Agnosticism and Atheism: One and the Same

One of the most interesting things I find myself discussing when I am amongst my skeptical peers is the idea of agnosticism versus atheism.  Many people see my brash and outspoken stance against religion and in advocacy of atheism and wonder why exactly I am that way.  Usually I can simply direct them to many of my previous articles on this blog and they can find out exactly why it’s so important to argue in favor of rationality and critical thinking rather than theism and credulity.  Often a ha-rumpf is given and my peer adjusts their monocle and sips their martini to exclaim:

“Well I don’t know why you are so up in arms. There is no way you can know for sure! Therefor I’m an agnostic since that is the only way to go. You silly atheists claim to have all the answers but you do not and neither do I!”

At this point I usually take a glance around, especially if we are among theist company. They will often gain favor with theists and anyone not especially interested in religion and be seen as somehow intellectually superior to not only themselves but any atheists that may happen to be in earshot.  And this is typically exactly what the self-described agnostic wants; to feel superior by admitting they do not have all the answers while refraining from joining the socially undesirable atheists that are about.   Theists will say “well at least Mr. Agnostic over there is willing to concede that I may be right, unlike the atheists who claim to have no belief at all”. Even though, any self-described agnostic would be loath to agree to that statement-that theists may be right- that is the effect that is given by sitting on the fence. Theists tend to think in terms of absolutes when it comes to their religion and if an agnostic is not on the other side of the fence, then by de facto they are on the theist side of the fence.

I am writing about this to explain why exactly I think this line of reasoning is intellectually dishonest. Now, anyone that has attempted to pull this “I’m-an-agnostic-not-an-atheist-but-all-religion-is-bunk” on me is familiar with my example of agnosticism being a subset of atheism. Let’s look at it like this.  We have a continuum from 1 to 10, with 1-4 being strong theist to weak theist, 5 being an agnostic and undecided, and 6 to 10 being an atheist weak to strong.  There are specific terms such as gnostic atheism and the like, but for the purposes of this piece we will not delve into that.  So if you are a self-acclaimed 5, unwilling to commit to either side of the spectrum, are you a theist? Do you believe in a personal deity that listens to your prayer and guides your moral actions?  Can I throw your lot in with the Christians, Muslims, and Jews? No, of course not.  You are an agnostic, you do not commit to any of those points of view. By definition then you are not theist, or to put it in a really dazzling new way, an atheist.

“But Jason! I don’t think all religion is evil and I definitely don’t advocate not believing! I just am not convinced myself!” the agnostic may say. And that’s perfectly fine for an atheist too. Many atheists do not actually see religion as evil or harmful and none are obviously convinced of the validity of the theist schools of thought.  Atheists don’t necessarily advocate for the abolishment of all religion, only the really outspoken ones do.  Here, let me adjust that monocle for you and refill your martini, my fellow atheist!

“But what about the existence of a non-personal god? A Deist god, a god that doesn’t care or is far beyond our comprehension that we may never know?”  This is often the first rather than last counter as the agnostic is forced to realize his dishonesty with himself before about atheism. Again though, this is perfectly fine for atheism, Deism is also by definition non-theistic and thusly, atheistic.  A belief in a higher power or a non-personal deity is actually a valid way of thought under the umbrella of atheism. The deity isn’t personal, he has no interaction in human life, there is no mandate about morality or how one should think, the deity simply Exists in Deistic thought. We should give it no mind as it gives us none. That is still an atheistic way of looking at things and as such Deism finds itself solidly a 5 or above on our theism chart as laid out above, strictly non-theist. Atheist.

So the next time an agnostic, or even if you are one yourself, prepares to adjust their monocle and attempt to “shoot down” those swaggering atheists, just remember: They are atheists too; they just don’t want to admit it because they think present company may not approve. Agnosticism is more and more becoming a social construct to deflect negative attitudes rather than a standalone method of thought. Agnosticism is a subset of atheism and be sure to question anyone that believes otherwise. There is no logically consistent way to go about it otherwise.

 

Jason K.

 

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40 comments on “Agnosticism and Atheism: One and the Same

  1. G.M. Jackson says:

    Good point. Agnostics are atheists when no one is looking. In fact theists and agnostics go about there business as if there is no god. Many theists only acknowledge god one day a week–sometimes not even that often.

  2. Dan Reed says:

    Agnosticism in my opinion is a way to differentiate myself from ego-centric assholes like yourself Jason K. I know that the world does not revolve around my thoughts and opinions and beliefs. I do know that what I believe are things that are real to me, things that have been proven to me to be true in my own life. I refuse to be bottled in with those that persecute Religion just for the sake of it. If that means I am intellectually dishonest, then in my world that is a good thing, not something to be looked down upon from on high, which is exactly where your ego-centricity puts you.

    I see nothing wrong with your statement – “Agnosticism is more and more becoming a social construct to deflect negative attitudes rather than a standalone method of thought.” Negative attitudes get us no where, and negative attitudes are what drive conflict. Maybe Agnosticism is positive atheism, you can call it what you want. I’m being honest enough with myself to know that I don’t have all the answers, and most atheists are under the false impression that they have the only answers. Sounds like most religious groups to me.

