The question of a god is usually asked of people like this, “Do you believe in a god?” People take from this that one can only say yes or no, that it’s a black and white question with no alternatives. From there, they think that one is either an atheist or a theist. There is no middle ground on the question.
This is why many people assert that agnostics do not exist, that they are really just atheists who are afraid of using the label because of the negative connotations with it. Most of these people say that since atheism is defined as not believing in a god, that anyone who is not a theist is automatically lumped into the label of atheist, including agnostics and anyone else who does not claim belief in a god.
Okay. Let’s start with the end of that.
First, atheism is indeed defined as the lack of belief in a god. That doesn’t matter, because an agnostic is defined as, “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; a person who claims neither faith nor disbelief in God.” They do not have belief or a lack of a belief, making them neither atheists or theists. This makes them the middle ground between the two.
“But but but…what about the question, ‘Do you believe in a god?’ The only possible answers are yes or no!” That is true. With that question, the only answers are that. The question is a strawman and the conclusions that come from it are the same. It doesn’t accurately represent how people feel and think. The question should be, “What are your thoughts on the existence or nonexistence of a god?” People should be able to answer the question however they like, not be forced into two false dichotomous categories, because some people cannot handle gray areas.
The god question should not be a yes or no. It should be free response. Sure, it’s harder to answer, but it gives insight into individuality and personal attitudes. Some might say they believe, they do not believe, they don’t know, they don’t care, they won’t answer until that word is better defined, or anything else they want to say or not say at all.
The site Skeptic Money recently released a post about a study conducted by the National Opinion Research Center (NORC), which is affiliated with the University of Chicago. The study is called “Belief About God Across Time and Country,” and it details people from across many different nations and if they are certain that a god exists. Skeptic Money’s post on the study is short (at about seven sentences) and not so sweet, as it presents fallacious reasoning about what an atheist is.
At the top (or bottom) of the list in the study is East Germany with a whopping 0% under the age of 28 saying that they are certain that a god exists or not. The United States is over half at 53.8% of respondents under the age of 28 saying they were certain that a god exists. This is bad news for us in the United States’ irreligious population but great news for Europe’s (fuckers).
I digress though. The author of the post had this to say:
If the person says yes [to are they certain that God exists] then they are a theist (the belief that at least one deity exists). If they say they don’t know, or are not sure etc… then they are an atheist. If you are not sure if god exists then you cannot have a belief in that deity. Therefore, you are an atheist!
This new report says that only 54% of Americans under the age of 28 are “Certain God Exists”. That means that 46% are NOT sure that god exists. If you aren’t certain that god even exists then you ARE an atheist!
This is just flat-out false.
One does not have to be certain that a god exists in order to be a theist. Being uncertain, however small of doubt there may be, does not make someone an atheist. Sure, some amount of doubt might someday years down the road turn some into atheists, but simply because they are not certain does not mean that they do not believe or are not theists.
If the same logic is applied to atheism, one could easily say that in order to be an atheist one must be certain that a god does not exist and that any kind of admittance that one is not sure means that they are a theist. We would be quick to call this ignorant and downright stupid, because it is.
This kind of definition of atheist is a strawman in order to get more numbers for the atheist demographic, and it is a terrible attempt at that. A similar tactic is also used by people who think that one is either an atheist or a theist in order to get agnostics on their side, even though agnosticism is its own separate category.
I am sure that the majority of those 46% of people still believe in a god and would resent anyone who dare call them an atheist. If anything is counterproductive to the atheist/secular movement, calling someone something that they clearly are not or do not identify with definitely is.
I recently ran across this photo.
Now as most people know, one does not simply wake up in the morning (feeling like P. Diddy) and all of their feelings for a partner are all suddenly gone. Feeling like there are no more feelings for this person is not an overnight experience or event. It is not something that happens just like that. It is something that can take weeks, months, or years. One cannot just say at a random moment, “I no longer love this person,” for no reason whatsoever and mean it.
Take your most recent relationship where you were the one who initiated the breaking up. Did you just wake up one morning (I will not make a Ke$ha joke again, I promise) and feel like you no longer loved or cared about that person? No, of course not. You started to feel doubts about the relationship months beforehand, and you may or may not have tried to ignore them, but at that moment you did not lose all feelings for this person, nor would anyone call you someone who does not love them.
