Advanced search


(29 Posts)
TheSarcasticFringehead Sun 08-Jun-14 22:39:21

Been thinking about this a while, now. I call myself an atheist, I have been an atheist since I was a teen although brought up Jewish. But thinking about it a lot, I feel like I should call myself an agnostic. I can't disprove the existence of God/gods, although I feel I've got a lot of evidence for why I wouldn't worship God/gods anyway. Any thoughts?

TheSarcasticFringehead Sun 08-Jun-14 22:39:39

Do you call yourself an atheist or agnostic and why?

CoteDAzur Sun 08-Jun-14 22:42:40

I don't think you need to prove the existence of God to be a disbeliever. The onus of proof is on the ones making the claim.

Agnostic says "I don't know"

Atheist says "I don't believe your stories"

CoteDAzur Sun 08-Jun-14 22:43:45

Sorry, I meant you don't have to prove that God doesn't exist...", obviously.

CorusKate Sun 08-Jun-14 23:52:33

Message withdrawn at poster's request.

MarriedDadOneSonOneDaughter Mon 09-Jun-14 07:49:27

Agnostic is a general claim, atheism is a specific claim and a subset of agnosticism.

I prefer to think of "atheist" a "living without god" - that is based more on the actual meaning a - theist. It's less to do with actively believing there is no go, more to do with living without one (despite what wiki tells you).

I would then add "hard atheist" - believing there is no god, as well as living that way and "evangelical atheist" - trying to convince other people to share that belief, famously Richard Dawkins.

Agnosticism is a much wider point that just belief in god. It's about belief in anything and realising that your starting position is a gnostic, i.e. "without knowledge". It means you will want to question everything before making a personal decision that you "know" something.

MarriedDadOneSonOneDaughter Mon 09-Jun-14 07:50:21

... sorry for all the typos ...

CoteDAzur Mon 09-Jun-14 09:20:45

That last paragraph applies to atheists, as well.

The difference between an agnostic and an an atheist is that the agnostic doesn't know one way or alter other and the atheist doesn't believe the God story.

Only a minority subset of all atheists say God doesn't exist.

MarriedDadOneSonOneDaughter Mon 09-Jun-14 09:38:04

Yes. Atheism is a sub set of agnosticism and "hard" atheists are a sub set of both.

I maintain that atheism is as much, if not more, about living without god as it might be about not believing. For example in a world without religion I am still an atheist. I think I need a better example though.

OneEggIsAnOeuf Mon 09-Jun-14 10:57:30

The way i have always understood it is that atheism is simply the absence of a belief in god or gods (nothing to do with denying or believing, just the absence of a belief).

Agnosticism is also not about belief, but is about knowledge - one who holds that the existence of anything beyond and behind material phenomena is unknown and (so far as can be judged) unknowable (oed).

So, an atheist may also be agnostic, and an agnostic may also be a theist or an atheist. Does that clear it up smile?

I do get quite cross when people refer to atheism as just another belief when it is the complete opposite of that - it seems to be a wilful misunderstanding in an attempt to put it on the same footing as faith. On the other hand, i have also been accused by other sceptics of not being an atheist as i have other beliefs (even though i have none in any god or gods), which is also an incorrect interpretation of atheism.

I don't really worry too much about the labels any more, because if you do label yourself people tend to make a lot of other assumptions about you based on that. There was a thread a while back for atheists to define themselves in 10 words or less - i couldn't do it!

MarriedDadOneSonOneDaughter Mon 09-Jun-14 11:18:17


"Agnosticism is also not about belief, but is about knowledge"

"agnostic may also be a theist"

I think this position is possible, but most agnostics I know are that way because they are also sceptics and have heightened sensitivity to sceptisism because of the existence of theism and other claims of supernatural activity in wider society.

In my view it is not possible to be a "true sceptical agnostic" AND a theist. The only way to be an agnostic theist is to be less than thorough and complete with application of sceptical methods, scientific method and, ultimately, materialism.

However, having referred to a whole load of labels, boxes and categories, I also hate over-categorisation. It's only useful as a tool to evangelise a philosophy where consensus is an advantage and a flag flying allows the same unity of thought that churches have.

OneEggIsAnOeuf Mon 09-Jun-14 13:51:08

Not all agnostics are true sceptics though.

An agnostic atheist will say 'i don't believe in god, but we can't know for sure'. An agnostic theist will say 'i do believe in god but we can't know for sure'. It isn't necessarily borne out of an active rational thinking-based scepticism, just an acceptance that there is no proof.

MarriedDadOneSonOneDaughter Mon 09-Jun-14 14:23:40

Agreed. Agnostic theists exist.

BackOnlyBriefly Thu 12-Jun-14 18:58:35

Bit late, but as others have said the words Atheist and Agnostic are slippery. I call myself an Atheist and not an Agnostic because some people think Agnostic means "err I dunno what I think really...." and because I used to debate on here with someone who said they were Agnostic yet believed in god. They were just unsure of the details.

Professor Dawkins described 7 main positions.