  3. Dan Reed says:

    Furthermore…

    “Thomas Henry Huxley defined the term:

    Agnosticism is not a creed but a method, the essence of which lies in the vigorous application of a single principle… Positively the principle may be expressed as in matters of intellect, do not pretend conclusions are certain that are not demonstrated or demonstrable.”

    Stating opinions as facts do not make them facts.

    Good Day sir.

    -excerpt from Wikipedia entry for Agnosticism

  4. Homme says:

    Which viewpoints are and are not included under the umbrella terms “theism”, “atheism”, “agnosticism”, etc., vary between persons and between discussions. You ought to clearly define the terms you want to use in an article. Also, though it doesn’t matter so long as your definitions are clear, it is generally a bad idea to assign unconventional definitions to terms. For example, atheism does not typically include belief in an impersonal god; this belief is typically considered a form of theism.

    Further, using typical definitions of atheism and agnosticism (for simplicity: those used on Wikipedia), the two positions are closely related but unique, and ought to be kept distinct. Agnosticism rests on the observation that it is impossible to know things which are by definition unknowable.

  5. Dan Reed says:

    Forgive me father, mother, for I have sinned and fallen short of the glory of the atheist blogger.

    My comments on the overall story bolded below:

    One of the most interesting things I find myself discussing when I am amongst my skeptical peers is the idea of agnosticism versus atheism. (Sounds like an intriguing battle – Harrison Ford vs Stephen Hawking…my money is on Harrison, who I heard was Agnostic, but could be a rumor..)

    Many people see my brash and outspoken stance against religion and in advocacy of atheism and wonder why exactly I am that way. (Because it is part of your belief system or value system, no cosmic mystery there.)

    Usually I can simply direct them to many of my previous articles on this blog and they can find out exactly why it’s so important to argue in favor of rationality and critical thinking rather than theism and credulity. (or be inundated with opinions as to the importance of speaking out against religion)

    Often a ha-rumpf is given and my peer adjusts their monocle and sips their martini to exclaim:
    (I’d like to meet this friend, sounds an awful lot like Mr Peanut)

    “Well I don’t know why you are so up in arms. There is no way you can know for sure! Therefor I’m an agnostic since that is the only way to go. You silly atheists claim to have all the answers but you do not and neither do I!” (Ever stop for 10 seconds, take a deep breathe and wonder if they’re right?)

    At this point I usually take a glance around, especially if we are among theist company. They will often gain favor with theists and anyone not especially interested in religion and be seen as somehow intellectually superior to not only themselves but any atheists that may happen to be in earshot. (Or, yet again – they could just be right and you’re not really being persecuted as someone who doesn’t agree 100% with the agnostics among your friends…could be that.)

    And this is typically exactly what the self-described agnostic wants; to feel superior by admitting they do not have all the answers while refraining from joining the socially undesirable atheists that are about. (Are they not there discussing things with you? You assume one – that the agnostic of whom you are speaking considers atheists to be socially undesirable, and two – they have to agree with you to be right.)

    Theists will say “well at least Mr. Agnostic over there is willing to concede that I may be right, unlike the atheists who claim to have no belief at all”. (While true, I am put off when a theist uses my arguments to prove their points, which I had no intention of backing. This also indicates that your problem is with Theists who look down on Atheists, and not necessarily Agnostics.)

    Even though, any self-described agnostic would be loath to agree to that statement-that theists may be right- that is the effect that is given by sitting on the fence. (Agree completely, but this does nothing to prove intent to stay in favor of theists, which is what you are trying to prove here.)

    Theists tend to think in terms of absolutes when it comes to their religion and if an agnostic is not on the other side of the fence, then by de facto they are on the theist side of the fence. (Black and White, the same shades that Atheists in my experience tend to view things…Interesting.)

    I am writing about this to explain why exactly I think this line of reasoning is intellectually dishonest. (Statement of Intention, very good)

    Now, anyone that has attempted to pull this “I’m-an-agnostic-not-an-atheist-but-all-religion-is-bunk” on me is familiar with my example of agnosticism being a subset of atheism. (If you compare them long enough, maybe you too will be as cool as an agnostic..)

    Let’s look at it like this. We have a continuum from 1 to 10, with 1-4 being strong theist to weak theist, 5 being an agnostic and undecided (Who is to say that all agnostics are undecided. They are often firm in their belief that they know what they don’t know. In my opinion this makes them intellectually Honest – the exact opposite of your opinion.), and 6 to 10 being an atheist weak to strong.
    There are specific terms such as gnostic atheism and the like, but for the purposes of this piece we will not delve into that.

