RE: Why Atheism Beats Agnosticism

Webb_S (
Mon, 27 Apr 1998 10:51:39 -0400

I suggest defining the terms this way: Agnosticism (literally, "without
knowledge") means that one doesn't know whether god exists, and atheism
(literally, "without god") means the disbelief in god, or, equivalently,
the belief that god does not exist.

Defined this way, there is no reason to struggle with the implicit XOR
frequently associated with these terms. I am both an agnostic AND an
atheist; while I acknowledge that it is impossible to _know_ (i.e.,
prove) god's (non)existence, it is my belief, based on an absence of
evidence for a god, that god does not exist.

> -----Original Message-----
> From: T0Morrow []
> Sent: Monday, April 27, 1998 9:35 AM
> To:
> Subject: Re: Why Atheism Beats Agnosticism
> Steve Butts very helpfully recapitulates George H. Smith's
> comments on the
> distinction between atheism and agnosticism. George does
> great work, but I do
> not agree with him (or Max, who offered a similar argument)
> that we should
> define "atheism" so as to equal "without belief in god." As
> I noted to Max,
> that definition would make an atheist one who had never even
> encountered the
> notion of god. George apparently embraces this oddity:
> > when a baby is born it (probably) has no concept of God or any
> > other form of theistic beliefs, therefore it is an atheism.
> At the same time, however, George would have "atheist"
> embrace the ardent
> rationalist who has scrutinized and forthrightfully rejected
> the possibility
> of any divine existence. I think this range of meanings
> gives the word an
> unhelpfully broad definition, not to mention one that does
> not jibe with
> common usage. Dictionaries typically define "atheist" as
> "one who denies
> God's existence" or the like.
> What about the linguistic argument? Proponents of the broad
> definition of
> "atheism" miss there, too. The roots of "atheism" do not, contrary to
> George's claim, mean "without theistic belief." Rather, the
> word comes from
> "atheos" which means "without god."
> "Atheos" refers the (non)existence of god--not about the
> prescence of a
> belief. And "atheists" are people who consider themselves "a
> theos." A baby
> thus does not qualify; rather, only one who consciously
> denies the existence
> of gods qualifies as an "atheist."
> Given that agnostics have so often faced the claim that they
> are "atheists
> without the courgage of their convictions," I find it curious
> that some
> atheists are trying to assume the diffident attitudes of
> agnostics. It would
> fit common usage and etymology better, I think, for atheists
> to suck it up and
> claim they disbelieve in gods.
> My advice to wavering atheists: Ignore the agnostic's claim
> that you cannot
> disprove the existence of god, arguing instead that you have
> as much proof as
> you need. After all, reasonable people believe a variety of
> things without
> logical or scientific backing; common sense works well
> enough, and it simply
> does not support the notion that gods exist.
> I'm not saying an atheist would convince me with this claim.
> All I'm saying
> is that I'd respect the atheists for sticking up for his/her
> (dis)beliefs.