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    Thread: 'Agnostic' definition - aaaahhhhh!

    1. #1
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      Angry 'Agnostic' definition - aaaahhhhh!

      Am I the only atheist who experiences something like this conversation every time I bring up that your an atheist to a regular non-religious person? I can't be the only one. The following is similar to a conversation I had recently with a friend.

      Spoiler for Conversation:

      Anyway, I'm getting sick of the confusion. I feel like people who label themselves 'agnostic', and continue to do so even after being corrected, don't really care enough about the subject of religion to risk stirring up conflict by calling themselves atheists. They emphasize the "I guess it's possible a god exists" part too much by calling themselves agnostics so as not to upset religious people.

      But it almost seems my friend has a bit of a point. To an everyday person, an atheist does seem to be defined as some obnoxious person who believes strongly that there is no god and hates religion, and an agnostic is someone who doesn't know and is 'open minded' about it. Still, every atheist who's researched the subject accepts the 'agnostic atheist' definition, so it would feel completely wrong to adopt the 'agnostic' definition. Plus, again, 'agnostic' really does seem to be a cover term that atheists can use so that they don't upset religious people. They're just so used to the term 'atheist' referring to a militant angry person who hates religion, they'd never even consider calling themselves that, even after an agnostic atheist has informed them about the 'real' definition.

      What does everyone think of this issue? What definition should be really be used and why?

    2. #2
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      I'd always wondered what was meant when someone said they were "agnostic". It's good to finally get a definition for it. I would also like to say that the Christians I personally know don't think all atheist's hate religion, but I've never really viewed an atheist as someone who essentially hasn't figured out what to believe yet. So, let me say, bravo for providing a definition on that, and pinning the difference between an atheist and an agnostic atheist.

      Here's a question for the true agnostic. If you "don't know" whether you believe in God or some higher power, is there anything you can think of that would change your mind one way or another? Or are you pretty much stuck on not being sure?


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    3. #3
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      Yeah, it's not just you. I've seen this debate happen a few times on this forum and I think it is quite common when discussing these issues. I agree with the definition you use, Dianeva. It's the definition I've been using since I read an explanation of it a while back. It just seems like the most reasonable view. A lot of people seem to view agnostics as fence-sitters, like it's the middle ground between theism and atheism. But really, agnosticism/gnosticism is about knowledge and atheism/theism is about belief. It's not appropriate to measure them on the same scale.

      Atheism is the lack of belief in a God. That's all it is. It's not an active thing, which would make it the default position. You don't have to be exposed to the concept of a God to not believe in it. Whereas with agnosticism, you have to be exposed to the issue and think about it before coming to the conclusion "I don't know enough to say for certain". So when these terms are placed on their proper scales, it's not contradictory to call oneself an agnostic atheist. An agnostic atheist's position would be "I don't believe in God, but I can't say for certain whether or not one exists". I'd say that's a perfectly valid statement.
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    4. #4
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      It never ceases to amaze me that even with a google bar across the top of every browser people still can't seem to get definitions straight.

      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;...
      It doesn't mean you "don't know what to believe yet" - it literally means you don't think it's possible to know about anything supernatural.

      Oh, and to respond to the question at the end of the OP:

      'the masses' are generally pretty uneducated and in fact, at least in American society, in most circles there's a strong anti-intellectualism so that people rebel against anything that smacks of being 'book-smart'. So I do understand why a majority of people don't want to use words properly or even to understand them, but it just marks them as anti-intellectual.
      Last edited by Darkmatters; 08-20-2013 at 02:06 AM.
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    5. #5
      Terminally Out of Phase Descensus's Avatar
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      I think the issue with people labeling themselves as agnostics has less to do with what agnosticism is and more to do with atheism is. For instance, my sister labels herself an agnostic, using the common "I don't know" definition. Her choice in doing so is fueled mostly by a misconception of atheism. Most people (in the US at least) wade through life with a very superficial Christian-based understanding of religion and philosophy. That, and theism requires a positive belief whereas atheism doesn't, but most view theism and atheism as polar opposites, which isn't necessarily the case, leading to a confusion over the term.

      Also, technically agnosticism does imply that the individual doesn't personally know. The problem is that people don't generally realize the greater definition which implies that they can't know. Some definitions expand that ignorance to everybody instead of just one person too.
      Dianeva likes this.
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