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What Is the Definition of Atheist, Agnostic, and Other Related Terms?

Updated on March 5, 2017
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Catherine Giordano is a writer and public speaker who often writes and speaks on topics related to science, philosophy, and religion.

What is the difference between atheist and agnostic?.
What is the difference between atheist and agnostic?. | Source

What Is the Definition and Etymology of Atheism?

Atheism simply means no belief in the existence of God or gods. It comes from the Greek word atheos which is a compound word with “a” meaning without and “theos” meaning god or gods. It is the opposite of theism; it is non-theism.

In ancient Greek, the adjective atheos meant "godless." It was a derogatory term used to describe someone who did not worship the gods of the time or who was not sufficiently devout in his worship of these gods. Around the 5th century BCE, the term came to mean the intentional denial of the existence of the gods.

After the introduction of Christianity, both the early Christians and the followers of the Hellenist (Greco-Roman-Egyptian) gods each used the term pejoratively to describe the other. The term was always used as an insult. No one would self-identify as an atheist.

It wasn’t until the late 18th century, in Europe, that the term “atheism“ first started to be used as merely a descriptive term for lack of belief in the monotheistic Abrahamic God. In Western society today, this is how the word “atheism” is most commonly used—it simply means “disbelief in God” (where God refers to the Abrahamic God worshiped by Jews, Christians, and Muslims).

However, in the 20th century, the term “atheism” sometimes took on a more expansive meaning—it began to be used to indicate a disbelief in all deities.

Hence, any discussion about atheism must begin with a mention of which meaning is being used for the word "atheism" as well as for the word "God."

What Is the Definition and Etymology of Agnosticism?

The term “agnostic” was coined in 1870 by the biologist, T.H. Huxley (1825-1895). He took the Greek word “a” which means “without” and the Greek word “gnostos” which means “known” to create the word agnostic which has come to mean “the existence of God is unknown and/or unknowable.” He used the word gnostic as a reference to the word “Gnosticism,” a branch of early Christianity which was eventually declared to be heresy by the Orthodox Church.

Huxley urged us, “Do not pretend that conclusions are certain which are not demonstrated or demonstrable.” He also said, “It is wrong for a man to say he is certain of the objective truth of a proposition unless he can provide evidence which logically justifies that certainty.”

Huxley was a skeptic, but he rejected the label infidel. He stressed that agnosticism was a method for the study of religion and not a creed. He wished to apply the scientific method to the study of the veracity of the New Testament claims about Jesus; he thought a Christian should look at the Bible as a historian looks at history.

For more details about T. H. Huxley's views on agnosticism, see Huxley's Agnosticism

The four possibilities of atheism and agnosticism.
The four possibilities of atheism and agnosticism. | Source

Can Atheism and Agnosticism Be Combined?

There is endless debate in the freethinker community about atheism vs. agnosticism and how the two relate to each other. Some will say atheism refers to what one believes about God and agnosticism refers to what one knows about God.

An agnostic-atheist or (atheistic agnostic) is someone who does not believe that God exists because there is insufficient evidence for the hypothesis that God exists or that the hypothesis that God exists is simply unknowable and can never be proven or disproven.

An agnostic-theist believes that God exists, but he does not know this for a certainty. He may say that the characteristics of God cannot be known or proven.

There are gnostic versions of atheists and theists. They differ from the above two in that they are 100% certain of the existence or non-existence of God.

These beliefs are sometimes diagramed.

The Dawkins Scale of atheism.
The Dawkins Scale of atheism. | Source

Personally, I think creating four categories instead of two is just playing semantic games. Everyone is either a theist or an atheist. As Carl Sagan wrote, “Agnostics are atheists who lack the courage of their convictions.”

For instance, an agnostic does not know if God exists or not. How can he say he believes something and at the same time say he doesn’t know if it is true? If he doesn’t know it to be true, he must be an atheist. Does he say he is an agnostic-atheist because he is open to new evidence that might prove the existence of God? Well so is the atheist. I’m an atheist, but if I am presented with credible evidence I will change my mind. Until then, I don’t believe.

The same argument works in reverse for theists. If someone believes, but says he is not sure, how can he claim to be a believer? Perhaps he merely chooses to believe and doesn’t care if his belief is true or not. If he has doubts about his belief, he has placed himself in the non-believer camp until such time as he resolves those doubts.

I will leave the gnostic and agnostic qualifiers to philosophers and speak the way ordinary people speak in ordinary conversation.

Sometimes, people use The Dawkins Scale to assign their degree of belief and non-belief. It is taken from the book The God Delusion written by scientist (evolutionary biologist) Richard Dawkins.

I like this scale because it puts "agnostic" in the middle, and defines it as someone who literally thinks that there is a 50/50 chance that God exists or does not exist. It requires everyone else to pick a side--either atheist or a theist-- even if they only lean slightly towards one or the other. I believe a person does not need 100% certainiy; beyond a reasonable doubt will do.

What If There Is "Something Else"?

I have used the word atheist to mean lack of belief in the God of Abraham, the God of the Bible (and I presume the Koran.) I do this because if you live in a “Western” country that is usually the God someone is referring to when they ask “Do you believe in God.” (I don’t think they want to know if you worship Isis or Zeus or Quetzalcoatl or Shiva.)

Some people will say, "I don’t believe in the God of the Bible, but perhaps there is something else"—A First Cause, A Higher Power, A Supreme Being, or maybe something like “The Force” from Star Wars. What if there is something that we cannot not even conceive of or even have a name for? If you put it that way, I’m an agnostic too. I might even have to be an agnostic about my own existence—maybe I am just something out of the movie, The Matrix, or I’m a character in someone’s dream. What if the whole universe is just a video game and God is just a 12-year old who left his computer running when his mother called him to dinner? I prefer to think in more practical terms.

I believe that atheists should be loud and proud so as to take the stigma from the word atheist, so that the word is no longer an insult.

Please answer this poll question about your belief or non-belief in the Abrahamic God.

Where do you fall on the Dawkins' Scale?

See results

Is Atheism a Religion?

Atheism is not a religion. Atheists do not worship anyone or anything. There are no creeds, no rituals.

In particular, atheists are not de facto Satanists. Atheists do not believe in any deities—good ones or evil ones.

Atheists tend not to believe in anything supernatural—no demons, angels, ghosts, fairies, witches, leprechauns, dragons, or unicorns. However, atheism is only defined as a lack of belief in God, so much to my regret, you may come across some atheists who believe in other supernatural entities.

Although atheism is not a religion, some religions may be atheist religions. Some sects of Buddhism do not posit a Supreme Being; neither do some sects of Hinduism. Unitarian Universalism is often non-theistic; it varies from congregation to congregation. Ethical Culture is non-theist.

In the United States, some groups may call themselves a religion for the tax-advantages given to churches or to protest the domination of Christianity.

For instance, the Church of Satan does not profess the existence of the “Dark Lord." They claim the word “Satan” is taken from the Hebrew root of the word which means "opposer" or "one who questions".

Or maybe you have heard of The Church of the Flying Spaghetti Monster (FSM). Pastafarians, as the members of FSM call themselves, describe it as a genuine religion, but it is generally seen as a parody religion created to spoof the ideas of creationism and intelligent design.

What Are Militant Atheists?