Despite your doubts, however small or large, you still loved or cared about this person to some extent. As the months went on, more and more things may have led to more doubts about the relationship, such as fights or broken promises, but you still loved them, even if that love was dwindling. At some point during this time you did not go from loving to not loving this person in an instant. There is a time when you may just not know if you love them or not. Believe me, I have had many instances where this has happened to me during my past relationships.
The same can be said for and applied to deconversions. One does not wake up and say one day to themselves that they are now an atheist. It takes months or even years of uncertainty to finally become one. A person does not go from theist to atheist in an instant, with or without doubts. There is a time when you just do not know if you believe or not, a time when you are agnostic.
I have run into many people who think that agnostics do not exist, that one is either an atheist or a theist. When it is pointed out to them how deconversions work, when someone usually does not have belief and does not lack belief in a god or does not know if they believe in a god or not, people tend to say something like, “They were switching back and forth from theist to atheist.”
There just seems to be no middle-ground with these people. It is obviously a false dichotomy that they are promoting. This proposition is merely absurd. That tiny amount of doubt, that split second of asking yourself if a god exists or not, does not make you an atheist in any way. Everyone has doubts at some point or another, but they are not atheists. If I doubt if evolution is real, does that make me a Creationist, even for that split second of doubt? No. Even if I were to severely doubt evolution, that does not make me a Creationist. It makes me someone who does not know and does not know if I believe in evolution or not.
The people who say these things are also the same people who scoff at the lousy childhood actor turned fundamentalist Christian Kirk Cameron when he says that he once was an atheist. Yes, it is preposterous to think that he honestly was an atheist at any point in time, but if people can switch from atheist to theist and back again when they question things, however slightly, then Kirk Cameron was an atheist along with everyone else who has ever questioned the existence of a god, even if it were only for a split second.
In one of my other posts, I showed this picture that is actually an example for evolution and how small changes over time can become one really large change. I would like to show that picture again here.
Theist will be red, atheist blue, and agnostic purple.
So where is the first atheist word in this paragraph? Where is the first agnostic word? Did red (theist) just jump over into blue (atheist)? No. It took time. It took months or years of doubt building up inside someone’s mind.
It is hard to say when someone is an agnostic, but if they look at where they are themselves and want to call themselves an agnostic, that is up to them. Sure they may be very close to blue (atheist), but if they want to say that they are purple (agnostic), let them.
At one point, someone may be far enough in the blue to call themselves an atheist, but do not force them. Do not belittle them or call them cowards. So many atheists want to say that agnostics are just atheists without balls or that all agnostics are really atheists who just will not admit it. As has been shown numerous times over my most recent posts, agnostics do exist, and they are their own category that does not need to pushed into the false dichotomy that people set up.
What is even worse is trying to belittle atheists who are in the closet about it.
The person who might want to breakup with their partner may just not be able to. Maybe they have too much financially entwined. Maybe they have a child together. Maybe they don’t want to hurt their partner’s feelings. There are atheists who deeply care for their theist friends and family. Some are involved heavily with their church. They cannot just get up and yell to everyone and to the heavens, “I’m an atheist! I knew all along it was a myth and a scam and you know it too!” Yes, we should encourage them to come out and to not be afraid of being ostracised, even when they very well could be, but telling them that they are cowards or insulting their family is not the way to get them to come out. It is entirely counterproductive and just makes atheists look bad.
PS: I know many people are tired of this subject about agnostics and false dichotomies, not just from me but in general. I apologise, but I continue to hear people making these fallacious arguments, so I tried to make this as brief as possible.
- An acceptance that a statement is true or that something exists
- Something one accepts as true or real; a firmly held opinion or conviction
- A religious conviction
- Trust, faith, or confidence in someone or something
- Facts, information, and skills acquired by a person through experience or education; the theoretical or practical understanding of a subject
- What is known in a particular field or in total; facts and information
- True, justified belief; certain understanding, as opposed to opinion
- Awareness or familiarity gained by experience of a fact or situation
I would like to draw attention to that second to last line there.
“True, justified belief”
It is often said that because knowledge and belief have two different definitions that they are two separate things, that belief equates theism and knowledge equates gnosticism. This is based entirely off etymology alone, not usage of modern language, vernacular, or human psychology.
Knowledge and belief are not two different scales or options that split people into four, exclusive little categories based solely on etymology. Knowledge, according to Plato, is a belief that is justified by evidence and reason. They are not separate things that go in two different directions. Belief and knowledge are simply different sections on the same sliding scale.
