Agnosticism and A/theism

#1
I wanted to express my view on how someone can be an agnostic without being an atheist or theist. Feel free to join for discussion.

Pure Agnosticism

Most would agree that atheists are non-believers and/or disbelievers in God's existence and theists are the believers. Some agnostics don't clearly fit either the believer and disbeliever side which is one reason someone may be a pure agnostic. An agnostic (or any person) would not fit the atheist or theist label if they are uncertain about their own belief system, like if they have no stable or strong beliefs/confidence either way. A pure agnostic may also have contradictory beliefs which involves accepting some of the reasons for why a God doesn't exist and accepting some reasons for why God exists - there's evidence/reason(s) for BOTH sides of the issue, in other words. The latter scenario applies to me and my agnostic position when it comes to God and some related issues. If you believe that there is evidence for both sides then I fail to see why it isn't possible to have some belief in both sides. I also fail to see why someone in such a position must be forced to accept the theist or atheist label and only those two.

The virtue of Agnosticism

From my experience, I believe that there are some benefits to being an agnostic. My lack of strong commitment in any worldview, or in some of the mainstream polarized believer and disbeliever worldview, leaves me in a position of not being affected as much by the common biases on these issues. I say this because my interest don't involve protecting or reinforcing my side because I really can't say that I have a side (atheist or theist). In a sense, I can also look at both sides from the outside (I'm not totally outside, but I'm not as much on the inside or for a side) which I hope gives me a better perspective to see how both sides work. I also feel more freedom in thought to adopt positions from both sides and to come up with my own alternative explanations without the peer-pressure or group pressure that tends to come with being on a side. In general, I feel that this helps me remain objective (or fair-minded) on issues, especially polarized issues that relate to the atheist/skeptic vs. believer debate. I try to learn from both sides and apply both of their approaches and perspective where I can (going by reason AND my heart at times, being open to both natural and supernatural/paranormal explanations, etc). Some may call me weak but the way I look at it is that I'd rather be a soft agnostic than a wrong atheist or theist and to let those beliefs/philosophy (or my single focus on them) mislead me in my view/approach if I end up choosing the wrong side.

Selected excerpts from Thomas Huxley's writings

(Based on context, the terms "heterodox", "heterodoxy", and "anti-theology" refer to atheists and their views)
Some twenty years ago, or thereabouts, I invented the word "Agnostic" to denote people who, like myself, confess themselves to be hopelessly ignorant concerning a variety of matters, about which metaphysicians and theologians, both orthodox and heterodox, dogmatise with the utmost confidence;..

1. Agnosticism is of the essence of science, whether ancient or modern. It simply means that a man shall not say he knows or believes that which he has no scientific grounds for professing to know or believe.

2. Consequently Agnosticism puts aside not only the greater part of popular theology, but also the greater part of anti-theology. On the whole, the "bosh" of heterodoxy is more offensive to me than that of orthodoxy, because heterodoxy professes to be guided by reason and science, and orthodoxy does not.

3. I have no doubt that scientific criticism will prove destructive to the forms of supernaturalism which enter into the constitution of existing religions. On trial of any so-called miracle the verdict of science is "Not proven." But true Agnosticism will not forget that [6] existence, motion, and law-abiding operation in nature are more stupendous miracles than any recounted by the mythologies, and that there may be things, not only in the heavens and earth, but beyond the intelligible universe, which "are not dreamt of in our philosophy." The theological "gnosis" would have us believe that the world is a conjuror's house; the anti-theological "gnosis" talks as if it were a "dirt-pie" made by the two blind children, Law and Force. Agnosticism simply says that we know nothing of what may be beyond phenomena.
Source for excerpt:
http://aleph0.clarku.edu/huxley/UnColl/Rdetc/AgnAnn.html
 
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#2
Well, the definition of someone who is agnostic is someone who is not an atheist or a theist. A- meaning no, Gnostic meaning knowledge, that one is unknowing of the question, or that the answer is unknowable.
 
#3
Well, the definition of someone who is agnostic is someone who is not an atheist or a theist. A- meaning no, Gnostic meaning knowledge, that one is unknowing of the question, or that the answer is unknowable.
Most a-theists (non-theists) are also agnostics. There are even some agnostic theists out there.
 
#4
Most a-theists (non-theists) are also agnostics. There are even some agnostic theists out there.
Naturally, but that's merely defining a sub - category of theism and atheism. It's weird to say agnostic theist or agnostic atheist, even though I accept that those are real terms people use. What he defined, though, was agnostic in its true form and intention of the word. A term in which I would identify myself with in terms of a diety ( I'm not sure if there is or is not one ).
 
