Re: irrational atheists

Nick Bostrom (
Sun, 10 Jan 1999 23:49:42 +0000

Max More wrote:

> >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.

The Oxford Companion to Philosophy likewise says "Atheism is ostensibly the doctrine that there is no God." This seems to be the common way the term is used, and you get it if you parse atheism: (a-the)-ism.

> As you note, an agnostic is one without knowledge.

The Companion states: "Agnosticism may be strictly personal ond confessional -- 'I have no firm belief about God' -- or it may be the more ambitious claim that no one ought to have a positive belief for or against divine existence." So this is about belief, not knowledge.

If you define an agnostic as one without knowledge about God, it follows that there does not exist any agnostics (since knowing that P implies that P is true), so that is a bad definition and not in agreement with common usage.

I used to say that I was an atheist, but I've changed my mind and now I'm just an agnostic. This is partly because of the possibility that our world is a simulation; the posthumans running the simulation could well be said to be gods. There is also the possibility that all possible worlds exist; then gods would exist since there are gods in some possible worlds. Or if the universe is spatially infinite, which it is on the simplest topology if it is open (which it seems to be) then random fluctuations should lead to the existence of godlike physical creatures somewhere (but would these be real gods?). And there is the possibility that there might be a kind of neoplatonistic god, a "creative principle" which might explain why the world exists (though I think that looks highly problematic).

Nick Bostrom Department of Philosophy, Logic and Scientific Method London School of Economics