    So if you are a self-acclaimed 5, unwilling to commit to either side of the spectrum, are you a theist? (No, I am an Agnostic)

    Do you believe in a personal deity that listens to your prayer and guides your moral actions? (No again, Agnostic)

    Can I throw your lot in with the Christians, Muslims, and Jews? No, of course not. You are an agnostic, you do not commit to any of those points of view.
    By definition then you are not theist, or to put it in a really dazzling new way, an atheist.
    (This is where your definition is fuzzy, your entire line of reasoning and critical thinking ran bam smack off the railroad tracks. Agnostics associate with theism AND with atheism. They do not subscribe to Black or White, but many shades of grey… I am sorry to burst your bubble)

    “But Jason! I don’t think all religion is evil and I definitely don’t advocate not believing! I just am not convinced myself!” the agnostic may say. And that’s perfectly fine for an atheist too. (What is obvious though, is that you do not advocate believing – so what atheists do advocate believing? I’m confused, but I do get easily confused)

    Many atheists do not actually see religion as evil or harmful and none are obviously convinced of the validity of the theist schools of thought. (Obviously is right)

    Atheists don’t necessarily advocate for the abolishment of all religion, only the really outspoken ones do. Here, let me adjust that monocle for you and refill your martini, my fellow atheist! (You wish you were as cool as this crowd my friend)

    “But what about the existence of a non-personal god? A Deist god, a god that doesn’t care or is far beyond our comprehension that we may never know?” This is often the first rather than last counter as the agnostic is forced to realize his dishonesty with himself before about atheism. (An Agnostic doesn’t have this doubt, however an Atheist may. As an Agnostic I am comfortable Not knowing, and knowing that I may NEVER know)

    Again though, this is perfectly fine for atheism (simply…because it is atheism! Are you trying to prove that there may be a period of intellectual dishonesty an atheist goes through before coining him or herself as “hardcore”?),

    Deism is also by definition non-theistic and thusly, atheistic. A belief in a higher power or a non-personal deity is actually a valid way of thought under the umbrella of atheism. The deity isn’t personal, he has no interaction in human life, there is no mandate about morality or how one should think, the deity simply Exists in Deistic thought. We should give it no mind as it gives us none. That is still an atheistic way of looking at things and as such Deism finds itself solidly a 5 or above on our theism chart (Your black and white Theism chart) as laid out above, strictly non-theist. Atheist. (Congratulations, you have proven that being atheistic means you’re an atheist)

    So the next time an agnostic, or even if you are one yourself, prepares to adjust their monocle and attempt to “shoot down” those swaggering atheists (Shot down your comparisons however I refuse to shut down your set of values or beliefs or disbeliefs or whatever you want to call it – your atheistic tendancies? Your anti-theism) ,

    just remember: They are atheists too; they just don’t want to admit it because they think present company may not approve.(Wrong again, if I thought in the same ways and agreed with the same tenets an atheist agrees with, then I would be an Atheist, not an Agnostic. Arguing that because I believe that education or rational thought and critical thinking are helpful in opening the eyes of theists to other possibilities does not an atheist make. That would be like you and me agreeing that the weather is nice – so you assume we both really truly do have a strong interest in weather. In other words – dumb – kinda like the comparison I just drew…never really my strong suit.)

    Agnosticism is more and more becoming a social construct to deflect negative attitudes rather than a standalone method of thought. Agnosticism is a subset of atheism and be sure to question anyone that believes otherwise. There is no logically consistent way to go about it otherwise. (Agnosticism may share some similarities with both theism and a-theism, however you could not be further from the truth with this statement and the rest of the opinions stated in this blog post. It was a good attempt, I will give you that.)

    • jastiger says:

      All I see you doing here is doing the Mexican Hat Dance around a hat called atheism. You’re describing yourself as an atheist in thought but not in title. The least you could do is be honest about it.

      You’ll notice I never said atheists are necessarily “right” in their belief of atheism more than an agnostic, they are merely more honest. For example, a Christian does not believe in Zeus, thus he is atheist in regard to Zeus. There is literally NO gray area here, there is no “maybe Zeus, maybe Jesus” there is no “Zeus is kind of the god of Olympus” no “Jesus may or may not have been the son of god”. Its black and white by DEFINITION. Either you are a theist and believe in a personal god and humanity suffers the consequences and disbelief at their own peril. Or you are unsure and do not throw your hat in the ring of theism, thus placing yourself OUTSIDE the realm of belief. An Atheist by definition!

      You are equivocating the idea of atheist-a non belief in a theistic being with the term Atheist with a capital A-someone who intentionally attempts to dissuade or disrupt the belief in such a being. (I am just using that definition for our social construct here, not to be applied to any one else that may or may not be an atheist). They are not the same. Either you believe in a god or you do not. Being undecided and reserved in your opinion or “knowing what you do not know” is the same as being an atheist. Perhaps not a strong one, but an atheist all the same.

      In closing, this is exactly the kind of bullshit I was talking about. You immediately claim intellectual superiority by not admitting a non belief. Many agnostics believes they are somehow on higher ground by remaining undecided in their theistic belief. This is either a result of a perceived negative social reaction (I don’t want to be labeled an atheist!) or an intentional attempt at mental compartmentalization (I know all the evidence is against god but I don’t want to let it go yet). Both are dishonest and disingenuous reasons to claim any kind of consistent thought or intellectual high ground.

      Lastly, I do not nor do any atheists claim to have All The Answers. We see the evidence, weigh it, like yourself, and find it lacking so we reserve judgment. We are both atheists AND agnostics as it is necessarily so if we are to be honest with ourselves because to be agnostic is to be a non theist. Theist religious belief is not a gray matter, it is black and white as the colors themselves. Either you believe in Jesus or you do not. Either Allah is divine or he is not. Either the Torah is true or it is not. There is not any room for half ways when dealing in the business of eternal salvation or damnation nor for moral absolutes and relativism.