#5
Most a-theists (non-theists) are also agnostics. There are even some agnostic theists out there.
I accept that there are agnostic atheists out there but the problem I run into are atheists who try to lump in all agnostics as also being atheist or theist. Under that view, there is no such thing as a pure agnostic. I believe the error in that view is in not considering that beliefs are not always formed in the mind as clearly as we can form definitions on paper. I described two scenarios in the opening post under the Pure Agnosticism section.

Lyace,
You raise another point to consider. The word agnostic was coined to be separate from atheism and theism. Due to that, agnostics usually don't accept 'weak atheism' as a label and don't agree with the definition. I can't blame them considering that there are atheists who want to call themselves weak atheists or agnostic atheist when you press them for more details but yet in other cases you tend to find them debating and behaving like they know for sure that God doesn't exists. That is inconsistent and misleading on their part.
 
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#6
The word agnostic was coined to be separate from atheism and theism. Due to that, agnostics usually don't accept 'weak atheism' as a label and don't agree with the definition. I can't blame them considering that there are atheists who want to call themselves weak atheists or agnostic atheist when you press them for more details but yet in other cases you tend to find them debating and behaving like they know for sure that God doesn't exists. That is inconsistent and misleading on their part.
I've notices sometimes the inconsistency. For example someone might say perhaps that their position is simply a lack of belief in any god. But when expanding on this view, it can often transform from a "non-belief in god" to a "belief in non-god", and thus shifts to become itself a belief system.
 
#7
I've notices sometimes the inconsistency. For example someone might say perhaps that their position is simply a lack of belief in any god. But when expanding on this view, it can often transform from a "non-belief in god" to a "belief in non-god", and thus shifts to become itself a belief system.
Every opinion is part of a belief system.

Also defining this seems to be simple. To the question - Is there a deity of any sort?

- No there isn't = atheist.
- I don't know = agnostic
 
#8
Most would agree that atheists are non-believers and/or disbelievers in God's existence and theists are the believers.
Maybe. However I don't. In fact being an atheist is defined by belief.

M-W:
--------
athe·ist
noun \ˈā-thē-ist\
: a person who believes that God does not exist

Full Definition of ATHEIST
: one who believes that there is no deity
---------
 
#9
Every opinion is part of a belief system.

Also defining this seems to be simple. To the question - Is there a deity of any sort?

- No there isn't = atheist.
- I don't know = agnostic
But there is somewhat of a difference between an opinion and a belief system. An opinion may be somewhat casual, and readily changed, whereas a belief system can underpin ones entire existence and be considerably more resistant to change.

As for the simplicity of the definitions, these hardly do justice to the way these (and many other) terms are applied in practice. For example, I favour particular definitions of the words "sophisticated" and "sceptical" but in the real world, the usage and intended meaning can deviate very far from those definitions.
 
#10
But there is somewhat of a difference between an opinion and a belief system. An opinion may be somewhat casual, and readily changed, whereas a belief system can underpin ones entire existence and be considerably more resistant to change.
I'll agree that there's a difference.. However what I stated is that every opinion is "part of" (springs from if you prefer) a belief system. As for "undermining one's existence" - no BS don't do that.

B
As for the simplicity of the definitions, these hardly do justice to the way these (and many other) terms are applied in practice. For example, I favour particular definitions of the words "sophisticated" and "sceptical" but in the real world, the usage and intended meaning can deviate very far from those definitions.
The "real word" huh? So what . . . the definitions are in a fake world?;) I get your point that the terms are often misapplied in various ways. That's so about most terminology.
 
#12
As in "I believe there are no gods"? What if I say "I don't believe in any gods"? Can you give a crisp description of the difference between those two statements?

~~ Paul
That's saiko's point; there isn't. So it's a belief system. Simply saying I dont believe in any gods is the same as saying I believe there are no gods.
 
#13
That's saiko's point; there isn't. So it's a belief system. Simply saying I dont believe in any gods is the same as saying I believe there are no gods.
But they are not the same thing. I'll demonstrate this with the following question:

Do you believe there are an even number of stars in the universe?
 
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Paul C. Anagnostopoulos

Nap, interrupted.
Member
#14
That's saiko's point; there isn't. So it's a belief system. Simply saying I dont believe in any gods is the same as saying I believe there are no gods.
I think many philosophers would disagree with you. Nevertheless, I don't see how not believing in something is a belief system in any meaningful way. That means I have a belief system for everything I don't believe in. And then I have a belief system for things I've never even heard of, since I don't believe in them either.

