Monday, November 26, 2007

Atheist vs Agnostic

Talk about a pointless exercise. I'm talking about the somewhat endless argument in some quarters between the relative merits of going by the label of atheist versus agnostic.

I don't really see that there is much difference between the two labels. Some choose the label agnostic, perhaps, as a label for the miniscule uncertainty that there might be some form of diety. But really, that to me is missing the point, because pretty much even the most hard core atheists are atheists not because of positive belief in the absence of gods (any more than most people positively believe in the absence of the flying spagetti monster or the invisible dragon in your garage) but because of the absence of evidence to support there being any gods. So really, it is the same thing.

Beyond that, they are functionally equivalent. Even if you are "agnostic" on the issue, granting that there might be something out there in the vast universe we haven't discovered yet, the notion of "god" or "gods" have very specific, generally anthropormorphic meanings right here on Earth - beings that are clearly human inventions (gee, humanity is the most important species in the universe and the whole universe was created just for us - what a coincidence...) - so even if one is agnostic on the "generic gods" issue, one can clearly not escape the conclusion that all of the gods fleshed out by various humans in various human religions over the millenia are human inventions, lacking any actual reality. And once you've come to that conclusion, then members of all of those religions will consider you an atheist - and you are one - with regards to their own various deities. Tell a Christian that Jesus is not a god and never existed, that their Yaweh never existed, and to them, you are an atheist, even if you tell them there might be some other being out there that has nothing to do with Christianity. So you're a 'functional atheist' to every religion that you conclude has a human-created myth instead of a deity.

So really, the word fight over this is mostly meaningless. I'd add a bit more, but my sick toddler is calling for me...

1 comment:

Doug Indeap said...

I wholeheartedly agree. The important point is whether someone does or does not have a belief in god(s). It matters less whether we call those lacking such a belief atheists or agnostics.

Because the atheist-agnostic label merely registers what one does not believe, its utility is limited to simply signifying what we are not. It says little or nothing of what we are. It may be useful to devote some attention to coming up with appropriate labels for what atheists and agnostics affirmatively think about the world. Brights, freethinkers, naturalists, materialists, rationalists are among those bandied about.