Atheist: I'm an atheist.

Closeted Atheist: Oh, well, I think you're going a bit too far. I mean, you can't conclusively prove that gods don't exist.

Atheist: So, you are a theist?

Closeted Atheist: Of course not! I'm agnostic; I don't claim that gods don't exist because that's a non-falsifiable claim. It's not possible to prove a negative.

Atheist: I agree and take the same position. So, why do you call yourself agnostic but not an atheist?

Closeted Atheist: Agnostic refers to a lack of certitude with regard to some question. It means, "without knowledge."

Atheist: So, your agnosticism addresses the question of knowledge: you don't know whether gods exist. Is that correct?

Closeted Atheist: Yes. What's your point?

Atheist: Well, I don't know whether gods exist either.

Closeted Atheist: There. That settles it. You really should be calling yourself an agnostic instead of an atheist.

Atheist: Oh, but I do call myself an agnostic.

Closeted Atheist: Didn't you say you were an atheist?

Atheist: I didn't realize the two distinctions were mutually exclusive.

Closeted Atheist: What do you mean?

Atheist: Well, we already established that our agnosticism addresses the question of knowledge. But what about belief? Does agnosticism really say anything about what one believes?

Closeted Atheist: Of course it does! An agnostic person does not believe one way or the other!

Atheist: I thought you said an agnostic person does not know one way or the other.

Closeted Atheist: It's the same thing!

Atheist: Really? Interesting! Does a theist know that gods exist?

Closeted Atheist: I suppose not...

Atheist: So a theist is really just agnostic--someone who doesn't know one way or the other!

Closeted Atheist: But a theist believes that gods exist!

Atheist: And yet the theist does not know that gods exist. So what distinguishes you from the theist? Do you share the belief of the theist as well as his/her ignorance?

Closeted Atheist: Of course not! I'm not a theist, I'm an...

Atheist: Atheist--without belief in gods--"not a theist." Am I right?

Closeted Atheist: Oh, I suppose you are. I never thought of it that way. I'm an a-theist...huh, sounds terrible.

Atheist: That's okay, you'll get over the taboo.

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Comment by Casey Wollberg on June 11, 2009 at 11:00pm
Osh Kanawa:

If you are interested in a label, you might check out the term "ignostic"...
Comment by Osh Kanawa on June 11, 2009 at 4:47pm
I'm not sure what the definition of "GOD" is so I remain constantly c-o-n-f-u-s-e-d for my "label". I sure as hell don't think there's a "loving" god. I sure as hell don't think humans are "divine"...not any more so than spiders, anyway. I sure as hell HOPE humans aren't the highest forms of life in the universe ! (Argh...what a thought!!) I accept the possibility that there may be higher life forms than humans...but pfft if they care more about what humans are doing than humans care what algae is doing.
Comment by Casey Wollberg on June 9, 2009 at 6:33pm

I don't think I agree. You have not addressed my argument, for one thing. I will reiterate it. The redefinition of agnosticism as a mythological mid-point between belief and non-belief ("I do not believe, but I do not not believe.") encourages the illogical shifting of the burden of proof. Agnosticism is not at all, as you put it, "a lack of belief in gods." It is, as Huxley so clearly explains, a position on the limits of knowledge, especially with regard to supernatural claims. This is made doubly and triply clear when you consider two undeniable facts: 1) Huxley coined the term to directly oppose the "gnostic" view, which posits that supernatural claims are knowable, without the benefit of evidence, and 2) there exist agnostic atheists and agnostic theists. Your particular re-definition of agnosticism ("a lack of belief in gods") fails utterly here, and especially with regard to agnostic theists, who readily admit that their belief is just that--a matter of faith, not knowledge. Agnosticism, to put it simply, is the view that claims for which no evidence can be provided, can be believed, but cannot be said to be known.

I will concede that the definition of atheism has changed over time and across cultures--however, I don't agree that it is relevant to the discussion at hand. "Agnosticism" after all, is a comparatively recently-coined technical term, referring to a definite philosophical position...contrary to popular belief.

This section of your post is particularly problematic...

"I'm not sure it makes any sense to complain that agnostics are continuing to use the word as it was intended to be used..."

But this is precisely my complaint: that so-called "agnostics" are not using the word as it was intended to be used. Your misunderstanding of my position leads me to suspect that you did not read very carefully in this instance.

Since you say that "no harm accrues to anyone, if an agnostic sticks to the label 'agnostic'," could you give me some idea as to why you disagree with my argument that the re-definition of this word so popular among "agnostics" is muddying the waters and lending itself to the shifting of the burden of proof?
Comment by Casey Wollberg on June 3, 2009 at 9:50pm
@Don, who said this...

In the purest sense of the word, an "atheist" is someone "without theistic belief." Therefore, an agnostic is fundamentally also an atheist.

As Judith Hayes writes in an essay called The Happy Heretic, "One cannot be an agnostic. Agnostic means "not to know" and almost by definition all humans are agnostic about God in that no one can be sure whether a God of some sort really exists. I know I haven't a clue. But no thinking person can say that he does not know if he acknowledges a God. We all know if we believe in a God. In our heart of hearts, we either do believe or we do not believe. Either way, we know if we believe. There is no such thing as not knowing if we believe. This supposedly "neutral" position about the existence of God, agnosticism, is no position at all. The sooner it is eliminated the better, for all of us freethinkers, atheists, unbelievers, nonbelievers, humanists, or whatever."

