A Conversation for Agnosticism


Post 1

Jim diGriz

> atheists have made the assumption that God does not exist

I disagree with that statement. I am an atheist. I have not made an *assumption* that God does not exist. It's just that I have seen no evidence that there is such a being. Therefore I do not believe in God.

Likewise, I have seen no evidence that invisible kangaroos are responsible for the workings of the internal combustion engine. I think it would be absurd in that case to say that I had *assumed* that the invisible kangaroos were not responsible.


Post 2

Martin Harper

I dunno - I think it's a fairly safe bet that invisible kangaroos aren't responsible for the workings of the internal combustion engine. Why else would it's speed be measured in "horsepower"? smiley - winkeye

However, I do agree - there's no assumption, any more than buddhists have made the assumption that reincarnation exists.


Post 3

Cheerful Dragon

I think it would have been better expressed as, 'Atheists believe that God does not exist', or something along those lines. Agnostics, like myself, believe that there *may* be a God, but aren't sure what form he / she / it takes.

Everybody 'believes' something. I believe I'll go and have a cup of tea!smiley - bigeyes


Post 4

Jim diGriz

"Horsepower"! smiley - winkeye

> 'Atheists believe that God does not exist'

That's better, but it covers only one type of atheist. I think they're known in the trade as 'Hard Atheists'.

'Weak Atheists' are those who do not believe that God exists. It's very subtle, but there is a *big* difference between the two positions.

In my experience, hard atheists usually come from a background where something really bad has happened to them, and this has sparked an active belief that there is no God.

Weak atheists (like me, depending on my mood) usually haven't had anything *particularly* bad happen (just the normal mixture of good and bad stuff); we've just thought long and deep, and gradually come to the conclusion that there's nothing there.

(Those are just my impressions based on people I've known. Of course, there will be others who just don't fit this pattern!)

I think it's fair to say that there can be an overlap between weak atheism and agnosticism. It depends on the degree of your lack of belief.

I like to look at it in terms of 'surprise'. If I was told that at midnight tonight I would learn the answer to the question "Does God exist?", then what answer would surprise me more?

If the answer "Yes" would cause me to say "Jesus! Now who'd have guessed?", whereas "No" would make me think "Yeah, that's what I thought", then I think by any reasonable definition I'm an atheist.

> Everybody 'believes' something

That's true, but it depends what stuff you believe. Most of us take as essential beliefs the ideas that the universe exists, that other people exist and are similar to us (i.e. they are conscious etc.). Without those beliefs (and similar things) you just wouldn't be able to function properly.

However, belief in God is a more abstract idea. You don't have to believe it in order to live a normal life.

But then again, I'm with you on the "cup of tea" idea! smiley - smiley


Post 5

Fragilis - h2g2 Cured My Tabular Obsession

There is a whole argument in the Atheism entry about whether atheists 'believe' in anything. Some (including Douglas Adams) argue that they do not. Therefore, both your language and mine are equally unacceptable to some atheists.

There was a lengthy discussion about the section contrasting atheism and agnosticism among the members of the Freedom From Faith Foundation. This happened when I first told them of the agnosticism entry's existence. After several days of debate, I didn't feel that any consensus had been reached about how to phrase the paragraph.

I left things the way they originally were for several reasons. They are:

1) The phrasing as it stands does mirror the understanding most agnostics have about atheists.

2) The Atheism entry also subtly mispaints agnostics as being eccentric or wishy-washy. It's only fair if the sword is sharp on both sides.

3) After reading both the Atheism and Agnosticism entries, you get a very good picture of how the two groups exchange witty barbs back and forth about one another.

4) The contrast provided between the way atheists define themselves and the way agnostics see them (as well as the contrast between the way agnostics define themselves and the way atheists see them) solidifies the religious reader's understanding of how the two groups differ. Since both agnostics and atheists complain about being lumped together by religious people, my wording suits to accomplish the ultimate goal of both groups.

If you truly want to read a better representation of atheists, there is an entry for that purpose. This one links to it.

If you are curious what the Freedom From Faith Foundation, go to:


Post 6

Cheerful Dragon

"Everybody believes something. I believe I'll have a cup of tea." was meant to be a light-hearted exit line, not a deep philosophical statement. As far as religious belief is concerned, it can't be true as some people believe that God does not exist, or just don't believe in God and don't think any further than that. I do not regard this as 'religious belief', but as lack of religious belief.

I suppose, strictly speaking, that my agnosicism is lack of religious belief, because I don't believe in anything in particular. I *think* there might be something out there, but only because we haven't been able to come up with reasoned explanations for everything and I'm not sure we ever will. (Part of me hopes that we won't, because mankind will become 'unlive-with-able', and we're arrogant enough already!) I don't believe in an omnipotent, omniscient being that created the world, and I don't believe in a lot of the stuff that other religions preach.


Post 7


There's a difference between lack of belief and unbelief.

