Tuesday, April 12, 2011

Agnostic vs. Atheist

Today's thoughts:

Firstly, but also for the last time, I'm going to apologise for not posting more often. I just haven't had all that much inspiration recently, coupled with too much persiration. I have, however, been cooking up a post analysing Neitzsche's concepts of "will to power" and "beyond good and evil" with regard to Heart of Darkness, Apocalypse Now and Far Cry 2. Seriously. So that might be up here soon... or it might not.

I just wanted to do another clarification (and demonstrate yet another change of position) - this time on the definition of "agnostic". After watching QualiaSoup's excellent video "Lack of Belief in Gods" for the umpteenth time - I've drawn on it a lot - I realised how far behind I am in terms of definitions. Pun intended.

If you didn't watch the video, and even if you did (it's confusing), he talks about the actual definitions of "agnostic" and "atheist" instead of their popular ones. Instead of agnosticism being the middle ground between theism and atheism, it actually occupies its own unrelated and largely irrelevant category. Ignore it for the moment.

This middle ground is in fact also atheism, termed "soft" atheism to differentiate between it and "hard" atheism which asserts that there is no god or gods. Soft atheism is instead the skeptical perspective which makes no claims either way, but in the absence of evidence does not believe there to be a divine. Hard atheism is a more faith-based position, in that there is no evidence for there not being a divine either. This unfalsifiable certainty is what nets atheism the charge of being as faith-based as religion, but actually makes up a very small percentage of atheists.

Hmm.. perhaps a diagram is needed.


Point 1 is theism. It is a faith-based position which claims there is a divine.
Point 2 is hard atheism. It too is a faith-based position, since the lack of evidence either way does not definitively exclude the existence of a divine.
Point 3 is soft atheism. Without evidence for the existence of a divine, it does not believe in its existence. Should evidence arise, however, it would willingly change its position.

Agnosticism actually refers to knowledge, not existence. It claims that nothing can be known about the divine, regardless of whether it exists or not. In this way, it is actually possible to be an agnostic theist or an agnostic atheist. It covers both categories, but - due to its unfalsifiable claims - is another faith-based position.

Finally, I thought I'd chuck in a bit about "falsifiability" since I've thrown it around a lot in this post. Falsifiability is the ability for a claim to be proven wrong - such a claim doesn't have to be wrong, it just has to be evidence-based so that its veracity can be shown one way or the other. Thus a claim which is "unfalsifiable" cannot by definition be proven or disproven, and is thus scientifically and skeptically irrelevant/bullshit. There is no case that can be put forward to prove it - no one has any reason whatsoever to think it true except for faith. And we all know what that means...

TL;DR - If you consider yourself an "agnostic", you're most likely an atheist. Agnosticism isn't the middle ground between theism and atheism - it's a completely separate and largely irrelevant category.

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