On one end of the spectrum, there are claims that fly in the face of evidence and reason, such as Intelligent Design/Creationism. As we go further down the spectrum, more and more evidence supports the claims that are made, making them more justified to believe; eventually, we can start saying that we know them to be true instead of simply believing that they are. At the other end of the spectrum there are claims that people accept and know to be true beyond a reasonable doubt because of a mountain of evidence supporting it, such as the theory of evolution.
Another spectrum that can be used in this discussion would be Richard Dawkins’ seven point scale of belief that he talks about in his famous book The God Delusion. On one end you have “strong theist” (1) and on the other you have “strong atheist” (7). These could be called states of mind on the existence of a god. In the book Dawkins calls himself a six. In several interviews since the book has been released he has repeatedly called himself a 6.9 instead of merely a six. I personally would call myself a 6.999999999999999…999999 (you get the point). At that point, I might as well just round up to seven, even though it is not quite fully seven.
A nice metaphor I would like to draw is one that is commonly used against Creationists to help them understand evolution and how small changes occur over time.
What is the first purple (agnostic) word? What is the first blue (atheist) word? Where does atheist switch over to theist? Where does etymology come into play here? Conversions, reconversions, and deconversions can take years. It is not something where someone is automatically now an atheist. There is a time of transition when someone just does not know or claim to believe either way or even know where they stand on the issue. Some might even stay that way.
Now I know it doesn’t seem like it, but I really hate playing “My Definition is Better Than Yours,” but I’ll keep doing it:
- 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; a person who claims neither faith nor disbelief in God
That last part is what I have come to realise what an agnostic person is, “A person who claims neither faith nor disbelief in God.”
Agnosticism is a valid and stand-alone position, despite what some people may say that because they do not claim belief in a deity, they fall into the false dichotomous position of atheist. They also do not claim disbelief, or lack of belief, in a deity either. They are not atheists or theists. They are neither believers nor non-believers. They are agnostics. They are “I don’t know-believers.” Let’s go with “IDK-believers” for short and to appeal to the youth out there.
Do not confuse agnostics with “apatheists,” who I will call “meh-believers” just for the hell of it. Apatheism is a peculiar position that I will go into very quickly. An apatheist is someone who may or may not necessarily believe in a deity, but they just do not care one way or the other if a god exists or not, or they claim neither belief nor disbelief simply because they do not care one way or the other. The god question is not something that they care about or think is relevant to them. Personally, I think they are foolish for thinking that. The question, “Does a god exist?” and the resulting actions taken out by people on either side has profound societal consequences for everyone, as we have seen from Republicans trying to take contraception away from women based entirely off religious reasons.
A person who is agnostic may fall close to atheism or close to theism on the belief and knowledge spectrum, so I can partially understand why someone might call themselves an agnostic (a)theist if that is the case (or even an (a)theistic agnostic), but describing all atheists and theists as agnostic or gnostic is simply unnecessary at best. There is no need for any qualifier to the words atheist or theist.
If someone really wanted to, then as we go further and further on ends of the spectrum, one could call themselves a “gnostic (a)theist.” Just like with the “agnostic (a)theists,” I can partially understand it, even if I disagree with the labeling. I know from some of my most recent videos, such as I Know God Doesn’t Exist, that people have started calling me a “gnostic atheist,” and several friends and followers of mine have started saying that they are “gnostic atheists” as well because of my videos. I would like to say that I do not call myself that. I am an atheist. No extra words needed.
In my videos, I was not endorsing “gnostic atheism.” I was, if anything, explaining my views on ignosticism (not agnosticism for those of you who think I misspelled something). I have run into similar problems with ignosticism that I have had with agnosticism. People seem to think that because they do not believe in a god that they are automatically atheists. However, they also do not lack belief. They also are not “IDK-believers.” They are “what the fuck are you even talking about-believers.” Possibly “WTF-believers” for short.
Using the word “believers” at all for agnostics, apatheists, and ignostics may cause some confusion. I do not recommend using these terms to describe anyone; I’m just using it here alone and possibly within my own blog to help make sense of these stances and philosophies.
Since I have made these videos, some people have been confused with my stances, saying that I can not say I know a god does not exist if I claim ignosticism. This is from ignorance of the stances themselves. To make it as clear as possible, I am “gnostic,” for brevity’s sake, about the theistic gods. I know they do not exist. I can prove definitively with science that they do not. There is no question in my mind that Jehovah, Vishnu, Thor, etc. do not exist. This is why I call myself an atheist, but I do not say that I am a “gnostic atheist” simply because I see no point to these extra labels.
