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Agnostic Atheism

When talking to people about atheism I often find them confused about what atheism actually is. All the people I know that call themselves atheists do not claim to know for certain that there is no God, but some seem to argue that due to this uncertainty these people are not atheists but rather agnostics. This diagram should help to clear up the confusion:

agnostic-diagram2

I originally found this diagram here: http://www.noforbiddenquestions.com/2010/10/defining-agnosticism/

Let me know what you guys think and where you might fall on the diagram!

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About Ellen Rose

Blogger curious about how travel helps us to lead more meaningful lives.

23 responses »

  1. There is a position not covered on this diagram. I’ll admit it’s tidy and easy on the eye, but I’m an atheist and I know that I have no reason to believe in gods because there has never been credible evidence for them. That is to say that there is no credible reason to even wonder if gods exist… the existence of a god shouldn’t even be a question without evidence.

    I can’t be absolutely certain there is no gods but I also can’t be certin that there are no invisible pink unicorns or invisible fire breathing dragons.

    I am certain there has never been credible evidence for the existence of a god and likewise am certain that the question is one born of ignorance foisted upon society through childhood indoctrination. Without credible evidence the statement “I believe in god” should bring the same reaction as “I believe horses speak english when nobody is listening to them” does.

    Reply
    • criticofchristianity

      Of course no diagram will ever be able to encompass the diversity of human belief and non-belief. I agree with you – there is no reason to believe in god and I don’t think there is any reason to wonder whether gods exist apart from the fact that so many people believe that they do and this may spark curiosity. I hold that the burden proof is on the believer. As Sagan said: “Extraordinary claims require extraordinary evidence.” Seeing as I have not seen any such evidence, I have no reason to believe that God does and so I call myself an atheist. But as you say, there can’t ever be absolute certainty that God does not exist, just like pink unicorns and fire breathing dragons. My point is that just because there cannot be 100% certainty does not mean that I’m an agnostic as people like Ray Comfort have claimed. Atheism does not entail absolute certainty because it’s a spectrum rather than an absolute.

      Reply
  2. Ignostic Atheist

    I used to be big on charts like these; they bring up happy memories of Punnett squares and genetics. But lately I’ve moved to a trinary system that I believe explains the situation more accurately. To quote a pair of comments I left on another blog:

    “… the thesis, antithesis, and null belief. I came to this conclusion because, if you think of atheism as including all that is not theism, it must include both non-belief and anti-theism. If anti-theism is the positive belief in no god, then it also must have a negative in ananti-theism, the lack of belief that there is no god. Then consider the fact that theism can only exist in an environment of ananti-theism, and anti-theism can only exist in an environment of atheism – the two systems mutually rely upon each other, indicating that the underlying belief is the same. If you do a logical AND on the two “a-” beliefs, you end up with a three part system.”

    “Let’s call theism the belief that a god exists: B(G). There are two options from here in terms of negation. Either atheism is the belief that no god exists: B(-G), or the lack of belief that a god exists: -B(G). (…) I choose to believe that atheism is the literal translation, -B(G), and then I show you that if you consider the positive binary belief that there is no god, B(NG), and its compatriot -B(NG), you can conclude that B(NG) = B(-G), resulting in a trinary system instead of binary.”

    In other words, I feel that looking at theism as a system of binary belief (theism and atheism, B(G) and -B(G) ), logically leads to it being best described as a trinary system.

    Reply
    • criticofchristianity

      I’m not sure I fully understand your comment. This is certainly because of my lack of ability and experience in understanding logic jargon and ideas, and not any fault on your part. I’m not entirely sure that atheism necessarily includes anti-theism. I think an entirely different diagram would be required to reflect the differing levels of anti-theism among atheists and agnostics.

      Of course I do not think that this single diagram can encompass all aspects of belief about God. I have just found this diagram helps in understanding the differing levels of certainty people have about the existence and nonexistence about God.

      Thank you for commenting!

