Self-Labelling as Agnostic

Neil deGrasse Tyson, a long time ago now, annoyed a lot of people. He did this not by identifying as an agnostic, but by using it to entirely the side-step the issue of whether he is an atheist. Does he believe or not? Penn Jillette addressed this issue in his book God? No! where he argues that anyone who doesn’t know (i.e. is an agnostic) doesn’t believe (i.e. is an atheist). And I find it hard to perceive how Jillette might be wrong.

As it happens, agnosticism is not part of a spectrum between theism and atheism. If you have a belief in God you are a theist. If not, you’re an atheist. There is no middle ground there. Tyson, I think, annoyed people by making up what atheism is. Tyson, after bemoaning the title “atheist” because people append baggage to your worldview, decided an atheist is a person that gets into all the arguments. That is not what an atheist is.

Tyson has taken the idea of being considered an atheist so badly that he got into a re-edit war on Wikipedia that described him as an atheist. It is not just that he prefers to identify as an agnostic, it is that he denies being an atheist. But, surely, he’s both.

I wouldn’t mind if he was religious. He would be no less a science communicator, and no less an astrophysicist. But being an atheist and denying it is both annoying and strange. It’s strange because it’s a simple question: do you believe or not. It’s annoying because he’s making a conspicuous and conscious effort to not associate with a particular moment. But, by any functional definition, he is an atheist.

He could claim to be spiritual. And, so long as he added the addendum that he knew it wasn’t a scientific idea, that also would be fine. I also wouldn’t mind if he admitted that he was an agnostic atheist, but just preferred to identify as an agnostic. Perhaps he would prefer to identify as ‘open minded’ (agnostic) than what looks like having already made up your mind (atheist).

There are a lot of people who post “deepity” under the guise of agnosticism, or humbly brag that they are better than theists and atheists because they are agnostic, so I imagine that I’m going to get some angry responses to this. To pre-empt this I have some questions for people who want to argue:

  1. If you don’t know (i.e. are agnostic) don’t you necessarily not believe (i.e. aren’t you an atheist)?
  2. What are the identifying claims or conclusions, or what are the stances (and on what questions) of an agnostic?
Advertisements

46 thoughts on “Self-Labelling as Agnostic”

  1. It is possible to be an agnostic and a theist, but you find that those tend not to identify as agnostics because they subscribe to Pascal’s wager.

    1. I suppose that is a possibility. But the issue of gnosticism doesn’t get you out of the question of faith.
      Some of his videos, including “Does the Universe have a Purpose” suggest he is not a Pascal’s Wagering agnostic theist.

      1. Oh no, I don’t think that Tyson is a theist, he’s certainly been clear about that. I was just saying, in response to your last question #1, that agnostic theism is possible, but that these people won’t usually call themselves agnostics. Tyson seems to prefer using the agnostic identity as a way to avoid engaging the discussion, but it follows that, since he does not identify with any religious belief, he has no reason to believe any religion, and is therefore most likely an atheist.

        1. Okay. I suppose my confusion is at the idea that he rejects the label “atheist” as opposed to just saying, “yes, but…”. But that is only in the case where I think, in truth and by definition, he is an atheist. I could be wrong, but I don’t immediately see how, based on what he has said.

      2. I don’t think it’s possible for him to legitimately reject atheism. The only people who are able to claim pure agnosticism are those who aren’t aware that you can have a position on god belief (Much like people who aren’t aware of the existence of microscopic wildebeests don’t have a position on the subject. Btw, you are now a-microwildebeest). Once that is put before them, then they either have belief or non belief. So… that pretty much leaves only babies.

        I find it hard to believe that he doesn’t know the distinctions between gnosticism and theism, so I am left to assume that he is willfully redefining agnosticism to mean weak atheism, where he should instead be saying that he is an agnostic atheist.

        It doesn’t bother me so much that he does this, because he still fights for the same causes as we do, but it is annoying that he creates a rift within atheism where there isn’t any.

  2. He’s been relaxing on this front as of late. He isn’t self-identifying as an atheist, but some of his recent speeches have been along the lines of, “Hey dummies, why do you still believe in this nonsense!?” It is disheartening, however, that he goes to such great lengths to distance himself from what he clearly sides with.

