Am I Agnostic or Atheist?

This article was copied from the Rational Response Squad website from an article.  I did not write it but thought I could reach a person or two that was curious and who would not likely go to the RRS site.  Click this link to be taken to the page, which contains more information.

Am I agnostic or atheist?

A good deal of people consider themselves to be ‘agnostics’. By this they mean to identify themselves as doubters on the question of a ‘god’s’ existence. They usually hold to this position of doubt because reason compels them to doubt the existence of any ‘god’, yet they resist calling themselves atheists because they also want to hold to their disbelief tentatively. Their expressed reason for this is clear: while their reason leads them to doubt the claims of theism, reason also demands that they keep an open mind on the question of ‘god’. If you are one such person then it might interest you to know that your doubt actually makes you an atheist, not an agnostic. Why is this so? Because the word ‘theism’ simply implies a belief in a god. Therefore, if you find yourself identifying yourself primarily as a doubter of the existence of a ‘god’, then you are an a-theist… someone who does not hold to a belief in a ‘god’, someone who does not accept the claims of theists. That’s all the term means – a position of non acceptance, a position of non belief.

It is the fallback position, the position one holds to when a claim is unsupported or unproven. Yet, you might feel that the word ‘atheist’ still implies more than what you actually hold to. A common response to hearing that one is an ‘atheist’ is to say: “But I don’t disbelieve, I just don’t believe!” But take a look at those words carefully: if you literally “don’t disbelieve” – then, by double negation, you’d believe! Not disbelieving is believing. But you are not identifying yourself as a theist with doubts, right? You’re identifying yourself as a doubter… period. That is atheism.

But you still seek some sort of middle ground, right? Something between theism and rejection of theism. Well relax, because the atheism IS your middle ground. “A-theism”‘ implies everything that a rational doubter means when he declares himself an ‘agnostic’, for while it’s a common misperception that atheism implies a denial or rejection or active disbelief in the very possibility of a god, this is not so. In fact, we require a special term for those those who hold to such beliefs: “Strong Atheism”. The rest of us doubters simply don’t hold the belief… we’re all atheists, whether we are doubters or outright rejectors of theism. So the missing ‘middle ground’ that you are looking for, rational tentativeness, is already included within the term ‘atheism’.

So what does the word “agnostic” actually mean and how ought we use it? Notice the ‘a’ in front. ‘Agnosticism’ is a position counter to gnosticism. And what is gnosticism? It’s the belief that a human being can possess knowledge about a god. It’s an epistemological (link contains the definition of the word) term – about the possibility of knowledge in regard to ‘god’ claims – and not a statement about matters of belief. ‘Agnostics’ hold to the epistemological position that human beings can’t actually know anything about something beyond nature, something theists call ‘supernatural’. So they believe that there’s no way for a human to know anything about a ‘god’. But there are many theists who agree!

Theists can be be agnostics! In fact, many theists say that they hold to their god belief on faith because they agree that we humans can’t know things about the supernatural, or ‘god’. Some very famous theologians have agreed that man is limited and that this means that man cannot have ‘god knowledge”. The list of theologians would include people like Martin Luther or Soren Kierkegaard. So when one says that they are an ‘agnostic’ and they mean a ‘doubter’, they are really saying that they are agnostic atheists. So if you find that this describes your own ‘agnosticism’, welcome to atheism!

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~ by aeroslin on November 9, 2008.

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