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Atheist or Agnostic?

Aug 23 2004
Atheist or Agnostic?

Hello Alex,

I thought I'd take a run at your 'atheist vs. agnostic' discussion. As in many situations, getting the definitions straight up front always helps.

If an atheist is defined as anyone who says there are no supernatural beings, i.e. 'god(s)', then I do think you run into a problem. Since by definiton all beliefs are basically matters of opinion, then from a rational perspective you cannot accept the absence of a deity as absolute (I think I've seen this referred to as the 'strong atheist' position). You have 'faith' in the idea that there is nothing other than what we can empirically demonstrate in our shared reality (limited by what one knows to be true - see below). The best you could do is state that since you can't prove the existence or non-existence of 'god(s)', then at best you're agnostic. This holds true for all 'undecided', who just don't know what they believe.

If you take the 'strong atheist' stance, then I think you have to take the scientific approach and support the THEORY of NO GOD, based on the lack of data supporting supernatural intervention, and the scienitifc data from multiple disciplines that provides rational explanations for natural phenomena. By this definition, you can really only logically be an atheist IF you know enough to understand the alternative explanations.

P.S. Perhaps this is an aspect for the educational system. I don't see how any rational human can accept the presence of a personal god (I'll allow for a rational person to have a belief in some 'force' that has yet to be fully explained {this allows for a more peaceful home!}) IF they have a solid understanding of what has been discovered through scientific inquiry.

Aug 23 2004
Atheist or Agnostic?

Atheist or Agnostic?

That is the question confronting many humanists. My journey from agnosticism to atheism was more definitional than theological. I once felt that a religious person knew there was a God, an atheist knew there was no God, but an agnostic knew there was inconclusive proof for either position. Certainly agnosticism seemed less offensive and more defensible.

Though I remained comfortable for many years extolling my ignorance, this position raised some questions for me. Was I then also an agnostic with respect to Santa Claus, the Easter Bunny, and the Tooth Fairy? I did not want to be part of the same "denomination" of nonbelievers that thought it as likely as not that God (or the tooth fairy) existed. I felt like an atheist trapped in an agnostic's body.

Since I believed beyond reasonable doubt that there is no God, and was beginning to think of agnostics as no more than gutless atheists, I quietly converted from agnosticism to atheism. I still felt a bit uncomfortable defending my new appellation, because I couldn't prove God's nonexistence. Reading more about atheism, I learned that a-theism (without theism) simply means "without a belief in a God or gods." This is not my invention. Current and ancient atheist literature seems to accept this definition.

In 1770, Baron D'Holbach of Germany wrote the first openly atheistic book, The System of Nature. He wrote under various pseudonyms, since publishing such heresy was then punishable by death. Atheism to him meant an absence of belief rather than the more restrictive denial of a godly existence, as can be seen from his comment in Good Sense (1772): "All children are atheists, they have no idea of God."

However much fun it might be, this War of Words can create artificial barriers among us. I hope we can all encourage and support those with no theistic beliefs to openly and proudly proclaim our stance, to pledge our best efforts to increase public awareness and acceptance of the respectability of our position, and to protect that position in society. Atheist, Humanist, Secular Humanist, Freethinker, Agnostic, Infidel, Rationalist. Who cares? Let's stop sparring over words and remember what we have in common. We all disbelieve in the same gods! So let's be fruitful and multiply our community of reason.

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