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Agnostic Atheist

2012/11/04 - Author: Marco Neves - 3 Comments

Agnostic Atheist? Aren’t those the same thing? – I was asked more than once, and even more I was looked with confusion when using the expression.

But no, Agnostic and Atheist are independent concepts and none of them imply the other.

Theist/Atheist are related with your believe in the existence of God(s). Gnostic/Agnostic are related with how sure you are of your believe.

One is theist if (s)he believes thar there is god(s) , and an atheist if (s)he believes no god exists. On the other hand gnostic is someone who knows that his believe is right and an agnostic is someone who really don’t know (s)he is right or wrong.

You can see this as a bi-dimensional plane, on which you can be anywhere. You can believe that there is god, and understand that this is just a ‘believe’, that you never had any acceptable evidence that god really exists – and that makes you and Agnostic Theist.

Or you can believe in God’s existence, pray for his help, see your problems fade and accept that as evidence that there is god – and that makes you a gnostic theist.

And all of that is ok, and all of that can help you have a better life and be a better person – by an average definition. Specially while you are in the middle of the plane – the pink circle in the middle of the diagram above.

The real trouble starts when you get closer to the extremes of the plane.

On one side, humans have a very difficult time telling strong believes and knowledge apart, and that makes most strong believers, both theists and atheists into gnostics – strong gnostics.

On the other axis, it is probably ok to be a strong agnostics – someone who really don’t know, and most likely don’t want to know. People usually don’t fight about what they know they don’t know. In the other extreme we have the gnostics, who, sometimes, are so sure that their version of the true is all that there is to know – and everyone who have a different opinion is wrong, and needs to be corrected.

And that is the begining of a lot of conflits.

But if theism and atheism are restricted to our believes related to the existence of god(s), Gnosticism can exist, and often do, outside of the religious context – and a lot more than theism/atheism, it is that certainty that our believes are the ultimate true that we must keep checking. It’s when we are really sure that we are right that we need to step back and verify that we are not mistaking believes for knowledge. Knowledge is something that everyone can verify independently and get the same results. But nor a lot of things in humanity culture are complete and untouchable trues. There are a lot of conventions – including language and mathematics, there are a lot of theories – functional theories that allow for a better understanding of the world, but still are theories.

Humans, however, need believes – faith is one of the most important psychologic tools we have at our disposal.

So… have faith, your own faith, whatever that faith is. Just let all others have their own.



Categories: Definitions

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Discussion (3 Comments)

  1. by Rafael

    […], and an atheist if (s)he believes no god exists […] an agnostic is someone who really don’t know (s)he is right or wrong.

    There are several conflicting definitions for theism, atheism, gnosticism, and agnosticism. But the original concepts do not agree with what you exposed there.

    Atheism employs the greek prefix a- which means no. So atheism means no-theism and the absence of belief in gods.

    What I mean is that an atheist is not required to believe gods don’t exist. Some atheist are fairly reasonable on their doubt regarding the existence of god.

    Agnosticism is not “not knowing wheter you are right or wrong”, rhater it is the belief that the subject matter is not subject to reason. It is not a state of uncertainty, It is a state of certainty of the undecidability of the issue.

    Let me try to be more clear: the agnostic is not the person who doesn’t know whether or not gods exist. Rather, the agnostic is one who believes gods are not accesible to the reason, only to faith.

    I believe a much more interesting way of classifying the belief in gods is by means of the Dawkins scale. I don’t know if you ever heard of it, it was proposed by the biologist and author Richard Dawkins in his book “The God Delusion”. It goes from 1 to 7:

    1. Strong theist. 100 per cent probability of God. In the words of C.G. Jung: “I do not believe, I know.”
    2. facto theist. Very high probability but short of 100 per cent. “I don’t know for certain, but I strongly believe in God and live my life on the assumption that he is there.”
    3. Leaning towards theism. Higher than 50 per cent but not very high. “I am very uncertain, but I am inclined to believe in God.”
    4. Completely impartial. Exactly 50 per cent. “God’s existence and non-existence are exactly equiprobable.”
    5. Leaning towards atheism. Lower than 50 per cent but not very low. “I do not know whether God exists but I’m inclined to be skeptical.”
    6. De facto atheist. Very low probability, but short of zero. “I don’t know for certain but I think God is very improbable, and I live my life on the assumption that he is not there.”
    7. Strong atheist. “I know there is no God, with the same conviction as Jung knows there is one.”

    The gnostic a/theist would fall into the extremes of the scale, 1, 2 tending to 1, 6 tending to 7, and 7.

    I believe this clears things up much more than the bi-dimensional plane.

  2. by Marco Neves

    Hi Rafael,

    Thanks for taking the time to read and comment on this blog.

    About your comment:

    absence of belief in gods already says that there is no believe, as something is only absent when it is not there. And so, your initial definition is just a rephrasing of mine.

    The same applies to agnostic. Gnostic, from the greek gnostikos that had the usual meaning in Classical Greek texts of “learned” or “intellectual”. Learned is not currently used to define what we learned – we use more “known” – after we learn something we get to know it. So, an accepted definition for gnostic is someone “who knows” something. Agnostic is just the oposite of gnostic – think of the prefix A- as if it was un- or im-. Be definition Impossible is not something that may be possible – yes, we use the words in less precise terms, but that is not what they mean.

    From that comes that Agnostic is someone who do not know, not someone who know that something can’t be scientifically proven. That would be a different type of Gnostic. As I say in the post Gnosticism shows up in different ways.

  3. by Marco Neves

    “The God Delusion” by Richard Dawkins is one of the books on my to read list, but with low priority. From what I did read and see by Dawkins, I see him as a Gnostic Atheist, who fail to understand the huge power faith can have – independently of god.

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