      • Dan Reed says:

        To put it in simpler terms for those that don’t see what is going on here.

        You site, “X is true”.

        I say, “X is blatantly false”.

        You say, “Nu Uh”

        I say, “Yeah Huh”

        You say, “No”

        I say, “Yes”

        You say, “No way jose”

        I am an Agnostic, the differences between being agnostic and atheist may be small and they may lay in perception of the definitions as well as attitude – but that doesn’t change the fact that there are differences. I by no means claim intellectual superiority, the “cool as an agnostic” statements are obviously little jabs because you’re so touchy about the subject. However I do know that I am right in this, Just as you do. It’s all a matter of opinion and perception and you sit here and tell me I’m being dishonest because of a difference of opinion? That to me is someone claiming intellectual superiority.

        • jastiger says:

          Its intellectual superiority when you continue to lie to yourself. Just like many theists and the idea that “oh no, I am not a football player, I’m a QUARTERBACK. Football player..feh. I’m better than that” No….you’re a football player who plays quarterback. You’re an atheist that isn’t satisfied with the term so seek to avoid social stigmas by re branding yourself.

          I say the differences do not lay in perception but in definition. You are an agnostic. You do not believe in a personal god. You are an atheist. You’re just dancing around the term because I don’t know why. Negative stereotypes?

          I don’t know, why would you NOT identify as an atheist?

          • Dan Reed says:

            Simply because I do not identify as an atheist. You are searching for an answer that is right in front of your face.

            You say, “You’re an atheist that isn’t satisfied with the term so seek to avoid social stigmas by re branding yourself.” I could give a rats patutie about social stigmas, otherwise I wouldn’t be here posting with my full name and a link to my blog. I would appreciate it if you did not put words in my mouth.

            I don’t believe in a personal god, but I also don’t know if God exists or not. If there is a god I certainly would believe it and join the ranks of the theists if it was proven to me, and likewise if it was proven to me that a god cannot possibly exist I would join the ranks of the Atheists. However I know neither is possible today at this point in time. This is an argument that we could go back and forth on for all eternity…or until one of us died, then the surviving one would have the last word…just like I said – “Yeah Huh”, “Nu Uh”. Would sound like my boys.

            You seem to have an inferiority complex of some sort if you think I am intellectually superior. If defending myself because I am being labeled a liar makes me intellectually superior then maybe you are right. I know I am not, but I know I am not lying to myself. I know that I don’t know whether there is a god or not – regardless of my disbelief. It cannot be any simpler than that.

            Another reason I make the distinction is because as I said…my perception is that there can be many and varying definitions for Atheist and Agnostic. There are forums on the net with libraries full of posts discussing exactly what we are discussing here. From my own personal experience Atheists Can be rude, haughty, arrogant, and know-it-alls, and most are not willing to admit that they don’t know for a fact there is no god. Maybe you don’t claim to know it all, and maybe you don’t intend to come across as arrogant, but to me – you do. If being both a weak theist and weak atheist are as awful as you make them out to be, then so be it. The main difference as I see it is that you know there is not a god. I don’t believe in God, but I am also honest enough with myself to admit that I know that I don’t know for sure. I am an agnostic. You are playing with semantics to put me and other agnostics down, which I’m sure you will continue to do – as long as it continues to make you feel better.

            Check this link out for an interesting read on the viewpoint of an Agnostic –
            http://www.infidels.org/library/historical/robert_ingersoll/why_i_am_agnostic.html

            I am human, and make mistakes, I laugh at things I find funny, I love my wife and my children with all of my heart, and occasionally I call someone an asshole when they annoy me. I do not believe in god, and if by that definition I am an atheist – then you can play your game of semantics, maybe campaign to have “agnostic” stricken from the dictionary. However you are right in that I do identify myself as an Agnostic. Maybe I see one of the main differences between identifying myself as an agnostic versus an atheist is that I wish to respect what people decide to believe in even when I am convinced there is a 99.99999999% chance they are wrong. I also know that I do wish to hang on to that one glimmer of hope when contemplating what happens to us upon our death, that maybe, just maybe…I was wrong in my disbelief and there is something other than a complete end to our existance. If you are of the opinion there is something wrong with that then very respectfully…Fuck you and the blog you wrote in on.

            • jastiger says:

              There is nothing WRONG with it. It is just a misdefining of what you mean. You just laid out the text book definition of an atheist. Here, maybe if I ask you a question it will be better than “putting words in your mouth”.

              By the way, the only reason I ask you about this repeatedly is because I think this is the kind of conversation every agnostic and atheist should have.

              Why do you self identify as an agnostic and not an atheist? You have given a GREAT example and case of and for atheism, yet you call it agnosticism. Why is that?

              • Homme says:

                The confusion is that there are subdivisions within atheism. Positive atheists say that “there are no deities” is true. Negative atheists say that the truth value of “there are no deities” is unknown. Negative atheism is extremely similar to agnosticism, whereas positive atheism is not. Agnosticism is not identical to atheism. Indeed, there is a great deal of variance within each umbrella term, let alone between the two.

                The main point is that not asserting the existence any deity is not identical to asserting the nonexistence of any deity.

