a Christian. I have a pretty strong faith, and I do sometimes feel that I know there’s a God. But I have doubts on a regular basis too. Was this or that ‘spiritual’ experience purely psychological, or could this or that event be random or orchestrated by God? But from my perspective, I don’t think I can know, without doubt, that God exists. And that’s faith. But that doesn’t make me agnostic.

  26. Michael says:

    This is a great post, Zach. As someone who terms himself an atheist, I enjoyed reading through your interpretations as I have not thought that clearly through the meanings of the words.

    This will lead to some reflections for me :)

  27. Brent says:

    Well said! I’ve been wrestling lately with what to call myself and this cuts right to it — It’s not that I don’t think their might be gods, there could be, but I have no proof of it. Irreligious is a much better term than agnostic or atheistic. (Here’s a quote/video that relate: “Atheism is a religion like abstinence is a sex position” http://youtu.be/f8U_JveHS8E)

  28. VJGoh says:

    Much to my own surprise, I read something in the /. comments that was really excellent on this topic.

    http://news.slashdot.org/comments.pl?sid=2577846&cid=38407208

    But here are some relevant sections:

    “You can be an agnostic theist or an agnostic atheist. There’s no overlap, atheism and agnosticism are answers to completely different questions; atheism answers “do you believe in gods”, agnosticism answers “do you believe that the existence or non-existence of gods is knowable”. Notice that “atheist” doesn’t mean “I know with certainty that God doesn’t exist”. That’s a subset of atheism we often call “strong atheism”, but it’s just a subset. So you see, there’s no “faith” here. Atheism just means “I have no belief in gods”, nothing more, nothing less.”

    “Short: atheism means “no belief in gods”, not “I believe there are no gods”. Agnosticism either means “belief in gods is unknowable” or “existence of gods is unknown” or “I’m uncertain where I believe in gods”. The first two aren’t incompatible with theism or atheism. The third is a shaky middle ground where one is not atheist, not fully theist, but still seems to be swayed by theism for some reason, which may be as irrational a position as theism.”

  29. Danny says:

    I feel like it’s even simpler than that. Look at the root words for both Atheist and Agnostic. You can see being Gnostic means you know something. Being Agnostic means you don’t know something. Being Theist means you believe something. Being Atheist means you don’t believe something.

    Simple as this: If you know a god exists, you are Gnostic towards god. If you are not the guy/gal in the first sentence, you are Agnostic.

    If you believe a god exists, through either “knowing” or not knowing but having faith or whatever other rational you use, you are a Theist. If you aren’t the guy/gal in the first sentence, you’re an Atheist.

    I think most theists happen to be gnostic and most (if not all) atheists are agnostic.
    Similarly, most Gnostics would be theist and most Agnostics (whether they realize it or not) are also atheist.

  30. Victoria Petite says:

    ** Dammit, only copy pasted a small portion of what I wrote. Please disregard the previous post by me, whoever is moderating this. **

    I used to call myself agnostic as well, but I’ve gradually moved closer and closer to avoiding any label at all. I find religion extremely interesting, particularly in the ways it inspires and shapes humanity, particularly there in the interpretations of the creative and genius, and how this translates back to the work they produce, how they perceive knowledge and beauty. Religion is important in the sense that it contextualizes much of human progress.

    But, beyond that, I don’t care. All of these labels, agnostic, atheist, even irreligious are focused squarely on denoting your own personal interpretation of religion, of deities. I don’t care about my own interpretation of these things enough to want to apply a label about them. I’m probably wrong in fact, about a lot of these things, and my views will continue to grow and change as time goes on, and they will still even then be mostly wrong. So I don’t want to dispel any notion that I have any idea what I am talking about when it comes to personal interpretations, and particularly, faith.