Militant atheism is a relatively recent term used to pejoratively describe certain prominent atheists who strongly advocate for atheism. They are not militant in the same way that terrorists are militant (as you might think based on the use of the term “militant”); they merely are willing to publically criticize religion.

In the atheist community, they are called, “The New Atheists.” Sometimes Daniel Dennett (a philosopher and cognitive scientist) Richard Dawkins (a evolutionary biologist) Sam Harris (a philosopher and neuroscientist) and Christopher Hitchens (journalist) are called “The Four Horsemen of the Non-Apocalypse” because they write books promoting the scientific basis for atheism and speak out on behalf of atheism and against religion.

There are many others, but I will leave the enumeration for another essay.

Who Has the Burden of Proof?

The burden of proof is always on the person making the claim. In the case of religion, it is the theist and not the atheist who must show proof. It is, of course, impossible to prove that something does not exist because there is always the possibility that new evidence will turn up. Consequently, it is impossible to prove a negative. However, we can disprove a positive statement if we cannot find evidence to support it. Consequently, in a debate between an atheist and a theist, the atheist will show how the theist has not been able to prove that God exists by refuting the claims and the "evidence" that the theist presents.

All scientists begin with the null hypothesis which is that something does not exist. They then conduct their experiments to try to prove that it does exist. If they are successful in their proof, they express their conclusion as a probability--they usually need a 95% or better probability to reject the null hypothesis. I think that the probability that God exists is so close to 0% that I can confidently say I am an atheist without needing to qualify it by adding the adjective "agnostic" to atheist.

The famous example of this is Russell's Teapot. It was dreamed up by the philosopher Betrand Russell (1872–1970). In order to demonstrate who has the burden of proof in a debate, he claimed that there was a teapot orbiting the sun between Earth and Mars. Who should have to show proof—Russell or the person who did not believe his claim? I'm pretty sure even theists would agree that Russell was the one who needed to provide proof. It is the same with God as it is with teapots.

I object to the term agnostic because theists will interpret that to mean that you are saying "I don't know" in the sense that you have not yet made up your mind.They can also interpret this to mean that you think the possibility that God exists is a 50/50 proposition. I feel it is better to just say "atheist." If you really haven't made up your mind, then just say, "I haven't made up my mind"--you don't need the agnostic label.

Science can't explain everything, and that is OK.
Science can't explain everything, and that is OK. | Source

Science Can’t Explain Everything. Religion Can’t Explain Anything.

Sometimes atheists will be challenged to explain why there is something rather than nothing. I say that is because if there were nothing, we wouldn’t be here to ask the question, but I know that is not the answer they are looking for. The best answer I can give is, “I don’t know, but that doesn’t mean that God is the answer." (“The God of the Gaps” is the term used to attribute any gaps in scientific knowledge as proof of the existence of God.)

Religion is not science or a substitute for science. Religion is fable and myth and metaphor.

A short video clip explains atheism with wit and animation.

Please do this poll.

Would you describe yourself as a ... (Pick the term you most prefer to use.)

See results

What about Other Terms Related to Atheism?

"Non-theism" means "without God" just as "atheism" does. Since "atheist" often has negative connotations, some may prefer the term "non-theist" because it is less emotionally freighted. Non-theism has the connotation of secular, and is often used to mean that the existence of God is irrelevant ."Non-theistic religions," like some forms of Buddhism, make no claims about God.

"Anti-theist" can have a slightly different meaning. While "atheist" simply means a lack of belief in God, "anti-theist" can mean "actively opposed to theism," and by extension, religions that worship a deity. Not all atheists are anti-theists, but the militant atheists discussed above would probably call themselves anti-theists. David Silverman, the current president of American Atheists, who proudly calls himself a “firebrand,” is another example of an anti-theist.

You may also come across the term "igtheist," "ignostic," or "theological non-cognitivism." These terms refer to the idea that the whole concept of "God" is so irrational that the word can not even be defined--it literally has no meaning--and therefore there is no basis for discussion about belief or disbelief.

One word that is the opposite of theist without the negative connotations is "humanist." Humanism describes a human-centered philosophy in the same way that theism describes a God-centered philosophy. (See the American Humanist Association's webpage, What is Humanism.) "Humanism" usually means "secular humanism," although some people call themselves "religious humanists."

"Freethinker" is a term used to describe someone who forms his opinions through the use of reason, without reference or deference to tradition, authority, or established belief. The word is commonly used to refer to religious beliefs. but can refer to other types of beliefs as well.

Atheism, the word, is very simple. It means without god. Atheism, the concept, is very complex. There are so many nuances and variations.

Why Use the Term Atheist at All?

As the narrator says in the video clip, why do we have the term "atheist" at all? It is one of the few words in English used solely to say what a person is not. (The only other word I could think of was "unmarried.")

The term "atheist" was once solely used as an insult, and it is still used as an insult today. Some people use the word "atheist" the way I use the term "scum" to describe someone who is contemptible. The word "atheist" can stir up these negative associations, although to me the word is perfectly neutral.

I think atheists should "own" the word "atheism", and by doing so, remove the stigma. When theists see that their friends, their neighbors, their co-workers, the people in the sports and entertainment world whom they admire, and even their political representatives are atheists, they may come to realize that atheists are good decent people. They may come to realize that you do not have to be a theist to be a good decent person.

© 2015 Catherine Giordano

I welcome your comments.

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    • AudreyHowitt profile image

      Audrey Howitt 22 months ago from California

      This is just an excellent article! Your articles are so well thought out!

    • Austinstar profile image

      Austinstar 22 months ago from Somewhere in the universe

      What? Quetzalcoatl doesn't exist? But there is a whole temple built just for him/it in Chichen Itza (Kulkulcan is the same god - it's kind of like Yahweh and Allah are the same god).

      Dang it. I was going to throw some money up in the sky to see if god would keep all the coins he needed.

      I guess I will just hang around and NOT believe in things. I know! I'm SO religious! (sarcasm font has been enabled for this comment btw).

    • CatherineGiordano profile image
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      Catherine Giordano 22 months ago from Orlando Florida

      AudreyHowett: Thanks for your comment. I've been mulling it over for a couple of weeks and finally got to write it . I spent all day on it. Glad you liked it.

    • CatherineGiordano profile image
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      Catherine Giordano 22 months ago from Orlando Florida

      AustinStar: Thanks for your comment. I hope you didn't take the news about Quetzalcoatl too hard. I can tell by your comment that you had fun with the video clip. It's been so long since I did a new hub, I was in danger of becoming an a-hubber.

    • Austinstar profile image

      Austinstar 22 months ago from Somewhere in the universe

      I have been so busy trying to update all my hubs that I haven't had time to write new ones. I have one started. Maybe I'll finish it this week.

      All the new changes have been "un-featuring" my hubs. I had no idea I had so many either! Work! I thought I was retired here.

      I wish the government would subsidize me for NOT writing hubs! LOL

    • lawrence01 profile image

      Lawrence Hebb 22 months ago from Hamilton, New Zealand

      Catherine

      Sagan is simply wrong! The Agnostic is the one who has the courage to admit yhey are human and don't have the answers! They admit that they don't know if God exists or whether it can be proved either way!

      As for atheism not being a religion, I accept that the philosphy isn't religious in nature but the way it's applied by its adherents is!

      For example Dawkins in the book "The God delusion" accuses our own genetic code of a huge lie in that he accuses it of tricking us into thinking it was designed by a 'higher power'

      Effectively he's accusing the evidence of lying to us! Is he afraid of what the evidence really says? To me that sounds like misguided religion!

