As defined by the word’s creator T.H Huxley:
“Agnosticism, in fact, is not a creed, but a method, the essence of which lies in the rigorous application of a single principle… Positively the principle may be expressed: In matters of intellect, follow your reason as far as it will take you, without regard to any consideration. And negatively: In matters of the intellect, do not pretend that conclusions are certain which are not demonstrated or demonstrable.” (Dawkins, The God Delusion, p. 69, 2008)
But what does this mean exactly? Let us get some boring technical terms out of the way. The weak agnostic takes the negative position that the question of a god or gods existence (ontology) is unknown (epistemology), to claim hard agnosticism, is to make a positive truth claim that the question of a god or gods existence is unknowable.
It seems easy to come to the conclusion that agnosticism is connected to, and indeed, is a form of atheism. Let me explain: gnosticism/agnosticism discuss epistemology, they represent your personal state of knowledge, whereas theism/atheism discuss ontology. They answer 2 separate questions. The question of whether you believe in a god or gods existence is a matter of ontology, not a matter of epistemology, hence it is a dichotomy requiring a “yes” or “no” answer. You either believe or you don’t. Saying “I don’t know” is a non sequitur, as you weren’t asked what you “know” about a god or gods, but rather what you believe. If you were asked what you know about a god or gods existence, you could answer “I don’t know”, or any of the responses along the list of gnostic/agnostic theist/atheist.
Saying “I don’t know” means you necessarily lack belief in the claim “a god or gods exist” which makes you a weak atheist and a weak agnostic, an “agnostic atheist”. It seems some prefer the term agnostic as they don’t like the baggage that comes with the term “atheist”, or assume atheism to be the positive assertion that no god or gods exist.
Dawkins And Agnosticism
Dawkins has some definitions I want to discuss briefly that he put forward in his book The God Delusion:
“I’ll begin by distinguishing two kinds of agnosticism. TAP, or Temporary Agnosticism in Practice, is the legitimate fence-sitting where there really is a definite answer, one way or the other, but we so far lack the evidence to reach it (or don’t understand the evidence, or haven’t had time to read the evidence, etc). TAP would be a reasonable stance towards the Permian extinction. There is truth out there and one day we hope to know it, though for the moment we don’t.” (Dawkins, The God Delusion, p.70, 2008)
This would appear to be discussing weak agnosticism; Dawkins seems to agree that weak agnosticism is congruent with agnostic atheism. We can read in the subtext that there is a reasonable position we can take to the claim of a god or god’s existence, based on the (paucity of) evidence provided for the claim, and that is disbelief in the claim without the assertion of belief in the opposite claim being true. Dawkins continues.
“But there is a deeply inescapable kind of fence-sitting which I shall call PAP (Permanent Agnosticism in Principle)… The PAP style of agnosticism is appropriate for questions that may never be answered, no matter how much evidence we gather, because the very idea of evidence is not applicable. The question exists on a different plane, or in a different dimension, beyond zones where evidence can reach.” (Dawkins, The God Delusion, p.72, 2008)
This might seem, on the face of it, to support agnosticism, reasonably. Some may say that “God exists outside of our reality, hence it is undetectable”, aside from the issues this raises of ever being able to know it personally as Christians claim it is possible to do (hence it being a deist god) it raises another point. If a god or gods have any effect on this planet (say, the Christian God: answering prayers, creating miracles and causing natural disasters as punishment for “sin”), it seems logical to at least assume, as many have done, that we can measure and test those results. Moreover it is logical, if we find no supernatural agent in said testing, that we are justified, not only in agnosticism, but agnostic atheism.
Hard Agnosticism, An Untenable Position?
