February 2007

Hello, I have been reading your site and enjoy your posts. For several years now I have considered myself an agnostic. I never felt that I could commit to saying that I was atheist. This was in part, because for so long I thought that I KNEW there was a God and looking back on that it seemed like arrogance. So now I find that I cannot say with the same conviction the opposite, that I know there is no god.

However, I came across a site recently. I do not remember the link but the author was talking about ‘strong’ and ‘weak’ atheism. I’m not so sure I agree with the adjectives they used to describe atheism but as you probably know they’re pointing out that some atheist say ‘there is no god’ and others say ‘they see no evidence of god’. The author then went on to point out that atheism/theism deals with beliefs in god (or lack thereof) while agnostic/gnostic dealt with knowledge. So it was their claim that someone cannot be either theist, atheist, or agnostic because it doesn’t fit on the scale of belief. Instead they posed it as matrix of knowledge and belief, pitching people into 4 groups. Gnostic Theists, Agnostic Theists, Gnostic Atheist, and Agnostic Atheist.

I just wondered what your thoughts were on this line of thinking. I guess this would cast me into the Agnostic Atheist camp. It looks to me though that anyone who claimed to be a gnostic ‘anything’ is fooling themselves. Perhaps in their own perceptions they are sure they can ‘know’ that god does or does not exist. I’m just not convinced that anyone who claims to be a gnostic really knows anything. Isn’t the whole point of the scientic method to support a hypostheis or disprove a hypothesis. Meaning that you can never reach that 100% certainty. Only that you can make a very well informed highly probable statement.

Anyway, I only bring it up because I’ve noticed that same subject of ‘strong vs weak’ atheism on a few sites and wanted to see your take.

I think that trying to subdivide atheism and agnosticism generally just leads to confusion. The fact is, there are many kinds of atheism and many kinds of agnosticism (just as there are many kinds of Christianity). I agree that this leaves some ambiguity, but I think this is better than trying to think up labels for all possible subdivisions of non-religious philosophy, since it’s difficult to do that rigorously. For example, the terms you list seem to leave out people who call themselves atheists because they are anti-Christian but believe that there may be some kind of spirit, universal mind, or other big supernatural thingy (these people drive me nuts, by the way).

I, too, don’t like the adjectives “strong” and “weak” atheism, but the definitions are useful. I am a “weak” atheist myself, in that I cannot prove that there is no deity. Depending on personal preference, I think that a weak atheist can use either the atheist or agnostic label, because the terms overlap a bit, but I personally try to avoid the word agnostic because using it would make me feel like I’m defining my philosophy by what I can and cannot prove, and I find that unsatisfying (particularly since I don’t use that type of definition in other parts of my life — I’m not a “bigfoot agnostic,” for example).

At least in my case, atheism is not about belief or disbelief in god. It’s about “a-theism” or lack of religion. Not believing in god goes along with this, but it is not the crux of my belief system. I see atheism more as a strong dedication to Occam’s razor than a statement about deity, and as such it touches every area of my life.

It sounds to me like you could comfortably call yourself a weak atheist — or just an atheist — if that sounds better to you than agnostic. Use which ever you are most comfortable with.

Posted on February 1, 2007 at 12:01 am by ideclare · Permalink
In: Agnosticism

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