President’s Address – On Atheism and Agnosticism

agnostic presidents - Government - On Atheism and Agnosticism

Atheism and Agnosticism are not incompatible at all. The problem is the colloquial understanding of agnosticism – it has been mis-defined in peoples’ minds as “I have my own belief, which may include a god figure or not.”

In fact, atheism is a position on theistic belief, and agnosticism is a position on theistic KNOWLEDGE. An atheist doesn’t believe that any god(s) or goddess(es) or supernatural claims exist because there is no evidence in favor of them. A theist believes in the existence of a god(s) or goddess(es) regardless of evidence.

A gnostic believes that they KNOW god exists, usually from subjective sources (personal feelings, anecdotes, testimonials), while an agnostic believes that god CANNOT be known, because it would be akin to the bacteria KNOWING the researcher on the other end of the microscope – its impossible to know something that is so far above/beyond us.

So, you can have one of four possible positions: agnostic atheist / gnostic atheist; and agnostic theist / gnostic theist.

About 90% of atheists are agnostic atheists (or “weak” atheists) – which means that they do not believe in god because no unambiguous proof has ever been put forward in favor of one.

10% or less of atheists are gnostic (or “strong”) atheists – who believe that evidence has been sought, and the lack of discovery PROVES that there is no god.

Likewise, about 80% of theists are agnostic theists – they admit that science will never find evidence for god, but believe there is one regardless.

Unfortunately there is a sizable and growing 20% of theists that are gnostic theists – they claim to KNOW there is a god. These are the fundamentalists, who believe that “speaking in tongues” is a real experience, or that children do not need to go to the doctor because, if their children die of whatever ailment, then it is “God’s will.” Gnostic theists frighten me, frankly.

And there you have it.

In that four-quadrant grid, I vacillate between gnostic and agnostic, though always an atheist. The epistemologist in me admits that there is a tiny percentage of a chance that there is a literal Creator – no matter how small, but really, most of the time I’m very convinced that there isn’t one at all. I’m reminded of the old saying:

“Is God willing to prevent evil, but not able?
Then he is not omnipotent.
Is he able, but not willing?
Then he is malevolent.
Is he both able and willing?
Then whence cometh evil?
Is he neither able nor willing?
Then why call him God?”

Epicurus – Greek philosopher, BC 341-270