    1. It is interesting. I would understand if he said “I am an atheist, but that’s not the point; I’m an agnostic with a thirst for knowledge”. Then he is making some sort of distinction to explain why he prefers to identify one way and not the other, but he admits he is–in fact–both.

  3. Here’s where I have problems re definitions. I’m an atheist cause I don’t believe in any religious conception of a god, of some supernatural deity. But in terms of the supernatural in and of itself (which for me doesn’t necessarily mean anything other than referring to something beyond what is known, naturally), I’m strictly agnostic.

    I guess the issue for me is with the term supernatural. I’m fairly sure (I BELIEVE!!!) that the human cognition isn’t able to fathom everything there is to fathom of this universe. Just because we’re not able to fathom it however, doesn’t make it supernatural. It just means that we’re not capable, through our massive brains, to sense it. BUT, it does mean that it’s supernatural to us, as humans, therefore, in some way it keeps its title: supernatural. Does that make sense?

    In that sense, I think humans, notoriously atheists (but not necessarily), are stupidly arrogant. To think that we’re able digest all that this universe potentially offers – wowzahs! We’re limited to and by our humanness. Sure, we can think in absurdly complex ways… but that’s only compared to the species on this single planet. Who knows what the hell else is out there… it’s a big fucking universe? (That’s also where I differ with conspiracy theorist/David Icke sorta people). I have no idea; and I know that any of my speculations are perfectly rooted in my feeble, but kinda cool, human mind, my human-centric method of conception. And so they mean nothing.

    Maybe that’s what NT means when he uses the term agnostic too?

    1. Perhaps it is. Which would be ironic. Tyson bemoans the habit of loading baggage to words, but then he seems to act as if being atheist necessarily means you don’t believe in the supernatural or (from the Oprah Winfrey class of subtly missing the point) awe.
      You’ve gone a little wild on what I’d accept as “supernatural”, but in terms of the concept I’m very happy to believe there are things we don’t know and cannot know.

      1. Yeah, I convoluted the meaning a little bit. But it’s important. Wifi/electricity/photo messaging/the atom bomb/Turkish pretzels – all woulda been considered ‘supernatural’ ideas/things 500 years ago. Who knows what the ‘supernatural’ will unveil to us homozis erectiz brainzez 500 years from now?

  4. Ugh… I have argued ad nauseam about the definition of being agnostic on the existence of god, but I’ll give it another try.

    Agnostics don’t believe in god. However, they cannot commit to the atheist position (i.e. god does not exist) because there is no scientific theory about what created the cosmos (which theists at least do attempt to explain). Therefore, it is nothing more than an admission of ignorance and a recognition of a factual void.

    Tyson’s position is scientifically honest. He doesn’t know what triggered the Big Bang so all hypotheses that cannot be disproved are still viable however improbable. Richard Dawkins also acknowledges this sliver of doubt by referring to himself as a “de-facto atheist” (a 6 on his 1-7 scale).

    The rationalist arguments atheists use to assert that god does not exist have little relevance in the empirical world of science. Absolutist claims, whether theist or atheist, are not meaningful to scientists without being substantiated by evidence.

    I wonder why atheists focus so much on self-identified agnostics when their positions are nearly identical? It’s like debating who should go first in a game of tic-tac-toe.

    1. Atheism is not the rejection of God, or the claim “God does not exist”. There are plenty of people who fall into the category of “gnostic atheism” (people who claim to know there is no God), but agnosticism is also compatible with atheism.
      My issue isn’t NT identifying as an agnostic, it’s the fact that he fights against being an atheist. What changes in the content? Especially when, in the video (I will see if I can find it) he says he’s not an atheist because he thinks of atheists as people who take the time to argue.

