Atheism and Agnosticism are not Mutually Exclusive.

In these threads, an agnostic, Frank apisa is saying that atheists have faith and that atheism is basically a religion. That’s not what this thread is about; that’s being debated in the other threads.

What I’m debating here is just the definitions of atheism and agnosticism. It seems that usually, the way atheism is used, it’s defined as being sure that no gods exist. And agnosticism as not knowing at all if a god exists.

I don’t like these definitions. I don’t think they’re very useful. There are two main reasons:

  1. From a practical standpoint, they’re exactly the same. Both the atheist and the agnostic doesn’t go to church, doesn’t pray, etc.

  2. From the theoretical standpoint, they leave a lot out. What about the person who’s pretty sure there isn’t a god, but isn’t positive? Or someone who thinks it’s possible that gods exist, but just doesn’t think it’s likely?

So, here’s what I propose. Atheism should mean “not believing in gods”. That’s it. Nothing about how sure you are in that belief, or how willing you are to accept new evidence. It’s about ontology - what exists.

Agnosticism should be closer to the original definition. An agnostic believes that it is not possible to know whether or not god exists. It’s about epistemology - what we can know.

Personally, I’m both an agnostic and an atheist. I’m an atheist, because it’s the logical default. I assume something doesn’t exist unless there is evidence otherwise (otherwise, you have to believe in an infinite amount of things, some of which are contradictory).

I’m an agnostic, because god is supposed to be omnipotent. If a god existed, it could easily hide its existence and make the universe look as if it didn’t exist. And if a god did exist, there would be nothing it could do to prove it was literally omnipotent, only extremely powerful. It’s like counting to infinity.

Of course they’re not mutually exclusive, what a silly thing to claim.
Agnosticism (literally a-gnosis) is a position where one claims that proof/certainty is elusive/impossible. Atheism (literally a-theism) is a lack of theism.

As such, one can be an agnostic theist and believe that certainty is impossible but that’s why they call it faith and not proof, or one can be an agnostic atheist and lack a belief in God and believe that it’s impossible to prove the matter one way or another as God is defined as being beyond the structure of proof and refutation itself.

Of course, there is also a division between hard and soft atheists, but that’s neither here nor there.

Atheism is commonly used to mean either “doesn’t believe in a god” or “believes its impossible for any god of any kind to exist”. The latter definition is almost never used by atheists themselves.

Agnosticism commonly used for “An atheist who’s not entirely certain they’re an atheist.” For obvious reasons this is not a spectacularly useful definition. But what are you going to do? Refusing to acknowledge the way a word is commonly used just make it harder to communicate with you.

There are lots of positions with atheism and agnosticism and the two do–yes, officially–overlap.

I’d suggest looking at the descriptions on the Wikipedia:


Ayup, by whoever officiates definitions.

Atheism is not a religion. But it implies a level of certainty that manifests in blogs, books and bus ads. Agnostics maintain a high degree of “don’t give a rat’s ass” which makes life more enjoyable.

Nonsense, of course it is. Or somewhere in between.

I’m a hard agnostic. Everyone says so.

You can also be an agnostic theist. Someone who does not believe it is possible to KNOW if God exists, but has faith He does.

It is, of course, impossible to disprove the existence of a disinterested Creator.

When discussions like this pop up, I like to link to the Happy Heretic “brutal” thought experiment.

I still see that there is still room for a “Teapot agnostic” or a soft atheist as I see myself.

So, yeah, one by one the gods of the past were dismissed, until I can reach something that someone could call a god; however, it is (unfortunately) very likely to be irrelevant to us or that he/she/it would look at us humans funny for thinking that we are the main reason for the existence of the vast universe that we see.

First of all, Strinka…I most assuredly have never called atheism a religion…and on several occasions I have gone out of my way to specifically say “It is NOT a religion.”

I think calling it a religion is a backdoor way for theists to insult atheism. If I am going to insult atheism, I will do it out-front…although I really see no reason to insult it.

