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PostPosted: Wed Apr 01, 2009 10:03 am  Is there a difference between atheists and agnostics? Reply with quote

An interviewer said to Richard Dawkins, "In your book, it says 'God almost certainly doesn't exist'. You're leaving open the possibility that he does?" To which Dawkins replied, "Of course, as any scientist would. You can't absolutely disprove anything."

A long this train of thought, what is the difference between atheism and agnosticism. I have long considered myself an agnostic. If someone were to ask me what I actually believe in regards to a God I would respond, "All of the evidence seems to indicate there probably is no god, at least certainly not in the sense of one depicted by any major organized religion."

So how exactly are these different? Isn't all that really matters, as far as distinctions go, is whether or not you believe in an organized religion?
Post BBCode URL - Right click and save to clipboard to use later in post Post 11: Thu Aug 18, 2011 1:40 pm
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ThatGirlAgain wrote:
Angel wrote:
Q,

I think we have adequate explanation for the difference between agnosticism and atheism. We also know that agnosticism and atheism can be joined together as one position and so can agnosticism and theism (agnostic atheist or agnostic theist). What's not covered is someone who is only an agnostic when it comes to the issue of God's existence. I fit that, you fit that based on your usergroup descriptions, and I've seen others on this forum as well.

The whole theist/agnostic/atheist spectrum thing strikes me as not all that informative. Intellectually I have come to the conclusion that the existence of a creator deity is an unanswerable question. Nonetheless there are days I still suspect that there needs to be some originating principle beyond the merely physical. And some days I do not. What am I really?


Undecided due to the lack of information. I don't know what people mean by 'outside the physical', except when it comes to man made concepts.

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Post BBCode URL - Right click and save to clipboard to use later in post Post 12: Thu Aug 18, 2011 8:40 pm
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Goat wrote:
ThatGirlAgain wrote:
The whole theist/agnostic/atheist spectrum thing strikes me as not all that informative. Intellectually I have come to the conclusion that the existence of a creator deity is an unanswerable question. Nonetheless there are days I still suspect that there needs to be some originating principle beyond the merely physical. And some days I do not. What am I really?


Undecided due to the lack of information. I don't know what people mean by 'outside the physical', except when it comes to man made concepts.

No, not undecided. After looking at the question in depth and from several angles, it seems to me that the question cannot be answered, not that I or anyone else does not or cannot know the answer. There is no Yes or No answer. But that is way beyond anything I want to try explaining at the moment.

What I mean by "beyond the merely physical" is the reasons for existence itself and for the orderliness of existing things. If any reasons exist. Like I said some days it seems one way, other days it seems the other way. But regardless, religion has no divine backing.

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Post BBCode URL - Right click and save to clipboard to use later in post Post 13: Thu Aug 18, 2011 8:46 pm
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ThatGirlAgain wrote:
Angel wrote:
Q,

I think we have adequate explanation for the difference between agnosticism and atheism. We also know that agnosticism and atheism can be joined together as one position and so can agnosticism and theism (agnostic atheist or agnostic theist). What's not covered is someone who is only an agnostic when it comes to the issue of God's existence. I fit that, you fit that based on your usergroup descriptions, and I've seen others on this forum as well.

The whole theist/agnostic/atheist spectrum thing strikes me as not all that informative. Intellectually I have come to the conclusion that the existence of a creator deity is an unanswerable question. Nonetheless there are days I still suspect that there needs to be some originating principle beyond the merely physical. And some days I do not. What am I really?

But regardless of that, even if the existence of a creator deity is postulated, consideration of the vast age, extent and complexity of the universe and the miniscule part of it that even allows us to exist, the notion of any creator deity giving a hoot about what we do or how we do it is just unsupportable. I think it is a more important statement about myself that I am non-religious.


In response to your question, you may be an agnostic deist (which is also a type of theist). I say this because of your last comments after your question regarding the creator not involving itself with what mankind does. But then again, you mentioned a back and forth in your mind where you feel there's a need for a creator and other times you don't. That leads me to believe that you have no stable position when it comes to God's existence so I'd more likely just call you fitting best with being an agnostic. Lots can't relate to this and will just simply tell you that you either have to believe or not believe.

Your thinking is probably leading to cognitive dissonance as well, because contradictory thoughts and feelings would lead to tension and as a reaction you'll try to balance that out but find it to be a struggle like I do. It's nothing harmful or even a disorder since it's just about the issue of God's existence and this is a tough issue to deal with anyways. The only thing to do is to continue looking for answers and try to be fair and balanced.