      1. From: http://www.merriam-webster.com/dictionary/atheism

        1 archaic : ungodliness, wickedness
        2 a : a disbelief in the existence of deity
        b : the doctrine that there is no deity

        “Critique and denial of metaphysical beliefs in God or divine beings. Unlike agnosticism, which leaves open the question of whether there is a God, atheism is a positive denial. It is rooted in an array of philosophical systems. Ancient Greek philosophers such as Democritus and Epicurus argued for it in the context of materialism. In the 18th century David Hume and Immanuel Kant, though not atheists, argued against traditional proofs for God’s existence, making belief a matter of faith alone. Atheists such as Ludwig Feuerbach held that God was a projection of human ideals and that recognizing this fiction made self-realization possible. Marxism exemplified modern materialism. Beginning with Friedrich Nietzsche, existentialist atheism proclaimed the death of God and the human freedom to determine value and meaning. Logical positivism holds that propositions concerning the existence or nonexistence of God are nonsensical or meaningless.”

        Tyson’s “fight” against being an atheist didn’t sprout up in a vacuum. It was triggered by criticisms which sought to force him into an absolutist position on the existence of god. He won’t play that game of logical absurdity, and I don’t blame him. Passionate opinion on a concept lacking any definitive proofs is not science. Such debate remains in the purview of philosophy.

    1. It’s because he actually partook in a Wikipedia re-edit war and tries so hard to unidentify as an atheist that he has caught my attention (in this respect. As an astrophysicist he’s amazing).

      1. I’ve been seeing a similar thing going on with the archaeologist, William Dever. He is considered by others a maximalist, yet he personally recoils at the definition. Theists (all maximalists) misuse his words and that has forced him to come out and declare that he has no religion.

  5. I can’t see how someone can be neither an atheist or a theist. This is a pretty black and white issue for me. If one cannot name/describe the theistic god they subscribe to then they are an atheist by definition.

    As for agnosticism I agree that it’s not a middle ground between atheism and theism, as it’s often mistaken. The problem with many discussions like this is that ‘god’ is not defined before the discussion begins. If by ‘god’ one means an entity/force/intelligence that set our current universe in motion then technically I am agnostic, along with the pope, Brad Pitt, Osama bin Laden, Neil Tyson and every human being that currently lives or has ever lived. There is nothing special or refined about this position. If by ‘god’ you mean the mythological figure outlined in archaic religious texts there is no agnosticism about it.

    1. It gets better. If you define God that loosely then I am a theist because I believe in a force that created the universe.
      But you can’t get from there to intelligence or will or designer…
      I don’t know what force it was, I just know that an action has a cause, but it is possible for causes to be non-intelligent. Lawrence Krauss’ A Universe from Nothing gives exactly that kind of hypothesis.

  6. I think people have the right to label themselves as what they percieve themselves. If a Mormon says he is a Christian, then he is a Christian to me, no matter what some other Christians think of his beliefs. I have no way of determining which of the Christian doctrines and tenets are the “right” ones, as they all are based on their personal faith on some particular interpretation of mythical sources. To me two Trekkies arguing about warp drive makes more sense. At least they are aware of the fictional nature of their sources.

    Most people whom I have met who define themselves foremost as agnostics are actually theists, who have only abandoned their original view of a god as the particular god of the religion of their cultural heritage, or at least think they have abandoned such a god. They seem to recognize, that the god they would be willing to accept is not represented by any god they know religions offer. I think it would be good, if there was an effective label such people could put on. It is completely a different ball game, wether the reasons for wich they cling on to this totally unverifiable idea of the possibility of supernatural is actually a result of their cultural heritage taking such ideas at face value. If a person is an agnostic is that person equally agnostic about the Hebrew god, Zeus, Thor, Vishnu and all those thousands of others? There is no general concept of god. All gods suggested by mankind are specific and without exeption andropocentrical.

    I have no way of knowing why Neil deGrass Tyson chooses to label himself foremost as an agnostic, but my bet would be on the culture climate where he has a message to convey about the importance of science. Perhaps he is just affraid, that the theist majority in his home country would close their minds as to what he has to say, if he professed to be, or was labelled as, an atheist. I once saw his interview where he brought up his concern, that the western culture (especially in the US) is in danger of becoming religiously fundamentalistic and anti-science as did happen to the Islamic world under outside threat by the crusaders and Mongols several hundred years ago (and look at them now). His fear is not such a far fetched threat, when we look at how religiosity has evolved in the USA during the big fear of the Soviet Union. I mean, when was it, that the label “atheist” became such a terrible thing? Evolution is not even an issue to most churches in Europe, but religious denial of evolution spells fundamentalism. And that sort of fundamentalism is also contagious.