      I didn't have time to read the whole hub thoroughly, but I will as it was welk written.

      Lawrence

    • Dc Potzkie profile image

      maja blanca 22 months ago from general trias cavite

      all human has the ability to believe that gods exist

      but more people refuse to. like the wind, we do not see it,but we believe that there is wind because we feel it. god of heaven the father exist but we dont have the capacity to see him.

      I TIMOTHY 6:16

      WHO ALONE HAS IMMORTALITY,

      DWELLING IN UNAPPROACHABLE LIGHT; WHOM NO MAN HAS SEEN,NOR CAN SEE,TO WHOM BE THE HONOR AND ETERNAL

      POWER. AMEN.

    • CatherineGiordano profile image
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      Catherine Giordano 22 months ago from Orlando Florida

      lawrence01: As I stated, if yu don't know then how can your believe. If you don't beleive, you are a non-believer, in other words, an atheist.

      Our brains play lots of tricks on us. For instance. we are programmed for pattern recognition. That is why people can see Jesus in a piece of toast. That is why we have optical illusions. Etc.

    • CatherineGiordano profile image
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      Catherine Giordano 22 months ago from Orlando Florida

      Dc Potzkie 78: I agree all humans have the ability to believe God exists. Also, all humans have the ability to believe that God does NOT exist.

    • Dc Potzkie profile image

      maja blanca 22 months ago from general trias cavite

      yes thats right. but we human programmed to believe in god..

      do you believe in god ???

    • Michelle Jean profile image

      Michelle Jean 22 months ago

      Catherine, I'm new to all of this and I'm still trying to define my own beliefs. But one thing that I know with 100% certainty is that I am agnostic. I cannot label myself an atheist or theist because there is no proof either way. I certainly don't believe in man's concept of God, nor do I believe that the bible is the word of God. I could ponder the possibility of some higher power which was there when it all began or an energy force through which we are all connected. But I can't say that I believe in that. Maybe that will change in time, I don't know. Maybe I lack the courage just now to choose, but I don't think I'll ever be comfortable saying I believe one way or the other without evidence. Recently, I've been trying to engage in the atheist/agnostic community to see where I really fit. I read your previous article about Jesus, and I have to say, it gave me a little nudge toward finding my own answers. So thank you! I appreciate your contributions very much.

    • CatherineGiordano profile image
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      Catherine Giordano 22 months ago from Orlando Florida

      Michelle Jean: thanks for your comment. I am glad that you find my writing helpful. I think that you are doing the right thing to try and sort it out for yourself. I wish you the best on your journey for truth.

    • FlourishAnyway profile image

      FlourishAnyway 22 months ago from USA

      This is a beautifully thought out piece. Very well done. There are some twin studies that suggest a genetic component to religigiosity. Interesting, huh?

    • Astralrose profile image

      Astralrose 22 months ago from India

      Great article! Sharing and following you!

    • CatherineGiordano profile image
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      Catherine Giordano 22 months ago from Orlando Florida

      FlourishAnyway: The elusive religion gene. I guess I don't have it. Thanks for your comment and praise for my essay.

    • CatherineGiordano profile image
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      Catherine Giordano 22 months ago from Orlando Florida

      Astralrose: Thank you. I'm glad you liked my essay. And thanks for sharing. A share is the best compliment I can get.

    • WillStarr profile image

      WillStarr 22 months ago from Phoenix, Arizona

      No one feels the call to preach more than an atheist.

    • lawrence01 profile image

      Lawrence Hebb 22 months ago from Hamilton, New Zealand

      Catherine

      So we're programmed to 'delude ourselves' (see your previous reply to me). Tell me, who programmed us? After all that would take intelligence? Maybe the programming was meant to lead us to truth that we are 'designed' not the product of chance?

      Lawrence

    • rjbatty profile image

      rjbatty 22 months ago from Irvine

      Cat: Excellent Hub on a subject I've followed almost all my life. You are going to get a hell of a lot of responses because this goes to the core of all of us. My opinion on the subject is this: No one really needs to box his/her self into a category.

      After reading most of Jung's works, I came to realize that there are many elements in our world that don't fit into nifty categories. I've had a few brushes/experiences that were inexplicable, or supernatural.

      In my earlier years I would have described myself as a staunch atheist. With age I came to see this as a kind of defiance of anything supernatural. By supernatural I just mean stuff that happens that cannot be explained by known science.

      We cannot pretend to know everything about our universe. Aspects about how all things work may/probably allude our capabilities. When I read books about quantum physics (for example), the allusions drawn seem as abstract as religion itself.

      A scientist can do one hell of a job supporting a theory using math and a chalk board. I have to go on "faith" that these mathematical equations support a given theory because the language used is too complex for me to understand.

      I sort of lean on men/women who have more understanding of the math to support a given theory. I "trust" other scientists to say whether the math/theory is solid or not. But all of that is external to me. If I have a supernatural experience, I have nowhere to go for an explanation.

      Thus, I finally came to a kind of accord with myself and (like Jung) just left the door open. I would have loved to have had the pleasure of this discussion with Christopher Hitchens who made the argument for anti-theism exceptionally well. He was a real artist in the realm of making an argument and supporting it -- lovely stuff to still watch on YouTube. The man must have never experienced anything that he might regard as supernatural in his entire life -- and so he became a kind of beacon for non-believers. I entirely "get" the whole atheist/anti-theist voice. And on a purely dogmatic/logical level, I'd have to place myself inside this camp.

      However, I have had a few supernatural experiences that don't rest easy with me. In time, my supernatural experiences might be explainable on a scientific basis. Or there may be forces in play in our universe that will always be out of human understanding. We don't know much about our universe. We surmise that everything began with a big bang, but what preceded this event or caused it to happen is not within our grasp.

      My personal theory is that our universe expands from some nearly infintesimal point then expands then collapses inward (the "big crunch" idea -- no longer much in favor by most astrophysicists). But this may still be looking through a very narrow lens, as some have suggested the idea of multi-verses -- perhaps an infinite number of multi-verses. The mere concept of infinity leaves me feeling like some early primate gazing toward the sun, the stars. How long did it take our species to realize that our sun was nothing but a close star upon which we rotated? For a primordial all of this was way, way beyond their capability.

      When a cat stares at you straight in the eyes, what exactly is it seeing/thinking/comprehending? With some cats who do this I've gotten the unpleasant experience of being worshiped.

      Anyway, I think you did an excellent job here in presenting a very thought-provoking concept. My answer to it is to leave no doors slammed shut and locked because the universe is not totally within our grasp. One can and sometimes must make an argument for atheism, but it only has merit as a counter-balance against unbridled religiosity, and we need only look at our history to see the side-effects of that.

      We require stalwart atheists to ensure that "believers" don't somehow overshadow our intellect. Having said that I must admit a reluctance to pitch my tent inside either camp. I consider myself a kind of supreme skeptic. There is stuff that goes on individually or collectively that we simply do not understand.

      For me, I place all of this into the category of the supernatural. On a psychological level one must give credence toward a child that a monster is residing inside his/her closet. As an effective parent, you cannot simply dissuade a child from such conclusions. No, you HAVE to take the child's impressions seriously. You HAVE to comb through his/her closet, looking for the monster. Simply telling a child that monsters do not exist is NOT sufficient. You really have to spend the time going through the damn closet, looking for whatever. You have to do this because in the child's mind monsters are just as authentic as anything else.