I have mentioned that I have debated with atheists who argue for “no god” with the same fervor theists argue that a god has to exist. And I have mentioned that when this happens, I see a similarity. BUT THERE IS NO WAY I THINK atheism is a religion. It is not.

I’ve tried to take pains to indicate the similarity I see with atheistic and theistic methods of arguing is a personal perspective…and that I can certainly understand that some others may not see the similarity at all. (I do have a weird sense of humor.)

As for the definitions…I would, if I could, put them all aside…and allow each individual to describe his/her position on individual issues without the need for identification as agnostic or atheistic.

If you absolutely must define agnosticism, though, I would do away with the “impossible to know” ingredient. I realize that element has gotten into some dictionaries…but I think that is one of those “general usage” situations which with both agnostics and atheists must deal.

I haven’t read this thread beyond the OP, so if this is repetitive, I don’t care. The OP was so far off base that I want to start fresh.

An atheist is someone who asserts the following:

  1. If you say that God exists, it is up to you to prove it. This is called burden of proof. It is generally true in the world that anyone making a claim (at least a claim that is not immediately obviously true) has the burden of proving the truth of that claim, if they want other reasonable people to accept it.
  2. Faith and reason (proof) do not have equal weight in deciding what is true. Observable evidence and rational proof are convincing to a rational person; faith is not.
  3. If you can’t prove, with argument or evidence, that God exists, then in that case I don’t believe that God exists. If you have such proof or valid argument, please step forward with it and let’s see if it holds up.
  4. (this is less universal of atheists, more for the philosophical variety) the very concept of God as expressed in the Judeo-Christo-Muslim tradition is so completely self-contradictory that the likelihood of being able to prove it is effectively nil.

Agnostics differ from Atheists on all these points, but mainly on point #2. An agnostic would be likely to say something like this: “I’ve heard the arguments and evidence on both sides and I can’t decide who’s right. They both have their points. Since I can’t decide, I have to say that God may exist, in some form, but I just don’t know…”

Full disclosure: I am an atheist from conviction, based on the necessity of a rational basis for my life. I don’t have much sympathy for agnostics, who it seems to me have the worst of both camps. I would be happy to have a separate debate about how much my need for observable evidence and rational proof for anything, let alone the existence of God, is or is not just another kind of religion or faith. That did not seem to be the point of this thread, so I will not pursue it here.

Sorry, but this makes no sense to me. Faith, to those who have it, is a way of “knowing” without proof. So it seems to me that virtually everyone who accepts the existence of God is doing so through faith, because faith is how they “know” it’s true.

If you are positing someone who does not believe it is possible to PROVE that God exists but has faith, that is a different story. In that case, they “know” that God exists without proof. I regard such people as setting aside their basic rationality in this one area.

But this brings up the interesting philosophical field of epistemology, which (as I recall from my college studies) asks the question “how do you know anything?” Maybe I should start a thread on that. Deep…

Yep…I’m a agnostic Deist myself…about as disinterested as you can get.

No, it takes a separation of your intellectual knowledge and your emotional knowledge. Intellectually, you know that God is an unknown. Emotionally, you know God.

I’ve known a lot of agnostic theists - a few Jesuits, a couple UU ministers. I think Martin Gardner would have/did describe himself that way.

You’re wrong on all counts. All an atheist necessarily asserts is that he has no belief in any gods. Period.

Wrong again. I know plenty of theists who admit they don’t know God exists; that’s why they call it faith. If they had knowledge, faith would be unnecessary. They don’t “know” without proof; they “believe” without it.

Oh, really?

Just try me.


I’m an atheist who asserts that no gods exist. And that’s not a statement about my beliefs, but rather a statement about the world we live in.

I didn’t say you couldn’t assert something. You could assert anything you like. All you have to do to be an atheist is to be without belief in the existence of any gods. Nothing about that statement means you can’t also assert that no gods exist.

Okay. Go. Disprove the existence of a disinterested creator.