The hard agnostic position that states: the disbelief in any claims of ultimate knowledge is a position that is easy to reject in principle as it is a completely unjustifiable truth claim. It may be easy enough to understand the philosophical idea of solipsism and the ultimate knowledge definition of (hard) agnosticism (the two have been conflated for a reason), but they have no practical application. Let me explain. To claim that we can’t know anything outside our minds (solipsism), or that we can’t know anything with 100% certainty (hard agnosticism) which from what I understand has been discussed in the brain in a vat thought experiments, is irrelevant. Whether we’re all brains in a vat, minds in a matrix, whether all people are figments of my imagination and whether I can’t know something with complete certainty or not doesn’t matter. We can still make working models that produce working results that we can rely on. Until proven otherwise this reality feels real, is perceived to be real and the consequences of it are real.
The same goes for claims of ultimate knowledge, we may not be able to know anything other than mathematics with 100% certainty (?), but that does not stop us from making tentatively held claims about the nature of reality based on logic and reliable, reproducible, working data. We can make, using the data we do have and the lack of evidence for some positions (theism), conclusions about the nature of reality and certain claims. Most atheists hold their lack of belief provisionally; they tentatively accept their lack of belief, based on a lack of evidence and no reasonable arguments based on reality. Absolute truth claims leave you open to the exception to the rule.
Finally, in regards to agnostic theism and agnostic atheism, neither of these polar positions are claims of ultimate knowledge (though agnostic theism has still made or accepted a claim, hence has a burden of proof). Agnostic theism is a belief, which can’t by its definition have knowledge (that would be gnostic theism) and agnostic atheism is the rejection of that belief which only implies that a theist who claims of a god or god’s existence, has not met their burden of proof (to make a positive claim would be gnostic atheism).
What Should The Default Position Be, And Why?
It seems the terms atheism/agnosticism are based roughly on an argument from popularity, it’s only because so many people accept the claim that a God or gods exist that we have a definition that says the position may be, or in fact is, unknowable (or that there is no God). Whereas the (weak) atheist (and default) position state that theists have simply not met their burden of proof, they have brought nothing that has stood up to the scientific and Socratic methods, hence there is no reason to accept the epistemic warrant (god) hypothesis, as Martin would say, it “is factually meaningless”. The agnostic position that says it is unknowable is false or at least misleading (or self refuting), if it is unknown/unknowable, which means; not having any evidence to support the hypothesis, there is justified reason to claim the hypothesis as errant (and justified reason to be an atheist).
Nicolas Berrgren supports that there is a process we can use (and indeed trust) to help us decide a position, based on available evidence and examination of that evidence:
“I propose the following procedure as describing the emergence of beliefs:
(1) We begin by adopting the set of criteria for judging fact claims given by the scientific method.
(2) Then someone says to us: “Trolls exist in the forest” (a fact claim).
(3) We consider this claim according to the scientific method, both in methodology (i.e., we investigate matters systematically and logically) and in using all known information regarding trolls.
(4) We end up believing or not believing that trolls exist.
To avoid confusion, let me stress at this point that it is generally not possible to prove the non-existence of a certain thing (emphasis added). However, some things are proposed to have certain properties which may be logically inconsistent, and hence these things can be proved not to exist, and also judgments with reference to existence of a proposed thing are not binary but rather continuous. Thus, one may launch an inductive, probabilistic argument against the existence of a proposed thing, after having gone through steps (1)-(4) above. But even in the absence of a positive belief that trolls do not exist, it should be stressed that the natural default position is one of unbelief, unless convincing evidence supporting the fact claim have been brought up (emphasis added).” (Berrgren1998)
Berrigren makes the point, perhaps more elegantly than me, that, in the face of reliable evidence, disbelief is the default position. Agnostics may choose to sit on the fence, as is their choice, but if we accept Berrigren, then we can accept that they are in fact agnostic atheists.
Why Pick Atheism Over Agnosticism?
(Weak, implicit, agnostic) Atheism is a negative, not requiring evidence, (as Berrigren states you generally can’t prove a negative), so, given the different types of atheism that range from lack of belief in a god or gods (this one being the default position) to the belief there is no god (strong, explicit, gnostic atheism), if you claim to be an agnostic it simply means you are a (weak) atheist. If you don’t accept the god claim, then you fall back on your default position (in regards to belief) until you decide what you do believe.