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Post BBCode URL - Right click and save to clipboard to use later in post Post 14: Fri Aug 19, 2011 10:33 am
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Angel wrote:
ThatGirlAgain wrote:
Angel wrote:
Q,

I think we have adequate explanation for the difference between agnosticism and atheism. We also know that agnosticism and atheism can be joined together as one position and so can agnosticism and theism (agnostic atheist or agnostic theist). What's not covered is someone who is only an agnostic when it comes to the issue of God's existence. I fit that, you fit that based on your usergroup descriptions, and I've seen others on this forum as well.

The whole theist/agnostic/atheist spectrum thing strikes me as not all that informative. Intellectually I have come to the conclusion that the existence of a creator deity is an unanswerable question. Nonetheless there are days I still suspect that there needs to be some originating principle beyond the merely physical. And some days I do not. What am I really?

But regardless of that, even if the existence of a creator deity is postulated, consideration of the vast age, extent and complexity of the universe and the miniscule part of it that even allows us to exist, the notion of any creator deity giving a hoot about what we do or how we do it is just unsupportable. I think it is a more important statement about myself that I am non-religious.


In response to your question, you may be an agnostic deist (which is also a type of theist). I say this because of your last comments after your question regarding the creator not involving itself with what mankind does. But then again, you mentioned a back and forth in your mind where you feel there's a need for a creator and other times you don't. That leads me to believe that you have no stable position when it comes to God's existence so I'd more likely just call you fitting best with being an agnostic. Lots can't relate to this and will just simply tell you that you either have to believe or not believe.

Your thinking is probably leading to cognitive dissonance as well, because contradictory thoughts and feelings would lead to tension and as a reaction you'll try to balance that out but find it to be a struggle like I do. It's nothing harmful or even a disorder since it's just about the issue of God's existence and this is a tough issue to deal with anyways. The only thing to do is to continue looking for answers and try to be fair and balanced.


Actually there is no cognitive dissonance. Since I am convinced that even if there is a creator deity, it has nothing to do with religion, there is not much at stake. It is something to muse about from time to time. But there is no practical consequence.

One additional reason I prefer the label agnostic to atheist is that there are certain atheists, not many but some, who like to think that there are only two sides to everything - fundamentalist religiosity or militant anti-religion. Not so far as I can see on this site, but it is definitely the case in some other places.

The "Five Proofs" of Aquinas for the existence of God did not lead to the Christian God. That part was to be taken on faith in divinely revealed knowledge, not reason. But from what we know today of the universe, rational non-faith arguments in favor of God lead away from the Christian God. Again, why I think religious and non-religious is a more useful division.

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Post BBCode URL - Right click and save to clipboard to use later in post Post 15: Fri Aug 19, 2011 8:09 pm
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ThatGirlAgain wrote:
Angel wrote:

In response to your question, you may be an agnostic deist (which is also a type of theist). I say this because of your last comments after your question regarding the creator not involving itself with what mankind does. But then again, you mentioned a back and forth in your mind where you feel there's a need for a creator and other times you don't. That leads me to believe that you have no stable position when it comes to God's existence so I'd more likely just call you fitting best with being an agnostic. Lots can't relate to this and will just simply tell you that you either have to believe or not believe.

Your thinking is probably leading to cognitive dissonance as well, because contradictory thoughts and feelings would lead to tension and as a reaction you'll try to balance that out but find it to be a struggle like I do. It's nothing harmful or even a disorder since it's just about the issue of God's existence and this is a tough issue to deal with anyways. The only thing to do is to continue looking for answers and try to be fair and balanced.


Actually there is no cognitive dissonance. Since I am convinced that even if there is a creator deity, it has nothing to do with religion, there is not much at stake. It is something to muse about from time to time. But there is no practical consequence.

One additional reason I prefer the label agnostic to atheist is that there are certain atheists, not many but some, who like to think that there are only two sides to everything - fundamentalist religiosity or militant anti-religion. Not so far as I can see on this site, but it is definitely the case in some other places.

The "Five Proofs" of Aquinas for the existence of God did not lead to the Christian God. That part was to be taken on faith in divinely revealed knowledge, not reason. But from what we know today of the universe, rational non-faith arguments in favor of God lead away from the Christian God. Again, why I think religious and non-religious is a more useful division.



I like your agnostic style already : )

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Post BBCode URL - Right click and save to clipboard to use later in post Post 16: Sun Nov 27, 2011 1:15 pm
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I that epistemologically, there's about two separate things. Agnosticism is about knowledge claims whereas atheism has to do with beliefs, which may or may not be founded on justified knowledge.

