How should atheists and agnostics view each other?

Atheism and agnosticism generally get lumped together by believers as simply non-believers, so who cares about the distinctions.

I’ve read the other recent thread on the subject - one of which turned into a train wreck and one of which was more concerning the definition of both.

There’s obviously a lot of common ground, with some people describing themselves as agnostic atheists; not believing that a God/gods exist but claiming that it’s impossible to prove. This runs both ways with agnostic theists, too.

But for the majority of people, and some people who define themselves as atheist or agnostic, the definitions of the two words implies a definite division despite the common ground -
“(n) agnosticism (a religious orientation of doubt; a denial of ultimate knowledge of the existence of God) “agnosticism holds that you can neither prove nor disprove God’s existence””

“(n) atheist (someone who denies the existence of god)”

Again - I’m not denying the common ground, just asking how these two world views should interact or view each other.

As an atheist (although I prefer the term ‘antitheist’ myself) who used to be an agnostic, I felt it was putting things off - we know we can’t definitively prove anything (or disprove Zeus, leprechauns, etc), making the special pleading in the case of God an ultimately worthless distinction. My agnostic self, before I thought about it a bit more, viewed flat out denial and disbelief a bit too definite, claiming knowledge of the entire universe.

So, should atheists view agnostics as fence sitters, or people who hold pretty much the same view as them but who place far more emphasis on the ‘unknown’ part - as I doubt many atheists would claim to know for 100% fact that there isn’t any God? Should agnostics hope to bring out this in atheists and ‘turn’ them or view them as just as stubborn as theists?

The arguments don’t seem to have a lot to do with the actual positions on either side. They don’t even usually involve an atheist saying an agnostic isn’t one. The problem is usually an agnostic, lacking god belief, claiming to not be an atheist, and rejecting the notion that those who lack belief in god but don’t actively believe there is no god are atheists. In your definition, it hangs on whether disbelief includes lack of belief.
The root cause is that agnosticism (about knowledge) and atheism (about belief) are orthogonal concepts, and that agnosticism is thus not just a lower grade of atheism.

All these subtleties get lost when the discussion gets to “I am not” - “Yes you are.”

It’s just a battle of semantics really.

To be an atheist, in my understanding of it’s definition, you would have to be convinced by some sort of proof that gods cannot exist. Thus I call myself agnostic, because I don’t think it’s possible to prove nor disprove such a metaphysical concept. For me, atheism implies that nothing can ever be considered a god, whilst someone who describes themselves as atheist might just mean ‘not Christian, Muslim etc’.

It’s probably more helpful to find out exactly what a person believes or does not believe instead of just relying on labels.

This atheist thinks they (agnostics) are fence-sitters.

Us apathiests think agnostics and atheists spend too much time thinking about it, regardless.

I am a Christian who believes it is impossible to prove or disprove God’s existence, so I am an agnostic theist by your terms. I’m also probably not your intended audience, but I will point out that “prove” does not have to mean “mathematically prove”. It can also mean “scientifically prove”. This distinction is important because while it is impossible to mathematically prove anything about the world, it is possible to scientifically prove things.

The other thing to keep in mind is that one’s position as agnostic, theist, etc depends very much on what “God” is being talked about. If we are talking about the God believed in by Biblical literalists, I am neither agnostic nor theist.

However, my general* view is that being agnostic is the only logically sound position, without regard to whether one is theist, atheist, or neither. (*For my specific conception of God. :slight_smile: )

While the agnostic thinks they (atheists) are just as bad as theists when it comes to claiming knowledge they cannot possess.

Not so. There is a whale of a difference between an agnostic and atheist.

An atheist commits to some knowledge of no God. While an agnostic just doesn’t commit to anything.

There are many things in this world that are unknown. I believe saying: “I don’t know” is the intelligence way of putting it.

Now if an atheist says I don’t believe in God then there must be some reason, some knowledge of why he says this. Usually it is “there is no evidence of God.” That statement is knowledge. But the agnostic simple says I don’t know. An agnostic is open to learn, but an atheist is closed, already made up his mind.

Hmmm. Apathiest. I like that.

I could never identify myself as an atheist. Whenever I think of atheists I think of those people who inevitably post in any thread even remotely dealing with religion “You people know you’re arguing about an imaginary being, right?”

I’m comfortable with the explanation you’ve offered here, but ultimately it depends on having shared definitions. In the absence of such shared definitions, if I had to pick one term, it would clearly be atheism over agnosticism. That’s because atheism perfectly describes my lack of belief in god(s), without implying any aloofness or total uncertainty which are colloquially associated with agnosticism. Atheism sits at the pointy end of my rejection of theism as it were. The technical ‘knowability’ issue is also a second order issue for me subsumed by general epistemology, which isn’t particularly important compared to my overall lack of theism. That’s not to belittle the importance of epistemology in any way, it’s just that agnosticism about god(s) isn’t a particularly important or defining feature of epistemic modesty and is entirely compatible with the kind of naturalistic epistemology uncontroversially accepted by most/many modern atheists.