This quote from atheist Zinnie Jones’ sums up (hard) agnosticism quite well:
“Any agnostic who claims we “can never know” is making an explicit claim of knowledge regarding the nature of any deities that may exist – namely, that their nature is such that they would never give any indication of their existence. They do not know this. There is nothing “logically superior” about unnecessary and unmerited agnosticism. Not believing something when there is no reason to actually is superior to this.” (Jones 2010)
Berrgren N., (1998). Note on the Concept of Belief. 19/12/2010. http://www.infidels.org/library/modern/niclas_berggren/belief.html
Dawkins R., (2008). The God Delusion. Great Britain. Bantam Press. Pp- 69-70,72.
Jones Z., (2010). Slate’s Ron Rosenbaum doesn’t understand atheism. 03/08/2010. http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=o5Tn4w04KOY&feature=player_embedded
- 7 Reasons Why I Label Myself An Atheist Rather Than An Agnostic (freethoughtblogs.com)
- Atheism, agnosticism and theism 5: Scope and indexing (evolvingthoughts.net)
- Atheist or Agnostic? I’m Both (atheistrev.com)
- Atheism, agnosticism and theism 3: Knowledge claims about gods (evolvingthoughts.net)
- Atheism, agnosticism and theism 4: Existence claims (evolvingthoughts.net)
- Interested In Atheist/Agnostic Knitting and Crocheting? (freethoughtblogs.com)
- The Stupid! It Burns! (Pakistani trash edition) (barefootbum.blogspot.com)
- What is an Atheist? (anythingbuttheist.blogspot.com)
- What I Think About The Existence of God (freethoughtblogs.com)
Definitions Of Atheism
So there’s no doubt, as many a theist contends this issue, and it will be a topic throughout the blog, here are the definitions of atheism by atheist philosopher Michael Martin:
“… there is popular meaning of “atheism” according to which an atheist not simply holds no belief in the existence of a god or gods but believes there is no god or gods. This use of the term should not be overlooked. To avoid confusion, let us call this positive atheism, and the type of atheism derived from the Greek root held by the atheistic thinkers surveyed above let us call that negative atheism. Clearly positive atheism is a special case of negative atheism: Someone who is a positive atheist is by necessity a negative atheist, but not conversely. In my usage, positive atheism is positive only in the sense that it refers to a positive belief- the belief that there is no god or gods. It is positive in contrast to negative atheism, which has no such positive belief.” (Martin, Atheism: A Philosophical Justification, pp. 463-4, 1990)
(See references for many other definitions by atheists, throughout history)
It seems theists are bent, based on the teachings of apologetics, on believing that atheism is somehow defined as (and only as) the positive belief there is no god or gods or that it is somehow a worldview. Atheism is not a worldview, just as theism isn’t. Naturalism and Christianity are worldviews. There will still be theists who still claim to be able to define atheism in the way they choose and what’s worse, label you with their definitions. Do not fall for this trick.