      I know this to be true -- not just by my readings on the subject but having been one of those unfortunate children to be plagued with night terrors. If an individual's psyche thinks a thing is true, there is no separating it in the way of fiction/nonfiction.

      Recently my wife complained about an adamant knocking upon her bedroom door. Yeah, we have separate bedrooms. At our age it's no big deal. So, she heard this knocking and first suspected it was me. I assured her that whatever she heard wasn't me. I was even awake at the time she claims to have heard the knocking. Our bedrooms are about six feet apart, so I would assuredly have heard something myself but did not. The event occurred again a couple of nights later. After a lengthy discussion, I could only conclude that my wife absolutely felt herself to be fully awake and lucid and heard what she interpreted to be a knocking upon her door. I have to file this occurrence under the label of the supernatural because there is nowhere else to go. I think only a supreme egotist can totally discount what we can only truthfully label as supernatural events.

      And that basically concludes my two cents on the provocative subject. I might have more to add, but then I'd have to publish my own Hub.

    • CatherineGiordano profile image
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      Catherine Giordano 22 months ago from Orlando Florida

      lawrence01 You know very well that it was evolution that "programmed" us. Being able to recognize patterns has survival value.

      Lawrence, thank you for reading and commenting on my hub. but I am not getting caught up in an endless exchange again. So please let this be the end of the back and forth. If you want to express your opinions on this topic and refute what I have said, write a hub about it or take it to a forum. P.S. This hub is not about intelligent design, creationism, or evolution, so you are off topic. I will not respond to any more off topic comments.

    • CatherineGiordano profile image
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      Catherine Giordano 22 months ago from Orlando Florida

      rjbatty: Thanks for your very thoughtful reply. You are right to reject labels if you choose to do so. I just saw saw link on facebook that took me to an article that said exactly that. It got me thinking --maybe I will link to it in my hub. Why define yourself by what you are not.

      I don't believe in the supernatural. There is a logical explanation for things that seem supernatural. It could just be a dream. You are not trying to say that there are ghosts in your house, are you?. Once I heard my son come into my room at night and say "good-bye." I was sure he was there. (Actually, he wasn't even home.) If I believed in superstition, I would have thought he had just died. (He hadn't and he was perfectly fine.)

      Lastly, that science stuff of parallel universes and quantum physics mystifies me also. I don't take science on faith; I take it on trust. I trust that science gets it right because I have seen them get it right on the things I can understand; I can't say the same for religion.

    • Larry Rankin profile image

      Larry Rankin 22 months ago from Oklahoma

      In my mind atheist is a very easy term to define. Things like agnostic or other less polar belief systems seem much more difficult.

      Great read, as always. Glad to hear from you again Catherine.

    • lawrence01 profile image

      Lawrence Hebb 22 months ago from Hamilton, New Zealand

      Catherine

      You're right, I was 'off topic' buy for a reason, allowing you to demonstrate the 'religious mantra' of the atheist 'Evolution did it' despite the fact evolution is the process and not the 'cause'

      I disagree about the atheist and agnostic as I think the person describing themselves is usually careful to use the correct label for where they are at, to arbitrarily change the label is wrong.

      By the way on the first quadrant someone placed me as an 'agnostic theist' I found it highly amusing.

    • CatherineGiordano profile image
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      Catherine Giordano 22 months ago from Orlando Florida

      Larry Rankin: Thanks for commenting and for your compliment. I think yu are right, atheist is an easy term to define as long as people indicate what deity of deities they are atheistic about. Unless you ae right in the middle of Dawkins' scale of equal probability you shouldn't use the label agnostic. to my way of thinking.

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      Catherine Giordano 22 months ago from Orlando Florida

      Will Starr: Not preaching; just explaining. I hope you understand the difference.

    • WillStarr profile image

      WillStarr 22 months ago from Phoenix, Arizona

      I do understand, and it was offered in jest.

    • CatherineGiordano profile image
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      Catherine Giordano 22 months ago from Orlando Florida

      WillStar: With no facial expression , body language, or vocal intonation, it came across like you were accusing me of trying to "convert" people to atheism. Thank you for clarifying your intent. The most I am guilty of is saying that some people who call themselves agnostics may actually be atheists. I do not ask theists to change their views; only to understand the views of others.

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      Ann Carr 22 months ago from SW England

      You've done a sterling job on laying out the definitions, explanations and philosophies, Catherine. It's good to see you back here, though I must confess I haven't caught up with everything yet, after a really hectic summer.

      I'm quite happy to accept anyone's beliefs as long as they don't use them for harm and I, too, am a little wary of labels. So many times, our actions, thoughts and, yes, beliefs are blurred at the edges! As long as we all learn to get along and tolerate each other I see no problem; unfortunately that's not the case in the world today. Even reading some of these comments from others I see some agitation and arrogance, maybe in the expression rather than the individual.

      You do these essays so well, Catherine and, as I've said to you before, I think it takes courage to 'invite' comments from those who maybe aren't so tolerant of others' beliefs or non-beliefs.

      Hope all is well with you and yours. I'm catching up on a peaceful campsite in France.

      Ann

    • CatherineGiordano profile image
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      Catherine Giordano 22 months ago from Orlando Florida

      Annart: Thank you for your wonderful comment. I'm so glad that a person as talented at writing as you are appreciates my work. My goal is always to present information. (I myself didn't know a lot of this information until I researched my topic.) I hope understanding leads to greater tolerance.

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      Ann Carr 22 months ago from SW England

      Thank you for your kind words. You also are a talented writer; to be able to put forward a clear argument and to word your answers so diplomatically takes a lot of careful wording.

      Yes, tolerance is the key.

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      Catherine Giordano 22 months ago from Orlando Florida

      Thank you once again annart.

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      Richard Evans 22 months ago

      I remain agnostic towards the idea of a deity, not the Abrahamic type; that one does not exist. A creator type whether or not it is still around and cares. I believe this cannot be a known.

      Arthur C Clark, Any sufficiently advanced technology is indistinguishable from magic.

      Even if a "claimed" god being appeared I could not be convinced unless that being reached into my psyche and changed me.

      But, I would like to see the definition of atheism seguy into the disbelief of the theology, the story, the dogma behind claimed god s.

      See for me it is the Christian theism story I reject. I reject the Yahweh god due to the supporting story. Am I an atheologist? I do not say no god s exist. That would be dishonest because I believe this cannot be known.

      Also by taking this course, people of belief, I think would be less offended and understand better that while I don't believe in their god version, my mind is still left open to possibility. Although highly unlikely and somewhat disappointing it would be; I must take this approach.

      Because, I do not know...that is the only honest answer.

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      Catherine Giordano 22 months ago from Orlando Florida

      Richard Evans: Thank you for your comment. Atheologist? I have never heard that. I like it. As I wrote in the article, there are at least three different definitions of atheism. The one that refers to the god of the Abrahamic religions is the most narrow, but also the most common. I am a atheist, but I am always open to new evidence. However, I am very confident that the proof of God's existence will not be forthcoming.

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      WillStarr 22 months ago from Phoenix, Arizona

      I am curious about one thing, Catherine...your title seems to assume that theists and non-theists in general do not know or understand the definitions of atheism or agnosticism or how they differ.

