This post was imported from Livejournal on 2008.07.18
We all love labels. Who doesn't? It's a way to tell someone a lot of information about a person without having to explain a lot. This can get us into a lot of trouble when labels are ambiguous or in transitional states. For example, atheism/theism/agnosticism. The zeitgeist right now seems to be the following:
-Atheists actively believe there are no gods.
-Agnostics aren't sure if there are any gods, but are open to the possibility.
-Theists believe in at least one god.
I have a lot of trouble identifying my belief system using one of these labels. These labels are not enough to describe our complex thoughts regarding philosophical topics. The more "correct" definitions of those three terms are as follows:
-Atheists don't believe in any gods.
-Agnostics don't believe we can ever know whether or not gods exist.
-Theists believe in at least one god.
What have we here? Atheists and agnostics are not mutually exclusive? It's true. Here are some great definitions (courtesy of Wikipedia) of types of agnosticism:
- Strong agnosticism (also called hard agnosticism, closed agnosticism, strict agnosticism, absolute agnosticism)—the view that the question of the existence or nonexistence of an omnipotent God and the nature of ultimate reality is unknowable by reason of our natural inability to verify any experience with anything but another subjective experience. A strong agnostic would say "I don't know, and neither do you."
- Mild agnosticism (also called weak agnosticism, soft agnosticism, open agnosticism, empirical agnosticism, temporal agnosticism)—the view that the existence or nonexistence of God or gods is currently unknown but is not necessarily unknowable, therefore one will withhold judgment until/if more evidence is available. A weak agnostic would say "I don't know, but maybe you do."
- Militant agnosticism—similar to weak agnosticism, but with the additional imposition of that view on others. A militant agnostic would say "I can't know, and neither can you."
- Apathetic agnosticism—the view that there is no proof of either the existence or nonexistence of God or gods, but since any God or gods that may exist appear unconcerned for the universe or the welfare of its inhabitants, the question is largely academic anyway. An apathetic agnostic would say, "I don't know, and who cares anyway?"
- Model agnosticism—the view that philosophical and metaphysical questions are not ultimately verifiable but that a model of malleable assumption should be built upon rational thought. This branch of agnosticism does not focus on a deity's existence. A model agnostic would say "I don't know, but maybe it can be figured out."
- Agnostic theism (also called religious agnosticism)—the view of those who do not claim to know existence of God or gods, but still believe in such an existence. An agnostic theist would say "I don't know, but I think so."
- Agnostic atheism—the view of those who do not know of the existence or nonexistence of God or gods, and do not believe in them. An agnostic atheist would say "I don't know, and I don't think so."
- Ignosticism—the view that a coherent definition of God must be put forward before the question of the existence of God can meaningfully be discussed. If the chosen definition isn't coherent, the ignostic holds the noncognitivist view that the existence of God is meaningless or empirically untestable. It should be noted that A.J. Ayer, Theodore Drange, and other philosophers see both atheism and agnosticism as incompatible with ignosticism on the grounds that atheism and agnosticism accept "God exists" as a meaningful proposition which can be argued for or against. The ignostic would say, "I don't know what you're talking about when you refer to God."
Based on these definitions, I would place myself squarely in the Ignostic camp. I can't tell you whether or not a god exists because nobody can define what a god would be. If you define it, maybe I'll take an opinion on it. Even the Christian God isn't clearly defined.
I don't know how this "agnostics aren't sure, atheists don't believe" black/white simplicity got started, but we need to educate people on what these words really mean. I'm tired of saying I'm an atheist and having people say "You can't prove God doesn't exist!" and saying I'm agnostic and having people say "Choose a side, fence-sitter!"
If you took everyone in the U.S. who labeled themselves "Christian" and lined them up, and asked them exactly what they believe, I think you'd find a whole lot more "agnostic theists" than anything else in this country.
Given the above categories, where would you place yourself?