Burden Of Proof
To quote philosopher Malcolm Murray:
“Those claiming the existence of something have the burden of proof. Absent a good case being made for said existence, the default position is disbelief in the existence of that thing. Theists make the claim that God exists. Therefore it is up to the theist to prove their case. And should all their arguments come to naught, the reasonable position is atheism. Theists who maintain the atheist needs to prove her case have reversed the burden of proof” (Murray, The Atheist’s Primer, pp-24-25, 2010)
Weak atheism is the lack of belief in a god or gods, it is the default position to the God claim (as Murray states, disbelief is the default position to all claims). Atheism as a whole is therefore not making a counter, positive claim. It is important to note however, that strong atheism, does make a claim, one that needs backing, hence why most atheists don’t subscribe to it. Why do most atheists not accept this position (with an unattainable burden of proof)? To answer this question we turn, yet again, to Malcolm Murray:
“Consider the proposition that there is a goblin under the bed. Perhaps your daughter has woken you up in the middle of the night to make such an assertion. How should you appease her? Perhaps you will get down on your hands and knees and look. You report your findings: a stray sock, a book, some dust, but no goblin. Does this test prove the non-existence of goblins? Not if one of the magical properties of this goblin is the ability to become invisible. You’re not seeing the goblin is perfectly compatible with the existence of an invisible goblin. Even your daughter understands this logic. So, you take out a broom and sweep under the bed. Your broom has not struck anything that you cannot see. Does this prove the non-existence of an invisible goblin? Again, such a test is to no avail if another of the magical features of this goblin is to disappear when faced with non-believers. Your not striking the goblin that can magically avoid being struck can hardly count as proof against the existence of such a goblin. You now realise that all tests will similarly fail. The magic nature of the thing being investigated is such that no definitive test can prove its non-existence.” (Murray, The Atheist’s Primer, pp-24-25, 2010)
Applying this story to God, Murray makes a point to elaborate, that we shouldn’t, as strong atheists, simply say “it is reasonable to not believe in God because it is a fact that God does not exist” (begging the question), since we cannot show that God does not exist. Our non-belief in God does not make it a fact that God does not exist, rather, as Murray surmises, we “reasonably hold” that no God exists because no evidence can be offered to support its existence. We don’t see God, we don’t feel God, we don’t hear God, we don’t smell God, we don’t taste God and any effects in the world can be explained without recourse to God. (Murray, The Atheist’s Primer, pp-24-25, 2010)
Atheism has no dogma, no authoritarians, and no organised structure, and is clearly not a belief. There are some theists who would claim that atheism is a belief or a worldview (using phrases like: “fundamentalist/militant atheist”?), which is, categorically wrong. Based on the aforementioned statements/definitions the concept of a fundamentalist atheist seems an absurdity, as there are no fundamental from which to adhere. Perhaps what is really is being interpreted is zeal, or passion, mistaken for fundamentalism and militancy, by those who do not understand atheism. Dawkins responds to this claim in his paperback edition of the 2006 bestseller, The God Delusion:
“No, please, it is all too easy to mistake passion that can change its mind, for fundamentalism, which never will. Fundamentalist Christians are passionately opposed to evolution and I am passionately in favour of it. Passion for passion, we are evenly matched. And that, according to some, means we are equally fundamentalist…. Fundamentalists know what they believe and they know that nothing will change their minds… As J.B.S. Haldane said when asked what evidence it might contradict evolution, “Fossils in the Precambrian”… If all the evidence in the universe turned in favour of Creationism, I would be the first to admit it, and I would immediately change my mind. As things stand, however, all available evidence (and there is a vast amount of it) favours evolution. It is this reason and this reason alone that I argue for evolution with a passion that matches the passion of those who argue against it. My passion is based on evidence. Theirs, flying in the face of evidence as it does, is truly fundamentalist.” (Dawkins, The God Delusion, p. 18-9, 2008)
The claims made by Christian theists, as Murray states (and Dawkins to a lesser extent), are truth claims regarding the nature of our world and this reality. The Christian God’s existence, the universe being created by God, Jesus being God, the world being 6-10,000 years old, the flood, dinosaurs and man living together, these are claims about reality. Hence the burden of proof falls to them. My atheism is defined as the lack of belief in a God or Gods (weak, implicit, agnostic atheism), anyone who tries to represent strong, explicit or gnostic atheism as the whole or the majority is using a strawman argument and is being dishonest. “All atheists are weak atheists, but not all weak atheists are strong atheists”.