      How did you arrive at that conclusion?

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      Catherine Giordano 22 months ago from Orlando Florida

      WillStarr: I always assume no knowledge for the purposes of writing my essays on any topic. Some people will already know everything I write; some will know none of it. With this essay, I myself knew some of it, and then learned more as I researched the topic. I can't make more advanced points without first stating the basics. Moreover, one of the points of the essay is that everyone thinks that they know what "atheist" and "agnostic" means, but there are actually a lot of differences between people if you delve into what they actually mean when they use those words. So another point is "define your terms." Finally, some things may seem obvious when you read them in a well-constructed essay, but the truth of the matter is most people who read this essay have probably never given a lot of thought to the issue and thus don't realize the nuances. Consequently, you could be having a long discussion with someone about atheism only to discover an hour later that you each defined the term differently. I am also not only defining the terms but giving the history of them, explaining the different interpretations, and then giving my opinions. People may not agree with my opinions, but I put them out there for consideration. Have I answered your question?

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      WillStarr 22 months ago from Phoenix, Arizona

      Understood, and a good way to approach a topic, but I was curious as to why you addressed this specifically to an assumed ignorant lot of believers.

      Thanks for your explanation.

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      Catherine Giordano 22 months ago from Orlando Florida

      WillStarr: When I write about atheism related topics, I am addressing other atheists or perhaps doubters. I have actually asked believers not to read my hubs if it is going to get them upset and angry.

      I said almost nothing about theism in this article although it now occurs to me that the atheist-agnostic debate could also apply to Christianity and other religions. If you say you are a Christian, I don't know what that means until you explain what kind of Christian you are. Similarly, people need to explain what kind of atheist or agnostic they are.

    • WillStarr profile image

      WillStarr 22 months ago from Phoenix, Arizona

      Upset and angry? No, not at all.

      I was just curious as to why this was labeled as defining rather ordinary word terms "for Theists and Non-Theists", rather than for all.

      Again, thank you, and I don't want to hijack your Hub!

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      Catherine Giordano 22 months ago from Orlando Florida

      WillStarr: I did not think you were one of the upset and angry ones. Why the title--I guess I was thinking that theists should understand that atheists don't worship Satan and other common misperceptions like that. Also since this essay did not criticize religion in any way, I thought it was safe to invite theists to read it. And I wanted the atheists to understand the variety of definitions for atheism and agnostics because non-theists often argue over it.

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      Tricia Mason 22 months ago from The English Midlands

      Hi :)

      This is another interesting subject, Catherine.

      I remember that we discussed agnosticism and atheism at university, when Religious Education was one of my postgraduate teacher-training subjects. Some members of our university group were believers; others were not. I said that I was agnostic and I remember the tutor asking if we all really understood what 'agnostic' meant. I was quite clear at that time that I simply didn't know whether there was a 'God' or not - and the tutor was satisfied. (When I had a letter returned from Greece, because the intended recipient was unknown at the address, the envelope had the word 'agnostos' written across it.)

      Someone once argued with me, as you have here, that agnostics must automatically be atheists. At the time, I felt that this definition didn't really work for me. I saw atheism not just as lack of belief but also as the rejection of such a belief, though this is probably anti-theism rather than atheism.

      My 'agnosticism' relates to not really knowing for sure about anything that might be considered supernatural; not just about God. I am uncertain as to whether there is anything / nothing that might be termed 'paranormal', so I am agnostic regarding much of this area. I don't believe in fairies but I may believe in ghosts. I include belief in gods as paranormal. Of course, some of the weird things that people experience will one day be explained logically, but who knows?

      One thing I am now much more certain about is that, if there is any force or power or anything that might possibly be termed 'God', then it is not Zeus or Apollo or Ra or Odin or Yahweh or Jesus. So I suppose I am much closer to being atheist than I used to be - and, based on most people's definitions, I should probably change what I call myself.

      However, I still 'don't know' about many of the other mysterious possibilities out there.

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      Warren Samu 22 months ago from San Diego, CA

      Own it man! Own it :)

      https://hubpages.com/religion-philosophy/Confessio...

      I am going to link to this Hub from mine. Thank you for writing it!

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      Catherine Giordano 22 months ago from Orlando Florida

      Trish M: The elusive "Something Else." Since most people mean lacking a belief in Yahweh when they say God, I would call you an atheist. However, back in your college days, you may have been an agnostic because you truly had not made up your mind either way. I might still argue that you were an atheist because you lacked belief, but maybe that is just me. On the Dawkins scale, you might have been a weak atheist. After considering the options, you can pick the word, or no word that you feel best describes you. As for me, until the Something Else becomes known, I prefer to leave it to the side. I have to be atheistic to the Something Else due to lack of evidence for this Something Else.

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      Catherine Giordano 22 months ago from Orlando Florida

      thegecko: I am honored that you want to link to my hub.

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      Tricia Mason 22 months ago from The English Midlands

      Hi Catherine. :)

      Yes, atheistic re Yahweh. And Zeus, etc :)

      But I know a lot of people who have experienced unexplained phenomena - myself included - and it is on this basis that I continued to consider myself agnostic; because of my lumping all mysterious unexplained 'paranormal' stuff together - gods / God included

      But yes, on the basis of how I now feel and how most people define the word, I probably am much closer to being atheist and yes, in my university days - and beyond - I really wasn't at all sure about the existence of God one way or the other.

      I always questioned, though, even as a youngster, which didn't please my school scripture teachers or my Sunday school teachers (and which actually frighteed me). However, I also wore a Christian badge and went to church three times per week.

      I think that it can be quite scary to acknowledge one's atheism. After being a believer, it can be a huge deal. I am not worried by it now but I certainly was when I was younger - not that those teachers would have believed it :) :)

      I am both atheist and agnostic, depending upon the definition. Regarding the Biblical 'God' or similar, I have become atheist.

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      Catherine Giordano 22 months ago from Orlando Florida

      Thanks, Trish M, for your comment and for sharing about your beliefs. Richard Carrier in his book, "On the Historicity of Jesus" says in one of the first chapters that human beings are prone to hallucinations. It's normal. For example, vivid dreams that seem real. I believe that is where a lot of unexplained phenomena come from. Other times there is probably an explanation, be you just don't know what it is. A rainbow looks like magic, but we understand what it is so we modern humans don't call it supernatural.

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      bob 22 months ago

      Well, being theist/atheist is the answer to the question of belief. Gnostic/agnostic is the answer to the question of knowledge. In that sense I guess I'm an agnostic atheist. But since knowledge is a subset of belief (i.e. very strong belief is called knowledge) the gnostic/agnostic question is a bit redundant and I think we should drop that terminology.

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      Catherine Giordano 22 months ago from Orlando Florida

      bob: You get it. At last someone who gets it. Strong belief is equivalent to knowledge for all practical purposes so let's leave gnosticism in the philosophy class and only use agnostic to mean literally "I don't know what I believe."

    • Trish_M profile image

      Tricia Mason 22 months ago from The English Midlands

      Yes Bob, I was discussing this with a very devout believer, who acknowledged that, though she felt absolutely certain in her beliefs, she accepted that she had to be considered agnostic, because no-one could actually know, for certain, about the existence or non-existence of God. So yes, I agree that it is about belief and knowledge.