To use your example: if you'd never encountered an internal combustion engine before, you wouldn't actually be able to say with certainty that it WASN'T being run by invisible kangaroos. Given general knowledge of the world, it would be a reasonable statement to say that that probably wasn't the case, but you wouldn't actually KNOW -- it would be an educated guess.

If you understand some things about the engine, then you say reasonably be sure that there are no invisible kangaroos making it work -- but you have to know something first.

Since no one truly understands how the universe works, it is impossible to use the lack of evidence for a God/Gods to reach the conclusion that He/She/It/They doesn't/don't exist. It might be reasonable to guess that they don't, but we don't actually KNOW that. That's the distinction between a weak atheist and an agnostic. An atheist makes the intuitive leap to godlessness, while an agnostic will not make the same leap without enough knowledge about the universe to justify that statement.

Until recently, humanity didn't know that the core of the Earth is spinning faster than the rest of the planet. Before that time, it would be incorrect to claim to be certain that it did. However, it would also be incorrect to say that we knew it DIDN'T spin faster than the rest. It was simply a subject about which there wasn't any evidence to come to a conclusion.

[bows respectfully]



Post 8

Blatherskite the Mugwump - Bandwidth Bandit

How did I know that the "intuitive leap of logic" argument would surface here? smiley - winkeye

I also once thought that atheism required a leap of faith, but after examination (and lots of discussion at the places Fragilis mentioned) I have changed that perception. An atheist is the one who chooses *not* to make a leap of faith. Atheists are extreme rationalists, and require rational explanations. Thus, an atheist would probably also disbelieve in the existence of germs or atomic particles until they could be observed through the senses or proven through logic. Germs and atomic particles have met those criteria, and so we choose to believe. However, the existence of any entity which fits a desription of "god" has absolutely no evidence for it. It is an outrageous claim, and so requires outrageous proof. In the absence of credible evidence of any sort, the atheist reasons out the only logical possibility... there is no god.

So... would an atheist believe that little kangaroos power an engine? No. We have no reason to believe in the existence of tiny kangaroos, much less any reason that they have been harnessed to move a lawn mower. It's the only logical conclusion based on the available evidence. However, that bit about "available evidence" is crucial... when new evidence is introduced, it will be scrutinized, dissected, and analyzed in conjunction with that which was previously available. If it is enough, it will change belief. Atheists are more open minded than people give us credit for. We simply have stricter demands on information presented to us.


Post 9


I would generally support the idea that atheists are more openminded than people generally realize.

However, there is a BIG difference between saying that there is insufficient evidence to convince you of something and saying that something is definitely untrue.

If you haven't been presented with any evidence that would induce you to believe a statement, and don't have any evidence that shows that the statement is false, it seems to me that a leap of faith is required to say that the statement is false.

Here's another example: we've only recently discovered evidence that indicates the existence of extrasolar planets. Would an atheist have denied that such planets existed before the evidence was found, or simply say that there's no reason to assume that they did. The first position is unreasonable; the second is not.

Lack of evidence is not logically evidence of lack. Although that's a useful rule-of-thumb for getting around in the world, it's not valid 100% of the time.

[bows respectfully]



Post 10

Martin Harper

extrasolar = outside the solar system? just checking.

The difference is that extrasolar planets made sense before they were discovered. In fact, well before extrasolar planets where discovered, I believed in their existance. If it had turned out that there were no extrasolar planets anywhere in the universe I would be extremely surprised. About as surprised as finding out that there was a God - albeit with less drastic results on my life.

I think you should try a new analogy... smiley - winkeye


Post 11

Saint Taco-Chako (P.S. of mixed metaphors)

This post has been removed.


Post 12

Fragilis - h2g2 Cured My Tabular Obsession

Heh heh. Saint Taco-Chako, rest assured you are not alone in your conclusion. smiley - winkeye

To defend my atheist friends, not all atheists are smug fanatics. For that matter, neither are all religious people. It's just that the smug fanatical ones are invariably the ones you hear from and about the most often.


Post 13

Jim diGriz

I am an atheist. I do not believe there is a God. However, I cannot be *absolutely* certain of this.

If you presented me with some evidence that God exists, then I may be converted (or at least move to an agnostic position).

This kind of conversion has happened to me in the past on other matters (in the political realm), so I know that I am open to it.

I agree that there are many smug fanatic atheists. I was certainly close to that when I was a lot younger, but I think it's necessary when you've been brought up in a Christian background and you're trying to convince family that you're not of their faith any more. Does that make sense? You have to fight harder just to make the break, and I think this translates into a kind of fanaticism.

I'm older now, the battle is over, I don't have to convince anyone. I've mellowed into my current position.

Just to clear up another point, I have heard the claim from people that because I admit that I am not absolutely certain that there is no God, then I must be agnostic, rather than atheist. I think that doesn't really make sense. My doubt on this matter is the same doubt that I feel on everything in a world where neither my senses nor my brain are perfect. Maybe such a blurring of the definition is the reason why some atheists appear fanatic; if they don't, then they get categorised as agnostic which is clearly not their position.

However, I'm old enough now that I don't really care what other people use as their label for me. If they want to say that I'm agnostic, so be it. I just think it's a shame if the word 'agnostic' has to be shared with people like me!