That's why it's perfectly compatible to be both an atheist/theist and an agnostic/gnostic, one can believe in something without actually knowing for sure.

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Post BBCode URL - Right click and save to clipboard to use later in post Post 17: Tue Apr 22, 2014 12:02 am
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Re: Is there a difference between atheists and agnostics?

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Q wrote:

An interviewer said to Richard Dawkins, "In your book, it says 'God almost certainly doesn't exist'. You're leaving open the possibility that he does?" To which Dawkins replied, "Of course, as any scientist would. You can't absolutely disprove anything."


I don't know why people say that. Lots of things that are easy to disprove.



Quote:

A long this train of thought, what is the difference between atheism and agnosticism.


Let's divide people into three groups:
1. Those who believe that gods exist.
2. Those who believe that gods do not exist.
3. Everybody else.

In the old nomenclature, that was
1. Theists,
2. Atheists, and
3. Agnostics.

In the new nomenclature, it is
1. Theists,
2. Strong atheists, and,
3. Weak atheists.

So, the answer to your question, "What is the difference between atheism and agnosticism," depends on which system you are using.

Answer using the old nomenclature:
Atheists believe that gods do not exist. Agnostics don't have that belief (and they also don't have the belief that gods do exist).

Answer using the new nomenclature:
Atheists don't have a belief that gods exist. Agnostics don't know whether gods exist.






Quote:
I have long considered myself an agnostic. If someone were to ask me what I actually believe in regards to a God I would respond, "All of the evidence seems to indicate there probably is no god, at least certainly not in the sense of one depicted by any major organized religion."


You don't believe that gods exist, do you. So (new nomenclature) you are an atheist.

Do you believe that gods do not exist? If so, you are a strong atheist.

Do you know whether gods exist? If not, you are an agnostic.


Quote:

So how exactly are these different?


Is has to do with whether we are talking about knowledge or belief. If you don't know whether gods exist, you are an agnostic. If you don't believe that gods exist, you are an atheist.



Quote:
Isn't all that really matters, as far as distinctions go, is whether or not you believe in an organized religion?


No, that doesn't have anything to do with it. If you believe gods (not organized religions) exist, then you are a theist. If you don't believe gods (not organized religions) exist, then you are an atheist. If you know whether gods exist, then you are gnostic. If you don't know whether gods exist, then you are agnostic.

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Post BBCode URL - Right click and save to clipboard to use later in post Post 18: Tue Apr 22, 2014 8:03 am
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Re: Is there a difference between atheists and agnostics?

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Q wrote:

So how exactly are these different? Isn't all that really matters, as far as distinctions go, is whether or not you believe in an organized religion?


As a practical matter it may very well come down to a belief in an organized religion. As an example, there are quite many Christians you believe that if Christianity were prove to be false, then they would conclude there is no God, rather than seeking out a new religion. So for many Christians a belief in their religion and a belief in God are inseparable.

Having said the above, and having been born and raised as a Christian, I must conclude that I am an exception to the above rule of thumb. I came to the conclusion that Christianity and the Biblical picture of God cannot possibly be true, especially verbatim. In other words, the Biblical stories of God cannot be true as written.

Why do I say that? Well for me it's quite simple and clear. The biblical stories are simply a gross contradiction to all of the properties that they assign to their God character. Therefore this God would be a gross self-contradiction in terms of personality traits, behavior, morality, and so on. So I have concluded that the Biblical picture of God cannot possibly be true. As far as I am concerned this Hebrew God has indeed been disproved via the Bible itself.

So in that sense I believe that it is indeed possible to disprove at least some God concepts.

Unlike many other Christians, when I realized that the Biblical picture of God cannot be true I did not automatically become an atheist. Instead I sought out spiritual philosophies that better match my own personal intuitive feelings of what a God ought to be. I found this in Buddhism, and Taoism, or more correctly, I found this in various version of Eastern Mystical philosophies.

I still don't believe in any specific religion because for me religion is something that is totally separate from God. For me religion is simply mankind's way of attempting to acknowledge or potentially commune with a God. As a religion I currently practice my own personal version of "Wicca" although that term itself is highly questionable in terms of truly conveying my religious practices.

In the end I still consider myself to be agnostic. I am without sufficient information to decide the answer to the question of whether or not a "God" actually exists. I will sometimes qualify this by saying that I am an "Intellectual Agnostic" and an "Intuitive Mystic". Simply meaning that I cannot intellectually argue convincingly for the existence of a "God"*, but at the same time I have strong underlying intuitive reasons to believe that reality may indeed be mystical or spiritual in essence.

