Agnosticism is often used as a middle ground of sorts between theism and atheism. I think this is a misuse of the word -- regardless of Huxley's intentions when he coined it.

Agnostic comes from the Greek "gnosis", meaning "knowledge". Why this is ever applied to belief, I do not know.

Atheist comes from the Greek "theos", meaning "god". Literally, "atheos" means "godless".

In both situations, the a- prefix, of course means "without". (i.e. "without knowledge", "without god")

Now, I contend that each word answers different questions. Some profess that an atheist says "I know there is no god." I argue that not all atheists will make this affirmative statement. Some will say, "I don't know if there is or isn't a god, but it just seems so improbable that I do not believe in one."

If you are going to say that atheists "knows there is no god", then you must be willing to state that theists "know there is a god". If one position implies knowledge, then so does the other -- they are essentially the same word.

There are many terms that one can label their self. I consider myself an ignostic atheist -- and now the fun begins.

The word "ignostic" gets us into the ideas behind theological noncognitivism. In a nutshell, it is that to talk about the concept of "god" is nonsensical because the concept is so ill-defined. For example, a god with omnipotence and omniscience makes no sense in our world because of the conflicts -- so to speak of such a god makes no sense. I wouldn't say that I know this god does not exist anymore than I would say that I know a 5-sided square does not exist. There's no need to make knowledge claims over that which cannot exist.

That aside, agnosticism doesn't just have to apply to theistic belief.

In the realm of unicorns, I am a gnostic aunicornist.
In the realm of goblins, I am a gnostic agoblinist.
In the realm of E.T.s, I am an agnostic E.T.ist -- I do not know, but I believe.

I think it is important to draw a line between knowledge and belief. They are of different realms.

Things get really sticky when you consider that there are, indeed, gnostic atheists and gnostic theists. Both claim opposing knowledge. And now we shift into the realm of epistemology -- thus, I suppose the idea of [a]gnosticism is best looked at as "belief about knowledge."

Because of my ignosticism, I feel I can positively state that I have knowledge on god's non-existence.

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Tags: agnosticism, atheism, philosophy, semantics, theism

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Comment by AYFABTU on November 3, 2008 at 3:27am
It's definitely a lot of semantics. But if we are to have meaningful conversations amongst ourselves (and especially with theists) then we need to agree on semantics which which we are dealing.

As for knowing what we know and all that... I don't much spend time on those matters. I see knowledge as a foundation. So you'd need some knowledge that precedes that foundation in order to talk about knowing what you know.

Any negative knowledge claims seem to fail internally (i.e. "All we know is that we know nothing.") Of course, the follow up question is "How do you know that?" It's murky waters, for sure.

I suppose this goes back to your comments about probability. That's all that knowledge is... we "know" that the sun will rise tomorrow because it has done so for all of recorded history. We "know" that the floor will support our weight when we stand up out of a chair because it has for all our previous attemps. These claims come from induction... we know that induction is flawed, but it's the best we've got in these types of situations.
Comment by AYFABTU on November 3, 2008 at 2:57am
Call it probabilities if you want. The contradictions inherent with what makes up the Christian god removes any probability of existence. And you're right... science doesn't deal with beliefs, it deals in facts. And without droning on in an epistemological tailspin, I think we can agree that facts deal with what we know -- that is, gnosis.

My point is that the position of being an "agnostic" is not one of a middle ground between theism and atheism -- it is a position on knowledge which is compatible with both theism and atheism. The questions of theos and gnosis are different questions, a position on one should not be viewed as being in the same realm as a position on the other.

QED.
Comment by squarecircle on November 3, 2008 at 2:16am
Why a 5-sided square, asshole? Couldn't you come up with a better analogy? Like, I don't know, a square-circle?

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