Why I’m not an Agnostic


“I ought to call myself an agnostic; but, for all practical purposes, I am an atheist.” – Bertrand Russell

Atheism, I find, is often misunderstood. To a significant number of people, it is seen as a firm belief that God does not/cannot exist – meaning it’s ‘just as bad’ as religion itself. This is wrong.

Calling Atheism a belief (or ‘belief system’ as I made the mistake of referring to it in an earlier post, hoping my poorly judged conversational sarcasm would be picked up and my true meaning made clear) is like calling baldness a hairstyle. Again, Atheism is not a belief in the non-existence of God, it is simply a lack of belief that ‘he’ does.

There is no faith element in Atheism. ‘Belief’ in certain things from the non-religious is earned when there is a significant amount of evidence to support them – like evolution, or the ‘Big Bang’.

Apply this empirical mindset to the God Hypothesis (in it’s many forms) and what you’re left with is a very easy-to-define scientific standpoint on the plausibility of the issue; which is that there is no physical evidence for God and we therefore cannot verify ‘his’ existence… And people interpret this in different ways (while being free to do so, of course).

One way is to declare oneself an Agnostic. Agnosticism – as a stance – concerns knowledge, and some things, it may state, are, despite utilising all possible scientific methods, intrinsically impossible to address. These things, many would say, are not even worth debating. The fence is the adopted position (a reasonable stance in its own right), and Agnostics are likely to neither believe nor ‘disbelieve’ in God. But this is of course a spectrum, and self-identifying doubters may choose to find the God Hypothesis likely but not certain; unlikely but not impossible; or just not care either way.

Atheists tend to agree with this. The only major difference between the two philosophies, I find, is the interpretation of the inherent unfalsifiable nature of deities, as well as each individual’s motivation.

As with much of science (although I’m not implying that Agnosticism isn’t a scientific stance), when it comes to investigating phenomena we work in proving. New discoveries are made, new data is recorded and new insights are realised; and these all point towards or back-up new or existing theories. Yes, some theories are discredited – or ‘proven wrong’ – but this is all part of the process of self-scrutiny which leads to superior (in ability to describe nature) theories.

For the most part, there is a high burden of proof on the part of the scientists developing these theories. A scientific (and that’s to say realistic) theory only holds up when it is possible to accurately and reliably empirically prove it – it’s never enough to say “it can’t be dis-proven” as its only evidence for credibility.

But this, in essence, is the stance of a lot of Agnosticism.

Saying something cannot be dis-proven - like saying that ‘God is outside of the universe’ (whatever that means to the person saying it) – is rather synonymous, I feel, with saying that it might as well not exist; and perhaps by definition, practically, that it doesn’t altogether.

As I began with a quote from Bertrand Russell, I think it’s best I illustrate my point with another one of his (from the same article, “Is There a God?” – commissioned, but never published - as the first quote):

“nobody can prove that there is not between the Earth and Mars a china teapot revolving in an elliptical orbit, but nobody thinks this sufficiently likely to be taken into account in practice.”

All of this is about likelihood. God, to me, seems so unfathomably unlikely that I may as well, for all practical purposes, not waste neural resources even considering the infinitely tiny possibility that there may be a God, as prescribed by the ‘we just don’t know’ argument. The universe can be explained without the need for a divine middle-man – so I don’t waste time entertaining the possibility in my day-to-day life.

On the ‘Spectrum of Theistic Probability‘, as popularised by Richard Dawkins’, I’d place myself on a 6.9 alongside him - meaning that I would argue that the probability of a creator is so very close to zero that it may as well be regarded as such. But I still leave, for the sake of scientific open-mindedness (and a show of the fact that I’d be happy to change my mind if new, solid, physical evidence chanced to turn up), that rather small – yet generous – 0.01.

Another reason I choose to identify, outwardly, as an Atheist and not an Agnostic is because of the identity it brings itself. I want to identify with confident, passionate (but not angry) godlessness – not my (perhaps stereotypical) knee-jerk reaction to ‘Agnosticism’ as being a philosophy which doesn’t care either way, puts the likelihood of God’s existence and (more likely) non-existence on odds of about 50/50, or declares that ‘arrogant’ Atheism is just as much about faith than theism (though this last branch is rare).

I suppose I would openly identify with Agnosticism (for the same reason I left that ’0.01′), if only it didn’t take so much explaining… I mean, each time someone was to ask, I’d have to clarify that the only reason I have to doubt the non-existence of God (in any form) is that ‘the question may be beyond the reach of current science’.

But, then again, so is the question of  Russell’s teapot.

Carnun :P

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7 thoughts on “Why I’m not an Agnostic

  1. I’m not a regular subscriber to Think Atheist (which is what led me here), I logged on to respond to something else and surfed to this… I do consider myself an Agnostic, mostly for the sake of accuracy. I generally agree with everything stated in this post, but since I do have to leave that one percent of leeway FOR the existence of “something”, I have to go with Agnostic. I guess others do, but I would certainly not consider Atheism a “belief system” anymore than I would baldness a hairstyle. I have dealt with many Atheists who declare themselves correct to the absolute exclusion of all other ideas. This I DO consider just as incorrect as faith. To declare an idea as “certain and unquestionable” that is clearly not, for or against, is equally delusional. To be clear, IMHO, to insist in the “non-existence” of a god as an unmitigated fact is just as delusional as any religious certainty. Even if it is only left to a one percent compromise. Agnosticism (and to use the term apathiesm is just as arrogant, IMHO) to me is simply the idea that “we don’t know, we can’t know, which means you (whoever “you” is) don’t know and can’t know, no matter how sure you feel you are.” From a Christian bible standpoint, ‘to know’ works outside the very fundamental concept of faith-building. You cannot have “faith” in something of which you have absolute knowledge. The ultimate Catch 22 (although the idea of “prayer” would have to be Catch 21). So, while I believe in science and evidence, I recognize that there is much that we simply don’t know… yet. Things that we consider supernatural or spiritual may prove to be science at some point. With this in mind, I have to stop at Agnosticism, or I would be as arrogant as those I consider arrogant (and wrong), and Atheism as the general populace understands it – a firm and unarguable declaration in the non-existence of any kind of God, often to the point of derision – is no less incorrect than religion. If there is any doubt in your mind about that surety, you are an Agnostic, and there is nothing wrong with being honest and accurate. As always… IMHO.

    • I can’t help but agree… It is a question of honesty. Plainly and simply, I should call myself an Agnostic.

      Because, the thing is (and I hope this point came across in the post – I wrote it a while ago and can’t quite remember whether it’s included or not), I am an Agnostic. It’s just that I prefer, in public – and if asked in person – to call myself an Atheist 9 times out of 10. It saves ‘this post’-style explanation. It’s easier. (And it’s lazy, unashamedly).

      Also, every so often, I do it for a reaction. Bad? I don’t think so. After all, the kind of ‘reaction’ I tend to be after is:

      “How can YOU be an Atheist? You’re nice!”

      So there’s always that. ;)

      Glad you’re here too Richard, and thanks for the comment. :)

      I think it’s also worth mentioning that looking back on most of the things I wrote ‘a while ago’, I often see a lot of room for revision/re-visit… Including in this post’s case. ;)

      Cheers for flagging it up.

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