The subject has come up in other threads regarding the proper terminology for
people who do not believe in the
existence of god(s) but do not deny the
possibility of the existence of
same. It usually goes something like

“I’m an atheist.”
“So you’re saying God does not exist?”
“Well, I’m saying I don’t believe in the existence of God, but that doesn’t mean He couldn’t possibly exist.”
“Huh? You just said the same thing
“No, no. What I am saying is I, personally do not believe in the
existence of God. But I acknowledge it
is possible God exists. It just
can’t be proven either way.”
“Oh. So you’re saying you can’t know. Why didn’t you just say
you’re an agnostic?”
“Hmmm . . . Well, agnostics don’t
actually believe one way or the other.
I’m saying I don’t believe, but I could be wrong. I don’t think I
am, but we have now way of knowing for
“OK - So are you an atheist or an

:::Banging head on wall:::

Sound familiar?

Now, I’m not one to pigeonhole people,
but it’d be useful if we could somehow
circumvent that whole discussion with a
suitably pithy term or expression. So,
what do we call ourselves, other than
“Godless Heathens?” (And isn’t that

P.S. - David, I’m posting this here
'cause this is where the question seems
to come up. If you feel it belongs
elsewhere, or if it’s already been
discussed, please advise.

The reasonable man adapts himself to the world; the unreasonable one persists in trying to adapt the world to himself. Therefore, all progress depends on the unreasonable man.

I think the term “agnostic” is meaningless. Either you believe in god or you don’t. You can’t hold both beliefs at the same time, and you can’t beg off the question either. If it helps to call yourself “agnostic” while you are in transition from one to the other or to make your mother happy, that is ok but I personally don’t see how it is different than atheist.

I’ve pretty much always considered myself an atheist - at least from the age of 14 or so when I finally gave up on theism.

Well, speaking for myself (and perhaps a few others):

I describe myself as agnostic because I don’t have the faith and certainty to be able to say “yes God exists” or “nope, ain’t no God”.

I have never personally experienced anything which convinces me one way or another, so why take the leap of faith that is necessary to elevate my suspicion to a conviction?

It seems awfully short sighted to take an unanswerable* question and be firmly convinced that you’re personal answer is right.

(I do have to admit feeling a bit jealous of both my strongly atheist and religious friends. They seem so comfortable with their beliefs.)

  • Well, I suppose if people started rising from the dead, or the earth stopped spinning for a day or something, we could answer it. :wink:


The way I look at it is: I basically have estimates of how likely various things are, given no direct knowledge of them, based on other things that I do know. So, say, if you asked me if I believed there was someone in the world currently wearing a cowboy hat, I’d have to say it’s very likely indeed. I don’t know of anyone presently doing that, but I can still assign it a high probability based on what I know about the world.

OTOH, if you asked me if there are huge, fuzzy, thermophilic, pink elephants living on the planet Venus, I’d have to give that one a very low probability, even though I have no first hand knowledge either way, based also on what I know about the universe. You can make up your own example for the P=0.5 case.

Then, to me, an atheist has P(god) as close to zero, a theist, as close to one, and an agnostic, somewhere closer to the middle. Only someone who thinks P(god) is exactly zero is going to say he denies even the possibility.

peas on earth

I don’t believe in “God”
I also don’t believe in Santa Claus, the Easter Bunny, or Stone Cold Steve Austin.
O.K. Steve Austin is a maybe. But my point is that none of these other “non-beliefs” need a word to describe them. The only reason we use the term “Atheist” is so that we avoid the long discussion as to why we quit believing in fairy tales when we grew up, and you didn’t. It is merely a shortcut that says,“We don’t want to play the Jesus version of Dungeons and Dragons with you, thank you very much.”

The distinction as I’ve always understood it, between an atheist and an agnostic is that an atheist believes in no god while an agnostic does not deny the possibilty, but feels it is beyond man’s ability to ever know.

Or, maybe the people who don’t believe in God got jealous of the fact that people who believe in God have so many different churches to choose among. So, they got together, and had divided up into different churches of no God. Then they had various other fine differences, you know, whether it was important for atheists to stop other people from praying, or simply not to pray themselves, that sort of thing. Before you know it you have Agnostics, Atheists, Reformed Atheists, Fundamentalist Atheists, all sorts of varieties

<p align=“center”>Tris</p>

I don’t suppose you could have Died Again Atheists…

Ya’ll might wanna join UncaBeer’s First Ecumenical Church O’ Apathy. We just don’t care.

