I came up with a very long post for another reason. Since I'm happy with how it turned out I thought I should post it here. It was in response to someone misusing the term agnostic, and was insisting that a lack of beliefs is agnosticism and that atheism is the positive belief that no gods exist. The person was also using agnosticism to mean that we currently don't have enough knowledge about gods but that we may one day have enough knowledge and rejecting the notion that knowledge of gods is inaccessible. I hope the formatting comes out.

I didn't mean to come across defensive, or accusatory in any way. I enjoy the agnostic discussion because I am of the opinion that if you show me an agnostic I will show you either an atheist using bad terminology or someone undecided using bad terminology (or on very very rare occasions a logical positivist using correct terminology).

I also hope you don't consider me spamful, but I have two videos that do a good job of addressing what is unfortunately klunky terminology. And I think the key detail comes down to how you're choosing to define agnosticism, an unfortunately vague term to begin with.

To circle back to the Norse god Thor, I am:
- Agnostic-(****), using your definition, and accepting that future knowledge of an advanced alien visiting ancient Scandinavia could inspire the legends we have of Thor.
- Incredulous, and while accepting of the possibility of the above, think that's just plain silly.
- Not Agnostic-(colloquial), aka undecided, in that I am not torn between belief or disbelief in Thor. Nor do I consider them to be equal positions.
- Not Agnostic-(formal), in that I do not believe that the essential nature of Thor resides in a realm inaccessible to either science or logic, and would thus be unknowable to us. Here is perhaps the crux of our disagreement. People do hold this belief about gods in general, and they've been using the term agnostic to define their attitude this way for a very long time. In order to not be misleading, you will need to either come up with a new term for your stance or affix a caveat when you use the term agnostic.
- Not Atheist-(****), I don't actively disbelieve Thor out of faith. I don't actively disbelieve Thor at all.
- Atheist-(colloquial), I dismiss the idea of the existence of Thor and don't even consider the idea of Thor to be worthy of the term god in a religious context, merely a mythological one, and on par with the religious concept of worshiping spirits or fetishes.
- Atheist-(formal), I lack belief in Thor. I do not have any faith based belief about Thor.
- Not Strong/Gnostic Atheist-(formal), I do not believe that Thor exists, but I do not believe that Thor does not exist. The idea of Thor is not disprovable by logic alone.

For clarification, in regards to the philosophical god, the theodicean god of modern philosophy, I am:
- Not Agnostic-(****), there is no knowledge that we could gain that would make the logically impossible possible. Thinking otherwise isn't science, it's Gulliver's Travels science.
- Not Agnostic-(colloquial), in that I am not torn between belief or disbelief in god. Nor do I consider them to be equal positions.
- Not Agnostic-(formal), in that I do not believe that the essential nature of god resides in a realm inaccessible to either science or logic, and would thus be unknowable to us.
- Not Atheist-(****), I don't actively disbelieve god out of faith.
- Atheist-(colloquial), I don't believe god exists. I believe that god does not exist.
- Atheist-(formal), I lack belief in god. I do not have any faith based belief about god.
- Strong/Gnostic Atheist-(formal), I do not believe that god exists, and I do believe that god does not exist. I recognize that the idea of god is disprovable by logic alone.

I realize that some of this is putting words in your mouth, so I hope I got it right.

The woman in the first video is using agnosticism in a way close to how you use it, and she too wants to cling to a self identification as an agnostic. However, as she herself clarifies, she is a gnostic atheist towards Abrahamic god concepts, which is what people are talking about when they talk about god anyway. So agnostic atheism is a bit of a red herring and she does imply the more formal definition of agnosticism towards the end. And before you get hung up on the theism/atheism dichotomy, she is using the terms correctly. Not having a belief in gods is atheism. The video's not a perfect explanation, but it does a good job for most purposes.



Ultimately, the problem isn't that dictionaries have the wrong definition of agnosticism (they do have the right definition, and you do seem to be using the term incorrectly), and it isn't about beliefs (since we appear to have no significant difference), it's about using the terms correctly, and in this case I am using the term atheist correctly and you are not.

Theism versus atheism is the dichotomy of faith. You either have faith about something, in which case you are theistic about it, or you do not have faith, in which case you are atheistic about it. You can be undecided, you can be agnostic, but then you are an undecided or agnostic theist, or an undecided or agnostic atheist. Agnosticism does not mean undecided. Using agnosticism as a neutral, middle stance is just misuse of the word.

From the following video, "I lack belief in gods." "There is the most extraordinary resistance among some people to recognizing this definition of atheism. Many insist that it should instead be defined as the belief that no gods exist."

Views: 193

Tags: Atheism vs Agnosticism, Laci Green, QualiaSoup, logical positivism, sensibleerection, terminology, thor

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Comment by Matt VDB on January 30, 2012 at 2:14am

Very well explained. Many people who claim that atheists are attempting to "inflate our numbers" by throwing agnostics into the atheist camp don't realise that this isn't about inflating our numbers, but about using definitions in the same way as they've been used in academia for decades.

That being said I don't think endless debate on definitions is actually useful. I think it's ultimately easier and more effective to get down past the labels, to what you actually believe. Discussing labels is an excellent way to get bogged down in an argument.

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