1. Strong theist. 100 per cent probability of God. In the words of C.G. Jung: "I do not believe, I know."

2. De facto theist. Very high probability but short of 100 per cent. "I don't know for certain, but I strongly believe in God and live my life on the assumption that he is there."

3. Leaning towards theism. Higher than 50 per cent but not very high. "I am very uncertain, but I am inclined to believe in God."

4. Completely impartial. Exactly 50 per cent. "God's existence and non-existence are exactly equiprobable."

5. Leaning towards atheism. Lower than 50 per cent but not very low. "I do not know whether God exists but I'm inclined to be skeptical."

6. De facto atheist. Very low probability, but short of zero. "I don't know for certain but I think God is very improbable, and I live my life on the assumption that he is not there."

7. Strong atheist. "I know there is no God, with the same conviction as Jung knows there is one."

Professor Dawkins described himself as a 6, not a 7. So he doesn't believe there is no god as people often assume.

That's my position too. Atheist, but I don't claim to rule out the chance that some god of some kind might exist. Especially if we're talking about a god who made the universe and then went away. How would we know?

CorusKate Thu 12-Jun-14 19:01:37

Message withdrawn at poster's request.

CoteDAzur Thu 12-Jun-14 20:35:03

I haven't read anything by Dawkins but that classification is a bit nonsense.

There is no way anyone can assign probability to God's existence or non-existence. None whatsoever.

To know probability of an outcome, you must have a track record of past outcomes - i.e. "We know about 100 universes, and 28 of them were created by a deity while 72 happened on their own by chance, so the probability of a new universe having a creator is 28%.

Or you make a perfect die (equal weight distribution, perfect cube, etc) and since you know there are 6 equal sides, you can then say any number occurring is 1/6 before casting the die at all.

With neither of these conditions satisfied, there is absolutely no way of assigning probability to the two possible outcomes of the question "Has our universe been created by a God?".

myusernameis Thu 12-Jun-14 20:49:33

I always thought that being an atheist meant you were certain in your disbelief of god - so a 7 using the classification above.

As I cannot be absolutely certain god doesn't exist I consider myself an agnostic.

CoteDAzur Thu 12-Jun-14 21:06:47

I am certain in my disbelief. I see no proof for the God story and the whole thing about how people are expected to live lest He condemns us to eternal torture makes no sense.

What I can't say is that the universe doesn't have a creator.

I am certain in my disbelief of Isis, Osiris, etc as well. There is no proof for their existence and the whole story involving them makes no sense. And yet I can't say without reasonable doubt that there are no Gods of different stuff with animal heads and human bodies, either.


BackOnlyBriefly Thu 12-Jun-14 21:55:15

Well I don't know who worked out the 7 options originally. Dawkins repeated them and said he was a 6 because people were always claiming that he had a belief that god didn't exist and therefore was just like them.

To my mind all the positions other then 6 are daft, but it is true that there are people who occupy them.

BackOnlyBriefly Thu 12-Jun-14 22:01:13

myusernameis I am certain that I don't believe in god, but that's not quite the same as saying I can be absolutely certain that there isn't some kind of god somewhere. So the only sensible position is 6.

I can however say that certain god's don't exist. If someone tells me for example that their god protects the innocent then I can look around at the world and say "Nope. No such god. You made that one up".
The god that made the world a few thousand years ago is clearly fictional because we know that didn't happen.

CoteDAzur Thu 12-Jun-14 22:01:44

Well, he can't even use the word "improbable" as there is no way he or anyone else can assign probability to a singular event like the beginning of our universe.

CoteDAzur Thu 12-Jun-14 22:03:46

"The god that made the world a few thousand years ago is clearly fictional because we know that didn't happen."

The faithful have an answer to that - God created the earth a few thousand years ago, and it was the devil who put the million-year-old fossils in it to make people doubt God's word grin

deepbluetr Fri 13-Jun-14 07:16:21

Cote- completely. My family all believe this. I have read that Satan inhabits radio carbon dating machines too, and falsifies results, preying on those poor hapless scientists.

MarriedDadOneSonOneDaughter Fri 13-Jun-14 08:00:47

Whilst I admire a lot of Dawkins work and opinions (especially his Blind Watchmaker and Selfish Gene books), I still think a more linguistical root meaning is preferable. As well said here, you can't measure the probability of god's existence and making estimates of it is not meaningful.

Atheism is living your life without reference to the supernatural
Theism is living your life with reference to the supernatural

The amount you believe in god is irrelevant to this definition. You can believe that there might be the possibility of a philosophical or empirical proof of god in the future but still live your life entirely without reference to god and remain a "pure" atheist.

deepbluetr Fri 13-Jun-14 08:04:21

"Atheism is living your life without reference to the supernatural"

I don't agree with this, atheism is living your life without belief in a deity, which is part of supernatural beliefs.
However it is possible to be an atheist and still hold other supernatural beliefs.

Join the discussion

Join the discussion

Registering is free, easy, and means you can join in the discussion, get discounts, win prizes and lots more.

Register now