The subject of what separates agnostics from atheists, versus what they share in common, or alternately, whether they’re entirely indistinguishable, or if they’re mutually exclusive, generates much debate and even anger, as people argue over definitions of terms, who gets to define who as what based on what, and emotions conflate the matter as people tend to identify with and embrace, or seek to distance themselves from and reject, certain labels.
In short, the entire conversation tends to turn into one big clusterfuck, bogged down in semantics, and muddled by the inability and/or unwillingness of participants on all sides to agree on the meanings of words.
Consider this Part 1 of my opening this can of worms, in which I will simply pose the question (although I have plenty of opinions on all the above which I’ll discuss in good time), to those who consider yourselves agnostic but not atheist:
Have you considered the possibility that you may have been an atheist all along, but just resisted framing it that way either due to a too-narrow (or incorrect) definition of “atheist”, or an unwillingness to let yourself be associated with the (admittedly, baggage-laden) term?
For now, I’d like to frame the question by submitting two definitions from Oxford Dictionaries Online. And since both “agnostic” and “atheist” start with the Latin “a-” prefix meaning “not -”, let’s look at what, at least by these dictionary definitions, agnostics and atheists are not:
gnostic relating to knowledge, especially esoteric mystical knowledge theism belief in the existence of a god or gods, specifically of a creator who intervenes in the universe
Strictly speaking, the “a-gnostic” (“not a gnostic”) makes no claims to have knowledge, especially “esoteric mystical knowledge” (which essentially is to say knowledge of any gods). But for how many, for what percentage of self-described agnostics who hold this view that they can’t or don’t have knowledge of gods, would it follow that they could even possibly become a person who has a “belief in the existence of a god or gods”? How could they jump from, “I don’t know or can’t know if gods exist” to “but… I believe in one or more of them anyhow”? It utterly defies logic.
Simply put, if you don’t know and therefore don’t believe in the existence of such dieties, if you are not “a theist”, how could it make sense to you that you’re not “an atheist”, which by definition is merely, “not a theist”?
I submit to you that if you are not a theist, if you do not believe that any gods necessarily exist, then you are, in fact, an atheist.
I hope to follow up with Part 2 in the next few days, preferably after getting some feedback from agnostics.
(This post was inspired by a recent, brief and amicable conversation I had with twitter user @AllanJH)