atheism versus agnosticism

atheism versus agnosticism

The agnostic does not believe in God, but allows for the possibility of changing her/his mind.  The agnostic sees no reason to believe in God at the present time.  He/she sees no persuasive, let alone compelling, evidence of God’s existence.  As well, a compellling argument has not been heard (yet) in support of the existence of God.  If, such arguments and/or evidence arises, the agnostic is free to change her/his mind, and embrace faith and belief in a creator God.

Not so with the atheist.  The atheist of today is of the view that it is not even possible for a “God” to exist.  It is not a question of lack of faith or skepticism.  It is a deeply held (and clung to) fixed position that God simply cannot even exist.  It is not even possible that God could exist.

Given the readers on some of the tag pages this essay is going out to, it does need to be said that that position – that it is not possible for God to exist – is not only not scientific, but is anti-scientific.  If God’s existence cannot be proved scientifically, it is equally true that God’s existence cannot be disproved by scientific means.  Appeals to logic do not disprove God’s existence.  Nor do such appeals to reason or logic support the postulate that God cannot exist.

One can understand the position of the agnostic.  Especially so, if she or he has struggled with their faith at some point in their adult life.  But, it is difficult to understand the very rigid and close minded approach of the modern atheist.


  1. Except for one thing. The true, original definition of agnosticism is not being undecided on the question of god. It is the belief that the answer is unknowable; that nobody knows.

    1. Good point, Mark. Thank you for your comment. However, I know of people who have come out of their agnosticism and are now believers in God.

      Those who have had spiritual experiences know. And, science has its limits. Science is not competent to decide the issue. Many atheists try to use science to support their position.

      1. “Those who have had spiritual experiences know.”
        Know what? How do you know? What do you mean by “know”?
        I’m not trying to be a smart aleck… I just want to understand what you are saying.

        “Science is not competent to decide the issue.”
        You didn’t address what I am about to write in your post, but do you think there anything else that is competent to decide the issue?

      2. Science, sorry to say, has its limitations. Actually, we have taken this up in other essays. One limitation is that man’s mind is limited. Sorry to those who try to deify man’s mind. Another reason for science being limited is that man’s instruments, basically just extensions of his five physical senses, are limited. I am not being obscrurantist here. A spiritual plane is not going to be visible, so to speak, to man’s instruments. To answer your last query: No, I do not think that there is any thing that will convince a hard-core atheist. You either have a spiritual experience or you don’t. But, if you are clinging to non-belief rather than maintaining a neutral mental attitude, it is going to be much less likely you will have a spiritual experience. Deductive reasoning helps some folks to move from atheism to agnosticism and a few to belief.

  2. There is a need for organized religion. I have addressed this in other essays. But, sadly, with organized religion come abuses of authority and/or abuses of privilege by the priests. This has been the case in most, if not all, organized religions. But, the sins of organized religion do not decide the issue of God’s existence. Many people believe in God and are not members of an organized religion.

    The “bottom line” is that each of us, in the privacy of his or her thoughts, must face this question and decide (choose) what to believe. Faith is difficult at times. I struggled with my faith when I was a young man. But, I found by working at it, my faith grew stronger. And, if one is open minded, one sees hints being dropped in one’s path that God does exist.

    As I said in the above essay, I can understand the agnostic position. The atheist, who rigidly denies even the possibility of God existing, baffles me.

    1. “And, if one is open minded, one sees hints being dropped in one’s path that God does exist.”
      In my experience, a close-minded theist will see everything as a hint of God’s existence, while a truly open minded person will at least see hints that God does not exist.

      What hints that God does exist have you seen, specifically?

      1. Wow, Charles you are feisty tonight. Before I go to dinner, I will briefly reply. You write of close-minded theists, can atheists be close-minded? Is that . . . . possible?

        Personal experiences are subjective, yes, but I have allowed my mind to be open to things. This is not a case of me believing what I want to believe, or of wanting what I believe to be true. Mental outlook and attitude are important here. And, yes, we all need to be open minded. I am not on Earth to try to get through to you. Whether you believe or not, ultimately does not make any difference to me. But, if you order your life and your values around an atheistic position – which is your choice – you will limit yourself. This may be distasteful for you, but God is not on trial. He does not have to prove Himself to us, rather we have to prove ourselves to him.

      2. I hope I’m not coming across as being too agressive… I just stumbled on your site and saw this post, and wanted to chime in on the various responses. I do appreciate your replies.