                • jastiger says:

                  I would agree. An atheist is both of those. I do not claim there are no deities as a fact of the world. I claim that there are no deities as we yet know and if there are, it is impossible to understand them. Certainly any account we have of a supernatural as it is today leads us to conclude there is no deity. I never claim there is NO god at all, merely that as far as we know today there is no evidence and a ton of evidence the other way.

                  Still atheism, a non-professed belief in god.

              • Dan Reed says:

                “One who believes that it is impossible to know whether there is a God.”
                “One who is skeptical about the existence of God but does not profess true atheism.”

                From the free online dictionary.

                I have answered your question numerous times in this discussion alone. My definition, any definition I can find, my perception – all point to Agnostic. Yours may not, and that is fine. Would you be happy with the term, “Skeptical Atheist”? Still an Agnostic in my book, as I am also a “Skeptical Theist”. I remain skeptical about the existance or non-existance of a god or gods and the veracity of Religion. I’m not an atheist because I do not denounce God, yet I’m not a theist because I do not believe in God.

                What am I supposed to call myself? You say I am being dishonest with myself, yet I am being as honest as possible in communicating my point of view with extreme transparency. As Homme mentions below, I am not a Positive atheist, as I am skeptical of the statement “there are no deities”. Maybe “Negative atheist” works for you since I do believe the truth value of the statement “there are no deities” is unknown? If I am a Negative atheist, would that not make me a Not-Atheist or Theist? Of course not.

                I identify with the viewpoints of many of the self-professed Agnostics in our History, the most important to the shaping of my current viewpoints being the famous or infamous(depending on your point of view) trial attorney, Clarence Darrow. I remember in a high school AP English class, reading aloud the part of the character based on him from the book, “Inherit The Wind”. That was probably the beginning of my journey to Agnosticism. He once quoted, “I do not pretend to know where many ignorant men are sure – that is all that agnosticism means.”

                • jastiger says:

                  Does not profess true atheism? Is that some kind of “No True Scotsman” definition of atheism? “You’re not an atheist unless you’re really an atheist”? Furthermore, one can be skeptical about the existence of god but still believe in him. That is a bad definition of agnosticism and even atheism. Just like one can be a Christian but not profess “true” Christianity. What is that?

                  Again, an atheist doesn’t have to denounce god, an atheist just withholds belief. A good way to think of this is to look at different gods. Christians are atheists concerning Greek gods but don’t go out and shout from a mountain on how there is no Greek god. They just don’t believe. Atheist.

                  Yet again, claiming the statement “There are no deities” is not a position an atheist must take. It is impossible to know with our current evidence, I’m with you on that one. That doesn’t make you a negative atheist, that makes you a rational human being that is skeptical of things without evidence. An Atheist.

                  • Dan Reed says:

                    Or it could be that makes you an agnostic.

                    • Dan Reed says:

                      I don’t understand why you are so confused about this. You pick one small portion of my argument and don’t address any of the rest to make yourself sound right. If an atheist is withholding judgement and they know that it is an unknown whether there is or is not a god or an afterlife, all that fun stuff, then by my definition that person is not an atheist, but an Agnostic. Let me understand correctly, that you are telling me then Jason that every person who claims to be an Agnostic is not in fact an Agnostic, that what they believe to be true is not in fact true, and that they are being dishonest with themselves in their beliefs. Am I understanding correctly? If I am, it seems to me this is largely a matter of semantics, and an attempt to establish moral high ground by being the “Honest” atheist rather than the “Dishonest” Agnostic.

                    • jastiger says:

                      They are an agnostic AND an atheist because agnostics are atheists.

                    • Homme says:

                      @Dan Reed: You are a negative atheist necessarily when you are an agnostic. You are not a positive atheist.

                      @jastiger: Dan Reed is agnostic in addition to being a negative atheist. He is not a positive atheist.

                      Are you two serious?

                    • jastiger says:

                      Thats pretty much what I said:( He’s an agnostic AND an atheist because agnostics are necesserily atheists if they do not believe in a god. Again to the example, a 1-4 is theist, 5-10 is a nontheist. If he’s a 5, he’s still an atheist.

                      I think it is a serious issue because it is often used to skirt important points or debate. Many agnostics wish to distance themselves from that dirty dirty word atheist because of the negative social connotations or they are personally unwilling to say it themselves because of an upbringing in a society where atheists are bad people and they don’t want to think themselves bad people. The quicker we knock that out, the quicker we can have a more comprehensive support for atheism and against fundamentalism.

                    • Dan Reed says:

                      “Thats pretty much what I said:( He’s an agnostic AND an atheist because agnostics are necesserily atheists if they do not believe in a god. Again to the example, a 1-4 is theist, 5-10 is a nontheist. If he’s a 5, he’s still an atheist.

                      I think it is a serious issue because it is often used to skirt important points or debate. Many agnostics wish to distance themselves from that dirty dirty word atheist because of the negative social connotations or they are personally unwilling to say it themselves because of an upbringing in a society where atheists are bad people and they don’t want to think themselves bad people. The quicker we knock that out, the quicker we can have a more comprehensive support for atheism and against fundamentalism.”

                      Your reasoning for why “many” Agnostics as you put it, making the distinction that they are different from atheists is not accurate in all cases. I know I personally would like to differentiate my beliefs from yours for instance, because we do have some fundamental differences of opinion. Call it negative and positive atheism, or call it agnosticism and atheism, whatever floats your boat – it does not change the differences of opinion.

