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 Lorien on March 22, 2009 at 10:07am
Above us is mostly empty space with the occasional star and its planets. Then there is the orbiting Teapot.
Comment by Rosemary LYNDALL WEMM on March 22, 2009 at 2:49am
ha ha ha :-)
Comment by Casey Wollberg on March 22, 2009 at 1:40am
Incidentally, it may well be that we are all born ignostic apatheist atheists. That is, we don't understand, care about, or believe any god-claims. We can get back to that, I'm sure.'s easy if you try...nothing to kill or die for...above us, only sky. Looking forward to it.
Comment by Casey Wollberg on March 22, 2009 at 1:18am
Sure, I'm in the same boat. But that would make us both agnostic atheists, as opposed to agnostic theists. We just need to ask these "agnostics" what distinguishes them from theists--it is, of course, their atheism. Your initial response was a good (and arguably the standard) way to address this challenge to the atheist position (because that's what it is), but I wanted to point out the fact that they are misusing the terms to begin with. As you mention, they also don't seem to appreciate that there are degrees of certainty, and that not all beliefs are equally probable. Anyone who is sanctimonious enough to declare, "I'm no atheist--I'm agnostic, because you can't prove a negative..." and so forth, is making several mistakes, and they need to be called on it every time. The mistake I was focusing on in my little Socratic dialogue is this one of confused terminology.
Comment by Rosemary LYNDALL WEMM on March 21, 2009 at 10:57pm
As a psychologist I am used to degrees of certainty with very little being absolutely certainty. Some of what is classed as "certain" is merely certain by definition, for example: square squares and 1+1=2.

I added the last three items on my list because there is less certainty about these things than, say, the existence of the Easter Bunny.

My position is that I am, for all intents and purposes, an atheist because I rate the probability of the existence of a supernatural being as extremely low and the probability of liking any divinity which could exist in these circumstances as rather remote.
Comment by Casey Wollberg on March 21, 2009 at 10:22pm
Well...technically they would be agnostic about those things; so would you or I (How do you prove the non-existence of goblins?). But their agnosticism would not prevent them from settling on a position of disbelief. And that was my point (and yours, of course): agnosticism is about knowledge, atheism (or theism) is about belief. Atheism is the non-belief in gods (literally the opposite of theism); it is not the knowledge of their non-existence, any more than theism is the knowledge of the existence of gods. So-called "agnostics" who refuse the atheist label and accuse atheists of overreaching are merely suffering from a confusion of terms and/or are afraid of the atheist label on some level.

Agnostic just means "without knowledge." When it comes to non-falsifiable claims, we're all, strictly speaking, agnostic. But if you were to find proof that, say, leprechauns (correct spelling!) did not exist, that would make you gnostic with regard to the non-existence of leprechauns: whereas before you may have been merely an a-leprechaun-ist (not believing in leprechauns), now you know for sure that they don't exist. The agnostic/atheist dichotomy is a false dilemma because it conflates belief and knowledge.
Comment by Rosemary LYNDALL WEMM on March 21, 2009 at 9:43pm
I think the way to get the point home is to ask them whether they are also agnostic about all the other gods, unicorns, leprachuans (how does one spell this word?), fairies, goblins, trolls, Santa and the Easter Bunny. For comparison you might consider the Loch Ness Monster, Life on Mars, and life on other planets.



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