The difference between an atheist, an agnostic and other...

Discussion in 'Community Discussion' started by amazingdm, Mar 15, 2011.

  1. amazingdm, Mar 15, 2011
    Last edited: Mar 16, 2011

    amazingdm macrumors 6502

    Jul 2, 2010
    This honestly isn't a discussion about religious beliefs or a debate, it's simply a very long definition of terms used when describing someone.

    So there is a massive negative opinion about atheists. I am not sure why this is (although I believe that for some people they actually believe atheists are without morals, possibly because of weird assumption that you must have religion to have morals, but that is just silly. I also don't think this is the reason why the general population thinks atheists are bad people/evil.) What I can at least do is define some definitions and clear up some misconceptions.
    First of all some people think that [all] atheists believe there is no god. This assumption is a logical fallacy. The term atheist no more describes someone's "belief there is no god" than as it describes my favorite color. Let me explain:

    If I said "If it is cold outside then I will wear a coat" you would accept this as true.

    If I said the converse "If I wear a coat then it is cold outside" you would not accept this as automatically true; I could be wearing a coat in 110 degree weather.
    The same goes for the term atheist; if I said "If I believe there is no god then I am an atheist" then you would say that statement is probably true. But if I say "If I am an atheist then I believe there is no god" that is just as false a statement as the statement about the coat and weather.

    Now you may be thinking “well what the hell is an atheist then if not someone who believes there is no god?” Well an atheist is just this: a person who lacks belief in god (or you could say religion). It’s in the very word, a•the•ist. ‘A’ meaning without, ’theist’ basically meaning belief in higher powers, belief in religion etc. The dictionary defines it as a person who disbelieves (to have no belief in) the existence of a supreme being. Although some definitions define it as both how I’ve defined it and alternatively as someone who denies (or believes there is no) existence of a supreme being, I believe these people who believe there is no god are a sub-sect of atheists for which I have no term to describe them by other than ‘that atheist sub-sect’.

    If you’re still lost then the important distinction is between “believe there is no” and “lack of belief in.” If you believe there is no god then you hold a firm conviction that it is impossible there is no god; you hold belief. If you lack belief in a god then you simply don’t have a belief on the subject either way; you hold no belief whatsoever. So to be concise, when I refer to the term atheist I am referring only to those who lack belief in god. And to be even more precise I can explain that we usually use atheist in a general term about all gods but it can be used to describe a stance on a specific god. For example do you believe in the existence of the Roman god Neptune? No? Then you are a Neptune atheist. Of course now that you are officially an atheist do you feel like you are inherently evil as some people assume about atheists? Probably not; but that whole negative connotation around the term ‘atheist’ is another subject so I will leave that for another time. So now to be clear when I use the term atheist I am only referring to those who lack belief in a god as in any god regardless of the religion.

    I think that because both the negative connotations surrounding the word ‘atheist’, and the misconception that it automatically means a person who believes there is no god (a view that many would probably say is foolish since it’s hard to ever say or prove if there really is a god), that people are afraid to label themselves as an atheist. They turn to the term ‘agnostic’ which is also poorly defined in common society. So many people think it means “someone who just isn’t sure” or “someone who is between religious and atheist” and all these mishmash definitions that are basically saying someone who is in the gray area. The real error is that people assume it is a term for religious belief. Keyword there being belief; people think it is just as much a term for belief as is atheist or theist. The truth is that the word agnostic in no way describes a person’s [religious] belief or lack of belief. The word simply describes a person’s state of knowledge or ability to have knowledge about a subject. It’s all in the word itself: ‘a’ again meaning without and ‘gnostic’ referring to knowledge (think of words like diagnosis or prognosis etc.).