      Reply
      • Ignostic Atheist

        I’ll see if I can phrase it better; it’s still new even for me, and my thoughts aren’t well organized.

        There are a few ways to look at the nature of belief. For most, the binary systems are what they go with: where theism is always belief in god, but atheism is either the lack of belief, or it is the belief in no god. I would always go with atheism meaning the lack of belief in a god, because coupled with theism, the two cover all possible positions on god belief. In this scenario, all positive beliefs (belief in something), are countered by their negative (lacking belief in that something).

        So, atheism being the lack of belief in a god, there would be people within atheism who actively believe there is no god. These are the anti-theists. This is also a positive belief, and as such requires a negative counterpart. I call this ananti-theism, which is a mouthful which means a lack of belief in the nonexistence of god.

        The key to understanding how the binary system becomes trinary lies in the relationship of the negative beliefs to the opposing positive beliefs. An anti-theist is necessarily an atheist, always. A theist is necessarily an ananti-theist. One sides positive belief is always within the purview of the other sides negative. The concept covered by theism and anti-theism is, therefore, the same, and if you consider atheism to be lack of god belief, then it still fills in the neutral space in between those two positive beliefs about god. The results of this is the trinary belief of theism – atheism – anti-theism.

        Concerning agnosticism, I have a post with my thoughts at http://ignosticatheist.wordpress.com/2013/12/10/a-new-look-at-agnosticism/ It would take up too much to explain here. Suffice it to say, I think agnosticism has a much deeper meaning than simply, “Willingness to admit a lack of knowledge.”

        Ignosticism, which I notice is brought up below, is not so much the claim that god can’t be understood, but the idea that incoherent, unfalsifiable concepts shouldn’t be entertained. If someone presents a concrete example of their god, that is fair game, but those who describe him as infinite, invisible, emotionally warm and fuzzy… aren’t adding anything to the conversation. Also, I don’t include ignosticism on the line between gnosticism and agnosticism. Its meaning and spelling is a portmanteau of ignorance and the popular cultural definition of agnosticism, and isn’t sourced to greek or latin roots.

        I hope I did better this time.

      • criticofchristianity

        Ah yes, I understand better now. Although I always thought of anti-theism as someone who not only lacks a belief in God, but actively opposes belief in God because they view belief in God as harmful to society and individuals. I call myself an anti-theist, and this is what I mean by it, not that I have a positive belief that there is no God.

        I’ll have a look at your agnosticism post. Sounds interesting.

        Ignosticism also makes more sense now. I’ve recently been reading A.C Grayling’s “The God Argument” and he makes a point that if no possible evidence or argument could show that God is nonexistent than the idea of God is more or less meaningless. Is that the sort of thing ignostics claim?

      • Ignostic Atheist

        I actually just came across someone else who also defines anti-theism that way – let’s call it Hitchens’ anti-theism. And it’s true, that is a valid interpretation of it; anti-theism can refer to either opposition to the belief, or the opposite belief.

        I’m not sure how I can resolve that either, because while lots of people can recognize the detrimental effects of theism, I doubt many of them can assert that there is no god. Perhaps I can argue that not all aspects of theism require opposition? After all, find me a deist whose belief is destructive and I’ll eat my shorts. But then again, proving all possible gods nonexistent is also a fool’s errand.

        Yes, that is the kind of thing ignostics claim. Plus, a lot of people will claim he is incomprehensible, and then immediately tell you all about him. Infuriating, I tell you. I use it as a mental reminder that I need to ask people to define what it is they’re talking about before we get too far in discussion, because one person’s god is rarely the next’s.

      • criticofchristianity

        I think it true that not all aspects or versions of theism require opposition. As for myself, I am most strongly in opposition to the Ambrahamic monotheisms, particularly Christianity because of the effects it’s had on my own life.

        I also agree that proving all possible gods non-existent is impossible, but I think we can have be pretty sure that the God of the Bible or the Quran do not exist. Although there are so many different interpretations of those texts and inconsistencies within them. I suppose that’s why the idea of god differs from person to person. I feel like definitions can often be a waste of time that get us nowhere and simply distract from the debate but it is very difficult to get anywhere without them.

