The Great "Agnostics are atheists" question!

In just about every Internet site I’ve ever visited where atheists appear to be a majority, the atheists seem to want to use the definition of atheist that requires agnostics also be atheists.

No real need to do this. There are many dictionaries that define “atheist” in a way that would clearly distinguish between agnostics and atheists—and which would put agnostics outside the definition of atheists. But the atheists in atheist-dominated sites almost always insist on using the definition that requires agnostics to be de facto atheists—for no decent, rational reason that I can see.

Even here in * The Straight Dope* where I have been told that some members would prefer that I not be included in their number—that I am in fact, something they “are stuck with”—they insist on using the definition that requires we be included rather than one that would keep agnostics outside their ranks.

The reason most often given is that since “theism” means a “belief in gods”—adding the “a” before it makes the word mean “without a BELIEF in gods.” Using that reasoning and definition, they insist, anyone without a “belief in gods” becomes an atheist just because of that lack of belief–by definition. There is nothing they can do about it.

But we have established quite clearly that is NOT what happened at all. Atheism (originally meaning “without gods” and which had been used throughout history to denote people who deny the existence of gods or who actively believe there are no gods) came into the English language before theism. The word simply could not have derived the way Internet atheists insist it did…and does not require that they bear the burden of having agnostics to tolerate in their ranks—does not require that they be stuck with us.

Since there is no real reason for this insistence that they must bear the burden…why is it done?
Anyway, we’ve been arguing this question in another thread and getting nowhere. That thread has gone off on tangents far removed from the question, so I thought I’d start a new thread on the specific issue to see if anything new can develop using a fresh start.

Personally, I think this is a good one:

Then it only depends on your definition of agnostic.

Good luck.

It works the other way around, too. The definition agnostics want to use also means that most atheists would also be agnostics (although less than the other way around.)

Just like polarized politics, what you don’t see very often is the silent majority who don’t really care what someone calls themselves as long as others do the same.

This is probably true, and I think that no matter how you define the terms, there will be some overlap between theist - agnostic - atheist (unless you define theist and atheist so strictly that pretty much everybody ends up being agnostic).

Well…if agnostic were defined as someone who does not know if gods exist…AND who does not see enough evidence upon which to base a meaningful guess in either direction…

…that would certainly give people who do see enough evidence for or against the existence of gods plenty of room to designate themselves theists or atheists (or theistic agnostics/atheistic agnostics) if they so chose.

And no one would be force to accept a definition he/she does not want applied…and no group would be “stuck with” people they’d rather not have in their ranks.

I’ve not yet seen any agnostic on this board who would agree with this definition. Most of them seem to lean in the “probably not” category.

I just posted a poll about this I would appreciate it if self-described agnostics take it.

Why does the label matter to you? It only matters how you act and if you act like God doesn’t exist you’re an atheist.

Actually, I would prefer no labels…and just post what we think or suppose on the issues without a designation. But some atheists seem intent on telling agnostics they are, by virture of not believing in gods, atheists.

I might point out that you just did that.

Atheists and agnostics share a characteristic in common…namely that we do not believe in gods. That does not mean, as you suggest here, that everyone who does not believe in gods is an atheist. Some are agnostics.

Agnostics also do not believe there are no gods. Would you consider it reasonable for a theist to suggest that since they are therefore theists?

All Ford Tauruses are automobiles or trucks…not all automobiles or trucks are Ford Tauruses.

Cadillac Devilles share the characteristic of being automobiles with Ford Tauruses…but Cadillac Devilles are not Ford Tauruses.

I just visited your site and voted.

I notice that there are now three votes for the center…so at least three of us are in that category.

I don’t know why you think a new thread is going to change anything. You had your definitions wrong in that thread and you have them wrong in this thread. “Agnosticism” is a position on evidence, not on belief. “Atheism” just means “without theism.” Everyone who lacls belief in gods s an atheist. No mow how much better you would like it if “atheism” only designated people who positively assert that gods can’t exist, that’s not the definition, and you’re certainly not going to argue atheists into stating they believe something they don’t believe.

Interesting. You think it’s just as likely that gods as exist as that they don’t exist. Do you feel the same way about unicorns? If not, why not?

I noticed that too. Ignorance-fighting in action.

Agnosticism is a position on knowledge of god - not belief. So if someone identifies as an agnostic, they are saying that they have no knowledge of whether god exists or not.

The question becomes, well, do they believe in any god?

If yes, they are are a fideist - an agnostic theist.
If no, they are an agnostic atheist.

Most people try to make ‘agnosticism’ some sort of middle ground, pretending that it addresses the question of whether the person believes in god or not. It doesn’t address that question though, hence, it’s not and cannot be a middle position.

Never hurts to try!

And I do not have the definitions wrong.

“Atheism” does not just mean without theism. We’ve already shown that is a false argument in the other thread. “Atheism” comes from the Greek through the French…and means without gods…not without a belief in gods.

I am not trying to argue atheists into stating they believe something they do not believe…I am simply telling atheists they should not be telling me to be something that I am not.

Your comment “everyone who lacks belief in gods is an atheist” is a gratuitous statement. It does not necessarily follow at all. Just as it is possible for two different vehicles to be automobiles without both being Fords…it is possible for two different people to be without a belief in gods…and not both be atheists.

I do not have a belief that there are no gods. That does not make me a theist. And theist was derived from atheist, not the other way around.

Wrong. At least when you apply it to the current meaning.

No, it’s not.

It could make you a deist, so what?

I’m not sure but as far as I know, the term theist/theism were coined before atheist/atheism. Anyway, as you yourself show the sentence above, it doesn’t make sense to define theism as non-atheism, since it doesn’t mean “believer in god”.

Fideists place faith above reason. Not all agnostic theists do that. In fact, none of the one’s I’ve ever met do that.

Just about the atheist = “without god”: from a “modern” atheist perspective, everybody is “without god”.

Unless you can persuade millions upon millions of people that you are right (and so far you’re not having much luck, but who knows), this doesn’t matter. The current usage of the word is what matters, not a literal reading of a centuries-old definition.

That seems like an entirely different statement about what they believe. The point I was making was what they know, not what they value more.