Also, one other thing I dislike about the term agnosticism is that is over specialised. I’ve mentioned that agnosticism can be faulted for just being a grandiose term for epistemic modesty, but there is also a gross presumption in its typical usage that privileges the status of the God of the monotheistic religions. Accepting the limits of epistemic claims about general transcendent matters is one thing, but it is another thing entirely to presumptively elevate one divinity over others. But there is really no excuse for anagnostics to orientate themselves around one particularly conception just because it’s a dominant cultural force. If agnosticism is true then it is equally true about a great many possible deities, including ones which don’t have cultural expression (yet). Atheism, by virtue of being a default general absence, doesn’t suffer from this parochial orientation. In fairness, there are probably agnostics who are equal opportunity, but in my experience the triumphalist agnostics are almost always silent about Zeus et al, because it looks silly to be a fence sitter about dead cultures.

The problem has to do with the fact that currently the default belief in the US is to think God exists. That’s why we have the terms agnostic and atheist. We don’t have ag-unicornists and a-unicornists, because the default belief is that they are mythical creatures. In a few more years we’ll only need terms to describe believers. We may still use agnostic in a stricter sense for people who think the existence of a God is unknowable and that it is an interesting enough position to waste time thinking about.

So are you an a-unicornist or an ag-unicornist. Apparently there is an important distinction.

My experience on this board and others seem to show that how one defines atheism or agnosticism tends to be determined by your agenda. The most useful distinction I have seen is one that doesn’t put agnosticism and atheism in the same continuum (Pretty much how Pleonast described his position). Despite its obvious disadvantages, the “atheist-agnostic-theist continuum” definition persists. This older definition is primarily used to paint atheists as arrogant know-it-alls who hypocritically accuse theists of arrogance. Those wanting to use a much clearer set of definitions use the new one.

For me it depends on what we are talking about. If we are talking about a personal God who lays down the law, cares about humans, punishes evil and rewards good I am a clear-cut atheist. I don’t completely rule out such an entity but don’t believe it any more likely than Zeus or Indra.

In another sense I am an agnostic because I believe that the ultimate nature of the universe is fundamentally unknowable. In particular I am skeptical that science will ever help us understand subjective consciousness. I also believe it’s possible that various mystical traditions have hit upon something genuine which could be referred to as a God of some kind. I don’t share those beliefs per se but I am seriously open to the possibility that they are true.

The percentage of atheists that are convinced that gods cannot exist is probably very small. Speaking for myself, of course I admit that it’s possible - it’s just not very likely given the complete lack of evidence, and that’s why I don’t believe it. That’s the point of a whole range of well-known arguments including the Flying Spaghetti Monster and Russel’s Teapot.

Now there are some logical arguments against the existence of particular hypothetical gods, but those aren’t really interesting, since most believers don’t believe in impossible gods (and if they do, and find that out, they tend to modify the attributes of their god(s) to make them possible).

In any case, all it takes to be an atheist is to think/assume/“believe” that there aren’t any gods, for the time being, until some evidence is provided etc etc.

ETA: And when someone believes their god cannot be proven to exist, then that’s their problem, not mine.

Needs correction - will be back.

I’m both. I’d guess that the vast vast majority of atheists are also agnostics. Richard Dawkins is both for example.

You’re confusing the issue by not granting that atheists deny the divine only in the context of a naturalistic worldview. You’ve tried to characterise atheists as if they were shouting a knowledge-claim about God’s non-existence into the void, which is unamenable to further investigation. But that doesn’t accord with the nature of any atheist disbelief I am familar with. This is the so-called strong atheist position, which is near as I can tell, a strawman that hardly anybody actually adopts.

Most atheists simply claim that beliefs should be based on evidence, and in the absence of such evidence disbelief in the proper default. That’s not a closed mind. An atheist is only properly so called as long as their disbelief obtains, but the point is that an atheist is completely open to new evidence which might change their status to a theist.

Okay, here we go.

This atheist disagrees with your definition of “atheist”. Which means that I think that you’re mislabeling me, trying to misrepresent my position, and trying to slander me - which makes me mad, incites argument, and the next thing you know it’s two-by-fours out back of the barn at sundown.

As best I can tell there are two definitions each of “agnostic” and “atheist”.