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      Catherine Giordano 22 months ago from Orlando Florida

      Trish M: This hub is partly about getting people to thin about how they should best self-identify. It's a very personal thing, but I hope I have provided some guidance.

    • Trish_M profile image

      Tricia Mason 22 months ago from The English Midlands

      I feel that way, too, Catherine, when I write about such matters. It's not so much about getting people to agree with me; it is more about getting them to really think about what they believe. So many people are devout believers without ever having given the matter any real thought at all :)

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      MamaM 22 months ago

      Had to stop reading when i hit this line "How can he say he believes something and at the same time say he doesn’t know if it is true?"

      I am not 100% certain my son is my child. Why? Because after he was born they took him out of my sight. I am 99.9999999999~% certain he is mine but i am not 100% certain. I am Agnostic-Theist not because i can't commit to not believing but because i was raised atheist and had an experience with what i felt was god. Do i know that experience was with god? No it may have been my mind but it made me believe. I BELIEVE what i can experience and MY experience ended up being with what i felt was god. But i'm a realist and so i CANNOT be certain. Just like everything else on earth this isn't a black and whit topic. It's 100% gray.

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      Catherine Giordano 22 months ago from Orlando Florida

      MamaM: It is knowable about your child being your child--get a DNA test. But since you have a very high degree of certainty about your child 100% is probably not needed. You can believe that you had a certain experience. It is a leap to go from there to a belief in God. If you don't know with a reasonable degree of certainty that it was God, then in my view you are still an atheist. You, of course, are free to say that the experience has made you an agnostic. However, I suggest that you do some research on how people can experience perfectly natural things as if the there supernatural. Thanks you for your comment.

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      Lawrence Hebb 22 months ago from Hamilton, New Zealand

      Catherine

      Just letting you know that I'm working on a hub at the moment tracing the history of the development of the arguments for (and probably against) the existence of God.

      One thing I've realized in my many discussions is that we each see the same evidence differently!

      (actually it might turn into two hubs, one showing the development for and the other the development of arguments against)

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      Catherine Giordano 22 months ago from Orlando Florida

      lawrence01: It sounds very interesting. I will check it out when you publish it.

    • lawrence01 profile image

      Lawrence Hebb 22 months ago from Hamilton, New Zealand

      Catherine. I didn't get as much as I wold have liked in the hub (ran out of space!) but the hub just went live "Arguments for the existence of God (Cosmological argument)"

      I haven't really covered the objections but as people put comments up hopefully I'll get to cover them then (or even make another hub from the comments)

      Thank you and blessings

      Lawrence

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      cfajohnson 22 months ago

      "it is impossible to prove a negative"? Can you prove that statement?

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      Catherine Giordano 22 months ago from Orlando Florida

      cfajohnso: ha ha!

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      sujaya venkatesh 22 months ago

      God very much exists in some form even for atheists

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      Catherine Giordano 22 months ago from Orlando Florida

      sujaya venkatesh: Thank you for your comment. What do you mean by "some form"?

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      Austinstar 22 months ago from Somewhere in the universe

      Sujaya, some form of a god may exist for theists, but no, not for atheists. God is just a concept that you have in your head.

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      Catherine Giordano 22 months ago from Orlando Florida

      AustinStar: Thanks for responding to the previous comment. One of the things I discuss in this hub is the need to define what you mean by "god."

      I was unable to determine what sujaya venkatesh meant.

    • Trish_M profile image

      Tricia Mason 22 months ago from The English Midlands

      I suppose that the concept of a god must exist for atheists; otherwise there would be no idea of a god for them to reject :)

    • Austinstar profile image

      Austinstar 22 months ago from Somewhere in the universe

      Nope again. We reject YOUR idea of a god or gods. We have sought this so-called god and it is nowhere to be found.

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      Lawrence Hebb 22 months ago from Hamilton, New Zealand

      Austinstar

      So if you reject our 'idea of a god' does that indicate that there some concepts of deity that you do accept?

      One concept of 'god' is simply "That for which no greater can be imagined" (St Anselm)! Is that a concept of 'god' the Atheist might consider?

      Once you get to the being that nothing greater can be imagined then you arrive at the concept of 'god'!

      Have a think on that as I think thats what Sujaya may be hinting at!

      Lawrence

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      Warren Samu 22 months ago from San Diego, CA

      The concept of God and an actual God are two different things.

      "That for which no greater can be imagined" does not end at God by default. It could end at a multiverse. It could end at something else.

      Imagined is an interesting word choice as well. Just because something can be imagined, does not make it real.

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      Lawrence Hebb 22 months ago from Hamilton, New Zealand

      Thegecko

      The idea is the concept of 'god' that as far as I'm aware was under discussion. You're right that it could end up somewhere else other than a 'being' but the concept remains the same!

      With regard to the 'multiverse' you're still left with how did it come to be? And aren't laws governing it greater than the thing itself? How did those laws come into existence? (Something greater still and have to look at a cosmological argument).

      Lawrence

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      Warren Samu 22 months ago from San Diego, CA

      I pointed out the concept difference because some of the theists on HubPages like to think they can trap Atheists [not saying you were :)] into admitting there is a God by equating the idea of God with the existence of God.

      Regarding the concept of God, one can also introduce the question, "How did he come to be?"

      Laws don't "govern" the universe. Laws are consistent patterns that scientists have found while studying the universe, so far, without exception. Those "laws" came from people, they are our interpretation of the reality before us. Where did these patterns come from?

      Again, where did the universe come from? If God, where did God come from? If God is the beginning of all things, why can't the universe be the beginning of all things? Why can't the these patterns have always existed?

      You assume that something must always come from something else. There's no reason to believe that assumption is absolute. In physics, something can come from nothing.

    • Austinstar profile image

      Austinstar 22 months ago from Somewhere in the universe

      thegecko - It's unfortunate that religionists do not keep up with physics, quantum physics, and news in science. But, they think they already have all the answers in one word (God).

      Atheists, agnostics, and physicists know one thing - that we do NOT have all the answers. And we continue to search diligently. But we are still looking for this "god" thing. Haven't found it yet, but you can be assured that when we do, we will introduce the proof as fast as possible.

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      Warren Samu 22 months ago from San Diego, CA

      I'm just disappointed in people trying to use science or logic to prove the existence of God. The idea of God is irrational. There are no theorems, no concepts, no rational arguments that will lead to God. I understand that someone who believes in God would not have issue with taking scientific research, or the ideas of scientists, out of context to further argue their point. I just wish they wouldn't. The possibility of God relies on faith.

      Like you said, if scientists found proof of God, they would be the first to spread the word. It would be humanity's greatest discovery xD

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      Catherine Giordano 22 months ago from Orlando Florida

      Trish M: Thanks for your comment. Atheists reject the concepts of gods as they are proposed and described by others. Atheists don't invent a god just so they can reject it. And to everyone who responded to her comment, I'd like to add that this essay is not debating the existence of gods--it is defining and explaining the term atheism and related terms.

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      Catherine Giordano 22 months ago from Orlando Florida

      thegekko: Thanks for your comments. You did a good job of answering the questions, especially about the "laws" of physics. For those who want to know why science can't answer every question, I refer them to the section of my hub with the title "science can't explain everything." When there is insufficient information available to answer a particular question, that does not automatically mean the answer is God. The "God of the Gaps" is no answer at all. To anyone who is still asking that question, please reread that section. By the way according to Stephen Hawkings, the preeminent astrophysicist, something can come from nothing.