    1. Being ‘first and foremost’ an agnostic wouldn’t bother me. (Tyson says the only “-ist” he is is a scientist.) It is the reject of being an atheist when the description fits.

      1. Yes, and my guess is, that for him this is rather for practical purposes of conveying a totally different, but also an important message, than recognition of an actual position on a particular question. There is the problem of not making atheism as a position less rejected, if a rational and compelling atheist refuses to accept the label, but I think, I can still understand the motives – If my guesses are right.

    2. The position you espouse in the second paragraph does not have anything to do with theism. When you say, “They seem to recognize, that the god they would be willing to accept is not represented by any god they know religions offer,” it does not answer the question, “Do you believe a god exists?” And that is what theism is. A person could have that position, and be either a theist or an atheist.

      As for labeling, I would suggest that agnostic theists, who don’t claim a religion, fall under “Spiritual”.

      1. Indeed. However, this may be the case of different languages also. My native Finnish does not have quite the equal term as the English word “spiritual”. Well, actually it does, at least something along the same lines, but it is most often understood in negative terms as a reference to people who have lost their sense of reality and are into spiritual crystal healing and homeopatics. So, I can symphatize whith people who rather lable themselves as “agnostics”, than “spiritual”.

        I see myself as an agnostic atheist, but also as a positive atheist. That means I am pretty sure there are no gods of any sort, as the evidence I have (and I am only capable of making evaluations based on that) is very much against such a suggestion, but I do not claim to have any absolute, or definitive information about the issue. Hence, some sort of entity, or any number of entities, that could be deserving of the label god may exist, or may have existed. I only find that the belief in the existance of anything like that is only warranted after we have recieved some sort of reliable information about any such entity. As far as I know, nobody has anything reliable to present.

        1. Am I right in interpretting that as ‘in Finnish there is no way to distinguish between the derogatory sentiment of ‘New Age’ and the idea of deistic spiritualism’? Because I can see the confusion there…

          As for your position, that is what it appears is true about NT, but he refuses the “atheist” part of the definition. That’s the confusion (to me).

      2. Yes, I would say, you got me right. At least the common use of words does not distinguish between such terms. Ultimately, what is the difference? One group of people believe one sort of nonsense without any evidence and the other group believe different, yet same sort of nonsense, equally, without any evidence, right? They may regard each others less “spiritual” because of “wrong” kind of spirits the others believe in, but it all comes down to the similarity of the total lack of actual evidence of any of these spirits.

        I feel your confusion about NT. I do share and symphatize with you, but I also think his reasons are his own. Unless he decides to clarify them to the rest of us.

  7. If labels perfectly conveyed the ideology, then the arguments you’ve offered above might hold. but no label adequately conveys the full spectrum of thought and attitude of an individual, or even a group of individuals. Here is why I call myself an agnostic but refuse the atheist label.

    1. Atheism has become an ideology. Some (but not all) atheists have taken it up as a cause. they have become anti-religious and perceive a need to fight religion. Atheism is no longer “just” a lack of belief in god, it includes a lot of the baggage that many religions have – congregations, promoting an ideology, conforming, and even speakers for the groups that carry authority (Dawkins, Harris, Dennett, Hitchens, etc).
    2. The claim is that agnostic is only a statement of knowledge and it needs the belief component to be a full claim. I also disagree with this as I could just as easily say that atheism isn’t complete – there are some that claim babies are atheists by default (implicit atheism). Must one also add a whole string of qualifiers to define one’s belief? Like NDT, I think every individual is, individually unique, and rather than using labels, it is far better to ask and go through the discussion. the term atheist carries a lot of baggage. I would rather be known as a skeptic, a humanist, a non-believer, than an atheist.
    3. Atheism is a question about god. Agnosticism is not a creed, it is a principle. it is how science works. Agnosticism rejects any hypothesis stated as certainty if there is not enough evidence to support it. (Yes, the arguments will occur over how much evidence is needed – and that part is subjective). As such, Agnosticism is much, much broader than atheism. Agnosticism deals specifically with this mystery:

    We experience life in two ways. Inside our heads and as part of reality. Our inner world is filled with meaning, and a purpose (or a search for these). We experience compassion, love, belief, hope, and we see patterns. We have no experience of life except that it has all of these things.
    Yet, as we look at the universe, we see things live and die. There seems to be no rhyme or reason. we search for compassion. we search for ways that the universe exhibits any of these human traits, but even close up, plants and animals live and die. and far away, planets, stars, galaxies all come into being and then go away. everything seems to march forward without any evidence of divine purpose, direction, or meaning.
    Religion usually seeks to fill this gap by claiming that there really is purpose and meaning in the universe. Some religions, like Buddhism, try to bring peace to the human condition by advocating the opposite, that letting go of attachment (being more like the universe at large) will bring happiness. Atheists tend to follow this later route, that there is no purpose out there. we live. we die. just like everything else.

    Agnostics simply reject both of these positions. They are positions of relative certainty – but we have accepted and believe in the mystery. We don’t know if death is final. it might be. We only claim that know one really knows the truth about this chasm.

    If you don’t know (i.e. are agnostic) don’t you necessarily not believe (i.e. aren’t you an atheist)? Analogy – your girl friend tells you she is pregnant. Someone asks if you “believe” she will have a boy. You don’t “know” if it is a boy or a girl. If you answer that you don’t know – it would be wrong for someone to then claim – oh, so you believe it will be a girl. To an agnostic, knowledge is more important than belief. regardless of whether you believe it will be a boy, a girl, or are content to remain uncertain – until there is evidence, there is no need to claim a belief.

    What are the identifying claims or conclusions, or what are the stances (and on what questions) of an agnostic? Hopefully the above has clarified it for you.

    1. Your analogy about wondering wether you’re having a boy or a girl doesn’t really work, because both are positive statements. It would be more accurate to say that agnosticism is like wondering if you’re pregnant at all. In the face of a lack of evidence, it is prudent to assume that you are not pregnant. A woman who has not had sex could even be sure she isn’t pregnant. Deciding between having a boy or a girl is more like determining what kind of god there is.

      1. “It would be more accurate to say that agnosticism is like wondering if you’re pregnant at all.”

        That’s incorrect. Agnostics do not believe in god. They aren’t sitting around wondering if they believe in god or not. The only difference between agnostics and atheists is that the latter believes “god does not exist” while the former admits to insufficient knowledge about the possible existence of god. Agnosticism is an empirical statement based on facts. Atheism is a rational argument based on logic. There is no substantive conflict. Disagreement occurs only when one side fails to appreciate or understand the other side’s reasoning.

        If atheists want agnostic converts, this is how they can do it: Develop a working hypothesis for the creation of the universe (i.e. what triggered the Big Bang). Test it through observation and experimentation. Then publish the results for peer review, and if confirmed, pronounce your theory to the world. Do that, and agnostics will eagerly acquiesce. Without that, all ideas about creation – which cannot be disproved by science – retain at least a minimal level of possibility.

      2. “Agnostics do not believe in god.”

        Agnosticism is not a statement of god belief. To be gnostic is to subscribe to the belief that things can be known about a subject. Theism, on the other hand, has nothing to do with wether anything can be known about a god, and everything to do with belief in god or gods. Agnosticism is not a stand alone middle ground between theism and atheism. If it were, what the hell would gnosticism be? Both extremes?

        Gnosticism and theism are not mutually exclusive. They can be combined in every way. What you have done is taken the word “agnostic” and redefined it to mean a agnostic atheist, while ignoring that agnostic theists, gnostic atheists, and gnostic theists exist.

        If you don’t believe in a god, you are an atheist. If you don’t think it’s possible to know, you are an agnostic. If you don’t think it’s possible to know, and you have no reason to believe, you are an agnostic atheist.

        Do you have any reason to believe?