George Smith writes in his excellent book, ATHEISM: THE CASE AGAINST GOD,
"Atheism . . . is the absence of theistic belief. One who does not believe in the existence of a god or supernatural being is properly designated as an atheist. Atheism is sometimes defined as 'the belief that there is no God of any kind,' or the claim that a god cannot exist. While these are categories of atheism, they do not exhaust the meaning of atheism--and are somewhat misleading with respect to the basic nature of atheism. Atheism, in its basic form, is not a belief: it is the absence of belief. An atheist is not primarily a person who believes that a god does not exist, rather he does not believe in the existence of a god."

I meant to thank you, but got caught under an avalanche of bad arguments and counter-factual premises. So, thank you, Don, for being one of the very few (apparently) who gets it.
Comment by Casey Wollberg on June 3, 2009 at 9:30pm
Well, katkatkatkat...kat?, it is very brave of you to address something I actually said, directly, instead of addressing my person. It is also refreshingly reasonable, and I appreciate it. You should serve as an excellent example to your peers here.

If you are not avoiding, out of fear, describing yourself as a person who lacks belief in gods (which you do), then why avoid it? You mention that you have rational reasons. What are they?

My problem isn't necessarily with non-believers resisting identification as atheists (even though that's what they are), it is with the popular re-definition of agnosticism, which allows for a false assumption: that "god exists" is a claim that must be disproved before it can be reasonably rejected. This is what we call, "shifting the burden of proof." Have you heard of that?

So-called "agnostics" will say, well, god can't be disproved so I can't claim to know he doesn't exist. My response is, "You are shifting the burden of proof." My further response is that it is not necessary to claim to know god doesn't exist in order to reject the baseless claim that he does exist. This is why the majority of atheists are also agnostic. Can you appreciate the implication of this fact? It means that actual agnosticism is not a position that is mutually exclusive of theism or atheism.

I implore you to look up the origin of the word you are using to identify yourself, and discover that you can go ahead and admit to being an atheist without violating the tenets of agnosticism. Atheism, I should clarify, just in case, does not require you to to make the positive claim that gods do not exist; it is merely a lack of belief in god claims for which you find no compelling evidence (this is an agnostic stance, by the way)--atheism, of and by itself, is not a claim, but the rejection of a claim. An atheist is not necessarily one who claims to know gods do not exist (this is one particular form of atheism, called gnostic--essentially the opposite of agnostic--atheism or strong atheism).

I would call you an agnostic (you don't claim to have knowledge about gods) atheist (you don't actively believe in gods), same as me. Look up the term and see if I'm right.

It's complicated, I know; but you are an intelligent person and you can, if you try, appreciate the nuances here. The easiest way to check out what I am saying is to use Wikipedia--they have good, thorough entries for atheism and agnosticism. It's spelled out plain as day. Thanks again for not attacking me.
Comment by katkatkat on June 3, 2009 at 8:19pm
I think you misunderstand me. I'm not at all afraid to admit that I think Christianity and all other organized religion is ridiculous and although it probably helped glue society together in the past I think that we are quickly outgrowing religion. In fact, I identified as an atheist and was very outspoken about it for most of my life. Now, I could be horribly wrong but I feel that identifying primarily as agnostic is a more rational choice for all of the reasons that I've already explained. My parents are non-believers, my boyfriend despises organized religion and most of the other people I care about are either non-religious or are very accepting of their atheist/agnostic friends. There is no reason for me to fear being open about my beliefs. I admire that you are trying to make a point about the definition of the words atheist and agnostic and that you think they are being misused, but just because I may or may not be misinterpreting the word doesn't mean that I'm intentionally doing so out of fear.
Comment by Casey Wollberg on June 3, 2009 at 5:12pm
"It is not a place to be brow-beaten into conforming to someone else's rather rigid views on what an atheist should be."

I shouldn't be surprised that you would utilize a red herring to poison the well, in addition to ad hominem.
Comment by Casey Wollberg on June 3, 2009 at 7:20am
Furthermore, if anyone has an actual argument that addresses the point I was making in my post, I'd be glad to consider it. Most of you who came on here to make comments and have now ended up calling me an asshole, did so with your minds already made up. You didn't like me at the beginning, and that was reflected in your smug denial of the unpopular but factual information my post alluded to. The more I responded with superior arguments, the less you liked me. And now you resort to ad hominem, of course... I'm sorry you took my unassailable arguments as a personal attack, but it's really not my fault you are incorrect. So don't bother posting on here anymore. If you wish to harangue me further, you can send me a personal message--since this is personal now. The comment section is closed to personal attacks from now on. I've shown you all the respect to address your arguments with arguments; I expect the same.
Comment by Casey Wollberg on June 3, 2009 at 7:06am
Sorry, folks; I'm not expressing my "views." These are simple facts anyone can look up for themselves. You all do know the difference between fact and opinion, don't you?

@Alex Donovan. It takes one to know one. Fuck off.
Comment by Rosemary LYNDALL WEMM on June 2, 2009 at 9:57pm
I call myself an atheist or a Bright.

When I signed up I was asked:
Are you
A. An atheist?
B. An agnostic?
(Your answer will not appear to others.)

The place where this question is answered on my Page now says:

This is a site for non-theists.

The rules may have changed. Nevertheless, some of us who joined in the early stages may identity as agnostics.

In any case, Casey, I do believe that you are a little too brutal in your approach. Please tone it down. This is a place to be able to express one's socially unacceptable beliefs in comfort. It is not a place to be brow-beaten into conforming to someone else's rather rigid views on what an atheist should be. I believe it's time to wind up this thread before someone else gets hurt and more mud is thrown.



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