                      Out of curiosity, what points or debate are you referring to that this topic is often used to skirt?

    • jastiger says:

      For whatever reason I can’t reply to YOUR post, so here it is Dan:
      [b]
      Your reasoning for why “many” Agnostics as you put it, making the distinction that they are different from atheists is not accurate in all cases. I know I personally would like to differentiate my beliefs from yours for instance, because we do have some fundamental differences of opinion. Call it negative and positive atheism, or call it agnosticism and atheism, whatever floats your boat – it does not change the differences of opinion.

      Out of curiosity, what points or debate are you referring to that this topic is often used to skirt?[/b]

      Why would you like to differentiate your beliefs on the existence of a deity? Neither of us believe in that. We should be united on that front. Its the same belief at the heart of the matter, both atheists.

      Often people use agnosticism to skirt the issue of actually explaining WHY they are an agnostic and not an atheist-usually because they recognize they ARE atheists and do not like the supposed negative social consequences along with it. Never have I seen anyone discuss why they are an agnostic and not an atheist without some kind of hand waving away of criticism. This is because they ARE atheists if they are serious agnostics (and not just mad at mom for making them go to church)

      • Homme says:

        Many people do not believe in any gods but have no desire to discourage others’ belief. These people do not want to unite on your aforementioned front. You may think this position is inconsistent or have other criticisms of it, but you would be best served by directing your position at the issues rather than the semantics.

        This is true in general: talk about the ideas themselves rather than the names of ideas if you want to encourage meaningful discussion.

        Additionally, the idea that a lot of metaphysical information is unavailable to us (either at the moment or as a rule) is not trivially different from materialism or other common atheist views towards metaphysics. This great divide within atheism, as well as the fact that many positive atheists are somewhat militant with their opinions, is more than enough justification for an self-titled agnostic to want to differentiate their views from positive atheism. Agnosticism is not “atheism lite”; negative atheists are not simply positive atheists who haven’t admitted it yet.

        • Dan Reed says:

          Thank you Homme, I think you touched on exactly what I would like to get across much more eloquently than I could.

        • jastiger says:

          Agnosticism is still a form of atheism. Now, I have no problem with some people wishing to distance themselves from a supposed “militant” position. That is no problem. I just dislike the misconstruction of a word in order to mean something that it is not. An agnostic is STILL a form of atheism. Maybe not negative or positive, gnostic, or otherwise or what have you. Its still atheism. The better we understand this concept the easier it is to discuss and approach these issues.

          I see the importance of discussing the ideas, that is important. However, it is also important to define these ideas in the first place. If we are arguing from a position of agnosticism vs a position of strict positive atheism, thats fine. They are both within the realm of atheism, and painting the agnostic as not an atheist is being dishonest to the idea at hand.

          • Dan Reed says:

            What is your point? Where are the ideas? Give me some examples of where defining agnosticism and atheism are so important it takes weeks of discourse to clearly define them. You are lying sir, and not being completely honest with yourself in an attempt to backup your original opinions.

            As Homme stated, “Agnosticism is not “atheism lite”; negative atheists are not simply positive atheists who haven’t admitted it yet.”

            Only you know why you attempt to establish moral high ground by painting an Agnostic as a dishonest atheist. You and those that agree with you in this debate are quick to use the words with a high psychological index such as describing those with an agnostic viewpoint as “weak”, “lazy”, “dishonest”. No one is painting the Agnostic as NOT an atheist here except for yourself, and in the next sentence you refute it and criticize the agnostic who you percieve as acting “better than you”.

            You dodge the request to discuss ideas just like a religious person would in a debate with an atheist on points they cannot back up. “I see the importance of discussing the ideas, that is important. However…” As you may or may not know, terms such as “but” or “however” negate the previous statement. You obviously do not see the importance of discussing the ideas.

            I’m done with the semantic arguments.

            • Homme says:

              A benefit of stressing the fact that one is agnostic, if one is agnostic, is that there is no ambiguity whatsoever. What I mean by this is that there is no further qualification necessary, no “positives” or “negatives”. It is perhaps “dishonest” to imply in saying someone is an agnostic that they are not also an atheist, but calling someone an agnostic is surely not dishonest in and of itself (in other words, there is nothing intellectually dishonest about having more than one term for the same idea).

              Moreover, it is also dishonest to move towards the other extreme, which is implying that the views of agnostics (negative atheists) are closer to the views of positive atheists than they really are. Jason’s original article is not immune from this type of criticism.

              I could go on and pick apart minor things the two of you have said, but, as Dan just reiterated, the overall point is that this is mostly an argument about semantics. Jason, I agree that understanding the terms is important, and I also agree that there is serious social politics involved whenever someone has to label their opinions. The solution, however, remains what I have suggested in the past: be clear about definitions from the start. A brief definition of each term you plan on using that is even somewhat contentious in meaning would go a long way to resolving these issues. For example, when the martini-drinking agnostic says he is not an atheist, a good idea is to clarify that you mean he is a negative atheist, not a positive atheist, and define both. It is quite likely that he assumes you mean he is a positive atheist, which he rightfully disagrees with.

