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Meditation 185
Agnosticism & Atheism

by Lynda Eyambe

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Let me start by saying this is an absolutely amazing site, and many times I have nodded in agreement with a certain brilliantly written essay, and then minutes later, completely agreed with the opposing argument as well. This is a testament to the elucidate nature of *most* of the contributors (or I’m just really gullible).

I just wanted to throw into the cauldron my understanding of the nature of the atheist and the agnostic (Re: Meditation 27 & 28), but feel free to differ.

The Oxford English Dictionary defines an atheist as simply “a person who believes that there is no God”. Notice there is no talk about being able to prove it or knowing for a fact, etc. like a lot of definitions have used in order to embellish, and potentially misinterpret the original meaning.

From this definition, 2 classes of atheists can be uncovered; those who [think they] can prove it and those who can't:

Some atheists are so positive of the non-existence of God that they would go as far as to say they KNOW He doesn’t exist and there is proof to that effect. They would then try to justify their claim, often by philosophising the situation or refuting what theists consider as proof of God's existence.

Then there would be other atheists who say they can't prove it (THEY can't do it, but they are making no statements about the feasibility of manufacturing proof), but they are pretty sure (100% sure) there's nothing "out there". This is possible (e.g. I'm 100% sure my mom loves me, I KNOW it even though I can't really prove it).

An agnostic is one who believes that we cannot know, we cannot establish for a fact that there is, or isn't, a supreme being, that it is IMPOSSIBLE to know for sure about the existence of God. Hence, agnosticism is not a profession of a belief of disbelief in God in itself, but that it can't be proven.

What about the atheist who (by definition) doesn't believe God exists, and who is convinced about that, but at the same time realises that disbelief is also a matter of faith and they could possibly be wrong (however unlikely this may be), and they also realise that it is IMPOSSIBLE to prove that he doesn’t exist? That person is, in my opinion, an agnostic atheist.

Likewise, the Christian who has felt the peace that comes from the love of God and has no doubts about how real God is to them, but realises there is no way to prove it since they accepted it simply as a matter of faith, is an agnostic Christian.

So I’ve established that there is the atheist who says there is no God and here's proof; the atheist who says, there is no God but I can't prove it; and the agnostic atheist who says, there is no God, but that is impossible to prove. There is the Christian who says, I believe in God and Jesus Christ, I know they exist because the bible (or some other equally lame source) says..., and finally the agnostic Christian who believes in their heart of hearts that there is a God, but realises that any real, absolute, irrefutable and tangible proof is impossible.

So you say you are agnostic, you say we can never really know, but what do you think/suspect?

A lot of people do not disbelieve enough to be considered atheist and others do not believe enough to be theists and so conveniently camp out under the hood of agnosticism. But that’s misusing the word. It has precious little to do with their belief or lack thereof. In my opinion there should be another word (e.g. "neutralists", not to be confused with “naturalists”—those who deny the supernatural) for people who neither believe or disbelieve by virtue of the fact that they are agnostic (i.e. remain neutral because its impossible to KNOW).

The true apathetic [neutralist] agnostic thinks its impossible to know, so doesn’t bother with trying to find out (although he/she may want to know why theists & atheists think the way they do), and doesn’t bother at all with issues of theism, but would rather peacefully go on with the rest of their life (I still fail to see how you can have an apathetic agnostic church though, which implies effort and organisation, -- if I do understand the article which discussed it, you don’t care if God exists or not, but you do care about the fact that you don't care? - but anyway, that’s beside the point).

To summarise and re-iterate my point (which I hope you someone managed to decipher in the midst of my mixed thoughts), agnosticism is not a mutually exclusive concept from theism and atheism. It is possible to strongly believe but know proof cannot be formulated as is it possible to strongly disbelieve and still know absolute proof is not possible.

I'd like to say I’m agnostic, but then I realised it didn’t say anything about my belief, so I now consider myself an agnostic atheist. If there does turn out to be a Hell (and if the Christians were right, I would most likely end up in it) all I can say is "oops", so feel free to throw in apathetic as well (apathetic agnostic atheist - AAA. I can see a church beginning to take shape in my mind... but then how apathetic would I really be?)

Just my two cents.