        “Can atheists be close-minded?” Of course.

        “if you order your life and your values around an atheistic position – which is your choice – you will limit yourself.”
        I *think* that I am ordering my life and values around reason and critical thinking. I am not wedded to the atheist position. I used to be a close-minded theist. I then made a decision to be open-minded and think critically. That led me to seriously question the reasons I had for believing in God and in the truth of Christianity. I am in the process of questioning. If I had to put pick between theist/atheist right now, I would be an atheist. But who knows where I will end up?

        “He does not have to prove Himself to us, rather we have to prove ourselves to him.”
        I tried that for 29 years. i would have said that same thing. Now it just feels like I was making excused for a God who either isn’t there or doesn’t care. Yeah, I’m a little bit bitter.

        I envy your certainty (at least you come across as certain).

      3. Thank you Charles for your honesty, sincerity and candor. I am in my mid 50s now and I struggled with my faith when I was a young adult in my 20s. You raise some issues that I deal with or wrestle with today – that of so much injustice and so much suffering in this hellish world. (I, too, have some bitterness. I believe in God’s existence, but I do have some problems with the whole difficult process of living – it is not easy.)

        You might want to check out some of the other essays on this site. The category tabs for Philosophy, and Religion both western and eastern may be of interest to you. On the right side bar under “Recent Posts” is a recent essay on God and religion. And, i do have issues with the abuses found in all organized religions. Take care.

  3. I would say the rigid atheist is the creation of the rigid theist. Or if you prefer, they are the reflection. The rigid theist promotes the belief that God’s existence is unquestionable. Then upon the basis of these firmly held beliefs he tries to form his world accordingly, by trying to ensure that others believe as he does, but also by creating laws which enforce God’s morals as he sees them and in some cases restricting the voices and lives of those who disagree.

    It’s that second step that brings the atheists to the table. Atheists tend to believe (not universally) that morals are consensually arrived at, and the process works best when there’s some logical, defensible basis to work from. They see the theist promoting ideas based on faith which essentially requires belief without evidence, it runs counter to their own deeply held ideas of how the world works.

    I think it is reasonable for a person to act on his deeply held beliefs and ideals, and that is what both sides do. The difference is the atheist tries to base their beliefs on something rational and provable while the theist must base it on personal experience alone.

      1. I was responding to this bit: “it is difficult to understand the very rigid and close minded approach of the modern atheist”. It struck me the rest of your essay was based on it.

    1. “I would say the rigid atheist is the creation of the rigid theist. Or if you prefer, they are the reflection.”
      Very thought provoking way to put it. I need to ponder this.

      1. Now responding to Stan above . . . Belief in God is not incongruent with reason and being “rational”. Some atheists are so smug in their intellectual arrogance and their appeals to reason.

      2. Replying to Larry, It doesn’t necessarily *have* to be irrational, but a particular person’s specific reasons for belief in God could be. I think the reason an atheist might be smug, or appear to be, is that they have yet to encounter a reason they consider rational.

        What is your reason for believing in God?

  4. Okay, let’s address some of your points, Stan.

    Atheists’ desire to gain a social consensus for morals is not germane to the point of the essay. This desire does not justify their denial of the possibility of God’s existence. And, one must be careful about making morals a product of social consensus. This puts people at risk of being vicitmized by the caprice of a majority (recall slavery in the USA).

    But, Stan, you do bring up something that many of us have suspected for a long time. Many atheists hide behind their disbelief in God because they do not measure up favorably vis-a-vis a God given moral code. In other words, many atheists have lived very self-aborbed lives. So, do atheists reject that there are moral absolutes? Many do. They make morality relativistice. If I believe something is wrong, then it is wrong for me. But, if my neighbor thinks that same something is okay to do, then it is all right for him/her to do.

    Let me just say that for thousands of years many people believed the world to be flat. All during that time the world was round, despite the ignorance and/or denial of that fact by many people.

    Stan, the last sentence in your first comment is not true. Go back and read the above essay, and you will see why the last sentence in your first comment does not follow.

  5. “Many atheists hide behind their disbelief in God because they do not measure up favorably vis-a-vis a God given moral code. In other words, many atheists have lived very self-aborbed lives.”

    Woah … hold on, now … atheists are not more frequently self-absorbed people than theists are … if someone is not living a moral life — then they can either chose to deny that God exists (so it doesn’t matter), they can go to confession if they are Catholic, or they can just simply walk into Church somewhere, go through the routine and feel absolved of all wrong doing …

    People who are inclined to find excuses for their behavior are going to find those excuses … this is not a pathology limited to atheists.