Dopeler effect:
The tendency of stupid ideas to seem smarter when they come at you rapidly.

Huh? We don’t have a noun problem here; we have a verb problem. If we shelve the “believe”(=“take on faith”) term, we might be better set for working with this.

Okay, we have this concept, the entity. The question of whether the entity is “real” in some meaningful sense has come up, and since the evidence for the entity is such that reasonable people can disagree, we need terms for those who hold varying views. The entity in question could be the existence of a superjovian planet circling Eta Ursae Minoris. Some accept the evidence; some do not; and some feel that there is insufficient evidence to make a decision about the entity.

Theists accept the existence of a god (or gods). In point of fact, they may say they “believe in” him in the sense of putting their personal commitment in their personal relationship with him. That is a different ball of wax, and worth debating elsewhere.

Atheists believe that the evidence points to there not being a god. As several resident atheists on this board have pointed out, there can be a distinction drawn between those who assert that there can logically be no such thing as “god” and those who simply state that they have no reasonable demonstration of the existence of god, so the reasonable conclusion is that there is none.

Agnostics, by this analogy, are the ones calling for an “insufficient data” conclusion. There is a significant difference between “I don’t know” and “I think not,” despite how a three-year-old may interpret these words from his/her parents.

Slythe said:

To my knowledge, no one beyond the age of, say, 18 believes in Santa Claus or the Easter Bunny. Also, to my knowledge, we don’t have any words to describe “beliefs” in them. We do, however, have many words to describe beliefs in (a) god(s). And if you have classification words for one aspect, you need words for the other aspects.

Slythe said:

These kinds of comments really bother me. As I mentioned in another thread, the inability to understand how someone else can come to a conclusion different than yours on a topic that is unprovable and unverifiable seems to imply some superior knowledge that the rest of us don’t have. Perhaps, Slythe, you’d care to share with the rest of the class?

“These kinds of comments really bother me. As I mentioned in another thread, the inability to understand how someone else can come to a conclusion different than yours on a topic that is unprovable and unverifiable seems to imply some superior knowledge that the rest of us don’t have. Perhaps, Slythe, you’d care to share with the rest of the class?”

I think Slythe probably understands how a theist would come to believe - I know I do. Almost invariably, it is the same way he came to believe in Santa Claus: his parents told him. The Santa Claus thing is important - at least to me and to other atheists I know. This is because I first began to question the validity of the Church when I found out there was no Santa Claus. If this seems trite to you, please think about it. My parents explained why they lied to me about Santa Claus - that it was just for fun and to make me feel good, and it occurred to me that maybe someone had lied to them about God for the same reason. Someone nearly two thousand years ago. Obviously this is a lot simpler than what I currently believe, but I was only five years old at the time.

As I said earlier, I still clung to theism for another nine years. Thats proof that its much stronger than Santaism.

On a different note, I guess I have to accept bantof’s note about probabilities as being closer to the truth than what I said. I guess I consider myself an atheist because I find the concept of ‘god’ logically impossible. More specifically, I find the word ‘supernatural’ meaningless. There is nothing but nature. If there was a being with powers far greater than our own (Zeus, Superman, whatever) I wouldn’t consider it supernatural because it is obviously a product and part of the natural universe.

As for the Jewish/Christian/Muslim type God, who is all seeing/knowing/powerful well - I just can’t get my head around it. I never could - and I was told to take it on faith. I’ve decided this is pointless. It makes no sense to me at all.

Spoons, I never claimed to have superior knowledge. If you have any more evidence that an all-knowing, all-seeing, and omnipotent “god” exists than I have that the Easter Bunny exists, I would love to see it.
As was pointed out, you probably quit believing in Santa Claus because someone in authority, probably your parents, told you the truth. In this society, though, it is still considered a big no-no to tell kids that there is no god, so the belief system extends into adult-hood, cementing the belief into the psyche.

beatle said:

That’s part of what I was trying to bring out. To wit: I do not believe in God, but I also do not deny the possibilty, and feel it is beyond man’s ability to ever know. So there are elements of both definitions there.