      3. You are splitting hairs. “Agnostic atheist?” “Agnostic theist?” Those are each contradictory terms. One cannot be agnostic about the existence of god while at the same time asserting that god either exists or doesn’t exist. The word “believe” is not equivalent to the word “know.” The first requires only faith, and the second must require facts. Agnosticism addresses what is known versus what is not known. To say that “agnostics do not believe in god” is a true and accurate statement – they don’t “believe” any absolutist position on god.

        From: http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Agnosticism

        “In the popular sense, an agnostic is someone who neither believes nor disbelieves in the existence of a deity or deities, whereas a theist and an atheist believe and disbelieve, respectively.[2] Philosopher William L. Rowe states that in the strict sense, however, agnosticism is the view that humanity lacks the requisite knowledge or sufficient rational grounds to justify either belief: that there exists some deity, or that no deities exist.[2]”

        I’ll answer your question, “Do you have any reason to believe [in god]?” Absolutely none, and I am not an atheist.

        Please address my previous suggestion. If atheists want agnostics to accept their assertion that god does not exist, then give us the scientific proof.

        1. You differ on the definition and position of atheism. Robert, you think it’s a positive position that rejects the proposition of god. Ignostic atheist thinks (and I agree) that it is the position that the claim hasn’t reached any credible degree of the burden of proof.
          If you can’t get as far as agreeing on what atheism is, the discussion (despite appearances) isn’t happening…

      4. You never answered my first set of questions, namely, if agnosticism is the middle ground between belief and disbelief, then what is gnosticism? Gnosticism is the negation of agnosticism, and by negating the middle ground, you end up with both extremes, positive and negative. This makes no sense at all.

        I never said that belief is equivalent to knowledge. I said that gnosticism is a statement about knowability, but you insist that it is “someone who neither believes nor disbelieves in the existence of a deity or deities,” which is a statement about belief, not about knowledge. The only way to accomplish a null belief on a subject is to never be exposed to it in the first place.

        Now, if you instead take gnosticism to mean only the knowability of a topic, with no reflection on belief, the term agnostic atheist makes perfect sense. This is a person who thinks that it is impossible to truly know that there is or is not a god, and so, without a reason, doesn’t bother believing in one. An agnostic theist, on the other hand, thinks that it is impossible to truly know that there is or is not a god, but chooses to anyway, for any of a number of reasons. You may also negate agnosticism and get the gnostic theist, who believes they know that a god exists, or the gnostic atheist, who is certain there is no god.

        It amazes me that, for rather simple words of a binary nature, there can be so much confusion. It’s basically a Punnett square of theology.

        Concerning your question, why would I bother giving you proof for something I don’t know? I am an agnostic atheist. However, and more importantly, what would showing the cause of the universe even do to prove there is no god?

      5. Allallt, yes we have a disagreement on the definition of atheism, but mine is supported by the Merriam-Webster dictionary which I posted earlier. It is a widely accepted definition.

        * * * * *

        Ignostic Atheist, agnosticism is not the middle ground between belief and disbelief. It has nothing to do with beliefs at all. It is wholly concerned with what is known versus what is unknown. Please reread the link previously provided.

        Gnosticism is not a statement about “knowability.” From: http://www.merriam-webster.com/dictionary/gnosticism

        “: the thought and practice especially of various cults of late pre-Christian and early Christian centuries distinguished by the conviction that matter is evil and that emancipation comes through gnosis ”

        Now, let’s look at theism. From: http://www.merriam-webster.com/dictionary/theism

        “: belief in the existence of a god or gods; specifically : belief in the existence of one God viewed as the creative source of the human race and the world who transcends yet is immanent in the world ”

        Since theism is primarily concerned with creation, a scientifically proven theory on the cause of the universe (or multiverse) would automatically negate the concept of god.

      6. Hello Allallt, we do disagree about the specifics of theism. Robert believes that theism and atheism are both certain declarations about god belief, that people who claim either one know for sure. I follow the position that, due to the use of the “A” prefix in greek as a negation, it follows that theism is the belief that there is a god, and atheism is everything else. Which is to say, in the absence of a reason to believe, you, by default, disbelieve. If you are not a theist, you are an atheist. The “A” prefix makes these terms binary; they are either on, or off, and there is no logical room for an in-between position.