    I do however think that religion is very interesting in this context. I’m obsessed with the composer Liszt, and he basically attributed the divine, God, and so on, to be the absolute (human) understanding of beauty and knowledge. As the artist, it was his job to translate those ‘momentary flashes of insight’ when they occurred, to a public in the abstract (music, or in the general sense, art). Now, he created beautiful things. He inspired and enabled generations of people in a variety of fields. I think it’s important to know what he thought about religion, especially because his set of beliefs were so divergent from the ritualized behavior so typically associated with major religious groups.

    If I ever do something notable, then maybe my own thoughts on what I have faith in should be declared. When I have personal conversations with others describing my philosophy, motivations, and my faith in life, it is my absolute intention to be specific about those things. I do not want to use a blanket term, because blanket terms lead to semantic based disagreements, which reduces I think the quality of the conversation. And sometimes they even lead to arguments about the semantics themselves. And while there certainly have been benefits in indulging in these kinds of conversations, to me, they tend to offer less value overall than the effort and time expended on them.

    I do appreciate your thoughts on the matter though, even though I disagree. Although perhaps I can spare you the same consideration I give to Liszt, because you do in some way, influence a large group of people through your comic.

    The most wasteful things that come from this argument though, are the people that expend so much effort (emotionally and intellectually) and time to repeating the exact same semantic arguments, notably on reddit. At best it creates stagnation, at worst it introduces even more obstacles to communication and progress.

  31. Tobias says:

    It seems a bit pedantic to reject the term atheism because one day the word deity could possibly refer to something that might possibly one day be found to exist. A word is ultimately defined by how it’s used, and the word deity (or god) is almost universally used to refer to complex supernatural beings that given what we currently understand about the universe, could in no way conceivably exist.

    For example, I could conceive of a type of dragon that has both the head and the body of a cat. Since that’s definitely something that could exist (which you might call a cat), does that mean that it’s unreasonable to deny the existence of dragons, even though what everyone else means when they talk about a dragon is not a cat?

  32. Paul Salomon says:

    Nice post. I’m afraid I haven’t taken the time to read the 30 comments above me, but I wanted to chime in.

    Firstly, I think “irreligious” is a perfectly legitimate term, and having weighted these same issues, I could happily place myself under it. Certainly, I operate on a daily basis with the belief that a creator God never existed. This pushes me to “atheist.”

    My faith lies in my ability to build meaningful, reliable, and accurate mental models of the external world. I will, however, admit the possibility that this faith is misplaced.

    There is a possibility that the human ability for comprehension is bounded in some unknowable way. That fact has usually pushed me towards “agnostic.”

    Thanks for your thoughtful post.

  33. Ryan says:

    I think the question being responded to by a statement of agnosticism and/or atheism is more specific than “Is there a God?” Rather, I think the question is, “Is there a supernatural being, or are their multiple beings, in the generalized sense that most prominent religious orders posit?” There’s a sociological context that has to be accounted for in parsing the response!

    So, I call myself an agnostic atheist because I disbelieve in such deities and phenomena on the basis of a lack of evidence, and because I disbelieve that it’s possible to know without a doubt much of anything, let alone whether or not there are deities beyond the material world. Both labels are functions of my skepticism, applied respectively to what I believe about what I know and what I believe about a subset of common claims about the world. A handier label I use is simply that of a skeptic.

    Regardless of this personal preference, however, any statement of atheism or agnosticism will require some unpacking to be clear. There are simply way too many definitions floating around for the labels to convey the same things to all audiences. If I have cause to talk about my beliefs, I simply make sure I have enough time to get into it before doing so, or call myself a skeptic and leave it at that.

    • Ryan says:

      Another angle of approach: If not a single person believed in any deity whatsoever, historically and currently, would the term “atheist” exist?

      What I mean is that I think the term “atheist” is itself a response to the various extant religious beliefs, or perhaps the tendency toward religious belief. So to attempt to parse a claim of atheism without the context of current actual religious beliefs thrown in is going to result in contradictions like those you’ve discussed.