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      Lawrence Hebb 22 months ago from Hamilton, New Zealand

      Catherine

      I must disagree with you that thegecko hasn't answered any questions, all they did was 'go off on a rant'

      As for the 'consistent patterns observed in the universe lets remember that they've been there since the universe (or the oscillations if you like) began!

      Now back to the question as I' m not trying to twist things but I do want you to think things through!

      Lawrence

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      Tricia Mason 22 months ago from The English Midlands

      Sometimes we just have to accept that man does not (yet) have all the answers and, though there are gaps in man's knowledge, God does not necessarily have to be the answer.

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      Lawrence Hebb 22 months ago from Hamilton, New Zealand

      Trish

      You're right that the answer doesn't necessrily have to be 'god' but without the concept of 'god' we're left with a meaningless existence that will one day wind down to the point when all life will cease!

      With a concept of 'god' you have not only meaning but the possibility that as the 'prime cause' he could start it all again (Revelation 21 new heaven and earth!)

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      Warren Samu 22 months ago from San Diego, CA

      I don't find much meaning in the Judaic interpretation of existence. Sounds like a bunch of mindgames to me.

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      Catherine Giordano 21 months ago from Orlando Florida

      Trish M: I think we are in total agreement. While it might be nice to think that the entire universe was designed with humans at it's center, there is just no evidence that that is in the case. I don't need a god to give my existence and the existence of the human race meaning. We can give our own lives meaning. I will die. The human race with die. The universe will die. We can pretend to ourselves that that is not the case, but it won't change the facts.

    • thegecko profile image

      Warren Samu 21 months ago from San Diego, CA

      And even if we do figure it all out, one day no one will be left to carry that knowledge forward! Man, this conversation has taken a depressing turn xD

    • lawrence01 profile image

      Lawrence Hebb 21 months ago from Hamilton, New Zealand

      I agree with thegecko on the last point! I'll grant that 99% of the time I'd be arguing as you say Catherine, but this time I was more trying to find out if it was the concept of 'God' or the 'God' of the various holy books people were against, Ithink thegecko did answer that earlier and while I do find it 'depressing' I can leave the discussion there!

      Lawrence

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      Tricia Mason 21 months ago from The English Midlands

      Lawrence, I'm afraid that I disagree. Like Catherine, I don't need your belief system in order to have a meaningful existence.

      To be absolutely honest, I'm a bit fed up of Christians and other believers saying that life without God / god is a meaningless existence. It simply is not true.

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      Lawrence Hebb 21 months ago from Hamilton, New Zealand

      Trish

      I was being a bit 'tongue in cheek' in my reply! I was echoing the sentiment expressed by thegecko. Having said that I was quoting Bertrand Russel, a celebrated Atheist! and not any Christian I know of.

      Lawrence.

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      Tricia Mason 21 months ago from The English Midlands

      OK, Lawrence, thanks for the explanation. :)

      I am not annoyed with you, but with the idea that life is meaningless without God / Christianity, or that morality is impossible without God / Christianity, etc, etc. And, sadly, I hear this sort of thing all too often.

    • lawrence01 profile image

      Lawrence Hebb 21 months ago from Hamilton, New Zealand

      Trish

      I can understand where you're coming from, and it's what I was trying to avoid saying as it doesn't really get the discussion anywhere!

      Lawrence

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      Catherine Giordano 21 months ago from Orlando Florida

      lawrencer01: Thanks for commenting. You may have been trying to avoid saying it, but I cannot avoid knowing that you think it.

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      JasonKClark 21 months ago

      //As Carl Sagan wrote, “Agnostics are atheists who lack the courage of their convictions.”//

      That doesn't seem to be a Sagan quote.

      "I'm agnostic" ~ Carl Sagan

      "To be certain of the existence of god and to be certain of the non-existence of god seem to me to be the confident extremes in a subject so riddled with doubt and uncertainty as to inspire very little confidence indeed." ~ Carl Sagan

      From Conversations with Carl Sagan, By Carl Sagan, Tom Head

      //I like this scale because it puts "agnostic" in the middle, and defines it as someone who literally thinks that there is a 50/50 chance that God exists or does not exist.//

      Dawkins explains that "equiprobable" doesn't equate to 50/50. More like just leaving both options open as having a possibility of not zero.

      "Agnosticism is of the essence of science, whether ancient or modern. It simply means that a man shall not say he knows or believes that which he has no scientific grounds for professing to know or believe." ~ Thomas Huxley, 1884

      Huxley was a scientist, above all else. He defined agnosticism as a form of demarcation. No objective/testable evidence = an unobjective/unscientific claim. Reults: inconclusive...no belief as to the truth, or falsehood, of the claim. While "inconclusive" doesn't answer one way or the other, leaving open the possibility that the claim is true or false, it also doesn't say "50/50" chance. It actually takes some evidence and knowledge to come up with a probability for something happening.

      Dawkins scale is more appropriate than the 4 position, 2 axis, model though. Those are horribly flawed. The "gnostic atheist" introduces the "no god" claim, yet beliefs about that claim are not addressed. There needs to be a minimum of 5 positions. The "excluded middle" is a myth. Just renaming it the same thing you name the belief no gods exist doesn't make it disappear.

      Do you believe the claim "gods exist"?

      Do you believe the claim "no gods exist"?

      Do you claim to know "gods exist"?

      Do you claim to know "no gods exist"?

      YNYN = theognostic

      YNNN = theist

      NNNN = agnostic

      NYNN = atheist

      NYNY = atheognostic

      http://i.imgur.com/bIkjE99.jpg

      //Who has the burden of proof?//

      The agnostics (or weak/negative atheist if you prefer that terminology) definitely don't. The gnostics, of either variety, definitely do.

      As for the believers, it somewhat depends. Nobody really has to prove that they have a belief based on pure faith. Nobody really has to prove that they just find a claim so ridiculous that they believe it's false. However, if either of the believers say their beliefs are based on some kind of evidence, then they have a burden to produce said evidence.

      //Why use the term atheist at all?//

      The term athe(os)-ism describes a "no god" belief system/philosophy/doctrine, and the term athe(os)-ist describes someone who adheres to said belief system. The term a-theist, on the other hand, isn't very logical. Personhood is in the "ist". This word, technically, doesn't even describe a person, at all, let alone a person with a philosophy of some kind.

      "In this interpretation an atheist becomes: not someone who positively asserts the non-existence of God; but someone who is simply not a theist. Let us, for future ready reference, introduce the labels 'positive atheist' for the former and 'negative atheist' for the latter.

      The introduction of this new interpretation of the word 'atheism' may appear to be a piece of perverse Humpty-Dumptyism, going arbitrarily against established common usage. 'Whyever', it could be asked, 'don't you make it not the presumption of atheism but the presumption of agnosticism?'" ~ Antony Flew, 1984

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      Lawrence Hebb 21 months ago from Hamilton, New Zealand

      Catherine

      I just realized you commented on my reply and I didn't reply, actually I wasn't thinking it!

      The last hub I wrote in the subject had me researching the Stoics who argued that it was possible to have purpose without God because to them the universe itself was 'god'

      Jason. I agree with you that the onus of proof us on the two extremes and as a 'positive theist' I've done a number of hubs on some of the things we believe point to God's existence that I'd be happy to debate on those hubs.