    Basically someone who is an agnostic is saying that “I don’t know, I wasn’t there or I’m not there and I can’t say I know.” It’s saying that it’s not possible to see something first hand, or prove it to be true. Of course you can be an agnostic about something and still believe it to be true. An example on the other side of the spectrum: O.J. Simpson. All the evidence pointed to him being guilty of double murder: DNA and blood evidence, circumstantial evidence, his own admission in his book, his conviction in the civil trial etc. so like most of society you probably believe that he did it. But do you know for sure? Were you there? Did you witness it? Was there video tape? No so you don’t know.

    Now that it is clear they are terms for different concepts then it is probably true that most people who are agnostics are probably atheists too and most people who are
    atheists are probably agnostics. Though it’s not always the case since a religious person could say they believe in god but also say they don’t know if there really is a god which makes them an agnostic theist while a person who doesn’t believe in god could say with conviction he knows there is no god. Maybe he has some evidence I don’t know of, but personally I think everyone is an agnostic because I don’t see a way to conclusively say whether or not we know there is a god.

    Just a note about two groups of people: Religious people and that sub-sect of atheists that believes there is no god. One group can look around and say “Look at all the wonder in life there must be a god” while the other says “Everything can be explained science but look at all the disaster and needless death around there world there can’t be a god.” It seems to me like neither group has a firm basis to prove their beliefs yet one group (religion) is treated with respect and legal protection while the other (the atheist sub-sect) is vilified. Atheists seem to be stuck with the same hatred and lack of respect as that atheist sub-sect even though 1) like I said, that atheist sub-sect is on the same level as those who are religious meaning that neither group has firm concrete evidence to support their claims. They are both just going off their feelings and opinions so why such a horrible reputation that spills over to atheists? And 2) atheists make no claims that need to be supported with evidence that is seemingly impossible to find. They are like babies, the default, simply no belief. Computers without a program.

    Personally I proudly claim that I am an atheist. Or that I simply have no religious belief because I feel like there is no reason or evidence to believe. I think it is better to keep asking questions and using science to try and find answers than to guess and say “okay I’ll believe that”. I am also an agnostic; I have no way of knowing whether or not there is a god. If I told you two galaxies away there is a planet full of purple aliens, would you believe me? Probably not, but you have no way of knowing if it is true. So while it may or may not be true you simply lack belief that there is that planet. I also have no way of believing in a god if I can’t define what a god is. What is god? Is it a single entity or is it some kind of energy force that surrounds everything? It’s obvious that these answers are something we do not nor cannot know at this time.

    I think that both the term atheist and agnostic can also be used as adjectives and not just as nouns. I am atheist towards the idea of a god but I am also agnostic towards the idea of a god just as you are atheist and agnostic towards the planet full of purple aliens.
  2. amazingdm thread starter macrumors 6502

    Jul 2, 2010
  3. iJohnHenry macrumors P6


    Mar 22, 2008
    On tenterhooks
    Fair enough, but having seen that, you could revisit the post, and make corrections.
  4. iBlue macrumors Core


    Mar 17, 2005
    London, England
    The lord speaketh:

  5. heehee macrumors 68020


    Jul 31, 2006
    Same country as Santa Claus
    Wirelessly posted (Mozilla/5.0 (iPhone; U; CPU iPhone OS 4_2_1 like Mac OS X; en-us) AppleWebKit/533.17.9 (KHTML, like Gecko) Version/5.0.2 Mobile/8C148 Safari/6533.18.5)

    Is this your homework?
  6. 482214 macrumors 6502

    Aug 17, 2010
  7. Xeperu macrumors 6502

    May 3, 2010
    tl;dr but here is my take on agnosism vs atheism

    Atheism: no believe in a higher power whatsoever
    Agnosism: believe in a higher, non-specific, power (religious, but more in a higher unknown power).

