I really need to be clear that as an atheist, I don’t pretend to “know” that there are no supernatural entities. I agree with those who label themselves as agnostics that there is no way to ever know the unknowable with an absolute degree of 100% certainty. I think that those atheists who claim to know that there is no such thing as a supernatural realm are overstating their case by tiny degrees.


Read the rest here

Comments

  1. #1 Webs
    January 26, 2010

    Agreed. Which is why I try to be careful with wording and say that probability would side against such an idea.

  2. #2 Swami
    January 26, 2010

    The following link is to an article by Bertrand Russell, and provides one of the best discussions I’ve read on atheism vs. agnosticism.
    http://www.positiveatheism.org/hist/russell8.htm
    I have chosen atheist. Although technically, since I am not absolutely certain there is no god, I should use agnostic. Like many others, I feel the use of agnostic conveys a wishy-washy uncertainness, afraid to take a stand attitude, that would belie my strong belief that there is no god.

  3. #3 MadScientist
    January 26, 2010

    I say there never was any credible evidence for the supernatural and there probably never will be. However, I can say with absolute certainty that anyone claiming to know god is a liar. You need only ask the obvious “how do you know that?” and the lies come in torrents.

    For me the distinction between the agnostics and the atheists is that the agnostics are philosophically correct (they do not rule out the god of deists apriori). So an agnostic may say “I suspend my judgement on the existence of a deity” while an atheist may say “no god until you can prove one exists” (or alternatively, jusy plain “no gods”). However, what the Abrahamic religions profess about their god is self-inconsistent, so most of their claims about a god (if there happens to be one) are just plain wrong – but if there happens to be a god, perhaps some of their claims will accidentally be applicable. The christian bible however is absolutely devoid of any evidence for the divine.

  4. #4 Vic Thorn
    January 26, 2010

    I think the problem with all of these arguments is the definition that one attaches to God. The familiar rhetoric is of a God that is kind, loving and forgiving. Conversely other followings may profess God to be arrogant, vengeful and protectionist (though shalt have no other God but I). My own thoughts are, have we got the right end of the stick? We portray God with human qualities because he/she has been written about for ages by people with human feelings. As a species we have a habit of personalising inanimate objects. The boat becomes a female entity that will respond to kind words of encouragement. The car is a stubborn bitch or bastard when it will not start. We project ourselves and our qualities to those things we interact with and depend on. What if God were actually inanimate? What if God was in fact some energy pulse that initiated the big bang? What if God were no more than an order to the universe such as Fibonacci numbering? We feel protected by God, this is normally because of the set of rules and morals that we have created to live by and we hope God agrees with it. When we put seat belts on in the car with all of its advanced technology of ABS and side impact protection we feel protected by the car. One can argue who designed the car? The answer to that of course is man, with knowledge of physics, engineering and mathematical data, all derived from natural occurring forces and elements. So is God a naturally occurring order of the universe that keeps things consistent to a point of stability, but with the random chance of development and extinction? Or is he as many would have us believe a gray bearded magician in flowing robes? As to whether I am atheist or agnostic. When we define God, then we can define our real feelings on that question.

  5. #5 Paul
    January 26, 2010

    I self-identify as atheist. The problem is that agnostic as a term has been subsumed by people leaving religion, who use it as an “I’m not sure” safe position where they don’t claim to believe in God but don’t want to have to defend disbelief (even just of their one specific contradictory ex-deity) either.

    If we could take agnosticism in common parlance back to Huxley or Russell’s definitions, I’d gladly wear the label. But I don’t want to be associated with the masses that use it in hopes that their beliefs won’t be criticized because “at least they’re keeping an open mind”.

  6. #6 noel
    January 26, 2010

    When my roommate asked me if I believed in God, I responded, “What’s your definition of God?”. He said, “You’re just supposed to say ‘yes or no’.” I think that means it’s a political question, like, “Are you with us or against us?”. So, to Christians I say I’m an atheist, but if anyone actually wants to discuss whether or not the word God has any referent at all (which I think is an interesting question, but I understand if others don’t), I’m an agnostic.
    BTW Julia Sweeney has a movie out that is a wonderful talk about becoming an atheist after years of struggling with her Catholic upbringing. It plays on Showtime channels sometimes:
    http://www.ted.com/talks/julia_sweeney_on_letting_go_of_god.html

  7. #7 The Wanderer
    January 26, 2010

    To simplify what others are saying.

    Atheist = Not a theist
    Agnostic = Not a gnostic
    Aphilatalist = Not a stamp collector

    Theism has to do with belief.
    Gnosticism has to do with knowing.
    Philataly is a hobby.

    Agnosticism is not some point between theism and atheism just as philately is not some point between building choppers and doing crossword puzzles.

    Maybe they exist, but I have never met an atheist who claimed that they had definite knowledge that there are no supernatural beings. I am an Asantaist. I do not believe in the existence of Santa Claus. However, I cannot state that I “know” that Santa does not exist. I cannot prove that somewhere at some time, a present didn’t appear under a tree by the grace of some magic elf. Agnosticism is a pointless term and gives no useful information about how a person views the world.

    The Wanderer

  8. #8 MadScientist
    January 26, 2010

    @Vic: You mean the god of Spinoza? We are back to Naturalism/Deism. That is certainly not the god which any Abrahamic religion claims knowledge of. Nor can we dismiss the claims of the divine origins of the bible (for the christians and mohammedans). Are we really to believe that the bible is divinely inspired yet so full of lies? If it is not divinely inspired as claimed, then why believe anything in it at all? One consistent view is that the claim to divine origins is merely another lie in the compendium.

  9. #9 Swami
    January 27, 2010

    You could take 50 people who claim to be atheists, and 50 people who claim to be agnostics, and ask them to write a brief summary of their thoughts on the existence of God, but with the stipulation that they cannot use either term in their summary. Reading these summaries, one would be hard pressed to tell one from the other. The differences in what they actually believe (or do not believe) are so insignificant that it’s not worth arguing about.