      • Ignostic Atheist

        It’s always better to argue over the definitions than to argue over a topic and then discover hours later that neither of you had any idea what the other was trying to say, even though you were using the same words. Like if “chair” to you means a four legged seat with a backrest, but to your partner it means a bear trap with a foot rest. Could be disastrous.

      • criticofchristianity

        Good point!

  3. I find that almost everyone gets this wrong, including you. Atheism is merely non-belief in god. Agnosticism addresses a different question: can god be understood and defined? In my opinion, I feel that agnostics take thing further than an atheist, bringing in epistemology into the discussion. Finally, ignostics, which are ignored by everyone, make the claim that god cannot be understood and therefore is irrelevant.

    That diagram is flawed and, unfortunately, perpetuates this divide.

    Reply
    • criticofchristianity

      I sincerely apologise if I am wrong and perpetuating a divide. That was not at all my intention. I’m simply trying to learn and understand better and this diagram has helped me in that. I’m not claiming that it’s flawless or that it encompasses all areas of belief about God.

      However, I’m not sure that what you’ve said is necessarily inconsistent with this diagram. You’re right, gnosticism and agnosticism are about epistemology. The gnostic claims that they can and do have knowledge and the agnostic claims the opposite. This diagram shows the relationship between atheism/theism and agnosticism/gnosticism.

      I think maybe we’re disagreeing about what atheism is: whether it’s the lack of belief in god or the position that no god exists. Perhaps the diagram helps with this. I consider myself to be an atheist in the sense that I have a lack of belief in God. However, I do not claim to have absolute knowledge that no God exists and so my epistemological position is agnostic. A person who claims that to know that no God exists may be more of a gnostic atheist.

      I like the diagram because it shows that not all people that call themselves atheist or theist have the same certainty in their beliefs about God. It’s not a matter of 100% belief in one thing or another, but rather there are a wide range of views.

      I had never heard go ignostics before.I suppose that’s probably because they would not contribute as much to the debates about God if they do not think the question about God can get anywhere. Maybe they’re right.

      Thank you for commenting!

      Reply
      • I hope I didn’t offend you. I understand now what you mean. It’s just when I first saw this 2×2 diagram a few weeks ago, I was a little uneasy because it simplifies the definitions so much that it links them together.

        One thing I forgot to mention that gives your argument about atheism more credit is that the definition of atheism makes no claims about the atheist’s positive claims. In this sense, it is in keeping with its definition if an atheist says “there is no god.” This is outside of the scope of its definition, and can definitely fall into one of the squares on the diagram.

        You should read up on ignosticism. I find that a lot of atheists agree that the concept of god as defined by religion makes it impossible to verify and therefore outside the scope of society, science, public policy, and debate.

      • criticofchristianity

        Thanks Rayanzehn. It sounds interesting and definitely something I need to learn more about. Will read up!

  4. The Objectivist position on the question of “god(s)” depends on what one means by “god.” If by “god” one simply means a very powerful creature that has a specific nature and acts in a pre-existing reality, then the position is like that of “myatheistlife” above. In Objectivist terms, the claim of such a god is neither true nor false, but arbitrary.

    If, on the other hand, one means by “god” the traditional Christian description of an “infinite, omnipotent, omniscient creator of the universe,” then to say this creature exists is false. This is because such a creature would contradict things that we know to be true; namely, the axioms of Objectivism: Existence exists and The Law of Identity.

    An actual infinity of entities/matter/substance cannot exist, because “infinity” does not mean “very large,” but “greater than any definite (actual) quantity.” So an “actual infinity” would be an “actual quantity greater than any actual quantity”–a contradiction.

    “Infinity” can only be treated as a potential; that is, as synonymous with “unbounded by any specific quantity” or “able to increase or be subdivided without limit.”