‘P’ agnostics (for ‘philisophical’): The classic definition - they think it’s impossible to know whether or not any god exists. This position inherently presumes that the God hasn’t actually shown reasonable evidence that It exists, because then it would be dumb to claim it wasn’t knowable.

‘C’ agnositics (for ‘common’): People who aren’t certain in their beliefs. This differs from the Philosophical agnostic position mostly in they’re damned certain they’re not atheists. They may also think that agnositicm is a separate category from Theism too - like a third option. These sorts are usually atheists - despite being damned certain they’re not.

‘S’ atheists (for ‘soft’): People who don’t believe that a god exists. Certainty of non-existence is not necessary (though it is allowed).

‘H’ atheists (for ‘hard’): People who are certain that it’s impossible that any God/gods exist(s). Provably! This is what Fake Tales of San Francisco thinks when he hears the term.
So. Given these definitions:

Hatheists are vanishingly rare. I don’t know of any. Not just I don’t know any; I don’t know of any. I’m not one. Der Trihs isn’t one. Dawkins isn’t one. Nobody’s one. Nobody who calls themself an atheist thinks they’re one. As best I can tell it’s a complete misnomer; an empty set that contains and refers to nobody.

All Satheists who aren’t Hatheists are also Pagnostics, by definition. As I believe that there are no Hatheists in real life, all Satheists are also Pagnostics.

The main difference between Pagnostics and Cagnostics is that Cagnostics don’t really understand their definitions, which isn’t much of a difference. So, all Cagnostics are also Pagnostics, even if they don’t realize it.

Personally when I think of Cagnostics, I tend to assume they’re all also Satheists - Cagnosticsm mostly exists to allow them to be non-theists without taking the label of atheist (which they tend to assume means Hatheist). If I express this assumption, it pisses them off, because they think I’m calling them Hatheists. That’s generially not the intent, of course, because I don’t even believe in Hatheists.

Personally my opinion of Cagnostics is that they should learn the difference between Satheists and Hatheists, and then from that realization they’ll naturally realize that they’re all (mostly) Satheists too, just like us, brothers together, and then we can all sit around the campfire and go Kumbaya harmoniously together. (And then we’ll all go together and throw rocks at the Theists. Harmoniously!)

How do you have knowledge of no God? You can’t have knowledge of something not existing.

But we don’t know for absolute certain all kinds of things. I won’t use the pink unicorn metaphor but even think about basic things.

If your co-worker isn’t at work today because he calls in sick, if someone asks you “Did <co-worker> quit?” Well, you can’t know for absolutely certain that he didn’t call in to quit to your boss and you haven’t been informed, or he called someone else at the company, or whatever. But you don’t say “I don’t know”. You say “no, he’s sick.”

If there’s no evidence to believe something, but there is a possibility within all possible outcomes that something may conceivably have a chance of being so, it’s still fair to say “No, probably not.” It’s a simple value judgement.

That’s where atheists come in. I used to self-identify as agnostic but really I was just fence-sitting (not saying all agnostics are like this, but it was true for me). I have no direct knowledge of any god existing, nor any particular evidence to make me believe so. Like all spectacular claims, I require evidence. I’m not agnostic towards superheroes existing, I believe they don’t exist. I’m not agnostic towards Lord of the Rings being a possible record of actual historical events, I believe it wasn’t.

Now, at the point where there is some doubt, it makes more sense to be an agnostic. If I had situations I couldn’t really explain without resorting to supernatural explanations, sure, maybe agnosticism would be the way to go. But I don’t. I have no evidence for that, so I discount the spectacular claim until it comes around.

This is one of the reasons that I was afraid to call myself an atheist. People categorize us as closed-minded. But yet, it’s not closed-minded to be a Christian from this viewpoint - because it’s presumed to be the correct decision, so therefore approvable. It’s actually considered positive to not be open-minded to the possibility that God doesn’t exist - being a doubter is not good. Having faith is considered good. See the double standard?

Anyway, I still feel I’m open-minded. Hey, I’d like for God to exist. I’d like there to be a Heaven. If I can find some evidence of it, believe me, I’d love to have faith. I didn’t run out of Christianity, I was dragged kicking and screaming (by my brain). Then I fled to a different religion (reconstructivist druidism), and left it just as reluctantly. I love the idea of being religious, I love the idea of having comfort, I love the idea of having an immortal soul. It’ just that can’t believe it only because I like it. I need some reason to.

Now back to the original question - I honestly see atheists and agnostics as across a spectrum of non-religious people. Ultimately I’m not dogmatic, so I don’t really care how people self-identify themselves. Really, what it comes down to is a lot of very diverse people with radically different ideologies and philosophies who are all grouped together because they don’t ascribe to a particular religion.