Re: irrational atheists

Max More (
Sat, 09 Jan 1999 19:48:54 -0800

At 11:59 AM 1/9/99 +0000, you wrote:
>-----Original Message-----
>From: <>
>>Technically, by definition you're an atheist. Don't be afraid of the word.
>>It simply means "absence of belief in a god or gods".
>According to my dictionary it means 'one who denies there is a god(s)'

An atheist may deny that there is a god, but this isn't necessary. a-theism = lacking theistic belief. If you lack a belief, it doesn't necessarily follow that you deny the existence of the thing involved in that belief. Someone who has never heard of the idea of a "god" would be an atheist. An atheist could also be someone who sees no reason to believe (lack of evidence), but doesn't necessarily think that they have sufficient grounds for denying the belief.

>>You're also technically correct in not referring to yourself as an
>>agnostic, since agnosticism is a position regarding the possibility of
>>knowledge: specifically that knowledge about a given topic is unattainable
>>in principle. This, I assume, is not your opinion.
>Again, according to my dictionary, an agnostic is one who holds no opinion
>on the existence or lack thereof of god(s).
>ie a-gnostic = without knowledge.

Dictionaries are often poor at clarifying these theoretical matters, and usually give several different definitions. I don't dispute that many people may use the terms this way and so these definitions are in the dictionary. But they are poor definitions.

As you note, an agnostic is one without knowledge. Now, logically, that does *not* imply one who holds no opinion on the existence of a god. Many people have beliefs and opinions without knowledge. Believing on the basis of faith is an example. Most religious beliefs are really religious agnostics -- they believe, but they lack knowledge. (Very very few believers really believe because of some empirical or logical argument. I know this not only from general experience, but from having taught numerous classes in Philosophy of Religion. The rare individual who genuinely believes there is god because of some argument such as the Cosmological or Design argument, is not an agnostic, since they can claim to have grounds for knowledge. I would claim that their arguments are defective, but at least they would be using reason, not faith, and so can claim to know.)

Agnostics come in weak and strong forms. A weak agnostic says they do not know if there is a god. Perhaps they haven't reached a conclusion yet, or they are interested in thinking about it. A strong agnostic claims that they *cannot* know, since if there is a god, it would be outside the realm of empirical experience.


Max More, Ph.D.
<> or <>
Philosophical issues of technology
President, Extropy Institute:,