*note: I use the term "God" here without a crystal clear or formal definition for the term. For me the term "God" is just a term that means that something mystical or spiritual may be the truth of reality. The precise details of how that works does not need to be known. I would also add that in the Eastern Mystical philosophies (which I lean toward intuitively) the ultimate idea is "Tat T'vam Asi" meaning, "You are That", or "You are the this ultimate spirit that you seek". So for me the term "God" refers to a mystical mind which is dreaming up reality, and "Tat T'vam Asi", you are that.

I can't prove this, and so I remain agnostic on whether it's even true. But I also can't disprove it which keeps me agnostic. The Biblical picture of God, on the other hand, disproves itself. So I am a strong atheist with respect to the Biblical God, to the point where I am satisfied that the Biblical picture of God has indeed been disproved via it's own self-contradictions. There is no need for agnosticism there since I know it's false. Wink

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Post BBCode URL - Right click and save to clipboard to use later in post Post 19: Tue Jul 15, 2014 10:32 pm
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Q wrote:

An interviewer said to Richard Dawkins, "In your book, it says 'God almost certainly doesn't exist'. You're leaving open the possibility that he does?" To which Dawkins replied, "Of course, as any scientist would. You can't absolutely disprove anything."


Dawkins has an eccentric definition of atheism.



Quote:

... what is the difference between atheism and agnosticism.


Let's have five categories:

A: "I believe god(s) exist.
B: "I don't believe either way."
C: "I believe gods do not exist."

X: "I know whether gods exist."
Y: "I do not know whether gods exist."

The two main systems of nomenclature label these categories this way:

Old Nomenclature
A: Theists
B: Agnostics
C: Atheists
X: Gnostics
Y: Agnostics

New Nomenclature
A: Theists
B: Weak atheists
C: Strong atheists
X: Gnostics
Y: Agnostics

Note that the old system applies the name "agnostic" to two different categories, which lead to endless confusion.

The old nomenclature probably has more users, but the new one is coming on like gangbusters. It's hard to find a self-identified atheist these days who doesn't use the new system.

There are innumerable lesser systems with only handfuls of users, or sometimes but a single user. These can be dismissed, as I did with Dawkins' system, as eccentric. You'll only achieve confusion rather than communication if you use anything other than one of the two main systems.

So, now to answer your question:

Under the old system atheists (C) are those who believe gods do not exist, and agnostics (B and Y) are those who don't believe either way and/or those who don't know whether gods exist.

Under the new system, atheists (B and C) include all non-theists, and agnostics (Y) are those don't know whether gods exist.




Quote:
I have long considered myself an agnostic. If someone were to ask me what I actually believe in regards to a God I would respond, "All of the evidence seems to indicate there probably is no god, at least certainly not in the sense of one depicted by any major organized religion."


What do you believe? Do you believe that one or more gods exist? If so, you are a theist. If not, you are an atheist. Do you believe that no gods exist? If so, you are a strong atheist. If you are neither a theist nor a strong atheist, you are a weak atheist.

Do you know whether gods exist? If not, you are an agnostic.



Quote:

So how exactly are these different? Isn't all that really matters, as far as distinctions go, is whether or not you believe in an organized religion?


Are you a nice person with good morals? If so, and if you identify yourself as an atheist, you'll be doing the world a favor. Theists have painted atheists as hateful amoral scoundrels. If you call yourself an atheist, and seem like someone who would be a good neighbor, then you'll be reducing prejudice, lessening hatred.

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Post BBCode URL - Right click and save to clipboard to use later in post Post 20: Fri Aug 02, 2019 10:45 am
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Re: Is there a difference between atheists and agnostics?

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Is there a difference between atheists and agnostics?


A. Theists believe that gods do exist.
B. Strong atheists believe that gods do not exist.
C. Weak atheists (everybody else) don't believe either way.

X. Gnostics know (or think they know) whether gods exist.
Y. Agnostics (everybody else) don't know whether gods exist.

---

Gnostic theists know--and therefore, necessarily, believe--that gods exist.

Agnostic theists believe that gods exist, but they don't know that for sure. My mother said she struggled with her faith every day. She believed that gods exist, but she didn't know it.

Gnostic weak atheists: These shouldn't exist. If you know whether gods exist, you cannot logically fail to believe what you know.

Agnostic weak atheists: Don't know either way, and don't believe either way.

Agnostic strong atheists: That's me. I believe that no gods exist, but I don't know that for sure.

Gnostic strong atheists: I met one of these in Texas in the seventies. He claimed that science had proven that gods don't exist. So he believed that gods don't exist, and he thought that belief was so well-founded as to be knowledge.

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