Atheists and agnostics [was: Re: irrational atheists]

Max More (
Tue, 22 Dec 1998 17:36:55 -0800

At 03:13 PM 12/22/98 -0600, Scott wrote:
>Thought I was an atheist for a while there but not so sure now.
>When I read the above I asked myself, "Is it irrational for me to
>not believe in dragons simply because there is no evidence?"
>Must atheists provide evidence that god doesn't exist in order
>to justify their position and avoid the label of "irrational"?
>[...] I haven't
>thought of myself as an agnostic, because I don't say that
>"I haven't decided." or "I'm not sure." Instead, I say, "I
>currently don't see any rational way I can accept the notion
>of god." So what am I?

Scott: You're an atheist. Atheism = a-theism, that is, a lack of belief in a god. (Though to be useful, we first need to specify *which* god we're talking about.) There need be nothing dogmatic about atheism. If we're talking about the standard idea of God (omniscient, omnipotent, and all-good), then not only do I see no evidence for believing such a being exists, the hypothesis seems disconfirmed by observation.

Perhaps there is a god of some kind--a designer and creator of our universe. I am currently atheistic in regard to that view, but if the balance of evidence shifted, I would change my mind. (See Gregory Benford's latest novel Cosm--perhaps our universe was an accidental creation of an other-universe scientist. Would we call that person a god?)

An agnostic is *not* simply a wimpy atheist. An agnostic is one who thinks they either (a) do not know [weak form of agnosticism), or (b) cannot know [strong form], whether there is a god. To decide whether you are an agnostic, you first need to decide on a standard of knowledge.

You can be an agnostic atheist. If you don't think it's the kind of thing you can know, and you take it that the sensible default position is lack of belief, then you're an agnostic atheist.

You could also (more controversially) be an agnostic theist, if you believe but do so on faith, and agree that faith is not a means of knowledge but a way of believing.

I would say that I am an atheist but not an agnostic, at least if we're talking about the Christian/Moslem God. I find every positive argument in favor of belief to fail. I see evidence that conflicts strongly with the hypothesis that such a being exists. And I have methodological reasons (parsimony) for putting the burden of proof on believers.


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