To define one's self as atheist vs. agnostic, do you first need to define "God?"

I classify myself as an atheist, and have since I was a teenager, however lately I have been having some problems with the term. Atheism is the “belief that there is no God,” however, what does the term “God” really mean?
If you were to ask me if I believed in the Judeo-Christian or Muslim idea of God, I would surely say no. However, if you define God as “a conscience being who created the universe,” I would probably state that I had no idea, because I do not know how the universe was created, nor does anybody. Does this make me agnostic or atheist?

Posted: June 29th 2009

brian thomson www

As an atheist, the thing that I don’t believe in is not a specific “God”, but the general category or concept of “gods”. Even “gods” can be filed under the wider category of “the supernatural”, as things I don’t believe in.

An analogy: when I say “I don’t smoke”, I don’t just mean that I don’t smoke Marlboros, or don’t smoke Benson & Hedges. I mean that I don’t smoke cigarettes at all. In fact, you can widen the scope to include anything smokeable, and I will say “I don’t smoke that” to every one of them: cigars, marijuana, opium, car exhausts, whatever: I don’t smoke anything. By
the same token, I don’t believe in anything supernatural.

I agree that someone has to define what they are talking about before I can say “I don’t believe in that” in response, but that’s a job for that other person. I would still be an atheist if they did not produce such definitions for me to not-believe-in.

Posted: July 9th 2009

See all questions answered by brian thomson


Typically, atheism is either defined as lack of belief in god (sometimes called “weak atheism”), or belief that god doesn’t exist (strong atheism).

For me, the second one means belief that a specific god doesn’t exist. I do agree that there are some real definitional problems here, since no religions really define what god is, nor touch on what the term “exist” means in reference to god. But that’s their proglem, not mine.

Agnosticism is a technically a statement about the nature of belief, not a belief on it’s own – it says that one believes that the answer to the question is unknowable. In practice, people mean a lot of different things when they say “agnostic”, and I think it’s most commonly used as a sort of “atheism lite”.

My interpretation is that you are an agnostic atheist.

Posted: June 30th 2009

See all questions answered by Eric_PK

bitbutter www

It does seem like a good idea to get a clear idea of what a god is before expressing belief or non belief in whatever it is, but this is complicated by the lack of a consensus. The way the name 'God’, for instance, gets used ranges from 'invisible friend who grants wishes’ to something like the 'inscrutable fact of existence’ (what Dawkins has called Einsteinian Religion).

For the sake of accuracy then we might say “I’m an atheist with respect to the following definition of gods …” and go on to explain the kind of thing we’re not persuaded about.

In practice I’m comfortable calling myself an atheist without a qualifier because it seems that pantheists who imagine God to be a non-personal and utterly mysterious fact, are a tiny minority whose metaphysics aren’t substantially different to mine (incidentally, writers who conflate pantheism with full-blooded monotheism in an attempt to shield the latter from criticism should be ashamed of themselves).

I’m an atheist with respect to the transparently man-made gods of mainstream religion; The ones who grant wishes, who care about our sexual behaviour and who want, above all, for us to acknowledge their existence, while doing their best to look like myths.

You might also be interested in the question about theological non-cognitivism.

Posted: June 30th 2009

See all questions answered by bitbutter

George Ricker www

Nope. I’m an atheist because I have no belief in gods. That’s a position I’ve taken because I have seen no credible evidence in support for any of the ideas of god with which I am familiar. However, since there is no general agreement about the nature of deity among believers, it’s hardly incumbent upon me to define “God” for them.

Incidentally, I’m perfectly willing to reconsider my position if and when a theist presents me with a god-idea that is coherent, complete and non-contradictory, along with the evidence that supports a claim for its existence. At that point, we can have a discussion about the specifics about a particular god-idea. So if you want to talk about a specific “God,” you must supply the definition, not I.

It is possible to offer all sorts of vague generalities and label them “God.” However, the atheist position does not require one to deny the possibility of possibility. Atheists simply do not believe in the existence of that which cannot be shown to exist in some reasonable manner. The question, then, is not “Might XYZ exist?” but “Do you believe XYZ does exist?”

Posted: June 29th 2009

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SmartLX www

A lot of atheists stop using the word when they realise there’s no solid ontology for gods. I would contend that if you can admit you don’t know what something hypothetically is, you certainly don’t believe in it.

Failing that, your definition is that of a deistic god. You can distinguish between that and a theistic god, one which not only created the universe but regularly influences it. If you believe in the distinct possibility of the creator but not the interventionist, perhaps you are an agnostic deist.

Posted: June 29th 2009

See all questions answered by SmartLX


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