      If someone claims to be an atheist, you don’t sit there and try to figure out what religion or deity they might admit has validity, because the meaning of atheism usually implies that they do not find any of them valid. Nor does an attempt to construct a deity about which they must admit a possibility mean they are no longer atheists; it simply means that you’re pulling a bait and switch on the question that their atheism is a response to.

      Or, at least, that is my preference for parsing the terms! Others differ. So basically the most reasonable response to such an assertion is to ask them to explain more specifically what they believe, about the facts of the universe and about our knowledge of such facts.

  34. Justin says:

    Zach, you do know that agnosticism and atheism are not mutually exclusive, right? I didn’t really get a sense of that from the article, but that could be me not devoting all of my thought processes to it. Anyway, you can be both at the same time. I am agnostic about all gods that are not logically contradictory or impossible, but I’m also an atheist in those cases because I don’t believe they exist, whether or not I know they exist. (Or, you could be an agnostic theist and not know for certain, but you believe anyway.)

    By the way I love SMBC! Props ^^

  35. bryan says:

    Your analogy doesn’t track in my opinion. You use the term “big stuff” and relate it to a god concept. these two have some very important differences. the most notable being that “big” is a relative term whereas existence of something is not. it would be more accurate to relate it to someone asking you “do u believe in the existence of aliens?” and you might say i don’t know, and you would be coherent to do so, i doubt you would ask “what kind of aliens?” and then go on to say “well predator variety aliens I don’t believe in but maybe foreign microbes on a passing commit im agnostic about”. you dug out the problem with your “big stuff” question yourself, since “big” is relative, something can be both big and not big at the same time, so it is incoherent to ask if “big stuff” exists with no specifics. however, a god cannot both exist and not exist, so it is a coherent question.

    • “a god cannot both exist and not exist, so it is a coherent question.”

      Ah, but what is a god?

      Is only a Christian-style, monotheistic, all-powerful god a god?

      Is it a Greek-style pantheon of gods with particular skills and strengths and failings?

      Is it a spirit inherent in some aspect of nature, such as the heat of the sun or the touch of the wind? We can measure them, does that mean that our ancient ancestors who worshipped them as gods were right? Or because we cannot now find any sentience in them, were they wrong?

      If a volcano god is worshipped and we can see the volcano…what now?

      What about those who worship humanities goodness and see us as innately holy in our own right?

      What about kings who were believed to ascend to godhood upon death; where do they stand on “on/off” question. The kings existed, the rest…debatable and unknown.

      Just because one of these does not exist does not mean all the others NECESSARILY do not. Just because one does exist would not guarantee that all of them could be found somewhere.

  36. Darryl says:

    “Whether I’m agnostic or gnostic or atheist or whatever is really dependent on what we’re talking about.”

    I know labels often boil down to semantic arguments of what description you agree with, but it sounds like you’re IGNOSTIC.

    From wiki: “Ignosticism or igtheism is the theological position that every other theological position (including agnosticism and atheism) assumes too much about the concept of God and many other theological concepts… the view that a coherent definition of God must be presented before the question of the existence of god can be meaningfully discussed. Furthermore, if that definition is unfalsifiable, the ignostic takes the theological noncognitivist position that the question of the existence of God (per that definition) is meaningless”

    While you may differ since you don’t see a God outside of space and time as meaningless per se, it still sounds like this is the position you’re describing. I personally hold this view, but I self-describe myself as an agnostic atheist just because the majority of the theistic people I meet and talk to are Christians, and that’s one god I specifically reject.

    Again, no label ever fits perfectly well, but I just want to give Ignosticism some more publicity because it’s a stance that many people should consider.

  37. erica says:

    I would put “religious/irreligious” on a different axis from “theist/atheist” though, because you can be religious and atheist at the same time (e.g. a devout Zen Buddhist), or you can also believe in one or more deities while rejecting organized religion. But I agree with what you said, that the adjective of choice depends on what we’re talking about.

