Really an atheist?
From a comment on this post:
ideclare writes: “Atheism is, by definition, the non-belief in a deity.”
Incorrect. Atheism is a denial (active stand) that there is a god (e.g. “there ain’t no such critter”). It isn’t a passive stand.
ideclare writes: “I believe that if a deity exists, it might be possible to prove to me that it exists. Therefore I am not an agnostic; I am an atheist.”
You just contradicted yourself. The atheist is hard-over in his denial. If you feel there’s a possibility that a god can exist (and just waiting for convincing argument), then you’ve just crossed into agnostic territory.
I get this a lot, so I’m going to try and give you a pretty thorough response. In a nutshell, sorry — it is you who are defining your terms incorrectly.
From the online Merriam-Webster dictionary:
Atheist: One who believes there is no deity.
Agnostic: a person who holds the view that any ultimate reality (as God) is unknown and probably unknowable; broadly : one who is not committed to believing in either the existence or the nonexistence of God or a god
By these definitions, I am an atheist. I believe there is no deity. Atheism can be an assertion that there are no deities, but it doesn’t have to be.
I am not an agnostic. I do not believe that God is ultimately unknown and probably unknowable, except in the sense that everything (other than my own consciousness) is unknown and probably unknowable. I am specifically committed to the belief that there are no deities, just as strongly as I am committed to my belief in any other aspect of reality. If you’d say I am agnostic about God, then you’d have to also say I am agnostic about whether or not you exists.
Let’s try another dictionary
Atheist: a person who denies or disbelieves the existence of a supreme being or beings.
Agnostic: a person who holds that the existence of the ultimate cause, as god, and the essential nature of things are unknown and unknowable, or that human knowledge is limited to experience.
Again, I am an atheist. I don’t deny that God exists, but I disbelieve that God exists.
Their definition of agnostic just isn’t me. Sorry.
We can keep going.
1. Disbelief in or denial of the existence of God or gods.
2. The doctrine that there is no God or gods.
1.a. One who believes that it is impossible to know whether there is a God.
1.b. One who is skeptical about the existence of God but does not profess true atheism.
(By the way, the “or” in atheism definition #1 — and in many of the definitions below — is very important. Many people who argue with me on this subject are obviously ignoring it.)
From Webster’s 1913 dictionary (from www.webster-dictionary.org):
1. The disbelief or denial of the existence of a God, or supreme intelligent Being.
n.1. One who professes ignorance, or denies that we have any knowledge, save of phenomena; one who supports agnosticism, neither affirming nor denying the existence of a personal Deity, a future life, etc.
From WordNet dictionary (from www.webster-dictionary.org):
1. the doctrine or belief that there is no God
1. a person who doubts truth of religion
From the Cambridge Dictionary of American English (dictionaries.cambridge.org):
the belief that God does not exist
someone who believes that it is impossible to know whether or not God exists
disbelief in the existence of God or gods.
a person who believes that nothing is known or can be known of the existence or nature of God or of anything beyond material phenomena; a person who claims neither faith nor disbelief in God.
1. the belief that there is no God, or denial that God or gods exist
a person who believes that the human mind cannot know whether there is a God or an ultimate cause, or anything beyond material phenomena
From the wordsmyth.net children’s dictionary:
Atheism: the belief that there is no God.
Agnostic: one who believes it is impossible to know anything about the existence of God or the essential nature of anything.
Atheism is, in a broad sense, the rejection of belief in the existence of deities. In a narrower sense, atheism is specifically the position that there are no deities. Most inclusively, atheism is simply the absence of belief that any deities exist. Atheism is contrasted with theism, which in its most general form is the belief that at least one deity exists.
Agnosticism is the view that the truth value of certain claims—especially claims about the existence or non-existence of any deity, but also other religious and metaphysical claims—is unknown or unknowable. Agnosticism can be defined in various ways, and is sometimes used to indicate doubt or a skeptical approach to questions. In some senses, agnosticism is a stance about the difference between belief and knowledge, rather than about any specific claim or belief. In the popular sense, an agnostic is someone who neither believes nor disbelieves in God, whereas an atheist disbelieves in God. In the strict sense, however, agnosticism is the view that human reason is incapable of providing sufficient rational grounds to justify knowledge whether God exists or does not. Within agnosticism there are agnostic atheists (who do not believe any deity exists, but do not deny it as a possibility) and agnostic theists (who believe a God exists but do not claim to know that).
From the atheists.org “What is Atheism?” page:
Atheism is the lack of belief in a deity, which implies that nothing exists but natural phenomena (matter), that thought is a property or function of matter, and that death irreversibly and totally terminates individual organic units. This definition means that there are no forces, phenomena, or entities which exist outside of or apart from physical nature, or which transcend nature, or are “super” natural, nor can there be. Humankind is on its own.