To quote Murray again:
“The sincere atheist need not pretend to have proof of the non-existence of God. All she needs is to point out that the side with the burden of proof has not sufficiently demonstrated his case.” (Murray, The Atheist’s Primer, pp-24-25, 2010)
One of the many reasons an atheist may not believe in the existence of a god gods is due to the paucity of evidence. A theist might ask “what would constitute evidence an atheist would accept for the existence of a god or gods?” To give a basis for the answer to this most fundamental of questions we refer to Carl Sagan: “Extraordinary claims require extraordinary evidence”.
For any claim to be accepted, it needs to be based on evidence, if we care about our beliefs being true that is (what rational person would deny this?). The evidence should also match the degree of the claim, based on multiple sources and independently verifiable. Generally the importance or consequences of the claim determine the level and type of evidence needed to make the claim prudent to accept. A god or god’s existence has eternal consequences and would count against all of our empirical observations; hence it requires an extraordinary amount of evidence to justify. John Loftus provides an interesting take on ECREE in his book The Christian Delusion:
“…what extraordinary claims are atheists making? Is it an extraordinary claim for atheists to say with Carl Sagan that, “the cosmos is that is or ever was or will be?” It may seem that way to believers, and so this must be shown to be the explanation of the available evidence in discussions with them. But it’s not an extraordinary claim at all… By finding the evidence lacking for the extraordinary claims that supernatural entities exist, the atheist simply concludes these claims false. And if these entities don’t exist then Carl Sagan’s conclusion is all that remains.” (Loftus, The Christian Delusion: Why Faith Fails (edited John W. Loftus), pp-98, 2010).
ECREE has been recently contested amongst Christians, as Tim McGrew is quoted in a post on Victor Reppert’s blog:
“Another common slogan, also popularized by Sagan, is that “Extraordinary claims require extraordinary evidence”. Much depends, of course, on what counts as extraordinary, both in a claim and in evidence. It cannot be simply that a claim is unprecedented. At a certain level of detail, almost any claim is unprecedented; but this does not necessarily mean that it requires evidence out of the ordinary to establish it. Consider this claim: “Aunt Matilda won a game of Scrabble Thursday night with a score of 438 while sipping a cup of mint tea.” Each successive modifying phrase renders the claim less likely to have occurred before; yet there is nothing particularly unbelievable about the claim, and the evidence of a single credible eyewitness might well persuade us that it is true.
The case is more difficult with respect to types of events that are deemed to be improbable or rare in principle, such as miracles. It is generally agreed in such discussions that such events cannot be common and that it requires more evidence to render them credible than is required in ordinary cases. (Sherlock 1769) David Hume famously advanced the maxim that“No testimony is sufficient to establish a miracle, unless the testimony be of such a kind, that its falsehood would be more miraculous, than the fact, which it endeavours to establish” (Beauchamp 2000, p. 87), which may have been the original inspiration for the slogan about extraordinary evidence. Hume appears to have thought that his maxim would place certain antecedently very improbable events beyond the reach of evidence. But as John Earman has argued (Earman 2000), an event that is antecedently extremely improbable, and in this sense extraordinary, may be rendered probable under the right evidential circumstances. The maxim is therefore less useful as a dialectical weapon than is often supposed. It may help to focus disagreements over extraordinary events, but it cannot resolve them.” (McGrew 2010)
McGrew seems to be missing the point:
“Much depends, of course, on what counts as extraordinary, both in a claim and in evidence. It cannot be simply that a claim is unprecedented.” (McGrew 2010)
This appears to indicate that personal, unique, supernatural, necessary agency is somehow not extraordinary? If the deity in question is not extraordinary, it loses its definition and we’re not talking about a god or gods anymore (as a god or gods is necessarily unique). Secondly McGrew’s story about Aunt Matilda is a non sequitur, where is the extraordinary claim? Where is the reference to the supernatural? How is his story relevant? A more fitting simile would have been “Aunt Matilda won a game of Scrabble Thursday night (due to the power of an intangible, invisible, all powerful beagle who loves her) with a score of 438 while sipping a cup of mint tea”. It’s with this revised phrase that we see how antecedent probabilities fail. We may be inclined to grant McGrew his original hypothesis, but the addition of the supernatural claim makes the likelihood of that claim shrink (and become seemingly unfalsifiable, hence factually meaningless).