  38. david says:

    What you are describing is called Ignosticism, or Theological noncognitivism; the argument that ‘does god exist?’ isn’t a meaningful question becaus ‘god’ is not a well defined term.

  39. Loraxxe says:

    I second Darryl’s and david’s description of you as an ignostic, Zach. I too tended to call myself agnostic with some reservation, until I came across “ignostic”.

  40. quintopia says:

    You define atheism and theism as “what you believe in practice.” “In practice” being the key phrase. You can be completely agnostic as to the existence of the supernatural, and still behave as if there is no god. And someone who never acts on the supposition that a god exists should rightfully be called an atheist.

  41. Duff says:

    I have heard the argument that there is no such thing as an Agnostic and that if you think you are Agnostic you are really an Agnostic Atheist. I do not agree with this.

    The problem I have with being forced to be either a theist or an atheist is that in order to do so I have to define what “God” means. How can I be opposed to something that I can imagine to be beyond my ability to imagine?

    I consider myself an Agnostic because I can imagine the definition of “God” in ways beyond simple theism and recognize there are possibilities I haven’t even considered.

    To me I consider the notion of infinity. I cannot perceive in my mind a universe that is infinite. I also am not able to conceive what a finite universe would be. What surrounds a finite universe. I am compelled to believe in infinity even though I lack the ability to rationally understand it’s implications.

    For me to be Atheist I feel as though I were saying I do not believe in infinity. “God” has infinite potential meaning. I do not believe in the majority of organized religions, but recognize the potential for something beyond my comprehension. I am not an Atheist, but I am an Agnostic because I do not believe nor disbelieve in something that I consider to be potentially beyond the scope of scientific testing and beyond my ability to reason.

    I don’t understand why some Atheists refuse to accept the notion that I choose not to take a position on something I think is undefined. I think there is a very logical and rational reason to be Agnostic and it has nothing to do with cowardice.

  42. I have beliefs of my own, influenced by others but not tied to their approval or lack thereof. Those beliefs are based more on those things which help me to identify with the better parts of my own nature and place in the universe than on the idea that what I choose to believe is necessarily real in an objective sense.

    I am terribly distrustful of religion. I find the idea of cults of belief to be dangerous even if many of the people participating are wonderful and kind…they are too easily a method of manipulation, and too often used this way.

    This includes Atheism (capital A) where groups of people who disavow god(s) due to their lack of observational data gather around and self-congratulate rather than simply moving forward and being good human beings. That sounds a lot like some of my early experiences with particularly unpleasant religious folks, and I don’t want to go there again, thanks muchly.

    Why form a new “religion” (i.e., a social construct for reinforcing one’s view of the nature of the universe and restricting the variations on this belief to prevent devisiveness) rather than simply embracing the sciences as a more direct way to touch the transcendental aspects of what we *can* see and measure?

    If your belief of choice does not make you strive to be a better person, more willing to aid ALL those around you and show empathy to those who need it, abandon it. It is without merit. If it does, embrace it; true or not, it serves a greater person than simple reassurance.

    • Omari C. says:

      This. I call myself an atheist because I simply don’t believe any god exists. But also believe that something we might call “god” could exist but we can’t prove it–take the Deist god, for example. In this way, I am an agnostic atheist. Similarly, there are probably agnostic theists and other combinations.

      Zach, it can be thought of two questions, as you suggest at one point (“Do you believe in God?” & “Can we ever know if God exists?”), but they are not mutually exclusive.

      But people really just want a quick label to understand your thoughts on God so they know how to approach you.

  43. KeytarHero says:

    This struck a chord with me, because lately I’ve been thinking a lot about how we need a term for “everyone who is not a theist” that is separate from “those with an active disbelief in a personal deity”. After all, a deist is not a theist, yet you wouldn’t call someone an “atheist deist”.