              • jastiger says:

                I think for people like Dan and Homme on this board, the conversation is not very productive for the very reasons we have been pointing out: We have all thought about it and have defined what we mean when we say agnostic or atheist. However, I don’t feel that I’m being dishonest with myself when I say that agnostics are ALSO atheists negative or positive or otherwise. My intent of the discussion was not to muck up the definitions of positive or negative atheism. My intent was to ensure that both are considered atheism and to say “I am not an atheist, I am an agnostic in an attempt to use, as Dan Reed put it, words with high emotional indexes and attempt to distance oneself from them. That is really what it is about, attempting to distance the negative atheist from the positive atheist, so dodging the connotation by using agnostic instead-which as we’ve discussed means the same damn thing.

                • Dan Reed says:

                  Yet again, more semantics, no ideas.

                  We have a definition of postive atheism, negative atheism, and agnosticism, which for the sake of this discussion let’s say = negative atheism.

                  Your original argument is that many agnostics act like they are so much better than atheists even though they are atheists, correct? Also that they are being dishonest with themselves when they attempt to distance themselves from positive atheism – even though they are negative atheists…aka agnostics?

                  I will ask again, what points of debate do Agnostics, or Negative atheists use the fact that they are Agnostic to skirt?

                  I am trying very hard to understand what are you trying to do here other than attempt to bash on Agnostics.

                  • jastiger says:

                    It isn’t necessarily that agnostics “act” better than atheists by claiming agnosticism or attempting to distance themselves from positive atheism. (Sidebar: I would posit that most atheists aren’t Positive Atheists. They are closer to 7-9 on the scale than a straight 10) It’s that agnostics frame the arguments on theism in a light that they are “undecided” and as such are not over in the atheist camp. So when there is the issue of say, morality, the agnostic can play both ends against the middle. Agnostic morality doesn’t come from a god, but it doesn’t preclude one either. Suddenly the agnostic is more “reasonable” and approachable from the theist perspective. Suddenly arguments can be framed in theistic terms and not be rejected outright because the agnostic isn’t an atheist. Obviously, this isn’t true, most agnostics will disagree with theistic terms and be just as against theist claims as the atheist. This is the point. They are atheists that are not willing to label themselves as such due to social stigma and perception. By labeling oneself an agnostic it is far more socially acceptable and establishes as third camp that is supposed to dwell in this no mans land between atheism and theism.

                    This is not the case. When your belief in god ends, your atheism begins.

                    • Dan Reed says:

                      Very well done – dancing around my question yet again.

                      I also enjoyed the last statement, quite catchy. “When your belief in god ends, your atheism begins.” Sounds like something that should be on a t-shirt you could sell here.

                      The only problem is, for many agnostics their belief in God has not ended, nor has it been affirmed – it has in effect been suspended indefinitely. For example, I know that there is a possibility that god exists, however I have no proof one way or the other, and until it can be proven to my satisfaction, I’m not going to sit in judgement of those that believe either way.

                      Let me say again, I am trying very hard to understand what are you trying to do here other than attempt to bash on Agnostics. You accuse agnostics of being agnostic because it is socially acceptable, but have you ever stopped to think for a moment that they are agnostic because they do not wish to judge without sufficient evidence?

                      This is going absolutely nowhere because you fail to grasp the concept of answering a simple question you should be able to answer if your ideas were defendable. The only thing you actually did was restate your position….

                      “It’s that agnostics frame the arguments on theism in a light that they are “undecided” and as such are not over in the atheist camp. So when there is the issue of say, morality, the agnostic can play both ends against the middle.” Examples? Also why the Frack would they have to be in the atheist camp, why not leaning toward the theist camp, or on another issue leaning heavily into the atheist camp. The fact is you’re trying to define shades of grey, and you don’t like that it is not all black and white, good vs evil, atheist vs theist.

                      It’s common sense to me that an agnostic would frame an argument on theism in a light that they are “Undecided” – because they ARE!! They’re not in the atheist camp who are completely decided nor are they in the theist camp who are completely decided. Agnostics such as myself withhold judgement until there is enough evidence to make the call. I have not seen any evidence to convince me that one way is better than the other. The fact that you are describing Agnostics correctly, but don’t LIKE them is obvious. To say we are “playing both ends against the middle” like some puppet masters in a cosmic God debate is laughable and reeks of paranoia.

                  • jastiger says:

                    **In response to your last post, can’t directly reply***

                    What makes you think atheists are necessarily decided? This is a fundamental misunderstanding of atheism. I am not “decided” that there is no god at all. I’m decided there is no Christian, Muslim, or Norse god. That’s certainly possible, but to deny the existence of any god ever is a pretty big stretch. Wouldn’t you say that this is your position, Dan? You’re undecided, you have not seen enough evidence to sway your belief in god nor are you absolutely convinced that there is not one.

                    Sounds like atheism to me. A non belief in theism. this isn’t an attempt to bash agnosticism, its an attempt to bring into light exactly how it is a misrepresentation to say “I am an agnostic, not an atheist”. By doing so you attempt to classify a whole group of people as something separate and apart from one self, as if it means something else. It does not, and as a proponent of atheism and the advancement of secular thinking, I find this extremely harmful for advancing that cause. Agnostics are atheists too, and to frame the conversation in such a way with people that wish to seriously debate the issue is intentionally clouding the water.