“an event that is antecedently extremely improbable, and in this sense extraordinary, may be rendered probable under the right evidential circumstances.” (McGrew 2010)
It would take evidence seemingly as miraculous as the miracle itself to prove said miracle (if we accept Hume). Which religion stands up to this? McGrew states that ECREE focuses disagreements but doesn’t solve them. Of course not, it’s a generic statement used as a guideline. McGrew is also very vague, he offers no criteria by which supernatural claims would become probable, as that is the thesis under question, we can assume McGrew doesn’t know either. Keith Augustine defends ECREE below:
“A general heuristic within every empirical discipline is that extraordinary claims require extraordinary evidence. In practice, this heuristic is applied to claims which are improbable relative to a well-established nexus of scientific laws, theories, and facts, or to well-established historical accounts (emphasis added)… Since it is appropriate to require extraordinary evidence in order to establish the reality of clearly natural phenomena, it is certainly appropriate to require extraordinary evidence for the far more improbable likely candidates for a supernatural event. The highest evidential standards should be met before entertaining such possibilities.” (Augustine, 2001).
McGrew says on ECREE: “The maxim is therefore less useful as a dialectical weapon than is often supposed. It may help to focus disagreements over extraordinary events, but it cannot resolve them”, Augustine has a response to this in the highlighted portion above. It seems McGrew is comfortable to take the words of ECREE at face value, not recognizing it to be a short hand for a heuristic method based on sound methodological practices. (McGrew 2010)
Lack Of Divine Revelation
In the case of a personal god or gods (in relation to ECREE), we have divine revelation: if this/these beings is/are all-powerful, all-knowing, if He/they wanted us to know him/them, to know His/they’re works and believe in Him/them, He/they would know exactly what to do to make that happen. Knowing how unreliable personal testimony is, it would be for hard for outsiders to accept a deity based on some personal experience (given Augustine, above), be it my own or anyone else’s, as revelation is necessarily first person (to paraphrase Paine). There is no way to determine whether a person who claims to be having a personal relationship with God is actually having one because the symptoms are the same as someone who is delusional, you may very well have a relationship with this being, but that is no basis for anyone else to accept it (and hence can’t be used as evidence).
Richard Carrier elaborates this position perfectly:
“If God wants something from me, he would tell me (emphasis added). He wouldn’t leave someone else to do this, as if an infinite being were short on time. And he would certainly not leave fallible, sinful humans to deliver an endless plethora of confused and contradictory messages. God would deliver the message himself, directly, to each and every one of us, and with such clarity as the most brilliant being in the universe could accomplish (emphasis added). We would all hear him out and shout “Eureka!” So obvious and well-demonstrated would his message be. It would be spoken to each of us in exactly those terms we would understand. And we would all agree on what that message was (emphasis added). Even if we rejected it, we would all at least admit to each other, “Yes, that’s what this God fellow told me.” (Carrier 2006)
Carrier makes a great point, that the confusion of the message to all believers (which all seem to lack any kind of revelation from perfection), the sheer number of deities and religions, sends a message, not that any religion is true, but that they are all manifestations of our fears and our desires to solve that which is outside our grasp. After all: “Not every religion can be true, but all of them can be untrue.” I’m going to discuss revelation and how that effects free will and seemingly corrupts the image of God as “loving” (after all, how can belief be one if not the criteria to get into heaven, and that belief be at least in part based on revelation, and how can I who has had no personal revelation, then be sent to hell for an honest search of the evidence and no revelation?) in a post based on an interview with Mike Licona on “Hell“.