Post 14

Blatherskite the Mugwump - Bandwidth Bandit

Smug atheists, smug religionists, smug agnostics... smug people, period. It's more of a personality flaw than anything to do with whatever personal ideology is being expressed. I'm guilty of this flaw myself at times, but it masks a deeper search for truth. I throw out my arguments with a bit of veracity because I want to see them challenged, dissected, and, if necessary, thrown away. I may not see my own logical flaws... they're harder to spot than your own spelling errors. I've already demonstrated one way in which this has caused me to reevaluate my own perception of life, the universe, and everything.

And for "extra-solar" planets, Lucinda has already answered that one. Their existence was proven logically before they were observed through the senses and through instrumentation.

Anyway, atheists and agnostics aren't so different than they generally think. DNA summed it up quite well. An agnostic isn't sure there is a god. An atheist is rather sure there isn't. It's just splitting hairs, really.


Post 15

Jim diGriz

Well, it's looking like the Atheists and Agnostics are finally coming together.

I'd like to offer up a small prayer of thanks... smiley - winkeye


Post 16


Hi folks!

This is not the first time I stumble into one of these old "Atheist or Agnostic?" discussions. The frequency of this type of argument alone gives good hint on how close these two fields of view are really together (there are only few discussions if Buddhists are really oriental Jews).
I deliberately wrote "fields of view", as the variations render the term "points of view" unusable.
Personally, if someone asked me, if I counted myself to one or the other group, I would first have to ask: "Concerning which definition of the term 'god', precisely?"

If, for example, your definition of god is based on the jewish and christian bibles with that guy creating the world and adam and eve, later throwing them out of paradise, setting the world under water, smiting infidels and even playing foul tricks on his own followers, I am an hardeline atheist.
Reason: Mankind has found, for example, quite promising hints for a much more appealing theory concerning the question how itself came into existence. Furthermore, that guy is said to have stuck his fingers into human affairs nearly all the time, but in all the younger history he makes himself very rare all of a sudden. (And this cannot be due to his death, which *would* be an explanation if that god wasn't said to be omnipotent... well he could probably have committed suicide, but that again would be heresy, wouldn't it ?). And so on and on...

If you define god as some generic higher being, maybe somehow involved in the creation of the universe, nothing much more known about, I swing towards weak atheism. I would be surprised, if there was such a god, but I cannot deny it, since there is so little know about this deity that its existence becomes virtually impossible to attack...

If you define a polytheistic god-picture of one, possibly more races of generic higher beings, I'm agnositc.

So far, so god.

regards, frank


Post 17


Whoa, whoa, whoa --- the existence of extrasolar planets was NOT proven before they were discovered. Repeat, the existence of extrasolar planets was NOT proven!

Making a reasonable assumption and having proof of that assumption are two different things. Although it seemed extremely unlikely that there would be no other extrasolar planets, we could NOT have proven that they were real. It was a reasonable assertion to say that they almost certainly existed, though, because we can make an educated guess about planet formation.

(Actually, it should be pointed out that the new planets that have been discovered have proven that our old ideas about how planets are formed are incorrect -- so much for our ability to make sense of the universe!)

[bows with annoyance]



Post 18


That seems to be a reasonable position.

[bows respectfully]



Post 19

Martin Harper

Different people can prove different things, depending what their assumptions are about the universe. People who make no assumptions can prove absolutely nothing, which may be accurate, but is somewhat unproductive. For example, the standard scientific assumption that "our position in space and time is not unique" can be used to 'prove' that extrasolar planets exist.

Regardless of which, the analogy is still offtrack - it's not a reasonable assertion to say that God almost certainly exists, educated guess or otherwise.

{It was inevitable, and expected, that finding more planets would give us new ideas about planet formation. This was the reason for looking for them - a sample of nine is scarcely statistically significant - and even before the new planets were found there were a variety of theories out there}


Post 20


Correct. It would be a reasonable assumption to say that God does not exist (or at least that His existence can not currently be proven).

Reasonable assumptions and proof are not the same thing!

Perhaps a better example would be the existence of extraterrestrial life. We have no information (or very, very little) with which to form an intelligent judgment. It is possible to make an educated guess (that there is probably life out there somewhere) as long as it's kept in mind that the conclusion is not proven and is extremely flimsy. We could be totally wrong about the existence of life -- we could actually be unique. (I don't think that's very likely, but what I think doesn't make any difference to the truth.)

The question of the existence of God has a similar problem. The only difference is that I think it's much less likely for God to exist than to not exist (kind of opposite my thoughts on extraterrestrial life). Either way, however, we simply lack the necessary information to make any kind of even moderately informed judgment on the matter. We can show that it's highly unlikely for God (as the term is currently understood) to exist, but we can't prove that statement.

Using deductive logic, you can start with the premise that if God existed, there would be evidence or proof indicating that, and use the absence of such evidence as an indicator that God doesn't exist. That's reasonable -- it's just not proof.

[bows respectfully]


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