    Most atheists which I have met (granted a small sample size in comparison to the total) are neurotic and self-absorbed but in a completely humble sort of way … since they are forced to remain quiet about their non-belief in most cases which I have encountered — they are OBSESSED with being good people and not being a burden on society.

    Also, the “certainty” that we tend to pin on the atheist with a negative connotation is unnecessary … there is nothing corrupt or delusional about wanting evidence before formulating a belief. We have limited time on this planet and God or no God … is a decision that needs to be made as early as possible … if we leave this one hanging then we cannot appreciate the sense of urgency that we should all feel about life. How can we understand how precious life is … if in the back of our minds we think that there might be more than this …?

    1. You have met a different sampling of atheists than I have. We have addressed this issue in previous essays, and the comments that were not approved, because they added nothing constructive to the debate, came from more strident folks, not so humble as you say.

      2 last things to consider: 1. You did not (and neither did the other 2 people who commented above) address the point raised in the essay at top. There are atheists who deny even the possibility of God’s existence. With them (and you can quote this if you like) it is a firmly held conviction that God simply cannot exist. I have read some of the writings of these people and this is not exaggeration. Requiring (or providing) “proof” for these people is not the relevant issue. Their minds are closed.

      2. Your last sentence, the latter part of it – you have lost me. Perhaps, rewrite it so it is more coherent.

  6. To your first paragraph … most of us are concerned with having something to say than with what we are saying. This is why the majority of us are following this or that blindly (even if we don’t know it).

    1.) I don’t think we can blame atheists (or those arbitrarily attaching the label on themselves) for getting too enthusiastic about things from time to time. While the “why” is important, I think the “what” is more important with belief and God, and perhaps most things. Because we live in a society in which we do not appropriately support each other, we as human beings are forced to focus on a variety of things — most of which have nothing to do with justifying our behavior.

    A person who is arrogant in their beliefs about God (or lack there of) — may lose respect from fellow members of society –but, does not demean the utility of the belief they have arbitrarily chosen.

    Regardless of the amount of justification which these credulous atheists can provide for their opinions, they have still flipped a coin and gotten lucky — as, we cannot begin to appreciate the limited time we have on this planet if we do not choose heads or tails on this one thing: God or No God.

    2.) I think I began to answer this above. But, if we believe in a “back up plan” … if we think that there is any chance that there might be more than this one life … that there might be some benevolent force watching over us … then how can we approach any decision with the appropriate sense of autonomy or urgency?

  7. “Not so with the atheist. The atheist of today is of the view that it is not even possible for a “God” to exist.”
    Regarding your main point, using your definitions of “agnostic” and “atheist”, I agree with you. There should be always some room for doubt with any assertion, even with scientific facts because they depend on observation which is fallible.

    One thing I disagree with, and perhaps you did not intend this, is that you say “the atheist” as if all who call themselves atheists hold this position, that the existence of God is not possible. My definition is that based on the evidence I have, I don’t find it likely that a god exists. Or something like that. I’m not actually sure of my definition yet… I’m still working on that. I am, of course, open to the possibility that I am wrong (whatever definition I settle on – right now I am calling myself a skeptic).

    1. Yes, good catch Charles. I ought to have been less sweeping in my remarks, viz: not all atheists deny the possibility of God’s existence, but there are many that do and many more that are not receptive to arguments to the contrary. The Big Bang needed a cause. As well, alien intervention with animal and primate DNA in the past, if you believe in such, needed a cause or a Creator. You can go back and back, but you cannot get around it – there has to be an ultimate cause to creation.

      1. How was dinner?

        The usual atheist reply to what you just wrote is, “OK, but then where did God come from?”
        The usual theist reply to what I just wrote is that God is defined in such a way as to be exempt… He is the thing that always was, is, and will be, outside of time perhaps.

        Why does there *have* to be an ultimate cause? If you are OK with believing that God is eternal, why are you not OK with believing that the universe is eternal, that is, whatever caused the Big Bang is some other natural thing, not a supernatural being or mind or whatever you want to call it. I’m not a cosmologist, so perhaps I have not understood the full implications of the evidence for the Big Bang.

      2. Cannot continue for now. Am logging off for tonight. We can continue this at a later time. But, for now, let me reply that you seem to be throwing up any and all obstacles that you can. God and the universe completely separate from each other – with never any interaction?