        ==========

        Dude, Robert, that is Gnosticism with a capital G. As in, a specific religion. I refer instead to gnosticism, the negation of agnosticism.

        >”Ignostic Atheist, agnosticism is not the middle ground between belief and disbelief. It has nothing to do with beliefs at all.”

        You quoted earlier, “According to philosopher William L. Rowe, in the popular sense an agnostic is someone who neither believes nor disbelieves in the existence of a deity or deities, whereas a theist and an atheist believe and disbelieve, respectively…” This quote specifically references agnosticism in a belief context as the middle between theism and atheism, and it is clearly the way you think about the idea because it is how you use the idea.

        This quote is immediately followed by, “…but that in the strict sense agnosticism is the view that human reason is incapable of rationally justifying the belief that deities do, or do not, exist,” which seems to be overlooked by you, because being “incapable of rationally justifying the belief,” is the same thing as being unknowable. Which is exactly what I have been saying.

        >”It is wholly concerned with what is known versus what is unknown.”

        You seem to think that a lack of knowledge makes people agnostics, when it just makes people ignorant. The willingness to admit that someone lacks knowledge doesn’t make him agnostic, it makes him admittedly ignorant. Agnosticism is the position that the knowledge cannot be achieved, that it isn’t knowable. Otherwise, we would just call it ignorance and be done with it.

        And if we found and proved the cause of the universe, theists would just push the ball back further, just as they always have whenever science encroaches on religion.

        Let’s have a little fun:
        “Agnostics do not believe in god.” { Quote from you }
        Agnostic –> not (believe in god) { Sectioning off the concepts }
        Agnostic –> not theist { Inserting word for definition }
        Agnostic –> -theist { Using logical negation }
        Agnostic –> atheist { Using greek prefix “A” instead of logical negation }

        Your arguments only work if you consider agnosticism a subset of atheism, which it is not. Neither of us think so, but it is how you treat the concept all the same. Your arguments are all over the place, one saying that agnosticism is a neutral god belief, another saying that it has nothing to do with god belief. One saying that agnosticism cannot modify the idea of theism or atheism because they involve the same concepts, another saying that they are separate concepts from one another. And a statement that translates directly into “agnostic is atheist”, while denying it up and down. There is no point in arguing with you when your positions are so mutable.

        1. I’ve attempted to define atheism in a post called “defining atheism” (https://allallt.wordpress.com/2013/06/27/defining-atheism) as well as on Elucidations on Atheism (http://atheistenquiry.org/2013/11/06/what-is-atheism).

          You’ll notice I side more closely with Ignostic Atheist: a- means to be without and -theism is a belief in a god or gods. Being without a belief is not the same as holding the challenging belief.
          I am an atheist with regard to all Gods. I am agnostic about basic deism. I am gnosticly atheist regarding certain definitions of God (they aren’t possible or are in-congruent with reality).

      7. Ignostic Atheist, I failed to find anything in your last comment I could agree with or even relate to. There is no basis for discussion when disagreement exists over the simplest of definitions.

        * * * * *

        Allallt, I respect your views and I hope that you respect mine. I suspect that whatever differences between atheists and agnostics are purely philosophical and of little relevance in the larger debate over theism. We are both aligned against religious ignorance and the mythology of gods. What we share in common is more important than our self-identifying labels, is it not?

        1. Of course, the actual content of our beliefs is more important than the labels we use.
          I consider myself an agnostic atheist, but that’s more a reflection of the conversations I get into–espousing the position that I don’t believe. But based on basic philosophical principles, like the burden of proof, I fully acknowledge that I don’t know. Neither side–there is a god and there is not a god–has met a burden of proof (with the exception of certain internally contradictory definitions, or ones that are incompatible with the reality we see).

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in:

WordPress.com Logo

You are commenting using your WordPress.com account. Log Out / Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out / Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out / Change )

Google+ photo

You are commenting using your Google+ account. Log Out / Change )

Connecting to %s