    You used the term “irreligious”, but I don’t think it’s very good, as it could also apply to “Christmas and Easter only” Christians. Personally, I like the term “non-theist”. This could include agnostics, deists, most Buddhists, etc. I’m not Etymology Man (and it’s difficult to find comprehensive definitions of prefixes online) but if I’m not mistaken, the difference is that non- simply means “not” while a- means “characterized by lack of”.

    Effectively, the difference is this:
    Non-theist: “there is no personal God who interacts with the world”
    Atheist: “there is no God, no omnipresent life force, and no supernatural whatsoever”

  44. JenDiggity says:

    Bravo!
    I used to feel so similarly on this subject and identified as an agnostic who also enjoyed the atheism community’s take on so many views towards religions. But now I’m a convert because after reading this I think that YOU are God, Zach!

    Just kidding. You’re pretty awesome, though, and I really enjoyed this post.

  45. Brian says:

    I’d actually go a bit further myself, in that I’d say I’m atheist for pretty much everything that I’d classify as a God in the usual sense. There are some definitions where I’d be uncertain, or even hold a belief that they exist (eg. non-spiritual pantheistic “God is the universe” phrasings), but the everyday meaning where God is a supernatural *being* of some kind, with thoughts and goals etc, I think is really unlikely. This definition however seems too much of a stretch of the definition though, like defining “Big Stuff” as quark-sized.

    Even if this is phrased with all the caveats of being non-intervening, untestable and outside the universe, I don’t think it’s true, because it makes too many specific claims without any evidence for it. This is essentially the Russell’s Teapot argument – even if it’s undetectable with our instruments, I think it’s reasonable to think the most likely possibility is that it isn’t there. I don’t see any reason why “undetectable with our current technology” and “undetectable in principle” should mean we treat them differently.

    Ie. if someone somehow invents a God-detector machine, based on some principle we haven’t thought of, but tomorrow smack our heads and go “Doh! Of course, if there’s a God then *obviously* this machine will go ‘ping!’”, I don’t see any reason why our beliefs should change *before we actually turn the machine on*. Establishing that something is *possible* to test, rather than actually testing it doesn’t tell us anything about the likelihood of the thing itself, so shouldn’t change out beliefs. Thus, the likelihood we should assign to the really specific guess that “Some kind of intelligence created the universe” being true doesn’t seem like it should change depending on whether there is or is not a test for that deity unless and until that test is actually performed. I think such a guess seems like a really specific one – assinging something as complex as intelligence to the initiator of the universe seems a really specific guess – I don’t think it likely we’d get that right by pure chance, rather than via evidence.

  46. Pedro LPS Silva says:

    Seems to me that, in order to construct a diety for one to be agnostic towards, the only feature you need is “Is not yet empirically detectable”. Because, if by definition there’s no way to know, then, by definition, you must be agnostic…
    Therefore, it would seem to me that asking “Do you believe in a God whose existence cannot be ascertained as of yet?” would be the same as stating “You are either agnostic or illogical”.
    Is this line of thought wrong? Man, I wish I could write this down in Boolean. =P

    Anyway, this is a pretty great article! Even though it didn’t really add to my opinion, it sure is well structured and helps to explain!

  47. Grognor says:

    If you think “something” might have created this universe, that’s the simulation argument (as codified by Nick Bostrom), which is a perfectly secular and defensible position.

    If you think something created this universe which was itself not created, or is incomprehensible (not necessarily just to humans, but actually unknowable), or that there is a mind at the level of basic physics (as opposed to being an emergent property of, say, neurons [an example of this is deism]), that’s supernatural thinking, which breaks down when you push it too hard, never reliably predicts anything in advance, and leaves an unnecessary inelegance on your subjective theory of everything.

    A problem I have with some spiritual positions is conflating the two. If it were discovered that we live in a simulation, people would use this as evidence for whichever type of god they already believed in (or they’d reject it, like some do with natural selection). And if it were (somehow) discovered that we did not live in a simulation, nothing would change from today’s affair. It’s unfalsifiability disguised as changing the theory to fit new data.