    I consider myself somewhere in between. I loathe religion in most forms, but I do believe in a higher plane of existence.
  8. macquariumguy macrumors 6502a

    Jan 7, 2002
    Sarasota FL
    We are all atheists. It's just that some of us believe in one fewer god than the rest.
  9. Bonch macrumors 6502


    May 28, 2005
  10. eawmp1 macrumors 601


    Feb 19, 2008
    The closest I got to being religious was when I said "good god" on seeing the original post.
  11. -aggie- macrumors P6


    Jun 19, 2009
    Where bunnies are welcome.
    That about sums up the OP.
  12. Rt&Dzine macrumors 6502a


    Oct 8, 2008
    Another take is that an agnostic is saying "I don't think that it's knowable," rather than "I don't know."
  13. obeygiant macrumors 68040


    Jan 14, 2002
    totally cool
  14. amazingdm thread starter macrumors 6502

    Jul 2, 2010
    That is absolutely 100% the wrong definition of agnostic...
    read the thing I wrote if you want to know why.
    I don't even know if there is a term for what religion you are. Maybe just theist?

    And no this wasn't home work lol
  15. iJohnHenry macrumors P6


    Mar 22, 2008
    On tenterhooks
    I refute your rebuff.

    Care for a rejoinder??
  16. afd macrumors 6502a

    Apr 12, 2005
    Really? Depends where you are I suppose.
  17. amazingdm thread starter macrumors 6502

    Jul 2, 2010
    Yeah... the term agnostic does not describe a belief what soever... especially a belief in a higher power.

    and yeah I'm in America and people act like you're the devil if you're an atheist
  18. iJohnHenry macrumors P6


    Mar 22, 2008
    On tenterhooks
    And that is exactly what sticks in the craw of theists.

    They can't pin us down, so we are automatically evil.

    Tough *****. Sell your goods elsewhere.
  19. dXTC macrumors 68020


    Oct 30, 2006
    Up, up in my studio, studio
    I've seen discussions of "weak vs. strong" convictions in this context.

    "Weak" atheists say, "I don't believe in a god."
    "Strong" atheists say, "I know there is no god."

    "Weak" agnostics say, "I don't know what to believe; someone else might be right, but I'm not sure myself."
    "Strong" agnostics say, "I don't know, I can't know, and neither can you."

    EDIT: Upon rereading, I think I saw this mentioned in the OP in a somewhat longer form, but I'll keep it in the mix anyway.
  20. Don't panic macrumors 603

    Don't panic

    Jan 30, 2004
    having a drink at Milliways
    it also depends on what a 'god' is

    there is a big difference between a 'superhuman' god who does apparently incredible feats (i.e. the greek gods), and a 'supernatural' god who transcends space and time (i.e. the christian god).

    ironically enough the formers are much less unlikely to exist than the latter.
  21. KeriJane, Mar 16, 2011
    Last edited: Mar 16, 2011

    KeriJane macrumors 6502a


    Sep 26, 2009
    How I choose to put the issue:

    "How on Earth should I know? Do I look like the Oracle at Delphi?"
    "Don't answer that!" :p

    That apparently puts me in the "atheist" crowd. Or maybe I'm a medium-strength Agnostic. It's really good company. I hope they put up with me.

    I consider the "No God, No How, No Way" folks to be over-stepping their reason unless they themselves are omniscient, or gods... and that would be a really funny paradox.

    Have Fun,

    PS. - "Medium-strength Agnostic"= I don't know and I'm pretty sure you don't either.
  22. amazingdm thread starter macrumors 6502

    Jul 2, 2010
    Personally I don't like those terms. Maybe it's just the weak vs strong...
    weak makes it sound like "oh they're atheists but they don't like to admit it and they're not committed towards it" etc.
    But I think that the word atheist is only describing one thing, a lack of belief.
  23. Cromulent macrumors 603


    Oct 2, 2006
    The Land of Hope and Glory
    I try not to label myself anything but I do consider the belief that a God we believe in (and only a small subsection of us - that is humans as there is more than one religion) created the entire universe and made us the most important species in that universe when said universe is made of billions of galaxies each with billions of stars each of which potentially has one or more planets orbiting it each of which potentially has one or more satellites orbiting it extremely arrogant to say the least.

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