Polycarp said:

Well, yes. This is what I meant by the quote in my hypothetical conversation:

The whole thing is a non-issue if atheism is defined simply as “The belief that there is no God or gods.” But some definitions include: “The denial of the existence of a God or gods.”

This may be a small semantic difference, but it’s a huge philosophical difference, and one that could be interpreted as disrespectful of people of faith.

The reasonable man adapts himself to the world; the unreasonable one persists in trying to adapt the world to himself. Therefore, all progress depends on the unreasonable man.

“The whole thing is a non-issue if atheism is defined simply as “The belief that there is no God or gods.” But some definitions include: “The denial of the existence of a God or gods.””

It almost feels like these statements are different - but from a mathmatical/logical standpoint they are effectively identical. You cannot believe that there are no gods without denying the existence of gods posited by someone else. The reverse maybe, is not true - you could deny any specific god and not deny all gods. If you changed the 2nd statement to “The denial of the existence of any god.” Then the two statements could be applied interchangeably to the same person.

Incidentally, I’ve never known a Christian, Jew, Muslim, Scientologist etc. that was not disrespectful of some theology. The first three often scorn the last, and vice-versa. Also many christians are disrespectful of Wiccans etc. I am disrespectful of all religions, though I try not to show disrespect to any specific person regardless of their faith. If you wish to discuss religion philosophically though, you have to be ready for your toes to get stepped on.

Slythe said:

I bet I could come up with more evidence that the Easter Bunny doesn’t exist than you could for a god. My point being that comparing belief in a god to the belief in Santa Claus or the Easter Bunny is a gross oversimplification. It implies that logical, intelligent people couldn’t have come to the conclusion that there is a god. It implies that no one who believes in a god has ever critically analyzed their own beliefs and has just accepted the word of their parents. While this might be true of many people, this is not always the case, and to suggest otherwise is a gross generalization.

Actually, for the record, I found out by hiding out by the stairs and watching, having been skeptical for at least a year prior.

So belief in god is perpetuated by a taboo in letting people think critically for themselves? If you want to explain away the fact that other people come to an unverifiable and unprovable conclusion different than yours using psychoanalysis, go right ahead. I would contend that teaching a child to not believe that there is no god has a similar effect on a child in forming its beliefs. Such arguments are hard to prove, however, because we don’t live in a vaccuum.

Having re-read my post, it may sound like I am arguing with Slythe that there must be a god, or that there is one. That really isn’t my argument. My argument is that many intelligent and logical people have come to the conclusion that there is a god, that they don’t know, or that there is no god. Some comments I hear seem to trivialize the process by which people come to these various conclusions, almost implying that people who don’t come to the conclusion that they themselves have are merely deluding themselves. I have a hard time letting these comments bounce off my skin, because I myself understand how people can come to all three conclusions. To me, trivializing someone else’s reasoning is equivalent to assuming they have some problem with logical thinking. I don’t buy it.

With those people that I have spoken to in depth about their conversion experience, invariably they say that they were emotionally distressed to one degree or the other. Often they say such things as they were ‘disconnected’ or ‘missing something’. They first come to believe that a religious faith can help with this - then they pick a religious faith based on a variety of factors. Once they are emotionally certain, they use reason to bolster this belief.

This theme of conversion is universal, I’ve not heard a single exception to it. For me personally, it does not come near the standards that I would use for truth-finding.

Bunch of object lessons here. In reverse order:

  1. There does exist a gentleman named Stephen Austin who has a contract with Titan Sports to portray the character “Stone Cold Steve Austin” in the WWF. Denying the reality of that character and the image he projects does not vitiate the reality of the man who portrays him. I personally don’t hold any brief for the existence of the guy with long white hair and beard and piercing angry blue eyes who sits on clouds holding lightning bolts. But the One who plays that role, that’s a different story! :slight_smile:

  2. The Easter Bunny represents a genteelization of an old tradition. He used to be a fertility symbol, representing the renewed fertility of the fields and woods (and of course other things). He’s just been cleaned up to get a “G” rating today.

  3. You will note my screen name. Now, back when the original Polycarp was Bishop of Smyrna, would you care to guess who was Bishop of the neighboring city of Myra? :wink: