Another discussion posed the question, do you:
A. disbelieve in gods? or
B. believe there are no gods?
The subtle distinction here seems to be whether you think we can know that there are no such things as gods, or whether you think we can't ever really know such a thing, but you nevertheless think that there aren't such things.
I prefer to ask the question in the more direct way then. Are you:
A. a Gnostic Atheist, or
B. an Agnostic Atheist?
Surely this question matters, and in the interests of full disclosure I am a Gnostic Atheist, with the qualifier that I do not think that absolute knowledge of anything can really be had, but rather that if we can know anything at all, we can know there are no such things as gods as surely as we can know that there are such things as cows and pigs and people and stars and viruses and rivers and such (all things we have plenty of evidence for), and as surely as we can know that there are not such things as leprechauns and unicorns and cyclops and fairies and hobbits and flying spaghetti monsters 9all things for which there is absolutely no evidence).
I don't like the gnostic-agnostic dichotomy. I'm an Atheist. Do I think we can know that no gods exist for sure? No, but I don't think we can know anything for sure. But it's only when it comes to the existance of gods that the term agnostic pops up. However, I'd then have to say that I'm agnostic about everything, and so the term becomes superfluous.
I rather think that the term agnostic should be used about those people who really are unsure about the existance of gods.
I want to stress that while there's few things we can know for sure, the non-existance of gods is one of the things that I'm most sure about. I'm a 6,9 on the Dawkins scale.
Yeah Strappado, that's pretty much what I think too. I'm like a 6.9999 or whatever, but you really hit the nail on the head when you said you are "agnostic about everything". I'm also skeptical about everything, so you're right that there is a sort of false dichotomy there. I agree with you 100%; if you are not really sure whether you believe in deities, you fall into the agnostic camp. If you're quite certain it's all hooey, you are an atheist. The rest is just semantics.
A. a Gnostic Atheist, or
B. an Agnostic Atheist?
Belief and knowledge are not the same things. Things that I claim to "know" overlap the things that I "believe".
Therefore, yes I have a positive belief that no gods exist (more accurately, I think that the noun "god" is pretty much meaningless) but I don't claim to "know" god or gods don't exist. I don't think it's a knowable proposition.
So your question is a bit of a false dichotomy.
Once you add the qualifier "that I do not think that absolute knowledge of anything can really be had," I don't see what utility remains for the distinction between an agnostic atheist and a gnostic atheist. If absolute knowledge is not possible for "anything," then the best that can be said for "knowledge" is that it is a difference of degree or intensity of belief, in which case both the agnostic atheist and the gnostic atheist believe almost to a point of certainty that God does not exist.
My view is slightly different from either of these: the statement God Exists is meaningless because the term God does not refer to anything we know or can possibly know. Probably that puts me a bit closer to the agnostic atheist and close to Huxley's original concept of agnosticism—that nothing is or can be known on this question.
Dr. Clark, interesting take. I am curious. If it turns out that we can't do the math or experimentally determine the state of affairs that is the singularity just prior to the big bang, would you say that the notion of the singularity is meaningless because we cannot possibly know it. I'm not getting the connection necessary between the meaninglessness of a term (how it is used in discourse, etc) and its epistemic inaccessibility. Also, why do you think that a god would be such that we cannot possibly know it. I might not be able to, say, comprehend omniscience but surely creator is meaningful.
Mathematically the term singularity has a definite meaning—it's a well defined notion, albeit a negative notion. A singularity may be located at a specified point and it may have certain characteristics. I don't think it presents the same kind of problem that religious terms do.
Of course we use many terms whose meaning is vague or indefinite—abstractions, fictions, etc. and it is essential to be able to do that. That does not seem to be the way believers use the word God—at least most of them in my experience.
The word God, as it is used by most, is a singular term, like a proper name. That is to say, it is intended to refer to one specific entity and no other. Consequently it is without meaning unless it does refer to something.
Leibniz and others tried to avoid this problem by defining God as a necessary being, but that just moves the problem a step away. Instead of the proposition God exists, we have the proposition there exists a necessary being.
How is the term creator meaningful in the religious sense? We know examples of individuals creating physical objects, but they always begin with existing physical materials from which they assemble an object.
That is not what people mean when they say God created the universe. They do not mean God assembled the universe from materials already in existence. They mean, I think, that at one point there existed nothing material at all, and later there was the universe which came about by the action of an immaterial. I myself have no idea what that means and know no example in which a material object was created that way. (I don't think pair production even counts.)
Perhaps your idea of creator is different.