Everything in the physical world that I accept is one of two things, observable and/or demonstrable, once God is, I’ll accept him (any philosophical positions I adopt are examined using logic, reason, scepticism, rationality etc). It is also important to note that I am not completely closed-minded to the existence of a god or gods (though this book is strongly worded, I don’t mean to offend), I personally don’t say there are no Gods, only that the presented evidence for Him/them thus far fails to meet the required, established burden of proof.
Michael martin- “Well known atheists of the past such as Baron d’Holbach (1770), Richard Carlie (1826), Charles Southwell (1842), Charles Bradlaugh (1876) and Anne Besant have assumed or explicitly characterized atheism in the negative sense of absence of belief in God. Furthermore, in the twentieth century George H. Smith, in Atheism: The Case Against God (1979), maintains, “An atheist is not primarily a person who believes that god does not exist; rather he does not believe in the existence of god.” Antony Flew, in “The Presumption of Atheism” (1972), understands an atheist as someone who is not a theist. Gordon Stein, in An Anthology of Atheism and Rationalism (1980), says an atheist “is a person without a belief in God.” A recent pamphlet entitled ‘America Atheist: An Introduction” says an atheist “has no belief system” concerning supernatural agencies…..
George smith—-Consider the British atheist G.W. Foote editor of the Freethinker and the author of many books and articles on atheism. Foote’s atheism was scarcely of timid variety; convicted of blasphemy and sent to prison, his case provoked a young John Stuart Mill to write a passionate defence of religious freedom. Yet Foote repeatedly insisted that atheism is properly defined as the absence (or lack) of theistic belief, and not the denial of God’s existence. In a typical exchange, Foote challenged a critic to “refer me to one Atheist who denies the existence of God.” The atheist is a person without belief in a god; “that is all the ‘A’ before ‘Theist’ really means.”
This was the view of Charles Bradlaugh, the most influential atheist in Victorian England. In The Freethinkers Textbook (1876), after noting that the meaning of “atheism” had been “continuously misrepresented,” Bradlaugh went on to say: “Atheism is without God. It does not assert there is no God.” Similarly, in Why I Do Not Believe In God (1887) Annie Besant defined atheism as “without God.”
No historian has yet undertaken a thorough investigation of this negative definition, so we don’t know when it came into common use, but we do see traces of it as early as the seventeenth century. For example, John Locke, in Essays concerning human understanding (1690), cited travel accounts that reported “whole nations” of atheists, “Amongst whom there was to be found no notion of a God, no religion.”The negative definition also appears in the first comprehensive defence of atheism, Baron d’Holbach’s The System of Nature (1770). “All children are atheists,” according to d’Holbach, because “they have no idea of God.”
Christian scholar Robert Flint understood that atheism, as defined for many decades by prominent atheists, is negative rather than positive in character. In Agnosticism (1903), Flint pointed out that the atheist “is not necessarily a man who says, There is no God.” On the contrary, this “positive or dogmatic atheism, so far from being the only kind of atheism, is the rarest of all kinds…..” The atheist is simply a person “who does not believe that there is a God,” and this absence may stem from nothing more than “want of knowledge that there is a God.” Flint concludes: “The word atheist is a thoroughly honest, unambiguous term. It means one who does not believe in God, and it means neither more nor less.”
As the Freethinker blog states:
“A theist gnostic is someone who believes in god/gods and thinks that the existence of gods can be known. This position is usually referred to as just ‘theist‘, since people who believe in gods, usually also think that their existence can be known.
A theist agnostic is someone who believes in gods, but thinks that they could not know for sure that their god exists. Another fairly unusual position, as people who have faith in gods usually also think that their god can be known to be real.
An atheist agnostic is someone who does not believe in gods and also thinks that the existence of gods cannot be known. This might mean that they don’t believe in gods because they haven’t seen any evidence that supports their existence.
An atheist gnostic is someone who does not believe in gods, and who thinks that we can know that gods do not exist. A fairly unusual position, they might think they have found proof of the non-existence of gods, or might have been persuaded by life experiences.” (The Freethinker- http://freethinker.co.uk/2009/09/25/8419/).
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