      3. Good night, and thanks for chatting. I will try to look at your other posts to learn more about what you believe.

        “you seem to be throwing up any and all obstacles that you can”
        Maybe… but what else can I do? If you make a statement I disagree with, I’m not going to nod and smile. I want to throw out my rebuttal and see what you answer with. How else will I know if my rebuttal makes any sense? I’ve spent way too long just nodding and smiling. I want to have my ideas challenged. I am not going to continue being a hypocrite and pretending to believe things I do not believe. To be clear, I am not accusing you of being a hypocrite… simply defending my right to be skeptical.

        I will certainly examine my heart and consider whether I am being obstinate.

        Perhaps you answer this question somewhere on your site… Why do you believe in God? If you don’t spell it out somewhere, I invite you to visit my site and answer it there. I’ve posted “Why do you believe in God?” and (for the atheists) “Why do you not believe in God?” So far, no theists have answered the first question. My site is very new and maybe not many theists have found it. Come be the first to answer! In the post, I promise not to bash the answers… I’m just looking for specific reasons why people believe, so i can think about them, If I get enough answers, I might summarize them in another post and discuss them.

  8. The question of a creator is unknowable but based on the evidence produced one can say there isn’t one and certainly not the creator god as described of the Abrahamic religions. Thus a-theism is a perfectly acceptable position to adopt.

      1. Quite…there is no evidence, but theists claim it – the bible etc – is evidence.
        It is a fools errand. Sadly non-believers have to at least make a noise so that idiotic crap like Creationism isn’t shoehorned into schools.

      2. You appear very ardent and confident in your non-belief. What is your “evidence” that there is no God? Do you have any you wish to share with us? Or, are you protesting too much?

      3. Must we go through the proof rests with the ome making the initial claim scenario?

        If you are going to state that the creator is the character Jesus of Nazareth then it should be incumbent on you or any other believer to produce evidence of this claim, especially as yours is a proselytizing religion.

        I consider myself a very open-minded person and if you have any verifiable evidence to back any claim regarding the foundational issues/tenets of your religion then I am perfectly willing to listen.

      4. Your tone in these comments is rather strident. If you choose to believe or not – that is your choice. I am fine with that. But, you present an argument where the default position is to be that there is no God. Proof of a Creator God is not necessarily the same thing as proving Christianity. There are many theists who are not Christian. And, you do not even mention Hinduism, that properly understood is actually monotheistic. (You, so far, give no evidence of much knowledge.)

        If you have anything substantive to add to the discussion, fine. But, if your comments are just going to be insisting that others prove to you something – you miss the point of the above essay and you have not addressed what is in the above essay. Too many atheists are comfortable with asserting that God cannot possibly exist. (Don’t blow your last chance. Think before you respond.)

  9. Here is what makes it so difficult to engage some of the folks who comment on this topic – both here and on other blogs and discussion forums. Not a few of those who claim to be atheist also claim to be open minded. Yet, often, from the start, they seek to (if not insist on) frame the debate in such a way that the onus is always on the theist to prove God’s existence. This is not what the above essay addressed.

    If i offered “proof”, logical arguments, and sundry other indications of God’s existence it never is good enough for some of these individuals. What I would be writing, they would say, is solely “subjective” with no basis in fact, cannot be proved, is just my opinion, or my belief, etc. So much for being open minded. If you do not want to believe, that is your choice. It matters not to me what you choose to believe.

    (Of course, turnabout is fair play and I could say what is your “proof” for there not being a Creator God? Please do not bother, atheists, I have heard all of these assertions before and they bore me.)

    What many atheists are demanding is: “Prove it to me like one can demonstrate the law of gravity (as Newton did by sitting under an apple tree). Then, and only then, will I believe.” One might say this is the lazy man’s way of faith – i.e. not working at it. Not really being open minded. Just food for thought. (Such an attitude of insisting on “proof” (of God’s existence) that one is the final arbiter of (that is the atheist is the final arbiter of) before believing strikes me as being spiritually immature.)

    As to faith, for many people it is a significantly bigger leap of faith to not believe in a Creator God than to believe in one. As well, if you build up these mental barriers as many atheists do, it is not likely you will ever have a spiritual experience, or recognize it as such if you did. One of the early Christian saints back in the 3rd or 4th century of the Christian era (we cannot recall which one now from memory) counseled people to “Believe so that you will understand”.

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