    Reply
    • Just wanted to add: To say that anything at all “created the universe” is a self-contradiction. The universe is, by philosophical definition, all that exists. So, if something existed to “create the universe,” it was itself a part of the universe, and so did not create the universe. Something has always existed.

      Reply
      • criticofchristianity

        Really interesting comment SoA!! How would the existence of such a god contradict the Law of Identity? And what do you mean by ‘existence exists’?

        I had never thought about infinity that way, would it still make sense to say that the universe is infinite though?

        How would ideas about the multiverse and parallel universes fit in to the idea that the universe is comprised of everything?

        Thank you for your comments

      • How would the existence of such a god contradict the Law of Identity?

        Well, as I explained, any entity that’s described as actually “infinite” is a self-contradiction. The person talking about such a thing is basically talking nonsense about a thing with a quantity that is bigger than any quantity.

        And what do you mean by ‘existence exists’?

        It is one of the three most fundamental axioms that must be accepted for any knowledge to be possible. It serves as protection against the irrational practice of trying to make something not exist by not looking at it, or not thinking about it. Beyond this it is probably best answered by reading this post of mine: The Axioms of Objectivism.

        I had never thought about infinity that way, would it still make sense to say that the universe is infinite though?

        No, the universe cannot be said to be actually infinite. It is finite and always will be. The universe can, without contradiction, be said to be “spacially infinite,” in the sense that there is no boundary to its potential expansion. But the universe actually consists of the entities that exist, not space. Space is merely a set of relationships among entities.

        How would ideas about the multiverse and parallel universes fit in to the idea that the universe is comprised of everything?

        Strictly speaking, they wouldn’t. The philosophical concept of the “universe” means “all that exists,” so there can be only one universe. Now this is not to say that cosmological science couldn’t discover that what we can see by conventional, electromagnetic and gravitational means is not all there is. What we see in these ways may be only one “bubble” in a larger structure. But the proper concept for other “bubbles” would not be “universes,” but something else, like “subverses.”

        Any theory that is proposed as a genuinely physical theory–as a theory of the way things actually are–must ultimately fit the human perception of the world. It must relate the definite entities that it posits to our perceptual experience of the world. Free-floating “mathematical constructs” that are held to have no physical place or three-dimensional spacial extent don’t constitute a physical theory. (I’m looking at you, “11-dimensional” string theory! 😉 )

      • criticofchristianity

        Wow, my brain is hurting now, haha!

        Thank you for taking the time to answer my questions. Very interesting, I’m sure I’ll learn more about this kind of thing as a continue my studies in philosophy. Looking forward to it!

  5. TheRebelsAdvocate

    Hmmmm….. I considered myself an agnostic, but perhaps I should rethink my title after reading this and some of the comments. Maybe I am indeed an atheist, but making that jump is difficult for me, and I’m not really sure why, but most likely because of the religion that was pounded into me from birth to adulthood. It was not an easy thing to escape, and I have been taking baby steps in the right direction (hopefully) ever since.
    http://therebelsadvocate.com/

    Reply
    • criticofchristianity

      It’s been pounded into me my whole life as well. I only stopped believing about 3 years ago. It was really difficult for me to escape too, especially because most of my family and friends were Christians. Becoming an atheist wasn’t just losing my belief in
      God but it was a complete transformation of my way of thinking. It was a very long process.

      Anyway, I don’t think there’s anything necessarily wrong with being agnostic. I just want people to think critically about what they believe.

      Reply
      • TheRebelsAdvocate

        I know exactly what you’re saying. I have been pondering this since I last commented, and was ready to reply, but in doing so I think I may have stumbled upon an idea for my next post on my own blog. If so I owe you the credit for getting me to thinking along these lines. I hope to have it posted in a day or so, but it’s a little hectic around here what with celebrating Jesus’ birth and all haha.
        http://therebelsadvocate.com/

  6. I have offered a reflection too long to post here on my own blog : blindfaithblindfolly.wordpress.com

    Reply

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