On Being An Agnostic Atheist

GodSo, no evidence offered by Christians – and I know quite a few read this blog – that human beings can, as their religion promises, live forever. No surprise there. Dave did comment, on Facebook, that he knows, because of faith, that he’s promised eternal life, but as I said last time, faith is not evidence.

Moving on. Over at his Northier Than Thou blog, Daniel Walldammit notes how often he comes across apologist sites that say, ‘I don’t believe in atheists.’ I’ve noticed similar statements online and in the hands of street preachers: ‘atheism is a temporary condition’ (quite clever that one, if somewhat overused), ‘atheists are just in rebellion against God‘ and ‘there’s no such thing as an atheist‘.

atheism-1Given that atheism exists whether Christians condescend to believe in it or not, I want to explain how you can be both an atheist and agnostic.

Theism is the belief in a personal god, one that was involved in the creation of the world, has taken an interest in its development and who relates to his principal creation, humankind. This theist god has a personality of his own (they are almost all ‘male’), is hands-on, intimately concerned with people and their behaviour. I see no evidence for this type of god, for reasons I’ve explored here and here. As a result, I am an a-theist, one who denies the existence of such an imaginary being.

‘But,’ say some critics of this argument, ‘absence of evidence is not evidence of absence.’ Not so, as Irving Copi demonstrated long ago:

in some circumstances it can be safely assumed that if a certain event had occurred, evidence of it could be discovered by qualified investigators. In such circumstances it is perfectly reasonable to take the absence of proof of its occurrence as positive proof of its non-occurrence.

Without evidence there is no existence either for my pet dragon nor for the multitude of gods that humans have imagined for themselves throughout history. To claim that ‘absence of evidence is not evidence of absence’ is an appeal to faith and wishful thinking (they’re the same thing). It says in effect that just because I can’t prove my God (or Santa Claus or my dragon) exists, doesn’t mean he doesn’t. But evidence is all: an entity which cannot be demonstrated evidentially does not exist independently from the human imagination that conceives it.

For my part, I’m also an anti-theist, which does not mean, as Christians like to claim it does, that I’m in rebellion against God – just as Christians themselves are not ‘in rebellion’ against Allah, Vishnu or Santa Claus. It isn’t possible to rebel against fictional characters. It is possible, however, to oppose the mumbo-jumbo that has accumulated around them and the irrational belief and unreasonable behaviour which that engenders. This is what it means to be anti-theist.

Deism is the belief in an impersonal god. It is a hypothetical entity that may or may not exist and is entirely unknowable, which is why I use ‘it’ to describe it because it would be impossible to know, if it does exist, whether it is male, female or something else entirely. While there is an absence of evidence for this type of god too, it is more difficult, because of its hypothetical nature, to demonstrate in the same way as for a personal god, that it doesn’t exist. It easier to refute the supposedly known features of a theist god, than it is the unknown qualities of the unknowable. So, I concede this impersonal deity may exist somewhere. I’m almost entirely certain it doesn’t, because absence of evidence is, after all, evidence of absence, but it could and I have to acknowledge that remote possibility. In this minimalist sense I am agnostic. I don’t, I stress, believe in this only remotely possible god; it is so hypothetical and inconsequential it might as well not exist, if it in fact it does. The concession I make that it may have a presence in some distant part of the universe, or possibly out of it, makes no difference to my life, beliefs or behaviour.

So, it is possible to be an agnostic atheist; to deny the existence of personal gods like Yahweh and Allah on the grounds that there is no evidence for them, while admitting to not knowing whether an unknowable god exists.

Even though it doesn’t.



2 thoughts on “On Being An Agnostic Atheist

  1. I think most atheists fall under the agnostic atheist status. It’s just easier to say atheist because as soon as some theists hear the word agnostic, they suddenly think you kind of believe in their particular deity. Good post!


    • That’s true. They think we all secretly believe in their God anyway and we’re rebelling against him, revelling in our sin, and those other tired old cliches they trot out. (Update: new post – dated July 1st – on Answers in Genesis saying just this.)


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