I have heard many an atheist claim that is the case. Indeed I am sometimes guilty of using that word to describe myself in place of atheist. Occasionally one wants to minimize the impact of their beliefs in a religious world. Agnostic means without knowledge. Atheism means without a god or religion.
I do know that I don't believe in an Abrahamic god, heaven, hell, original sin or supernatural miracles. However, I do not know that death means the end of consciousness. In that sense I am agnostic. It may well be the end of consciousness and I am OK with that. However, I look around at a universe that recycles itself. The body of a dead animal feeds a myriad of other organisms and is thus recycled. Our solar system was born from the death of a star. Our universe may have spawned off of another universe ( Multiverse Theory). It seems like an endless cycle. Ultimately none of us knows as we have not returned from the dead. I suppose it comes down to semantics and how you interpret the word.
I am 100% atheist. I don't believe in any gods of any kind, any spirits, or any ghosts. We begin life as stardust, and after it ends, we some day we become stardust again. Meanwhile, our atoms are recycled in all sorts of ways, as is true for the air we exhale, and our other bodily outputs.
Definitionally, the two words operate on different tracks:
That said, is it possible to KNOW that there are absolutely NO GODS in this universe? Not from where I sit. However, the ultimate source from which most belief systems spring are the holy books which represent said system. An analysis of the bible or the quran or any other holy book yields up multiple serious problems regarding reportage, observational errors, internal contradictions within the books, or contradictions with known scientific fact which would disqualify any attempt at being an authoritative reference. Steve Wells' work on both the bible and quran does a serviceable job of dismantling both, to the point where I can say with reasonable confidence that the gods those books represent simply do not exist. As regards the Abrahamic god, I am a gnostic atheist.
Regarding any other god which may exist but produces no LOCAL demonstration of its existence, I have to fall back on the Null Hypothesis, which effectively says that, in the absence of evidence, the best answer to the such a question is: "I DON'T KNOW."
Now ... all THAT said, ultimately, I think there are those who claim agnosticism rather than atheism because of the negative baggage associated with the latter term. That to me IS a cop-out, and here I agree heartily with David Silverman in that "atheist" is what we SHOULD be calling ourselves, if for no other reason than that the term is well understood by the vast majority of those who hear it. If the word "atheist" is confrontational, I have no problem with that. Most of us are confronted daily with the presumption of Christian privilege which too many believers exercise on a regular basis, and that needs to be answered in kind. They need to be disabused of that practice and understand that Christianity should be on an even footing with Judaism, Islam, Buddhism, Jainism and every other baseless superstition this world has produced to date. Not one of them should have the favor of the government over another; that needs to be an utterly LEVEL playing field, regardless of belief or lack thereof.
It's past time to man-up ... or woman-up or person-up or whatever ... and call ourselves what we are: ATHEISTS. If Neil deGrasse Tyson doesn't like it, that's his privilege, but he's missing the boat on this one.
Loren, no surprise, I also say that we should be calling ourselves atheist. "Agnostic" doesn't really express it.
In some ways, expressing religious category affiliation might be a form of tribalism. "I am a Catholic". "I am a Muslim". "I am a Fundamentalist Baptist White Man". In that way, expressing "I am an Atheist" also categorizes us as members of a tribe, one about as organized as cats in a laser demonstrated. My preference is to use the word as adjective, not noun. There are many descriptors that can be applied. But when push comes to shove, I am an Atheist.
Albert Einstein referred to himself as an agnostic or religious nonbeliever. He also claimed to believe in a pantheistic god but not in a personal god that concerns himself with the actions of humans.
Einstein did not like the fervor of some atheists and often criticized them. I'm guessing Neil deGrasse Tyson is following Einstein's and Carl Sagan's belief, or non belief, systems.
I was thinking about Mr. Einstein the other day. I realized that the true impact of a person is not measured by their deeds. It is best done by measuring how often they are misrepresented and internationally misquoted after death. No matter how hard they try they can't "make" him a "good Christian" now that he has passed.
Nor can we claim him a good atheist.
" I have repeatedly said that in my opinion the idea of a personal God is a childlike one. You may call me an agnostic, but I do not share the crusading spirit of the professional atheist whose fervor is mostly due to a painful act of liberation from the fetters of religious indoctrination received in youth. I prefer an attitude of humility corresponding to the weakness of our intellectual understanding of nature and of our own being."
- Albert Einstein, letter to Guy H. Raner Jr., Sept. 28, 1949, quoted by Michael R. Gilmore in Skeptic, Vol. 5, No. 2
I really like the last sentence.
I do not believe in gods for the same reason that I do not believe in Santa Claus. It took a period of time in my life for me to come to this conclusion. When I did so it seemed perfectly natural to me. The truly religious understand discarding Santa but argue for hanging onto their god.Why?
The following language is from Einstein and it seems to have validity as his POV as it was in a a letter and in response to a philosopher.
“The word God is for me nothing more than the expression and product of human weakness, the Bible a collection of honorable, but still purely primitive, legends which are nevertheless pretty childish. No interpretation, no matter how subtle, can change this for me.”
Einstein clearly did not believe in a personal, interventionist god but we can not legitimately claim him as an atheist.
The bigotry of the nonbeliever is for me nearly as funny as the bigotry of the believer.
- Albert Einstein, quoted in: Einstein's God - Albert Einstein's Quest as a Scientist and as a Jew to Replace a Forsaken God (1997)
Based on what I have read about Einstein's beliefs Agnostic seems like the best word to describe him.
A theist may argue with you that you are not an atheist. He will do this because his book tells him that "everybody believes in god." This is why they often say to you, "something must have happened" meaning you are now "angry with god" over something.
Not an atheist? These very facts are why I will always say that I am an atheist. Nobody has a right to tell me what I believe in or answer that question for me.