Now an ignostic is someone who does not take a position on the god question until the very term “god” itself is properly defined. Do not confuse this with agnosticism. Agnostics take a stance somewhere in the middle on the belief and knowledge spectrum. Ignostics are not even on that spectrum. They are their own little group separate from the three other categories.
I would say that I am ignostic about a deistic god. Because the term “god” itself is so poorly defined once all claims of theistic gods are destroyed, there is no reason to believe or not believe in a deistic god or gods. The theistic gods have qualities and characteristics that we can test for and see if they really do exist, such as Jehovah’s creation story in the book of Genesis.
A deistic god, which is basically a theistic god watered down by science and philosophy, is too vague to properly define, and those that have been defined, such as those touted by philosopher William Lane Craig, have also been discredited and debunked just like any theistic god out there. All claims about a god, whether theistic or deistic, have been debunked.
This is why I say that I know even a deistic god does not exist. I am not agnostic about it. I am just as agnostic about a deistic god as I am about the Celestial Teapot or the Zsadlfkjasdiagrb. For those readers who do not know what in the hell I just typed, do not be alarmed.
“God” is so poorly defined, but people, as in some atheists, say that they do not know if one exists or not. This is why I created the term “Zsadlfkjasdiagrb” (pronunciation: Zuh-sad-loofk-jaz-dee-ahh-gurb), in a discussion with a (former) friend of mine and fellow atheist (I think), in order to show the vagueness of the term “god” itself. I do not know what the Zsadlfkjasdiagrb is, what its characteristics or qualities are, but I know it is not real.
It is a made up thing. It does not require my belief or disbelief. Doing any of that gives undeserved credence to the concept of the Zsadlfkjasdiagrb. The same can be said of a god. The very concept of a god was made up by fearful, superstitious people that did not understand the natural world around them and attached “god” to the things they could not explain. These evolved into the gods of the world’s religions that we see today. Characteristics and qualities that we could recognise and partially understand were attributed to different gods for different things, and we debunked them all. We showed with science how these gods simply do not exist. Once the theistic gods are gone, what is left? Nothing.
Characteristics were given to the Zsadlfkjasdiagrb when I first made videos about it. People said they imagined a drunk, French Zoidberg from the show Futurama. Does this exist? Obviously not. Once that is gone, the Zsadlfkjasdiagrb no longer exists as anything but a word that someone made up, same with a god.
Another pretty picture to help explain this.
Is anyone agnostic towards the invisible chair? No. Is anyone a theist towards the invisible chair? I would hope not. Is anyone an atheist towards the invisible chair? There is no need to be. Calling oneself an atheist towards the invisible chair or “god” is giving unnecessary credit to the very concept of such a thing when it simply does not exist.
Another problem I have run into is when I say that I am a 6.999999999999999…999999 on the seven point Dawkins scale. People will say, “Then you aren’t 100% sure, therefore you can’t say you know a god doesn’t exist!” Again, with my stance I might as well round up to a seven or up to 100% sure. I will not though, because I cannot be 100% certain of anything by certain people’s definitions of knowledge and certainty, even my own existence, and I do not care to go down that rabbit hole, but I still know that the invisible chair and “god” do not exist.
To explain this, I wrote a quick post in response to this common objection weeks ago, which I have since slightly tweaked from its original form that I think is appropriate to be used here as a closing statement.
If I draw a square in the sand, it is not perfect, but it is still considered a square by most. If I draw a square with the aid of a ruler, even though we are getting closer it is not perfect, but it is still considered a square. If I draw a square with the aid of a computer that gets it within one-millionth of an inch in accuracy, it is still not perfect, but it is still considered a square. None of these are perfect squares. You can say a square is when all four sides are perfectly equal, but even the most advanced pieces of technology and machinery cannot make such a thing. Even if it is only one atom off, that automatically makes it not a perfect square. Closer and closer we get to a perfect square with the advancement of science and technology, but we will probably never be able to make a perfect square, but for semantic reasons we say that these are still squares and not rectangles or trapezoids. The same can be applied to disproving the existence of a god. We may not be able to definitively disprove its existence and be one-hundred percent sure, much like we cannot make a perfect square, but for semantic reasons we know that a god, even a deistic god, does not exist.