      See you there

      Lawrence

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      JasonKClark 21 months ago

      I'll take a look, Lawrence. Just so you know...I label myself an agnostic based on the "god" concept, not really "God". I don't think the Bible has proven itself to be anything more than a fanciful tale. Basically...

      I consider “God” is to “god” as “Superman” is to “alien”. I do not accept a Superman comic as valid testable evidence for, or against, the existence of “aliens”. I do not accept a Bible as valid testable evidence for, or against, the existence of “gods”. I would not call myself an anti-alienist because I consider “Superman” to be someone's imaginings of what an "alien" might be like. I do not call myself an atheist because I consider “God” to be someone's imaginings of what a "god" might be like.

    • lawrence01 profile image

      Lawrence Hebb 21 months ago from Hamilton, New Zealand

      Jason

      I'd expect nothing less! Some of the hubs are on the Bible but others are starting to look at what science says!

      Lawrence

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      Catherine Giordano 21 months ago from Orlando Florida

      JasonKClark: Thank you for your detailed comments. You add even more terms to describe atheism than even the lenghty list I compiled. I like you superman-alien comparison. Carl Sagan makes that statement I quoted about agnostics lacking the courage of their conviction in his book "Contact."

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      JasonKClark 21 months ago

      //Carl Sagan makes that statement I quoted about agnostics lacking the courage of their conviction in his book "Contact."//

      Ah, Contact, but Ellie is the main character, and may better represent Sagan's own views, judging by all his other statements on the topic.

      Reverend Joss: "I’ve always thought an agnostic is an atheist without the courage of his convictions."

      Ellie: "You could just as well say that an agnostic is a deeply religious person with at least a rudimentary knowledge of human fallibility. When I say I’m an agnostic, I only mean that the evidence isn’t in. There isn’t compelling evidence that God exists—at least your kind of god—and there isn’t compelling evidence that he doesn’t."

      //Thank you for your detailed comments. You add even more terms to describe atheism than even the lenghty list I compiled. I like you superman-alien comparison.//

      :)

    • CatherineGiordano profile image
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      Catherine Giordano 21 months ago from Orlando Florida

      JasonKClark: I still like the "courage of your convictions" phrase. I would have to research Sagan's views in detail to see which character (or maybe both) represented his own views.

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      JasonKClark 21 months ago

      If we're referring to the positive "no god" conviction, then it's not that I, as an agnostic, am without courage in that conviction. It's that I don't hold that conviction, at all. In that case, this statement is a straw man.

      If we're referring to a conviction in non belief, then I, as an agnostic, am more than happy to state it to anyone and everyone that I have no belief in "gods". I also have no belief in "no gods". I just don't call that being an a-theist, since I find that method of labelling to be illogical and convoluted. I call it being an agnostic which, to me, screams loud and clear that I don't believe in gods.

      Sagan presents a fairly positive view of agnostics, as open minded, elsewhere in Contact:

      Ken: "She’s not an atheist. She’s an agnostic. Her mind is open. She’s not trapped by dogma. She’s intelligent, she’s tough, and she’s very professional. The range of her knowledge is broad. She’s just the person we need in this situation."

      And, this is the longer quote, for the one I already posted, where he rejects atheism:

      "Those who raise questions about the God hypothesis and the soul hypothesis are by no means all atheists. An atheist is someone who is certain that God does not exist, someone who has compelling evidence against the existence of God. I know of no such compelling evidence. Because God can be relegated to remote times and places and to ultimate causes, we would have to know a great deal more about the universe than we do to be sure that no such God exists. To be certain of the existence of God and to be certain of the nonexistence of God seem to me to be the confident extremes in a subject so riddled with doubt and uncertainty as to inspire very little confidence indeed." ~ Conversations with Carl Sagan (2006), edited by Tom Head, p. 70

      The extended "I'm agnostic" quote:

      “My view is that if there is no evidence for it, then forget about it. An agnostic is somebody who doesn’t believe in something until there is evidence for it, so I’m agnostic.” ~ Carl Sagan, Minneapolis Star-Tribune Profile by Jim Dawson (1996)

      A some atheism is "very stupid" quote:

      "An atheist has to know a lot more than I know. An atheist is someone who knows there is no god. By some definitions atheism is very stupid." ~ http://www.washingtonpost.com/wp-dyn/content/artic...

    • FlourishAnyway profile image

      FlourishAnyway 21 months ago from USA

      I sure hope you don't stop writing. I miss your hubs.

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      Catherine Giordano 21 months ago from Orlando Florida

      Thank you FlourishAnyway. What a nice thing to say. I've jsut been so busy. I have ideas for several more hubs. I hope I can get 1-2 done next week.

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      Mark Brewster 18 months ago

      Hi, Catherine. VERY well written piece, my friend.

      Inevitably, it happens, whenever a thoughtful essay on theism/atheism is penned, that the mix of responders include amateur preachers...so sad. They cannot seem to comprehend the idea that we disbelieve for a reason OTHER than we "haven't heard the 'Word' well enough, or from the right source" yet.

      Normally, I'm pretty 'live and let live' when it comes to personal beliefs. I'm of the opinion that such should be kept private unless asked...and never asked unless the questioner is willing to either accept alternate points of view or engage in 'spirited debate', i.e., argument. (I'll argue in a minute if challenged, but I don't ask.) So, I'll just tell the theists here: unless you want the foundation of your christianity SHREDDED, pass on this comment. Don't even HINT at a motivation for me believing in your god.

      WE know, Catherine, the source of the confusion of terms -- and you dealt well with the primaries. (I happen to agree with Sagan, by the way, until/unless persuaded otherwise.)

      I've also been curious about the "new atheist" label, having heard references to it in other venues. You explained that well, also -- THANKS!

      I enjoy your writing, friend -- perhaps you can bring me up to speed: have you ever done a piece on the presuppositional position? If so, can you link it on FB, and if not, perhaps consider one....when you have a free MONTH, LOL.

    • CatherineGiordano profile image
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      Catherine Giordano 18 months ago from Orlando Florida

      Thanks so much for your comment Mark Brewster. The purpose of this essay was just to explain the various terms that atheists use when talking about what to call themselves. I'm glad I could clear up the meanings of some of the terms for you. I myself learned alot when I researched this.

      This piece makes no claims about the existence of God, Jesus Christ, or other deities although I do that elsewhere. Also, I don't get into why atheists don't believe--perhaps I will in another essay.

      I'll consider your idea about presuppositional positions. I'll be sure to alert yu that it is published, if and when I do so.

    • CatherineGiordano profile image
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      Catherine Giordano 4 months ago from Orlando Florida

      Mr. Anurag: "aw+" is new to me. Since you thanked me for the article, I'm going to assume it means awesome. The plus sign stands for "sum." Thanks.

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      Ashutosh Joshi 2 months ago from New Delhi, India

      Loved this hub. Though I wonder why we keep adding so many sub divisions or definitions and make things more complex. I mean it begins to give that religious cults sort of feeling.

      Two broader views were enough, why add a thousand more definitions. As it is, I am still struggling with my own convictions :)

    • CatherineGiordano profile image
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      Catherine Giordano 2 months ago from Orlando Florida

      AshutoshJoshi06: I agree with you. There are way too many words that basically mean atheist. Some feel that atheist is a pejorative word and they want one with positive associations. Some just like to split hairs. Some think that esoteric terms make them sound smart. Thanks for your comment.

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