  48. Master_K says:

    Then how do I define myself? I don’t care about whichever god is being discussed, I believe it’s absolutely unknowable. Throw science at me, throw scripture at me, it won’t change my mind.

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  50. Eden says:

    The keyword for Gnosticism and Agnosticism is “KNOW” and “BELIEVE” for Theism and Atheism. It’s simple, when you think you KNOW or you DO NOT KNOW whether something exists then you are a Gnostic or an Agnostic. On the other hand, when you BELIEVE or DO NOT BELIEVE in something/existence of something then you are a theist or an atheist.

  51. dizzi90 says:

    As a capital A atheist I’m completely unoffended by this. I think this is a very good approach to the question. Surely, we’d all be better off if we all knew what we were talking about before we opine. On the other hand, let’s look at the real world applications of this discussion.
    If someone asks you “Do you believe in God?”, especially if the question is accompanied by a saved-zombie stare or if you’re even luckier a southern drawl, you are not entirely unfair to assume that you don’t believe in the God they’re talking about. Most people[weasel words] mean a prayer-answering, sex-life-denouncing, gay-bashing, miracle-working, universe-creating, zealot-rewarding G-O-D with a capital G, in such a situation.
    It should be uncontroversial to say that these people are just wrong. They are not in the same camp as the people who believe in some kind of abstract quasi-deity, that makes you feel less cognitive dissonance about the fact that there are unknowns in the current state of knowledge, just because they have a word religious or Christian[In the mentioned example. Muslims of course have their parallels, as have others.].
    The kind of abstract, hand-waving god-concepts are more likely to occur in more cultured circles as is the objection to the word atheist and preferring to call oneself agnostic. In the discussions like that it makes sense to take the approach you’ve mentioned. It’s the approach that should be taken in formal discussions.
    I prefer to call myself an atheist with all the baggage that comes with it, for a few reasons.
    First, I don’t believe in any god until it has been established[see tea-pot, Russel's].
    Second, people don’t like atheists, for no particular reason. I want to be on the atheist side of that argument. People like underdogs.
    Third, if you ask for specifics I will happily concede that I accept Spinoza’s and Einstein’s God and that I strictly speaking have to be agnostic about all of it. If you can have that kind of discussion with me I already consider you someone who wants to get it right, and that’s what matters most.

    tl;dr: Atheist is fine, too. I like pedants, truth-seekers and underdogs on either side of any argument.

  52. Definitely sounds Ignostic to me. I like the label, and would use it myself if I thought anyone would actually understand what I was on about.

    There must be something in the air – I just finished a series of posts on trying to understand and tie down agnosticism, and relate it to identity, how we view ourselves and where we feel that we belong.

  53. Nick says:

    Hey –

    I liked your post (and I’m a huge fan of SMBC). I just put up a small article I’ve had sitting around on my computer on the same topic. You might find it interesting, the diagram I included is especially useful, I find.

    Here’s the link: http://chicagobelgium.blogspot.com/2012/02/proposition-of-new-terminology.html

    Check it out or don’t. Either way thanks for the good read and the great comics!

  54. Hi;

    I think about this idea (a lot). My approach is from the angle of how the brain works.

    Something everyone (everyone who is ok with natural selection) can agree on is that the brain evolved to (at least) enable organisms that move around, and to successfully negotiate their environment.

    Success in terms of natural selection means persistance across generations.

    A good basic definition of the brain is that it is an organ that can take in sensory inputs and turn those inputs into motor activities that allow the organism to get around.

    From a algorithmic standpoint the brain has to model the sensory input in such a fashion that it can make good enough enough predictions of the future to allow the organism to successfully get around.

    On thing that can not occur is that this algorithm goes into some sort of infinite regress, or infinite loop. It must always resolve things. Getting ‘stuck’ when considering how to move around the environment can result in diaster which the prevents persistance across generations.

