(Unnecessary) Qualifiers of Atheism
Gnostic and agnostic are qualifiers too often latched onto atheism. If someone claims to know that a god does not exist, then they are a “gnostic atheist.” If someone claims to not know, then they are an “agnostic atheist.” There seems to be this unwarranted emphasis on if someone claims to know something or not. It all just seems so unnecessary, but gnostic and agnostic, although the most prominent (and irritating), are not the only (unnecessary) qualifiers of atheism.
PZ Myers of the blog Pharyngula, and this is not an attack on or response to PZ, wrote a few weeks ago a post called “What kind of atheist are you?” In it, he describes four different groups of atheists: scientific atheists, philosophical atheists, political atheists, and humanists. I suggest reading the post. It actually is an interesting read about the different brands, so to speak, of atheists. He details the strengths and weaknesses of all these groups and why they are vital to the secular and atheist movements.
Then there is Theodore M. Drange of the site Infidels.org, who wrote a piece called “Atheism, Agnosticism, Noncognitivism,” where in part of it he describes different types of atheists and agnostics (because agnostic is a separate category from atheist, no matter what others would like to say) and their reasons and mindset behind being an atheist or agnostic. They are: disproof atheists, methodological atheists, mystical atheists, faith atheists, unknowability agnostics, zero-data agnostics, data-vs.-data agnostics, and data-vs.-principle agnostics.
At the end of it all, they are all still atheists though (except for the agnostics). They all do not believe in a god. Why the unnecessary qualifiers that really say nothing of importance about them? Why must there be these divisions within atheism and nit-picking at people’s personalities, what they think, and their motives for thinking that way?
Do atheists go around calling themselves “philosophical atheists” or “mystical atheists” when asked what their thoughts are on the (non)existence of a god? No. They just say that they are atheists, that they do not believe in a god, and they leave it at that.
Why then must we divide atheists between agnostics and gnostics? It doesn’t say anything about these people other than some of them claim to know something and others claim to not know. Okay. So what? Why is there so much importance put on those two qualifiers and not the several others that have been listed?
If people are going to use gnostic and agnostic as qualifiers to their atheism, then they must also qualify their atheism with disproof or methodological or political or scientific or any of the others. If people are going to put so much emphasis on whether or not someone claims to know that a god does not exist, then why not put the same amount of emphasis on why they are atheists or what it is about atheism they like or are most proficient with? To me they all seem just as important and relevant to atheism. Why not use them all? Why not call yourself a methodological agnostic philosophical atheist when asked if you believe in a god?
If they are not going to use those particular qualifiers, then don’t use any qualifiers, as they are nothing but unnecessary and do nothing but divide atheists into little sects and groups that are pitted against each other. I know many self-proclaimed “agnostic atheists” who won’t have anything to do with the so-called “gnostic atheists,” as they view them as just as irrational as theists for some reason.
Whether that is true or not (I personally don’t think it is) doesn’t matter. What matters is that atheists are fighting each other because they see one another as different from them. Not like scientists do where they respectively argue and debate in the peer-review process to find the truth. No. They argue and attack each other in a way we would usually only reserve for fundamentalists. That is not healthy for this movement. It divides and disenfranchises many atheists who have differing viewpoints on certain things or for different reasons.
I would probably consider myself as mostly a “political atheist” out of any of the four categories PZ describes and a “disproof atheist” of the categories Drange gives, but I’m not going to call myself a “political atheist” or “disproof atheist” when asked if I believe in a god or not. I especially would not call myself The Barking Political Atheist or The Barking Disproof Atheist (or The Barking Disproof Political Atheist). Nor would I call myself The Barking [insert any other unnecessary qualifier here] Atheist. Whether or not I claim to know that a god does not exist or if there is proof against a god or if I like politics the most about atheism, I am simply The Barking Atheist. Don’t wear it out.
Posted on August 1, 2012, in Philosophy, Religion/Atheism and tagged agnostic atheist, atheists, gnostic atheist, infidels.org, pz myers, theodore m drange, unnecessary qualifiers, what kind of an atheist are you. Bookmark the permalink. 1 Comment.