~~ Paul
 
#15
The issue here is that mere belief and having knowledge are often separate. People can believe without knowledge.

A(theism) is about the person's belief
A(gnosticism) is about their knowledge.

I'm an agnostic atheist because I don't believe in any deity but I also don't believe it is possible to know there are no deities.

A gnostic atheist would be one who claims to know there aren't any deities.

You can have agnostic and gnostic theists as well.

Atheism and theism is a dichotomy. If your answer to the question: "do you believe in at least one deity" is anything other than "yes" - you are an atheist.

At the end of the day, though, this is a semantic discussion. These terms are useful only so long as they convey information. If we're clear about our terms in any given discussion, it really doesn't matter.
 
#16
The issue here is that mere belief and having knowledge are often separate. People can believe without knowledge.

A(theism) is about the person's belief
A(gnosticism) is about their knowledge.

I'm an agnostic atheist because I don't believe in any deity but I also don't believe it is possible to know there are no deities.

A gnostic atheist would be one who claims to know there aren't any deities.

You can have agnostic and gnostic theists as well.

Atheism and theism is a dichotomy. If your answer to the question: "do you believe in at least one deity" is anything other than "yes" - you are an atheist.

At the end of the day, though, this is a semantic discussion. These terms are useful only so long as they convey information. If we're clear about our terms in any given discussion, it really doesn't matter.
You might want to be careful about defining someone as a 'gnostic atheist'. Gnosticism has a very strict religions definition, with a belief system that one should reject the material world entirely and focus on spirituality. http://gnosis.org/gnintro.htm
 
#18
But I believe that the whole point behind what the OP was trying to say is that agnosticism should not be considered synomous with atheism. Neil DeGrasse Tyson made a video about the question of whether or not he was an atheist ( since he's pretty highly regarded in the New Atheist movement ( especially amongst redditors)). He explained in the video that he would define himself as a strict agnostic, not as an atheist, and that people should stop characterizing him as an atheist. The ensuing conversation among atheists was how Neil was actually defined as an atheist ( because he considers himself agnostic), so he's an atheist.

I believe this is the point the OP was trying to make. There are agnostics who give weight to both sides of the argument ( fence-sitters ), and just don't know the answer.
 
#19
But I believe that the whole point behind what the OP was trying to say is that agnosticism should not be considered synomous with atheism.
As I stated above, I agree. There are agnostic atheists and agnostic theists.

Neil DeGrasse Tyson made a video about the question of whether or not he was an atheist ( since he's pretty highly regarded in the New Atheist movement ( especially amongst redditors)). He explained in the video that he would define himself as a strict agnostic, not as an atheist, and that people should stop characterizing him as an atheist. The ensuing conversation among atheists was how Neil was actually defined as an atheist ( because he considers himself agnostic), so he's an atheist.
I think I've seen that video, though not the discussion. I'd classify him as an agnostic atheist under my definitions. He's an atheist because, simply, he has no belief in at least one deity.

I believe this is the point the OP was trying to make. There are agnostics who give weight to both sides of the argument ( fence-sitters ), and just don't know the answer.
I don't know there are no gods, but there are no gods that I believe in. I know theists who don't know there is a god but who believe there is a god. Keeping the branches separate allows us to categorise these kinds of people. Merging them loses a lot of functionality of these words, including dropping "gnosticism" from the scale entirely!
 
#20
Arouet, Recall the OP's opening post:

Pure Agnosticism

Most would agree that atheists are non-believers and/or disbelievers in God's existence and theists are the believers. Some agnostics don't clearly fit either the believer and disbeliever side which is one reason someone may be a pure agnostic. An agnostic (or any person) would not fit the atheist or theist label if they are uncertain about their own belief system, like if they have no stable or strong beliefs/confidence either way. A pure agnostic may also have contradictory beliefs which involves accepting some of the reasons for why a God doesn't exist and accepting some reasons for why God exists - there's evidence/reason(s) for BOTH sides of the issue, in other words. The latter scenario applies to me and my agnostic position when it comes to God and some related issues. If you believe that there is evidence for both sides then I fail to see why it isn't possible to have some belief in both sides. I also fail to see why someone in such a position must be forced to accept the theist or atheist label and only those two.
This is my point, though. Neil did not define himself as an agnostic atheist, he definied himself as an agnostic. His video is about people defining himself as an atheist, even though he states that's not the case. The ensuing conversation is about him being an atheist even though he doesnt consider himself as one.
 
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