I actually mildly disagree with this definition — the “nor can there be” part is too dogmatically materialist for me.
From religioustolerance.org Atheism page:
Atheism can involve the positive assertion that there is no deity; this is sometimes referred to as “strong Atheism.” It is the most common dictionary definition for the term “Atheist,” and is probably the definition used by most theists.
Atheism can be the absence of a belief that there is a deity. This is the belief promoted by the American Atheists and many individual Atheists.
And from their agnosticism page:
A minority of people are strong Atheists who deny that any deity or deities exist. They believe that the hundreds of the religious creation stories that exist in the world have it all wrong: A deity or deities did not create humans; it was humans who created — and continue to create — the many thousands of Gods and Goddess that people have devoutly and sincerely worshiped over hundreds of thousands of years.
However, there is a third group who, when asked whether a deity or deities exist, don’t have a yes or no answer. They are the 10% of American adults who hold Agnostic beliefs about God’s existence.
From “Atheism vs. Agnosticism” on about.com:
Many people who adopt the label of agnostic reject the label of atheist — there is a common perception that agnosticism is a more “reasonable” position while atheism is more “dogmatic,” ultimately indistinguishable from theism except in the details. This is not a valid position to adopt because it misrepresents or misunderstands everything involved: atheism, theism, agnosticism, and the nature of belief itself. It also happens to reinforce popular prejudice against atheists.
From a Christian Ministries International article at creation.com:
Generally, as popularized by the New Atheist movement, atheists prefer the definition of “atheism” as “lacking belief in god(s)”. Thus, by applying the term “atheist” to themselves, such atheists are not technically making a statement about God’s existence or lack thereof.
This definition has been popularized, at least, since Charles Bradlaugh (circa 1876). It appears to be preferred so as to escape the philosophic difficulty of proving a negative—God does not exist—and in order to shift the burden of proof to the theist, since the theist is making the positive affirmation that God exists.
In reference to the above mentioned term “agnostic”, note that Thomas Henry Huxley coined this term in 1869.1 He explained that he noted two extremes: one was the atheist who positively affirmed God’s non-existence (claiming to know that God did not exist) and the other was the theists who positively affirmed God’s existence (claiming to know that God exists). Huxley said that he did not possess enough evidence to affirm positively either position. Thus, he coined a term which he saw as a middle position, which was that of lacking knowledge to decide either way (whether such knowledge actually exists outside of his personal knowledge or may someday be discovered is another issue).
This gets closer to your argument:
From the Philosophical Dictionary at www.philosophypages.com:
Atheism: Belief that god does not exist. Unlike the agnostic, who merely criticizes traditional arguments for the existence of a deity, the atheist must offer evidence (such as the problem of evil) that there is no god or propose a strong principle for denying what is not known to be true.
Agnosticism: Belief that human beings do not have sufficient evidence to warrant either the affirmation or the denial of a proposition. The term is used especially in reference to our lack of knowledge of the existence of god. In this, the agnostic, who holds that we cannot know whether or not god exists, differs from the atheist, who denies that god exists.
In this case, I am still an atheist — not an agnostic — because I assert that it may be possible for there to be a level of evidence (for any statement) sufficient to say that the statement is true or false.
The closest I found to agreement with your position is this.
From the Christian Apologetics & Research Ministry (carm.org):
The word ‘atheism’ comes from the negative ‘a’ which means ‘no,’ and ‘theos’ which means ‘god.’ Hence, atheism in the most basic terms means ‘no god.’ Basically, atheism is the lack of belief in a god, and/or the belief that there is no god. By contrast, theism is the belief that there is a God, that he is knowable, and that he is involved in the world. Most atheists do not consider themselves anti-theists, but simply non-theists.
Agnostic Atheists, as I call them, are those who deny God’s existence based on an examination of evidence. Agnosticism means ‘not knowing,’ or ‘no knowledge.’ I call them agnostic because they state they have looked at the evidence and have concluded that there is no God, but they say they are open to further evidence for God’s existence.
I have no problem with being called an agnostic atheist in this sense (even though I would not prefer it because it’s too easily misunderstood). But even though this comes closest to agreeing with your argument, it still labels me as an atheist, and the author admits that this definition of “agnostic atheist” is his own — not necessarily one that is in common usage.
It’s starting to look like I could do this all day without finding an authoritative source that significantly disagrees with me. Is there a different reference work you’re referring to, or are you just arguing from what you think the words mean?