  6. Seantzizl says:

    I almost completely agree with you, although the reasons somebody claims to be agnostic is going to change case by case. Agnosticism is a cop out for incredibly weak theist or incredibly weak atheist. I once described myself as an agnostic before I put considerable thought into the matter, and it was never to take an intellectual high ground. I was just lazy, I knew religions were flawed but I didn’t care to really contemplate it.

    Being undecided is fine. That is completely understandable, especially if you are somebody who took the same road to atheism as I did. But claiming to be agnostic offers nothing to the argument. Being undecided by definition means you currently have not affirmed a belief, thus making you an atheist. There are no shades of gray – You either believe, or you don’t, and agnosticism is simply weak conviction of non-belief.

    Deism, I must say, should be classified as the absolute weakest possible form of theism, not a subset of atheism. While in practice, the deist world view and the atheist world view are compatible, a deist still positively asserts that at some point a superior being intervened to set the universe in motion. I don’t think there is much room for deism in todays world, and I highly suspect that deist of the past would have ultimately ended up as atheist if they had lived past the 20th century.

    • jastiger says:

      Good point on deism. However, the practice of such a belief as you lay it out truly straddles the line of theism and atheism in some modes of thought. If the divine being started the universe in some way shape or form, then you could be forced to admit that it had at least at some level something to do with our personal lives. But if we follow this to the logical conclusion that such a being no longer intervenes and “cares” for humanity then we are forced to an atheistic mode of thought. In the end the result is the same-there is no deity that interacts with souls or hands down morality via divine command. Thus I would place is in the atheistic category with a minor asterisks for that group that holds onto the personal touch that may or may not have ever existed even within the belief structure.

  7. Mike says:

    Jason, the “ton” of evidence against the existence of God, is only for those who do not reason correctly. It’s not meant to impunge your character, just an outside observation. I was once in your position, but when I began looking into ALL sides of the issue, the evidence against was more spurious than I thought.

  8. David says:

    Why does all this matter anyway? If the theists are right, you guys missed your chance and there’s nothing anyone can do about it. If the atheists are right, it won’t matter at all because life will just end. Why not just let people believe what they want to believe?

    • jastiger says:

      If you check back into some of the history of this blog you’ll have your answer. To put it shortly, because allowing people to believe anything they want, and then allowing them to educate your children, elect your politicians, or shape public policy is very dangerous and harmful.

      • Dan Reed says:

        “If you check back into some of the history of this blog you’ll have your answer. To put it shortly, because allowing people to believe anything they want, and then allowing them to educate your children, elect your politicians, or shape public policy is very dangerous and harmful.”

        I would just like to point out that this is Jason’s militaristic and hawkish opinion. Not all atheists and agnostics believe this statement.

        Letting people believe what they want to believe is freedom of religion. My perception of what Jason and many other atheists believes is that seperation of church and state is a very good thing – and I tend to agree for the most part – to a point. He seems to be completely against the freedom of religion as he is unwilling to let people believe what they want to believe. This is why I call him and those like him militaristic atheists. Their goal appears to be not to educate, but to eliminate the freedom of religion, leaving only secular opinions as part of the political process, opinions very much like his. Or he may just confuse the separation of church and state issue with the freedom of religion. Who knows.

        • jastiger says:

          Well I don’t want to equivocate on “letting people believe what they want”. If you want to worship Jesus or Krishna or whatever, that is fine. However, the moment you allow your belief in the supernatural to dictate your vote and the way you wish to set up policy, then we have a problem. A great example is the recent Iowa ousting of the judges. That was a vote based on fear, misunderstanding of Constitutional law, and religious indoctrination. If everyone had thrown out their Jesus speak and looked at the ruling in a secular manner, we would have more freedom and justice in our state. Same goes for Prop 8 in California. Only ignorance, which stems from such religious belief, can be responsible for circumventing the Constitution on important issues.

          So yes, believe what you want, just keep it out of the public sector. If that is impossible to do, then we should encourage, not force, secular beliefs and discourage theistic ones.

          • Dan Reed says:

            You’re right, I can’t argue with that opinion, because you’re absolutely right.

            I don’t think it is possible for everyone to leave their religious beliefs out of their political opinions. I think theists tend to want to force their morals on everyone else. I think I finally see where you are coming from Jason. Ignorance is the enemy of progress.

            I am all for the separation of church and state, as long as it never goes near interfering with the freedom of religion. Discouraging theistic political beliefs is a good thing, but I think completely discouraging someone’s personal religious beliefs is wrong – and you agree that they have a right to believe what they wish. However as I said it is impossible to keep personal religious beliefs out of political opinions. How do we as atheists and agnostics discourage theistic political beliefs without discouraging personal religious beliefs? Is this a problem that can be solved?

            • jastiger says:

              Encourage education. Disparage religoius ideology and dogmatism as being intellectually bankrupt. Post blogs and discussions abotu the topic and bring it to as many people as possible.

              In essence-be militant:)

              I firmly believe that an education based on the scientific method and the application of rational thought has an inevitable end result in atheism and skepticism. There should be no NEED to force people to not be religious, but there is a need to force irrationality OUT of the picture. That is where the issue is.

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