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Thread: Fundamental difference between agnosticism and atheism

  1. #1 Fundamental difference between agnosticism and atheism 
    Forum Freshman Munk's Avatar
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    Though subtle, there is a fundamental difference between the lack of a belief in something and the belief in the lack of something. The former does not postulate a claim, where as the latter does. Often, I see proponents of athiesm using the lack of empircal evidence to justify the lack of a belief in a diety, but then take it one step further to assert that a diety must therefore not exist.

    What supports this additional claim? If the absence of evidence is not evidence of absence, how does one go from lacking belief in something, to believing the opposite? This is generally where The Flying Spagetti Monster enters the debate. A proponent of atheism may point out that, since there is no evidence for the existence of the FSM, and no way to prove a negative (i.e. that it does not exist), then it would be equally reasonable to believe in the FSM instead of (insert diety). This is a good point, and clearly illustrates the impact of not being able to prove a negative.

    What confuses me is the conclusion that follows. How does not being able to prove a negative necessarily imply that anything which has not been proven must therefor not exist? This is merely an implication that seems to stem from a practical necessity. It would be impractical to believe in everything that cannot be proven to not exist...which is correct. Then again, since when does practicality and human convience dictate what is and isn't possible?

    Any thoughts?


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  3. #2  
    Forum Isotope Bunbury's Avatar
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    Personally, I haven't spent a great deal of time trying to disprove the existence of FSM. It is obviously an absurdity dreamed up by a joker so why bother?

    Substitute any absurd fanciful invention for FSM in the sentence above.


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  4. #3  
    Forum Freshman Munk's Avatar
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    If I understood you correctly, anything you feel is absurd in nature, you do not think is worth investigating, correct?

    I donít see how this make a case for (or against) theism, atheism, or agnosticism. For example, you could be a theist and have this same stance if you feel there no use in attempting to empirically study that which is not empirical in nature (i.e. a supernatural deity).

    Were you making an implication of some sort, that were we supposed to substitute the FSM with "God"? As far as I know, only one of those two concepts is admittedly fabricated, whereas the other can be found across history, continents, and cultures, independently of one another, and is still believed to be true by the vast majority of the human population. This is not to imply that the idea of a "God" must be true because so many believe it, just that the general concept is different than the FSM is ways that are worth recognizing.
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  5. #4  
    Forum Cosmic Wizard SkinWalker's Avatar
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    there is a fundamental difference between the lack of a belief in something and the belief in the lack of something.
    This line, contrasted to your thread title, seems to suggest that you think this is the respective definitions of agnosticism and atheism.

    The two terms are not mutually exclusive. As an agnostic atheist, I would point out that there are many kinds of atheists and many definitions for atheism, depending on the agenda and the motivation.

    Some religionists would refer to anyone who doesn't believe in their particular notion of god(s) as "atheist" (i.e. if you didn't believe in the Greek pantheon but accepted the Persian pantheon instead, you might be an atheist in the eyes of an Athenian).

    Some modern Christians hold this view regarding other religions, though it's probably a minority one.

    More popular among Christians in the United States is to think of an "atheist" as someone who denies God or is angry at God (but deep down, the "atheist" surely knows God exists). At the very least, these sorts of religionists perceive the atheist as rejecting a being they perceive as real.

    Though clouded by the rose-colored glasses of superstition, there are probably some who call themselves "atheist" who fit this description. They call themselves "atheist" out of spite or anger rather than arriving at a conclusion of atheism from rational and logical thought.

    While there are some who insist that a god absolutely, positively does not exist, most atheists, at least to my experience, are agnostic. They readily admit that it simply isn't within their ability to test the universe completely for the presence of a god (or gods), but see no good reason to believe any gods exist. Other atheists, while still agnostic about their atheism to a philosophical degree, will have no problem stating that specific gods of humanity do not exist and are complete and utter superstition. Indeed, many theists will readily admit this as well. Zeus, Quetzacoatl, Thor, Mithra, Chac... these gods are products of humanity and cutlure, not of reality. Christians, Muslims, and Jews will generally all agree with this. I, however, am willing to extend this mode of superstitious production into modernity and include Yahweh, Allah and Elohim in that fictitious pantheon of made-up gods.

    I'll still concede that one or more gods might be present in the universe (but still maintain there's no good reason to think so). However, I have no doubt in my mind that the Christian, Muslim, Jewish, and Hindu gods are any less invented and fictitious as the thousand of gods (many quite contradicting and different from each other) humanity has relied upon for salvation, wrath, morality, wealth, and prosperity in history and prehistory.

    There is no fundamental difference between the general terms agnosticism and atheism that creates any exclusionary principles. One is a term of knowledge, the other is a term of divinity.

    In all likelihood, all of humanity are atheists. We are all without gods since none seem to exist. Some of us are aware of that status. Most of us are not.
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  6. #5  
    Forum Freshman Munk's Avatar
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    That was a very well thought out response. And you are right, perhaps I should have established certain operant definitions to specify what I was referring to in the title.

    By agnosticism, I refer to those who do not believe that a god does or does not exist, because they feel it is unknown/unknowable. By atheism, I refer to those who genuinely believe that god does not exist, even if they are not 100% sure of this fact.

    By assuming these operant definitions, the difference would be that agnostics do not hold a belief about the existence of god, where as an atheist does (that belief being that a god does not exist). In this sense, they would be mutually exclusive, wouldn't you agree?
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  7. #6  
    Forum Cosmic Wizard SkinWalker's Avatar
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    I disagree. You're creating definitions for words that already have definitions. Indeed, your definition of the "atheist" is of one that is an agnostic atheist.

    One can be both an agnostic and an atheist. This is, in fact, the most reasoned position.

    There can also be agnostic theists. Such a person would believe god exists but recognize that proving this existence is not possible to him/her.

    Either one thinks a god exists or one doesn't. The "unknowability" of the existence is not necessarily dependent on the belief.
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  8. #7  
    Forum Freshman Munk's Avatar
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    Fair enough.
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  9. #8  
    Forum Professor sunshinewarrior's Avatar
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    Some thoughts from me...

    1. An atheist could also be someone who lacks faith in a supreme being the "a-" prefix being "without", not "anti". As skinwalker pointed out, most agnostics would be atheists in this sense - they do not worship and do not have faith. This would then not be a statement about the existence or otherwise of a putative deity, but more one about the person's state of mind.

    2. The reason why I would suggest I am an atheist and genuinely believe there is no "god" is simply that I find the conception of god incoherent. That is, I think it a logical impossibility.
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