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Sunday, April 15, 2012


An exchange on Twitter reminded me that a lot of people misunderstand what the word "Atheist" means. A lot of people have made this mistake, including some very well-known people such as Carl Sagan who said, in part, "An atheist is someone who is certain that God does not exist, someone who has compelling evidence against the existence of God. I know of no such compelling evidence."

Even the Webster.com definition of the word is incorrect, stating "one who believes that there is no deity." The people who consider themselves simply "unsure" of the existence of one or more gods call themselves Agnostic.

It's hard to blame the people who make this mistake, considering how "common knowledge" it is, but that's why we have to correct this error whenever we can so the truth becomes "common knowledge" instead of the mistake. The truth is, Atheism is a lack of belief, not a belief that there is no god or gods. I consider myself an Atheist not because I believe that there are no gods, but because I don't believe in any gods. That may sound similar, but there's an important difference.

The difference is that one is a strict belief in no gods without evidence and one is healthy skepticism. I don't believe in any gods because... I haven't been given any reason to. There's no proof and much of the religious claims about the world and nature have long since been disproven. I simply don't see any reason to be religious. That's what an Atheist is. I don't claim to know the secrets of the universe. There are people far smarter than me who haven't cracked that yet.

So, then, what of Agnostics? Webster.com describes Agnostic, in part, as "a person who holds the view that any ultimate reality (as God) is unknown and probably unknowable." I think the only real difference comes down to how you would answer the "god question" which would be something like "do you believe in one or more gods?" I think your average Atheist would say "I don't." and an Agnostic would say "I don't know."

So, really, I think it's just semantics. People who call themselves Atheists and those call themselves Agnostic are, in my opinion, just two sides of the same coin.

What do you think?

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