    There is a great book out “The Believing Brain” by Michael Shermer that goes into just how far down the rabbit hole of resolution the human brain can go. One of the main points of the book is that the brain evolves to make snap judgements on poor data because making the error of false positive when analyzing risk is selected in favor of while the error of false negative results in the organism becoming lunch for some other organism.

    Religion and and the Scientific Method are seen to emerge differently. Religion is a very natural and even hardwired attribute of the brain. We have to resolve things, we can not become stuck so we make stuff up when necessary to accomplish this.

    The Scientific Method which is by definition more methodical, does not naturally emerge because it requires a lot of safe leisure time to execute.

    We all find it very difficult to shed the evolutionary heritage that gives rise to concepts like God and other such fantastic beliefs because these keep our brains from ‘locking-up’ and are so deeply ingrained in how the brain works.

    So when posed the question “Does God Exist?” my response is: There are lots of answers to this question and here is how I rank them, in order correctness (least to most).

    1 – Yes
    2 – No
    3 – I do not know.
    4 – I do not understand the question.
    5 – It is worse than that (response 4) you do not understand the question either.
    6 – Let me tell you how the brain works and this will explain why the original question makes no sense.

  55. Mark says:

    To start off with I am going to assume for this discussing the following definition of GOD

    GOD: A super natural all powerful sentient being that has the power to affect life on earth.

    I think the biggest issue with the debate over Agnosticism vs. Atheism is there is no universal agreement on what the definitions really are.

    For example in your flow chart I know plenty of people that would say you can be an

    Agnostic – Athiest or Agnostic – Theist

    Agnostic – Athiest Example:
    I don’t know whether there is a god or not but I have never seen any kind of evidence that would support the existence of God. Therefore I am going live my life as if there is no God until someone can provide me evidence other wise.

    Agnostic – Theist Example:
    I don’t know whether there is a god or not but just in case there is one I am going to go to church and prey.

    I have actually met people that given me those answers. I actually find most people that call them selves Atheist if you talk to them you find that the first example is what they actually believe. They choose to just call them selves atheist because it quicker then having to explain what they mean by Agnostic.

    The first definition of Atheist I actually heard was a long time ago but it was

    Athiest – To live without God

    Which is a very different statement from the definition most people use

    Athiest – There is no God

    When I call my self Atheist I am usually thinking of the first definition because the existence of god or lack of existence of god has no bearing on the choices I make or how I live my life.

    In a sense am actually agreeing with what you are calling irreligious because what I consider my self all depends on how the question is framed and what definitions we are assuming.

    If I was planning on having an extended discussion on the topic I would go through the assumption with the individual before starting the debate. If am just quickly trying to get across that I don’t attend a place of worship or assume any books are sacred then I would just say am an atheist because it gets the point across as close to possible without having a long discussion.

    Also anything time I am discussing religion with someone I try to make clear if we are going to have a philosophical debate or a scientific debate.

    Religion is good for society is relevant to a philosophical debate. The answer is irrelevant in a scientific debate. God either exist or he does not, it really doesn’t matter whether you want him to or not.

    For that matter is there a god is a different question to me then why do we believe in God. How the brain works to me falls under the second question.

    This all assumes also that we are talking about the definition of GOD I gave at the start also. I know people that when they use the word GOD they simply talking about how we came into existence. They would say the laws of physics are GOD.

    But I think I rambled a bit long and gone off subject so I stop here.

  56. Igor says:

    No, you’re wrong, you’re Mesognostic.

  57. Pingback: Agnostic or Atheist? Or both, or none? Well, which is it? | My rambling weblog of things and…stuff

  58. L.W. says:

    I thought this might be of interest. The second half, anyway.

    http://so.andso.co/issue/6

  59. L.W. says:

    It’s quite good for dealing with this misconception:

    “God either exist or he does not.”

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