Most people are agnostic

The discussion of and definition of the border between atheist/agnostic is common on this board. The other day I was pondering this and approached it from another point of view: where’s the border agnostic/religious?

Here’s my current reasoning and conclusion:

The definition of atheist is someone who is certain there is no god.

The definition of religious is someone who is certain there is a god.

The definition of an agnostic is basically a very wide spectrum of doubt.

If you only think it’s very likely there’s a god, you’re not actually religious, you’re agnostic with pro-religious tendencies. To actually be religious for real you have to be certain.

If you’re certain that something is true, no matter what that something is, you will act as if it is true. Your thoughts and emotions will reflect this.

So if you’re religious and your faith is Christianity or Islam, you’re certain there’s an afterlife, heaven. And that this heaven is in every comparable way superior to your current situation. Not just better, but superior in every concievable way.

Then you should be looking forward to death. Assuming you think you’re going to heaven. If you don’t think you’re going to heaven you should be doing everything in your power to change that, for example stop sinning, pray or whatever the conditions are. In fact you should either be giddy with anticipation, or working feverishly to secure your spot.

Most people don’t look forward to dying, or arent’t working their ass off praying/not-sinning/whatever. So obviously they don’t really believe. They’re some level of agnostic.
You could say that atheist means thinkin there’s a 0% (or extremely close to it) chance that there is a god, and religious meaning you think there’s a 100% chance (or extremely close to it). And frankly, if you think there’s only a 75% chance of there being a god you should still be pretty confident about dying. And I don’t think many people are.
So my current opinion is: The vast majority of people are agnostic.

Or more provocatively: All religious people are crazy zealots and potential suicide bombers.
Now talk me off the ledge… (Just kidding! I’m an atheist)

Atheists **believe **there is no God. That’s not the same as being certain there’s no God.

And agnostics believe that the question of whether there is a God or not is unanswerable. That’s considerable stronger than just believing it’s unanswered. Furthermore it’s an epistemological claim, not an ontological one.

Yup. Or to put it the other way around, atheists don’t believe there are any gods. Any confusion from apparent differences between the two statements is not my problem.

While maybe, technically, true, in my experience, many self-proclaimed agnostics claim the question is just unanswered. At least, as far as any question can be answered. IMO claiming the question is unanswerable is just semantic nit-picking and special pleading.

Just to answer the statement in the OP: probably. Pretty much all atheists are agnostic, and many believers are agnostic too. In the sense that they’re not 100% sure (which in my opinion is the more interesting sense).

Depends on your epistemology. Much theological philosophy is concerned with Truth, and I believe that Truth is inherently unknowable.

However, a God that for all purposes acts, looks, and seems close enough to many peoples conception of God is just as knowable through the senses and experiments as scientific laws are – it’s just that our senses and thought tells us that he doesn’t exist. If that changes, then we can say he does exist to the same extent that we can be certain the Moon and the Sun exist (i.e. philosophically you can’t prove it, but it’s nonetheless almost certainly true). It’s just that I, as an agnostic, would still be less certain that he is who he appears to be than many of the self-proclaimed faithful claim to be currently, and they don’t even have as much evidence as I would have. Thus my self-labelling as agnostic.

Then they are not agnostics. They are atheists. I suppose I can call myself a platypus, but I would be in error, and I shouldn’t expect anyone to simply accept me as one because to do otherwise woul hurt my feelings.

Not true. You can accept that the existence of your preferred god isn’t proven (to you) but still believe. I did a poll here a few months ago and a bunch of self-proclaimed agnostics did claim to be believers.

Yes, but that kind of thinking just means you don’t know that the peanut butter you just spread on your bread is actually there. In other words, it’s not useful for making any kind of real-life decisions. Pretty much all knowledge is “just” an approximation of “the truth”. Gods are not an exception (at least relevant ones) they’re just as knowable as peanut butter.

Seems we agree. I just don’t label myself an agnostic, since I think atheist is more descriptive.

There are probably as many definitions and gradations of unbeliever as there are of believers.

There should be a category of RABs - Rat’s Ass Unbelievers. Whatever there might be (or might have been) in the category of Deity, it has zero practical influence or value in our lives and therefore we don’t give a rat’s ass. Just stay off our nonspiritual lawn.


Nah, dey isn’t.

And stop ringing my doorbell.

This is how I see it:

An atheist thinks the existence of a deity has been “Busted”.
A theist thinks the existence of a deity has been “Confirmed”.
An agnostic has seen the same lack of evidence that should result in them calling the myth “Busted”, but they instead call it “Plausible”.

Theist: Yes
Atheist: No
Agnostic: Don’t Know/Can’t Possibly Know

I think every human being who has given the matter more than 3 seconds of thought is an agnostic. You don’t even have to see The Matrix, it’s a pretty intuitive concept. Most of us annoyed our parents with the “but why? but why? but why?” game at some point during childhood and learned it then. Good movie though, great action scenes.

I’ve argued on this board before that I consider agnosticism merely a form of theistic special pleading. Most atheists treat all hypothetical entities equally: I believe in horses because I have evidence that horses exist. I don’t believe in unicorns because I don’t have evidence that unicorns exist. Since I don’t have evidence that God exists, I put him in the same box as unicorns – an unproven hypothesis.

Agnostics typically only apply their agnosticism to theological entities. They’re not agnostic about unicorns, or Santa Claus, or mutants in the sewers. The existence of God is treated as a different sort of question than the existence of elves. Generally when I encounter someone who says they’re agnostic, it’s not a coherent, well-thought-out believe. It’s just someone with strong atheist leaning who doesn’t want to admit it.

You’ve left open several other possibilities:
That one is certain about God but not about the afterlife (its existence or its nature).
That one believes in Heaven, but not that it is something one can attain by working for it.
That one believes in Heaven, but one cannot be certain whether one has met the conditions.

Or, one can be certain that something shouldn’t be feared, while still having an instinctual fear or a phobia of it.
I will add that I think you underestimate the number of religious people who are looking forward to Heaven. The anecdotal evidence I’ve seen shows me it’s not at all uncommon, though often mixed with a feeling of “I’m not ready yet” or “I still have work to do here in this life.”

I think Dolly from the Family Circus has the best answer

Yes, atheists disbelieve in gods, absent of evidence significantly greater than circular reasoning.

Ohhh I don’t know about that!

I tend to find these sorts of threads amusing, because some poster will describe themselves as agnostic and give there reasoning behind it only to be followed by another who come in later and say, “You’re not agnostic, you’re atheist.” Never mind how much thought or effort the first person put into determining their worldview, they get told they’re wrong because they don’t fit the second person’s worldview.

Or, my view: they’re both agnostic and atheist. Which is generally true. Even for hard-core atheists.