virus: atheism vs. agnosticism

David McFadzean (
Wed, 03 Dec 1997 14:35:02 -0700

At 08:03 PM 12/3/97 -0000, Robin Faichney wrote:
>I disagree. Lack of belief and nothing more is agnosticism.
>Atheism is belief there is no god.

I disagree. ;-)
source: <>

"What is atheism?"

Atheism is characterized by a deliberate (that is, chosen) absence
of belief in the existence of gods. Some atheists go further, and
believe that particular gods, or all gods, do not exist. Lacking
belief in Gods is often referred to as the "weak atheist" position.
Believing that gods do not (or cannot) exist is known as "strong

Regarding people who have never been exposed to the concept of
'god': Whether they are 'atheists' or not is a matter of debate.
Since you're unlikely to meet anyone who has never encountered
religion, it's not a very important debate...

It is important, however, to note the difference between the strong
and weak atheist positions. "Weak atheism" is simple scepticism;
disbelief in the existence of God. "Strong atheism" is a positive
belief that God does not exist. Please do not fall into the trap of
assuming that all atheists are "strong atheists". There is a
qualitative difference in the "strong" and "weak" positions; it's
not just a matter of degree.

Some atheists believe in the non-existence of all Gods; others limit
their atheism to specific Gods, such as the Christian God, rather
than making flat-out denials.

"But isn't disbelieving in God the same thing as believing he doesn't

Definitely not. Disbelief in a proposition means that one does not
believe it to be true. Not believing that something is true is not
equivalent to believing that it is false; one may simply have no idea
whether it is true or not. Which brings us to agnosticism.

"What is agnosticism then?"

The term 'agnosticism' was coined by Professor T.H. Huxley at a meeting
of the Metaphysical Society in 1876. He defined an agnostic as someone
who disclaimed both ("strong") atheism and theism, and who believed
that the question of whether a higher power existed was unsolved and
insoluble. Another way of putting it is that an agnostic is someone who
believes that we do not and cannot know for sure whether God exists.

Since that time, however, the term agnostic has also been used to
describe those that do not believe that the question is intrinsically
unknowable, but instead believe that the evidence for or against God
is inconclusive, and therefore are undecided about the issue.

To reduce the amount of confusion over the use of term agnosticism, it
is recommended that usage based on the original definition be qualified
as "strict agnosticism" and usage based on the second definition be
qualified as "empirical agnosticism".

Words are slippery things, and language is inexact. Beware of assuming
that you can work out someone's philosophical point of view simply from
the fact that she calls herself an atheist or an agnostic. For example,
many people use agnosticism to mean what is referred to here as "weak
atheism", and use the word "atheism" only when referring to "strong

Beware also that because the word "atheist" has so many shades of meaning,
it is very difficult to generalize about atheists. About all you can say
for sure is that atheists don't believe in God. For example, it certainly
isn't the case that all atheists believe that science is the best way to
find out about the universe.

David McFadzean       
Memetic Engineer      
Church of Virus